It’s hot and I don’t like it!

Today is another scorching, hot day. I know many of you reading this are experiencing the same. I come from the south. In my hometown of Monroe, Louisiana the normal high temperature is 95 for several summer months with high humidity as an accompaniment. You would think I would have grown used to this and just love summer weather. Nope. I have an aversion that is quite emphatic.

I was sitting with my dislike of hot weather and wondering how it impacts me. For starters, it creates a bit of separation with my wife. She loves hot weather. In fact, while I write this piece in the cool of my office, she’s outside in the 90+ afternoon smiling as she clips the grass. This is on the tail end of putting in 3 hours in the 1/2 acre garden today.

So how is it that she has this love of heat and I don’t. I know that the simple answer is, it comes from our beliefs. I believe that hot/ humid weather is uncomfortable, stifling, clammy (I can fill the page with adjectives and adverbs). I remember as a child feeling unhappy when it was warm and muggy. We didn’t have air conditioning until I was well into high school and I detested having to sleep in a puddle of sweat. Yet, all this is my response to the external world, rather than some absolute truth.

If hot and humid weather produced misery in everyone, then my wife would feel just like me. For her, the heat is a source of growth for the garden. She feels alive and stimulated on these hot summer days. She hums while I grin and bear it.

There is something simply astounding about my situation. Beliefs come from so many places that, often, we don’t even know we have them. Sometimes, the only sign of a belief is an opinion that comes with it. Such as I like this or dislike that, or this is good and that is bad. This opinion often arises to bolster my beliefs.

Today, I’m looking at my beliefs about heat. Probably a good idea, considering it’s likely going to get hotter here on planet Earth. More fundamentally, I’m reminded once again of the power of beliefs. WIth heat and humidity, my mood can quickly become glum and my physical stamina depleted. These reactions are coming not from some discernment of what I’m experiencing, but from my conditioned responses that are reinforced over many years.

As with my wife and I, the only difference between each of us is what we believe. When we start remembering that, and drop the need to be right about our beliefs, we open the door for authentic relationships. We don’t need to absolutely agree with each other, but to respect each persons right to their beliefs.

As you start your week, you may want to look around and see where you have different beliefs than someone you are close to. Practice not judging their beliefs as wrong or bad or inferior. Then, see, what this little change does to your relationship.

What do you Really Believe?

One of our projects today was to put a deer fence around my wife’s half-acre garden. You see the deer have been freely walking through and seem to like the leaves of everything from sunflowers to soybeans. With all the hard work that goes into tilling and growing, this is not a welcome development.

My wife and I were in our local Tractor Supply looking for twine to tie the deer fencing to the posts we were installing. We had reached the point where our seemingly endless ball of twine had been used up. We made our way to the rope section and found that all the rope and twine were products of a company whose values we don’t support.

We were faced with the dilemma of the convenience of buying what we needed right now or walking away. We didn’t think long about it. We decided we would scavenge twine from other parts of the garden until we could find twine from another company.

When we were back in the garden, I got to thinking about how, each day, we are faced with the choice of whether we support businesses whose values are not consistent with ours. On the one hand many people I know are quick to share an opinion about how badly these companies treat their employees, subvert the political process for their own gain, undermine unions, etc. They say they believe this is wrong. Yet, when they are faced with spending their money with the companies they vilify they have some rationalizing story that soothes their conscious and overrides what they say. To my way of thinking the only way to know what someone truly believe is to observe their actions.

I’m no saint. There are times when I don’t pay attention to the company behind the products I buy. My wife is much more attuned to this and helps me steer clear of obvious situations like she did at Tractor Supply today.

Many who read this post believe we need to reform corporate values. The only way this change is going to happen is for you and I to vote our values with our purchases. Companies can’t exist without customers. Customers who buy from their values will impact company values. For one of the key principles of all corporations is survival. If changing the values of a company can impact its survival, that change may well happen.

My invitation is for you to join me in exercising greater vigilance in spending your money. FInd out about the companies behind the goods and services you buy. Never compromise for the sake of convenience. It’s just not worth it.

Busy, Busy, Busy

I was noticing today how busy I felt. I looked at my calendar this morning and thought, “Wow, what a jam-packed day I have planned”. Mid-morning, I received an email from someone I had confirmed a lunch appointment with last week, that wasn’t on the calendar.

My first response was to feel overwhelmed. How was I possibly going to be able to do everything? As I noticed worry arise, I considered that maybe there was another way to consider the balance of my day. Rather than feel like I had too much, I started feeling that I have just the right amount of activity. After all, I had been “priming the pump” of many of these interactions and they were now bearing fruit.

