Riding the Turbulence of Life Like a Wave

We’re in the middle of a big move back to California from Guam, and things are in great flux. Saying goodby to everyone, packing and shipping stuff, not having a home yet, traveling with kids on a couple long flights, moving our old stuff from storage in a U-Haul, finding our way in a new city.

Life is turbulent right now — though if we think about it, it almost always is.

I’m not a surfer, but I imagine that I can let myself be overwhelmed and crushed by the turbulence … or I can ride it like a surfer might ride a wave. You don’t control the wave or know how it will turn out, you just have to navigate it moment to moment.

If we can learn to ride the rolling uncertainty of our lives like a wave, staying open each moment to what unfolds, we can live without as much stress and anxiety, and just be present to what is happening. Maybe even enjoy ourselves in the middle of it.

So what would that be like?

For me, it seems to be staying present with the feelings of uncertainty that come up for me, instead of trying to ignore them or get away from them. That means allowing myself to feel the turbulence, not constantly staying distracted.

It seems to be trying to be curious about what is unfolding, about what this particular moment is like, without needing to know what comes next exactly. Without needing it to be any certain way. And if I do expect it to be a certain way, being present with my feelings of frustration or stress when it doesn’t turn out to be that way.

It seems to be about surrendering, a bit, as I relax my constant need for control. I don’t have all the information I need to perfectly plan out my life — there’s so much uncertainty about everything, that I can’t possibly know how things should go, what I should do exactly, what will come next. So should I try to plan for every possible outcome, be incredibly prepared for any possible scenario, when I can’t know what might happen? Or can I relax and surrender, trusting that I can deal with whatever does come up. So far, that’s always been true.

It seems to be about dealing with what’s right in front of me, in the moment. I can’t deal with every possible scenario that might come in the future, but I can be fully open to what’s happening right now. I can be as present as I can with this situation, and figure out what needs to be done right now.

It also seems to be about learning to love this moment, as it unfolds, as it is. I don’t know what will come next, but what’s happening now is completely new, a beautiful surprise. Instead of worrying so much about what is still to come, I can open my eyes to what’s right here.

And then fall in love with it.

Walking into the unknown can be scary … but at the same time, it can also be a time of discovering love for a fresh experience. It can be a time of walking into pure joy at the miracle of life that’s just emerging in this moment.

It is breathtaking and lovely.

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The 11 Life Lessons It Turns Out I’ve Taught My Six Kids

On my 46th birthday recently, my (mostly adult) kids wrote out a list of lessons I’d taught each of them in their lives so far. Each wrote their own list, and my wife Eva sweetly put them together in a notebook.

As I read through them, I felt like crying. It’s so incredibly touching that they appreciate what I’ve been trying to pass on to them, things I’ve been learning and want them to understand.

As a father, there are few things more meaningful than to see how you’ve helped your kids through your example and talks over the years. We have a mixed family of 6 kids, aging from 13 years old to 26 years, and all of them are wonderful human beings.

It turns out, there were some lessons that all or most of the kids put on their list, which I’m going to share with you here. These lessons they had in common made me wonder if these were the more powerful lessons, or if they were simply the ones I talked about the most. 🙂

So here they are, roughly ordered in how frequently they showed up on my kids’ lists:

