Thursday, August 29, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, August 31, 2019 - Don’t Be Flawless, Be Courageous

Modern culture loves the word flawless. You look flawless, dahling. I feel flawless, dahling. Well, good for both of them. I don’t buy it.  

Flawless isn’t a goal or an accomplishment. It is a state of being too far above our pay grade to comprehend. Seeking flawlessness is like a dog chasing its tail. It’s already there. No need to work so hard to obtain it.

Part of the problem is the way we think about the word flaw. We don’t really know which of our characteristics are truly flawed and which ones are more properly categorized as features. Where is the line in the sand? We would love to know, but is that search worth it? Stop chasing your tail.

So now that we have dispensed with the need to seek flawlessness, let’s grapple with the alternative: acceptance of things about ourselves which may each walk like a flaw and talk like a flaw but might be more appropriately thought of as doorways.

It’s difficult to acknowledge being wrong. You’re probably flinching right now thinking about it. But ‘wrong’ is just a loaded term for the formerly incorrect. Let it go and you can enjoy being right again.

The obstacle to welcoming new information is our ego, of course. We hate to be wrong, even at the expense of being glad to now have the facts. Forgiving ourselves is the hardest part. Especially for those who got in a lot of trouble for being wrong as a child. Some reflexively resist ever being in error or failing or being incorrect. Constructive criticism can be triggering. Pray for ease.

As much as no one likes being wrong, it is in reality a freedom. Allow that thought to be a part of your disappointment or discomfort. Make amends, if necessary. Take responsibility if the error has caused harm. Be humble. Few people die from admitting they were wrong. You’ll get over it.

The decision to be nonresistant to our own mistakes requires the employ of a special characteristic of our nature. We rely on it when we want something badly enough that it eclipses our fear of ever being able to obtain it or the harm that may befall us in trying. It is courage.

Pray for courage, not perfection. You are already perfect. Pray for something more applicable. Pray for what it takes to be the most at ease, the most comfortable, the most resplendent version of human being you are capable of achieving in this lifetime. That takes courage. Pray for that.

Even if you don’t know what’s holding you back, pray for the courage it takes to find out. It will come to you. And so will the information you seek. It will come to you because you will finally be ready for it.

When we choose to present a guise of flawlessness to the world, we are not only giving a false impression, we are attracting falseness with it. It does no one any good. Honesty takes faith, courage and patience, primary with oneself. Honesty attracts honesty.

We don’t like people to know we are not quite as polished or solid as we would like to feel. We pretend we have no problems. We pretend we don’t need air freshener in the bathroom.

Vulnerability may seem a weakness, but it is the only strength a village has. We must be vulnerable to one another to thrive. We’ll never learn anything if we don’t sound it out to others. That is intrinsic to human nature. Confession is good for the soul.

But real confession takes courage. Own your mistakes and learn from them. People respect growth. They respect humility. Gain ground in people’s eyes, and certainly your own, simply by being less resistant to the experience of making mistakes and having the courage to own them. Unclench. Your fear of failure is failing you.

Flawlessness is inherent. It can be neither given nor taken away. Don’t spend time and energy proving it. Spend it on the quest.

Imagine courage for yourself. Pray for the courage you need to embark upon a quest you are still not too old to make. The journey itself will open doorways within you that have been patiently waiting all your life just to hear you knock.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, August 31, 2019 - Eulogize Thyself

What will you wish you had done with your life while on your deathbed? Of course, that sounds like a morbid thought, but consider it for a moment. While lying there, after hopefully a long life, what will you look back on with fondness? With regret? With longing?

And here’s a most important question: What will you look back on which seemed like a huge deal at the time, but was really not very much at all? To what do you give too much importance now that will mean virtually nothing in the final moments of your life?

Think about the dramas around you. Some of which you may even be perpetuating yourself. Think of the grudges you hold. Think of your enemies. On your deathbed, will you wish you had reconciled? Will the slights and injuries you sustained be worth it in the end?

We have so little time on this earth. So little time to make amends. So little time to do the things we always dreamed of doing. So little time to rebuild the bridges we have burned. Make the most of what you have. It is beyond precious.

What would you wish people to say about you? What would you wish for your obituary? Do that. Do it on purpose, just so that it can be said of you. Imagine someone saying, “The first 40 years of her life were a challenge, but then something woke her up and the final 60 years were truly amazing.” Assuming that we hover around our own funerals in spirit form (which I very much hope to be true) what words would you like to hear said?

