Peace is Every Child

peacefox7-year-old Fox wanted a history book for his daily reading, so I let him loose in my bookshelves. First, he grabbed my Bible.

“Is this a history book?” he asked.

“Yeah, it’s a kind of history book,” I replied.

“Can I have it?” he asked thumbing the vinyl cover.

“Of course,” I said.

Then he grabbed A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., but it had too many big words for him.

“Here is a history about a Vietnamese monk,” I said handing him Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Reading the editor’s introduction, Fox stopped after reading this poem:

Peace is every step.

The Shining red sun is my heart.

Each flower smiles with me.

How green, how fresh all that grows.

How cool the wind blows.

Peace is every step.

It turns the endless path to joy.

“Daddy, can I write this poem out?” asked Fox with wide open eyes.

“Sure,” I said thrilled because his penmanship needed work.

Fox carefully wrote out each line. He smiled when he wrote “each flower smiles with me.” I was stoked that he was learning to spell smile, peace, and heart. At the end he wrote “Love, Fox.”

“Can you make copies?” he said as he handed me the hand written poem.

I gave him two copies. On one he wrote, “Merry Christmas. Thank you. To Mrs. Kraemer and Mrs. Grant” [his second grade teachers].

I almost cried. What a wonderful gesture. I am so grateful that he resonated with Thich Nhat Hanh, even though he had trouble reading the name. When I told a friend the story, he asked, “Who is the teacher and who is the student?”

What poem would you have a child copy?

Poor Students or Poor System

IMG_3052Both my sons got their first semester report cards last week. They are only in the 5th and 2nd grade, so I don’t pay too much attention to these evaluations.

Unfortunately, both boys are below grade level. Fox, the younger son, had more minus signs than average or plus signs. Jett, the older one, had more 2s than 3s or 4s. A 2 means “developing,” while a 3 means “proficient.”

I take responsibility for these low marks. I want my sons to have fun while they are kids. We don’t stress too much over homework. We spend more time outdoors than in the library.

In the comments, both my sons’ teachers used the word “struggling.” I’m still not too concerned because I was a teacher, and I know when the time comes, I can easily bring them up to par.

Another word that both teachers used was “kind.” “Jett is very kind to his fellow classmates.” “Fox is a kind, considerate, and curious student, well liked by everyone.”

At first I was upset that my sons were so far behind in school, but upon further reflection, I was grateful that they are both kind boys.

I’ve always said that I would rather my sons be kind and compassionate than smart, academic, athletic, or “successful.” I was a very smart kid. I graduated magna cum laude and did well in graduate school. I landed a cushy job as and was making more money than I could shake a stick at. But I was not kind. And my lack of compassion poisoned all of my accomplishments.

In the span of three years, I was unemployed, on the verge of divorce, and diagnosed with cancer. I had to learn the hard way that “compassion protects you more than guns, bombs, or money.” (Thich Nhat Hahn)

I have no idea how my sons will perform in school at the higher levels, but I do know that armed with kindness and compassion it won’t really matter where they land in the world. They will be OK.

What would you like to score high in on the report card of life?

Once More for the Greater Good

UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center has published an article I wrote about “What Makes a Compassionate Man.” Click on image to check it out. I appreciate anyone who stops by and gives a facebook “like” or comment at the Greater Good. If you haven’t been there before, you are in for a treat.

Greater good

Compassion for Courage: Dr. Rick Hanson

Dr. Rick Hanson, author of the New York Times best seller Hardwiring Happiness, is one of my favorite teachers. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Hanson for The Compassion Interviews Series. This interview was one of the most enjoyable, enlightening, and useful interviews I have ever done. I guarantee that if you listen to and practice Dr. Hanson’s advice, your happiness will grow exponentially.

