Random thoughts with a spattering of thoughtfulness.

The four Noble Truths of Buddhism state:

  1. Suffering is an inherent part of life.
  2. Suffering is causal; generally by desires of material existence or clinging to said desires.
  3. It is possible to end suffering.
  4. The Eightfold Path leads to the end of suffering.

The Eightfold Path is summarized as follows:

  1. Right View: Essentially, the perception and understanding of the reality of nature and/or existence of which suffering is a part.
  2. Right Thought or Attitude: To accept the reality of nature with love and compassion by practicing the art of letting go.
  3. Right Speech: To communicate only in ways which do not cause harm to others; avoiding communication which is manipulative, deceitful, or otherwise harmful.
  4. Right Action: To act only in ways which do not harm others; to avoid violence against all living creatures
  5. Right Livelihood: To take on a profession which does not violate any aspect of the Eightfold Path.
  6. Right Effort: To understand the difficulty in following the Eightfold Path and to put forth the effort necessary in following it to the best of one’s ability.
  7. Right Mindfulness: To be mindful of the mind and consciously choose to avoid thoughts which would cause one to stray from the Path. Also, to be grounded in the present moment.
  8. Meditation: To practice Right Mindfulness so quieting the mind and remaining in the moment becomes habitual.

This is a very simplified and in-my-current-understanding version of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. At this basic level of understanding, I have a couple doubts about the teachings of Buddha.

First, I don’t believe the Eightfold Path truly eliminates suffering. An enlightened person would still experience suffering even if only during the moment in which the suffering occurs. Granted, the enlightened person would not cling to suffering or its cause. He would, instead, allow it to wash over him and recede as a wave on the shore. This, however, is not the cessation is suffering but merely a form of mitigation.

Second, Buddha teaches the path to enlightenment as a means to end suffering. In my simple mind, this implies that suffering is something bad and should be stopped.

But, aren’t the greatest lessons of man brought about by suffering? How can mankind expect to learn and grow if we extinguish suffering? Is this to say that a man who follows the Eightfold Path and attains Nirvana is then perfect and has nothing left to learn?

While I agree with and believe in the value of the Eightfold Path, I do not believe the goal should be to end suffering or reach some divine conclusion. Divine as it may be, a conclusion is still a limit. Personally, I don’t like the idea of reaching a point beyond which I can grow no further.

Please understand that these doubts and questions flow from only the shallowest understanding of the most basic principals of Buddhism. I acknowledge that delving into the spiritual depths of Buddhism and acquiring a greater understanding of the Buddha’s teaching may dispel these doubts, although I have not yet decided to wander far from shore.

I don’t usually get into politics. I’m incredibly uninformed, which I believe, rightly so, means I have no credibility on the topic. But, right now I’ve got something to say.

Obama’s gotten a lot of flack about the Romney campaign ad that quotes him saying, “if you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that.” And, I got to thinking that doesn’t seem accurate for someone who’s seeking a second term, so I found the source and I’m linking the full transcript of that speech.

As it turns out, the context of that quote refers to the American Dream and how everyone has opportunity. The implied meaning of, “you didn’t build that” refers to mentors, teachers, people who inspired your dreams and pushed you to make them a reality. It’s about working together and helping each other.

The lines leading up to this statement were, “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.”

There is not a single successful person who can deny the truth in that statement. Even if you didn’t have a financial investor, there was someone who believed in you, someone who supported you, or even someone who walked out on you and made you more determined.

“This unbelievable American system” is why every child grows up believing they can pursue whatever they can dream and, for those who have dreams and work for them, this is every ounce of truth. Even if there is some small-business owner somewhere in America with no public education who has earned success with absolutely no help at all, no support, no beliefs, no advice, if you’re a minority (ethnic or otherwise) you, at the very least, had help from a system of government that allows you such freedoms. Your incorporation or LLC forms weren’t denied because of your ethnicity, creed, or sex.

Americans have countless freedoms they, all to often, take for granted. We all have something to complain about. We all look at others and think of how much easier that person has it. But, really, there are a ton of success stories. There are countless Americans who worked themselves out of poverty, overcoming countless obstacles. Children from low-income households who grow up on welfare and work their way through college to become successful entrepreneurs. Single mothers who juggle being mommy with a full-time job and night classes to make a career for themselves and improve quality of life for their children.

