just be it It’s about the work involved in establishing a dedicated practice to feelings of a bigger belonging through practices aimed at increasing feelings of compassion, gratitude and forgiveness
December, 2016

The Skills of Disarmament

Thursday, December 8th, 2016


Yesterday my daughter-in-law was subjected to a militarized response to a high school altercation. A mentally disturbed student wielded a knife, refused to release his weapon upon command, and a security officer shot him. My daughter-in-law teaches at this school and was walking outside when she heard the commotion. She saw students frozen in shock, failing to take cover. With the alarm announcing lock down, she gathered twenty-three random students and tried to find a free room to mother hen them to. Her hands were shaking so violently she couldn’t lock the door and thanks to a fellow teacher, they secured themselves in a room of uncertainty.

Many of the students had cell phones so they could gradually start to make some sense of the situation. After an hour of lock down six officers abruptly entered the room, all guns drawn on them. Their force and authority of questioning was what she has been most terrorized by. She is a white teacher in a school of vast diversity, many of her students unsure if they’ll be forced to leave the country they were born in, many having only known their life experience in Reno. Fortunately, they all obeyed and none of the officers used their weapons. This was her first experience in having a loaded weapon pointed at her. She stayed in lock down with these students for three hours. She had not used a restroom since eight o’clock and they did not release until after three. She was afraid to leave the room for fear of gunfire. Finally, an officer with an assault weapon escorted her.

This story is still unfolding and I’m the first to admit we’re far from knowing what happened. No doubt, we’ll all weave our story according to our worldview. Currently, the student is in critical condition. The officer is suspended on paid leave. The students and faculty got a two hour delay from returning to school today. And we’ve all been terrorized by an incident that we hope we can learn from. So how can we have better outcomes in our reactive society?

The best action is always one that comes from experience, alignment, and the capacity to move with best intent for all and harm to none. It’s not easy and we don’t know if that’s what this officer did. Clearly, the mentally disturbed student violated a key rule: always respect authority, but always know there will be a time where it’s your duty to question authority. If someone’s holding a gun on you or has capacity to incarcerate you, best to do what they say. In the heat of emotion is no time to pose the question or resist. In 2003 our family attended a spiritual retreat with the Madison police force. We all grew in empathizing with the challenges faced in this difficult job. At that time I deepened my compassion for their work and vowed to always try to see any situation through their experience. Previous to this I had met traffic violations with my frustration. After hearing their challenges, whenever I was stopped I apologized for putting them in the position of having to approach a stranger, not knowing if they’re armed or not. I haven’t been issued a ticket since that retreat. Previous to our election I derided my disgust for Donald Trump. I have done this with Nixon, Reagan and G.W. Bush. However, once they’ve been awarded the authority to lock me up or kill me, perhaps best to temper my commentary. I’ve always found it puzzling how so many have shown lack of respect for our current President. I can think of several citizens I would have imprisoned for treason given their harmful behavior. Given Trump’s militaristic cabinet picks, I’d suggest to those comedians having a field day with him that they may want to show respect before their lives are made difficult.

I know what a militarized government feels like. In the late ’60’s I frequently visited Chicago. Mayor Daily had a police force beefed up from the convention riots and it was commonplace to be frisked given our longer hair. It was profiling. It wasn’t right. Yet, during that oppressive moment, it was no time to resist. I’ve counseled my sons to do what you can to stay out of people’s way. You never know what their experience is. Tragic results from road rage attest to this. Our family will never own a gun for a sense of protection. We’ve worked on our skills of non-resistance and disarmament. Statistics now show that the possession of a weapon in the home increases one’s risk of harm by 400%. If someone wants to steal my stuff and they have a weapon, I’m going to respect them as well. Again, all situations are different and all we can do is deepen our practice at holding our center for when the earthquake happens.

