Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sunday Message - December 30, 2018 - Make Up Your Mind

    I started to see a pattern some years ago. I noticed in various instances that when I made a clear decision about something, a result would be more clearly realized.
    Back in the mid 90’s while I was living in Toronto I made a decision. I don’t know what prompted me to think of it in terms of a decision rather than a wish, but that’s how I framed it in my mind. I was making a decision as a form of prayer, though I didn’t recognize it as such at the time. I decided I was going to stop housekeeping and begin earning my living as an actor full time, by my July birthday, which was still several months away. So that was the decision. I was going to be a working actor by my birthday.
     Then, in the meantime, I continued working as a housekeeper as an undocumented immigrant living in Canada. My hope was that if I could get a union contract for a show that was really motivated to hire me despite my being an American, I might qualify for a work visa and then I wouldn’t have to spend my existence looking over my shoulder all the time for immigration officials.
     It didn't go that way exactly. However, in the weeks and months following the moment I made my decision to start working as an actor full time my housekeeping clients started dropping off on their own. They were going away for the summer and weren’t sure what would be happening when they got back. One was moving. One lost his job and I was downsized. One might assume that it was all in my mind. One might assume that they were all firing me one by one because my heart wasn’t in it anymore and the quality of my work was declining. But at least half of my clients dripped away one at a time for reasons I could confirm were not fabricated. And I never received a complaint. Interesting.
     I was also continuing to audition for shows. I got plenty of non-paid gigs. It was the paid ones that were slim to find who might be either willing to get me a visa or pay me under the table. But then I auditioned for a children’s show and got the gig. Full time paid job for months. And for some reason they were willing to pay me under the table.  Rehearsals started on my birthday. A week after my last client had scheduled my last cleaning. And I became the costume manager for the next show in that theatre when mine closed and I didn’t even miss a paycheck. In fact, I got a raise and had more fun backstage than most of the shows I’d actually performed in.
     I acted in a steady string of non-union shows from that point on that paid about $300 bucks a week. Which at the time was enough to pay the bills. I was a swing in a modern musical version of the Aristophanes’ ancient comedy Clouds, so I eventually got to play all the fun parts. And for three years I was a swing in the Toronto production of Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap, which was the longest running show in North America at the time. I also produced and learned how to sew by making the costumes for my shows in a couturier's workshop who very patiently taught me from scratch.
     I had everything I needed and I’m certain it was because I made a decision.
     Now, we make decisions all the time. What was different about this? I’m not completely sure, to be honest. I think it’s something to wonder about though. Because it’s happened at other times too. It seems that the character of the decision making in those moments feels more like making a pact, perhaps, than just declaring a desire. There is a deep sensation to it. Definitely. And I can often trace it back, when something I wanted to happen finally occurs, to the moment when I had made up my mind about it. I can look back and see how the soon as I truly decided, things over which I had no direct control started to work in my favor towards what I wanted.
We’re talking straight up law of attraction stuff here. It’s the mechanics of ask and ye shall receive.    
There were several times during the past year here at church when I had made a decision that something should happen and without knowing how, leapt. Believed. I did not know for sure how much it was going to cost, nor how much effort it would take to build a float for the 4th of July, for instance. It took a lot of volunteers and some late hours to pull it off. But it happened. And though it took a lot, I feel closer to the people who helped make it happen. We were a team dedicated to accomplishing an idea together. And I know it was worth doing. It was worth leaping even though I didn’t yet know how it would all work out when I started. The same could be said for the holiday decorations on the building, or the nativity pageant, but these things made people happy. And drew us closer as a spiritual community. I’m glad I made a decision. Because those decisions made us bigger, more noticeable, of greater service to this community. How much advance planning should we really achieve before we feel safe enough to proceed without surprise?
Part of this comes with a commitment of faith on the part of the one making the decision. Because what we routinely do is ask for a particular reality, and then there must occur a natural waiting period, but then we panic and assume nothing’s happening when it just hasn’t come into view yet. We give up. We seek only the solutions that have a more visible linear connection or stand a chance of happening in a way that we can predict. But the best solutions rarely come in predictable ways. And big mistakes can still happen even with the most careful planning. Security is a superstition, Helen Keller said.
