Saturday, March 17, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 17, 2018 - Check Your Religion

Let’s assume for a moment, as many theologians have, that everyone puts their faith in something. It isn’t necessarily a traditional religious doctrine or creed. It can be a faith in money or prestige. Or video gaming. It can be in humanity. It can be in a traditional or non-traditional version of God. Or in science. Everyone maintains their own personal faith system; an organized thought around which we orient our lives. Or perhaps not so organized.
The struggles we each personally face are due, in part, to how well we organize our thinking about that in which we place our faith. In other words, we often don’t spend enough, or any time thinking about what we think. That ship is often rudderless.
For this conversation let’s define “faith” as a thing or idea to which we turn when we don’t understand our world. “Religion” is the accumulating set of understood truths resulting from those questions over time. We develop a personal dogma and doctrine as we mature. What are yours? For better or worse, these are your religion.
You may find that an inherent distrust of humanity is your rulebook. Your dogma is that all people betray. Your doctrine is: Never trust. This is the religion of life from which you operate on a day to day basis. Your creed is to believe that we are islands.
Or perhaps your faith is that all people are inherently good, but damaged. Your dogma is that we are each of us special and valuable, yet prone to failure. Your doctrine is trust but verify. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Your creed is that we are light beings clothed in a dark humanity.
Maybe we all become dust again without a spark of consciousness remaining. How does this affect your worldview? Some believe that free will does not exist. I would argue that the fact we can argue about it at all proves it does. But when a lack of free will is a tenet of your personal faith system, what is your relationship to the choices you make? That is your religion.
Decide what you think. Be radically curious about yourself. We are like an ocean to ourselves. Deep and largely unknowable. A literal Disney World of facts and truths impossible to visit all in one trip. Enjoy being curious about how your mind works. It will be a lifelong task.
Questions that help us to understand our faith are varied. I often ask someone what they think happens when we die. Oddly, where our lives end is often the starting point for the discussion on how we begin to live. Another is: What or whom to do you trust completely and without reservation? This is your higher power. Is the answer different than you imagined?
For those with a comfortable relationship with organized religion and enjoy traditional religious beliefs and rituals, dig deep. Look to your rule books. Every sacred book finds ways to contradict itself. Why would this be so if not on purpose? If these books are authored, or at least edited by God, as the traditions suggest, every contradiction, every unfollowable rule, every theological disagreement and misinterpreted bit of history is there on purpose. Look to the texts. Be curious about your interpretations. Ask yourself: Is this loving?
Look at the rules you successfully follow and wonder why. Look at the rules you wish you could follow but can’t, or won’t. And most importantly look to the rules you know in your heart are wrong. Rules about slavery or women and children we would never in modern civilized society authorize. Every Christian disagrees with some part of the Bible. Wonder why. Wonder what the line in the sand we draw implies about how we pick and choose from among them. Wonder why for some it is important for man not to lie as with woman, yet unimportant to treat the foreign born as if natural? Both are rules from Leviticus. What line in the sand exists between them making one rule important and the other not?
This is why the contradictions exist. So that you must think and grow for yourselves. Muscle test the rules as you go. See which ones feel right and wonder why they do. Is the rule a good idea because you fear the alternative, or love the idea?
The one seemingly unalterable concept which all traditional religions profess is: Love exists at the center of all things. That’s the best lens through which to check those. Likewise, other faiths, money and prestige included, seek a version of the same. A sense of belonging and control over a world which perplexes us.
Gnōthi seauton is an ancient Greek aphorism which means know thyself. The advice becomes: Let yourself be not Greek to you.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 10, 2018 - Finding Satisfaction in the Good Fight

Political-correctness fatigue is real. Let’s just accept that. It’s not a judgement on the need to be correct with our words. We simply must be.
But for a moment, recognize the enormous seismic shift that effort is making and wonder about why we have chosen to make it. Forget how much thinking it requires, reaching for the newest right word or term to use. Forget the literal anxiety it makes us feel worrying that we aren’t being sensitive enough. That we’ll be embarrassed. Called out for our racism we didn’t know we had. Our sexism we didn’t realize was embedded in our culture so deeply we all gave it permission to continue. Until we didn’t.
It’s an exhaustive learning curve and many feel left behind, even victimized by it. They don’t understand. Not all people do. Forgive them anyway. Frustration breeds anger. Anger is what we are seeing.
Anger has forgotten the reason for the effort in the first place. It’s understandable. It’s human. It’s part of it all. Investigate Julian of Norwich.