  1. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and it’s okay to fail. This was tied (with the next one) as the most common lesson on their lists — it made all their lists, I think. I really love that this lesson hit home with them.
  2. Have empathy & try to see things from others’ perspectives. This was the other lesson on all their lists, and again, it’s beautiful that they all took this to heart. I’ve tried to show them this through my actions, though of course I’m not at all perfect.
  3. Push out of your comfort zone. This is another one I’ve tried to teach by example, from running several marathons and an ultramarathon to doing things that scare me, like speaking on stage or writing books. This lesson is so important to me that
  4. Don’t spend more than you have. This is such a simple idea, but one that is rarely followed. I’m glad my kids are starting out with this mindset — live within your means, save as much as you can.
  5. Appreciate what you have & enjoy where you are right now. I love this one. It’s something that I try to embody, but also remind them when they are thinking about what they don’t have. Each time we’re stuck in complaint, it’s an opportunity to wake up to the beauty that’s in front of us.
  6. Sadness is a part of life, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling it. Despite what I said in the previous item, it’s OK to feel sadness, pain, grief, frustration, anxiety, anger. In fact, most of us never want to feel those things, so we’ll do whatever we can to ignore them or get away from the feelings. Instead, I try to actually feel those things, as an experience. It teaches me about struggle — if we’re not willing to face our own struggles, how can we be there for others when they struggle?
  7. Don’t give up just because something gets hard. As new adults, our four oldest kids are facing various struggles in new ways. This is part of growth, of course, but struggles never feel good. My job as dad has been to encourage them not to give up just because it’s hard — to keep going, and to use the struggle to grow.
  8. But don’t overwork yourself. That said, I’m not a fan of overwork. I believe the brain doesn’t function well if you keep studying or working past the point of exhaustion, so I try to teach them about taking breaks, resting, going outside and moving.
  9. It’s okay to be weird in public. Have fun. I’m not sure why several of them had this on the list — they must have learned to be weird from someone else? OK, in truth, they might have gotten it from my tendency to dance and skip with them while we’re out walking around in a city, or to encourage us all to do weird things as a group, no matter what other people might think.
  10. Your reality is a reflection of the narrative you tell yourself.
  11. Make people laugh. It makes their day brighter.

I love my kids with all my heart, and it has been a privilege to be their dad. I take 10% of the credit and give the rest to their moms, grandparents, and themselves.

Btw, you can read Chloe’s full list in her blog post.

Also … from them, I’ve learned some lessons that are just as important:

  • Kids deserve to be heard, to be listened to, to be respected. I started out as a dad with the idea that what I say goes, and they just need to listen to me! But over the years, I’ve learned to listen to them, and treat them as I’d want to be treated.
  • Kids have tender hearts that hurt when you aren’t kind to them. As a young dad, my frustrations and insecurities led me to angry bursts of scolding, yelling, spanking. I’ve grown since then, but more importantly, I’ve learned to see the tenderness of their hearts, and how it hurts to be yelled at by someone they trust and love so much. I am much more gentle with those hearts these days.
  • I should relax and not take myself so seriously. Whenever I think too much of myself, my kids humble me. Whenever I get too serious, my kids laugh at me. I love that playful reminder to loosen up.
  • Dads are goofy, dorky, uncool. And that’s how we should be. I sometimes harbor the notion that I can be a “cool” dad. When I try to break out newish slang or reference a meme, my kids will tease me about it. When I break out a joke or pun that I think is hilarious, they’ll laugh while rolling my eyes and calling it a “dad joke.” So I’ve learned just to embrace my uncoolness, and be myself with them.
  • All they need is love. There are lots of things to stress out about as parents, and nowadays we tend to obsess about getting everything right with our kids. But really, we’re stressing about it too much. All the details are just details — there’s only one thing that really matters. They want you to love them. And to receive their love. That’s all. Feed them, clothe them, shelter them, educate them, sure … but beyond that, they just want you to love them. Drop everything that gets in the way of that and let it come out as simply and clearly as you can.

Thank you, my loves.

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Focus as an Antidote for Wanting to Do Everything

I have a problem, and I think most people do as well: I want to do everything.

OK, not actually every single thing, but I want to do more than I possibly can:

  • I want to do everything on my long to-do list, today
  • I want to take on every interesting project
  • I want to say yes to everyone else’s requests, even if I know I’m already too busy
  • I want to travel everywhere, and see everything that’s interesting
  • I want to try every delicious food, and I always want more of it (and I always eat too much)
  • I want to watch every interesting TV show and film
  • I want to read everything interesting online
  • I want to take on a lot of interesting hobbies — each of which would take me many hours to master
  • I want to spend time with everyone I love, with every friend — and also have a lot of time for solitude!

Obviously, this is all impossible. But I bet I’m not alone in constantly wanting all of this and more.

There’s a term for this in Buddhism that sounds judgmental but it’s not: “greed.” The term “greed” in this context just describes the very human tendency to want more of what we want.

It’s why we’re overloaded with too many things to do, overly busy and overwhelmed. It’s why we’re constantly distracted, why we overeat and shop too much and get addicted to things. It’s why we have too much stuff, and are in debt.

