Meditation

Meditation

3 Words That Immediately Center Me: Flow With Life

I find that certain words and phrases come in handy when I’ve been knocked off my center. Lately, I’ve been reminding myself to ‘flow with life.’

What does it mean to flow with life? This could be explained in myriad ways, but here’s one. When we flow with life, we experience what life brings us then we let it go. Good or bad. We don’t cling or resist. We experience, then let go.

Here’s an example we’re all familiar with. Someone cuts us off on the highway. That’s an experience life has brought us. Flowing with that incident doesn’t mean saying to yourself, “Cool! Somebody cut me off. I love it when that happens.” That’s lying to yourself.

How to flow with life

Flowing with it would be, “Okay, somebody cut me off. That’s annoying. Maybe they’re a terrible driver, maybe they just screwed up. Doesn’t matter. Let’s move on.” That’s experiencing the incident and letting it go.

Not flowing with life would be leaning on your horn and screaming inside your car, to nobody in particular, “Nice job, asswipe!” Then ruminating about it for the next five minutes. And cramming those bad feelings into your lower self such that you will be more likely to blow up at your wife/kid/friend later in the day. That would be experiencing it and holding on to it.

Flowing and Taoism

This flowing with life concept has much in common with the basic tenets of Taoism, my favorite spiritual tradition. Taoists see humans as just another manifestation of nature. Trees, flowers, birds, humans…we’re all part of nature.

I find this useful because I look at how these other manifestations of nature flow with life. Let’s take geese, for example. When my five-year-old daughter runs like a banshee after the geese at the park, they run away from her. That’s natural. They’re protecting themselves. That’s the geese version of flowing with life.

Geese don’t remain flustered

But once those geese arrive at a safe distance from my marauding daughter, they stop, chill out and get back to doing whatever it is they do (search for food mostly). What they don’t do is freak out and remain flustered and antagonized. In other words, they experience my daughter chasing them, take care of it, then let go and get on with their lives.

Unfortunately, that’s not how most humans respond to stressful situations. Someone cuts us off and our insides go crazy, which then manifests in our outsides going crazy (horn honking, screaming and all the rest). What we don’t do is experience the incident and then let it go. We let it knock us off our center and into the talons of our voracious egos.

The takeaway

Next time someone cuts you off, or some other daily annoyance befalls you, try simply focusing on your breathing and say, “Flow with life.” Flow with the incident. Which, again, doesn’t mean you say it’s fun that someone just cut you off. You simply acknowledge that these things are part of life.

Just as a feral five-year-old chasing after you is part of a goose’s life. And rain is part of a bird’s life, so it seeks shelter. And so on.

When something stressful happens, imagine that you’re the goose running away and then promptly resuming your center and moving on. Or that you’re a tree swaying with the heavy winds, back and forth, just flowing with what nature has brought it.

Constantly flowing with life. Not resisting it or fighting it or complaining about it.

Just flowing with life.

Meditation

My Spiritual Struggle: Resisting Others’ Resistance And my plan for working on it.

Ten years of regular meditation, practicing mindfulness and chopping wood and carrying water on the spiritual path have done wonders for me. I’m calmer, more focused, more compassionate and just plain happier.

But I’m not all the way there. I still lose my temper on occasion, mostly when my kids drive me off the deep end. My mind still yaks on and on, of its own volition, without my telling it to, though I’m far better at noticing when it’s happening.

And there’s another area where I need work: Resisting people’s resistance.

What is resisting resistance?

What the hell does that mean? When I’m with someone who is in resistance mode — for example, “I can’t believe these people keep doing this to me! For years I’ve had to deal with this crap. Aaagh! I can’t stand them!” — I immediately get tight inside. I resist their resistance.

Why? Because I know what they’re doing. And I know what they need to do. In general, what most people need to do when they think they have “problems” is realize that the problem is not the problem.

The problem isn’t what we think it is

In the above example, the unnamed people driving this person crazy aren’t the problem. The problem is how this person is handling it internally.

If someone makes a crappy comment about you and you shut down and feel terrible, they aren’t the problem. You shutting down because of the comment is the problem.

That may sound harsh, but it’s true. Our work lies in working on our inner selves so that we don’t shut down due to all kinds of different circumstances.

So back to how this is my challenge. It’s because I immediately, on the inside, go to a place of, “No, no, no! They aren’t the problem. You’re dealing with their crap is the problem.”

As you can see, I’m resisting their resistance. And I don’t care what the circumstances are, resistance is resistance. And it’s not helpful. To them or me.