Letting all that go for the time being, pay attention instead to what we are trying to do. We are shifting our entire center of dialogue away from disunity. The insistent tone worldwide is nudging us toward more inclusive language because it has perceived that direction to be the surest path toward saving us all. It is instinctive. And wired more deeply than even our DNA.
Most of the words we are struggling to release from modern use are words that divide. They are words which accomplish and maintain division. There is a reason power structures use them. Divide and conquer. The power-panic we now see in them are the futile attempts of their once-highly effective tactics now failing.
There was not some single moment when a person sat down and decided to begin the political correctness movement. Like most of our modern innovations, it erupted from multiple points around the globe near-simultaneously. It moves at the speed of something which already knows it’s won simply because it began.
We forget that this is an effort. It’s difficult. As most things with greater purpose are. This span of generations in which all those alive now exist are the ones doing the heavy lifting of this permanent change in our civilization. Getting the tattoo is the most painful part.
It’s easier to remain calm when you know both what and why you are doing something. We like to be included in the decision-making process. We expect transparency and a solid rationale. But we didn’t all attend the meeting. We didn’t all vote. Many didn’t get the memo. Some were blindsided. They resist change for the sake of it. It frightens them. Pray for them.
Even for those who know and understand, it’s a deep strain. We know university will be hard when we decide to attend. We temporarily forget the meaning of the word ‘hard’ as we apply, beg and pray for admittance. We remember quickly enough. But we deliberately endure the gauntlet because we know both what and why.
Know why you are taking the time to be inclusive with your words. Know that you are doing it on purpose. Be strategic. Make it easier on yourself by practicing. By asking. Teach others what you know. Correct others lovingly! Make it happen faster by leaning into it with compassion and determination.
There is no shame in what we are attempting. There is only courage and fatigue. Fear of failure is understandable but phantom. The race has already been won. And there is only one race. It’s human.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 3, 2018 - Our Self-Improving World

     I have always held an instinctive belief that all shall be well. In both the planetary and human sense. It’s the source of my somewhat expansive optimism. As a kid I first heard people talking about “the end of the world.” While I don’t remember the circumstances, I know it struck me deeply. I right away had a very particular view and opinion of what it really meant.
    I don’t know if it was because I feared death as a child (I did) or because optimism was already a fixed part of my identity, but I immediately interpreted the so-called destruction of civilization, as a metaphor. Not a literal death, but a change.
It was long before 80s TV films like “The Day After” depicting the aftermath of a nuclear attack. Nor the dozens of apocalypse films that have increasingly surfaced afterward as the new millennia approached and the year 2012 loomed. Do an Internet search on “end of the world movies.” It doesn’t take a sociologist to see that we have been increasingly concerned about it. Real world subjects like the Mayan calendar, Nostradamus, and Biblical prophecies have all made us skittish.
It’s infected the culture at large. Witness the tremendous shift in the grab for resources. The closing of borders. The enhanced struggle for power. Search: doomsday shelters. It’s on our minds. Ever since the invention of the printing press we’ve been preparing ourselves.
Whether or not the prophecies are real, they appear to have been self-fulfilling. For whatever reason, we have declared this era in human history to be a time of shift and change. One could easily surmise that on even the subconscious level we’d be suspicious of the day when there would be too many people on this planet. Would we sink or swim? That is the ultimate question.
I think that’s what we’re really worrying about. But the flaw in our approach is that we have been comparing our needs of the future with our productivity levels of the past. We operate on a philosophy of not-enough-to-go-around. We forget that we are both clever and loving. And ingenious.
The real fortunes of today earned their money many decades ago. Thinking was different. The old approaches were still working. Those wise enough to earn their wealth were also wise enough to foresee this time of change and didn’t like it one bit. They instilled fear in us then because they were the ones who were afraid. Because of them we are all afraid now.
But we live in a self-improving world. One against which they are ultimately powerless.
I would deduce that for all intents and purposes we are in the prophesied end times right now. The apocalypse is among us. The great revealing is at hand.
It just doesn’t look like we thought it would.
To the world’s powers, for whom the threat of annihilation is all too real, the lights are being turned on in all the kitchens and the cockroaches are scurrying. They are spinning their words and backpedaling into a chasm.
It’s too late anyway for them. The decision has already been made. The world has seen its own light and met its neighbor. Hope is at the bottom of Pandora’s box. Because we can’t un-know one another now. We’ve seen each other. We’ve heard the stories. We’ve seen ourselves in them. There’s nothing anyone can do. Neither war nor disease can make us forget.
