Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Alert to Followers: Blog is moving to new site

This is my last Blog on Blogspot. I've moved the Blog to WordPress. It is now installed on the Institute for Public Policy and Leadership web-site as "Peace of Mind Matters," and there is a new look and a fresh post on that site: http://ippl2010.wordpress.com/

I'll be Blogging there from now on. If you wish to continue following my Blog, please go to that site and sign up. It is not possible to "move" followers from one site to another -- that would be an invasion of your privacy. So, please join the old me on the new Blog!


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Lush Garden of Hope

Nancy Forrester's Secret Garden
Key West, Florida
 A tough economy has made us sad and scared. Politics as usual has made us cynical. The government has made us mad. Big Money has made us helpless. All of that is what many people think, judging from the public discourse we hear daily.

Operating on exactly the same set of facts and circumstances, many people think that the economy has made us creative and willing to change. That politics as usual has made us aware of our responsibilities to pay attention and get involved. That government has made us safer. That Big Money can buy air time and print space, but it can't change people's hearts and minds.

To be honest, a lot of us would concede that at different times, we've seen the same things both ways, sometimes hopeless, and sometimes hopeful.

Is any view more or less "true" than the others? Aren't all the ideas that seem so true to each of us coming from our individual interpretations of common information and experience? Don't we each create our own unique perceptions by filtering ideas through our own consciousness? Can anything external make us interpret life one way or another? Don't we think for ourselves and see things differently at different moments in time?

Consciousness is the link betwen the myriad thoughts that constantly flow through our minds and the way we understand them and relate to them. But it's invisible to us because we are immersed in it. We talk blithely about people who seem to live in a "higher consciousness" or about "levels of consciousness," as though consciousness were some abstract concept that had nothing to do with our ordinary lives. Yet it has everything to do with every single experience we have because consciousness is both our awareness of the formation of ideas and of what those ideas mean to us. In other words, Consciousness generates the "reality" we experience, given the thoughts that are passing through our minds. Consciousness is the illusionary garden in which we grow and harvest our life. Thoughts are the illusionary plants we grow. When our consciousness is bleak and desolate, the plants appear sparse and sickly. When our consciousness is bright and spirited, the plants appear lush and lively. The interior, illusionary landscape of our reality changes according to the state of our consciousness, which is ever-changeable.

Sydney Banks, in The Missing Link (p. 40), put it this way: "As our consciousness descends, we lose our feelings of love and understanding, and experience a world of emptiness, bewilderment and despair. As our consciousness ascends, we reagin purity of Thought, and, in turn, regain our feelings of love and understanding."

The way life looks to us is the clue we are given not to the way life actually is, but to the state of our consciousness at any given moment. We assess life through our own consciousness. When things appear grim, we can assume that things are, indeed, grim and we are the helpless victims of the circumstances we see. Or we can recognize that we're in a temporary descent, and not take appearances to heart, knowing that optimism, high spirits and freedom will return if we don't take negative appearances seriously. Just that understanding, knowing that consciousness offers us an automatic guidance system to help us through life, sets us free to "ascend," to allow our feeling state to lift. We can rise gratefully, unfettered, and we can fall gracefully, unafraid.

Ascending consciousness is the lush garden of hope. If we tend the garden of our own consciousness, we find the wisdom to tend to our lives and make the most of our dreams.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Where there is Love

A few days ago, a friend invited me to an open house at the Palmetto, Florida, location of Southeastern Guide Dogs, where dogs are bred, raised and trained to serve people with disabilities. The most talented become guide dogs for the blind, but some become therapy dogs, or family pets for children with special needs. Until I visited, I never realized how hard these dogs work to learn how to help people, and how much heart the dogs put into it.

I wondered: Why are these beautiful dogs so happy and eager to learn and serve? Why are they so dedicated?

But as I watched the dogs with the puppy raisers and the trainers and the volunteers, the answer was obvious: unconditional love. The dogs are loved from the moment they are born, and they love back, with no judgment. The beautiful feeling of pure love, and the serenity and safety of that feeling, permeate all aspects of that amazing training center. The dogs are not afraid.

