The podcast that was postponed from last Saturday has been rescheduled for this upcoming Saturday, July 4, 2016, at noon.
Unscripted and unrehearsed…just like real life. Hope you can listen in.
The podcast that was postponed from last Saturday has been rescheduled for this upcoming Saturday, July 4, 2016, at noon.
Unscripted and unrehearsed…just like real life. Hope you can listen in.
There are countries that are currently and seriously considering establishing an economic system that provides a base income for all of its citizens. Sometimes this is referred to as a UBI (universal base income). Its proponents are intelligent, reasonable people willing to consider improving the current methods of implementing the shared social responsibility we all feel towards each other. Wow.
The advocates of this system aren’t wing nuts or radicals. They’ve reviewed the current status quo, discussed possible ways of either improving the system in the future or changing it altogether, looked closely at the numbers and concluded that, at the very least, it was time to propose an entirely new approach to their social contract with one another.
I’m just saying…we here, in America, have nearly come to blows over the idea of universal health care. A UBI? Unthinkable…unimaginable…preposterous…un-American…end of discussion.
Such a system would completely undermine the dysfunctional, bloated bureaucratic labyrinth we’ve pieced together in hodge podge fashion to waste our resources in the direction of those who have missed the gravy train. Of course, there are a great many of us who would like to see this system changed or significantly altered. Some would even like these programs eliminated and with nothing in their place.
Quite expectedly, this presents a bit of a quandary in the US. We have long prided ourselves as a nation of peoples created equal, who pull together and take care of one another. That’s the theory. That’s one of our founding principles.
And we do. In an emergency, in a crises, in this country, strangers rally to help strangers all the time. It’s not just neighbors helping neighbors.
But it’s the day in and day out needs of the troubled, the less fortunate or the economic nonconformist that we sometimes harden our hearts towards.
Still, anyone with a degree of humanity intact will continue to genuinely want to help the hungry, the sick and the less fortunately born. It’s heart warming. It’s reaffirming. Yet, most would prefer to do it in a fair and respectful way. Most would like to level the economic and social playing field by eliminating the poor’s need to choose between shelterless starving or the ‘loser’ stigma of living on governmental handouts.
If you’ve ever had to stand in those lines and go through that process and live like that for a while, you’ll understand how it feels. It’s unintentionally but inescapably demeaning. It creates a second class of citizen who is ripe for exploitation and abuse.
I’m just saying…most of us have had enough of our experiences with the DMV or the Post Office to be able to imagine how it might feel like to stand in such a line for food, rent or medical care. It’s demoralizing. It’s depersonalizing. It’s nearly dehumanizing. We become a case number. We become a case. We become a number. We become a…”Next”.
It’s natural to feel a sense of shame, of self-loathing and some general, unspecific anger in and at the situation. But these are only the initial feelings. After a while, these feelings morph into much more destructive impulses.
So I’m saying…if you treat a person as ‘less than’ long enough, they either start to believe it and act accordingly with a sense of entitlement or they decide to find ways to behave that ‘prove’ or ‘demonstrate’ otherwise. Not all those ways are constructive. That’s as mildly as I can put it.
The first referendum on a UBI was recently put to a vote. It was defeated soundly. Its proponents expected the proposal to lose but they have begun a discussion that is far from finished.
I encourage all of us to join in this discussion. Our collective path forward requires bold new approaches that enhance equality rather than diminish it.
The speaker himself kept referring to how his life (and ours too) was far more fluid than he’d initially thought. Whether you considered your rhythms cyclical like seasons (blossoming, producing, declining and reviewing) or more like chapters or stages, our lives were subject to changing conditions that were both unpredictable and uncontrollable. This was one of his primary points, that we each were able to and were responsible for creating a path for ourselves that was fulfilling.
I went to sit in the audience not because he was expressing new or foreign concepts but to witness this aspect of his journey up close, first hand and to gather a sense of how he was being received from the people surrounding him.
