Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Happiness Catalyst

What happens when 10 authors who have never met each other come together via a social medium like Twitter and collaborate on creating a free e-book? You end up with a phenomenal book like The Happiness Catalyst.

The Happiness Catalyst is the brainchild of Dave Ursillo who recruited authors via social media site Twitter to submit original works with the intention of encouraging the reader to re-engage their communities and find happiness in the process.

Download your copy here:

Free e-book: The Happiness Catalyst

Read more about the genesis of this book:

The Happiness Catalyst: Reconnecting with Community

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Value of a Day

Every person in this life has something to teach me — and as soon as I accept that, I open myself to truly listening. --Catherine Doucette

On Saturday night, I was standing outside of a church hall, waiting for people to come to an event I planned. I'm one of the coordinators for a contra dance in Eastern Connecticut. (Contra dancing is a form of dance that was popular in New England in the 18th century, and it evolved from early English and French country dance forms.)

While standing in the parking area, one of the old timers heard me marvel about how quickly the Summer had passed. I mused out loud about how it seemed impossible that we could be entering into a new dance season so soon (We take the Summer off from dancing). It seemed like only days before that we finished the last season, when in fact, it was months since we last danced.

I asked him why life seems to accelerate as we grow older--rhetorically, not really expecting a substantial or valuable answer. His response floored me. He said, "When you were one year old, a day was a significant part of your lifetime. Today, a day is but a small fraction of a much longer lifetime, and in contrast--it seems to move very quickly."

How profound.

I was reminded to listen to everyone, as I never know when someone might offer something wise. I will cherish his profundity for many years to come.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I've had a desire, over the years, to learn to exercise through running. It's never seemed to work for me, despite repeated attempts. When I ran, I was barely able to go a half mile with out losing control of my breathing. I would run a little ways, until my breathing went out of control, and then I would need to walk for a while. I repeated this pattern frequently.

I gave up trying to run about five years ago, when a friend stopped exercising with me due to a knee injury. In the subsequent years, I moved from a physically demanding job to working behind a desk. I gained some weight and generally felt pretty lousy about my health. Determined to get back in shape, I started attending Yoga classes this past November.

Yoga is a good fit for me and I attend class frequently. In the process, I have practiced some breath-work. As Spring came around this year, I decided to give running another attempt. Much to my surprise, I didn't seem to have any problems with control of my breathing during my runs. Over the Summer months, I went from running 1.5 miles, to 3 miles, and settled into a 4.5 mile routine for quite some time. Just recently, I've increased to a 6 mile run, several times a week.

From a breath perspective, I don't seem to have any distance barriers in my running. I certainly have some speed barriers; but, these barriers will be overcome gradually. From a muscular-skeletal standpoint, increased distance certainly takes its toll on my legs, but they are strengthening.

The most exciting developments, from my running, is my increased health. I've lost over 20 pounds and recorded a significant drop in my pulse and blood pressure. In fact, I was recently taken off of blood pressure medications for the first time in 15 years!

As a whole being, we must not neglect any part of our self. Yoga has taught me a great deal about balance. We come from an unseen singular place and live in a seen, dualistic world; therefore, we require balance. I'm enjoying this journey of developing my balance.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The End of Suffering

"Does God exist? The Buddhist is likely to answer,'It really doesn't matter one way or another since the human predicament remains the same in either case. Our job is to dispel illusion and alleviate suffering.'" - Richard Hooper

It probably comes as no surprise when I suggest the world is full of suffering. Just about any exposure to the daily news reveals countless stories of tragedy and horror. We find there are millions of people living in squalid conditions, going hungry, and suffering from physical traumas or disease.

Most faith traditions, as well as many secular relief organizations, actively minister to those who are physically suffering in the far reaches of the world. This is, of course, entirely appropriate and honorable. All of us would do well to support these efforts in any manner possible.

Yet, might I also suggest that there is a great deal of suffering among the wealthiest and most successful people of the world? In fact, there is suffering among our friends, families, and neighbors. There is suffering in our own hearts.

