Friday, January 22, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 23, 2021 - Constructive Delusion

I am an optimist. And not just your average glass-is-half-full kind of optimist either. I am the glass-is-overflowing type.

I’m not sure where it came from exactly. My family are not particularly noted for either their pessimism or optimism, so it’s not likely that it stemmed from that (although I acknowledge it was not prevented either). My mother is still fond of reminding me that things always happen for a reason. And while there’s a thread of optimism to that, it’s more about maintaining faith that our challenges are not in vain.

In my own practice of optimism I take it a lever further. I go to the creative effort of slightly deluding myself about things which I don’t yet know. I fill in the gaps with something good. If I’m later shown to have been wrong, no biggie. I’d prefer to use my creativity to get over disappointments than for trying to prevent them. The former is a regularly useful skill, the latter is pointless.

The word delude is not an optimistic one. It means to intentionally deceive. It has a long record of harm in uses meant to mock, to play, even secretly ridicule. But that’s actually part of the purpose of my using it here. As a foundation of my optimism I am selectively—constructively, hopefully—misleading myself about the proper use of the word delude in order to take away its power. (For the record, I use the words selfish and revenge in exactly the same way.)

Is it possible to lie to oneself? Of course. We do it every day. But can deceit be constructive? Yes. But it depends upon intent.

How does this configure with optimism, you might ask? Ultimately I’m playing around with a natural human phenomenon known as confirmation bias as a tool for experiencing a better life.

Confirmation bias is a term that is used to describe our natural tendency to look at the world in ways that confirm our existing worldview. If we believe that people are horrible and irredeemable, we will consciously (and subconsciously) be on the lookout for every shred of evidence that proves our point. We end up moving through our daily lives on the constant lookout for horrible people so that we may say, “See! I told you!”

What state of mind does that encourage overall? What is the daily stress level of one who is constantly collecting proof of humanity’s darker nature? It can’t feel good. It can’t be healthy. And as it says in Luke, does worry ever add a day to one’s life? Nope.

But what if you saw things differently on purpose? What if you elected to be a bit more scientific and empirical about your approach to life? Because I have a bit of non-fake news for you. Factually, there are more good people in the world than bad. Factually, we are safer than we realize. We are healthier than we are sick. We are smarter than we are dumb. We love more than we hate. Historically, we are more peaceful now than at any point in the human timelime since the dawn of agriculture. Why not consider these when choosing how to determine the level of water in the glass?

I practice something referred to as constructive delusion. I constructively choose to see the best of all possible options occurring. I constructively choose to see the best in people and their intentions. I’ll look at what’s around me with a belief that benevolence, however improbable, is at work. Even in the darkest of moments I believe, without reservation, that the potential for good exists inherently within the core of the experience. Even the darkest nights of the soul exist with an expectation of the coming dawn.

Am I lying to myself? Yes. Because in truth I don’t know what’s to come. I don’t know if benevolence is really at work. I don’t even know if there is a God, but I believe in the existence of It nonetheless. Is my belief in God a constructive delusion? Fully. Even the most ardent of atheists, however, could not convince me that I am being done a harm by my belief in It. Likewise, I could not prove to an atheist whether or not harm is befalling them either.

So what’s the harm in a bit of self delusion when the only result is that I just might notice a good path in the midst of an array of bad ones simply because my belief in their existence predisposed me to noticing it? Does the lie then become a truth? Or is the truth (that was always there) revealed in the process of believing I would have to “lie” to myself a bit in order to get it? Thought provoking questions, these.

It could be seen as a fake-it-till-you-make-it way of looking at life, and I suppose that’s fair. Anyone could choose to bristle at the words lie and delude and deem them to be a fool’s path toward salvation. But I will save them the trouble. Because the intent matters. My intention is to not only feel better, but see better. My choice is to recognize the patterns of good which exist in all things. Because then I never miss a single good thing as it passes.

