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 |2024-01-15T15:24:49+00:00January 15th, 2024|Current, 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

Excavating Happiness

The great promise of meditative mindfulness is that peace and tranquility already exist; that they are within you right now and in every prior and future now. At first, I met this claim with curious skepticism. If they are already here, why can’t I feel them? If I am so full of goodness and beauty, why do I often feel like crap? After hundreds of hours of contemplation, the answer appears to reside in a simple yet powerful truth: we are living in an artificial world under the illusion of connection in violation of natural truth resulting in chronic moral suffering. We know what is right, but we are living wrong. The good news is we are in complete control and, therefore, can change all of it. We can move from what the writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit calls moral injury to moral beauty.

First, we must recognize the problem. As many, like Harvard’s Steven Pinker argues, the data suggests things have never been better. Measurements of wealth and welfare nearly all support the argument that because of our rapidly expanding capabilities over the last few hundred years, the lives we lead are longer, healthier, and more productive than any lived by our ancestors. Common sense suggests we should, therefore, be happier. But, by many other measures we aren’t nearly as content as those in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries whose daily lives were much more difficult. In the Happiness Index that ranks countries around the world, none of the wealthiest countries ranks in the top ten. Number 1? Finland. The fundamental problem is that our pursuit of success—measured in traditional terms—has limited positive impact on our happiness and, in many respects, may even be detrimental.

As Solnit observes,

Look closely, and you can see that by measures other than goods and money, we are impoverished. Even the affluent live in a world where confidence in the future, and in the society and institutions around us, is fading—and where a sense of security, social connectedness, mental and physical health, and other measures of well-being are often dismal.

To address the problem, we must first realize that we have created this world. The incentives we have structured in our marketplace of success and the feel-good receptors we have allowed to define our egos are born from the same psychic infrastructure that favors exploitation over altruism, isolation over connection, and conflict over cooperation. Of course, inasmuch as we created this world, we can un-create it, too. In other words, as I often remind my children, the second rule of life applies: it is up to us. (The first rule is: shit happens.)

Exploitation rose naturally from the reality of scarcity. Survival meant realizing that there were only so many pieces of pie to go around. Under the condition of scarcity, us vs. them, and zero-sum game theory were prevalent and legitimate constructs. But things changed in the late 20th century. This is where we must heed Pinker’s argument of greater welfare. The fundamental shift that occurred was from scarcity to abundance. The culmination of the productivity of the industrial era and the transition from an analog world to a digital world meant that win-lose could become win-win.

This is when we should have shifted our thinking from exploitation to altruism, but we didn’t. We should have transitioned from coercive power to referential power where we accumulate power by the extent to which we serve the interests of others. If we had, we would all be better off and be able to meet the challenges of the day, like poverty, the pandemic, and climate change. Instead, we stayed the course allowing both power and wealth to intensify in their concentration within a small percentage of the population. The shame belongs not on the heads of the have-nots (as many politicians would assert), it belongs on the heads of the haves. And, please note: the exploitation I speak of is not confined (as some may quickly judge) to capitalism. There is just as much if not more exploitation in socialist and authoritarian regimes. If anything, capitalist democracies hurdled scarcity first making way for the benefits of abundance. Regardless, none of us were wise enough to fully understand the implications of this shift. In that moment, we missed an enormous opportunity to reshape our world.

We have also become hostage to our preference for isolation. America is a country that has always celebrated independence. After all, it is called the Declaration of Independence and the Fourth of July is known as Independence Day for good reason. Our most fundamental birthright is the right to self-determination. Unity has always been subverted by our preference for independence—for separation from each other—for isolation. In fact, it is only under dire circumstances that we ever come together, usually when attacked by a foreign actor, as in 9/11. Most recently, even a deadly pandemic that put everyone’s life at risk regardless of social, political, or economic standing, became a divisive event that produced profound disunity. We Americans much prefer, “you be you and I’ll be me” and, moreover, leave me the hell alone. This is the quintessential American.

