Sunday, December 28, 2014

12/29/14—Holding Yourself to a Higher Standard

Apparently, Ghandi never said "be the change you want to see in the
world." He said this instead. 
Last Sunday I did my annual moon ceremony and set intentions for the coming year. But ever since then, there has been a phrase interrupting my thoughts. In fact, I think this phrase could be considered a "master resolution", one we could all choose for the coming year and one that, if everyone chose it, could really change the world. So I thought I'd share it with you. 

But first, a little about New Year's resolutions and ceremonies and whatnot. I'm pretty well known in a very small circle of people for doing THE BEST year-end ceremonies. I used to do them just for myself, but about 15 years ago, I started opening them up to others, either for a fee or just for fun. I'm kind of strict about having people focus on just one thing they want for the coming year. While I think you can achieve more than one thing in a year, I think something needs to become a central focus and mnemonic aid. With more than one thing, you're juggling your focus and may not even remember what you wanted by year's end. 

So last year my one thing was "motivation" and I wrote it on seed paper and planted the seed paper. Then as I watched the wildflowers grow from it (and they are, oddly, still alive on my back porch) it would be a reminder to keep motivated. Having this one thought in my mind helped me change my behaviors and I did have more motivation this past year. 

Despite my motivation, 2014 was kind of crappy for me (and I've heard many others say the same.) It began by being betrayed and bullied in a business deal by a colleague I truly thought I could trust. I didn't write about it here, but it was toxic enough that I consulted a lawyer...something I've never done before and hoped I'd never have to do. The big thing, though, was that the general exhaustion and lack of energy I'd been feeling for a couple of years got significantly worse. I chose the word "motivation" to try to keep me moving through what was a really difficult phase for me physically and emotionally. It was so bad that sometimes I couldn't even put dog food in the dogs' bowls without getting out of breath and exhausted. I'm overweight, but this was way beyond that. Some days I was just generally exhausted and other days I was completely unable to function. 

The good news is that I've recently turned a corner on all that, so "healing" is my word for the coming year...healing physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. I created a "mojo bag" to carry with me and remind me of my goal. I put some jingle bells in the bag and have already jingled it many times to remind me of my focus, kind of like snapping a rubber band on your wrist to break a habit. But ever since I decided on that word, I've been hearing something else in my head—"hold yourself to a higher standard."

As I've thought about this phrase over the past week, I see how brilliant it is. To a certain degree, I think all of us who do our yearly wishes or resolutions hope for some sort of outside influence to help us. So when I say "healing", I'm certainly thinking that I need to do and seek out healing things. But I'm also hoping that healing things will find me. And they will. But I can't hang my entire year's single resolution on the hope healing will wash over me. Nor could I if I'd wished for love or luck or joy or growth or anything else. 

"Hold yourself to a higher standard" reminds me to put the responsibility for healing squarely on my own shoulders. And it says that when it comes time to make choices—stick with a new doctor or keep looking, indulge depressing thoughts or encourage motivational thoughts, eat ice cream or a handful of almonds—that you hold yourself to a higher standard, whatever that means to you and your goal. It says that, this year, you're going to make choices that support not only your goal, but that also support your growth as a human being. 

You'd think this would be a no-brainer, but it's not. Think back on your behaviors over the past year. How many times did you choose (and stick to) a higher standard vs. how many times did you choose to do what you've always done? Choosing a higher standard means doing something differently than you've ever done it before. It means looking for the next level of growth and making choices in alignment with that. It means stepping out of your comfort zone and even doing things that are "out of character" for you, but in a good way. 

Holding myself to a higher standard would have probably kept me from entering into the bad business partnership in the first place. (In retrospect, I admit I had clues, not so much to how sleazy these people were, but to how badly the arrangement would have worked out.) It also would have definitely had me changing doctors sooner, because my doctor didn't even try to look for the causes of my health issues. And I can see how I would have been even more motivated had I simply "held myself to a higher standard" last year. In other scenarios, holding yourself to a higher standard might include not dating the same "type" as you always do, learning new ways to redirect your thoughts from negative to positive, eliminating fried foods from your diet, focusing on what already makes you feel loved or happy, rather than hoping for other love or happiness to find you...whatever your resolution is. 

The bad news about holding yourself to higher standards is that it changes you...sometimes in ways that mean relationships change. Sometimes it can leave you feeling alone, because while you know you did the right thing for yourself, the right thing sometimes means going against popular opinion. But the good news is that it frees you from things you feel bad about and it helps you achieve new levels of personal growth. And also, new people eventually appear in your life that operate on that higher level. 

What I know from my own experience, doing the right thing is not always popular. This is why we get stuck in certain cycles. Let's just take gossiping as an example. If you feel bad about gossiping, but all your friends enjoy it, you have to participate to keep those friendships alive. If you say you don't want to talk that way about people, your friends will either feel judged or they'll form a pact with you to stop. If they feel judged, they might not invite you along as often. They might start gossiping about you. So often we get stuck in certain cycles in order to maintain the status quo. We get comfortable there. And staying seems better than the consequences of losing the companionship of friends you've had for a long time. So you end up stuck at a certain stage of development, rather than face any unpleasant consequences.  

The only way we grow and stretch and change as human beings is by holding ourselves to higher standards. And it can be so comfortable to just say "I'm a good person as I am, I'm in a good place" and leave it at that. But even Oprah has ways in which she doesn't hold herself to a higher standard. And I'll bet you know exactly what you need to work on in your own life. I'll bet you know exactly where you're letting your higher self down. Holding yourself to a higher standard is a practice that says you believe you deserve better for yourself and can give the people around you more of the "you" you came here to be. 