And if I see more good things, I am allowing my confirmation bias to attract more notice of these good things. I am effectively deluding myself with the truth. I am assuaging the darker part of my psyche that’s always on the lookout for a lie by giving it one to gnaw on for a while to slowly get used to the taste of truth. It takes time.

The truth is that we are not doing so bad, we humans. We’re messy as hell, but we’re loving. Even when we hate, we still love. Hate is fake. It’s a non-constructive delusion. But even hate has benevolence locked within it. Make that assumption and watch and wait. You’ll see that lie become the truth too.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 16, 2021 - That Part of the Elephant

There is an old story. It is known as the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Originating in the ancient Indian subcontinent many centuries ago, it has circled the globe in an effort to explain the various perspectives available within one single, overarching truth. 

Because of its deeply useful philosophy to remember that not all which we see is the complete truth, alternate versions of the parable are found throughout many cultures of the eastern world in Buddhist, Jain, Baha’i, Hindu and Sufi Muslim texts. Later spreading throughout Europe and the west, the story takes on even further significance worldwide as a metaphor for retaining our sense of humility regarding objective truth. 

In the story, a group of blind men who’ve never seen an elephant before, encounter one upon the road. The men surround the elephant and each take stock of one of its parts in an effort to understand the whole. One feels the elephant side, One feels the tusk, one feels the trunk, another feels its ear. They argue about their discoveries and claim dishonesty from among the others. In some versions of the tale, the blind men nearly kill one another from disagreement. For they know with certainty that their perspective is correct.

In the Hindu collection of Sanskrit hymns known as the Rigveda, composed over 3000 years ago, the idea is expressed as follows, “Reality is one, though wise men speak of it variously.” This is not claiming that any of their perspectives are incorrect, it is acknowledging that truth has many forms, even ones which appear to be in conflict with the others. This way of viewing it allows room for truth to exist within the gaps of their differences. There is grace and benevolence here.. 

The Buddha is also quoted to have spoken the following verse in reference to his use of the parable in his own teachings. “Oh how they cling and wrangle, some who claim for preacher and monk the honored name! For, quarreling, each to his view they cling. Such folk see only one side of a thing.”

What part of the elephant of Ultimate Reality are you feeling? Are you holding the tusk or the tail? Are you claiming that life is like a spear or like a rope? Are you holding the elephant’s ear and feeling the large leaf of a plant, claiming that to be the Ultimate Reality? Where is your humility? Where is your beginner's mind?

There is wisdom in letting go. The truth will be the truth no matter what we believe personally. The Ultimate Reality exists with or without our acknowledgment. Existing in a state of openness gives permission for truth to evolve closer and closer to its natural unspun state. Even this we may not be able to comprehend without bias. But choose to expose yourself to it nonetheless, and with love do your best to discern what is real. 

Let go of the truth. Let go of needing to be correct. Let truth and correctness be whatever they are and pray for truth to reveal itself. Empty yourself of expectation and open yourself beyond what you think you see to discover further layers of truth within. The truth belongs to you, however elusive it may be. It is your right and duty to pursue it. But let it not control you. Let your curiosity become the holiest thing about you. 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 9, 2021 - The Best Revenge

We’re all human. And humans are all, to one degree or another, vengeful. Even those of us who work so hard to overcome the lesser angels of our nature love a good car-keying breakup song or can’t help dropping a snarky Yelp review when crossed. 

Why do we feel the need for revenge? It doesn’t seem to have an obvious biological value, yet that’s the likely point of origin. Science demonstrates that vengeance activates the reward centers of our brain. So that’s at least an indicator that the biology is somehow involved in our desire for revenge. 

But why? What purpose does revenge have for our biology? Why is it hardwired into our brains that we need to get back at someone for pissing us off? Clearly it’s something we deem to be of great importance to our civilization that we curtail this natural desire through our laws and faith systems designed around a goal to sublimate the human instinct for revenge. Christianity is based almost entirely on this single idea alone. Love your enemy. 

