January 20th, 2012

Are You a Workaholic? Be Careful… Your Job Could End Up Killing You

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WorkaholicAre you a workaholic? Living in a state of stress produces an adrenaline rush, and over time, this becomes addictive, and you lose the ability to relax. Common sense would tell you that you need to take breaks and rest, but instead you overindulge in work, and face the consequences. If you have a physiological addiction to work, you are a workaholic.

Risks of Living a Workaholic Lifestyle

For people under fifty, what is the greatest predictor of heart attacks? More potent than smoking, high blood pressure, or diabetes? It’s job satisfaction (Dossey 1992). We’ve known this for more than twenty years, and yet many of us don’t make changes when we get stuck in a toxic work environment. Career stress is the greatest health problem for working adults.

The workaholic lifestyle is becoming a bigger problem each year in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, there are an estimated 10 million workers who average more than 60 hours per week. According to the International Labor Organization, Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers (International Labor Organization 2011).

Workaholics live a very unhealthy way of life. Research shows that they have a significantly higher than average incidence of stress-related illnesses, divorce, and alcohol abuse. There has even been a support group started in the United States called Workaholics Anonymous, with over 50 meetings now taking place on a regular basis.

As further proof of the workaholic lifestyle problem, more Americans are canceling their vacations each year. According to a USA Today survey, 64 percent of Americans canceled their vacations in 2010. One third canceled their vacations due to work-related reasons, 25 percent check into work regularly while on vacation, and 58 percent feel they are more in need of a vacation than last year (Shontell 2010, September 13).

Symptoms of Living a Workaholic Lifestyle

Burnout: You may be burnt out but still continue to push on at your job. Think about lifting weights at the gym. When you push yourself beyond your ordinary work limits, and regularly seek recovery, you will grow. When you don’t allow yourself to recover, you end up getting burned out as a consequence.

Fear of losing your job: You may have a strong fear of being fired or laid off. This is related to the false belief of obtaining 100% job security. Complete job security is never a reality, and becoming a workaholic due to fear only leads to unhappiness. You aren’t changing the fact that you could still be fired or laid off. You’re just losing your free time and peace of mind.

Artificial importance: You may be addicted to your work on a psychological level. Maybe you like the feeling of importance when you become busier. Even when it means being unavailable to your friends and family. This artificial importance will only create artificial success and eventually lead to unhappiness.

Drugs mask the problem: If you rely on alcohol, marijuana or sleeping pills to calm down, you are trying to artificially create relaxation. Similarly, if you rely on stimulants such as caffeine or amphetamines, you are trying to artificially create alertness. These artificial means of relaxation and alertness are masking the bigger problem. You are overexerting yourself without recovery and living your life in a constant state of stress.

2 Approaches for Curing a Workaholic Lifestyle

Approach 1) Keep your current job, but create healthy work habits. Read my mini-book Escape the Rat Race:

Escape the Rat Race: Change Your Mind or Take the Emergency Exit
How can you escape the rat race? Should you change your job? Or can you keep it, while making smaller changes to your daily habits and ways of thinking? This mini-book explores both options, and teaches you when each is appropriate for escaping the rat race.

Approach 2) Explore options for quitting your job. Check out my mini-book Quit Your Job:

Quit Your Job: Decide When to Leave and What to Do After
How do you decide if you should quit your job or take a sabbatical? This mini-book guides you through making the decision to quit, and what to research before quitting.

Sources

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January 19th, 2012

Launched Evolve Your Life: Mini-Books For Finding Happiness

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Evolve Your Life: Mini-Books For Finding HappinessThis week, I launched a series of mini-books titled Evolve Your Life: Mini-Books For Finding Happiness at EvolveHappiness.Com.

Here are details for each mini-book:

Evolve Your Life Happiness Handbook
You’ve heard the advice, “Go to school, get a good job, get promoted, climb the corporate ladder, and you will eventually find happiness.” All too often, people follow this society-prescribed path to success, falsely believing that it will lead them to happiness. This mini-book teaches an alternative blueprint for happiness, based on research from numerous books and scientific studies, along with Derek’s personal experience. This mini-book is free, just enter your e-mail address at the top of this page.