I, personally, know of a single mother who worked three jobs to afford any extra-curricular activity in which her, now grown, children cared to participate. She managed three jobs, after-school activities for two children, and a spotless home. That, my friends, is hard work.

In my opinion, (my opinion only, so take it as you will) those of us who take our freedoms for granted are the ones who have never really (and be honest here) had to work for them. We are a generation who view freedom as an entitlement, not a privilege. The American system never promised to MAKE your dreams come true, only to allow YOU the OPPORTUNITY to make them true for yourself.

The Americans who fight for their dreams and who overcome all obstacles to see them to fruition are the ones who truly appreciate the freedom and opportunity this country has to offer. And, I’m sure, none will deny having some help. A friend who believed in you, or gave you a book, or watched the baby at night.

My rant here is not meant to be biased towards either presidential candidate. My goal is only to point out how easy it is to misconstrue meaning by taking words out of context. And, to highlight how important it is to appreciate what we have and what we’re capable of.

For all my friends and family, and to all mankind, I love you, but do a little research and think for yourself before you go hopping on the media bandwagon as it rolls by collecting mindless zombies.

For my childhood friend.

I don’t think I’ve ever properly thanked you for all the years you were my friend. Instead, I took you for granted, I berated you with advice I had no authority to give and I wanted to outshine you in every possible way.

In hindsight, you were always the better person, the better friend. You were – are – better in all aspects of life. My childhood naivety led me to believe our curricular and extra-curricular activities were the important things, but I was far mistaken.

I wanted to be better than you at everything we did together and, even though I rarely (if ever) was, you always let me. You quietly sat in the background while I tried to hog the spotlight. I can’t express my appreciation for you or how sorry I am that I couldn’t be as great of a friend in return.

Although we hardly ever speak to each other anymore, and seemed as strangers when last we did, I think about you a lot. I often wonder about you and your family. I wonder if you’re happy and how your life is with your husband and children. I wonder if your life has been as you expected or if your journey has been as winding as mine.

I wonder if the women we’ve become would have been as close of friends as the children we once were.

I think a lot about how you were always the one who seemed to have things together. For all the times I tried to give you advice, tell you how to live and tell you what choices to make, you graciously accepted, but already knew better. You listened for my sake, but maintained your own attitudes and made your own decisions. I was too immature to realize and appreciate the strength of your character.

I want you to know that my intentions were always good. Even when I had no experience to support the answers I swore I knew, I always believed they were accurate.

I always thought I had a handle on life. Even when life proved me wrong, I would adjust my ideas and believe that now I had all the answers, only to be proven wrong again. I was in a vicious cycle of believing I’d experienced enough to know it all.

My only redemption is that I never believed I would lead you wrong. I just had no business trying to lead in the first place.

In almost 30 years, I’m only now realizing how wrong I was. For all the times you listened to me, one of my biggest regrets is that I never listened to you.

I believe every person in our lives holds a lesson for us. I finally have someone in my life from whom I am learning how to build and maintain healthy relationships. In hindsight, I believe I was meant to learn this years ago, from you. I was just too ignorant to grasp the lesson.

I’m not sure if we could ever be as close of friends as we used to be, but I want you to know that I often think about those years, I miss them and I cherish them. Lylas, always.

For my Dad.

I know that in my adult years we haven’t had the relationship we could have. In some ways it’s gotten much better, but in others it is forever changed. At some point, during my early teen years, although becoming more and more quirky myself, I suddenly lost all patience for my quirky father. As an adult I work to stretch that patience, but it still seems very limited.

I know we don’t see each other often and our visits are brief, but I want you to know that I still remember daddy’s little princess; she still lives somewhere deep inside of me.

At times, when I’m short with you and frustrated, I forget. But, I want to tell you about the other times; when I remember.

I take my time to fold t-shirts the same; with the wrinkles smoothed out and the collar facing left.

I write a check.

I cut my tuna salad sandwich into quarters.

I make chocolate peanut butter milkshakes.

I reminisce to Loverboy’s “Heaven In Your Eyes.”

I roller-skate.

I enjoy reading a book.

These are the things I do and the times that I remember my father, I remember being daddy’s little princess and I love and miss you all that much more.

You taught me to pay attention to detail. From ensuring my clothes were neat and wrinkle-free to being mindful of when others will have to interpret my handwriting.

