Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, June 25, 2022 - Forgiving Oneself

Like many of us, I’ve made a few less-than-intelligent choices in my life. Most have caused no lasting repercussions, but others I’ve had to work to avoid living in a constant state of regret over the harm they’ve caused. Generally, it’s been only harmful to me, but not always. Nothing terribly major. Some hurt feelings here and there, but enough to make me feel guilty. And I have an unfortunate tendency to ruminate on things like that.

Some of my less-than-optimal actions become guilt-fodder for decades, despite the fact that they weren’t all that bad in the first place. Once, years ago, I paid a compliment to a local store owner for the renovations she’d made inside her shop. I followed up by saying, “and now you can do something about the exterior.” Not only was that rude on its own, but what I hadn’t realized was that she’d just finished the exterior renovations that week and I hadn’t even noticed them on the way in. She was immediately hurt.

This, of course, was no earth-shattering breach. I apologized and we moved on. But I’ve managed to kick myself for over fifteen years now about it every single time I pass that store. She isn’t even in that space anymore, left it years ago, but here I am beating myself up several times a week.

Is this useful? Is it necessary? I’m assuming I’m not alone in this. Some of my ongoing guilt has to do with the fact that I haven’t reached out to her to let her know it’s been on my mind all this time. Hearing from her that it’s okay might make me feel better. Should that be necessary in order for me to let it go? But what if she’s been hurt by it for all these years too? 

Would finding that out make me feel worse? And what does it say about her own character if she’d been festering all this time about something so small? How guilty should I feel about her inability to let it go? Where is the limit?

This is obviously a small, single concern in the much broader scheme of life. But small concerns add up to big mountains of emotional debris over time. Left untended, we begin to show signs of suffering literal shame and trauma, but without a single event to point to about it. The saplings grow into a forest of small issues to which we give small credit individually, but they make such a canopy. We don’t stop to consider how a general lack of unforgiveness toward ourselves has caused a big, overshadowing problem with no real understanding as to why.

This all comes from working outside the space of forgiveness. If, for instance, she really is still gnashing her teeth over my gaffe from years ago, she needs to consider forgiving me for her own sake. But I don’t have any control over that. I do, however, have some control over myself. 

First, I have to not only acknowledge my feelings but also give permission to forgive myself. Something we generally forget we need to do. When I go by that store I need to deliberately insert a higher thought than guilt. From now on, I’m going to picture her saying to me, “It’s okay, Wil” when I pass by that store. Whenever I feel bad about it, I’m going to deliberately reconfigure my ruminations. 

Because it is okay. It’s just feelings. And, note to self, the fact I feel so strongly about something of this size points to the likelihood of even older, more pervasive issues. Because there is no such thing as a disproportionate reaction. It’s always proportional to something, usually from our past.

Life is too short to be so un-self-forgiving. With all that’s occurred in the past few years, this is a time to get rid of old resentments, especially of the self. Chip away at them with intent. Say to yourself, “I am worth forgiving.” And then pay attention to what happens next. An increasing lightness of self awaits.

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, June 18, 2022 - Demonstrate Peace

Most of us feel fairly helpless when it comes to the world's problems. Some are compelled by their concern to participate in an endless stream of action. For others, the enormity of the problem overwhelms to the point of inaction. Many of us fall in the middle. 

But I’ll take this opportunity to point out something I deeply believe to be true. Every single one of us alive on this planet contributes to the forward evolution toward eventual and inevitable peace on earth. 

Yes, that is my radical optimism talking. But to be honest, I don’t see any evidence that truly supports the contrary. We are built to move forward. Even our setbacks eventually propel us further.

Think about it for a bit. We even make a point of reminding ourselves that this is the prevailing human paradigm with every underdog story we tell, every mythology, prophet’s tale, and salvation story. They constantly remind us of our aspirations and capacity. 

It is a cha-cha, of course. Two steps forward, one step back. Huge social advances we couldn’t imagine retreating from only to watch them fall apart before our eyes. Now, tell me whether or not you think it’s possible that such a present tumbling might likely only ensure our future generations’ access to the justice we presently demand? Human history does bear that out far more often than not. 

How many times have we seen giant leaps forward on the heels of great oppression? How many dictatorships have fallen? How many democracies have grown? What is the per capita homicide rate today versus 2000 years ago? 200 years ago? You will find that, statistically, we are in the most peaceful time in human history. Keep that in mind when you’re watching the news. 

So the work is occurring. And it’s occurring all around you. It’s in all of the foundations and nonprofits and social enterprises working so hard to serve others in virtually every community. Bringing people together to accomplish better access to healthcare, education, homeownership, voting access. 

