Time and Transitions

To say that time has slipped away from me would be an understatement. Some six weeks have passed since my last blog post. In that time, we sent all 4 of our children back to school, the balance of work and life has dramatically shifted toward the workplace, my wife started back to college, and I ramped up my marathon training to 50+ miles per week. Now we’ve had four children for a while obviously, so “back to school” shouldn’t be that dramatic. But our daughter moved away to college and I will tell you dear readers, that it has been a significant time of transition.

Moving out

Perhaps the biggest change has been simply not having our daughter around. She has shown tremendous maturity over the past year, which eased our fears about her being able to handle life on her own. But candidly, we miss her. I miss her. I think what I miss most is seeing her everyday and getting “the rundown,” which was her play-by-play summary of how her day went with plenty of saucy commentary. My daughter (who is featured in the lead photo) has a huge personality and wit for days, so there is a palpable humor missing from the house now that she’s away. For the first several weeks, I spent extra time – probably a good portion of my former blogging time – chatting with her via text and coordinating the order and delivery of things forgotten or newly needed for dorm life. Additionally, there have been a rash of sexual assaults on her campus in the first couple of weeks of school so that has added a layer of concern to an already challenging time of transition. Things seem to have settled down now, and this coming weekend is Parents’ Weekend. This is where we lost parental souls will get to traipse around campus with the students we so dearly miss while they roll their eyes at our droll ways because, as they’re supposed to do, they’re moving on with their lives. I’m actually handling it decently well, but I’m excited to see my girl.

Work, work, work

I’ve resisted making this blog about work, which I will continue to do. However, several work-related things have cut into my blogging time. My department has been slated to “stand on its own,” which now means I need to develop and manage a budget that I haven’t formally done for years. I’m also transitioning workers from my team and hiring others. My team will be leading a strategic initiative next year, so I’ve been spending extra hours on that front. And of course, we’re approaching the end of the year, so there’s the obligatory employee performance appraisal meetings and report drafting. Oh and I suppose it’s worth mentioning that our company has completely changed the rating system for this year, which means that it takes about twice the energy to go through the process right now. So the other portion of my blogging time has been eaten up by evenings and weekends at work.

Back on Track

So here we are. It is time to get back on track with many fronts, including the blog. Interestingly, I find that busy times are also times of significant growth, so I hope to have plenty of insights as I slow down and catch my breath.

Let your hair down

Sometimes, you have to let your hair down. This is week three of my marathon training. Tonight I should have lifted weights while I let my legs recover from yesterday’s interval training. But instead, I came home, did a couple of chores, and then took my better half out to our favorite local eatery for Spanish wine and our favorite dishes.

Like the kid in We’re the Millers, I’ve got “no ragrets.” Not even one. We had a lovely evening and now tomorrow I’ll be doubly motivated to knock out my tempo run after another busy day at work.

Are you motivated after letting your hair down? Or are you more of an “inertia person” who once is at rest stays at rest?

The Business of Relationships

My wife and I are both on our second marriage. Neither of us intended to be divorcees. Everyone in our families’ prior generations stayed married, so neither of us knew what divorce looked like. Given that second marriages are even more likely to fail than a first marriage, my better half and I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing about what went wrong and how we can work together proactively to keep our marriage healthy and happy. While there are countless tomes written on the topic, I’m going to offer up a rather business-minded approach to the successful components of a long-term relationship. With this approach, I’m also going to skip over what I consider to be table stakes for any committed romantic relationship: mutual attraction, love, fidelity, honesty, and communication. Because let’s cut to the chase, if even one of these is missing, there’s no foundation upon which to build a long-term romantic relationship.

My wife and I have found that the for a long-term committed relationship to work for a long time, the relationship needs some things that are pretty important in business. Of course, we are both process engineers who have worked in a variety of industries, so there’s an inevitable business environment bias here. But, we’ve also gone through a good bit of couples therapy in our prior relationships, read several books on the topic and applied them, and – now because of our experience – helped counsel many friends and family members going through similar crises – small and large. Oh, and my wife is more than two-thirds through her Masters in Psychology from Harvard University. So… this isn’t a slap-dash-throw-some-stuff-on-the-wall idea. These ideas are tried and tested in many circles. So let’s get to it.

