Saturday, May 26, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 26, 2018 - How to Make Love

One might assume this column is about sex. The answer could be sort-of yes. Why not? But more. In this instance I’m specifically talking about how we literally manufacture love.
            To be honest, I’d never really thought about love before as something which could be “made” in that sense. But as it occurred to me I couldn’t seem to deny that love was something about which I couldn’t imagine a finite amount either. Does it seem plausible there is a fixed and stable volume of love in the universe? Is there a rule we can’t make more?
            Of course there’s the argument that an infinite amount of love exists and we over time and ages learn how to tap into it; in essence we are reminded of our eternal connection to a pre-existing love. But that doesn’t mean we don’t also make more of it. Or, that it doesn’t have value to frame it that way for practical use.
            What would it mean to add to the quantity of love in the universe? I don’t know. But something tells me the pursuit has a value which will reveal itself when practiced. There’s enough spiritual logic out there to suggest it isn’t a pointless effort. While it’s likely impossible for humanity to ever truly comprehend the full cause and effect relationship between our actions and the character and quantity of love in the universe, that should not prevent us from seeking truth.
            To begin, we can put the theory into practical use as an experiment.
            What do you think about joy? Can you use your imagination to think of joy as a thing, a literal substance? What about a personality? It’s sometimes useful to anthropomorphize an idea to test it against our humanity for better understanding. So long as we remember that to humanize something in order to understand is equivalent to a pair of training wheels only. Eventually, the desire to understand must go deeper and the training wheels come off. Knowing this, proceed.
            What is Joy like as a person? What does she crave in life? What does she prioritize? What does she know is truly unimportant in the broad scheme of things and, without hesitation, discards? What does she choose to endure, and how well, in order to achieve a more profound sense of herself? What is the purpose of Joy?
            I ask because we should be more purposeful about creating joy in our lives. Not only that, but also allowing the joy we already manage to experience to soak in. To literally allow ourselves to marinate in the little micro-pockets of pleasure every one of us experiences every day. Even in the most difficult of days and lives, there are pinstreaks of light which shine all around us if we look. Take whatever light you can get. Keep it. Remember it. Water it like a seed. Attend to it.
Anything that makes you laugh, especially when in despair, memorize the feeling. Everything that works out well, even making it through a green light, someone holding the door for you, making it all the way through the day without fighting, relish it. Be grateful for it. Do things on purpose to cause those moments to occur. Write about them. Draw pictures of them.
Yes, grieve for things you have lost, for friends and loved ones, disappointments and failures. But let the grief wash through you rather than resist it. Then calmly return your attention to joy. The grief will still take its course, but it will be muted and more likely to unfold rather than crash open. The ebbs and flows more even.
Ancient philosophies would anticipate that more joy occurs when more joy is noticed. There is something else. Joy is correspondent with love. Joy is the gateway. Laughter opens the heart chakra. What enters? More importantly, what exits? Joy is the button which makes the love. Make yourself into a factory of it.
Make a point of noticing the good moments, no matter how small. Give your attention to pleasure as fully as you can for as long as you can. Dwell on it. Use all the expertise you have gained by dwelling on the negative so much. It’s the same talent. Use it for good.
This experiment is ongoing. How will you know if it’s working? You’ll have to decide that for yourself. But remember, every seed that is watered, takes its own time to grow. Be patient and steadfast. You have the power to recognize and create a greater quantity—a greater experience—of love in this world. Quite possibly the universe as well. Take advantage of it for your own sake. Lean into it. Put it on a t-shirt.
Making love is literally that. Especially when you’re doing it right.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 19, 2018 - Nothing is Inconvenient to God

Is there a plan for all this? Is this normal? Is the seemingly-tumultuous state of our world a typical part of the learning curve of an ultimately civilized planet? If we could look at the histories of civilizations on other planets far more advanced than we, would we see a similar pattern?
If we could read about another world in a book, would we see the birth of agriculture in their history, and with it, war? Would we see a deep pattern of atrocities against one another over territory and resources slowly ebbing over generations? What about race? Could it be that race is part of this long lesson in how to get along? Are we alone in this or is there really a plan?
We are faced with contrast every day. Preferences, dislikes, affections, revulsions. Fighting and loving, both. We see war in the exact same space as compassion. Where one kills, another heals. Because love is more real than war. Where disaster strikes, relief increasingly comes. When relief does not come for them, we cry out in rage on their behalf. We always empathize with humanity once we have seen them. Once we see ourselves in them. We share our stories with one another for this very reason. Might that tradition be contributing to our future peace one moral story at a time?
What inspires that intent? Which part of us cries “injustice!” when someone else suffers? Does this happen more now than a hundred years ago? A thousand years ago? Is this part of the plan, too? Is this the increasing volume of our Jiminy Cricket? Is conscience the divine spark? The part of us which remembers exactly who—and whose—we are? Could it be that the spark is real and we as a species increase our awareness of it incrementally over time through our better actions? Does mercy snowball?