How to deal with it

How should I handle these situations? That’s where my ‘Why reinvent the wheel?’ theory of figuring things out comes in handy. Which means I look to my spiritual teachers for guidance. If you’re a Christian you ask, “What would Jesus do?”

If you’re me, you ask, “What would Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass or Mickey Singer do?” And the answer, as is usually the case in matters of spirituality, is that they would remain in their seat of self while that unconscious person prattled on about their perceived problems. They would be present. They would listen intently.

Listening, then shutting down

That’s not what I’ve been doing. I’ve been listening, but early on, I shut down because I know what I’m going to say and I can’t wait to say it. In other words, I’m not present.

So what’s my work? First, is to notice when I’m feeling resistance inside. Someone is going on and on in an unconscious way and I need to notice that initial pang of my own resistance.

I’ve written this several times before, but it bears repeating Eckhart Tolle’s wise quote:

Awareness is the greatest agent for change.”

He’s right. Step one for most spiritual work is simply noticing.

After noticing that I’m resisting, the next step is to take a few deep breaths in an attempt to return to my seat of self; aka, come back to the here and now.

And then? Listen intently. With no agenda and no thoughts of, “Alright, alright, enough already. Shut up and let me give you the solution to your problem!”

Finally, when your interlocutor has vented all they’re going to vent, in a calm and present way offer them your suggestions. That’s what I need to practice.

The takeaway

The question now turns to what the heck this means for you. Well, if you’re reading this, my assumption is that you are interested in, and are traveling, the spiritual path. As such, I’m assuming that many of you also experience what I’ve described here. That is, getting anxious, resistant and impatient with people who are exhibiting some kind of unconscious behavior/resistance.

If you’re one of those people, try this. To recap, it’s:

1. Become aware of your resistance.

2. Breathe.

3. Listen.

4. Offer suggestions, if appropriate.

That’s it. Simple stuff. But it requires a commitment to practice it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Meditation

Ram Dass’s Quote About the Spiritual Path: Be the Captain of Your Ship

Ram Dass was a soaring soul our world was fortunate to have for almost nine decades. Known as Richard Alpert until his guru gave him his Hindi name, Ram Dass influenced an entire generation of Westerners, mainly American, from the late 1960s until his death in 2019.

One of the many things I like about Ram Dass is his emphasis on the individual’s primacy in the spiritual journey. Too many spiritual traditions demand an “our way or the highway” dogma that diminishes the individual.

Not Ram Dass. This was his take:

The spiritual journey is individual, highly personal. It can’t be organized or regulated. It isn’t true that everyone should follow one path. Listen to your owtruth.”

This is huge. Why? Because many traveling the spiritual path are too quick to outsource the captaincy of their ship. They look to others to tell them what to do. And to tell them what is truth and what isn’t.

The teachers I follow

In my case, I pursue ideas and concepts that resonatewith me. That make sense to me. I’ve written extensively about Mickey Singer, Eckhart Tolle and Ram Dass…because their teachings resonate the most with me.

Not all teachers resonate with me. Yogananda is one of the most influential Indian saints of the 20th century. He lived in America from 1920 until his death in 1952. He had a big hand in popularizing meditation in America. His book, Autobiography of a Yogi, is one of the most influential spiritual books ever written.

Mickey Singer is a Yogananda devotee

If my favorite teacher, Mickey Singer, had to choose one teacher that has influenced him above all others, I would bet that he’d choose Yogananda. He certainly mentions him the most frequently in his talks, along with Meher Baba.

Me? Not so much. Yogananda’s teachings focus mostly on the active and ardent pursuit of knowing God. His autobiography didn’t move me as it did so many millions of others.

Ram Dass floats my boat

Ram Dass’s book, Be Here Nowon the other hand, hit me like an earthquake. I tend toward the Ram Dass/Bhakti yoga teachings that stress compassion towards others. Ram Dass’s guru, Neem Karoli Baba, had a simple summation of the purpose of life: Love everyone, serve everyone. That resonates with me.

I just took the Ananda course in meditation, which is the beginning phase of the ancient method of Kriya yoga that Yogananda practiced. There were precise exercises that had to be done a certain way, followed by meditation that had to be done in a precise way. I found it all too forced and inflexible.

But that’s just me. There are millions of adherents to Yogananda and Kriya that swear by it. It totally works for them. I want to stress that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Kriya, just that it’s not for me.

The takeaway

The point of all this is that spiritual seekers need to follow their own noses. If some teaching or teacher rubs you the wrong way, move along to something else.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson so eloquently put it:

Trust thyself.Every heart vibrates to that iron string.”

Nobody knows the course of your spiritual path better than you do. You just need to listen to your insides.

