That Which is Real

In each of us there is an essence that is real. The rest is just an accumulation of life over time that has been caked on top of the real, what some have called the true self. All betruetowhoyouarereligious traditions have found their own way of saying that life is about returning to that essence that is real. The challenge is that the job in front of us is neither obvious nor easy.

The job becomes even more difficult in times of crisis. We want to jump into action, solve the problem, and get on with life. When the problem is invisible to the naked eye and the solution elusive, we become afraid. When we become afraid, we tend to move toward anger pretty quickly. It’s natural, you might even say it’s an instinctive preparation for a fight – and there can be little doubt that right now the world is in a fight.

One of the problems with fighting is that we tend to put on armor in preparation for that trueselffight. Some of that armor is physical, but a lot of it is psychological. As we gird our loins, literally and metaphorically, we move away from our true selves more and more. When it is done, we may not even recognize ourselves. When this is true, we become a casualty of the fight, no matter who won.

During these times of crisis, it is important to be intentional about remaining connected with our true self. If possible, spend some time each day outside – even if it’s just on your porch. Listen to the wind, feel it on your face, and if you’re lucky enough to live in a place where it’s warm enough take your shoes off and feel the ground under your feet. No matter where you live, you can sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and your arms in a comfortable position and take three deep breaths. Repeat as needed. Your true self is what endures. All the rest will pass away.

Three People and a Goat

COVID 19, aka the corona virus, seems to have brought the world to its knees – with some notably stupid exceptions. In the United States, we have seen increasingly restrictive twatbumpmeasures taken by state and local governments as they try to control the spread of a virus that we still aren’t completely sure of its method of transmission. Some of the measures taken seem sensible, others seem profoundly silly if not outright stupid. Among those is the elbow bump, which we are told is preferable to the handshake for limiting transmission of the virus despite the fact that two people need to stand significantly closer – twice as close, in fact – to bump elbows than they do to shake hands. Given that transmissions seems to be droplet transmission, moving in closer to the potential business end of an unexpected sneeze doesn’t seem advisable.

Meanwhile, as government officials are finding new and better ways to look foolish, Americans have been panic buying and hoarding any number of products from toilet 3andagoatpaper to hand sanitizer. Oddly enough for a flu virus, kleenex doesn’t seem to be the object of hoarding, which is only one of any number of things about this virus and our government’s response to it that makes very little sense. Public gatherings were restricted first in a general sort of way, then to groups smaller than fifty, then to groups smaller than ten. Tomorrow I would expect the restriction will be groups no larger than three people and a goat. Meanwhile the twenty-four hour news cycle rolls on, and people are becoming increasingly overwhelmed by seemingly endless and endlessly changing information.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, I have some suggestions. The first would be to limit your news intake to thirty minutes a day. You can break that up however you like, but once origamiyou hit your thirty minutes you are done with any news source until the next day. The second thing is to decide what you can control. You cannot control the spread of the virus, but you can control your own activity and behavior. If you really don’t want to contract the virus, stay in your house and don’t have guests over. Between Amazon, services like Door Dash, and other delivery services, we can now have everything delivered. Choose “no contact” deliveries so you don’t have to expose yourself to the delivery person. The virus can’t get in your house unless it is riding in someone who has it. Finally, distract yourself. Read a book, watch a TV show or a movie on Netflix, go for a walk, bake a cake, take up origami, perfect the paper airplane. This will not last forever, and some perspective mixed with distraction will make the time pass much more comfortably.

Overheard in Detention

My wife and I share a car these days, and when I get to her office early to pick her up I sit in a little vending room on the first floor and write. I let her know I am there by sending her a graphic detentionMrMackeythat indicates I am in detention. Some of the best posts on my blogs start as ideas while “in detention.” There is an office down the hall from my detention room from which regularly emerge two women who head outside, presumably to smoke. One of them almost never talks. Even if she wanted to, I don’t know how she could possibly get a word in because the other one – let’s call her, “Sewer Mouth” – never stops talking. Wait, that’s not fair. She never stops complaining, except when she pauses to launch into a profane tirade that would make a sailor blush. Mind you, I can cuss with the best of them but old Sewer Mouth makes me feel like an Amish beginner. I want to ask her if she eats with that mouth, but she won’t stop talking long enough for me to try.

