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LETTING GO: A RECIPE FOR THE FUTURE

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During the course of each of our lives we hear many things that cause us to listen. Some of these things are helpful, some disastrous, and between all that is conflicting advice. Take for instance, the concept of forgiveness. I have always been told by my elders to forgive people for their wrongs and accidental slights – no matter what these were. Few people have gone so far as to advise that, in addition to forgiveness, “to pray for them”, or “forgive, but don’t forget”. I’m sure I’m not alone in this confusing matter, so I’m going to briefly share what I think about it.

Forgiveness, at its very core, harbors the assumption that people will cross you, people will do you wrong, hurt you, use you, amongst all other manner of negative things. This means that forgiveness exists because people are capable of harm – directly or indirectly, and sometimes both ways.

Secondly, forgiveness assumes a therapeutic role – in that there is marginal benefit for victims and a vague notion that is to befall those unforgiving people. Resentment, negative expectations, deteriorated social relationships, spiritual stress, ailments, and sometimes deep-seated cultural morés, such as distrust in the “white-man” – or some such things – can be traced to unforgiveness.

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So, here I am, discussing forgiveness – an idea that most of my loved ones proclaim I should adopt, yet, they have such difficulty themselves with forgiveness. (This is not to say they are sociopaths.)

Perhaps the world I want to see doesn’t have forgiveness at all; a world where there are no people whose words trespass against anyone, and that acts are no longer harmful; eliminating all of those things that typically trigger the need for gifting or asking forgiveness. Of course, that’s not a reality; however, just as forgiveness does, we can also act upon our world in ways to preempt forgiveness: we can work to eliminate forgiveness. This idea may seem, at first glance, tricky, for us Indigenous people, having carried so much pain about the world in which our ancestors lived, a world near universally lost. But, if we can change our approach to how we are affected by others, we would do some real good for our next generation – freeing them from the weight of all that could have been.

😉

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IN SERVICE OF PEOPLE, NOT GOD

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After this century began, I had the pleasure of reading an anthology of short-stories, stories that implicated the human role in the larger scheme of existence. Is human life an absurd situation, or is there any inherent purpose in life, at all? For a guy who, at the time, didn’t have any formal college education, the old dusty book posited interesting questions about how people behave in ways so that life has meaning. That struck me as very interesting! The book, published in 1963, is called The Existential Imagination.[1] Many copies of the book are still available via Amazon.com and for as little as a penny (shipping and handling, is extra).[2] Need I mention, I’ve owned three copies over the years?

There are many good stories in the book regarding issues unique to the human condition. I don’t necessarily have any favorite story because they are all good for very different reasons. I would like to share the plot from one of the stories, here, and hopefully it allows you to ponder about any philosophical or theological implications thereafter. Hopefully, you are curious enough to go buy a copy, then read the rest of the book yourself.

The story that I mean to share is called Saint Emmanuel The Good, Martyr. It is the longest story of the anthology at around 35-pages. It’s written in the form of a fictional memoir, a letter found by the true author. The letter is an account of an Italian woman, Angelita, who takes the reader through her life, beginning as a young girl who entered convent school – at her brothers bidding. She spends five years there – until at age 15 – before returning to her village, Valverde de Lucerna. There she introduces us to the true protagonist in her memoir: Don Manuel, the priest in her beloved village.

The Don is described as a healer, a saint, who chopped wood for the poor, the protector, and nourishment to the village. He is kind to all – favoring “the most unfortunate…especially those who rebelled” (102).
One of my favorite quotes came from this story. It’s great advice even if stemming from a work of fiction. It reads:

“We should concern ourselves less with what people are trying to tell us than with what they tell us without trying” – Don Manuel

Angelita, also wrote about a time when a man in the village sent his boy out into the woods in a heavy rainstorm to fetch a loosed calf. The Don, saw the boy wandering near the trees, so he went out in the heavy rain to inquire why the boy was out at such a dangerous time. The boy explained, his father sent him out for a lost calf, whereafter listening, the Don sends the boy home. He explained he would locate the calf and bring it home for him. Upon returning to the boys home (with the calf) the father went out to meet the Don, who was soaking wet. The man, Angelita wrote, was thoroughly ashamed of himself.