Our job is to alleviate suffering. Yes, sending money to humanitarian relief organizations is a wonderful idea; however, it does not end suffering. Sending money simply provides temporary physical relief, and suffering continues. Why?

According to some Eastern traditions, there are five main causes of suffering:

1. "Not knowing your true identity."
2. "Clinging to the idea of permanence in in a world that is inherently impermanent."
3. "Fear of change."
4. Identifying with the socially induced hallucination called the ego."
5. "Fear of death."
(Deepak Chopra)

Isn't this interesting? Wouldn't you have expected a list like this?

1. Bigotry
2. War
3. Famine
4. Greed
5. Lack of education

When I hear of organized secular or religious groups striving to end suffering, I think of people actively engaging the issues on my second list. Yet, these Eastern faith traditions teach us that physical suffering is secondary to spiritual suffering--represented by the first list. In other words, the second list represents symptoms of suffering, whereas the first list represents root causes.

Eastern faith traditions suggest our job is to dispel illusion and alleviate suffering--in our own hearts. We are called to transcend space, time, and cause-and-effect by coming to realize our core consciousness is immortal (D.Chopra).

By recognizing that we have all come into this physical world from the same Source and that we are all connected on the level of our highest consciousness, we begin to value new things: love, peace, and fulfilled meaning--to name a few. And in inculcating these new values, we become the change we want to see in the world.

Indeed, suffering must end. It must end in our hearts.

"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself." - Leo Tolstoy

Saturday, April 10, 2010

To Observe Without Evaluating

"I don't fear heresy anymore, I fear hypocrisy all the more."-Dezi Baker.

Many people go through a radical or fundamentalist stage in their life, whether religion or lifestyle. Most of us know people who spend all of their time at church, the gym, or something similar. Usually this occurs when we're relatively young and idealistic, but certainly can take place at any stage in life. Sometimes it's the result of some significant emotional event, e.g. cancer, loss of a loved one, etc..

I'm no exception. The peak of my fundamentalism was in my late teens/early twenties--during a time when I lived in a foreign country for two years. My life has been a steady journey away from fundamentalism since. This is not to say that I have no faith. To the contrary, I have grown greatly in faith; I have simply shed religion.

One of the things that seems to often accompany the radical or fundamentalist stage is being judgmental (evaluating). It's natural to think less of others when we're so committed to a creed or doctrine, when they're not on the same path. After the radicalism begins to fade (often with age), the evaluation habit lingers, and does not seem to abate as quickly. It is here that hypocrisy begins to creep into our lives.

It is my intention to only judge myself, with love and grace. I intend to not evaluate you, your life, or your cause as either good or bad. I will not march in your parade, save to promote your unalienable right to be self-directing. It is you who gets to choose your own path. I honor the spirit that is within you. Namaste.

"To observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence."~Jiddu Krishnamurti

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wishing Life Away

"I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived..." -Diane Ackerman

Though I cherish silence and solitude, I also really enjoy deep and meaningful conversations with pensive people. Yesterday, I had lunch with a dear friend. He and I always speak of many things, including our kids, current love interests, and the joy of experiencing the seasons of our lives.

My workplace was the subject of a large part of our conversation. I shared that my supervisor is set to retire at the end of March and his position will probably remain vacant for the foreseeable future as a cost-saving measure during this difficult economy. We spoke of the opportunities and difficulties that are likely to develop for me in the intervening time, until the position is filled.

Compassionately, my friend expressed a hope for me that the time would go by very quickly. I responded immediately, almost without thinking, "No, I don't hope for it to go quickly; but, rather that every moment is meaningful and without any major catastrophes." He seemed a little taken aback for a moment, before consenting.

I'm sure my friend meant well and I feel bad for not just receiving his compassion, without the necessity of a response. Though it's important for me to own my response, and to think before I speak, I also think my consciousness reflexively rejected his suggestion, just as the body rejects poison with vomiting. Wishing for time to go quickly during difficulty is a common practice, but one that I've grown to reject vehemently.