Politicians can accomplish a lot, though they sure do a good impression of holding things back. Mainly because in many ways they are. But they are only steming the tide, not preventing it. If anything, they help us to publicly refine the arguments both for and against progress. Yet even those who argue against progress end up making a case for it in the end. 

That leaves us wondering what we should do with ourselves as history unfolds around us. The bottom line is: do nothing to prevent forward momentum. And for extra credit, you might consider actively supporting anything or anyone who works toward accomplishing what we really want and need to thrive as a human being on this planet. 

The extra bonus benefit is that when we take action in this way, it improves our brain chemistry. It literally balances our emotional health when we take deliberate action toward making a better world. 

Finally, perhaps most importantly, as an individual human being on this planet, know this: If you demonstrate peace to those around you, they are being set an example of how to remain peaceful in the face of conflict and concern. If you demonstrate hope to those around you, they are being set an example of how to insulate themselves from despair. 

We are all of us the result of the examples set for us. We are an aggregate of personality traits and coping skills and lifestyle choices presented by others. What will you contribute to those around you?

That is all you have to worry about as a human being. That is our job here on earth. Set good examples. Show people the way. Don’t preach, do. 

If you are not a peaceful person, find a way to get there, or hang out with someone who is and copy them. If you are worried about the state of the world, find a way to contribute more peace to the mix. You don’t have to do much. But you will feel better if you do something. 

Do it in the name of the peace you seek for yourself. 

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, June 11, 2022 - The Heart of Compassion

It’s because of the size of our heads. Well, our brains, actually. When humans began to walk upright, the birth canal became too small to allow for full development to occur inside the womb. Human babies are born far more vulnerable than any other mammal because of it. 

That created a particular brain wiring in humans that evolution favors: co-suffering. That is to say, when we witness others feel pain, we feel it too. At least, the same parts of our brain light up as those who are actually in pain. 

Particular to this unique brain response is the desire to do something about it. We are literally wired to feel the suffering of others and take action. Even to the point of sacrificing ourselves, and sometimes even dying, for what we believe in. For what we believe in is almost always related to the care and protection of those we love. To prevent their suffering, and thereby our own. 

It all comes from the deep biological need to make sure that our particularly vulnerable offspring are instinctively cared for. When they cry, we do something. And we can’t help it.

Which explains the very particular and even borderline traumatic reaction that some people have to a baby crying on an airplane. It isn’t just because it’s a loud, relentless, piercing, (did I say relentless?) noise. It’s because it’s a noise that activates three different places in our brains to take immediate action. But on a plane, we are trapped with the sound. No action on our part is possible. 

People have a variety of responses and/or reactions to that sense of feeling trapped.

And then there is the phenomenon of getting kicked in the balls. I personally winced at the mere typing of that sentence.

Regardless of gender, we are all universally aware of the paradigm of seeing men's reactions to another man being pummeled in the groin. 

That all comes from the wiring in our species to be not just responsive, but chemically rewarded for taking action to alleviate the suffering of others. Exhibiting compassion releases dopamine and oxytocin. And that is by design. 

Now, people will debate about by whom, what, or if it was “designed.“ but we can all agree that it is the present reality. And it is an astonishing one indeed. 

If you believe in God, that’s who you might consider thanking for this truly elegant bit of engineering. But even if you don’t, there’s no denying the impressiveness of compassion as a biological trait. 

To think that we are wired to care for one another on a biological level, and that we are rewarded with good feelings for doing it, makes me very happy. It comforts me to remind myself of the fact that when it all comes down to it, we are built to heal, and to save, and to protect. Most importantly, we are wired to do something about it when we are witness to suffering.

Of course that doesn’t mean that all who witness suffering do something about it. If only that were so. But it is operating contrary to the wiring when we don’t. I have a hard time believing there are not long-term consequences, namely chemical, for operating on a regular basis in opposition to our wiring. 

The word compassion literally means “to suffer together.” There is a sacrifice built into that reality. Because, at the risk of stating the obvious, when we suffer over someone else’s suffering, we are still suffering. Even if it’s over someone else’s. It is a moment in the absence of joy. And I believe, with every molecule of my being, that we were meant for joy.

Pay attention to what you’re wiring is asking of you. There are rewards in it for you. It will literally make you feel good. At the very least, better. And in times such as these, better is a heck of a lot more than some are fortunate to experience.

Remember your compassion when it comes time to helping those who are fleeing or rebuilding from war and disaster. Only greater unity can come from it. 

