On Materialism

When Mahatma Gandhi died he had very few possessions.  Popular media list these objects as a couple of bowls, a wooden fork and spoon, a diary, a prayer book, a couple of letter openers, two pair of sandals, his eyeglasses, a pocket watch, a spittoon, and his three porcelain monkeys (hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.)room

One of my goals in perusing a Zen lifestyle is to break free of the materialistic lifestyle I have become accustom to, or at least lessen the hold material things have on me.  I find that in all facets of my life I try to acquire more and more things.  I noticed that, even in my office at work, I would always opt for more when offered.  Morse space, more furniture, more pictures, more everything.  I feel a necessity to surround myself with more and more “stuff.”

Paradoxically, however, what I really want is less and less.  I really want simplicity.  But I quickly trade that simplicity for material things with any real understanding why I do it.  Why do I need 350 books on the shelf?  Why do I need two different game consoles?  Why do I even need one?  Do I need a coffee mug from every city I’ve ever visited?

This list goes on and on.  Literally thousands of objects that I hang on to (or some might say horde) for no apparent reason save that I might need them “someday” or for some sort of sentimental value.

So I have developed a five step plan to break the hold that material objects have on me and to create a more Zen-centered life style.


  1. One item in = two items out.  Simply put, for each item I buy (not including things like food, medicine, etc.) two items must go out.  The preference is that the item be similar to one another.  (No fair buying a big screen television and getting rid of a coffee mug and an old tennis ball.)  If I buy a new CD or DVD, two must go out.  This not only challenges me to get rid of material things, but helps me focus on if I really need the item or just want the item, and if so, at what cost?
  2. Get rid of one item each day.  Regardless if I buy something or not, I will get rid of one thing each day.  It could be anything, big or small, but the goal is to focus on breaking the materialism a little each day.
  3. Set a goal for a number of items.  It can be a short term goal, (like reducing the total number of items owned by 200 by December) or a long term goal (like reducing the total number of items owned to 100) or a combination of the two.  The important part is to make a goal and work at achieving it.
  4. Set the goal realistically  There is no way possible I could drop down to five to ten items tomorrow, or next week, or even next year.  Frankly, I don’t think I could ever get down to 10 items like Gandhi did.  But that isn’t the point.  The point is to break the hold that material objects have on a person.
  5. Focus on what each item that I am getting rid of means.  What is the nature of the object?  Why am I getting rid of it?  Why was I holding on to it?  This introspection doesn’t have to be a huge production with mediation time and gongs or anything, just an acknowledgement that I am doing this mindfully and with purpose.

Five tips for beginning meditation

I have been mediating for a few months now.  I have done some research and have Feng_Shuideveloped this list of what I think are the top five most important things about learning to mediate.  Of course I am still new to this, but at this stage in my journey, these are what I have found to be the most helpful.  Your mileage may vary.

  1. 1.  Focus on the Breathing.  Breathing is a great focus point when meditating.  It’s natural and it’s always with you.  As your mind drifts as you meditate, gently return your focus to the breathing.  One technique I like is to count breathing; inhale – one, exhale – two, inhale –three, exhale – four, ect. (Watch how your mind drifts as you count.)
  2. Posture is important.  Like the developing the habit of mediation itself, correct posture is also a habit.  Enforcing good posture now will become habit.  Be mindful of keeping your back straight and shoulders relaxed.
  3. Don’t worry about time.  When beginning to mediate, the goal is to get into the habit of mediating, now how long you can do it.  The goal at the beginning to make meditate; over time you can increase the amount of time you sit.
  4. Be aware of your monkey mind, but don’t try to tame it.  Trying not to force your mind to do something is very frustrating.  Don’t fight it.  When you notice the monkey mind, be patient with yourself and gently return to focusing on the breathing.  Perhaps later there will be a time to tame it, but for now, just be aware of it.
  5. Come with no expectations.  If you come expecting something mystical to happen, or to experience sudden enlightenment, or to be more relaxed, or less angry, you’re going to be disappointed.  I don’t mean to say these things cannot (or will not) happen, but to expect them only will lead to disappointment and frustrations and, in all likelihood, leading you to quit meditation.  Come only to sit.  And breathe.

Others are Enlightened.

813 on the Network+ exam.  Woot woot! I would have been fairly disappointed if I would have not passed after working in the IT field for the last 20 years.

Some I am buckling down and learning to program the iPhone.  My plan right now center around the book “iPhone for Programmers: An App-Driven Approach” by Paul and Harvey Deitel.  The basic premise of the book it to give the source code to 14 different apps and explain how each one works.  I think I will appreciate this approach because I enjoy reverse-engineering things to discover how they work.

I have downloaded the code and started looking at it a bit, but that is as far as I have gotten.  Still, a journey of a thousand miles…

In the Zen realm, today I will be practicing behaving that all those around me are enlightened and are hear to teach me something.   I wish I could have started practicing this earlier today as I tried getting my eight-old out the door.  Definitely not my most Zen moment.