He used to be a preacher. It was his calling from early on. He studied, started his ministry, was effective and, by most standards, popularly successful. In that phase or stage of his life, he focused on making the stories or journeys found in the Old and New testament relevant to his congregation. While he was doing that, he also continued to grow in his own awareness of his relationship with and his perception of the message.
Two things happened as he did: 1)His congregation grew so large as to overwhelm his physical ability to minister as personally as he so desperately wanted to and 2) he grew so far spiritually in his understanding of the ultimate message that some in his congregation balked. They wouldn’t follow. The two occurred in proximity and in parallel; he was burning out and people in the congregation (most? some?) were concluding that he had gone too far and had strayed from the truth. Understandably, there was a parting of the ways. It wasn’t especially amicable but it was necessary…if he were to be true to himself.
That was courage.
For him, as he expressed it, it felt like desperation.
It’s funny how that is.
Whenever we find ourselves at that moment of choice when we don’t know what the final outcome might be or what the endgame is but what we do know is that doing nothing or staying where we are would be unbearable, we’ll step out and try something different or new. From the outside, our action has all the indications of courage. Within ourselves, we’re desperate but willing.
These moments, and they occur everyday, do not involve living up to an outside duty or code of honor or someone else’s expectations. These are the moments wherein we step up and step out because we have chosen to be true to ourselves.
I’ve come to understand these moments as grace.
They involve me but they always feels like they’re more than only me. The situation and my life won’t unfold the same way without my participation but making honest, awakening choices and taking action doesn’t involve taking control or knowing the results. There is indeed a fluidity and a flexibility that feels spiritually athletic, graceful…somewhat effortless and still quite focused.
The speaker once a preacher talked about creating a space within ourselves and with one another that would allow and support these moments to be recognized, appreciated and gently explored.
He acknowledged the need for such spaces, the need for connection (he termed it solidarity) and that his intention with these small venue talks was to do his part. He couldn’t say where it would all lead, but he was enthusiastic about the possibilities ahead.
We share that in common.
Rather a catchy phrase, don’t you think?…”The Cutting Edge”. I’d rank it right up there with “The Tip of the Spear” and “Breakthrough Technology” in the category of modern metaphors that are overused but not yet worn out.
In my blog entitled, ‘Expertise’, I brought on stage the expert’s experts. They’re the people at the end of the line for the most complicated problems and the toughest questions. They’re the ‘go to’ people. These are the people who are working diligently at ‘the cutting edge’. These people are typically not lime lighters. Every human endeavor has a handful (at least) of such individuals working behind the scenes of public awareness. Whether its nuclear fission, nail polish remover, soil fungus identification, the mating rituals of whooping cranes (or any species actually…we seem fascinated with this activity), wine crafting, carpet weaving or computer chip designing…every single enterprise that exists has those people working within its discipline who are pushing their particular enterprise towards what can be described generically as the ‘new’.
For after all, that is exactly what being on ‘the cutting edge’ means. These individuals, collectively and individually, are working on the line between what we think we know and what is, as yet, the unknown…between what has been done before and what has yet to be tried. This may seem glamorous, almost Star Trekish, but it is actually quite tedious. There is the monotony of the trial and error process along with the discouragement of frequent failures. These individuals are not necessarily more intelligent than the rest of us…but they do seem to have embraced a singleness of purpose in their lives that most of us have chosen not to. By that I mean, it takes a certain personality type. In order for anyone to develop this level of expertise, it is often at the expense of other interests or activities. There are only 24 hours in any person’s day. Their dedication to and absorption with their chosen endeavor is admirable and often endearing. It can be equally irritating. In either case, it does tend to make them a bit quirky.