Money and Happiness: Why Winning the Lottery Is Not the Answer
Are you happier when you have more money? According to happiness research, no. This mini-book teaches you how to let go of your false beliefs about money and learn research-proven ways to become happier.

Escape the Rat Race: Change Your Mind or Take the Emergency Exit
How can you escape the rat race? Should you change your job? Or can you keep it, while making smaller changes to your daily habits and ways of thinking? This mini-book explores both options, and teaches you when each is appropriate for escaping the rat race.

Your Comfort Zone: Step Outside It, Face Your Fears and Grow
How can you face your fears, take risks, and change your daily routines to grow? This mini-book teaches you how to become knowledgeable about your fears and overcome them by taking small steps outside of your comfort zone.

Modern Moonlighting: Keep Your Day Job, Make Extra Money, Do What You Love
How can you create alternative sources of income while keeping your day job? This mini-book teaches you how to start moonlighting and gain more independence from your job.

Quit Your Job: Decide When to Leave and What to Do After
How do you decide if you should quit your job or take a sabbatical? This mini-book guides you through making the decision to quit, and what to research before quitting.

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November 7th, 2011

With a Mission, But Without a Plan: How to Travel Like James Bond

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Sean Connery- the first James Bond actor, and many consider him the definitive Bond
James Bond is a ladies man, drink-ordering aficionado and paid assassin. But more than these, he is the quintessential world traveler. After spending the last seven months in South America, I share with you the secrets of how to travel like James Bond.

Check my travel feature out by heading over to BootsnAll: With a Mission, But Without a Plan: How to Travel Like James Bond.

In related news, as of today, I am officially a paid freelance travel writer for BootsnAll.  BootsnAll is one of the most popular travel sites, and is known as “the ultimate resource for independent travelers.” It gets over 2.6 million unique visitors per month.

BootsnAll Readers

Welcome to Life Evolver! Since you are a first time visitor to Life Evolver, you may ask- What is a Life Evolver? A Life Evolver is a person who makes positive, sustainable changes in his or her life. You can find some of the most popular posts using the navigation on the left. If you like Life Evolver, you can subscribe by clicking one of the subscribe links in the upper right.

Recent Travel Stories on Life Evolver

The beautiful Bond Girl Ursulla Andress from Dr. No

How to Fit Everything You Own Into a Carry-On Bag

How to Prepare For Long Term Travel and Living Abroad

To Hell and Back in Potosi, Bolivia

Bolivia Stomach Parasites

My Second Family In Salta, Argentina

Getting Robbed in Peru

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johanoomen and Pineapples101

With a Mission, But Without a Plan: How to Travel Like James Bond

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October 7th, 2011

How to Start Meditating in the Next 5 Minutes

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Ethan Nichtern Banner IllustrationWhatever method you use, meditation is simply getting to know your mind. It’s not about meditating “on” something or getting into a zone where you’re blissfully removed from your mind’s contents. Instead, the actual meaning of meditation is more like getting used to being with your own mind.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Why Meditate?

Meditation helps us increase our mindfulness and awareness, strengthen our sense of inner peace, and improve our ability to deal with our emotions. After practicing meditation over a period of time, the mind naturally falls into a resting state, allowing us to be fully present in our life. When we are not constantly pulled into the past or future, we are able to begin experiencing the present moment.

Sitting Meditation

Calm abiding meditation, or shamatha, is a practice that helps us to develop a peaceful state of mind, along with the ability to remain in a peaceful state for increasing periods of time. Normally our mind is a whirlwind of thought, so “peace” is the calming down of the mental agitation and stress caused by this whirlwind.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

This is the easiest type of meditation to start practicing. I’ve adapted these steps from Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind.

Step 1: Find a Comfortable Seat or Cushion

Find a comfortable seat in a chair or cushion. Have a relaxed but erect posture, keeping your spine straight. If you are sitting on a cushion, cross your legs. If you are sitting on a chair, place your feet evenly, flat on the ground. Your hands can rest in your lap or on your thighs. Why? Your body’s position has a powerful effect on your mind. A natural and upright position allows your mind to rest naturally in a calm state. A slouched position will make it difficult to rest your mind.

