Thursday, July 27, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, July 29, 2017 - Take Heart, Mother Earth. We’re Getting There

Renewable energy hit a record high in March. The US generated 10% of its electricity from wind and solar for the first time. Cities, states and corporations from across the country are committing to the terms of the Paris Climate Accord. Eight states have banded together to promote clean cars.
It’s really not that hard to find a flood of evidence that the societal tide has already turned. We know what we want now. The technology is there and people, all things being equal, are buying it. Electric car sales are up. So is public interest in renewable energy overall. Besides the new Tesla is so sexy.  
I remember when Massachusetts first banned cigarettes from restaurants and eventually bars as well. Business owners were certain that it would be armageddon. No one would ever come to a bar or restaurant again. Of course business was impacted, change is a bumpy road. But those who could adapt fared better. People got used to it. Just like seatbelt laws.
As society becomes accustomed to renewable energy we will find we really don’t miss the fumes, the filth or the expense. That shift is already happening. The fascinating part is that we are increasingly aware of the hard push by the fossil fuel industry against this progress. They sniff the end of the golden years and out comes the air freshener. Just like the tobacco industry. Both are making a habit of overplaying their hand.
There are still plenty of smokers, but fewer every year. The only reason tobacco is still making money is because they keep raising the prices as they lose customers. Addiction is an easy market. They can basically charge whatever they want. For now. But that business strategy has no long game. It’s a cash scramble. The writing's on the wall for tobacco and the fossil fuel industries both. You can see their panic in the recklessness of their actions. They already know. Take heart in that. The long game is in favor of Mother Earth.
If we’re being honest, we are all mostly lazy about committing to change. Like it or not, it’s up to dedicated visionaries, engineers and scientists to spoonfeed our progress to us in ways we are capable of complying with. Like the city giving me a recycle bin. We need a little help getting over the hump. It’s okay. Keep moving forward. Keep trying. It’ll make you feel better.
I had a therapist once who insisted I carefully hang up my coat when I entered her office rather than drop it on the floor beside my chair.  For a while I thought it was because she was fastidious. But she had a different motive. She believes that how we treat our clothes is how we feel about ourselves. And she also believes that if you want to think better of yourself, treat your clothes better. The same could be said for how we treat this planet as being somehow connected with how we think of ourselves.
Interestingly, the fight for civil rights and our interest in the welfare of the planet have risen in tandem. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, July 22, 2017 - Sunflowers Follow the Light

Occasionally I begin writing a column with a question to which I don’t yet know the answer. When I do this, I find the answer seems to unfold itself as I write. It is an act of faith that the answer will be there once the question is so boldly asked as to set it in print. But we must then remain open to how that answer will arrive.
One of my favorite old spiritual jokes describes a man on his roof amid the waters of a great flood. He has prayed to God to save him, but sends away a rowboat and then a helicopter because he expects God will accomplish the task by means of the miraculous not the physical. Be sure you see miracles in rowboats. You never know from whence they came. Be also careful with your expectations. Light comes best where there is no obstruction (read: expectation).
There’s an old bit of flower lore which states if you seek a truth unknown to you, put a sunflower under your pillow and truth should be revealed the next day. I like this thought. Especially because it’s essentially a prayer for light; for illumination. And once you ask for light, light is exactly what you’ll get. But again, be careful what you wish for.
If it is a truism that when we deliberately face the light we feel better, then why not do it on purpose? What if we could get around the edges of our mental barriers and inner confusion about the state of our lives by simply facing some light? I mean this quite literally.
It can be as simple as choosing to orient ourselves for a moment in the direction of even so much as a lit candle just for the sake of what it represents of the bigger picture. We usually can’t manage to get out of our own way enough to really find the root of our problems. So start small. Ask for light. Notice it everywhere. Gradually light will become your predominant experience. Both literally and figuratively. It’s not that there wasn’t any light before. It’s that you see it all now. Instead of the light just going to the back of your brain, it’s getting into you.
We’re always dealing with the surface issues. But they are only symptoms of ‘the problem.’ They are not the problem itself. Asking for light gets underneath and around the things we don’t even know are obstructing our view of it. It reaches out from under the edge of our umbrellas to feel the rain itself.
Turn your face to the sun and allow its warmth to soak into your skin. Feel it moving into you, through your veins, into your very bones. You might not notice how it impacts your life. It’s not a pill you can swallow. But the more you do it on purpose, the better it will be. I promise.
Sunflowers really do turn their blossoms to face the sun as it moves across the sky. What do they know that we do not? What do they feel that we might also experience for ourselves? Orient yourself to the light, and perhaps you too will know.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, July 15, 2017 - Despair Me Not

