Disappointer in Chief

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In this aftermath of the 2014 elections, there is so much talk about the reasons for the outcome. I think it’s pretty simple.

In 2008, we elected Barak Obama. Those of us that supported his first campaign felt that finally someone was going to make a difference in the way that government works. Finally someone was going to lead the country into a time of greater pulling together. So many promises were made that would support this vision.

Starting with President Obama’s victory speech in Griffith Park in Chicago six years ago, the unraveling of this feeling began. He spoke of the difficult road ahead. He talked about how it was going to take us all to make the change happen. This was a new message that was never part of his campaign. We listened and still waited for him to take action to change things we didn’t like.

We can look at the severe problems in the economy or the challenges with wars across the globe as underlying factors that inhibited his success, but these issues were known as the 2008 campaign unfolded. Solutions to complex issues are neither easy nor quick. Campaign rhetoric is easy. Turning those promises into reality is hard.

Very few have been able to lead in a way that brings us together and allows the greatness within each of us to be called forth. President Obama had that opportunity and he blew it.

Which brings us to now. We are disappointed. We want more than we are getting. We are indeed disappointed with Congress and its leadership. That’s a group of people without a single individual for us to focus our frustration on. The President on the other hand, is someone we can focus our disappointment on in a very personal way. The Republican party made the best of this feeling and it propelled them to control of both houses of Congress and many state governorships.

Now that they are in power, what will the Republican members of Congress do that they didn’t do in the last six years? What will the President do that he hasn’t done in that same timeframe? The opportunity for doing the right thing is always with us. Let’s encourage our national political leaders to focus on doing something positive for us.

As I write this, I an not feeling very positive. This morning, one of the darlings of the Republican party, Rand Paul started his day with messages under the Twitter hashtag #hillaryslosers. I know this is politics, but we are tired of this. Remember Mr. Paul, the sentiment of the country can change quickly if you, too, disappoint those who believe in you.

Time to Remember What’s Important!

Have you ever looked around in your life and wondered, “where did all the time go?” I found myself having that experience yesterday afternoon. I was talking to someone who is overseeing how I communicate in the world of social media. I suggested she attract people to read this blog. While we were talking she said, “Oh, I see you haven’t posted since last October”. Ouch..

I’ve been involved in a “startup” business and falling into my old patterns of how busy I am. The startup mentality (at least the one that I learned) is that everything in your life is put on hold to get the business started.

Now I haven’t quite followed the old script. I have been busier than normal, but my family is not being ignored (althougth I’m sure they are feeling less attention). Other aspects of my life have been taking a hit, though, when I live out of the way of the past.

As I’ve drifted into this pattern, I stopped writing. Sure, I’m writing all kinds of things for the new business. You know, the important stuff like business plans, presentations and marketing material. It’s not the same.

I miss stopping what else is going on and wondering. Wondering about what makes life tick and why I am happy or not. I ponder questions of big and small scope. In these times of reflection and the writing that come from them, I learn so much. I’ve missed both the learning and connecting with you.

So the drought is over. I’m back at the keyboard, pondering and feeling and writing. Some of you have written and encouraged me to resume posting. To those of you who proded, Thank you.

Until tomorrow.

Thomas

Falling Leaves and Plans

I am surrounded by the most amazing maple trees. This is a new experience for me. Watching them come alive in the spring (which was May where I live), I was amazed each morning by the umbrella of leaves that changed my relationship with the sun. Sheltering me on the long scorching days of summer, my appreciation of the abundant maples expanded.

Now as they transition to winter, and the leaves that so magically appeared are changing colors, I am in awe. I look out my window and see their gold and red leaves drifting to the ground like the snow that will follow. One leave bumps into another, sometimes disturbing it’s hold and together they fall, silently.

The ground is now covered with these remnants of spring that again change. Changing from their vibrant colors to brown. They curl in lifelessness into carcasses of the forgotten spring that will be covered with snow and return the gift of their decomposition to the tree that bore them.

All this happens without one instruction. No grand action plan has been created that guides the trees through their life’s cycle. Yet, I seem to be bound by my need for how. How can I make the program I am teaching work? I need a clear plan, of course. How can I buy the land I desire? A plan is needed so I make sure that I have the money I require.

Attachment to plans is the root of false security and suffering. Plans are today’s music helping to focus my thoughts. That’s good. When I think of plans as more than that, however, I am setting myself up to operate in a manner that is different than the way things are.

Life unfolds in its purity and uniqueness, beyond the scope of my ability to understand, like the unfolding of the trees outside my window. If I use plans to sharpen my ability to adapt to what I am finding before me, then they are fulfilling their true purpose.

So whether you are writing a business plan or today’s to do list, remember not to be lost in the plan, or the most amazing possibilities that are occurring right before you may be missed.

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Can you handle the Truth?

I’ve had some inner rumbling for some time about how inauthentic we are with each other. When I’m in the supermarket and greeted by an acquaintance, the usual question is, “so, how are you doing?” The response I give is usually, “Great!” or some other positive word. When I return the question to them, the answer is similar.

