Thursday, May 28, 2009

Goals, Guarantees and Absolution

(Taken from an old journal entry dated Thursday November 17, 2005)

I'm going to leave the "goal / guarantee" topic for now and think about forgiveness... There are so many things, embarrassing moments, that I constantly think about. These things I have done in the past. Sometimes the remote past that I cannot let go of. I need absolution bit I don't know how to get it. I need to absolve myself but I just can't seem to be able to do it. Perhaps meditating on this will give me some answers.

(Taken from an old journal entry dated Friday November 18, 2005)

Do goals, guarantees and the need for absolution all relate in some way? Goals and absolution relate in that they both are concerned with the self and making the self better. I suppose there are no guarantees that goals will be achieved or absolution will be attained. The link here is the nagging doubt of life (aka suffering or existential anxiety).

What can be done about it? I guess I hold out hope that meditation will open some doors. I don't know.

I'm beginning to think about Lent. One vow I'm considering is to wake up at 5:00am and either exercise or work on TT. Of course this will be in conjunction with not drinking. I'm also considering reading Aquinas...


Reliving embarrassing moments is not as much of a problem as it used to be. I think I can attribute this to being more aware of my mind and how it functions. Embarrassment is a form of anxiety usually centered on past events or the present situation but in both instances there is a perceived awareness of the disapproval of others. At this point I am better able to distance myself from those thoughts or observe them and this seems to have robbed them of most of their power to recycle themselves and generate more anxious feelings.

The absolution I spoke about had to do with forgiving myself. In these situations my embarrassment and related anxiety were a form of self punishment for the wrongs that I had committed. I had to forgive myself in order to stop punishing myself. I've often thought that the Catholic confessional was a ritualized way of allowing the self to forgive the self. Many things about Christianity seem to be external metaphors for internal truths. Perhaps these metaphors are easier to digest than the actual reality of the situation at first. That is of course if the metaphor is true. I'm not entirely sure about that but it is of interest to me.

Finally, I see that there are glimmers of hope for me to escape these prisons I have created for myself. One is meditation and the other is Lent (which in a way is really a drawn out period of meditation). These seem to be the keys to the prison somehow. At least I am drawn to them as such. The jury is still out on that one.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


(Taken From a Journal Entry Dated Tuesday November 15, 2005)

There are no guarantees in life. Even that statement is not a guarantee - because I suppose under certain circumstances there are. Let us say that as a general rule there are no guarantees. But sometimes there are exceptions.

So what is the next step? I suppose it is to make the best out of what you have. I am not ready to give up on success. I don't think that's what this is about. You have to do what you like doing. Let's define success as doing what you want to do.

I meditated for 20 minutes on the concept of no guarantees. Hughey barked at something. Part of me was frustrated that he broke my concentration. Part of me tried to treat it as a learning experience. That is, there is no guarantee that I will have 20 minutes of peace and quiet to meditate.

I did a few minutes of yoga un-timed. It felt good. I would like to get back into that routine. This gets us into the goal dilemma. How do goals relate to guarantees?

I have several goals. I want to be healthy. I want to be creative and productive. I want to be a valuable part of a team. I want to be successful and financially secure. Right now I do not feel like discussing how to achieve those goals.


This entry (as memory serves) was inspired by a meditation seminar I attended while going through my yoga training. The instructor made a point of emphasizing the fact that there are no guarantees in life and (I suppose) to the extent we expect them and they do not materialize we suffer. Interestingly, I made a connection between goals and guarantees. I think goals are a type of guarantee we make for ourselves. If only I can achieve this goal then I will be happy. That may or may not be the case. But then again, is having no goals a better alternative? Perhaps it is in the way we approach our goals. It is the mindset, or what we perceive is hanging in the balance depending upon whether the goal is or is not achieved.

Another observation I made while reading this is how "in my mind" I was when I wrote this. This is particularly evident to me in the third paragraph. I was trying to achieve something by meditating. Hughey was getting in the way of that somehow. I'm not sure I was aware at the time of what it was I was trying to achieve. I think that now I would say I was trying to achieve "mindfulness" or a higher level of awareness of how in my mind I was at the time. However, being so in my mind I was not able to see this. And yet, I still meditated. What a long (and tiring) unfolding process this has been.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hope Revisited

A tunnel without light at its end is a misery and the journey is difficult if not impossible. But a tunnel (however long) with a light at its end (however faint) can be traveled one step at a time. This is hope. It is not belief in an outcome, necessarily. It is a type of knowledge and a feeling at the same time. Hope is indeed a good thing.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Interview With A Friend on Making Decisions (Part IV)

LENTMAN : From my own perspective, I'm beginning to see that I have a problem which stops me from experiencing life on the level that other people experience their lives. I'm not sure how to overcome this.

