Bad news, priorities and living in the moment

Ever have one of those days where everything goes wrong or it’s bad news after bad news? All of us have. It’s just the way things happen sometimes. And most of the time, the things that happen to get you down turn out to be not as bad as they seemed at the time. Your emotions tend to do a good job of taking over and covering up the details.

This week has been rough for me. Events of the last few days have really taken a toll on my happiness. I decided yesterday, though, that it’s a wake up call to take a look at myself again. To live in the moment and appreciate what I do have. To focus on spending my time and attention on the things that truly matter. Sometimes you need that reminder to take a step back and see things as they are, so you can adjust your focus and energy.

“If you say something is a priority and you’re not funding it like it is, you aren’t speaking the truth.” — paraphrased Merlin Mann

I love this sort-of-quote by Merlin Mann. It’s incredibly easy to say something is a priority and get stressed out by the number of priorities you think you have on your plate. It’s a happiness and productivity killer. Too many people get overwhelmed and taken over by these so-called priorities. The fact is, as the quote says, if you aren’t acting on a priority like it really is a priority, then it isn’t. End of story. The key to being truly happy is to wade through that list of “priorities” and figure out what really is important to you and focus all of your energy on it.

Seems easy enough, right? Well, it’s not. The challenge is doing this on a daily basis, sometimes hourly or more. Whether it’s the work project, or focusing on the person you care about, or spending quality time with your kids. Be mindful of the moment, then decide how to spend your time and attention on what’s important to you. It’s about treating the present moment with the respect and attention it deserves.

“What you are is what you have been. What you’ll be is what you do now.” ~ Buddha

The key to all of this, in my mind, is to not dwell on the past or spend your energy worrying about the future. The past and the future are the triggers for those emotions that stop you from seeing the truth in the present. We need to learn from the past and respect the future, of course, but once you acknowledge that everything is impermanent, living in the moment is the only right answer. Not to mention, making the right decisions in the present is the best way to influence the future. So, instead of worrying about what the future will bring, why not focus on what’s in front of you and make that moment the best moment you can?

‎”To be upset over what you don’t have is to waste what you do have.”  — Ken S. Keyes, Jr.

Figuring out how to do all of this is definitely a challenge. There is no right answer. It’s the same way I feel about productivity systems, life hacks, or organized religion. Finding a custom framework that works for you is the best way to work toward happiness and success. Don’t get me wrong, regardless of the system, you will make the wrong decision and, at times, fail, but the important thing is to try, learn, and adjust. That’s life in a nutshell, though, right?

I hope this helps someone else going through a rough time. Just writing this post has helped me clarify my approach to the present. If you have a story to share or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Death By Information

This time around, I selected around 15 topics I care a lot about and hand-picked the 5 best sites for each. In all, 75 total feeds that are averaging between 300 and 500 posts per day. Any given time I log in to Google Reader I see around 30 or 40 unread posts, where I used to see hundreds. Getting through all of these takes just a couple of minutes, not 30 minutes or however long it would take me to get through them when I didn’t just give up and hit Mark as Read.

Since the change? I’ve felt less overwhelmed by information and unread counts. My read ratio is a lot higher too. Very close to 100%, actually. And I don’t feel like I missed a thing. In fact, this only helped me realize that the fear of missing out has played a large role in what drives my RSS (and social media) usage in general.

Caterina Fake (co-founder of Flickr) wrote a great article on this fear, called FOMO and Social Media:

FOMO is a great motivator of human behavior, and I think a crucial key to understanding social software, and why it works the way it does. […] Social media has made us even more aware of the things we are missing out on. You’re home alone, but watching your friends status updates tell of a great party happening somewhere. You are aware of more parties than ever before. And, like gym memberships, adding Bergman movies to your Netflix queue and piling up unread copies of the New Yorker, watching these feeds gives you a sense that you’re participating, not missing out, even when you are.

An almost endless amount of information (news, social sharing, status updates, etc), combined with easy to use technology that allows us instant access, creates both the feeling of participating and connecting with others, without doing either in most cases. Like knowing what your friend is up to through Facebook updates, but not actually participating in their life through truly connecting. All while feeling a need to constantly check your news feed to make sure you didn’t miss anything important.

And she even related all of this back to Buddhism:

It’s an age-old problem, exacerbated by technology. To be always filled with craving and desire (also called defilement, affliction) is one of the Three Poisons of Buddhism, called kilesa, and it makes you a slave. There is true meaning in social media — real connections, real friendships, devotion, humor, sacrifice, joy, depth, love. And this is what we are looking for when we log on.

All is not lost, though. These tools, from RSS to Facebook and Twitter, have potential to create real connections and help us become better people through knowledge, laughter and compassion. The important thing to remember, though, is that these tools help us complete tasks (connect, learn, share, remember, etc.), not become tasks. Once you get caught up in the act of using the tool and not the result, it becomes more about the fear of not using it, than what you really get out of the process.

On Leaving the Church

So, why did I stop going to church? (Roman Catholic to be exact.) There are a couple of primary reasons I will focus on, and in doing research for this post, I found that a lot of people feel the same way. Since launching this site, I’ve even received a handful of texts and emails from friends that shared similar stories. It certainly helped me write this with confidence. Thank you all!

