Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wanna make me mad?

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

“People rarely succeed unless they enjoy what they are doing.”  -  Dale Carnegie

“It’s faith in something and enthusiasm for something that makes life worth living.”   -  Oliver Wendell Holmes

      I was working on a story on shipbuilding, and was given a contact at a local company that builds boats.  I called the woman at the company and we agreed to meet at 8:00 the next morning.  I arrived a half hour early to get some sunrise photos, and as I was taking some photos of the harbor and the outside of the building, an older man walked out of the shop and approached me.   “Who might you be?” he inquired.  I explained that I was working on a story on ship building, told him who I had the appointment with and gave him one of my cards.  Given his comportment, I asked him “Are you one of the names on the sign?” and pointed to the business’s sign post.  “You might say that” he harrumphed, handed me back my business card and stalked off.   Later the woman appeared and we spent a couple of hours together touring the operation.  She later asked me if her dad had been rude to me – I hadn’t known she was one of the owner’s daughters.  I replied “no” and she glanced at me skeptically.  But it was let go there - nothing more was said on the topic.

     I got to thinking about it later – you could definitely say the man was rude to me.  But I was totally unaware of it at the time – it took reflecting back on it later to see that I could have felt slighted.  And had I engaged in his negativity with him, where would that have gone?  At a minimum I would have talked bad about him to his daughter - at worst I would have gotten in his face and not had to worry about an article on modern ship building.

     But I had taken the time to pray and meditate that morning and was enthusiastic about the sunrise and the prospect of writing about another topic I know little about.  It wasn’t until hours later when I reflected back on the encounter that I realized I could have been offended if I had chosen to be.

     Once we mature enough to start living in reality, we come to accept things as they are.  Fully accepting each moment and what it brings is the only path to awareness and serenity.  But this is just the first step out of negativity – there are a couple more steps to take and they come with many benefits.

     When we choose to accept things and make the conscious decision that we are going to get engaged and enjoy them we find a whole new level of being – enthusiasm.  The root of the word itself is “en theos” – meaning “in the spirit.”  It is defined as an intense level of enjoyment, so we can look at it as building upon the base we have established by learning to live in the moment.  And one thing is for sure – when we are enthusiastic we are firmly rooted in this current moment.  So what does it take to have enthusiasm?

     For me the basic component is gratitude.  I mean gratitude in the sense of a state of being – not just thankfulness.  For me it happens when I am intuitively connected with God, fully aware of my path and of the mindset that the world I find myself in isn’t just grounds for enjoyment, it is an amazing and fascinating thing.  It is the mindset that drives me to show up for life, knowing that if I am following the path God will provide me with much richer experiences than I can cook up on my own.  And for me this brings about the additional state of curiosity – I want to see and experience as much of this incredible life that I can.

     There is a big side effect to taking the actions necessary to reach this state of mind.  My negativity doesn’t just seem to subside – it seems to vanish.  And, most incredibly, the negativity of those around me vanishes as well.  Well, I say their negativity vanishes – either it vanishes or they vanish.  It seems a person who is stubbornly clinging to their negativity cannot stand to be in the presence of one who is “in the spirit.” 

     And so I feel empathy for the man.  For whatever reason, at that moment on that day he was entirely missing life and the opportunities each moment presents. He could not see the blaze of color in the sky that was welcoming the morning sun.  He could not see the man in front of him who was willing to connect and be a true friend for life.  He could not see anything – he was blinded by whatever part of his ego had determined that he needed to be afraid today.  So I can say a little prayer that he finds the experiences necessary to bring him to the point of letting go of it all and move on.   And I can hope that one day he too realizes that enthusiasm is the best antidote to negativity – in all its forms.

Today may I engage.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

What are you gonna fix?