What would happen if someone suddenly turned off the Internet right now? Would we slip back into forgetfulness? No. What would happen if the entire electrical grid broke down? Would we forget what light is? No. There are too many of us now and too few of them. They can’t win.
We have already decided that this will be a peaceful world. And by hook as well as crook it is happening. Even the darkest figures of the world are playing into the hand of progress because they are galvanizing those who can now see what they’re up to. Even people we’ve always thought of as “good” are being seen for what they truly are. The #metoo movement would agree that the word apocalypse means unveiling.
Perhaps my thinking is flawed. Perhaps I am a fool for believing that all shall be well. It is a choice to live according to the principles and hopes of faith. I can’t prove to you if there is a God or not; my belief in It is purely my own. I have demonstrable faith in Its creation, however. I maintain unwavering trust in the wider humanity. Because it takes great effort to suppress, yet so little to set free.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, February 24, 2018 - Ah, to Be Open

Ah, to be open. To be free. What must it feel like to be unrestrained by our past, our fears? How does one behave when balanced? Of whom are they not afraid?
I wonder about my fears. I wonder what purpose they have. My first leap of faith growing up was the adoption of the belief that everything happens for a reason. What if it were true? I’ve lived my life by that thought for as long as I can remember, longer even than understanding it was really my faith I was declaring in the concept.
I ask again. What if it were true? What if everything happens for a reason? Then what? Where does that thought take us? Shall we decide that by ‘reason’ we mean ‘purpose?’ I have decided that for myself, but you should decide your own opinion on the matter. Not all reasons are good. What have you decided about the nature of purpose? Is the purpose good? Decide.
Could you live your life as if literally everything you see, touch, know, understand and misunderstand has a purpose? What does that change about how you feel? About what you do? How does one behave when balanced?
How does one? I have only my imagination to guide me and the teachings of people I admire. The many-faceted voice of the greater village around me nudging and cajoling and prodding my understanding of how the world works and why. It’s all a wave to be surfed.
I have always assumed that meditation is what I need to answer the question. A regular diet of steady stillness and it’ll all come to me. I’ll understand what balance looks like, and then work toward it, if only I sit down for a minute and close my eyes and breathe. Maybe it would. I wouldn’t know. I am an irregular meditator at best.
I choose to infer that if everything has a purpose, and a good one at that, then love must be at the center of it all. If love is at the center, then there aren’t two side to this coin. There is only one. I think perhaps that might very well be the first thought of the concept of balance. Balance isn’t a physical accomplishment achieved against the force of gravity, like a coin rolling on its edge. Balance is the recognition and attention to the implications of no gravity at all.
Now what the heck does that mean? I ask as I write. I ask as you ask.
When we think of the world and how it works we imagine it to be about the forces of good versus evil. Every coin has two sides. We see life in terms of yin and yang. This is the rudimentary way we begin to conceptualize balance. We can’t forget that gravity plays an important part in our metaphor, even if it doesn’t serve us. But perhaps this too has purpose. Enlightenment is running. Walking comes first.
We’ve done enough walking. Let’s shift humanity to at least a canter.
We’ve outgrown the old metaphors for the concept of balance. It is a misdirection to conclude that darkness and light exist in equal measure. Darkness is not a thing of its own with an intelligence and an agenda. Darkness is merely the absence of light. Even a birthday candle would banish it utterly. The old metaphors are giving darkness too much power over our decision making and our progress as a society.
How does one behave when balanced? When open? The problem is the word balance. There is no lack of gravity to the word balance. It is inherently weighed down with meaning that no longer serves us. Let it go. When we open a door some things leave as well as enter.
What we seek when we use the word balance is a state of peaceful neutrality. We are yearning for a lack of pull in either direction even for a moment. Just float. Use your mind to direct the flow. Don’t fight the current with your arms and legs. Become one with it and trust your thoughts with the rudder.   
Balance may be the fuller acceptance of the idea that everything happens for a reason. We fight against it. It feels like the relinquishing of pride, submitting to defeat. The Islamic concept of submission is useful here. Submission in the Muslim world is not about achieving a state of powerlessness and servitude before God. It is a willful absorption into the Greater It.
A deliberate openness to the experience and flow of what we attract to us might be the “work smarter, not harder” path to personal peace. I guess I’ll just have to be open to it.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, February 17, 2018 - The Happy Difference Between Morals and Ethics

What is the difference between morals and ethics? A look in the dictionary provides no meaningful distinction. Various entries for the word ‘ethics’ often utilize the word ‘morals’ in their own definitions. Philosophers describe each in nuanced, often poetic ways.