Life is full of difficulty and if we wish every period of discomfort away--life will get away from us. Wishing time away is a form of slumber. We drift off into the past or dream of the future, and numb the present pain--not altogether unlike Rip Van Winkle, who escaped his nagging wife by sleeping for twenty years.

I often encounter people who are wishing their lives away. Do you see it too? A quick look at various Facebook statuses reveals people who "...cant wait for 5:00 PM," so they can leave work, or people who wish the weekend was closer. Wednesday is oft celebrated as "hump day," or the day halfway to the weekend. While in line at the grocery store, I notice the cashiers often commiserate the boredom of their work by exchanging the countdown to their parole at the end of their shifts. I'm even more dismayed by the people who are eager to leave work in order that they may watch some television show.

Despite being one of the richest nations in the world, we seem to be entirely unhappy as a people and so eager to escape. Yet, people living in squalid conditions in third world countries are often reported to be quite content and generally seem happy. Why is this? Although there are many likely factors, I think our Christian heritage plays a large part. We see ourselves as weary travelers treading through the muck of this fallen world, in the hopes of reaching some heavenly destination at the end of our journey.

From the little I know about Buddhism, the religion seems to discourage longing for some pie in the sky afterlife and rather emphasizes the potential of each moment. We Christians would do well to learn a few things from the Buddhists. Buddhism seems to encourage adherents to be fully present in their suffering and to examine the thought processes that contribute to the suffering and pain, to rise above these thoughts, and to experience the highest life has to offer--in the now. I like this approach.

As for me, I choose to recognize that every moment is built upon a field of infinite possibilities. Though the field may sometimes be cold or dark, I will not lay down and sleep, but rather will gaze upon the stars in sheer amazement. In many other instances, the field is a way-point for people to come in and out of our lives. We can meet them there--out beyond ideas of right and wrong--and share the joy being alive.

"Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived..." -Ernest Hemingway

Monday, February 15, 2010

Finding and Sharing Happiness

"The source of happiness is inside of you." -Randall Krause

One of my favorite things to say is, "We don't find happiness in relationships; rather, we share happiness in relationships," which is to say that we must have discovered the fountain of our own happiness before we bathe in the fountain of someone else.

Down through the ages so much has been written about finding happiness, and the consensus seems to be that enduring happiness cannot be found in the arms of another person. Why then, does the myth of finding happiness in a relationship persist? Maybe it's that we've all found moments of bliss in the arms of another; or, maybe there has been some confusion. Look at what one thinker has to say about the subject:

"There is only one happiness in life: to love and be loved." -George Sand

On the surface, this seems to suggest that happiness CAN be found in a relationship. We find the contrary on closer inspection. The first thing we must do for happiness is GIVE love to others. Most of the great spiritual traditions inform us that true love gives without any thought of return, and these same traditions also suggest that love will always return to the giver, in some form.

Viktor Frankl taught us that happiness and meaning in life cannot be pursued; it must ensue as the by-product of creating, experiencing, and choosing. In other words, as a by-product of LIVING an active life. What kind of activity? Denis Waitley said, "Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude." Neither men suggest we find happiness by seeking love, but rather living in a state wherein love is the fiber of our very being. Waitley seems to suggest all that we do and say must originate in love, which agrees with the Buddha: "One who values happiness for himself but creates anxiety for others is confused." We create happiness for others by loving them in a state of constant grace, seasoned with gratitude.

Personally, I've come to the conclusion that I must be well-established in my own happiness long before I am able to sustain an enduring relationship. This makes sense, right? Only when I'm happy can I share it with another person. I must possess something before it can be shared with another.

The other person in my life must be well-established in her own happiness too. I cannot be the source of happiness for her, nor can she for me. Anything else would be a co-dependency.

Now, this isn't to say that I can be satisfied in a relationship with just anyone. Some people are more compatible than others and I intend to spend the remainder of my days with someone who is compatible. This will make the sharing of our synergistic happiness easier.