We are built to thrive in the presence of compassion. Embody it in any small way you can in your life. I know for a fact it will change you to make a point of tickling your brain wiring with deliberate acts of compassion. 

That is your charge. 

Hopeful Thinking, Saturday, June 4, 2022 - Our Intuition

My grandmother Madelon was a truly lovely woman. Elegant. Dressed very well but never to the point of drawing attention. She’d sing “I love you, a bushel and a peck…” from Guys & Dolls and never kiss us just once when five or six pecks in a row were possible. We all adored her. 

Gram always taught us to follow our intuition. She never made a big deal about it, but whenever the opportunity presented itself to reinforce the idea, she never failed to do so.

From an early age this always made me wonder about the power, purpose, and, of course, even the existence of, our human intuition. But if Gram said it existed, then it existed. She did not exaggerate, gossip, or overdramatize. So, with the exception of her occasional superstitious beliefs such as hiding your mother’s dish towel to get rid of a wart, we generally took her words at face value.

I believe we all possess a skill we might refer to as intuition. But I won’t claim to determine the source of it. Some may deem it to be God/Holy Spirit speaking to them, or through them. Some believe that intuition and other forms of more demonstrable psychic phenomena are a mental handhold with the “other side” creating a conduit of information. Or perhaps it’s something else entirely.

It could be all of the above.

For the sake of things not becoming too complicated or specific in my mind about the origin of the information I receive through the process of my own intuition, I choose to see it as my higher self tapping me on the shoulder. A part of me that has a slightly better connection with All That Is giving me hints and signals about what to do next, like an inner compass.

But since intuition is quite fallible, and vulnerable to our own emotional disturbances, influences, and interpretations, it’s generally easier to see in hindsight something our intuition was trying to tell us than it was predictable before the fact. 

I’ve thought the same about really good tarot card readings. They tell us things like a tall, dark stranger is coming your way only to find out you’re being asked to housesit a friend’s enormous black Great Dane named Pipsqueak. There was something to the original intuited thought, but too vague to have acted upon, ending up only as a curiosity tale. Or tail, as the case may be.

This leads us to things like prophecy, both ancient, such as the Book of Revelations in the Bible, and what have ended up to be modern prophecies, like Jules Verne’s predictions of modern technology in his 19th-century science fiction books. Included with these are also some conspiracy theories, like the Simulation Hypothesis, which is a belief that all of “reality” is actually a simulation, and not real, popularized by movies like The Matrix trilogy and other forms of science fiction. 

I wonder where our intuition configures into ideas such as these? Because, if Revelations, for instance, is a prophecy of some kind, the imagery presented could mean any number of things other than the literal destruction of humanity. It could very well mean the death of the old corrupt way of doing things, for all we know. I bet that would feel very much like an annihilation for those who live corruptly.

And since we know virtually nothing about the “hereafter,” but enough about physics to know that parallel dimensions of reality co-exist alongside ours, is our intuition picking up on the notion that this experience of life we’re having is somehow entangled across dimensions and mirroring another, and subsequently identifying it as a simulation? Or as Heaven?

How much information about the Ultimate Reality do we really receive through our intuition? While it’s impossible to answer, spiritual teachings across cultures do advocate for stillness of the mind and body, and peace of the heart to get the most from what naturally comes to us. 

The bottom line? I believe that the Universe speaks to us all the time. It's easy to make mistakes about it. Make sure your antennae are at ease to get the best reception possible.

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 29, 2022 - The Chicken

Long story short, we were driving home from our church organist's daughter's college graduation party, literally over a river and through the woods, when we happened upon a chicken just taking its first steps in the process of crossing the road. 

I couldn’t help myself. I slowed down considerably, of course, but I also lowered the window, and asked the chicken why it was crossing the road. The chicken gave no discernible reply. Yes, it was a bit silly. 

Here’s the strange thought that followed: I was kind of proud of myself for having thought to ask, in spite of the absurdity. In all seriousness, it made me wonder how often do we ask people about what it’s like to be them?

I could of course infer on my own the motivations for the chicken’s willingness to traverse the dangerous pavement with nothing but a driver’s attention between itself and a car tire.

But my guess would be that my imagination cannot really tell me what it’s like to be a chicken. Drawing an inference would be just me making an assumption about the emotional experience of poultryhood. I can’t contend that it would be a useful way of imagining it. At least not in a way that would help me genuinely understand the chicken. 

Even though the chicken couldn’t answer me, the relevance of the question remains. Because the answer to why a chicken might cross the road is to be most sincerely found in asking what it’s like to be them. 