It brought to mind an NPR segment I had heard recently about the rescue of the Pit Bulls from the squalid dog fighting center in which Michael Vick was involved. The judge in the case insisted the dogs be evaluated, one by one, not simply euthanized. And the people who went to evaluate the dogs reported having the feeling the dogs were longing for love, only they were terrified, so they would approach, and then cower. But given patient, unconditional acceptance, almost all of them came around and responded with loyalty and affection. Love was absent in their lives until they were rescued, but, once felt, its power still drew goodness from them.

Only hours after encountering the dogs, I saw another manifestation of the power of unconditional love on a small segment about CNN heroes. Efren Penaflorida, a young man from the slums in the Philippines, who grew up in a shack near a dump, constantly threatened by gang members, chose to educate himself, and then chose to educate other children in the slum. He loads up a pushcart with books and pencils and paper and
Efren Penaflorida at work
whatever teaching tools he can gather and pushes faithfully   into the slums, setting up in any   empty spaces he can find, inviting children to learn with him and find their own hearts and minds.

He had a choice. He could have choked on the bitter fruit of his youthful misery and become what he saw around him. To transcend a cruel life is to step into unconditional love, turning away from conditional hate and fear, despair and distrust, to embrace what is universal and constant. Efren realized that circumstances cannot destroy love, and the hope it awakens. Why do the children gather around him? They respond to the respect he has for who and what they are at the core, regardless of the fact they are barely surviving at the frayed, grimy edges of poverty. They respond to his unconditional love. In those moments around the pushcart, the children are not afraid.

Where there is love, good things happen. When love is absent, fear lurches in. But love and fear cannot abide in the same space at the same time.

When we look around, we see examples everywhere, across all of life. We see the good fortune of  those who are loved and cherished from birth, although that fortune is shared by too few in this world. But we see, too, that love can reach through the worst of circumstances to the heart, like a taproot finding the life-giving water beneath the roughest and driest of soils.

Look around at so much that is happening now, and see how fear lays waste the best of human intentions and creates a barrenness that wilts the soul. But look, too, to see that love does not die. It waits, like the seeds in the dessert, to bloom profusely with the first drops of encouragement.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said it quite clearly: "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

If not then, now?

Twin lights at Ground Zero
on the anniversary of the
destruction of the towers.
Several people have asked me how to find this essay, which I first wrote and published a few days after September 11, 2001. Sad to say, at the time, I received death threats and hate mail, as well as expressions of gratitude. And, sad to say, it is more timely now than even then. For the solemn anniversary of September 11, I republish it here.

If Not Now, When?

On the morning of September 11, 2001, humanity arrived at a moral crossroads. Acts of such extreme disregard for the sanctity of individual lives, for the values of civilization, and for the tenets of every religion must not, cannot, occur without a powerful, immediate response. The question the entire human race faces now is: What response do we make?

Could the collective thinking of the entire free world even begin to arrive at a response sufficiently horrific to be equally impactful on the minds of terrorists who have absolutely no respect for life and consider suffering and death for their own cause noble? Could we call it revenge, and feel satisfied? How much horror would it take to “make up for” the horror we have just witnessed? Is it possible for people who cherish human freedom and care deeply for human beings and practice faiths based on love, charity and forgiveness even to contemplate vengeance without sacrificing their own spiritual integrity? If we ferret out and destroy nations and individuals or groups who are filled with hatred and blood-lust for those they hate, will that forever end hatred, or will it simply end the sordid lives of those who openly hate now, taking with them the innocent lives of countless others? Will that address the source of such hatred? Will the awful deeds called forth by vengeance imperil the sanity and well-being of the perpetrators of such vengeance? How does killing people who kill people ever put an end to killing?

The moral crossroads are: War, or peace? Hatred, or love? Vengeance, or transcendence? Power, or empowerment? Suffering, or grace?

Those who plotted, planned and executed stupendously brutal acts of mass destruction were willing to inflict massive death and die themselves for their ideas, ideas that represent a twisted interpretation of a compassionate religious doctrine. They were consumed with arrogance and immersed in their own conviction that their gross, unconscionable deeds will be rewarded by the deity they worship. But we cannot hate them without the context of understanding that they are not alone. Brothers have shed the blood of brothers, families have shed the blood of families, sects have shed the blood of sects, races have shed the blood of races, nations have shed the blood of nations throughout history -- and continue to do so today -- for the same reason: reckless unwavering devotion to an idea that appeared more important to them than life itself, with no understanding of where ideas come from, or why they seem so important.