  1. Couples need a shared vision. This already sounds like business school, doesn’t it? Bear with me. Let’s say one of you wants to be a medical doctor – or already is a medical doctor. That’s going to mean long hours away from home and very likely being on call. How does that fit with the partner’s goal of being a school teacher with summers off to go hike the Appalachian Trail? Well it might work, as long as consistent togetherness isn’t your main objective. Let’s look at another scenario: One of you wants to have a daily driving automobile that reliably gets you from point A to point B and then to also have a flashy sports car in the garage to take out on sunny weekends. Your partner wants to be a social worker who primarily helps children. Again, it can work, but its going to take a lot of discussion and compromise. Generally speaking, social workers don’t make a lot of money for flashy sports cars. Carried forward, social workers who want to help children also probably aren’t prioritizing pricey non-essential vehicles. See the rub? In both of these short scenarios, the couples do not have a shared vision of where they’re going. I can speak from my own experience that in my first marriage, we did not have a shared vision of where we were going. One could argue that we got married too young before we had a chance to figure out what our shared vision was. But I know lots of couples who met at 16 or 17 years old and have had very successful relationships now 25 or 30 years on. In all of those cases, they had a shared vision of where they were going. To discuss this with your significant other, I like the Be, Do, Have model. For the sake of brevity, I’ll say it this way: Each individual needs to decide who he or she is going to BE (the kind of person with what values, etc.), and based on that, what he or she will DO (what profession), which will in turn dictate what each will HAVE (material possessions and the like). So many people do it the other way around: they start with what they want to HAVE, which then dictates the budget and determines what they need to DO, which then begins to inform who they’re going to BE.
  2. Couples should have a shared Culture. If there is a yang to the yin of the vision, it is the culture. It informs where you start and how you go about pursuing your shared vision. Culture – unless it is being actively developed like in the corporate world – usually comes from one’s family of origin. Family of origin sets the stage for how individuals will communicate, work together, problem-solve, raise a family, and so on. It isn’t an insurmountable problem to have very different families of origin, but as my wife and I have both learned from experience, when times get tough, we race back to what we learned growing up. I’ll contrast my first and current marriages again for illustration. In my first marriage, our respective families had very different ideas about budgeting and bill-paying, about child-rearing, about the balance of power, and about negotiation tactics used in the relationship. I thought these matters were surmountable, but they caused a great deal of stress and arguably the downfall of the marriage. When I contrast that with my current marriage, our respective families of origin are magnitudes closer to one another. While each of our Mothers and Fathers have very different personalities, their approaches to the relationship overlap a great deal. This has helped my wife and I work collaboratively to blend and raise a well-adjusted family with four kids, run a household budget that not only pays the bills but offers up self-actualizing activities to each of its members, and to support one another as we pursue our shared vision for our family. Differences in family of origin are able to be overcome, but it takes a lot of work. I personally start with educating myself. Here is a list of books that might help. But after education comes the tough work of problem-solving.
  3. Problem solving can save the day. In both of the cases of Vision and Culture, couples who are equipped with the skills and committed to the cause of solving problems can overcome almost all set-backs. Interestingly, problem-solving is not a universal skill in the professional world much less the ewy gooey world of romantic love. In fact, this was another point of contention in my first marriage. My ex-wife repeatedly rebuffed me for trying to analyze our issues for root cause and corrective action. She would say, “this is a relationship, not a business.” I can’t fault her. I’m sure many people feel the same way. But while my first wife was satisfied with an accuse-argue-apologize cycle of addressing matters, I was not. I like solving problems. I don’t like futile repeats of past conversations and I don’t care for stalemates. So again, even our tools and commitments to overcome our differences in our vision and our culture simply weren’t there. When contrasted with my wife now, again, it is a world of difference. My wife is an industrial engineer and a natural born problem solver. She can meet me at my nerdiest point. While we started out with strong overlaps in both our vision and culture, those things aren’t permanent. As we each grow and take on new challenges, our vision and the associated goals grow and change. In these cases, problem solving saves the day. We’re able to collaboratively work through these new ideas and grow together because we have the skills to do so. While I could start a whole new blog and completely geek out on problem solving in all types of settings, I’ll offer up the following primer.
    • Clearly state the problem, starting with what, when, where, and how often. Avoid “who,” any assumed intent, and “always” & “never” statements if you can. For example, instead of saying, “You don’t respect me because you always load the toilet paper roll backwards,” you might offer up, “I notice that the toilet paper roll gets loaded in different ways, sometimes over the top and sometimes unrolling from the bottom.” The second statement takes the “you” out, it takes the assumed intent of not respecting me out, and it takes out the language of “backwards,” even though we all know the right way to load the toilet paper is over the top. 
    • Confirm the measurement. It is important to confirm that everyone is measuring the matter the same way. Something like, “When the trash has been packed into the bag so tight that it takes a shot of compressed air to get the bag out of the bin without ripping it apart, I think it is over-full. What do you think?” You will be surprised at how often we simply don’t measure things the same way.
    • Agree on a standard. This is very much related to the measurement problem. If there isn’t agreement on what “good” looks like, it is nearly impossible to measure it. This can get tricky in domestic situations because we all have our quirks. Dirty dishes in the sink and untreated spots on the carpet drive me bananas. My family thinks I’m a control freak, and, well, they’re right. But in the balance of power, I can’t bully my way into it. We all have busy lives. So it might be that the only option for my daughter was to grab a quick bite after school and then head to work while leaving her dish in the sink to soak. So, it is a process.

