Tragedy and triumph–the opposite twins manifest thirteen years ago today. The tragedy of maliciousness born of delusion, the triumph of selfless sacrifice in the midst of needless heartbreak. Remembering such events is human nature, but more importantly, mindfulness of the seeds we are planting must take place. Anger and bitterness will not lie dormant, nor will compassion, kindness, and love. So I must be mindful of the seeds I plant, the feelings I stir, the words I release into the world. Out of tiny acorns mighty oaks are grown.
“No more war. No more bloodshed.”
The plea of a human heart.
What can change the hearts and minds of those who have determined violence is the way? Those to whom violence gives a sense of power? Those who feel justified in killing and maiming based on ideology or personal loss?
I do not know. The dreamer in me thinks it could be a melody. A simple vibration in the universe that pleases the ear and quiets the mind. What if a a song could defeat ego? After all, a tank can be turned into a beautiful melody.
What do I know? I am only a dreamer.
I have been reading a biography of Sitting Bull, the famous Lakota leader. Like most good books it is interfering with my official duties though only a few chapters in. It’s an enjoyable read, but one aspect is unsettling though not unexpected. The narrative is steeped in war, as was the Lakota culture of the time (and as much of my culture is still today). Truly, most human cultures are steeped in war.
Hence, war is very much on my mind today, and I haven’t even read the most recent headlines concerning the Levant. This is a strange wheel we ride. War brings death and pain and suffering. It rends hearts and bodies. We honor those who sacrifice themselves in its fire and foster aid societies for their relief. We speak of the awfulness of it and how it is to be avoided if at all possible. We even give lip service to the idea of avoiding “unnecessary casualties”.
Still, we don’t get off the wheel. We never fight the war to end all wars. Seemingly, that war can’t be fought with any weapon we can fashion outside of the human heart, and perhaps it is just too painful for most of us to fashion the weapons that could fight that war. So we have the paradox of accepting the horror of war as being less horrible than the hard work and sacrifice that would be required to end it.
Instead, we feed the fire. We rationalize that “Such is the way of the world” without due acknowledgement that this is only so because humans choose it to be so. We argue of who started what when that is really no longer even relevant. Offense has piled upon offense, vengeance upon vengeance, to the point there is more responsibility and injury to go around. Like little children on the playground merry-go-round, we kick and kick to keep the wheel spinning to the point we are sick, but we keep kicking anyway.
Well I am sick of being sick. It is possible to turn the other cheek. It might get one punched yet again. It might get one killed. But the only way to stop the war wheel from turning is for enough individuals to decide to stop feeding it and just step off. Its energy comes from human beings so human beings can starve it of that energy.
I know what is coming. “That’s easy for you to say! You don’t live in a place of conflict. You haven’t lost friends and family to a hardened enemy.” Guilty as charged. So please know I’m not judging anyone who does live in such a situation. I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do, only observe what the effect of justifying war and violence has been and suggest–as have much greater hearts and minds than my own–that there is another way. A way hard in its own right, to be sure. A road less-traveled. Still, a road none-the-less.
I will ask something of those participating in or fostering violence and war as a solution to our conflicts. Do you think this one is the one? Is this bomb or bullet or rocket or stone the one that will finally do it? That will turn the tide and bring about the actual end of violence and killing? Is it the one that will soothe the human heart of the pain and grief of losing lives and limbs and family in war? Will it actually right the wrongs? Will it bring back the dead? Because if it is not the one, then it is very likely just one more kick to keep the wheel of violence spinning on. It is very simple human mathematics. Death and destruction produce death and destruction. Vengeance produces vengeance. Like begets like. Killing enemies creates more enemies from the friends and family of the one who has been killed. Isn’t that why you justify killing? Why would the other side be any different?
It will never stop unless we stop it. So this is my declaration of peace.
This post is dedicated to those fighting in Palestine and Israel, not for Palestine and Israel, but for the shared human dignity of peace; and to those like them in places of conflict all around the world.
It’s not as hard as we think, though it is sometimes harder than we wish it to be. But most worthwhile things require something of us, and we are generally better for the struggle.
So you want to create something beautiful? What it is doesn’t matter. A beautiful marriage or beautiful business (yes, a business can be beautiful!) or beautiful life? What matters is you.
Can you envision that which you wish to create–even if only vaguely? This is your starting point. Even if you have only the slightest glimpse or dimmest view, if you can see you can take your first steps. Many of us are groping blindly and aren’t happy with the life we are creating. Ask yourself–“What is the beautiful thing that sets my heart aflame?”