My favorite spiritual aphorism is leap and the net will appear. It’s terrifying most of the time. And it can freak some people out. But it doesn’t make it a wrong way to live. There’s a lot of spiritual advice in favor of taking risks and leaping with the full assumption that a net will appear, so long as we do nothing to sabotage it. Which requires we remain calm and trust. Keep moving forward. You don’t have lean so far forward that you have to run to keep from falling. Put a little grace and patience in your step. Not only will it make things easier for you, you’ll be at greater peace with those who get nervous and are free to hold their hand and calm them. Because that will happen. It’s an opportunity to show more love. Take it.
All of this is predicated on the need to make up your mind.
It is the core secret of the golden rule as well for we must determine how we wish to be treated first if we want to know how to treat others. We must know what it is that we want. We must decide.
And that’s a really hard part for most people. Hardly anyone really knows what they want. They know things that they want to happen; things that they want to have. But these are just things we think will make us happy and feel fulfilled. They’re the best we can come up with. We spend our psychic energy on wishing for things instead of feelings or experiences. We think a car will make us feel free so we wish for a car believing that is the only way we will ever experience freedom. Will we get the car? Depends on how aligned that idea is with your truest intentions deep down. We ask for stuff that think will make us feel happy and fulfilled because that seems to make more sense to us. It seems more concrete. Well, why not focus on happiness and fulfillment instead? The pathway toward them, meaning the stuff you really need rather than the stuff you think you need, might be very different than you would have imagined. The idea here is to pray less for the car and more for the freedom. Do you have the courage to decide and then allow things to unfold? It’s hard. You have to wait often till the final hour before a solution presents itself. It’s like a game of spiritual chicken. Who’s going to swerve first, me or the Universe?
I love my GPS. It always, or usually always, tells me the fastest way to get where I want to go from right where I am. But unless I change the settings on the screen to overhead view, which doesn’t help me very much right down here where I actually am, I’m only going to know what the next turn is. All the rest of the steps necessary to get where I have decided I want to go are relatively unknown to me. I have to have faith. Should I just not leave the house?
So now let’s go back to deciding what you want. How do you make up your mind? Because it’s fairly important information. Certainly to your GPS. You can’t tell it to bring you anywhere if you don’t decide where you want to go first. And you have to communicate that decision to it in clear and understandable terms by typing it in correctly and using formats like standardized abbreviations, etc.. There’s an agreement taking place between you and your GPS in that moment. It agrees to do its best, understanding all the options available, to guide you from where you are to where you want to go. You agree to be clear in your decision and know how to properly describe the destination. You agree to remain calm and place yourself in the hands of something else.
It’s okay if you don’t know what you want in life. But you can decide how you want to feel. We already know that. We just spend so little time thinking about it. But how we want to feel is the only format the Universe knows how to read when we’re using it as a GPS. So how do you want to feel? Fulfilled. Respected. Useful. Appreciated. Loved. Is there only one way to have any of those? Then don’t ask for only one by telling the Universe how to make you do it.
This is what primarily gets us in the way of manifesting our decisions—we over think it.
I didn’t overcomplicate my desire to be a working actor by over-defining how I expected it all to go down. I just said that I wanted to work and suddenly everything moved into alignment, including things over which I could have had no direct control.
Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. A fresh start. A demarcation point of past and future. It’s an imaginary line, of course. Just something we created to assist us in counting time. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a useful vehicle for creating transformation.
Plan a seed thought for this new year. Decide something. Move toward it and the Universe will do the same. If you need peace, ask for it and decide that’s what will happen. Then watch for how it unfolds. Affirm it for yourself as you see it working. Lean in more. If you need employment, ask for it. But don’t be surprised at what is offered. It may not look like something you would have thought of on your own, but don’t resist it. Welcome it. See where it brings you.
We usually don’t get a clear understanding in advance of all that we will need to make the transformation we want. We can only see the peak of the mountain in the distance. The valley between is a mystery to us. But select the peak anyway. Picture yourself being there and thank the universe for everything it may do toward you reaching it.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 29, 2018 - Take Comfort in Change

Think for a moment about what it’s like to stand facing forward in the aisle of a speeding train. You’re moving but you’re not moving. Even small steps forward feel like an enormous leap of speed.
Now, in your imagination turn around. What is the sensation like now? What does taking a step “forward” feel like? It sort of feels like it’s moving back but it’s actually going forward anyway. Just not as fast as the others, even those who are only standing still. Your brain and heart perceive the backward forwardness and strain to accommodate them both.
