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2016 has been a very chaotic year, hasn’t it?

I had told my friends in December that I sort of felt like 2016 would be a year Outside of Time: not quite linear with the past, but neither would it be free from past influences. Meaning, just because things went a certain way in the past, that doesn’t mean they’ll go the same way now. We’ll still have to deal with them though, and it may even seem like everything from the past is coming up to be dealt with at once.

That’s exactly how 2016 has been feeling to me. Year of the Id. Everything bubbling up at once, resistant to the old ways of dealing with them.

The upside of this is that we’re getting new opportunities to resolve things that have gone unresolved for far too long. And if the old ‘tricks’ and ‘tactics’ won’t work, then we’re finally forced to resolve them in new ways. Since the old ways clearly weren’t working, this gives us the opportunity to finally move forward.

So if you are also feeling the crushing waves of chaos battering you against the shore — or, worse, the undercurrent pulling you under — take a moment to ground yourself.

Take a deep breath, then breathe it out slowly, releasing your frustration at all that arises.

Take another breath, then slowly breathe out your grief at all that has slipped away.

Breathe in again, this time opening your heart as well as your lungs, letting the breath of fresh air sustain you.

Breathe in another sustaining breath, letting the oxygen nourish your mind, opening it up to fresh perspectives.

Through breathing, create an eye within the raging storm, and let events continue to unfold for you. As they do so, practice acceptance for what’s unfolding, learning to look for the new possibilities opening up.

I have a sense that 2017 has the potential to be a truly beautiful year, filled with progress and possibilities that we hadn’t before thought possible. To get there, we’ll have to make it through 2016, learning as much as we can about how to build the space for such a beautiful year to unfold.

May you find peace and wisdom throughout whatever events are surrounding you this year, and may they bring you to a better place. Just hang onto your center, keep your eyes and mind open, and I trust you’ll make it through.

 

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My little boy is generally very healthy. On the few occasions when he catches something, he is only very mildly ill, and is quickly fully better.

Not so, this week.

Yesterday he had a bit of a cold, and tonight he has coughs and sniffles and a low fever. He’s not used to being sick, but he’s weathering it well. I just pulled out the humidifier, and a diffuser with eucalyptus oil to help him breathe better and get some sleep.

This was another good evening to practice just being there, supportive but not dismayed at the challenge he’s facing nor my inability to simply cure it for him. It’s been a long, complicated day of practicing Active Zen at work, but none of that involved my little boy.

He’ll be fine, though, and I think he’s about to finally rest. I will, too.

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When I began practicing Sitting Zen, my best aid was an occasional temple bell. Its beautifully ringing sharpness and clarity created that same resonance within my mind, pulling away any stray thoughts with it as its tone gently faded.

The temple bell is also the best aid for my practice of Active Zen. That is, trying to bring that same quality of receptivity and non-judgment to all parts of my life, not just the quiet times. In particular, my practice of Driving Zen.

I don’t have a terribly long commute in the morning, but it is 30-45 minutes of generally heavy, somewhat dangerous traffic. While I try to focus my mind within the Zen state upon awakening, it’s during this drive that I most dedicate myself to this practice. I have a whole day of many, many issues to tackle, so it’s important to center my awareness.

My practice of Driving Zen involves trying to be aware of all of the cars around me: ahead, behind, and to the sides. I also focus on being aware of the sky, the trees, and other landmarks that I pass. If anything has changed about the environment, I try to be aware of it, and welcome it into the otherwise familiar space. I also stay mindful of how I am feeling, without allowing those feelings power to control my thoughts. Through all this, I focus on retaining a joyful receptivity, taking it all in without judgment or hangups.

This can be pretty difficult some days, and not just because Rush Hour on the Florida Turnpike is a Master Teacher. I’ll have interesting dreams I remember snippets of, memories from the day before, or even problems to resolve at work that try to pop into that space I’ve cleared and demand attention. Often, they’ll get some of that attention for a little while, until I remember to return to my practice.

At those times, I let my mind ring with the sound of the temple bell. I let the clarity wash through me, and allow the sounds to gently fade from my mind.

Refreshed, I turn my awareness back to the road I travel, joyfully receptive to all it may bring.

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In any given day, you may interact with people who think of and/or treat you as a complete idiot.

You may feel the same way about them.

But as a rule, it’s counter-productive to dwell on either. What they think of you is their problem, not yours. The reverse goes for what you think of them. If you can turn the interaction into neutral, or at least not as bad, it’ll help you get through it in a better way.

More importantly than that, it can help you practice being mindful of how interacting with such people makes you feel, and what you can do about that. Is there a reason things like that would tend to get to you? Is there a way you could strengthen your sense of self and/or patience and compassion? Interactions like these can be an Advanced Course in finding out more about how your mind works, and how you can make it work better.

Running into people we really feel at odds with isn’t always such a bad thing. These can be the times we can most quickly learn lessons we wouldn’t have mastered another way.

We must be patient with our differences. Our best teachers are often the hardest to hear.

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I’m going to write more about why Being Special isn’t a competition. I’ve explored more on how each moment is special, and this leads into how each experience is special.

Yesterday, I wrote about using mindfulness to break out of the habits of a dreary routine. This is about more than just escaping a boring rut. It’s about turning your eyes away from that rut, and toward the opportunities to experience that routine in a new way.

We are a collection not just of our experiences, but also of how we perceive them. The same people can come from roughly the same situation, yet come away with entirely different perspectives. Same teacher, different lessons. Why is this?

More importantly, how can we use this knowledge to make better use of the experiences we face?

In each day, we are faced with many moments we can experience as fun, boring, unpleasant, exciting, forgettable… so many ways. In each of these moments, we have the opportunity to try to experience them in a new way. Even if we can’t quite turn a boring moment fun, or a painful moment into pleasure, we can experiment with finding another side to it we’d otherwise miss. As we do so, we’ll learn something valuable about ourselves, and also hone our skills of living.

A skillful life involves building greater understanding and influence in how we experience it, and how we grow with those experiences. Each moment presents a new opportunity to improve these skills, in its unique way. By practicing finding what makes that moment Special, we prepare ourselves for the kind of life we hadn’t before imagined.

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Tomorrow is the third Monday of the new year.

For many of us, Sunday night is the inbreath before the next segment in this grand procession of Tomorrows. Reluctant, resigned or renewed, it’s time to bid another weekend farewell, and prepare to head back into that breach.

Yet it’s only the third Monday of a new year. I don’t know the average time it takes for New Year Resolutions to become forgotten, but I certainly feel that now is too soon. It’s far too early to already slip back into the old habits, the old routines, without consciously resisting falling into the worn-out grooves of behavior, of thought, of expectation.

It’s tough to climb out of those ruts, especially all at once. But even starting small is a huge start. Just one conscious effort can be enough to remind us to remain mindful of other ways we can live better.

As you find yourself preparing to face another week, another day, another moment… what would you most like to change? What do you feel likely to do or say that you would prefer to prepare to do differently? What do you subconsciously expect to feel that doesn’t have to be experienced in that way?

How could you, in one small way, experience a better week?

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You’re not 100% on point every day.

You’ll stammer, you’ll stumble.

Sometimes, you’ll even fall.

So what?

So long as you keep trying every day, both to improve yourself and to mindfully forgive yourself for backsliding, you’ll do all right.

In fact, you’ll do fantastic.

Just keep traveling the road you’re on, resting when you need, and retracing your steps if that time comes.

You’ll get where you need to be.

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