Thursday, October 14, 2010


I’m half enlightened. I’m sure of it. So, are some of my friends. Heck, you may be half enlightened too. Maybe if I were fully enlightened I would know all that’s going on with you and with all other sentient beings in all the realms of all the multiverses on all dimensions. But I’m not, so I don’t.
But I know I am half-enlightened. Today I finished my taxes. For any of you familiar with the US Internal Revenue Service, aka, the Tax Man, you know that the Tax Man cometh to taketh away your money on the 15th of April, but he/she will wait for your measly paper excuse until October 15th.
My accountant, who is probably cursing me at this very moment, has all he needs to complete my returns and get them in the mail tomorrow. That’s right, I gave him one full day to complete my return--as if that’s the only one he has to do.
            I know, you’re saying, I don’t hear anything enlightening yet, not even a quarter enlightened, never mind half enlightened.
            Stay with me.
2009 was the worst, crappiest, pain-in-the-rump year financially for me thus far in my adult life. My investments are in real estate—all of them. Much of my income comes from real estate—it used to anyway. Now, all that comes are bills, bills, and more bills. It’s been a major bust. My net worth has tanked, tanked, and tanked some more.
Nothing brought this home more clearly than doing my taxes. 
            I’m getting to the enlightened part.
            Also, I lost all my 1099’s with income and commissions, all bank documents with interest paid on real estate loans--all my tax related paperwork--gone. Looked. Looked. And looked again. Nada.
Had to call my brokers. Had to reconstruct from monthly statements. On and on it went, and the further it went the more money I realized I had lost. I started feeling like Enron or Lehman Brothers.
Meanwhile, the clock kept ticking as it got closer and closer to the 15th of the month. My back kept aching and aching as I pored over seven, I kid you not, different, bank accounts, and more gas, electric, and water bills than most guys my age have hair on their head. I worked on this thing from before seven in the morning till late in the evening for three days straight.
            I had a pretty decent time throughout the whole ordeal.
I was nice to my family and my dog.
I didn’t flip out when I couldn’t find the tax papers.
I didn’t rip myself a new opening for losing all that money.
I told a few good jokes.
I didn’t harangue myself for waiting so long to do my taxes.
I didn’t tell myself that I was a sorry excuse for a human being.
Why, I’ve given myself a harder time for wasting five minutes looking for my misplaced car keys.
I’ve put myself into a weeklong clinical depression because I couldn’t stop beating the crap out of myself for a reason I can no longer remember.
And here I was after three days of fully documenting a significant collapse in my financial well-being—and I’m still not sure it’s not going to get worse--feeling pretty good, enjoying my life, and appreciative of my family and friends, my house, my life, my work, my readers, and my clients.

The American Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield, wrote a book, "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path," talking about how the truth of one's spiritual life is evidenced in daily living, in the rare moments, if they come, of ecstasy, but more importantly, in the much more commonplace occurances of the day, such as doing the laundry and preparing meals.
Why, doing the laundry will be a breeze in comparison to doing my taxes. You see, I'm at least half enlightened, maybe even four-sevenths enlightened.
I'm going to get my calculator and figure it out right now. I'll get back to you no later than the 15th of October, next October. In the meantime, make it a good day, even if it is tax day.
Share this with a friend who may STILL be doing their taxes.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


You think you know where you want to go. It’s hard enough just trying to get there. That part you know too well, and you’ve learned to accept it, mostly. But what if a Harvard professor, the Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Daniel Gilbert, told you—supported by about 350 references—that you were pretty much clueless about what would make you happy in the future? Gilbert starts his book with a quote that pretty much sums it up:

One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make happiness; one only stumbles upon them by chance[.]” 
Willa Cather