In closing, I hope you’ve already achieved domestic bliss. If you’re in the process of a long term commitment, perhaps the lessons I’ve learned through my own failures can help you build a healthier and happier relationship. Best wishes!

What’s so great about 2:30 AM?

Seriously. It is currently 4:38 AM – not for you of course, but for me. I have been up for a few hours. Much like every night for the past two and a half weeks. So far, I’m coming to the conclusion that if you ever want to test your resolve and your sanity, become an insomniac. No wait, I don’t wish this on anyone. But the fact is I’m up. Again. So this early morning, I’m asking myself, “What’s so great about 2:30 AM?” What is going on at this hour that I feel compelled to wake from my restful slumber and take part in? Because on the surface, it feels like a whole lot of nothing.

What is in fact going on at 2:30 AM? Well, upon deeper inspection, not much. The fan in our bedroom is still running. The lights are still off. The birds outside aren’t making any noises because I assume that in their natural God-given nature, they know how to get a full night’s sleep. I will say that the trains that I can hear in the distance definitely run through the night. But I’m pretty sure that’s not a new development over the past couple of weeks. I’m also certain that there have been a few things added to the internet since I last checked, but unless the collective global digital brain can tell me how to get back to sleep, I don’t think I’m interested. Now there’s an idea. OK, Google, let’s see what you’ve got.

The Search

So as I lay awake while my wife has the audacity to sleep soundly beside me with her metered breathing and her neither tossing nor turning, I whipped out my trusty smart phone to see what the internet has for me.

OK, Google, Why do I wake up between 2 and 3 AM every night?

Here’s what we’ve got:

First, I learn that this is when my liver becomes active and processes the previous day’s nonsense that I threw into my pie hole. The reality is that I generally eat a pretty clean diet. Or at least I did before all of this started. I have to be honest with you my dear readers, After about a week of running on 3 hours of sleep per night, one’s resolve (or at least my resolve) to eat healthy starts to fly out the window. If when the alarm goes off, you are dead tired before you start your day, meal prep and for that matter what food constitutes a meal starts to get pretty loose. So while it may be a compounding factor at this point, I know I didn’t start there. OK, that’s probably not it. What else?

