Day 1

2 01 2017

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Last night was a New Year’s Eve unlike any other.

I certainly have spent New Year’s eve before unencumbered by the fervor of loud music and flowing booze but never quite to the extent I did for a couple of hours at the Buddhist Sangha (community) to which I have been attending for about a year now.

Though I look forward to the Monday evening meditation and discussion, I was very hesitant to go there last night.

Firstly, I had envisioned a night with my kids including games, music and sarcastic commenting on whatever ridiculous late night New Year’s Eve coverage was going to be on the television.

Secondly, reflecting inward after what will surely go down as one of the most sobering years of my life, was not high on my list of options to ring in 2017.

However, with two teenagers who rather spend a night with friends their own age, I was left with me, my thoughts and a list of On Demand music videos from artists I hadn’t heard of nor could pronounce.

I decided to walk down to the Sangha, hoping it was not just me and two other people, as I was expecting.

There were a lot of cars in the parking lot. This surprised me and for a moment, I thought maybe there was some other event going on, as well. Then, I walked in to a community of 30-40 people with varying levels of experience and reasons for being there who had decided to take a breath, literally and metaphorically, to start this New Year in a much different way than in the past.

It was a humbling experience. This is not the stuff that unicorns and rainbows are made of. One of the things I appreciate the most is the true down-to-earth nature of this community – the ability to meet people who intuitively feel there is something beyond the surface we have been trained to grasp for.

This is a time to come together as a community and simply take a pause. I can’t tell you how important, (notice I didn’t say “easy”), this practice has been over the past year.

I heard a podcast today (replayed from 2009) that recounted a story of an older man who refused to quit smoking after decades, even following a stroke. He simply said it was who he was and that in this life, he was a smoker. Upon having a second stroke, however, that part of his brain that associated himself with smoking, was damaged and he never reached for a cigarette from there on in.

The biological science of craving aside, he just didn’t think of himself as a smoker anymore. We are so ready to confine ourselves to the thoughts that provide guardrails to what we think we can do and who we can be that we often have to experience something profound to challenge these notions.

I really appreciate the idea of our thoughts being tools that are available to us, rather than our specific identity. This is something that meditation has helped me work toward – the ability to see my thoughts, acknowledge them, investigate further and then, maybe just then, let them slip away so that I can be in the moment with no expectation and no identity. Can you imagine what could happen then?

Wishing you a year of discovery.

Until next time,

Marc

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Nov 9 2016- We Must Choose Love

9 11 2016

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I don’t want this to sound all melodramatic but I had a terrible night’s sleep. I woke up with a profound sense of loss and despair.

I am committed to meditating in the morning before my day gets started whenever I can and did so again this morning. It was hard. As many times as I tried to return to my breath and the present moment, my mind had other plans.

Meditation practice teaches us to acknowledge what we are feeling by simply naming it without judgment. I was sad. Really sad – to a point that seemed disproportionate to what I was sad about. After all, we still live in a democracy. We still live in a nation of freedom and great opportunity.

But I am sad for my children, my nation and my world because I think this election has revealed a deeper truth in which in the midst of unrest, unease and, in many cases, pure hate, it is easier and more acceptable to choose fear over hope.

And so I continued to meditate and come back to the breath – over and over again. Man, this was the worst meditation session ever. Until it came to me – this is not for us to suffer with. This is not for us to attach to our own fears, our own unease or our own hatred.

We must choose love.

Our nation is merely a reflection of the nation within ourselves for each of us has the hope and the fear, the love and the hate, the joy and the sorrow all woven together.

We must choose love.

There is no other option. We cannot look to others, leaders or otherwise, to choose for us.

We must choose love.

But we have to dig in – and dig deep.

We have to show up – fully present and more than we have ever done before.

We have to be uncomfortable and extend ourselves beyond our own borders of insecurity.

We have to make our beds, clean our dishes, groom our lawns and mend our own hearts in the process.

We have to forget about our homes, our 401Ks, our failed relationships, our jobs and our regrets.

Most of us will not be here within a mere century – a simple blink in time. What we leave can only be left out of love otherwise we won’t have anything of real value that anyone will want.