Which immediately made me think of just how rare it is that any of us take the time to ask others, especially others who might irritate or frustrate or even anger us, what it’s like to be them?

So, what’s it like to be you? 

I know you’re not a chicken crossing the road, exactly, but what is it like to be you? I mean really. If you had to describe in no fewer than ten sentences, what is it like to be you, what would you say?

What’s it like to have to make the decisions you make? What’s it like to feel bad about making a mistake, or to win a board game? What is it like to do your job? To take care of your family? 

Do you wake up in the morning comfortable or uncomfortable? Looking forward to the day or dreading it? What’s it like?

Even though I may not personally hear the answers you might give, you should know them. You should know the answer to the question: How does your life make you feel? 

What if you were to find out the answer to that same question about one of your coworkers who drives you crazy? What if you were to find out that it’s so much more complicated to be them than you realized?

What if you found out that their life was filled with tragedy, or trauma? Even though that doesn’t excuse bad behavior, are you capable of empathizing with them? And if you are, does that make the burden on your heart over them lighter or heavier?

In my experience, any time I happen to really find out what makes a person tick, I am often far less surprised about their actions. I also find that it makes me approach them differently, which invariably makes them respond to me differently as well.

And that is the really the lesson here. Take the time to ask the chicken why it’s crossing the road. Because the answer might not only surprise you, it just might make you feel better as well. 

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 21, 2022 - Communion of the Spirit

I heard an argument recently about non-believers receiving holy communion in church. In Catholicism, it is explicitly warned against giving communion to non-Catholics. In other types of Christian churches, the rule varies, but widely.

The case in favor of giving communion to all rests on the welcoming and hospitable nature of Christianity’s central figure, Jesus of Nazareth. Full stop. Yet, referencing the apostle Paul, I read one pastor’s opinion that giving communion to non-believers is not only wrong, it’s cruel. 

Might that be a starkly anti-Jesus rendering of Paul’s intent? Paul says that we should be “worthy” to receive it, not necessarily be a “believer.” Now define worthy. (I’ll wait…) Now define believer. (I won’t bother to wait.)

This, however, is not a bash at Catholicism. Even knowing its conflicts and crimes, there is also elegant and meaningful theology there and a sense of belonging, comforting tradition. I am speaking of individual interpretations that need some fine-tuning and to be nudged toward a greater respect for teachings over traditions. There is room for everyone at the table. Make room.

The act of communion, as we recognize it in western culture, comes primarily through various denominations of the Christian tradition representing Jesus’s last supper. But the act of ritually breaking bread and the passing of the cup is a long-standing ceremony of blessing across cultures and times. It is something we are many of us subconsciously missing out on in our lives because we’re familiar with only one predominant version of the tradition, and happen to find it not to our taste. But there are other ways of considering the table. 

If we are to celebrate spiritual diversity, let’s turn some rocks over and understand them better. Let’s ask questions and invite people in. Let’s use our intrinsic human need to gather together to encourage one another. Across differences. To connect with the divine. To slow one’s heartbeat and breathing for a little while. To be at ease. And safe.

Rituals are ingrained in our DNA, poetically speaking. (Perhaps.) They are hardwired into our culture. Rituals comfort us and encourage us. They remind us of our inherent belonging. We are one tribe. Let’s break bread together as an act of friendship and mutual blessing. May you never hunger. May you never thirst. Blessed be. Amen.

I’m spending some time lately on this ritual in my congregations. In Lancaster tomorrow it will be a new version of the bread and wine, in Fitchburg in June it will be pinecones representing the seat of consciousness. Last week, Lancaster had a sea glass communion that was very moving. 

I outline this because I want to point out there is more than one way to ritually commune with our neighbor. Seek one for yourself. Break bread. Share yourself. Listen to others. Get out there and mingle. If you’re looking for Jesus’s permission to be innovative with the action of loving your neighbor, you have it.

But there is also a message in the bottle of the communion ritual, intrinsic to all of its various traditions. It is the lesson of hospitality. The rituals give us a reason to come together. The invitation and welcome to the table is a reason to reach out to others. The purpose of these actions is to enhance our ability to be hospitable. Then, possibly a bit empathetic. And then, just maybe seeing your neighbor as yourself. It’s all a plot.

When you share a moment, you share your spirit. When two or more gather in the name of love, the love is there, manyfold. 

All communion rituals have the same two objectives: to bless and to create belonging. Say a prayer before dinner, just words of belonging and love and gratitude. Make it your own. Give someone a smooth stone and show them you have one that matches it. Give someone a sandwich and wish them well. Shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye. That is all communion. 

