Someone Died Unexpectedly Today

25 10 2016

Image result for impermanence

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

 





I’m back (and squishier than before)

24 09 2016
sleeping-woman

Teen car- sleeping was not as blissful as this but this rendition will have to do.

I haven’t written in a while.

I think about it every single day – and more than once.

There are a few reasons why this is so but none of them really matter. The best way I can describe the hiatus is similar to describing that closet or drawer that has been on your To Do list to “get to one of these days” that is so cluttered that you don’t know where to start. Moreover, it’s not just cluttered with junk – you know, all those annoying gift bag, crappy toys your kids come home with from every birthday party or even all those extra samples that come in the mail. Nope, this is a drawer or closet (or in my case, what feels like a compound) full of things that all hold such profound and deep emotions that to start to write about them is way too hard. It is much easier to peruse Facebook or Twitter and make snide, humorous comments until the bottle of wine is empty, the kids are in bed and you convince yourself that you were just “too swamped” to get to what you really want to do – write. (Hypothetically speaking, of course.)

(Deep sigh.) There, that feels better.

Not really.

Can I offer anyone a glass of a fine $9 2015 Tempranillo? Anyone? Just me?

So, today, on my car ride back from hiking with the kids and some family friends, I committed myself to writing – wherever it may go. I have a ton of topics – everything from Buddhism to relationships to finally running with no shirt on. (I know – whoa! Shit getting real, now.)

I think I’ll just start with today because as I am learning – painfully – today is really all that we ever have. Period.

The weather was absolutely beautiful and after leaving the mountain for a 90 minute drive back home with the kids, I finally felt a certain sense of peace that was literally the complete opposite of what I have been feeling for a while, despite a seriously increased commitment to meditation.

I looked over at my daughter in the passenger seat, earbuds in, head achingly dangling forward as to not even be able to envision an actual attached neck and completely passed out with the sun dancing on her lashes just like the day she was born. My son, taller than me now (not a hard objective, actually), was in the fetal position taking over the back seat in a sound slumber himself.

Both teenagers now, observing them asleep is the closest I can still come to some sort of God. I waited for it for a long time when I was younger. It came. And now, I am a witness to its slow passage. On the radio – “New Slang” by the Shins was playing. “I’m looking in on the good life I might be doomed never to find. Without a trust or flaming fields am I too dumb to refine?”

There I was – just me and my kids. I would have done anything to stay in that car with them on a sunny highway forever. I just started crying. I couldn’t help it. I’ve been crying a lot lately. For passages. For hope. For anything that helps open up blockages that keep the spirit from flowing. It sucks.

It’s hard for me to love because it really starts with oneself. This is both a fact and a confession – both embarrassing and true at once. For me, my kids are the only way I can tap into that love because I am really nothing more than a witness so it is completely pure. From their birth, the fact that their souls journeyed to me somehow is overwhelming. I have always said that they chose me somehow. It’s hard to explain but it was in their gaze toward me the moment they were born. There was a knowing there that was overwhelming, intimidating, and definitive, all at once. I can picture it clearly to this very moment.

This is not an endorsement for having children or for a belief in reincarnation. It is simply an acknowledgement that within each of us lies the ability to be cracked open a bit more regardless of whether we may consciously or unconsciously be willing to be an active participant. It is scary, sometimes immobilizing and absolutely necessary.

Luckily, I had Waze on to direct me on my way back and before I welled up too much, thereby restricting my vision, I heard a voice that alerted me: “Car stopped on shoulder”. I’m guessing that driver was having a moment, too.

Or that’s at least what I told myself.

Until next time (and yes, there will be a next time),

Marc

 

 

 

 





Remarkable Day

10 05 2016

Taxi_App_Carousel_1

 May 5th was a remarkable day.

I wrote this at 5:04 PM, after what seemed to be a race with unpredictable ending, sitting on the exact train I was supposed to be on to get from NYC to my daughter’s Jr. National Honor Society induction.

