Sunday, May 31, 2009

Knowing me knowing you

As all of you I inherited my “being” from my parents and my teachers.
They “choose” a name for me. They chose my religion, my language, my country my history.
Nobody ever asked me what I really wanted, until one faithful day when I ask my self:
“What do I want?” and most importantly “Who am I?”

I assume that you have reached that point in your life and that you are contemplating the same questions.
I assume that like me you have broken out of the boundaries set by your parents and teachers and have started exploring other teachings, other religions and cultures.
I assume that just like me you have heard and learned about Buddhism.

What is the teaching of Buddha?
Why am I, and probable you, attracted to it?
Well, to put it simple, the teaching of Buddha is that you are responsible for your life – happiness or the unhappiness of your experience – and that you can change that experience by following certain rules.
BTW – the Buddhist rules are not at all different from the teachings of any other major religions of the world, as the mater of fact they are almost identical just expressed and presented differently.

The major difference and the attraction of Buddhism – at least to me – was that Buddhism puts you in charge of your life.
God can be almost removed out of equation. An atheist can as easily practice Buddhism as a monk devotee and the results would be the same.

I don’t preach a religion.
I believe that God should be experienced and that each individual should have a personal relationship with God like each one of us have a relationship with our material father and mother without using any intermediaries or formal percepts.
That is because “unconditional love” shouldn’t have any rules, barriers or cannons.
Unconditional love is just that; unconditional.

I don’t preach a way of life either.
I believe each life should be different and you should live your life to its full potential.
I believe that the measure of success in your life is the happiness that you have and the happiness that you offer to the people around you.
I wish you and your loved ones all the happiness in the world.
But I would never tell you what to do or how to do it.

I can not breath for you.
I can not eat for you.
I can not love or hate for you.
I can not live your life.

The only thing I can do is to tell you my story.
Share with you my experiences, dreams and fears.
If you can find wisdom in my wisdom or my folly, if I can make you my friend on my journey, that is all I ever want.

So if I may be so bold to ask:
What would you want from me?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Self Actualization II

This was not supposed to be a two part post but as you know –( if you don’t you should read the first part ) – Brigit brought up some very good questions and I felt that we need it to talk about this subject a little bit more.

The problem with Mr. Maslow is that he’s a westerner.
His belief system is based on a fragmented universe model.
So his pyramid is a reflection of that belief system.

The human needs are seen as separate with no interaction.
Also the needs are depicted as a chain reaction, as a sequence, rather than a simultaneous event.
This is typical of the Western scientific view of the human physiology and anatomy where we treat the body parts as separated entities in contrast with Eastern medicine, where the human body is seen as one integrated system.

The good thing about Maslow’s pyramid is that it shows very graphically the hierarchy of the human needs.
The bad thing is that it doesn’t show the dynamic relations between these needs – how one change or affects the others.

First of all let me point something very important:
Only the first level – physiological – is in the material realm.
The other four levels – safety – love – esteem and self actualization – are in the ideal realm.
That means there is no way around satisfying the material needs other than satisfying them.

The other needs are relative.
Let’s say for example there is a rattle snake behind you.
If you don’t know the snake is there – which is a real threat - you would feel as secure as if there was no snake at all.
But then again you might see a root or a stick and if you mistake it for a snake you will feel insecure - although there is no real threat to you.

When I defected to come to America I had only $50 in my pocket, a pair of jeans, a T shirt and a pair of tennis shoes.
I had to leave behind everything that would be considered security: My family, friends, my job, all material possessions, everything.
Yet, I was not scared about my future in America even though I did not know anybody or anything about America and on top of that I did not speak English.

But here I am stuck in a 9-5 job, paralyzed by fear and I can’t “defect” out of it even if there are no KGB agents with guard dogs and machine guns to stop me.
Funny how the human mind works.
I have convinced myself that the security of a shitty job is better than the unknown of another career or starting my own business, and nothing in the world can get me out of that belief – except of course myself :)

My insecurity is driven by my finances status.
My expenses are unpleasantly close to my earnings.( Too close for comfort :)
There are two ways to change that ratio:

1) Reduce my expenses:
I could rent my hose out and have enough money to pay the mortgage and the rent to an apartment for my family – if you don’t have a house you can consider moving in with your in-laws. (Of course this would be just a temporary move.)
I could sell the house and buy another in a cheaper neighborhood.
Or, refinance my mortgage at a lower interest rate.
(As you can see my only problem is my mortgage since I don’t have any other major debt.)