There is no other option.

We must choose love and we have to do it starting now.

 





Someone Died Unexpectedly Today

25 10 2016

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It’s true. It happens every day, numerous times every day. I hope it wasn’t anyone you knew though one day in your life, it probably will be. This is the tug of impermanence – the truth that all we have is this moment.

My dad used to say that the only guarantees in life were death and taxes, (and quoting Ben Franklin, apparently). I’m not going to comment on the taxes part but let’s just say – “message received”.

I have been very stressed lately about a house that will just not sell. It is in great shape and at a great price and it won’t sell. In addition, I am (laughably) being sued for it not selling by a certain former love as if it were my fault. The weight that these two situations places on me is heavy at times and waking up from this is not as easy as it may sound either.

So it is upon committing to a practice of meditation and simply being mindful of the moment and the feelings that present themselves while doing so without judgment that this heaviness starts to dissipate, for not only good things are impermanent.

It is in this practice that the clarity of time, or lack thereof, re-emerges. There is no enlightenment. There is no nirvana. There is simply presence of the moment and a call to take that with me one more moment today than I did yesterday.

I am grateful for this moment and the call to slowly lead the background to the foreground – the daughter singing, the son face timing his friend, the smell of the leaves when I open the door and the vibrating pulse reminding me that we are all energy and spirit if we take a pause to recognize it.

The unexpected condition we know as life is actually quite expected. It may only be that by walking toward it with clear presence that we can truly be free.

Until next time,

Marc

 





Losing Custody of My Doodle

22 03 2016

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Is it me or does he look like Eric Roberts the younger years?

Of all the things that was the strangest over the past three years of living through the hell of divorce and separation, it was the cessation of something I have done for as long as I can remember that has struck me the most. I stopped doing it when, now I realize, it probably would have helped me a lot. No, it’s not that. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking.)

I stopped doodling.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a doodler. It started out with me doodling tattoos and other bad reconstructive surgery on the pages of my mother’s TV Guide. Then, I doodled people a lot (especially women with big hair) and then, to keep it somewhat more innocuous, various 3-D shaded blocks with tunnels and elaborate Dali-like totem poles on the side margins of my notebooks. There has been plenty written about the neuroscience of doodling on focus and attention. For me, I think this is very true. 

I doodled so much that in a work-related deposition in front of a judge and court room, when my work documents were put up on a large screen, page after page featured memos with my wide eyed cartoon characters and brick walls for everyone to see. It was embarrassing, but I hope at least it was memorable.

I remember losing myself in a black ink doodle during a meeting at work only to be called on it in front of my colleagues. I was able to recall the exact conversation and even provide some input. The act of putting pen to paper in this way helped me concentrate and listen better. I was able to process what was going on in my head and around me.

And yet, barely one doodle between Spring of 2013 and now. Why? What could the correlation possibly be? 

For me, I think it has to do with the same thought process as my initial reluctance to try meditation. The idea of doing something that would focus me during a period of such extreme chaos was both foreign and missing the point (or so I thought) because when the ship is sinking, the last thing one should do is focus on one thing. However, this is exactly what is needed. For the Titanic, it was getting off the freaking ship! For the guy watching his family unfold in front of him, it’s getting off his mental sinking ship.

Instead of focusing myself in a 10 minute doodle to reframe my thoughts or a 10 minute meditation to try and bring myself to a single breath, I went into crisis control “to do” mode and it wasn’t good. These small moments of distracted focus (how’s that for a term) are critical, particularly when the world seems to be falling apart.

Now, it seems the world may be catching on with the onslaught of elaborate “adult color books”. I get it, though. We are moving further and further away from doing anything for extended periods of time. Maybe a coloring book or a doodling session is the thing to get us back on track, one stroke at a time.

Until next time,

Marc

Thanks for reading. If you would like to subscribe to my blog, I’d be most appreciative! You can also follow me on twitter @MarcKaye1. Thank you.





The Mindful Comedian

3 02 2016

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It could happen.

Every comic I know that has been at it for a while and that I respect has told me that if you are not bombing once in a while, you really aren’t pushing yourself. Well, if that’s the case then I may be pushing myself right off a cliff.