In the full interview, we discuss:

  • How to “wake down” from deadness, numbness, or oppression
  • How compassion is a strength that develops courage
  • The difference between wanting and liking, and how this difference can make your life heaven or hell
  • How to aspire without attachment
  • How Dr. Hanson is a real-life version of Ender from Ender’s Game

For the complete interview visit: http://peaceinrelationships.com/the-compassion-interviews-dr-rick-hanson/

For more Compassion Interviews, including Thich Nhat Hanh, visit: http://peaceinrelationships.com/the-compassion-interviews/

Re-Authoring Our Lives

This weekend at Interchange Counseling Institute, Steve Bearman introduced us to Narrative Therapy. We learned how to help clients re-author their predominant stories by “thickening” marginalized stories. We often get caught in one story that dictates our perception,self-worth, and mood. Examining the cracks in this predominant story often lead to awareness of a more preferable story.

“What limits people is that they don’t have the fucking nerve or imagination to star in their own movie, let alone direct it. Yuck….It’s a wonderful time to be alive. As long as one has enough dynamite.”~Tom Robbins

Part of this weekend was writing and sharing our bio. When I wrote my bio, a book on my bookshelf that I haven’t read yet haunted my peripheral vision–Radical Honesty. I wrote my story leaving nothing out. When I shared this story with a group of three other counselors-in-training, I buried my face in the printed copy almost out of shame. I revealed how I had spent a large part of my adult life hurting others. How I had stabbed loved ones in the heart with my words. How all this hurt I brought into the world created a karmic tidal wave that almost drowned me. I ended with how hitting rock bottom allowed me to set my sights for the heavens.

When I finished reading, I peeked up to see three smiling faces. It felt like I had confessed all my sins to a compassionate God who had nothing but love for me. One of the group members gave me a hug. Another called me courageous. What I realized is that often the tragedy of our lives is actually a story of hope and redemption. Below are a few quotes from wise people who have a similar take on re-authoring.

  • “The Art of Suffering goes together with the Art of Happiness” “No Mud/No Lotus”~Thich Nhat Hanh
  • “Before the ‘truth sets you free’ it tends to make you miserable.”~Fr. Richard Rohr
  •  “Many of your greatest successes you thought were failures. And many of your greatest failures, you thought were successes.”~Marianne Williamson

To be sincere does not mean to be perfect. In fact,the very effort to be perfect is itself insincere, because it is a way of avoiding seeing yourself as you are right now. To be able and willing to see yourself as you are, with all of your imperfections and illusions, requires genuine sincerity and courage. If we are constantly trying to hide from ourselves, we will never be able to awaken from our illusion of self.~Adyashanti

I’m hoping you can re-author some of your stories. I feel a lot lighter since I did the exercise. Here are some suggestions:

  • Can you see part of your story as a preparation for a launch? Is a low point simply the loading for an acceleration towards the good, like stretching a rubber band right before you let it fly?
  • Is hitting rock bottom laying the foundations for a rebound in the right direction?
  • Is the tragedy of your life a glimpse into the comedy of life in general?
  • Is your need for “closure” an opening to a new way of loving or acceptance?

In no way do I want to disregard your story. In fact, narrative therapy does not try to erase the predominant story; instead it offers a new angle to view one’s life. A marginal story is meant to transcend and include the predominant story.

You’ve probably seen this before, but if you haven’t, ignore everything above and hit play.

Thank you for reading, smiling, and/or sharing.

Have you ever re-authored your predominant story? What did it do for you? Please share.

Compassion Can Make You More Attractive–Thich Nhat Hanh Re-load

A week ago, I published an article about a conversation I had with Thich Nhat Hanh. Thanks to the generosity of Dr. James Doty and the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University, I am able to share the video of this short interview with you. To see the whole Conversation on Compassion with Thich Nhat Hanh go to: http://ccare.stanford.edu/videos/conversations-on-compassion-thich-nhat-hanh/

For more interviews with compassionate men visit http://peaceinrelationships.com/offerings/

Accidentally Insulting Adyashanti

This has been quite a month. From getting blindsided by Marianne Williamson to being empowered by Thich Nhat Hanh, I can’t remember a time in my life so full of growth and discomfort. And the hits keep coming…

Last weekend, I attended a day-long retreat with Adyashanti. Of all the spiritual teachers I follow, Adyashanti is one of the only ones that refers to his own Awakening. I never hear the Dalai Lama or Thich Nhat Hanh talking about “when I became enlightened,” but Adya refers to this moment of clarity all the time. I find this comforting and valuable wisdom.