Step 2: Watch Your Breathing

Sitting relaxed but erect position, watch your breathing. You should be breathing natural, even and relaxed. Focus your attention on your breathing, specifically the coming and going of the breath at the tip of the nose and mouth.

Step 3: Become One With Your Breath

As you do this practice for some time, you start to become your breath. You feel the inhale and exhale and become one with the breath.

Step 4: Allow a Gap

At the end of your exhalation, let your mind and breath dissolve. Allow a gap and let it go. There’s no rush to take the next breath. Keep your mind on the breath as you inhale, feel it, and relax.

Bonus Step: Wandering Thoughts and Counting Your Breath

When you are meditating, you will experience all kinds of thoughts, some of which may seem extremely important. Instead of getting up and stopping meditation, simply recognize the thoughts and continue. Acknowledge each thought and then let it go.

If your mind becomes distracted with thoughts, or the sense of nowness is gone, you can practice counting your breathing. Simply observe your breathing and count each inhale/exhale cycle as one breath. If you find your mind wandering off into a thought, start over at one. Keep this up until you can count from one to ten without becoming distracted. Afterwards, you can start setting new goals for yourself, such as counting to one hundred without your mind wandering off.

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October 7th, 2011

How To Stop Your Suffering in the Next 5 Minutes

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HappinessBirth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.
-The First Noble Truth, Buddhist Studies

Are you suffering right now? Have you suffered today? The original teachings of Buddhism state that suffering arises from attachments to desires, and suffering ceases when this attachment ceases.

Step 1: Make a list of your negative emotions

Make a list of any negative emotion you have experienced today. For example:

  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Frustration
  • Impatience
  • Boredom
  • Anxiety

Step 2: Make a list of your attachments to desires

Now make another list of all your attachments to desires. These are all the things that you will suffer without. For example:

  • Money
  • Relationship
  • Sex
  • Job
  • Acceptance by others / need to be liked
  • Happiness / need to be happy all the time
  • Staying busy / freedom from boredom
  • Alcohol / cigarettes / drugs
  • Staying young

Step 3: Connect your negative emotions to your list of attachments to desires

Now combine your two lists. Connect each of your negative emotions to your list of attachments to desires. For example:

  • Sadness: Relationship
  • Frustration and Impatience: Happiness / need to be happy all the time
  • Boredom: Staying busy / freedom from boredom
  • Anxiety: Money, Acceptance by others / need to be liked, Staying young

Step 4: Realize that nothing lasts

There are many types of suffering, but there’s one that’s worth contemplating above all others: nothing lasts. Life is short, the clock never stops ticking, and the time of your death will be a surprise.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Now, using the theme that “Nothing Lasts”, write down each of your attachments to desires. Template- “I’ll never have ____ permanently.” For example:

  • I’ll never have a job permanently, or have 100% job security
  • I’ll never be happy all the time
  • I won’t always fit in or be accepted by other people
  • I’ll never have a relationship that will last forever
  • I can’t stay young and I won’t live forever

Step 5: Contemplate getting all of your desires

Meditating on impermanence and seeing the transient nature of things helps us to let go of attachment and to set our priorities wisely. Imagining getting all the things we are attached to and then asking ourselves, “Now am I forever happy?” enables us to stop obsessing about the things and people we are attached to. As we let go of the attachment, our fear of not having or of losing these objects of attachment will naturally dissipate.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Take your list of attachments, and contemplate if you would be  forever happy once you had them all. After this exercise, you will start to understand that getting the object of your desire is not the same as contentment:
Whatever our desires may be, getting the object of our desire is not the same thing as contentment, which comes from within. In the end, we’ll never find complete contentment, a perfect sense of peace, if our mind isn’t content and at peace.
Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Bonus Step: Practice Meditation

To gain more control of your emotions and live in the present more often, try practicing meditation:

How to Start Meditating in the Next 5 Minutes

Suffering’s Origin = Cravings and Attachments

By now you should be feeling better. Here are some more words of wisdom to contemplate:

