Buddha Meets the Matrix

What does Buddhism have in common with The Matrix?

I've just returned from a weekend retreat at Kripalu with Professor Robert Thurman, the first Western Tibetan Buddhist monk.   This was a deep-dive immersion into Buddhist philosophy.  Thurman makes several connections between Buddhism and the Hollywood blockbuster The Matrix.  

The Apparent Becomes Transparent:   One of the core practices of Buddhism is meditation, the practice of disconnecting the brain as you lose your sense of self. Thurman says, "You are like one of the characters in The Matrix, present and active as a real being, yet at the same time realizing that the apparent reality that surrounds you is only illusory."  The characters in the Matrix pass through different levels of being,  Which is their real world?  The one connected via the computer, or the one with which they see around them?  Who is the real enemy, which one of the thousands of Agent Smiths?  

There is no reality,  you create your own reality:    The mild-mannered soft-spoken Neo (aka Keanu Reeves) can not conceive that he could be the Matrix.  Note the pun in his name being Neo, which stands for "The One".  Neo thinks to himself, I am a nobody, I can not possibly be the hero of the world.     Thurman draws the connection back to Buddhism, "None of us knows who we really are.  Facing that and then becoming all that we can be- astonishing, surprising, amazing- always fresh and new, always free to be more, brave enough to become a work in progress."  Buddhism calls on each and every person to aspire to be their best self, to cultivate a life filled with Generosity, Justice, Patience, Creativity, Contemplation and Wisdom.  Can you be brave enough to see yourself as a work in progress and to strive for more?  Can you become all that you can be?

Control your mind, control your life.   Neo's triumph in the movie, is his ability to learn to control his mind thoughts.  He achieves mastery even going so far with sci-fi special effects to deflect flying bullets with his powerful mind thoughts.   Thurman notes " The mind is the most powerful controller in the whole universe. It determines not just what you do, but how you interpret what you do.  It determines how you make decisions, what you chose to remember, and how you plan for the future.  Your mind is responsible for all of your experiences, bad and good."  The Buddhist mindset calls on us, in each and every moment of our day, to choose how you see and experience the moment. 

As an executive coach immersed in coaching executives to achieve their best possible self, I strive to share these concepts with my clients while also applying these ideals to my daily life.   Thurman notes that you don't need to convert to Buddhism.  No matter what your religion, the Buddhist principles of compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline apply to you. 

I embrace seeing myself as a work-in progress, and the journey ahead....For more Robert Thurman's amazing lectures are podcasts available at https://bobthurman.com/   

 

 

 

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What to Do on 'Dip Days'

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I recently met up with an entrepreneur. She is doing everything she can for her company and its customers. Unfortunately, she feels as though all this giving is draining her.  Her personal gas tank is getting empty. She has embarked on a very noble and ambitious campaign to re-charge.  

My heart goes out to her.

All this made me think of "self care," and what we all need to do to re-energize. For this post, I won't cover those long stretches that can be depleting periods: those first months at home with a newborn child, the first months of incubating your start-up, or the stretches of caring for elderly parents.  Instead, I'd like to cover the episodic random days, those days during which we just feel off our A-game.

I call them "dip days."

Dip days can happen for many apparent reasons--or, none at all. Everyone has them. I've learned over time that the following can help:

Cover the basics. Sleep, Nutrition, Water, Oxygen.  Ask yourself: Are you sleeping enough, are you eating well, and are you hydrated?

It is amazing how "the basics" can often be overlooked. A business trip can throw us off schedule. Children are home and sick and kilter our schedules. We run, run, run. We forget to eat or chow down quick meals on the go. We (gasp) grab food without really replenishing.   Now, make it happen to eat the "good" calories, vegetables, fruits, and skip the empty carbs. 

Drink water, lots of water, more water than you can imagine ever drinking in a day. The Mayo Clinic has an easy to remember rule of thumb: "Drink eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day."

Now, did you know that every cup of coffee and every drink of alcohol actually dehydrates you? Try skipping the coffee or the alcohol for a week and see how your body naturally starts to regulate back to equilibrium.

Get eight hours sleep a night for a week.  Go crazy even, and dare yourself to make it 10 hours sleep and see what happens. Make that commitment in your iPhone calendar and block off the "meeting" with your bed.  Then, follow through with devices (all devices!) off and out of reach of buzzing, blinging and zapping you throughout the night.

You will feel much, much better.