And captain your ship.

Meditation

Thich Nhat Hanh’s Quote About Happiness: It’s About Peace, Not Excitement

Happiness is a tough topic. Why? Because what we deem happiness to be guides how we live our lives. And there is much disagreement over what happiness is or should be.

Here’s what the late Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh believed:

Many people think excitement is happiness. But when you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace.

Now do you see why happiness is a tough topic? Because what we believe will make us happy is what we pursue in life. And Thich Nhat Hanh is saying that pursuing excitement will not make us happy.

Since excitement and peace are just a collection of letters making up two words, let’s define, using examples, what we mean by both.

What I mean by excitement

I believe excitement exemplifies actions like getting that big promotion at work. Buying a flashy new car. Even something like “Oh my God! She agreed to go on a date with me!”

Do any of these occurrences make us feel peaceful inside? They don’t. And the reason they don’t is because they spring mostly from our egos.

I’ve been an excitement junkie

This is a difficult topic for me because I have been a major chaser of excitement in my life. I was off-the-charts excited when my agent phoned me all those years ago telling me I’d gotten the writing job on The West Wing. I’ve also gotten a huge rush of excitement any time I’ve won a big tennis match. Or when I landed a client in my lobbying days, which meant big money. “Yes! Cha-Ching!”

So that’s excitement. What about peace? I think we get what that is. Peace is feeling calm inside. Feeling good about who we are and our place in the world, whether we’re a greeter at Walmart or President of the United States.

What I mean by peace

Peace can also be defined by what it is the absence of. No worry. No fear. No anxiety. For me, the absence of worry, fear and anxiety is the trifecta of happiness.

As I’ve traveled further and further along the spiritual path, I’ve realized that peace is where it’s at.

But I don’t see this as a slam dunk, open and shut argument. Because there’s nothing wrong with having excitement in our lives. In other words, events that make our energy rise up and make us feel good, if only temporarily.

The problem, and this is the crux of this whole piece, comes when we organize our lives around achieving those exciting things. Because, again, most of those exciting actions spring from our egos.

Winning fortifies my ego

Here’s a salient, personal example. When I feel that scintillating energy rush from winning a tennis match, I know that my ego is driving most of that. Why? Because as I’ve written about before, a big hunk of my emotional baggage comes from decades of wanting to be seen as a “winner.” Which means if I lose, I view myself as not as valuable a human being.

Well, if I devote hours upon hours each week to tennis training — practicing, lifting weights, doing running drills — all of that is in furtherance of excitement that only reinforces my egoic baggage.

The takeaway

So here’s where I come down on this. I feel like it’s a universal law that pursuing inner peace, as Thich Nhat Hanh said, is where true happiness lies.

And not only does it make us feel better, it also makes us better people. Who is more compassionate, a peaceful person or an inveterate thrill seeker?

The takeaway for us is to orient our lives so that the lion’s share of our energy goes toward developing inner peace.

How? Meditate regularly. Practice mindfulness. Let go of your egoic baggage. If you’re religious, pray. Do anything that facilitates inner stillness.

Meditation

Mickey Singer has Surrendered for the Past 50 Years — Join me in Trying it for a Day

My favorite spiritual book of the past five years is Mickey Singer’s The Surrender Experiment. The book is about the decision Singer made in his 20s to surrender to the flow of life, by which he means accepting what life/God/The Universe/The Tao brings us rather than fighting for what we want or resisting what we don’t want. If this sounds confusing, here’s an example from the book on how this manifested.

One summer Mickey went away for a month to a spiritual center in California. He returned home to his Florida land to find that a female friend of his had begun building a home on his property. No joke.

Abiding a squatter led Mickey to his lifetime love

Every fiber of Mickey’s being wanted to scream at her and kick her off his property. But he had resolved to ignore his preferences and flow with what life put before him, so he didn’t say a thing. Not a word. In fact, he helped her finish the house!

The postscript is that not long after, this woman’s friend came to live with her, a woman named Donna who would soon become Mickey’s wife, the love of his life and mother of their daughter. All because Mickey ignored his preferences.

It’s just one day

Mickey’s surrender experiment has endured for fifty years. Admittedly, asking you to join me in committing to surrender to life for the rest of our lives would be a pretty huge ask.

But how about for just one day? Just as an experiment to see what it’s like? I’m going to do it today.

As for you, let’s start the deal with this. If you’re interested and you’re reading this piece before 12 noon your time, devote the rest of the day to surrendering. If reading after noon, begin your surrender experiment the next morning.