If you thought the book of your life might, if you were lucky, be entitled Sailing Towards Happiness, Gilbert argues you’d be lucky to have a life where you were Stumbling On Happiness, the name of his book.
Gilbert’s stated intention is “to explain why we seem to know so little about the hearts and minds of the people we are about to become.” And because we know so little about who we are to become, we know little about what will make us happy tomorrow.
I think he’s right.
I wish I could accept his premise right down to the core of my being. It would be radical to really get what Gilbert is saying. In a sense it would put an end to the future psychologically. It would put an end to becoming. It would put an end to the idea of tomorrow being better than today. If we really got that we have no idea about what would make us happy in the future, we would see that our only choice is to be happy now.
It would put an end to any sentence that began, “I will be happy when…”
Gilbert argues from oodles of psychological studies what mystics and wisdom teachers have been teaching for millennia. There’s only now to be happy. This is not to say that there isn’t suffering and pain. It’s not to say all moments are happy. They are not and never will be, though I think there are radical possibilities here nonetheless.
The point is if you are going to be happy, it better be now, and since you don’t know the conditions that will make you happy, you must free yourself from your happiness being conditional on circumstances outside yourself.
“I will be happy when I get my driver’s license.” Remember that one?
Or how about, “I will be happy when I graduate college, or get married, or have children?”
I will be happy manana. I will be happy someday, but not today.
A haiku by Basho, translated by Robert Hass, captures so much of what we struggle with even when we get what we’ve longed for.

Even in Kyoto --
hearing the cuckoo's cry --
I long for Kyoto.

Don’t you know that feeling? I’ve experienced it a thousand times. How hard it is to simply be in the moment and be happy, even while walking the very streets of the old city you so longed to see.
In the first few pages of his book, Gilbert makes his great statement, what he half-jokingly calls The Sentence, and which he italicizes. “The human being is the only animal who thinks about the future.” Gilbert finds this capacity for consciously imagining the future to be humankind’s greatest achievement.
It’s also the root of a good deal of our unhappiness.
You can set this book aside, and ignore it, or simply find it of casual interest, but the danger is your life may pass and you will never be happy. Happiness is here and now, if it’s anywhere. It’s an inside job, which you’ve heard before. And the good news is you can work the inside.
Tibetan monks seem to smile a lot, the Dalai Lama included, so does Robert Thurman, a former Tibetan monk, and Uma Thurman’s dad. The venerable monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh told a gathering of western meditators that he wouldn’t come back again unless they started smiling more often. Sounds silly, but it’s not. These practitioners spend time each day engaged in practices meant to open the heart and lead to acceptance and gratitude and happiness for the moment just as it is.

Daniel Gilbert states, “Despite the third word of the title, this is not an instruction manual that will tell you anything useful about how to be happy.”
            I could not disagree more fully. Gilbert offers us an invaluable, though very difficult, lesson to swallow.
You do not know what will make you happy tomorrow.
So, you cannot effectively plan for your future happiness.
            Therefore, my conclusion, which I stole from countless wisdom teachers, is you must learn to be happy now, and give up the illusion of being happy tomorrow.
            I think that’s a pretty useful lesson.

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Monday, October 11, 2010


Last night, thanks to Lisa, I got to see Van Morrison under the stars at the Santa Barbara County Bowl. Amazing. Lisa knows how to live a life of ravishing luxury and pleasure watching live music, drinking a rare coke, and sharing a hot pretzel with cheese. I’ve never seen anyone die and go to heaven over live music like Lisa, but I have to tell you, there were moments last night when I felt Van send ‘shivers from my neck down to my spine/ and ignite me.” And it was doubly poignant to me when during his heartfelt rendition of “In The Garden”, he pointed east and said, “No guru, no method, no teacher—the guy who said that wasn’t very far from here in Ojai.”
He acknowledged Jiddu Krishnamurti, and sang on; Krishnamurti, the reason I had come to California over 25 years before.
Though Van mentions some explicitly Christian motifs, know he was and is an inclusive soul. These lyrics come from an album with a Buddha on the cover.
             From "In the Garden", by Van Morrison:

And as I sat beside you
I felt the great sadness that day
In the garden

And then one day you came back home
You were a creature all in rapture
You had the key to your soul and you did open
That day you came back to the garden

And you went into a trance, your childlike vision became so fine
And we heard the bells within the church, we loved so much
And felt the presence of the youth of eternal summers in the garden

Alright, and as it touched your cheeks so lightly
Born again you were and blushed
And we touched each other lightly
And we felt the presence of the Christ
Within our hearts in the garden

And I turned to you and I said
"No guru, no method, no teacher
Just you and I and nature
And the Father in the garden"

Listen, no guru, no method, no teacher
Just you and I and nature…

The original version of “In the Garden” can be heard by clicking the link.