So today I mourn the fact that my daughter-in-law and her students were traumatized by having weapons drawn upon them. I meet the pain of the elderly grand parents trying to raise two very challenging boys. I mourn the guilt the school administrator feels who recently admitted this disturbed child to the classroom. Yet, she had no choice given budget constraints and law. I mourn the security officer plagued with how he could have handled this better. I mourn the child in critical condition from his gunshot wound. I mourn the deep suffering we experience when acting from fear and anger instead of love and justice. But most importantly, I ask what we’re doing to enhance our skills in disarmament? How do we train to more balanced living, making less of a mess of things, training the reactive mind to “Stop. Look. And then Move.”

As a family, community, nation and planet, our very survival depends upon our capacity to step from forceful reactivity to skilled disarmament. We must ask our president elect who he’ll have around him with these skills. Where did they get their training and what’s their resume in ending conflicts without violence? These are the real heroes to me. The last president I recall who had these sophisticated skills was JFK, thanks in large measure to the tremendous speech writing collaborative he had with Ted Sorenson. So, President Elect Trump, you’ve shown us your taste for surrounding yourself with fighters. You’ve declared your faith in military force over diplomacy. Yet, today, my question is, “Who will you have who has the skills to disarm?” I love America and my freedom. I know I have limited information. I know violence and war gets all the media attention. And today, I deeply want to know who has the skills that you obviously don’t possess, to disarm those people/nations who would seek to harm us. This is where our real power is. This is where training to alert, aware, balanced action always leads to best for all and harm to none.

A Perfect Moment to Move from the Reptilian Mind to Collaboration: DAPL

Sunday, December 4th, 2016


Our very survival will depend upon our capacity to move from the lower levels of brain function to the development of skills in the pre cortex. Some have tied this movement to the heart. It’s part of our spiritual journey and why so much of our deeper religious teachings speak to this. It’s that place where we can embrace uncertainty in faith to that which is bigger than us. It’s a place where we can move beyond our limited notions of thinking we’re right and others are wrong. It’s more about our willingness to sit in humble stillness to a deeper knowing, seeking understanding to that which we’ll never know, but we can forever challenge ourselves to know better. So how does this upgrade to higher function look?

The most obvious is found in the courage to live for deeper understanding with compassion to all living things. The temptation to divide and separate in survivalist thinking diminishes and our thoughts, emotions and actions are aimed to ‘not cause harm’ and to ‘bear witness’ to those places where harm is occurring. Today great harm is caused in our judicial system as we lock into didactic judgments of ‘guilty’ vs. ‘not guilty’. Higher function would add another category called, ‘we don’t know’. When we have the courage to embrace uncertainty we find our pure intention to dig deeper. In the justice system this takes the form of restorative justice. The party of complaint sits in open inquiry with the suspected causer of harm and they mediate a deeper truth about how to move forward. This justice relies on our faith that eventually truth comes up and moves away from the antiquated ‘right’ vs. ‘wrong’ thinking. Again, it’s what’s at the core of all major spiritual traditions. We all make mistakes. We all miss the mark. The mind can be an extremely volatile thing, and if we truly apply the Golden Rule we’ll work together to a healthy evolution of body/mind/spirit.

