Mindful Living

Some deep thoughts from Leo Babauta, founder of http://www.zenhabits.net – 

The Toolset – 12 Things

This list, of course, is not complete. It’s a collection of things I’ve been learning about, and am still practicing, things I’ve found useful enough to share.

  1. MeditationMeditation is where mindful living starts. And it’s not complicated: you can sit still for even just 1 minute a day to start with (work up to 3-5 minutes after a week), and turn your attention to your body and then your breath. Notice when your thoughts wander from your breath, and gently return to the breath. Repeat until the minute is up.
  2. Be Awake. Meditation is practice for being awake, which is not being in the dream state (mind wandering into a train of thought, getting lost in the online world, thinking about past offenses, stressing about the future, etc.) but being awake to the present, to what is. Being awake is something you can do throughout the day, all the time, if you remember. Remembering is the trick.
  3. Watch Urges. When I quit smoking in 2005, the most useful tool I learned was watching my urges to smoke. I would sit there and watch the urge rise and fall, until it was gone, without acting on it. It taught me that I am not my urges, that I don’t have to act on my urges, and this helped me change all my other habits. Watch your urge to check email or social media, to eat something sweet or fried, to drink alcohol, to watch TV, to be distracted, to procrastinate. These urges will come and go, and you don’t have to act on them.
  4. Watch Ideals. We all have ideals, all the time. We have an ideal that our day will go perfectly, that people will be kind and respectful to us, that we will be perfect, that we’ll ace an exam or important meeting, that we’ll never fail. Of course, we know from experience that those ideals are not real, that they don’t come true, that they aren’t realistic. But we still have them, and they cause our stress and fears and grief over something/someone we’ve lost. By letting go of ideals, we can let go of our suffering.
  5. Accept People & Life As They Are. When I stopped trying to change a loved one, and accepted him for who he was, I was able to just be with him and enjoy my time with him. This acceptance has the same effect for anything you do — accept a co-worker, a child, a spouse, but also accept a “bad” situation, an unpleasant feeling, an annoying sound. When we stop trying to fight the way things are, when we accept what is, we are much more at peace.
  6. Let Go of Expectations. This is really the same thing as the previous two items, but I’ve found it useful nonetheless. It’s useful to watch your expectations with an upcoming situation, with a new project or business, and see that it’s not real and that it’s causing you stress and disappointment. We cause our own pain, and we can relieve it by letting go of the expectations that are causing it. Toss your expectations into the ocean.
  7. Become OK with Discomfort. The fear of discomfort is huge — it causes people to be stuck in their old bad habits, to not start the business they want to start, to be stuck in a job they don’t really like, because we tend to stick to the known and comfortable rather than try something unknown and uncomfortable. It’s why many people don’t eat vegetables or exercise, why they eat junk, why they don’t start something new. But we can be OK with discomfort, with practice. Start with things that are a little uncomfortable, and keep expanding your comfort zone.
  8. Watch Your Resistance. When you try to do something uncomfortable, or try to give up something you like or are used to, you’ll find resistance. But you can just watch the resistance, and be curious about it. Watch your resistance to things that annoy you — a loud sound that interrupts your concentration, for example. It’s not the sound that’s the problem, it’s your resistance to the sound. The same is true of resistance to food we don’t like, to being too cold or hot, to being hungry. The problem isn’t the sensation of the food, cold, heat or hunger — it’s our resistance to them. Watch the resistance, and feel it melt. This resistance, by the way, is why I’m doing my Year of Living Without.
  9. Be Curious. Too often we are stuck in our ways, and think we know how things should be, how people are. Instead, be curious. Find out. Experiment. Let go of what you think you know. When you start a new project or venture, if you feel the fear of failure, instead of thinking, “Oh no, I’m going to fail” or “Oh no, I don’t know how this will turn out”, try thinking, “Let’s see. Let’s find out.” And then there isn’t the fear of failure, but the joy of being curious and finding out. Learn to be OK with not knowing.
  10. Be Grateful. We complain about everything. But life is a miracle. Find something to be grateful about in everything you do. Be grateful when you’re doing a new habit, and you’ll stick to it longer. Be grateful when you’re with someone, and you’ll be happier with them. Life is amazing, if you learn to appreciate it.
  11. Let Go of Control. We often think we control things, but that’s only an illusion. Our obsession with organization and goals and productivity, for example, are rooted in the illusion that we can control life. But life is uncontrollable, and just when we think we have things under control, something unexpected comes up to disrupt everything. And then we’re frustrated because things didn’t go the way we wanted. Instead, practice letting go of control, and learn to flow.
  12. Be Compassionate. This sounds trite, but compassion for others can change the way you feel about the world, on a day-to-day basis. And compassion for yourself is life-changing. These two things need remembering, though, so mindful living is about remembering to be compassionate after you forget.

“You suck! You suck so bad!”

My cousin Jeff, in this post: https://joyofzen.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/jeff-o-rama/

This goes out to the jackass who hired a sub for my 7 a.m. class, and neglected to mention this little fact to ME, the professor. It’s conference day. Surprise!

HELLOooooooo, unnecessary 5 a.m. wake up, and rush-hour commute. I’ve goosed folks for far lesser offenses.

Off to Tim Horton’s for fortifications. Harrrrumph.


DSC_3747My cousin Jeff strong-armed me into seeing the Carrie remake last night.

I adore, ADORE the 1976 Brian De Palma original.

And assumed – safely – that this pointless remake would suck.

It did NOT.