So now you have at least a vague idea of what you want. You can see a tiny piece or two of the puzzle. Now you need a plan. Not a hard and fast plan with no room for shifting circumstance, but a light-on-its-feet sort of plan that can bend without breaking. Have you noticed how so often in a heavy windstorm it is the largest trees that fall, and often have their roots pulled up as well? Don’t be that tree. Be stubborn in your pursuit but flexible in detail. Be the younger tree that can bend with the wind a little.
Alright. You can see your beautiful thing. You have hammered out a plan that can bend this way and that but keep its overall shape. Now find some partners. People who can get a glimpse of your dream as well and might share a bit of it. People you respect. Positive people who will encourage your good ideas and discourage your dumb ones. Yes, even geniuses have dumb ideas on occasion. People who will have grand and foolish ideas of their own. People with whom you can be real and who will be real with you. People who smile often, even if it is mostly on the inside. People who can disagree without arguing. People who will tell you that you aren’t working hard enough or that you are working too hard. People you know will have your back. Remember, the greatest joys are always the shared ones.
Here we go now! Vision, check. Plan, check. Partners left, right, in front and behind. You’re covered. Now act. With intention. Move forward. Keep your vision in front of you, work your plan, rely on your friends. Some days will be easy–you will feel in step with the flow of all the universe. But some days, perhaps even many days, will be hard. A river eventually reaches the sea but it may have to rumble through rapids, tumble over falls, and meander through some monotonous flat lands before it opens to the beauty of the ocean. Many times, the difference between success and failure is just the willingness to keep at it. So act with intention. Every day. Even if you take a break–and sometimes you must–do so intentionally, with your vision of beauty still before you.
That’s it. See, plan, partner, act. Your vision becomes tangible. The beauty is before you. And the wonder of it is that even before it was realized, it was with you all the way.
Now, before my theist friends begin formally filing charges of blasphemy and my atheist friends just roll their eyes (yes, I have atheist friends!), please hear me out.
I am not saying any one of us bundles of mental energy wrapped in dust is THE God or that you have to even believe THE God exists (though I myself do). We’ll save that discussion for a mountain hike or trout stream or over beer and pizza.
What I do mean is this–every last one of us is creative. Some of you are going “Not me…I’m about as creative as a rock.” Well first of all, how do you really “know” that rock isn’t creative? But that too is another discussion for another time. I assure you however, you ARE in fact creative. You may not be an artist or musician or poet or novelist but you are creative.
In fact you are creating right now. You are creating thoughts about this blog post or God or beer and pizza or something else. Those thoughts are jostling their way in among the myriad other thoughts dancing about your mind. Some of those thoughts will dance enthusiastically enough to really get your attention. They will grow and take on a life of their own by spawning other thoughts and captivating your focus. Most importantly, some of those thoughts will be be spawning actions (or non-actions). Those actions and non-actions will then have much to do with what happens in your life. In a most very real sense, you are creating your own life. Right now. Moment by moment, thought by thought, deed by deed.
Why not create something beautiful?
Yes you. Please shut up.
I am talking to you:
You, the Chicken Little screeching “The sky is falling!”
You, in the midst of your tirade against the evil who ever it is that you are certain is evil and is going to be the downfall of tribe, nation, or world.
You, so wed to your ideology, philosophy, theology, or maybe just the lovely sound of your own incessant chirping that you can’t see outside the walls of the nice little nesting box you have built for yourself.
You, who is certain that naysayers against your near-divine diatribes must be utterly and likely irrevocably stupid to dare have a different opinion than your own.
You, who are certain the brown people or white people or liberal people or conservative people or the rich people or the poor people or Muslim people or Christian people or secular people are the problem.
You, who are certain that whatever the problem you are not it.
WAIT! Some days that is me. I chirp and moan and whine and point fingers. I look down on difference in behavior and perspective and opinion. I open my mouth instead of my ears…and more importantly my heart.
There are problems in the world for certain–human, environmental, economic. Ignoring them isn’t helpful. Neither generally is our name-calling, finger-pointing, and pontificating. And most certainly our fear-mongering, self-obsession, and close-mindedness not only do not help us find solutions but create even more problems.
So, if all we can do is any of the above, we really do need to just shut up. But if we have something positive to contribute, a potential solution to a problem, a success to share, let’s do that. Over a beer or a glass of tea. With an awareness that whatever the negative circumstance we are dealing with, more negativity is unlikely to solve it. If we can open our mouths, then surely we can open our eyes and ears and minds and hearts as well. Yeah. Let’s do that.