Leaving aside for a moment how unprofessional it is when going on break to start spewing “motherfucker” before the office door has closed behind you, I have no idea why her coworker wants to be around her. When we constantly ooze negativity, we aren’t much fun to be around. When we blow it out of a fire hose, I have to wonder why this woman even shows up for work. Could her life be even remotely as miserable as her mouth suggests it is? If so, it’s long past time for the people who care about her to get positivetogether and mount an intervention.

It’s good practice to listen to ourselves every now and then. By doing so, we can get a feel for our own mental state – or at least the one we present to the world. A good exercise if we find our talking self to be more negative than we might like is to decide to say a certain number of positive things each day. We should work to increase the number of positive things we say week by week. It would be long until we feel like a new person, because that is what we will be!

 

Gross Psychic Weight

You may have noticed that commercial trucks often have weights listed on the cab of the truck that indicate how much weight the vehicle can safely bear. Those numbers are there to help eliminate the safety risks inherent in driving an overloaded vehicle. They smartcarfailalways remind me of the day we put an old refrigerator out on the street for pickup by the city. Early the next morning, I was surprised to see that refrigerator strapped to the top of an old Honda that was slowly driving down the street with its undercarriage about six inches off the pavement!

While hopefully most of us wouldn’t overload our cars and put our own safety at risk, many of us do gleefully overload our psyche with stress producing schedules, experiences, and activities. We can self-schedule ourselves into a busyness that is literally bad for our health in the same way that strapping a refrigerator to our backs would be. In fact, it’s easier to overload on psychic stress because it is most often invisible until at last our mental “suspension” gives out. Then we can find ourselves immobilized, unable to get out of bed in the morning because we cannot even begin to imagine facing our day. Should you find yourself feeling that way, it’s time to get help. It would be better to get help before we findtired ourselves in that condition!

If you feel your mood or your energy flagging, it would be good to look at your activity level. What can you reduce or eliminate to give yourself time to recover in the same way than an athlete recovers from running a marathon? We can easily find ourselves in a place where we don’t believe we can say “no” to the next request. This can be especially difficult at work, but your health and happiness both depend on your ability to set boundaries. I know someone who worked in a large company here in Milwaukee that routinely expected members of his department to put in eight or more hours of overtime and then report the next day at their usual starting time to do it all over again. The company was mystified when errors increased, productivity decreased, and eventually massive turnover occurred!

We all have our limits, and we all would do well to learn what they are and respect them. It may seem like a good idea to stress ourselves to the breaking point or to have a lot of extra money on our next paycheck, but sooner or later our bodies and our minds will demand we pay the price for abusing them.

A Small Life

I had a conversation with someone the other day about the fact that they got a snowplow to come plow the driveway after about an inch and a half of light, fluffy snow had fallen, prodigy-snowplow-videoShe said, “we’re lazy, so we had a friend come and plow the driveway.” I responded that I didn’t think that was lazy, and if I found myself in the same position and had the opportunity for someone to plow the driveway I would do the same thing. We might say that such a choice is but a judicious conservation of energy. A few days later it snowed again, this time a bit heavier, and a different plow appeared to banish the snow from the premises. Good for them!

Then still a few days later it snowed again, this time a wet, heavy snow. Nothing was done except a path to the garage. It wouldn’t matter, except the property is a multiple family dwelling. The driveway remained untouched, the front walk a tortfeasor’s wet dream. No plow would arrive this time. Predictably, the driveway partly melted and then froze again, a combination skating rink and lunar landscape of ice. The same people had delivered to them before all of this started three large bags of salt to treat the ice with, but it remained in its bags. This is laziness. If it was a laziness that impacted only them, nobody would care. There is a larger point at work here.