Since the definitions themselves are moving targets, I’ll offer my own based on their word origins. Morals are human. Ethics are humane.
Cultures tend to define what is “moral” for their own purposes. Sometimes these purposes are truly beneficial, sometimes they are primitive, or restrictive beyond prudence. It might be helpful to think of the term moral by contrasting it with what we consider to be immoral. Literally, the word immoral means non-conforming to standards. Early uses of the word referenced the importance of manners far more than the value of goodness.
The word ethics, however, has a different provenance. Ethics derives from the Greek word ethos. It’s a conceptual term regarding our character. Centuries later, its Middle English descendant, ethik, took on a new duty-oriented meaning as the study of morals.
From these we see that a “moral story” is an ethical observation of a character’s character. It is an exercise in attention. It says, “Look here. Pay attention to what the character does when faced with an ethical dilemma. Observe and learn and remember.”
It puts into perspective that morals are always subjective. They are an attempt by an individual or a society to reverse-engineer a route to ethical enlightenment. They are human constructs, mostly well-intended. Yet they are vulnerable to abuse. Be mindful.
I find that morals are fascinating sociological curiosities. Every culture and subculture has its morals. Every street gang has an honor code. Every orthodox religion has a dress code. Each reveals what they consider to be not only what’s most important to them, but also in what they place their faith.
Every moral rule has a source and an intended purpose. Looking at them objectively is the best way to extract their intrinsic meaning, their universal value. Modesty often plays a part in the development of morals. Is modesty bad? No. But each culture defines what it considers to be modest for itself according to the direction of their society’s intended focus. Look up, not down.
Religions are especially regulatory in this regard. Their interpretation of scripture often leads to the development of moral laws with sexuality firmly in mind.
Religion knows that we are biological and human. It seeks to nudge us to look past our fleshy humanity through the religious action of covering up our physical bodies and their demanding physical desires. Modest clothing is an action of intent to focus on something higher.
I am not in judgement of anyone for their clothing choices. Merely pointing out that some cultures use clothing as a tool for achieving higher thought. Some accomplish the same through nudity.
Judgement is both discouraged and of course widely practiced by religion. But there is value here as well. Notice what you judge and wonder why. Notice the same about others. Be compassionate and open minded as you observe. There is gold here to be found.
Morals teach us to nourish rather than feed. Ethics teach us to do our best to nourish others. Knowing this can help us develop our own individual morality guidelines. Where do we feed our lusts rather than nourish our souls? What “moral code,” essentially, must you place on yourself to walk past the Twinkie aisle in the grocery store without indulging?
Ethical standards do not vary. They are uniform to all humanity, all life. Our morals are culturally-specific tools intended to reveal the universal ethical standard within us. Equality is ethical. Health is ethical. Empowerment is ethical. Respect is ethical. The happy truth is that it’s simpler than we give it credit for. Be good. Be fair. Be curious. Be well. Namasté.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, February 10, 2018 - Healing the Pain of Being Human

    The struggle is real. It’s not in your imagination. You have not failed at anything. You are not being punished. This is a universal experience. Being human is painful. A faithful heart feels the pain while sensing the purpose. Nothing is in vain. No time is being wasted. All shall be well.
    We addict ourselves to things and people and circumstances to forget the pain of being human. To obliterate it from our cerebral cortex for just a few moments at a time. That bliss. It’s false, but so close. It’s junk food, not veggies. But the drive to forget can be so strong, the fear so profound, we make tragic choices in the effort to just taste — however briefly — our connection to Source. When we suffer, we seek it even more.
    On some level, I feel we know we are more than we appear. We are larger than we can see. Science understands electromagnetic fields at least to the point where they can detect them and see them interacting as they overlap. The human body is electromagnetic. Is our field part of us? Am I really 5’10”? Am I taller? What does my field do when I am near someone else? Is it having a conversation with their field? Though I know not what it all does, there is more to me than me.
    Why does over 80% of humanity believe in a higher power or unity theory of some kind? When do people ever agree that much about anything? Some could conclude that we are having a collective delusion. I’d prefer to think of it as constructive delusion, if delusion it be. Something which improves the quality of my life just to ponder it. Statistics agree.
Frankly, I find it harder to believe that all life is somehow not connected. But why? I don’t know. Somehow, something in me nudges me to believe in certain things unseen. I am not alone, far from it. The vast majority of humanity feels the same in one form or another. We conclude there is more to us than us.