Holding on to our ‘notions of knowing’ would seem to be a dis on grace given. Our prefrontal cortex recognizes how little we know. Our reptilian survival mind locks into a closed thinking cycle and works to force a dominance on others from the poisons of greed, fear and anger. The mind of separation pushes to force others to fixed beliefs. Our suffering today is the result of our attachment to these poisons. Spiritual mandates focus upon not doing harm, living a life of simplicity and moderation, sharing, seeking depth in our living, generosity, forgiveness, curiosity and faith. Real faith surrenders in humility to what we don’t know. Real faith dismantles those antiquated methods of governance that support big money lobbyists, the perpetual war machine, and questions the callous push to disregard those in deep suffering from global conflicts and economic stress. Real faith recognizes we do have abundant resources to feed and house everyone when our greed to hoard material wealth is exposed. When we move from our separated reptilian mind to collaboration we sit together in search of understanding. Real faith moves with urgency to dismantle the 15000 nuclear warheads that serve no function but to stimulate other nations to create their own. Real faith recognizes this planet and life on it are a gift from the divine, an opportunity for us to smash our illusion of separateness. The reptilian mind, even when it knows the train is headed for a mountain wall, wants to speed it up with denial. Greed and fear denies that even use of one hundred nuclear warheads would end life on earth as we know it. Greed and fear proclaims the mantra of ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ ignoring the scientific evidence and spiritual mandate to steward the land, air and water we’ve been blessed with. Real faith would have our corporations valued not only by quarterly profits, but penalized or rewarded for harm/benefit to employees, customers, community, nation, international community and environment. Real faith and exploration of the stilled mind reveals our behavior today as similar to ants in the sugar bowel. Our fixed belief thought and mindless consumption are leading us from an awakening to a deeper sleep.
We do have a choice. We can fall into a deeper sleep or wake up. We can continue to exert our violent ways upon others, causing harm from our thoughts of ‘righteousness’, or we can open in curiosity to better understand the mystery. We can experience a deeper connection with this gift of life by dedicating to a practice of stillness, dismantling our fixed belief. We can teach our children to respect authority, but also forever question it. We can educate to deeper questions rather than fixed answers. We can balance our Dept. of Defense and State (War) with a Dept. of Conflict Resolution (Peace). We can open our limited spiritual beliefs to embrace diversity of all faiths, discovering the common truths they all carry, first and foremost, to love one another as ourselves because we are each other.

So we can continue as ants in the sugar bowel. Our new executive, legislation and judicial branches appear excited to exert their notions of ‘belief’ upon us. My reptilian mind wants to engage them in survivalist ‘right’ vs. ‘wrong’ debate. I’m tempted to elevate my sense of personhood, attacking their words and actions. Yet, too many years of living in conflict have shown this to not be helpful. So how do we move forward?

Just invite one another to sit. And if those we’ve invited can sit quietly, admitting they don’t know everything, then maybe, just maybe, we can climb out of that sugar bowel of greed, fear and anger before we rob life of the opportunity to participate. Today our news media has shown up to see what happens tomorrow with the Dakota pipeline issue. Their hungry ghost mentality is looking for what they think is a good news story. They love building conflict that ends in violence and deep suffering. I would love to see the Native American process of Council displayed for the world to see. Here we would have witness to the benefits of Native American elders in collaboration with key government officials and the key representative from the oil industry. Together, all would sit with an agreement to listen with curiosity, speak from the heart, release all attempts to persuade, and honor brevity of speech. This is really what our founding fathers were referring to in the Declaration of Independence when they called for surrender and reliance upon divine Providence. It’s what real faith looks like. It comes from our surrender to stillness, to that which is far bigger than we’ll ever know. It’s sourced from gratitude for the opportunity to be, feeding a sense of compassion and forgiveness. It’s what drives us together to solutions far bigger than we could have ever imagined from our closed minds. It moves us to a sense of stewardship, forever asking one another how harm is caused. It drives from a faith that breaks our illusion of difference and embraces our interdependence. Sometimes, this willingness to just sit with one another in clear intention to ‘not cause harm’ is all we need to keep from destroying one another. Sometimes the gravity of culture can cave to our spiritual mandate to care for one another. This is a moment in time that’s as big as any other moment that has pitted the reptilian mind against the mind of understanding and compassion.

Tomorrow will show us the play of power vs. force. The violent, forceful attempts to dominate another have so far shown to only grow the conflict to international awareness. This has been countered by the power capacity of Native Americans and supporters to ‘bear witness’ to the events. It has us asking how we can release the grasping mind to rest in our true nature of love and respect for one another and our planet. It’s played out against the horrific history we have with indigenous peoples and truly brings to light the hypocrisy of our current push to not allow in refugees who are facing issues of their very survival. The reptilian brain moves from the illusion of our separateness, creating multiple borders of belonging. The pre frontal cortex brain moves from the intention to break boarders, to move in compassion and stewardship to one another. The American Dream moves away from hoarding stuff and mindless consumption to a new era of care for one another, for our planet, for all beings. The weight, pain and suffering from the illusion of ‘having’ is exposed. A sense of spiritual purpose that’s larger than our violent limited beliefs feeds the new American Dream, the dream of opportunity for all. This is my dream, to sit together in stillness, fully surrendered from thought, filled with gratitude for the gift of life. If you’re willing to admit you don’t know everything, so am I. If you’re willing to move from the reptilian brain of righteousness to embrace uncertainty in humility to that mystery that’s far bigger than we’ll ever know, then maybe, just maybe we can steward a humanity to a spiritual awakening before it’s too late.

