Big Sky Gratitude

Staring up into a canopy of twinkling darkness

a universe of unknowns that teases and taunts.

 

Hey you, out there, are you even there?

 

I lay back to widen my scope

in the soft delicate grass of summer.

Trying to take it all in—a futile endeavor.

From one end of the horizon to the other,

vastness is too small of a word.

What might be is incomprehensible

to my speck of perspective.

Insufficient in its relativity.

 

The miracle of earth

in an otherwise inhospitable galaxy.

And on this earth a continent we call America.

Safety in its borders protected by oceans,

divided by the ruggedness of mountains tall and pure.

Diversity and vitality in its composition of hidden wonders.

 

If you are out there, dude, you missed out.

My patch of grass is the best seat in the galaxy.

Save your envy, I will spare you my gloat,

and just pour out my heart in gratitude.

By |2024-07-04T11:58:03+00:00July 4th, 2024|Current, General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

Extending Our Minds: the Path to Full Knowing. Plus: A Personal Note

Wanna be a genius?

The things we know and believe have origins beyond our brainpower as measured by natural intelligence (IQ), or those things we have learned through education, experience, indoctrination, and socialization. Alternative vectors of knowledge include sources beyond our brains—beyond what is between our ears and within our skulls. Our bodies below the neck are constantly assessing the world too; their sensory receptors never shut off and have knowledge to offer (if we listen). Objects, both alive like flora and fauna and inanimate like books and computers and art— collectively our surroundings—are significant actors in the stimulation and acquisition of knowledge. And, of course, other humans we choose to associate with are reservoirs of knowledge to draw upon; often referred to as a “brain trust.” Then, we have knowledge built into our DNA—inherited knowledge (also known as ancestral memory) that is believed to be coded into our genes. Finally, our divine knowledge that resides in our soul where eternal wisdom has been carried for millennia (tapping into this vector requires diligent ego suppression).

Humans have an extraordinary capacity to know. It is a key differentiator between ourselves and other mammals. How we know what we know—epistemology—continues to explore these frontiers that may be as vast as the universe itself. Metaphysics suggests all we must do is to be open-minded, open-spirited, and consider the possibilities beyond what scientific method allows. We must drop the filters and guardrails that limit our knowledge to expand our awareness and, therefore, extend our minds.

It has happened to each of us throughout our lives. We have all had unexplained knowings. We often describe these events as the result of a hunch, or our intuition, or simply a lucky choice. But, was it? New research suggests those things ascribed to intuition are actually knowledge sourced from heretofore unrecognized vectors like those described above.[1] It turns out, we are all geniuses, or can be once we unlock ourselves and tune into our world in a much more open, loving, and grateful manner. Like the humans our ancestors hoped we would be.

Eastern philosophy calls this practice open awareness, or mindfulness, where our receivers are on full-power reception unencumbered by what has been or might be; where the only moment that matters is this one—the present. Once we realize this is the path to genius (full knowing), and ultimately transcendence that assures both inner peace and tranquility throughout the world, we might actually decide to change the manner in which we pursue life. (Note: you have just been handed the Holy Grail to assure the survival of Homo Sapiens.)

Contemplative practice combined with routine meditation are the fundamentals of the pursuit of full knowing. A quiet mind, warm heart, and a carefully balanced ego and soul are principal characteristics of the full knowing. Curiosity is their best friend. They don’t speak as much as they listen (with all of their senses) because speaking is a form of projection that requires the suspension of awareness that might compromise their knowing. They share their knowledge with appropriate discernment.  They are neither stingy nor generous; balance is wisdom. Neither are they conspicuous, they prefer anonymity to spectacle. You won’t find them on any red carpet. Often described by others as loners, ironically, they actually hold the keys to human flourishing. They are neither beautiful nor ugly, rich nor poor, powerful nor marginalized. They possess the curious capability to exhibit both solemnity and cheerfulness. They embody grace.

Now, please indulge me as I get personal. Or, if you prefer, click delete now.

In January 2022, in a meditative-ritual state, my “rite of passage cards” (pictured above) were revealed to me. The following October, I was diagnosed with very aggressive cancer, what is called a “high grade tumor”; cells that were likely triggered by the excruciating stress of the prior two years due to my now ex-wife destroying our twenty-year marriage and combined family. Please don’t feel sorry for me. Eventually, I came to embrace the challenge as one of moving from devastation to liberation. In hindsight, it has been a blessing. There is no way I would be where I am today without these events. There is no way I would have learned about full knowing or had come to terms with my own path to what I call “sweet peace.”

In February 2023, I went through a complicated six-hour surgery to rid me of cancer. They thought they “got it all,” but today, my cancer has achieved what they clinically call “biological recurrence” (unfortunate but not unexpected). Tomorrow, I begin seven weeks of daily radiation treatment. And while the doctors have suggested I also receive months/years more of various chemical treatments that carry significant and debilitating effects, I have decided to forego them in favor of retaining my life as it is for as long as it lasts. As I have shared with my doctors, I can handle the dying part, it’s the suffering I want to avoid. Besides, I have had one hell of a good life. Hopefully, with many more years to come.

My seven rite of passage cards describe my life’s journey. Although I was the fourth of four children in a lively and supportive home growing up, as the only boy I learned to embrace being alone. With three older sisters in the house, I spent most of my time outdoors in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.  I withdrew into the woods out of necessity; I had yet to read Thoreau’s Walden to realize it was a soul-building experience. Nature became both my teacher and my source of comfort. My mother would stand on the deck of our house and ring a cowbell when it was time for me to come home for dinner. Yes, I was often wet and cold, but I don’t recall suffering from that. The canopy of trees—mostly bigleaf maples and Douglas firs—engulfed and swaddled me.

Allow me to explain the cards. I love learning and continue to intellectualize everything (card #1). The relationship between myself and Nature, represented here by fly fishing, is depicted in card #2. I love mountains, always have. Being in the mountain—as one of them—living in stability, perseverance, and strength is card #3. Then, transcending the mountain with truth and serenity (the orb). I am above it, rising (card #4). Soaring from my younger self to old age—the journey of ascension—is card #5.  Card #6 is where everything begins to come together, what my spiritual guide described as “the gathering.” Finally, card #7, totally at peace. I made it: sweet peace.