So the take-home lesson is to find your own place of happiness independent of another person. If you're single, seek someone who is already quite happy, and compatible with you. If you're in a relationship, the best thing you can do is to gently nudge them down their own path of happiness and give love in great abundance.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Happiness Amidst Loss

"True happiness comes in moments when you feel right there, completely present." ~Pema Chödrön.

All of us will suffer loss in our lifetime, whether from death, divorce, or distance of a loved one. The loss of someone we love, by whatever cause, is difficult to bear. In fact, we've all observed people who haven’t borne their loss very well and never completely recovered. It is a sad thing to see.

People come in and out of our lives; it is part of the human condition: pleasure and pain; love and hate; life and death. These are all common dualities in this physical world and to a degree--these dualities are foreign to our very spiritual nature, which comes from a world of oneness. The question is… how do we cope with losses associated with this physical world from a spiritual perspective? How do we deal with the pain in a spiritual manner?

First, we must accept that there is no constructive escape. Any measure of escape will just delay or destroy the healing process. In attempting to escape our pain, we stop growing. When we’re not growing, we’re perishing—a slow, painful death. Thus, many find destructive ways to numb their senses: excess sleep, television, internet or other media, alcohol, drugs, and shallow relationships.

This is all very relevant for me, as I went through a loss recently. A cherished romantic relationship ended in October of 2008. I went through the usual phases of grief: shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, and depression. I’m moving into acceptance, though I have occasional relapses into one phase or another.

In moving into acceptance, one thing that I have learned is the value of mindfulness, which is being fully present with your current circumstances. As Pema Chödrön has said, "True happiness comes in moments when you feel right there, completely present." I have also come to learn that happiness is not something we find in a relationship, but rather is something we share in a relationship.

Although it’s almost cliché, I have learned that happiness is not some destination off in the distance, but rather the daily journey. The journey is now and not some far off place, time, or person. The journey is today, even in this very moment. And if I am constantly trying to escape this moment, there is no happiness. To live fully in each moment, to engage life completely, to smell the scents around you, to hear the richness of the sounds of the universe in motion, to feel the textures beneath your hands and feet: this is where we find happiness.

I love the person with whom I was in a relationship. I love her as intensely today as I did when we were together; but, we’re not together any longer and there is distance between us. In fact, we don’t have much contact. She’s not in my present, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it—except continue to love her from a distance, not with hope of reconciliation--but, rather with compassion for both of us. I can accept our separation as permanent, and yet—I can love her anyway.

I don’t need to escape from my love for her; nor do I need to escape the pain of separation. I can be present with all of my emotions, and be compassionate towards my own self in the process. I can be present with my current circumstances as a single person and be completely happy with this journey that I am on. Life is a wonderful journey that so many lose far too early. I am grateful for the time I have here on this earth and resolve to fully engage this world I am in. Won’t you join me?

"The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware." --Henry Miller

Sunday, January 24, 2010


If I could define enlightenment briefly I would say it is the quiet acceptance of what is. -Wayne Dyer

If there is any one thing that I have learned with age, it is that most frustration is borne of dwelling on things over which we have little or no control. We feel as if we're banging our head against the wall and nothing is changing. Why does this occur?

We tend to have expectations of other people, yet we usually have no control over them. When I find myself frustrated, my first question to myself is, "What were my expectations here?" Expectations are what we think "should be." My next question is, "How can I release my expectations?" For if I have no control over the situation, it does me no good to dwell on the outcome.

Wayne Dyer defined enlightenment as the acceptance of "what is." The opposite of "what is" is "what should be," which is a judgment of sorts. I have decided that the current situation is unacceptable and that I have a better way, which is ego trying to have some control.

I hear "should be" often from my kids, my co-workers, and from people in the street:

"Our employer should pay us more money."

"The government should provide free health care."

"My parents should give me what I want."

"'They' should do something about this!" (Who are "They?")

"Should be" is just another way of saying, "I deserve" something. In fact, if I deserve it, I demand it. And if I don't have my demands met, I will throw a tantrum. Frustration.

In a more perfect world, all of our wants would be fulfilled and there would be no lack; however, as long as we're in this physical world, that will never be fully realized.

