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.

What Do I Understand Now That I Wish I’d Understood Then?

What do I understand (or at least think I understand) now that I wish I had understood when I had began my journey through adulthood? It’s of no consequence to me, of course: it’s impossible to turn back the clock. But it might be of some help to you, Vera.

In looking back I’m struck by how naïve I was when I came out of high school and, four years later, college. I had little appreciation for what the world was really like. Growing up in a working-class family in homogenous rural south-central Pennsylvania hadn’t exposed me to much. My world was very small.

More than four decades of career experiences in law, business (CEO), government (special agent for DOD and, later, cabinet secretary), and higher ed (college president) changed that. To a degree. There is still much about life I don’t understand or, perhaps more accurately, refuse to accept. I’m still learning and always will be. Nonetheless, life has imparted a few lessons along the way.

Some of the lessons were easy to learn; some were hard. Some were moments of euphoria and left fond memories; some were painful and left scars. Others were learned merely by reading or observing. (It’s always preferable to learn from other people’s wisdom or mistakes.) I decided to compose a list of what I consider to have been some of the most important lessons.

What the list isn’t, however, is a list of rules to live by. I’m not fond of rules and would never suggest life is so easily mastered. Moreover, as I’ve mentioned before, I have absolutely no desire to tell you how to live your life, Vera. Rather, I’m simply sharing some of the things I wish I had better understood when I was young, starting out.

Some of the lessons are practical; some are of the existential variety. The list is neither complete nor final. After all, I’m still learning.

Please don’t infer an order of priority, for none is intended. “You” and “your,” below, refer to me; it is as if life is speaking to me. Occasional personal comments follow parenthetically. Continue reading

Speaking from Ignorance

One thing I’ve learned over the years, Vera, is that we think we know far more than we actually know. And we’re not shy about speaking out of ignorance.

I suppose it’s always been the case. But it seems worse now, coming on the heels of decades of unrelenting partisan propaganda. I also suspect that, as much good as the Internet has facilitated in the world, it has contributed greatly to the spread of ignorance. It’s certainly has made it easier to reach a receptive audience. Continue reading