FRIEND : Can you further describe the problem that stops you from experiencing life on the same level as others?

LENTMAN : Well, there seems to be something about my personality that shuts me down during the decision making process that is not present (or does not seem to be present or is present to a lesser degree) in you and others. It's not just mental but also physical. I get tremendously edgy (my heart beats faster), I get irritable and often depressed. It is a feeling of complete hopelessness. Then I get so caught up in these symptoms that all I want is to not experience them anymore which motivates me to look for the quickest way out. It makes it very difficult to rationally make decisions under those circumstances.

FRIEND : Interesting. I don't think I knew about the physical part that you described. Is this related to the question you posed to me about avoiding disapproval by others?

LENTMAN : Yes. I guess I assumed on some level that other people were somehow able to not feel this way or fight their way through these sensations when confronted with similar situations. I'm starting to see that is not an accurate assessment of reality. What I mean is, I am starting to see that other people do not feel these sensations in the first place.

Switching gears a little, here's something I've been wondering. How do you know what you want? There are decisions I think I want to make but then when I make them they bring me no happiness or worse, lead me to situations where I feel imprisoned. I think sometimes I convince myself that I should make certain decisions but I'm realizing that the reason I thought I should have made the decision was not necessarily because I wanted to but because I thought it was the right thing to do. So I'm really confused about how I even know what I want. I'm pretty good about knowing what I don't want after I get it, but I have difficulty know what I want before I make decisions. Do you have any insight?

FRIEND : I have this problem too. The way I like to make decisions is to experiment with the various options, look at what's out there, try them on for size, and see what seems to feel best. If you have the time, this works well for things like buying a couch. But there are lots of decisions where you don't get to do that... like choosing one wife to be with forever for example. I would have liked to have had thirty girls to choose from, but it's not like that -- you get to say yes or no to just one option. I'm not sure there's any good way to make decisions like that.

Figuring out "what you want" is a different kind of decision, because you don't get any choices really. You have to have some kind of vision of where you want to go I suppose, and you have to know yourself and the kinds of things that make you happy and then you have to be creative with the possibilities. This has not been an area of strength for me either. I've tried to adopt that attitude that you don't have to figure it out perfectly in advance to make improvements. You do need to know what you want to change and have some idea of which direction to go in, but getting it exactly right isn't necessary.

Another thought... What criteria have you used to determine what the "right thing to do" is? Clearly, sometimes we have to do things we may not otherwise do just because it is the right thing, like pick up dog poop for example. Figuring out the "right" choice is not always easy, especially for the big decisions. What are some of your criteria?

LENTMAN : I think I generally consider the right thing to be that which benefits the needs of others.

FRIEND : Which others?

LENTMAN : Anyone who is not me.

FRIEND : This is not always a clear distinction.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Interview With A Friend on Making Decisions (Part III)

LENTMAN : How did you come to realize what your preferences were and what steps did you take to make them happen?

FRIEND : It took some encouragement from [my wife] to start thinking differently. She was the one who pointed out that I spent a lot of time in the woods and seemed to enjoy it, so maybe I should try to get a job that allows me work in the woods. Frankly, that would never have occurred to me. I had been only considering the possibilities that had been presented to me, none of which seemed very appealing. But by getting a different perspective, I was able to consider an alternate set of possibilities. It's making me think of that game Minesweeper where you see only a limited number of squares, and then when you click the right one, you suddenly get to see a whole bunch of other squares.

Once I became exposed to the new possibilities I decided to go ahead and try forestry. It wasn't an easy decision, because I recognized that if I went down that path I was setting a course and perhaps giving up some other path, but I knew something had to happen, and it seemed like the best available option at the time. Once the decision was made, it was a matter of putting in the time and effort to make it happen. It was a multi-year process to make the change, and in some
ways it is still happening.

LENTMAN : So it seems that supportive people definitely make a difference in the decision making process. In a sense, this is an outside influence impacting the decisions you make. Is there some kind of filtration process that you use to determine to whom you listen to make decisions?

FRIEND : Certainly, as I mentioned earlier, the people who are dependent on me (my immediate family) have a very high impact on the process. And I will certainly listen to advice from other people, especially if they know me well and are familiar with the situation. But it's more than just who I listen to when making a decision. At this point in my life, I don't really make big decisions on my own at all. Anything of any consequence ends up being a family decision, so [my wife] and I talk it through and make the decision together.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Interview With A Friend on Making Decisions (Part II)

LENTMAN : I was named after my father and at some point it was impressed upon me that that I had an image and legacy to live up to. Unfortunately I think I interpreted that to mean I had to follow a path that did not make the best use of my talents. But anyway, did your parents impress upon you that you had to live up to some image? It seems significant to me that you initially chose a career in math which was the same career path both of your parents took.

