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Month: November 2017

The Secret Gift Hidden In Plain Sight Everywhere

The Secret Gift Hidden In Plain Sight Everywhere

Here’s a little fable that I first read years ago in a book called Life 101 by Peter McWilliams. I have heard the story in other places since so I don’t know if McWilliams came up with it but its one of my favorites.
So god really wanted to give humans a gift of the secret of happiness but he didn’t want to just hand it over. He wanted to hide it somewhere where everyone could get to it but they wouldn’t find it easily.
He delegated the hiding job to a group of angels and then went to play frisbee at the beach with his kids.
So the angels talked it over and came up with some ideas. “Let’s hide it on top of the highest mountain!” said one. The others pointed out that eventually humans would climb to the highest mountain and find it. Then inevitably someone would keep it for themselves.
Another suggested hiding it under the ocean and a third suggested putting it on the moon or on another planet. These ideas were rejected because, while humans would eventually get to these places, neither one would be accessible to everyone. Not everyone could swim for example.
They considered hiding it in caves and closets or in deserts or under piles of laundry. None of these places were just right.
Then the wisest angel snapped it’s fingers and said “I’ve got it. We’ll hide in in a place that is so obvious they’ll never think to look there. It’s a place that everyone can access.”
“Where is this place?” the others asked.
The wisest angel had been watching humans and had been involved in the early design meetings so this angel really knew humans. The Angel explained “We’ll hide the gift in plain sight, everywhere, right now. To make it even harder for them to find it we’ll label the gift so it’s really obvious. Then they’ll ignore it entirely.”
“What will we call it?” the others asked.

“We’ll call it The Present.”

The other day I came across this quote from Alan Watts. He said

“We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is. We are sick with a fascination for the useful tools of names and numbers, of symbols, signs, conceptions, and ideas.”

This is what I realized long ago. When I am unhappy or upset or worried it’s because I am thinking about the past or the future. When I am completely involved in the present I am blissfully happy. This is why playing sports is fun. This is why I love doing improv. This is why playing music feels really good when you’re fully involved in it.

This works on the macro level. Nothing from the past and future needs to keep you from making this day, this week and even this year fantastic.

On the micro level, you can take a deep breath right now and experience the present. This is where bliss lives. This is the aim of Zen, to really be present to the present without thoughts of the past or worries about the future. This is surprisingly hard to do for more than a few seconds at a time but that’s the goal of meditation.

I’ve heard a lot of people say they can’t meditate because their mind keeps spinning. Here is the truth. I’m not sure if this is encouraging or disheartening but it certainly blows away the idea that some people can’t meditate because their minds are too active. Everyone mind is too active. You’re not special. No one can stay in the present. Let me tell you a story that illustrates that. Genjo Marinello was an old friend of mind and is now the Abbot of the Zen Temple in Seattle where I started my practice. Genjo told me once that he meditated every morning for 90 minutes and every evening for 60 minutes and meditated several times a day with clients (he’s also a psychotherapist). He said in all that daily time he spends trying to focus on the present without thinking he feels lucky if he has one or two “good breaths.” Now Genjo has since been declared a Dharma heir so maybe all that zazen has turned him into a Bodhisattva who is always in the present moment but the point is that meditation is not about doing it right. It’s about trying to do it. Tara Brach suggests that the real point is not staying in the present moment but rather getting in the habit of noticing that you’re not in the present and refocusing on it. Brad Warner, my new favorite writer about Buddhism and founder of the Angel City Zen Center which is located in Los Angeles and, ironically, somewhere in my future plans, compares staying in the present to riding a surfboard. It’s great when you’re on it but it takes concentration to stay there and inevitably you’re going to fall off.

So take a moment right now to appreciate right now. Do that as much as you can. That’s where happiness is hidden.

What Do You Expect?

What Do You Expect?


If you have followed my musings and rants on my Facebook page and now on YouTube, you know that I am really interested in behavioral economics, behavioral psychology, Buddhism, spirituality, happiness, and productivity. In these videos and writings, I try to condense what I read and hear and learn into useful nuggets that can make a practical difference in my life and yours.

Today I would like to turn my attention, and yours, to what you expect. I want to invite you to draw back the curtain on your unexamined thoughts of the future because what you think is going to happen and what you expect shapes the way you look at the world and how you look at the world determines what you do and say.

And what you do and say affects the future.

So how you think about the future changes the future.

Henry Ford said:

Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right.

Obviously, if you expect to fail you will give up more easily. If you expect to succeed you may be more inclined to keep trying, especially if you expect it to be challenging. If you expect success to come easily and you run into obstacles you either change your expectations and keep trying or you quit.

Also, what you expect changes how you experience what happens. A mentor of mine says that an expectation is a resentment under construction. Chuck Palahniuk said, “What makes earth feel like hell is our expectation that it should feel like heaven.” Here’s a funny story that illustrates that perfectly. The other day we had some friends over for pizza and Therese grabbed a black object, nearly spherical, out of a bowl and popped it in her mouth. She immediately spit it out because what she thought was an olive was actually a chocolate covered almond. Now, without any expectation, a chocolate covered almond is great (unless you’re allergic to nuts or hate chocolate). But if you expect an olive you’re going to have a bad experience.

On a macro level, one of the great sources of unhappiness in our culture is that we expect to live forever and we don’t. We expect to stay young forever and we don’t. On a deep level, it is partly our focus on an expectation that keeps us from being present to the present. Alan Watts, said:

“We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality.”

Watt’s points out that our focus on the “causative past” keeps us distracted from the present as much as our obsession with the future. Interestingly enough our expectations are constructed out of the past. We base what we think will happen on what happened.

We do this consciously and subconsciously with people and situations that we know and with people and situations that we don’t know. In both cases, we are almost certainly making predictions based on bad data since you’ve changed and the world has changed. In fact, humans base much of our view of the world on what we experienced as children when most of us were shorter and weaker and didn’t understand the motivations of the larger people around us. If your parents got divorced you might go through life expecting people to leave (to give a cliched example), and because you expect them to leave you to act as if they will and unconsciously do things to drive them away. When they leave, you say to yourself “Aha! I knew it!”

But Heraclitus got it right 25 centuries ago when he said: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and it’s not the same man.” So my suggestion for today is to look at what you expect, especially in an area where you want change. Take a deep breath and imagine a different future or, if you can, imagine that anything can happen. If you are having an important conversation with someone, try this actor trick to get out of the morass of past and future in your head. Focus on them. Focus on their eyes. Look at them as if you’ve never seen them before. When they talk, recreate what they said and look for the underlying, positive outcome that they are committed to. See if you can correctly identify that for them. Focus on being present in the present say what is there to be said based on what they are actually saying rather than focusing on your expectation or outcome.

See what happens when you don’t know what’s going to happen.