It’s what you don’t see…

My wife and I had the opportunity recently to be on a guided tour through a rain forest in Central America. Our guide was very personable and seemed relatively well informed…     (I wasn’t exactly going to fact check him as he spouted his fountain of information). He did caution us at the outset to not wander off the main trail and told us a brief story to make his point.

Another rain forest guide, a friend of his, was taking a group of ten on a tour. It had been a disappointing experience in that very few of the animals or insects he was mentioning were showing themselves. So he asked the group to wait on the trail while he went off in search of something that he could show them. About 15 feet into the brush, he did see and delicately coax into his hand a colorful poisonous frog. As he turned and stepped to return, he was bitten on his ankle by a Fer-de-Lance, an aggressive, venomous snake. When all was said and done, he nearly lost his foot. He told his friend, our guide, that he knew what he was looking for, but it was what he didn’t see that changed everything.

Of course thereafter, my wife and I stayed glued to the trail. Here’s what happened. We came across a caravan of leaf cutter ants traversing the trail. Thousands of them, with most of them carrying sections of vegetation many times the size of their bodies. They looked like  miniature Mardi Gras participants complete with headgear and uneven steps. As we stood there staring, sensations from my left foot finally broke into my awareness. When I looked down, I saw that it was covered with fire ants. I was wearing a modified version of a sandal with no socks and so I was being bitten. Both of my wife’s feet were also being swarmed, but she was wearing sneakers with socks. Still, she shrieked loud enough for both of us. She put her small backpack down as she brushed herself and myself off with both hands. Within a minute, we seemed to have finished with the worst of them. We laughed a little and remarked again about how it was that what we didn’t see was more impactful than what we had been looking at. That’s when we started up the trail again and I noticed that my wife’s entire back was covered with fire ants. Her backpack had also been on the nest of fire ants. More swatting and laughter, as even our guide joined in to brush her off.

We laughed and continued the tour rather than cursing and returning to the ‘safety’ of the jeep. It was a choice made without words. Everyone checked into everyone else’s eyes and  we simply proceeded. Asked and answered.

Hours later, as we all (guide, driver, wife and I) sat at a nice restaurant’s table to share a late lunch, the guide complimented us as to how we had reacted on the trail. My wife reminded him that she had shrieked initially, to which he replied, “Yes, but you did not run”.

The four of us proceeded to talk about the unexpectedness and unpredictability of life as we ate our way through some local dishes that even they were impressed with. We shared specific stories from our lives to illustrate our points…about our children, our jobs, our relationships, our selves. You would have thought we were old friends who hadn’t seen one another for a while.

Not everything you don’t see coming is bad or dangerous.

Very often, they can be blessings.

 

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The Attraction of Certainty

I don’t know about you but for me there’s hardly a day that goes by wherein some well intended will think to send me a link to a website or YouTube video. I do my best to at least visit or briefly watch as many of these as my time and tolerance permit. There’s a wide range of topics directed my way and I’m grateful for the spectrum of humanity that I’m exposed to. I have to admit that I never would have found half of any of this on my own. Not only that, but I couldn’t have imagined, no matter how hard I tried, some of the stuff that people get in to.

I’m sure it’s the same for you.

A goodly percentage of the links sent to me attempt to present information in a promotional way. Whether its a nutritional system, a new exercise routine or piece of equipment, a yoga seminar, a meditation practice, or a documentary on a war or a religion, there’s one thing they all have in common: There’s an undeniable certainty, not just a confidence, but a real conviction, conveyed about the product or point of view being offered.

There’s something inherently attractive about that type of certainty. In our current world of endless possibilities, seeing or hearing someone who has an unshakeable conviction about something is remarkably appealing.

It is the art and essence of the sell.

We know this…and still we want to believe that something can and will deliver exactly what is being promised…or that the person truly does believe in what they are saying as certainly and as deeply as they appear to.

Unfortunately, for most of us today, being ‘sold’ on something has become synonymous with being ‘fooled’.

And it’s funny, whenever I’m in a conversation with someone who seems dead certain about whatever it is their talking about, even if I’m not in agreement with them, I can get to wondering if perhaps I haven’t overlooked something. Creating this moment of curiosity, of hesitation, is another necessary element of the sell.

They teach this stuff in sales classes. They taught it at Trump U.

Whether we’re listening to a backyard opinion of a neighbor or listening to a candidate for public office, the attraction of certainty is as powerful as it is misleading. It can get decent people to wondering.

This is not a bad thing or a weakness.