Twenty years ago I was gravely ill. Some of the doctors didn’t expect me to survive. I didn’t agree with them, and thankfully they were wrong, but it flipped a switch in me nonetheless. I started to feel differently about my life. I didn’t make a conscious choice to be different or live more purposefully. It just happened naturally.

I always assumed that when people have a serious health event or a near death experience that they come out of it with a new lease on life which they consciously adopt. We’ve all heard the stories many times that events like this will dramatically change a life. But I consciously adopted nothing. I was too busy recovering to be formatting a new mandate for living.

The change was subtle at first. I suddenly no longer had a desire to live in the big and bustling cities in which I had been living for seven years. Without warning I surprisingly desired to return back to my hometown of Fitchburg. It’s not surprising in the sense that I didn’t consider it to be a wonderful place. In fact, I had always spoken of my hometown with great fondness in my world travels. But I had never imagined that going back there would be my path. Suddenly it seemed clearer than ever that it was what I must do.

The leap of faith I made was by agreeing to it. As a professional actor at the time I couldn’t imagine a reasonable career path for me existing back home. But suddenly I wasn’t afraid of that possibility anymore, contrary to what all of my professional friends advised me. I somehow knew that the best thing for my career, whatever I chose it to be, was in returning to my roots.

This appears to be the part which was important: I accepted what my gut was trying to tell me. I realized that in the back of my mind the components of a career which would be truly fulfilling for me were already germinating and maturing inside me, long before I ever became ill. Why hadn’t I listened to them before?

Why aren’t you listening to them now? Or are you? Have you walked across hot coals, either figuratively or literally, and on the other side perhaps didn’t feel one bit different, yet nothing was the same any longer? Must it always take something so life-altering as this to jar loose the small and quiet recognitions we have inside ourselves? Must be that way? Or could we do it on purpose?

On my deathbed, may it be many, many years from now, I will not regret my choice. I will be thankful I listened to the increasingly insistent voice within me saying: “Go home, young man.”

Whether in your mind or on paper or in some electronic file in the cloud, write a eulogy for yourself. Talk about yourself in glowing terms and mean it. Notice about yourself all the things which make people love you. Notice about yourself all the things which inspire others. And then notice the gaps in that narrative. Fill them on purpose. Better yet, fill them with purpose.

You are capable of more than you believe. You have courage within you no tragic event can alter. Don’t wait to skirt the edges of death to discover life. Because it already belongs to you right now.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, August 17, 2019 - What Racism Isn’t

It isn’t what you think it isn’t. It’s probably closer to what you think it is than you realize, but not necessarily in the ways you’d expect. Finally, for the record, I don’t claim to know what I’m talking about. I will do my best anyway.

The words racism, bigotry, and hatred have lately introduced in us a brand new level of fatigue. We have become exhausted of our despair. We are uncomfortable in conversations with loved ones. For many, to have been so mistaken about the deep fears and negative biases still present in our country has been eye-opening and tragic. None of us knows what to do next. It is terrifying to see the violence escalating all around us.

Hold tight. In the end, I truly and most sincerely believe, all shall be well. There is only one true human trajectory and the overall trend is always upward. It has always been upward. So, fear not in that regard. The concern is what to do in the meantime to hoist that natural trend even more in favor of all humanity. Especially now when we need it so badly. Now, while we are most afraid. We need hope. Thankfully, each of us has the capacity to provide some.

The word racism describes a belief that one race of humans is superior to the others. The aspects, implications, and degrees of that belief will vary.

What’s unfortunate is that nearly, if not every, human being is biased. We all have unconscious preferences which dictate our choices. Some things we prefer just because we enjoy them. Some preferences aren’t really preferences so much as more tolerable alternatives to something we dislike or have been taught to fear. We too easily fool ourselves because it’s unthinkable to consider, for some of us, that we might have racial preferences. We are uncomfortable by the stereotypes we resist believing in because we’ve seen examples of them firsthand.

But be careful with that. For we always find what we look for. And we always see what we are shown. We experience more of what we attend to. Are the stereotypes we claim to have witnessed firsthand a truly fair evaluation of an entire group of people? Of course not. But we are human, and we have a great deal of difficulty forgiving ourselves for it. We should, rather, find more loving ways of working around it.

What I’m attempting to say is that it’s not possible to be human without bias. Recognizing that, attempting to be nonresistant to things we cannot change, what can we do to create systems which help us to gently counterbalance our natural biases rather than insist upon conquering them in battle? Or worse, giving in to them?

