Notes from the Desert Day Three

Day Three (Links for Days One and Two)

I spent more time with De Mello’s book last night (referenced in Day One’s post). There are many passages that hit home for me. At one place, he mentioned how we were invited by Jesus to become like children.

A child starts off life looking at reality with wonder. I see it in you, Vera. It’s a joyful experience, both for you and those of us who observe and are near to you. But then something happens as we travel into adulthood. De Mello sums it up this way:

“Then wonder dies and is replaced with boredom.”

One of the reasons I’m in the desert is because I was bored.

I understand it doesn’t have to be this way. And I’m coming to better understand why it is. And what the things are that are blocking me from becoming like a child. I’m understanding better what the distractions are and the harmful effects these distractions have on us individually, as well as on our society. I’m understanding that illusions and false beliefs are anything but benign.

A child doesn’t feel irrelevant. Insignificant. Bored (sans school-induced boredom). Existential questions don’t steal the wonder from the child’s life. A child experiences wonder all the time. A child lives in the moment.

Yet an adult’s thoughts, often lodged in either the past or future (more likely, both), make that hard — or perhaps even impossible on a sustained basis.

But “I am not my thoughts,” said De Mello.

Then who am I?

For now, I’m someone …

In the desert.

Leaving the Desert

I left the desert yesterday. To this. Snow clouds. Not far from home. Two days ago I was walking alone through the desert. This morning I awoke to falling snow and the prospect of having to shovel today. The desert certainly has its advantages!

Aside from the obvious benefit of not having to shovel, was my time in the desert worth it?

At first I was suppressing the question because I wanted to avoid assessing or judging the experience and instead just wanted to accept it for what it was. But last evening, after arriving home and having a wonderful time with my wife, at dinner at Bluebeard and later at home, I couldn’t avoid the obvious answer: the decision to go to the desert was a good one.

I’ll be posting some contemporaneous reflections starting tomorrow — some journal notes from last week, culminating with some final thoughts with a posting a week hence.

For now, suffice it to say that, at least in my experience, the decision to spend some time alone and away, in the desert, separated from my normal daily routine, unconnected entirely from work and career demands (the first time since 1983!), in semi-solitude, meditation, and contemplation, was a good one.

Was it life-changing? That remains to be seen. At the very least, though, it was life-enhancing.

More to come.

Update: After shoveling the walk with my hurting back, I decided this was for the birds and walked the two blocks to Ace Hardware and purchased a snow blower. One alternative was to return to Arizona. The other alternative was to hide in the basement meditating while my wife shoveled the driveway, but thus far I haven’t managed not to feel guilty about such behaviors.

Update 1/13/19: We ended up with 7 inches of snow. Thank god for snow blowers!

Desert Time

One of my resolutions for 2018 was to take a solo silent retreat. I’m a bit late, but better late than never. This morning I left for the desert. For a week. Alone. Off the grid. No work, conference calls, client contacts, appointments, emails, internet, television, newspapers, blogs, Twitter, phone calls, or stock trades. No intentional or voluntary distractions. None.

I’ve never done this. It’s appealing theoretically; however, I really have no idea what it will be like in reality. It could turn out to be a really bad idea. I hope not.

I have no goals for the week. It was tempting (I seem to need goals, which is part of the problem), but I thought better of it. I decided it would be best to relinquish control and leave my goals and expectations behind. And to focus on mindfulness, meditation, and reflection. With no distractions or preconceptions.

I suppose this trip to the desert is part of my quest for greater awareness and acceptance of reality, freedom, unshakable contentment, and unconditional happiness.

Put differently, I want to be as well as possible. For that to happen, I believe I need to break the spell of being distracted by mindless, uncontrollable thoughts, senseless concerns and worries, and false perspectives. In short, I seek greater freedom and deeper contentment. In order to flourish.

What freedom do I desire? To be free from expectations. Demands. Biases. Prejudices. Judgments. Falsehoods. Illusions. Delusions. Disappointments. Worry. Frustration. Desires. Guilt. Despair. Projections. Labels. Attachments. Insecurities. Fear. Uncontrollable thoughts. Boredom. Rumination. Resentments. Insomnia. Compulsive eating. Stress. Dark thoughts. And suffering.

I’ve come to understand that, for that to happen, I have much to unlearn and many insights to gain into how and why I think and feel the way I do. I need to become more aware and see reality more clearly. And not be a slave to my mind.

“Time spent undistracted and alone, in self-examination, journaling, meditation, resolves the unresolved and takes us from mentally fat to fit,” according to Naval Ravikant.

Stillness is the word that comes to mind. Not doing. Just being.

Will a week alone in the desert help?

I guess I’ll find out.

New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are silly and a waste of time. Just in case I’m wrong, here are mine for 2018.

  • Meditate daily
  • Read at least one book per week
  • Volunteer and make new friends at the nursing home down the street
  • No alcohol from Monday through Thursday
  • Avoid ice cream and candy and press my War on Sugar
  • Exercise daily, with three or more intense workouts a week
  • Discover one or two great investment ideas
  • One silent solo retreat
  • Focus more on myself and the people and things that are important to me and over which I have some control or influence, and less on politics and society

What To Do When Confronted by Bad Behavior

Everyone is confronted (aka victimized) by bad behavior from time to time. Sometimes it comes at the hands of a boss. Or spouse. Or friend. Or customer service rep. Or fellow driver. Or any number of other people whose paths cross ours.

It was tempting to write bad “people” versus bad “behavior.” But that would be an overreach. I used to think there were bad people. And perhaps there are. But I now try to distinguish people from their behavior, recognizing that all (or at least the vast majority of us) do some bad things at times. Moreover, I’m weary of the demonization of people, which seems to be a national pastime among certain groups. So I’ll focus on behavior.

All of us are imperfect of course. All of us wear gray hats. When we think our hat is pure white, or others’ hats are pure black, we delude ourselves, not in a benign way, but in a toxic way. Unfortunately, it’s a story that sells, particularly in times such as this. But it’s based in something other than reality.

In any case, no matter where people land on the morality and ethics continuum, people are capable of behaviors that can fairly be described as bad — at least from our perspective. Basically, it means it’s hurtful to us. Or disadvantages us or others in a way that seems unfair to us. You’ll know it when you see it, Vera. And when you feel it. And I guarantee you, you will see and feel it in your life. Perhaps many times.

I’m writing about this because I haven’t been very good at dealing with bad behavior, at least not in my personal life. I’m better at it in my professional life, that is, when representing people or organizations as their lawyer. I suppose it’s easier in that context because it’s not personal with me and, therefore, I’m not emotionally invested. In one’s personal life, it’s hard not to react emotionally.

So what have I learned over the years about reacting to bad behavior? Continue reading