I learn that I might be harboring anger issues. I’m learning that when my liver kicks into action, if I’m harboring anger issues, I could be releasing adrenalin that will in turn keep me up. That sounds plausible. I know I’m certainly up. So let’s scratch the surface there. Am I angry about anything? Why yes, I’m angry that I’m up and that I cannot seem to be able to go back to sleep – every night, regardless of what I eat or drink and what my liver seems to be doing. Not so fast Daniel-son, what about the underlying anger? You know, that deep rooted stuff that only a therapist or Oprah could get out of you? Well, let’s give that a moment; heaven knows I’ve got a couple to spare. After repeated ponderings on this subject, I don’t think this is it. But who knows, I’m not done writing. Maybe something will pop out. For now, let’s see what else the internet can suggest.

Next, I learn that I might not be getting enough exercise. If the body doesn’t move enough, then basically it can blah blah… No, that’s not it. I have officially restarted my marathon training and I’m running a good bit in spite of my lack of rest. And weirdly, it doesn’t seem to matter. I actually went for a morning run the other day after just 2.5 hours of sleep in one night and I put in some quick miles. So no. Let’s keep moving.

Ghosts? OK, so I’m reading here that 2-3 AM is the chief witching hour for souls who can’t or won’t lay to rest. If I feel like someone is watching me, it is probably a ghost. Ponderous. Perhaps I will consider having the house exercised. But first, I really want to get the carpets done. Plus, I don’t feel like I’m being watched. I feel like I’m just awake. Painfully and stupidly awake while the rest of the world – including those in the afterlife – can seem to get some rest.

Dehydrated? Over-hydrated? Pituitary issues? Hypoglycemic? Don’t eat bananas. Oh wait, bananas can be good. Don’t lay in bed awake. Eat a little before bed, but don’t eat anything after 7 PM. Read before bed but not in bed. Limit my screen time. Don’t watch scary movies. Make sure my chi is centered. Try yoga. Sleepy time tea? Melatonin. Benadryl. Head injury.

Sigh.

Sadly, another half night of no sleeping has passed by. It is now approaching my “waking” time. So I’m going to get on with my day, prop myself up with Joffrey’s Latin Espresso from the break room at work and slog through another day as a zombie. I suppose the goal should be to find a silver lining. Well, if this keeps up, I’ll definitely become a more practiced – if not better – blogger. I’ll learn the limits of marathon training with sleep deprivation. I might even get to Inbox zero. And who knows, I might even figure out what’s so great about 2:30 AM.

Sweet dreams…

What Is Your Legacy?

Father’s Day. At this point in my life, it is admittedly a little bittersweet. My children are mostly grown. I have two younger and very dear to me step-sons, but their top-notch biological father is very much in their lives. My own two “kids” are 22 and 18 and are rightfully moving on to their own lives. My father and grandfathers have all passed away. In fact, today marks the two-year anniversary of my father’s passing. For this Father’s Day, I’m going to focus on legacy. What is the legacy we’re leaving behind as it stands right now?

Stephen Covey made this concept very popular. One of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he called it “Begin with the End in Mind.” Covey’s concept doesn’t have to pertain to the finality of life, it could simply mean “think about what this project will look like at the end” or similar. But today I’m focused on the legacy we leave behind. I also want to be very clear that this has nothing to do with money or accomplishment. I know the word can get tied up in “legacy funds” or buildings with people’s names on them to commemorate their legacy. Rather, the legacy that I’m considering here is, “what mark are you leaving on those around you?”

As I remember my father today, I think of what his legacy is for me. While a few bullets would never do it justice, here’s what I’ve got:

  • My dad taught me about politics. I don’t mean the silly show that plays out 24-7 on the hyper-media loop and twitter-sphere. I mean real life working with people. I still need reminders from time-to-time, but Dad helped me understand the imperfections of the world around me.
  • He taught me about the merits of hard work. Dad finished his college degree while working as a janitor in an office building. After he got the degree, he got hired on at GTE (later became Verizon) and had a long successful career. As our major bread-winner, he worked to give my sister and me a nice home and a great start to life.
  • Dad also inspired me to fight my own demons. Dad helped me see that we’re often our own worst enemies and that the single best thing to do in life is to come up with a method that works for us. For that, I couldn’t thank him enough.

