So…here we are…what now?

Those of us who are so inclined have had some time now to process November 8th, 2016. I must admit, however, that the pace and clear direction of the unraveling is continuing to be a challenge.

I have lived in North Carolina for over 20 years. If what happened on Election night was an earthquake, the result of a major shift in the tectonic plates of our politics, then a major fissure and fault line emerged in my home state. With self-justification, vilification and a “we’re doing it just because we can” attitude, the state legislature has shown us clearly the extent to which genuine democracy is now being circumvented and corrupted.

This is where we are. This is actually happening. This is our current reality.

So, let’s take a breath. Let’s remind one another of some of the things we already know   about where we are:

-Very few (if any) situations are improved when we are acting or speaking from a place of fear or panic. So let’s encourage one another not to go there. We would do well, however, to be alert, aware and totally honest with one another. This is the initial act of courage that we all must choose to take. We’re going to have to trust one another again if we are to rise to the challenges we face.

-Words matter. Words have the power to hurt or to help heal, to guide as well as to deceive, to clarify or to confuse. In our personal relationships, when our actions are in line with our words, we call this being trustworthy and having integrity. In our personal relationships, when we say one thing but do another, we call this dysfunctional and abusive. In the public domain, saying one thing but doing another is now called politics. The president elect refers to it as the “art of the deal”. If we believe that he has any intention of telling us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, then we have not been paying attention. Words matter.

Greed has never been a virtue. Greed manifests itself in many arenas beyond the financial. (Fame, power, adulation, and approval are a few arenas that leap to mind.) Greed does not know the meaning of ‘enough’. Greed, by its very nature, is insatiable. To be greedy is to be miserable, often while surrounded by everything you need. That’s why it’s never been a virtue.

-Greedy people are always attracted to the unscrupulous. They term it “being opportunistic”. While the unscrupulous are bending, skirting and breaking the norms of decency (as well as whatever laws might apply), the greedy take advantage of the confusion and uncertainty created in their wake.

-The unscrupulous don’t mind the greedy feeding off them as long as the greedy don’t object to or interfere with the havoc being wreaked. The greedy actually become a buffer of sorts and an easy target of distraction from the damage being done by the unscrupulous. Any one particular greedy person is always and readily expendable. The unscrupulous know that there are plenty of others waiting to take their place.

-One of the primary reasons that our democracy was looked upon as a beacon of hope for the world, aka The Promise of America, was our continued striving for fairness, equality and decency in our institutions and policies. We were far from perfect in our implementation of these goals domestically and internationally, but we never seemed to waver in our commitment to them when push came to shove. Well, with the results of this election, we’ve wavered now.

More to follow soon….

 

Advertisements

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?

 

 

Take a Moment

 

We have a saying here in the States, “The cream always rises to the top”. It’s an old saying. It’s not much in use these days but it still gets trotted out every now and then as a truism. I don’t know if it originated with our dairy farmers or was imported (like most everything else) but I’ve always had trouble with it. I’ve watched as milk or cheese is being processed. There’s a whole bunch of other stuff that rises to the top along with the cream that needs to be thrown away.

The underlying thrust of the saying, that the best can and will eventually be found at the top, is the mantra of many CEOs and of every ambitious subordinate.

No matter the institution, organization or industry, the presumption of the people outside those institutions, organizations or industries is: Whomever is at the top, must know what they’re doing.

I would really like to believe that.

It would make for a more orderly world view.

Here’s what is far more true than not: The people at the top are the people who were willing to do whatever was necessary to get them there. The people at the top know how to climb and how to cling once they get there.

That’s not an indictment. That’s the reality.

This means that the notion that there’s a natural order of ascension for the most qualified is false. For the people of genuine competency, integrity and overall wellness, our systems are stacked against them. These individuals were either stunted or sidetracked along their way or they were never interested in advancement to begin with, only in doing their job well.

They’re not angry or bitter. Those aren’t the characteristics of the well grounded, quality person to begin with. They’re simply the people who actually get things done and hold things together.