2) Increase my income.
Do some math tutoring on the side.
Get a part time job.
Start some small enterprise – I have a colleague at work that pulls in about $500 a month by making candles!

Of course there is always the easy way out.
Get my self esteem so high that I would feel secure no matter what my financial status is.

BTW – I am making a big drama case out of my life just as an example for the story’s sake. In reality I am not that desperate or poor as it sounds.
I am actually doing quite well considering this prolonged recession :)
But I always believed that one should not wait till the situation becomes desperate in order to act.
We should act our life not react to our life

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Self Actualization

What is the most important, most wanted, most necessary and most essential thing in your life?

I have never had anyone answer me “air” so do not feel too bad if you were thinking about something else.
But the truth is that “air” is the correct answer – if you don’t believe me go to the kitchen put a garbage bag over your head, so you can't breath, and wait a couple of minutes :)

Here is a little pyramid of human necessities that psychologist Abraham Maslow created around 1940.

The tricky part about this pyramid is that you can’t climb to the top without first satisfying the bottom levels.
In other words, if you have to potty you can forget about creativity, love or morality.

Much of the Buddhist “desire” is the root of human suffering comes not from the simply desiring things.
– After words, desiring not to desire is a very strong desire in itself. -
But from neglecting this order of human self actualization.

Much of the life stress we are experiencing is derived from the fact that we are trying to accomplish – “we desire” – things at a higher level than the level that we have mastered.
In that perspective, “enlightenment” – which would be at the top of the pyramid in the self actualization level – would be a worse desire than the desire of “money” which is only on the second level of the pyramid.

Way too many people are jumping into achieving tasks that are way above their status.
Like starting a family before starting a career – which invariably adds a lot of stress to the relationship and can cause an early failure of the family.

So what has happened to me last year was a crisis triggered by the loss of security in my life, which had triggered problems at my confidence and self esteem level and threatened my family and relationships.

I had to go through a grueling examination of what was going on in my life – those of you that have followed me trough my trials and tribulations know exactly what I’m talking about.

I had to go a step back on my priorities and consolidate my financial “safety” level.
I got rid of all debt – credit cards, car payments etc.
Consolidate my mortgage by refinancing at a 4.35 % interest, 30 year fix loan.
Put some money into a liquid CD – and making a commitment to keep on saving to at least one year of security funds.
Get back on managing my stocks, IRA and 401K.

I know this might sound very unlike Buddha philosophy but consolidating my material life has put my family life on a better footing and had opened one more time my prospects for that elusive self realization.

So hopefully bay sharing our experiences we will learn and grow together, forge some friendships in the way, and feel not so lonely in our journey (troubles).

Sending you all of my love.

Friday, May 22, 2009

In charge or not

Ms. Rosenberg is walking down the street with her two grand children all dressed up for the Sunday morning holly day.
Ms. Freeman is coming the other way and sees them.
- Oh, my goodness! Are those your grand children? I can’t believe how tall they have grown. How old are they now?
Very proud of her grandchildren Ms. Rosenberg replies:
- The doctor is 7 and the lawyer is 9!

Funny or not, 6 out of 10 Americans are unhappy with their jobs.
Yet every morning they wake up and they go to their dreaded jobs week after week, year after year.

We started playing in the sand pan with a shiny tin truck, dreaming that one day we will drive the real thing, carrying iceberg lettuce from California over the Rocky Mountains, sun gleaming in our eyes, wind blowing in our hair.
And some how we wake up one day practicing corporate law, locked up in a stuffy office with a mountain high pile of paper in front of us.
(Or something similarly disappointing)

Some where along the way our shiny truck of happiness got high jacked and now some other poor schmuck drives it over the Rocky Mountains while dreaming of a cushy office job in a law firm in the big city.
(Such is the irony of life.)

So, what the hell just happened to our dreams?
As the immortal john Lennon said:
"Life is what's happening to us while we're busy making other plans."

So stop and ask yourself:
Who is in charge of my life?
Am I happy the way he/she/it is running my life?
If not; why don’t I get rid of he/she/it and put somebody else in charge?