Unexpectedly, I was blessed with a rare quiet moment with my 22-year-old son this morning. He lives at home and commutes to college, but he also works almost full time and has his own set of friends so I don’t get to see him that much. I warned him that I was going to put him on the spot with a deep question. He inhaled as if to say, “Oh crap.” I then asked him what is my legacy for him? I also asked him to not sugar coat it; give me the bad with the good. As a people, we’re capable of being very direct, and that’s what I am looking for. However, things have been quite smooth for a while and we’re sitting in the same room, so I readily recognize that there will be a positive bias. But alas, I’ll take what he gives. Here’s what he offered up:

  • You are always available when I need help
  • You taught me determination
  • You taught me how to think for myself
  • You taught me how to find my own happiness

As my family woke up or stopped by home, I continued to ask the cringe-worthy questions. Here are the subsequent answers proffered. In all cases, I asked for the “yeah but” or the “what should I be working on?” Again, I recognize the unlikelihood that a younger person would be so bold. But it honestly is how I parent. Give it to me straight gov’na.

From my 18-year-old daughter:

  • Fantastic Dad
  • Funny; you consistently spread the joy
  • Wise; really good at framing life lessons
  • Supportive
  • You taught me the importance of finding my people

From my 12-year-old step-son:

  • Good guitar player
  • Understanding

From my 10-year-old step-son:

  • Good soccer player
  • Pretty great person

From my better half, wife, life coach and zen master:

  • You’re my favorite person to spend time with
  • You embody Continuous Improvement – as in, you’re always trying to get better. And I don’t mean that you’re trying to grapple for what’s next; I mean you’re always trying to be a better person, a better role model and help others get better too.
  • However, your attitude toward Continuous Improvement can make you come off as judgy. You do great with people who are striving to get better, but you can be impatient with people who feel stuck or trapped.

Obviously, I’m flattered. Given that I get to run around in my own head all day, I wouldn’t be so universally positive. I also think my wife was spot on. I need to work on my ability to be patient with people who aren’t ready to develop. But instead of focusing on that at the moment, I’m taking what I’m given because that’s what people offered up.

As I wrap up this post, I’ll ask you some of some of these same questions.

What is your legacy as it stands today? What would the people close to you say about you?

Or if you’re more inclined, please let me know what my blog says about me? What impressions has it made on you? And please, feel free to give me the goods, gov’na. I won’t get better unless I hear it straight.

I close with gratitude and a genuine wish for a Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there!

 

From Middle America to Zen Buddhism

In an earlier post I offered to explain how a middle-class kid from conservative and deeply Christian Southern Ohio wound up nosing around a Japanese “non-religious” tradition and how Zen might help you be a little happier. Since I’m all about truth in advertising, here goes.

Seeds planted:

As I look back, Zen and meditation piqued my interest waaaaay back.

Kung Fu, Grasshopper

Perhaps like most Western boys in the 70’s, I developed a fascination with martial arts. I loved Bruce Lee and I loved the show Kung Fu with David Carradine. I saw “the Grasshopper” working on his skills and learning from his master. The show Kung Fu helped me realize that the martial art was about more than just kicking butt. There was a mental discipline that was needed to be a “master” and mediation and mindfulness was a big part of it. And then you kick butt.

Phil Jackson

I was also big fan of the Michael Jordan era Chicago Bulls. When Phil Jackson came on board as head coach, the team went from great to legendary. Sports-casting was entering the hyper-journalism cycle at that time. I gobbled up the program that talked about Phil’s Zen practice and how it influenced him and the early 90’s Bulls’ success. I was further intrigued.