Frankly, I think everyone could use to hold themselves to higher standards. When I look around my Facebook feed, I see people who are good at heart do and say things that they don't even see are against the things they believe in...hateful words from "light workers", hypocritical opinions from people who want a better world, etc. We are all guilty of that stuff. And none of us want to believe we're hypocrites. But we all are in some way. If you look, you'll see where the things you say and do don't align with the person you believe yourself to be. And that's where you can hold yourself to a higher standard. 

As I said before, this is kind of a universal resolution that we all can—and should—take on in 2015. If you don't believe that's what we came here for, first, I can't believe you've read down this far...haha. And second, stop reading. The rest of us feel we came here to grow and become the best we can be. Some of us might have given up on that...maybe we're happy enough with where we are or maybe it just became too taxing doing it all the time. Some of us might have just forgotten or become distracted. And some of us didn't forget, but have just neglected it. 

That's all fine. We all do all of that. But now it's time to remember. Because we can sit around hoping the world can change, or we can change the world around us. Changing the world around us doesn't require anything from anyone but ourselves. Part of it comes from changing the way we perceive things and part of it comes from changing what we put out there so what is reflected back at us is more aligned with our goals. So let's make 2015 the year we go beyond resolutions to actively change the world around us into the world we want to live in. Who's with me?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

12/21/14—Becoming Global Citizens

I no longer live in the country I was born in.

Geographically nothing has changed. But geopolitically and geo-socially and geo-significantly, everything is different. I was born in a country so powerful and so far away from any threats that it was impossible to touch us. We had fears, yes. Missiles from Russia or Cuba. But most of my life you could walk down any street in America and feel confident you were safe from foreign attack.

The country I was born in was also undeniably THE center of the world, according to pretty much anyone you would ever meet. (Because you were likely to only meet other Americans or polite visitors.) And, besides, back then we were the strong, rich, noble and powerful child in the world’s family. Our leaders were respected, as were our politics, economy and freedom.

I don’t live in that country anymore. In fact, I don’t live in that world anymore. The world has become a much more dangerous place. My country has become more callous in response. And with opinions about my country—as well as circumstances in countries all over the world—as close as my nearest computer or TV screen, it’s clear that the world doesn’t revolve around us anymore. In fact, it never really did.

With each day, I become more and more a world citizen. We all do. It’s unavoidable. Our nationality is still a source of pride, regardless of where we’re from. But, for Americans especially, there is a “learning curve” of sorts that we’re navigating as we become less insular and more established in the global arena. Americans are stubborn, though. And spoiled. So it’s not going easily.

Case in point is this issue with the Seth Rogen movie, Sony and North Korea. In the US, we have freedom of speech. Freedom of speech doesn’t protect things like slander, verbal abuse or threats against people’s lives, however. For example, if a child wrote a detailed story about the planned killing of the principal of their school, that child would be expelled from the school and put on psychological watch. What a child might call “fiction” is thought of as a threat in this day of school violence that goes from fiction to reality very quickly. Same would apply if an adult sent Obama a video depicting how they would murder him. It wouldn’t be considered freedom of speech. It would be considered a threat to national security and that videographer would likely never been seen or heard of again.

In converse, consider North Korea. In their country, there is no freedom of speech. In fact, if you say anything negative about their leader, you’re likely to get killed. So we all know that whatever negativity is put in their face about their ways is considered an insult, a threat and a crime. And knowing that, most well-adjusted adults would be sensitive to it, regardless of whether North Korea is our friend or not. After all, we all have to live together on the same planet. Just as you wouldn't intentionally offend or make enemies of your neighbors, we also don't do that in the world. It's part of being civilized. 

In a global context, America’s freedoms mean nothing. You can’t go over to North Korea and insult the leader and expect him to honor your American freedom of speech. When you put something out on the global stage, that’s what you’re doing. It’s like going into a bar in Russia and mocking Putin’s man-boobs and pasty demeanor. They’re going to beat the shit out of you and calling out “freedom of speech” is only going to get you beaten harder. And nobody is going to come to your rescue, either.  And it’s not because Russians are barbarians. You can see something similar here in the US if you go into a bar in Boston and mock the Red Sox.

Freedom of speech is an American thing that is not necessarily valued in other countries.  And, even in this country, freedom of speech is not without consequence.

So when we put out a movie into the world that depicts the pre-meditated and violent murder of a world leader, it’s not odd that the leader in question would see it as a threat. If France put out a movie about the assassination of Obama, you can bet that the CIA would be all over their French asses before the final credits were able to roll. You can also be sure a number of other countries would stand behind the US and criticize the bad judgment of the French. Actually, like the Interview, we would have hacked into their systems long before the movie was released and dealt with it before it was even an issue. Because we’re squirrely that way. And we would then celebrate it as an American win. Because we're arrogant that way. 

So how come when the shoe is on the other foot, it becomes a freedom of speech issue? And the decision to not air the movie becomes “knuckling under to terrorists”? Nobody gives a crap about our freedom of speech in the global community. And besides, the one who makes the threat is the terrorist, not the one who responds to it.

It’s not like I don’t know who Kim Jong-Un is. He is the Supreme Leader of what some call a Socialist state and what others call a dictatorship. He runs his country in a very different way than the US is run. He’s not what would be considered a “warm and nurturing” leader. There are many countries out there that most Americans would not want to live in. North Korea is one of them. As global citizens, though, we need to respect the ways others live and lead. If we insult a leader and they hack into computers to obliterate the insult, we’re culpable and can’t go crying about our consequences. Both sides are wrong. But playground rules state that the one who started the fight is wronger. 

