Last of the Five Good Emperors

Marcus-Aurelius

Thirteen timeless parables from almost two thousand years ago posted this morning by my Facebook friend, writer C. Joyell C.:

“Look beneath the surface; let not the several quality of a thing nor its worth escape thee.”

“It’s not another person’s minds that destroys us, but our own. If we are watchful of our mind’s contents, we will rise above the troubles of the outside world.”

“Nothing is sadder than the man who goes around analyzing his neighbors’ actions, while failing to perceive the Divinity within.”

“If a person has an appreciation and understanding of the Universe, there is hardly anything that won’t appear beautiful. Such a person will find equal pleasure in looking at paintings and wild animals. He will see in every person a sweet freshness and light. Vision will be his gift, and he will see beauty where others see nothing.”

“Above all else, let the spirit within you be the guardian of your life. Tend to it, let it be the source of your peace. You will find happiness if you do not seek outside you for what is within.”

“Just as physicians have their tools, so do you have tools for healing your mind. Try to remember the bond between humans and the Divine.”

“Blame and praise have no true effects. Is an emerald less lovely, if it is not praised? Or is gold less lovely, or ivory, or the color purple?… “I am committed to be an emerald, and keep the color that is mine.”

“Be like the cliff against which the waves break – you can stand firm and calm amongst the noise.”

“How simple life is for the disciplined mind. A disciplined mind can release every painful thought that enters into it, and to return to a state of perfect calm.”

“As your stray thoughts are, so will your mind be. Dye it with a continual series of good and wholesome thoughts.”

“Whenever something troubles you, quickly return to your higher thoughts and do not linger in discomfort. We will grow to be master of our state by turning back to peace.”

“This is what some men do: they refuse to speak good of their neighbors, yet they themselves set great value on being praised.”

“Love the people whom you have been given. Love them truly.”

Marcus Aurelius, April 26, 121 AD-March 17, 180 AD, Roman Co-Emperor (with Lucius Verus) from 161 to 180, warrior, lover and father… He was the last of the Five Good Emperors, and is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers.

In my morning meditation I often turn to one of three books I have of Marcus Aurelius thoughts. It amazes me how clearly he saw things and I am grateful for his wisdom that echoes through the centuries.

Your life mainly consists of 3 things!
What you think,
What you say and
What you do!
So always be very conscious
of what you are co-creating!
Allan Rufus

8 Easy Steps

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Excerps from a deeply touching Huffington Post article published a few weeks ago, “How to Get Flat Abs, Have Amazing Sex and Rule the World in 8 Easy Steps” by Kate Bartolotta

Setting aside our first-world problems and pettiness, if you are online reading this, you have both electricity and WiFi or access to them. Odds are you are in a shelter of some sort, or on a smart phone (and then kudos to you for reading this on the go). Life might bump and bruise us, it may not always go the way we plan and I know I get frustrated with mine, but here’s the thing: You are alive. Because you are alive, everything is possible…

1. Stop believing your b#llsh!t. All that stuff you tell yourself about how you are a commitment phobe or a coward or lazy or not creative or unlucky? Stop it. It’s b#llsh!t, and deep down you know it. We are all insecure 14 year olds at heart. We’re all scared. Let it go. Be who you are beneath the b#llsh!t.

2. Be happy now. Not because The Secret says so. Not because of some shiny happy Oprah crap. But because we can choose to appreciate what is in our lives instead of being angry or regretful about what we lack. It’s a small, significant shift in perspective. We can choose to let the beautiful parts set the tone.

3. Look at the stars. It won’t fix the economy. It won’t stop wars. It won’t give you flat abs, or better sex or even help you figure out your relationship and what you want to do with your life. But it’s important. It helps you remember that you and your problems are both infinitesimally small and conversely, that you are a piece of an amazing and vast universe. …it helps.

