3 Simple Steps to Stopping the Blame Game

I was cleaning out my office the other day after we came back from vacation. Having cleared my mind, I wanted to clear the physical space I live in as well. In amongst all the student essays, stacks of books (most of which are now all gone, given away to anyone who wanted them), I found a small piece of paper, a little crinkled.

It was a holiday card wishing friends a peaceful holiday season and a joyous new year sent out a few years ago from the monastery where my teacher, Master Ji Ru is the abbot. Printed over a lovely photo of the meditation hall under a blanket of snow are these words:

Do not find fault with others.
Do not worry about what others do or not do.
Rather, look within yourself to find out
what you yourself have done or left undone.
Stop doing evil, do good.

Dhammapada 50

Could it be any simpler?

1. Do not find fault with others. How often do we find ourselves during the day, either silently or aloud, being critical of what others do? And why do we do this? So we can feel more clever, superior?

2. Do not worry about what others do or not do. I know I can be the worst offender here myself. It seems this kind of thing happens all the time at home, at work, in community. Snarky little comments about who did what or didn’t do … and again,  for what? So we can say, so and so didn’t do blah blah blah but I! I DID THIS AND THAT and so on! Look at ME!

3. Rather, look within yourself to find out what you yourself have done or left undone. Ah, here is where the rubber hits the road. Instead of looking at everyone else, what if we just took great care in this simple observation? What if we could abandon the practice of examining everyone else and refrain from all the snarky thoughts and comments which do nothing to make a more peaceful world – which in fact only create more trouble, upset and genuine suffering. Instead, what if we took all that energy and used it for being mindful and honest of our own thoughts and actions; and then just did what needs to be done plain and simple.

4. Stop doing evil, do good. I think this sort of summarizes the 3 steps in the verse. While, we might think evil is a pretty heavy word depending on our own religious backgrounds, on the other hand, from small bad things big evil things sometimes come. So, rather than quibbling over words, try this if evil seems to heavy.
Don’t do bad. Do good.

Imagine how peaceful the world would be if everyone could practice living this way.

As John Lennon wrote: “Imagine.” Can you see it? We can make it happen. One thought, one action, one breath at a time.

Sometimes, I’m glad there’s a bit of a mess to clean up. The process always leads to the gold!

Thanks for stopping by. Wishing everyone peace and happiness, hij


Nowhere to Go To, Nowhere to Run

This is really an add-on to yesterday’s post. A kind of PS.

The thing about learning to meditate is that the place we’re trying to go, the thing we’re trying to get – we already have it.

The peaceful clear mind is already there. The ability to see reality clearly, ditto.

And while, we might be able to get away in other pursuits, with working very hard to “get it” or achieve some kind of mastery, in meditation that is a path doomed to keep us stuck, feeling like we’re not making any progress.

There’s an old Zen story about the student who says “Master, if I work very hard, how long will it take me to become enlightened.”

The master says, “Ten years.”

“Ten years! So long? What if I work extra hard?”

“Twenty years.”

“But if I practice very diligently, every day, what then?”

“Thirty years.”

In meditation practice, whether still or dynamic, the harder we try the worse it is for us. We need to practice with the simplest idea possible. That is, when we sit, we just sit. We know the body and the breath and that is all. No fancy concepts. No trying very hard. No chasing after anything. There is no mastery. Because all these are merely words and concepts that ultimately have nothing to do with meditation. Steven Hagen talks about this beautifully in his book Buddhism: It’s Not What You Think.

The Spanish have a saying, “It is one thing to speak of bulls, it’s another to be in the bull ring.” In meditation practice, we can say, it is one thing to speak about sitting, it’s another to sit. There is no thinking we can do to make us “get” meditation. There is only practice. There is no trying very hard. Nothing to chase.

If anything, it’s more a process of letting go – of concepts, of thinking, of notions of being good students who try very hard because we want to do well or please the teacher and so on.

There is only practice. So we need to try, all of us together, to practice regularly, diligently. It is beneficial to build up the amount of time that we practice. The more time we can manage to give, both in terms of frequency and in terms of individual sessions of practice the more time we give to train the mind, teaching it to settle down, giving the process our full attention. This is where training with a teacher and a group of friends can make a big difference. Classes reinforce our practice. We empty the cup of our minds and let the peace and clarity emerge, slowly, naturally, breath by breath.

No Concept: Keeping Taiji and Meditation Practice Simple

Sometimes we make things complicated with too much thinking, speculating about metaphysical questions and complex, imaginative concepts. All of which is a waste of our time. None of that gets us any better at taiji or meditation. In fact, it leads us farther and farther away from real practice with false promises of deepening our understanding. While it might make us feel terribly clever digging through knotty concepts, it will not accomplish anything of real value. There is no replacement for direct experience gained through practice.

There’s an old story about a man who shot by an arrow. Before he would allow the doctor to remove the arrow he had to have several speculative questions answered. Who shot the arrow, who were the parents of the person who shot the arrow, what’s the arrow made of, why did he shoot the arrow … and on and on. What do you think happened? While he chased after these useless questions he died.

Do we want to be like that man wasting our precious time on speculative thinking which leads us nowhere? Or would we rather practice taiji and meditation and cut to the heart of things as directly as possible? Why not spend as much of this time as we can living and practicing to see the truth, easing our difficulties and living with peace, happiness and harmony.

