My day job is getting stressful

Tags

, , ,

I have some pretty big deliverables coming up which means that I’ve been what we in the consulting business call, “heads down” cranking out some statistical analyses.

That said, the data isn’t playing nice with me.  Anyone who knows data analytics knows how important data quality is.  And I seem to be facing an issue where no matter how I slice and dice the data, the outputs just don’t make sense (they don’t correlate to any degree of statistical significance).  This is usually a very good indicator that there are issues with the data.

In years past and considering the looming deadlines, this type of situation would have had my stomach in knots, but today, I’m simply resolving to do the best I can without letting the poor data quality disrupt my mood.  It’s not my data. I didn’t create it, so even though I’m a downstream process that relies upon it, getting angry or upset just seems a bit silly and emotionally wasteful.

I will do the best I can.  I will report the findings as they are.  And I will recommend some upstream process interventions to bolster the likelihood that future data gets a bit nicer by the time it gets to me for analysis.

The Walking Dead and equanimity

Tags

, , , ,

The_Walking_Dead,_Season_1_CastI love the Walking Dead. I’ve been on this ride from the very first show and have let these characters and stories horrify me, inspire me, depress me, and thrill me for the past four and a half years.

This is what entertainment is supposed to do. It’s a relationship; a deal I make. Specifically the deal is, I invest an hour of my time in the safety and comfort of my own living room and in return, I get taken on a fantastical and shocking journey of post-apocalyptic zombie survival. It’s pure fun.

Watching the show now through my slowly refining lens of mindfulness, I’m rather in awe of our brain’s ability to trick our emotions in to action. We all know zombies aren’t real. We all know the characters on the screen are really actors pretending to be people they aren’t. We all know that we aren’t seeing real places, but elaborate sets constructed to simulate reality. We all know that on the other side of our viewing frame, are boatloads of people wearing jeans and t-shirts, with credentials around their necks, shouting instructions or adjusting lighting or touching up make up. And yet, here I am on Sunday night, shouting heartfelt warnings at images on my TV.

But that’s the deal right? I temporarily park my rational brain so that I can be taken on this awesome, ultimately safe ride.

So what does it mean to invite fictional emotional disruption if our quest is to live in equanimity?

My initial instinct is to say, it depends. One needs to be honest with oneself on her ability to separate fact from fiction. If scary movies keep you up at night, then you probably shouldn’t watch scary movies. If Titanic makes you sad for days on end, then you probably shouldn’t watch Titanic. If the death of a lead character in a novel sends you in to a depression, then you probably should reevaluate your emotional commitment to fictional characters.

One of the great purposes of art is to challenge our sensibilities. Art is supposed to be a bit disruptive. It’s supposed to get us to see the world from a different angle. It’s supposed to break down our comfort zones, so that we might make those zones a bit more inclusive.

That said, one of the great achievements of mindfulness is to help us recognize these emotions and to manage them appropriately. Practice mindfulness. Understand how your brain is working to create these emotions in you that are derived from fictional circumstances, and give those emotions their appropriate credence.  With the right understanding, you can let art, music, literature, movies, move you, inspire you, even thrill you.

But it should be like a roller coaster. Enjoy the ride but when the ride is over, step off of it and enjoy the rest of your day.

Sunday morning tea: anger

Tags

, , ,

Peace BuddhaAnother beautiful warm Sunday morning in the South ushers in time for some weekly reflection over a cup of hot green tea.   Last Sunday morning the call of the trail took me out early, but today I’m practicing some restraint because in about six hours, my running will be on the football pitch and if I run the mountain trails this morning, my legs will be jello on the playing field.

This morning, anger is once again on my mind.

I see it everywhere and I’m wondering if anger is an epidemic? I see it while driving on the road, at the sports field, on television, in relationships, on the news, at restaurants, at the airport, and just about anywhere where two or more people are trying to get something or somewhere. The reality of anger is that in almost every case, the anger is being felt by people who are not in control of the situation. The irony of anger is that they will never be in control.