This little dance plays itself out over and over throughout my day. On the phone, at the bank, at a restaurant, I engage people I know and don’t know and we say things that just aren’t a true depiction of how we feel and what’s going on in our lives.

I don’t feel that I’m required to share the intimate details of my life with every inquiry, but it seems that we have adopted a practice to put on a mask when we engage others. One of my great joys is working with people to help them find the truth about their own greatness., We often have a great bond of trust between us and still I notice that the other person will often grab a mask of some sort and not speak what’s true for them.

I’ve come to realize that the practice of speaking the truth is one that we have so little experience with.  From early childhood, I was told to either hide what I was feeling or to say something that was untrue. I bet you had a similar experience.

Watch children who haven’t been taught to be deceitful about how they feel. They will say things like, “look at that fat lady (or man)” or “my daddy says you aren’t very nice.” Immediately they are quieted by an embarrassed adult and later remonstrated for what they said.

At first, it is confusing for the child. They are either saying how they really feel or repeating what someone else said. Quickly they learn that this is not a good idea. They are taught to speak what’s “nice”. The consequence of learning to be deceitful is that we deceive ourselves. Once this practice is engrained, it becomes difficult to first realize that what I’m speaking and thinking isn’t what’s true but an age-old reaction to hiding what I feel so I can be “nice” to others.

It calls to mind a court room scene from the movie A Few Good Men. Lt. Daniel Kaffee (portrayed by Tom Cruise) is interogating Col. Nathan Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson) about a situation at the Marine base at Guantanimo. When Lt. Kaffee presses Col. Jessup to answer his questions, he says ,” I want the truth,” to which Col. Jessup answers, “son, you can’t handle the truth.”

To stop the cycles of ups and downs we experience throughout our lives calls for us to stop the old pattern of intentional deceit. The old saying that “the truth will set you free” is more powerful than you can imagine. I’m on my own path of re-learning truth. It’s rocky and, when I’m being truthful (smile), worth it.

How do you start? A simple way is to observe the automatic things you say to others. When you are asked questions, how often do you respond without any consideration. I bet if you pay attention you will notice that you have a small number of “canned responses” that are predictably given.

Once I start to see myself as I really am, then I can begin to change the old “programming”. It takes some time and the road is filled with starts and stops. Don’t despair, an authentic life is worth the journey.

I will be sharing more on the process of being authentic with yourself over the next few months. Let me know of your experiences and any questions you have. We are on this journey together.

Until later,

Thomas

To Conform or Not to Conform – The Story of the Big Orange Splot

Last night, I was reading to our young boys one of my favorite children’s stories, The Big Orange Splott by Daniel Pinkwater. In this story, Mr. Plumbean’s world is disturbed in a most unusual way when a seagull drops a can of orange paint on the roof of his perfect house. You see, his house is like all the others in his neighborhood. This unlikely event starts a change that I invite you find out more about by reading the book.

I was reflecting on Mr. Plumbean last night and he wandered into my dreams. Conformity is such a strong force in our lives. It used to be called “keeping up with the Jones”. How we can belong to our local tribe by being alike seems to compose our actions in ways that we don’t really understand. Marketers know this, and people like Malcolm Gladwell have talked about it. Conforming is as good a name as any to describe this phenomenon.

I have always fancied myself as a non-conformist. I tell myself that I don’t like “the conventional wisdom” – another way of saying I don’t like others telling me what to think. Yet, I see the many ways that I allow what other’s think to influence my thoughts and feelings and actions. I want to be liked, so I stop considering what I feel and let others shape my life.

The act of non-conformity is not so much an act of rebellion, but a declaration of independence. It’s not selfish, although maybe your mother told you it was so. It’s your right to choose what you feel is right. One of my favorite aspects of Buddhism is the following that has been ascribed to the Buddha: Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

We assimilate so much based upon what we are told. Look at our current political campaigns for president. Candidates feel that if they say something, even if it isn’t true, we will believe it because we don’t take the time to follow the Buddha’s wisdom. The compelling story teller can influence us because we have forgotten that we are the ones who decide what’s true for us.

We pride ourselves as Americans on our fierce independence of thought. That may have been so a few hundred years ago, but what about now? Without our return to discernment, we will miss the amazing adventure life offers outside the lines of conformity, and the opportunity to create a life filled with wonder will be left behind.

One person’s weed is another’s flower

Yesterday, I was sitting in our back yard having a conversation with a client. Our home sits along a vibrant, spring-fed creek. The beauty and tranquility of this spot, along with its rushing waters, creates a sense of peacefulness and wonder.

I was gazing across the stream looking at a “weed” that had sprung up over the past few weeks. I was told by a friend that it’s called jewel weed. It is beautiful, that’s for sure. It slender stalks are capped by beautiful orange flowers. The flowers are a favorite for the local hummingbirds.

Then I discovered some more about these “weeds”. The juice in their stems is a very effective antidote for poison oak. I have been an adult sufferer of poison oak. In fact, it was so systemic at one time that I was convinced the only way to curb its effects was intense treatments with steroids, which had all sorts of complications. If only I’d know about these “weeds” then.