When we commit to do something and honor that commitment, we grow. In a similar small likefashion, when we commit to do something and fail to honor that commitment, we diminish ourselves. There is a segment of the population that seems to believe doing the least you can to get by is somehow an honorable thing, a demonstration of cunning, but our souls know better. Inside of us, every time we skirt our responsibilities, we are diminished and our life becomes smaller. This shrinking can be overcome, but not easily. In our more reflective moments, usually a bit later in life, we will likely come to realize that we could have been better, our lives could have been richer, but we chose to circumvent those opportunities. Life is about engaging opportunity, not running away from it. Many people don’t realize that truth, and that is the true tragedy.

How Do I Justify My Presence?

I came across a very interesting thread on Facebook over the weekend, and really feel compelled to respond to it in a longer form than is possible in a Facebook discussion. Here is the product!

To paraphrase the question raised, “how does a transgender man preaching in conservative Indiana justify his presence in the pulpit using the Gospel?” My answer: he shouldn’t try.

You see, to the extent that we continue to try to justify our very existence, no matter the reason anyone might call our existence or presence into question, we legitimize an illegitimate question. Can you see that? If someone says to me, “you have no right to be here,” and I respond to that nonsense then I make the very question of my right to be here seem legitimate. If someone said to you, “I see you have three arms,” and you started arguing that you only had two arms, you would be giving the question of how many arms you have credence. Rather than argue our arm count, most of us would either walk away or call the local mental health crisis line.

The world is full of diversity, and that diversity has threatened people since humans first crawled out of the primordial sludge. We are psychologically programmed to be suspicious of the different, to interpret it as a threat until we learn otherwise, as a basic survival instinct. Those of us who have learned to use more than our reptilian brain have learned to use reasoning to overcome those instincts when they are faulty. Our friend Bob might be profoundly unattractive, but we learn that doesn’t make him a danger. Despite this knowledge, we tend to want to keep crawling back into the sludge in the hopes that the reptilians among us will come to see that we are okay and admit that truth out loud. Guess what? It ain’t gonna happen, so it’s time to move on.

 

Give yourself credit

Give-yourself-some-creditSometimes I read articles or blog posts filled with references to what this or that authority figure has said about the topic at hand, and then the post ends. I suppose the opinions of authority figures can be interesting, but they can also be awful. There’s nothing about being relatively well known that automatically confers either wit or wisdom!

At times like that I’m reminded of a priest who served part time at an Episcopal Church I belonged to during the 1990s whose every sermon contained between three and five Gilbert_Chestertonreferences to GK Chesterton. This priest, a bright and eloquent man, never got around to telling me what he thought about the topic at hand. I remember thinking that if I wanted to know what Chesterton thought, I could buy a book – I wanted to know what he thought.

Don’t sell yourself short. Tell me what you think! I really want to know! By the way, I still don’t own a GK Chesterton book!

You should know…

You should know that you will meet many people who will purport to be your friend for precisely as long as it is to their advantage. The moment you do something they don’t like, they will disappear. They were never a friend. True friendship weathers disagreement.

What the Neighbors Think

I suspect there are more of us out there than we might expect who grew up with parents who had one level or another of preoccupation with what the neighbors might think. There are any number of reasons that happens. None of them are legitimate. Whatever the real reason for neighborly preoccupation was – narcissism, competitiveness, or a convenient way to control the kids – I can assure you that the neighbors really had no healthy reason to be concerned with what you and your family were up to. You didn’t know that, however, and despite the fact that you know that now you still probably have lingering corners of your mind where that message hides.

The key to the freedom we all deserve as adults is to stop caring what other people think. Part of getting to that point may be realizing that nobody is watching, anyway. As kids it was reasonable to think that others were watching us, even if it was only the crabby old guy down the street waiting for us to step on his lawn so he could jump out and start yelling at us. We are adults now, and the old guy is long dead. Nobody is going to scream at us about stepping on their lawn, and even if they do we can handle it. Unless we are sacrificing virgins in the backyard or sword fighting naked with the boys from the golf club, nobody cares.