Do not despair. You have been told. So don’t do it. But of course it’s easier said than done. And what is despair? It’s not merely sadness. Is deeper than sadness. It’s the persistent belief that sadness is your new permanent mailing address. It’s from the Latin prefix de- meaning “down from,” and sperare meaning “to hope.” As if hope is the pinnacle, and we are banished from ever again reaching it.

But despair is not about being in the depths, it’s about looking away from the light. It’s about choosing to see the depths as your new forever reality, rather than just a temporary one. It’s actually quite easy to slip into a belief that we will never be happy again when we lose someone. We can’t begin to picture what it would feel like to be happy as we process our loss.

But worse, we fear we are doing our love for them a disservice by imagining a future happiness in the midst of our present grief. We think it says we didn’t really love them unless we tear our clothes, put ashes on our heads and vow to never again think a pleasant thought. But that is not what is wanted for us. We were not made to be broken forever. We were made to become more beautiful from our brokenness. Google kintsugi.

Of course despair comes not only from loss of a loved one, but loss in general. It’s grief that has, much as a wound left without care, become like an infection. A wound needs love and attention, it needs patience. But when we ignore our grief, or don’t notice it’s there, we delve further into the valley. Shadows of death surround us and we forget to notice the light entirely. We then find no hope at all that it ever existed. Perhaps it was in our imagination.

I have come close to this feeling many times. I have lost the battle with it at least once. When I was 20 a series of mid-range misfortunes coalesced into a perfect storm and I simply folded into myself for weeks. I rarely left the house for anything other than therapy. I ate instant cheesecake like it was manna. I remember distinctly what the feeling of hopelessness was allowed to do within me.

I also remember making the choice to turn from my despair. But I had to accept where I was first in order to leave it. I used my imagination to reach for a better thought. I decided the bottom of the barrel now offered the best view of the sky, but I had to give into it and just lay down to see. Now that I was there, I needed to give myself over to the experience of feeling hopeless so I could pass through it. I was resisting it.

That’s the secret to despair. The solution to its puzzle lies in the ability to allow it to pass through you with the knowledge and steadfast belief that it will pass. It will. There is an end to the bed of hot coals you are walking on. And if you can hold onto that thought while allowing yourself to feel the loss, the grief, the abandonment, you’ll find that will be the key to discovering the best version of your new self. Because we always, always change from loss. But it is entirely your decision what change that will be.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, July 8, 2017 - Sniff Those Rosebuds

It is said in many ways and by many different cultures that it’s not the destination which matters most. It’s the journey. We often see this kind of bumper-sticker speak suggesting we take in the present moment rather than obsess about future outcomes. Or past failures.