You paid attention to the little things. From cutting my sandwich to the exact specifications, to creating the perfect balance of chocolate and peanut butter, to dancing with me to old vinyl records.

You taught, instilled in, and supported me in perhaps the only thing I’ve ever really stuck with. From holding my hand in the early years to buying my first pair of roller skates when my feet finally stopped growing. Now, going on thirty, I still go to the skating rink with my skates tucked in my elbow just as I did more than fifteen years ago.

A few weeks ago I saw a man, perhaps a little older than me, at the skating rink with his young daughter and her friend. I couldn’t help but think of you and all the times you took Carrie and me skating, whether you were going with us or dropping us off. The memory made me smile.

You may, or may not, realize it, but I also credit you for my love of reading. I remember when you would read to me before bed. I often think that you were my motivation for learning to read when I did. When you’d fall asleep, I’d have to figure it out on my own if I expected to finish the story. I also remember our trips to the library and I always think of you when I pass through the children’s section.

Our relationship has changed over the years, for better and worse, but I want you to know that I didn’t forget. Even though I’ve found new heroes, I remember when you were the sole bearer of that title. I remember being daddy’s little princess.

To me, the most inspirational part of Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005 was this, “You’ve got to find what you love…the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

I love to write. And, it’s funny, because for as much as I claim I love to write, I haven’t been doing a lot of it lately. Actually, I’ve been doing pretty much none. I’ve had ideas floating around. I’ve worked on some plot development and some character sketches, even some research, but I just don’t feel ready to actually start the writing process.

I think it would be amazing to weave an intricate and suspenseful story that affects readers deep in the core of their being, inspiring them to be better people. I want to create characters to which readers can relate, but also to act as mentors offering advice for life’s difficult moments. My dream isn’t so much to sell books, or even to be published, just to have a story that will inspire people.

So, I’m tossing around ideas. More accurately, an idea or two are gasping for air in the muck which is the day-to-day activity of my grey matter. These ideas will remain just that, maybe not indefinitely, but for a very long time, I’m sure.

Why? Because I’m insanely intimidated. And, I fear I have no imagination. Or, maybe, just maybe, I’m trying to sprint to the finish line when I’m not even steady on my feet.

Another quote I find very inspiring comes from the renowned rapper Eminem. In the song “Airplanes Part II” by B.o.B featuring Haley Williams and Eminem, he rhymes, “Because he never risked shit, he hoped and he wished it, but it didn’t fall in his lap so he ain’t even here; he pretends…”

I’m realizing that I’m doing a lot of hoping and wishing, but I’m not really working. Just like it wasn’t easy for Steve Jobs or Marshall Mathers (Eminem), it won’t be easy for me. I’m not going to sit down in front of a blank screen and effortlessly churn out 500 pages or so of literary excellence.

Dreams can come true, but only for those who are willing to work for it. So here’s yet another of my favorite quotes. An American entrepreneur just after the Great Depression, Arnold H. Glasow, once said, “Success isn’t a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.” I like to interpret his meaning as work. One must endure grueling work to enjoy abundant success.

I’ve tried to set myself on fire a few times. I’ve told myself I’m going to hone my writing and creativity with daily practice. More often than not, I find that the only thing I managed to set on fire was my ignorance. Once that sputters out, so does my determination.

Ignorance on fire. This is a turn of phrase that has stuck with me for nearly 15 years. I first heard this during my, very brief, career as a telephone sales representative—the kind that advertised paid training, after which was about where my career ended. Anyway, as the room of new sales representatives neared the end of a week’s worth of training, the instructor explained that many of us will do very well as soon as we hit the sales floor. He said we’ll make ridiculous sales mostly because we won’t really know what we’re doing. We’ll be like ignorance on fire!

I seem to approach every aspect of my life with ignorance on fire. Once I realize how much work is really involved my determination fizzles out fast. This happens with pretty much everything; writing, relationships, jobs, hobbies, etc. The few things I have completed required some form of outside motivation, typically manifested as financial or contractual obligations. Sometimes, even that doesn’t stop me. I believe I already mentioned how fickle I can be, no need to revisit that topic.

