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
August, 2018

Why the Need to Attend Class Reunions?

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

I’ve just spent a weekend celebrating the 50th anniversary of high school graduation, 1968.  I have a deep gratitude for the classmates who collaborated to put this event on.  I suspect most of us have a little trepidation about meeting after all these years given the inevitable entropy of our bodies.   We’ve had lots of practice at facing the importance and impermanence of the physical form.  

As a historical refresher, most of our class was thirteen when JFK was shot, Dr. King was shot the spring of our graduating year, and Bobby Kennedy was shot that summer, and the Chicago protests at the Democratic convention took place that summer.  The Beatles and the British music invasion were full swing, Woodstock happened the following summer, Eastern thought was meeting Western thought, and psychotherapists were promoting the benefit of hallucinogens that had the capacity to further ‘pull the rug’ from what we thought we knew.  The controversy of Vietnam was building.  Some of us went there.  Most of us used the student deferment to avoid it.  Two of my childhood playmates died over there the fall of 1969.  I recall that one sent letters back about the atrocities, threatened suicide and generally numbed out with drugs.  The other was a medic killed while collecting the injured.

Our class was pretty homogenous, white Christian.  Our wars of difference tended to be around the varieties of Christianity.  Our minorities were very minority of number, mainly a few hispanics who were able to live here year round.  Our parents weren’t accustomed to racial diversity and almost unintentionally carried an air of superiority over any diversity, even though they had known what it was like to be an ‘outsider’.  For as many reasons as there were classmates, some of us couldn’t wait to leave and explore the world and some stayed home and contributed to the local Albert Lea community.  We all found our different ways of healing from the pain of living throughout our growing up.  I have deep gratitude for the wonderful times we shared as we were just beginning to ‘be cooked’ in this wonderful pot called ‘life’.  At the time I felt excruciating pain and failure, and now I review how high school wounding made me a better person and prepared me for handling future relational failures.  I suspect there are those who refuse to heal from their wounding, holding anger to the conditions they felt hoisted upon them.  Some resorted to intoxicants to dull the pain.  Yet, most of us used the support that came from friends, faith and family to move through these difficult times.

The classmate who put the most into putting on our reunion on spoke to us with an eloquent, touching story of where he found his support and confidence.  He recalled moving to Albert Lea when thirteen, feeling anxious about fitting in, only to be met with kindness by the kids that shared the first row with him.  He listed the names of those kids, holding tears back with each name.  I’m honored to know my wife was one of them.  I told her this story since she didn’t attend the meeting and she didn’t recall the event but felt so good to hear the story.  So much of our life story is to fight those never ending thoughts of ‘not being enough’.  The restless mind of disatisfaction is forever at work saying we need more, should be more, should have done more, etc.  I’ve found the antidote to this is resting in that place of peace for kind actions we’ve done, the effects of which we’ll generally never know.  The effects shown by the kindness of the kids in the front row still lives over a half a century past the event.  I suspect my classmate has told this story to his children and grandchildren so that it has potential to be told another fifty or one-hundred years.

I have a practice called the Five Remembrances that grounds me with a daily review.  Essentially, it says it’s of human nature to age, to experience illness, to shed the body, and to let go all of our personal attachments when we take our last inspiration.  Yet, the results of our actions when in these bodies live on.  It’s why it’s so critically important to be careful with how we treat one another, how we examine potential harm we may cause with our actions, and why we need to let others know how grateful we are for how they supported us, how they gave us strength and confidence to move on into unknown territory.

I feel bad I haven’t specifically told my greatest supporters how central they’ve been to my navigation down new roads.  I recall the teachers who pushed me beyond what I thought possible, the ones who gave me lifelong skills I still employ, the ones who thought I was worth a shot, and the ones who inspired me with their dedication.  Our class honored a great teacher by the name of Paul Goodnature.  His last name captures what I’m talking about.  He knew his material and inspired his students to explore with a never ending curiosity.  He gave a speech that was filled with his gratitude for the students and the collaborative pilgrimage we were all on.  I never had him as a teacher, but I can guarantee, he’ll rest in peace knowing the results of his actions. His compassion and depth of curiosity will live on without entropy.