Speaking of playgrounds, remember the big kid on the playground who pushed others around and then when they pushed back, cried about it? That kid was called a bully. And then when he ran crying, he was called a pussy. We’re acting like bullies and pussies in this situation. Nobody likes a bully or a pussy. And we can’t afford to be the hated kid on the playground in today’s unstable world. We poked a dude that we know is kind of trigger happy when it comes to protecting his ego and now we’re saying “how dare he be offended?” “How dare he respond back just as aggressively?”

C’mon, people. Grow up. Really. One of the first lessons all of us learned in life is that we have to respect others. Another is that we have to learn to think of the consequences before we act (“well, you should have thought of that before you did it, missy!” Remember that?) We don’t get to do anything we want to do in a global community. The US is no longer the country you were born in. It was NEVER the center of the world. You just had the luxury of believing that was so. But times have changed.

We are more citizens of the world than ever. That comes with both benefits and consequences. In any community, there are certain social mores you follow. We simply no longer have the luxury of being the “rude Americans” the rest of the world has put up with for years. It was fine back when we didn’t have to interact with each other very often. But the world is changing and America has to change with it. We can’t live by our own rules alone. We have to respect the mores of the global community. And putting out a movie about the assassination of a sitting world leader is totally irresponsible redneck behavior unbecoming of the country we would like to be.

See, I was blessed to be born in what I think is the best country in the world. As I grew older, I began to see that we weren’t the only country in the world with a groovy thing going. But I also got to see how truly blessed I am, because there are places on earth that brutal to live in. The fact is, our relative safety and isolation as a “strong” country sandwiched between friendly borders, is the very thing leaving us way behind the curve when it comes to being global citizens. We have three large countries over here dominating both North America and the western half of the Northern Hemisphere, insulated from the all the rest of the world by two large oceans.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world has had to learn to live within a massive string of different countries, customs, languages, etc. for all their lives. Not just for all their lives, but for centuries of border conflicts and strife that we have never had to deal with. Americans are WAY behind the curve when it comes to adjusting to a global community. And because we’re late to the game, we’re not in a position to tell others how it’s going to work. We are absolutely a bull in a china shop on the global stage and we need to check ourselves. And some humility wouldn’t hurt, either.

Nor would it hurt to apologize to North Korea for our buffoonery, rather than whine about terrorist threats, Sony. Because that’s what assholes do when they realize they’re being assholes and starting international incidents with their irresponsible behavior. We Americans get what you were doing. We understand the immaturity of American humor and our hillbilly ways. We know you weren't trying to insult anyone or put Americans at risk. But a line was crossed, nonetheless. A nation was offended. You don’t get to cry because you poked a rabid dog and it bit back. It’s not the rabid dog’s fault. It’s your bad judgment’s.

Nor do the rest of us Americans get to whine about Sony being hacked or Sony pulling the movie. We are the aggressors here! In the eyes of North Korea and, no doubt, many others, at best we’re being assholes and at worst, we threatened the life of a world leader—something considered an act of war. Our job right now is to use this as an opportunity to stop being so darned myopic and pull back and see some of the consequences of our behaviors. I’m sorry, but no stupid movie that we now know is seen as disrespectful and threatening is worth standing on principle for, especially when the principle is a lamely muttered “freedom of speech” in defense of irresponsible “speech” or a stubborn “we won’t bow down to terrorists” when we’re the ones that started the whole thing in the first place.

Freedom of speech isn’t free. It comes with responsibilities and consequences. Words have power. Bandy them about irresponsibly and aggressively, and you can expect consequences. But keep in mind that the US only gets so many byes in the eyes of the global community for any good works we’ve done. If you pay attention, you’ll see that the world is losing its patience with us and some of the ways we’ve been behaving over the past couple of decades has rubbed the gilding off our “good guy” reputation. I’m not willing to risk whatever respect our country has left—not to mention countless lives—for the honor of a sophomoric comedy (not to mention the crassness of its planned HOLIDAY release. For Christ's birthday, no less. Because this is how we honor such things.) 

We have a lot of growing up to do in this country. It’s time we get started on that.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

12/15/14—Looking Below And To The Left Of Jupiter

Last night there was a meteor shower. And all the shooting stars reminded me of a powerful lesson.

I went outside around 1am, my StarWalk application in tow, and checked to make sure I knew where to look in the sky. StarWalk had the meteors shooting just to the left of Jupiter and a bit lower in the sky. This was a good thing and bad thing. The good thing is that my view is relatively clear in that region of the sky. The bad thing is that, while only a half moon, the moon was very bright last night and positioned beneath Jupiter when I was out there. Ideally, you want a darker sky. 

Anyway, I got myself all comfy and glanced casually out where I was supposed to look. I didn't want the shooting stars to think I was desperate or needy or anything. There were supposed to be as many as 50 per hour, so I thought it was going to be like shooting fish in a barrel. But after about 15 minutes, I saw nothing. 

So then I decided to stare squarely at a point in the eastern sky, unblinking, as long as I could. Still nothing. By now, about a half hour has passed. I tend to see stuff in the corner of my eye, so I think I might have seen something, but there was nothing conclusive. So then I figured that maybe the moon was just too bright and they were too close to where the moon was in my field of vision to be seen. So I laid back and looked at all the stars directly overhead. It was a beautiful sight. 

Within seconds of laying my head back, however, I saw the most spectacular shooting star make a long, lingering arch across the sky. No doubt about it. I saw one! But before I was done making my wish, I saw another! Then another!

Seems that all that time, I had been looking in the wrong part of the sky. I had limited myself to what I knew—or thought I knew—about the Geminids meteor shower and I invested fully in that knowledge. But that knowledge turned out to be fruitless. I didn't see a shooting star until I put aside what I knew and looked at the sky from another perspective. 

We see this all the time, don't we? We even do it ourselves. We're so sure of something—so invested in our perspective being right—that we see it as the only way. But looking at things from another perspective doesn't have to mean you're wrong. It just means you're broadening your view of something. And as long as you hold on tightly to what you "know", you may be cheating yourself out of something quite special. 