I want to draw your attention to these people, (we all know who they are and you may be one of them) because they never draw attention to themselves.

We would do well to take a moment and acknowledge them in some, small genuine way. A few words…an anonymous card or note on their desk or windshield…a moment of sincere noticing…

Yes, they’ll likely react by being embarrassed or confused. But it will make a difference.

To both of you.

 

 

In the Audience

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.

 

The Set Up

I went to small social mingling. It was a low key, artsy sort of thing. Casual chilling in a large backyard on a beautiful Spring afternoon. The invitation was rather last minute and off the cuff as well. It was one of those, ‘Oh by the way’ mentions that expanded to include me.

Personal bucket lists being personal, I decided to attend and to put a check mark next to this one.

Besides, being surrounded by strangers doesn’t bother me. I’m stranger than most, but still safe to play with, so I just tell myself that I’m among friends I haven’t met yet.

After greeting the hosts and receiving the brief, polite introductions to the few people nearby, I sauntered off to graze and gaze.

Friendly canines wag their tails when they meet a stranger. Friendly people make eye contact, smile ever so slightly and nod.

It wasn’t long before curiosity or sympathy overcame a couple nearby and they walked towards me with all the signs of being nice. Which they were, of course…curious, sympathetic and nice.

The weather, the garden, the food and the generosity of the hosts to pull this all together were all discussed in turn and without incident.

It is at this juncture that someone usually makes the decision to either end the exchange  or to venture further. There are two stock questions when the decision is to talk a little further: 1) So, what brings you here? or 2) So, what do you do?

I love that they both begin with ‘So’. It’s such a clear indication of a transition past the initial phase of civility. It’s like we’re getting down to business.

I do not love, however, either of those two questions, not so much for the questions themselves but for what my honest answers have always been. Answer 1: “I don’t know really. For all I know, it could be to meet you.”  Answer 2: “I try to experience life in all its fullness.”

I never feel awkward in the silence that follows but I can’t say the same for the people who asked the question.

I set them up. I’m still wagging my tell (eye contact, slight smile) but I’m waiting.

My plain honesty set them up with an unexpected opportunity to be spontaneous and genuine. They were given an invitation to get real and a choice. This is not a right or wrong, good or bad choice. This is a ‘what would you like to do?’…step in or step away?

I don’t keep the hard data on these instances but my overall recollection is that this isn’t a coin toss moment. It’s not a 50/50 split in how it goes. It’s about a 75/25 split with the 75% being the people who step in and the 25% being those who step away.

I cannot tell you how heartening that is.

Most people really do want to connect, want to move beyond the sanitized and boring, and into something genuine…this moment, right here.

It’s not a challenge that they’re responding to because this isn’t a fight and there is no winning. It’s an invitation they’re accepting into an exchange that we’re all hungry for…an opportunity to be and to share ourselves.

 

 

Fairness

Many of the people I have worked with have grievances and emotional hurts that are the results of situations that can be understood simply as, ‘They just weren’t treated fairly’.

They felt wronged. They felt neglected. They felt slighted, that someone else was treated more favorably for no good or obvious reason. Or they felt misled or deceived outright. They’re hurt. They’re angry and feeling quite justified about it.

This sense of fairness, of cosmic justice or a final judgment wherein we all will get what we truly deserve, is a prime element in the concept of karma, in most religions’ version of an afterlife and certainly, in theory, in our criminal justice system.

We expect and want things to be fair. Still, we have to acknowledge, that from the beginning of time, stuff happens in life that simply doesn’t seem fair. A tree falls on this person and not the person standing next to them. A tornado hits this house and not the one 20 feet away. The examples are too many to list. Infants die of SIDS, preventable diseases and starvation. What can ever be fair about that?

More than a few have turned away from any notion of karma or of final fairness because of the sheer unpredictability of life. Fairness is a fairy tale to them. With cynicism and disgust, they proclaim that life is absurd and that it has no meaning. I have always found this to be a cover for their deepest pains and their indescribable loss.