Non-Western Religions and Philosophies

When I got my Bachelor’s degree as an adult learner at Otterbein College (now University), I was introduced into the liberal arts. My original degree in college is a technical degree, so we spent very little time on literature and philosophy. Its a good thing too, as I had just about zero interest in the liberal arts when I was just out of high school. If it isn’t going to help me make money immediately, you can keep it. As an adult learner with a family, I was much more open to the experience. My time at Otterbein changed my life for the better, but I’ll trim this point down to one class.

As an elective, I took Non-Western Religions and Philosophies. I learned two important concepts. First, I learned about monism – which is essentially the concept that God flows through – or IS – everything rather than the Western theistic notion that God is separate but interested in our world. Think “The Force” in Star Wars, because let’s be honest, the Eastern philosophies are where George Lucas got the concept. Second, I learned that in the Far East, people don’t generally think about “religions” or philosophies as exclusive. One could subscribe to Shinto and Confucianism and Buddhism all at the same time with no problem. These concepts opened new possibilities to me. I felt that I could investigate without stepping on the toes of my deeply conservative, Protestant upbringing.

Time of turmoil:

My career was taking off

I definitely started my career with humble beginnings. But at about the 10 year mark in 2007, it was starting to take off. I had gone back to college as a working professional and the experience expanded my horizons. I was taking on growth roles at work and my salary was growing at the same time. In ~2010 I landed a corporate leadership role that put me in the running for an executive position. I was completely out of my comfort zone. I was trying to get things done while not making a misstep. I was hyper-aware of my new surroundings at the executive leadership level and was hyper-sensitive to any and all feedback. Each day was a roller-coaster ride of emotion. In 2012, I landed my first executive role, but the turmoil in my head didn’t stop. I had finally “made it;” but now more than ever, I walked on egg shells because I felt that any mistake would set me back and betray the firm’s faith in me.

My marriage was falling apart

My success at work was making my wife at the time more and more uncomfortable. She and I had come from very humble beginnings in the blue collar heartland of America. The more I grew professionally, the more she put pressure on me to reaffirm my love for her. From about 2007 to 2010, we fell into this terrible pattern where she would find or invent and offense and then put the burden of proof on me to resolve her complaint. It was obsessive. It went on week in and week out. She was satisfied with the argument and apology cycle, but on the whole something else was deeply wrong and I was at my wit’s end.

I asked for more permanent solutions over the years: couples therapy, individual therapy, classes, books, whatever; all to no avail. Her standing position was, “No one is ever going to look into my head.” In June 2010, I had had enough and I told her I was separating. In separation, we did some couples and individual therapy, but it was too far gone.

I want to be very clear here. I genuinely believe that my wife at the time felt completely cornered by her emotions. I genuinely believe that she was doing what she thought was right to “save our marriage,” even though the jeopardy was in her head. The bitter irony is that for me, the cycle of chaos ruined our marriage. I also want to be clear that I take responsibility for my part in the downfall of the marriage. I simply did not have the tools to overcome the problem at the time.

Panic Attacks

Over the course of my promotion and simultaneous separation and divorce, I was under immense pressure. In 2010, my kids were 14 (son) and 10 (daughter). The 14-year-old had seen enough to know what was going on, but the 10-year-old was not ready for the change at home. At 10, kids see the world as categorically right or wrong. I had made the decision to separate the family and that, along with some encouragement from my estranged wife, made me dead wrong. Additionally, my estranged wife had enlisted the help of friends and family in the case against me, the family destroyer. Financially, I was operating at a $100 per month loss in order to keep the kids in their home and keep them in their sports activities. At the same time, I believed I needed to walk a tight-rope at work and I perceived winds gusting when they were probably at most a light breeze. Oh and then let’s further complicate things. While going through the divorce, I started dating – and that is absolutely another story.

All of this turmoil culminated into what I thought at the time was a heart attack. I was sitting in my office at work and I got this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. It raised up through my chest in through my esophagus and into my teeth. My chest hurt. My head hurt. It hurt to breath deeply and even worse to swallow. But like a good hillbilly, I didn’t go to the hospital. Instead, I took to the internet and realized I was having a panic attack. It was the first of many. I needed to do something about the stress in my life or I was in for some real trouble.

