We Are All Gods, Every One…

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?

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You Need You to Shut Up Right Now

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.

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An Observation

A thought keeps making its way around my conversational and social media circles that needs a bit of attention I think. Generally it is phrased along the lines of “Just because I disagree with you (or your ‘lifestyle’) doesn’t mean I hate you.”

I agree. I disagree with many things people say and do without hating the people who say and do them. Here’s the thing though–like so many of our thoughts it should be tempered with at least a couple of balancing thoughts. The first is that sometimes disagreement DOES become an avenue of hatred, or certainly at least of despising. Any time we fixate on what someone else is doing we are walking through a dangerous door. The voice of wisdom keeps calling us back to our own thoughts and actions, the only ones we have at least a tenuous measure of control over.

The second balancing thought is this–while disagreement isn’t necessarily hate, neither are judgment and condemnation usually love; which is likely why so many voices of wisdom across the ages have warned us against them. Historically speaking, it’s truly terrifying to consider the suffering unleashed by those claiming some moral, spiritual, or intellectual high ground. Morals are like fire–they can bring us warmth and light, but if not properly contained they will burn down the house or even an entire city or forest.

So if we find ourselves thinking it’s time for some good, old-fashioned pontificating at someone about their words or walk, we need to proceed with caution. We best make sure that we recognize that love is gentle and kind and patient and puts others before ourselves and that if we fail to ring our fire with such stones instead of light and warmth we may experience only burning and destruction.

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Having a bad day? You really ought to watch these instructions. Remarkable.

Categories: Miscellany | 2 Comments

A Word About Words

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.

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Things You Need To Know (and probably already do)

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.

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Sometimes the Best Thing To Do Is Something Different

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.

 

 

 

 

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Peace on Earth…for twenty-four hours anyway

An angelic chorus is recorded in the Gospel of Luke with having greeted the birth of Jesus singing “glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will toward men.” I sometimes wonder if they were singing of another earth. This earth has known very little of peace. I don’t have an answer for it. No one else does either. So I am just going to try live peace on my little bit of earth for one day. Twenty-four hours. What follows will be my diplomatic strategy.

–Be Quiet. Much of the strife in my world comes from  my propensity to over-appreciate the right of others to hear my obviously well-informed opinions. Though they may suffer some, others will not die from not knowing what’s on my mind for a day.

–Be still. Tranquility is as tranquility does. Modern life is a beehive and we are the busy bees (ironic, since our activities seem to be killing off the actual busy bees that pollinate our crops and share their honey). Being still tends to create a sense of peace naturally. My world calms when I do.

–Read something online I disagree with and not comment. To anyone. Especially in the “Comments” section (otherwise known as “The Pit of Despair”). Just think about what was written. Let it breathe a bit. And then go on with my life. I might just give myself a chance to grow.

–Do something nice…for someone I don’t especially like. It takes nothing to be nice to those who are nice to us. But awe and wonder arise when we give rise to our better selves and just reach out to someone we consider less-than pleasant.  Sometimes we are surprised to find they aren’t as unpleasant as we thought–sometimes our impressions are confirmed. But whatever, for one day I will act peacefully toward someone it doesn’t seem natural to do so. If there is ever to be that elusive peace on earth, it will be because enough people get tired of being enemies and decide to act otherwise.

–Smile and greet everyone I meet today. Some people will return it. Some people will ignore it. Some people will think I have a screw loose and I will see it in their eyes. But I might just cross paths with someone today who desperately needs just one person to acknowledge them in human warmth. I might make their day. Who knows? A made day could change their life.

–Avoid all 24-hour news for at least  twenty-four hours. It will be more effective if I can do so for twenty-four weeks, months or years. I’m guessing my anger level will drop by a minimum of 24%. Minimum.

That’s it. I have to keep it simple. Merry Christmas everyone. May there be peace and goodwill in your little corner of earth.

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Avoiding Avoidance

We all have our pitfalls–little traps that if we allow a certain amount of mindlessness to creep in we find ourselves stepping in. Avoidance behavior is a biggie for me. We are ancient enemies, our conflict spawned fairly early in my time here. At times I get the upper hand, but instead of learning from the past and remaining watchful, I tend to get satisfied and lazy and the next thing I know I’m hollering for help from the bottom of some metaphorical hole while fiendish Procrastination grins evilly down at me.

