My editor insists on going to her day job as an English
teacher, so please forgive any typos.
We are focused on things going wrong. This is probably an
adaptation that keeps us alive. If I cross a particular street a thousand
times, but get hit by a bus one time, I will remember the bus because it could
have killed me. Our minds are advanced pattern-recognition machines meant to
ensure our safety, even if this does tilt us toward pessimism.
It is fun to count the things that go right everyday,
because they vastly outnumber the things that go wrong. Here is my list for the
first few minutes of my day.
I woke up.
I live in a functioning economy and a time in history advanced
enough to have air conditioning, a soft bed, and electricity. I also have hot
water for a shower, though my wife says I should take advantage of this more
often. I say that the idea of showering all the time is a conspiracy by the
soap companies. I’m no sheep.
I did not deal with any violence in the night, from animal
or person or weather.
I live in a stable universe where things stay where they are
supposed to. I have never woken up in the ocean or in a black hole or
$30 bought me a pair of jeans that has lasted close to two
My wife and my children woke up today.
I have animals that I get to take care of. It is really
weird that we get to have these other creatures live in our houses with us.
I have coffee on demand, and plenty of food to meet the
needs of myself and my family.
I wake up energized and ready to go, and I am able to clean
up the house first thing every day.
I have a house to clean up.
I have a toddler who I love, and makes cleaning up
This is just the first few minutes, and it is just
scratching the surface. Today I have also gotten Max to a daycare that we trust
and love without dying, my truck did not break down, and I live in an age where
I can type something electronically and post it on the internet where people
can read it. I have gotten a lot of positive feedback about these writings, and
that makes me feel good.
I just mailed a huge (to me) check to the IRS, but I only
had to do this because I have been making money. I have to save up a lot of
money to send in January because I have been doing my taxes wrong, but I am
happy I have learned how to fix this, and that I have the ability to fix the
situation without it wrecking us. I am fortunate to get do this in a way that I
feel helps other people. In a little while, I will go to the job that has
allowed me to make money and help people, and I really enjoy being there.
These things are present everyday. Even when I feel like
shit, at least I am here to feel it. I am very fortunate, and I try to remain grateful
Cynicism is easy. It gives us a seemingly legitimate set of
reasons not to help others, not to trust people, not to reach out, and not to
care about how things are going. It even allows us to adopt a kickass persona
of jaded indifference. We get to say cool things that make us seem wise and
above it all. We are a hovering, indifferent God, not quite understanding the
fear and drama of the silly mortals surrounding us.
I think a lot of this stems from a sense of helplessness in
the face of the overwhelming suffering present in our world. It is our way of
lashing out at so many things that affect us but are beyond our control. It is
comforting to say that cops are all racist assholes or that Black Lives Matter
protesters should be run over if they are keeping us from getting to Whole
Foods or that we should nuke ISIS or nuke ourselves because of our colonial
misadventures in the Middle East. Donald Trump supporters are just xenophobic,
young earth creationist, Nazi morons who are voting out of prejudice and fear,
and anyone voting for Hillary Clinton must be a pie-eyed Social Justice Warrior
who has never left their dorm room or farm collective unless it was to use
their welfare to buy cigarettes. All of these statements are easier than
engaging the fact that everything is shade of gray and that there are no easy
answers to any of it. Cynicism is the costume of the desperate and the futile
and the lazy.
My cynicism emerged from these things, combined with a
shallow knowledge of Zen Buddhism and a fascination with the stoic, hardened
characters from television and movies and comic books. It shielded me from
having to honestly engage difficult issues and situations, without having to
acknowledge that I was dodging them out of fear and an unwillingness to move
into pain with other people. It helped me process the world, but not in a way
that was useful to anyone. Cynicism has really failed me over the last few
years. I try to retreat back into it from time to time, but I can’t maintain it
for very long. Really, its arrival just signals the need to take a step back
and rest and get my mind straight.
It may be from having a young child again, but I find that I
am tremendously affected by things involving kids now, to the point that I
avoid news articles involving bad things happening to them. The pictures of the
little boy in Syria with his hands up because he thought the camera was a gun
and the other little boy washed up on the on the beach and pictures of refugee
children sleeping in the woods, huddled together against the Scandinavian cold,
bother me for days and weeks, and I cannot find any way to rationalize them
away or be indifferent. I am also forced to acknowledge that I am powerless to
help them in any real way.