FRIEND : As I said, my parents were very controlling of me during my childhood, and they had a lot of influence over what I did, and few choices were left to me. Choosing math was a combination of this and the fact that I had nothing else that was an obvious choice for me (again, I'm not particularly good at big decisions). My parents thought I should major in math, I was good at math, there was nothing else, so math it was. It wasn't really an image thing though. Mainly my parents just wanted me to get prepared for a safe, secure job, and they thought a mathematics degree would enable me to get a job similar to the ones they had (working for a big corporation). From their perspective It was a familiar and reliable path so they encouraged me to go that way. Since I had no better plan, I went along with it. Eventually, I came to realize that I actually did have preferences of my own and began to pursue them. It took a while though. I sometimes feel envious of people who know what they want to do with their lives from an early age. On the other hand, not knowing what you want to do enables you to explore and look around, and that can be enjoyable if you have the right attitude.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Brief Note Regarding Talking About Meditation

I just finished a great book about meditation called "The Joy of Living" by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. Towards the end he mentioned that it is better not to talk about experiences had during meditation because it tends to promote pride which is somewhat antithetical to the process. I think (from my humble and inexperienced position regarding the topic) that this makes a lot of sense. Therefore, in that spirit I will only discuss meditation in a general way without discussing my own personal experiences, going forward.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Logical Tapestry

There is a temptation with this type of introspective bloggery to think all these ideas and concepts will fit into a system, or logical tapestry. And when that tapestry has been conceived new ideas that may or may not be congruent with the tapestry are now considered within the context of the tapestry rather than on their own unique merits. Of course the tapestry makes things more efficient and easier to understand and there is value with that, however, a question remains. Is the tapestry reflective of reality? If it is then great. If the tapestry is false, however, then its chief value lay in its ability to generate an illusory sense of security. It could be argued that an illusory sense of security is better than no sense of security at all. However, the thing about illusions is that they eventually fade away and cause suffering if they are relied upon and there is nothing to replace them. So what then? Is the answer to reject all tapestries and take in everything on its own merits? That seems cumbersome. Perhaps the answer is to adopt a tapestry but be open to the possibility that it might be false. This option does not seem to provide the same security as a tapestry in which one is fully invested.

So then why not become fully invested in a tapestry rather than to hold it at arms length? This brings me back to the post I made entitled "The Magic of Rigid Dogma". In that post I talked about an Evangelical Christian friend of mine who fully believed (or appeared to believe) that he was right and all those who believed differently were not only wrong, but damned. This tapestry of his certainly delivered to him a sense of comfort and security. But really, the only way for that tapestry to have the power to deliver security is to become fully invested in it. If the tapestry is correct then all is well. But maybe, even if the tapestry is false all is well as well. What I mean is, perhaps the security of the tapestry is enough. Or perhaps fully investing in a tapestry is a vehicle to get to a higher level. But then again, perhaps the idea that security is what is needed in the first place is false. If true then there is no need for a tapesty and perhaps there is security in that.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Interview With A Friend on Making Decisions (Part I)

In Lentman's continuing series of interviews with his life long friends he now turns to a particular friend chosen for his seemingly masterful ability to make decisions to shape his life as he sees fit. Enjoy.

LENTMAN : You have always impressed me by your ability to make choices to improve your life even if it brought about the disapproval of others. First of all, is this an accurate description of your state of mind? If not, why not? If so, what do you attribute this to?

FRIEND : I find this to be a really interesting question, and I've been thinking about it quite a bit. The timing of the question is also interesting since we have just gone through the process of deciding as a family whether to relocate. With three kids it will be a big change, and it's challenging to alter the course of so many lives. Still, after much deliberation, we arrived at the conclusion that it is a worthwhile and positive change to make.

I believe that approval and disapproval of other people more-or-less balance out. There will likely be people who won't like the change, but there are also others who will like it. But actually, that doesn't really matter. I'm assuming in your question that the people who disapprove are outside of my immediate family. Obviously, disapproval by my immediate family could not be so easily disregarded. Their happiness and mine are interwoven. They are dependent on me, so I must weigh their concerns. But with regard to those who are not dependent on me, since it is impossible to please everyone, it's probably not worth the trouble of trying. I try to do what's best for my family, and let the chips fall where they may.

Also, if the change we're talking about is one that would truly improve my life as the question states (and presumably the lives of my family), then the people that matter would surely approve. If they were to disapprove of an improvement in my life, then they probably don't care too much about me, so why should I care what they think?

So, what do I attribute this to? I'm not sure. Decisions are hard for me, so I try to simplify them. Considering too many factors would make them even harder. Also, to get a little Freudian, I had very little freedom as a child. As an adult I value my independence and sometimes resent it when I feel like someone is trying to control me. Disapproval may actually spur me on.