The experiment particulars

Now, for the all-important particulars. Let’s get more specific on what this experiment looks like. The best way to do that is by providing examples.

-Your boss asks you to work the weekend. Don’t say no. Or make up an excuse why you can’t. Surrender.

-Your spouse/significant other suggests a restaurant they really want to go to but that you aren’t enthusiastic about. Surrender.

-Your kid barges into your office while you’re working and begs you to take them to the store to get art supplies for their school project. Surrender.

If this sounds preposterous or unthinkable to you, remember that we’re only doing this for a day. And to reiterate, what we’re doing is flowing with life rather than fighting it/resisting it. Think of yourself as like a leaf on a river, flowing with the current, downriver.

We also need to stipulate what our experiment doesn’t entail. If you’re walking down the street with your kid and somebody tries to snatch them, fight like hell to protect your kid. And if, in the third example, you’re working on something urgent that your boss needs in thirty minutes, don’t go on the art supplies expedition.

The takeaway

It may have occurred to some of you that what we’re doing here, if only for a day, is monumental. It is nothing less than putting into practice the foundation of most spiritual traditions: Not allowing our desires to guide us. “I want this. I don’t want that.” is how most of humanity lives every day.

Join me. Let’s see what it’s like to fully surrender to the universe for just one day.

Please let me know in the comments how it goes for you. Thanks!

Meditation

Mickey Singer’s Funny and Accurate Analogy Describing the Spiritual Path

I have bad news for the human race. According to Mickey Singer, we’re not much smarter than hamsters. How so?

Think of a hamster running on a hamster wheel. Trying to get somewhere, but never getting anywhere. Just running in place, day after day, thinking that will get him somewhere, but never making any progress.

How is this analogous to the story of us humans? Because we also pursue the same course, day in and day out, year in and year out, that doesn’t work. That doesn’t get us closer to what we want.

What humans really want

First, let’s be clear about what we want. Here’s how Mickey relates it. If a genie granted you ten wishes, most of you would ask for things like a billion dollars, a relationship partner, kids, seven mansions all over the globe with a Lamborghini parked in each garage, etc.

The truth is that you’d be lying. You don’t want all those things. What you want is what you think all those things will bring you: Happiness. Peace of mind. Contentment.

The outside world can’t make us happy

Bottom line is that we look to the outside world — car, house, wife, kids — to make us feel good inside. The problem is it doesn’t work. It can short term, but never long term.

The new, cool car is great…until it isn’t and we rarely even think about it. The spouse makes you feel fantastic inside, until the bloom comes off the rose and he/she drives you crazy.

Who among us doesn’t know this? That living life this way doesn’t bring us happiness. And yet, who among us doesn’t keep plowing forward, pursuing this same strategy day in and day out, year in and year out?

Like a hamster running aimlessly on the wheel.

And like constantly on running on a wheel, looking to the outside world to make us happy is downright exhausting. Getting all the outside pieces to fit just so…

“Junior aced his math test. And I just lost ten pounds. But my husband is leaving today on a two week business trip. And I think my boss is going to give the promotion to my idiotic colleague who he plays golf with every weekend…”

The bad news for hamsters is that they don’t realize there’s an easy solution: Just jump off the wheel. And stay off.

The good news for humans is that there is an analogous solution to jumping off and staying off the wheel. And unlike hamsters, we humans have the ability to understand and therefore pursue that solution.

What is that solution for us? It’s simple:

Stop living our lives pursuing what we want and avoiding what we don’t want.

It’s the foundation of Buddhism as summed up in the Four Noble Truths:

1. Life is suffering.

2. Suffering is caused by desire.

3. Eliminate desire and we eliminate suffering.

4. Pursue the eight-fold path to eliminate desire.

Doing that is the equivalent of jumping off and staying off the hamster wheel. Which leads to…

Question: If our lives aren’t dictated by going after what we want and avoiding what we don’t want, what the heck are we doing all day?

Answer: We’re being present with what life/God/the Universe/the Tao presents us. We’re flowing with life rather than fighting it. Accepting life rather than resisting it.

How do we do that? Therein lies the rub, as Hamlet famously said. Because transforming that paradigm from want/don’t want to accept/flow ain’t easy.

Why? Because want/don’t want is deeply ingrained in us. After all, we’ve been living that way from day one.

It takes work to step off and stay off the wheel

But this is the work of our lives. And it consists of the daily spiritual work that myriad traditions have imparted for thousands of years. My work involves mostly meditation, mindfulness and letting go of David Gerken. For others it might be prayer, chanting, yoga, qi gong or any number of spiritual techniques.