Ah, I realized, this was an old pattern of sowing seeds and then not being present for growing and harvesting. Good, I’ve discovered this early. I settled into the rest of the day wondering, about mid-afternoon, how I was going to find time to write. Without any worry, the time showed up and here I am talking with you.

We all know the impact of the power of suggestion. Knowing this doesn’t mean that I’m always aware of a distracting suggestion when I start to be affected by it. In the past, I would fill my days with activities. This frenetic pace helped me feel important and worthwhile. Yet, when the day was over, I was exhausted and didn’t feel like anything useful was completed.

Today, after my little worry spell, I felt like I was dancing. Things I was hoping to create came to life with ease. For me, efforting is part of the pattern of busyness. “Hard work is a measure of who you are”, is a message I heard from early childhood. This message has led to disillusionment and despair. As today’s results point out, it’s about being present with what’s in front of me.

What do you do when you find your day suddenly appears to be much busier than you expected? Do you feel out of sorts or overwhelmed? Remember there is an alternative. Stop, allow yourself to breathe slowly, and realize all you have in front of you is just what you ordered.

Todays’ Weather Forecast and other Works of Fiction!

Do you check the weather forecast in the morning and maybe later in the day to see what’s changed? Why? Maybe you want to know what to wear for the day. If you are a farmer, you want to know what’s needed in tending your fields. There are many reasons we want to know what’s happening with the weather.

In our modern, Internet world, when we want to know the weather forecast we consult weather.com, or some other service. Using ever sophisticated models, we are offered an hour by hour prediction of the day(s) ahead. When we talk about the upcoming weather we say things like, “the weather man says.”

As we rely more and more on someone else (whom we don’t know and have only the vaguest relationship with) to tell us what going to happen in our world, We’re furthering our loss of sensing the world around us. I mean, how is it that humans survived for millenia without the weatherman? In indigenous culture, people are sensitive to their environment. They can “feel” changes long before they are apparent to the eyes or ears or nose.

We have advanced as humans in some ways. We certainly are masters of the creation and use of tools. Our non-deliberate reliance on these tools has increased our belief that the world of the mind is all that’s real. Anything else is often branded as primitive.This label diminishes something we don’t understand, and we become more detached from the environment and each other.

Then there is the simple truth that forecasts aren’t true. They are often perceived as a clear view of what’s ahead, which is impossible. I can develop a model that shows how the trend line of the past, if it followed a set of assumptions, will look in the future. We desperately want to know what’s going to happen next. We put our faith in credible people and processes to relieve us of our anxiety about the future.

Other examples of our reliance on forecasts abound. We listen non-stop to news analysts offering their prognostication about every election imaginable. Financial analysts tell us what we can expect when the stock market opens tomorrow morning. Economic predictions abound from economists to politicians. When I listen to any forecast it’s important to remember one thing – ITS FICTION. I love fiction. I learn about myself and the world when I read fiction. So I use this term with appreciation, but fiction it is.

Many people want to take charge of their life. Great! Start with reestablishing your relationship with your ability to use intuition to sense what’s going on around you. It can be as simple as whether it will rain today or whether an investment is right. We are faced with choices throughout the day. What do we rely on to make them? The words, ideas, or models of others or using our own ability to feel what’s the best thing for us. You decide.

Sometimes it’s Good to do something that Really Scares You!

School had just let out for the summer and the first place I wanted to go was to my grandmother’s house. She was not working that day, so it was just the two of us for lunch. Being a typical thirteen year old, I wanted to go out and play while she was making lunch.

I ran out the back door and slammed it shut. Much to my surprise, I was immediately attacked by a swarm of pigmy wasps. I ran and still they followed. In all I received thirteen stings.

I immediately ran into the house and grandma’s maid quickly applied the old remedy of baking soda on the quickly rising welts. It was apparent that this was not a typical wasp sting situation. My heart rate was elevated and my breathing became difficult. My grandma called my mother so she could drive me to the doctor’s office (grandma didn’t drive).

I was ushered through the backdoor of the doctor’s office and placed on an examining table. It was clear to the doctor that I was in a major health crisis. My heart rate and blood pressure were at dangerous (read life-threatening) levels and my whole body was turning bright red. Immediately the doctor administered epinephrine.Initially, each time I received a shot, the symptoms dropped a bit, but still I was in danger.

In the middle of this drama, my doctor’s associate came in and announced, “I’ve never seen a reaction as bad as yours.” (You can imagine how reassuring this was for a thirteen year old). Over a period of two hours the medication kicked in and my systems returned to normal. It certainly was a good scare.