Greed is so common that we don’t even notice it. It’s the foundation of our consumerist society. It’s the ocean that we’re swimming, so much a part of the fabric of our lives that we can’t see that it’s there.

So what can we do about this tendency called greed? Is there an antidote?

There absolutely is.

The traditional antidote to greed in Buddhism is generosity. And while we will talk about the practice of generosity, the antidote I’d like to propose you try is focus.

Focus is a form of simplicity. It’s letting go of everything that you might possibly want, to give complete focus on one important thing.

Imagine that you want to get 20 things done today. You are eager to rush through them all and get through your to-do list! But instead of indulging in your greed tendency, you decide to simplify. You decide to focus.

Let’s talk about the practice of complete focus. It can be applied to all of the

The Practice of Complete Focus

This practice can be applied to all of the types of greed we mentioned above — wanting to do everything, read everything, say yes to everything, go everywhere, eat all the things.

Identify the urge: The first step in this practice is to recognize that your greed tendency is showing itself. Notice that you want to do everything, eat everything, and so forth. Once we’re aware of the tendency, we can work with it.

See the effects: Next, we need to recognize that indulging in the greed tendency only hurts us. It makes us feel stressed, overwhelmed, always unsatisfied. It makes us do and eat and watch and shop too much, to the detriment of our sleep, happiness, relationships, finances and more. Indulging might satisfy a temporary itch, but it’s not a habit that leads to happiness or fulfillment.

Practice refraining: Third, we can choose to refrain — choose not to indulge. The practice of refraining is about not indulging in the greed tendency, and instead pausing. Noticing the urge to indulge, and mindfully noticing how the urge feels in our body, as a physical sensation. Where is it located? What is it like? Be curious about it. Stay with it for a minute or two. Notice that you are actually completely fine, even if the urge is really strong. It’s just a sensation.

Focus with generosity: Then we can choose to be generous and present with one thing. Instead of trying to do everything, choose just one thing. Ideally, choose something that’s important and meaningful, that will have an impact on the lives of others, even if only in a small way. Let this be an act of generosity for others. Let go of everything else, just for a few minutes, and be completely with this one thing. Generously give it your full attention. This is your love.

Clear distractions: If necessary, create structure to hold you in this place of focus. That might mean shutting off the phone, turning off the Internet, going to a place where you can completely focus. Think of it as creating your meditation space.

Practice with the resistance: As you practice focus, you are likely to feel resistance towards actually focusing and doing this one thing. You’ll want to go do something else, anything else. You’ll feel great aversion to doing this one thing. It’s completely fine. Practice with this resistance as you did with the urge: noticing the physical sensation, meditating on it with curiosity, staying with it with attention and love. Again, it’s just a sensation, and you can learn to love it as you can any experience.

Let go of everything, and generously give your complete focus to one thing. Simplify, and be completely present.

You can do this with your urge to do all tasks, read all things, do all hobbies, say yes to all people and projects. But you can also do it with possessions: choose just to have what you need to be happy, and simplify by letting go of the rest. You can do the same with travel: be satisfied with where you are, or with going to one place and fully being there with it.

You don’t need to watch everything, read everything, eat everything. You can simplify and do less. You can let go and be present. You can focus mindfully.

If you’d like to train in this kind of focus, train with me in my Mindful Focus Course.

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A Simple Mindful Method to Deal with Tiredness, Loneliness & Stress

“I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment. That joy is in everyone, always.” ~Byron Katie

A loved one has been going through a hard time, dealing with tiredness, stress, and loneliness, and my heart goes out to them as it does anyone going through such struggles.

They can break your heart, these difficult emotions.

But beyond compassion, what I tried to help her with is a fairly simple method for dealing with these difficulties mindfully. I offer it to you all as well, as something to practice and test out.