The story builds to denouement once Angelita’s brother, Lazarus, returns home from America. Lazarus was not Catholic, and further did not believe in God. However, Don Manuel and Lazarus spend so much time together that after Angelita’s mom died, Lazarus chose to take communion, thereby converting to Catholicism. The village rejoices, and because, Don Manuel, had yet again, performed a miracle!

Later in the evening, Angelita finds herself alone with her brother, to whom she asks, “What things did Don Manuel state to you, that caused this conversion?” She hugs him. Lazarus finally replied that he only did so for the people, not because he himself believed, nor to seek eternal life. The Don implored him to take up religious life so to set a good example for the people, by taking part in religious community life. But Lazarus explains solemnly, that he also asked the Don, why he seemed to ask that he live a lie, adding, “Do you, believe, Don Manuel?” The Don, looking out over the lake, silently wept. After a few moments, the Don said:

“The truth, Lazarus, is perhaps something so unbearable, so terrible, so deadly, that simple people could not live with it,” and, “I am put here to give life… to make [people] happy, to make them dream they are immortal – and not to destroy them. The important
thing is that they live sanely, in accord with eachother…with my truth they could not live at all…”, “…let them live…”, “with the illusion that all this has a purpose”
(120).

So, there were tough questions, indeed, utilizing deep human conflict, one that many people have grappled with over the millennia. I, too, have often looked to the stars, asked my elders, and sought the answer to the very questions this story outlines, namely, Is there a God, and what does that mean for us? If there is no God, what then? Is life a pointless marathon unto death? Maybe it’s not so bad that we are left to answer this question alone? The greater point is that it’s a wonderful journey trying to figure it out for yourself. As I believe Don Manuel would say: At times, you might feel sad, or liberated when pondering the meaning of existing only a short while. Life may seem very lonely in that view. Whatever answers you come to, I’m sure you will be fine when choosing to live for others; according to one priest, it is exactly the same as living for God.

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__________________
Notes:
1.Karl, Frederick R., and Leo Hamalian, eds. (1963). “The Existential Imagination.” First Premier Books/Fawcett. NY

2.https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B000GRFJYO/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?qid=1465370579&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_FMwebp_QL65&keywords=the+existential+imagination

3. Images, public domain, customizations

APPROACHING RESISTANCE TO CHANGE

AS HUMANS, DESPITE OUR COLLECTIVE TALENTS and knowledge, we all encounter challenges in our lives. Although one challenge may be greater than another, it is the challenges that create action, create impetus to change, to adapt, or employ patience or some other skill that allows us overcome these challenges, and to evolve past them.

Challenges can be physical, such as in making the basketball squad in your school or college (a challenge that is not subject to diplomacy: you either are good enough or not). Then there are emotional challenges, such as involving the bereavement process (loss of a loved one) which may invoke spiritual, religious, and intellectual challenges, such as consideration of creeds of worship or religious rites. Moreover, challenges can be social, and perhaps a combination of any of these. No matter the type of challenge, they create stress.

So what do you do then?

Well, some people exercise – to increase endurance; some people do sudoku or perhaps take a class. Whatever the method utilized to combat stress, hopefully it works for you, but there is a pre-stress technique I would like you to be aware of which may allow you to affect a positive outcome in the face of certain social challenges. The technique, termed force-field analysis, comes to us from social-psychologist, Kurt Lewin. [1] Force-field analysis is used in business, collective-bargaining, and mediation. It can be employed by anyone who takes a few minutes to conduct such an analysis, and it is quite easy to remember. Force-Field Analysis, then, can be viewed like this:
In response to challenging stimuli, people will behave as resistant or encouraged to change – in relation to the adversity. There are 3 types of forces in any “field of controversy”. The first set of forces is called restraining forces – which aid ones resistance to change. Then, there are driving forces – which encourage change. Finally, there is the “inertia force” in the field, where both restraining and driving forces collide. The term force-field analysis is named for the insight used to devise strategies based on what is learned from competing forces in the field.