I’ve come to understand that an open minded person will have those types of wondering thoughts. It is in the very nature of the open minded to entertain new and differing points of view. That’s the process through which any person can develop, deepen and wizen.

Sadly, the closed minded person is always locked down, unreachable and adamant about staying where they are. It doesn’t make them a bad person but rarely does it make them a happy person.

An open minded person isn’t necessarily confused, muddled or unclear. Nor do they lack for conviction, passion or backbone. They simply accept that life itself is a work in progress, that learning never ends and that more, indeed, will always be revealed.

 

 

Naturally, Right from the Start

Take a moment and answer this question:

How often do we want to ‘know'(or be reassured) that we’re going to be ‘good’ at doing something BEFORE we’ll ever try that something for the first time?

….to be told that we could bowl a strike before we ever released our first ball?…or be assured that we would be a good dancer before we even placed a foot onto the floor?…or that we would be a fine cook before we dared to put on an apron?…or that we would be a proper lover before we ever stepped into our first kiss?

It’s not at all unusual.

Whether it’s because of some childhood experience during which we suffered a degree of embarrassment, ridicule and other forms of criticism while we attempted something new or we merely witnessed someone else’s being made fun of, we have all learned to hesitate. This is not about our physical safety but about playing it safe emotionally, being guarded about our ‘self image’, even before we had such a thing.

In truth, many of us when we were younger wished we would discover some hidden talent that would enable us to be a ‘natural’ at something…anything really…anything that we could be remarkably good at from the very first time…because then there would be no risk, no fear of failure, no being ordinary.

More than a few were strongly encouraged to build careers and a life around something that they were ‘good at’ without anyone (even themselves) actually asking if they enjoyed doing what they were ‘good at’. But that’s a whole other blog to come.

This blog would like to remind all of us that no one has ever done their best at anything the first time they tried it. Even if we were ‘good at’ it naturally right from the start, we still all learned and improved as we continued. We developed. Everything we ever try only gets better if we continue to practice…provided we are open to feedback and guidance. On our own and by ourselves, we will be hampered and limited by the singularity of our perspective.

Now, I realize that this may seem like a blinding flash of illumination for the obvious, but it is something we so frequently and easily forget. We often stand paralyzed at the doorstep of trying something new in our lives only because we have forgotten that everything always and only gets better after our first try.

 

 

Moveable & Removable Walls

Whether you’ve had some remodeling work done in your own home or have watched one of the many home remodeling shows on the television, it’s likely you’ve had the opportunity to witness an architect or an interior designer walk into a home and “see” how the walls could be moved and the space rearranged.

The first few times I saw someone doing this, I found it fascinating. I had always looked at walls as walls…as simply something to deal with, as something permanent and just the way the house was built. I understand now that the space is permanent and the walls are all moveable, even weight bearing walls.

In a world that encourages us to compartmentalize the various aspects and functions of ourselves, we all put up a lot of walls as we were first building our understandings of ourselves. The placement of these walls were either taken from someone else’s blueprints (plans) or represented our beginner’s ideas of how we thought things should look.

Here are some examples of the usual places we put up dividing walls: between thoughts and feelings; between wants and needs; between spirituality and rationality; between the abstract and the concrete; between the possible and the impossible; between pain and pleasure; between good and bad and, of course, between right and wrong. There are plenty of other partitions or dividers we constructed along our way, but I only wanted to give you the idea of what I’m referring to.

We believe that these walls are necessary and permanent. We believe that we have put them up exactly where they belong. This may have been true at the time we put them up. They may have served a good purpose during our development…when we were younger and less experienced with ourselves. Yet, for many of us, these walls have now boxed us in, blocked our vision and restricted our maturation.

These walls are arbitrary. These walls are moveable. These walls are removable.

Sure, we’ll need a bit of help. We’ll need ideas and suggestions from those who have some experience. That’s no different than when we’re dealing with physical walls. We get help. We follow some suggestions.

In the general awareness arena, the ideas of connection and flow have been rediscovered.

There is a blossoming realization that all growth involves change and that change isn’t a rejection of the past but an expansion upon what has come before with fuller perspectives, fresh lines of sight and an openness that is both natural and healthy.

Yet, some will consider change and growth as somehow being disloyal to what they had been handed down or taking the risk that the whole house might come crashing down.

If all you’re working with is your own ideas and a sledge hammer, that might be possible.

But when you’re open to asking for and using the help that’s available, moving or removing those interior walls that interfere and block ourselves from connecting with ourselves (and others) is neither dangerous nor daunting.

It’s actually freeing and fun.