This is the co-equal state of our global human society right this minute. We are all on this train. It moves at what seems to be an increasing speed. We all feel it. We each react differently based on which direction we are comfortable facing. There is reason to believe that this train is moving in a positive direction. Looking at the overall zigzagging progress of known human history, we have only ever improved upon ourselves. Despite the fear of the moment, this upward trend toward human unity has not altered. But it has made some people seek to stand in the aisle of the train facing back to where we have been because they are afraid of where we are going.
Fortunately the choice is our own. But there are a variety of factors which help determine it. What are your sources? Who is telling you what to believe and are you confident in why they are saying it? Who is teaching you how to determine and discern? It’s an honest question, not a test. Every one of us synthesizes our opinions from the various sources of information to which we expose ourselves. Take inventory of those sources right now and measure them.
Check their motives. Are they loving? Do they invite people to the table or do they exclude? Do they attempt to create relationship or seek to avoid it? Are they plotting to avoid change or strategizing to adapt? The answer to all our human problems will come from the humans themselves. But we have to have the courage to ask each other. Then we must be brave enough to hear the answers we get.
It’s okay to question everybody right now. This is the time of great uncovery. We are looking in all the dark corners. It’s appropriate, even encouraged, to ask and verify. But it’s not always safe anymore to answer. In its own way we are experiencing a public judgement day. An endtimes to old and previously-hidden ways. Good.
But these revelations are scary. They bring out the worst and best in us both. They represent a good struggle, however. But that is cold comfort to point out.
What direction are you facing on the train?
The difference between those who are comfortable with change and those who are not come down to their set of principles and standards. How nimble are these faith and ethical systems? How comfortable are they in a variety of settings? Do they understand that evolution is a fractal of all reality or do they pray for everything to assure them of permanence?
One of my favorite lines from the movie “Funny Girl“ occurs when a lady quips, “A gentleman fits in anywhere.“ The comic reply was, “So does a sponge.“
But the point was not missed on me. A gentleman is a social version of someone who can adapt. A gentleman is gracious and flexible. He does not condescend or consider others to be unequal to him, neither higher nor lower. His expectations are of a different character entirely. The goal of a gentleman is a comfortable journey through life.
So what makes a comfortable journey? Ease. Ease with change. Comfort with difference. Graciousness in the face of adversity or fear. Flexibility in the light of changing fortunes. If our intent is to have ease rather than pin our expectations on continuity, we stop spending all our energy keeping things from changing. For the faithful, it’s kind of arrogant really, because it assumes that we think we know better than God about how to best achieve our desires. We don’t know all of the available options. Some things can only be seen from above the labyrinth. Pray to be happy. Seek ease. Relax. Face forward and take a deep breath.
Don’t attach happiness to a particular reality. Realities change. Place your focus on becoming accustomed to the sensation of the earth moving beneath your feet. It’s not going to stop just because you want it to. It’s already happening. Stop resisting it. Take a deep breath and revel in the sensation of forward momentum.

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 22, 2018 - The Glitter Bomb

    I get it, believe me. Revenge is so sweet. There’s something about vengeance and retribution that really satisfies us in a way that seems even larger than the event which started it. I’ve taken vengeance myself. Sometimes I’ve even regretted it.
     Upon the recommendation of my husband, I recently watched a YouTube video called “Package Thief vs. Glitter Bomb Trap.” In it, NASA engineer Mark Rober decided to share a liberal amount of holiday sparkle and a bit of creative aromatherapy (aka glitter bomb and fart spray) with those who chose to steal packages from his front porch. He also rigged it to video record the various thieves’ reactions. The video is nine minutes and forty seconds of retaliatory bliss.
Rober’s clip provides us with one of the most satisfying forms of revenge: vicarious. Seeing someone else dishing out the just deserts on behalf of underdogs everywhere makes us feel a little less alone in our own victimization. We cheer the hero for utterly destroying the evil villain. In movies, they so often don’t just get punished, the villains usually die. Spectacularly so.
     According to my principles, I’m not supposed to like this. Admittedly, I don’t get a giant amount of happiness from seeing people get what’s coming to them, but I don’t get a small amount either. I’m somewhere in the middle. You could definitely say that it bothers me a little that it only bothers me a little.