Let me clarify with an example:

You have been tasked with a project at work, this Friday afternoon, and due to the nature of your employment, are forced to work overtime. The project will likely add another 6-hours to your shift therefore you will certainly miss your son’s coveted playoff basketball match – one you promised to make. However, you realize that you could complete the extra work in around two-hours and still be able to keep your promise to your son if you could convince another colleague to also work overtime – which for any one of them – is not mandatory. After your initial inquiries nobody is convinced to stay late. There is one lead who seemed promising, but she had voiced concerns about additional pay for the babysitter, and was not sure she could afford to cover an extra 3-hours considering she has already exceeded her monthly budget expenditures.

A Force-Field Analysis for this scenario would look like this:

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In this situation, without the analysis, it looks as if you will miss your son’s senior basketball game and you will have broken a promise to him. However, a close analysis provides hope. If you are able to introduce an additional driving force (money) it might act upon your colleagues resistance. Offers to cover the babysitter out-of-pocket, and/or perhaps order a take-out meal to reinvigorate your colleague’s energy stores, or you might offer to baby sit for free a few nights, so your colleague could get a night on the town at some point in the future? Whatever course you choose, the answer lies in the creativity you attach to your analysis of the forces at play. This technique not only works well in business and in mediation-type arenas, you might discover that it can be used to see many kinds of challenges from a clearer perspective, thus, overcome resistance to behaviors you wish to modify.

I hope this was helpful. May the force be with you. 😉

_________________

Notes:

1. Lewin, K. (1951) Field Theory in Social Science, New York: Harper and Row
2. Simple guides to carry out force field analysis, with examples in management, see: http://www.mindtools.com/forcefld.html.

FEBRUARY MAN

February Man

A MERE FIFTY-SEVEN YEARS AFTER The Emancipation Proclamation, humanity was granted the timely presence of a great man. This man’s words are archived for us in the many beautiful poems and ideas he left regarding the dual-consciousness that some African-Americans felt during his time: on the one hand, learning to assimilate into white society, and on the other, struggling to maintain cultural autonomy. Even without knowing who this man was, a poem such as, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, waves that dual-consciousness a generation removed from bondage.(1) This poem – if one can see past its vivid sadness – hides evidence of an energy that would aid the birth and rise of the Harlem Renaissance.

Langston Hughes wrote that poem as a teenager in 1920, where he sat as a passenger on a train that took him directly over the vast Mississippi River. Langston was on his way to meet his estranged father, who lived far to the southwest, in Mexico City.(2)

ca. 1925

ca. 1925

About his poem, Langston stated the river made him feel a connection to history, pre-January 1st, 1863(3). That he recalled reading President Lincoln’s biography, about the horrors of bartering over and selling humans, in places near the Mississippi: the same water that nourished the cotton fields, once smothered his people. Feeling this, he wrote, “I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the human blood in my veins…I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.”

There are parallels today which beckon the spirit of Langston Hughes – a disunity of culture which cannot be broadly articulated. Yet, this is a great month, a great opportunity to spy the past, realizing that everyday can be a Mississippi River – an image that stirs our core energy and compels us to bring about our vision of who we want to be, perhaps 57-years from now. We all carry that energy, but like Langston we have to have the courage, the will to express it – even when things are dark and out of reach…

We all have those days, mornings when the sunrise seems more of a weapon of torture than a symbol of a new day, of new beginnings. When I get down, or when I’m lonely, when darkness calls for friendship, I find myself sitting on the front porch steps listening to Langston’s mama talk to him, encouraging him. Langston archived this image in one of his most famous poems. He wrote it for you:

“..Boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now — For I’se still.
goin, honey.
I’se still climbin’, And life for me.
ain’t been no crystal stair. “
(4)

__________

Notes:
1. Langston Hughes, 1920, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”
2. Langston was of mixed race, picture Terrence Howard after three or four strong cups of coffee.
3. Official signing of the Emancipation Proclamation
4. Excerpt from, “Mother to Son”, from Hughes, Langston. “(James) Langston Hughes.” Gale Database Contemporary Authors (2003): Web. November 13, 2010
Photo: Langston Hughes, circa 1925,public domain

MINDFULNESS: Practical Lessons from Buddhism for Existential Combat

Stressors occlude the path we call life. Stress is physical, as in excercise or disease; external, as noise or weather, and emotional, as in grief or loss. Stress can come in many forms: spiritual, social, etc. Stress is basically defined as: stimuli that provokes an engaging reaction in something. Stress affects everyone differently, as in runners and bodybuilding, it is a tool. In a tempermental individual it is an enemy.