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 7, 2022 - The Art of Belonging

What does it mean to belong? Does it feel good? Safe? What does it mean to be a part of something? A circle of friends, a company, a club, a family? 

Relationship is the most important aspect of the human experience. Necessary for our survival, for our happiness, our safety. As a concept, relationships have many versions. Among them are romantic, platonic, family, various levels of friendship from acquaintance to besties, and even “friends with benefits.” But one thing is certain, each of them has the potential to instill a sense of belonging within us.   

Many know that I formerly ran a youth mentorship program called the Tribe. When I started mentoring kids after school I didn’t do it with the conscious thought to create belonging. If you had asked me if I thought belonging was important, of course I would have said yes. But it was not the underlying theme of reasoning behind the creation of it. At least, not consciously.

Over time, I began to see a pattern in the words the kids used to describe the Tribe to other people. I started to hear things like "family," and "everybody belongs.” It made me realize a few things about what it meant to belong to something that was happy to have you there. Something in which people were eager to both serve and help one another, as well as share in the goodness of our individual talents. 

Belonging is an art form. It’s an art because you have to do it on purpose. You have to do it with intent and investment. You have to put some of yourself into the act of belonging. You have to work to not only build trust with others, but have trust in others as well. We have to come to understand the types of pride and distrust that prevent relationship. We need to make a life practice of belonging. 

To where or whom do you belong? Think right now about where you belong in the world. You could think of it in terms of keys on your keychain. What doors are open for you? Where have you been authorized to enter? Where do you feel most welcome? Your family? Your job? Your neighborhood pub? Where does everybody know your name? These are the places to which you belong. Do you deliberately share that feeling with others? Do you seek out those who feel as though they belong nowhere and to no one?

Belonging is an art in that we must practice it, we must have a passion for it, we must know the value of it so that we can share it with purpose. And once we find belonging, what do we do with it? Once we have decided to become a part of a larger body, what do we do with that power? What might we do once we accept that we are, and always have been, part of a much larger whole?  

Let the wholeness overtake you. None of us can truly know what’s possible when we all of humanity works together, but we can imagine. We can choose to let the wholeness sink in and become its own thing. It’s own living, breathing, force of good in the world. It will be an act of deliberate love that shall transform all who partake of it.

I eventually figured out why I created the Tribe. It was for me. It was because I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere myself. I created a safe space in the very high school I myself had attended, where I myself had been bullied and harassed, in order to heal my own loneliness. In the process, it gave that same belonging, that I so desperately needed, to others. 

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, April 30, 2022 - You’ll Be Okay

How many would agree with me when I say that I feel like I’m operating at about 65%? Tasks seem to take about a third more effort than I often feel I have to give them. Or at least a third more than I used to have. 

Ironically, in many ways, I feel as if my life is much less complicated now since the beginning of the pandemic. Unnecessary pressures I used to put on myself I no longer do with such emphasis. Places I used to feel obligated to go and activities in which I felt obligated to participate feel much less important than they used to. Some of them will return, but they will be less mindlessly done. Personal progress. 

However, there is a consequence to this natural sifting and sorting we are doing in our society right now. There are emotional, and therefore functional repercussions for having nowhere to turn where the effects of the pandemic have not left their mark. Every single thing in our society has been held up for consideration. 

It’s Marie Kondo on a global scale. We will ultimately part with all that which cannot bring us joy. 

Not to say that joy shall be the only goal. But there can be no joy without real fairness, without justice. Without our health, or our potential. And because of that, now that everything is up in the air, what’s left standing in the end shall be what we truly prefer. Caveat: that which prevents our joy does not go peacefully. 

The birth pains of this next age are personal, and they already require the normal attentions to which all grief is entitled. But most of us also have a significant existential concern about the future of this planet. We bear our worry over the world we leave to our grandchildren.

Those grandchildren are already deeply afraid and frustrated about the world they’re about to inherit. It has raised the depression levels among teenagers to their highest in recorded history. 

The pandemic has added a layer of unrequited grief and panic to an already conflicted world. We are schooled, and warned, every day about the consequences of our actions. They are grave. 

You have a right to be sad about it. You have a right to grieve about the state of the world and the experience it is going through right now. You have a right to acknowledge how this impacts the functioning of your own daily life, and of your family. It slows things down. 

It’s okay to take things slower right now. It’s okay to acknowledge that your fuse is a little shorter and that you’re trying to be mindful of it. It’s okay that you’re a little more forgetful and a little more disorganized. It’s okay to need more help than you used to for the same tasks. It will not always be the case. 