The term “mercy” is an interesting one. It implies the withholding of suffering or punishment otherwise deserved. In religion it refers to a God which has the right to punish us, but through Its so-called mercy chooses to withhold that punishment.
There’s a fancy word called anthropomorphisation which means taking something non-human and giving it human characteristics, human thoughts and human biases. An entirely unfair practice. But it’s the reason we attribute the concept of mercy to God. In reality it’s really humans who have the power of mercy. God has no need of mercy. It already understands and loves us anyway. Only humans have the capacity to choose to withhold suffering and punishment from others which our unchecked rage believes is just. Our spark tells us mercy is called for, even when our fists are still clenched. That exact moment is the crux, the intersection of spirit and biology, the devil and angel on our shoulder whispering competing thoughts into our ears. The moment of truth.
Each time one of us makes a correct and merciful choice, something happens. A ripple. A bell in the universe. A fairy gets its wings. However you choose to think about the effect which occurs as a result of something positive you caused. Let that thought germinate in you. Turn up the volume in your divine spark. Allow it to have the greater voice. Ring the bell more loudly and more often.
We believe God must be disappointed by what It sees has become of Its creation. We believe we know when God hates someone or is willing to punish us for all eternity. Because we anthropomorphize God, because we insist that God must think as we do, we fear we have been a disappointment. Because we are disappointed in ourselves. The irony is it’s love which informs that disappointment. Inside we already know better and because of that we don’t like what we see.
How could humanity be a disappointment to the God in which we have taught ourselves to believe? There is so much love in the world. Love is the reason we are fighting so profoundly right now. The battle of good vs. evil rages as we speak. The difference is in the reasons for the uprisings worldwide compared to only a century ago. The voice crying out today is over injustice, inequality, undeserved hostility and tyranny. Only love can both recognize and give voice to that contrast. A doomed world has no such voice.
Notice what we are fighting about in this generation. It is the natural reaction of a people who have begun to recognize their inherent worth and dignity. Their divine spark. We are not an inconvenience to God’s plan for humanity. We may very well be right on track.
If God is all we have described It to be, It would know exactly where we are on the learning curve and what we have yet to see. It would know the difference between real and fake news. It would not be looking at us with disgust, even through our atrocities. It would know that we, over time, are increasingly hearing the divine voice from within each of us. God would have more faith in us than we of It. Fear not.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 12, 2018 - What Could You Get Rid Of?

It’s obvious that we have too much stuff. Stuff oozes from every nook and cranny of our homes, our offices, our dumpsters, our recycling bins. We especially love packaging. It’s practically half of the experience. Packaging has the unsavory job of attracting you strongly enough to purchase what’s inside only to be itself discarded. So remember, our stuff comes in stuff, meaning almost everything you buy is actually two things. At least.
Which is interesting to consider when we make that an allegory to the inside as well as the out. What stuff could you get rid of? What literal emotional pollution are you holding onto? What trauma still haunts you? What breakups, breakdowns, failures or disappointments still whisper at you to shy away from excessive joy because happiness is untrustworthy? How’s that going for you?
First you need to know what stuff you have. And that is the crux of the matter. We rarely know how much we carry along with us. We have gotten used to the weight on our heart. The feeling of being wounded. The odd comfort level we have with our distrust. All so we don’t have to deal with it. Counseling is a good idea, by the way. Notice your resistance and act in spite of it.
In the meantime, whether in counseling to face the historical or not, think about tomorrow conceptually rather than linearly. Meaning don’t assume that counseling is the first or only step to understanding oneself and the baggage we carry. Thinking in linear terms means that we feel we can control the outcome by adhering to a checklist we tick off one item at a time. Conceptual thinking about a problem recognizes that there are many pathways up the mountain, we should choose several at once, all require the correct frame of mind.
The problem with recycling is that it is still in the “intention” phase. We are trying to get ourselves to change our habits and better serve the earth for our own sakes. For decades we have been struggling to do this. Is it working? Probably. Possibly. But what I’m really wondering is: Might our intention to cope with our ever-growing pile of stuff be the ultimate reason the real solution, the real coping skill will eventually manifest? The real solution will probably look very different to our current recycling methods.
Might our intention-to-solve be the strongest component toward achieving any solution? I think this is perhaps where failure contributes. Failures occur while trying to live up to an intention. They refine it. They gently strike into the metal a more even gleam. Failure improves the quality of our intentions. But there’s packaging which comes with that. Baggage. What has become of it? What still pollutes your thoughts? Have you kept the things you have learned from failure but not properly disposed of the packaging? That’s the activity of trauma. And it’s holding you back.