So today, trying to claw my way to the top of the most recent pit, I found myself getting a bit “put out”. Not angry in a way that leads to irrational lashing about, but angry in a way that lights a fire. Angry in a way that asks important questions about why I am where I am and how not only to get out of the hole but to stay out of it for good. So in asking and reflecting and considering past victories and defeats I came up with a few things. They are helping me formulate a plan and perhaps they can help someone else out there.

Basically, to defeat this monster for good, I need (at least) three things. The first is I need a pose. Specifically a meditation pose engaged regularly. I’m not gonna bore you with all the science behind meditation. There’s a mountain of info out there. I will say that meditation is not some weird and vaguely “spiritual” thing. It isn’t hocus pocus or sorcery or an attempt to talk to spirits. It’s very much a thing of the physical brain and has definite and measurable calming effects that provide a clarity to life situations. So, not surprisingly, when I regularly sit I find myself seeing with more clarity and acting and reacting with calm, balance, and purpose. So for me, a first for “doing” something positive is to do “nothing” with positive purpose.

Second, to avoid avoidance one needs a plan for the day. Just today. Not every day. Just the one, single, day we actually are living at the moment. I don’t mean every second legislated in stone but just an idea of things that truly need done and a real intent to do them. Front-end loading works really well. That is, do the hard things first. Just like when my mama made me eat my asparagus as a child. I could wait until the end, eating all the pleasant stuff first but that asparagus would still be there, taunting me, knowing I wasn’t going anywhere until I forced it down. It was better to attack it first and be done with it. When things arise that actually need doing, we aren’t going anywhere until they are done, so we might as well get to them.

And lastly, we need a good question to confront our tendency to avoid. That question is a good one to ask ourselves anyway from time to time, so why not make a habit of it? That question is “What am I afraid of?” Somehow, we often manage to step into some warped cosmic reality where what we should be afraid of doesn’t scare us and what should doesn’t. Instead of considering the difficulties we create and the non-life we engage in by avoiding distasteful or unpleasant or just plain hard things, we think only of the pleasure momentary escape brings us. But momentary escape is just that–momentary. The beast is still out there, waiting for us to come out of our tiny hiding place. And the hiding place has to be tiny because it is that smallest version of ourselves that needs to hide.

So what ARE we afraid of? Strangely, when we ask that question of ourselves in a substantive way, it actually has no substantive answer. What’s the worst that could happen? I suppose the very worst thing is you could die facing your personal beast. Guess what? That’s gonna happen anyway. We may as well live a little before it does, and we will NEVER live encased in fear. Cowering isn’t life, it’s just cowering.

The pleasant discovery I have made over and over again–and apparently keep forgetting over and over again–is life isn’t in avoidance, it’s in engagement. My mom used to have to force me at gunpoint (ok–she never actually used a gun, but I’m sure she was tempted) to force down that asparagus. But today asparagus and I have an excellent culinary relationship. Somewhere along the line I realized it is pretty good stuff and quite good for me. Often, so is that thing you are dreading. And even if it isn’t. Even if it is just plain old unpleasant and no fun there is one more question to ask, a trump card of sorts to play, and that question is “What will delay really get me?”

The answer to that one isn’t “nothing”. Delay will get you something, but not a positive something. It will get you dread–the Undone will always be lurking at the edge of your mind, no matter how many games of solitaire you play. It will get you soured relationships, more work, more stress, more pain, and less life. No one in their right mind wants that, and that my friend is a solid indication that we are not in our right mind at all when we engage in avoidance behavior.

So there you have it. A few arrows in your quiver when avoidance comes calling. Fire away.

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Nelson Mandela

The world has lost a great soul with the passing of Nelson Mandela. Not much else to say.

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

May we all be mindful of the self-oppression of hate and the true liberty of love. Sometimes, the highest walls are the ones we build for ourselves. Thank God for Nelson Mandela and his heart for tearing down walls.

Categories: Miscellany | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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