When you start to study your mind, you begin to see how mind works. You discover the principle of cause and effect; you see that certain actions produce suffering and others produce happiness. Once you make that discovery, you understand that by working with suffering’s causes, you can overcome suffering itself. You also begin to see, in the contents of mind, a clearer picture of your own psychological profile. That is, you begin to see the patterns of thought and feeling that repeat over and over. You see how predictable you are in your relationships and interactions with the world. You come to see, too, how ephemeral the contents of mind are. At a certain point, you begin to glimpse the total space of mind, the brilliant awareness that is the source of your fleeting thoughts and emotions. This is your first look at mind’s true nature; it’s a milestone on your path and an experience of personal freedom.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Whatever our desires may be, getting the object of our desire is not the same thing as contentment, which comes from within. In the end, we’ll never find complete contentment, a perfect sense of peace, if our mind isn’t content and at peace.
Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

No matter how much freedom we have, there’s still a sense of struggle. We always seem to be fighting for more freedom or a different kind of freedom, and therefore the suffering is endless.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Activities themselves, whether they be helping old ladies across the street or selling your body for money, are neither good nor bad. They are inherently value-neutral, they just are. The activity becomes “bad” only if you become attached to it, only if you find yourself “needing” it and obsessing about it and not being able to be content without it. Even helping old ladies across the street can become “bad” if you become sanctimoniously righteous about it and stake out cross-walks to get your pious “fix.” So, too, sex for money is problematic when either the sex or the money becomes an addiction, but not before that. This means that there is no commandment list of absolutely wrong things in Buddhism, and while sexual desire and drugs and greed might trap you in this world of suffering, so might rigid religiosity and moral righteousness.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

If I simply cannot help myself from gawking at a stunning model on the street, then I have overturned a division of labor inside myself. I have become the servant of my desire, rather than being the master of my desire. I am being led, rather than leading.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

We cling to our bodies because we are all craving for immortality. In doing so, we make the error of thinking that an inherently impermanent thing will last-a philosophical mistake in thinking. And we succumb to an unhealthy fantasy-a craving that we will live forever.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

…Without attachment, we can think clearly about whether we want to eat the cake, and if we decide to, we can eat it peacefully, tasting and enjoying every bite without craving for more or being dissatisfied because it isn’t as good as we expected.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Meditating on impermanence and seeing the transient nature of things helps us to let go of attachment and to set our priorities wisely. Imagining getting all the things we are attached to and then asking ourselves, “Now am I forever happy?” enables us to stop obsessing about the things and people we are attached to. As we let go of the attachment, our fear of not having or of losing these objects of attachment will naturally dissipate.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

When we are attached to others, we don’t see them for who they are and thereby develop many expectations of them, thinking they should be like this and they should do that. Then, when they don’t live up to what we thought they were or should be, we feel hurt, disillusioned, and angry.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

The causes of our problems lie not in the external environment and those inhabiting it, but in our own mind. The disturbing attitudes and negative emotions, such as clinging attachment, anger, and ignorance are the real source of our unhappiness. Since these are based on misconceptions about the nature of reality, they can be removed from our mindstream.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Though a man conquer a thousand thousand men in battle, a greater conqueror still is he who conquers himself.
—Udanavarga

He whose mind is subdued and perfectly controlled is happy.
—Udanavarga

Death is not an event among other events, something that will just happen one day like anything else, but an ever-present possibility that quivers inside us each moment.
-Stephen Batchelor, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

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October 7th, 2011

Common Sense Buddhism: A Compelling Life Philosophy for Everyone

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Big smiling buddha

Only by stripping away irrelevant cultural and social values will we see the full spectrum of what this wisdom is in its naked form and what it has to offer our modern cultures.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Whether you are a religious Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jew, or non-religious Atheist, Agnostic, or Freethinker, the original teachings of Buddhism provide a compelling life philosophy. The teachings are not in conflict with your beliefs or non-beliefs, with a few exceptions. There are several supernatural, cultural, and religious aspects of Buddhism can make it hard for everyone to stomach. Fortunately, recent Buddhist authors have broken apart these cultural and non-scientific aspects of Buddhism. What remains is a common sense life philosophy.

