Archive for May, 2007

Is There a Pattern Here?

> At any point in our lives, most of us are trying to modify or change something about how we behave or how we live.  It can be anything from weight loss to a career move.  While there are self-help books and support groups aplenty to help us through the difficulties associated with change, I’ve found a simpler and more self-reliant approach.
   Patterns are the key to how you behave and how you live your life. The ability to adapt or change requires that you first identify the pattern.  Once you know your pattern, then you can decide what steps you can take to interrupt or modify it, leading eventually to a new and hopefully more productive one. 
   Theory is great intellectual stuff and talk is easy. So I’m going to give you a personal example. 
   My whole life I’ve battled a tendency to get angry quickly.  I get angry when things go “wrong”… which usually means when they don’t go the way I want them to.  I have finally realized that the first step in heading off my angry response is to realize that 1) the other person’s response is not personally directed to frustrate me or my intended goal and 2) my perception of what is a “good” or “right” outcome is so limited as to be incalculable. 
    There are many possible outcomes to any situation, each holding the potential for it’s own unique growth experience.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve looked back at a situation and been amazed at the outcome…never having remotely seen the possibility for what actually occurred.  It’s through hindsight that we come to gain the perspective, and experience the wisdom, of events and outcomes that were hidden from us as they unfolded.

   So, I’ve developed a 3-step, self-directed approach to interrupting an angry response.

        Step 1.   Try and engage your mind at the first sign of anger..even though your emotions would rather engage without it.   Admittedly, this takes a little practice.  Re-acting is often like putting yourself on “auto pilot.”  This means you’re limited to the choices you originally programmed into the “auto pilot program.”  Most of us developed an anger response early in our lives to cover some type of pain, physical or emotional.  It’s likely that way back then you were either unable or unprepared to protect yourself from the source of your discomfort.  So forever after, when re-experiencing “incoming pain” you try and head it off with an aggressive, or angry, offensive action. 
       Recognizing this unproductive pattern, it’s possible to be aware of when your frustration or fear level is rising and intervene or intercept a purely emotional, and likely explosive, response.  What you can now do in these moments is re-focus outside of yourself.  Instead of defending against mis-perceived incoming hurt, become pro-active and redirect your thoughts toward the object or cause of your frustration.  Ask yourself, “What can I do for the other, or the situation, that will alleviate the difficulty?”  By becoming outwardly focused, rather than inwardly defensive, you engage your mind and thereby interrupt and harness the power of your emotions.

       Step 2.   Trust that a power, or pattern, greater than you has a
handle on what is happening and that the presence of that power’s
involvement, or inherent wisdom of that pattern, will produce an outcome
that is for the highest good of all concerned.  While you hold this
belief, you are free to release trying to control the outcome. It’s in
our failed attempts to control outcomes that we become angry.  With
trust, you can release the outcome altogether.

       Step 3.  This step is an art and also takes practice.  It’s the art of awareness.  Once you’re able to trust in the outcome and let go of your need to act defensively, you can really be open to, and aware of, what’s going on.  You can hear with clarity both what’s being said and what remains unsaid. You become aware of words and actions that, when combined, present a more accurate picture of what is occurring or what someone else is trying to communicate.  And while you’re being aware of the other, remember to also be aware of yourself as well.   Be aware of what you are hearing or seeing that may be triggering re-active or defensive issues within you.   Awareness buys you the time to be pro-active that being on auto pilot denies you.  

    So now, with my 3-step program, I never get angry anymore.  Right?  That’s what people say who write self-help books, isn’t it? They put forth their “new” program and tell you it’s the cure to what ails you when in fact, the cure to what ails you is you.  It’s being able to be honest with yourself, taking a good look at what’s been going on...the pattern…and making a commitment to re-organizing through changed behavior and co-create a new pattern that serves your intention better.
    I’m still just practicing my 3 Step program.  But practice makes perfect…or at least better.  I practiced law for 13 years and while I never got perfect, I did get better.
    I think I’ll give myself at least that much time to change a life-long pattern without getting angry at myself for not being able to rush the outcome.
    Wow! It’s working already.