One study acknowledges that what the angry mind really wants is not so much the meting out of punishment or suffering, but to accomplish a change of heart from those who have trespassed against us. We want the other person to change, to acknowledge what they did, to understand how it made us feel, and to promise never to do it again. Most of the time that’s a tall order. But that’s what we want. And there’s a clue here about why we are intrinsically wired for revenge. The clue is in our desire to accomplish a change of heart in the one who acted against us.

It’s true that revenge feels good. At least for a moment. It’s the subject of nearly all television, film, and books. We cheer when the villain gets their “reward.” It translates into our own lives and personal experiences where we think we will feel as good by committing our own vengeful acts as we did when seeing the villain get theirs. The irony is that revenge gives us only a short term boost of positive brain chemicals followed by a long period of slow deterioration of that feeling. We eventually end up feeling worse than we did before. We end up re-injuring ourselves. The villain wins in the end to the same degree as our unwillingness to let our sense of vengeance go. 

It turns out that there are deeply biological reasons for revenge. They hinge upon the fact that we are a communal species. Biologically, revenge is a social deterrent. Through our retributive actions, be they wise or not so much, we are attempting to cultivate behavioral change for the better within our tribes and social groups. When employed judiciously, revenge is actually meant to prevent negative actions taken upon us in the future. It’s meant to deter predators or those who would encroach upon our territory and modify behavior among the members of a society. It is also a demonstration of prowess and strength; things which are of prime importance in reproduction of any species. Standing up for ourselves is attractive. 

But, knowing that standing up for ourselves can go too far—because we are a greedy species—our tendency toward gluttony will take the form of revenge if not careful. We can deteriorate into obsessively fixating on getting back at those who have hurt us. Hence, the formation of laws and life practices. 

Having demonstrated that revenge is an inevitable reality for us all, how might we choose to handle it? Of course there’s plenty of advice out there. But how to choose from among them? When in doubt, always choose the most loving alternative. 

I practice a form of revenge, whenever possible, which entertains me to no end. Kindness. It really drives an enemy crazy. They don’t know what to make of it. 

Years ago in an old neighborhood I used to love to shovel my cranky neighbor’s sidewalk in the winter. He was so mean he even made a report once to the city’s building department that I was gay. (As if that somehow would make a zoning impact upon the community?) He was a perfect candidate for a revenge of utter kindness. He really had it coming to him. 

I don’t think I ever enjoyed shoveling so much in my life as I did his sidewalk, watching from the corner of my eye as he peered out through the curtains. I would imagine him flummoxed and confused. He was far too old to shovel for himself, and as the laws require the sidewalks be cleared in front of everyone’s homes, he actually needed someone to do this. But he had no friends of which I was aware and certainly was too cheap to hire someone. I know he was a stickler for law and order. It probably rankled him that the sidewalk wasn’t clear. He may have even worried about getting a citation. He needed me. Ha ha.

It’s true that he may have been sitting inside thinking he was the one taking revenge upon me rather than the other way around. He may very well have thought that he was the winner of this little “battle.” But I know he was wrong. I’m just as happy to entertain a thought that he was smugly satisfied. Because the brain chemicals we both had were good ones, and I’m the one who caused it. 

In the final analysis, it’s up to us how we manipulate our desire for revenge within us. There are many things about our human nature we cannot change, but for which we can create balance. The prime directive is to feel good. Not just in the short term, but the long term. The main goal of life is joy and anything which interferes with that is anathema. It will not rise to the top, for it is not natural to us.

Our biology may wish to enact measures to protect itself and its interests, that is logical. But make careful note of this desire and take steps to ensure that what tastes good right now won’t make you sick later. Revenge is a drug with harmful side effects. See to it that you make loving use of it. Surprising and positive changes will occur which you could not have imagined. Congratulations in advance.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 2, 2021 - The Point of Beginning

You might find it surprising to know that I possess a belief in astrology. Or perhaps you won’t find it surprising at all. As a way of making an eventual point, in the roundabout style I typically employ, I’ll share the details of the astrological portion of my faith. You need not subscribe to these beliefs, but keep an open mind as they shall eventually become metaphorical to the premise which follows.