It might be concluded that world scripture is nudging us toward smelling the warmed roses, rather than burying the bushes for the winter in June. What might be sniffed from this?
Let’s create a “fact” for the sake of argument. The “fact” is: Journey is exponentially more important than Destination. If that is so, then why? And to what? If we assume Journey literally is the destination we seek, what thoughts does it bring up?
My faith operates under the assumption that like a good jazz vocal, real Truth fits in many different boxes without losing the essence and intent of the original thought. Truth is continuously revealed in the process of exploring it. God isn’t interested in us figuring it out as It is in the vibration of the steadfast attempt to raise ourselves up.
Is there a vibration to the pursuit of happiness?
As we sweep away the confetti of our 241st anniversary as an experiment in democracy, might we wonder if the energy that best propels us forward is the act of striving for something bigger than we are?
What if we were to see on a monitor the energy coming from an American football game? It could be surmised that the most productive, positive energy comes from the fans when their team gets a touchdown. But I think spiritual principle suggests that it comes from the team as they’re trying to score. It’s quieter, by comparison. But then volume has never had a history of being the determining factor of truth.
What occurs within us when we strive for something? What do we project? It would seem to me to be an energy that can ring bells the entire Universe can hear. The energy we broadcast as we study for an exam may well exceed that which occurs with the relief of getting an A. Or even a diploma.
So what might this mean for us? It means that Intent is what matters most to our sense of satisfaction. Not success. The road to hell is not paved with good intentions. It is paved with apathy. It is cobbled like so much stone from our fear of proceeding. Our fear of action.
And we understandably fear taking action. Action is risk. Risk implies the possibility of genuine loss. We are afraid for good reason. But what if we act in spite of that fear?
It would be easier to do so if we accept that trying is actually the point of life. Not succeeding. Not proving, but experimenting. We think getting the answer is the purpose, but it’s not. It’s asking the questions.
Intention is easier than action, for the record. It’s just spending some time deciding how you want to feel and then operating under the assumption that it’s a reality in process. Just decide what you want. Then don't do anything against it.
Americans have a deep need to succeed. It is the hallmark of our society. But what if the thing that God is actually trying to get you to do is to take the leap? What if the sensation of free-falling is the whole point of it all?
Might God love us most when we are sincerely doing our best? The most consistent traditional description of God is that of a loving father. We know the difference in parenting styles between a father which values winning at all costs over the dedicated pursuit of sportsmanship. We already know which one makes a better father. What if that is an accurate description of the masculine divine we refer to as the male pronoun God? Is God proud of us for trying? For doing our best? I think so. But why?
Perhaps it’s because that’s what propels the expansion of the entire Universe. Perhaps it’s Intent which fuels the motion of All That Is. Or maybe it will just make you feel better.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, July 1, 2017 - Can't Change the Weather

Some years ago, I had a sudden epiphany. I hated winter. Okay, so perhaps that’s not such a revelation, but to be honest I hadn’t really thought about it before. Sure, I had complained about it enough, but I hadn’t really declared my awareness to the level of actual venom.
I see people all the time who emphatically hate winter and even all things white, just to be on the safe side. They appear to love the sport of icy grievance. They speak of the weather as if it were grounds for a customer service complaint. To whom would their suggestions be boxed?
There’s a spiritual concept of Nonresistance which confuses us, especially Americans. We have been ingrained to resist as a point of national heritage. If we don’t like something we resist it. We throw our tea into the harbor time and again. The urge to resist is natural, it’s conscious, direct and actionable. Nonresistance as a concept feels like punching someone with Jello.
But nonresistance isn’t passive. It isn’t ineffective either. But it’s very subjective. There’s no proof to anyone else but you that it’s working. What is it you really want to accomplish? ‘Feel better,’ is ultimately the answer. And then we set about deciding what it is that will make us feel better when we usually have no real idea.
Start with how you feel about things over which you have no control. Winter, for instance. You do not have control over the weather, but you have plenty of control over how you feel about it. You do not have universal control over your children, your job, your health, or your spouse. You only have control over two things: how you feel about them and your proximity to them.
When I realized I actually hated Winter it was a wake up call for me. I didn’t want to hate something. I didn’t want to spend my year either glad it’s not Winter, dreading the Winter, or suffering through it. I needed to improve my relationship with the season not spend my energy battling it. That’s how Don Quixote ended up with a crooked sword.
But like the Man of La Mancha I have a near inexhaustible optimism. I decided to see what there was to love about Winter. As it turns out they nearly all begin with the letter S. The cold weather means sweaters, soups, snuggling, for some it’s skiing, sledding or snowboarding. You may not love all of these, but I bet you can think of more.
It doesn’t change the amount of snow, but it sure can change your feelings relative to it. And that’s what we are really going for here, a shift in attitude through a shift in our attention.
The first winter I decided to start actively loving the season on purpose it snowed over a hundred inches. Every time it snowed I went out there and shoveled as if I were going to the gym. I noticed my attitude around posture and good form improved. I shoveled in “sets and repetitions.” I stretched. I drank extra fluids. I didn’t get angry, I got fit.

How much of our world are we powerless against? But we have infinitely creative minds. We use them all the time to insure our misery. What if we used our imagination to find a way to feel better? What might become of our “enemy” if we were to suddenly become disinterested in the battle? It sure is a lot easier on the sword.