It would be easier to say something about how this is just
the way things go or about how nature is cruel or war is hell, but it isn’t
right. I think kids affect me more because I cannot find any way to believe
they brought this to their door. This isn’t cool though, there is nothing more
un-hip than giving a shit about children. Freaking breeders.
I have a lot of cynical friends who make terrible jokes and
act jaded and like nothing matters to them, but how they spend their time tells
a different story. They actually engage the world, and many of them are working
in professions or volunteering in capacities that get to the heart of these
issues. They have passions they are pursuing and projects they are engaged in and
they hustle all the time. These projects may not be something others see as
charitable or meaningful, but at least they are living life and using their
time and they haven’t checked out. I would rather see a façade of cynicism on
someone who is doing stuff than the vaguely desperate surrender I see in so
What are you cynical or hardened about? What social or
political or world issue pushes you to dismiss it because it calls up an
uncomfortable emotion for you? Is there a way you can lean in to it instead of
trying to avoid it?
Let’s call this Mindful Monday. It sounds like something a
blog should do.
Monday gets a bad rap. Everyone hates Monday because they
feel forced to go back to work to earn more money to actually live on. It is a
good day to make jokes like “not long enough” when someone asks you how your
weekend was. It is a good day to start looking forward to getting home later
that evening, or to Friday or to your next vacation or to retirement, or to
death. Whatever you’re into.
But, what if the problem isn’t with Monday, but has more to
do with our perception of it? What if our perspective is what causes us to
suffer rather than the day itself?
Mindfulness is a current (and thankfully, fading) fad, but
it is also one of the most useful things I have found in life. At its core, it
is simply cultivating a nonjudgmental awareness of what is going on around you.
It is about learning to step beyond the concepts and prejudices and opinions we
carry about everyone and everything around us, and trying to look at things as
they are. Mindfulness is about acceptance. I would say it is about taking it a
step further and embracing things exactly as they are. It is the single thing
that has brought me to a place of peace and contentment in my life. I still
work hard and have a lot of things I want to do and get done, but I am not in a
frenzy and I love every moment.
Let’s try a few things today, simple exercises that might
make all of this a little easier.
Notice the weather today, but without a judgment of it as
good or bad. What does the temperature feel like on your skin? What does it
smell like outside? Think about how many other people are experiencing the same
weather as you, but have different perspectives on it based on their
preferences, plans, and memories. Notice the difference between the weather
itself and the stories your mind is telling you about it.
While at work (yeah, yeah, I am assuming you have to work
today) notice the sounds around you without judgment. Pay attention to the
stories your mind tells you about your tasks, your co-workers, what time it is
and other things. Notice how you do not have to buy into these stories.
Whatever you are doing, do it well and do it with 100% of
your attention. When you notice that your mind has wandered, just come back to
what you were doing – never judging, never criticizing.
If you don’t have to work today, you can still pay attention
to these things because our mind never ceases to tell us stories. Our job
is to be aware that they are just stories.
I didn’t even consider not blogging on the weekends until
people asked me if I was going to or not. I don’t really see a difference
between weekdays and weekends, it’s all made up. Every day is one day closer to
not being alive, so I am not sure why we feel the need to act like some are
more or less important than others.
I resent the notion that I am supposed to live in a way
where I am always looking forward to something else, but then it is tainted by
the realization that I will lose it. Everyone hates Sundays because they begin
to dread Monday, and they hate Monday because it’s Monday. We are supposed to
love Friday, but Friday is pretty close to Monday. And, weeks aren’t even a
thing, we are all caught up in these fake cycles of hours and days and weeks
and years when it is really just one big present.
I spend most of my week talking to people, and I find that
there are few things that cause more suffering than an inability to stay in the
present. We lament the past and fall into depression, we project forward to the
future and generate anxiety. When we were in the past, it was the present, when
we get to the future, it will be the present.
