The Butterfly Effect

Life is filled with Butterfly Effects. We’ve all heard about it. Most times it is reflected in science and the science fiction of time travel. In science it is depicted with the cliché of a butterfly flapping its wings could cause a change in atmosphere that might cause, prevent or change the path of a tornado or tropical storm in a specific location. In science fiction it is usually used when the character travels to a different point in time, she must be careful not to do anything that will change history. Heaven forbid that she is plopped down at a point in her own pre-history and do something to change the particulars of her conception. Maybe she would cease to ever be. I can see you smiling at that one. But if you give it some thought you would see the logic.

Life is cause and effect. Think about this very moment in time. What would you be doing if you weren’t reading this? Maybe you might be drinking coffee, eating some grapefruit, or typing on your computer? Or maybe doing all three like I am doing just now. And then you might throw in a television in the background, playing the Today show and a story about a paralyzed former pro basketball player who is trying to learn to walk again. Not to mention the clothing that I have in the laundry. That is my kind of multi-tasking. But sometimes it digresses into a big batch of white noise and I can’t think of anything at all. It only makes sense if you are aware of what you’re doing in this moment.

How did you wake up this morning? Was it a kiss from your loved one? Was it because you had to go to the bathroom? Did you wake to an alarm clock? Was it a bell, buzzer, song or talk radio? Did you lie in bed until the very last minute or did you leap out of bed to face the new day? I like to split the difference. I wake before the alarm, sometimes hit the On button, lay in bed listening to NPR for a half-hour or so, then leap up to face the day. I like to get a snap shot of news, traffic and whether to start the day.

What did you eat this morning? Did you skip breakfast to get a little ahead on that diet that you’ve been trying out? Are you going to eat a bigger meal later to make up for it? Maybe you had some grapefruit and coffee like me, or a bowl of cereal or oatmeal, or toast or a bagel. Did you use butter or margarine? Jelly or jam? Mustard or mayonnaise? Did you drive through your favorite fast food joint for an Eggiemuffin? Or maybe you stopped off at the sit-down for a grand slam barnyard bustin’ steak and eggs waffle cake. And that’s just your breakfast choices.

Let’s take a look at these options. If you skipped breakfast how does this affect your meal choices the rest of the day? If you went to the drive-thru did you dribble anything on your shirt or scald your tongue on the new premium coffee? If you ate in the car, did it give you indigestion? How did this effect your day? Let’s say you went to your favorite sit-down restaurant. How much coffee did you drink? Was the plate clean and the mug unstained? How was the service? Did you server smile at you? Did you smile back? Was he having a good day? Did you make it a little better or a little worse? How much did you tip? Was the amount you tipped related to the service, or is that just who you are? Did you help him make his rent, or will he have to try a little harder for the rest of his shift. You are the butterfly that flitted through his day.

Regardless of where you ate, what did you put in your body? How much thought did you give to your order? Did you research the nutritional value? Bacon or sausage, whole grain or bleached, cheese or no cheese, plain or lettuce, tomato, and assorted condiments? Each one of these choices has affects the nutrition of the food that you eat and the affect that it has on your body. Does it matter what you eat? Do you have what we used to call a cast-iron stomach? Is your metabolism such that you can eat whatever and not gain a pound? Most of us are not like that. I have been battling a bulge since I was a kid. I will always have love handles. But does that mean that I shouldn’t be cognizant of what I eat?

Absolutely not. Every move we make and every choice we take has consequences. There is contingency in every single thing that we do. If we choose to eat that Baconator, somewhere down the food chain a pig paid the price. If we choose to go with the three-egg omelet instead of the two-egg, that extra bit of cholesterol could lead to a heart attack five years from now. If we get the milkshake instead of the glass of iced tea, there will be a subtle change in your body chemistry that could have long-lasting affects. I’m not saying that you need to become a tree-hugging, animal-loving vegetarian. Just be mindful of your choices and how they affect the world around you. It’s a ripple effect.

Even if we are not the variable in our action, there is still contingency. If your alarm doesn’t go off, you can oversleep and feel like you’re behind all day. If you’re behind, you feel as if you have to make compromises in your routine to get to work on time. If you go through the drive-thru, you might order the food that catches your eye through the pretty picture. If you take the first bite and it doesn’t meet your expectations, you’ll still eat it because you don’t have the time to take it back and complain.