Our penchant for independence and individualism served us well until it didn’t. A curious and unfortunate coincidence occurred at the time of our shift from scarcity to abundance. As I argued in Saving America in the Age of Deceit, in the late twentieth century, in particular after the collapse of the Soviet Union, “individualism, or the notion that Americans were possessed of free will and took responsibility for its expression thereof, was replaced by narcissism.” Our hyper-individualism turned us into churlish prigs. So full of triumphalism, we even stopped taking pictures of others and landscapes in favor of our own headshots to celebrate our self-perceived magnificence. Selfies became exhibit number one of our many narcissisms. This is where socialist democracies did indeed have an advantage over capitalist democracies (see quasi-socialist #1 Finland, above).

However, our isolationist tendencies expressed as hyper-individualism has proven most damaging in our separation from the natural world. As I have argued before, perceiving ourselves as separate from nature may prove to be the proximate cause of the collapse of Homo Sapiens. One of the by-products of the industrial age is that through the -ification and -ization of everything, humans have placed systems of subjugation between themselves and nature in a perverted master-slave relationship. Make no mistake, this relationship, if pursued to its ends will result in the end of humanity. It is, as many prophets, gurus, sages, and gods have claimed over the millennia, a noble truth that nature rewards harmony and punishes dissonance. If humans remain dissonant, we will (to use Charles Darwin’s phrase) be “selected against.”

Another teaching of meditative mindfulness is the toxicity of conflict. Virtually all spiritual teachers, regardless of tradition or heritage agree that things like desire and attendant conflict are the root of all suffering. Humanity has been burdened by conflict since inception. This, too, is partially a product of scarcity, yet the greatest civilizations would have never become great without the implementation of cooperation. From the hunter-gatherers to the industrial age, specialization and the division of labor has proven far superior to going it alone. Of this, both Adam Smith and Karl Marx agree. Among other things, this practice resides at the core of the strength of capitalism which, notwithstanding its propensity to concentrate power and wealth, is undoubtedly the most efficient system to organize and deploy capital and labor for the production of wealth. Capitalism excels at production. Where it falls short is distribution, which threatens other important principles including the basic norms of democracies.

Again, somewhat ironically, our shift from scarcity to abundance was accompanied not just by the ascendence of narcissism, but also by the rise of hubris. We doubled down on conflict and competition right when we should have shifted to higher modes of cooperation. And, not just by and between nations, but by and between races, political parties, religious traditions, and even gender. Our preference for exploitation, isolation, and conflict is tearing us apart both internally and externally; it is why we often feel like crap. Moral suffering has become an endemic condition in America and much of the world even while we live in the first era of abundance in the history of humankind. How stupid is that?

To move from the condition of suffering to happiness—from Solnit’s contemplation of moral injury to moral beauty—is, therefore, within our grasp. Win-win and plus-sum game theory must become prominent modalities. Coercion must give way to altruism. We must choose harmony over dissonance between ourselves and with nature. Only then can we achieve both internal and external consonance. Only then will we switch to right from wrong. Only then can the peace and tranquility that has been buried beneath our egos be excavated to assure both our happiness and our survival.

The first rule of life still applies: shit happens. But the second rule also holds: the rest of everything else is up to us.

Home is in You

I grew up in Seattle where gray is considered a primary color. In the Pacific Northwest, gray engulfs and obscures, but paradoxically also defines. It is both austere and emotional. It marks time without leaving a mark. It both inhibits and inspires. As a kid, I recall encountering sepia for the first time, which felt like sensory overload; like when the carnival came to town. The burst of color that finally arrived each mid-summer was as if Timothy Leary had traveled through on Jack Kerouac’s bus and dropped a gallon of LSD into our drinking water. But, by late September, our old friend gray would return to remind us we were as boring, and yet intriguing, as it was.