Life has meaning. We each give it its meaning. We are in an interactive environment. If we tell ourselves or decide for ourselves that life is pointless and absurd, then that’s how life will behave. We will find all the evidence we need to support our conclusion. We will indeed find what we are seeking. If, however, we tell ourselves that we matter and we decide for ourselves that we will strive to make a difference, then we will indeed matter and we will indeed make a difference. That’s what is so ultimately fair. We have an integral role to play in the fulfillment and purpose we experience.

Nelson Mandela was not the first person to be wrongly imprisoned nor was he the only one. He may not even be the best example of a person’s not giving in to despair under difficult and unfair treatment but he certainly is a widely known one. Every day in this world, people are making choices that bring out the best in themselves and inspire those around them. These are not famous people. These are the meek that shall inherit this earth. They choose to try, they struggle and falter and some even perish, but they take responsibility for the course they have chosen. These are the ones with the ready smile and the helpful hand. They never wonder if they’re being fair when they smile or when they pitch in to help. They don’t assess if the person deserves it. They are acting true to themselves and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

We all know such persons. And we are all glad that we do.

I think that’s quite fair.

 

 

 

I know I’m not perfect but…

Somewhere between absolutely right and completely wrong is where we meet the reality of ourselves every day. It’s where we experience life and, in that sense, it’s where we live. The two extremes are mental and emotional fictions. One we desire, the other we dread. And it’s not always the same one. We can dread being right and desire to be wrong just as easily as the reverse.

When I state that both are fictions, that neither extreme actually exists or is possible, I say it in the same manner that True North as navigational point also doesn’t exist. Apart from local factors that can influence our compass point or directional instruments, the magnetic field of our planet itself fluctuates. True North is an abstract. As explorers will testify, having an indication of North as an orientation point is extremely useful. Without such an orientation, venturing into the unknown would only be an exercise in becoming lost. But that’s all True North (or even North) is. An orientation, not a destination.

Perfection is another fiction. I’ve asked many people to complete the thought/sentence that is the title of this blog. Here’s how every single person (thus far) has done it: “I know I’m not perfect but…I would like to be”. Now, there have been some small variations in the exact wording…’but I try to be’, ‘but I should be’, ‘but I want to be’…but the essence of the answer is the same. Perfection is the goal. Perfection is what most of us are aiming for. Being ‘absolutely right’ would be perfect.

And, actually, we’re all aiming for something that doesn’t exist. It’s easy to understand why we keep missing it.

Wanting to learn, wanting to improve, wanting to grow and develop…these are understandable and, for the most part, healthy.

However, we are not perfect. Ever. There is no such thing.

We are all works in progress. That is as perfect as it ever needs to be. We are our happiest when we are growing. Nothing is ever truly finished. Our misery and suffering begin at the precise moment we stop wanting to learn…when we think we know…when we’re ‘absolutely right’. That’s when the pain, the realization of something we overlooked, misunderstood, or never saw coming, reveals itself. Time after time after time.

The voice that drives our search for perfection is a tyrant. It is a loud voice, ripe with restless dissatisfaction. There is greed in that voice, as well as egotistical pride. When we are driven by this voice there can be no quiet appreciation, no enjoyment of the moment and no savoring of the incremental progress being made. Anything less than perfection is flawed, worthless junk.

And that’s how we come to see ourselves. Flawed. Worthless. Junk.

This is one of the most crippling voices I have ever encountered in myself. And one of the most damaging voices I deal with in others

Initially, as I struggled to not listen to the voice that demanded perfection, I felt as if I had abandoned my most noble quest, my highest calling, and settled for the mediocre.

These feelings were all a part of my delusion.

I have discovered that I do not have to be perfect in order to be loved. I do not have to be right in order to be valued and respected. I do not have to know something completely in order to be able to contribute to the conversation.

My remaining open to learning and willing to keep trying is so perfectly human, so totally lovable, that I almost missed it…

…as the voice of perfection urged me to chase the mirage.