As I was marveling at the wonders of this “weed”, I began to consider how we treat what we consider “weeds” in our lives. I first consulted Webster’s to find its preferred definition of the word. Here’s what I found: “a weed is a valueless plant growing wild, especially one that grows on cultivated ground to the exclusion or injury of the desired crop.”

I could feel the power of the word valueless, and the notion, “injury of the desired crop”. I’ve been taught that weeds are to be killed or rooted out with vigor.

How often do I look at my surroundings thinking that which I don’t understand is a weed? This could be an annoying acquaintance , a motorist who cuts me off in traffic, a relative whom I find annoying or an ethnic group that I don’t understand. The range is great in my personal world of weeds.

What’s happening is that my reality doesn’t fit with what I’m seeing. This reality is cultivated over a lifetime of experiences that shape how I view the world. It is my personal realm of truth. So when I see something that doesn’t fit, or disturbs my orderly world, I classify it as a “weed”. Now, I don’t use that word, but I do feel it’s valueless and it grows wild on my cultivated ground of reality.

I thought about this over the past day and find that my world is filled with weeds. When I encounter something that I don’t understand or doesn’t fit, I immediately want to classify it as something that is not useful and discard it. Wow, how much of the world am I missing?

LIke the jewel weed along the creek that could soothe my poison oak, the world is filled with experiences that at first don’t seem to fit my orderly thinking. If I can transcend this limitation, and not push away what doesn’t fit, I may have a surprise that truly astonishes.

From Here to Simplicity

So you get caught up in your daily life’s stress. It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and you have lost perspective about what’s important. How do you know this? You are gearing up to spend four or five more hours getting “things” done before your day is over.

In our culture, there is a rationalizing story that hard work is the way to success. I come from many years in Silicon Valley. Company leaders don’t feel you are pulling your weight if you aren’t putting in 55- 60 hours a week, and go home and continue reading and answering emails.

What’s the cost? Everything that’s vital to our life is the cost. As I’m burning the midnight oil working on a project, I start transferring greater and greater importance to my work. Every day, I inch my way further and further away from the people I care most about, I deny my health, or I ignore the need in my soul for quiet.

All this to feed the beast of success. Success, so I can have more stuff. More stuff, that for the most part, isn’t essential to my life, and requires gobs of non-renewable resources to build or use.

This pattern is played out every day all over this country. If that’s not bad enough, we seem to be infecting the rest of the world. As consumer spending grows here and in Europe, it fuels manufacturing in Asia. The growing population of factory workers and supporting business employees want their taste of the fruits of consumerism.

Where does this end? It ends in a mess. Right now, we are consuming more resources than the planet can replenish. The problem is there is a tipping point and the stuff we all want will rise dramatically in price until it’s only available to the elite. We hard workers will have less and less reward.

Now many feel that the solution is some government intervention, or a restructuring of large businesses. I don’t think that’s going to happen right away. Are we doomed? Not necessarily. A movement called Transition Town is emerging in more parts of the world. It’s doing some wonderful things that help bring us back into harmony with the earth and each other. This is good, yet insufficient.

What’s called for, is a real change of perspective. We are called to reframe our material needs. Move from working and living so we can have stuff to only having what we truly needs. This will mean a lot less for most of us. For those who are practicing this radical simplicity, the reports are encouraging.

They report that they feel freer. They spend significantly less time working at jobs. They are healthier, and their relationships are the richest they’ve been in years.

Even with these appealing outcomes, the change to living a simpler life appears daunting. Does it mean that I have to give all my stuff away. Nope! It means that you start getting deliberate and honest. You have anything that you require to have a safe, healthy, harmonious life. These three criteria are at the root of four questions you can ask about anything you have, or are considering having.

What are these four questions? OK, I’ll share.

  1. Is this possession required for my personal or family safety?
  2. Does this possession promote my well-being or health?
  3. Do I agree with the practices employed to create this possession?
  4. If I don’t have this possession, will my quality of life be truly diminished?

Remember that real honesty is required. Questions like number 3 require us to consider something that we mostly overlook. How was this manufactured? Was the labor employed in a way I would agree with ? Is it done with the most ecologically sound approach? Is the building of this the best use of the natural resources required?

Now here’s the key for the four question exercise. If your answer is no to any of these questions, it’s probably a good idea to pass along the possession if you already have it or not acquire it if you do.

Whew, you may say. That’s a lot. Yep. If you don’t want to drop over the cliff as a consequence of our continuing mindset of more, you are offered this opportunity. It won’t hurt. It will just be a bit uncomfortable for a short while, and then the real benefits will kick in.

I’m writing this not just for you. I was here at my desk until midnight last night. This was very familiar. I could rationalize the situation and say that I don’t normally fall into this type of behavior. I know how easy it is to fall into the old habit, and I’d be off to the races.

The consequences would be more severe this time. I know better. I’ve tasted life without this stress. Good, I say to myself, I can pull back now. Yes, and its this practice of reflection and writing that is bringing me back.

What do you do to maintain your sanity? How do you remember where you have fallen off the path of a balanced life and bring yourself back? Perhaps this is something worthwhile to munch on over the weekend.