In conjunction with this reunion, I’ve been reading Thomas Friedman’s latest book, “Thank You For Being Late”.  He’s a fellow Minnesotan who concludes his book with the beauty of what’s been called ‘Minnesota nice’.  There really is something special about this part of the country and how we face change.  The book deals with the accelerating speed of climate change, globalization and technology and how it seems to be moving at an overwhelming pace.  Our capacity to collaborate, to adapt, and thrive will depend on our capacity to keep an open mind.  He writes: 

“Who cares where you are on the right-left political spectrum today?  What matters is where you are on the open-closed, love-to-learn, don’t love-to-learn, spectrums.”  p. 260

Given the tremendous propaganda forces in our culture today that try to eliminate curiosity and the open mind through opinion media, special interest lobby groups and pay to play politics, I’m so grateful for those teachers and friends who’ve given me the confidence to explore new territory or to see old territory new.  

What do you say to classmates after fifty years of being cooked?  It was a turbulent experience as we’re flooded with memories of the past.  I’m sure we all had our share of blundering comments as we moved through such intensity of experience unsure of what to say.  However, the real gift of class reunions for me has come in the insights after.  After fifty years you have to learn to let negative bygones be bygones. The heart heals with gratitude for the gifts given and a strong conviction to hold humor at the missteps we’ve made along the way.

Yes, entropy happens.  It’s the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  It’s a law of nature that energy ultimately dissipates.  Yet, the results of our emotions, thoughts and consequent actions live long beyond our time in these bodies.  At a fifty year class reunion we’re all now much more cooked than our parents were when we were in high school.  Some of us are great grandparents.  Some of us are trying to get through the day with deep emotional or physical pain.  I suspect there were some facing diagnosis of a terminal disease.  At the end of the day, I can only hope I’ll always hold gratitude for the many who’ve given me support on the way, joy for the unknown moments of kindness I’ve shown throughout the journey, and most importantly, forgiveness from those whom I’ve intentionally or unintentionally harmed.  We seldom will know the results of the positive or negative seeds we’ve sown through this journey.  Yet, when an old acquaintance recalls a moment of our kindness and how it fed their spirit, that’s what makes peace in the heart by feeding our spirit.  In essence, it’s the Golden Rule applied.

Breaking Past the Echo Chamber of the Mind

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

I recall Wayne Dyer saying we have an estimated 60,000 thoughts a day, with almost all of them being repeating thoughts.  I also have heard ‘belief’ defined as a thought we won’t let go.  When we are stuck in our beliefs, rigid to pilgrimage to new thoughts, learning stops.  I do remember a time when the news was primarily non-emotive reporting.  The advertising persuasion was there for a new car or for cigarettes, but the news anchors didn’t report from their bias.  Our churches kept pushing static thoughts and the government had its agenda.  In effect, it seems those in power aim to control the thoughts we think so we’ll obey them.  I was fortunate, growing up through the static times of the 50’s and early 60’s where a culture of questioning those static thoughts was frowned upon.   And then the Beatles came with the rest of the British music invasion.  Eastern spiritual practices were influencing us, psychedelic drugs were pulling the rug from under our static world, and politics was being turned on its head with the beginning of globalization.  I was an early revolutionary at the time, and fortunately for me, my parents took an open minded approach to my challenge of those early childhood static thoughts.  While many of the rest of the family would have thrown me under the bus, while the church was appalled by my questioning thought and the state was disgusted that I wouldn’t blindly follow them to the Vietnam War, my parents encouraged and accepted my exploration of thought.

Holding on to repeating thoughts kills creativity and enthusiasm to meet life with vitality.  Just like water is flexible, always exploring the path of least resistance, constipated thought within the echo chamber of the mind is rigid and generally leads to anxiety, disatisfaction, craving, lack of vitality, anger, fear, and greed.  You can check this out for yourself by assessing your attachment to ‘being right’.  The more we’re attached to our sense of knowing the answer, the more threatened we are when we meet diversity of thought.  No doubt, it’s much easier to associate with those who echo the same thoughts in our minds than to engage in dialogue with those who have a different thought echo chamber.  And we seem to form our groups of similarity  to further entrench our ‘beliefs’.  I can feel safe speaking politics with those who think the same thoughts I do, speak religion with those who think God is what I think, and with those who consume like I consume.