4. Let people in. Truly. Tell people that you trust when you need help, or you’re depressed — or you’re happy and you want to share it with them. Acknowledge that you care about them and let yourself feel it. Instead of doing that other thing we sometimes do, which is to play it cool and pretend we only care as much as the other person has admitted to caring, and only open up half way. Go all in — it’s worth it.

5. Stop with the crazy making. Life is full of obstacles; we don’t need to create extra ones. Don’t take things personally. Most of the time, other people’s choices and attitudes have absolutely nothing to do with you. Unless you’ve been behaving like a jerk, in which case…

6. Learn to apologize. Not the ridiculous, self-deprecating apologizing for who you are and for existing that some people seem to do… The ability to sincerely apologize — without ever interjecting the word “but” — is an essential skill for living around other human beings.

7. Practice gratitude. Practice it out loud to the people around you. Practice it silently when you bless your food. Practice it often. Gratitude is not a first world only virtue. Gratitude is what makes what we have enough. Gratitude is the most basic way to connect with that sense of being an integral part of the vastness of the universe…

8. Be kind. Kindness costs us nothing and pays exponential dividends. I can’t save the whole world. I can’t bring peace to Syria. If the biggest thing we do in life is to extend love and kindness to even one other human being, we have changed the world for the better. Full article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kate-bartolotta/happiness-tips_b_3956114.html

Nuff said…. thanks Kate!

The happiest people seem to be
those who have no particular cause
for being happy except that they are so.
William Ralph Inge

Soldier’s Prayer

My intent it not to honor war or the politics that often fester their eruption.  My purpose here is not to talk of what to do about foreign tyrants or those that carry out evil against their countrymen.  This is not a monologue of what is right and wrong and what should have or should not have been done.  What I put here today, one day after Veteran’s Day is my tribute to the men and women who willingly have gone into the darkness of battle and conflict in the name of country, family and countrymen.      

A Soldier’s Prayer By Joanna Fuchs
Lord, wrap your arms around me
In this hostile, brutal place;
Let me draw peace and comfort
From your restful, sweet embrace.

Help me do my duty
To uphold what is right;
Give me strength and courage
Each day and every night.

Lord, hear this soldier’s prayer
To You in heaven above;
Protect me with your power,
And sustain me with your love.

Often I have thought it was good fortune not to have been drafted to serve in the war of my youth: Vietnam.  My friends and family who went came back mostly whole, but for so many that was not true.  Well aware I am of how the men and women who were called to go there never received the credit, honor or respect due them.  I was against that war, but never against those who served.  Any time I see a Vet wearing something that indicates he/she served in ‘Nam I always thank them for their service.  To a person each and every one has been grateful.  Every single one!  Far too little appreciation has been given to those people.

Taken from “Welcome Home and I Love You!” by Eileen Breedlove  
When you pass by a Vet
that made it home,
or hear of a brother
that is lost in Nam.

Open your hearts
and show them respect.
They gave of themselves
and they did their best.
WELCOME HOME!

Taken from “In Your Honor” by Anonymous
Unselfishly, you left your fathers and your mothers.
You left behind your sisters and your brothers.
Leaving your beloved children and wives,
You put on hold, your dreams, your lives.

On foreign soil, you found yourself planted
To fight for those whose freedom you granted.

Without your sacrifice, their cause would be lost
But you carried onward, no matter the cost.

When it was over, you all came back home
Some were left with memories to face alone.

Those who survived were forever scarred
Emotionally, physically, permanently marred.

With a hand upon my heart, I feel
The pride and respect; my reverence is revealed.
Every day, I give my utmost admiration
To those who fought to defend our nation.

For all U.S. personnel who served in Vietnam or were deployed before or after to fight, protect or advise in places like Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada, Iraq, Panama, Kuwait, Somalia, Serbia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and all the other locales known and the ones we likely will never know:  THANK YOU.  You have my deep respect and gratitude.

