Archive for August, 2010

“Change is inevitable – except from the vending machine.” ~ Robert C. Gallagher

Of all of the assumptions that stop people from thinking clearly and from moving forward, there is one that stands as a giant amongst grasshoppers. I am careful to point it out as knowledge of this basic life principle is a double-edged sword. Used correctly, this principle is the basis of rapid and graceful forward movement; used incorrectly it becomes the perfect rationalization for not moving forward at all.

The principle of which I speak is related to change. As we’ve discussed previously, change is inevitable. The bits and pieces that make up matter are constantly in flux. Your body, for instance, is constantly exchanging atoms with your surrounding environment. Millions are incorporated into your body and millions are released into the air through your breath, your dead skin cells, your hair follicles, etc., every day.

Likewise, circumstances are constantly in flux. Every decision made by every human being every second adds a new variable into the mix, and like snowflakes, no two moments are ever alike. Political leaders come and go. Nations come and go. Even great civilizations come and go given enough time.

Now here’s where most people get tripped up. You can have a constant, or perhaps better put, eternal vision for the purpose of your life, even though everything else around you changes with dizzying regularity. Let’s say that your vision for your life is to be a blessing, for instance. That vision can stay in tact, no matter what else changes around you.

When your sense of purpose is clear, you have far less “needy” attachment to the things and people around you on the one hand, and a far greater sense of the value of the things and people around you on the other. Far too many people fall prey to the tendency to be identified with the forms of their lives, their material possessions, their relationships, the money they have in the bank, their friendships, etc. and they end up using the phrase “I have…” to answer the question “I am…”

Such a mistake is costly and frequently painful, for as we mentioned, the world around you is constantly in flux in ways that are far beyond your control. The sooner that you learn that you cannot control everything in your world the more heartaches you save yourself in the long run.

Now I mentioned that this knowledge is a double-edged sword and I am sure that you can imagine why. If you know that everything changes it is very easy to fall into the mindset that says “Well, then, it doesn’t really matter what I do then. It all changes and I have no control.” This laissez-faire approach has consumed many people throughout history and it unfortunately constrains to desolation and bitterness.

What can be done with this understanding? Well, first of all, embracing this principle allows your heart to come to rest. You recognize that things change, that you can have an effect while they are in your proximity, that you can appreciate what you have while you have it and that you can maintain your vision and sense of purpose no matter what your circumstances look like at any given point in time.

If your sense of self, your clarity of vision and purpose is driven by the world around you, you will be blown and tossed like a ship in a storm. Conversely, if you come to the point where you can clearly articulate your vision for your life’s purpose, you can rejoice in the fact that you have found the fountain of stability that has been available to you all the way along.

Where there is clarity of purpose, you will flourish. Your fortunes may come and go, your friends and family may oscillate near and far, but you will thrive and prosper in the midst of a constantly changing world.


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William Blake, Image by Wikipedia

Hear the Voice, by William Blake

Hear the voice of the Bard,
Who present, past, and future, sees;
Whose ears have heard
The Holy Word
That walk’d among the ancient trees;

Calling the lapsed soul,
And weeping in the evening dew;
That might control
The starry pole,
And fallen, fallen light renew!

‘O Earth, O Earth, return!
Arise from out the dewy grass!
Night is worn,
And the morn
Rises from the slumbrous mass.

‘Turn away no more;
Why wilt thou turn away?
The starry floor,
The watery shore,
Is given thee till the break of day.’

Have you ever thought of yourself as the Bard of the world you center? A messenger, of sorts, with an important story to tell? Looking back over the course of the week your words have conditioned the soil of your future, like the farmer’s plow.

Whether you meant to say everything that you did or not, whether you regret anything you uttered or not, every word you spoke planted a seed. The quality of your life is determined in large part by the seeds you sow in the form of your words.

Words are unique configurations of sounds. Some sounds have particular meanings and some sounds have multiple meanings and spellings, as is the case with homonyms. Your vocal chords are an incredibly capable tool designed to help you influence the world around you, through sound!

Vocal Cords, Image by Wikipedia

Sound is a traveling wave, that is an oscillation of pressure, transmitted through a solid, liquid or gas. The sounds you make – every grunt, roar and snort – send oscillations of pressure that are perceived by the world around you. When spoken, words are a peculiar manifestation of energy that have a palpable, physical effect. In short, the words and sounds you issue, matter!