Tolerance, Acceptance, Enlightenment

Over at AlterNet, Adam Lee writes Goodbye Religion? How Godlessness Is Increasing With Each New Generation, which looks at the leaving organized religion topic I touched on in my previous posts:

Americans are becoming less religious, with rates of atheism and secularism increasing in each new generation. This demographic transformation has been in progress ever since World War II, but in recent years it’s begun to seriously pick up steam. In the generation born since 1982, variously referred to as Generation Y, the Millennials, or Generation Next, one in five people identify as nonreligious, atheist, or agnostic. In the youngest cohort, the trend is even more dramatic: as many as 30% of those born since 1990 are nonbelievers. Another study, this one by a Christian polling firm, found that people are leaving Christianity at four times the rate that new members are joining.

His theory is quite simple:

In a society that’s increasingly tolerant and enlightened, the big churches remain stubbornly entrenched in the past, clinging to medieval dogmas about gay people and women, presuming to lecture their members about how they should vote, whom they should love, how they should live. It’s no surprise that people who’ve grown up in this tolerant age find it absurd when they’re told that their family and friends don’t deserve civil rights, and it’s even less of a surprise that, when they’re told they must believe this to be good Christians, they simply walk away.

I 100% agree with his theory. Tolerance and acceptance was the key for me. It always seemed to me that the message (actions of the church, views of the congregation, etc) was kindness, love and compassion for people like me (me meaning white Christians), despite what I always thought of as the general message of the Bible. I know I never paid attention to the misogynist, racist, and homophobic parts of the story, though, so maybe my selective reading had a big impact on my beliefs.

Or maybe it was just an open mind. Sadly, a lot of people think the Bible is literally true, word for word (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.)

I’d like to think the world has changed a lot since the Bible (or any religion’s scripture) was written. I’m more interested in moving forward and growing, than looking backward and actively lobbying for a return to the past, like many conservative Christians seem to want for the rest of us.

Religion and Politics

Related to this is the seemingly ever-increasing crossover of religion and politics — especially for ultra conservative Republicans. In fact, Mark Chaves, a Duke professor of sociology, religion and divinity, recently released a book called “American Religion: Contemporary Trends” in August and found two key points that played a big part in changing my opinion on organized religion:

  • Fewer Americans today approve of their religious leaders getting involved in politics. In 1991, about 30 percent of Americans strongly agreed that religious leaders should avoid political involvement; by 2008, 44 percent felt that way.
  • Religion and politics are more closely intertwined than a generation ago.

Chaves added:

Several decades ago there was not a strong correlation between how religiously active you were and whether you voted Republican or Democrat,” Chaves says. “Now, there is. If you’re religiously active, you’re now more likely to vote Republican. That’s a very important development and is part of what leads people to talk about increasing polarization in American society.”

So, these Republican bible thumping candidates, who claim that secular government, liberals, and (gasp) gays are to blame for the decline in religion in America, are actually helping write their own worst nightmare. I know I can’t listen to any of them, regardless of how good their policy ideas are, not to mention every word they speak makes it less likely that I’ll have a good opinion of their religion.

Adam Lee (Alternet article from above) sums up the general notion very nicely:

The major churches, clinging to the inferior morality of long-gone ages, are increasingly out of step with a world that’s more enlightened, rational and tolerant than it once was. And the more they dig in their heels, the more we can expect this process to accelerate.

Message vs. Beliefs: Hypocritical or Stuck in the (Ancient) Past?

The anti-science, anti-poor, anti-gay, anti-people of color, anti-woman, anti-reason, anti-intellectual, anti-environment, pro-death penalty (but anti-abortion — Thou Shall Not Kill, anyone?), pro-everyone should fend for themselves message seems completely anti-Christian to me, not to mention short-sighted.

The hypocritical nature of these stances by most of organized religion (and in many cases a vast majority of followers — see the Pew Forum again) has turned me off to everything else they have to say. (See the fourth from last paragraph in my Why Buddhism? post.)

For example, the fact that the Roman Catholic church is so anti-gay, yet did so little to prevent or address child molestation by priests is incredibly telling. For example. only 150 of approximately 5,000 priests have been prosecuted. Other allegations of cover-ups. secrecy, and not removing priests (at all or fast enough) says more than enough about the Catholic Church.

And the Roman Catholic church was hit hard by this and other issues. The 2009 Pew study, “Faith in Flux,” says:

One in ten American adults is a former Catholic, and a majority of ex-Catholics cite unhappiness with the church’s archaic stance on abortion, homosexuality, birth control or the treatment of women as a major factor in their departure.

In General

I’ll end the post with this: whether it’s Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, all of the major religions seem to be telling similar stories,have many similar guidelines for living, and even worship a single, all-powerful God. Yet, they treat each other as mutually exclusive on many fronts. Doesn’t seem logical to me. Why would an all-powerful God with a message of love, kindness and compassion pit followers against one another? Even sects within Christianity (and even parishes within a community) harbor ill will toward other Christian believers. Seems obviously wrong and misguided. We’re all on the same team, aren’t we?

There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.

— the Dalai Lama

Do you have a story to share? Reasons for leaving the church? Things you struggle with? Share your story!