We get angry at strangers. We get angry at people who are trying to help us. We get angry at people we love. We get angry at animals. We even get angry at inanimate objects! And for what purpose? When does it ever help? Do we get where we are going any faster? Does our machine start working better? Does our food start tasting better? Does our wife start loving us more? In my experience, with the very rare exception where anger was an emotional response to some grave danger, anger has only ever served to make my own blood pressure rise, my own stomach hurt, and my own heart ache.

Before I started practicing mindfulness meditation, anger was as emotion that snuck up on me then enveloped me, like a rogue wave where all of sudden, it’s all over me. But now, I see the wave coming. I feel it. I brace myself. Now, rather than drowning in the wave and letting it knock me this way and that, I let it break over me, wash off of me, and flow past me.

How can we export this understanding of anger to everyone in our lives? How can we all begin to recognize it for what it is: often simply an emotional response to the realization of our own impotence? I’m not sure.  I do know that the first step is to practice awareness of it in ourselves.

Because while they exist, it is surely the rare person, perhaps it’s even only the mentally unhealthy person, who seeks disruption and violence over peace and tranquility. If that’s true, then all of the people – those on the road, in the airport, at the restaurant, at home – should clamor for a cure.

If anger is an epidemic, our own awareness of it might just be the vaccine.

Science and religion

Tags

, ,

piFirst, happy Pi day!

It’s in the spirit of science and math, that this post is written. I’ve mentioned in several earlier posts that I’m a huge science fan. So it makes sense that I’m also a huge reality fan; for what is science if not the systematic and orderly pursuit of how things actually are?

This latter phrase is at the crux I think, of the perceived conflict between science and religion. It’s a “perceived” conflict and not a directed conflict principally because science is not in the business of disproving supernatural claims. After all, how could one disprove the existence of something imaginary in the first place? In other words, scientists don’t frame their research around proving that imaginary things aren’t real. It’s just the opposite, scientists frame their research around explaining things that actually are real.

Scientists make observations about phenomena first and then create hypotheses that could possibly explain the phenomena. These hypotheses must be measurable or observable before they can be considered credible.

So why the conflict? Well, issues between science and religion arise when the actuality of something that science has discovered, conflicts with a claim about that same something that a religion has as a part of its dogma.

For example, let’s take the age of the Earth. For centuries in Christianity, the age of the Earth has been estimated to be anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. This is because the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament, has as its very first book, Genesis, a creation myth about how the Universe and the Earth came to be and how long it took. This belief was considered sacred and anyone who took issue with it, was burned at the stake. (Talk about dissuading dissent).

Then a few centuries ago, along came guys like Copernicus and Galileo and slowly but surely, their explorations of reality started overturning the apple cart.  Fast forward another couple of centuries and we have modern science, the scientific method, and a seemingly exponential growth in our understanding of how things actually work and how old things actually are; things like the age of the Earth, which incidentally is estimated to be about 4.5 billion years old.

Now, along this ride of discovery, there are still many who refuse to accept that the original dogma that they were told to accept might be untrue. Rather than learn how science works, they charge that science is out to undermine their beliefs. No. Science is interested in what is true.  The Earth is 4.5 billion years old because that’s just how old it is.  The only agenda there is understanding the truth.

Enjoy your Pi!

It’s good to be home

Tags

, , ,

dorothyDorothy nailed it, “There is no place like home.”

I’m back safe and sound and now can spend a few moments reflecting on the last couple of days living out of my suitcase again.

Frankly, it was fine.  In fact, without having to commit time to my typical husband/dad/chauffeur/cook duties (all of which I enjoy mind you) I was easily able to find time to meditate and exercise with a bit more ease than I otherwise would be able to at home.

I enjoyed some good meals with some good company and learned some good things. I never bothered turning on the TV in the hotel room. I finished the fantastic book that I was reading, “The Universe Within: The Deep History of the Human Body” by Neil Shubin. I drank one slow beer with my dinner one night and never felt any urge to hit the bars or the happy hours beyond that.

I contemplated peace when I could.  I related my new practice to some of the speaker presentations about “attitude” and “compassion.” I even spent a break one afternoon back in my hotel room practicing loving-kindness meditation.