It is apparent that all things have magnetism about them. Even the hazy rotation of an atom creates a field. That’s how it bonds with other atoms to form a molecule. It is also what repels some atoms away from one another. Within our own bodies exists magnetism as well. Our organs and cells all have polarity. They are affected by magnetic fields around them. We can be healed by magnets and we can become physically injured by living too closely to power lines or interacting with other types of strong electromagnetic fields.

Our cells use the magnetic fields they create to communicate with one another. Our eyes interpret electromagnetic radiation to create sight. Our hair stands on end before a lightning strike. We are intrinsically magnetic beings, head to toe; as are all planetary bodies. Stars, planets, asteroids, gas. All magnetic. All capable of producing a field. How far-reaching these fields may be is a matter of speculation and limited instrumentation, but that they possess such fields is not in question.

For those who remember enjoying music on the medium of cassette tapes, you may recall that those tapes are magnetically produced. Specialized magnets, affected by the sound they receive, arrange particles along a strip of cassette tape in such a way that a magnetic reader can later interpret the patterns and produce sound through a speaker. Unless erased or damaged by other magnetic fields, the patterns remain intact. 

Now picture yourself as the cassette tape. And at the moment of birth, whatever celestially-originated electromagnetic fields are most prevalent upon the earth at that time become imprinted upon every cell in your body. In theory, these imprints play that same song, in one way or another, throughout your life.

For the record, I do not believe all astrologers are genuine. And so, not all astrology is competent. The same can be said for medicine, education, and ministry. But I do believe that astrology could have some merit based upon the above. I do consider that we may tend to regularly play the song given to us by the heavens at birth. We can either become victims of that imprint or rise above it. But the imprint remains until it is erased, balanced, or modified.

The word constellation literally means a collection of stars. These celestial bodies, as arranged, are said to exert an influence upon the life which originates under their gaze. And while that may or may not be true, for I am agnostic on the point even as I debate in its favor, there is something quite earthly to be learned from the metaphor.

When we begin something—anything from a relationship to the first day of school—there are always a variety of factors occurring in the vicinity of that point of beginning. Influences that exert a force upon all which follows.

For instance, if a romantic relationship is begun under a lie, that lie will follow the relationship everywhere it goes. It plays like a song in the background you can’t get out of your head. The lie is a star within the greater constellation under which the relationship was born. But it will not be the only star. 

Other stars in play may also be of the person’s usually prevailing ability to be honest, despite the lie that was told, which eventually overrides the ability to keep the lie a secret forever. Should the lie be revealed with sincerity, those two opposing “stars” are given the opportunity to balance out the effects of the lie and perhaps even make the relationship stronger, risky as it may be to find out.

When a company is formed with solid ethics and honest practices, those are the constellation under which the company operates. Consumers like that. So do employees. Those companies which adhere to their best founding practices, tend to do better and remain nimble during lean times. They are often able to survive by the loyalty they have built over time. The constellation of their ethics generate ethical solutions to problems they encounter.

As this new year begins, what shall be the constellation of it for you? If you decide to lose weight, get a new job, learn a new language, start a new chapter, what are the various circumstances surrounding and influencing these beginnings? What will their effect be over time? What can you do to counteract the stars over which you have no control? That last one is often the main concern. What does a Taurus do to balance its bullish nature?

The answer is to care.

Care about the circumstances surrounding you. Notice what influences exist in your environment and do something with them. You may want to go back to school but feel you can’t afford it. Notice that apprehension and counteract it. Add a new star to the mix. Balance it out with added dedication to finding scholarships and grants.