The definition of revenge is to inflict injury in return for something inflicted upon us or someone we love as a grief response. We’re trying, in our own misguided way, to make ourselves feel better. Overall, however, revenge is definitely not in our best interest. A Psychology Today article on the subject reminded me of one of the best sayings by Confucius, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
     By and large, the only events in my life that I truly regret are times when I sought to even a score. Usually it was my rage that masked my good judgement. I literally could not see clearly. I didn’t have an agreed-upon escape plan. That’s why we need a few guiding principles we agree to practice while we are not under stress so we remember more often to practice them when we are. Decide in advance―while you’re calm―how you want to behave on that future day when you’re inevitably going to become angry. Then follow your own advice. Trust the decisions made by your rational self so that you may draw upon them when enraged and confused. This is the path of self-awareness. You first have to accept that you will not always be calm and rational, so make a plan in advance for how you would like to act and then do it when the time comes.
     The fact is, taking revenge on someone literally reinforces the hurt caused by the incident which inspired us to want to seek it in the first place. It cements the pain in position and invites us to think about it over and over, branding it into our subconscious. Vengeance turns letters written in chalk into words carved in stone. It may feel satisfying at first, but it’s a sugar high that leaves a cavity behind.
     This is not a judgement of vengeful behavior. Contrary to popular belief, spiritual guidelines are not about judgement at all. The ten commandments, for instance, are actually divine advice meant to improve the overall quality of our lives. The original Hebrew names them “utterances” rather than “commands.” Take that to heart. Vengeance may be natural to us, but the advice is to try something else. You’ll find that you’re bothered by it less. Don’t let your pride get in the way of your peace.
     It’s hard. Especially since it’s so delicious. But what kind of nutrition are your after, really? That same Psychology Today article also referred to a study which showed that those who did seek revenge feared that they would feel even worse if they had not done it. But those who did not take justice into their own hands, scored happier.
     “You have heard it said, ‘eye for an eye,’ but I tell you to turn the other cheek,” said a wise man once. This advice is good stuff. It works. It’s more comfortable. It places our attention on what we want more of, not less. It removes the power from that which wounded us and transforms it to a balm.
     Spiritual practice is easy to say and hard to do. That’s why they call it practice.

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 15, 2018 - All Shall Be Well

    In my church every Sunday morning, after some have come forward to share their hearts and light a candle, the congregation sings a brief line written by Julian of Norwich in the 14th century. All Shall Be Well... It is a quote from the first published book ever written by a woman.
    Julian of Norwich had a severe illness when she was 30 in the year 1373. On her deathbed she had a series of 16 visions of Jesus and Mary after which she completely recovered. She eventually wrote down these visions in a book called Revelations of Divine Love. In one vision in particular she asked Jesus about the reason for sin. He answered her that, “Sin is behovely, but all shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.”
     The word “behovely” is the remarkable part. For the word had a relatively conceptual meaning in Julian's time over six centuries ago which no single word today manages to convey. To say that sin is behovely was to say that sin is useful, expedient, necessary, valuable, understandable, logical, practical, and no surprise whatsoever to God.
     In Julian’s vision, Jesus was accepting of sin in the world because he acknowledged that it was just part of the learning curve. That doesn’t mean that it’s easy to watch. But that it is something we must move through in order to live up to our fullest potential. Peace on Earth, perhaps?
     Julian’s optimism about the human race was evident in her understanding that humanity matures over time and comes closer to making fuller use of our divine spark with each mistake we make. But it takes time. Ages, in fact.
    In our present moment we struggle with our relationships. Differing opinions among our friends or family members, our coworkers. We feel less free to speak our minds. It’s understandable and no surprise whatsoever to God. It’s part of the process.
     Love is what got us into this trouble in the first place. Love is what makes people talk to each other. It’s what makes us want to know one another. Every form of communication has value. But there are pitfalls. Be careful what you wish for. As our technology to communicate becomes more widespread we discover things we sometimes wish we hadn’t. Wounds unhealed. Crimes unseen.
     Sometimes we wish we could go back to the old days before we knew anything. Ignorance was blissful for so many people. But not all. And now we know it. We can’t unknow the struggles of other people we now see all too clearly. But we try. Sometimes we dust off old ideas and methods which used to work just fine when certain people started forgetting their place. But those don’t work anymore. We see through it now. And we don’t like it one bit. None of us. Some don’t like what they now see, some don’t like that they are now being seen. Everyone feels like the sky is falling. Mainly because it is.
    But all shall be well.
    I have an affinity for this kind of thinking. Because if sin (which I define as any action which prevents or destroys relationship) is behovely, and somehow all part of the long arc of our development as humans, then perhaps there really is a point to all this. This exhausting journey of societal self-discovery has a purpose which is not unknown to God.