Vengeance is such an idea. Anger is such an idea. Defense of a proud nation is such an idea. (And do we not know in our heart of hearts that this proud nation needs no more “defense” before the rest of the world than the sight of hundreds of brave men and women in New York risking their own lives fearlessly for the fragile hope of saving even one other life in the face of overwhelming, stinking death?)

Within the ancestral memory of our own vibrant nation is a civil war so brutal, so miserable, so devastating to those who fought it that we can barely tolerate, today, the reading of the words they wrote to describe the horror of that war or the cruelty of the slavery that precipitated it. As many people died in the battle of Gettysburg alone as are estimated, now, to have perished in the World Trade Center. Within the ancestral memory of our own vibrant nation is the genocide of Native Americans justified by a stance of racial and religious superiority so reprehensible that we have buried the true history of it in euphemisms and platitudes. And we are not alone, either. These are harsh memories; they are but fragments of the collective harsh memories of mankind. From the dawn of time, the unspeakable has occurred side by side with the sublime and we have known that humanity is capable of anything.

No individual, no culture, no race, no nation can claim perfection of thoughts or deeds.Yet every human being, every culture, every race and every nation can claim the perfection of the purity of the energy that precedes all thoughts and deeds, of whatever universal power they will call God, before the forms they give it to name it. And every human being, every culture, every race and every nation can claim access to the infinite perfectibility of those forms, which still can neither describe nor proscribe the ultimate perfection of the formless from which they were formed.

And that is why, within the ancestral memory of our own vibrant nation is Ellis Island heralded by the Statue of Liberty and a sincere welcome for many races, many cultures, many creeds. And that is why, within the ancestral memory of our own vibrant nation, is the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which created the most extraordinary expression of freedom, creativity and opportunity ever seen on earth. We celebrate so many triumphs of the spirit, victories small and large over oppression, tyranny, violence, greed, hatred and fear. In that, too, we are not alone. Not alone at all.

The human race is connected not by common beliefs, not by common deeds, not by common history, but by common ability to conceive of its own ideas and bring them to life to create history – any ideas, any history. The human race is connected at the source, by the flow of perfect formlessness into all that has been formed, is being formed, shall be formed. The human race is not alone, but part of the whole of creation, a tiny fragment of the oneness that is the universal all.

If we do not understand that our own ideas are merely metaphors of the process of creation itself, then we cannot understand the power of ideas, the elemental force of thoughts as they form to impel actions and create the realities in which we live. Failing to understand that, we are doomed to repeat history mindlessly, lost in our memories. If we come to understand the formless power from which ideas and impulses spring, and come to appreciate the gift of that power to allow us to be capable of absolutely anything, we are empowered to create new stories, to step beyond the boundaries of our memories and the constraints of our familiar thoughts, and live the lives we want, regardless of what has happened in the past, even the recent past, even yesterday.

Nothing we can do as a nation can bring back the life we had on Monday, September 10. But we as individuals and as a nation have a choice about the life we will have on Monday, September 17, and on Monday September 24, and beyond. We do not have to wreak vengeance, declare war, and commit violence to atone for the violence committed. But we can. We do not have to find peace and comfort in our souls and seek new understanding that allows us to express our strength without force. But we can.

On Monday, September 10, I was engaged in a conversation that included Sydney Banks. “People do not understand the enormity of the implications of understanding the principles behind life,” he said. When he said it, I thought I did at least glimpse it, but I wondered if I was missing something. Within 24 awful hours, I knew I had been missing something, and I began to glimpse it: We either see how to create love in the world and understand the cycle of thinking that leads to both hatred and love, or we don't. The difference between we do or we don't is enormous. The implications for the future of mankind are enormous.