I have had two experiences this year alone where I was “eating” it from the start. The good news is that I was able to recover but no matter how much I tell myself that this is “supposed to happen”, it feels like absolute shit. It’s horrible and it makes me question not only my comedy but my ability to make life decisions, also. 

Last Wednesday, I had a performance in Philadelphia that started out painfully for me. I couldn’t seem to connect and I just wasn’t able to find the right vibe with the audience from the get go. In addition, it reinforced another recent performance where I had a similar experience.

It got better a few minutes in but 180 seconds of “finding your way” on stage can feel excruciating. What made it worse was that, unlike most shows I do, I had people in the audience that were friends. That’s the worst. That’s like missing the free throw in front of your entire family and friends and them telling you that “you did your best – it was a tough game.”

I noticed a difference that evening, however. My usual negative self-talk was quieted to just a murmur. Don’t get me wrong – it was there. However, I was allowing myself to change the narrative a little and reinforce to myself that I just had an off night and that it happens to the best of us. It’s not as if the feeling of disappointment wasn’t there, but this time, it wasn’t the only overwhelming feeling available to me for hours on end.

I think, for me, the practice of mindfulness meditation, has helped just from the standpoint of understanding what it is that seems to be guiding us in terms of our thoughts. It does two things: 1. it helps me recognize the thought as being there and not place any judgement on it (ie. “I feel really, really shitty right now” vs. “I feel really, really shitty right now and suck at everything and don’t belong here and will never get asked back to this club”.  2. It helps me put things into perspective (ie. “I am doing something that is off the track, risky and makes me feel alive and sometimes it’s going to suck but as long as the important people in my life are ok, what else matters?”).

Perhaps this is a natural set point for a lot of people. These are the ones that seem to, more than not, wade calmly through the waters of life regardless of how rapidly or intensely the flow may be at any given time. I am not one of these people. It is interesting how many times people have commented on my “calmness” or similar trait only to learn that I am the duck who is constantly paddling under water to make sure I can at least appear to stay afloat.

Being a comedian is one of the most humbling experiences I have ever had, next to being a parent (and in the past, a spouse). There is no escaping the reality of the moment, whether good or bad, with an immediate feedback that can change week to week, day to day and moment to moment. 

Think about situations in your life that may be similar – such as relationships, a tenuous work environment, a physical activity or managing the unpredictability of living with some sort of illness. It is extremely difficult to be “in the moment” without having those feelings fester and grow sometimes. Maybe 5 to 10 minutes of focusing on our breath and qualifying our thoughts as nothing more than just that – thoughts – without meaning, is the best friend a comedian, or anyone, ever had.

Until next time,

Marc





Your Attention “Pain Ridder” Capacitor

27 01 2016

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Your Brain Capacitor. (Before you comment, this comes in various shades.)

I heard a really interesting Fresh Air program today on NPR. It was about pain, placebos, meditation and the intersection of all three. The person who was being interviewed, author Jo Marchant, (who had a fantastic female British accent so she automatically sounded knowledgeable), was talking about, among other things, something called “immersive virtual reality”, which is the use of virtual reality with patients to alleviate pain. 

An example she had referenced was specific to burn patients who were put into a virtual “snow land” of sorts that was demonstrated to significantly reduce pain associated with bandage removal and other situations that are so painful for these patients.

When asked to extrapolate on why this works, she explained that the brain can only have a certain capacity for attention, meaning there isn’t a whole lot for experiencing pain if something (better) is taking up most of the room.

I realize that the context of this interview was with respect to physical pain, but it did make me think about emotional pain, as well, which shouldn’t be too far off (and was also discussed in terms of stress).

Just like the most valuable time to exercise is often when you don’t feel like getting up from the couch, the best time to focus attention on less painful emotions is exactly when it feels easier to just wallow. Like so many things I have written about, this also falls into the “easier said than done” category, but what doesn’t that actually makes a difference?