All that said, this morning’s meditation back in my house, on my cushion in front of my window, with the aroma of my tea and my incense, just felt a bit more peaceful than my quest for comfort on unfamiliar cushions in an unfamiliar hotel room in an unfamiliar town.

So why was it a bit more difficult to concentrate in this new place?  After all, my breath is still my breath, my mind is still my mind, no matter where my body is at?  Perhaps with greater practice, I will be able to achieve a level of peaceful meditative absorption no matter where I am – in a hotel room, on a plane, in an airport, or at my house – but like I said for now at least, it feels really good to be home.

Business travel true to form

Tags

, ,

airport sprintI live on one side of Atlanta. The airport is on the other. Which means that in order to catch a flight, I need to either drive through the city, or around it. I typically schedule my flights such that this decision doesn’t land me in the middle of rush hour traffic.

My flight out yesterday was on the tail end of traffic so while I knew I was pushing it, I didn’t expect too much trouble…that is until the President got involved.

Yes, the POTUS was in downtown Atlanta giving a speech at Georgia Tech and then at the Hyatt Regency; at the conclusion of which he was to motorcade back to Hartsfield Jackson and jet off on Air Force One at around 6:00PM. Of course, he was running a bit late, so guess where that put the motorcade?   In front of me on the downtown connector. Guess where that put my commute to the airport? One hour and forty minutes behind schedule!

I admit, my ability to remain in equanimity was tested. I don’t like missing flights, particularly when doing so puts me in an unknown city around midnight, as was the potential with yesterday’s flight. So no sooner had my wife told me, half-jokingly, to remember my breathing, the traffic jam broke and off I went.

I sped. I parked. I ran. I made the flight as it was boarding. And I sweated. I will say that there is nothing quite like being wedged in a middle seat on a flight you almost missed, to encourage you to close your eyes and take some refuge in your breath.

Perhaps my next flight I’ll add a bit more buffer to ensure that if the universe is playing the trickster, that I don’t devote unnecessary energy to letting it bully me around.

 

 

Business travel apprehension

Tags

, ,

Business TravelTonight I head to the airport for my first business trip since I’ve started my mindfulness meditation practice.  During this morning’s meditation, I could feel apprehension building in the pit of my stomach.

Business travel is wrought with potential hiccups. Flights, taxis, rental cars, hotels, luggage, expense reports, schedules, all on top of leaving the family; this is the business travel recipe that presents so many opportunities for life to get, well, a bit messy.

I’ve traveled, depending on my projects, extensively at times but for the last seven years or so, business trips have been the exception, not the rule. When I was traveling all the time, I had developed a rhythm which minimized disruption.  Like a choreographed dance, I had everything nearly perfected: when I packed my suitcase, how I packed my suitcase, what time I left for the airport, how I unpacked and repacked for the security line, etc.  But now my travel is so intermittent, I have to think through everything each time.

The last trip I had was in late January, before I started my mindfulness practice, and while I don’t recall feeling apprehensive per se, I do remember feeling stressed, which I’m certain manifested itself in shorter tempers with my family and longer sessions imbibing in the days leading up to my departure. Without a doubt, as evidenced by my expense report, the week itself was made more “tolerable” through the liberal consumption of beer and wine.

But now, with each day, I’m more and more at ease with my mind and I have no interest in dulling my thoughts and feelings with more alcohol than my bloodstream and liver can process.  I’m aware of my apprehension and now that I’m aware of it, I can simply acknowledge it, as I did during my morning meditation.  I even smiled about it because I knew what it was and where it was from.  I didn’t resent it when I discovered it in hiding in the pit somewhere behind my stomach and even as I located it, and smiled about it, it began to slowly retreat.  Not like an enemy, but like an old friend who just smiles and tips his hat at you from a distance.

So tonight, rather than taking refuge in an airport or hotel bar, I will have my new companion, who has actually been with me the whole time. I will travel with my clear mind and my calm breath.