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Some Thoughts About Nothing

>It’s challenging to write a blog entry every day.  It means you have to either have strong thoughts and feelings about something going on in the world that day or you have to have an original idea to share.  In fact, some days I just wake up, sit down to write, and nothing!  Nothing new grabbing my attention or stirring my emotions in the news…and nothing new popping into my head, either. What’s a writer to do?  Today is like that.  So, as I sat here wondering what I could write about, I started to think about nothing.  Actually, I’m thinking about “no-thing” which isn’t quite the same thing.
    No-thing is that place scientists and spiritualists refer to when they talk about pure potential.  It’s the space between words…the gap between your incoming and outgoing breaths… the void that existed just before the Universe was created.  It’s the empty moment, so to speak, when all things are possible.
    We live in a culture that honors and reveres…worships, actually….things.  Money, cars, houses, fame.  All of these things are the measure of success and symbols of attainment within our society.  But if more things are the measure of success, and success should bring satisfaction, then how come we are, generally speaking, stressed out and unsatisfied?
    Perhaps the answer lies in no-thingness.
    What if the true measure of success is being able to reside in that place of pure potential, that place of no-thingness, from where something sacred is always about to happen.  A place from which some personal, creative act that enlivens you and at the same time enriches the world in which you live can be birthed.  A place perpetually alive with possibilities.
    We are so driven by materialism to do more and acquire more that we are in perpetual states of doing and acquiring.  These are not peaceful states of being.  In fact, they are not states of being at all.  They are states of doing.  Virtually no one and nothing in our day encourages us to cease all of the activity and just rest in that place of pure potential where, truly, miracles originate.
    I know the moments I feel most alive and most engaged with life are not when I have acquired a new “thing” but rather when I can sense the possibility of a new awareness.
    Or find myself having written a new blog entry from nothing.

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A User's Guide to Co-creation

>My friend’s mother, Ruth, was way ahead of her time.  She was a free spirit long before it was fashionable.  Ruth tried a conventional upper middle class life but it just wasn’t meant to be. As a divorced woman, she set a remarkable example for her three daughters of how to listen to your inner voice and follow your passion.  And this was 30 years ago when Ruth was 35 and “New Age” was just being born.
    I loved a lot about Ruth. She taught me volumes about individuality and passion, but what had the greatest impact was her unwavering support of individual creativity. She used to teach art to seniors at retirement homes and I recall how she would pass out paper and colored pencils and before anyone drew anything, Ruth would walk around the room and put an “A+” on the top of every paper.  Then, with her mischievous smile and joyful delivery, she’d say, “Okay, you’ve already got your grade. Now draw.”
    It was masterful and always accomplished the goal: to remove judgment, release inhibitions, and permit creativity to flow. It was brilliant…but it got me thinking about why it was even necessary.
    The vast majority of people around the world say we believe in a higher power. Whether it’s within a religious, spiritual or scientific framework, we as humankind none-the-less acknowledge the existence of a Creator or Creative Force from which the material world emanates.  If your belief is religiously or spiritually based, then you believe you were created in the image and likeness of that Creator. If scientifically based, then you can prove that exactly the same elements are the foundational building blocks of everything that exists. So whether it’s Creator or Creative Force, we pretty much unanimously agree that it all begins with a creative act of which we are but a part.
    If we originate from creativity, then it follows that we are each composed of some aspect of that creativity. If we are each comprised of creativity, then we can each create. It’s that simple and that’s the point.
    Every single individual, every unique human being, has the capacity to uniquely create.  We do that by combining the energies from which we originate with our own unique configuration of DNA. We co-create. Whether its art, music, flower arrangements, software or relationships…each of is is fully equipped to co-create.
    Unfortunately, from early on in our lives, we are discouraged from uniqueness and creativity. We are instead guided and herded into conformity and replication. After a while, it becomes harder and harder to remember that we are creative beings by nature, so most of us spend our lives trying to re-discover that which make us unique.
    That’s what I loved most about Ruth. She led by example. She not only gave everyone permission to draw but, by the way she lived her life, she gave each of us permission to be the uniquely co-creative individuals that we inherently are.
    She was also a mystic and a psychic. A few years ago she “dropped her body” and “went home.” I remember years back we’d talk and laugh and she’d say that after she died we’d have a signal of some kind set up to see if it was possible to communicate after death.  We never got around to actually doing it and, although I do think I clearly hear her in my head sometimes, I can’t be certain about what that is or where it’s coming from.
    What I do know for sure is that she’d give me an “A+” for this piece.