Words intrigue me. They are a paradox, weighty and weightless.
What do they mean? Common usage assigns meaning, and dictionaries crystallize it. Still–I may speak or write a word or words and mean something utterly different from what common usage or the dictionary would indicate. I may be deceitful or misunderstood. Words have a power, but the power is limited by the one using and the one receiving.
It doesn’t help that words are wiggly things–they morph over time into new meanings or fade from usage entirely and are replaced by others. They are shaped by context and tone. And while as symbols they have been a powerful tool for our species, they never quite seem to capture the reality they represent. A word is no more the thing it symbolize than a cup can be the water it carries. I “love” my wife. What does that mean? Everything and nothing. Can the word every really capture that particular reality?
In a world awash with words it would seem some caution might be in order. Speak and write with care. What is weightless to me might be crushing to you. Read and listen with care. What I receive may not be what you intended. Just because something can be said doesn’t mean it should be. These admonishments seem fairly obvious.
But there are other, less obvious hazards regarding words. Beware of deifying words. They are as imperfect as we humans that use them. We want to set them in stone. We want them to be the thing they represent. But they are not. They are images, and images easily become idols. People maim and kill, emotionally and literally, over idols.
Words also become filters of sorts. I identify myself as “this” and you as “that”. All my perceptions become colored by my “thisness” and your “thatness”. So words become walls that keep us apart from and blind to the fullness of being of those on the other side.
Yes, we must walk carefully in this world of words.
This post is a follow up to yesterday’s concerning making changes. Tomorrow will mark the first full work week of 2014 and in my circle of friends and family it’s common to use that first Monday as the first step in a renewed journey. If you happen to have pushed “reset” for this year I hope these reminders will be of help. So here are some things you need to know and likely already do…
1) Bent branches snap back: I have been on both the giving and receiving end of a branch held back to clear a trail snapping back to its original position. It stings a bit and I literally nearly lost an eye that way once upon a time. The branch snaps back because the tension stores energy like a spring and it’s just physics that it wants to return to its natural position once released. The only way to change that is to cut the branch or pin it back until it begins to grow in a new direction. We humans trying to make changes are often like that. We’ve been growing a particular direction for a while and changing that direction will build emotional tension as our habits try to snap us back to where we are used to being. Will power alone is very unlikely to diffuse this tension and will eventually succumb unless we have some sort of plan to “pin” it back until we can grow in a new direction. Obviously, this plan will vary greatly depending on the change we are attempting, but potential “pins” include partnering with others, journaling, mantras, breathing exercises when stressed, etc. If you simply go it alone with nothing more than “I’ll start this” or “I’ll stop doing that” your will power may work for a while but you are almost guaranteed to lose your grip eventually. This brings us our next thing we need to know–
2) The moment of truth when attempting change is when we “fail”: I put “fail” in quotes because momentary setbacks do not HAVE to become permanent, but often they do. Whether it actually becomes failure or not depends on what we do next. There’s a very complex emotional/physiological/behavior loop that begins to cascade that first day we don’t get up to exercise or the moment we do light up that cigarette or whatever it is that that we would see as a failure in our particular endeavor. So whatever plan you come up with to help you make a change needs to include what you will do if your branch slips from your grasp and you find yourself having a really bad moment or day or week. Again, partnering with a person or three can be a big help here and I find that meditation will often help short-circuit that negative feedback loop that leads to negative behavior. We must remind ourselves that having slipped and fallen doesn’t mean we have to lay there and wallow in our personal muck. Get back up! The beautiful thing about any “failure” is that it immediately becomes the past. It can be learned from and doesn’t have to become the future. So take a breath and get back on the path you really want to be on. This brings us to the third thing we need to know–
3) That piece of cake isn’t what you really want: I use food as an example because it’s such a common area where we want to make changes. The majority of people I know would really like to eat in a fashion healthier than they actually do. But if this is true why do we often eat so many things that are unhealthy? Why does a very smart person act in a way that is basically insane? The honest truth is that because of our particular wounding in the harshness of life we ALL carry varying degrees of insanity inside of us. Our various addictions–from the relatively mild to very severe are all attempts to cope with this pain. That’s how “comfort food” gets to be comfort food. It makes us feel better in our brains even if it ravages our bodies. Feeling better is what we actually want, not that piece of cake. And do you know what REALLY feels “better”? Success! Victory! So when you find yourself in moments of temptation in terms of the changes you seek ask yourself a very simple question: “What do I REALLY want?” This will bring you back to your conscious and relatively sane self. Your sane self seeks health and happiness over the course of life, not just gratification in the moment regardless of consequence.