In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.  
José Narosky

First Posted on November 12, 2011 

Future’s So Bright…

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A time of personal evolution began for me fourteen years ago and the catalyst was a promotion/job transfer.  Left behind was a comfortable position of eleven years and a city known well after eighteen years of living there.  Familiar surroundings and old-friends quickly became something a thousand miles away from where I relocated.  While a son finished out a school year that just began, I lived by myself for eight months in the new city with visits back to my family around every 4 weeks.  Here began real awareness that something was definitely wrong in my life; with me.

The first reaction was to point attention to my childhood, other people and circumstances to explain some of my behavior.  “It was their fault!”  Then came separation, divorce, my son 750 miles away, a new relationship, therapy, a hiatus from affairs, a 2nd marriage, an affair that ended that marriage, five weeks in treatment for depression and compulsions, more therapy, four years spent avoiding love relationships and finally becoming accustomed to being by myself.  A good bit of the cure was overcoming loneliness and learning to be comfortable in my own company, a process that I thought at times was going to kill me.

Frequently I am asked what the “secret” was that allowed me to evolve, grow and change to be the person I am today.  My response is “there’s no secret”.  Trust me, I wish there was a shortcut because I would have taken it long ago.  Getting from there to here focused primarily on four things:

1) Motivation, 2) Doing the work, 3) Support from others 4) Stop worrying about the future.

Motivation:  For a day, week or even a full month here and there I thought was stimulated enough to make changes in my life and behavior.  Given time old habits came back.  Only when EVERY DAY I felt change HAD to happen did my behavior evolve positively in lasting ways.

Do the Work:  Thinking about living life differently is not enough.  Growth takes hard and consistent work; lots of it!  It took reading (tons) about what ailed me to gain understanding.  I had to go to therapy and realize I got as much out of it as I put in. Working a twelve program was very hard, but yielded lasting results.  I had to make amends with those I had wronged, most of all myself.   had to bust my butt and even today that is the recipe for continuing to move forward.

Support of others:  There is no way I could have accomplished my personal growth and recovery without the help of others.  My therapist was a huge help.  The support of a handful of close friends even when they did not understand made a big difference. The support of peers during rehab helped a lot as did assistance an ex-wife gave me then.  Attending help-group meetings at least once a week has been an important part of my work to grow.  Without the support of others, I would not have made it.

Stop worrying about the future: It was necessary to stop being concerned about the future and instead just take life one day at a time.  The attitude I had to adopt was to just get through the present day.  Sometimes I could stay focused only on the current hour or even the present minute. My behavior always happened in the “now” and could only be addressed in the “now”.

I had to learn how to feel happiness and allow myself to know joy.  A good explanation comes From a book I read titled “Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow: 12 Simple Principles” by Karen Casey:  Joy is always available to us, moment by moment. But we must keep our minds open and pay attention. A closed mind or a mind filled with fear or judgment will never know joy.  More here: http://www.dailyom.com/library/000/000/000000583.html

Learning the power of my thinking and coming to know my thoughts intimately, even the bad ones, was another key to getting better.  I could not truly embrace the good if I did not know those thoughts well.  Nor could the “stinking thinking” be changed unless I knew that thinking well.  From the Wisdom of the Mystic Masters by Joseph J. Weed comes:  Each thought at its inception produces an effect.  There is a vibratory wave, a radiation from the center, not unlike the radiation of a radio wave from a broadcasting tower.  The wave moves outward equally in all directions with gradually diminishing intensity, which varies with distance.  It continues to emanate from the mind of the thinker as long as the thought is held but it ceases instantly the thinking changes or stops.

Sitting here finishing this blog today, I am so happy to be where my efforts have taken me.  Getting here has been damn difficult, but worth every discomfort.  I am grateful to my Higher Power, all those who aided my journey to now and those who will help me stay on my path in the future.