How Buddhism Started

Buddhism started in present day Nepal with the birth of the Buddha Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha was a prince who gave up his position in search of the truth. He was deeply moved by the suffering he saw all around him and resolved to find a key to human happiness. The story of the Buddha can be found in detail on Wikipedia. Over time, Buddhism spread to Central, East, and Southeast Asia. Buddhism evolved into three main traditions- Theravada or Southern tradition, Mahayana or Northern tradition and Vajrayana or Tibetan tradition. Different traditions adapted to each culture and give varying emphasis to different aspects of the teaching and practices.

Is Buddhism A Religion or Life Philosophy?

It can be either, depending on the individual. The original teachings of the Buddha seem to be more of a life philosophy or way of life. But over time, as Buddhism spread across Asia, it evolved to each culture, and sometimes became more of a religion.

Why Buddhism is A Good Fit For Everyone

Buddhism is Agnostic. It does not require a belief in a god, making it attractive for both religious and non-religious, the believer and non-believer. The Buddha explained that he was not a god, and that believing in gods was not useful for those seeking enlightenment. While it is common for people in Asia pray to the Buddha, many consider this a corruption of the original teachings of the Buddha.

Common Sense Buddhism: The Original Teachings of the Buddha

The original teachings and basic philosophy of the Buddha (The Four Noble Truths) provide a common sense life philosophy for everyone. They don’t require a “leap of faith” or belief in the supernatural. The Four Noble Truths are taught in all three traditions of Buddhism:

1. The nature of suffering

Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, illness is suffering, death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; union with what is displeasing is suffering; separation from what is pleasing is suffering; not to get what one wants is suffering; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are suffering.

2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires

It is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination.

3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases

It is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it.

4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the eightfold path

The Noble eightfold path (summarized) is being moral through what we say, do and our livelihood, focusing the mind on being fully aware of our thoughts and actions, by developing compassion for others and by developing wisdom by understanding the Four Noble Truths.

Sources: Wikipedia, Buddhist Studies

According to the Buddha, these four noble truths can be tested and proven by anyone. During his lifetime, the Buddha was a strong proponent of skepticism and critical thinking:

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
-Buddha

Taking the Nonscientific Aspects Out of Buddhism

While The Four Noble Truths do not conflict with science, there are two Buddhist beliefs that do: Karma and Rebirth. In addition, there are some New Age philosophies we need to watch out for as they can confuse us by linking their philosophies with Buddhism.

Karma: The Buddhist belief that every action brings about a result in this life or in a future life. Similar to the saying “What goes around comes around.” There is no way to scientifically prove karma, and so skeptics must discard this aspect of Buddhism as a life philosophy.

Stephen T. Asma PhD offers an interesting re-interpretation of karma in his book:

But the only really compelling interpretation of karma-one that doesn’t conflict with science-is the radical reinterpretation that asks us to think about karma as a psychological fact rather than a metaphysical one. For example, it is possible to say that one’s early lack of mental control and discipline results in a later batch of suffering-perhaps I never disciplined my cravings for fast food as a young man, and now I’m an obese older man who lives like a slave to French-fries. Or my younger taste for drama and negative attention has resulted in a later relationship pattern wherein I only try to date married women. This more naturalized version of karma is the only one that seems reasonably defensible.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

Rebirth: The Buddhist belief that upon death, a stream of consciousness flows from the deceased into a new person. Again, this (and the afterlife in general) cannot be proved, so cannot be accepted by a skeptic. During his lifetime, the Buddha himself even encouraged skepticism of the afterlife and karma:

“Suppose there is no hereafter and there is no fruit of deeds done well or ill. Yet in this world, here and now, free from hatred, free from malice, safe and sound, and happy, I keep myself.”
-Buddha, Kalama Sutta

In his book, Stephen Batchelor makes a good point about the power of believing in death’s finality:

It made me realize that belief in rebirth was a denial of death. And by removing death’s finality, you deprive it of its greatest power to affect your life here and now.
-Stephen Batchelor, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

New Age “Magical Thinking” to Look Out For: Popular New Age philosophies are often linked with Buddhism, which can be confusing for those seeking the truth. As a wrote about previously in my post How Does the Law of Attraction Explain The Holocaust?, recent “magical thinking” presented in movies such as The Secret (2007) is harmful, and sometimes promotes a blame-the-victim mentality.