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The Antidote to Terror

>  In the fairy tale film classic “Princess Bride” Princess Buttercup’s true love Westley, disguised as the dread pirate Roberts, confronts the Princess’s kidnapper, Vizzini, in a classic standoff between Good and Evil.  As a final resolution, Westley proposes that he conceal two cups of wine and lace one of them with the fatal Iocane powder in his possession.  Vizzini must then choose one of the cups and drink from it.  Vizzini, certain that he can outsmart Westley, goes through an elaborate (and mind-numbing!) reasoning process, finally making his choice, certain he has bested his opponent.  Westley then drinks from the remaining cup and, within seconds, Vizzini is dead. 
    It turns out Westley laced both cups with the Iocane. However, he also had the antidote to Iocane hidden in his pocket and, after drinking from the second cup, took it as well. 
    All of this got me to thinking about Islamic terrorism. Seems like a bit of a stretch?  Bear with me for just a moment.
    The confrontation between Westley and Vizzini is symbolic of the age old battle between Good and Evil. If you’re not comfortable with those moral categories…then let’s just say the battle between life and death.
    We are in such a battle today. Radical extremists will stop at nothing to impose their will upon not only their own culture, but Western societies as well. In their rhetoric, and by their actions, they are undoubtedly passionate. 
    And that’s where Westley and Vizzini fit into the analysis.
    The solution to world terror is an antidote to the passion that drives radical, extremist, religious thinking. Thoughts are one thing.  But thoughts fueled by strong emotion, passion, have a whole other level of effectiveness. Just look at the difference between artists and great artists. While the personal lives of the world’s great artists may have been troubled and wrought with conflict, it was precisely such passionate energy that, when channeled into a creative outcome, produced success and greatness.
Back to the fairy tale. Vizzini wanted to hold the Princess captive for his own power. Westley wanted to free her for true love.  Both men were motivated by intense passion. It appears, in the end, love trumps ego.
    We in the West are appalled and repulsed by the intent and tactics of radical Islamists and other terrorist organizations. We talk about it constantly on radio, tv and the internet and we write about it as frequently…hoping it will go away or that we will be victorious by either military or diplomatic means. Not so.
    What Westley shows us is both the path and the ingredients necessary for victory: face our opponents, proceed from love (remembering there are only two emotions: love and fear) and above all proceed with passion towards that which we want to accomplish.
    We will succeed in eliminating radical Islam only if we apply the antidote to irrational and passionate hatred. That antidote is rational and passionate love. Both our words and our behavior must passionately support life as surely as theirs support death. 
    Like Westley, the antidote is in our pocket.

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What Faith Can Do

>  There’s a lot of talk about religion in the news. The influence of the “Religious Right,” the terrorist bent of radical Islam, the religious affiliation of the Presidential candidates running in 2008.  Yes, lots of talk about religion. There’s just not much talk about faith.
   I learned about faith from my father.  Growing up, all of the dictionaries in our house had the word “can’t” crossed out. My father had done that. He didn’t believe in not being able to do anything you set your heart and mind to do. He believed in himself, the goodness of others, the need to be charitable and always, a positive outcome for the future. I knew he believed in me, too. 
    Religion, he wasn’t so keen on. He was  offended by the politics of  organized religion and the hypocrisy of too many of its adherents. He didn’t espouse his faith. He lived it.
    Years have passed since my father’s death, but the lesson he taught me about faith has been reinforced by my own life experiences. I too have walked away from organized religion, put off by its politics and its hypocrisy, as was he. I have come to know that the only real “sin” is doubt. Doubt in yourself, doubt in the goodness of others, doubt about how connected we all are, and doubt about the future of mankind. 
    Religion divides us. It says “I am different than you because I believe this way…and our ways are irreconcilable because each of us believes that either 1) there is only one way or 2) my way is the best way. 
    Faith operates on the positive principle of inclusion. Faith says, “Everyone is valuable” and “Everything is possible.” Faith says, “I may not know how to accomplish my goal at this moment, but I’ll figure it out.” Faith tells me, “You are not alone and you are loved.” Faith promises hope for tomorrow no matter what today brings.
    A Rabbi I know is like my father.  He has faith in the goodness of everyone. One night near dusk, the Rabbi was walking home from a train station in Brooklyn when three teenage youths bent on conflict surrounded him. They threatened his safety and taunted him with ethnic slurs. The Rabbi responded from a place of faith. He looked at these boys and saw only their goodness and a positive outcome for the whole encounter. After a few minutes of holding his ground and conversing with the youths, each boy could not understand why this Rabbi was not afraid of them and for his safety. Finally, one by one, they concluded that he must be crazy and so they let him pass. Rabbi walked the rest of the way home as he always does, smiling and making small talk with strangers.     
   He’s my kind of Rabbi. His peers take issue with many of his “non-traditional” views and approach but regular folk just love him. He exudes faith.
    We have a 14 year old daughter and a few dictionaries. I haven’t crossed out the word “can’t” in any of them. But I like to think my father is smiling, wherever he is, knowing that I try and live his kind of faith and that our daughter thinks she can do anything if she puts her heart and mind to it.

