Being a parent, I'm reminded annually of the allure of shiny new toys on Christmas Day, and the slow decline in disinterest that takes place in the weeks to come. Legos are replaced by Bakugan which are replaced by Bey Blades which are.... You get the picture. In the end, it all just becomes plastic stuff that you step on in the dark when you go to wake your kids up in the morning. Walking meditation through a Hasbro minefield.
But, the kids get it honest. I'm the king of enamor. No place is this more evident than with the activities I desire to make daily habits: meditation, running, yoga, vegetarianism. When I first entered into making these behaviors part of my daily life I was like a newly baptized teenager, racing around with salvation tracts, handing them out to unwitting neighbors. In short, I was bordering on being a real pain in the ass with my enthusiasm. Being a runner, a vegetarian, et al, was a badge of honor, and I lived it 24/7. From training for a half-marathon to taking the Veg Pledge, I was living right and eager to proclaim it.
Here's the rub, though. What goes up must come down. I know it's true because I heard it in that Blood, Sweat, and Tears song. So, after the half-marathon, after you've worn out the vegetarian cookbook and the Arby's drive thru is the only thing available when you're starving, you start to compromise. Then, you start to make exceptions. You shut your mouth a little more about how exciting your new lifestyle is...and then you go back to your old habits.
It's like Albert Brooks says in "Broadcast News", when the devil comes back, he won't have a pointy tail and horns, he'll just slip in and slowly lower our standards, bit by bit.
So, what's the answer? To me, as I look at the things I want to do - make running part of my regular fitness regiment again, meditate daily, limit my meat intake - it's about that old Buddhist axiom of "Beginner's Mind". Everything that feels 'been there done that' has got to feel shiny and new again. The trick is finding that narrow, middle path between exuberance for making a positive life choice and the all-too-human tendency to get too bored with it too quickly and talk yourself out of your decision.
Tomorrow, my kids will unwrap some shiny new toys. I suspect by late January they'll lay strewn in hidden corners of the house, shrapnel from the famous Battle of Christmas 2010. I hope that as I try to navigate my way along this Eightfold Path of being more present, more engaged with my daily choices that I don't find that, come Groundhog Day, they're scattered to the wind.
So, what positive behaviors do you struggle to keep a part of your daily or weekly regiment? What techniques or tricks do you use to insure that you follow through?
This story traveled quite a ways to get to me, and I'm grateful it found me. Written by Paul Shaffer (yep, Dave's Paul), posted by DelaneyPlace.com and then forwarded to me by my friend Amber, who said it reminded her of me. I'm flattered...and she's awesome.
So, here we go. A lesson in living from the legendary Sammy Davis Jr., courtesy of all the folks roll called above:
In today's encore excerpt - for those who are already expert at their craft there are perils to rushing or overrehearsing. Here Paul Shaffer frantically tries to reach Sammy Davis Jr. to select a song and schedule rehearsal before his appearance on the David Letterman show:
"Every time I called [Sammy Davis Jr. to try and select a song or discuss rehearsal] he was either working or sleeping. He never did return my calls.
The morning of the show I was feeling some panic. Sammy was flying in and we still didn't know what he wanted to sing. At 10 a.m. the floor manager said I had a backstage call. It was Sammy calling from the plane.
' 'Once in My Life' will be fine Paul' he said. 'Key of E going into F.'
'Great!' I was relieved.
I was also eager to work out an arrangement. We whipped up a chart, nursed it, rehearsed it, and put it on tape. That way when Sammy arrived he could hear it.
Then another backstage call. Sammy's plane had landed early and he was on his way over. When I greeted him at the backstage door with a big 'We're thrilled you're here,' I was a little taken aback. He looked extremely tired and frail. He walked with a cane.
'We have an arrangement, Sam. You can rehearse it with the band.'
'No need baby. Gotta conserve my energy. I'm just gonna go to my room and shower.'
'I wanna make it easy for you. So I'll just play you a tape of the arrangement on the boom box. That way you'll hear what we've done and tell me if it's okay.'
'Man I know the song.'
'I know Sam,' I said 'but what if you don't like the chart?'
'I'll like it, I'll like it.'
'But what if the key's not right?'
'Okay, if you insist.'
I slipped the cassette in the boom box and hit 'play.' To my ears the chart sounded great. Sammy closed his eyes and in Sammy style nodded his head up and down to the groove. He smiled.
'It's swinging man,' he said 'but think of how much more fun we could have had if I hadn't heard this tape.'