Look at the situations around you. Your relationships, your job, your faith. Under what constellations were these things begun for you?  How are they working out now? Are there glitches that can be balanced? Is there hope, or must the cassette tape be erased and re-recorded to a better tune altogether? Maybe the song is good, it just needs a new arrangement, a perkier tempo, a new duet partner. What better influence can you be upon the start of something new or the improvement of something old? How can you sculpt (or surf) the constellation?

You are not powerless, despite our universal inability to control very much of anything. We can control our relationship with the world around us. We can exert an influence over the circumstances. We can change the way we feel by rearranging the stars which affect it. That’s something we definitely have which all quadrants of the zodiac do not: Free will. We can be mindful of the influences around us and take note when they are not singing their songs in our meter or key. We can write a countermelody which swerves and weaves through the wrought iron bars of what we think are the inevitable realities of who we are and transform their purpose into something else entirely. 

You are the positioner of stars. Use that power with good intent and they shall align for you.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 26, 2020 - Be More Selfish Next Year

There is a long held belief that sacrifice is the pathway to all accomplishments ranging from high school diplomas to eternal salvation. These are the types of things which are accomplished through sacrifice. In the sense that the word is being used here, meaning that sometimes they gave up parties they really, really wanted to go to because they had an exam the next day, yes, they are making a sacrifice. Probably, hopefully, many of them. That type of basic sacrifice is easy to point out. Naming those sacrifices which merit eternal salvation, however, are well above my celestial security clearance.

We give a lot of weight to the act of sacrifice. It is seen as the path itself, unfortunately, not just a way of thinking about the experiences along it. That does us a disservice.

I often wonder who I’m really doing things for, to be honest. I make a practice of it, actually. It’s a very useful exercise. The stark truth is that we always and only do things for ourselves. That may not seem true on the surface, but the real motivating factor of any action we take is how it will benefit us in terms of the love we wish to show or staying out of trouble or getting brownie points or feeding our sometimes addiction to receiving validation from others. We sacrifice of ourselves most for the benefit of love. We, as the hopeful recipients of that love, sacrifice of ourselves to receive it every day. Sometimes for good, sometimes not so much.

The distinction I’m possibly sluggish to make here is that some sacrifices are ultimately not in service to our highest goals. Some sacrifices make it worse. Some destroy the very things we think we are sacrificing ourselves to preserve. So the question comes again: Who are you doing it for?

This question is an arrow marker toward a way of thinking about the subject of your sacrifices. It will not give you an answer to the question: Are my sacrifices sacrificing me? Not immediately, anyway. But it will begin to illuminate your own view of it. It will create a picture over time, every time you’re brave enough to ask it of yourself: Who am I doing this for? Ask it of every single action you take from brushing your teeth to caring for your elderly grandmother. Make sure it’s a good answer.

The answers will almost always be mundane. But do you brush your teeth so that people won’t smell your bad breath or do you brush them so that you are always in possession of healthy teeth? The answer could be both, but what’s the real percentage of each? You can tell by what you do on your day off when there’s no one around to smell your breath.

We fear that if we ask these things we will be considered selfish. Good. I love that word. In fact, being more selfish is my favorite New Year's resolution. I make it all the time. And every year I get more selfish. At least in the way I mean it. It comes down to the same methodology as that of airplane safety, really.

But first, a little refresher on the history of the word selfish.

The word selfish has a definition that does not match its structure. It’s origins speak of that, and in their own way, contribute to the unsustainable societal meme that sacrifice is the path to salvation. Not a path, the path.

The word selfish was coined in 1640 by an archbishop for his own use to describe, in the most repugnant terms, the events of his day. To him there was no word sufficiently hostile to describe the unworthiness of human nature as he witnessed it. So he created one.

The concept of ‘self’ up until that time was thought of very differently. Even the ancient Greek and Hebrew had no words for it in the way that combined body, mind and soul. Self referred to our physical bodies only, not the entirety of our being. That archbishop, I suspect, began something ultimately benevolent in his dark attempt to group a person’s soul with the actions of their physical body. He helped to create the notion of recognizing our self-identity as being more than just our physicality.