My spiritual guide’s assessment in January 2022 was that I was already there. That my only remaining challenge was to give myself permission to be the person I already was—to surrender to it. (Remember, this was pre-diagnosis.) “Surrender” is a challenging word and concept for me. I was not raised to surrender to anything, but I am beginning to accept the wisdom of it. Both Stoicism and Buddhism support surrender. Stoics advocate accepting things as they are and focusing on our response to them—the only thing we can actually control. The Buddhist tradition suggests, what you resist persists. So, I am embracing surrender in as healthy and as positive a manner as I can. Who knows, perhaps surrender will be the key to my longevity. In any event, peace.

I also recognize there is an exquisite symmetry to my life. Largely alone as a kid, and now similarly alone as my fourth quarter of life is upon me. To be clear, I have many supporters who are cheering for me and are a phone call away from pitching in. I hope I am worthy of their support.

Now, go extend your minds! The future of humanity hangs in the balance.

 

[1] Annie Murphy Paul, The Extended Mind: the Power of Thinking Outside the Brain (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021).

By |2024-06-16T12:59:44+00:00June 2nd, 2024|General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

Decency

Walking alone, but seldom lonely

Five senses guiding my sixth

To know the world on its own terms

Accepting what is while yearning for better

 

Seeing value in every being

Decency binds humanity to yearning

In the face of fear, anger, and war

Glory, grace, and peace beckon

 

We must recalibrate our course

Climbing the steps of decency

One true and noble act at a time

To right our world, steady its axis

 

It’s about more than knowing, it’s about doing

Practicing decency at every opportunity

Small gestures to herculean efforts

Putting the human back in humanity

 

Humbly we must tread over the rubble

Left by wayward souls trapped in toxic egos

But for divine grace we are them

As we thrive and flourish in the light of truth

 

Rough and perilous the road remains

Cormac asks, who will carry the fire?[1]

The path is paved by acts of decency

Dispensed with kindness and compassion

 

The work is never done, arrival a mirage

The journey is its own reward

Virtues bloom in decency’s radiance

Where good is nurtured to gallantry

 

Humanity can prosper on the back of decency

One doesn’t have to look hard to act

Our chances to be decent are everywhere

We must simply ignore the scoundrels

 

Summon eternal wisdom from our souls

Heads up, shoulders back, eyes focused

It’s our world to save and the time has come

Decency is our beacon and our hope

 

[1] Referring to the late Cormac McCarthy’s The Road wherein at the end of the dystopic journey the dying father instructs his son that “You have to carry the fire” now—the hope of humanity—which the father further explains to his son that the fire is “Inside of you. It was always there. I can see it.”

By |2024-05-12T13:07:56+00:00May 5th, 2024|General, Spiritual|0 Comments

For MLK, Jr: “Fierce Resilience”

Big mountains

Big snow

Big wind

 

Scoured stone

Frozen in time

Stasis preserved

Unscarred

 

Millennia speak

Through perseverance

Change swirls

Permanence unrivaled

 

If the peaks spoke

No trivia

Just just wisdom

Low resonance

 

Fierce resilience

Their message

As the world churns

Forever present

By |2024-03-29T14:37:17+00:00January 15th, 2024|Leadership, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

Seeking Higher Ground

I attempt to welcome each new year with more hope than trepidation. Admittedly, I have failed in the last few years. The abandonment of civility in our nation and world, and the unprecedented rejection of rational discourse founded in truth to find agreement about basic realities in order to solve fundamental challenges has proven—to say the least—disorienting. What we have collectively witnessed and endured has tested the fortitude of our character to unnatural levels.

And yet, I don’t think I have learned more about life and how to live it than during these extraordinarily disturbing times. The lessons of my bucolic Boomer childhood notwithstanding, I enter 2024 with great gratitude for these more recent learnings born from the necessity of sanity. Dark times force one to dig much deeper into their knowledge, beliefs, and fundamental consciousness that—if we commit ourselves to a practice of mindfulness—reveals magnitudes of higher-order thinking. The American country singer-songwriter, Lyle Lovett, sang, “I live in my own mind, ain’t nothin’ but a good time.” That worked for me too until my mind wasn’t such a good time. Then, I had to either reconfigure and recalibrate my mental modalities, or accept a descent into the depths of depression. Fortunately, my Celtic heritage allowed no room for despair. I do come from stubborn and sturdy stock.

Recently, I have been digging through my archive of notes, mostly taken from books I have read. Thirty years ago, I read the book A World Waiting to be Born by M. Scott Peck (1993). After several moves, it remains in my library today so it must be a good one. In it he describes a world of rebirth and renewed civility in that early post-Cold War era (two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union) that we now know was, sadly, stillborn. The period that followed—that included our transformation from ages-long scarcity to newly realized abundance—illustrated that while humans are good, we are also weak. The period of high idealism that began in the early 1980s crashed (as periods of high idealism always do) into a period of crisis from which we are now—hopefully and finally—emerging.

Shortly after Peck’s book was published, Microsoft launched the Windows operating system (1995). Since then, I kept a file simply called “Ideas” that has since evolved into many more files that provide a reservoir of knowledge and inspirations that now—three decades later—prove that new ideas may or may not exist, but the great ones come and go and come again. In this file was a quote from Peck’s book that made enough sense to be jotted down at the time, but makes even more sense to me today—after these last few years of tumult and terror.

Peck wrote,

… the point is to plunge ahead as pilgrims, through thorns and sharp stones of the desert into deeper and ever-deeper levels of consciousness, becoming ever more able to distinguish between those varieties of self-consciousness that are ultimately destructive and those that are life-enhancing, even godly.

Today, Peck’s advice leaves me both dumbstruck and awestruck. Dumbstruck because I feel stupid having written it down and then largely ignored it for thirty years, and awestruck because it absolutely nails the value of the rigorous interrogation of my consciousness that has proven so beneficial in eluding despair’s tendril-grip grasp thus enabling my liberation—even if only for a moment here and there. This is what some mindfulness teachers call glimpses of enlightenment: when the spiritual-self—the soul—overcomes the ego-self.