Just to apply it to a situation, there's a lot of talk about racism and police violence going on these days. Among the things people "know" are a) the details of every police interaction that resulted in the death of a black man that has happened recently, as if they had witnessed it themselves, b) how black men should respond appropriately when confronted by the police, c) whether or not racism exists, and d) whether or not white privilege exists. 

Some of the things I see when I look at these debates is that there is definitely a dialogue that needs to happen and voices that need to be heard on this topic. For a large part of my life, I have felt the tension...the elephant in the room that we don't really talk about. Everyone has been quiet so as not to stir up crap and upset whatever balance has existed since the late 60s and early 70s when discussion of race were topmost in peoples' minds. For the most part, we all got back to a comfortable place, but clearly, it wasn't that comfortable. Or balanced. Or we wouldn't be back to where we were in the early 70s. Or in the early 90s with Rodney King. What I see is that we have these discussions, we don't agree, we don't make much progress, then we all get quiet again. And both sides go back to the way they were before, neither side seeing their role in the continued tension. 

What I also see is a bunch of white people in various stages of "not understanding" why all this is happening. We say things like "when the police approach you, just say yes sir and no sir and be polite." Or we say, "there is no racism in this country. There is no white privilege." Or we insist there's not a trace of racism within us or anyone we care about. When we say these things, it's like we're looking directly below and to the left of Jupiter in an attempt to see the shooting stars. Because we're only seeing things from the perspective we know and the perspective we know is that of a white person. 

And that is why we never solve things. That is why every 20 years or so streets break out in riots and the country talks about racism and white privilege. Admittedly, I see way more people "getting it" these days. But it works both ways. For every white person looking below and to the left of Jupiter, there's a black person in this debate doing the exact same thing. Then there a whole bunch of people in the middle showing some understanding for what it's like to be a policeman and some for what it's like to be a black person in this country. 

IMO, we've come a long way in my lifetime in regard to this, but still have far to go. But that's my view as a white woman. I can't possibly speak for black people. No matter how hard I try to understand the perspective of a black person, I will always be lacking, because I've never had to live it. And, again, the reverse is also true. 

I didn't write all this to start a debate, though it might. I wrote it to illustrate how we tend to keep to a particular part of the sky when it comes to race relations, politics, squabbles with friends...pretty much everything in life. We invest in a perspective and ride it for a lifetime. Then we wonder why certain things never change. How can they if we're not willing to broaden our view?

The truest thing I know about life is that none of us holds the truth about anything. We hold just one piece of the truth, a piece viewed from our unique viewpoint. But staring at and knowing and being certain about your part of the cosmos doesn't mean you understand the cosmos. The next time you're sure of something, remember that the magic comes not from being certain, but from opening yourself up to a part of the sky you never thought to look at. That's where the streaks of new enlightenment can be found, arching their way across the sky. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

12/8/14—Being An American

I've been wanting to write this blog for a long time, but didn't want to write it in response to anything in particular. See, it's about the President of the United States. But it's not about politics or how good or bad our president is. It's actually more about being an American and the choices we accept when we elect a president.

As a little bit of background, my dad was a career military man, and his career was successful. At one time, he ran the Air Force's worldwide communications system. He was a two-star general. And, growing up, it was reinforced within us that my dad's dignity was essential to doing his job. If we didn't protect that dignity and respect him—and exude respect in general...for our teachers, community, friends, etc.—it would undermine him in the eyes of the men and women that served him.

Back then, there was no internet. But there were eyes and ears. My mother referred to it as "living in a fish bowl". We certainly did. If one of us stumbled at school, it would be all over the Air Force base by the end of the day. So we got good grades. We respected our teachers. We kept our noses clean. And, by no means, did we ever say anything negative about our father, our mother or our family unit. It was our job. Not a job we consciously chose, but it came along with the status and privilege of our place in the community.

So a script has been written that runs through every cell of my body. The dignity and respect of the leadership role is key to leadership. Privilege comes with a price. And, no matter how quiet you are about it, eyes and ears will watch and listen to what you have to say and there will be consequences based on what is observed.

So this is my way of saying that I'm embarrassed by the way many of my fellow countrymen disrespect our system of government, the office of the President and our President himself. Yes, we all have free speech. Nobody wants to take away freedom of speech. But with freedoms come responsibilities. All I'm saying is we need to use our freedom of speech responsibly and be aware of the effect we're having when we don't.

By responsibly, I mean it's fine to have opinions about the President and his decisions. That's what freedom of speech is for. What's not responsible, imo, is the hatred and undermining. I know people who quickly hop on every single parody or biased news report and present it as truth and proof of how terribly awful a president we have. They want the world to know how much he sucks. The president sucks, the government sucks, the country sucks and it's all the fault of the sucky president that sucks.

Well, to an outsider who has no horse in the race, you're saying "America is not a country you'd want to do business with, lend money to or trust in an alliance. It's corrupt. Run by a corrupt man." You're also saying, "I'm an American and want my country to remain a democracy, but only when the democracy goes in my favor. When it doesn't, I refuse to support the democratic process and will tell the world how bad a political structure it is by my constant disapproval. Being American means being bitter and unreasonable when things don't go your way." And you're also saying, "America is no longer a great country. It is a country filled with hate, where people have no respect for others or for their leadership. Democracy clearly doesn't work. Americans are unhappy."

To outsiders looking in, we seem like a country divided. We seem like a bunch of privileged prima donnas who have to always be unhappy about something. We look like bigots. We look like unreasonable freaks who are so desperate to BE right that we stopped doing the right thing. We look unstable. We look like anything but the American Dream. Not that that's anyone's intention, but it is the effect of our constant dissent and lack of unity.