If you do make it to the sit-down, there is still contingency in every move. If you get there twenty seconds earlier, you might get to sit in Megan’s section instead of Daniel’s. If Daniel is having a bad day, he can affect the quality of your food or the temperature of your coffee. If you complain or send it back, his day gets even worse. And then you decide not to tip. His day, maybe even his month goes into the crapper. Maybe he goes home and beats his girlfriend. Maybe she slips and hits her head on the corner of the coffee table. Maybe she dies. Maybe he gets charged, goes to jail, gets twenty-five to life. All of this happened because you got to the restaurant twenty seconds too late. This is an extreme example, but it accurately depicts the contingency that is interwoven into our life.

Life is contingency. All around us little unseen butterflies are flitting around, waiting to start or prevent the next tornado in our lives. By being mindful and cognizant of the choices that we make in life can open a window into the wonders of life. The past will never to be repeated. The future is contingent, completely beyond your control. Those butterflies are there to make it so. Be here now. Now is all you’ve got.

More Alchemy

b’AWARE ~ Consciousness is a magical elixer of realization and enlightenment. Catch a snowflake on your tongue. Make someone smile. Be aLIVE today. ~ Brother T

I’m not a philosopher. I have never been successful at any one thing in life. Mediocre at much. Excellent at nothing. It is only after I learned that life is not about indulging oneself in any whim or want, that I learned that the world does not revolve around the man known as Brother T.

A decade ago I was a hot mess. Stress had me stacked up like a Jenga game with too many pieces missing. I was business first and everything else second. I never smiled. I never greeted anyone who crossed my path. I wanted what I needed and I wanted it now.

One day I walked into the office of the company that I was working for, went straight to the woman who was in charge of that department and demanded some stupid insignificant thing. It never occurred to me that anything could be more important than the thing that I wanted. Of course I got it. I’m sure that I heard an “asshole” whispered under her breath. I didn’t care. I got what I needed.

Upon exiting the room, I was immediately accosted by my girlfriend. She dressed me down for not being civil, asking how my co-worker was doing, not enquiring as to how her ailing father was holding up. In other words, being a rude asshole. Now the girlfriend, who I’m happy to report found herself a non-asshole for a husband, was from a foreign land. She was an alien not only to the USA, but also to the rat race that was ruling my life. The lesson that I learned from her was that there is nothing more important than being civil and friendly. The funny afterwards of the story is that I greeted the co-worker the next day, asked after the ailing father. She complained to our collective boss that I was “nice to her but faking it.”

“Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though t’were his own.” ~
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’ve become a firm believer in the ability of the individual to bring a sense of joy and happiness to virtually everyone that they come into contact with on a daily basis. I knock on doors and talk to people for a living. Twenty to thirty people per day open their door for me. Most of them do not want to see me. They do not think that they need home improvements. They resist my intrusion into their free time. That’s okay. My main mission is to make them smile and laugh. Once I make that happen, we are on the same team. It is US against THEM. So I say and do whatever I can, no matter how outrageous (but always legal and in good taste) to make that happen. I can honestly say that I get as much if not more joy from the smiles and laughs than these strangers do.

“There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.” ~
Kahlil Gibran

Saturday I woke up feeling less than human. I decided to take a long walk up High Street to my current library of choice. Even though the temperature was hovering at fifteen degrees, there was a steady stream of pedestrians, joggers and bicyclists out on the main drag. I made it a point to address every one of them. The beauty of our neighborhood is the diversity. There are probably one hundred different nationalities living within two miles of my home. It helps that I live on the fringe of the largest and most diverse university in the United States, The Ohio State University. I pimped for smiles and by golly I got em. It was a spectacular two hour tour. I felt like the King of High Street by the time I was done.

“You shall have joy, or you shall have power, said God; you shall not have both” ~
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The Sage of Concord” got this one only half right. If you have joy and you share it, you will have power. The world is a rat race. It keeps spinning faster and faster. People have to hold on for dear life in order to survive. It is stressful and numbing. Yet few walk among us through life like a fish swims through water. Effortlessly. Joyfully. Happily. As I journey into the second half of my life, I find that if I hold on too tight then life gets hard. But if I can walk at just the right pace, give smiles to all who cross my path, and take time to smell the… pick your euphemism, and life becomes ever so much easier. If that’s not power, I don’t know what is.