Socrates taught his students the importance of “to know thyself” as a prerequisite to a meaningful and fulfilling life. Indeed, having an honest and humble sense of self is an essential element of maturity. However, as I have learned from those rooted in Eastern philosophy, there is another step. Knowing thyself then enables one to create space between the self and negative thoughts and emotions through the practice of mindfulness. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle recommends, do not say “I am angry,” simply recognize that “anger is in you.” That space created through recognition of anger’s existence, rather than it being an integral part of you, is the space necessary to isolate toxic effects before they penetrate your psyche to cause harm. It enables what Peck is suggesting where he writes about building the capacity to distinguish between things that are destructive and those that are life-enhancing. It is a subtle yet powerful practice. The ultimate benefit of this approach is the manifestation of a balanced and centered life that supports peace and tranquility; what the Greek stoics called eudaimonia.

May I suggest that in 2024 we take Peck’s advice and “plunge ahead as pilgrims” to seek a “life-enhancing, even godly” new year. May we do this from the core of moral goodness that resides in each and every one of us. May we together establish a new road paved by integrity with courage on the accelerator and humility on the brakes.

As we leave 2023 behind, I offer you some lines of verse titled, “Revelation,” that describes the arc of life from its terrifying beginning to its transcendent finale.

Revelation

We arrive alone

Terrified, crying

Strangers smiling

Happy in our terror

We’ll call them family

 

We craft a self

That makes us special

We strive and fail

And craft some more

Climbing, falling, climbing

 

Styles like lovers

come and go

Unmet expectations

Deceive and disturb

Carrots and sticks

 

Surfing rainbows

Beauty without bliss

Until we stop, sit

The stillness of shade

Hearts finally open

 

Light in the darkness

Shedding our armor

Liberation beckons

Solemn calm

Sudden transcendence

In the Apostle Paul’s first epistle to the church of Corinth, he makes the case for the necessity of a life denominated in love while also recognizing the value of faith and hope. While love envelops both, hope is our greatest natural source of strength. It is the spine of our character. Further, it is available to each of us and can only be taken away by a loss of faith—principally in ourselves. It is, therefore, our duty to nurture hope and to protect it from those who wish to strip us of our humanity; from those whose own selfish depravity knows no limits. It is time, once again, to reach for hope and show each other and the world that the future belongs to those who honor its strength.

Cheers and Happy New Year.

By |2024-01-07T13:37:50+00:00December 31st, 2023|General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

Taking Stock of the Stones We Carry

Yes, we are living the Chinese curse of “interesting times” in real time.

From the pandemic and our continuing recovery including all of its collateral damage, to wars in Europe and the Middle East and not-so-veiled threats from China and North Korea, to extraordinary political dysfunction and social strife at home, there are many heavy stones to carry. And yet, upon each new dawn we rise up and stride forward, again.

For all this darkness let us please stop for a moment and, as this year draws to a close, take stock of our resilience and perseverance that, with each new stone, seems to increase rather than wane. Bowed though our backs may be, unbroken we stand.

In the midst of our challenges, I see our goodness rising rather than falling. I see our character being chiseled into new forms of lean fortitude. Our virtues that, like fenceposts, stubbornly steady the integrity of our character as the wind-driven snows of infamy attempt to topple the fence altogether. We are, slowly but surely, shedding our excess pounds of dishonor gathered during a period of narcissism, entitlement, and hubris—now more than two decades running—to regain our most fundamental American values: 1) Individualism, or the notion that Americans are possessed of free will and take responsibility for its expression thereof (which was displaced by narcissism); 2) Perfectibility, or the idea that Americans always strive to make things better than the way they were found (which was exchanged for an adolescent sense of entitlement) and finally; 3) Exceptionalism—the exemplar kind—where Americans attempt to set the example for others to follow (which was compromised by hubris).

Are we all the way back? Hell no, but I feel an awakening beginning to glimmer in the eyes of many among us of all ages and of every other American distinction—different races, religions, ethnicities, political loyalties, sexual preferences and gender identities.  Not yet among our leaders who remain deluded by a warped sense of grandeur; rather, among those of us who rise every day, hoist the bag of stones on our back, and attempt to make this day better than the last. Just folks.

The values I identify above—Individualism, Perfectibility, and Exceptionalism—are as old as our founding documents. Observers, like Alexis de Tocqueville in the early 19th century, were enthralled by this American character. Subsequently, countless adversaries have been both fooled and foiled by the strength these dispositional values can muster. The fundamental operating system that both activates and actualizes these values is our commitment to self-determination: to foster a world that meets our interests as we define them—on our own terms.

While it is true that many American politicians and even our own Supreme Court appear determined to restrict and even undermine our right of self-determination, that glimmer I see in people’s eyes suggest they will fail; that “We the People” will not cower, nor be put asunder. We know what freedom is and, as every despot in the history of the world also knows (often learning the hard way), once people taste freedom their appetite never diminishes. Indeed, as many prior American generations demonstrated, we believe it is worth dying for. The Samuel Alitos among us would be wise to take note.

We do, however, need to get smarter about the stones we carry.

Our current load of stones has frazzled our minds and inflamed and bruised our hearts. Anger and depression have reached epidemic levels among Americans today. As a result, our behaviors, both individually and collectively have, at times, been far less than exemplary. Like a kid on a hike in the mountains we have picked up too many stones to carry home. As adults, however, we know from the Pareto Principle that 80% of results come from 20% of causes—the vital few as they are called—suggest we should carry far fewer stones. Understanding these stones and learning which to carry is the most effective means to enhance our well-being and maintain that sturdy chiseled character.

There are three types of stones. Touchstones that guide and inspire, Duty Stones that represent those things we are responsible for, and Burden Stones that represent those things we cannot directly manage or affect. We need to curate our list of those that should be in our bag and discard the rest to achieve a new sense of balance—of equanimity.