This matter of consumption is crucial to our times as we’re facing media aimed to shape consciousness rather than to inform.  Media used to report events and leave the personal reaction to us.  Today, with the vast options to media and the corporate financial incentives to shape viewers’ minds, there is no news.  Perhaps the closest thing to news today is the BBC.  No matter where you turn, there’s an angle to persuade you to a particular repeating thought pattern based on inference and judgment.  It’s almost impossible to find a news anchor today reporting events without an emotive vocal inflection or biased slant to what the owners’ of the media want conveyed.  Whether it’s on the so described ‘right’ or ‘left’, we can pretty much predict the repeating thoughts we’ll hear day after day.  Those thoughts generate a horizontal thought association with what lines up with our thinking, we consume more and more, and ultimately become ‘obese in thought’, many times repeating the biased media’s rationale over and over and over.  This reinforces our sense of ‘I know that’ and kills the cornerstone of democracy which demands a well informed society willing to dialogue the events of the day with an open, ‘I don’t know that’, mindset.

Perhaps the greatest gift of a truly liberal arts education is coming to that place of intellectual thirst where you ‘know you don’t know’.  The deeper we go in our learning, the more we uncover, the more we know we’re just touching the tip of the iceberg. I remember researching topics at the library, reviewing the thoughts others had on the topic, providing my personal analysis, and then being challenged to come up with my own synthetic creative statement which incorporated previous thinkers with my thought.  It was always a humbling experience and my advisors were continuously challenging my inferences and conclusions until I was humbled to the vast mystery and depth of the issue.  It seems that students today ‘believe’ Google will provide them a complete answer.  Yet, our searches are ranked on a ‘pay to play’ basis, so once again,  it’s impossible to get an unbiased answer without influence from those in power and wealth.

Whether you’re under the influence of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Network or NBC’s counter marketing strategy with MSNBC, you’re decreasing your capacity to face issues with a creative mind.  If you do engage someone with an open mind you’re probably also caught in the fantasy of actually changing their mind.  This seldom goes well since an attempt to change another always has an underlying element of violence.  So how can we go forward, or has the propaganda machine won?

There is a way to break the echo chamber and move into new territory.  It’s through the process of ‘stilling the mind’, with a steady practice of simply observing our thoughts in silence, eventually noticing those magical places of ‘no thought’.  These moments are brief, but it’s where real peace is found and where the creative ‘new thought’ arises.  One spiritual teacher described it as a ‘bounce’.  It’s a space where we can let go our very notions/concepts of a separate being and touch impermanence and the felt sense of our interconnection with all things.  This is a place where original thoughts come up.  It’s actually called Divine Providence in the Declaration of Independence.  The founding fathers had a strong sense of spirituality and deep faith in thoughts arising from deep within the well of faith.  Indigenous cultures recognized this great power as well as they advised ‘just breathing’ before anyone speaks.  Actually, the word ‘inspire’ comes from the root of ‘breath in’.

If you want to break the echo chamber of static thoughts, increase your vitality, and contribute something new to the conversation rather than repeating old thoughts over and over, start a mindfulness practice in the early morning before the renegade mind takes over with relentless repeating thoughts.  This is easiest in nature with the first lighting of the day and the first nature sounds that accompany it.  In this space we’re more likely to bounce into the creative ‘no thought’ moment, more likely to touch the sacred and still the mind from the profane, from greedy and fearful thoughts, from the restlessness and disatisfaction that seems to come from the human condition.  Over time, you’ll be amazed at the discovery of first time thoughts, actually once again becoming the ‘creative artist of life’ you once were as a child.  This practice of awareness and mindfulness will lead to a richer quality of life as you become less and less concerned with ‘being right’, ‘changing others to be like you’, ‘seeking the approval of others’, or with numbing yourself from the pain of echo chamber thoughts through intoxicants and screen time.