Liquid Footprints


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The Wise Use of Time

Time passes far too quicklyI often write about the need to use our limited time wisely. I am very aware of how every moment that passes is forever gone. That moment places me that much closer to my grave. Yet I often wonder just how the wisely use the limited time I have. I often lament how much of my life has gone into video games, television, and other entertainment. But we can’t always spend our time doing something “constructive.”

I’ve come up with a solution and a definition. The wise use of time entails either or both of 2 factors: self enrichment or other enrichment.

We can ask ourselves this: does spending my time doing this enrich myself or another?

But what is enrichment? Spending our time richly doesn’t mean we have to be writing, teaching, learning, or other things we consider enriching. A moment spent laughing is a rich moment. A moment where someone next to you smiles warmly is a rich moment.

We can have rich moments playing video games or watching television if such makes us laugh and happy. However, we have to be careful of what we consume during these moments. If we laugh at someone trolling another person on a game or at violent, hurtful television show, we are not experiencing a rich moment. Our time isn’t being used wisely.

Rich moments are gentle moments of appreciation and joy. Living with awareness is always the wise use of time; even if that moment is simply walking to the restroom. Every peaceful moment we spend with a loved one is a wise moment. Really, using time wisely involves living with the awareness that the moment is passing and taking joy in the fact you are experiencing that moment.

I often feel bad about so much time “wasted” playing video games. I think I could better use my time learning a second language, blogging, programming, drawing, gardening, and my other hobbies. But I don’t allow video games to keep me from my other hobbies or people I care about. I play the games with compassion toward those I play online with. Although I am not doing anything with the moment, because I seek to play in ways that might bring happiness to others I am still using my time wisely.

Using time wisely is matter of living compassionately and using time mindfully. I knowingly play video games a certain period of time. I carefully watch a movie that doesn’t disturb me. Using time wisely is about living with awareness in the everyday things we do. It is about doing one thing at a time with our full attention. When I sit and talk with my girlfriend, I only sit and talk with her. My mind is focused entirely on her. When I play a video game, my mind is entirely focused on the game.

We can’t do anything about the sad fact we will all die. Every moment that passes is forever gone; we are each that much closer to death. Knowing this helps us use our time more mindfully and with conscious choice. Wisely using time starts with awareness of our own mortality despite how uncomfortable being aware of our own death is.


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The Elephant We Ignore

Periodically life reminds us of a few things. Namely, she makes us look at the elephant we ignore: impermanence.

Recently I lost my maternal grandfather. While I don’t ignore the elephant, I don’t necessarily consider her either. I feel time ticking by; every moment that passes is a moment of my life forever gone. Yet, still I squander it with entertainment and other fruitless things. My grandfather’s death underscores the passage of time.

It is my lack of mindfulness that bothers me most when I lose a loved one. I too will join them soon enough; so will all those dear to me: parents, siblings, friends, girlfriend, and finally myself. It is very easy to let time pass without holding it briefly with love and awareness before letting it flutter away.

I had many plans, but few of them had much fruit. I grow frustrated, and then Zen reminds me that my expectations are the source of my frustration. Hold onto the moment while it is alive and let it go.  Life simply is. There is no where to go. There is nothing else to be. There is nothing to do except breathe and smile.

There is no where to be other than here, now.


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The Art of Seeing

Fish cannot understand the idea of land.Zen is the art of seeing. While it is an offshoot of Buddhism, Zen is not Buddhism. We westerners try to pin Zen down into a specific category. As soon as we do, we don’t grasp what Zen is. Zen isn’t a religion; it isn’t a philosophy. I am a Zen Christian. There are also Zen Catholics and Zen Muslims. Yet, Zen isn’t Christianity, Catholicism, or Islam.

There are two ways of viewing the world. There is Cartesian thinking, and what we can call Zen or perhaps Being. Cartesian thinking begins with the self ( “I think therefore I am”) and seeks to understand objects in relation to the self. In Cartesian thinking, everything – the self, the universe, and God, are objects.

Now you might be saying God isn’t an object and neither is a person. However, you view God and other people as separate from your self. This way of thinking deals with everything as “other” from the self. The self is separate from all other things. Cartesian thought relies on concepts as reality. “God” is a word that denotes a concept. That concept is what we consider reality. Likewise “Chris” is a concept of self that I consider reality.

Zen, on the other hand, doesn’t view anything as an object or concept. Zen seeks to point us to experience. Concepts are not experience; they are an effort to express the inexpressible – that is the experience of being yourself, one with God, or simply tasting an apple.  That is why it seems so contradictory for us Westerners. Zen is the art of seeing. Seeing what? Nothing. What you see cannot be truly expressed with concepts; the moon you see will look different from what a person’s concept of the word “moon” is when you tell them you are looking at the moon.

Zen is a mirror. A mirror reflects everything placed in front of it without attaching labels, concepts, understanding, or anything at all. It simply reflects. When an object is removed from the mirror, the mirror lets the object go. It doesn’t grasp. It cannot. It can only reflect. Likewise our true consciousness is a mirror that can only experience. Words and Cartesian thinking are just efforts to express what we experienced. They are not the actual reflecting. Zen simply attempts to show us that distinction.

“A turtle cannot explain land to a fish.”