I plan for the future, don’t get me wrong. I have a Roth IRA
and plans to diversify my time to get around the limitation of only being in
one place at a time. I want to buy a building and lease offices to other
counselors. I am saving as much money as I can right now because I’ve been
doing my taxes wrong and need to send extra on January 15th. I am speaking at
Texas Tech and Lubbock Christian in October, so I am planning those so I will
have something worthwhile to say.
If you’ve read my other blogs, you know I think about the
past. I look back on things I have and have not done, and try to use what I’ve
learned to find peace in the present and avoid mistakes in the future.
Sometimes I miss people and places, and every once in a while I fall into
wishing some things had gone differently.
I use the past to determine what I can do in the present. I
plan for the future so that when I get there it won’t suck, but I don’t live
there. The past and the future are not real in any genuine sense; I don’t see
any reason to spend time on them.
So, today is Saturday. That doesn’t really mean anything
other than my schedule is a little different. It is still a day of my life, and
I still have things to do. I don’t dread Monday because it will sort itself
out, and I don’t mind watching Saturday and Sunday slide by because that is
what time does. I just want to use all of it.
Ok, some of my time today will be used to play Stick of
Truth because I just got it.
It’s pretty awesome so far.
I have always been a marginal employee at best. My wife
didn’t believe me when I said I’ve had 30+ jobs, but I was actually able to
come up with 42 off the top of my head. I am pretty sure I’ve actually had
closer to 60.
I worked at HEB for 4 hours, Schlotzky’s for an hour and a
half, The Buckle for 5 minutes. I sold knives and vacuums door to door, but
neither lasted a full day. My friend Jen and I were on track to become ballroom
dance instructors for 2 whole days. I’ve been fired on my day off and, once, in
the midst of a blackout. I often went to lunch and just never returned.
I’ve come to realize that every job has the potential to be
meaningful if we let it though, and that much of my patchy employment history
may just be my own fault.
Many of my employers were decent, and at the very least they
offered me an opportunity to make my own meaning from my job. I first really
learned this working at hotels. I could have just been an idiot behind a
counter in a denim shirt and $7 tie, but for some reason I chose to be the
friendly face that people got to see while they were away from home. I got to
be nice to people who were stressed out from being on the road. I got to break
up a fight between my manger and a giant ball of steroids who was angry because
hotel employees kept walking in on him while he was in the bathroom with the
door open. He came barreling out of his room on the second floor and pointed at
my manager like Hulk Hogan used to do when he was making his big comeback.
It was awesome.
I got to talk to a meth dealer about his life choices after
the girl he hooked up with the night before stole all of his aforementioned
meth, and his portable DVD player. I got to help people try to find rooms when
the town was sold out because of football games and graduation, and twice I had
people stay at my house because they were in town for the hospital and there
was nowhere to stay. I almost got into a fight with Ted Nugent. I still have a
copy of his rider. He likes real goose down pillows and the Wall Street Journal
outside his room in the morning. English language only.
I think he overestimated the level of service that the
Lubbock Ramada offers.
Oh, and he lists all of his rooms under Ted Emporalis.
Yep, Emperor Ted.
Anyway, because I allowed myself to invest, I enjoyed my
work, and they enjoyed having me there. I was a good employee, and I felt like
I was doing more than just trading hours of my life for a set amount of
dollars. I could have done this at any of my jobs if I had been living with any
sort of consciousness.
Waiting tables could have been an opportunity to make
people’s night a little more pleasant and to ensure a smooth meal for them, but
instead I was the kid who “forgot” to turn in their order if they got on my
nerves. Doing electrical work could have been an opportunity to have a positive
impact on the people I worked with and learn a valuable trade, but instead I
decided to drink on the job every day. Turns out, that will get you fired too.
Even Walmart had opportunity. I could have been the knowledgeable and useful
guy who helped you find what you were looking for in the hardware section and
get out of Walmart just a little faster, which everyone is happy to do. Instead,
I was the guy who mixed up all the weird paint colors to see what they looked
like and left the lids on the cans loose so they would explode inside the
I think any job can offer us the opportunity to help others,
to offer them something worthwhile if we are willing to step out and do a
little more than required. It is definitely better than just passing time and
watching the hours of our life drain away for nothing.