Category Archives: Spirituality

Music as Meditation

I’ve been thinking a lot about what happens to me when I play my guitar. It’s very similar to meditation in the sense that I’m focused on the present moment, my thinking process has slowed or stopped and I get a complete sense of relaxation.

Music, whether playing, singing or listening, has an incredibly powerful effect on most of us. It’s like we are all wired so that music jumps right down into our core being. We associate personal memories to songs. We relate a host of emotions to a variety of music.

Music forms the thread that connects our lives to others and to our own past. It is so ingrained in all cultures that I can’t imagine a society without music.

All I know is that when I’m playing music, listening to music, or singing (alone mostly!), I seem to transcend time. I experience a level of joy that only a few other things can compare. Photography being one of them.

Incorporating music into your daily life can be one way to help lift your mood, help you to reduce your stress levels and put you squarely into the present moment. Try all varieties and see which ones have positive effects.

Have a great day!

Michael

Your Morning Shower

Like taking a morning shower, make the planting of positive thoughts a daily practice. – Neil Eskelin

This is an excellent exercise. It doesn’t require any special equipment, just your brain. No special techniques. Just a little bit of thinking which we all have a great amount of experience doing.

But it’s the type of thinking that is the key; focusing on some, maybe only a few, positive thoughts. You see that’s the difference. You don’t try to NOT think negative thoughts. It can’t be done. They more you try to not think something, the more you will think it. It’s a simple rule that says you get what you focus on, whether it’s negative or positive. For example, remember when you try to not think about a song that is swimming around your head. It never goes away until you focus your attention on something else.

So, instead, turn your attention to something completing different, i.e. something more positive, even if it’s only a little bit. The key is turning towards something a little bit better. That’s all. Nothing dramatic. Nothing stressful. Just a little bit better.

Each day shower yourself with a few positive thoughts. Try it. See how it works.

Have a great day!

Michael

Merry Christmas

There is probably a word for what I experienced last night. It is similar to an epiphany, the word that James Joyce revived to describe a transformational moment, in which you suddenly experience a profound insight about yourself and your life. It can hit you unexpectedly and without warning.

Last night, after my wife cooked a delicious dinner for a small group at her parents’ house, we came home to wrap presents. The three of us each took a room, Nina in her bedroom, Sarah in her study, and I in the living room with the Christmas tree. I turned on a CD of Diana Krall singing Christmas carols, plugged in the lights on the tree, and sat on the floor to wrap stocking gifts.

When I had finished wrapping, I put away the paper, ribbons, and tape in the attic and returned to the living room to sit in a chair and listen to the music. We live on a quiet street without street lights, and the neighbors at the back were away, so outside was silent except for the steady rain.

I sat right in front of the tree and gazed from one ornament to another, lingering mostly on the hand-painted, ceramic figures that my stepdaughter’s great-grandmother sent to her, every year at Christmas, and also at the hand-made ornaments that Nina herself brought home from school as a small child.

Christmas tree ornaments have a special, evocative power over me. They appear every year for a week or two and recall other Christmas Eves and Christmas mornings, first in your own childhood and then in your children’s. They are celebratory and colorful, and the best of them are simple. These favorites of mine are tiny reminders of our family’s joy and love.

The word I am looking for describes a brief, personal experience that allows you a sweet, simple appreciation that you are who you are, that there is nothing you would change.

You might call it a blessing.

The Christmas Spirit

Until recently I was one of those people who grumbled after Thanksgiving about Christmas besieging us too early. I complained about getting the tree and wrestling it inside. I muttered while bringing boxes of decorations down from the attic, and I flew into a rage if the process of putting lights on the tree took too long (which it always did). One year, I even made my stepdaughter put ornaments on the tree without me.

What was I thinking?

This afternoon, after helping my mother put up her Christmas tree, I drove to the lot and brought ours home. It snowed this morning, the first snowfall of the year in our part of southeastern Massachusetts, and the wet snow melted onto our living room floor as I settled it into its tree stand. Nothing that three beach towels spread around it couldn’t take care of.

After it had dried off, I turned on a CD of English Christmas carols and strung the lights. The disk is called “In the Bleak Midwinter,” and it features the Cambridge University choir, with boy sopranos in nearly every track. They are mournful and quiet and evoke the early nightfall of rural England. They are perfect to listen to with a fire burning in the fireplace.

There is something about this aspect of Christmas–the part that acknowledges the onset of winter and the hardships that must have settled over the English countryside in the 17th and 18th centuries, when many of these carols were written–that makes me melancholy, but not dreadfully. The tunes always make me want to cry, though not just from sadness.

Today, alone in the house trimming the tree, I was trying to understand it. Eventually I decided that it has to do with a baby being born the child of God, arriving weak and hungry, as babies do, but bearing the hopes of shepherds, priests, and kings. Such a humble start. I kept seeing in my mind’s eye the baby, wrapped tight and laid in straw by his mother, with grown men down on their knees in front of him.

Peace of Mind

Do not confuse peace of mind with spaced-out insensitivity. A truly peaceful mind is very sensitive, very aware. – Tenzin Gyatso, The 14th Dalai Lama

When you’ve seen beyond yourself, then you may find, peace of mind is waiting there. – George Harrison

For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe – Larry Eisenberg

It’s been almost four weeks now since I left my job. I’ve been on vacation (holiday in European terms) since then with two to four more weeks to go. For the first time in many years, I have become very relaxed and even more content than I usually am.

Is it just because I’m on vacation? I suspect not. Of course that helps but I think what is going on is that I’m only doing what I want to do at every moment. This is a different way of life for me because typically I’m  was also doing things that I had to do or was “forced” to do like work and etc.

