The Truth About Loneliness

Interdependence and Loneliness
As a Buddhist I have often been told we are all one inter-being.

We might imagine this as being different cells in the body of Dharma. Or perhaps even a subtle part woven into the machine of Karma.

Sometimes this idea seems perfectly inline with my human experience. Sometimes it seems in conflict with it.

The young attractive woman who is lonely The Truth About Loneliness Mindful Fitness Mind Fit Move

The Monastery
I lived at Great Vow Zen Monastery for 2 years.  I had many experiences of being part of a seamless system. It was an organic heart that shared it’s beat with so many people.

I also had experiences of deep and unyielding loneliness. It’s funny for some people to imagine feeling alone at the monastery. There is hardly any time where someone is not close at hand.

I slept in a room where other practitioners were a mere cubicle wall away. I could feel and most definitely hear their presence. Yet I often felt very, very alone.

The Experience of Loneliness
The experience of loneliness always comes as a sickness. A distinct longing to be seen and heard. A desire to be known in a deep and fundamental way. A hope and desire for intimacy.

Sometimes this longing manifests as a desire for a romantic partner. Sometimes as a distinct and dull depression.

It comes as a sense that something just isn’t quite right. I often wondered, ‘how does loneliness happen if we are all one being?’

Leaving the Monastery
Since leaving the monastery I have struggled with loneliness from time to time. Entering lay life is a challenge after the strict discipline and strong container of the monastery.

I have done many things to help contain my mind. Still, loneliness comes up.

Deep Connection
When I feel lonely I wonder if my heart is expressing its deep connection to the other human beings around me.

I feel a deep compassion and love. Yet my day-to-day experience doesn’t match the felt truth of inter-being.I live in a world with suffering beings one of which is me.

We are often caught up in our own agendas, our own ego games, and our own complex defenses to realize how deeply connected we all are.

This dissonance can amplify our suffering and lead to a feeling of disconnect and misalignment we call loneliness.

Nothing Is Amiss
Even though it is hard to bear.  I think part of me knows that this deep feeling of longing, the well in the pit of my stomach, is not a sign of something wrong with me.

Rather it is an indication of inter-being in my life. Even my casting about for new friends and new romance, demonstrates a true desire to be connected

No Cure
I will not any particular cure or remedy for  loneliness but rather a question.

How can I use the longing of loneliness to serve the dharma and strengthen my own heart?
How can we use the depth of this feeling to deepen our own connection to others and out understanding of suffering?

Accept It
Feeling lonely is hard no matter how you look at it. It is my own hope and deep wish that by acknowledging it as part of my reality and practice that it may offer relief to others who experience it’s effects.

Deep in my heart I truly believe that we love each other more than we are willing to admit. And sometimes it is only through this subtle pain called loneliness that we can realize the truth and power of this deep and abiding inter-heart.

This post was originally published in Ink On The Cat
ans subsequently published on The Under35 Project


All Exercise Is Meaningless

Cat + Weights

“C’est La Vie”
Photo by kcxd

Every bit of exercise you do is meaningless.

Don’t Just ‘DO IT’
For years, I did things without knowing why. I may have had reasons, but they were hidden from me. Living at a Zen monastery changed that.

Before every activity at the monastery we said a dedication. We’d recite a chant and then dedicate the merit to someone or something.

After a while, I stopped thinking about why we did it.

When I left the monastery, I noticed that many activities lacked weight. This was especially true for exercise. I wanted my efforts to be more than just an ego game.

Check, ‘Me’ Out
Fitness can become all about me, me, me. I want to have a six-pack so girls will look at me. I want to ride faster than everyone else, so I feel like a king.

This focus on the self makes parts the fitness industry hollow, shallow, and inauthentic.

I wanted it to be different. That’s when I remembered the dedications at Great Vow. So, I wrote a dedication for exercise.

All of a sudden, my exercise became an act of service.

I was exercising:

  • To have more strength to help others.
  • To help clarify my mind.
  • To live longer and serve more.
  • To support my family and friends.

This simple dedication changed the meaning behind my workouts. Best of all it can do the same for you.

A 4 step guide to writing a dedication for any purpose.

1. Write down a truth: What is it that you need to remember? Something you know is true in your heart, but often forget.

Some examples are:  Anything is possible, Exercise isn’t selfish, I may not do it today, but that doesn’t mean I won’t do it someday.

2. Write down an intention: An intention is similar to, but not the same as a goal. It has more to do with internal energy rather than external measurement. It’s something only you can judge.

Some Examples are: I will feel more confident, I will move with more ease, I will change my life.

3. Write down who or what it’s for:We never exist in complete independence. If our course is only devoted to ourselves, the pursuit becomes hollow. When we dedicate our effort to others, it becomes much more.

Choose someone or something to dedicate your effort to. It could be an individual, group, or energy.

Some examples are: I run for my children, I’ll keep going for anyone who’s tried to lose weight and failed, I’ll keep trying in gratitude for the gift of life.

4. Write down what you want to embody:It’s not just about what we do. It’s about how we do it. How we do something is what makes it transformational.