But can we take comfort from something about which we technically know nothing, have no proof of, nor be persuaded by others? Maybe. What does your gut tell you? Do you feel comfortable thinking of struggle as having a purpose? Can we get our heads around that?
Because if we can, we can use it deliberately. We can take the time to remember that all people have inherent worth and dignity. We can, with deliberation, recognize the deeper truths underneath the reasons why people do the hostile things they do. They are afraid. Accept them for who they are—even if needs to be from a safe distance—and assume there is more to the story than you know. People are never angry without something making them feel that way. Compassion and technology give us a reason as well as a way to first find out what it is and then make a bridge toward it.
As we reflect on our world, look for those who are accepting of others, accepting of difference, comfortable with change. These are the wise ones. Listen to them.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 8 , 2018 - Dignity vs Respect

   It occurred to me recently that there’s a difference between dignity and respect. Specifically in our treatment of each other. for instance, I can treat someone with respect, and I can treat someone with dignity. They look a lot alike. From the outside no one would really notice the difference. The difference is inside you.
    It is my personal memory that my father is the one who taught me about the importance and value of respect as a concept. I’m not really sure why I have this memory. I don’t remember any specific event or philosophy he shared with me on the subject. But somehow I feel as though the lesson came from him, so I will honor it.
     What I learned is that respect is something very rarely given. Only slightly more so is no-respect. The vast majority of people fall into the category of a gray area on the subject. For most of the people we encounter in the world we simply do not have enough information about their character, the way they respond to things, the respect they give others, or the things they teach, to know if we actually can respect them.
Even the most famous public figures are largely a mystery to us. We don’t know how they treat their dog in private. We don’t know if they care about the environment. We don’t know how they express their love for their children. We just know what we are shown, which is usually very little. So how is it possible to actually place someone in the category of respect? Generally, we limit our requirement for respecting others to the things we can see. We might be wiser to say it that way. For instance, “Everything I know about her, I respect.“
I used to think that I could treat people with respect regardless of being in the gray area or even if I didn’t respect them at all. They are human beings. All life should be treated with respect.
This is fine up to a point. We usually have a harder time when it comes to providing respectful treatment to those with whom we vastly disagree, or who have caused great harm, or generally revile for some appropriate reason. But I still believed they should be treated with respect.
I have revised my thinking.
Part of the problem with wording it this way is that it’s asking us to drive a car with no gas. If we are asking ourselves to treat someone with a respect we do not possess, how is that supposed to make us feel? On some level are we feeling as though we have sold out or given in? What are we sacrificing of our principles when we treat someone with respect who has not earned it in our eyes?
Granted, it is a step. It is an evolution from the way things used to be. Treating someone with respect is a very good thing. It is just not the limit of our capacity to “make nice.” There is more.
Since it is impossible to forget ourselves in the equation of all of our human interactions, we should be non-resistant to that. Just accept it. You can’t forget yourself or how something makes you feel. Do your best to feel good by doing good.
The first principle of my faith is about the dignity of all life. The word dignity is the important point here. Because we can conclude, without all the data necessary for the defining of respect, that all life deserves dignity. People are more honest, for instance, when they feel their dignity has not been taken from them in the process of learning they were wrong. How you treat them depends on whether or not you are seeking to win or to be correct.
Dignity is about nonresistance and love. It is about forgiveness of things we know as well as the things we don’t. Dignity is the rule by which we should treat all strangers, all newcomers. Dignity is how we should be treating our neighbors. Whether or not we agree that someone should be allowed to enter our country, dignity should always be the rule we follow in our treatment of them.
Treating someone we fear with dignity is different than asking ourselves to treat them with respect. One implies equality, the other, submission.
Yet on the surface they look the same. I would hand someone a tissue who is sneezing in the same way I would for one I fully respect as one with whom I treat with dignity. Mainly because dignity should always be there. Including for those whom you truly do respect. And we don’t always do that.
Remember kindness and dignity are usually the same. We don’t have to know everything about a person in order to treat them with kindness. No matter their crimes, they stand the best chance of transforming if we love them right where they are.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, December 1, 2018 - Be the Surfboard - 100th column

Think for a moment about the nature of a surfboard. It is designed to be simple. It is engineered to be thrilling. It is meant to demonstrate a mastery of forces which we cannot understand. Is meant to be a letting-go.