The Future’s So Bright,
I Gotta Wear Shades”
Lyric from a Timbuk3 song

Originally Posted on December 29, 2011

We All Have Twenty-Four Hour Days

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You can do anything,
but you can’t do everything.
David Allen

What has my attention at this moment? My thoughts are directed at words surfacing in my mind and typing them with a considerably lesser amount of awareness of music playing on Pandora. I’m vaguely aware of the surroundings of my home office, the art and posters on the wall and the noise of an occasional neighborhood car that drives by. That’s all my mind can take on at the moment.

People have a fixed amount that must be allocated according to need. To use a popular analogy, attention is like a bucket of water. People draw upon it as needed, but every dipper full and every teaspoon full leaves less for other purposes. Marc Green

Two interesting components have arisen with the increase of discretionary time I now have: 1) my perception of the world outside me has increased. I notice more, see things more deeply and generally feel good because of it. 2) With a richness of time, it is easy to let hours and days slip by with little to show for them. Some of that is good. Some of it is not so positive.

Zig Ziglar said, “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.” My conclusion is that expecting myself to settle into new routines within my first 60 days of semi-retirement was too much to ask. Already I feel better letting myself off the hook of that unrealistic expectation.

…the allocation of attention is largely automatic and occurs without awareness. As a result, it is not easily brought under conscious control. You may direct someone’s attention by saying “watch the step,” and temporarily cause a conscious allocation of attention to the step. However, there is a good chance that within a few minutes or even seconds, the memory trace will disappear and the next time the person will fail to notice the step. The same automatic factors that directed attention away from the step in the first instance have not changed. Marc Green

The paragraph from Marc Green helps me a good deal because it tells me that keeping a keen awareness of my desire to form new routines is a great start to having them. All I have to do is follow through on what I have concluded and stay aware with a sense of priority. Then new routines will simply fall into place. Whew. I am grateful to “get off my own case”.

I didn’t pay attention to time or distance,
instead focusing on how it felt just to be in motion,
knowing it wasn’t about the finish line
but how I got there that mattered.
Sarah Dessen

 Originally Posted on September 17, 2013

Focused Intention and Effort

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In looking backwards life mostly can appear as a single line moving from point to point while looking ahead is a something of a confusing muddle. So I settle comfortably into ‘today’ where there is clarity of purpose. Life is so much easier when I center myself in the ‘Now”.

Up high on my ‘list of things to do” is to ‘continuing to grow as a human being’. American Spiritual leader A.W. Tozer’s wrote down his “Rules for Self Discovery” around seventy-five years ago. His inquiries are as contemporary today as when he created them. (Off the top of my head my honest answers this morning are in parentheses).

1. What we want most; (peace and love)

2. What we think about most; (personal growth, romance and travel)

3. How we use our money; (mostly to indulge myself)

4. What we do with our leisure time; (write, listen to music and be with loved ones)

5. The company we enjoy; (intelligent people with kind hearts)

6. Who and what we admire; (thinkers of all ages who left their wisdom behind)

7. What we laugh at. (Natural silliness of children or dark humor about living)

So, in paragraph form: Peace and love is what I want most. Romance, travel and growing as a person take up the most space in my thoughts. I use money mostly to indulge myself. My leisure time is spent writing, listening to music and hanging out with friends and family. I am drawn to intelligent people with kind hearts. My admiration is greatest for thinkers of all ages who teach by what they left behind. Children being children make me laugh the easiest, but dark humor can bring relief about the absurdities of life.

I’m pleased with my answers EXCEPT “money: to indulge myself”. While it’s not a complete negative, a good bit of my tendency to spoil myself is not a positive thing. That inclination is rooted in feelings of lack and insecurity that I am grateful for being made aware of (again). With focused intention and effort a man grows.I will!

We do not grow absolutely, chronologically.
We grow sometimes in one dimension,
and not in another; unevenly.
We grow partially. We are relative.
We are mature in one realm,
childish in another.
The past, present, and future mingle
and pull us backward, forward,
or fix us in the present.
We are made up of layers,
cells, constellations.
Anaïs Nin

NOW, it’s your turn to answer the seven questions.