Blotterart jpgphoto by bloggerart

”Meditation in the Buddhist tradition involves a process of intense concentration and attention to quiet the conscious mind” (Nataraja 2008:18). The methodology of meditation varies by culture (tai chi, prayer, dance), yet it is in Buddhism where mindfulness meditation~as opposed to trancendental~appeared, which sought to reduce stress via focusing attention. Mindfulness is being in the moment, and being non~judgemental to unfolding experience (20).
Another way to view this focus is as a distraction from physical/sensual stress.

In contemporary industrialized societies we are bombarded by stresses unique to our human evolutionary biology; we have hunter~gatherer bodies and systems reflective of those experiences. Our contempory morés do not always mesh well with our bodies: we may succomb to anxiety, obesity, diabetes, and socioeconomic pressures. These things sometimes cause us to question whether we are purposeful life forms, with divine predestination, or that life and all that exists is meaningless struggling and randomness.

Hmm..how will mindfulness combat physical or existential stress?

Develop these six (6) features:

1] Adopting the non~judmemental attitude to experiences by observing and not reacting to them as good or bad experiences;

2] Patience must be developed to reduce anxiety and slows perceptual time so we do not suffer disappointments;

3] Accept situations as they are to combat denial and struggle: trust the universe is operating as it should;

4] Trust yourself;

5] Sometimes do nothing, exist in an unforced manner to promote the above concepts and relieve modernity of its sway over your ancient self;

6] Release the excessive emotional value to negative imaginings and seductive worry, (198).

As Pavlov showed us, we can alter a response with the chosen conditioner. In fact, that is what ancient Buddhist practitioners have known all along. There are far greater benefits in seeking a calm, mature perspective to the world, because if one does not develop ones place and self in our vast universe, we become vulnerable and seem lost and overwhelmed.
Tell yourself it’s ok to relax and listen to the wind or to the stillness of your soul. This practice of seemingly doing nothing, will make you stronger than ever and insulate you so you can be the lighthouse for others.

😉

Notes:

Nataraja, S. THE BLISSFUL BRAIN: Neuroscience and Proof of the Power of Meditation. Octopus. N.Y. (2008).

Systemic Challenges


INEVITABILITY OF CHANGE

Change

Change

Communication between two individuals can be a very straightforward exercise. The depth and meaning of what is conveyed, the medium used, the lighting or noise of the environmental setting, can, at times, create unintended complexity for any general conversation. Communicating with two people, then three, and fifty each requires additional considerations that makes preparation to communicate, itself, a distinct realm of specialized knowledge.

The issues of growth and complexity in communication present great challenges to as scarcity of resources and quest for solutions grows more imminent. Plans that worked yesterday, likely wont work forever~and the numbers don’t lie! That realization calls for strategic planning.

INDIVIDUAL, ORGANIZATIONAL, and SYSTEMIC PROBLEMS

Individual Example:
I broke my toe walking to work today.

Organizational:
We broke our toes on the mandatory corporate trolly~ride to work today.

Systemic:
Every baby is now tragically born without toes.

Each of the foregoing situations calls for varied attention, including different levels of action, and resource allocation. In the first example, the toe is immediately an individual problem, but if it were say, Kobe Bryant’s toe, it very well would become an organizational issue (as collective objectives are delimited).

Individual issues are generally easiest to solve; organizational ones, and systemic problems are more complex, often requiring extensive – and expensive redesign. This is why Identification, Foresight and Strategy are important at the outset of any plan. First of all, determining which of the three levels issues belong to is a good exercise in critical thinking. Identification causes one to refine ones place in the world, and percieve the types of knowledge one will require in order to contribute to solutions. With your newfound ideas in place you may ease suffering, and create great benefits for others.

Can you identify one systemic problem?
What happens once you have that knowledge?

Knowledge is Powerful.

🙂

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