We stand on the brink of declaring a war that could change life as we know it. In doing so, we are declaring that the thinking of angry, vengeful people willing to sacrifice as many lives as necessary at any cost is justified -- when it is our thinking. We are declaring the actions of angry people who agree with us good; the actions of angry people who disagree with us evil. We are declaring that anger is power and we are declaring that we will give up whatever it takes to prove that our anger is more powerful than another’s.

Does that make sense? Does that resonate in the soul as a wise, insightful, strong response to cowardice and terror? Is more terrible terror the antidote to terrible terror?

Like all of us, I have been getting well-meaning e-mails advocating "beautiful" sentiments — reminiscent of the "make love, not war" of our youth. Like all of us, I have been getting well-meaning e-mails advocating war and the utter destruction of our enemy. All those ideas, the beautiful and the awful, are compelling ideas that have arisen via the power of thought. There is a spiritual logic deeper than ideas and deeper than sentiment. It is the understanding that sets people free from their most disastrous thinking and empowers them to follow their most ennobling thinking. That logic separates thoughts we have had and the thinking we are now doing from the spiritual knowledge of our ability to keep doing it, to think beyond our current ideas, to know what we have never known before, to continue to respond to life with deeper and wiser ideas.

We can use our minds freely, in any way we see fit, at any moment. We can use our minds in pursuit of new wisdom, or in slavish devotion to old ideas. We can use our minds to create a magnificent Phoenix arising from the smoldering ashes of horror. Or not. The knowledge of that choice is the freedom to turn our back on the nightmares of mankind and live the life of our dreams. We can make that powerful, immediate response to everything we abhor, and choose to change the world.

If not now, when?

Written September 13, 2001

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Take Me Home, Country Roads

Last week I returned to West Virginia to be part of a wonderful conference celebrating resiliency. The organizers were two women who had at one time beeen my students at West Viginia University, in the Public Health Master's course called Prevention through Resiliency. Their imaginations were captured and their hope was inspired by the potential to awaken the innate health and strength in all people to elicit well-being, regardless of the presenting circumstances. They left that course dedicated to sharing what they were learning, joining an effort to create a new vision for prevention that was promulgated for nearly 12 years through the West Virginia University School of Medicine.

So it was that a more than a hundred people gathered last week in Flatwoods, WV, to celebrate the human spirit and share ideas about the many ways to strengthen the partnership of health that is the foundation of 3-Principles-based work. And so it was that we were all reminded that simple truth, told uniquely from each heart, reconnects us to the spiritual bonds that all human beings share: the energy of life that is our essence; the capacity to create thought that generates our ever-changing realities; and the awareness that brings us the sensory experience of what we have thought. Mind, Thought and Consciousness: these three principles, once seen, set people free from living as victims of their own imagination. They explain how we are always making up our own realities, each in our own way according to the way we are using and holding our thinking each moment. They show us that if we leave our thinking alone, trusting that it will change naturally, we will always come back to balance, back home. To put it in silly terms, they show us that we are like the Weebles of our childhood. We have a built-in self-righting mechanism. Remember them? Weebles wobble, but they don't fall down.

That's why the Principles are taught as "prevention," because as people truly see how their thinking works from the inside out to create their reality, they know how to avoid the downward spiral of upsetting thinking. They know they can trust their innate resiliency to lift them to safety. They know the vortex is no more real than any other of the infinite thoughts they could bring to mind.

The man who discovered the Principles, the man who was the primary teacher of many of us "old-timers" in this work, put it this way. "The solutions to outwardly complex probems created by misguided thoughts will not arise from complicated analytical theory, but will emerge as an insight, wrapped in a banket of simplicity." (Sydney BanksThe Missing Link, p. 139) Insight is a moment of wisdom that takes us home, beyond whatever thinking we are stuck in, and reveals some deeper, clearer truth. Insight is the pure and gentle flute melody that is heard when the clangorous brass quiets down. We always know it because with it comes a positive, quiet confidence, a sense of security in our understanding of where we are and how to navigate through life.

As we listened last week to the insights from so many people, told fresh in their own words, and felt the joy and vitality of people who have come home to the wisdom that Mr. Banks said "cleans the channels of your mind and brings sanity into your life," we all were joined in compassion, warmth, love and hope. We renewed our faith that every person in the world, no matter how tragically or intensely caught up they may be in a cyclone of negative thought, is only one insight away from a totally different experience.