If you wonder what your week will be like, think back to the words you planted in the soil last week. Add to that the words spoken by those whose company you kept and you have at least a hint of the tone, the challenges and the opportunities you’ll likely face this week.

Whatever comes your way this morning, today and during the week, remember that you have an opportunity – as the Bard of your world – to plant words in a way that you can “Arise out from the dewy grass” renewed, returned, and awakened from the “slumbrous mass.”

Choose your words wisely!

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Steven Levitt, author of Freakonomics, delivered a fascinating talk at TED Global 2005 that really got me thinking. The question I find myself asking this morning is: “How many things do we hold to be true that have no basis in truth?”

Take a few minutes to watch this fascinating presentation sent to me by a friend a couple of days ago:

Our efficiency and effectiveness as a nation and more generally as a race would likely skyrocket were we to relieve ourselves of these types of elements in government, in business and in general thought. More often than not these inefficiencies are born when emotional reactions overshadow logical, rational consideration.

Forget about “too big to fail.” I’m more worried about “too big to use logic.” Stories like the one Mr. Levitt shared in this presentation need to be shared to awaken those who care from an overly trusting slumber.

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Casper the Friendly Ghost, Image by Wikipedia

Are you afraid of ghosts? If not, maybe you know someone who is. Either way, you should read on.

We human beings are endowed with sentience, that is, we have the ability to feel or perceive. Western philosophers call the “raw feels,” like the pain of a headache, the taste of a pleasant cheese or the impression made by a stranger who catches your attention for whatever reason, “qualia.” There is a debate between those who believe that qualia exist and those who don’t, but that is beyond the scope of our consideration this morning.

I was speaking with a co-worker today about a general sense of “pressure” that she was feeling over the last few days. She couldn’t pinpoint its source, had a hard time describing exactly how she perceived it, but she was sure that there was a greater quantity of this so-called pressure than normal.

I’ve noticed over the years that pressure patterns, like solar or water waves, tend to ebb and flow in periodic cycles. Their periodicity is not always predictable, and some pressure waves affect more people than others. Some pressure waves relate to the rhythm of the week, where, for example, Mondays are typically more pressure-filled than Saturdays. This is perhaps an effect of the work schedule of most people, yet the pressure in that cycle seems to have taken on a life of its own.

Being sensitive as we are, we are hard-wired to perceive feelings, whether their source is a visible, known quantity, such as a brain freeze from eating an ice cream cone too quickly or an invisible, unidentifiable quantity, such as a bad feeling from having “woken up on the wrong side of the bed.” It is the latter type, the feelings with no known cause, that I would hope to shed light on this morning.

“Ghost” or “phantom” feelings are those feelings that come from out of nowhere. They have no rational, materialist, logical explanation and they can be annoying, persistent and downright perplexing. The infamous “bad hair” day is an example par excellence of a day haunted by ghost or phantom feelings.

Virtually everyone I know has had some type of experience with this and I am not so concerned to explain why these happen as I am to offer suggestions as to how to act when they do.

To begin with, I would like to propose a new way of looking at these pesky feelings that have no obvious source (neither person, place nor thing):

Rule #1: Every ghost does not need a body.

The next time you have a phantom feeling, don’t rush to assign a body to it. “I feel bad” is typically followed by a flurry of activity, culminating in “it’s him” or “it’s her” or “it must be that!” Far too many people, places and things have been blamed for crimes they did not commit by people who didn’t know that there was an alternative to the blame game.

Rule #2: Every feeling you have may not relate to you.

Your receptive capacities are remarkable, but you might occasionally pick up disembodied feelings that have nothing to do with you. Assuming that every feeling that passes through your heart is yours can lead to unnecessary wear and tear on your body and mind.

One way to avoid this mistake is to eschew the habit jumping to conclusions. Make space for these ghost feelings to either reveal themselves for who or what they are or to disappear quietly from whence they came. This is a key to developing the ability to discern between that which is yours to handle and that which you are better off leaving alone.

Rule #3: Remember that you have a choice.

