08 February 2018

Review of Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior

This book is a great foundational read for the Shambhala lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. There are many important topics covered by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. I have read about some of these in other places, but some were new to me.

The idea of warrior-ship initially seemed to be the complete opposite of Buddhism. Chögyam Trungpa, however, allayed my fears with an excellent explanation of this concept. The remainder of the book, of course, describes the path to becoming one of these warriors.

What the book lacks in practical instruction it makes up for in laying a solid groundwork for beginning and continuing on the path of a warrior.

I enjoyed this book for many reasons, not least of them is the clear, easy-to-read writing style of the author. Don't misunderstand that to mean simple to achieve.

I came at this a little backward, I think. It seems that others have read this one first, and only then moved on to read other books by Chögyam Trungpa and others from this lineage (e.g. Pema Chödrön). I started by reading Pema Chödrön's work and slowly made my way to Chögyam Trungpa.

Does that matter? I have no idea. I have gained a lot from this way and so I assume it didn't break me.

If you're new to Shambhala, Tibetan Buddhism, or Buddhism in general I recommend this book.

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08 December 2017

Review of Kabat-Zin's Full Catastrophe Living

You can read Jon Kabat-Zin's Mindfulness for Beginners to learn how to do mindfulness. This book tells more about what mindfulness can do for you.

I put off reading this book for a long time. Partly because it's so thick. Now, I've listened to the audio version and never once noticed how long the book is. There's great stuff and stuff that may surprise you. For example: Mindfulness has no goal. So, even though the author talks about stress reduction, pain management, etc., those are gravy. 

There are some people who are not able to sit with their pain. It's not easy for anyone, but certain folks have a particularly difficult time doing it. They may require actual in-person training. 

I've studied Buddhist texts on mindfulness and Kabat-Zin brings the most pertinent aspects to non-Buddhists in a way that works as well. One major lack, however, is the interconnectedness with other teachings that are needed to help with sitting with unwanted emotions.

When it's all said and done, mindfulness is at its core paying serious attention. This is a great introduction and intermediate level text in the practice.

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28 November 2017

Mindfulness for the Holidays

NOTE: This is a post I wrote for NAMI Juneau's Blog and Newsletter. A big thank you to Crystal for her editing!

The holidays can be a wonderful time of year. They can also be stressful and for some individuals living with a mental illness, the holidays may exacerbate symptoms. Perhaps there is the loss of a loved one who is not joining the family at the table this year. There may be negative or strained family dynamics that make it difficult to gather. There can be the stress of trying to find the right gift for everyone, or if money is tight, not being able to buy gifts at all. If any of the above sounds familiar, this may be the time of year for serious self-care.
When I notice signs that mental illness is rearing its head and triggers are going off left and right, I find that stepping back and practicing mindfulness is a quick and powerful way to care for myself. Mindfulness practice has gained a large following. I think some people avoid the practice out of fear that it is too difficult or too involved, but at its core, mindfulness is simply the act of keeping the mind on what is happening inside and outside of your body.
Some teachers recommend starting with a small piece of fruit, like a raisin or a plum and simply using your senses to notice all you can about that object: the color, texture, scent, taste, and possibly sound. They also state that there is no goal of mindfulness. It’s not about relaxing or attaining an enlightened state. If you are searching for those, you are, by definition, not practicing mindfulness. That is not to say that relaxation doesn’t occur while practicing and there are many relaxation techniques which rely on mindfulness. But, aiming at a goal takes you out of the present, which is where mindfulness happens.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is one of the most popular teachers of secular mindfulness with his book Mindfulness for Beginners, and his more extensive book, Full Catastrophe Living which is based on the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction workshop. The first is a basic, sound introduction to the practice, the other is an 8-week course for reducing stress in all areas of life using mindfulness.
This newsletter is not the place to give a complete introduction to this practice, but a sample may be in order. Here is a three-minute practice to try:
  1. Take a moment to be still. This is your time for mindfulness practice.
  2. Begin this mindful check-in by feeling into your body and mind and simply allowing any waves of thought, emotion, or physical sensation to just be.
  3. Maybe this is the first break you have had, today. Maybe you’ve been busy. As you enter the world of being rather than doing, you may notice the trajectory of the feelings that you’ve been carrying within yourself.
  4. There’s no need to judge, analyze, or figure things out. Simply allow yourself to be here and now, in the middle of everything that is present at this moment. We’ll take about three minutes to check in with ourselves in this way.
  5. As we near the end of this mindful check-in, congratulate yourself for taking the time to do this practice and to directly contribute to your health and well-being.
(Adapted from Stahl, B., & Goldstein, E. (2010). A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications. p 21).
As far as that gift buying stress, this article in PychCentral says, “New research from American University proposes that mindfulness can counteract the adverse impacts of mindless consumption due to automatic thoughts, habits, and unhealthy behavior patterns.” The key to mindfulness is awareness.
Mindfulness won’t change you. What it will do is provide more awareness of what you are doing and experiencing, allowing you to make the changes you want to make.
Here are a few more resources for handling grief, the feeling of having too much to do, and healthy boundaries.
Here’s to a less stressful, mindful holiday season!

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28 October 2017

Review of Maurer's One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way

I had heard of this concept, but it was only about a year ago that I picked up this book. Immediately, I found ways that small steps could help me make the changes I wanted to make in a couple of areas. Still, because of life and demands, it took me a while to finish it. But, I did. One small step at a time. That's a half joke with a whole truth.

It's not like there is no place for large steps. Many times, though, we tend to overwhelm ourselves with that idea and freeze ourselves. Nothing changes. We don't move.

One really good thing about small steps is that course correction is more easily facilitated.

Maurer writes, "Try to see kaizen as a process that is never done." It's a way of looking at and approaching things that we can use throughout our lifetimes and in several realms. It's not just a business book. It's a thinking book.

If your life's perfect, you probably don't need this book. For the rest of us, it's pretty handy. I recommend at least giving it a shot.

One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, by Robert Maurer

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14 November 2015

Review of John P. Kotter's A Sense of Urgency

Wow! In a good way, wow! I have read several business/management/leadership books. A Sense of Urgency is unlike many, maybe even most.

It is simple without being dumbed down. It is heavy with usable ideas without a lot of incomprehensible jargon or pretension. It is written in clean, sharp and well-written prose.

If you run a business, or if you are breathing air, this book can give you tools to get that true sense of urgency that so many crave but don't know how to get. One reason, as Kotter points out, is because of a false urgency. That was an eye opener for me, even though I have long realized that a lot of action does not equal quality action. My misconception was that a lot of energy would lead to urgency, which it does; but, this is often false urgency. So, Kotter shows the difference between the false and the true, then goes on to give practical ways to gain the latter and diminish the former.

If you are looking for that little spark to get a fire under your organization's butt, you could do worse than reading this book. If you've had success and can't fathom why the drive and urgency are gone, it would behoove you to read this book. If you want to know how to motivate yourself and others, read this book.

It's a short read and is free of pompous, windbaggy words, so it won't pull you away from Wheel of Fortune or Criminal Minds for too long. And it may just free up a little time for you to more fully enjoy this thing called life.