If you catch yourself with that old feeling of disapproval, I have found the best practice is to refuse to yield to it. If you want to practice your tuba in the front yard but hesitate because you worry about what people think, blow anyway. If you want to go jogging with your shirt off but worry that your belly looks like claymation animation singing the alphabet song, jog anyway. If you want to tell your beads on the front porch but worry someone might think you are a member of the religious secret police, pray anyway. Each time you do it anyway, it will get easier. I promise.

Let’s Be Honest About Religion

I know this is asking a lot, but I wonder if we might have an honest discussion about religion. This project will require laying aside our sacred cows for just a moment and electing to suspend knee-jerk reactions for a bit. I know those things are difficult for just about everyone, but the potential reward is huge.

infinite godBoth God and the universe are infinite. If you don’t believe in God, consider this discussion to be about the Universe. In truth, the two terms might be understood as interchangeable in many ways. We know that the universe is constantly expanding and traditional understandings of God have included the idea that God is infinite. The problem we run into is that the human mind has a hard time wrapping itself around either concept. We might know to answer “constantly expanding” and “infinite” when asked the right questions, but that is a far different thing than being able to conceptualize either idea. For example, when we consider that one-half of infinity is still infinity our minds really can’t conceive what that looks like even if we can recite the correct answer.

Traditionally, we have chosen a religion to attempt to understand God or find meaning in our lives. The problem is that religions are finite and so represent only one view of God. Religions are also more than a little territorial and almost all of them have asserted that they have the only correct view of God. This may have made some sense when the best humans could do in conceiving of God was to posit a very small God existing in a very small universe with only one inhabited planet. We now know that the universe is ever expanding, and so our little regional God with whom we all have a personal relationship, frequently inviting Jesus over for Cheerios (if I were Jesus, I would think bacon and eggs would be the least you could do) is an artifact from a bygone era sorely in need of updating. In fact, if that’s your view then you, too, may be an artifact from a bygone era sorely in need of updating.

let my people go 10 commandWe need to realize that if we are serious about developing a view of God that resembles the reality of God in any way, confining ourselves to one religious or spiritual perspective just won’t get the job done. I have heard people argue that we need to confine ourselves to one religion because the root meaning of the word religion is “to bind back.” We have been bound back by religion since religion was developed. Maybe what needs to happen is for humankind to develop a spirituality that will set us free! If you like to be bound, I can recommend a good dungeon in your neighborhood, but if you want to draw closer to transcendence you might need to consider ask your religious dominatrix to “let my people go,” Moses!

Imagine you had a doctor who decided the only perspective he was going to adopt is that of colds and flu. No matter what your symptoms were, your doctor would diagnose a cold or the flu and send you on your way. How long would you remain their patient? I hope not long! What if your grocery store decided only to sell canned sardines, pickled eggs, and creamed herring while insisting you shop exclusively at their store. Would you listen to them? Why does religion seem to be one of the few areas of life that couples a limited perspective with a demand of exclusivity and manage to stay in business?

The reason is that institutional religion has excelled in thought and behavior control served with a large dose of guilt. For most of history humanity bought into this distorted vision, but the mass exodus of people from houses of worship of all stripes tells us that sales are sharply down and not likely to recover anytime soon. In response, people trying to make sense of their lives have often randomly tried new perspectives, many of which are heavy on flashing lights but short on substance. If you want to believe that you can attract wealth by thinking the right thoughts, for example, you might want to first ask why everyone following those teachings isn’t a millionaire. You would be better off to reject any spiritual or religious system that is constructed to reward greed.

The truth is that if we want to develop a spiritual perspective that works for us, the important first step is to be determined to explore aspects of whatever systems of belief interest you and not allow anyone to try to restrict your exploration. Unless you are a mushroom, those who would keep you in the dark and feed you manure don’t have your best interest at heart. The next step is to allow yourself to make mistakes, change your mind, and change direction. Exploration of every sort involves all of those things. Perfection isn’t the goal, in fact it probably isn’t even possible. Be gentle with yourself and you will be amazed at what you learn! Be bold, you are in charge of your own spiritual life and need answer to no one.