One way or another, they all point us toward the same thing: moving away from pursuing desires and toward present-oriented living.

The takeaway

I write about these analogies — clouds and the skyflowerssnow globestaming stallions, and now the hamster wheel — because I think these images can deepen our understanding of the spiritual path and thereby spur growth.

How might this analogy be helpful to you? Try this. In the coming days, anytime you feel frustrated with life because you’re not getting what you want or getting what you don’t want, imagine yourself as a human hamster running on a wheel. Hopefully, you’ll get a chuckle out of it.

More important, see yourself jump off the wheel; then take a few deep breaths as you calm down and relax into the present moment. Then watch yourself walk away from the wheel.

The fact is that we are smarter than hamsters. But only if we use our intelligence to step off and stay off the wheel…

Meditation

Eckhart Tolle’s Teaching That Annoys The Heck Out of Me — Unfortunately, He’s Right

This article may annoy you but stay with me because there’s a lesson here that can help you avoid a boatload of bad feelings.

I’ve been listening to Eckhart Tolle’s talks for over ten years. Here’s a quote from one of them that he’s said many times:

There is nothing that strengthens the ego more than being right.Being right is identification with a mental position — a perspective, an opinion, a judgment, a story. For you to be right, of course, you need someone else to be wrong as the ego loves to make wrong in order to be right.

Why do I find this teaching annoying? And why do I assume many of you do, too? Because who among us doesn’t find ourselves professing to be right about something while the other is wrong? Every single day.

To pick just one demographic: Is there a married couple on planet Earth that has not had a thousand arguments wherein each side desperately tries to prove that they are right and their spouse is wrong? I think my marriage might be the only exception…

NOT!

A small example: My wife and I have engaged in an “I’m right, you’re wrong” battle the past few years over how best to set up our kitchen.

Steph: “I think I’ve got it figured out. Let’s do kids cups, plates here. Adult plates, bowls, glasses there. Kids Tupperware, storage in this drawer. Yada, yada, yada…C’est magnifque!”

Me: “Wrong. It won’t work because of X, Y and Z.”

Steph: “Yes, it will. Just try it.”

Me: “Whatever you say, Il Duce.”

A month later and we’re back to the drawing board. Why? Because I was right!

The ego is behind our need to be right

Seriously, though, the problem is exactly as Eckhart states: The ego is the source of that energy fueling us to ‘be right.’ Here’s the kicker: Even when we are right, the ego is behind it.

Let’s take a look at the Ukraine-Russia war. Just about everybody in the world believes they are right in thinking that Russia is in the wrong. They attacked a sovereign country with no provocation whatsoever. Because their military is weak and poorly trained, they’ve focused their firepower on killing and torturing innocent civilians. So it’s Putin/Russia wrong; me, right.

I think that assessment is accurate. But it’s still my ego dictating this. In fact, I seek out the articles and news reports that all fortify my ‘rightness.’ It makes me feel good knowing I’m in the right.

Politics, the ultimate right/wrong arena

This is true for all kinds of things. Politics, anybody? It’s all about right/wrong. Trump’s an evil asshole for many. For others, Trump is the embodiment of strength who tells like it is to the Washington elites. Both sides feel right. And both sides dig in because it makes their egos feel insanely awesome.

I write all the time about the egoic self versus the true, conscious self. A critical point of this piece is that our conscious selves couldn’t care less about being right. Why? Because that deep ‘I’ inside all of us transcends right and wrong. It exists on a higher, nondual plane.

So am I saying that none of us should care about right and wrong? “Great, Russian soldiers. Go ahead and mutilate and violate innocent civilians.” No. I’m not saying that.

Be right, not righteous

What I’m saying is that we need to be right without being righteous. For me, righteousness connotes a stirring and feeding of the ego.

Being right without being righteous takes our egos out of the equation. This means no hate, no vitriol, no bile. And the result is that we’re far better able to serve the moments in front of us.

What I just described is how people like Thich Nhat Hanh, Gandhi, Ram Dass and the Dalai Lama approached matters. They didn’t get on their high horses and proclaim their rightness on anything. They took strong positions, but they did so with compassion.

Let me reiterate: This teaching has annoyed me because I’ve been just as guilty as anybody of this ‘needing to feel right’ thing. I like feeling right. I like that feeling of moral superiority I get when rooting on the Ukrainians and loving every Russian failure.

My Will Smith-Chris Rock comeuppance

This came up just last week when I sent a text to a great friend, who is also steeped in spirituality, saying something along the lines of, “Man, is Will Smith the biggest asshole of all time or what?” He called me on it, basically asking if I thought that was the healthy way of looking at it. How about some compassion for Will Smith who’s obviously grappling with some major demons?