More Puddle than Path by Joanna Paterson

If there is a puddle or a thorn bush in the road do you automatically and unquestioningly throw yourself at it and roll around in it? Why then do you do so when it comes to your feelings? Your feelings are an important part of your perceptive capacities but you are wise to remember not to let the tail wag the dog. You have a heart and a mind and they are meant to work together, like the branches of government, using a system of checks and balances.

In Conclusion

The next time the pressure comes on in your world, take note of your habitual reactions. It may be challenging at first as these particular habits can be so deeply ingrained in your behavior that it can be hard to see them for what they are. Be patient with yourself, take note of others’ habits, for they will provide clues as to what yours might be.

Once you’ve seen them you can then set out to change them. Habits are almost always changeable. There may be trauma that masks the habit from its possessor or that makes it more challenging to shift, but generally speaking, for most people, habits can be changed.

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Rosetti (self-portrait) Image by Wikipedia

Sudden Light by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.
You have been mine before,—

How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow’s soar
Your neck turn’d so,
Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.
Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time’s eddying flight

Still with our lives our love restore
In death’s despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?

You were born with an empty book before you. Your life quickly began filling its pages, the pages become chapters and before you knew it your little notebook transformed into a novel that told the tale of another of humanity’s grains of sand.

The chapters of life are a fascinating thing to me. While Rosetti was likely speaking of the death known as “physical death” (the kind that ends in a grave), I have to wonder if he wasn’t speaking to the chapters of life as well.

One life can be divided up in so many ways. Childhood and adulthood. Educational years, working years, retirement years. All can be seen as chapters in a book.

When you’ve moved from chapter to chapter in life, have you found some strings of continuity? Are there persistent themes that appear and reappear with comforting or at times alarming consistency, times where you say to yourself as Rosetti put it: “Has this been thus before?”

Threads of success as well as failure weave through life in a predictable fashion until the pattern is broken, one way or the other. You can succeed where you’ve failed in the past and you can fail where success was previously the norm. As such, it is important to take note when you do succeed and take heed when you fail. Both will offer important clues as to how to be a greater success in the next chapter of your life.

You cannot learn about who you are or what successes will be wrought through you from a book. There is no manual. You may glean bits and pieces of advice from here and there, but ultimately the story you tell has to emerge in and through you.

There is no doubt that we live in a tough world. It is not ideal. No one had an ideal upbringing. We’ve all had our bumps and bruises and we each have the scars – physical, mental and emotional – to show for it.

Just as you should never scratch a mosquito bite, you are wise not to dwell on the irritants in your life – past or present. Ask yourself instead, “What can I do – here and now, based on what I know and what resources I have at my command – to handle this situation successfully?” Doing anything else is not only a waste of time, it will likely result in further bloodshed and scarring.

Creative thinking and timely action is your lifeblood. Forego either or both and you will add sad stories to a subsequently less successful chapter in your life. There are far more tales of woe in the history of man than there are bright examples of success and victory.

What will it be for you?

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Samuel Butler, Image by Wikipedia

“The necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost circumspection, deliberation, fortitude and perseverance.” ~ Samuel Butler

Everyone living in this challenging economy knows that now, more than ever, is a time for perseverance. Perseverance is different for each of us, yet its essence is known as we dig deep and push further than we perhaps even believed was possible. Perseverance is a precious quality of character that is common to every successful person I know.

If you’ve ever been told that you could never achieve such-and-such based on your limitations or if your circumstances constrict to the point that you feel that another ounce of pressure will put you over the edge, then you know the starting line for perseverance.

A friend recently forwarded me a story that bolstered my faith in humanity and in the value of the persevering spirit. The first was Maya, a 12 year old girl who was born with congenital band syndrome. Maya was featured on the Rachel Ray Show the day before yesterday. Maya’s left arm did not develop beyond her elbow, though she never lets that stop her physically, mentally or emotionally. She had a limitation but she did not let herself be overcome by it.

Maya’s inspiration was fueled in part by Matt and Amy Roloff’s popular reality show, Little People, Big World. Maya said “They show that they can do what anybody else can do…Just because they’re little doesn’t mean anything, and that inspires me to do what I do.” The Roloffs were also on the show and it was wonderful to see the delight in their eyes as this lovely 12 year old told them how much they had inspired her over the years.