A life of low-and-slow stimulation that brings a sense of calm deliverance in the latter stages of life is equally disturbing in our younger years when energy and libido make you dance and spin like a feral cat with its tail on fire. In my senior year of high school, it rained 72 days straight. Trust me, I counted. When my acceptance came from a college in Southern California, I felt like an astronaut waiting on an Apollo launchpad. The allure was that “It never rains in Southern California,” sung by the one-hit wonder, Albert Hammond, (released in 1972). It became the theme song for every kid who lived north of Eugene, Oregon. After a year, I retreated from SoCal once I experienced their gray—from forest fires on Mt. Baldy—that not only blocked the sun, it rained ash! This was my first lesson in the realization that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence.

Still, I moved. Business took me from Seattle to Dallas, then Washington D.C., back to Dallas, and finally (post-business) my escape in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, where every border crossing bears the sign, “Welcome to Colorful Colorado.” (That color thing draws me in like a magnet.) The beauty of where I live today is nothing short of magnificent. I have lived in the left, right, and center of America and each place has its appeal—its own special beauty. I remember in 1982, when I first arrived in Dallas and I played flag football on Sunday in late October when it was 75 degrees and sunny. I didn’t even know it was possible to sweat in October. Then, the awe of power in Washington D.C. in the late Reagan/early Bush 41 years. Pillars of stone guarding halls of grandeur. A musk-like intoxicant of power that (I eventually learned) turns well-intentioned “representatives of the people” into common street walkers strutting in stiletto heels on K Street lusting for lobbyists’ dollars. (If you are Kevin McCarthy, add a Velcro-fastened French maid’s outfit; easy on, easy off.)

My memories are filled with the taste of things. A bowl of steaming clam chowder from Pike Place Market in Seattle; a flaming platter of fajita meat in Dallas; fresh-pressed cider on a crisp fall day in Northern Virginia; and a perfectly broiled rack of lamb in Colorado. I should add the overwhelming scent of fresh-cut alfalfa I found so comforting in my youth during summers in South Dakota working on my maternal homeland. I didn’t eat it, but I sure understood why the cattle gobbled it.

Yes, I have (mostly) enjoyed my life. To be clear, pain too, but that just acts to make the joy more enjoyable. Through my travels, my victories, and my tribulations, I have also come to understand what home is, or rather, where it is. Home is where you are, wherever you may be. In the modern era, we must learn to find solace in this concept. The Hallmark channel may beg to differ as it makes its living on the romanticized version of home as a permanent place where the paint never peels and there is always an apple pie in the oven. But if we are to find peace before our travels end, we must realize home is not a zip code, it is at the core of our being.

Considering home as inside of you, wherever you may be, is an acquired mindset. It replaces an attachment to place with the attachment to self; more broadly, the whole self: psyche and soul. The old saying, “Home is where the heart is” comes close, but my notion of home is deeper and broader. Moreover, it is transportable inasmuch as it travels with you. It is a place of comfort and stability; it is safe.

In several essays over the last year, I have written about the work I have done in seeking, maintaining, and securing a sense of “sweet peace” and being “whole as one.” This is my concept of home: not residing at home, rather feeling at home. Home as a state of being is supported by the following five practices.

  1. Be in the present at all times. There is nothing you can do about the past or the future; the only thing you can affect is the now; the only thing you can ever even experience is the now. Apply yourself accordingly.
  2. Conquer your monkey mind. Left to its own devices, our minds spin out of control several times each day. Rumination—the spiral staircase that descends into the abyss of despair—can be stopped by first being aware of what the mind is doing and, second, by interrupting the process allowing those instigating thoughts to pass by before rumination takes hold. And, if you develop the discipline to hit the pause button, those fatalistic thoughts will pass without further effect. The next trick is reversing the spiral into one of an ascension toward virtue (a topic for another day).
  3. Remain open, aware, and compassionate. Contemplate the world as a three hundred-sixty-degree visual field. Allow everything to rise and fall, come and go, with a sense of calm admiration and explicitly without a sense of judgment. In this mindset, the world is quite amazing.
  4. Live conflict-free, fear-free, and anger-free. Stay above the fray; rise above the rabble. Let others get mired in the mud. Keep your boots clean. Remember, the only true victory is tranquility.
  5. Honor your values. Maintain an uncompromising commitment to your fundamental beliefs that undergird your moral high ground. Your integrity and your virtue are the foundation of your home.

