The Boat and Two Arrows

Imagine yourself lying in a small rowboat on a calm lake, enjoying the gentle rocking of waves.  When all of a sudden another boat bumps into your boat, startling you with a loud bang and a sudden jolt.  Initially you’re angry — someone else deliberately bumped into your boat and interrupted your quiet moment.  What an ass!  However, when you sit up and look at the boat, you notice it’s empty.  The wind and current you were enjoying a moment ago pushed this other boat into yours.  Yet now you’ve lost concentration and your tranquility along with it.

Your discomfort is a result of two metaphorical arrows being shot at you.  The first arrow was the initial surprise and shock of another boat running into you.  The wind and current shot this arrow at you.  However, the second arrow was the anger that took away your calm state of mind.  You shot the second arrow at yourself.

The first arrow could not be avoided — you cannot control the other boat.  However, the second arrow could have been avoided.  If you were not so quick to assign blame and hence become angry, you could have continued to enjoy your serenity even after the initial disruption.

I expect this hypothetical story sounds familiar.  We commonly invent scenarios in our heads before we know all the facts.  We make assumptions about other people and we let those assumptions anger us, which creates a false distance between us and others.

Compassion breaks down assumptions about people, and hence lessens anger and its control over our mood.  Through practicing compassion we can avoid shooting ourselves with a second arrow.  Without shooting a second arrow we’ll be nicer to both friends and strangers, and we’ll be happier, too.  Try not to shoot the second arrow.

Story credit: here and here.  Photo credit: here.

Patience to Find the Way

A young boy traveled to Japan to a school of a famous martial artist.  He wanted to be a student.  This young boy — when he arrived at the dojo — was given an audience by the sensei (teacher).

The teacher said, “What do you wish from me?”

The student responded, “I wish to be your student and become the finest student in the land.  How long must I study?”

The master replied, “How long do you think you should study?”

“I want to study for as long as I need to study.  How long should that be?”

“10 years at least!” the master answered.

“What if I study twice as hard as all your other students?”

“20 years, then.”

“20 years?!  What if I practice day and night with all my effort?”

The master answered, “Then it would be 30 years.”

“How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me it will take longer?”

“The answer is clear,” said the teacher, “when one eye is fixed on your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way.”

In other words, a full, complete presence gives us more clarity and a broader view to find the way.

Source: The Power of Patience

Mindfulness and Meditation Resources

I’ve received several requests for mindfulness and meditation resources.  I got into meditation several months ago, and it’s now a big part of my life.  Just like I look to running or cycling for physical training, mindfulness and meditation are great ways to relax and stretch our minds.

I spend most of my time listening to Dharma talks and following guided meditations.  Dharma talks are typically 60-minute talks that are about self, subjects ranging from fear to death to love and joy.

Dharma Talks

A huge repository of dharma talks are available here: dharmaseed.org.  Click on “talks” and either view the most recent talks (there’s an RSS feed, too), or search for things like “forgiveness” or “difficulty” or “love,” whatever you’re interested in hearing.  These are talks about life and self, and they’re very interesting perspectives.  They are not meditations.

Guided Meditations

There are good, free guided meditations at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. This short meditation is great, too.  Jack Kornfield has wonderful guided meditations for sale, too [1].  I enjoy meditations on loving kindness, forgiveness, breathing, awareness, joy, and working with difficulties.

What I tend to do is meditate 2-3 times per week, for anywhere from 5-45 minutes each.  I listen to a Dharma talks on the bus, car ride, or while working out.  The Dharma talks provide the perspective, and the meditations are like lifting mind weights that produce happiness instead of big muscles.

[1] Jack’s CD collection comes with two CDs, each with three meditations. The three meditations are combined into one long audio track, making it hard to jump around between meditations. To help with this, I’ve copy-pasted the start and end of each meditation below.