When we do things for ourselves we are being literally self-ish, meaning we do them with an awareness of self. That is neither good nor bad on its own. It’s when we serve ourselves to the exclusion or harm of others which typifies the standard usage of the word selfish, but that’s the archbishop’s inelegant definition. And it’s now getting in the way of our continuing growth as a society. We aren't being selfish enough in the truest sense of the word and we’re being held back by the pervasiveness of old, outdated ways of thinking.

Sacrifice is not the path. It is a tool we carry with us on our journey upon the path. Alongside it are character, faithfulness, empathy, wit and compassion, among others to be sure. Sacrifice has its proper place and value. It should not be misused.

The question returns: Who are you doing it for? Because we might still do much of what we are already doing in life. Helping your elderly grandmother is often something we must do, but what’s the fuel in your tank? Is it a good fuel? Does it fill you or drain you? Is it real nutrition or junk food? Think deeply about this. It is the underpinning methodology of every action you take. It is so deeply entrenched in who we are that it impacts our nervous system, our immunity, our sleep, even our diet.

If an airplane for some reason depressurizes in flight, oxygen masks will automatically drop down from above each seat. During the pre-flight safety instructions we are told by the flight attendants that in the event the masks should come down we are to put on our own masks first before helping others with theirs. This is not considered selfish. One cannot help others if they are not able to breathe properly. Take a deep breath now. That is a selfish act. Do more of them.

When we are more careful about the effectiveness of our sacrifices, we are behaving in greater consonance with our highest goals. Thinking this way might help us to remember once in a while that we need to ask for help with caring for our elderly grandmother on occasions we might otherwise have just shouldered through it. We too often maintain an unsustainable sacrifice, even if it means that the rest we habitually lose from neglecting our need for rest, over and over, makes us vulnerable to the flu that winter which kept us from being able to help our grandmother at all for over two weeks, but not before giving it to her. This is a hypothetical example, but we know this story.

It might mean insisting that your child make at least token savings for their own college education rather than paying for it outright. Having some skin in the game is better for you and them both. They still get an education, but more. That’s the kind of selfish I’m talking about.

It’s when we are self-less that we always get ourselves into trouble. Breathe.

Being more selfish is compassion without burnout or harm. Being more selfish is empowerment of others rather than enabling them. In the words of a local social entrepreneur whom I admire named Ginny White, it’s a hand up, not a hand out. It does not mean giving up being a good neighbor. It’s just remembering that the philosophy to do no harm means to ourselves as well.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 19, 2020 - Joy to the World, Please

I can’t think of anything I’d like more for Christmas than joy for this world, who has been through so much of late. This saddened and wicked world, full of disease and dis-ease, both. Wounds of the heart so deep even the light cannot penetrate them. Sorrows resting quietly inside and unknown. Likely to be taken to the grave, still unspoken.

And yet…

I have so much hope for this world. A world who want for nothing more than to just be together. To be held with the intent that their sorrows be eased, no matter if it’s possible through the act of embrace or not. Embrace anyway. If the weight cannot be lifted, it is better to be lightened.

I firmly believe that’s who we are. We are that better side of ourselves who tends to trust, and to heal. Our wounds are not us. Our politics are not us. We caused them, but we are not them. We are something else entirely. We are light, having a darkened experience.

If you read between the cracks in the news, you can see it. There is progress and love everywhere. It’s hidden amidst the boulders of conflict. But their size is an illusion. Look away from them. If you filter out the hate on your Facebook and Twitter feeds, and remember that social media is for entertainment purposes only, it suddenly becomes so much clearer what to do. Turn the other cheek. Turn away from it.

Should we know about the darkness? Yes. Ignorance is not bliss. But should we live in it? Never. Should we pray for its peace and ease? Always. Our hearts are eased a bit when we pray for those who hate us or wish us harm. It changes us chemically from within. Every ounce of weight lifted is one less carried. You’ll get much farther.