Kennebunkport Maine
"When one realizes that one is asleep - at that moment one becomes halfway awake."  P.D. Uspensky

"Your greatest awakening comes when you become aware of your infinite nature."  -  Amit Ray

     I have encountered addiction and its effects in many ways on this journey.  I walked in on a drunken man in an expensive suit snorting cocaine in the bathroom of the multimillion dollar clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass and I helped a couple of hippies who had been drinking mushroom tea find their campsite in the Ocala National Forest.  A man who let me stay with him a few days woke up in the night from a drunk to pee in the corner of the living room as I sat editing photos.  I cried for a woman who had spread her son’s ashes over a favorite waterfall.  There are countless more – some tragic and some a bit humorous.  We are all aware of them if we choose to see.  The thing that they all have in common is that the user seeks to feel in harmony - to somehow feel that life makes sense and that they are living in the moment comfortable in their own skin.  But there are no shortcuts to spiritual awakening.

   From the spiritual perspective, is addiction to a substance really any different than excessive reliance on food, power, money, sex, politics, television, high risk or excessive athletic pursuits, religion, video games or anything else used as a distraction from or a shortcut to living in the present moment?   If the purpose of this life is to spiritually awaken and come to develop a relationship with our creator, can we really say that any of these are more or less harmful than any of the others?   Every distraction provides some short term relief from ourselves but when abused they all carry a price tag far greater than the benefit they give.  Granted, drugs and alcohol come with side effects that are easier to recognize and seemingly more devastating.  But if awakening as a spirit is our true job in this life, does it really matter which distraction we allow to block us?

    Our particular society often glamorizes the greedy, the power hungry and those that push themselves to and beyond the limits of their physical capabilities.  We are led to believe that these are the role models we should aspire to emulate.  It would be tempting to stand in judgment, but who among us is in the position to do so?  Would we have been motivated to pursue the spiritual path had we not discovered the vanity of such pursuits first hand?  But how are we to find a way to function in this madness without being judgmental?  

     As we continue to mature spiritually we find a number of things to be true.  Unsolicited advice never works and being judgmental of others only points out our own spiritual weakness.  We have compassion and empathy but if we allow ourselves to be drawn too far into other’s negativity we end up being pulled down rather than elevating anyone.  So we learn to honor and respect others for who and what they are, and to truly comprehend that everyone is doing the best they can with what they have.  We learn that although it seems uncomfortable at the time, drawing clear boundaries saves much misery in the long run.  

     If we are indeed spirits having a human experience then this world is exactly as it should be.  Growth only comes from pain and strife – without it none of us are motivated to sustained growth.  We are saddened by the endless varieties of self-inflicted misery mankind indulges in but we realize that this is the fuel that stokes the flames of awakening and enlightenment.  We stand ready to be of service to anyone genuinely in need or sincerely seeking spiritual growth but we realize that we do a huge disservice if we stand in the way of another’s spiritual bottom.  We quit “playing God” and convincing ourselves that we know what is best for this world or anyone in it.  And we come to deeply appreciate and count among our most precious assets those few we meet along the path who have awakened from the slumber. 

Today, may I be realistic.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Tell me all about you . . .

“Every time you victimized someone you were victimizing yourself.  Every act of kindness you have done, you have done to yourself.”  -  Andy Weir (The Egg)

“We don’t see things as they are – we see them as WE are.”  Anais Nin

“Sooner or later in life, we will all take our turn being in the position we once had someone else in.”  -  Ashly Lorenzana

     I read a short story by Andy Weir, the above quote having come from that piece.  In his story a man dies in an accident and finds himself confused with his surroundings.  He sees another man who explains things a bit to him.  I don’t do the tale justice, but in short he told him that the life he had just had was just another in a long string.  In fact, this universe had been made solely for him to awaken, and every person who ever lived or will live in this world were all just different versions of himself.  In life, he interacted with himself continually without having a clue that this was the case, and each different person was but a different manifestation of him.  He would have to keep at this until he achieved enough perfection to move to the next level as a spirit.  And, promptly, he was sent to live as an impoverished Chinese peasant girl.

     Now, at first blush this runs counter to all kinds of logical thought.  But a sign of a mature mind is being able to consider and weigh points of view without necessarily taking them on. 