Stephen T. Asma PhD explains the problem with this modern day “magical thinking” that has become a part of popular culture:

… The more recent The Da Vinci Code phenomenon (2003), or the New Age variations such as The Celestine Prophecy (1993), The Secret (2007) and so on. Most of these worldviews share a common conviction that “positive thinking” and/or secret knowledge can, by itself, rearrange the universe to your liking. I believe The Celestine Prophecy and other such magical philosophies are popular for one reason: they indulge all our infantile desires to control the world. This is Freud’s famous critique of magical thinking, and I find myself in agreement. We all have these infantile desires to control the world through magical means… It is juvenile to expect the world to bend to my will.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

Stephen provides a second example of quantum mysticism, which has also become part of popular culture:

The purveyors of quantum mysticism include Fritjof Capra (the author of The Tao of Physics), Deepak Chopra (author of Quantum Healing), and the makers of the film What the Bleep Do We Know! (Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment). One of the things they are all trying to sell is the idea that there’s some deep, ancient agreement on the other side of the planet that we should reject our rationality. And the second major plank in the quantum mysticism campaign is that the conscious mind can and does make reality.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

What Remains: Common Sense Buddhism

Having read several books on Buddhism, I came across “common sense” themes and words of wisdom that expanded on The Four Noble Truths. None of these themes require a belief in karma or rebirth. If you are interested in learning more about Buddhism, any of the books quoted below are a good place to start. My favorites were Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind
and Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey.

The Nature of Suffering (Noble Truth 1)

There are many types of suffering, but there’s one that’s worth contemplating above all others: nothing lasts. Life is short, the clock never stops ticking, and the time of your death will be a surprise.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Suffering’s Origin: Cravings and Attachments (Noble Truth 2)

When you start to study your mind, you begin to see how mind works. You discover the principle of cause and effect; you see that certain actions produce suffering and others produce happiness. Once you make that discovery, you understand that by working with suffering’s causes, you can overcome suffering itself. You also begin to see, in the contents of mind, a clearer picture of your own psychological profile. That is, you begin to see the patterns of thought and feeling that repeat over and over. You see how predictable you are in your relationships and interactions with the world. You come to see, too, how ephemeral the contents of mind are. At a certain point, you begin to glimpse the total space of mind, the brilliant awareness that is the source of your fleeting thoughts and emotions. This is your first look at mind’s true nature; it’s a milestone on your path and an experience of personal freedom.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Whatever our desires may be, getting the object of our desire is not the same thing as contentment, which comes from within. In the end, we’ll never find complete contentment, a perfect sense of peace, if our mind isn’t content and at peace.
Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

No matter how much freedom we have, there’s still a sense of struggle. We always seem to be fighting for more freedom or a different kind of freedom, and therefore the suffering is endless.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Activities themselves, whether they be helping old ladies across the street or selling your body for money, are neither good nor bad. They are inherently value-neutral, they just are. The activity becomes “bad” only if you become attached to it, only if you find yourself “needing” it and obsessing about it and not being able to be content without it. Even helping old ladies across the street can become “bad” if you become sanctimoniously righteous about it and stake out cross-walks to get your pious “fix.” So, too, sex for money is problematic when either the sex or the money becomes an addiction, but not before that. This means that there is no commandment list of absolutely wrong things in Buddhism, and while sexual desire and drugs and greed might trap you in this world of suffering, so might rigid religiosity and moral righteousness.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

If I simply cannot help myself from gawking at a stunning model on the street, then I have overturned a division of labor inside myself. I have become the servant of my desire, rather than being the master of my desire. I am being led, rather than leading.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

We cling to our bodies because we are all craving for immortality. In doing so, we make the error of thinking that an inherently impermanent thing will last-a philosophical mistake in thinking. And we succumb to an unhealthy fantasy-a craving that we will live forever.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