Here are some jewels of wisdom from Adyashanti:

  • Seeking is not about what we don’t have; it is about what we have forgotten
  • “Make sure you are always your own best student”
  • In regards to serving others, “if you start with the small stuff, the bigger stuff has a way of finding you.”
  • A realization of unity liberates uniqueness and true individuality. Jesus and The Buddha were highly unique individuals.
  • Adya also gave us all a mantra: “Love Well.” He instructed us to ask this mantra as a question. While doing the dishes, “am I loving well?”

As the day drew to a close, I raised my hand to ask a question, and Adyashanti called on me immediately. I asked about Adya’s description of Awakening. After awakening did one have to re-mind oneself daily, moment-by-moment to release arguments with self, other, life, and God?

“It is like being human. Do you have to remind yourself to be human?”

To which I replied, “Sometimes…”

“Bad example. It is like breathing, do you have to remind yourself to breathe?”

“No, but I’m thinking about the story of how Buddha reacted to hearing the news that his former kingdom had been destroyed and everyone was killed. He apologized to his followers for not being himself. I imagine that he must have felt some aversion and craving on this day.”

“It is a nice story, isn’t it? It makes the Buddha more human,” Adyashanti replied.

Then he talked about a zen master who broke down wailing during a dinner with some students when he received a call that his wife had died.

Some students lost faith in the master, but the senior student told them that they had missed one of the master’s deepest lessons.

I liked the story, so I felt the courage to ask Adyashanti about my Vipassana revelation, “I envision that awakening will not erase all our personal suffering, but will rather increase our sensitivity to suffering in general–that all life is suffering. This is where the service comes in. We realize that all beings are suffering, so we want to serve others to end their suffering.”

“Maybe. I felt like that in the beginning, but then it changed. Later, I did my Satsangs for different reasons. Now, I feel like I’m doing them because that is what I do” (these are rough paraphrases of what was actually said).

“Merely doing,” I said. I was trying to equate Adyashanti’s statements with the Buddha’s description of enlightenment as “merely thinking (cognition)” without judgment, attachment, or aversion, but Adya didn’t seem to catch the reference.

Turns out my question was the last of the day. While helping stack the chairs after Adyashanti had left, I felt an odd disconnect with the other participants. No one seemed to want to look me in the eyes.

On the drive home, I realized that some may have taken my statement of “merely doing” as an insult to Adyashanti. One could argue that I degrading all his teachings, retreats, and satsangs as merely doing. This wasn’t my intention, of course, and what was really impressive is that Adyashanti took no offense–not even a flinch or a pause. He embodied what Deepak Chopra claimed changed his life: Don’t be offended ever again.

So it was another lesson learned. Seems like I have a penchant for insulting spiritual leaders. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing. Perhaps it is merely doing.

Funny enough, after my question, we only had a few minutes left, so Adyashanti suggested we sit in silence. Everyone started rustling around to get ready to sit in silence.

“No not that kind of silence,” Adya stopped us. “Since that happened, the squeaking of chairs, which was the preparing for silence…Every once in a while it is good to look at even the most innocuous kinds of conditioning. Just the suggestion that we might sit in silence, if you notice how the conditioning goes, some special situation must be met to sit in silence. The way I was was was not enough; therefore I have to adjust and move and prepare for silence which as far as I could tell you were all already in…Is it true that any condition need be met for me to recognize the silence that is here now.”