There is something to be said for turning off Facebook, removing yourself from poring over old photographs and emails, not to mention thoughts, of whatever is causing you pain and forcing – yes, FORCING, yourself to do anything else (that is hopefully not destructive) – exercise, listen to music, calling a friend, going for a walk, podcasts, you name it.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of distractions waiting for you and unlike all the times when they are not good (ie. driving, dinner, that work conference), this is one time when they can actually help you. Go for it and fill up your attention capacitor in your brain with a good, even shallow, but positive, distraction. (FYI – the attention capacitor is somewhere between the area that only remembers to hum tunes you hate and the area responsible for you never remembering the name of that new person you just met).

Here’s to your attention capacitor – may it be filled with a lot more good stuff this year.

Until next time,

Marc

P.S. You can listen to the podcast of this episode here: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=464372009&m=464458795

It’s well worth it!





Independence Day (from my) Thoughts

6 07 2015

I think therefore I am (anxious).

I think therefore I am (anxious).

In honor of this past Independence Day Holiday, I am writing about me – again.

I spent this past weekend back at my parents home with my kids and my sister and her family. As luck would have it, my neighbors growing up were also all home and it turned into this fantastic ad hoc reunion with lots of kids and fun and no timelines. It was fantastic and just what I needed. It was a physical and mental independence day from myself.

It was at the exact right time for me. In my last blog, I wrote a little bit about “downsizing” my life right now. At this stage, I expected some sort of security that is now eluding me big time – financially, socially and even culturally. Most, if not all of that, is just based on a false pretense of what reality really is. But it feels that way nonetheless.
Everyone that I was with this weekend – from my sister and her husband to my neighbors growing up through a very good friend of my sister and her husband who stopped by were 100% unpretentious. These are all good people. Smart people. Down-to-earth real people. I miss that and I need that so much.
Where I now live, waiting at the bus stop or sitting at the baseball game or theater production, it’s hard to remember that we probably all have our struggles. I think once people get a little bling on their fingers and change in their pocket, they start to give themselves perhaps more credit for their lot in life than they should. Sure, careful planning, responsibility and hard work have a lot to say for a strong condition in life. A little luck doesn’t help either.
This is where comedy (and meditation come in). Meditation teaches us to sit with our feelings without labels and without stories: feel them and recognize how they manifest in your body. (“I am angry and that feels like tension in my shoulders.”) It teaches us not to try and hide from our feelings and this is what I love about good comedy, as well. It says “hey – I know it looks like I might have it together but I found a stink bug in my hair today that was probably there the whole day, my son told me that he can’t wait to leave the house and my ex decided I need to give her more money…but no worries, still living the dream!” It calls life what it is and I love it! I love people who can laugh about this, too. It is too difficult otherwise and wasted energy to try and be comfortable all the time.
I met a guy at a bar last week who just seems to have it all. He’s good looking with an amazing looking wife. Two fantastic careers, great sense of humor, smart – you name it. This dude even played with Springsteen. I mean c’mon! I was joking with him that I want to come back as him in my next life. (Well, maybe it wasn’t all a joke.) The point is that we got to talking over a few beers/shots and got to know each other and there was no pretending about anything. We even touched on meditation a little. It was an honest, real conversation and it was fantastic. I wasn’t there sitting trying to keep up with him and he wasn’t trying to be something he was not (though why would he – I mean, c’mon!).
I think when we face our insecurities and can laugh about them is when we really can connect with people. Why can’t CEOs and star baseball pitchers also be honest about their flaws while those of us who stumble a bit more through life pick one or two things to be confident about.? It can go both ways. It doesn’t compromise who we are or what we do. It just makes us more human.
I don’t know if you have ever been at the very tail end of a rain storm. I have. I was driving down south (if I recall it correctly) and it was pouring and then, all of a sudden, it just stopped and it was as if you could see the line where the storm ended. It was weird and cool at the same time. It has occurred to me that life is a lot like that. When there is something to get through, there is a definitive end and though sometimes it will come to you, more often than not, you have to try drive in a lot of directions to get to the end yourself… but it is there. Storms don’t last forever and neither do struggles in life, though it certainly can feel that way.
Are you waiting for the end of the storm to pass over you or are you willing to try and find the end on your own?
Until next time,
Marc







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