For many years, I carried a prescribed bee-sting kit. I never had to use it, but it felt good to have it when I was away from immediate medical care. In 2003, I was attending a program at a retreat center outside of Helena, MT. As I was sitting in a patch of clover, I put my hand on the ground for balance. Apparently, I disturbed a foraging bee and was stung between my thumb and forefinger. I waited to see if I had a reaction. Nothing. It seemed that my childhood experience was past. I have had several wasp and bee stings since that time and my reaction is what one would expect – a little swelling that quickly subsides.

Last year, I decided to become a beekeeper. I thought that since my sting incident was past, this should be no problem. Wrong! I built three hives and ordered bees for them. I went to the beekeepers house and brought the preformed combs and bees home. So far, so good. Once home, it was time for me to transfer the bees to their permanent hives.

This is when the fun began. As I opened the first temporary hive, the bees swarmed out. I was not wearing any of my beekeepers gear. I stopped in my tracks. My wife went into the house and brought out my gloves and helmet with veil. I put them on and then put my attention on transferring the bees. For almost ten minutes, I was frozen. All of my fears of death by bee sting were making themselves heard.

I was determined to move the bees, and finally did so. When I got to the third hive, I saw that the bees were more active than the first two had been. I again felt the fear rise up and started to move the hive anyway. In the middle of the process, a bee got inside my protective veil and stung me on the face. Panic was right in my face, and I did run away form the hive. I settled myself down and came back and finished the job.

Now its 2012 and I’m still keeping bees. I had a hive die over the winter and just picked up a replacement. Yesterday morning, it was time to move the bees into their new home. This time I was both aware of the inner fear and a new story – bee stings won’t kill me. I let this new story settle in and then began the work of moving the hives. When the first swarm of bees rose out of the hive and started pinging my head veil, I took a breathe and blew them away.

I felt a deep appreciation of my fear and the deliberateness to face it head on. In fact, my summer’s ambition is to have no fear of bees at all. I’m not sure if that’s how it will turn out, but that’s not so important at this point. I now have an experience of overriding my body’s fear when it is no longer helpful. I’m reminded that fear can be a strong teacher and is something to turn into rather than avoid!

I offer a few questions that may help you along your way. What is it that you are afraid of? How does it affect your relationships with others and yourself? Is it time to face the fear with appreciation and let it go?

Cost of Comparisons!

It seems I’m forever comparing things. I walk down the street and see a car I like and then hear the inner voice telling me why it’s better than the car next to it. I then see someone who is heavy and that same little voice says, “Hey look, they’re bigger than you, you’re not doing so bad!”. When I listen to talk radio there seems to be a never ending stream of conversation about why the caller has the right perspective and people who don’t agree with him are idiots.This process goes on and on.

What is it that has me need to be better than those around me? This form of judgment has at its root, my concern that I’m not enough. The best way to overcome this nagging concern is to continuously compare things in my world so that I receive  constant reinforcement that I’m smarter, better looking, more successful and, in general, more impressive than others.

“We all do this, so what’s the big deal?” , chimes in the inner voice. The big deal is that all this comparison hides things. In the case of the car I liked, I could overlook some important flaw because I’m committed to this car being the best. In business, we often think of others who offer services or products like ours as competitors. We then favorably compare ourselves to them. Unfortunately, this bias may blind me from seeing why they are well-regarded by their customers. I remember reading a news report when the iPad was first introduced, where Steve Balmer, CEO of Microsoft, called the product a fad, that would soon pass. This type of blindness is in us all.

What can I do? I can stop comparing things. I’m not suggesting that I look at the world without discrimination. Discrimination allows me to pragmatically see things as they are, not as I want them to be. This unbiased perspective brings clarity to my choices, and radically reduces my surprises. Seems like a good payoff.

Are We Losing Touch?

As I was waking up this morning, I was considering how much I’ve lost touch with the weather. When I was growing up in Louisiana, I could tell what kind of day it was going to be by how the air felt in the morning. It didn’t matter if it was sunny first thing, I could feel if rain was going to happen before the day ended.

Today, I’m probably like most of you. I get my weather from weather.com. The conversation around town is something like, the weather man says it’s going to snow later today or I saw on the Internet we are going to have a thunderstorm at 3PM.  I start relying on this information like it’s a clear prediction of what lies ahead.

The only problem is I have lost touch with my personal discernment. I know the weather.com folks have sophisticated computers with access to satellite data, but their forecasts are still just a prediction. While they speak with absolute certainty, they are using models to estimate what lies ahead.