In a hurry to get to a meeting downtown and after already being late due to ridiculous traffic, I decided to exit the taxi in a hurry and just walk the remaining 10 minutes or so to where I needed to be. Since I tend to get car sick in the back of taxis, I had decided to meditate to the best of my ability and simply have my credit card ready once we arrived so as to save those precious 10 seconds it would take for me to pull out my wallet and pay the fare.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, as it may turn out), I left said wallet in the back of the cab and realized it too late. After calling 3-1-1, taxi cab receipt in hand, being provided the cab drivers’ number from the dispatcher and trading phone calls, it turned out that the wallet had been taken and was gone. While definitely starting to panic, weirdly, my initial reaction was how relatively easy and helpful it was in reaching out to and getting help from both the taxi dispatch and the driver.

As someone who has been reading a lot lately about one’s “Buddah nature”, I breathed deeply (several times) while still engaging in the meeting and as time allowed, started to cancel various credit card accounts online, to the best of my ability. I had given in to the fact that the wallet was gone and that my attachment to this outcome was of no help to me. I had to “speak” to myself the way in which I would to a friend. And this is where things started getting interesting.

As anyone close to me can tell you, I have a hard time- a real hard time – holding on to things when I travel – wallets, glasses, books, license, credit cards – you get the picture. No matter how much it seems I try to organize, remind myself etc, I lose things more times that I am comfortable admitting. My inner dialogue always goes something like this: “I am such a loser. Why do these things always happen to me? Oh, yeah – it’s because I’m a loser.”

What I realized this day though was that I have been framing all of these incidents – not just losing things – but everything, good and bad, in the wrong way. It’s not “why do these things always happen to me.” It’s “why do these things always happen for me.”

There are no coincidences. As I have written about before, I personally don’t subscribe to the notion that everything happens for a reason but I do believe that things happen for a lesson, which is more graspable.

Here is what happened next:

  1. I am at lunch with work colleagues when one of them has to ask to have her salad “to go” because she has to go to Fordham University to see final presentations from the senior class, which leads to a conversation about Fordham and the campus.
  2. During this conversation, I feel a vibration on my cell phone, which is in my pocket, but do not immediately look at it as to not appear rude during the discussion.
  3. Once the topic changes and there is a natural pause, I look at my phone and it is a Facebook message that says “found your wallet in a cab. Please call ….”
  4. I call the number provided and a guy tells me where he is located and I arrange to pick up my wallet at his office building later in the day. (I profusely thank him, like too much.)
  5. I look up his profile (or what I thought was his profile) on Facebook and it says his name is Tom and he is a graduate of…wait for it….Fordham University.
  6. Then, there is a mildly boring period of getting back to the business of work meetings and I head to the subway to make my way to pick up the wallet, (after canceling a drink with someone I was supposed to meet up with – more due to the meeting going over than the lost wallet).
  7. I get on the right train, wrong direction – end up in Brooklyn.
  8. Get on the train going back but now unsure of myself ask a woman sitting next to me (we were on a train stuck on the tracks for a while) about my route which convinced me to get off, though it turned out to be right all along.
  9. I then get back on the next train going in the right direction and make my way to the office.
  10. Turns out it was not Tom who found my wallet, but his friend, Travis, who was using his phone.
  11. I get my wallet back and rush to the subway with 35 minutes to get from downtown to Penn Station and here I am.

While on the subway, I pulled out “Rising Strong” by Brene Brown which I am reading. I turn the page and she is talking about her vulnerability during a visit to a special place in Texas, Lake Travis. What? She then talks about a scientist (on the same page) with the same last name of someone who just happened to email me recently out of the blue.

What is going on here?

I am not looking to make something out of nothing but c’mon. The universe is telling me something. I think the universe actually has a wicked sense of humor. Maybe by finally “letting go” of this idea of control, it’s the most straightforward way of knowing that the universe really does have our backs. That day could have gone in so many different directions but every single interaction – from the taxi driver through dispatch, was leading to something bigger than the sum of it’s parts.

I boarded the train in the morning and the evening as planned. However, what happened in between was anything but. Isn’t this the best metaphor for life? We are born and then we exit but what really matters are the unexpected, wonderful, tragic, elaborate, simple, mind-boggling, boring things that happen in-between and what we take from them. That is truly remarkable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





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

sense-of-humor-comedy-mindfulness

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!