Acknowledge the way grief affects you and do for yourself the same as you would to emerge from the loss of a loved one. Be kind to yourself. 

Pace yourself. Forgive yourself. Cut some slack for others who are all going through the same. Try to maintain optimism about the future because good things are occurring every day in this world, and many of them are happening precisely because of the great but difficult reckoning we are having. Love is at the heart of it. Have faith. 

We will come through. There has been steady progress in a positive direction for many decades now, look to it. We are loving and strong by nature. And our nature will win this war. In many ways, it already has.

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, April 23, 2022 - Taking Note of Our Connection

Not long ago, I watched a video online about our electromagnetic connection with the earth. Of course, all of these types of things are subject to actual scientific scrutiny. A video I came across online does not qualify as a peer-reviewed scientific article. Let’s remember to keep all things we see in perspective.

However, it does pose an interesting thought. And something which aligns with our current understanding of even the magnetic sphere which surrounds our planet. All of this around us is electromagnetic in nature. Everything has polarity. Including our cells and organs. The elements all have polarity. And the overflowing abundance of that we see every time we shock our finger on a door knob or witness a bolt of lightning. The very atoms in our bodies are held together by the same force.

There is a bit of advice in this: Come into contact with the earth. Physically. Literally. Regularly. Touch the earth and discharge the excess electricity within you. Draw from the earth the type of charge you really need. 

Most organized world religions give their authority over to a higher power not of this earth. But the ancient traditions maintain reverence for the cycle of earthly life. They push their hands into the soil to hold in them the source of their sacred accountability. It is the earth to whom they are answerable. This is their authority. This is their rulebook.

The earth makes all the rules, for the record. We should note that a bit more often. Our best task is to listen and obey them. From the Judeo-Christian perspective this world is God's creation and as such is as sacred as God Itself. If you would love God, you would do so through the earth itself. Honor God by giving gratitude for the earth. By protecting it. The earth religions honor Goddess the same way.

Our pagan traditions recognize the wheel of the year, the seasons, the cycles. Both in the sky as well as the earth. As above, so below. These cycles are embedded within us, within our emotionality. The waters of our body respond to the waters of the earth in tandem. Acknowledge your significance to the earth and your connection to it will be strengthened.

We recognize that at certain times of the year, as the seasons change, we change ever so slightly with them. As the light dims so too do our spirits tend. As the leaves unfold again in the spring we breathe a sigh of relief. It's more than just the cold. Or the return of warmth. 

This is something deeply intrinsic which goes beyond any religion or philosophy. We are made of this earth in the most literal terms. There is no molecule in our body that was not first a part of this planet. And the stars before that. The minerals in our bodies right now, brought to us through the food we eat and the air we breathe, were once a part of this earth. 

In all likelihood I have, we all have, inhaled molecules that were only weeks before submerged in the mantle of the planet. We are all thoroughly connected to it. You cannot deconstruct soup. It is fully entangled. There is no line where the earth ends and we begin. 

Every atom in our body arrives to us via the earth. We are literally the clay of it. To dust we shall return because we are dust already. Yet what a wondrous and complex thing, a single speck of dust. 

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, April 16, 2022 - The Footprints

Did you know the origin of Christianity is actually a life practice? A way. Not specifically a belief (although belief is very much a part of it), but more a way of being. Not a dogma. But a dharma.

A dharma, in the instance, is a life practice. A set of rules we choose to follow for good living. A simple set of ethical guidelines for being in good relationship with ourselves, others, the Earth and with God. Ways of leaving the Earth a little more loving than we found it. Not a requirement of belief, so much as a reminder of how to gently and lovingly be.

The Golden Rule is a perfect example of a dharma. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Be as kind to other people as you want them to be kind to you. Simple rule, but with very complex concepts behind it, upon which we may meditate for the rest of our lives. 

When you look at the words and actions of Jesus, there’s a dharmic pattern of teaching which emerges with six different categories. He taught the life practices of forgiveness, compassion, hospitality, noneresistance, empowerment, and gratitude. 

All the things which he spoke about, demonstrated, or explained in parable form were about relationship. How we interact with other people. How we diffuse a tense or dangerous situation. How we treat our sick, widowed, orphaned, and imprisoned. How to raise one another up. 

One step further, the Christian dharma is about actively making things better among one another. Not just remaining peaceful, but actively healing. 

The active practice of forgiveness is about the ending of anger in your heart and the bias in your actions, which only makes things worse. It’s about choosing to end cycles of resentment and violence. Not forgetting people’s actions, but letting go of the anger. 