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Fear Factor

>   A 17-year old girl is dragged from her home in Iraq and brutally stoned to death while neighbors and police watch yet fail to intervene. Participants and onlookers alike capture the event on their cell phones. Her crime was being a Kurd who fell in love with a Sunni. I am moved to write not about cultural differences or religious intolerance or the objectification of women, but instead to write about the power of fear.  
   The men who committed this heinous act, and the men and women who watched it occur, were all frightened. They have been raised on fear.  Fear of the state, fear of religious leaders, fear of an afterlife predicated upon reward and punishment, fear of their neighbors and, ultimately, fear of their own power. They have been raised on fear to keep them under control. People under control do not exercise their G-d given right to self-determination. They do not think for themselves. They do not pursue their dreams. They do not questions those with apparent power. And they do not upset the status quo.  
   I’m not just writing about Iraq, or Muslim countries, or the Middle East, or Third-World countries, or nations with oppressive regimes. I am writing about the world we live in, the reality we create over and over each day, regardless of the politics or culture in which we live when we act from fear.
   Our emotions are the fuel that drives the engine of our thoughts.  When we feel strongly about something, that feeling gives life and breadth to the idea or ideas that it supports. Fear is a powerful emotion. It’s high octane fuel. Controlling its flow is in the hands of a cartel as surely as is the flow of oil for our cars and our homes.  
   The cartel that controls the flow of fear is made up of every individual, every organization and every political entity that knows that if they make you frightened you are infinitely more likely to be controllable, manageable and effect their will.
   We were born with FREE will.  So let me propose another scenario. 
   There are only two emotions. LOVE and FEAR.  Every other emotional response that we humans are capable of stems from one or the other.  It’s that simple. So, you can fuel your ideas, and therefore, your actions, with fear or you can fuel them with love. The choice is yours. That’s what people who rule by power hope you forget. The CHOICE is YOURS. 
   I get so tired of hearing proponents of war say that we cannot bring troops home because the only way to peace is to “win” it and that it’s victory that ends wars. Peace ends wars. No war ever ended war. It may have temporarily frightened opposition into remission…but war inevitably returns. It may be years later or somewhere else on the planet…but since we know at the quantum level there is no time and also that we are all connected…war “later” or “somewhere else” is still war and still now.
   Let love be the fuel that motivates your thoughts. Let it motivate your responses. Reject those who market fear in the hope that it will drive you into submission to their view of the world and keep you from your own.
   A beautiful Kurdish girl and a Sunni boy fell in love. Love didn’t kill them, fear did.

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Not Reality TV: Just Reality