Breathing Meditation:
session: 1
start: 5:17
end: 28:15

Loving Kindness (Metta):
session: 1
start: 33:47
end: 55:45

Forgiveness:
session: 1
start: 1:00:37
end: (end of session)

Working with Difficulties:
session: 2
start: 1:19
end: 11:50

Gratitude and Joy:
session: 2
start: 15:00
end: 27:25

Mind like sky
session: 2
start: 29:20
end: (end of session)

Finding Your Edge

I want to share a wonderful little story from Patricia Genoud-Feldman’s talk about learning from fear.  This story is about finding your edge:

There’s a story about a group of people climbing to the top of a mountain.  It turns out it’s pretty steep.  And as soon as they get to a certain height a couple of people look down, notice how far it is, and completely freeze.  They had come up against their edge and they couldn’t go beyond it.  Their fear was so great that they couldn’t move.

Other people tripped on ahead, laughing and talking.  But as the climb got steeper and more scary, more people became scared and froze, too.  All the way up this mountain there were places where people met their edge, froze, and couldn’t go any further.

The moral of the story is that it really doesn’t make any difference where you meet your edge.  Just meeting your edge is the point.  Life is a whole journey of meeting your edge again and again.  That’s where you’re challenged.  That’s where if you’re a person that wants to live, you start asking yourself questions, “Now, why am I so scared?”  “What is it that I don’t want to see?”  “Why can’t I go any further?”

The happy people who got to the top weren’t the heroes of the day.  They just weren’t afraid of heights.  They are going to meet their edge somewhere else.  The ones who froze at the bottom were not the losers.  They simply stopped first and so their lesson came earlier than the others.  However, sooner or later everybody meets his or her own edge.

It occurs to me that my love for adrenaline sports such as snowboarding, snowmobiling, skateboarding, and cycling is based on my desire to find my edge.  I love trying bigger, scarier things.  Even when I fall or get hurt, I love getting back up and trying again.

10 Tips for Happiness

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a guest post by a very dear friend of mine.  I’ve known him for many years now, and in the last two or three months I’ve witnessed him transform from a negative, pessimistic, bored, and unmotivated person to a positive, happy, driven, don’t-take-no-for-an-answer type of guy.  I asked him what was the cause of his big turnaround.  He responded with the post I’ve included below.  I’m honored to be the host of this wonderful collection of inspiring advice.  And I hope many of you can relate and benefit from his advice as well.

1) Procrastination is bad. If you’re unhappy, your state of mind often won’t change without an effort to actively seek change. The days, weeks and months go by and then you might wonder how you’ve endured a situation for so long. Negative emotions build over time and you may feel increasingly trapped. Taking control of your situation immediately could be the first step to happiness.

2) Plan your financial situation for the long-term. If quitting your job is what you need to move on to the next step in your life, that decision is unlikely if you don’t have some savings. Quitting a job without another employment opportunity lined up is sometimes necessary because it makes available more time to search for other opportunities and can contribute to your general happiness, making you more confident and allow you to project a better attitude to all who you encounter, including potential employers. Maybe sleeping on a friend’s couch for a few months is an option; there are many to explore.

3) Beware of emphasizing money as your guiding factor in life. Obviously money has varying importance in people’s lives. For people who have a spouse or dependents to support, money could be of greater necessity than someone who is single. If it means your income must go down to increase your happiness, and you can still live comfortably, it’s probably a healthy decision.

4) Continually challenge yourself (Never be intimated). Being confident can allow someone to make decisions they truly desire, but are difficult decisions to execute. As long as you’re being respectful and not harming others, recognize what you wish you could do and set incremental challenges for yourself to meet those goals. There will be setbacks, but with perseverance, in challenging yourself, you will build your confidence and probably your happiness.

5) Seeing decisions as binary can cause anxiety. Success and happiness are never reduced to one situation. Some people choose to define themselves by certain achievements like going to a particular school, working at a particular company or getting a particular score on a test. Most people don’t get exactly what they want and rather than allowing a disruption in plans to depress, it’s important to slow down, be creative and think about your range of options. What seems like a disappointment in the present could be a blessing in the future, or a detriment, depending on how the situation is approached.

6) Consulting professionals or friends for advice is helpful. Consulting professionals is expensive and consulting friends is not, so considering what you can afford is as important as considering which path can provide the most assistance.

7) Don’t be afraid of the unknown. Sometimes experiencing life without a grand plan can be a rewarding emotional experience. In our very structured society there is always a need to plan. Just because society emphasizes having a detailed plan does not mean you have to (in the short-term).