Touchstones (TS) emanate from a constellation of knowledge and beliefs that comprise our cognetic profile (a methodology I developed in my doctoral research to predict the behavior of presidents and other world leaders). Each of us has our own unique cognetic profile—as unique as our highly-differentiated fingerprints or the strands of genes that form our DNA. Our TS come from our knowledge and beliefs. Knowledge is acquired rationally through two channels: empirical learnings and experience. Beliefs are acquired through faith via the channels of socialization and indoctrination. These TS collectively guide us and inspire us; they are critical elements of what make up our dispositional orientation, or personality.

Some people have cognetic profiles that favor one or the other, knowledge or beliefs. Understanding this balance and the most influential components of each are powerful predictors of our likely decisions and actions. As for wisdom, consider it the bed upon which these TS lie—the soul beneath your knowledge and beliefs (what the Greeks called sophia, or transcendental wisdom). These profiles are also not fixed. They shift and evolve over time as we encounter our world; they are dynamic. There are also lively discussions over what elements are acquired and which might be inherited, and how our souls (believed by many to be our reservoir of eternal wisdom) plays, but these issues are too deep of a dive for this post.

Duty Stones (DS) are just as you might expect. They include those stones we accept through our many obligations to ourselves, our families, our communities, country and world. As a general rule, we arrive in the world with zero DS then accept more and more as we age until a point around sixty years of age when—if we have done our job well—the list begins to decline. The problem for many, however, is that our self-image, protected by our powerful egos, often clings to these DS which, as I have discussed in prior posts, sets us on a path of decline and suffering rather than transcendence and sweet peace.

In effect, there is a fork in the road of life many miss and blindly continue without shedding their DS. The result is that at the time of our final liberation—our death—we are in an unsettled state of mind. In some, if not many cases, we have actually met the underlying obligation but cling to the DS to maintain a self-image from our earlier life. Like the parent who won’t acknowledge that their child is now an adult. This is when DS can become Burden Stones (BS). But that is not the only or largest source of BS.

I have to say I like that the abbreviation of Burden Stones (BS) is shared with bullshit. I think that is appropriate. BS are the stones we should never have in our bag, but which for many can comprise the majority of stones in their bag. By definition, BS are stones we have no direct ability to affect. They become the primary contributor to what I collectively call gut-fry: frustration, anxiety, anger, fear, and depression.

Some people accept BS out of a sense of shame or guilt, or often times out of a sense of overwrought duty. Sometimes even out of a sense of master-of-the-universe ego-maniacal self-perception as in, “What do you mean I can’t solve all the world’s problems?” (I am guilty of this one.) We cannot directly affect the plight of Israelis attacked on October 7th, Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank, Ukrainians, Rohingya in Myanmar, Uyghurs in China, or any other victims of distant atrocities. What we can do is vote, protest, contribute to the cause, etc., but we must not carry them as DS.

Another common form of BS is the heritage or legacy stone. These come from events of the past which, by their very nature as in the past cannot be affected. Placing any of these BS in your bag is unfair to you and to those who are the subjects of your DS, like your family and community. As a further note to late-life readers: do not fall into the trap of replacing DS with BS to bolster your self-image and sate your ego. (I have seen a lot of this.) Do not compromise your path to transcendence and sweet peace.

So, in your bag: TS and selective DS, but no BS.

I expect 2024 will be another year of “interesting times.” A year from now, we may come to appreciate how important it was to lighten our load of stones. As Jennifer Senior wrote recently in The Atlantic as she was contemplating the effects of a potential return of the Orange One to the Oval, regardless of the presidential election, in 2024 “we are once again facing a news cycle that will shove our attention—as well as our output, our nerves, our sanity—through a Cuisinart.” I encourage everyone to have a private conversation with themselves. The year’s turning is a convenient time of reckoning. Look in your bag and lighten your load.

If you do, 2024 may indeed be a Happy New Year.

By |2023-12-31T13:37:19+00:00December 10th, 2023|American Identity, General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

Conversations with God: The (Next) Transfiguration

Apparently, God’s marketing plan for Jesus wasn’t going as well as he had hoped. So, he did what any self-respecting spiritual entrepreneur would do, he held a promotional event.

Jesus just wasn’t getting the traction God wanted. His tattered and worn smock-like and ill-fitting robes together with tread-bare sandals and unshaven un-coiffed appearance tended to diminish the influence of his otherwise godly words. The modern-day rule, that the medium is the message, had yet to be realized. In today’s parlance, he had been trending but as an influencer his popularity was waning. It was time to rebrand Jesus.

In the gospels we learn that Jesus took a few of his pals including his disciple, Peter, James (son of Zebedee), and James’ brother, John the Baptist, up to the top of a mountain. (Mountains are always impressive venues for big promotional events.)  This is where Jesus’ rebranding through transfiguration takes place. Matthew 17:2 suggests that Jesus was “transfigured before them. His face shown like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” Two other important pundits of the day, Elijah (representing the prophets) and Moses (representing the law) also arrived just in time to witness what the disciple Luke described as Jesus’ new and obvious glory (Luke 9:32). “Spreading the Good Word” as is the calling of any dutiful Christian today, meant for that particular event these important opinion leaders would later provide street-cred for Jesus’ rebranded magnificence.

In Christian theology, the Transfiguration becomes a pivotal moment in the transcendence of Jesus’ stature as a divine philosopher placing him at the top of the charts among those focused on hearts and minds until the ultimate event—his crucifixion and resurrection—would complete the pillars of a belief system that has survived now for more than two millennia. The Transfiguration is widely held as the moment between what Dorothy Lee described in her 2004 monograph, Transfiguration, as the connection of the temporal and eternal placing Jesus as the bridge between heaven and earth. A whiz-bang promotional event, indeed. God had nailed it.

Fast-forward to today. God, I have a suggestion. And, don’t act like you can’t hear me. Turn up your hearing aids if you must.