And I get that it would be dishonest to be anything but truthful. I'm not talking about lying or misleading. I'm talking about having some class, fercryingoutloud. I'm talking about being fair. Having some grace and not spewing negative, hateful BS all over the world to be judged. Because you know what? They're not doing it to us. You don't hear Canadians getting so emphatic about their politicians. You hear them discuss issues and disagree. But there's not anywhere near the level of hate. In the world's eyes we've become the panty-ass kid who over-shares and whines too much. And you know what that kid never gets? Respect.

See, here's the thing. The people I see who do this constantly are people who would call themselves patriots. They love America. But there is something about this president that boils something deep within in them and they can't see what they look like to everyone else when the geyser spews. And it spews frequently and reliably, like Old Faithful. They think they're "saying it like it is" but they're really just throwing an 8-year-long tantrum because the democratic process didn't work in their favor. And it is UNDERMINING the country. Not in little ways, but in big ways that will be hard to mend. We're damaging the image of this country. We're losing or have lost the world's respect. Not because of anything the president did, but because we don't respect ourselves, our president or our country. At the very least, that's what our words and actions are demonstrating.

And I don't believe it started with Obama. I started noticing it with Bush. But it has gotten way out of hand with Obama. Prior to the year 2000, Americans had opinions and voiced them. But the absolute hate and disrespect for our government has reached a fever pitch since then. We are losing our dignity in the world's eyes. We are losing our dignity, period. It's shameful. We have this beautiful thing and we're defecating on it! When you live in a democracy and elect a president, part of the deal is that you live with that decision and try to make the best of it. We are no longer trying to make the best of it! And in ditching that part of the deal, we undermine ourselves and the consequences, like the disrespect, are global in proportion.

This is not about politics. It's bigger than politics. Everyone expects people to disapprove of their government. It's a natural and human thing. This is about our self-respect as a country. No president has the power to take away our respect for our country. We can have that independent of anything a president does. HE is not our country. WE are. So stop blaming your disrespectful behavior on him. It is not patriotic to undermine him or our democracy by making up lies and saying hateful things that deduct from our equity as a nation.

We're Americans. And that used to conjure images of dignity and respect. Democracy used to be admired in the world's eyes. No matter what a president did, we never lost our equity in that. They weren't all good or effective presidents. They had extra-marital affairs and wiretapped their enemies. But we NEVER lost our dignity and respect as a country! And we're doing that now. And once we've drained our equity, being American will no longer be something special. NOT because of any president, but because WE handed it over willingly through our own hate and lack of respect for the very foundation our country is built upon. It's embarrassing. And shameful. And, corny as it sounds, downright un-American. It's time to stop.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

12/1/14—Serving a Superior Being

There was a story circulating the other day about a Swedish extreme sports team doing one of those Iron Man kinds of competitions in the Amazonian rain forest. Just before the final two legs of the grueling, 430-mile race, one of the teammates threw a meatball to a stray dog. And everything changed.

The dog refused to leave them. He shadowed them on a 20-mile trek through mud and rain forest. When he got stuck, the team helped him out. But when it came time for the 36-mile kayak trip, they decided it was too dangerous to take the dog along. But the dog had other ideas. He jumped in the water and paddled alongside them until they felt sorry for him and lifted him up into the boat. At that point, he had officially become one of them and one of the team members made arrangements to bring him back to Sweden.

What struck me about this story is that the dog sensed and knew something about this team way before the team caught wind of it. A stray dog is smart enough to know there are easier ways to get food than trekking 20 miles through the mud. This wasn't about a Swedish meatball (though they are definitely yummy.) The dog recognized his people. He recognized his daddy. And he was determined to not give up until the daddy knew.

I talk about my boy Kizzie from time to time on this blog. He's the one I watch sunsets with. Well, his real name is Kismet. And I named him that because it means "fate". I wasn't involved in choosing him as a pup. My other dog at the time, Passion, was a very alpha girl. Not just any dog would work for us. So I left the decision entirely up to fate, which in this case was a mix of Passion and the shelter folks. In fact, I've had three shelter dogs and the shelter people and my dog at the time picked all of them out for me. The only dog I picked for myself was Mystic and, while we're committed to each other, I often think there might have been a better mommy out there for her. Like one that runs five miles every day.

All that said, I'm not sure any human is in the driver's seat when it comes to dogs. Like I said, Passion played a major role in picking her companion dog and, during the process, she would literally turn her back on certain dogs—she would sit down and refuse to look at them based on nothing more than a passing glance. It was remarkable to see. She wasn't even happy about getting another dog, so it had better be one she could shape and mold like the Svengali she was. So she definitely chose Kizzie. Why would I presume she didn't choose me?

If you believe dogs can communicate with us psychically, (and I do) you'll find they do it primarily by putting thoughts or pictures in your mind. So when you're deep in thoughts about work, for example, and suddenly an image of walking past some poodle's house comes to your mind, it's not just your ADD addled mind. The dog put that picture in your head. He wants a walkie...and a sniff of his beloved. He's just letting you THINK it was your idea.

You've probably heard stories about dogs and cats who know when their owners are close to home. Or animals who anticipate earthquakes and other natural disasters. And then there was that famous cat who lived in a nursing home who always knew who was next to die. There's more going on between those silky ears than we know or can explain.

Which brings me back to contemplating the notion that my dogs chose me. While all my other dogs had some sort of trauma before they met me, Magick Moonbeam did not. She was well cared for by a previous family who fell on hard times. So they dropped her, her baby daddy and her pups off at the shelter and gave some information about her likes and whatnot to the shelter. Only they were wrong about a lot of things. And she didn't seem too broken up about missing her previous mommy.