And at the end, as people always do in West Virginia, we sang "Take Me Home, Country Roads." We joined voices and hearts in that simple call to be "in the place where I belong". We rededicated ourselves to the vision for humanity that Mr. Banks expressed at the end of The Missing Link:

"With wisdom, people see beyond the filters and biases of race and culture, to realize the beauty in everyone. Such understanding enables people to stop fearing and distrusting those who are different, to see the commonality of human beings regardless of cultural differences. Wisdom applied to society would do more than anything else to halt the ethnic clashes and wars the world suffers from today." (p. 136)

Those timeless words were written in 1998. And we remain, timelessly, one moment, one thought, one insight, away from peace. We are never really lost. We are never far from home.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The antidote to rage

It doesn't seem so long ago that anger was not a socially acceptable behavior. Persistently angry people were referred to "anger management" or other help so they could calm down and settle things peacefully. People who exhibited rage were seen with compassion, but were considered to be in an emotional state that required immediate treatment before they did something terrible to themselves or others.

How did we get to the point where rage is now accepted as a common, even positive, emotion? How did we come to be talking about voter rage, public rage, rage against this or that, as though it were constructive and likely to result in something good?  Who thought it was a good idea for rage to become "all the rage"? And how did we ever buy that?

Frankly, I think this is a strange and disturbing twist of human understanding. Rage is a downward spiral of thought and emotion that cannot lead to healthy, wise, or positive outcomes. It cannot because people who are enraged are not in their right minds as long as they remain enraged. They are alienated from others who do not see things exactly as they do, and wrapped up in the swirling ribbons of their own most frightening or upsetting thoughts. On top of that, they are creating an internal biochemical stew that will, if unrelieved, lead to chronic health problems and a shortened life.

Rage has no relationship to circumstances, although the more people feel rage, the more obvious it seems to them that their rage is being caused by something outside themselves. That's the danger of unrelieved and misunderstood rage, and the reason enraged people lash out -- it makes sense to them in an enraged emotional state to try to get relief from destroying the thing that appears to be making them angry, appears to be obstructing their view of life, appears to be a threat to their understanding of the way it is and the way it should be.

I used to share a chart (see below) with some of my classes to show how thinking we do not recognize as our own thinking looks like "reality."

Once we find ourselves in the "black box," it appears to us that the thoughts we hold are quite obviously the way it is, and we are quite obviously right, and anyone who sees things differently is somehow defective. This is a subtle point. Wars are fought; murders are committed; drastic decisions are made on behalf of the ideas and belief systems we would die for before considering changing our minds, but still, people taking an unremitting stand for those ideas would acknowledge that there are others in the world equally committed to totally different ideas. Despite the stakes, there is an understanding that we -- individually and collectively -- have created systems of thoughts and beliefs  that are so important to us we would do whatever we could to preserve and protect them.  But we still know that others feel equally strongly about their beliefs; we understand that we live in a world of separate realities. So we take our stands with passion, determination and conviction, but without rage. We remain capable of calm decision-making and we remain able to consider consequences, unintended or not. We remain able to be touched by other human beings, by the common human experience of commitment to our particular ways of thinking. 

Rage lives in the black box, where we find all our psychological pain because, when we are caught up in that thinking, we have no psychological flexibility, no capacity to stand back from our thinking and reflect on it, no ability to recognize the passion or enthusiasm of others as their commitment to their thought-created realities. Rage is not only a deeply unhealthy and harmful human feeling state, as it spreads and self-reinforces, it prohibits our natural human ability to transcend our own thinking and find solutions and answers that are as yet unknown.

The antidote to rage is understanding it for what it is, a frightening but temporary state of mind. We don't need to manage anger; we need to eliminate it because it is an unhealthy misunderstanding of non-constructive thought. We need to lose our individual tolerance for spiraling into anger and rage because we pay a huge psychological, biological and spiritual price for giving away our peace of mind. We need to lose our communal tolerance (even admiration!) for mass rage because it leads to conflict and gridlock. People operating from the stance of rage cannot listen for solutions or engage in civil discourse to evolve opposing ideas into something better, something that leads to agreement and resolution.