Thanks Jeff, for once again sharing a fun and awesome night out on the town.

My closest cousin, my buddy, my comedian, my friend.

And it was bound to happen, just a matter of time – ’til he made JoyofZen.

And so, without further delay, I present you with –

JOYofZEN’s first spectacular …


On hearing the “Oklahoma!” soundtrack in the Jeep:

“This’d be better if the Chipmunks did it. Alvin could put his vocal skills on this one.”

Brilliant idea:

Chipmunk Tabernacle Choir

On hearing the Sweeney Todd soundtrack:

“Wow, I’ve never wanted a gun this bad in my whole life. What you put me through …”

Helping with bad drivers, at the I-94/State Street interchange:

“You suck! You suck so bad!” <flip the bird>

Another brilliant idea, over Cottage Inn pizza dinner:

“They should make Hobo Pizza. With tin foil and cardboard. No one can make pizza like an out-of-work scientist. Like in Back to the Future.

On Metallica’s recent movie misfires:

ME:     “They really jumped the shark with that one.”

JEFF:   “Yeah, Fonzie did that once.”

On musicians in movies:

“No one makes a bad movie like musicians. Stinks up a movie theater. Like David Bowie.”

By The Sea

“By the sea, Mr. Todd, that’s the life I’ll covet,
By the sea, Mr. Todd, ooh, I know you’d love it!
You and me, Mr. T, we could be alone
In a house that we’d almost own,
Down by the sea!

By the sea!
Don’tcha love the weather?
By the sea!
We’ll grow old together!
By the seaside,
Whoa ..
By the beautiful sea!”

~ Mrs. Lovett to Benjamin Barker,
“By The Sea,” Sweeney Todd (Stephen Sondheim)


“Didn’t look back when she was going down the strand. Wouldn’t give that satisfaction. Those girls, those girls, those lovely seaside girls. Fine eyes she had, clear. It’s the white of the eye brings that out not so much the pupil. Did she know what I? Course. Like a cat sitting beyond a dog’s jump.”

~ “Nausicaa” Chapter 13, Ulysses (James Joyce)

Rebels Without a Cause

High school teacher/friends, help me out here.

Just what is going on with the youth of today?

God, that makes me sound so …. grown up.



Thought I knew a thing or two about how youngins feel, think, and behave, after 12 years of college teaching. I’ve often enjoyed their company, been buoyed and inspired by their insights, energy, and frequent optimism.

I’ve liked the “bad kids” too, in their own way. Sometimes impatience and being difficult means you’re really intelligent and creative.

And sometimes it just means you’re acting like an asshole.

But come one, come all – to my English classes. Please. Just show up, and together – we’ll read, talk, think, and write. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll share something cool about life. And have fun while we’re at it.

So. I return to thinking about “Rebels Without a Cause.”

To be fair – of these high school/dual-enrolled-college students, I find about 2/3 of them to be kind, bright, cool adults-to-be.

The other third?

Kicking and fighting their way through absolutely everything. And I mean – EVERYTHING.

Making my professional life, and the school time of their classmates more difficult than it needs to be, on a regular basis. This English prof’s never seen the likes.

Stay in a chair for most of 50 minutes?


Follow the most basic directions, like:

“Open your books to page 503.”

Nope. Not gunna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.

Take notes on a reading, and turn it in for (easy) credit.

Nope, no thanks.

What gives??

New territory for me, these Rebels Without a Cause. I’ve seen little glimmers of this behavior over the years, And either it didn’t really faze me – they’re making their own beds, after all – or it was quickly dealt with, in any number of ways.

It was no more than a blip on the daily/weekly/semester-long radar.

But daily, working with 45 high-school students? It’s an ever-constant reminder, of just how crucial the difference is between 17 and 18, between 19 and 20. Or who people are at even later years/stages, for that matter.

Current Theories, for these RWAC:

  • ARE YOU READY? … academically unprepared for college classes, leading to stress and acting out.
  • WHO CARES? … just don’t give a hoot n’ a holler. About English in particular, and school in general.
  • YOU’RE NOT THE BOSSA ME … resentful for being forced to take the class, by overeager counselors and parental types. And to add to this mix – I remind them of their mothers.
  • THE CHEMICALS BETWEEN US … general sullen moodiness. crowded rooms of jangly hormone incubators.
  • HELLO, DUMBPHONE? … disconnected meanness and general tech-aphasia.

Could be one, could be all of these things. At any rate, I only have 14 more full days of this, then we’re done.

And I’m such a devoted teacher, I miss them already. No, really.

Even the RWAC.

They’re so alive, so zingy-out-there, That even if they try my patience, they also wake me up. When they behave like little monsters (not in the good, Lady Gaga way), I respond. I think and feel things pulling from my experiences, and help me re-evaluate what I’m doing, why I really want to spend my time teaching English. Talking about reading, and writing. What role this all POSSIBLY could play, in our times, in our ever-changing society.

To quote a student reader/writer today –
“This person is really into ELA.”

That’s “English Language Arts,” to the uninitiated. And I’ll translate –

“This person” is Alice Walker. and while she’s “really into ELA,” writing also saved her life. Quite directly.

So, bring it on, RWAC,

This tramping prof seriously loves literature. And people. And art. And living. And, the world.

And if you’ll just sit somewhat still, be relatively polite, and talk/read/listen for a 50-minute period, we all just might learn something worth our time and attention. Trust me, I ask them. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times, and it can be absolutely magical,

Worth living for, worth fighting for,

If you’ll let it be.