As lay people, a non experts, we have a lot in common with the expert’s expert. We, too, are constantly working and living on the line between what we think we know and what is, as yet, our unknown. We, too, must endure the tedious methodology of trial and error…and this applies to all areas of our life…our dating, our working, our partnering, our parenting, our believing or non believing and so on. We, too, must endure the discouragement of frequent failures, of not being at our best, of getting it all wrong. And we, too, must closely look at what we have done before and have the courage to try what we’ve never tried before. If we want to continue to grow.
In the end, the expert’s expert and the rest of us land in the same place. We begin with not knowing, try our best and end up still not knowing. But we need not give up. This is our humanity that we’re all exploring. We are all on ‘the cutting edge’ of our self awareness.
I must confess, it makes us a bit quirky too.
Isn’t that great?
There’s something about this experience called life that makes taking ourselves too seriously impossible.
We smile as a reflex response. It’s no different than our eye blinking when an object suddenly comes close, or our leg jerking when the doctor taps it with the rubber mallet, or our flinching at a loud noise nearby. Reflex responses. We can smile at something that just crossed our minds, at the sight of someone who walked through the door, at the soft play of candlelight on our lover’s face, at a child chasing a puppy…and so much more. There’s no need to think about smiling before we do it. In fact, the common way to refer to these instances is to say that ‘we caught ourselves smiling’. We realized we were smiling after we had smiled.
These are moments of appreciation…unscripted…unedited…uncensored…undeniable. They occur frequently and randomly everyday and everywhere. That’s part of their charm. And we smile. And, if we’re paying attention, we notice that we smiled.
A coworker brings you a cup of coffee made just right without you asking, there’s a tap on your shoulder and a stranger hands you the phone you had unknowingly left on the counter, a friend you’ve been wondering about happens to send you an email with a goofy picture that captures what you’ve always liked about them, the repair person tells you that everything is still covered under warranty, the song in the elevator reminds you of that time in Jamaica.
None of these moments can be planned or predicted. They simply show up. This is so obvious that it could be a bumper sticker:
The unexpected. It’s not what you saw coming.
Here’s what’s not so obvious: we love these moments. We feel most alive in those few seconds…before our brains kick in…before we cover up emotionally and guard ourselves again. We love surprises. We enjoy the non ordinary, the break in the routine, and the opportunity to improvise. We smile during these moments and we smile when we remember them. We tell stories about them. We enjoy them at a level that our thinking doesn’t understand. That our thinking won’t allow.
I’ve delved into this in greater detail in my book but the essence is: life itself is a risky business. When we strive to take the risk out of life, we take the life out of ourselves. We deaden ourselves with caution and control, with being rational at the exclusion of all else, with being consistent at the expense of being creative.
There’s a line from a song, “I want to live, not merely survive.”
In the moment of a reflex smile, we feel alive.
Awakening to ourselves can begin with these. We would do well to linger and not rush by those feelings, to savor them, to explore them without explaining them, to pay attention to what it was that we felt. It’s in those moments that we can discover who we truly are.
There’s a ‘honeymoon’ period in every serious relationship, whether there’s been a ceremony or not, that isn’t about going away somewhere for a week or two. It’s a period of time during which all of the effort, anticipation and focus of combining two unrelated molecules into one stable compound seems to have worked. Hence the phrase, there was a chemistry between them. This time period typically lasts for about 6 months to 2 years, but not always. There are instances where this period doesn’t last as long as the week or two the couple goes away. In which case, we remark that there was bad chemistry from the start. There are other instances, though, where this period can seem to last uncomfortably long. The sweetness seems artificial. The niceness is forced. We tell ourselves and whisper to others, ‘watch out, something’s going to blow.’
What makes this stage, phase or time period of relationships so unique is that the peace and ease that each person experiences is directly related to their willingness to suspend their expectations of one another as they coordinate and cooperate in their efforts to combine. The newness of what is happening requires an attitude of openness and tolerance, a kind of free floating approach to alternate possibilities. Internally, it can feel like the weightlessness of space. That’s because we have escaped the gravity of our expectations. We are no longer pulled and the pinned down by our thoughts of how things are supposed to be or have to be in order for us to be happy. We actually have created some real space for ourselves and our partner.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon your perspective, after a while, we tell ourselves (in so many words) that we need to come back to earth. It’s not that feeling floaty, looser and lighter about things was bad. Nope. It’s just not what we’re accustomed to. We will quite sincerely tell ourselves that we have to get back to reality.