Disclaimer. I say this all without ever once having even attempted to ride a surfboard. But sometimes better theologians come from those who describe the faiths of others from an objective distance. In the end it is only the theology of the surfboard I am describing here. Perhaps one day I shall be brave enough to step aboard the actual and learn even more.
My lack of first hand expertise notwithstanding (since, chances are, you lack the same), let’s picture the surfboard again. How does it differ from driftwood? Of course it does differ greatly, but as an exercise let’s list how.
Driftwood is formed by the tides. It is made by the process of violence. It is a piece broken from the whole and cast into the sea. Abandoned to wander aimlessly at the whim of the tide until it is ultimately consumed by other forces. Forces such as the battering of its body against the rocks and sand of the shore by the waves. It can only watch and wait to learn of its fate in real time. Far more unlikely than winning a billion dollar lottery is the possibility it might one day be picked up and made into something beautiful by human hands. It is even too much to hope for.
But like the more naturally-occurring beauty of driftwood, the surfboard is also beautiful. Sleek and dynamic. Designed to take its best advantage of the unpredictability of the wave. The surfboard is engineered nonresistance.
Life comes at us in waves. Sometimes a gentle lapping and other times a tsunami. We are expected to rise above it all. We are definitely up to the task. We just forget that we are capable of it.
The advice here is to be the surfboard, not the driftwood. And as all surfboards must be crafted on purpose with intention and care, they were once by definition, raw materials. Just like a piece of driftwood.
Nearly all faiths describe a moment of awakening which occurs after a period of deliberate growth and inner exploration. A rebirth. Some of these moments are allowed to be experienced only by the elite. Some are accessible to the many. Some faiths declare we have but to utter only a few words and we are remade. I would contend they are all correct.
Most of us are driftwood. We have not yet consciously made the choice to be something else. For whatever reason, we have not been made aware of the fact that the choice is actually ours. And if you didn’t know that already, know it now. We each of us has the power to remake ourselves from driftwood into surfboard through our intent.
The lesson is difficult. Don’t be fooled by how easy it is to say it. The process requires a deliberate throwing of ourselves against just the right rocks in just the right way. To smooth our gnarled edges into a streamlined silhouette capable of transporting us with not only ease, but excitement.
But also don’t for one minute fall for the lie that you are not capable of accomplishing it. Especially if the lie is coming from your own mouth. You know not what you speak. Any word of self-doubt is a lie. Scrape it off like a barnacle and move forward.
We all have parts of ourselves and our life experiences which could easily be defined as “waves.” Chronic conditions like ADHD or diabetes, learning or physical disabilities, ex-spouses, trauma, bullying, assault, abuse, et cetera. These are the experiences which “happen“ to us. Sometimes we are victimized by them, sometimes we are emboldened by them. No matter the depth of their ability to effect, they affect us nonetheless. What can you make from them to propel you forward rather than hold you back?
This is not a claim to propose that our lives are made easier by our challenges. But they can be made better by them. It is our intent and attitude which remakes driftwood into surfboard.
For a moment, imagine yourself high upon a wave, feet planted firmly on a thin piece of board. See the beach spread out before you as you fly toward it. Marinate in the sense of freedom and speed. Let it wash over you and memorize it. This is your most natural state. Claim it.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, November 24, 2018 - Security is an Illusion, But It’s Okay

        Many years ago I read a book by Helen Keller in which she describes her theology of risk. “Security is mostly a superstition,” she wrote. In an already dangerous world, her’s was even more so for being blind as well as deaf. And yet her courage shone through. She made it look easy.
My own daughter Lavender is blind. Several years before she became part of our family she was a member of an afterschool music program I founded called the Tribe. One day, the kids were on a break from rehearsing by taking turns rolling down a big grassy hill out behind the music room. Lavender wanted to roll down the hill, too.
It then occurred to me just how courageous one must be when they cannot see the world which threatens them. Her courage was demonstrated in the completely carefree manner she simply threw herself off the top edge of the hill, rolling at full speed into the unknown. No knowledge of how big the hill was. No knowledge if there were any obstacles—trees, people, or otherwise. I was far more nervous for her than she for herself. That was my first indication that fearlessness can be a virtue, if not an outright acknowledgment that Helen Keller was absolutely correct.
My cousin Kirsten, who lives in the Los Angeles area, never locks her car. She's never been robbed either. One could say that she has remained safe in spite of her policy against locking her car, not because of it. But I don’t agree. When I lived in New York City I almost never locked my apartment. In fact, the only times I’ve ever been broken into were occasions when my home or vehicle were securely locked. Those locks didn’t keep me safer. Even if they made me feel so.