After all, in charge or not you are still the one responsible for the happiness – or unhappiness - in your life.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Self Love

“It is not masturbation, it's sex with someone I love”
Woody Allen
Calm down you perverts, this is not what you think it is.
This is very serious stuff.

I’ve been thinking about my predicament:
On one hand I hold my self to a very high standard and that is stopping me from full self love. – I don’t believe, and more important I don’t feel that I am worth that kind of love.
On the other hand I believe, I know, that I will never fully and unconditionally love others if I can’t love myself. – It goes hand in hand.
And then, there is that big question:
If I don’t, can’t, love myself how can I expect that others could and would love me?

I had to go down to my basic percepts of love:
Love is an absolute.
Unconditional love is the only true love.
“IF” is the mark of the beast – In other words “conditioning” is the base of dysfunctional love.
EG: “IF you love me you would marry me, or buy me things” or “IF you love me you would have sex with me, or me and your sister, or whatever”

So basically you don’t love somebody fully and unconditionally if you expect something in return other than love.
In other words: “You should love yourself just the way you are because yourself loves you just the way you are.”

I know, I know, it doesn’t make any sense, but then again loving one self doesn’t make any sense either.
We are in love with an image of a better, perfect self and because of that image we will never be satisfied with the person we are.
But being the person we are doesn’t have anything to do with love – or at least it shouldn’t.
“You should love yourself just the way you are because yourself loves you just the way you are.”

There is no logical reason or conditional circumstance for loving.
If love is unconditional you should love yourself just because you love yourself, PERIOD.
Just like Woody Allen!

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Power Of Forgiveness II

I was hoping that someone would take me up on my offer – see my previous post – and share with us his or her experience of “forgiveness” but since nobody seems so brave, here I go again with my life story.

My father was an alcoholic, as most men in the old country did – a little dirty secret of the communist society – he was also a violent, abusive man – another quite common and accepted practice.

“What do you tell a woman with two black eyes?
Nothing: You have told her twice already!”
Growing up that was considered a funny and appropriate attitude towards women.

Fortunately for me, my mom divorced him before I was one year old and I got to live my early childhood with my grandparents, so the damage of the dysfunctional marriage was kept to a minimum.

I grew up a very angry young man.
I felt entitled to my anger and my pain and I flaunted them as a badge of honor.
I never forgot my father for deserting me and what he did to my mother and I always hoped one day I would have my revenge, although I never new exactly what that might entitle.

I even kept my pain and my anger after my father died - of his alcohol abuse – although it did not make any sense to hold a grudge to a fictitious, non existent person anymore.
I would probable kept my pain and my anger to this day if something very unpleasant had happened into my life.

Growing up I had a hard time holding a healthy relationship – that being said in the nicest way possible – but actually the sad and hard truth was that I was turning into my father.
I was turning into what I hated most - the man that beat up my mother.

So you see, it is not enlightenment or my Buddhist believes that have changed my life, it is my life that has forced and pushed me on the path of forgiveness.
I realized that my pain and anger are controlling my life and that if I wanted to change I had to get red of them.

My break through was the realization that I was turning into an asshole just like my father and that meant one thing; my father was just an ass hole like everybody else!
Not expecting him to be the perfect father that I dreamed of, taking him down from the pedestal I kept him on, was the first liberating step.
What can one expect from an asshole?

And that my friends is breaking the “You owe me” chains of your abusive relationship.

As I grew older and continue to make more mistakes – even though I kept a vigilant eye on my actions – I hit another point of my enlightenment; I have stopped judging people.
Not only my father but every human being I have ever encountered.
I am just to imperfect to pass judgment on another human being :)
And that brought me to my final step: I have embraced forgiveness as a path for my redemption – I’m still working on my own forgiveness – probable that is why I am writing this blog – who knows?

And thus step by step my life and my believes have converged together into one:
I am that I am.
Whatever you express; pain and anger or love and forgiveness is what you become.
The life that you live is the life that you have.
And that is the choice you have to make :)

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Power Of Forgiveness

1) Here is YOU – young and inexperienced in the ways of the world.
NOTICE: There are no strings or chains attached to you.
You are totally and absolutely free.
No fears, no anxieties.
No hatred no bigotry.
No low self esteem no negativity.
No bad experiences no regrets.
No pain and no suffering.
YOU are just as God intended YOU to be
Or 15 million years of evolution, if you so are inclined to believe :)
By any account: YOU are PERFECT!