From day one, I was her one and only. And she remains desperately devoted to me. So I've often wondered if she was just biding her time with them until she met "the one". I adopted her on her first day she was available. I wonder if she knew...if she knew it was me all along and she just had to wait a year and a half before Passion died and I was ready to find her.

So I give dogs a lot of credit when it comes to many things. We already know their ears and noses are far superior to ours, which means they can sense things we cannot. So I'd trust them if there was someplace they refused to go or something they refused to do. But that's just sensory superiority. Can we, as humans, ever get out of our ego enough to consider there's a whole category of intelligence out there that other beings do better than us? Can we consider that what we call choice and free will may actually not even be our choice at all? Is it possible that our visions of superiority and being "the fittest" are all a veil placed upon us by a much more clever being?

I mean, fercryingoutloud, we work our butts off to earn our own meatballs AND theirs. And we're grateful for it! We crave the connection with them. We don't even mind picking up their poo! Maybe the idea of the human being the indentured servant to a superior race of animals is not so "Planet of the Apes" science fiction at all. Maybe we're living it every day in some ways. And because we so value the unconditional love they offer, we never consider overthrowing them, even if we could.

It's worth consideration that we may actually be being used by a superior being for our opposable thumbs and critical thinking skills (rather than the notion we're using them for their gentle demeanors and unconditional love.) This pride we take in being at the top of the evolutionary ladder may not only prove to be untrue, it could very well end up being the fatal flaw that eventually proves our undoing. A little more humility in the face of evolutionary superiority could do us all some good.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

11/24/14—Contemplating Our Humanity

Do you ever think to yourself, what would the caveman me be thinking about right now? Or what would the Native Americans who occupied this space be thinking? I do that sometimes when Kizzie and I sit outside on the porch, especially on the really cold days like we've been having lately.

Most of the time it has to do with the weather. One of the things I like most at this time of year is how profoundly quiet it gets at sunset and on into the night. All the yard working sounds go away. It's cold, so there aren't many people out. The colder it gets, the more peaceful the earth seems to become.

So last night I was thinking about how, each frigid fall, the threats changed for our ancestors who lived on the land changed. Bugs are gone. Bears go into hibernation. And while there may be fewer threats from them, if you didn't ferret away enough food and wood, and if you don't have adequate shelter, the threat of the weather takes center stage. At least it does in places where it freezes or gets cold.

While there's still plenty of fish and game to catch, the hunters and gatherers probably moved on to other tasks in winter. For them, the cold months brought on a different vibe, just as it is for us today. But with our heated homes, winter-ready cars and grocery stores full of food, you'd think that vibe wouldn't be as profound for us. Really, for us, it's just colder.

So that's the interesting thing. Because I certainly feel the change of seasons on a deep level...deeper than the temperature sensors on my skin can feel. It goes beyond that. And, of course, each season also has its particular scent and sounds. But it feels to me like it's something beyond the sensory conditioning of 50 years of seasonal changes. It feels almost I'm conjuring the cellular memories of all those whose DNA went into making my DNA, or like I'm experiencing some sort of encoded legacy, whether it has to do with genetics or not. 

When you think about it, DNA splits and is combined with other DNA each generation. But the DNA we all have in common—the DNA that makes us human—has been carried forth and refined since man's beginnings. Which doesn't mean we share early man's thoughts or feelings, necessarily, but we are, of course, built like them. So the feel of cold air upon the skin and inhaled through the nose, evoked thoughts and memories within them, just as it does us. And the wiring of the different kinds of thoughts it evokes and the different parts of the brain things go to is the same.

One time I was down by the river, thinking these things I think, and it was as if a young Indian woman appeared before me, washing clothes on the stones. Not like a ghost, really, but in my mind's a way that it was like I was seeing both through her eyes and mine. I don't know if I conjured it or "remembered" it. But, for a moment, everything about what she was doing and how warm a day it was...everything about her washing seemed so real to me. 

So many things are carried in our DNA, all the way down to "defects" that may run through our families. Legitimate news sources say that meditation can change the way our DNA is expressed within us. Of course, we know it changes over the course of millennia based on things like where you that people who live near the equator adapted to their environment by evolving darker hair and skin and those living in the northern climes evolved lighter hair and skin, based on the need to protect themselves from exposure to the sun. 

So the information carried in DNA is not just a cold, mechanical order that must be fulfilled by the body, it's more of a structured conversation that evolves (or doesn't) over time. And each of us is made up of those conversations—conversations that cause mutations or turn recessive traits off and on—each strand bearing a sort of family tree. And, I guess I get a bit fascinated with what else may be recorded, whether in that code or within our humanity. So on a night when the breeze evokes some vague sensory memory in me, I tend to wonder whether it's my memory being evoked or some ancient bit of history shared by me and my ancestors...or by all of a moment of timeless humanity. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

11/17/14—Clearing the Fields

A dozen or so years ago, I drove past a farmer's field that was smoking from a recent fire. I had never seen this before, so I thought something tragic had happened. But then a few miles down the road, I saw another burned out field. And another.

This was the first time I realized that farmers occasionally burn fields to kill all the old growth and weeds. Then, I suppose, they turn the soil and plant something new. It's like a clean slate. A field that used to grow soybeans can now grow corn. 

The same concept is used by nature. Forest fires, for example, are actually necessary to keeping the forest healthy. Too much vegetation can prevent seeds from germinating, stopping the growth of new trees—and thus endangering the generational growth cycle. Also, the denser the forest, the hotter it burns and the more destructive the fire becomes. So occasional fires in the forest are mother nature's form of self-care and even damage control.