So–we have a plan to guide our success and a contingency aspect of that plan for when we fall short of our goals. We do some inward work concerning what we really want in our life. January turns to April, and we are working out or eating better or have lost weight or reduced our debt or are meditating every day or whatever. It feels SO GOOD! This brings us to our final thing we need to know–
4) You will want to tell everyone but probably shouldn’t: Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good thing to have a small group of helpers to share both victories and defeats. Fellowship in that sense is a very good thing. But when we start talking and sharing with everyone about what we are doing it tends to take our focus off the doing. It steals mental energy. It’s akin to a distance runner wasting energy to make little side trips while running a marathon. Your energy is precious–don’t waste it talking, use it doing. Your changed life or body or bank account is all the testimony you need. You are doing this for yourself and loved ones, not for the spectators. An occasional and brief testimony in response to questions is fine, but if you find yourself becoming an evangelist for your new life, be careful. It’s easy to lose focus and before you know it you find yourself sliding back to the place you don’t want to be. Save the real evangelism for later, when your branch is solidly rooted in your new direction.
To all readers setting out in a new and positive direction, you have all my best wishes for success whatever the endeavor. Don’t just wish for a happy 2014. Make it a happy year yourself. You have the power, so make a plan and take the first step. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain.
There is a time to be still, and a time to move. Solomon or another sage might have said something similar. Or maybe it was just some everyday Joe philosophically considering the consequences of failing to avoid an oncoming train. Whoever should get the credit for first verbalizing this basic reality really doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is reality.
We’re at that time of year where many if not most of us make some sort of resolution toward change. Most of us fail. A hard truth, but a truth none the less. It takes more than an idea to move forward. More than a desire even. Most of us have those. But what most of us often lack is the voodoo to actually move from point A to point B. We don’t like to admit it, but whatever our difficulty or dysfunction is, it has become comfortable to us on some level. This in spite of the obvious problems it may cause us. We have old friends in our chronic behaviors and we are loathe to divorce them.
So how do we acquire the voodoo? What’s the magic? How do we change? Age-old questions with answers beyond number depending upon both who is asking and who is answering. But all of the answers that matter will have one thing in common. DO SOMETHING. Do something that is DIFFERENT from what we have been doing.
“But that is problem!” our souls screech! We want to change but can’t. We need help. We need God or a Higher Power or a therapist or a friend that will listen. We need a program or a plan. We need to pray or meditate. We need some alone time. I’m not arguing. We have a lot of things we need. Turn to God. Go see a therapist. Meditate. Make a plan. Fantastic! But what will any of that accomplish without action? In most theistic systems of thought God will tell us to make some changes. Change our thoughts, change our actions, change our life. A good therapist will listen and explore wounds and talk about feelings and then give us something to do. All plans that matter involve action steps. Things that must be done.
And what of meditation? What of the “doing nothing” that we wrote of not that long ago? I am still very much a fan. Actions without reflection and a proper stillness in the soul can often be blind and wreak havoc in lives. But a proper stillness that doesn’t lead to action isn’t a proper stillness at all and is in fact useless. Life isn’t just a noun. It’s also a verb. The existence around us is in constant motion. The birds and bees and rivers and seas all move. The universe is energetically and constantly rearranging itself. We are are microcosm of it. So the power to change is in there. That isn’t the question. The question is will we? Will we do something different?
We’ve all heard the old cliche about a journey of a thousand miles beginning with a single step. I hate cliches. I hate them because they are so stunningly ordinary. They remind me too bluntly that while there is much seeming magic and mystery in the world some things are not magic at all. They’re just work. Sometimes very hard, unpleasant (at least in the short term) work. Sometimes that is exactly the sort of reminder we need, whether we especially want it or not. Today is the first step in the rest of our journey. If we don’t like the direction our proverbial feet are taking us it’s time to do something different. Right now. Not tomorrow or in a little bit when we finish this or that.
So step away from the screen internet addicts. Put down your phone and turn the damn thing off, phone junkies. Go toss the donuts out the window dieters. Put on some shoes and go take a walk Mr. Couch Potato. E-mail that resume job searcher. Fill out the application Miss Going Back To School For The Last Five Years. Finish this post and go talk to your wife over morning coffee. Wait! That’s me. There is a life to be lived. The only path to growth is through growth itself. Growth is change. So do something. Do something different.