The silence that ensued was palpable. Guess we were merely being silent.

Thank you for reading, smiling, and/or sharing.

Do you have a mantra? Have you insulted a role model, mentor, teacher, or spiritual leader before? Please share.

Powerful Compassion with Thich Nhat Hanh

Last week, Thich Nhat Hahn spoke to a sold out crowd at Stanford University as a part of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education’s (CCARE) Conversations on Compassion series.

Thich Nhat Hanh

I once heard Thich Nhat Hanh described as “a cloud, a butterfly, and a bulldozer.” Hearing him speak I couldn’t agree more. He is so soft, gentle, and egoless, yet surprisingly powerful. Here are some highlights:

  • “You don’t have to run into the future to find happiness.”
  • “Mindfulness holds suffering like a mother holding a baby without knowing what is causing the suffering.”
  • “Holding our suffering is like holding our own baby.”
  • “You cannot be; you can only inter-be.”
  • “The art of suffering goes together with the art of happiness.”
  • Tell your loved ones, “I know you are there, and I am so happy.”
  • The person who makes you suffer has a lot of suffering in him.

When they opened up the mics for Q&A, I happened to be sitting right next to one of the mic stands, so I got to ask the first question. I told Thay that being a man in Western culture I had been taught not to cry, to take advantage of others weaknesses in sports, and to never show weakness in business. My specific question was “how can we make compassion more attractive to men?”

Thay started his reply by saying that there must be a misunderstanding of what compassion is. “Compassion is not weakness. Compassion is powerful.” He then listed all the ways that compassion benefits the person being compassionate. “Compassion heals our bodies.” It makes us live happier lives. It is good for business. (I apologize for not having direct quotes, but Thay was staring at me while he answered the question, so I didn’t want to be rude and start taking notes.)

Then he said something that resonated with me, “Compassion protects us more than guns, bombs, or money.” He said that we often try to accumulate lots of money to protect ourselves from suffering, but money cannot protect us from suffering. Money can disappear in an instant. What I realized is that compassion is the true refuge from suffering in life.

I have been struggling to make money since losing my job in 2012, but now I realize that all the work I have been doing to cultivate compassion has brought me more than money can buy. I feel confident that compassion will protect me and my family from suffering in a way that money, guns, or insurance can never protect us. I am grateful for the present moment of taking in so much wisdom from amazing teachers. One day, I hope to spread these teachings with others.

Thank you for reading, smiling, and/or sharing.

Where do you seek refuge? Please share.

Yoda’s Secret of Compassion

Yoda_thumb12

For over three decades, I read the Dalai Lama’s books on compassion, attended lectures by Thich Nhat Hanh, and even did a week long Metta meditation in Sri Lanka, yet I was unable to feel compassion on a daily basis. Looking at the state of the world today, I don’t think I was alone in this inability to practice compassion.

After countless broken relationships and on the verge of divorce at the age of 47, I finally realized what it meant to have compassion. I learned that compassion requires empathy. We can’t sympathize with the misfortune of others if we are unable to step into their shoes and understand their thoughts and feelings. Continue reading

The Purpose of LIfe is to Live

“I hate myself at school,” said my 5 year old son as he crossed out the picture he was drawing of himself.

Jett meditate

How I make my son deal with problems at school.

Turns out some of his friends wouldn’t play with him during recess. My wife was concerned and wanted to talk about it early the next morning. I listened to her and reassured her that he would be ok. Then I quickly checked my email, so that I could sit in meditation for at least 30 minutes before the boys woke up.

My wife got upset that I was not paying attention to her and the issue with our son, but I needed to meditate.

Sitting in meditation, I realized that the reason it is called a meditation practice is because we are practicing mindfulness for “real life.” What use is practice if we don’t use the skills in the “real game”? By not being mindful while talking to my wife, I was throwing all the meditation practice I had done down the drain. Continue reading