We cannot understand something we have not experienced. Words and concepts are not understanding. In Christianity (until fairly recently in history), man was considered akin to a window that the light of God shines through. The window can be stained by the Ego ( which is what the concept of original sin points to) or be clear and empty of all Ego elements – desire, separateness, and other illusions. The light can only shine through purely when we empty ourselves of all ego elements. That also includes the desire for salvation; desire is a function of the Ego even if it is a desire for salvation or nirvana. This isn’t to say there isn’t a Self. Self exists, but it isn’t the “me” or “I” we think is our self or soul. That is ego speaking. Self exists in unity with everything, not separately.

Zen retains what Christianity once taught through its mystics. Zen is more ruthless in approach. It plugs in well with Christianity…yet Zen isn’t Christianity. Zen is the art of seeing…nothing and through nothing, everything.


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Last Day

Fall LeavesIt’s now a cliche. One we often hear, but also one we don’t follow. We’ve all heard the saying: “Live like today is your last day. One day will be your last.”

Just the other day the cliche really hit home. I was writing in my sketchjournal about the day. It was my day off work. I spent it with my girlfriend and my hobbies. It was also a beautiful day. I asked myself on the page: if today was my last day, would I die content and happy? The answer that day: yes.

Of course, it’s easy to say that after such a good day. I told my girlfriend how important our friendship is to me. I played my favorite video games. I had success with painting and my other projects. I watered and cared for my growing bonsai. It was an excellent day. However, such days seem so rare. Too often I waste my time working and fretting. I am filled with social anxiety, thoughtlessness, and harried feelings when I can’t spend time on my passions. I go to sleep unfulfilled.

Each day is a lifetime. We are born each morning and die each night. I know I waste these daily lives. Do you? Looking at each day this way really helps me keep perspective. A full life isn’t work or material things. A full life is how you enjoy each hour. It is found in a friend’s smile and in the hug of family members. It is found in watering a flower and in a good meal. It is found in a cup of tea near our nightly death.

We can live any day with contentment and fully if we keep perspective. Some days are just harder lifetimes than others to do so. In forced social situations, for example, I have a hard time keeping perspective.

Small things are where we find contentment and fullness. Hobbies and loved ones are the most important things we can spend our daily lives on. It helps, as we near our nightly death, to list all the wonderful things we have seen and experienced. There is always something wonderful around us. It can be the beauty of autumn leaves dancing on the rain or just a lovely cup of tea. Remind yourself of the people you brightened that day. If nothing else, smile to yourself. It is good to die with a smile in the heart.

So tonight, as you lay to sleep and eternally put Today to rest, breathe, smile, and ask yourself: ” If today is my last, was it full? ” If not, then promise yourself that you will live fully from that very moment. That promise alone makes a full and good day.


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Lessons from the Full Moon

Full MoonThis past week I’ve lost my Zen, so to speak. I work as a frozen food manager, and it’s the first of the month. I also have pretty bad social anxiety. To put it mildly, it wasn’t a good week for me. I found myself despising the people shopping the store: the noise they make and their very presence. I mentally called them morons, idiots, inconsiderate, unaware, selfish, and various swears as my anxiety kicked up and my social energy collapsed.

It’s an old habit I fight against. I can only take crowds in small doses ( as in 7 people at most doses).

It was a clear night on Thursday. The shopping carts squealed as I collected them from the parking lot at the end of my shift. As usual I was silently raging about how lazy and inconsiderate people are for leaving so many carts around. True, yes but not worthy of raging. I happened to glance at the full moon during my silent tirade.

Immediately I saw how small I was in relation to the moon and the earth. I saw how small the earth was in relation to the sun. I even saw how small the entire solar system was to the Milky Way, and how small the Milky Way was in light of the universe. I was smaller than an atom in the scope of the Universe. All the petty grievances I have about people’s laziness and inconsideration melted under the moon light. I, and everyone else, are but a very small part of the grand reality.

The poor mindset that leads people to leave carts everywhere, and me to silently rage struck me as silly.  People will continue to be lazy and inconsiderate; I will continue to be inconsiderate with my silent tirades. It was just life at work on this very small blue atom. Life was just doing the best it could. Everyone is human and doing the best we can.

My mind quieted. The raging turned into a self deprecating laugh. I was being silly.

I smiled up at the moon and bowed my head at her wisdom.


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After Enlightenment

Laundry is always waitingAt work today I helped an older couple out to their car. I felt stressed. I was a day behind, and just too much to do. No amount of breathing exercises helped me.  I chatted with the lady with half a mind, mostly wanting to hurry it up. She told me about how she was 82 and doesn’t get around very well. I replied she was getting around better than my grandparents who are 10 years younger.We walked slowly across the parking lot.

Then she floored me.

“… in the backseat of that green car. Yeah, that one. That man there…my husband…he has stage 4 cancer. He’s dying…”

I was shaken out of my unimportant worries.

“Have pity on us old folks, young man.”

As I pushed the squeaking cart back into the grocery store the exchange rang in my mind. All the things I ‘had’ to do were meaningless in light of reality.

“He’s dying.”

What was he doing with his last days? Grocery shopping with his wife.

After enlightenment, the laundry.


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Driving Meditation

Americans spend a lot of time driving. According to ABC polls the average commuter spends 100 minutes behind the wheel. People with kids spend 104 minutes while drivers without kids spend 77 minutes daily. That works out to be 25 days driving every year! That is a lot of time we can use. Think about how much happier we can all be if we use those 100 minutes to meditate! Continue reading