And he was right. I saw two people embroiled in a controversy and my ego said, “We love Chris Rock. Always have. Let’s go to town on Will Smith. PARRRRTYYYY!!!”

The hard truth is that in my Will Smith example, and all these examples, we’re just jumping off the diving board into the lower depths of our ego pool.

The takeaway

So what the hell do I think we should do? What I’ve been trying to do is, at the very least, become aware when I fall into ‘I’m right’ mode.

Hopefully, with some practice, I’ll get better at stepping off the diving board and transcending the right/wrong dynamic when it appears. Responding from a place of conscious presence rather than egoic glee.

I’ll conclude by admitting this has been a tough one to write. It’s a big subject. Suffice to say that you’ll save yourself a lot of bad feelings by resisting your ego’s temptation to dance down righteousness lane.

Let me know if you think you’re right and I’m wrong about this… :-)

Meditation

Use This Snow Globe Analogy to Help Deal With Adversity

A setback. Misfortune. Adversity. A challenge. Call it what you want, we all experience them. From the small, a pipe bursts and floods your bathroom; to the medium, you lose your job; to the large, loss of a loved one, adversity is a part of life.

But if there’s anything these past ten years on the spiritual path have taught me, it’s that there are good ways and unhelpful/unhealthy ways to respond to adversity. To sum up a whole lot in one sentence: The worst thing we can do is to dive in and fight with our adverse event.

In the pipe burst example, diving in and fighting would manifest as:

“Great. This is gonna cost a fortune. And we’ll have to shower in the kids’ bathroom for weeks. Just when I need to be focused on writing my long-term strategy memo at work. Couldn’t have been worse timing. Shit!”

That is diving in and tangling with adversity. It’s allowing your lower, egoic self to take over the steering wheel. And all it does is compound the problem.

What to do

So what’s the healthy/helpful way? It’s something I thought of a few days ago after I hit a patch of adversity.

What happened, admittedly, is part of the ‘small’ category. For any of you loyal readers out there, let me apologize at the outset for heading back to one of my golden oldie subjects: Tennis.

The short background is I grew up playing serious tennis. Played juniors, then four years of varsity at Princeton. For the past several decades it’s been mostly club championships (I’ve won a bunch) and age group events.

Which brings us to a few days ago in Palm Desert, California, where I played in the Wilson World Tennis Classic, the largest senior tennis tournament in the world. I was seeded #8 out of 45 players in the draw, which means they think I’m the 8th best player in my division.

Bounced out in the first round

Well, I lost my first match. To a guy I’d never heard of, but who friends told me I wouldn’t have any trouble beating.

In tennis parlance, this is what we call a ‘bad loss.’ Losing a match you should win. The good news is that he was a nice guy, which took away some, but not all, of the sting.

What stung? One, I physically felt awful afterward. Hot and drained. Second, I was disappointed in myself that I didn’t fight harder, something I pride myself on.

Tennis baggage

You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud, Ram Dass or Mickey Singer to figure out that I carry emotional baggage in this area. It’s about being seen as a winner, by me and by others. It’s pure, 100 percent, USDA prime ego.

Which brings us to what I’ve done these past few days to deal with this egoic sting. First, here’s what I didn’t do. I did my best to nip thoughts in the bud like, “That guy was so f-ing lucky. Played the match of his life. And I sucked. Why do I even play anymore? I don’t even enjoy these tournaments.” Blah, blah, blah. Complain, complain, complain.

Here’s what I did do, and it’s been working. Not sure why, but I thought about a snow globe. When you shake it up, the snow starts falling down.

The snow globe as storm

I see that as a storm. And these flakes of snow I see as tiny manifestations of my adversity. Diving in and getting involved with those flakes, by complaining, etc., just shakes up the globe, which perpetuates the storm.

So here’s the crazy idea I came up with. When I felt a pang of sting from the match, I simply imagined a snow globe and watching the snowflakes falling. That’s it. I would place attention on that sting feeling and watch it, in the form of snowflakes falling. And breathe with it…while seeing the snowflakes fall, to the point that the snow globe was clear.

It’s a visual image to aid in staying in my seat of self. To maintain my witness consciousness and prevent myself from diving down and falling prey to the whims of my lower self. This creates a dynamic whereby there is the subject, me, the conscious being, and the object, the adversity.

Don’t fall into this trap

It needs to be said that this witness consciousness thing I’m facilitating through the snow globe analogy isn’t about making the bad feelings go away. This is a trap many fall into. People try to objectively view these adverse feelings and when those feelings don’t go away, they get frustrated. “What’s the point?!”