Joy to Power,
Brother T

World’s Smallest Footprints

World’s smallest footprints
in a patch of snow
cause me to pause
and ponder

Looking closer
I see ten perfect toes
and wonder what a baby
is doing unshod in the snow

Alarmed, I follow their progress

The footprints
grow smaller
closer together
almost as if

They never were

I turn around to a field
of unblemished snow
footprints are gone
baby’s and mine

Almost as if
We never were

Two People, One Job, One Moment

“Wow, I really want this job.” You fill out the online application and send it off through cyberspace. Thinking that a phone call might be better, you make the call and leave a voicemail. You open another tab on your browser and pull up the company website. It seems perfect. You finally make the connection and set up the interview. You make getting this job your number one goal in life.

“Each minute in life should be a divine quest.” Paramansa Yogananda (1893-1952)

You wake early on the morning of the interview. You meticulously prepare, your hair and clothes are perfect. Your resume is updated. You leave early and arrive twenty minutes before you’re supposed to be there. Your stomach is tied in knots.

“Effective communication is 20% what you know and 80% how you feel about what you know.” – Jim Rohn (1930-2009)

You walk into the office and meet the Manager for the first time. She stands and walks around the desk and meets you half way. You are both smiling. You share a warm handshake. You talk about the job, its qualifications, responsibilities and compensation. You both agree that you are the perfect person for the job. It seems like all of your life experience has been leading you to this point. But has it? Let’s stop and examine this moment for a second.

“Time is not a line but a series of Now points.” Taisen Deshimaru (1914-1982)

Let’s imagine a few variables in this perfect occasion. Maybe the Manager spills her coffee right before you walk into her office, making her irritable. Maybe a car on the sidewalk splashes you out front, shattering your confidence. Maybe you cut yourself shaving, making you look less professional. Maybe the Manager used to work at one of your old jobs, or knows one of your references. Any little thing can spoil this perfect, magical moment. But is it a really magical?

“The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.” Abraham Lincoln – American President

In truth, the future never comes. Just as we have no control over the past, we cannot control the future. We spin the past in ever-increasing fantasies, interpretations that fit our self- and world-views. At some point the past becomes some mixture of fact and fiction. If you don’t believe me, just pick up any history book and ask the winners and losers for their interpretations of it.

We try to guide our future. We plan meticulously. We prepare for that special day. Then we spill the coffee, cut ourselves shaving, get splashed on the street or say the wrong thing. Our plans go awry. All we can truly do is the best that we can and hope for the best. But there is one thing that we can control.

Let’s rewind to that moment when you stride confidently into that office and shake your future Manager’s hand. Even if any one of those variables has thrown up a roadblock, you can still salvage one good moment. And the one after that. You can only control the physical moment that you are in. If you walk into this same office one hundred days in a row, prepare just as meticulously, say all of the same things in the same order. You can never, ever, have a Groundhog Day moment. Something will always be different, even if it’s just that you wore the shamrock boxer shorts instead of the ones with the Tasmanian Devil. You and the Manager can never share this same moment again. As soon it is gone, that is when the legends begin to be written. So why not make that moment the best it can be?

“Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks to another day of loving.” Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931)

You have the power to make this moment the best that it can be. You can choose to be happy and share that happiness with everyone who crosses your path. The past is gone and the future is nothing but a dream. All you have is now. So seize this moment and really live it. I know that I am.

A Step

Breathe

Place the heal
with purpose
on the ground
transfer the weight
to the ball of the foot
stride

And repeat

“The journey of one thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.” Lao Tzu

Any journey, whether it involves running a marathon or walking to the refrigerator, requires the taking of that first step. As you place your foot on the ground and begin the transfer of weight to the ball of the foot, do you notice the texture of the walking surface? Do you feel the blades of grass, the grains of sand, the ridges of ice, the faux smoothness of the blacktop? Do you note how the temperature contrasts with that of your skin? Is your stocking dry or slightly moist? Is the soul of your shoe free of debris? Is the elevation on an incline or decline? Does your heel drag behind you or lift and drop? Do you notice the subtle difference as your other heel strikes to complete the step?