Sometimes, when we have a problem it’s best to step away a bit and look at it from another angle. That’s an act which allows for conceptual thinking. Out of the line of fire from trauma. What don’t we see because we are too stuck in our lists? What problems, both inner and outer, bait and trouble us because we aren’t recognizing that it’s our intention which drives the ship?
If you can make a leap of faith, trust the non-linear path and power of intent. What do you intend to happen? What is your intention in any given situation? Have you stated it to yourself? There’s a reason verbal affirmation is encouraged by religion. Take the hint. Speak your intention aloud to yourself. Speak it regularly and wonder what the implications of that intention will be. What will you begin to notice around you? What will you be on the enhanced look out for now that you know what you intend?
This is the key to our baggage. The leftover packaging. We must first intend to recognize it. The key to our society’s addiction to stuff is first intending to unlock it. And then we must be patient and steadfast while the intention germinates. While the solution develops within the rarified atmosphere of our desire for it. We must be accepting of failure and grateful for what it shows us. We must continue to press the button and remain faithful that our actions are the equivalent of prayer. They utilize the same mechanism and speak to the same Source, whatever that may be.
While you engage with the Whirlwind, do something small. Simple physical acts which represent the bigger, lesser-understood picture of your intention to get rid of stuff. Recycle. Clean out the attic. Get a reusable water bottle. Hang up your coat. Demonstrate your intention in simple, meaningful ways. Ways that may not appear to make a difference. That’s not the point at all. It won’t save the world, or you, in the way you think. It will be much better.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 5, 2018 - Think Better of Others

It takes practice to use our powers of assumption for good. We assume the negative. By and large, people are not mean. People are hurt.
There are reasons we’re more comfortable assuming the negative. For one, misery never lets us down. It’s reliable and predictable. Its loyalty quickly fills the vacuum left by departing happiness.
Second, we never feel the need to be prepared for the best. We feel we are always ready for good. And since we are advised to only hope for the best, yet be prepared for the worst, we use our energy on preparation. But how much of it do we spend on hope? How much airtime do you give to constructive fantasy and wonder? Without it life becomes a cycle of expecting and preparing for the worst, receiving it, and then patting our backs for the wise predictions we made.
We love to assume. Perhaps it is better to say we are instinctively compelled to assume. We are wired to evaluate data in order to draw conclusions. It’s a survival instinct. But our biological wiring can get us into trouble. It can lead us into the temptation to draw assumptions based on fear rather than something more creative.
There is a preponderance of spiritual and philosophical logic from myriad cultures and traditions which all suggest that what we think, we are. What we believe, we perceive. What we have today is result of what we were thinking yesterday. Every text from the Bible to the Mahabharata to the works of Socrates engages us to use our gifts of manifestation. They all teach us that we are constantly using our powers of asking and receiving; use them wisely.
It feels as if it’s an idea being whispered into the ear of humanity all at once, for a purpose. Listen to it. It is saying: You are magnificent. Do something more constructive with it.
Around the dinner table last night we were talking about ego. The existence of the ego is biological. It is an indicator of our species’ communal nature. We, like it or not, care what other people think. We evaluate (literally examine the value of) ourselves in reference to the rest of the human tribe. We compare, compete and cross-analyze humanity because it is how all communal species survive.
Ego is also either a seed or a timebomb. It depends upon how careful the words and actions are around us as children. Words of support and empowerment foster the good seed of our ego. The one where we seek and receive affirmation through positive action. Words of discouragement early in life can germinate the ego into a craving for recognition—at any cost.
When we engage with people, what are we most likely to assume from them? What motives do we assign to their actions? We feel safe in saying that someone said this or did that because they are a jerk, because they hate so-and-so, because they are evil. But those are not reasons. They are cop-outs. We too easily fill in the gaps of our knowledge with the negative.
Every extreme human response, each so-called disproportionate reaction, is proportional to something. We never know the full story. What does it hurt to fill in the gaps with something that encourages a sense of compassion in you? What does it hurt to assume the guy tailgating you really has to go to the bathroom?
There’s a reason in favor of this. It makes your life easier. And it tends to draw better outcomes in our wider lives because we manifest what we project.
It’s a lot of work to maintain hostile motives for every action we don’t understand. It’s easy to be manipulated by fear. Between fear and hope, fear is the only one actively trying to persuade us. It talks the loudest. Hope is confident of its place, its ego is in check. Fear is always trying to maintain ground, using its creativity for conquest. Hope has no agenda but to wait for us to figure it out.
Assume a divine spark exists in all of us. It is only covered from view by layers of varying transparency and thickness. The spark is easier to see in some, but it exists in all. Remember that. And use your instinctive powers of creative assumption to compassionately wonder why someone behaves as they do. Perhaps there is a better way of engaging it.
If you have to assume something, assume that a win/win solution always exists. If you aren’t seeing it yet, love it more. Use your powers for good. The answer will come to you.