The point is to actually feel those feelings. And if you’re going through something adverse, they don’t feel good. But when we place attention on them and observe them and feel them, without tangling with them or trying to push them out, it has the effect of freeing them to pass along, like clouds in the sky.

This works at all levels, small, medium and large. Whether we lose a stupid tennis match or our mom passes away, we do the same thing: observe what we’re feeling and be present with it. It’s the essence of mindfulness: Being present for the moments of our lives, whether they’re good or bad, instead of stuck in our minds.

The takeaway

This snow globe idea helps to keep me from diving in and getting involved. Why? Because that image of snow slowly falling is calming. It’s an image that helps me breathe evenly and smoothly until the adverse feeling drifts away.

When another one of those feelings pops up, whether a minute or an hour later, I do the same thing. After two days of doing this, the clouds have pretty much passed. Just a few wisps here and there.

Consider giving it a try.

Meditation

Treat Your Moments as You Would a Business Decision -Accept, then act.

Many of you may know that Mickey Singer is my favorite spiritual teacher. I explained why in this article. His teachings, picked up over a fifty-year spiritual odyssey, are insightful, practical and make the most sense to me.

You might think that a higher being like Mickey would have led a reclusive, isolated life. Not so. Mickey was a mega-successful businessman. He developed an interest in computers during their nascent days in the 1970s; i.e., before Bill Gates and Steve Jobs took the world by storm. The long story short is that Mickey created the most successful medical office billing software ever.

Mickey Singer the businessman

I don’t know his net worth, but I assume it’s around the billion-dollar mark. What did he do with all that dough? If you thought he bought Rolls Royces, mega-mansions, yachts and Romanee-Conti wine you’d be mistaken.

Other than buying vast tracts of land in Florida on which his Temple of the Universe sits, his material tastes seem to be extremely modest. On every video recording I’ve seen of him, he wears the same thing: Khaki pants and a long sleeve, collared, navy blue knit shirt.

Why all this about Mickey and business and money? Because I heard him say something the other day that pricked my ears up.

Accepting the moments in front of us

He was talking about how we should handle our moments. All of them. He said the starting point for handling every single moment of our lives should be to accept them exactly as they are. Why? Because it’s reality. Don’t fight what is.

Unfortunately, what most people do with most of their moments is resist them. From the small, “I can’t believe how long this checkout line is!” to the big, “She broke up with me, I can’t handle it!” It’s resistance and it’s a life killer.

Accept, don’t resist

The thrust of this piece is what Mickey said after this exhortation to start by accepting all moments. He said we should treat our moments as we would any business decision. A good businessperson doesn’t flail around and freak out after receiving bad news. They stop, gather themselves and say, “Okay. Last month’s sales are down sharply. What do we need to do to get those numbers back up?” They don’t waste time and energy moaning, groaning and complaining about what just happened.

Many of you out there might be saying, “My idiot boss freaks out all the time when bad stuff happens.” That may be. But remember, I’m talking about good businesspeople.

There’s strength in acceptance

Many misconstrue accepting every moment as it is as passivity. Weakness. Wrong. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s taking a moment that has just happened, and is therefore unchangeable, and making the best of it.

The opposite, as I said, is to bemoan that moment.

“Why does this always happen to me?” “Why do I have to have the worst salespeople in the entire state of Wisconsin?!”

That is weakness. More important, it is totally counterproductive and injurious to your well-being. And your bottom line.

So act like a good businessperson. With every moment that the universe presents to you, start with acceptance. Then turn your attention to making those moments the best they can be.

It’s good for business. Good for you.

Meditation

Why Getting Fired From The West Wing was the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me

My favorite quote of the motivational writer Napoleon Hill is this:

“Every adversity, every failure, every heartbreak, carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”

I first read that sentence while in college and have never forgotten it. I’m glad I didn’t. Because I needed it 19 years ago when I encountered an adversity that I thought was the end of me: I got fired from the Emmy award winning television show The West Wing.

Why did that shatter me? I’ve written about this before (here) so I’ll give the truncated version.

Landing my dream job

After fifteen years in politics in Washington, D.C., I’d taken a flyer and moved to Hollywood to try my hand at script writing. I worked hard for a few years then landed my dream job of joining the writing staff of my favorite show, The West Wing.

That season I spent on the show was first class all the way. Top notch writing, directing, acting and production values. I also got a front row seat into the creative process of my boss, Aaron Sorkin, the top writer in television and film.