8) Focus on projecting positive energy. With friends, colleagues, family…. It’s healthier and emotionally easier to be happy. Determine your plan to maintain happiness. One example, there’s evidence that regular exercise increases positive emotions. If you tend to be negative, devise a plan.

9) Don’t blame yourself. If your life isn’t going as planned, don’t enter a downward spiral by attributing all perceived failures as your fault. If you are blaming yourself, you’re probably ignoring your many accomplishments. Be balanced with self-critique. Use it as a tool to make your future decisions.

10) Comparing yourself to others serves no logical purpose. Acknowledge who you are and what makes you unique, both positive and negative qualities. Placing your accomplishments only in the context of others is harmful, regardless of whether you’re doing it to belittle or build-up yourself.

Leaders: Inspire Confidence

I was first introduced to the phrase “inspire confidence” a long time ago.  I didn’t really know what the term meant until I went through a period where I lacked confidence in myself.  A leader needs to inspire confidence, because confident people are better employees in every single way.

When we’re confident we’re not scared to express ourselves — we don’t feel an urge to dampen our abilities by looking for approval elsewhere.  We’re not scared to publish a blog post or send an email without a review first.  We’re not scared to refactor a shit load of code.  We’re not scared to take a meeting with a big customer, or try a new, bold way of marketing something.  Confidence, in addition to enabling more happiness, sets us up to do beautiful, innovative things.

I can’t help but think of Burning Man when I think of confidence.  As I’ve said before, Burning Man is in part about radical self expression.  That self expression comes out because people don’t have social pressure that would otherwise impact their confidence.  There is no social norm at Burning Man, and hence all someone can be is their self.  The result is beautiful, innovative, and clever art.

If you’re in a position of influence, do your best to inspire confidence among your team.  The entire team will be happier, more innovative, and ultimately better employees.  And they’ll like you more for it, too.

This TED talk is somewhat relevant to inspiring confidence.  It talks about inspiring happiness and positivity, which goes very much along with inspiring confidence.

The Evil Wolf and the Good Wolf

My good friend Aaron shared a really neat parable with me that I wanted to share here.  It was originally found on Quora.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Hard Times Open Our Hearts

My last post was definitely the best one I’ve written, at least in my own opinion.  I feel like I related so well to many of you who I know read my blog.  And after thinking a little about why that seems to be the case, I realize it’s because I’m struggling just as much as many of you are.

Hard times open our hearts to others and let us be more compassionate and giving.  Sure, hard times are difficult and negative and dark.  But they bring us closer to those around us, to those of us that are struggling, too.

Keep Going

This startup thing is an emotional roller coaster.  Some weeks are amazingly positive, with tons of product progress and great meetings.  And others are slower, with technical problems that won’t get better.  I wanted to share some inspirational thoughts I’ve had lately, in hopes that they’ll be useful to you, too.

Problems aren’t worth solving if they’re not challenging.  A startup that isn’t difficult to build will have lots of competitors, or won’t tackle big enough problems to change the world.  I’m in this to change the world, so for better or worse I’m tackling very challenging problems.

During those challenges, though, it’s so easy to doubt yourself.  To think you’re not capable of doing it.  To think you’re not good enough, or don’t have the right experience or skills to carry on, or that you’ll screw it up anyway.  Bull shit.  You can do anything you put your mind to.  You just need to keep going.  Never stop.  And don’t let anything, especially yourself, stop you.

The most challenging things we do are what make us who we are. They bring out our nervousness and negative emotions, such as self doubt, and tune us into who we are and who we will become.  They make us stronger, more durable, and they open our hearts to those who are suffering and in difficult times, too.

I expect most of you have at least one challenge going on right now.  Maybe you’re unsure about your ability to write good code.  Or maybe you’re scared you’re pursuing the wrong major.  Or maybe you’re moving to a new city without a job lined up.  Times are hard.  But it’s these times that we’ll look back at when we’re older and be proud of.

And be proud right now.  Be proud for having the courage to be where you are right now, to be facing the challenge in the first place.  You’ve already overcome so much.  Just keep going, damnit.  Keep going until you’re sitting on top of the mountain you just moved, looking down at how you’ve made (or will make) an impact in the world.  Because you will if you haven’t already.  You just have to keep going.