Some examples are: I will embody the persistence of a mighty river, I will embody the strength of Martin Luther King, I will embody the energy of compassion.

Now that you have, your four sentences play around with them. Try putting them in a different order or change the wording.

A client of mine discarded sentences 2-3 and uses her first sentence alone. Do whatever it takes to make it your own.

Finish Line

photo by Candice Villarrea

Keep on Keeping On
All exercise is meaningless, until we realize it’s meaning.

Moreover, seeing our motivation can be very powerful. This process helps find what drives you. Most of all, coming back to your dedication will keep you going when the path gets steep.

I’d love to read your dedications. If you want to share it, please post it below.

Here is the dedication I often use:
My body is subject to old age sickness and death. Nothing I do can change this. I put forth this effort that I may be able to approach everyday with more courage, wisdom, and compassion. I dedicate the merit of this effort to the liberation of all living beings. May my every step embody the path of liberation.


How To Make Every Day Perfect

How To Make Every Day Perfect
Today Is A Good Day
I lived for several years at Great Vow Zen Monastery in northern Oregon and I saw many people under go a process of deep and fundamental transformation.
The simplicity of life at the monastery, the daily zazen (seated meditation), and the acceptance by the community was an incubator for deep transformation. At Great Vow people face themselves, grow in wisdom, and cultivate compassion.
I watched myself face fear, loneliness, insecurity, anger, and my own impermanence. I watched myself change in subtle and then profound ways. It happened all in this container of practice, of compassion, and of wisdom.
The Schedule
The schedule at Great Vow is unyielding in its regularity. Most days are exactly the same and yet none of them are. The schedule creates a backdrop that makes observing internal dynamics easier.
The schedule at the monastery mirrors an enlightened state of mind. The idea is to emulate the actions of an enlightened being. I’ve come to believe this works no matter what you want to be. If you start living it, you can actualize it.
Today Leads To Tomorrow
For a few months after I left the monastery I struggled to maintain the peace of mind I felt there. The world is full of distractions and it’s hard to maintain clarity. The only place it seemed easier was when I was exercising.
So I took up endurance sports and starting training for century rides and triathlons. When I was out on a long run or ride I felt free. I started to see that exercise, when practiced mindfully, helped me maintain the same sense of calm I felt at Great Vow.
The Dream
That’s when I came up with the idea to start the Mindful Fitness Movement. I realized that even though I had left the monastery, I still wanted to help people transform their lives. I wanted to build a community and livelihood that would help me bring the monastery experience into the world.
But I had no idea how to turn this idea, this dream, into a reality. I’d never done anything like it in my life.
So I asked myself “If I were the pioneer and leader of the Mindful Fitness Movement what would my life look like? Who would I be? What would I do?”
What would tomorrow look like if my dreams came true today? The answer that came to me was so simple: I would live my perfect day. Not just tomorrow, but every day of my life.
My Perfect Day
Living the perfect day isn’t about avoiding problems. It’s setting an intention to live in accord with my vows, my dreams, and the life that resonates with my heart.
So I took out my electronic device and asked myself the following questions:
·       What would I want my perfect day to have in it?
o   Time with my partner
o   Exercise
o   Meditation
o   Study
·       What qualities would my perfect day have?
o   Productivity
o   Order
o   Creativity
o   Moments of Stillness
o   Fun
·       What would I have to do everyday in order to sustain this life?
o   Plan
o   Set goals
o   Work diligently
o   Focus on what’s important
Where To Begin?
Once I had my list I asked, “How would my perfect day start?
My best days had always started with attention, purpose, clarity and good coffee. So my perfect day would start with meditation, writing down my goals, and a cup of French press coffee.
What’s next?
After vows, I wrote down exercise. I like to exercise every morning and I know if I wait I’m better at coming up with excuses.
As my day took shape I felt my heart begin to race and a sense of ease came over me. As each line appeared on the screen my far away dream seemed more and more real. I couldn’t get there tomorrow, but I could move a little closer everyday.
Your Turn
Now that you’ve heard about my journey it’s your turn. You don’t have to change everything at once, but it’s so easy to take one step towards your perfect day today.
Use the questions I have above to start writing down your perfect day. Include things you have to do, but also things you love and want to do.
Start slow.
If you need to take things slow add one new element each week. In a couple of months you will be much closer to living your perfect day. It’s not about speed or perfection; it’s about consistency.
Start now
No matter what method you use, the essential thing is to begin today! The demon of time can eat our lives before we even know what happened. Your transformation has already started. It’s up to you to put in the small, subtle effort, that makes change possible.
You can start by commenting below and answering this one question:
What is one thing you would want in your perfect day?
Need help?
If you need a template I have included my perfect day below. I don’t live my perfect day everyday, but I’m working towards it all the time. I’m also happy to offer you help or answer your questions via email or Skype.
I write everyday on Mindful Fitness Movement about how to support the vital work of transformation. I hope you will click on my Bio so we can start a conversation about how to support each other in walking this path. I also have a special offer for tinybuddha readers to help you get started today!
My perfect day
                I wake up and make a cup of coffee and talk to my partner
                I sit zazen for 25 mins
                I write down my goals and vows
                I go for a short run do a short yoga routine or go swimming
                I write a blog post
                I come home shower and eat a light healthy breakfast
                While I eat I read 2-3 blogs that inspire and educate me
                I review my tasks from a list of the most important things
                I complete one major task in the morning or make very good progress 
                I have lunch with a colleague or friend
                After lunch I do one hour of study
                From 3-7 I meet with clients and groups, teach classes, etc
                I come home and shower
                I prepare and eat a healthy dinner while my partner and I share our day
                I spend 30 mins deciding what to do the next day 
                I read a good book or watch an hour of good TV
                I brush my teeth and floss
                I meditate for 10 mins before sleeping
                I go to bed at a reasonable hour


