Everything Goes Right

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 nonexistent.

$30 bought me a pair of jeans that has lasted close to two years.

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 necessary.

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 for this.

Cynical about Cynicism

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 many others.

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?

Mindfulness Monday

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.

Weekends Aren’t Real

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.

Working For Meaning (in meaningless work)

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 shaking machine.

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.