Living From the Inside Out

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Once in a while I find myself wishing to be in a time before now. I have imagined living in Victorian times when history tells us manners and romantic love were in vogue. On other occasions, my fantasy has been living in the age of honor and chivalry written about the Knights of the Roundtable. Both are pure make believe and in truth both times were actually really tough for average folks.

It’s more productive to come back to my life experience. Many people wish for earlier times in their life and I am not immune. The late 60s and early 70s have long seemed like a cool time to visit as long as I could have a different life back there than I actually had.

Most people, from the age of about 16 to about 30 have dreams, expectations, zest and energy. They are still young and the future is before them. Often, there is a certain feeling of euphoria and great expectations. This is the time when people are at the start of their life, still able to think big, before settling down, getting a job, getting married, and entering the hustle and bustle of life.

When you think about the past, the feelings of joy, happiness and expectation associated with it awaken, and you feel good. Then you associate those feelings with the past, and get the impression that the past was a better time. Actually, what you are yearning to is to the feelings of euphoria that you experienced when young, to the dreams and expectations, which are gone now.

My advice to you is to awaken those feelings and thoughts intentionally, and to associate them with the present. No matter how old or young you are, where you live, and under what circumstances you are living, you can use these thoughts and feelings to motivate you. ou can again experience the euphoria and great expectations you had when young, but use them constructively to make them come true. Remez Sasson http://www.successconsciousness.com/blog/motivation/past-better-than-present/

A fairly recent discovery of mine has been changing the direction of my life has brought back some of the good feelings enjoyed in my teens and 20s The reason is not complicated. I am embracing the possibilities of being alive in ways like I did when young. And it’s not just the feel-good neurochemicals that my waxing nostalgic brings. Back in my younger days there were many “things I thought I could be” and lots I was “going to do”. Life seems filled with such possibility again.

One of the benefits of “old days” was the amount of times I spent with people. Today with all the possibilities to entertain myself it’s easy to fall into a hole and not spend much time with others. I’ve found adding more time with friends and making new ones is one of the best uses of my time. Making new “good old times” with others has become my best remedy for yearning for times past.

As a society we do live in challenging times with monstrously huge problems. However the overall quality of my life really does not have much to do with them. I can be socially aware and even active without internalizing the issues. Living from the inside out is a lot healthful than life being shaped from the outside where I have no control.

The chief beauty about time
is that you cannot waste it in advance.
The next year, the next day,
the next hour are lying ready for you,
as perfect, as unspoiled,
as if you had never wasted or misapplied
a single moment in all your life.
Arnold Bennett

As Simple and Difficult As That

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A Search…
People spend a lifetime searching for happiness; looking for peace. They chase idle dreams, addictions, religions, even other people, hoping to fill the emptiness that plagues them. The irony is the only place they ever needed to search was within. Romana L. Anderson

A Hope…
Everyone has a moment in history which belongs particularly to him. It is the moment when his emotions achieve their most powerful sway over him, and afterward when you say to this person “the world today” or “life” or “reality” he will assume that you mean this moment, even if it is fifty years past. The world, through his unleashed emotions, imprinted itself upon him, and he carries the stamp of that passing moment forever. John Knowles

A Path…
One of the reasons why we crave love, and seek it so desperately, is that love is the only cure for loneliness, and shame, and sorrow. But some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help you find them again. Some truths about yourself are so painful that only shame can help you live with them. And some things are just so sad that only your soul can do the crying for you. Gregory David Roberts

A Gift…
She talked about wanting to be a part of something, wanting to be desired, to be ‘special’, craving to be loved. She talked about experiencing the kind of loneliness so immense it could swallow you up. She called it ‘loneliness that crowds couldn’t cure’. Cupcake Brown

This morning thumbing through quotes for inspiration, I found four that connected so well they spoke what I was wanting to say when I connected them. (Search) The hunt to be more fully connected to my truest self, (Hope) the desire to live more completely in the moment, (Path) the aspiration to feel the full breadth and scope of my emotions and (Gift) the dream of letting romantic love into my heart again.