Sometimes in my life, I have felt like there were fires burning all around me. Usually when that happens it feels like my life is falling apart and I have no idea how to put the pieces all back together again. But that's just it. Sometimes the pieces have to be destroyed so they can no longer be put back together quite same way again.

In the thick of things, we can't always see the wisdom of that. We just see everything falling apart and worry we'll never recover. But then when all the smoke clears, the path we seek to recovery—and even triumph—becomes visible. And as we take steps down that path, we can look back and see everything from a new perspective. We can see why it all had to be.

Throughout my life, I've experience a number of these fires. Some of them were even tragic. But they have all blessed my life with some sort of insight, wisdom or calling that brought me to a better place. And by calling, I mean some sort of change I had to adjust to and work with...some sort of loss within myself I had to fill or bridge with a new way of being. It might have been a new state of mind or new behavior I had to adopt to make forward motion possible. All I know is that there has never been a fire in my life that hasn't led to a more capable, evolved and wiser me.

Sometimes fires happen to you and you're compelled into change. And sometimes you set them yourself, clearing what no longer serves to make space for new growth and a more evolved life. Either way, the fire tempers us and makes us stronger, as it does with steel. And what once looked like the end of the world, ultimately gives way to a beautiful, new beginning.

Adapted from a post originally written on 5/4/12. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

11/10/14—Taking Our Hero's Journey

I've been putting a lot of thought into Joseph Cambell's monomyth or hero's journey lately. The monomyth is essentially the storyline that most epic tales of heroism and attainment follow. If you took the story of Christ and Buddha and countless other heroes, real or fictional, and laid them side-by-side, it would be as if the stories follow the same, prescribed routes. 

Campbell had the story broken down into 17 phases (some of which don't appear in this image.) Not all stories go through all the phases. But basically what happens is that the hero hears a calling. The hero denies the calling and/or encounters some sort of mystical aid. Then the journey begins and the hero leaps into an unknown and unfamiliar world knowing he will be forever changed. 

Once the journey begins, all sorts of stuff happens. The hero may experience true love. They will come across trials and tests and road blocks. Someone may try to distract them from the journey. Then they will ultimately confront their own ego, perhaps in a symbolic way with someone that holds power over them or a creature that is difficult to defeat. With the ego shed, they then become enlightened and their transformation is complete. They achieve their quest and must return back to their ordinary life, but perhaps they don't want to return or maybe they have to escape to return. They must learn to integrate their new knowledge into daily life. Some, like Jesus, may transcend life. Some may bring their new knowledge to the people. But all conquer fear and ego and, with that conquered, they truly are heroic. 

So that's the hero's journey. I imagine it could come in quite useful when writing books. But you can also apply it to your own life, your own quest. And that's why I've been thinking about it. And, full disclosure, the whole reason I've been thinking about this is because I watched Elizabeth Gilbert discuss it on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday a few weeks ago and found the ways she was applying it to human stories quite interesting. 

One thing she said really stuck with me and that was that the things the hero went through while on his quest, prepared him for the next phase of the journey. In fact, he can't get to the next phase until he's been tempered by the previous phases. So in order to approach your new life fearlessly, you have to experience fear, face your demons and strike them down. You have to mire through the muck and murk in order to learn how to avoid or circumvent it. 

I found this actually quite comforting. On our own journeys and transformations, I think we're sometimes afraid we're not ready to bring our new baby out into the real world. And we see our difficulties as signs were not ready. What if they don't like the baby? What if the baby barfs on someone? We want to protect our baby. So we refuse to bring it to the real world. But then again, we can't. Because if we're so afraid of what others will think about our baby, then we clearly haven't done the important ego work needed before we can return. The only way we can bring our baby to light is by doing our work. 

So there's really no such thing as being thrust into a role unprepared. If the universe opens up and gives you a doorway, it's because you're ready to walk through it. 

That's just the beginning of what's been on my mind since I started contemplating the monomyth. That and how each of us are on a series of heroic journeys, whether they're about our spiritual development or our purpose in this lifetime, that make take anywhere from a week to multiple lifetimes to complete. And it's interesting to think about where you are on a particular journey or if you can see how the monomyth applies to things in your life or how contemplating the monomyth might add some perspective to something you're facing today. 

Today there are 7 or 8 billion people carving out unique stories all around the world. It's mind boggling to think of. But as unique as each of those stories is, we all have so much in common. We worry about our loved ones. We have dreams for our life. We long to be understood and loved. And we're all running pretty much the same, prescribed obstacle course in life in our attempts to expand and grow. 

If you knew the stranger's eyes you were looking into were struggling with the same fears and heartaches as you today, could you turn away? Whether you agree with Joseph Campbell's hero's journey or not, we're all alone together on a ball hurling through space at alarming speeds, sharing a story that's far more alike than other story we're likely to encounter across billions of galaxies. We won't move past the bottom of the circle and commence on our upswing as a society until we're ready to look deep enough inside ourselves to see even the lowest among us as our fellow traveler on the journey. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

11/7/14—Clearing Energies

My smudging materials. There's a sage bundle at 12:00, a feather for
distributing the smoke, a sweetgrass braid and the bowls in the middle
are the incenses I prepared. To the left is the sage and palo santo. To the
right is sweetgrass and some other herbs. And the white at the bottom
is a charcoal tablet on top of salt. You sprinkle the incense on the
charcoal to burn it. You can just use the actual sage bundle and
not go through all this effort, but this is how I wanted it today. 
Today was a smudgy kind of day for me. If you don't know what smudging is, it's basically cleansing and purifying something with sacred smoke. I wrote a whole post about my process here. (I'll put a link in the comments for people reading on Facebook.)

I was waiting for the full moon at 5:22 to smudge. But seeing as how it was a rainy day here, I thought I'd save "the exact moment of moon fullness" to smudge the inside of my house and just pick any old dry time to smudge my property. All my efforts for a dry experience were thwarted though. 