Behaving ourselves—living up to the Good Word—is, as I understand it, a prerequisite to pass through the gates of heaven, which apparently now-a-saint Peter has the gig of guarding. However, like the allure of airline frequent flier miles to affect loyalty, the incentive of be good and live forever in heaven is wearing a bit thin today. (I know you don’t need frequent flier miles, God, but have you seen how hard they are to redeem lately?) Maybe modern medicine is to blame keeping us alive way longer than in Jesus’ day, but being good in a world where so few are is starting to take on the odor of Black Friday deals where you pay more than you would have on Thursday. Today, it seems the path to wealth and power depends on how bad you can be. So, how about another trip to the mountain?

This time, let’s do one better. How about a new plot twist: how about heaven on earth? How about you let the really good ones enjoy nirvana without having to endure death and St. Peter’s pesky entrance exam? Maybe give Pete a rest? I hear he is growing a bit grumpy in his role, anyway. Just imagine the world-wide buzz: “God’s New Plan!” would go viral. (That’s a good thing.) Don’t just transfigure one dude, transform all of humanity! Ambitious? Maybe, but what do you have to lose? Let’s face it, the old scheme isn’t playing out very well. Even your Holy Land isn’t so holy these days, brother. (Apologies, I know that “brother” reference is perhaps too familiar of me. Kinda like a kid tugging on your beard?)

Anyway, what do you think? You’ve no doubt read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice by now so tell me, what pound of flesh do you demand?

God speaks (in an appropriately thunderous reply): “Your ego! Give up your damn egos! Sit in the seat of your soul. That’s where eternal wisdom—the essence of heaven—resides anyway. (Harrumph.) Knuckleheads! Heaven on earth is available to you today as it always has been. Just rid yourself of your egos! Jesus didn’t have one, or I would have made him give his up on that mountain too.”

Taking that last step to transcendence—giving up our egos—is hard, but as hard as it is, it’s better than dying to get there. Doing it while alive is uncomfortable, to say the least. It means shedding yourself of the self that got you to where you are today. It means giving up notions like quid pro quo, or an eye for an eye, or the scarcity mindset of the win-lose paradigm. It means stepping off the treadmill of endless desires; of I wanna this, or I wanna that. It means as the Gods of all religions suggested long ago: forgiving others and ourselves for all of our wrongs. It means finding value in every being—human or otherwise. It means respecting the sacred connection between humans and nature—accepting that Nature is God.

To be certain, transcendence is a messy and uneven process. Glimpses of nirvana will be accompanied by moments of setback and yes, new transgressions that must be met with forgiveness all over again. But I believe it’s worth a try. Humanity today is facing its endgame. Our better angels are hard to find, but they are there. Not in the preening politicians, or screaming headlines and newsfeeds; rather, the person in the seat next to you on the bus; standing behind you in line; sitting quietly on the park bench. Goodness, like the potential for evil, resides in every human being. The good news is that doing good is much easier than doing evil. The rewards may not come as fast, but the outcomes may just save us all.

We all have been witness to the peril at home and abroad in the last few years.  The in-your-face pain and agony are heart-wrenching. To cope, and perhaps even flourish, I composed a page of verse to keep myself in line and on track in my own pursuit of heaven on earth. Perhaps you will find it useful too.

Heaven on Earth

Settling into my core, the inner citadel

Aware, centered, and balanced

As a noisy world rocks,

tranquility prevails

 

All doors are open

while energy flows with ease

Unencumbered by worldly concerns

Humanity is history’s pawn

 

Home with all the love I have received

Home with all the love I have given

Home is where I am, wherever I may be

 

Battles left to fade in the dim light of yesterday

Victories and defeats become one

Regrets are now irrelevant

It is time to move through

 

Angels dance as I embrace surrender,

welcoming me to the other side

The urgency of life yields to calm transcendence

Serenity—my new lover

 

Clarity of mind is pure and easy

No more fear, no more anger

Losses appear like stepping stones on the path

to resilience and deliverance

 

Dignity thrives in the mercy of presence

The final liberation begins

where suffering ends

Pure love is all that remains

 

Alone but not lonely,

swaddled by a life well lived

Days marked by glory and grace,

nights by peace

 

Home is heaven

Heaven is home

Heaven on Earth

As light is hard to come by in this season of Winter’s solstice, my wish for you is to find solace in the darkness. To set aside fear in favor of hope. To find strength in the depth of resolve your ancestors provided as your special inheritance. To find mercy around every bend. To be there for what you believe and for whom you love.

To set your ego aside and settle into your soul.

By |2023-12-10T14:32:44+00:00November 26th, 2023|General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

The Rule of Impermanence

It is a great blessing to live where apps connect but no one responds. Want a ride? Drive yourself. Hungry? Cook. Something broke? Fix it. Lost? Look at the sun, moon, and stars. Many folks don’t understand a life without apps while I can’t understand why anyone would give their life over to pernicious algorithms and phony social media-curated friends. One day, years from now, we may come to the realization that the promise of “there’s an app for that” was actually the beginning of our end.

Where I live the Milky Way is not a candy bar; it is celestial magic that sings like a chorus of hope against a canvas of wonder. Want some awe? Ditch the apps. Flee the land of lights that fool us into a false sense of security. Go where IRL (social media slang for “in real life”) actually is real life. Head into the wilderness to embrace the greatest mother of all: Nature. She will hold you, humble you, teach you, and if you are lucky, she will let you stay.

I live where what the “Dean of Western Writers,” Wallace Stegner called “the native home of hope.” Where, he suggested, we have the chance “to create a society to match its scenery.” Not through a mythical sense of rugged American individualism; rather, through inspired cooperation by and between ourselves and the nature that surrounds us. Where the index-finger wave above the steering wheel from the passing rusted-out pickup truck means “I see you, I know you, and I am here for you.” Where Sundays are still meant for rest and gratitude. Where Mondays are met with strength and optimism rather than dread. Where deceit will send you back to the land of apps.

Where I live, the change of seasons still matters. They mark one of the greatest lessons we can ever learn: the rule of impermanence. Whatever has the capacity to arise will subsequently also pass away—whether good, neutral, or bad. The only permanent condition is impermanence. Further, grasping and clinging serves no purpose; it only assures suffering. Where I live, we not only embrace change, we honor it. Where attempting to defeat reality is a fool’s errand. Yes, we have our pretenders too, but they don’t last long. The pandemic brought thousands to the Mountain West, but an authentic life is not for everyone. Many have already left.