The right heel to the ball of the foot to the left heel to the ball of the foot. One step. One second that lasts a lifetime. No other step will ever be exactly the same. The next step will encompass another lifetime and the step you just took will be lost to you. You will never capture it again.

Maybe if you slow down, enjoy the tactile sensation of placing one foot in front of the other, you will realize what you are missing in the ten thousand lost lifetimes that you throw away every day.

“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on green earth, dwelling deeply in the moment and feeling truly alive.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

Don’t Drink That – The Three Poisons

As children we are constantly bombarded with orders from our parents.

“Don’t eat that.”

“Don’t put that in your mouth.”

“Don’t touch that.”

“Don’t leave the yard.”

“Don’t go out in the street.”

”Don’t talk to strangers.”

We learn as adults that our parents (hopefully) were just trying to look out for us, to teach us right from wrong and keep us from injury or death. Most parents do the best job that they can to protect us from the evils of the world. The world is full of dangers and poisons. You hear about a kid dying or being horribly maimed on an almost daily basis. Parents want to teach their kids the lessons that they need to be healthy and successful in this world. Kids have a tendency to test the boundaries, stretch the leash. It’s a constant tug of war. It’s all a part of growing up.

There are different kids of poison. There are the cleaning chemicals that we keep under the kitchen sink. There is spoiled food. There are all of the lawn supplies and gasoline in the garage. There is all of the pills and toiletries in the medicine cabinet. The list goes on and on.

And then there are the poisons of the soul.

The Buddha taught in his First Noble Truth, “Life Is Suffering.” He also taught about the Three Poisons, greed, anger, and ignorance. The Three Poisons are the three-headed monster of human suffering. Greed is equivalent to desire. We are creatures of desire. We desire for sex, money, material items, love and happiness. We are always searching for the newest, better and bigger thing. The next door neighbor buys a new car, so we feel the urge to buy one too. We can’t possibly wear the same dress again to a big event. We need that new pair of high tech running shoes or the newest laptop. I am just as guilty of that as the next guy. If you are desirous of that which you don’t or can’t have, then you are suffering.

The anger that the Buddha spoke of comes in the form of rage and hatred. We have a tendency as humans to hate, or at least be suspicious of those who are different from us. The difference can come in the form of physical attributes, religion, politics or ideology. Much like our ancestors, we divide ourselves into tribes. Many of us have numerous tribes that we identify with. We are (pick your country of origin)-Americans, Catholics, Conservatives, New Yorkers, Steelers fans, vegetarians and Teamsters. By design, we therefore dislike (other)-Americans, Muslims, Liberals, Californians, Cowboy fans, meat eaters and scabs. The divisiveness is as pronounced as it’s ever been. This dislike of the others can manifest itself in the form of hatred, resentment, and even discrimination. It has been seen recently in the U.S.A. in the venom tossed back and forth between the Liberals and the Tea Party. If you obsess on this kind of hatred or relate to it in any way, then you are suffering. The anger races through your brain like a lightning storm. This is what we define as stress.

And then there is ignorance. The ignorance that the Buddha speaks of isn’t the kind where you don’t know your ABC’s or multiplication tables. It isn’t that you don’t know how to read or can’t answer when someone says “Que pasa?” The ignorance that the Buddha speaks of is not knowing your true nature. We spend a lot of time examining other people. We should more time examining ourselves. Much has been made of the teachings and practices of the Buddha. There are many misconceptions about what it is all about. Buddhism is not about mysticism. Buddhism is about introspection. It’s about shining a mirror on yourself and your actions. When you examine your previous decisions and choices, then you can begin to be more conscious of your future ones. When you make conscious and informed decisions, you exercise your Buddha-nature. Anyone can be a Buddha and the Buddha-nature is in all things. As the Dalai Lama said, “There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple…” If you don’t know yourself, then you are suffering.

Your brain, your heart, your body is your temple. The Buddha just didn’t teach about the three poisons. He taught about the Three Antidotes. Generosity is the antidote to greed. I’m not talking about the kind of generosity where you give a dollar to every panhandler that you see on the street. I’m talking about the generosity of spirit. It sounds cheesy, but I’m talking about say “how are you?” and meaning it. I’m talking about opening a door for someone, helping an old lady across the street. I’m talking about making a stranger smile.