What would you be willing to do to feel better? We go through quite a lot to try. Think of the pills we take and the booze we drink and the games we play just to experience an approximation of what we imagine feeling good must be like. It seems as if we are chasing our imaginations; a daydream of what ease and comfort and satisfaction must feel like. If only we knew for sure.

There are those who feel ease, however. They feel it genuinely and most of their days are spent in a state of hopeful anticipation of what’s to come. They look forward to life. They, unlike many of us, have managed to crack the code and feel peace even amid the tumult. Are they fools or are we?

The weeks leading up to Christmas are called Advent for the Christian world. It is intended as a season of giddy expectation. Though most of us, including those who actively celebrate Christmas, often forget entirely the purpose of the weeks leading up to it. We encumber ourselves with layers of stress and obligation. But we are meant to revive ourselves during this time and remember that the winter will eventually end, both symbolically as well as literally. We are meant to consume cheer as though it could be spooned from a heaping plate on a buffet table.

This is a particularly challenging year for good cheer. But that doesn’t mean we need it any less. Yet the ways by which we attempt to approximate the good tidings we are supposed to know are all different now. We have a choice between gathering unsafely, and thereby unlovingly by default, or fighting the desire to gather and missing our friends and loved ones so keenly. It seems we can’t win.

But human ingenuity reigns supreme always. We never fail to come up with innovative and creative solutions to our most profound problems. Even healthier is when we live in a state of expectation for their eventual resolution. This is where healing lives.

When we alter our thoughts to include anticipation and hope and even gingerly venture in the direction of joy, things have a natural tendency to shift for us. It works in inexplicable ways to our human brain, though many attempt to explain it. Some theorize metaphysically, some scientifically. Each doing their best to explain why it is that when we change our thoughts we change our life.

As the new year approaches, putting the more religiously-originated holidays aside for a moment, we most of us see an opportunity for a clean slate. Will you? This year has been a genuine tragedy for us all. Even those who didn’t lose their jobs or who managed to avoid getting sick or lose a loved one to the virus, still had to contend with either the reality of its existence in the world or shoulder the enormous burden of ignoring it. All of humanity has experienced something together, even if in our own ways. That has a tendency to change things for the better. So long as that’s what we choose.

Do you believe in wishes? Maybe you should try. But also, when you do make that wish, remember it's a contract. Your end of the bargain is to never let go of what you’ve wished for. Your task is to maintain hope that what you’ve ordered is on its way, and only your patience and determination to believe shall outlast its journey. Never give up.

I hereby place a purchase order for joy as my gift to the world. It might not arrive on time for Christmas, but it’s coming. I believe that with every fibre of my being. Joy is coming. It may, in fact likely will, look far different than what we expect. It may appear as though it's a sweater, which at the time we ordered it, were so sure would fit us perfectly just as we are. But no. This is not a garment that can fit or not fit, nor can it be returned. Once here, joy will align with us as we will rise to align with it. Our form will shift to accommodate the shape and size of joy just fine. Fear not.

Do what you can to instill a sense of ease and purpose for this unusual time. Heal the sick, grieve those lost, and then live our lives in dedication to them. Let this tragedy compel our hearts into loving more, forgiving more and seeking ways to not just restore or retain our old relationships, but make new ones entirely as well. Expand your circle, even if only by a few people. Your life will change.

But first, as this year comes to a close, remember that you are the center of the Universe. What occurs within you radiates outward in ever-widening circles of whatever it is you’re transmitting. Let it be joy. We need it badly.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Hopeful Thinking, Saturday, December 12, 2020 - Whose Feelings Are Whose?

Rightly or wrongly, I have always thought of myself as a bit of an empath. It’s a loaded term, really. It can give impressions of every claim from the psychic to the emotional. I am somewhere toward the latter on the spectrum. 