Meditation:

Journaling

This being the age of internet problem-solving, I spent a lot of time researching stress-relief techniques. I started journaling, which I would argue is a form of meditation. I found it was extremely helpful in getting my thoughts and concerns – whether they were work, family, or otherwise – out of the swirl in my head. I wrote and wrote. I wrote during lunch. I wrote in the evening. I got it all out. I weighed my relationship and whether or not I wanted to remain part of it. I wrote about my new environment at work and what I thought the perceived the issues were. The more I wrote, the more it helped. I never shared the writing with anyone, but the process helped me put everything into context. As I settled my mind with the journaling process, I began to look for what was next. I kept reading books and doing research. I came across various meditation techniques and eventually settled on Zazen.

Zazen

Zazen is an extremely simple meditation practice. Sit down, shut up, and stare at the wall for a period of time. Yep, that’s about it. Nothing special. And yet it is. I actually learned Zazen from reading several different books and doing a lot of online research. Most notably, I was influenced by Brad Warner and his fantastic little book titled Hardcore Zen. I’ve always been a “pull yourself up by your own boot-straps” kind of a person. I’ve also never been afraid to chart my own course. Brad’s brand of punk rocker Zen Buddhism really speaks to me. Through this simple practice of sitting, I have continued my personal development in profound ways.

Zazen in Action

Fast forward to 2016. About 6 months into my practice of sitting Zazen for 10-20 minutes a day, I was going through a bumpy patch in my new job. On of my coworkers was creating some challenges for me by making some half-truth negative claims about my work. I was really upset about it. I was about 2 years into my new job and I was enjoying some great success. I was being talked about by senior management as a contender for another executive position at this new company and in the midst of it, I was having to defend my integrity because of this person’s comments.

While this was going on, I was doing one of my routine Zazen sessions. I put on the timer, put the pillow down, and had a seat with an erect spine. I breathed normally and stared at a blank 3 foot section of my bedroom wall. A few minutes into my session, the wall in front of me started to “swirl.” For the simple fact that I’m trying to wrap up this post, I won’t get into everything that I “saw.” But the most important thing that I did “see” was that my coworker and I were the same person. It was a lot like watching a child gain awareness that the image in the mirror is hers and that she can control it. But my experience was like being the child and seeing it from a third person’s perspective at the same time. I was watching myself look into the mirror and seeing my coworker. When I talked, she talked. When I put my hand on my face, hers followed suit. It was in that moment that I will tell you rightfully and honestly that all the baggage I had been carrying about this situation melted away on the spot.

I realized that I had been in this person’s exact same spot a few years before and I had acted almost identically to how she was acting now. I instantly understood my coworker. I also knew that in the long run, my performance would stand up to the scrutiny because I honestly was doing the work that was being recognized. From that point on, I handled the coworker and similar situations with more poise. The beauty of that development is that it essentially sealed the deal for my promotion, which I’m happy to report happened about 6 months later.

In Closing:

I hope this post has intrigued you. I hope this post has explained briefly but clearly my background with Zen Buddhism and some of the benefits that I’ve experienced. However, I’m always happy to answer any questions you might have. Please post in the comments section or email me directly at quixotegoes@gmail.com if I can be of service in any way.

My Wife is a Zen Master

We’ve been doing a lot of travel lately. Since March, we’ve been to Ireland, Montreal, New York City, we ran a 150 mile relay race in Southern Ohio, and last weekend, we went to New Orleans. At first, I expected to write some travel-related posts about these trips, but as you might imagine, home life has kept me pretty busy in between. I mean, we have to work during the week to foot the bill for this Instagram lifestyle. Honestly, we’re a bit tired. We wouldn’t have chosen to do all of that travel in such a short period of time, but several of the trips were not really our plan. In fact, almost all of these trips were to celebrate birthdays of other people. We’re all for celebrating other people. But with so much travel and none of it really specific to our plans, I can get knocked off my game.