     What was Jesus’s rule?  Do unto others - as you would have them – do unto you.  God is everything or God is nothing comes from the scientific point of view, and if he is indeed everything then by definition we are all different manifestations of the same entity.  Eastern thought says that the law of Karma dictates that whatever we give we will receive – mirrored by the St. Francis Prayer and other Judeo-Christian lines of thought.

     So, without accepting or rejecting the view-point, what would life look like if I were fully “awakened” and realized that every other person on this earth is just me experiencing a different lifetime?  How harshly judgmental would I remain?  How would I treat me as a confused teen in puberty who is acting out with body piercings and tattoos?  How would I treat me as the religious and political zealot who craves publicity for self-validation?  How would I treat me with Alzheimer’s and how would I treat me with AIDS?  How would I treat me as the manipulative boss and how would I treat me as a sniveling employee?  How would I treat me as a drug fueled prostitute and how would I treat me as a power mad police officer?  Would I then be able to see the underlying fears that were driving me and thus treat the other “myself” with gentleness and compassion?
      Perhaps the question is, how do I treat me as I am right now?  When I am at peace with myself and thus in the “zone” I can see the spirit in others and know that spirit intimately.  When I am in conflict with myself I see and judge the outward appearances and actions.  Whatever the truth is, isn’t it true that how I treat me is how I treat the world?  When I mistreat others isn’t it due to my own internal conflict that I am acting out on?  Isn’t what I criticize others for just a reflection of what I fear my own faults are?

     I wonder if I could spend one full day truly “doing unto others AS THOUGH THEY ARE ME.”  And I wonder what the outcome of that day would be?  Maybe I can just try it with the next person I interact with.  And in doing so, just maybe I will learn to be kind to me.

Today may I know oneness.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

You stink !!

“I would rather be happy than dignified.”  -  Jane Eyre

“Pride must die in you or nothing of heaven can live in you.”  -  Andrew Murray

     I arrived in a New Hampshire town looking to find an aspect of the local community that is unique.  I had been working my way down the last stretch of the Maine coast the two days prior, and during my first two days in the town I had not been able to find a shower.  Usually there is a YMCA, a truck stop, a marina or a campground around, but even with some searching nothing was showing up.  I asked one fellow about it and he said you can get showers at the Salvation Army.  He said you have to be there between 7 and 9 am, sign in on a sheet and you get 15 minutes to use the bathroom.  So I woke up Monday morning with the intentions of going there, but found myself procrastinating.

     I let it pass – and now I find myself five days without a shower.  I am getting a bit ripe.  Later in the day I stopped in to a fitness center to see if I could use their showers for a couple of bucks, but they wanted $10.  I didn’t have that much money so I find myself heading into my sixth day without bathing.

    So I wake this morning and am going to head over to the Salvation Army, but again find myself coming up with excuses not to do it.  I dismissed whatever was bothering me and headed across town.

     When I arrived there was a check-in sheet, and as the Salvation Army’s mission is to feed and bathe people before they try to help them further, there were some of those “street people” about.  But that shouldn’t bother me – on the road I interact with street people all the time.  It wasn’t until I actually went to sign the sheet that I realized what was bothering me – I didn’t want to be seen as “one of those people.”  It shocked me – I thought I was beyond such notions.  And here I was ready to pay several dollars for a shower when one was to be had for free.

     I got my shower and hung around to interact with “those people” for a while.  One of the guys tells me that this area is renowned for its pottery makers and there is a show this week.  He gives me the name and number of a fellow who he claims is one of the best potters in New Hampshire, if not the nation.  Talking with someone else it turns out that this morning there is a meeting for local folks trying to broaden their horizons and improve themselves.  They find out my background and the next thing I know I am invited to be the speaker at this meeting. 

