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.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday Nov 3, 2018 - The difference between feast and famine

This message may start out on a dark note but it sings better toward the end. I promise.
It’s no wonder we look around at the problems we face with dread. Gun violence, hatred, disease, fear. There are those in this world who still believe there is more profit to be had from chaos than order. They still think war is better for business than peace. Maybe it is, for them. They do their best to keep it that way because they know they will be the ones who stand to lose if things change.
The uncomfortable truth is, no matter how many times we try to put out these fires, they will only ever grow. The opioid epidemic, homelessness, violence. No matter what we do, these are not problems we will solve, cure, arrest or legislate our way out of. Ever. We have virtually no control over them whatsoever. Try to come to terms with that. As well, acknowledge the following: When we reconcile ourselves to the fact that these problems are not the problem, but indicators of deeper, yet simpler, issues, and then begin to correct those, the symptoms will abate on their own. In direct proportion to our effectiveness at the root.
If you catch a rhinovirus your head will clog with mucus. Which is guilty of your misery?
Combatting symptoms only lengthens the discovery of the cause. It’s nothing but tilting at windmills. Fighting over the Second Amendment, for instance, is only a distraction. We are being baited into divisions over political correctness, immigration, the war on drugs. It’s all junk food which only prolongs our suffering. Let them go. These are fake fights. Adopt an attitude of nonresistance. It may seem like an illogical thing to do, but will actually free you to heal the wounded. To sit and hold hands with a society suffering from withdrawal. To forgive those who have succumbed. We are only human after all.
All world scripture teaches us to place our attention on what we want, not what we don’t. The more people who accept that simple maxim, the faster we will arrive at the next golden age.
Knowledge and wellbeing. These are what make the difference between feast or famine, be it societal or individual. As our wellbeing suffers, things start popping up to compensate. Here’s a fact: Opiates affect the love centers in the brain. It’s why we turn to them as we become increasingly desperate. To solve the problem, should we love more or hate opiates more? This is a quiz.
Focus on wellbeing for everyone. Cultivate human flourishing. That is the enemy of the ”one percent.” Social progress is anathema to doing business the old fashioned way. Why do you think they consistently lobby to reduce funding from education and healthcare? It certainly isn’t to keep us healthy and well educated. Yet that is exactly what we must focus on to raise ourselves from the swamp into which we currently slowly sink.
Educate and empower. Heal and assuage. Forgive and support. If there are problems coming down the road for which we don’t yet have answers, wouldn’t it make sense to start getting quick at making our kids smarter and healthier? They’ve got a big mess to clean up. We should be preparing them. Not spinning our wheels up sand dunes over hateful legislations which attempt to strip people of not only their civil rights, but their humanity.
As for those who would be persuaded to support schemes that work against human flourishing and the principles of faith for which they claim to speak, turn your back on them as well. Don’t vote for them. Don’t debate them. Don’t give them a forum. Don’t engage the beast.
Put your energy on what you want more of. In your own community support programs that enhance education and wellness. Go grassroots. Encourage programs that provide mentorship. Be a mentor. Vote for candidates who support the same. Run for office yourself. Put all your emphasis on the preservation and expansion of knowledge and health. Even in small ways. Teach our kids the value of these two goals. But even more importantly, teach the grown-ups. They’re harder to convince.
Our need is simple to understand because it’s common to us all. We seek to thrive. Encourage that in the world, in even the smallest ways, and the ripple effect of your actions will create change in places where no change was thought possible. Be a champion for the truth by turning your cheek from lies. Don’t waste your time trying to get liars to acknowledge deceit. They don’t even have a word for it.
You have so much power it sparks off the ends of your fingertips. Careful where you point that thing.