If you live where the change of seasons is unremarkable, or where bright city lights obscure the magnificence of nature, I offer you a reminder with the verse, below. Trust me, there is a better world and tomorrow out there. Just put down your smartphone and let all your senses come alive again. Bathe yourself in the candescent wisdom of awareness. Your senses—moderated by your soul— will guide you better than any app ever could. Take the big leap: trust in yourself, again.

Summer’s Farewell

The sun tilts lower each day casting

golden shadows and earlier nights

Shooting stars fall quiet now

as our galaxy calls for autumn

 

Tan lines and calloused feet

reveal a summer well lived

Wildflowers tilt their heads

to deposit their seeds of renewal

 

Bears fill their bellies with berries

while trout gulp tasty hoppers

Bulking up for the big pause—

the long ’n lazy winter slumber

 

The deer and elk choose their mates

Nature at work on spring babies

Antlers will fall once the loving is done

and the snow piles high mid-winter

 

We all return to the earth after

soaring on the breezes of deliverance

We inside, seeds to soil, sap to roots

a flourish of leafy radiance waves goodbye

 

Soon we will stand close to the fire

before the embers of sweet piñon

To shake off the cold that clings

like an aimless lonesome drifter

 

Closer to our souls that remind us

of what remains after summer’s glory

To center ourselves again in the

humility of a frigid January night

 

We bid a melancholy adieu

until we round the bend of spring

Clutching memories of early sunrises

and praying for the grace to return anew

 

The best way to honor impermanence is to consider the cloud filled sky. The question is, should we be as the clouds, or the sky?

 

Heaven (Only) Knows

Clouds come, clouds go

White and fluffy, dark and dreary

Tall, round, flat, wispy

Painting the sky with pleas for attention

 

Each of curious character

Happy, sad, generous, or dangerous

Always becoming

Billowing an identity all their own

 

Beseeching the earth

Throwing thunder and lightning

Casting nourishing rain

At times clever, at others confused

 

Always passing by

They scuttle east towards obscurity

The blue sky implores

the wind to push the drama along

 

That big blue screen

The sky varies only a shade or two

Blue to bluer to bluest

A canvas of knowing stability

 

Unshaken by volatility

The sky laughs at the moody clouds

with a big wide grin

while it peeks around the vapor

 

The Buddha knew

Should we be as a cloud?

Or be like the blue?

A choice between the ego and soul

 

An easy decision, yet so hard to do

 

Finally, consider this time of seasonal change as an opportunity to let go of things that cause you mental and emotional disturbance. As the Thai Buddhist monk, Ajahn Chaa suggested, “If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will have complete peace.” Let go and join the flow. Then, of course, the trick is to not grab again!

Have a wonderful autumn wherever you may be. We’ve had our first dusting of snow but the leaves are only starting to change. But change they must; change they will.

Impermanence rules.

By |2023-12-01T15:38:16+00:00September 24th, 2023|General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

Flow/Savor/Flow

A friend recently asked me, “What are your plans for the future?” Since my late teens, I have been able to answer that question with bullet-point clarity and precision leaving little room for either interpretation or negotiation. An objective-driven life. A master of my destiny. This disposition served me well through the preparation, achievement, and actualization phases of my life. But this time, in response to her question, I couldn’t provide an answer that was more than a day-and-a-half into the future. I expect it surprised both of us; I know it did me, and probably didn’t satisfy her query. I, however, was left feeling weirdly wonderful. Rather than feeling deficient, I felt light and at ease. I felt liberated.

Throughout my life, I subscribed to the maxim, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” A pejorative dismissal of what I saw as the un-compassed losers—the aimless wanderers. There comes a time, however, when striving must give way to thriving; when just being is more satisfying than becoming. To be clear, my near-maniacal focus and determination served me well to a point. It generated great successes and set me up with enough financial resources to afford my current luxury of just being. I understand and am grateful for this last-quarter of life capacity. In addition to many victories, my objective-driven life has also been accompanied by many setbacks and sacrifices for myself and others, but alas, here I am now staring at a path of transcendence—the fourth and final phase of life.

In the last three years, I have zeroed-out my life. Much more than a Marie Kondo closet cleaning. Rather, a whole-life cleansing. This was as much an accident as purposeful, ushered in by divorce and disease; one devastating and the other deadly. It seems a bit early to feel grateful for these events—to characterize them as beneficial—but they have been catalysts of transformation. And, in the case of cancer, I certainly don’t want to tempt or taunt fate. While the pain of divorce has passed, the cancer still lurks. As anyone knows who has been through it, that sword of Damocles seems perpetually perched above the back of your neck; one abnormal blood test away from sucking you back into the gauntlet of radioactive imaging, toxic drugs, scalpels, and all manner of wires and tubing that make you feel like Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians. I do not wish the pain of betrayal or cancer that I have endured on anyone. Fortunately, I have always been one to persevere—to find opportunity in the rubble of catastrophe. Of that I can indeed be grateful, and most of all recognize my mother in me. I thank her for that. She was a stoic’s stoic. When she passed a dozen years ago, it was with no regrets and on her own terms. She was truly transcendent.

As with many things in my life, I have made it through with a dogged determination to learn. Knowledge is everything to me; it facilitates that essential capacity to process the world. In this case, to figure out how to turn devastation into liberation. Yes, to make a silk purse of a sow’s ear. I took a deep dive into philosophy and spirituality. Many books and many teachers and many hours of contemplation and meditation. The cleansing process is, I think, the most critical. Without it, clarity is not possible; it is a prerequisite to awakening. Discarding, purging, and disentangling are key. Of not just possessions, but of desires, obligations, dependencies, conflicts and—perhaps most especially—of toxic relationships that diminish rather than enhance your life. Among other things, it has affirmed for me a notion I have long entertained: that wealthy does not mean being able to buy whatever you want, the wealthy among us are those who want what they already have. Once you arrive at that place where mornings are a moment of wonder about what the day will bring—and you embrace that—you are on the doorstep of deliverance. The only thing in front of you then is transcendence.