Recognizing that we will not have all of the desires of our ego is a step toward enlightenment. We can let go of our desires and judgments and work on acceptance. As the Rolling Stones said,

You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need

Acceptance does not mean we're giving up; to the contrary, we can define those areas over which we do have control (our attitude and behavior) and focus our energies there. Acceptance is surrender without giving up. We surrender to a more loving way. We accept the world is already as it should be, and we change how we see and respond to the world.

The wonderful thing is that as more people arrive at acceptance and work on changing how they see and respond to the world, the world changes. This is why Gandhi instructed us to be the change we want to see in the world.

When we live in "should be," we delay happiness until our demands are met. In acceptance, all is already as it should be. Acceptance is a wonderful place to dwell, and we find happiness there.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Can Simplicity and Clutter Co-Exist?

"Out of clutter find simplicity." Albert Einstein

I noticed quite a few people at a local Car Wash this morning while on my way to a favorite bagel shop, and pondered the car-washing compulsion. It's clear that I don't have any such compulsion, as my 2000 Ford Ranger pickup truck hasn't been washed in years. I often joke that I'm doing my part to help the environment.

Not only is my truck unclean on the exterior, the extended cab is cluttered with all sorts of things: various items of clothes ("just in case"), books on tape (I'm listening to Deepak Chopra currently), a yoga mat, and various remnants of meals past. There may even be a board game under all of the clothes (Apples to Apples). Spare change spills from several locations in the console... and whatever you do--don't open the glove box.

My truck is not all that unlike my house. Frankly, my house rather cluttered; however, I should offer this caveat: the house is 448 square feet. For those of you not familiar with square footage, it has 4 rooms: bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living room. The average American living room is larger than my house.

Might I mention that I live in the little house with my 16 year old daughter? My landlord describes the house as perfect for one person...or two people who REALLY love each other. You may not be surprised to learn that we're very close. I don't think it's for any reason other than we can't hide from each other. If we argue, we HAVE to face each other. There's no escape.

My daughter occupies the bedroom, so I sleep in the living room. I've set up folding partitions and cordoned off a corner as a makeshift bedroom. It's surprisingly cosy. We have a recliner and an overstuffed chair for furniture in the remainder of the living room space, and a bazillion books pour out of various corners.

You may be wondering who builds a 448 square foot house. The Assessor's database claims the house was built in 1777. According to my landlord, it was originally a one-room schoolhouse--ala Little House on the Prairie. Apparently a family of eight lived there during the Great Depression, and they were probably happy just to have a roof over their heads. Sometime later, the one-room house was subdivided into the current four rooms.

So, my tiny little house is cluttered by necessity; but, frankly--we don't have much stuff by any standard. We do not own a TV (by choice). There are no video games. (I did relent and allow my my daughter to get a stereo for her room). We have 2 chairs and two beds--and that is the extent of our furniture. There's a gas stove and mini-fridge in the kitchen. Otherwise, there are no appliances.

I often describe my place as my little cabin in the woods. We're surrounded by open fields and wooded areas, as well as quite a variety of wildlife. There's no Walden Pond, but we do have a stream nearby, which I can hear quite clearly when we've had some decent rain fail. Henry David Thoreau--I think I understand you. Simplicity and seclusion is tonic for the soul.

Speaking of the soul, Wayne Dyer taught me (via CD) that we came from One-ness and currently exist in a world of two-ness. It's a paradox: a spirit living in a physical world. Thus, we need to find balance as long as we live in this physical world. Much in the same manner, my life is a paradox. I live in simplicity, yet my abode is quite cluttered. I require balance.

From time to time, my daughter and I go through our stuff and downsize. We recycle clothes that we haven't worn in a while; we give away books; and, we make more room for our simple life. This is true of all of our lives, isn't it? We live in a relatively simple world, yet we clutter it with all sorts of things that encroach on our very sanity.

Yes, I think simplicity and clutter can co-exist; in fact, they must. And, if they must, we need to find balance.