Vows, Goals, and Intentions

When we seek to transform our lives, whether it is quitting smoking, eating healthier, being kinder to others, or bringing our physical being into balance, it is important to understand how this kind of change happens. We’d like to think that it’s just a matter of will power, that we just need to say we’ll do it and then stick to the plan. Of course we know what they say about men, plans, and mice.

  In reality making a vow or setting a goal is a very organic process. When a tree or other plant seeks to take it’s natural form it has to adapt to the environment or it will die. A river doesn’t just take a straight line to the sea. It negotiates the path with the landmarks around it. All too often when I have set goals I think of them as a straight line to the sea, but in reality I have several landmarks to work with. If I’m willing to negotiate my goals to match the landscape of my life I am more likely to reach the sea.

I recently read an article at my Dharma Punks sitting group by Thanissaro Bhikkhu about the practice of vow as an aspect of determination. This article identified 4 aspects of good determination: discernment, truth, relinquishment, and peace. The articles describes each of these aspects in a nice clear way.

First, it says of discernment: “Discernment here means two things. To begin with, it means setting wise goals: learning how to recognize a useful vow, one that aims at something really worthwhile, one in which you’re pushing yourself not too little, not too much — something that’s outside your ordinary expectations but not so far that you come crashing down. Second, it means clearly understanding what you have to do to achieve your goals — what causes will lead to the results you want.”

This aspect of setting goals is important to understand and practice. I’ve learned from years of working that it’s always better to under promise and then over deliver, but I all to often forget to do this with myself.

Let’s say you have a new friend would you lend them your car/bike? Lets say you’ve only seen them drive/ride twice. Once they were safe, the other time there were reckless. Would that effect your decision? 50% of your experience of them is negative. Compare that to how you would feel lending it to an old friend. One who you’ve seen break a few traffic laws but overall is a trustworthy person. The difference is clear, but often we treat ourselves like the old friend when our transforming self is mor like new acquaintance.

It takes time to build confidence in ourselves and see even if we make mistakes that we will stick to the path in the long run. As you start any new process to transform your life make sure to remember to take things slowly and work to build trust over time. Making and keeping small promises or goals with yourself will give you the confidence to keep bigger promises.

The second aspect of discernment that the article identifies is “clearly understanding what you have to do to achieve your goals.” Setting goals and making vows are wonderful, but many times I have been unrealistic about what it would take meet those goals. It meant giving up things I liked and making hard choices sometimes. Don’t have any illusions that you will find some shortcut to changing your life. It all about slow and steady progress and appreciating small victories.

If we fixate too much on the goals in the distance we lose sight of the steps it takes to get there. If you’ve ever run, biked, or even driven on the plains you know what this is like. If you watch some far off object it feels like it would take years to get there. But if you focus on each step, each breath, before you know it you’ve passed what seemed so far away.

After I decided that I was going to start doing triathlons I didn’t look at all the weeks of training it would take. I just worked on the week that I was on. At first swimming 1000 meters seemed impossible, but week after week I went to the pool and swam 100 meters 10 times with a little rest in between. Then one day I tried to swim 1000 meters in the Willamette river. It was HARD! I just wasn’t ready yet. So I doubled my efforts I went to the pool 2 more days a week and started pushing myself even harder. If I had said oh well this isn’t working I just give up that would’ve mean no triathlons. Instead I found that within a few weeks I was able to swim 1000 meters comfortably. I just needed a little extra push.

I focused on the steps to where I wanted to go not that my goal, despite my hard work, still seemed so far away. My initial assessment of what I needed to do wasn’t quite right, but that’s ok because I was willing to adjust to find the right path. When making goals we have to use our discernment to decide what we can trust ourselves to do and then focus on the steps to getting there. That way when we run into a road block we can see it as a small side step, rather than thinking we are completely derailed.

This week take the time to write down your goals at least 3 times. Then write down one concrete step you can take this week to get where you want to go. Lastly reflect on how achieving your goal will be of benefit to others. Your actions could inspire others, give you more confidence, or lengthen your life and thus the time you spend with loved ones. It’s important to remember that everything we do is not just for ourselves. When we are healthier happier people the merit just spreads out.

Thanks for reading and next post I’ll write about the second aspect of determination, Truth.

Be well.