Feeling looser, feeling lighter, feeling less confined and restricted feels unreal.
BUT IT IS REAL.
We were there. We felt it.
We weren’t drugged. We weren’t hallucinating. We weren’t clinically insane.
But we will discount it, dismiss it and disregard anything we might have learned about ourselves during the experience.
Our newlyweds experienced their floatiness together for about a year. Physical intimacy was accomplished without harm or trauma but passion was never really sparked. She came to expect him to make her laugh in order for her to relax and he came to resent having to entertain her in order to have sex. Needless to say, they didn’t talk about it. The frequency of their intimacy trailed off accordingly. She told herself that this was probably normal. She feared, however, that he no longer found her attractive. He told himself that sex wasn’t as important to her as it was to him. Otherwise, she’d complain about not having it enough…just as she had started to complain about other things that weren’t up to her liking. He started spending time with sites on the internet. He’d used this venue before marriage and told himself that there was no harm in it.
Meteorologists (weather forecasters) have long been joked about and even teased that theirs is a profession that allows them to remain employed even though they’re wrong the majority of the time. (6o% to 70% of the time, depending upon which tracking model you use, European, Canadian or American)(that’s a joke). We’ve all watched their complicated, computer generated graphics and wavy armed explanations of what the current conditions are, only to look outside our window or step outside our door and see something completely different. We have frequently prepared ourselves for what they have predicted was ‘headed our way’, only to scoff hours later when they’re explaining all over again how it happened to ‘miss’ us.
Not for the lack of trying over many years and in every possible type of situation, I have learned that my forecastings (expectations) of how others were going to feel, or how a conversation was going to go, or what someone was likely to do in response to what I felt, said or did, were incorrect so often and in so many ways that the practice itself was useless. It was a waste of time and energy. It was like watching a movie with 18 alternate endings. Somewhat entertaining but exhausting. Oh, and completely frustrating.
Because, if I were actually watching a movie that was putting me through alternative ending after alternative ending, how long would it take before I was screaming at the screen (and the director who couldn’t hear me): “For ****’s sake, pick one will you?!!!!”
And that’s exactly what I found myself doing in real life; my initial speculations about a person or situation were somewhat entertaining, but mentally running through alternate scenario after scenario quickly became exhausting and frustrating. So I would just decide on one. I would pick one. And then I would drive the person and the situation in that direction. If I had predicted rain, then I would make it rain. If I had forecasted freezing temperatures, then I would make sure it was cold.
For a period in my life, my expectations subtly and unmistakably became a self-fulfilling prophecy mechanism. I would convince myself beforehand that I knew what was going to happen and then, through selective hearing, creative interpreting, and myopic focusing, by golly…wouldn’t you know it…I’d make things happen in a way that would make my expectations right.
Your role in my life was to play the part I had assigned to you. If you went ‘off script’, I would guide you back with phrases like: “That’s not how you should be looking at this.” or “You shouldn’t feel that way.” or “You have no right to say that.” My expectations of you defined you to me. If you met them, things went well. If you didn’t, things went to hell. I considered this reasonable. I was completely self deluded.
I was not a bad person. I was unaware. When I walk around with my eyes shut tightly, I bump in to a lot of things. I knock things over. I break stuff. I can hurt myself and I can hurt you even without ‘seeing’ it. When I am going through my life focused on my expectations, I miss ‘seeing’ a lot of things. I miss ‘seeing’ you as you, rather than you as I would have you be in my movie.
With much help and to my great relief, I practice the surrender of my expectations. I let them go even as they attempt to form. Everyday, I want to be free to be new.