Today, I lock my home and car quite simply. It’s when I have to perform a series of elaborate functions in order to “protect” my possessions that I tend to believe I am sending out more protective energy than helpful. To my way of thinking, it just perks up the antennae of those-about-to-steal. Kirsten and I think exactly alike in this regard.
        Statistics show that most forms of security are not at all functional in the way we imagine them. They are merely there for the emotional comfort we extract from their presence. They make us feel safer, but don’t really do much. A practice called “security theater” is a concept in active use throughout our so-called safest places. The TSA at airports who pat you down for hidden explosives and search for concealed weapons using x-ray technology to reveal us in our underwear, are an example of security theatre. The TSA has never actually stopped a terrorist. It’s all of the other behind-the-scenes policing and security efforts which actually prevent most attempted attacks. Not the TSA. But because they are patting us down and scanning our luggage we feel safer. And of course it is bound to deter some would-be terrorists from planning an attack. The ruse works on them, too.
It’s fair to say that if someone truly wishes to kill us, they have plenty of methods and opportunities to do so. And if somebody truly wants to break into our homes or cars, there are dozens of ways to accomplish it, locks, guns, and alarms notwithstanding. There is virtually nothing we can do to protect ourselves from someone who genuinely wishes to cause harm. As tough a pill as that is to swallow, swallow it we must.
The fact is, the only security we have in this world is owed to the fact that the vast majority of humans are actually decent people. This world is populated mostly by those who believe in and practice, whether consciously or subconsciously, the golden rule of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.
It may not always look like those around us are decent. For we do see theft and murder and destruction everywhere. But they are in the extreme mathematical minority by comparison. They do not represent the common experience. In this world, believe it or not, violence and theft are a social anomaly. They are not natural to us. If they were, it would be the norm. But they are not. Thankfully, too, because we would have already long destroyed ourselves if humanity were equal to the depth of our perceived security needs. Yet no police force could ever stay ahead of it if that were the case.
The lesson here is to be at peace, not poised to protect. That’s not to say you shouldn’t lock your home, but evaluate how much fear and effort you put into creating for yourself the illusion of security. Make it simpler for yourself. Strike a balance. Recognize that the vast majority of people are decent and loving. Then let go of your fear of them. It is preventing you from the experience of your own inherent fearlessness

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, November 17, 2018 - Gratitude is Everything

We get an extra week of the holiday season this year. Thanksgiving Day in 2018 is the earliest it can possibly be, in fact. What’s your gut reaction to that thought? Think for a moment and look back at your very first thought as you read it... So what was it? I know mine was as I wrote it. “Ugh.” Complete with eye roll. The next thought was guilt. Followed by several other quick thoughts, not all of them bad. Some were quite nice.
It’s a sad season for a lot of people. Even the ones who put on a good face or manage to forget their sadness for brief periods of time when distracted by shinier things or bigger hugs. It takes an effort to get into the spirit sometimes. And then we feel guilty for letting others down for not being joyful, joyful on demand.
I’d be willing to bet that it’s a very rare person who feels fully engaged, prepared, and ready to get joyous. We have a complicated relationship with holidays and the way we often choose to spend them. Stressed for one reason or another involving shopping, family relationships, traffic, weather, expense, expectations, decorating outside in the cold, the list goes on.
But I don’t want to think of it that way anymore. It’s not fun. It’s not fulfilling. It isn’t remotely cheerful, joyful, peaceful or silent. It’s exhausting. I’m missing out.
So how do we change the channel on purpose? For anything, not just the time of year. The answer is to think differently, of course, but that’s always easier said than done. Toward what should we redirect our thoughts? Gratitude.
It might be helpful to think of gratitude as a companion. A being with a personality that you sometimes hang out with, sometimes banish. Sometimes forget about. Forget to call. Gratitude is like my mother. She has a phone too, but waits for me to call her. Says I’m too busy and doesn’t want to bother me.
I think gratitude is a lot like that. It loves you no matter how far away you are and is happy to hear from you when you call. But it’s not going to show up uninvited. Invite gratitude in.
It’s actually quite difficult to practice gratitude as a spiritual art, but that is exactly what one needs to do. It’s a commitment to retain a grateful state of mind over all things. Most of us can manage only a few things. The masters can find gratitude even amid tragedy. The point is not as much about achieving perfect gratitude as it is about the importance of striving toward it. Or at the very least, facing in that direction.