   This morning there is the daily media “update” on Paris Hilton. Today, it seems her sentence is being shortened due to “good behavior.” Funny, I find her name and the phrase “good behavior” to be an oxymoron. 
   Recently, a 14 year-old boy in our community committed suicide. As if that wasn’t enough tragedy, he was but the latest in a string of adolescent suicides to have occurred within this affluent, suburban school district within the past few years. The roster of successful, and sometimes unsuccessful attempts, includes even the daughter of the Superintendent of Schools who, fortunately, survived. So why write a column about suicide, Paris Hilton, and Donald Trump’s reality show, The Apprentice?  
   Perhaps it’s because the children trying to die and the contestants on The Apprentice are linked by a common thread: the pressure to achieve success at any price. Both are burdened by trying to emulate values and belief systems which have nothing to do with who they are as unique, individually valuable and beautiful human beings. The only difference between the two is timing.  
   The children dying, as well as those trying to die, are mirroring the very real, deadly effect of being disconnected from their higher selves while simultaneously trying to cope with the prospect of insurmountable pressure to achieve academic success.  
   Fast forward a few years in time to the young adults on The Apprentice who’ve managed to circumvent such a tragic end, but who now stand as living proof that the pressure to succeed, in the absence of a moral and spiritual framework, leads to the formation of an egocentric and cut-throat human being whose only goal is to be the last one standing.
   The Apprentice was an early entry into the land of reality TV. I’ve heard people who had panned the Bachelor or Fear Factor or The Osbournes, justifying why The Apprentice is different. No its not. In fact, it brings to light a particularly insidious societal disease claiming more victims than cancer. 
   We revel in vicariously living the lives of famous people…Donald, Diana, Paris…just to name a few. This inclination stems from the fact that we don’t recognize how each of our own lives is unique and has priceless value. We fail to understand that every human life has a purpose to fulfill and a contribution to make.
   When we define ourselves using someone else’s definition, there’s a greater than 50/50 chance they’ll be wrong. The result of that gamble is for us to then live a life based upon feelings of inadequacy for having allowed someone else to define us.
   The solution is to take direction and definition from within…to listen and trust in your own instincts and values. It’s okay to allow others to reflect areas in which you can grow; but never allow others to define who you are, or place an artificial value on your worth.  Define yourself by your strengths and grow yourself through your weaknesses.
   What’s wrong with The Apprentice is that it isn’t “all for one and one for all.”  It’s me for me.  When it’s “all for one and one for all” a natural leader arises and everyone prospers. Everyone on The Apprentice wants to become The Donald, but Trump already has his name on everything. That’s who he is. He’s the best Donald Trump he knows how to be. 
   How sad if the parable is true that when we die and find ourselves before the Creator, apologizing for how we were not as kind as Abraham or as selfless as Jesus or as brilliant as Einstein, the Creator’s loving reply is “I already had an Abraham, a Jesus and an Einstein. Were you the best Carole you could have been?”



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How We Use G-d

>  The Reverend Jerry Falwell died yesterday and so did Yolanda King, daughter of the Reverend Martin Luther King so I think it’s a good morning to spend a little extra time thinking about G-d, religion and peace. What lessons can we take from the lives of these two powerful men that will serve us in ours?
   Both Reverends had a strong relationship with “the powers that be.”  Reverend Falwell was a moving force for the Christian Right, the Conservative wing of the Republican Party and a confidant with access to the most powerful political figures of our time. Reverend King was a unique political force of his own with ties to the liberal wing of the Democrat Party, an outsider who gained a voice he used to reach out to all people on behalf of the injustices done to his own.
   Both men devoted their lives to the messages of Jesus Christ and could not have done it differently had they set out with that intention.  
   Reverend Falwell was noted for being judgmental and divisive, holding strong beliefs about blame, rightness, wrongness, and G-d’s favor. To the contrary, Reverend King preached the politics of inclusion, the inherent value of every human being, and the importance of the concept of unity among all people.
   The lives lived by these two men, both “men of G-d” need be a lesson and reminder of how in the name of G-d we create, by our behavior and our voices, either harmony and peace or division and war.
   We have learned an enormous amount over the past 50 years about human consciousness. At the quantum level, we have discovered laws operating that defy reason as we know it and in some instances witness occurrences that contradict long held beliefs about our reality and how, in fact, everything appears to be connected to and influenced by everything else in the Universe. I’m sure it’s inevitable that we will come to know, with certainty, that every thought we have and every word we utter impacts our reality and in a very real sense creates the world we live in. 
   If peace is our goal, and G-d is our guiding force, I suggest that the disparity between how these two men of G-d lived their lives and spoke their truth be a guiding lamp unto us all. 
   However, some lamps provide better light than others and thereby enable us to see a bit clearer and a bit farther. So too with the light reflected off these men.
   Reverend Falwell provided us with a dim light that created many shadows and dark places making it difficult to find not only ourselves, but one another. On the other hand, Reverend King’s light still shines brightly, providing a clear and accessible path to oneness and, therefore, peace.
   I don’t know what religious experts or the historical figure Jesus would think or say about this but I know one thing for certain. Reverend King lived a Christ Consciousness directed life and should remain for us an example of how unity is the goal and peace is the way.
   Today, may I suggest that you take Reverend King’s message out there with you and watch how it changes everything you do and everyone you meet.