     After the meeting I find myself spending an hour talking with the Captain of this Salvation Army branch.  It turns out she is a fourth generation “soldier” in this work -  her great-grandmother, her grand-mother, her mother and now she all have committed themselves to helping the least fortunate in their communities.   I further learn that her sister and brother-in-law are involved in several great new Salvation Army projects in Boston, where I intend to be in two weeks.  Once again, the doors open up to new contacts, I meet some new friends and I am directed toward two new subjects to learn about.
     In the process of all of this I am handed a few slices of pizza and given a whole apple pie.  I am eating that pie as I write this.  So I guess the moral of this story is: 

     Judging people and being prideful stinks, but getting over my fears is sweet.

Today, may I be who I am.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

So you made a big decision?

Sculpture named "unpack" by Andy Rosen in Portland, Maine

"Addiction isn't about substance - you aren't addicted to the substance, you are addicted to the alteration of mood the substance brings."  -  Susan Cheever

"Silence is foolish if we are wise, but wise if we are foolish."  -  Epectetus

     I learned that a woman who had put me up for a couple of days some weeks a couple of months prior was having trouble closing on a house.  I have worked both as a mortgage broker and a real estate agent in the past, so I thought I might be of some assistance.  As we got talking on the phone she confided that she was having a terrible time getting off of a drug called Lexapro.  She had prescribed it ten years ago, and had been stepping down her doses.  A couple of weeks before she had come off of it entirely.

     She had an out of town conference to attend so I agreed to watch her dogs for a few days.  I hadn't really known the depths of her struggle until she returned and we had a chance to talk.  One of the side effects of withdrawing is a short-term depression so severe that suicidal ideations are the norm.  Horrible feelings of inadequacy and a deep craving for something - anything - had had her in its grips.  

    Ten years ago she had sought medical help for a deep lethargy and occasional hand tremors.  After some tests a Dr. had diagnosed her with Parkinson's disease.  She and her husband had just recently bought their dream house on a lake in Maine.  He had always been a heavy drinker, heavy enough that she had sought help in Al-Anon, the program for spouses and children of alcoholics.  He couldn't deal with having to live with someone who was going to deteriorate from a debilitating disease, so he left and they divorced.  She couldn't afford the house by herself so the dream home went too.
     For ten years she had been on these heavy medications that wipe out all of the finer human emotions.  Oddly her Parkinson's didn't progress, so late last year she sought help from another Doctor. New tests came back positive - for a tick borne condition called Lyme's disease.  It was subsequent to this finding that she decided she had to get herself off of the meds that were making keeping her all bottled up, and with the help of the new doctor was weaning herself off of them.

     The next day we went to look at the house she was trying to buy.  There was a situation with the down payment monies - she had given them $20,000 down that she had borrowed from a friend in anticipation of an inheritance she had coming later this year.  The mortgage broker was asking for another $1,800 down payment, which she wouldn't have for another month.  I knew that even if the seller wouldn't make a concession for the monies there was more than enough commission between the agent and the broker to easily cover the shortage.  They wouldn't let the deal go if she just stuck to her guns.

     That night we sat talking with an old friend of hers - a fellow that genuinely cares about her welfare.  He was concerned that she was acting out of character of late and questioned her hard on her decision to buy this house.  He said it ran completely counter to everything she had been saying for the last few years.  It soon became apparent that her decision making had been severely compromised by the withdrawals.  She had gotten herself into something that would be an anchor around her neck for many years to come.  And she had done it from a position of despair - she had been feeling so bad that she wanted something - anything to make her feel better.  At the time buying a house seemed like a good way to fill the void, and of course sales-people make quick friends when one is spending money.

     So, in a complete reversal, the next day we set about unwinding the mortgage deal.  We wrote a couple of emails, and although we had ample grounds to blame the mortgage broker we decided that she would take full responsibility for backing out of the deal.  In no time the real estate agent was back in touch saying that they could overcome that $1,800.  But the mortgage broker sent her a note back thanking her for her candor - grateful I am sure that she had not thrown them under the bus.

     The next week and a half saw her feeling better and better as she moved further away from the worst withdrawal symptoms of the drug.  She also got relief from the anxiety associated with buying a house and moving.  She later confided in me that her despair was such that if she hadn't had the al-anon program she is sure that she would have taken her own life.  