 

Reflections on a busy weekend: Prom

Tags

, , ,

My daughter went to her first Prom this past Saturday.  She was gorgeous and her platonic date was handsome and courteous.  Most importantly, everyone had a safe and wonderful time!

But something interesting happened.  The day started off with such fervor that I wasn’t able to practice my morning meditation.  This was the first time I’ve missed sitting since I started meditating back on February 10, so I found myself worrying about it!  Worrying about the thing that’s supposed to help one deal with worry is, I’m pretty sure, not what one is supposed to do!

I recognized the sensation of worry building in my mind and then chuckled at the irony.

As soon as I did, the sense of worry began to fall away. I worked several standing and walking meditations in throughout the still hectic day, and ended up sitting for forty minutes of completely peaceful mindfulness mediation that night.

Sunday morning tea: running

Tags

, , , ,

Trail RunningOn this beautiful warm Sunday morning, my Sunday morning tea turned in to Sunday morning/afternoon 6 mile trail run!

It felt great to get out on the trail and deep into the woods.  Running is another domain in my life where I sometimes wonder if I wasn’t already a de facto Buddhist! I’m sure I’m not alone on this, but if I’m running, I’m always more aware of my body, my breath, the sound of my feet propelling me forward on dirt or pine straw, and the thoughts in my head.

And I’ve never enjoyed running with music in my ears.  I know for many, the rhythm of a song is what motivates their footsteps, but for me, I’ve always enjoyed the sounds of my environment, whether nature or cityscape.  And the music overwhelms any opportunity to enjoy what’s happening in the world at that time.

All that said, this run was even more mindful.  I might have expected as much based on my meditation practice.  I found my mind didn’t wander as often as it sometimes does. I was tuned in without negative emotions, to the sensations, sometimes painful, arising in my legs and chest when I pulled a large hill.  It was fantastic.

It was mindfulness running.

So yesterday I lost it…in a dream

Tags

,

I’ve been talking a lot to my family about “anger.” My wife and daughter tend to both be very stubborn and when my wife gets her feelings hurt, she typically reacts with anger followed by regret. My daughter on the other hand typically bottles up her feelings and then explodes like Vesuvius when she can’t take any more. Neither is a healthy approach to dealing with anger. When the two argue with each other, it can be extraordinarily stressful and volatile; like two chemicals perfectly stable on their own, but when mixed, boom!

Since I’ve started studying Buddhism, I’ve discovered that “anger” is a very common topic. We are after all still a primate species of mammal with all of the survival instincts that helped us emerge successfully from the African canopy over several million years of hominid evolution, so it makes sense that our brains are wired for fighting.

But evolution is just that, evolution. Tribalism no longer benefits us. War no longer benefits us. Violence no longer benefits us. We are evolving, using our brains to understand on an even deeper level, the true nature of reality and the importance of compassion and empathy, both traits which also developed throughout our evolution and which will necessarily have to triumph if we hope to maintain our presence as a species on this planet.

The Buddha said,

Guard against anger erupting in your body, in your speech, and in your mind…be restrained with your body, your speech, and your mind, letting go of misconduct in each. Practice good conduct with your body, speech, and mind.

I’ve also grown fond of the Buddha’s saying,

Overcome anger with non-anger, evil with good

So perhaps it was this fresh study on “anger’ that led my unconscious mind to conjure up a scenario in a dream where I absolutely lost my cool. Of all things, at a prescription eyeglass counter at a department store (I don’t think department stores even sell prescription eyeglasses). My family and I were at the counter to exchange a pair of glasses that we had purchased, for a pair with lenses that automatically shade in UV light and the manager refused to do the exchange. In the dream, I become more and more agitated and upset, to the point of yelling and cursing at the manager!   All to no avail.

I awoke to the sound of my dog scratching at the back door to go out for his morning “break” but the dream was still very fresh and real. I took a moment to look for the actual emotion of anger in my upper abdomen area where I last felt it but it wasn’t there. The sun was shining brilliantly outside and the birds were very busy with song and pre-spring activity, so I simply smiled, got up, started some tea, and took my poor dog – who was still waiting patiently by the back door – out in to the cool, crisp, morning air.