Making a Joy List

Sunday, December 4th, 2016
Shine On

Shine On

What are those things you do that give lasting joy? Our consumer driven society works us all day long trying to sell us on pleasure. Yet, this inevitably has short term effect, yielding a vacuum and increased desire for the next thing. I’m talking about those activities we engage in that feed a lasting sense of well being. So often, when we’re filled with restlessness, we may resort to unhealthy eating, shopping, various spectator entertainments, intoxicants, etc. Yet, after engaging these pleasures we feel worse than we did before. We know this restlessness is part of the human condition. No one is immune. We’re either pulled to wanting what we had or pushed to desiring what’s not in front of us. Yet, our real joy is to fully engage the moment with a gratitude orientation for the opportunity to just participate in this life.

I wish someone would develop an app that would quantify our sense of restlessness vs. our sense of well being. The more we cultivate our awareness, the better we get at sensing this felt sense of well-being. We’re repeatedly directed by our spiritual teachers to do what we can to move away from negative emotions and thoughts. We know that the more we attach to negatives, the more we suffer. The more we put attention to the moment and to gratitude for the opportunity to participate, the less we suffer. For some people, this process comes naturally. For most of us, it’s hard work that requires daily practice. Making a ‘joy list’ is an essential part of this practice. When negative feelings come up, do we go for short term pleasure or mindful practice of those skills that increase our awareness and sense of well being?

For me, I loved chocolate, ice cream, beer, crusty breads, and candy. Sometimes I’d try to comfort myself with these foods. Sometimes I corrupted any experience of the present moment because my thoughts were entangled with my addiction to these foods. For me, these were pleasure foods that had negative consequence. I enjoyed them in my mouth, but later my body was confused from my lack of awareness. I shifted my food consumption emphasis from the pleasure sensation of the mouth to the feeling of well-being from the nourishment of the food. I’m continually amazed at our lack of regard to the ‘feeling’ of well being or pain following our consumption of various foods. Some call my abstinence from chocolate and ice cream ‘will power’. It is. It’s my will to nourish my body for a long term felt sense of joy.

So when the restless, complaining, ‘not enough’ mind turns on, what do you do? Do you go for the short term pleasure, or sustained sense of well being? Do you increase your suffering or reduce it? Do you move from pain to numbness, or pain to awareness?

Some people have asked me about my ‘joy list’ as an example. Here’s a list of some of my favorites.