     There are a bunch of lessons in this experience.  First and most obvious is the horrible grip that drugs get on us.  It doesn't matter if your drug comes from a Harvard trained doctor or a street corner junkie.  A drug is a drug and they have profound effects on all of us.  I am not saying that we should not trust doctors, but it is our health and it is our body.  Before we take anything we need to educate ourselves about what it is, why we are taking it and what unanticipated baggage it brings along.  

     Second, when we are severely compromised emotionally we have to find a way to avoid making major decisions.  In fact that should be something we resolve and are diligent about.   

     Third is the friend that was concerned enough that he set a time to meet with her and express his concern.  How often do we see someone doing something we think is foolish and just let it pass by?  And if someone else questions our decision making, aren't we quick to view it as an attack on ourselves and become more even more resolved to move forward with our bad decision?  Without his willingness to confront and his gentle nature in doing so she would have acted completely against her self-interest - and I would have been her accomplice !!  But it is the friendships she had cultivated that provided the means to pull her through a potentially disastrous situation.  

     For me personally the biggest lesson is that when God nudges us into service we often don't truly know God's will until the situation unfolds.  If we decide to be a crusader and charge in on a white horse we can do irreparable harm in someone's life - fully convinced we are some kind of savior.  In this case the pathway became apparent and no harm was done, but that may not always be the case.  

Today, may I know prudence.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Who loves ya?

“Compassion is the anti-toxin of the soul.  Where there is compassion even the most poisonous impulses remain relatively harmless.”  -  Eric Hoffer

“Charity begins at home, but it should not end there.”  -  Thomas Fuller

      While working on a story about the heroin addiction epidemic in New England, I sat talking with a man who works in an emergency room environment.  Prior to his career in primary care he had worked for a decade as a counselor in a drug and alcohol detox ward.  He was explaining that in the case of heroin there are no “casual users” as there are with other drugs like alcohol.  He said that of the people who become addicted to opiates (whether OxyContin prescribed by a Dr. or heroin from a dealer) less than one percent will see long term recovery.  I inquired what long term recovery means, and he said ten years or more. 

     I then asked him what is different about what that one percent do.  He said that opiates take over a person mind, body and spirit.  If all three areas are not addressed the person doesn’t have a chance.  It takes five weeks of abstinence for the physical to be overcome, but the obsession of the mind and the craving of the soul will linger for the rest of the person’s life if they don’t address those issues.  When I inquired about what that involved, he said that about one percent of addicts choose to follow a rigorous path of spiritual growth, and a by-product of those efforts seem to be relief of the mental and spiritual aspects of staying clean. 

     I further inquired if the medical establishment has any vehicle to help folks find this spiritual solution.  He responded that in this country the medical field as a whole is based on profit motives and pretty much devoid of any spiritual understanding.  In fact he said it seems to scare most medical establishment people when you bring it up.  They immediately take an arrogant posture, and he stated that arrogance is always the product of ignorance.  But then he corrected himself – he said there are strong level of compassion surrounding two areas of medicine – hospice and neonatal.  

     “So, they love you when you are born and dying, but the rest of the time you aren’t much besides a potential profit center?”  I asked.  We talked for a while about how it isn’t just the medical field that seems to only have genuine compassion for babies and the dying, it seems to be sort of a norm in our society as a whole.

     This segment of that interview has been weighing on my mind since.  As usual, my ego wants to make some kind of indictment of others so that I can judge them and deem myself superior.  But the reality is that I cannot change anyone but myself, and even changing myself is a tall order.

     I brought it up with a friend that has an interesting perspective.  He said that yes, we have ceremonies to celebrate new life and to celebrate one’s life after they pass on.  But we as individuals have the option to fully live a day at a time, and in doing that we celebrate every day of life.  In doing that we find a spiritual connection that works.  And in doing that we celebrate our fellow’s lives each and every day.