There is no escaping the fact that you have to live with yourself every moment of your life. You might as well make that relationship the strongest one that you have. To be whole as one. Make you your home. Once it is a place of comfort and safety, wherever you are you will be fine. Protect it accordingly. It is your fort. It is your port in the storm. Moreover, it is your special gift to the world. Treat it as the precious thing that it is, with no apologies.

Those of you in committed relationships might ask, but what about being whole as a couple? The prerequisite to this is, of course, that you each first be whole as one. If you aren’t, whole as two will never happen in an enduring manner. One or both of you will suffer and the relationship will likely fail. Balance and symbiosis are foundational virtues in companionship.

As a final sharing today, I offer a poem that is framed by a childhood memory and my current mindset. It was an interesting exercise made so by the requirement that one life be contained in one page. It may be a worthwhile exercise for you as well. Obviously, there are several thousand pages missing from this rendering of my life, but I found this bookend approach quite illuminating for me. A personal thought experiment. Perhaps you will, too.

 

That Boy Grown Gray

In my youth, I roamed.

The sea, then woods, mountains, the prairie

and back again.

 

My eyes transfixed on the telephone wires,

undulating from pole to pole,

as the Empire Builder sped eastward

through tunnels burrowed in granite.

 

A clackity-click, then a clickity-clack;

my train rumbled on

from Seattle, to White Fish, to Fargo.

 

It mattered who I was, mostly just to me.

Few thought I was worth an obligation,

fewer yet a worthy dependency.

 

Ah, freedom.

 

Youth; penniless and pure.

Me just for me.

No one’s prospect, no one’s cure.

 

And now here I am, that boy grown gray.

Just one shadow to cast,

just one meal to make.

I carry my own fire again.

 

Slower in both breath and stride,

I pause more than hurry.

No cards held; none to be played.

Quiet mind, I now see with my soul.

 