His words still resonate in my ears; the notion still haunts me. Sammy sung that night but as he was performing, I couldn't help thinking that his carefree feeling about time - as opposed to my lifelong notion of the pressure of the time - was coming from a higher spiritual plane. As a musician, I've always thought I rushed. I still think I rush. The great players never rush.
So, this road trip I've recently been on has taken me across the country. Amid the stops, I've stayed near two Scientology headquarters in NYC and Tampa, and witnessed throngs of hopeful believers in something called "Matrix Energetics" forming a line that twisted through the halls and lobby of the Seattle Doubletree hotel.
For the uninitiated, Scientology is a body of beliefs created by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950's and followed today by about 8-10 million folks, 25,000 or so who call America home. And as for Matrix Energetics, well, it's a form of "Quantum Healing" that, for a few hundred dollars, you can learn all about at seminars all across the country.
I'm always cautious about knocking what people believe spiritually, because any faith involves a leap beyond some pretty thick mythology. From virgin births to bodhi trees, menorahs to Mecca, religion and spirituality require us to accept some things that fall well outside our daily rational experience. Even atheists have to take a leap of faith, to the extent that they trust that there really IS nothing out there, and they opt to live accordingly.
I remember when I worked at a video store in college, we had a customer who would lay three or four movies across the counter, and then pull a crystal out of a purple felt bag. She'd let the crystal guide her toward which movie to rent that night. Hey, mystic totem or total chotsky, any rock that tells you that "Meatballs 3" trumps "The Philadelphia Story" needs to be returned to the Renaissance Faire.
But this post isn't about deriding people's beliefs, tempting though it can be amid a world where religion often divides as much as it heals, and Creation Museums actually have season ticket holders. No, for me the bigger question is, what is everyone looking for? Certainty? True North? Fire insurance? Inner peace? All are worthy answers, and none of them are to be maligned. At any given moment, we're all beautiful creations and damaged goods. We're little wandering miracles with Smartphones who could all likely spend the remainders of our lives in group therapy with the varied baggage we carry. We're a beautiful wreck.
And so we search. I have often said to friends who comment on my ongoing game of religious roulette (it tends to fluctuate between Buddhism, progressive Christianity, Unitarianism, and humanism) that I think the time we spend here is the quest. That we may have been put here - if indeed we were put here, rather than just happened - to figure some things out. I'm always scared of folks who have all the answers and offer them up with unwavering bravado. It must be nice to be so sure, but I'm not sure we're supposed to have the mystery figured out way back in Chapter 3. There's a lot more ahead, and I like sifting for clues.
So, on any given Sunday, I can be found leading the children's moment at the local Methodist Church, sitting in repose at the Shambhala Meditation Center, dropping by to get fresh perspective at the Unitarian Church we used to belong to, or just slipping on my freaky looking Vibram shoes and giving nature its due with a 4 mile walk/run to see what might be holy that particular morning. I don't think any of them are invalid or have all the answers. It's sort of a belief buffet, and until I pass a burning bush or the bodhi tree drops an apple of enlightenment on my head, I imagine I'll keep questing like some sort of theological knight. I have relatives who think I'm lost, and neighbors who think I'm wasting a lot of energy chasing down something I'll never find, but I gotta say, it's a hell of a ride, and my life is richer for it.
I don't think Scientology or Matrix Energetics are on the menu, though. But for some people they are.
So, today's big question: What do you think of The Big Question: Why the heck are we here?
I first acknowledged I needed to explore meditation when I noticed that my brain worked more like a movie trailer than an actual narrative. Somewhere along the journey, exposure to split second stimuli had reduced my concentration skills to something akin to the TV remote when your fat roommate sits on the channel button. Click-click-click-Snuggie commercial-click-click-click-Oooh, there's Sheryl Crow-click-click-click-God, I hate Fox News, click, click...you get the picture.
I don't proclaim ADD or ADHD or even any other D disorders here. No, this is something that is plainly in my hands to manage. In fact, I used to have the concentration skills to follow full works of fiction through to the end in one sitting. Now, getting through an email without flitting over to Facebook, tweaking my I-Tunes selection, or returning a text requires the discipline of an Everest climber. I've done this to myself because (a) life in front of a computer offers too many choices and (b) to quote Carrie Fisher, "Instant Gratification takes too long".
The world is at our fingertips these days. It's a blessing of enormous proportions and a curse that will likely be the end of us as a civilized race. Seriously, we're answering cell phones in church, Twittering in traffic, and texting at funerals. We've reduced our language to a series of LOLs and ROFLs which guarantee that we won't be able to express ourselves in complete sentences by the time the year 2020 rolls around.