Plan a work-out. A very long bike ride, run, or session at the gym is a great way to oxygenate the brain.  Give yourself permission to just get outside even and take a walk around the block for some fresh air and see the natural sun.   Often, when we get stressed these are the first things that get cut from our busy schedule.  Add it back in, and see how your spirits improve. 

Talk to an Advisor. I think everyone should have a personal Board of Advisors. Companies have Boards--why not people? 

It's important to have a trusted person with whom you feel aligned to help navigate a tricky situation. And, to do so real-time if you can. It's tempting to process everything in your head before you "check in." It's understandable to want to hide feelings of weaknesses and/or shame.

Having Advisors is particularly critical for entrepreneurs. I think entrepreneurs are Jedis, and, for them, having a trusted Advisor is essential. Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan and Yoda. Together, they did great things.

IMO, the light side of The Force is this: real and pure unconditional love. The most productive and sustainable companies, sports teams, and families have this vibe. Tough to define, but you know it when you see it.

My 2 cents? Don't just select Advisors for their rolodex, expecting networking introductions.   Find Advisors who inspire you, who create that feeling and a certain stir inside you. You can call it what it is, connection, emotion, or the "Light Side".  You will know in your heart that these are the people who have your best interests foremost in their minds.

Name it. Call that day you're having a "dip day." Don't be embarrassed about it,  you don't have to hide this.   You may be surprised by what happens.

During one long week, a friend noticed that I sounded tired. I just named it ,"Yes, I was having a dip day".  Lo and behold, that friend surprised me with some homemade brownies. On the aluminum foil was written this: "For dip days."  Even seeing the words written down helped.  I just accepted the situation vs. fighting it. And, those guilt-free brownies tasted great!

Sing, both in your head and out loud.  Studies show that positive music is uplifting and energizing. You can choose to listen to Nirvana, The Smiths, or another "dark" band, but give a go to something positive and peppy. Songs that are affirming will lift your mood. Pharrell William's "Happy" song is one of my go-to choices.  I watch the video, sing out loud, and, on occasion, even dance down the hallway.  It just might be the most uplifting five minutes of your day.  

Meditate/pray. I relish Thursday morning yoga class, my sacred time.  My phone is shut off, and I am untethered, alone with my thoughts for 80 minutes of bliss.  I honestly believe that this mindfulness dimension of our lives is usually overlooked. We often focus on what our bodies and minds need. But, what about our souls? 

You may or may not identify with any religion.  That is ok.  But, I do know that that there's a part of our inner self that needs nourishing. Expand your horizons and find activities that most certainly feel as though they feed your soul.

Self care is super-important. Just do it!

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Our Devices Are Choking Us

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I've been helping out a dear friend, who just lost her mother. Long story, but, I was there when she had to write a critical email to someone.

As I watched her, I noticed something: she wasn't breathing as she typed. Over the next few days I started to watch other people, fingers and eyes glued to their smart phones. They weren't breathing either for five to 10 seconds--and, sometimes, longer.  

Then I noticed myself.  Wait...every time I composed a text or email, I literally held my breath the whole time I typed.  What?! How did I never notice this before?

The physiological effect of holding your breath, even for seconds, works like this. Holding your breath kicks in the amygdala brain's "flight/fright" sense that you are in danger, and that message is sent from the brain to body. Then, the body is pumped full of adrenalin.  

You may have just been replying to a quick text,  but your body is left stressed and anxious thanks to the adrenalin surge.  And this cycle repeats itself again and again.

Amazingly, I learned that Dr. Margaret Chesney at National Institute of Health (NIH) has researched this phenomenon. She says it exists and she calls it "email apnea".  She cites evidence of stress-related diseases in the body as oxygen and carbon monoxide levels are thrown off.  Over 80% of us seem to suffer from email apnea while working at our desks and managing the stress of our in-boxes.  

When will scientists extend their studies to mobile devices?  These palm-size devices now ask us to land our big fingers on our little keyboards at the average rate of 33 words per minute! (Yes, 33 words per minute is the average speed, according to IBM.) 

I have a theory: "smart" devices are making us more productive, but they are starving us from air, over and over again.  No wonder, they don't make us feel more fulfilled.  They are literally depriving us of our most essential lifeblood: oxygen. 

Smart devices are here to stay.  But, the next time you check your phone, or text a message, notice if you are breathing and then do yourself a favor: consciously, mindfully, and deeply breathe.
 

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