Saturday, July 28, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, July 28, 2018 - The Intersection of Grace and Self Respect

Evander Holyfield vs Mitt Romney
in a charity boxing match in 2015
         Where do we draw the line? When is enough enough? Our human culture worldwide has been asking that question for about 10,000 years, roughly speaking. The first known slave revolts in history were questions along those very lines. When is my life worth more than this?
         Century by century we have learned the path of asserting our inherent worth and dignity. Because that’s really what it’s all about. Step by step, decade by decade, humanity recognizing that it has value, recognizing that we are in charge of our own individual destinies, acknowledging that working together in peace will ultimately be more profitable than war.
Civilization, for the most part, has already tipped the scales on awakening to the fact that we all deserve to be free. The numerical majority of this planet understands that every human life has value. Every human is born with dignity, freedom and the right to choose. Society then twists and distorts that knowledge to whatever degree serves the regional power structures. They make us question our own agency. Our own right to self-define our experience. Our own worth.
This is the information dictators, despots and tyrants once successfully withheld from us. They are still trying to, with diminishing success. Why else would it have once been illegal to educate a slave? Why else would it have once been illegal to educate a woman? Nothing but for shielding us from the information of our own light. That is the Pandora’s Box they feared. And they made you afraid of it, too. But hope remains.
The potential for discord exists everywhere right now. The landscape of American social interaction is a landmine of offenses and potential hostility. We feel dangerously fractured; our union once again in peril.
But it will be okay. This is how progress occurs. It is the only way, in fact.
We are undergoing an important social process right now. One that we have chosen by our words. We have asked for peace. We have asked for hope and change. They are all coming. There are more people in the world who wish for these than wish for the opposite. They will prevail. Because ultimately it’s not money which makes power. It’s awareness.
Which brings us finally to grace. We must take comfort in our awareness of being on the right side of history. We must be aware of the difficult and painful social impacts of progress. The zig-zag line of advancement is trending upward no matter how hard they try to stop it. We must be prepared to win with grace. It will make it happen faster.
But what exactly is grace? Grace is patience personified. Patience that comes from a place where the ego is in check and pride is something reserved for recognition of our worth and accomplishments. Grace is engaging with others in such a way that you see the light in them no matter what they do. This act alone works to end cycles of violence and deceit. Falsehood has no power against awareness. We turn our cheek from it easily.
But this is not a license to be abused. There is a difference between honor and self respect. Fighting for one’s honor is a wasted gesture of ego-based rage. Half our energy is spent flailing about in a fit with no thought of someday mending relations. Fighting for our so-called honor makes us want to not only win, but completely obliterate our enemies. Eradicate them utterly.
Fighting for one’s self respect makes us throw our punches differently. Thoughtfully. Strategically. Even regretfully. With minimal collateral damage or wasted effort and a desire to restore relationship. Fighting for self respect—literally, for recognition of our dignity—means we’re already strategizing toward diplomacy by restraining ourselves in the heat of battle. Limiting the damage to allow for future relationship. Take the high road.
Grace recognizes that change and destruction are inevitable. It is prepared to make something beautiful of the broken fragments. It is ready to soothe both the victors and those who are not. It does not judge, for it knows the human weakness and has compassion. It knows that we must rebuild together. It sees the friend in even those against whom we defend ourselves. Blessed be.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, July 21, 2018 - Feeling Fat and Worthy-ish

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, July 21, 2018 - Feeling Fat and Worthy-ish

            Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s the advice. But you actually have to know how you would have them do unto you first. There’s a point to that. Knowing oneself is the cornerstone of all achievement. Everything, from making friends to building fortunes, rests on the degree of self-understanding we possess. It’s visible in the quality of our accomplishments, not the quantity.
            We will attract what we think we are. We treat other people the same. If you think you are unworthy, then you will attract that. Your notice will attune itself mostly to things which support your deepest, truest opinions and you will gravitate toward them as proof of your belief. The same is true for all of us. We all see what we want to see and from that we make our assumptions. Our beliefs are founded entirely on our interpretation of the world as we have chosen to see it. There is enough proof out there to support any argument you pick. You can defend your worthiness or worthlessness as you see fit with ample evidence to help you.
            If you think you are mostly-worthy, then the same will be true about your experience. Your life will be suitable for a worthy-ish person. And that’s a bit worse, frankly. Because we’re dangerously satisfied by worthy-ish. We don’t know what we’re missing. It’s good enough. It passes for worthy mostly because we don’t really understand the difference. Like mac and cheese from a box until you’ve had the real thing. We wouldn’t probably understand until we know what the difference feels like. Until we have eaten our pound of both. We don’t notice the symptoms of being worthy-ish because they slip, easily in between the cracks of our awareness. We don’t know what we don’t—or can’t—or haven’t—seen. 
            A worthy-ish person doesn’t notice the slight self-deprecation in the words they choose to describe themselves. When we make jokes about ourselves we are often less kind than we deserve. Listen to your words. As an example, we often use the term ‘fat’ about ourselves as a pejorative, a put-down, instead of just the regular old descriptive adjective it actually is. Like green or brunette. An adjective is the same but the feeling about it can poison our self-worth.
            Or when we passingly call ourselves stupid, or klutzy, or uncreative. Or maintain dark, quiet beliefs about ourselves that go far deeper than words. They become feature-length stories which pick at us from behind our conscious awareness. Just a little drop of arsenic a day. Just enough to make you a little sick, a little sick, so the unworthiness, creeps up on you, reinforced by all the things we have chosen to notice, filtered by our resentment, about what the world is telling us. We find our own proof. We filter our reality to suit our particular worthy-ish-ness. We elect to describe ourselves with that glossary. Our ears hear the negativity hidden in them and reinforce them by turning them into action, into belief. 
            Our ears do what we tell them. We automatically manifest with our hands the things we think with our minds. We don’t see the little ways in which nearly all of us demean ourselves everyday. Preventing us from entering the perfect state of peaceful forward motion. Change that about yourself first. Notice your words. Change them on purpose, even if positive words about yourself don’t feel natural to you at first. Change them on purpose, if you wish your reality to follow suit. 
            The trick against those words, those darker thoughts, to which one degree or another we all of us have, is in hoping for more for ourselves, and believing that we deserve it. You don’t have to know yourself well to hope to know yourself better. Hope is always about something we don’t yet have but still think might be possible. Hope to know yourself better. Hope to love yourself better. Pray for that. With or without a belief in God, let your ears hear the words. Pray to know yourself better, no matter how well you think you already do. It will equip you for the life you haven’t yet figured out you aren’t experiencing. It will equip you to navigate toward the sweet spot. Your inner magnetic north will imperceptibly shift and there will be no trouble changing course. It will feel perfectly natural to you.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, July 14, 2018 - Think Well of Abundance

They say don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. It’s an interesting little maxim. Mostly about the inspection of teeth. Horses’ teeth give away their age. They become longer and more numerous the older they get. If someone gives you a horse, don’t look at their teeth right in front of the giver as if to question the value of their gift. The direct advice being given here is about offering courtesy, gratitude and respect toward the giver and not to question the value of their generosity. But the implication is deeper than just not being rude.
I always pick up pennies on the sidewalk whether they are face up or face down. I believe in luck, sure, but a face down penny still pays the bills. Sort of. And if the universe is literally handing you money, don’t disrespect abundance by leaving it there. It sends a signal to your brain that abundance is for other people, not you. Ask and ye shall receive. Are you asking for abundance with your words as well as your actions? How about your thoughts?
What are you asking for when you walk by a penny and say to yourself, “That won’t buy anything, why pick it up?” Because on one hand, you’re right. It won’t buy much. But that’s not the point. Some would argue that the pennies all add up. And they’re right also. But still, it’s not the point.
What matters is your relationship with the concept of abundance. Are you on speaking terms? Are you adversaries? Or is it like a friend of your neighbor’s you can see through the window at their dinner parties?  Abundance has a great time with them, but not you. Were you invited? Doesn’t matter. Plan your own party. Abundance goes wherever it’s being truly welcomed.
Underneath the surface is where we find the source of our money problems. Our relationship with money is complicated, emotional and more superstitious than we recognize. It’s almost entirely subconscious. That’s why it’s so insidious. We don’t know that we are pushing abundance away at almost the same speed we are receiving it. Broadcast something different.
We look at abundance with a skeptical eye. Not only that, we don’t see the abundance all around us. What we don’t notice, generally doesn’t notice us. Pay more attention and it will pay off. Notice the world through a lens of bounty. Notice the wealth of nature. Look at it like that. Notice how nearly everything is provided for in some way. Attend to how beautiful it is.
Look at others’ successes with a congratulatory eye, not envious or jealous, but glad for them. That’s the secret. In Islam, the word ‘mashallah’ means essentially that something happened according to God’s will. It is said with admiration regarding someone else’s good news. “Mashallah! I’m so happy for you!” It’s a recognition of thankfulness because God has provided someone abundance. But there’s a distinction with the use of the word as well. It deliberately supplants envy with congratulations. It gets us out of the way of our usual greedy and suspicious selves.
Mashallah changes the channel on how we view the abundance of others. It attracts it toward us. It recognizes the spiritual source of abundance, gives thanks for its existence, and clears the road for abundance to eventually be ours as well.
When we envy others’ wealth, we cut ourselves off from it. We are framing our experience of money around a distasteful feeling. We resent the success of others and so the idea of our own success becomes entangled with feelings of resentment. Notice how you feel about wealthy people. What is your first thought when you look at someone who has more than you? Do you say, “Why not me?” or do you say, “How wonderful for them!” The second one changes you from the inside.
Pay attention to your abundance. Be thankful for it. Pick up pennies on the street and say, “Thank you for abundance!” When you give money or a gift to someone think of it as a blessing of abundance you are giving to them. Picture a greater abundance entering the energy streams of our civilization with every act of generosity.
A horse is a beautiful thing. Magnificent, strong, useful. It is abundance personified, coupled with majesty. Champing at the bit with a desire to serve. Be welcoming of it. Be glad of its spirit even if the flesh is becoming tired and its teeth are long. For it is the horse's spirit—its literal intention—where true blessing is manifest.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, July 7, 2018 - Nine Hours Drive to Antarctica