Review photos of my family, recalling gifts of the past, recognizing the fleeting moments in this live and just making space to acknowledge how so many have been such great support to my joy and sense of well being.
Meditate daily. The mind is a very dangerous thing as we’re so often entangled in negative thoughts. It takes tremendous discipline and skill to pause, to cultivate the silence between thoughts, and to allow the presence of that which is much bigger than our ego’s attempt to identify us as separate from the Divine. While I practice at least thirty minutes each morning, whenever restlessness comes upon me with negative emotions, I know I can meditate to once again discover lasting feelings of well being.
Yoga. This body that gets me around is the only one I have or will have. It’s huge mystery and performs so many functions beyond my awareness. A daily practice of yoga provides lasting joy as I develop greater awareness to the body, deeper listening, and cultivate a stewardship to lasting health. I consistently find a greater sense of well-being from all moving meditation practices, but have particularly found a place for yoga.
Breath instruments. A deeper sense of well-being is very much dependent upon breath and our awareness to it. Centered, balanced breath that comes from deep within the diaphragm provides great stability for meeting ‘what comes up’. My primary breath instrument is the trumpet. Even though I started playing at the age of eight, each moment the mouthpiece touches my lips, it’s new. Breath is the most important element. This awareness of depth, balance, and centeredness transfers to my secondary instruments, harmonica and voice. Whenever negative emotions and thoughts seem to be grabbing me, I know I can go to these instruments for relief.
Engaging in an activity with intention to relieve another from suffering. I know my healing from suffering is best fed from doing what I can to make myself available to others for the purpose of easing their pain. I’m particularly filled with a sense of well being when meeting pain and suffering of those who’ve been oppressed. When I can actually do something that creates opportunity for someone who’s freedom to participate has been obstructed, my sense of well being soars. When I can feel their imprisonment as mine rather than taking a ‘fix it’ attitude, my sense of participation leads to lasting joy, just for having met their suffering. In short, compassion yields deep joy when we have the courage to engage in it.
Boardsports. There’s something about putting my entire bodyweight on a single surface that alleviates my suffering. This activity takes great awareness, attention to the moment, and balance that challenges us in new ways. When caught in my mind’s restlessness, I always know that engaging in boardsport will bring me to greater sense of well-being, whether Stand Up Paddle, windsurfing, kitesurfing, skateboarding, wakeboarding, or snowboarding. The kinesthetic focus on ‘cultivating stability on an unstable platform’ is great practice and preparation for meeting the surprise of the next moment.
Engaging others in deeper conversations. While I get temporary joy from surface socializing with friends, the lasting sense of well-being comes from deeper conversations with those who are also exploring their spiritual journey. Conversations with curious, open minded and vital people feeds my soul and sense of well being in a very rich way. I find it helpful to have a list of those people willing to do this. It’s like going to church with an adventuresome mind, willing to ask deeper questions, forever humbled to life’s mystery.
Take a nap. Sometimes fatigue comes upon me. Taking a brief nap (about twenty minutes), can often change my sense of well-being, feeding me with new energy for meeting the next moments of the day.
Mindful consumption. I know I can improve my sense of well-being by holding awareness to foods and/or drinks which nourish and sustain. This is especially helpful when done with others from a sense of gratitude and community.
Engage nature. Taking a walk, ski, bike, or board into nature always improves the sense of well-being. Several in the mind/body health field recommend a minimum of thirty minutes in nature each day for a balanced life. When I’m particularly carried with negative thoughts and emotions, this is my ‘go to’. Get outside, breath deep, and just keep moving. It’s extremely effective at helping me to get bigger than the problem, even when the problem seems big.
Gratitude practice. Did you know that joy is a necessary consequence of gratitude? No matter how much pain and complaint we may be caught in, when we move to gratitude we increase our sense of well being. Try it. I was told this by a Benedictine monk when I was over fifty years old. It should be taught to every child at an early age. What parent doesn’t want their child to be happy? Well, here’s a practice that can do this. Yet, it is a skill that requires practice. When caught with feelings of ‘not enough’, ‘make space to find the gift in the given’. Some have said it’s not about getting what you want, but rather, wanting what you get. This practice at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day provides great momentum for lasting joy and sense of well being.

These are a few things on my list. They’re my ‘go to’ when negative emotion grabs me. No doubt, I’ve got my short term pleasures. Yet, over the years, I’ve seen how they’ve not served me, and so often, have harmed me. If this article has helped you think about your list, I’m happy. We all suffer. Our work is to let go and engage in practices that feed our sense of joy and well being. Throughout the day we’re tossed by the winds of change, moving from pleasure to pain, gain to loss, praise to criticism, fame and disrepute. We get ourselves in trouble when we step from our calm, joy and sense of well being. Life goes better when we can move from a sense of spiritual security, with balance and equanimity, holding a feeling of well being, no matter what. I hope you’ll consider your joy list after reading this. Do it when you’re feeling a strong sense of well being. Write it down. Make it your ‘go to’ when things get rough. Holding our light when an earthquake happens works better when we’ve cultivated our joy list.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Thursday, December 1st, 2016