But them I used this tool to address and issue I have with a person at work. Initially I was frustrated and angry because it seems this person has more than their share of problems and tends to create their own problems where none exist. 

So I asked myself “What are they trying to teach me?  What can I learn from this person?”  

I think, for this person at least,  the answer is patience and to not pre-judge situations.  So I am approaching this person’s issue in a methodical manner and not attaching any judgments I may already have formed to this situation.

I can’t say if it will resolve this person’s issue or not, but I know I am more calm and relaxed about it.

Practicing Patience and the Fence.

I am not a patient person at all. I like to think that I am, but clearly I am not. This is evidenced by how quickly I get angry. I am reminded of a Jerky Boys bit with one of their main characters, Frank Rizzo.

In the skit, Frank is calling a Substance Abuse hotline because his family and friends say he needs help. Frank insists it isn’t the bottle and a half of whiskey he drinks (chased by a six pack of beer or two) but his temper that is the issue. He says “I’m nutty, I’m a crazy kinda guy. I’m always swinging at the fences. You know? You get in my way I’ll run right over ya. I’m sick.”

In many ways, his statement rings all too true for me. The question becomes how can I change this habit in myself?

There is a old story about a man who is teaching his son about anger.  He tells him every time he is angry to pound a nail into a fence until he is no longer angry.  After a while of doing this, the son tells the father he has succeeded in controlling his anger.  The father tells him that is good, but now he wants him to pull out a nail every time he has succeeded in controlling his anger.  When he is finished pulling all the nails he returns to his father to tell him of his success.  The father takes the son over to the fence and shows him the holes.  He explains to the son that when you say or do things things in anger, even if you offer a thousand apologies, they leave a mark that can never be completely healed.

In my mediation I have tried not to get frustrated with myself as my mind wanders.  I think this is how I will cultivate patience.  Also I have mentally begun imagining pounding nails of my own into fences. 

I am hoping that between cultivating patience with myself and the mental image of pounding nails into a fence that I may control my anger better (or at least how I express that anger) and become a more patient person.


What is success?

The unwritten goal of this blog is to succeed.  But in order to do that, I need to first define success.  Mary Jaksch over at Goodlife Zen has an interesting post about achieving success while maintaing a person’s integrity.

I think success has two aspects to it, an internal aspect and an external aspect.  The external aspect is what others see.  These are the outward signs of success: fame, wealth, power.  The internal aspect, however, can only be sensed by the individual.  I call it their spirituality.  This spirituality can manifest itself in many ways, but some examples of the signs of this “success”, are serenity, peace, humility, and love.

I think of the tabloids and the gossip that the media continually reports.  Report after report of tragic stories about people that, by all accounts of what society considers as successful, should be happy and enjoying life.  Instead they reveal how hollow their lives are, how little satisfaction they have with what they have attained, and how lonely they are.

For all their wealth, power, and fame they seem to lack spirituality.

Spirituality and the external aspect of success are not mutually exclusive.  But I don’t think a person will ever consider themselves a success, regardless of how great their external achievements are, without attaining some measure of internal success.

My goal become more spiritual.  That, to me, is success.

The “Zen Den” is finished. Sort of.

I have been working for several weeks to empty a room to allow me to have some space to practice guitar and mediate.  The original name of the room was going to be “the man cave.”  But for some reason that name was not appriciated in the house as they did not see the humor in it.  (Living with three ladies I should not have been surprised at this…)  So the name was changed to the more fitting “Zen Den.”

The purpose of the room is to provide an empty space that was free of clutter.  I felt it was important to have one space that would allow me to practice my Zen activities without worrying about the rest of the family and getting in their way.  Additionally it will provide me a space to practice my guitar and a place to keep them (versus the dining room where they were being stored.)

The one big item that has been a stumbling block (both literally and figuratively) was the desk.  The desk took up a good 80% of the space in the room.  It was enormous.  We have a neighbor that has just moved in.  They are a young couple just starting out.  I asked if they would like the desk and they gratefully accepted.  I helped them move it into their house today.

I stood in my room and enoyed the space.

But the room is more than than simply a room to participate in these activities.  It is an ongoing testiment of my progress towards a more Zen way of living.  It is not finished yet.  I still have a way to go with getting rid of stuff.  But Zen is a practice, not necessarily a goal to be obtained in the normal sense of the word.


One think I have always aspired to do, other than learn to play guitar, is to learn to meditate.  I tried to mediate when I was a teenager.  My interest at that tie was probably due to the Beatles, with John Lennon being a key figure in my life at that time (for good or bad.)  However my interest waned in my 20s and 30s being less interested or less focused on spiritual things.  In the last couple of years, however, my interest has been renewed.