An architect creates a plan to guide the builder. The builder uses the plan to direct construction. The foreman focuses the labor. And the title-holder receives the benefit. For my life, I am all four: Architect, Builder, Laborer and Title Holder. Only by taking ownership of all four and believing in the guidance of something bigger than me can my needs, hopes and dreams find reality. Create, build, work and believe. It’s as simple and difficult as that.

We dream to give ourselves hope.
To stop dreaming – well, that’s like
saying you can never change your fate.
From “The Hundred Secret Senses”
by Amy Tan

My Lost Years

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The piece below is a perspective written generally about being a the late teens or 20-something. Yet, “lost years” can be any age. For many in recovery, what began in those young years became bad habits that matured well into middle age. Some never “recover”.

You’re missing something. You’re watching everything pass you by and it’s making you anxious but you’re not quite sure how to catch up. A small part of you doesn’t even want to catch up. You’ve become comfortable in your complacency, comfortable in your own mistakes. Your slip ups have become some kind of solace. They’re yours to keep. Flaws have become some sick substitute for a relationship and you take them to bed with you.

You’re too young to be completely happy. You’re currently living your lost years and even though it’s taking you down, you’re not ready for the alternative. Something that no one likes to admit is that it sort of feels good to screw up. You don’t think you know exactly what you’re doing? You can pretend to be naive to spare everyone else’s feelings but let’s not get confused: you’re in control here. Every step of the way.

That is, until you’re not. The thing about being a mess is that you eventually do lose control. The self-destructive spiral you’ve been orchestrating gets ripped away from you and put in the hands of something much bigger. Then you’re screwed. Then you’re going to be saying “…Take me back to the land of stability and normalcy! I’m done living my lost years. Now I just would like to be found!”

Your life is precarious. When you were in high school and college, you treated your mortality like it was a crappy purse. You stomped on it, broke a strap, let a vodka bottle spill out and ruin the leather. You did all of this believing it would all be repaired while you were sleeping, and it usually was. You reach a point, however, when the leather stays torn, when the piece of crap bag becomes beaten beyond repair. Simply put, you have to take a more proactive role in maintaining your happiness and well-being. You’re not just someone watching their own life from afar. You’re in it now. And if you don’t take care of it, it will fall to pieces.

This is how someone becomes the person they want to be. They make changes. They stop taking those pills, clutching those drinks, and start deleting those numbers in their phone that might as well be daggers. They take responsibility for themselves. This might sound so minor but something you all must know by now is that we’re often our own worst enemy. We can’t blame something on a lack of self-awareness. We’re all aware, which makes it that much harder when we see ourselves making the same mistakes. We often wonder why we do the things we do. But we already know why. Knowing and doing are two different things though. I know that x, y, and z make me unhappy but I guess, in the end, I just don’t care enough to make changes. You can’t force yourself to care. You need to reach a point where you DO care which can take a long time.

But once you do reach it, there’s no going back. Being a broken mess is a blast at 19 but once you’re old enough to know better and start to make those necessary changes, returning to that state will feel awful. That’s something to actually mourn. There’s a certain kind of beauty with being reckless with your body and mind. Closing the chapter on that and actively becoming the person you’re going to be feels great but it’s also a tad bittersweet. Sometimes you want to go back to being the person you were before all the bad stuff happened, but you know that’s impossible. So you just bid adieu to that time and look towards your future. (FYI, it looks super bright.) By Ryan O’Connell http://thoughtcatalog.com/2012/how-to-become-the-person-you-want-to-be/

When I compare where I am today to just ten years ago it amazes me who much has happened. Old deeply ingrained habits seem distant now and boy, am I grateful. While I never had to fight off substance abuse, my compulsions were still just as damaging, if not to me, certainly to some of those around me. I regret that, but am grateful I am no longer leaving a path filled with regrets.

Never look back unless
you are planning to go that way.
Henry David Thoreau