Embraced by the wisdom of eternity.

~~~~~~~~~

Note to my politically-stressed readers: I realize I have been quiet about the mess in Washington D.C. recently, but I am not ignoring it, nor you. The fact is that the highest order issues facing Americans today are not political, they are mental health issues. Moreover, I view our current political situation as one of more entertainment than concern. Yes, much must be rectified in all three branches of our federal government. But for the moment, the proverbial car-chasing dog—the MAGA nutjobs in Congress—have caught the bumper of the car, and I expect they will soon find themselves pinned beneath the wheel of reason. (With apologies to car-chasing dogs who arguably have higher character than people like Marjorie Taylor Greene.) This detonation of idiocy must be allowed to fully discharge before any real progress can be made. We are on our way to a clumsy transition from the period of crisis that began in 2003 to the next period of objectivism, where reason prevails once again. So, breathe. And, maybe even snicker with me. Once we transition, I am certain George Santos will take full credit. Perhaps we can bestow a trophy upon him to go on the shelf next to his MVP volleyball award from Baruch College.

Note to my well-wishers: Today, I head to Houston to spend some time at MD Anderson Cancer Center to see if there is any better way to rid myself of these nasty adenocarcinoma cells. This consultation was facilitated by one of my readers; a good friend and better person than I will ever be. So, before they cut me up in Colorado, I will see what else might be possible. Thus far, I have filled out numerous pre-consultation questionnaires, none of which asked me, “What can we do for you?”, but maybe they are saving that question for the consultation. (If they did, they would be the first on this unwelcome and disturbingly empathy-free journey through our healthcare system.) If anyone knows of a better treatment, they should know at MD Anderson. Either way, I shall prevail. After all, I am home.

By |2023-12-01T15:40:29+00:00January 29th, 2023|General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

Kintsugi: the Beauty of Scars

In my youth, scars were marks of toughness meant to warn others you were someone to leave alone; that you could both take and deliver pain. Physical wounds that produce such visible scars were worn like ribbons on a warrior’s chest, or like notches on a belt: a tally of toughness.

As we reach adulthood, we soon learn that wounds and the scars that follow come in different forms other than those that leave ragged blemishes. Internal wounds that traumatize emotionally and psychologically heal slowly—if ever—and offer no visual evidence of their presence. Rather, they fester in our hearts and minds and contribute to behaviors that neither we, nor those who believe they know us, can explain. Treatment to heal such wounds is often futile; limited to managing symptoms of an unknown cause that is buried by the past and has often morphed over time into a multi-headed monster that may or may not be based in any semblance of reality. They become the demons that haunt us with neither warning, nor apparent justification.

As we age, we learn to cope with our wounds whether they are healed over with a scar, fly around in our psyche like bats in our mental belfry, or leave our hearts feeling heavy and hollow. Coping behaviors come in many forms from appeasement to suppression to concealment. We do the best we can to present ourselves as reasonable and sane even when we know we are fighting against forces we don’t recognize, let alone understand. In extreme cases, we become unrecognizable to ourselves and appear bizarre, or even dangerous, to others. Those who peddle cures call us depressed, neurotic, or psychotic, when what we are is, simply, human.

The key to dealing with all of these challenges is a deep and compassionate self-interrogation that peels all the layers of our life back to reveal the essence of who we are to produce a level of clarity that casts aside old deceptions in favor of restorative self-awareness. Moreover, to honor and even celebrate our scars like the gold lines in a Kintsugi restoration. Converting pain into beauty. Self-awareness when expressed in an open and honest manner and followed by the celebration of our particular peculiarities makes us (often for the first time in our lives) whole. Once we are whole, once the wounds are exposed and closed by awareness and compassion, our demons are vanquished and sweet peace prevails. A sense of entrenched calm presides over our lives like the elder viewing the world from a park bench whose only expression is an occasional sagacious grin.

My own journey of Kintsugi restoration is expressed in the following poem.

Whole as One

Expectations and obligations

Hang like ornaments on a tree

Too many is too much

Burdened limbs falter, wilting

As contrived joy plunges

Into a wallow of discontent

 

Criticism and displeasure

Seldom fair but always there

Like a midwinter inversion

Low layers of gray swirling

A biting bone chill of wind

To deaden what spirit remains

 

The yoke of yesterday yearns

Masquerading as comfort

Advocating for stasis

Blocking the light of liberation

A relentless weight of fealty

As if it knows what is right

 

Days turn and stumble

Unremarkable in sameness

Is this all there is as the

choir sings its benediction?

Surely there’s another chapter

Without a beast of burden

 

Finding a new me for me

Shedding decades of duty

Considerations are few and simple

To clear a path to tranquility

Secure as One to meet the world

In it, but not of it any longer

 

Behind the eye of wisdom

Beyond the grabbers and takers

Shaping wholeness as One

In the slipstream of society

Stealth toward a frictionless future

Held in the hands of grace

We live in confusing and perilous times. What was once so is no longer. The reliable has become unreliable. At times, the world we face is beyond disorienting; it appears as a cauldron of existential threats. It is therefore paramount that we take care of ourselves and each other. Doing so begins with building our inner citadel—a reserve of fortitude that renders our core being unassailable.

Late in his life, the painter Pierre Auguste Renoir was crippled by painful arthritis in his hands, and yet summoned the strength to hold his brush. His friend and fellow artist, Henri Matisse, asked “Why do you paint when it hurts you so much?” “The pain passes,” replied Renoir, “but the beauty remains.” Strength can be found in self-revelation. Renoir knew who he was. It was through his pain that his greatest works came to be. It was through his pain that the strength of beauty was realized. The key to sweet peace is living your life while honoring your personal history not as what makes you vulnerable and weak, rather by what makes you unique, strong, and yes, beautiful.

Like a Kintsugi bowl, scars and all.

By |2023-12-01T15:41:13+00:00January 15th, 2023|General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments
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