2) Here is YOU and your first FUNCTIONAL relationship.
NOTICE: There are still no strings or chains bonding YOU.
True relationships are unconditional:
You give love you receive love, nothing more nothing less.
And there is a FUN part in functional :)
ALSO: Your first relationship – with your parents – theoretically should be the best but in reality it is not always so.
In reality your first human experience could have been # 3

3) Here is your first DYSFUNCTIONAL relationship.
NOTICE: The bondage between YOU and your WRONG DOER (WRD for short) is conditional.
WRD gets his/hers kicks by wrong doing YOU (and that can be anything from physical and/or sexual abuse to indifference and neglect)
And YOU are holding WRD responsible for your situation with the “you owe me something” chain (and that something can be love, respect, understanding, money, a promotion, a reward, an apology or an admission of wrong doing, or God knows what you think would make this right and fix the wrong doing.)

PERSONAL NOTE – This is the reason I avoid giving self improvement advice in my blog.
You can never cover all diversity of human experiences and no matter how hard you try your advice will be flawed and incomplete, so you have to take everything with a grain of salt and try to fill in the blanks as thy apply to your own situation.

4) Here is YOU after your dysfunctional relationship has ended.
NOTICE: You are still tied to your “you owe me” chain, even if your Wrong Doer is gone.
Your feelings are tied to an imaginary relationship that doesn’t exist – I symbolized it as your IMAGINARY BRICK WALL OF PAIN (IBWOP for short)
Notice that in most cases your Wrong Doer doesn’t even care what your feelings are and most likely he/she is already abusing another victim – cause that is the way they get their kicks.
Also notice: While you are tied to the IBWOP you can’t pursue potential loving relationships but…

5) Here is you attracting the wolves; a pack of Wrong Doers that have heard your crying and whining and have smelled fresh blood and tears.
NOTICE: The “normal” people running away from the scene of the incoming massacre.
Yes it is true: Nobody wants a whining, crying, depressed, negative, screwed up partner.
There is no knight in shining armor coming to save you.
Wake up from your self pity fantasy before you end up in…

6) Here is YOU tied up to your IBWOP, immobilized and paralyzed by pain, guilt, fear and God knows what else.
NOTICE: The lovely collection of “you owe me” bracelets, necklaces and other accessories.
Notice the scissors that were always available to you. They are FOIRGIVE and FORGET.
Realize that your Wrong Doers will never pay you back.
I mean really; what do you want from them; love, respect, money or an admission of guilt?
Are you willing to stay like that waiting for THEM to free your soul or are you going to cut the chains loose YOURSELF?
Realize that you are not being good or generous with them but you are finally doing something good for yourself.
Imagine what you would be without “you owe me” chains.
Imagine you as…

7) Here is YOU – older and wiser.
Totally and absolutely free to pursue the love you deserve just like God intended you to do.
I know some of you might ask at this moment:
“What about justice, what about revenge?”
Believe me, there is no greater punishment for a Wrong Doer than a happy, successful YOU.
Your success is ultimately their failure!
And there is no sweeter revenge than to held your head up in victory.

Knowledge is like money – worthless until you spend it.
Here is how you turn your new found knowledge into reality:
Take a piece of paper and write a letter to your Wrong Doer (one at the time if you have more than one)
Be as free in expressing your feelings as you want and at the end tell him/her that you don’t care anymore about their debt to you and that you have set them free – forget them in other words.
Send them the letter or an email or if you don’t know where they are post it on your blog and if you don’t have a blog send it to me and I will post it on my blog for you.
You have to let the universe know of your decision; you have to change your knowledge and ideas into reality.
You have to actualize your thoughts into action.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

An old story

You all know the saying:
"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
But some times a rich man makes it through, like the one in the following story:

Once upon a time an orphan boy grew up as an apprentice into a merchant’s house.
After the demise of his benefactor the young man went into the world and started his own trade business.
Soon his fortune started to rise and money started to fill his coffers.

The young man never forgot his humble beginning and he helped all the people in need: The sick and the poor, the crippled and the destitute, and as his wealth grew his generosity increased as well.
Good fortune follow him in every enterprise and soon he became legendary both for his riches as well for his good deeds.