I changed my attitude about winter entirely many years ago by reminding myself of all the things I love which accompany the season. Soup, sweaters, snuggling, and definitely the beauty of snow, if not always the coldness of it. But recognizing the beauty of snow helps diminish the cruel effectiveness of the cold. Allowing your body to become flooded with positive emotion literally warms you from within.
I suspect football fans are warmed by their joy of and gratitude for the game when huddled in a cold stadium. Not perhaps as much as beer, hats and hand-warmers, but every little bit helps.
When it comes to our state of mind as the days get shorter, perhaps it’s preferable to our emotional health to make a point of noticing the beauty of the night. The stars. The particular crispness of winter night air. The way that trees without leaves give us an expanded view. Knowing what we know about gratitude, it stands to reason that if we find a way to count our blessings, even around things which so often make us uncomfortable or afraid, the hard edges of our feelings just might soften a bit.
As we proceed deeper into the varying holidays we all differently celebrate, take stock of what challenges you about them. Counteract those challenges with gratitude aimed straight toward the parts which trouble you the most. Write your own antidote and keep taking it. Notice a shift in the way the traffic doesn't bother you quite as much, or the family member who didn't quite get under your skin like they usually do.
Most of what defines our lives comes from the way we choose to think about things. Choose wisely.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, November 10, 2018 - Loneliness is a Diving Board

Maybe it’s the Internet’s fault. Perhaps it’s the unintended consequences of the Information Age. Has it made us afraid of in-person connection? Have we learned too much about our own darkness? Too late now, I guess.
Well, good. Let’s get over it together.
This poke-in-the-eye we call our present socio-political culture is a really tough pill. Sometimes I even have to turn off the news for a moment. That was light sarcasm, in case I was vague. Why are we so mesmerized by a train wreck? What is the psychology behind our inability to turn away? I don’t have the answer for that. But I see its effects.
The fact is, we’re just plain afraid. Of each other, of ourselves, of the dark. The almighty Google has shown us how deep our pain goes. How many long generations of wounds have been inflicted upon one another? The depth of our karma is staggering.
It’s no wonder we retreat now. Or, have found ourselves to be among the retreated-from. We feel as if the world has abandoned us. Everything’s different now. Some of us react to our accumulated loneliness with rage, some with resignation. The rest with sorrow. Some with all.
It’s time to make a decision. Not the whole world. Just you.
In this particular present loneliness, which each of us feels to one degree or another, take a moment to notice the contrast between what you have and what you want. Examine it like you’re tasting it. Pick at the sorrow for a minute. Check the way it makes you feel. Read the page where it says you can use it like a diving board. Then decide.
How is loneliness to be used like a diving board, you may ask? It’s an invitation to use your challenges as the fuel to rocket beyond them. Contrast breeds desire. Necessity is the mother of invention. At the bottom of Pandora’s box rests hope.
Thank your loneliness for its service and bid it hail and farewell. Daily. Thank all sorrow for what it stands to teach you. You’re not inviting more by doing this, sorrow comes all on its own. You’re remaining open to its secrets.
Stand back a bit and examine the sensation of loneliness. Burn it into your being so that you know when and if it ever comes again, you shall recognize it for what it is. A bridge, not a wall. Next time you’ll more easily see it and cross it.
Eventually you might not even be afraid of seeing its occasional approach at all. Because you’ll then know that loneliness is not an indicator of your inadequacy. It is a signal to find connection. Connection that you’re no longer afraid of making, you’ve just forgotten for a moment. It’s easier to reconnect once you learn that life isn’t personal. Its purpose is to learn and master things like this. The purpose of life is to figure this stuff out.
This is the secret to all of life, really. Be nonresistant to all things and you will get the most from them. And over with more quickly. Don’t wallow in misery. Don’t continue to just sit there. Let suffering propel you away from itself as any good teacher wants of their best pupil. What has loneliness taught you about how to love others? What does it compel you to do about your trust issues?
This is just one among a series of points in the full constellation of your emotional well being. So few of them are we truly encouraged by society to recognize and release without shame, without the view of their scorn over our weakness. Brush it off. Recognize and release what hurts you in spite of their scorn. Find your tribe. Make connection. Say hello to things as practice until you can say it to people. Then step into it with deliberation. Loneliness is not the enemy. In the end, nothing is. Give the village a chance.