The antidote to anger is compassion. When you have a moment where you feel the anger, the rage, the impatience start to rise up in you, take a second to examine the root cause of your anger. If it is directed to another person, ask yourself what that person ever did yo you. If it is a policeman, are you angry because you once got a parking ticket? If it is a service worker, is it because you once got a bad pizza? If that person has a different color skin than you, is it because you are afraid or angry because of something that happened somewhere else in the world? There are a million reasons that these feelings rise up, but is there any good reason to let them ruin your day? The strongest compassion that you can show is the compassion that you give to yourself. When a strong emotions flares reach inside yourself to examine the source. Once examined it can be discarded. The more you practice this, the less often you will have to do it.

The antidote for ignorance is wisdom. Once again, I’m not talking about the stuff you answer on the ACT. Wisdom is knowledge of self. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to take stock of your life. Meditation is an invaluable tool. Quieting your mind and staring internally can make you question your values and methods. It’s important to remember that life is a series of causes and effects. Wisdom is taking responsibility for the events in your life. Ignorance is finding someone else to blame. The sooner you drill down to the root causes, the faster the positive effects that you desire will come. Can you really wait around for someone else to make you happy? Better to take the reins and do it yourself.

That’s my plan.

Thank You

“There is as much greatness of mind in acknowledging a good turn as in doing it.” Seneca (1 BC – 65 CE) Roman Stoic Philosopher

A lot is made of all of the hustle and bustle, the rat race of our world. We are on the go all of the time. We eat drive thru food in our cars as we race down the freeway. We have an internal clock that tells us when to be pissed off if that food takes more than thirty seconds. We are jacked into the matrix with our smart phones, email, text messages and Internet 24/7/365. In defiance of modern laws and conventions, we talk on those phones and send text messages while we are driving. Multi-tasking is viewed as strength instead of a distraction.

We need to slow down.

“Wake with a winged heart and give thanks to another day of loving.” Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) Lebanese Artist and Poet

I have been That Guy. That Guy that you love to hate when you see him on the road. That Guy who gets pissed off when his food takes to long. That Guy who talks on his phone or sends texts instead of paying attention to the road. That Guy who was constantly distracted by thoughts of past and future while missing the moment, missing the Now. I hated being That Guy.

I needed to slow down.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” Cicero (106-43 BCE) Roman Statesman and Philosopher.

Eighteen months ago I found a website that has helped me slow down and get in the moment. It is called Philosophers Notes. It is a collection of notes and podcasts on 100 (a second 100 are in the works) of the greatest self-help, philosophy and spirituality books of all time. It is where I get my inspiration from authors as varied as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Pema Chödrön, Joseph Campbell, Tony Robbins, Marcus Aurelius and Lao Tzu. Each book has numerous big ideas that are juxtaposed with the big ideas of the rest to reveal universal truths and life lessons.

A sister site of Philosopher’s Notes is Gratitude Log. It is called the happiest place on the planet. It is all about giving thanks and recognizing those things in life that make it wonderful. I am trying to make it a daily ritual.

I dislike that word: try. I believe that you DO something. TRYing to do something means that you acknowledge possible failure before you start, giving you and excuse when you do fail. So just do it (too bad that phrase was coined by Nike). Even if you fail, there are lessons to be learned from it. But at least you started from a positive outlook.

We need our daily rituals to be all that we can be.

So this is my evolving daily ritual:

Rise with the sun
Meditate for twenty minutes to empty my mind and focus
Give thanks to all the wonders of my life
Write for approximately two hours
Take care of my hygiene 🙂
Catch the bus at 9:30
Make it to work fifteen minutes early
Greet everyone and thank everyone, along the way

“The deepest craving of human nature is to be appreciated.” William James (1842-1910) American Psychologist and Philosopher

Greet everyone and thank everyone along the way. That has become an important part of my life. I believe that we can become a more civil society. I believe that we can slow down and smell the coffee. There is more to us than accomplishments and a paycheck, a house in the burbs and two point five kids. When we share a moment, I will strive to make it a good one.

“Namaste. I honour the place in you where the entire universe resides, a place of light, of love, of truth, of peace, of wisdom. I honour the place in you where when you are in that place and I am in that place there is only one of us.” Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian pioneer of civil disobedience.

Namaste Friend. Thank you for being you and thanks for reading.