First, though, I don't usually smudge my property. I usually just smudge inside the house. But for some reason, I kept feeling a need to do the entire property, including my cars, so I did it. The front yard went pretty well. But by the time I worked my around to the back yard, the rain had started. Then the sky opened up and dumped bucketsful of water on me. Which isn't good when you're trying to keep sage lit and burning.

I wasn't sure whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. The violence and suddenness with which the skies opened up made me feel as if something wanted me not to smudge the yard. Then again, I could think that the rain was helping to purify. Believing in signs and all sorts of mystical things can be confusing sometimes...haha. So I did go out and make another pass at the back yard when the rain stopped and that time the sun peeked out from behind a cloud, lighting up the reds and oranges of the neighborhood trees with godlike rays. That sign was not confusing at all. 

The break in the clouds that enabled me to smudge the back yard a second
time. It was really more dramatic than this, but I was smudging
and didn't take the pic until afterward.
But it got me thinking. It took the equivalent of two small sage bundles to smudge the back yard. Some energy out there was just eating it up. Sometimes you'll see the smoke do interesting drawn to a certain corner. Or, like when I smudged inside the house, it might get very smoky in areas where it's most needed. My back yard is what I consider to be my sacred space. I would have never suspected it of needing extra care, but it did. It devoured the second smudge bundle and there was just enough to cover the whole area. So I'm glad I decided to clear the property, too. 

If you said to me right now, "it's magical thinking to think a burning herb can clear negativity or bring positivity into your life," I wouldn't be able to disagree with you. There are many things I do and believe that I'm not 100% on and cannot explain. All I know is that they work. For me. Catholics use incense in ritual, Native Americans use it, Buddhists use it...they could probably all tell you what they feel the burning does. But you won't find proof of any of it. Yet. Right now, it's all just mysticism and belief...just like everything we believe without scientific proof. 

That said, the air is completely different inside my home now than it was this morning. And whether that's measurable or not doesn't matter. It's true for me. And because it's true for me, it actually HAS shifted the mood. And that's all that ritual is about...going through motions that make us feel more empowered, protected or whatever. You don't even need spirituality to have rituals. Your morning routine is a ritual. The nightly "checking of the door locks" is a ritual. They make us feel safe, grounded. And when they're done mindfully and with intent, they can have an even greater impact on our psyche. 

BTW, I didn't have to do this in conjunction with the moon, so if any of you are thinking you missed an opportunity, you didn't. Besides, the full moon energy, if you believe in such a thing, exists the day or two before and after the actual full moon. So you still have time. What are your spiritual rituals? When do you do them and why? And do you have any herbs that are sacred to your beliefs?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

11/3/14—Relanguaging Fears

I talk to myself. That probably doesn't surprise anyone who knows me. But I talk to myself the most when I'm having fears. 

Most of my fears are about fear of failure. Fear of screwing up really badly. Fears around money. Fears of the unknown. Fear of risk. Fear of illness. Even fear of success. None of these things are unusual. But I don't know how other people handle them. I only know what I do. 

I have created a practice around them. And that is that, when the fears come up, I have something prepared inside my head to make myself feel better and make the fears go away. I call it relanguaging, but it's really just talking myself out of the fear. 

The first part is the hardest, and that's becoming consciously aware that fear has taken hold and that your head is filling up with fearful thoughts. Sometimes people walk around filled with fear and they're not consciously aware. So the first step is to stop and recognize when you're feeling this fear. Then determine what you're afraid about. Then tell yourself one of your prepared things like a mantra until you replace the fear with confidence. 

So here are some of the things I might say to myself when I'm afraid:

--"The universe (or God) didn't lead you here to fail."
--"You've never come across anything in your life you couldn't handle, why would this be different?"
--"You've gained benefit from everything that's ever happened in your life. There's no reason why that shouldn't continue."
--"You are blessed and guided by love."
--"Everything is here to help you grow."
--"It's all good."

For difficult things, like fears of utter financial destruction, I have already worked out contingencies—Plan As, Plan Bs and other solutions. This calms the fears because the worst case scenarios are never as bad as I fear. 

Coming up with worst case scenarios is a valuable tool. I learned this back when I started freelancing. My worst case scenario then, for example, was "I get a job." Now, as horrific as that option might be, it is a reasonable worst-case scenario. The dramatic scenario would be "end up homeless and whoring my body for spare change." And if that's how you want to play it, I suppose you could. But for most of us, there are other more realistic options. Like getting another job, even if it doesn't pay as much. Or moving to a place where jobs are more plentiful. Or moving in with a relative. Or getting a roommate. Once you start considering all the options, you see how unlikely the fear of homeless whoring really is. 

You also see you have far more options than you think you have. When you don't think out all your options, then of course fear is going to have power over you. You haven't set up a defense against it. In my freelancing example, seeing as how I had just had a job, getting another wasn't as awful as it seemed. Which made me feel better. And which gave me my power and confidence back. The "big risk" of quitting my job (and I won't pretend it's not a big risk) shrunk in my imagination when I realized that failure would just land me right back where I started. Now, when you make the decision to go out on your own, that's a horrible outcome, but not insurmountable. 

Nothing that I can think that's worth having comes without a risk. And with risks, come fear. But you don't have to let that fear control you. Over the summer I did some thinking on some worst case scenarios with some fears I was facing and you know what I came up with? That my worst-case scenario was something that would force me to leave my safety zone and begin the part of my life I have been slowly moving toward for quite some time! I went from the internal fear of homeless whoring to the worst-case probability of living my dreams! All because I stopped to think of what would really happen. Sometimes our worst fears are just there to guide toward our dreams.