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Some quick definitions of what Buddhist teaching calls the “4 Immeasurable or Limitless Qualities”:

Loving-kindness: goodwill and friendliness towards all

Compassion: the desire to relieve others’ suffering

Sympathetic Joy: rejoicing in others’ happiness and well-being

Equanimity: experiencing limitless benevolence towards all beings

May 8, 2021

Equanimity

I’m increasingly grappling with the realities of my physical body: both its destiny for decay and death, and the increasing frustration I find with not being more fully attentive to what feelings are present within it.

Certain long-standing fears are entrenched in the grappling:

The fear of unrealized potential.

The fear of missing out.

The fear of not learning all I long to learn, writing all I long to write, traveling to all the places I long to see.

The fear of insignificance.

May 6, 2021

Loving-kindness, Compassion, Equanimity

It’s one of those weekday early mornings when I’m tempted to go straight to the laptop and start working. I have two presentations before noon and need to do some final preparations.

When I’m caught up in the urgency to start working upon waking, my favorite self care activities can feel irrelevant. Yet when I skip this self care, especially for a couple of mornings in a row, I feel off. Life itself loses some of its deeper meaning for me.

And so here I am, typing this entry on my phone, with the heating pad on my back because doing so prepares me for the stretching activities I learned last year during a round of physical therapy. After I publish this entry I’ll look through my handwritten overview of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, and then I’ll meditate on loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.

(My stomach just rumbled but it’s not time to eat just yet.)

When I go upstairs to my bedroom office I’ll begin on the carpet with those aforementioned stretching exercises. And then, I will get reacquainted with the laptop and begin to prepare for my morning presentations.

Taking time for self care is an act of radical kindness and compassion for yourself. It also demonstrates equanimity in the face of the powerful urges to blow things off and start working right away, lest you be caught unprepared and fail.

May 4, 2021

Compassion

For various reasons I did not begin the past two mornings with mindfulness practices. And I feel the difference.

Start and continue. This is the way.

May 1, 2021

Compassion

It was nice taking yesterday off from work. I evolved my book projects a little and made a few round trips to my daughtersschools, but spent most of the day resting.

I need more rest and, in particular, more sleep.

Resting is an act of self-compassion.

April 30, 2021

Equanimity

“Be aware of whatever is arising in the moment and don’t cling to it.” – Joseph Goldstein, summarizing the practice of mindfulness.

April 29, 2021

Equanimity.

I’m grieving. I learned last night that a close friend here in Nashville lost his short battle with cancer.

I really thought I’d get to talk to him again. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

But, in this long journey of impermanence, is any of us ever really ready?

April 28, 2021

Sympathetic Joy

My daughter Olivia made a tremendous catch of a deep fly ball during her softball game yesterday. I’m so proud of the progress she’s made and how dedicated she is to her new sport.

April 27, 2021

Equanimity

The acceptance of the impermanence of all created things–this might be the most challenging psychological and spiritual reality with which human beings must grapple.

April 25, 2021

Loving-kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, Equanimity

I’ve found Buddhism so appealing because of its emphasis on practical tools and application, with a unifying goal of liberation from suffering. Rather than strict adherence to doctrines and beliefs, Buddhism says, “Try this and see what works for you. So many have already benefited.”

The practice of mindfulness meditation, as informed by Buddhism, is a lifelong journey of starts and stops, breakthroughs and barriers, joys and frustrations. I inch forward a little bit each year.

For me, the simpler I can keep things, the better. I find the last page of Buddhist scholars Bhikku Bodhi’s short but substantive book, The Noble Eightfold Path, to be incredibly helpful in its clear, concise, four-pronged summary of the path itself:

  1. “Straighten out your views” (Right View)
  2. “Clarify your intentions” (Right Intention)
  3. “Purify your conduct” (Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood)
  4. “Apply effort, energy, and mindfulness to cultivate concentration and wisdom” (Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration)

Sympathetic Joy

I’m grateful tonight for an abundance of meaningful, interesting growth and projects, both personal and professional. I’ve struggled so often in life with a fear that I’m not living up to my potential or contributing as much as I could. And that life is passing me by.

I imagine that everyone goes through a version of that at times. And many people are suffering today in a manner far worse than I’ve ever experienced. To ponder whether you’re living up to your potential is a privilege, a luxury that many aren’t able to contemplate because they’re too busy trying to survive.

I don’t take joyful seasons like my present life for granted. And every season is impermanent.

April 24,2021

Loving-kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, Equanimity

This morning I wrote out a new diagram of the core practices of mindfulness, including the 4 Immeasurables. I find it helpful to do this every few months, to maintain focus and practice. And while I generally detest writing things in longhand, there’s something about applying it to these diagrams that feels more meaningful, organic, and authentic.

A fresh insight amid what has been a two year struggle to fully understand the “Right Concentration” component of Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path: Concentration isn’t some separate set of meditation activities distinct from “Right Mindfulness” practice. Rather, along with wisdom, concentration is the fruit of the effort and energy one puts into mindfulness practice.

This may not sound like much, but it’s brought me joy today.

April 23, 2021

Compassion

Both of my cats hate going to the vet..and anywhere else that requires them to ride in the dreaded cat carrier.

I’m in the vet parking lot right now, waiting for Itty Bitty to get her vaccines (for cats, not Covid). She cried most of the way here before finally surrendering in silence. As she cried I kept telling her things like:

“It’s ok, sweetie.” “I know, it’s no fun.” “We’re almost there, sweetheart.”