I want the same for you.
Day after day, as I randomly and repeatedly continued to alter small personal habits, two benefits emerged. The first was intentional: I did, in fact, make friends with change and the feelings/thoughts surrounding it. It was a bit of a game, a touch of whimsy, an element of playfulness I had long lost with life. In short, it was fun.
The second benefit was unexpected. I didn’t even know it existed. I didn’t have a name for it and had to search the web. It was there I met two concepts that somewhat matched or described my experience: ‘mindfulness’ and ‘present moment awareness’. You, yourself, may be already quite familiar with and practiced at living this way. So, I’ll be brief and try not to bore you.
From childhood I knew what ‘mind your manners’, ‘mind their feelings’, ‘mind their own business’ and ‘never mind’ all sort of meant. From these phrases and others, I had the idea that being mindful was directed towards and always involved interactions with other people. In private, in my own personal space, I didn’t need to mind anything really. I didn’t mind if I didn’t clean the sheets for weeks, or shower for days, or if I picked at my nose or bum, or left dirty dishes forever. I only minded any of that stuff if I had to go out or if someone was coming over.
So, when I began to ‘mind’ myself, notice my routines and my habits and, with a conscious choice, began to alter them slightly and randomly, I found my true ‘mindfulness’ expanding. I couldn’t ‘zone out’ and change at the same time. I couldn’t time travel mentally and still focus on the matter at hand. I couldn’t be asleep and awake in the same moment.
Without knowing it, I was choosing to wake up. I thought I had merely wanted to not be so predictable, so stale, so very boring in my own opinion of myself. Small, intentional variations were the opening to profound possibilities. By being ‘mindfully present’, I wasn’t directing or orchestrating my growth. I was allowing it. When I washed the dishes and noticed the warmth of the water, the smell of the soap, the sound of the glass the instant it became squeaky clean and so on, my appreciation for my hands, my health, my dexterity and my life subtly expanded. And I would reflexively smile. And I noticed that too.
Whatever it was that I had intentionally changed, I noticed particularly.
When I noticed particularly, I was being mindful and in the present moment.
When I was mindfully in the present, I was never bored. I was able to notice far more aspects of the present than simply the one thing I had altered. My awareness was expanding. It wasn’t expanding because of the force of my will. It was expanding because I had opened myself to it.
For this, I am and always will be grateful.
I was no longer living on autopilot.
I was owning myself.
The thread of these most recent blogs began a little over a week ago with ‘Our History with Change’. As you realize, it wasn’t so much a complete history as it was a description of our initial experiences and an overview of its impact. Change is a constant element in reality. Even what we understand that word ‘reality’ to mean, changes. For numerous reasons, our underlying gut reaction to change changed. We became wary. We became fearful. Change was no longer welcomed and embraced. Change was threatening and to be avoided. To be sure, stuff in life still changed. But we fought it, complained about it, covered our eyes towards it and only begrudgingly accepted it when it was forced upon us.
The truth is: Reality involves change and we are emotionally fighting reality all the time.
It is no wonder that most of us are frustrated and exhausted.
When I realized this in myself and for myself, it felt like a light bulb moment. Not so much an exuberant “Eureka!”. More like an “Oh” that morphed into two other types of “Ohs” which ended in a trailing off “huuummmmmm”.
I wasn’t thinking this through. I was feeling it ripple.
There’s a cliché we’ve all used when something has finally occurred to us: “It just dawned on me…”. Light has come to where, up to then, there had been only darkness. These are awakening moments. These are when our eyes start to peek open and begin to catch a glimpse of the bigness that surrounds us.
I want to tell you that the bigness isn’t here to eat us. The bigness wants for us to come out and play…to wake up to wonder…to wake up to the unpredictable, the inexplicable and the fascinating.