    So what are we experiencing when we seek to heal the pain of being human? I suspect it is the desire to remember more lucidly that we co-created the tests we take. We are trying to remember that we are neither weak, nor powerless. We want to touch our divinity. Some are better at it than others. And the more desperate the desire, the more vulnerable we are to choosing a junk food path to find it. But the desire is still the same, addict to monk. Our need to tap into the greater part of ourselves we feel we know is there. Like wealth in a bank account with your name on it. If only you could remember what bank it was.
    The challenge I suspect we are being given is the opposite of what we try so hard to do. The pain of being human is our classroom. We just don’t see it that way. We feel as if life is something that is being done to us. A harm we are experiencing. A victimization. It’s logical. That’s exactly how our biology is designed to react to discomfort. Nearly all of religion from ancient gnosticism to modern Christianity reacts to the human body as a vile and regrettable vessel unfit for the glorious eternal beings we hope we really are. But what if we gave our higher selves a little more credit?
    What if we treasured our humanity as some cultures do? What if we recognized that our difficult human experiences are tied to something larger, something against which we are far from helpless?
    I posit this not because I have achieved some kind of nirvana of the body or have a peace over all that happens around me. My humanity is painful too. But when I put the many pieces of faith and science together it makes me wonder. If there is more to humanity than its humanness, what healing might take place if we stop resisting it?
    The practice of nonresistance here essentially challenges us to welcome our humanity with the intent of using it as the pathway to understanding all that is not human about us. The irony is typical of all life, isn’t it? It’s a fractal of nearly every human learning experience. The thrill of being on a journey. The surprise of irony.
    To heal the pain of being human we must accept our humanity. Let it be our textbook for the divine purpose. There can be no failure if love is truly at the center of it all.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, February 3, 2018 - Forgiving Ignorance

As much as we like to think of it in these terms, ignorance is not a crime. Nor is it a sin. Ignorance is a condition. A treatable condition, at that. It exists as a self-sustaining vacuum, which is, of course, unnatural. It has to be falsely perpetuated. Much like the idea of cigarettes being good for your health.
Humans are curious. More so than probably any other life form on the planet. We often give credit to our opposable thumbs for our progress as a species, but our ravenous curiosity far outweighs thumbs in terms of usefulness. As much as it is our strength however, curiosity is also our most profound vulnerability.
In service to our thirst for data we allow ourselves to be constantly filled with information and have nothing but our principles to filter it. But principles, ethics and values are in a tenuous position. They thrive only in the absence of fear. Once we have been triggered by fear, the fight or flight mechanism engages and our principles often fly right out the window.
Ignorance to various information on social issues, of healthy living, even basic common knowledge is a tool used by, and perhaps even perpetuated by, power structures to gain financial or political ground. The poor and uneducated should be recognized for the victimization they experience. Failure to do so only fuels the continuation of old and unhelpful ways. As a society we should know better than to forget them.
A compassionate heart is not offended by ignorance so much as alerted to its presence and need. This is the spiritual practice of nonresistance. Recognize ignorance rather than resist it. Don’t silence it. Forced silence creates a sense of victimization over time. Victims behave in predictable ways and are thus taken advantage of by those who cultivate power without integrity. We should neither vilify nor sequester them. To enhance the continuing arc of justice our society we must serve them.
Ignorance, especially hatred, should invite advocacy, mentorship, education, support. We should gravitate towards areas where proper education and the development of critical thinking are lacking. The people of this nation must remove its head from the sand and identify those who need our help.
As the Information Age grows, so too do our backyards. Our neighbors grow in number and with them, grows our awareness that we are an utterly interdependent species. We survive only as a single, unified tribe.
Our society has been described in films and literature as both a virus as well as an immune system. Which is it? Likely both. Humanity has spread out over the earth, arguably conquering it with both its avarice and its spiritual teachings simultaneously. They could be seen to be relying upon one another. Is there purpose here?
Perhaps the bell we are trying to ring throughout the universe is that of heavy lifting. The deep value we achieve by a difficult, but successful process. How much more profound is knowledge when it is given with integrity in the face of greed? How much grace exists in the act of loving — and empowering — both our enemy and our neighbor?
If we are trapped by the ignorance of ourselves or others only truth will set us free. Serve and receive the tired, the poor and the huddled masses as we have been taught to do. This has not been our national tradition to date, but still, we aspire. So mote it be.