Open Heart (Surgery)

10 01 2016
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I am trying to open my heart to the fact that this is a schmaltzy image.

My mother had open heart surgery this past week. Nothing snaps you out of the self pity associated with job uncertainty, divorce, financial instability and overall restlessness like sitting 175 miles away in your home while you know the person who gave birth to you is on a ventilator while someone rewires her heart.

My kids and I just returned from visiting her (and my dad) and there were some key takeaways (sorry – that was so disgustingly corporate) – there were some important messages (that’s better) that I felt compelled to write down and share:

  1. Sometimes you have to sweat the small stuff. When I was visiting my parents with my kids just after Christmas – my sister was also there with her family and for all the articles and morning talk shows that insist upon the importance of having those “difficult conversations with your aging parents”, it never happened. Certainly, with the knowledge that my mom’s surgery was essentially a week away, that was not the best time but it wasn’t going to happen anyway. Instead, we played board games, got annoyed by incessant calls to eat more junk food and dealt with familial familiarities, good and bad, that would be of inconsequence to most people (yes, apparently it does matter who takes what food home with them and how much). This is as small as it gets but you know what? It is exactly the type of diversion that helps get through times when the gravity of the situation just seems too great to bear. That’s why I think sometimes (and only sometimes), sweating the small stuff isn’t such a bad idea.
  2. We need doctors. I, for one, have had many dealings with arrogant, self-centered, “cry me a river/claim poverty” U.S. physicians who have lost both their empathy and their perspective but…there are many, many physicians who are saving lives, every single damn day. I don’t give a shit about a single doctor who is interested in making some 50 year-old rich, entitled socialite look 30, but for every single doctor helping with cardiovascular disease, the onslaught of neurological-based diseases and children, etc. – thank you, thank you, thank you.
  3. I am a series of computer programs in dire need of software upgrades. I have written before about the scripts we carry around with us and the self-talk that we do and impacts us, either for better or for worse. As I took a shower in my childhood home, it occurred to me after cleaning it out, that there are tons of rituals I do that have been embedded in me for decades that are in need of a little mindfulness. Let me explain briefly. Since I can remember, the last person who took a shower had to clean out the tub and walls. I have always followed the same pattern: faucet, shelf, top half sides, bottom half sides, little stool, left glass door, right glass door and the shower bottom – in that order – since I ever even had a reason to take long showers (which is code for “a long time ago”).  I did it again this morning (the cleaning, not the long shower) and realized that I have tons of these rituals – some physical, some mental, that I never change. How I react after taking a shower in my parents’ house is one thing but what about how I react after being dismissed in a social situation? My thoughts follow a similar pattern every time – and it’s not good.
  4. Friendship is the #1 most vital component to a sustainable marriage. My mother can give my father a hard time. My father can selectively hear and not hear what my mother has to say. But they are friends, tried and true. It was never more apparent than during our visit this weekend. They respect and love each other in a way that transcends (or is exclusive of) romantic love and at least, in older age, seems to be the vital ingredient to a meaningful marriage (or partnership).
  5. I am so thankful for my kids. We were in the hospital for 6 hours and they never complained once. Mind you – they are on the verge of being 15 and 13. 6 hours with their dad and grandparents – in a hospital – on a Saturday – can seem like an eternity. And they were great. There were cell phones and untied shoes but there was also a tremendous respect and love. I am a lucky dude.
  6. Trump, ISIS, my job situation, Kardashians, cat videos, who got a promotion, who is headlining – they will all go away. Every single second focused on the irrelevant and stupid is a second wasted on the relevant and important. Every damned, single second.

My mother has a ways to go in her recovery. The good news is that her cardiac vitals are very good and if she can take the long-term view, I really think everything will be for the better. It is hard to see your parents age, for both the knowledge of what no one wants to talk about and the acknowledgement of one’s own aging and mortality. But it makes one so thankful for the days that do exist where we have to bite our tongue, sweat the small stuff and think about opening our own hearts a little more, which is a lot tougher sometimes than a 6 hour operation.

Until next time,

Marc








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