Here’s the method, to practice if you’re feeling stress, frustration, loneliness, sadness, tiredness:

  1. Notice that you’re feeling this difficult emotion, and notice how it feels in your body. Bring a sense of curiosity to the sensations, just being present with them for a moment.
  2. Notice what thoughts you have in your head that are causing the emotion. For example, you might be thinking, “They shouldn’t treat me like that” or “Why does my job have to be so hard?” or “These people are stressing me out! Things should be more settled and orderly.” Or something like that. Just notice whatever thoughts you have. Maybe write them down.
  3. Notice that the thoughts are causing your difficulty. Not the situation — the thoughts. You might not believe that at first, but see if you can investigate whether that’s true.
  4. Ask yourself, “What would it be like if I didn’t have these thoughts right now? What would my experience be right now?” The simple answer is that you’re just having an experience — you have feelings in your body, but you also are experiencing a moment that has light, colors, sound, touch sensation on your skin, and so on. It’s just an experience, a moment in time, not good or bad.
  5. In fact, while this experience is neither good nor bad, you can start to appreciate it for what it is, without the thoughts. Just seeing it as a fresh experience, maybe even appreciating the beauty of the moment. Maybe even loving the moment just as it is.

Obviously some of these might take some practice. But it’s worth it, because while you might not be able to get rid of tiredness (some rest would help there), you can let go of the thoughts about the tiredness that are causing you to be unhappy. You might not be able to get rid of the loneliness, but you can let go of the downward spiral of thoughts and emotions that make the situation worse.

And just maybe, you can find some incredible love for your experience in this moment. Yes, you feel tired, but you can love the tiredness, and everything else in this moment, without needing anything to change.

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Meditating in the Middle of Chaos

The wind and rain were swirling around me powerfully, as I sat in my mom’s tropical flower garden in Guam and meditated.

A tropical storm was passing close to Guam, where I’m living at the moment, and I decided to go out into the strong winds and torrential rain to meditate for at least a few minutes. Don’t worry, it was safe.

I actually stood in meditation, as sitting in a puddle of rainwater wasn’t that appealing to me. The water kissed my face, the wind rocked my body into a sway, and I practiced being present in the storm.

I was practicing stillness in the middle of chaos.

Of course, we don’t need to have an actual tropical storm (which turned into a supertyphoon after it passed us) to practice with chaos. It’s all around us, every day. Chaos is the uncertainty of our daily lives, the constant barrage of information and requests and tasks and messages we’re swarmed with, the uncertainty of the global stage and national politics, of our finances and global economy, of changing communities and our everchanging lives.

Chaos is all around us, and it can stress us out. It causes anxiety, depression, frustration, anger, procrastination, constant distraction, and the seeking of comforts like social media, food, shopping, games and more.

But what if we didn’t need to run to comfort or fear the chaos?

What if we could just be still, and find calmness and stillness with the uncertainty swirling around us?

A member of my Fearless Training Program said he would like to “dance with chaos.” I think that’s a beautiful idea. Let’s embrace the uncertainty. Practice with it. Dance with it, and let this practice be joyful!

A Joyful Practice in Chaos

So how can we practice mindfulness in the middle of chaos? How can we make it joyful?

For me, it looks something like this.

First, you give yourself space to be present with the chaos. I stood in the middle of the storm, because I was excited to see what it was like. I intentionally called it “meditating” because my intention was to be as present as possible with whatever happened. In your daily life, that might look like just stopping in the middle of your busy workday, at any moment, and dropping into the present moment so you can feel what the chaos feels like.

Second, you find the courage to be completely present with the felt experience of the chaos. In the storm, part of that was feeling the wind and rain on my skin, noticing the dramatic light that was filtering through the storm clouds, noticing the amazing tropical jungle in the small valley below me, and the movement of the trees and flowers surrounding me. But there was more than that: it was also the feeling of excitement in my chest, maybe a bit of uncertainty about whether something would fly and hit me on the head, which showed up as a small bit of fear radiating in my heart area. It was also the feeling of my body swaying, my leg muscles tensing, my chest expanding as I breathed. All of this is the felt experience of the moment. Not just my thoughts about it, but how it feels in my body. We can practice this in any moment.

Third, you relax into the chaos, and embrace it. Noticing how the chaos feels, you might notice any tension you have around it. For me, in the storm, there was tension around my safety (again, it was actually pretty safe), so I noticed this tension and relaxed those muscles. Relaxing my body, I let myself just surrender to it. Embrace it, as if it were an incredible gift. Again, we can practice this any moment. Right now, in fact, if you’d like to try it.