To be honest, although I know I enjoy writing, I really have no idea what kind of writing I prefer or what I want to write about. A large portion of the writing I have done has been dedicated to journaling–probably why blogging seems to be a natural next step, although I was skeptical for a long time. I’ve dabbled in poetry and the occasional short-short-story, but, other than that, not a lot of creative writing. As much as I would love to write the next literary classic, I’m not sure creative writing is my strong suit.

I’ve found that I enjoy business writing, even with occasionally dull subjects, because of the challenge of limited space. I enjoy writing with abandon then having to go back and cut out every non-essential paragraph, sentence and word trying to whittle from 700 words down to 300. Something about editing your own work to such a degree is strangely exhilarating! Of course, this is something I should do regardless because, in really good writing, if it doesn’t add essential meaning, it shouldn’t even exist.

There’s not a lot of “enlightenment” in this first post. But, give me time. I’m sure I’ll track some here and there as I muddle my way into blogging. So, here it goes…

My New College Degree

I got it. Yay! Now what do I do with it? When I applied for graduation I was excited at the prospect of being finished with school, at least for a little bit, and the idea of transitioning into a career I might actually enjoy. But, I received my diploma the other day and now I feel more disgruntled than anything else. Here are the reasons for my vexed feelings, in no particular order:

  1. I majored in Communication Studies. While this is a subject with which I am absolutely enamored, it’s also very broad. On a positive note, I can apply it to almost any industry. On the other hand, I can apply it to almost any industry. For the past 15 years of my life I’ve struggled with what I wanted to be when I grow up. Majoring in Communication Studies certainly didn’t help to narrow my options.

    On top of that, of everyone I know, I’m probably one of the more–if not the most–fickle. In the last two semesters leading up to graduation I wanted to pursue a career in: technical writing, education, journalism, graphic design, editing, publishing, creative writing, grammar, public information, linguistics, speech pathology, instructional design, etc. The list goes on and on. Not to mention, I changed my mind at least every two weeks and at the very moment a new ambition sauntered in, the old was already forgotten. I have no idea what I want to do with my life and I got myself a spinning arrow for a college degree.

  2. The job market sucks. Even if I had the slightest idea as to what I wanted to do, I seriously doubt I’d have any luck finding gainful employment doing it. I have this fancy, schmancy degree now, but I have no experience. With a crappy job market and no experience, my options seem limited to a massive pay cut for a highly competitive, low- to non-paying internship. Actually, this reason alone wouldn’t be so bad if not for the burden of my current predicament, which leads me to reason #3.
  3. I have a job that pays well. Granted, I’m miserable doing it everyday, but it’s a nice paycheck. Of course, this was never my intention. When I was hired at my current place of employment it was for an entry-level position paying little more than minimum wage, which was fine with me. All I needed some sort of income while I finished school. My hiring position was only ever intended to be a job, certainly not a career. Well, I managed to make myself a victim of my own success. I’m a fast learner, hard worker, and produce a quality product, so I was promoted to a new department within six months. Six months into that position, I was promoted again. That department held on to me for a year before I was promoted to my current position (which I’ve held for just over two years now), so, in less than five years, I’ve more than doubled my original starting salary. I certainly can’t complain in that arena, so why am I miserable?

    My job isn’t even very challenging (which may contribute, at least in part, to my misery), but it’s just not what I want to do. I work in the entertainment industry, which, for some people, may be a dream come true. In the beginning, I’ll admit, it does hold some level of grandeur. Some people love it and want nothing more than to create memorable experiences for patrons who attend their events. That’s great for them. For me, working in entertainment has the slow, cumulative effect of leaching every ounce of joy from my soul. The great and powerful wizard just isn’t the same once you’ve seen the man behind the curtain. I don’t want to have memorable experiences at entertainment venues because, when I’m off work the last place I want to be is at work. Also, anytime I attend another venue I spend more of my evening criticizing how they operate than enjoying the show. It sucks the fun out of everything, but I’ll be damned if I don’t get more-than-fair compensation. So, as much as I hate it, I’m comfortable with my salary and I don’t know how to get away.

And that about sums up why I’m less-than-excited about my new college degree. I feel like I should be ecstatic, but I just can’t when my prospects seem so bleak. Of course, I can’t pretend that I know what the future looks like. As much as I try, I can’t see into even the immediate future. Perhaps one day–sooner rather than later, I hope–I’ll be thankful I paid (and am still paying) the $50,000 for a BA in Communication Studies.