…Without attachment, we can think clearly about whether we want to eat the cake, and if we decide to, we can eat it peacefully, tasting and enjoying every bite without craving for more or being dissatisfied because it isn’t as good as we expected.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Meditating on impermanence and seeing the transient nature of things helps us to let go of attachment and to set our priorities wisely. Imagining getting all the things we are attached to and then asking ourselves, “Now am I forever happy?” enables us to stop obsessing about the things and people we are attached to. As we let go of the attachment, our fear of not having or of losing these objects of attachment will naturally dissipate.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

When we are attached to others, we don’t see them for who they are and thereby develop many expectations of them, thinking they should be like this and they should do that. Then, when they don’t live up to what we thought they were or should be, we feel hurt, disillusioned, and angry.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

The causes of our problems lie not in the external environment and those inhabiting it, but in our own mind. The disturbing attitudes and negative emotions, such as clinging attachment, anger, and ignorance are the real source of our unhappiness. Since these are based on misconceptions about the nature of reality, they can be removed from our mindstream.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Though a man conquer a thousand thousand men in battle, a greater conqueror still is he who conquers himself.
—Udanavarga

He whose mind is subdued and perfectly controlled is happy.
—Udanavarga

Death is not an event among other events, something that will just happen one day like anything else, but an ever-present possibility that quivers inside us each moment.
-Stephen Batchelor, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

Freedom From Suffering, Giving Up Craving (Noble Truth 3)

Freedom can happen swiftly. One moment, we’re bound by something, the sum total of our life—our concepts about who we are, our position in the world, the force and weight of our relationships to people and places; we’re caught in the fabric of all that. Then, at another moment, it’s gone. There is nothing obstructing us. We’re free to walk out the door. In fact, our prison dissolves around us, and there’s nothing to escape from. What has changed is our mind. The self that was caught, trapped, is freed the minute that the mind changes and perceives space instead of a prison. If there is no prison, then there can be no prisoner. In fact, there never was a prison except in our mind, in the concepts that became the brick and mortar of our confinement.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Compassion, Helping Others, Being Kind and Giving (Noble Truth 4)

The essence of the Buddha’s teaching is to avoid harming others and to help them as much as possible.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

When you wake up in the morning, try to make your first thought, “Today, I don’t want to harm anyone. I’m going to help others as much as possible. May all my actions be directed toward the long-term goal of becoming a Buddha to benefit others.” After you get up, meditate for a while to get in touch with your inner calm, to learn about yourself, and to set a good motivation for the day.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

What is a true gift? One for which nothing is expected in return.
-Prasnottaramalika

If we consider ourselves part of the same organism of all sentient life, we will reach out to others as if they were us. That is the type of compassion we try to develop through practice.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Hear ye all this moral maxim, and having heard it keep it well: Whatsoever is displeasing to yourselves never do to another.
-Bstanhgyur

By abandoning negative actions, such as hurting others, and destructive motivations, such as anger, attachment, and closed-mindedness, we stop harming ourselves and others.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Meditation means habituating ourselves to constructive, realistic, and beneficial emotions and attitudes. It builds up good habits of the mind. Meditation is used to transform our thoughts and views so that they are more compassionate and correspond to reality.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

Breaking Bad Habits (Noble Truth 4)

We are creatures of habit and need to put effort into pulling ourselves out of habitual judgments, emotional responses, and behaviors towards others. Each moment of our life is a new one with the opportunity to experiment and do things differently. Each time we meet someone we have an opportunity to connect, to give and exchange kindness.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

These are precisely the things from which we work to free ourselves on the Buddhist path: the habitual patterns that dominate our life and make it hard to see the awakened state of mind.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

Handling Stress and Difficult People (Noble Truth 4)

Our stress is often due to not accepting the reality of a situation. We want it to be different or we want ourselves or others to be different. However, what is happening at the moment is what exists. Instead of rejecting the situation, which causes us more anxiety, we can accept it and work with it. Accepting whatever is happening isn’t being fatalistic; it’s being realistic. Having accepted the reality of the situation for what it presently is, we can still try to improve it in the future while remaining realistic about what is possible.
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