Speaking of limitations, I like to think of them in two broad categories. The first are natural and unavoidable, such as a physical or mental disability, while the second are typically self-generated and avoidable. Most of the limitations people experience fall in the latter category. It’s a sad thing, really, as millions of people suffer under the weight of self-imposed limitations, many of which are simply bad habits that tend to appear when the pressure is on.

Mr. Butler provides four excellent starting points that could easily serve as a guideline for how to respond to pressure. Put simply, they are

  • circumspection
  • deliberation
  • fortitude
  • perseverance

Put these four qualities of character to practice in your life and there will be little room left for the qualities of expression that tend to fill their void:

  • carelessness – “I didn’t mean to”
  • negligence – “I forgot to”
  • cowardice – “I’m afraid to”
  • apathy – “I can’t be bothered to”

Uncommon unpredictability calls for a steadiness and a willingness to go the extra mile to get the job done. Those who do have a better chance of making it through in one piece. Those who don’t are more likely to be torn apart by the winds of a stormy economy. Most limitations are nothing more than an illusion maintained by carelessness, negligence cowardice or apathy. Some are simply the child of ignorance. Whatever their provenance, persevere in bold, thoughtful action and you will surely overcome.

How will you meet what comes your way in the days to come?

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Henry David Thoreau, Image by WikipediaEpitaph on the World by Henry David Thoreau

Here lies the body of this world,
Whose soul alas to hell is hurled.
This golden youth long since was past,
Its silver manhood went as fast,
An iron age drew on at last;
‘Tis vain its character to tell,
The several fates which it befell,
What year it died, when ’twill arise,
We only know that here it lies.

Are we really powerless in relation to those things in our communities, in our country and in the world that cause despair, disgust and woe? Or do we yet have a voice? Thoreau declared the death of the soul of the world we inhabit, yet I have to believe that deep in the heart of man is a glowing ember of conviction that life can, and should be better.

I’m often astonished by how quickly change occurs in the human experience. What was hardly imaginable just months ago can become the new normal in the blink of an eye, even without cataclysmic change!

The human being is an extremely adaptable creature. At the same time, we human beings are creatures of habit. The status quo is malleable concept, not one that is set in stone. What is new, especially in American culture, can become the new norm with little ado.

Warren G. Harding, Image by WikipediaWarren G. Harding‘s campaign promise when he ran for President in 1920 was for “a return to normalcy” (i.e. a return to life the way it was before World War I). I’ve wondered throughout my life what “normal” really is. Is there an original “normal” from which we’ve strayed in the course of human history?

We like to think that we’ve evolved form our humble beginnings as primates, yet I have to hold out for the possibility, at least, that the theory (and it is just that) could be faulty. I would be remiss from a scientific standpoint were I to fail to leave room for other explanations, until the matter is resolved conclusively. There is evidence scattered about the earth – things that make you say “hmmmm?” – that doesn’t fit within the tidy theories that have their roots in another theory, that of uniformitarianism.

Solon, Image by WikipediaSignificant evidence suggests that there were mighty and advanced civilizations on earth that were lost due to cataclysmic events. According to Plato’s dialogues “Timaeus and Critias, the Athenian statesman, lawmaker and poet, Solon (638-558 B.C.), visited Neith’s temple at Sais and received from the resident priests an account of a forgotten ancient civilization.

Then there are massive structures around the earth, the Great Pyramid in Egypt, for instance, that has been described by modern architects and builders as being impossible to build using today’s technology. Built to exacting standards that far surpass and building parameters we use today, it is hard to imagine how a bunch of slaves could have managed their construction so long ago. Part of me has to wonder if there is more to the story…

At any rate, Thoreau laments the loss of the “soul” of our world in his poem. I too feel a certain sadness when I stop to consider the general condition of our world, of humanity and of the future. I cannot help but ask myself, “is this the best that we as human beings can do?”

No matter how far we think we’ve come, I hesitate to resign myself to the explanations that are so far given in both religious and scientific circles for who we are, why we’re here and from whence we’ve come.

What about you? Have you stopped to consider whether you have deliberately or perhaps just by default given up on the world? Say it isn’t so!

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