Along the way, I wrote this piece of verse, reading it to myself over and over until it was etched on my soul. I titled it, “Declaration of Liberation.”

Needs and wants and desires fade,

discarding what was or might have been.

Unconcerned about every tomorrow.

Today is what matters—a gift to tend.

 

Attention has space to savor the now;

no demands nor conflicts to disturb the moment.

No grasping, no clinging, no clenching, no suffering.

 

Just look around in awe.

 

Time stands still—no wait, no hurry;

clarity in presence of mind.

Unseen beauty lurks around every bend.

Breathe it in, then out.

 

Let it be, let it go.

Just this, just now.

Relax, release, and rise.

Notice how the poem moves from cleansing to a cadence of flow, savor, and flow. Only once you have cleaned your slate and largely discarded your old identity is flow even possible. Flow is that state of mind that allows life to move with the prevailing natural energy in a relatively frictionless manner, which allows awareness to thrive while accepting the reality of the impermanence of all phenomena, whether good or bad. It sets the demands of ego aside in favor of tranquility. Savor is the discipline to let the good land; to capture the moment of beauty—however it manifests—with any or all of your five senses. (Savoring is something I rarely did during my objective-driven life.) The big payoff? In a state of flow/savor/flow, it is simply not possible to be disturbed, let alone slip into a spiral of despondent rumination, which are both principal contributors to psychological despair.

Here follows another bit of verse to bring it all together, titled “The Last Quarter.”

Standing now, on the footings of wisdom, this last quarter of life is mine.

Preparation, achievement, and actualization have passed.

 

Reflection is lost to manufactured memories that loop and fade and deceive.

A different future beckons that neither dwells nor dawdles.

 

I accept all that I am; granting short shrift to sorrows.

Becalmed on the waters of tranquility, I neither fix nor scorn.

 

Time is limited, but undivided by obligations and dependencies.

Demands fade in a culture that easily dismisses the grayed masters of yesterday.

 

Never mind. My grin leaves its own trail of knowing.

Just let it be.

And, to close, one last piece: “The Fading Light.”

My wake, once deep and frothy, recedes now—ripples to glass.

Wisdom swells in its place, washing the stains of life away.

 

Hands hardened by toil and conflict give way to a softer heart,

beating to the delicate rhythm of tranquility.

 

Alone with thoughts both grand and small,

mediated by memories of triumph and loss.

 

Cast as a voyeur now to the victories and defeats of others.

Eyes fixed on the tumbledown of humanity.

 

Will they find their way, or consume themselves?

Time knows but remains, for the moment, silent.

 

My mark fades now into the twilight of obscurity.

Just enough light to find my way out as the curtain falls.

This post is my offering to those who may be struggling as I did over the last few years, or who just want a life upgrade. For my readers younger than sixty, I recognize it may be largely irrelevant to your life today, although others would argue this path of enlightenment can be pursued at any age. (I am not so sure.) If you are young and living an objective-driven life as I did, you might want to put “transition-to-transcendence” in your long-term goals and save this post in your tomorrow file.

For those of you in or nearing the last quarter of life, I highly recommend spending some time to affect a thorough cleanse. I see too many of my contemporaries clinging to their old identity and becoming intellectually and emotionally sclerotic, which is a clinical way of saying mired knee-deep in their own doo-doo. Bitchy and/or cantankerous are not how anyone should spend their last decades but, sadly, many do. It is a tragedy when the final phase of life is marked by a slow incremental descent into suffering, rather than the uplifting radiance of transcendence. There is no reason why the rest of your life shouldn’t be the best of your life; perhaps as joyful or more so than your youth.

On this Independence Day, maybe consider a little personal liberation. Start by getting out of the way of your own self. You might just discover a whole new world.

By |2023-12-01T15:38:46+00:00July 2nd, 2023|General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

My Easter Sermon: Healing & Hope for a New America

I was recently asked by a friend who is a trustee at a college of theology what I thought they should be looking for in their search for a new president for the college. My default answer to this question of any institute of higher learning has always been to bring in leaders who can help turn theoretical intelligence into applied intelligence. To focus on the transformation of knowledge from passive to active. In the case of a college of theology, how to turn the noun—theology—into a verb. How to actualize the study of the nature of God and religious belief into measurable societal benefits; to heal a once great nation and world. To save ourselves from ourselves.

Since 1944, when the U.S. passed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (commonly known as the G.I. Bill), thousands of Americans went to college; most of whom were the first in their families. This effectively set the expectation of higher education for every American and established one of America’s greatest advantages over the rest of the world: our colleges and universities. Learning—the development of knowledge—has been America’s greatest asset in its ascent to superpower status. Since the end of World War II, Americans got way-smarter and it way-mattered.

During the last half of the 20th century and now into the 21st, our colleges and universities turned out thousands of engineers, scientists, mathematicians, digital technologists, business managers, bankers, doctors, and lawyers serving all the requirements of an industrial high-growth society. My own father, who was a World War II veteran, wanted to be an architect, but his father told him the country needed engineers. So, since he was a pilot in the Army Air Corp (the predecessor to the Air Force), he became one of the first aeronautical engineers ever minted out of the University of Michigan. Like many others in his time, he was a significant albeit largely unknown contributor to America winning the space race in the 1960s. We not only won the space race, Americans created the most affluent society in the history of the world.

However, our needs have changed. As I have argued recently at this post, our great success in transforming the world from a state of scarcity to one of abundance, and in the case of the United States to high affluence, has been both amazing and debilitating. Today, America is a very sick society. Notwithstanding our extraordinary wealth, we are emotionally and spiritually impoverished. We are the most violent nation in the world with the highest suicide rates in the world. When our children die, the most likely cause is death by gun. That fact alone should stop us in our tracks and cause us to take immediate corrective action, but it hasn’t. Meanwhile, many of our fellow Americans manifest all the characteristics of the chronically abused even though they are often considered well-off by traditional metrics.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, our citizenry had entered into progressive states of withdrawal. Many, like the white Christian nationalists who supported Trump, felt they were being slowly dispossessed of their position in society, while others saw the promise of Obama’s post-racial post-bigotry America evaporate before their eyes. Yes, we became profoundly divided, but together we were slipping into a bog of anger, fear, and depression. That bog of despair became our only common ground. Then, the pandemic turned isolation into a national state of mind. Deceit became a principal modality for many of us, most especially our politicians. Of course, the most divisive president in the history of our nation also contributed mightily to our emotional and spiritual malaise. We now know that his only purpose was to exploit our new vulnerabilities for his own gains. Thus far—in his ex-presidency—he remains a parasite feasting on the soul of America.