However I still had an issue of basically being without guidance on how to mediate.  I had a basic idea about what I was supposed to do, but there was always a sense of doubt that I was doing it correctly.  My attempts to find someone in the local area that was versed in traditional (eastern) mediation always came up empty.  

Recently I have come across a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn entitles “Wherever You Go, There You Are.”  I am only a few chapters into it as this time, as I am taking it slowly and deliberately (mindfully?) to work on each point as a develop my mediation style.  But so far I have greatly appreciated his insights and found his advise very useful in helping build my mediation skill.

I have also been focusing more on stopping throughout the day to take stock of where I am.  Today was a particularly nasty day, but stopping throughout the day to refocus and be more mindful of what was going on has been helpful in taking what would have been an over-the-top nightmarish day, in to one that was annoying, but still tolerable.  Perhaps, with continual practice, a day like today could someday just be another day.

One bright spot in the day was when my daughter called.  She is eleven and just wanted to ask me a question about a video game she was playing.  This was the bright spot of my day.

In other fronts, the “Zen Den” or “man cave” continues to progress.  This weekend I hope to empty it of furniture so I can move my guitars in there and have a decent place to meditate.

Serenity is a journey, not a place. And the blessing of worn shoes.



 Yesterday I had a good day.  I was quite calm and in control.  I was more like the person I want to be.  I wasn’t perfect.  Far from it.  But I felt I was making progress.

Today, not so much. I feed like all my foes are aligned against me.  There is some grand conspiracy to make me angry and destroy all the progress I felt I was making yesterday.  What happened?  Why was yesterday a good day and today is so horrible?  And more importantly what can I do to change it?

In many ways I think I need to just accept that some days will be good and I’ll feel like I am making some progress.  Other days will be like today.  I need to accept the good with the bad.  They are part of me.

As I was driving home, angry at the world for making my life miserable, I noticed I was writing speeches in my head.  What I was going to tell these people and let them know just who the heck they were dealing with!  I noticed, though, that my basic premise was an imagined one.  The basic reason I was angry was all created in my mind and never truly existed.  At least not in any real sense that mattered.  I was spinning myself up like a top.

So I turned on the radio and tried to empty my mind.  I was mostly successful, even relaxing to the point of spacing out at a stop light.  A moment of serenity!  Maybe I am making some progress….

Later I was at my daughter’s baseball game.  I noticed a family that had a child about my youngest daughter’s age.  He had a mild case of what I am assuming is cerebral palsy.  I noticed how his parents lovingly payed attention to him and it was moving to watch.  Then I noticed his shoes.  They were new.  No dirt.  No scuffs.  Laces were pristine.  They likely would remain that way until the young boy out grew them.  They would then be replaced by another pair of shoes that would also be outgrown and disposed of still in near pristine state.

I thought of how many times we have yelled at our children for getting their new shoes dirty or playing in the grass or running through puddles with their new shoes.

Until today I never considered what a blessing worn and dirty shoes represented.  Today I am thankful for those worn shoes.

The Snowballing Mind-set of negative thinking.

I have a few end users that, to put it bluntly, irritate the heck out of me.  It seems that some people go out of their way to make life a little less pleasant than it needs to be.

For example, today I was setting up a new user and the user needs a Blackberry and to be activated on Blackberry Enterprise server.  I just received the information yesterday (when I was out for the day) and the first thing this morning the people are clamoring to get this stuff done.  By and large the process, once initiated, is out of my hands and up to the replication between servers, the MS Exchange creation policy, etc.  It usually takes several hours, especially if the network is busy, for this to occur.  At lunch I get a message “reminding me” that they need this guys Blackberry activated, how important it is, how soon they need it, what is riding on this happening.

Now, in my “un-zen” mind set, I am thinking they are badgering me.  Don’t they think I know how to do my job?  Don’t they know this stuff takes time?  That is mostly out of my control?  That I have many other responsibilities as well?  Do they think I am not responsible enough to handle setting up a new user after doing this for 20+ years?

In Richard Carlson’s book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff he discusses the “snowball effect of your thinking.”  He discusses it in the context of being busy at work and how much there is do and getting yourself all tied up in knots about it.  But personally I have noticed how I do it with perceived slights with other people.

In reality, there are likely are no slights or digs.  Or any other ill will of any type.  Or if there is, it is probably out of frustration that the other person feels they have over being out of control of the situation or not getting the response they feel they need. 

But in the end, I have to end the snowballing effect in my own mind.  As in the example, certainly they are concerned with getting it done so the new guy can get to work on his first day Monday morning.  There is no slam on my ability.  He did not call in to question my technical prowess.  He is not chastising me or being critical of me.  He is just a concerned he does the best job he can.

The only one, in this case, being critical of me is me.

I tend to read stuff into the actions and words of others that aren’t there.  I need to work on being less critical of myself and transposing that criticism of myself onto other people.