It’s hard to tell sometimes whether my emotional experiences are those of others or of myself. Assuming it’s a little of both, I try to be mindful of the percentage. It’s preferable that the majority of my emotional experience originates from within myself. I’m better equipped to help others if I’m not taking on their feelings but just listening to them. 

To sit with someone in their grief should not be the same as grieving. That’s not to say we don’t grieve alongside our friends. A healthy version of grieving alongside one’s friend is a prayer to the Universe for their ease. May their grief be eased. Amen. It has a different character to it than taking on the grief of others. 

Back in the early 90s when I moved to New York City I remember feeling waves of despair. It wasn’t about moving away from home, though I did have a slight bit of homesickness. My sense of adventure was far more demanding than any desire to return home just yet. But I couldn’t help feeling as if it were better to just give up even though I’d hardly gotten started. That didn’t sound like me at all. 

Walking the streets of New York especially, I could feel the despair of the city. I didn’t realize that at first. At first I thought there was something wrong with me. I don’t even know what caused my sudden realization, but one day walking near Bryant Park it suddenly occurred to me that the feelings I was experiencing were not my own.

I don’t know where the idea came from, but I absolutely knew it to be true. I felt immediately better. And slowly, I learned how to distinguish other people's emotions from my own. It resulted in a greater curiosity and empathy for others. Essentially, it made me more brave. It made me more compassionate and less judgemental. It felt like a window into the hearts of other people. Not specific individuals, but the aggregate sea of humanity that exists in Manhattan. I felt for them.

I attribute that vast sea to the reason why I was able to figure it out. Manhattan has such a dense and emotionally seismic population. The range of emotions is off the chart and thickly concentrated. Frankly, it was easier to discern it from my own because it was so powerful and distinct. It made the boundary clearer than in other places I have lived or visited. The minute I realized where this newly-visible boundary lay I simply felt better. No great awakening other than just feeling better.

Over time I began to realize the implications of seeing the line. Once I saw the demarcation point between my own heart and that of others it changed me forever. Just realizing there was a line at all changed me. 

I still struggle with taking on the emotions of other people, but now I see it. That’s the difference. It’s like wearing special glasses whose task it is to filter in new things which had always been there but were previously blinded from my knowing. Those glasses are in my toolbox. And sometimes I forget them there. It is a life practice to remember to put them on.

Do you wonder what your percentage is? Do you wonder how much of your emotional experience originates from within you and how much is being transmitted by others? We all are walking radio towers transmitting vibration and electromagnetism. We exhibit a field around us. And while we may understand virtually nothing of it, we know that it exists. That alone has implications. Just what is going in and out of your field?

Out of a desire for nothing more than to simply feel better, assuming one always has room to improve upon that, be curious about your percentage. If you are brave, be radically curious about it. Be forensic. Ask the question aloud to yourself. Pray to see the difference between your emotions and those of others. Pray to see the line.

Acknowledge that you are a sovereign entity, designed with benevolence and purpose. Our weakness is often merely strength in excess. Our ability to see into and feel the hearts of others is a superpower we just need more practice in using. I’m here to tell you you have the power. I encourage the exploration of spiritual life practices in order for you to begin using it. 

Empathy is a wonderful gift, treasure it wildly. But especially now, during these trying and emotional times of our human civilization which we will in time overcome, learning to discern the difference between our emotions and others will give you the focus you need to spend time healing the wounds on your own heart without confusing them for something more profound than they are. Whatever size the troubles on your own heart may be, they are smaller than that combined with the sorrows of others.

Today I heard from my mechanic that the repair I needed was going to cost a lot less than I thought. I guess I shouldn’t have worried so much about it. I’m glad I finally took the time to have it looked at. It seems a much more manageable problem to me now. 

Notice your emotions objectively. Stand back from them and acknowledge them. That will be the first step toward getting under the hood of it and finally determining the difference between the repairs you actually need from the smoke that’s coming into your car from the truck in front of you.