Rage is something we create from our own bad feelings and insecurity. A person at peace and feeling secure does not, virtually cannot, create rage. We could eliminate rage from our lives by caring about how we feel, and losing our willingness to feel increasingly negative, insecure, angry. Those feelings are warning signs that our thinking is taking us down; those are warning signs to relax our minds, leave our thinking alone for a bit, regain our bearings. 

In all of our lives, there is a grandmother, or an aunt, or a friend, who said, "Take a deep breath."  "Sleep on it." "Don't do anything until you calm down." They were offering the antidote to rage.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Identity Trap

In just the past week, I've had discussions with various people who said the following things. I'm sure you could reflect on your week and come up with similar examples that others have said or you have said about yourself.

"I'm such a Type A. I only do three-day weekends. I'd love to take that cruise with my friends, but I could never handle a long vacation."

"I'm a total shopaholic. I really can't afford this and I'll probably regret it, but once I try on something that looks good on me, I have to buy it."

"I would love to adopt a dog, but I could never do it. I know I would not walk it every day. I'm too much of a selfish free spirit to live by some animal's schedule."

"I'm a nerd. Always was. I'd love to make friends, but people don't like me. So I avoid them."

To sum them all up: "I've locked myself  in a psychological cage, so I can't let myself follow my heart or listen to my common sense."

It's easy to forget where our "identities" come from, and how to let them go if they're not working out for us.  I can't think of any mothers of infants who would say their babies were born Type A's, or shopaholics, or selfish free spirits, or nerds. We look at babies as just little human beings, full of promise and possibilities, who can follow their dreams and inclinations in any direction. We all recognize, with small children, that they will shape their futures the way they shape silly putty, changing their minds often along the way. We laugh and clap when the little boy or girl who wanted to be a sheriff last week decides this week to be an astronaut, or maybe a teacher, or a chef, or an architect. We watch them soar into joy,  droop into sadness, careen into excitement, settle into boredom, and we don't worry about it. We accept without question that children's minds are open fields in which they can run and play, and zig and zag.

Then, if no one tells them how thinking really works, our children, just as we did, grow up and learn to take some thoughts more seriously than others. And the next thing we know, they've created a whole story about themselves, and they start living as though they were characters in a novel from which there is no escape. Who knows where those serious ideas came from? Something a teacher said. Something on TV. Something they started ruminating about all on their own. Something that scared them. Something in a book. Something their parents thought. It wouldn't help to track them down; it doesn't help to analyze them.

What helps is knowing that no matter how a whole construct of thinking about ourselves started or developed, the simple fact is we made it up. We chose, at some point, to think about it and then think about it some more, and then take those thoughts to heart. And anything we make up, we can change. To put it another way. The thoughts we think and take more or less seriously are products of our own power to think. If we don't imagine them into form, they can't get into our experience of reality. We can't help what comes to mind because we can think anything and thinking is a constant process. Thoughts pop into our heads almost at random, invited or uninvited. But we can certainly help what we think about what comes to mind, and how seriously we take it, and what we do with it. We certainly can understand the process of creating thoughts as a human gift, a life capacity that allows us to navigate our path through time. We decide what is just a passing thought and what is a really big-deal, serious, important thought that we need to keep re-thinking and ponder. When we don't realize that we're the thinkers of our own thoughts and the deciders about what to do with them once we've thought them, it's really easy to get caught in a trap of our own making, a set of thoughts we believe are "the way it is" because we've thought so much about them they seem really true.

They didn't start out that way. Every thought that comes to mind has the potential to be a passing thought, or not. Every thought we've taken seriously will pass into nothingness as soon as we leave it alone, let it go, soften our focus on it if and when it pops up again.

It's not really complicated to understand. It's just a matter of an insight into how it all works. I heard a former prisoner talk one time about how he "cleaned up" and stopped committing crimes. "I went to this class about how thinking works while I was in prison," he said. "And I realized that everyone has criminal thoughts from time to time. But only criminals take them seriously. And I didn't have to be a criminal. I could just let those thoughts pass and wait for something better to come to mind."