I began by making friends with change. Sounds simple. Here’s what happened:
I started small. I moved my watch from my left wrist to my right for no other reason than to feel how I felt about that change. No big deal, right? Well, I have to tell you that after about an hour, my watch became a huge distraction. My mind wouldn’t stop picking at it. My right hand felt heavier. I swore I felt sweat and irritation under the band. (There was no evidence of that every time I checked, yet it kept coming to my mind.) It banged into stuff…the desk…the coffee cup…the keyboard. At one point, the watch (my body/my mind) actually gave me the sensation of being hot and I seriously considered that it was malfunctioning and that I needed to take it off before I got burned. I was manufacturing false adverse physical symptoms as a reaction to one simple change. My mind was throwing a temper tantrum! “Just put that back where it belongs and be done with this silliness.” I was scolding myself.
I gave in. I moved the watch back. Quite rapidly, almost immediately, everything felt better and settled down.
That’s my first awake experience with the forces of habit. I witnessed and felt the experience from start to finish. I was amazed, somewhat bewildered but thoroughly intrigued. I wrote down my experience with the best words I had at the time as if I were conducting my own experiment with myself. Which I was. Which is, of course, perfectly OK to do. Which I didn’t know then but have come to smile about now.
After I wrote down my notes, I moved my watch again. I was on my journey to making friends with change.
Take a moment with me now and let’s do some imagining. I want you to imagine doing any or all of these things every day for at least one year:
So, with all of that imagination activated, imagine how long it would take for your favorite poem to loose its ability to stir you, or your favorite song to become that last thing you’d ever want to hear again, or your favorite prayer to go stale and mechanical, your favorite picture no longer really touching your heart, or your dancing becoming a drag, or Frozen becoming a nightmare in your sleep?
So I’ll repeat: habits are not benign. Habitually doing anything will quickly drain away whatever enjoyment or appreciation we had felt for that thing, person or activity. It happens every time. Doing anything the same way all the time is unnatural.
There is no such thing as a good habit.
(Discipline and dedication are not to be confused or compared with habits. With discipline and dedication there can be learning and growth. With habits, there is only repetition and stagnation.)
When I began the practice of noticing myself (as explained in Owning Ourselves), the number of habits I discovered startled me. I had routine ways of doing almost everything.
Having speculated to myself that one of the underlying rationales for the formation of habits in general might be to ‘free’ up mental time and energy for more important matters, I put that theory to an informal test in myself. I simply tried to pay attention to where my thoughts went while I was doing routine tasks like showering, eating, washing the dishes or even watching television. You know, normal stuff. I soon realized that my mind, my thinking aspect, didn’t really have more profound or pressing concerns to attend to. Most often it was just time traveling…off into the future with some imaginary conversation, job or relationship or back into the past with either a rewrite or a pang of nostalgia or regret. There was little that was helpful or relevant, nothing pressing or pertinent.
It seems as though my mind, my thinking aspect, gets bored quite easily. Once it determines that the current situation is familiar, it doesn’t want to be here. It’s behaves like a spoiled 16 year old at a family gathering. It checks out. Here’s what I mean:
It was more than a little curious for me to notice myself mowing the lawn while mentally speculating who might win the US Open Tennis tournament that year and should I get new tennis shoes for myself, now that these are getting grass stains on them, and how come my wife buys so many new shoes anyways, does she have a problem and won’t it be nice when the weather starts to cool down this September and shouldn’t I get a decent shovel this year, at long last, in case we actually get a real snow here in North Carolina?
And all of this passes through my mind in about 20 seconds…while I continue to push the mower and pay no attention to the smell of the grass, the breeze on my face, the healthy energy in my legs and all of the insects scattering for dear life in front of this death trap.
I noticed and eventually concluded that, for myself, my personal habits were not a way of ‘freeing’ my mind at all. Doing things habitually was, in truth, a way of trapping me and keeping me in the virtual world of my ‘mind’.
It was, perhaps, the most powerful force of all behind my habit forming.
My fascination with my own thinking.