It’s easier for me to have compassion for a cat than for persons whose viewpoints are starkly opposed to mine.

Sympathetic Joy

Tonight, fully vaccinated, we had our first real Nashville date night since before the pandemic started. From a Picasso exhibit to a fish dinner, stroll along the pedestrian bridge over the Cumberland River, and dessert with decaf, I felt pure gratitude.

April 22, 2021

Loving-kindness, Compassion

It’s Earth Day, an annual spotlight on the beauty, frailty, and endangerment of our planet.

There are millions who, throughout the year, speak to and act upon the urgency of environmental stewardship, and millions more who scoff at or demonstrate apathy or ignorance toward this urgency.

Most of us are caught somewhere in the middle.

Equanimity

Irony, cynicism, and derivatives upon derivatives don’t provide lasting satisfaction.

April 21, 2021

Equanimity

There’s no grand narrative moving toward some packaged resolution. There’s simply the interplay of impermanent forms. Everything is of the nature to decay. Our stories have the same ending.

And somehow, both mysteriously and miraculously, in the midst of this shared tragicomedy there is ultimately love, kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity.

April 20.2021

I threw a lot of softballs during this past weekend, and now my right arm is giving me feedback.

April 19, 2021

I wonder how many Mondays I’ve already lived through. The number is obtainable with a little effort but I’m not quite that ambitious.

April 18, 2021

Compassion

I’m almost finished with Ken Burns’ new three-part PBS documentary on Ernest Hemingway. It’s excellent, and provides even more details and insights regarding this man’s fatal flaws and decisions.

As a person and a writer, I’m striving to move in the opposite direction from where Hemingway found himself in his 50s. I’m seeking to be kinder, more compassionate, and more perceptive. I want to continue to be a good steward of my health as well.

April 17, 2021

Equanimity

It’s not quite 5:30 am. As usual I’m the only one awake in my home. There’s a few birds chirping somewhere in the distance. Their song is my companion.

Loving-kindness

A popular expression among Millennials and younger is “random,” such as “some random person/guy/girl/dog/cat.”

My question: Do “random” persons view themselves as “random?” Do they look in the mirror and tell themselves, “You’re so random,” or “Today I’m gonna be that random dude”?

These are the kinds of existential things I ponder. Word choices are interesting and, at times, revelatory.

Equanimity

Weekend afternoons are difficult for me. I get very sleepy, and I often lay down to nap but actual sleep eludes me.

I’m too tired to read or do anything else I enjoy, but not quite drowsy enough to sleep. It’s an in-between window of existence, a personal purgatory. Meaning and purpose are hard to hold onto during this purgatory, and I think of the title of a novel I’m currently reading: The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

All things, experiences, and moments are impermanent. When I’m feeling this afternoon slump, I’m just lucid enough to know it will pass within an hour or two. My body will recover, the curiosity will return, and I’ll once again see possibilities in numerous directions.

But the sobering acceptance of impermanence itself transcends these slumps. More and more often, I’m holding good and bad times in tandem with the reality that nothing is going to last.

At times this acceptance is a powerful undercurrent of joy, an unshakable sense that all is good and there’s no freedom quite like the freedom of letting yourself let go.

Other times, the ghosts that have chased me most of my life insist on being heard…their whispers that it’s never enough, that I must produce more, that it’s important to leave legacies or artifacts that people will cherish and remember.

When I give myself the gift of simply observing my breath, the ghosts don’t get much airtime. When I just “am,” a simple vessel of in-breaths and out-breaths, there’s an easier bearing of all being during all moments, heavy or light.

April 16, 2021

Loving-kindness, Compassion

My youngest daughter Olivia is playing softball on her high school team. She’s new to the sport, as are many of her teammates, and it’s fun to see her progress and dedication.

As I sit near the bleachers and watch Olivia’s games, I sense the ghosts of my own Little League baseball playing years. I visualize my own father, who played countless sessions of catch with me and hit hundreds of fly balls in my direction, watching me play.

I remember how excited he would get when it was my turn to bat against the opposing tram, or when the ball was hit in my direction. And I feel vestiges of the pain and embarrassment of striking out, again and again, despite how hard I tried.

Things come full circle quite often. A father playing ball with his teenage son and cheering him on at the ballpark. The middle aged version of that teenage boy cheering for his teenage daughter.

Innings come and go, along with days and months and decades. Every moment matters.

April 15, 2021

My brain is so tired after a full day of writing and work. I wake up bursting with creativity and possibilities, and pour out as much as I can before the last call ends and I walk away from the laptop in my home office. I don’t hold back.

April 14, 2021

The beginnings of these ongoing reflections

It’s been a while since I’ve written out reflections and observations regarding my ongoing thoughts, feelings, and experiences. I’ve written thousands of words for other purposes–website copy, learning resources, storyboards, character biographies, and incomplete manuscripts. But in 2021, I’ve yet to use the pen to peel back the layers and check in with myself in any intentional manner.

In the midst of so much activity it becomes easy to hide from yourself. A lack of consistent reflection on core values and observations becomes habitual. Awareness of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity becomes more elusive.

And so, this.

 

 

John M. DeMarco is a writer, executive coach, and activist based in Nashville, Tennessee.