When we’re stopped at a light or stuck in traffic, we can look around and think, “All these people around me want to be happy and to avoid problems just as I do. Because we live in an interdependent society, I receive benefit from the different jobs these people do, even though I don’t know them personally.” It’s also very helpful to think like this when someone cuts us off!
-Thubten Chodron, Buddhism for Beginners

I once saw Vietnamese monkihich Nhat Hanh, at a lecture, offer a helpful metaphor for handling difficult people. When you plant lettuce, he said, you don’t blame the lettuce if it doesn’t grow well. Instead, you look for reasons why it is not doing well. The plant may need more sun, or fertilizer, or water, or whatever. It would be odd to blame the lettuce. So, too, when people are hostile to you, you should try to understand what circumstances have led them to this unfortunate state.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

Living in the Present (Noble Truth 4)

When we don’t pay attention, the conceptual world takes over our whole being. That’s a pretty sad thing. We can’t even enjoy a beautiful sunny day, watching leaves blowing in the wind. We have to label it all so that we live in a concept of sun, a concept of wind, and a concept of moving leaves. If we could leave it there, it wouldn’t be too bad, but that never happens. Then it’s “Oh yeah, it’s good to be here. It’s beautiful, but it would be better if the sun were shining from another angle.”
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

As the external world is reduced to a conceptual world, we not only lose a wholesome part of our being, we lose all the beautiful things in the natural world: forests, flowers, birds, lakes. Nothing can bring us any genuine experience. Then our emotions come into play, supercharging our thoughts with their energy; we find there are “good” things that bring “good” emotions, and there are “bad” things that bring “bad” emotions. When we live our life like this every day, it becomes very tiresome; we begin to feel a sense of exhaustion and heaviness. We may think that our exhaustion comes from our job or our family, but in many cases, it’s not the job or family itself—it’s our mind. What’s exhausting us is how we relate to our life conceptually and emotionally. We risk becoming so stuck in the realm of concepts that nothing we do feels fresh, inspired, or natural.
-Dzogchen Ponlop, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind

For many of us, work is the time we spend waiting to live. But if you can sink down and be more present in your activity, then you will discover the subtle joys of quality labor and the oblique happiness that comes from accomplishing something with excellence.
-Stephen T. Asma PhD, Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey

Creative Commons License photo credit: pelican

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October 6th, 2011

Getting Robbed in Peru (South of the Border Series)

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The fake card that the robber switched my real card with. I keep it as a souvenir.
After six amazing months in South America, I had my first experience of being robbed (of my credit card) in Arequipa, Peru.

I walked into a bank to take out some cash from the ATM. I put my card in the ATM and typed my pin number. A guy next to me told me that the machine did not have cash and I should try the other one. I believed him and tried the other machine. After entering my PIN and the amount of money I wanted, I was stuck on a screen “Transaction Processing”… I was about to cancel the transaction when another man quickly did that for me, taking my card and replacing it with a fake card… It happened so fast, like a magician using sleight of hand. There was also a girl behind me that I suspect was part of the gang, watching me enter my PIN number into the machine.

Police! Help! … Policia! Ayuda!

I reacted quickly, yelling at the guy that I suspected switched my card for the fake and asked for it back. I also started yelling “Police! Help!” in English as my adrenaline rush caused me to react in my native language. I realized this and changed my yelling to “Policia! Ayuda!”. The robber started walking and then running away from me, denying that he had it. I chased him across a busy street, stupidly almost getting hit. I was still yelling for help as well. He kept running down a side street, and dropped something on the sidewalk as I was chasing him.

Hearing my yelling for help, three local Peruvian guys came to help me. They walked with me and the robber to the local police station. The police searched the guy but he did not have my card. I waited at the station for about 20 minutes waiting for the tourist police to arrive. Within this time the police caught the other guy that actually had my card. They drove me (and the 2 robbers) to the a local coffee shop so I could check my card transaction history using Wifi. No money had been taken out, and I had my card.

End of story- I got my card back, changed my PIN number and all is good. Lesson learned- always be conscious of what’s going on around you. If you rely on habits, you can be taken advantage of.

Part of the South of the Border Series

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