Going before the Warner Bros. firing squad

Then Warner Bros. fired Aaron and, a few weeks later, most of the rest of the writing staff, including yours truly. It was a tough blow. Being asked to remain on staff would have been a huge boost to my career. The two junior writers who weren’t fired went on to experience great success and made a ton of money.

Not me. I secured jobs on progressively worse shows in the years that followed. While I did sell some pilot scripts and a screenplay, I eventually determined that I had to get out of the business and try something else.

In retrospect, my West Wing firing paved the way for the two best things that ever happened to me: Marrying my wife and pursuing the spiritual path.

1. THE WIFE STORY

I could write a book about this one so I’ll do my best to be brief. I moved from Washington to Los Angeles after dating my wife for around seven months. We did the long distance thing for about a year and a half then broke up.

I did the West Wing year and then got fired. But during the season, it hit me that I was about to turn forty and was still pretty pathetic in the relationship department. I didn’t want to wake up at age 65 still single and clueless.

Going into therapy

So I got into therapy. I had done it off and on since my early 20s, but hadn’t in a long while. My therapist sister hooked me up with one of her colleagues and we got to work. A lot of it had to do with my getting real about what I wanted in a woman. What was truly important and, just as significant, what wasn’t.

I started going on a bunch of dates, mostly of the blind variety. None of them went very far. The one that went the farthest, a whopping three dates, was with one of the Desperate Housewives actresses. She was a sweet woman, but wasn’t the right one for me.

A fateful night in Washington, D.C.

With no job to report to, I headed back to Washington to see my friends. One night, at a bar on Massachusetts Avenue, I ran into my now-wife. We hadn’t talked to or seen each other in around eight months. We chatted a bit and then went our separate ways.

But something fantastic happened. As I was standing there talking with her, I had a major realization. Remember that work I did with the therapist around finding a woman who was right for me? It hit me: It was her.

Yes, she was smart, attractive and even a good athlete. But more important was that she had a sunny, fun personality. Sounds trite, but she was, at heart, a happy person. And always has been.

She was also very much a family person and was extremely close with her mom, dad and sister; as someone who has always valued family, this was a big one for me.

My Emmys gambit

Long story short, I decided in the weeks after to try and get her back. I’d heard she was dating some internet zillionaire, but he was no match for me (too uptight). I took her to the Emmys a few months later (bought her dress, shoes…the whole shebang).

After doing the long distance thing again for a while, she moved to LA and got a cool job with the Dodgers baseball team. Not too many months after that we got engaged. Then married. Then came kid 1, kid 2, kid 3 and…bada bing, bada boom, they’re now 13, 11 and 5 years old.

And we have a fantastic life. Three amazing kids. Great friends. Family nearby. There are very few days where we don’t look at each other and say some version of, “Our cups runneth over.”

Crunch crunch

Does it drive me crazy when she chomps on crunchy tortilla chips right in my ear when I’m trying to watch the news? Sure. But hey, nobody’s perfect, right?

The point is that we probably wouldn’t have gotten back together had The West Wing kept me on. Why? For one, I wouldn’t have been back in DC to bump into her. And I probably would have been riding an egoic high that would have taken my eye off the relationship ball.

2. THE SPIRITUAL STORY

The second life-transforming benefit coming from my West Wing firing was doing what I’m doing now: Spiritual work. Here’s the short story on that.

After getting battered in the entertainment biz for several years I needed some help. I was becoming negative and bitter. So my spiritually minded sister (the therapist) recommended I try meditation. That was almost ten years ago. I’ve been meditating regularly ever since.

A rich and miserable future

If The West Wing had kept me on, I’m confident my career would have gone in a far different direction. A couple more years on the show and I would have gotten opportunities to create my own show or serve at a high level on a current show and make a ton of money.

And what would all that have done? Two things. One, it would have resulted in my ego getting stronger. All the agents and everybody telling me how great I was, etc.

Second, because of that empowered ego, I never in a million years would have dived into the spiritual ocean. No way.

As it was, my ego got stomped on. And thank God for that. Because that thrashing was incredibly, profoundly necessary and beneficial for me. Over the years I learned that getting rid of my ego was the most important work that I, and anybody, could do.

The takeaway

What does this mean for you? I hope that if now, or in the future, you find yourself feeling absolutely despondent because you got fired or broken up with or some other awful life event, that you’ll remember this story. And know that if you just hang in there something wonderful might spring from the ashes of your misfortune.

Finally, I’d like to formally thank John Wells, the producer who fired me. His decision gave me the wife and family that are the heart and soul of my life and the work that fulfills me every day. Work that makes me feel like I’m in sync with what the universe wants from me. I couldn’t be more grateful.