During the trip to New Orleans, we met several other couples to help one of my wife’s college friends celebrate her 40th birthday. We casually knew most people involved, but this wasn’t exactly a close-knit group for us. How bad can it be? We’re flexible and congenial and can get along with most anyone. Well… at least my wife can. I on the other hand, seem to invite controversy. When I talk to people about my past and the amount of arguments, threats of physical harm, and actual fist fights I’ve been sucked into, people are astonished. In fact, I wrote a whole other post – nearly 2000 words – about this topic but I have opted to scrap it because it sounded like a bit of a sob story. I’m not one for that. But suffice it to say, if a street bum is going to pick out someone from a group of 10 people and start messing with them, it is going to be me. I know, because I’ve seen it happen. Repeatedly.

OK, we get it, you seem to have a tractor beam for aggressive-types; so what’s this bit about your wife being a Zen Master? I’ll get there. So let’s say the trip to NOLA was not without its controversy. I actually handled it in stride during the trip. I took the grief I was given and offered myself up for a bit more. In the midst of the grief-handling, my daughter called me while crying because her car had broken down on a fairly busy community road. She and I worked together to sort it all out, and the bill was going to be in the $1200 range. I’ll come back to this in a minute. So, fast forward to Monday and people at work asked me how my trip went. I started giving one person some of the details about the grief I got and he was aghast. He said, “if that was me, I probably would have ditched the group and gone to the Jazz Fest on my own.” While I was rehashing the story, my Mom sent me a text. Over this same weekend, she took a break from the move into her new condominium, went to a casino for a couple of hours and won $1200 on the slots. I congratulated her good fortune but thought a bit more about it. I sent my wife the following text, “I spent the weekend as a social pariah and it cost me $1200 on our daughter’s car. My Mom played the slots for a few minutes this weekend and won $1200. She is definitely living righter than me.” I was mostly being funny, but many a true word is spoken in jest. My recap of the weekend to some of my co-workers had set the wheels of self-pity in motion.

At first, the Zen Master who is my wife played my comment down as funny. But then she said that I wasn’t a social pariah. What? You were there! I was incredulous. I began to recount to my wife the events of the weekend as if she hadn’t experienced them first hand. How could she say that I was not the outcast? She let me moan on for a bit all the while saying “OK” and “Sure.” If a man wants to dig a hole, there’s no point in standing in his way I guess. After I had more or less exhausted my digging, she hit me with this: “I don’t know why you’re upset now. You’re a nonconformist and you’re fine with the attention that it brings. I thought we had a nice weekend together.” She was right of course. We had a great breakfast at a lovely little French cafe. We had an incredible dinner at an Italian restaurant. We hung out together at a rooftop bar while the sun set. The weather was perfect. We held hands and walked around the French Quarter. I was down there for her, and here I was picking at the tiny dark spots on an otherwise amazing weekend. I let it go.

That evening, I was re-reading Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen, and about 10 minutes into my reading, the following passage hit me squarely between the eyes:

We try so hard to preserve the very thing that’s making us miserable. We cling hard to our pain because we mistakenly think that that pain is who we really are. We define ourselves by what we don’t like or we define ourselves by what we like. Either way we miss the truth. We harbor some inexplicable fear that if we start to enjoy everything about life without picking and choosing we might cease to exist.

– Hardcore Zen, Kindle Edition; location 2089

So my wife is now doling out the same advice as an ordained Zen Master. That psychology degree is starting to pay off. All joking aside, this is one of the multitudinous reasons why I profess my undying love for this woman. She makes me a better person.

If you’re wondering, I was able to simply let go of the “pain” I was holding onto. While my wife triggered my letting go, it is my study of Zen Buddhism and practice of Zazen that has helped me to shorten the the cycle of letting go. I’ll focus an upcoming post on how a middle-class kid from conservative and deeply Christian Southern Ohio wound up nosing around a Japanese “non-religious” tradition and how it might help you be a little happier. But until then, let’s make with the questions from this post… 

How does your significant other make you a better person?

Are you holding on to some pain that feels like it defines you? What might letting go of that pain look like?