Today, our youngest adult generation—Gen Z, the Zoomers—are rejecting most of our traditional institutions and norms that bound us together and provided the foundation of our common interests. As David Brooks cited in the New York Times recently,

the Wall Street Journal/NORC poll … found that the share of Americans who say patriotism is very important to them has dropped to 38 percent from 70 percent since 1998. The share who say religion is very important has dropped to 39 percent from 62 percent. The share who say community involvement is very important has dropped to 27 percent from 47 percent. The share who say having children is very important has dropped to 30 percent from 59 percent.

These results were heavily influenced by Zoomers whose sense of withdrawal is even more significant than the general population. They have more-or-less had it with America and, frankly, I don’t blame them. They came into the world around the time of 9/11. Since 9/11, they have seen our ill-fated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Great Recession, Covid-19, the Trump era, and now a Supreme Court that is—for the first time in our history—taking rights away from Americans, many of which directly impact them. America in the 21st century is hardly a picture of superpower magnificence. Zoomer’s rejection of American institutions and norms is completely understandable. After all, what have we given Zoomers to believe in besides social media? America is sliding backwards for the first time since the Great Depression more than ninety years ago.

Unlike the post-World War II era, however, this is not a problem for smarter engineers and scientists. Our fundamental problems are relational involving matters of the heart more than the mind. Americans today suffer from poor interpersonal relations, poor relations with the natural world, and poor relations with the truth that underpins reality. We don’t need more STEM classes, we need more—much more—of the humanities. We need to reconnect with each other and the world in which we live in an honest and respectful manner. We need schools of theology and divinity, schools of the visual and performing arts, and schools of liberal arts to lead us out of this darkness. We desperately need them to translate the abstract contemplations of aestheticism and spirituality—and the heart and soul more generally—into coherent action plans to restore our nation and to lead the world again.

My daughter’s dream about college was different than my father’s and, in an era of affluence, she was allowed to pursue hers. She fell in love with live theatre in middle school and, after attending a performing arts high school, wanted to attend NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. In her essay to gain admission, she related her experience in acting in the production of And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank. In her preparation for her performance as Anne Frank, she was able to meet with Holocaust survivors. She related this experience in her admission essay as believing that theatrical performances could change the hearts and minds of those who attend. She now works to cultivate creative teams to produce shows on Broadway for Creative Arts Agency. She is a shining example of what our country and world need right now (and has one proud papa).

In the Christian tradition, this is the season of resurrection and renewal—of inspired new beginnings. Our politicians have proven they are not going to lead us out of our malaise. If anything, it appears to be in their perverted interest to act to deepen it. It is up to philosophers, artists, the clergy, poets and writers to bring us answers we can both understand and act upon. We must stitch back together the fabric of the America that believed in itself; that cared about its neighbors at home and allies abroad; and who understood the sacred nature of Nature itself.

As a young boy-then-man in the 1960s and 70s, I witnessed great tumult in American society during the civil rights movement, the Viet Nam War, and Watergate that followed. There were violent protests—often accompanied by bombs rather than guns. We also had recessions and much higher inflation than we have today. We were locked in a cold war with the Soviet Union that was commonly cast as a fundamental battle between good and evil. The threat of a nuclear apocalypse was an everyday concern. Perhaps the presence of an enemy kept us humble and focused.

However, one thing never wavered: our belief that America was the greatest nation in the world. This remained an unshakeable core belief for the vast majority of Americans regardless of political affiliation, religious tradition, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, or gender. Had we perfected the aspirations of our founders that “all men are created equal,” or that everyone deserved the opportunity to pursue happiness on their own terms? Absolutely not. But we never abdicated our belief in those ideals.

Today, we need a renewal of our ideals—perhaps a combination of old ones and new ones. We need to listen to the soft power of the humanities more than the hard power of the sciences. We need everyone to lock arms and move forward to once again embrace the ambitions of our founders and those of the leaders of the world’s great religions including not just Jesus Christ, but Moses, Muhammad, and the Buddha too. We will never achieve perfection, but that is not failure; that it is simply human. Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount set impossible standards, but it is not the standards that matter in the end. It is the pursuit thereof that will bind us together in a cause to save ourselves personally, our nation, the world, and humanity itself.

I have always believed in the power of One; of you and me and every other One we know. My message is not just for scholars of the humanities. It is for each and every One who comprise humanity. As I have written before, we must stop shaking fists and start shaking hands. We must turn contempt into understanding and conflict into cooperation. Hope is hard, but it holds more promise than cynicism. Remember, we are dependent on each other and upon Nature. This is a fundamental truth. Another, which some describe as a “noble” truth is that suffering is inevitable. The silver lining of suffering is, however, that it makes enlightenment possible.

Please join me in transforming our collective suffering into our mutual enlightenment. To affect healing and embrace hope. It can be done. It must be done. My humble plea is that each of you go forth into this season of renewal and bring your one humble, curious, and warm light into the world. Perhaps together, our lights can vanquish the darkness. Maybe we can even reconstruct the pedestal built by prior generations upon which America once stood.

This much is clear: we have the resources to do whatever we wish. The question remains: do we have the will? Can we summon the strength of our humanity to set aside our grievances and claims of victimhood to lift each other out of that bog of despair? Can we convert our losses into opportunities to address our world again with courage and compassion; with reverence for our past and a renewed sense of hope for our future? Can we commit ourselves to each other as partners for a new day?

The time is now to open ourselves to this new day for a new America that is eager to be born.

Happy Easter, Passover, Ramadan, and spring!

By |2023-12-01T15:39:28+00:00April 9th, 2023|General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments
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