Compassion is an active choice to dig deep underneath the critical feelings we have about others to see their humanity, perhaps even their divinity. Our actions reflect the judgments we have about others. We make better, smarter judgments when we see their humanity. 

Hospitality is about being open and welcoming to new ideas and strangers. It’s a choice to be at peace with a constantly changing world with new faces and races and beliefs than we have ever been exposed to before. Opening the door is the first step. 

Noneresistance is the willingness to love someone or something right where they are. First, making an assumption that the best possible transformation occurs when in the presence of love. Second, that only the use of judgment and fear prevents us from loving things as they are. What they are becomes a distortion of what they might have been. 

Empowerment is the active outreach of raising people up. Healing them. Teaching them. Encouragingly. Without threat or fear. Only love. 

Finally, the deliberate practice of gratitude is the mayonnaise here. It is the conduit of the Holy Spirit, if you will. It is that which completes the circuit. It fills in the gaps of our ability to comprehend the magnitude of it all. It is dark matter. Gratitude plugs us into the divine. 

The celebration of Easter is all the more meaningful when we remind ourselves that loving one another by raising each other up was the primary lesson Jesus taught and lived for. 

Everyone has their own worldview on this of course, and all of them matter. When in doubt, however, simply love one another. Love will know what to do next. 

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, April 9, 2022 - The Age of Transparency

I decided to look up the frequency of the use of the word transparent. I had a suspicion that it had increased. I was correct.

Since 2000, the word transparent has steadily increased in usage in a long, single uptick, not seen in the history of its recorded use. 

Throughout the history of the word transparent, the number of times the word pops up in literature, media, and daily speech has gone up and down over time, generally up. But since around the year 2000, it has snowballed in use without stopping. 

Without being a sociologist or linguist myself, I do feel that the need for such a word has increased over the last 50 years in particular.

In the mid-20th century we truly began to get a handle on the type of corruption that could exist in elected government. We had become complacent with our system. And while most public servants are honorable, unless they are visible, it’s very easy to run amok with power. 

We are increasingly dissatisfied with people making decisions behind closed doors on our behalf. There is something magnificent in this. Something sacred. It reveals our inherent self-worth. 

Why demand transparency unless we instinctively believe we have a right to a say in how our government is run and what actions it takes on our behalf? Or modern corporations, for that matter. 

It wasn’t that many centuries ago where very few people ever considered that they were worthy to participate in such levels of decision-making. A huge swath of society felt that they were merely subjects of someone else’s decisions. And they were. 

However, if you’re wondering how we are doing as a society, consider whether or not an increased use of the word transparent signals something radically important occurring behind our conscious awareness. The steady increase in the use of the word transparent illustrates we are, and have been for some decades, waking up.

Our desire for increased visibility is, generation by generation, making an impact. And we want the view to be two-way. We not only wish to see, we wish to be seen. What do you think the natural result of that demand will be over time?

The new City Council chambers here in my hometown of Fitchburg, Massachusetts is a former bank building located to the left of City Hall. A large brick archway dominating the façade reveals a clear glass opening directly into the chamber proceedings. They are visible right from the street.

That means there are people in positions of authority in my hometown who thought that was a good idea. They were correct, it is. And that is the type of decision which demonstrates attention to what people are needing right now. Transparency in government. Likewise, transparency in business, and nonprofits, and in religion, and healthcare.

I am endeared to my hometown because of basic, symbolic decisions like this to fill a brick archway of government with glass instead of a wall and doors. 

It’s true, I’m an optimist. I, like everyone, am subject to what’s known as confirmation bias. But things like this are much like listening to the ground for signs of life. It’s not an exact science. Take it how you will.

There are no guarantees that all which takes place within view is honorable. We have to actually look through the glass. We have to speak up and participate in the process. We have to learn from this increasing transparency and build upon it. 

The world is changing dramatically. Sometimes terrifyingly so. But look for signs like this if you want to know what’s really coming tomorrow. Intent is everything. All shall be well.

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, April 2, 2021 - The Purpose

So what’s it all for? Why are we here? What are we supposed to be doing? Why are we supposed to be doing it?

One of my favorite things about humans is that we are not programmed for blind obedience. We are not willing to just be told to do something, or think something. Or believe something. Or be something without understanding why. Not just why, but what’s in it for me? That’s called buy-in. We want buy-in. 

And so when considering the meaning of life, we often look to religion and say: so what’s in it for me? Even those who practice altruism are doing it because it fulfills something in them. We expect to feel good when we do good.