 

 

 

 

 

Life was never meant to be ‘Safe’

I’ve had many conversations over the years (some quite recently, hence this blog) with parents whose major concern in life was with keeping their children (or child) safe. It’s an issue that is confronting every parent daily and that can transform simple decisions into debilitating quandaries.

As a parent of three, I am no idle spectator in this emotional arena.

These conversations, along with my own personal soul searching, have lead me to conclude and to admit that complete safety is impossible and that even relative safety is more of an act of trust than of an assurance of well being.

This is no easy thing to admit. And this is what leads so many of us to become stuck in fear and anxiety.

Life is simply a risky enterprise. That’s the truth of the matter.

Even if we had unlimited financial resources, the attempt on our part to eliminate all possible opportunities for injury or illness to our children would, in and of itself, be injurious and harmful to their natural and healthy development. Being overly protective does as much damage as does being reckless or negligent.

It is glaringly apparent from our own childhood experiences that we, as human beings, were designed to bump, bruise, bounce and break ourselves quite a bit. And we survived, grew and learned from those experiences…just as our children will. They deserve the chances to fall, to scrape, to cry and to get up and get at it again.

Life in a bubble, life without risks, is like a Nascar race run entirely under the yellow caution flag…staying in line…going in circles…not really a race…not really a life….

Now I know that Nascar, or any sport for that matter, cannot be a perfect analogy, but our craving for ‘safety’ is in contradiction to and defies our own experience; namely, that we feel most alive when the outcome is uncertain, when we have to take a chance, when we push ourselves beyond our comfort and convenience zones.

Sure, we will fail. Sure, we will fall. What we do then is what matters most.

The risks we take may be physical, emotional or intellectual, but we reveal ourselves to ourselves in those types of decision making moments when the outcome is far from certain. In those moments we are unthinkingly and profoundly aware of the raw possibilities that life presents us with.

I could or would no more wish to deprive my children of these experiences under the banner of keeping them safe than I could or would wish to undo my own missteps and batterings that I have experienced along my way.

It’s just life.

 

Personally, I blame Thomas Jefferson

It will take me a moment to get to TJ, otherwise known as The Pen of the Revolution, while I set the stage.

Setting the stage is what many of us do with our time. We do what we are doing in our present circumstances with the idea or intention that at some point, down the road of life, we’re going to be able to have all the pieces in place that will allow us to be able to relax and enjoy ourselves. We tell ourselves routinely what needs to be taken care of first before we’ll stop worrying or before we can relax. I call them the ifs and whens of our peace of heart. We put conditions on our circumstances that must be fulfilled prior to our feeling ok… whether it’s a certain type of house, a certain amount of money in the bank, a certain type of relationship, or car or job…we tell ourselves that we’ll feel much better if… or be much happier when

The reality of our lives, however, tells us that these goal posts are extremely moveable. No sooner do we cross (or even begin to get close) to meeting whatever condition it was that we had placed upon our joy, then we’re pushing that goal and ourselves out even further. For many, the goal has now been pushed into retirement. We’ll be able to stop worrying and enjoy when we’ve retired. It’s a dream we still cling on to. But it’s a mirage.

That’s the truth.

This time period of relaxed enjoyment doesn’t really happen when we get the good job (because we could lose it),  or the good relationship partner (because shit happens), or have children (if we want them),  or the nice house or any or all of this. We fooled ourselves into believing that our life would be different if and when, but it wasn’t. We all tend to simply raise the bar or move the goal, keeping our happiness out of reach.

This is where Thomas Jefferson enters the picture. He wrote (with the input of others) the Declaration of Independence. Here’s the beginning of the second paragraph (for those of you who may be unfamiliar):

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (underlining mine and NOT in the original text.)

I think that the choice of the word ‘pursuit’ was unfortunate. He could have used any number of other words…the exploration of Happiness, or the fulfillment of Happiness, or the enhancement of Happiness, or the expansion of Happiness.

But no.

He opted for the word ‘pursuit’ and we have been set up for the ‘chase’ ever since…It’s as if our happiness were a wood nymph teasing us in the distance, taunting and daring us to run after it hither and yonder. The idea that he planted and that we’ve accepted is that our happiness is ‘out there’ somewhere and it’s our inalienable right to get on after it. We’ve been chasing it ever since.

But what if that’s incorrect?

What if our happiness is an inside job?

What if there never was a need to postpone our peace of heart and our enjoyment of life until some pre-conditions were satisfied?

What if our happiness isn’t out there somewhere in the future but has always been right here, available to us right now?

Wouldn’t that be worth exploring?