I used to sing on cruise ships. Not just sing, but dance as well, God help me. But that was part of the gig, so I did it. I made it through six weeks of exhausting rehearsals in the studio at Barry Manilow’s production company, Stiletto Entertainment in Los Angeles. Great company, nice people. Still don’t like dancing. And every single syllable of every song we sang had a dance step. I had to practice every morning at 5am on my own in the mirrors at the gym in actor housing before rehearsal just to keep up.
Among the other six production shows we learned simultaneously for the passengers, I actually played the part of Tony in a cruise ship version of the stage musical Copacabana based on Manilow’s 1978 iconic hit song by the same name. Ruffled shirtsleeves and all. Oh yes, that too was part of the gig.
I liked being on stage well enough, but it was the singing I truly loved. I love to sing big songs, quiet songs, songs with meaning. I feel the same when I give a Sunday message. It’s all about how the sung or spoken word offers a multi-dimensional vibratory experience of a single thought for an audience who hears it in person. That’s when I feel like I’m truly following my path. Sometimes ruffled shirts and dancing come with the territory. Grin and bear it.
The flights from LA to meet up with our ship in Rio de Janeiro took all night and some of the next day, changing planes in New York for the last leg to South America. We arrived on Valentine’s Day. Carnival had just ended the day before. They were still cleaning up the streets.
My unwindowed inside crew cabin was more of a womb, really. And apparently we were fraternal twins because I had a roommate. He was nice, but you really don’t know tiny living until you’ve roomed with a show dancer on board a cruise ship. However, it was also part of the gig. I didn’t complain about it. I just accepted it and allowed it to be part of the experience. Mostly.
I didn’t complain much about the dancing either. When I finally learned the steps it wasn’t so bad. Sometimes it was fairly thrilling when I got it right. It made me feel accomplished. I enjoyed the compliments when people said I looked like I knew what I was doing. I didn’t believe them, of course, but I liked it.
Then you step out to the rail of that ship at sunset. And you know why you went through so much just to sing a few songs. And just maybe you’ll see the rare and mythic green flash as the sun dips below the horizon. Perhaps you’ll sip champagne as you round Cape Horn in hours instead of the weeks it took our ancestors.
If you’re lucky, you’ll sip tea in Ushuaia, Argentina looking south and imagine the coast of Antarctica only 620 miles away. That’s as far as it is from my house to Akron, Ohio. I could drive there in a day if I wanted.
Singing brought me there. It delivered me 6,700 miles from where I grew up and handed me a cup of tea. But it’s not really correct to say it was singing which did it. I can sing anywhere. I wanted to see the world. I needed fortitude and courage to make a journey of it. I needed to exhibit grace as I struggled. How much grace do we exhibit in our struggles? Sometimes I wasn’t graceful at all. Sometimes I was.
I pushed my boundaries only a little and was rewarded so much. I didn’t suffer true hardship, of course. These are all very much first world problems I’m describing here. The point is that we shrug away opportunity because of our discomfort with inconvenience. Which is itself a mask over our fear of failure. Don't let it win.
The best opportunity to understand our relationship with God, with the earth, with each other, with ourselves, frankly, comes when we put our faith in the goal and pay attention to what we experience on the path. Maintain grace as you challenge yourself. Assume you’ll make it, and leap. You never know, it might change your life.