The first casualty, it appears, is the simple act of being awake. And by awake, I mean aware. And by aware, I mean here...now. It's one of the hardest things to do. In fact, I have to say, between the Buddha's Eightfold Path and the Bible's Ten Commandments, I'm a much better Christian than a Buddhist. I can dodge the stealing and killing and adultery quite well. It's that whole "Right Attention" thing that gets me every time.
But then, that's why it's called a Path, isn't it? We never really reach our destination, we just do our best each day to further the journey.
So, some days, I sit. Some days, I don't. On those I do sit, I get my own instant karma from the mere act, the payoff of starting my day with a taste of serenity and stillness. On days I don't, well, the mental monkey cage gets quite a workout.
Where and when do you find your monkey mind taking over, and what brings you back to the present? It can be a sound, a scent, a feeling, or a simple stillness, but I'd like to know. I look forward to your thoughts. And to someday being ever-ever-ever present.
Until then, I'll be here...or at least, trying to be here. Me and my monkey.
I wrote the following blog post in the Spring of 2009 on my other blog, "Enjoy Every Sandwich) (http://tommyhousworth.blogspot.com). I'm reprinting it here because I think it fits the mission and the message of this more niche-like blog, even though it's over a year old. It came to mind because, before I embarked on my current business trip that is taking me from Tampa to St Louis and then to Seattle, my mom called our house and inquired, "Do you own any long underwear? You know you've never been anywhere this cold before." I reminded her I had been to Canada, New York, and Maine, all in the heart of winter before. Still, she was worried about the suffering rather than excited for my journey. It reminded me of this post, and of a Roger Miller song lyric, "Some people walk in the rain, other people just get wet." I hope my mom gets to walk in the rain a bit in the winter of her years.
They're dancing on the roof
And the ceiling's coming down
I sleep with my shovel and my leather gloves
A little trouble makes it worth the going
And a little rain never hurt no one - Tom Waits, 'A Little Rain'
In one of his seminar programs, Tony Robbins speaks of your 'defining question'. What is the question you ask most often? Is it, "Why me?", "What am I doing wrong?", "How can I help?" or maybe "What would make this better?". Our brain works to answer whatever question we pose, so the more negative the question, the more our thought patterns sway toward negativity, pessimism, and inaction.
I'm still determining what my question is, and what it needs to be. So, I guess right now, my question is, "What's my question?"
As I was thinking about this yesterday on my morning run, the sky opened up a bit and I found myself two miles from home in a gentle Spring shower. My mind immediately went to my mom, who I've realized has her own cautionary defining question: "What if it rains?"
These four words have come to define how she approaches most any conversation I have with her about planning an activity. It has been the response to all of these statements: "We're having a cookout on Memorial Day", "I got great tickets for the Braves game", "We're going to the beach this weekend", and yes, even "We're getting married in a really pretty park!"
It did rain on our wedding day. Buckets. 15 years later, all we remember is the rainbow.
Ironically, my mom sees herself as a glass half full kind of person, completely. I assume that glass is half-full with rain water.
I say this not to mock or belittle my mom. She and my dad are children of the Depression, and they've been cautionary souls all their lives. I was always dissuaded from taking any risks. When I told them I wanted to be an actor, they told me I'd be better off 'playing it safe'. Heck, when I told my mom I was running the Peachtree Road Race the first time, in honor of my late cousin who'd died that winter, she said, "I don't think you can do it". She didn't mean it in any hurtful way, it was just another variation of 'What if it rains?', a concerned mom assuming her son would collapse on Mile 4 because he wasn't playing it safe.
This Spring has proven to be one of those seasons where rain is more the norm than the exception. And so, in gentle defiance, we plan our vacations, our trips to the ball park, our cookout, with a keen awareness that it may, indeed, rain. I'm trying to weave this into a philosophy to teach our kids - that a little rain never hurt no one, to quote their creepy uncle Tom Waits. That rain is an invitation for puddle jumping and spiritual baptism, to indoor game day, standing on the front porch watching the drops dance off the street, curling up with a good movie, or dancing barefoot in the wet grass.
My mom will turn 84 this summer. There's little I can do at this point to give her a more optimistic look on life. The best I can do is make my defining question one of great hope, and teach her grandchildren that into every life a little rain must fall, but how we perceive that blessed precipitation changes everything.