But after years and years of work he grew old and pretty soon he contemplate his inevitable end.
The problem was that he never got married, he never had any children and he did not know of any relatives.
So he began to pray to God every day for the remaining of his life.

One night God heard his plea and came to him in a dream.
“What can I do fro you my good man?” Asked God.
“I have worked hard all my life and now my wealth is going to be taken by strangers.
I would like you to let me take it with me when I die, o great and just God!”
God pondered for a while and then responded.
“You know that you can't take it with you, but considering your life of good deeds I will make an exception. See that chest in the corner? You can take it with you when you die.”

So the old man sold all his possessions and bought as much gold bars as to fill up his treasure chest.
Not long after that the angel of death came to take him to paradise.

At the pearly gates St Peter seeing the heavy chest stopped the old man
“Wait a minute – you can not bring that in here. It is against the rules!”
“But God granted me a special permission.” Said the old man.
“Let me check that out.” Said the saint and looked into his admission log.
“Yep, you’re right, there is a note here saying you can bring a chest with worldly possessions, but I will have to check so it doesn’t have any unholy content.”
“Sure thing” Said the old man and lifted the chest lid.

St Peter looked inside the chest at the glimmering bars of gold and his eyes popped out in amazement. He turned to the old man in disbelief:
“You brought in pavement?”

Friday, May 8, 2009

The root of the problem

A staunch atheist and avid nature photography enthusiast ventures on a remote edge of the Grand Canyon in search of that elusive perfect shot and accidentally falls into the void bellow.
Fortunately –or maybe unfortunately – for him, at the last moment he catches a protruding juniper root and finds himself dangling a thousand feed above the jagged rocks.

(You can see this is going to be a cliff hanger!)

Besides the violent pain in his shoulder he also has a spiritual epiphany.
He suddenly realizes the impermanence of life, the impending inevitability of death.
So he does what any good atheist would do in such situation.
Prays to Gad like his life depended on it!

Suddenly to his surprise the clouds part and a booming voice from above announces:
- Enough, enough! Stop whining like a little girl. I shall spare your miserable life.
- God is that you?
- Yes it is I the Lord thy father, I cometh to save you.
- What should I do? I can barely hold to this root any longer.
- Let go of the root and thy be saved!

The poor guy looks down below, looks up above, looks down again, than asks:
- Is there anybody else there besides you?

It’s a joke – It’s OK to laugh.
No atheist was actually harmed in the writing of this joke.
I just wrote this as a preamble to today’s questions.
(Yes, you should have known it was a setup :)

- Have you heard the voice of God?

“Don’t be anxious about what you will eat or what you will wear.
Isn’t your life more than its food and your body more than its clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky; they neither saw nor reap nor gather into barns, yet God feeds them.
Which of you by thinking can add a day to his life?
And why do you worry about clothing?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; nether toil nor spin.
And yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was robed like one of these.
Therefore, if God so clothes the grass, which grows in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won’t he all the more clothe you?
So don’t worry about these things and say, “What will we eat?” or “What will we wear?”
For this is what worldly people seek; and your Father knows that you need these things.
But first seek the kingdom of God; and these things will be given to you as well.”

- So, why are you still holding to your root?


Monday, May 4, 2009

An empty glass

“God, give me the strength to change the things I can.
The courage to accept the things that I cannot change.
And the wisdom to know the difference.”

A person that sees the glass half empty is a pessimist.
A person that sees the glass half full is an optimist.
What is a person that sees the empty glass as full?
What is the person that sees the full glass as empty?

Remember the time when money was easy and every day was better and brighter?
Remember when the skies were blue and all we could see were opportunities growing?
Remember when the glass was overflowing?
What did you see then?

What do you see now?
Do you see your glass empty or full?

In the dead of winter do you see the promises of spring?
In the ashes of your burning wings do you see the phoenix rising?
In the sorrow and pain of today do you see the hope and joy of tomorrow?
Do you see the opportunity in the emptiness of your glass?

People tell me:
“You are a fool, rocking the boat!
You’ll never change anything with your questioning.
Give us the answers; that’s what we want and we need.
Give us your wisdom, you so proclaim you have found!”

What is wisdom outside life, but an empty word?
How are the sacred texts to give you light if you don’t burn them?
What is your wisdom and your money good for, if you don’t spend them?
What are all my answers good for if you don’t question life?