We have proven to ourselves that we have the ability to compose laws and founding documents which insist upon better angels of our nature than we exhibit at the time they are written. The man who wrote the words “all men are created equal” owned slaves. Does that negate the truth of human equality? Or does it indicate that we are able to imagine better of ourselves than we are consciously aware? That is an impressive trait of our design, to be able to imagine better of ourselves and others. What a perfect thing to have included in our creation. Let’s make good use of it.

So what isn’t racism? Racism isn’t easy to talk about. Racism isn’t about facts. Racism isn’t always easy to notice. Especially in ourselves. Racism isn’t about making a conscious choice to hate. Racism isn’t an absence of love. It’s an absence of information.  

We are still accountable for our actions, but how The People respond to crime should be more restorative and informative than retributive. Locking someone up and throwing away the key because they hate doesn’t help them to love. What’s our real motivation here?

Knowing that we all have our biases, what might we do about them if using spiritual teaching to help us decide? What might God wish us to do next?

The answer: Our best. We have to do our best. We have to spend less time marinating in the resentment this issue has brought out in us. We need to spend less time pointing the finger at other people. That is not our best. We need to spend more time getting to know one another and behave in spite of our fears and misunderstandings. That is our best. We need to speak up, but lovingly, when people use unkind words. Be compassionate of their fears or you’ll never reach them. Respond, don’t react. That is our best.

Behave in loving ways on purpose, especially when you’re afraid or confused or angry or inconsolable with grief. That is where real change occurs. It will make you feel much better much faster. The world will shift with you.

Don’t rage against what you wish to go away. Change your thoughts. Turn your cheek. Consider the irony of holding the concept of racism in a more compassionate regard and you will be a better servant of its transformation. Fear not.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, August 10, 2019 - Uniform Perfection

We love to declare that nothing is perfect. It makes us feel better for the flaws we see everywhere and in ourselves. We especially take comfort in the idea that no one is perfect because it lets us off the hook for our own insufficiency. We feel it is preferable to call out our shortcomings in advance just to make sure that others know our damage is not unknown to us. We make fun of ourselves first, that no one beats us to it.

Yet I think we’ve been looking at the wrong part of ourselves when deciding whether or not we are perfect. I think we need some schooling on what is and isn’t perfect about our existence.

Years ago I purchased my first “self-healing” cutting mat. It’s designed to close the thin gash made from scoring it with a razor when using it to cut paper or fabric. The slight scar left behind isn’t really gone or utterly invisible, but it is minimized. It prolongs the life of the mat versus those whose scars accumulate and too soon gauge the surface beyond use. Clever. Put that in the back of your mind for a moment.

There is only one, single overarching human desire, the deep pull of which every single one of us feels. It’s to simply feel better. We seek to improve upon our state and our species. It is an inner-directive so deep and uniformly present that when we work against it, either consciously or un, we are typically devastated by the results.

No one actually wants to feel bad, or do badly, or truly be bad. But we struggle with believing in our own goodness or perfection because we know things of ourselves about which we feel shame, whether deserved or not. Many of us spend at least a little if not most of our time believing we are not worthy of feeling better. We believe that the truth of who we are, the secrets no one else knows, are hidden proof of our great disappointment to the Creator. We pray that no other human sees it. It’s bad enough that God knows.

This, however, is the truth: Our mistakes do not have the power to define our perfection. Our failures are not a part of the etymology of the word perfect. The word perfect means ‘complete, thoroughly done.’ What does that mean? I believe it is suggesting our perfection lies in what is already complete about us. Our design.

We are designed to be self-healing, self-correcting, self-improving. We are created to be vigilant toward our preservation and fulfilment. Our scars are present from the knives we’ve known, but barely visible anymore. Our lives are prolonged in direct proportion to the practice of healing and feeling better.

That inner-directive is our perfection.

We don’t always behave perfectly, but we are made perfectly. We are each a geniusly conceived and holistically functioning system of infinite complexity. We are, by design, hospitable to a biome of trillions of simple and complex lifeforms within our bodies which symbiotically help us to physically survive and thrive, as well as emotionally evolve. We are entire colonies of life and diversity and purpose, operating in microscopic concert to improve the macroscopic system. Poetry.

We have boundless creativity and imagination and ingenuity which we use to do whatever we must to simply feel better. Regardless of the form that action may take.

Sometimes we do insidious and evil things in the name of trying to make ourselves feel better. We occasionally forget that feeling better is a universal right. To make someone feel worse in order for you to feel better is simply moral junk food. It will make you sick in the end, even if it tastes so good at the beginning.