Fourth, you dance with it, joyfully. Once we relax around the chaos, and start to embrace it … we’re making friends with it. The uncertainty is no longer a thing to run from, or to resist, but is just a part of the experience of this moment. Of every moment. And so we can start to dance — let ourselves move through the chaos, in a loving, lovely, joyful way. What would it be like to play right now, in the middle of your uncertain life? What would it be like to be curious, and explore, like an adventurer? What would it be like to be grateful for this incredible moment of chaotic beauty? What would it be like to find the love, the openness, the swirling dancing musical movement in the middle of this storm?

We have the opportunity, every single day, even every moment, to be present with the storm of the world. To sit in stillness in the middle of the wind and downpour of life. We have the opportunity to be open to it, to dance with it, to even find the joy in the immense uncertainty that is our lives.

Let’s dance, my friends. Let’s love what is all around us.

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Vast Mind: 3 Ways to Open Beyond the Self-Concern of Our Small Mind

Most of the time, we are caught up in what can be called “small mind”: the small world of self-concern, of wanting to get what we want and avoid what we don’t want.

This is the cause of our suffering — always running to distraction, procrastinating, caught up in worries and fears, worried about what people think of us, what we’re missing, what someone did to offend us, and so on.

It’s a small world we get trapped in, this worrying about ourselves all the time. And it leads to stress, anger, hurt, worry, fear, anxiety and distraction.

The antidote is Vast Mind — growing bigger than the small mind we have habitually become stuck in.

What is Vast Mind? It’s opening to something bigger than our self-concern, opening to the freshness of the moment.

Let’s imagine that there’s someone whose family member has said something insulting to them. They immediately get caught up in small mind, thinking about how they don’t deserve to be treated this way, that they’re a good person and that this person is always being inconsiderate. They are worried about themselves, and their world is very small and constricted.

What if instead, this person dropped their self-concern, and opened their awareness to something wider than themselves? The experienced the moment as pure experience, and suddenly everything is open and vast. They relax into this openness. They might notice that this other person, whom they love, is suffering in some way. They send this person compassion, and feel love for the person and this moment.

That’s the difference between small, constricted mind that’s full of suffering, and vast mind that’s open, fresh, unbounded, and full of love.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Here are three practices for growing from small mind to vast mind.

Practice 1: Ego-Dropping Meditation

A great place to start is by sitting in meditation and opening your awareness and dropping the boundaries between you and everything else. Here’s a meditation I’ve created for practicing this.

The idea is that we practice dropping into a relaxed, open awareness, and then start to relax any boundaries we have between ourselves and all that surrounds us. We drop the construct we’ve created that we call ourselves, and then there’ just sensation, just pure experience.

It’s a returning to wholeness. It’s a wonderful practice.

Practice 2: Radical Not-Knowing

Most of the time, we act as if we know exactly how things are. We don’t pay too much attention to this moment, because it’s boring to pay attention to the breath, body sensations, the sensations of everything around us, because we already know all about that!

But in fact, every moment is completely fresh, completely open, full of new possibilities to explore.

When we get stuck in small mind, we are in a narrow, constricted view of the world. And it’s a hardened view — I know what I want and I just want to get it. I know what I don’t like and I want to avoid it. It’s the hardened view of fundamentalism.

The practice of radical not-knowing is to act as if you’ve never experienced this before. Everything is completely new to you, with no preconceptions or labels.

You look around at everything as if you’ve never seen anything like this. It’s fresh, wondrous, breathtaking. There are no names for anything, just the pure experience.

Try walking around like that for a few minutes, and see what it’s like. Be open and curious.

What happens is that we become much more open to the vastness of experience. There is no, “I want this” or “I don’t want that.” It’s just, “This is the experience I’m having right now.”

This is pure boundless awareness, and it is vast.

Practice 3: Opening to Devotion to Others

When I notice that I’ve gotten caught up in my small mind, I try to think of people other than myself.

This person is being inconsiderate because they’re suffering.

The people who I love are more important than my discomfort.

The love I have for my family is so much bigger than my small wants.

Opening myself up to the love I have for others gets me past my small mind, and into an openness. What would it be like to be completely devoted to other people? It’s a fresh experience, boundless and vast.

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