And so here’s the buy-in for the purpose of life: It’s to make things better. I often think of it as doing what you can toward raising the vibration of the universe, even though I can’t tell you exactly what that might really mean. But it’s my way of thinking about rising the tide so that all the boats go up. 

The clue to why I believe that this intrinsic inner directive to feel better, do better, be better is the real purpose of life is in the fact that there is literally no organic living structure on earth, cellular, animal, or plant, which does anything other than seek to improve upon itself. And we are part of that life. 

If you want to think of that religiously, you may say that Creation is so perfect it only strives toward God. If you are a scientist, you cannot find an instance where organic life is naturally self-destructive, on the contrary, its entire function is to take active measures to improve the quality of its experience.

Which makes me wonder whether or not there is actually any other purpose to life? Does that one directive state it all? Is that the one rule we should seek to follow?

We don’t have to understand why it works, how it works, who created it, or how to fix it. We just have to feel better. We just have to find ways of being at ease. We have to find ways of making others feel at ease. Helping ourselves and others be safe, be loved, be fed and healthy. 

Who cares why we are supposed to do that? Who cares if some people think that God told them to be good? Who cares if some people don’t think there is a God? Whatever is true is true with or without our permission or belief.

Our job is to do the thing we are driven to do. Feel good. And desire to feel even better tomorrow. We plant seeds in the spring so that we have food in the fall. We design better houses so that we are safer and warmer within them. We design better systems so that all are welcomed at the table.

It is undeniable that we were made to improve. It’s so perfect a design that it’s not a big leap to imagine it came from the mind of something bigger than ourselves. But it’s fair to say we all, atheists and agnostics and those who believe in a higher power, can and should work toward just making the world a better place. 

And that will be enough. 

Monday, March 28, 2022

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, March 26, 2022 - Being in the Flow

In 1975, a man by the name of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi coined the term “flow” for observation in the field of psychology. It began for him as a curiosity years before. He noticed that artists had a tendency to become completely engrossed in their work. Painting or creating for hours, even days, on end. Sometimes not sleeping, rarely eating, or bathing. Not just disregarding, but ignorant of the mundane entirely. They somehow had an ability to achieve a near-trancelike state while performing a task which they felt called to do.

Many of us, probably all of us, at one time or another have experienced a bit of flow. A feeling of being so engrossed, so attuned with your task that even time has no real meaning. That’s flow. That’s being “in the zone.”

This sweet spot occurs when a particular balance is achieved. We are more engrossed by tasks that are just challenging enough to keep things interesting. An engrossing challenge doesn’t exceed our skills, it matures them. 

It’s like surfing a wave. Too far forward or back on the board and the wave exceeds our skill at riding it. We are thrown off and forced to take the time to swim back toward our confidence. Get back on the surfboard again. 

But when in the perfect position on the board, all things understand what to do, how to act, how to expand. We forget ourselves entirely. We are beyond the reach of any negative idea about ourselves. We are utterly in the present moment. We are at optimum. Tapping into a deeper portion of ourselves past the drama, past the mundane, and into who we truly are. ‘Who-we-truly-are’ is the one at the wheel. Just what the masters ask of us to accomplish through the practices they have been teaching us for thousands of years. It’s time to listen to them.

The truth is, historically, while spiritual masters have designed practices meant to attune us to the sweet spot, religion has nudged us away from this experience except when as an extension of our service or devotion to God. Only one type of ecstasy is allowed. 

But it’s easy to see why they fear your ecstasy. Being in the flowwhether in the moment during a particular task or throughout the entire landscape of your lifefacilitates an understanding of yourself as an independent connection to Source. No middleman required. There is no gatekeeper in the flow. If you figure that out, they’ve lost all their power.

It’s the reason why a message of unworthiness found so much value in medieval church doctrine. If you knew your worth, if you found the sweet spot on your own, you wouldn’t need them. They positioned themselves to be worthy on your behalf. That is a false teaching.

That is not what the teachings spoke. And that is why they burned and crucified those who spoke inconvenient truths. A dangerous thing to be a prophet.

But they are not the authority of our reality anymore. They never were. The flow is available to us in direct proportion to the throwing off of old ideas about our so-called unworthiness. It is a lie that was destined to self-expose. A light under a bushel is still a light.

Choose to place yourself firmly in the path of self-awareness. Know what it is you want from life. Recognize your talents and deliberately expand upon them. Cultivate opportunities and spaces in which to achieve flow. You are not only serving your own personal interests. You are ringing a bell into the heart of the Universe Itself.