    It took some decades of my life to realize that changing the world is unrealistic, and beyond that it doesn’t need changing.  If this indeed is simply a place we come as spirits to face adversities so that we can learn lessons there is only one thing we are capable of “fixing” here in the first place.  Ourselves. 

     If we are to have compassion for our fellows we must first have compassion for ourselves.  If we are to have enough compassion for ourselves to allow ourselves to be human we have to come to truly know ourselves.  And the only way to truly know ourselves is through rigorous self-examination.  If we choose to do that work we can finally give ourselves permission to be ok just as we are, and we can finally be “ok” enough to relax and live life a moment at a time.  And only when we allow ourselves to “be” can we grant our fellows the respect to appreciate them for exactly who and what they are. 

     No matter what issue I face in life, it always seems to come back to that.  Maybe someday I will mature enough that I won’t keep wasting the effort to find “another solution.”

Today, may I keep it simple.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

So, how's your head feel?

Fort King George; Darien Georgia

We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us.  -  Ken Levine

Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. – Albert Einstein

     I recently decided to upgrade to the new version of Windows, and as always happen I faced a few problems.  So when I met a computer guy I was keen to hear what he had to say about it.   My “issues” turned out to be divided between reluctance to change old habits and learning to file a few things differently, so the adjustments are minor.  Later, I asked the programmer what the difference is between a top flite programmer and a run of the mill guy.  His answer gave me pause.

     He said that when the average person is working on a computer and they hit a wall, they back up and keep hitting the wall – harder.  It usually results in anger and the person gives up on what they were trying to do.  But someone who knows a bit about programming will often force a solution.  And, he said, forcing solutions always bring unintended consequences.

     He continued by saying that as soon as a good programmer hits a wall, they step back and reassess.  He stressed the first time – they do not repeatedly bang into the same barrier.  There are always a number of approaches, and they weigh the potential “side effects” of each idea.  Then they proceed in a new direction.  That doesn’t mean they won’t hit another wall – it simply means they don’t keep hitting the same one. 

     This spoke to me directly about how it is to follow the spiritual path when I am blocked.  Of course computer code is a two dimensional thing and we live in four dimension – a much more complex arrangement.  A given computer code will give the same outcome today as it did ten years ago and a thousand years in the future.  But throw in the third and fourth dimensions and just the timing of things can dramatically alter outcomes.  However, in spite of the infinitely increased complexity, we have an advantage.  We can choose to work to connect with God who gives us guidance through the maze.

     But for me, those times inevitably come when I am “living in my head” and cannot clearly hear the intuitive voice.  I don’t always have the luxury to just sit and wait to get back in alignment: choosing to “do nothing” brings its own set of consequences.  In these times I feel like I am groping along in the dark.  I still get some guidance - even in this reduced state of awareness I know the “next wrong thing to do.” But knowing “the next right thing” is elusive.  I can reach out to other spiritually connected people and sometimes my answer comes.   But when it doesn’t I am left with trial and error - very inefficient tools when it comes to learning and doing. 

      So I hit walls.  When I realize I have hit one, I also realize I cannot see above, below or around it.  In fact I usually can’t even look backward and see where I came from.  It is surprising how hard it is to remember to back off, pause, consider the bigger picture and ask for guidance.  Instead I get stubborn and try to force solutions. I bang on that wall, I get frustrated and ultimately I end up in anger or self-pity.  And then I go back and hit that same wall again.  There have been times in my life I have hit the same wall repeatedly – for decades.

     But every once in a while I remember to pause and reflect.  Sometimes I choose to walk away and try something completely different.  Sometimes I try a different approach – which sometimes is effective and sometimes leads me to a new wall.  But sometimes creating the gap in my thinking brings me an intuitive notion that carries me back onto the spiritual path – where there are no walls. 

     What does this all mean?  It doesn’t mean I am not going to hit more walls in life, it just means I am minimizing the number of walls I hit more than once.  It means I am working to connect more deeply with the source so I can operate in spaces there are no walls.  And I have finally figured out that life is a good bit easier without all those bruises on my forehead.

Today, may I connect

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