When we practice meditation and taiji keeping to a simple routine is helpful. When we do the form over and over, aiming for 1000 times, 2000 times, 3000, staying present in each moment, mindfully as possible, we bring the mind and body together, the speculation stops, the mind returns to its natural state, quiet, full of joy and boundless generosity.

And that, to steal from Robert Frost, will make all the difference.

The Key to Peace at the Office

Just breathe.

Mindfully attending to the breath can help us understand a single, single yet critical concept. That is the breath like everything else is impermanent. It comes and goes. Arises, exists for a short time, then naturally fades away.

While you sit at your desk, or stand out in the field or where ever you work, pause, once an hour and for a few minutes focus on your breath with full attention.

Notice how it rises and falls. You may notice this in the belly, on  your lip or in your nostrils. Pick one place and don’t go shopping for the spot on which you will focus.Yes, there is a continuum of breathing, one breath following the next but also, do you notice that slight moment between each breath? A tiny suspension as one ends and another begins?

Observe each single breath as you inhale, pause, exhale, pause, inhale … Each breath is different. Some short, some long. Sometimes we breathe quickly, when we’re excited, nervous or exercising.  When we’re relaxed, we tend to breathe more slowly. And note, please, that the breath has no story. We don’t judge it a good or bad breath. We just do it.

Things happen to all of us at work that seem to cause stress for us. And I say seem because, this stress need not be a fact of life at all. Of course, we can not always change those events, people or personalities which challenge us. We can however, change our reactions to them. The first simple way to do this, is to take a lesson from our breath.

As we’ve already observed, each breath is impermanent. So too with work place events.

Try these techniques:

1. When something happens, someone says something, does something, you see someone you don’t much care for coming down the hall, you’re handed a seemingly impossible deadline on a work order …see where you feel it, physically in your body.

2. Observe the physical sensation, the stomach twinge, the clenched jaw, the headache – and immediately put your attention on your breath in that same spot you always use. It’s important to have that spot pre-selected so you don’t waste time feeling stressed.

3. As you observe your breath, you will notice that the stress you felt so intensely only a moment ago is going, going … gone. The breath has no story to tell. It helps us simply arrive more fully into the present moment without judgement or assessment, good or bad. Just with what in fact, IS. In, out, in out – always changing. Going, going, gone. Repeat as needed.

In this way, we begin to be fully present without any narrative to create any stress what so ever. We are simply and peacefully here. And with this, our responses to others around us changes, becomes more relaxed. More peacful. We can begin to respond instead with quiet, clarity, and compassion. We don’t add stress to the situation. And this makes the whole office more calm. We even do better work. And that’s something every company can take to the bank.

Would you like to feel less stress at work? Try the suggestions here. See how it goes.

Need a little help making it work? Contact us at Calm Chicago. We’re here to help.


Have a peaceful day.

One Simple Way to Reduce Stress at Work with Taiji

In a nutshell, it’s this simple … we need to learn to use our energy appropriately.

We wouldn’t throw our money out the window willy nilly, right? That would be wasteful and foolish. It would quickly leave us penniless.

It’s wise to keep track of our money, paying attention to how much we spend on what sorts of things. Over time we see where we can save and have funds for a rainy day.

We can think of our energy as one of our most precious forms of currency. It’s what we need to get through each busy day. In the same way that we wouldn’t toss the money out the window, so too we shouldn’t toss our energy out the proverbial window either.

Taiji embodies this lesson very clearly. Practicing Yang taiji leaves us refreshed and energized not worn out. Playing the form is like putting money in the bank. We practice to use just enough energy to do each part correctly with relaxed, clear, focused attention and energy.

We don’t wave our hands about like mad. We practice to let go of any tension in the muscles, tightness in the spine, relax the face. We try to maintain single pointed focus, uniting the body, breath and mind. To create excess muscle tension is akin to throwing money out the window. To let the mind wander – ditto. We use the right amount for the intended purpose and when we do this well, the form looks beautiful, flowing and fills our energy bank accounts.

At work, this makes sense as well. Though some office cultures may be high pressure it’s important not to succumb to any surrounding frenzy. We need as well to realize that another potential trap is found in falling for looking busy. What a waste of energy.

The best way to get things done well, creatively and on time is to work calmly, mindfully and with focus, keeping the mind clear, relaxed. We try to do each thing the best we can, with full attention, without worry or anxiety about the past, the future, the boss and so on. Then move on to the next appropriate task. Correct as needed.

One easy way to work with this is to use our breath to keep us present. It’s like heeling a puppy. Gently bring the attention back to our breath as many times as needed. When we put the attention on the breath, we can not feel stressed. The pause allows us to refocus. If we lose the calm feeling? What do we do? Merely heel the puppy gently once again. Bring the attention back to the breath.

Can we have instant success with this just be desiring it or reading about it? No. We need to practice. In taiji we bring mind and body together and if we practice each day, the job we do at the office becomes part of our practice and that gets easier too.

3 Reasons Why Meditation Matters

1. Because meditation leads to seeing reality clearly.

2. Seeing reality clearly leads to wisdom in balance with compassion.

3. Wisdom in balance with compassion leads to living so we can be of benefit with each thing we do, say or think.

Want to learn more about this?

I invite you to come visit Calm Chicago: the mind & body center in Chicago (Chinatown). We teach meditation, taiji (or tai chi depending on how you like to spell it!) and qigong all with the idea to bring the mind and body together in order to leave healthy, peaceful lives, to be of benefit in all we do.

Call 312-961-9608 or visit the web site: www.calmchicago.org

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