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One Man’s Legacy: The Politics of Reason

>I have just read Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver.  Most people under the age of 50 know him, if at all, as the father of Maria Shriver or, more remotely, the father-in-law of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  If you’re over 50, you more likely know him as the husband of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics. A few people, comparatively speaking, will know him as the first Director of the Peace Corps during the 1960’s.

But, only a handful know him as perhaps the greatest visionary and architect of social change in this country during the 20th century. The Peace Corps, the Job Corps, Head Start, Legal Services for the Poor, the OEO… the list is staggering in its breadth and scope exceeded, only perhaps, by the breadth and scope of Shriver’s seemingly infinite energy and profoundly motivating impact upon everyone who ever had the privilege to know or work with him.

Yet, in all that I read and learned in the nearly 700 pages of Scott Stossel’s exhaustive work, nothing has given me more pause than one of Shriver’s most noteworthy speeches, first delivered during the presidential campaign season of 1970 and known as “The Politics of Life” speech. In it, Shriver made “a distinction between the politics of life and the politics of death.”

It is this distinction that has crystallized for me where we are today, 37 years later, as we embark upon yet another political season as the field scrambles to determine who will be the Republican and Democrat candidates for President and Vice President in 2008. It seems that we are, once again, enmeshed in politics…the Politics of Fear.

We are already being subjected to campaign rhetoric from both sides.  Fear is a big issue. It’s a big political issue. Each side wants us to fear the other. Republicans want to capitalize on the fear generated by 911 and have you fear the inability of the Democrats to protect you as well as the certainty that they will increase an already oppressive and obscene tax burden. Democrats want you to fear the effects of a Republican-fueled incestuous relationship between government and private corporations, as well as a foreign policy bent upon imposing our military and global vision upon an increasingly unreceptive and hostile international community. Independents want you to fear both the Republicans and the Democrats simply because they are bigger, more powerful and have been around too long. And trumping all of these, global terrorist cells want you to fear Life itself.

So, ’tis the season to be fearful it seems. Or is it?

My father taught me to believe that in every situation, I always have a choice. If you’re religious, call it Free Will. If you’re not, call it the right to self-determination. No matter what you call it, the ability to choose starts with our thoughts.

What will I think about and, by thinking about it, to what will I give my energy?  If I can choose my thoughts, and my choice is between fear and reason, I choose reason.  Why choose otherwise?  If the choice is between fear and courage, I choose courage. Why choose otherwise?  If the choice is between fear and hope, I choose hope. Why choose otherwise?

So the real issue as we prepare for the onslaught of political rhetoric is choice. Choosing to reject the Politics of Fear.

The illusion, or hologram as I like to call it, is that it’s all about choosing between “us” and “them.” In stark contrast, the reality is that it’s all about reclaiming our inherent and divinely forged right to choose what we think about and how we view the world and it’s future. To choose wisely is to choose reason, courage and hope over fear.

Abdicating the choice is not an option. Failing to make the choice yourself will guarantee that someone will make it for you. And with so many marketing “fear” this season, the odds are with them…unless you campaign instead for the Politics of Reason.  As Americans, born and raised with the concept of liberty and the constitutionally mandated right to vote, we understand the importance and significance of free elections. But it seems we have forgotten and worse still, abdicated the greater right to free thought.

This is a critical moment in the evolution of our individual and collective truth. In order for us to move into the Politics of Reason, we must each turn inward, away from these “external marketers of fear,” and make up our own minds about what we think and what we believe has value.

The paradox holds the answer.

Only by going within, by thinking for ourselves, can we all unite as one in the Politics of Reason and by so doing, collectively reject and annihilate the politics of fear.  For me, the timely and lingering message taken from Sargent Shriver’s life is what one mind, thinking for itself, rejecting the politics of fear, can accomplish.

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