We have chosen to protect ourselves with an armor made from a manufactured faith in life’s imperfection. We feel safer when we believe we see the danger. But that is the resistant path. Consider becoming more allowing of mistakes and failures, and the purpose they might hold. Attempt to be nonresistant to the apparent fallibility of life; things are not always as they appear. Try to be at peace with your own shortcomings and you will be more peaceful about the inadequacies of others. What could be more perfectly made than something which naturally desires more peace?

Engage with life under an assumption that at the core of its creation, all is perfect already. That is not the part which needs to be improved upon. Perfection is not an unreachable goal toward which we needn’t bother to journey. It is literally the sacred path beneath your feet, already perfect in its design, as well as in its choice of pilgrim.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, August 3, 2019 - Talking About God

I want to talk about God. It’s such a loaded word. It has so many layers of social and cultural meaning that it’s hard not to imagine It to be an entity unto Itself.

I’m working on an academic project, part of which involves reading the Bible from beginning to end. I came across an interesting verse which surprised me. Without going too deep for the limited space available here, in Exodus 4:24, it describes how the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. But the line didn’t make any sense to me. Why would God wish to kill Moses right after he gave him a big mission?

After a bit of research, including reading various interpretations of why God might want to kill Moses out of the blue like that, I found out that the original Hebrew of the text didn’t say Moses by name. It just had the word for the male pronoun ‘him.’ Translators had made that sentence into the first line of a new paragraph rather than the last line of the previous one and declared the “him“ to be Moses. The text actually tells us that God sought out the first born son of Pharaoh to kill him. Not Moses.

But countless modern translations of the Bible say that it is Moses whom God sought to kill, each of them perpetuating a small misunderstanding even further.

Two questions arise for me. One, how many other instances are there like this? And two, if we chose to see it through the lens of a belief in an infallible God, was it on purpose?

From a humanist perspective, this is a mistranslation which is neither surprising nor proof that we needn’t be careful about what we choose to believe. From the theist perspective, we assume there is a divine purpose to all things.

I personally believe the latter. But that does not diminish the accuracy of the humanist perspective here. This line is an important mistranslation. One can only assume it’s the tip of the iceberg. This one is only noticeable because of its grammatical confusion regarding the lack of antecedent. What else has been misunderstood through mistakes of translation such as this which we have not yet nor may ever notice? What are the unintended consequences of those mistakes? I shudder to wonder. But are they unintended?

The devout theist would say, “God must have done it on purpose.“ Which is a perplexing thought, because why would God mislead us deliberately? However, I’m not so sure we are being misled as much as we are being encouraged toward critical thought and more sophisticated ways of approaching an idea over time and through generations. We learn from our own mistakes time and time again. Sometimes considerably more than we would have learned had we not made the mistake in the first place. What might we learn from this one?

I prefer to believe in the idea of a Higher Power. That preference has implications regarding the rest of what I believe about the world. So, in that sense, you could say I believe in what common society refers to as “God.“ My mother always taught me that everything happens for a reason and that reason is always a good one. I have also been endlessly taught that God is Love. And I believe it, too. Those three thoughts are my entire theology.

Since I choose to believe that everything happens for a reason, and that the reason is good, and because I also choose to believe that what I experience is meant to help me evolve in both physical and spiritual ways, I will assume that just because I don’t understand it, doesn’t mean there isn’t love behind it. That is my faith.

What if we decided to give God a bit more credit? What if we were finally to acknowledge the implications of what we have all along been telling ourselves about the nature of God? Is the paint covering a divine long-term strategy for humanity being gently flaked away here? We tell ourselves that God is our teacher, among other things. How infinitely sophisticated might that teaching be? I guess we will only ever learn that according to how sophisticated we become over time. Some horizons can only be seen from the mountaintop. What have we not yet discovered? Is God proud of us for noticing this mistranslation? Was the ambiguity of selecting a pronoun rather than a name on purpose? The rabbit hole is too deep for that. But it makes one curious...

Ultimately, it all means this: We have to let go of what we’ve been told. Or at least loosen our grip a little. We have to be more humble about what we think is truth. We have to open our hearts to the possibility that all may not be as it appears. The best news is that you don’t have to lose your faith in God to do it. Your faith may even be enhanced. Feel free to cherish what you have learned so far, but do not expect it to be your truth forever. Because truth changes. Even God says so.