I’m learning to let life flow freely and let it carry me where I want to go. I’m beginning to understand this is the way it should always be. My next goal after getting used to this way of living is to integrate this philosophy into work/career.

Until then, I’m experiencing more and more moments where I’m at peace. As I enjoy these times immensely, I’m striving to experience peace of my mind as a continual moment.

Have a great day!

Michael

Life Metaphors

I just arrived in Frankfurt, Germany on my way to Warsaw, Poland. Its early morning here and not quite midnight on the east coast. This was an interesting flight for me in several ways.

I found that many parts of the flight mimicked my life and what has been going on for the past several weeks. The flight started off just a little bit bumpy, not too bad. As the flight progressed past the last bits of Canadian land, it got smoother and smoother. The noise made from the wind as the plane made its course over the Atlantic was the only way I knew I was on a plane, other than the cramped seats and the food.

I slept for about an hour or slightly less on the first part of the flight. It was unusually restful. I awoke and started reading a book. It’s basically a spiritual memoir of the author’s personal journey to find herself. I read for awhile and found many passages that were exactly the kinds of thoughts I had been thinking for the last few weeks. I’ve been thinking basic stuff like changing my path in life, doing what I desire, letting go of the past and etc.

After reading for some time, I watched Episode 2 of A New Earth from Oprah.com. I fell into a light kind of sleep for the first part and was quite intently listening for the last half. I was unusually calm during the entire flight. The rest I received seemed to energize me much more than usual.

As we neared Frankfurt, dawn began to break in all its glorious colors. The plane began to bump some, as we landed on the bright new day. I think transitions are like that sometimes; a little bumpy on the landing but really worth the journey.

Believe it not, the lesson I learned from this flight was that I am slowly, sometimes painstakingly, removing barriers that are preventing me from taking my journey. The light of my new understanding is beginning to shine into the dark recesses where fear, doubt and anxiety reside.

I plan on letting more light in. :-)

Michael

The Monkey Mind

Monkey mind is actually a Buddhist term. It refers to mental activity that creates busyness which keeps us away from our true hearts. And it’s an extraordinary truth. Look at our whole culture; it’s built on busyness, and that’s why we’re so unhappy. But part of us loves busyness, including Natalie Goldberg. You have to pay attention and learn to understand how monkey mind works. What does your true heart want? You have to give it at least half your energy. Otherwise monkey mind fills your whole life with busyness. – Natalie Goldberg

I like the concept of the “monkey mind.” It really is an apt way of describing how our ego/minds keep us from following our true hearts. You’ve experienced it before, but maybe you didn’t realize it.

The monkey mind keeps thoughts going at a fast pace in your mind. This can distract you from focus and relaxation. The monkey mind gives you logical reasons for not doing something you want to do. Let’s say you want to write. The monkey mind will ask you how you will make money. If you stop writing the monkey mind has completed his mission; i.e. preventing you from following your heart’s desire.

The easiest way to overcome the monkey mind is through distraction. If you are meditating focusing on breathing or the breath helps to take your mind away from thinking. Doing what your heart desires regardless of what your mind/ego is saying is another way.

Remember, we are more than what we think; more than what actions we take. The monkey mind is not bad. That’s why we use distraction instead of forceful action to reduce its effect.

Don’t forget to be easy on yourself.

Have a great day!

Michael

Moving Towards A New Life

It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power. – Alan Cohen

As I get close to my departure from a company I have worked at for over 15 years, I find that there are days that are difficult. I’m a person that has historically been more comfortable with the familiar than I have been with constant change. I’ve moved passed that belief system more in the past few years, but when it comes to a big change like the one I’m approaching, I find the old feelings surfacing.

A fear of mine is letting life flow the way it is going to flow. I’m a person that likes to have everything planned as I’m a project manager at heart. But, with that said, I’m learning to allow things to happen naturally. Surprise. Surprise. I’m finding that everything works out just fine.

Learning to relax into life and flow with it like a canoe in a fast moving stream is what I’m working on right now. I’ve tried paddling upstream before and I find that exhausting. As I go with the “flow”, it’s actually much easier.

I got a great message yesterday from a friend. “Everything will be okay. All you have to do is accept that fact.”

I liked that message. It will be my mantra for some time.

Have a great day!

Michael

Thoughts From Buddha

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.

Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.

Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.

Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.

But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.
~ Buddha

A good friend shared this quote with me and I really liked it. Thought I would share it with you. It contains great advice for living a happier life.

Michael

Wisdom

It amazes me when the right book comes to me just when I need it. Last week a friend recommended Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat. Pray. Love. I had read the reviews and walked by it in bookstores for months, thinking that I would probably like it, but when I received the recommendation last week, I was particularly desperate for advice about reaching out to God.

For those of you who haven’t read it–and I strongly recommend that you do–Gilbert opens the book sobbing on the floor of her bathroom, desperate for guidance about whether to leave her marriage. She asks God for help, and receives a clear answer back. The answer is, “Go to bed, Elizabeth,” and what she writes about this is that she recognizes it as wisdom. “True wisdom,” Gilbert writes, “gives the only possible answer at any given moment” (p. 16).

It’s a great definition. Typically I expect that real insight will allow me to solve all of my problems at once. I know this is ridiculous when I am being rational, but suffering has a way of making me want to know everything all at once. Gilbert’s reminder that we only need to know the best next step strikes me as great advice, both because we can only take one step at a time, and also because it reminds us to narrow our focus on a problem to the tiny portion of it that we can handle right away.

Brilliant. (Plus, the rest of the book is funny and charming.)