I began wondering where else I rely on other sources like weather.com to tell me what’s going to happen. I could start with CNN. They are telling me the state of the world in as little time as possible. If I’m not careful, I will take this small taste of sound bites and believe I know what’s happening.

Everywhere I turn I’m turning over my responsibility for understanding my world to others. Sounds like a dangerous thing to do. So what to do? For starters, I’m going to start enjoying walking outside to feel the weather in the morning, reading longer news pieces from a diverse set of writers and having conversations with friends around the world to start getting my own picture of life as I know it.

What is Integrity?

Much of my day is spent with the question, “What is integrity.” I write, I reflect, I teach, I read, I feel. All in the quest for simple clarity. It’s emerging, and it’s surprising. When I first considered integrity, I was sure it was about being more honest. That’s true, and there is more. In fact, so much more that I then felt overwhelmed.

What I’m discovering about integrity is that it’s about the absolute alignment of my body, thoughts, feelings and actions. It calls me to total awareness.  This understanding sometimes brings forth despair. “How can anyone be in integrity?” the voice inside says. Yet, I know there are moments when I am in integrity. “If that’s so”, I wonder, “what’s happening in those moments?” “I’m present”, is my first response. “So is being present required for integrity?” I ask myself. Yep.

Is the quest for integrity so simple that it only requires being fully present? I’m not sure, but it feels like this could be true. When I’m present, I’m aware of everything I’m experiencing in this moment. I act from this awareness with a deliberateness that is only possible from this complete awareness. I can feel my body without the distortion of thoughts. My experiences are pure as they are not motivated by needs or desires.

This simple understanding doesn’t mean that being in integrity is easy. It requires diligence and practice. It demands self-honesty and reflection.

The question is, “Are you ready for complete integrity?” This question brings to mind our conversation a few days ago about accountability. With integrity, it’s also an all or nothing experience. No need for despair though, we have the opportunity to experience integrity more and more. This is possible if we stop judging ourselves when we are not in integrity. Judgment brings with it so much self-deception. We believe that if we are out of integrity we are “bad”. Nope, we are just out of integrity, like most everyone else. When we discover this is happening, we can stop, reorient to being present, and continue. It’s that simple.

Over the next few months, I will be writing more about integrity, offering ways I’ve found to be present with my body, emotions, thoughts, feelings and actions. I welcome your feedback. No more important time than now to increase the number who are living in integrity.

Opportunities Lost!

This morning, I was visiting with a friend who’s a professor at the business school of a local university. He was just finishing grading term papers. We talked about how he grades, and I was struck by the attention he places on each paper. He writes comments, as he grades pointing out how well the student is meeting his expectations.

I asked, “ Do you give the papers back to the students?” He said, “If they ask for them”. I wondered,  “How many would want them back?” He said, “About 5%.”

I was stunned. For the most part, these students, who didn’t ask to see their term papers, where walking away from a great opportunity to learn. This had me wonder how many opportunities to learn I walk away from.

For instance, every interaction I have with others is an opportunity to learn. I can begin with looking back at a particular interaction and feel if I was present with the person. If I wasn’t, what was the distraction? I can remember if there was any judgment of the person. If I did, what can I learn about myself from this judgment? I can also recognize if I made any sort of commitment, like “let’s have lunch soon”. If I did, what am I going to do about the commitment?

We are in school and don’t realize it. Our life offers opportunities to learn about ourselves and all we have to do is take the time to get the lesson.

Until later,

Thomas

More on Simplicity

This morning, I was reflecting more about simplicity. I see my tendency; more dominate in the past, but still present, to offer complex explanations for how the world works. Each time, I follow these complex stories, I find that I feel more confused and less certain. At the same time, I increase my projected confidence. I don’t want others to know of my uncertainty.

This is fairly common. One of my teachers, Will Schutz, spoke of three levels of understanding. The first is simplistic. When I am first introduced to something that really makes sense, I embrace it and want to tell others. This first level of understanding is more of an emotional response than true learning. When someone asks penetrating questions of what I say I’ve learned, I find my ability to speak deeply about what I’ve learned is quickly exhausted.

The second level of learning is complexity. When I become more competent with the area of learning, say medicine, I begin using its specialized language and distinctions. I believe I am using my mastery to converse with my colleagues, and it is not important for me to make what I know understandable to the uninformed. As I mentioned above, my personal reaction to people who push hard to test what I know is to become arrogant, and my integrity slips.

Will said the final level of understanding is simplicity. This occurs when I become an authentic master of the area; so much so, I can speak to anyone in a way that I’m understood. This level of mastery is rare and when you are in the company of it you know.

Being able to write and speak with simplicity is my goal. When I do this, I can see recognition in people’s eyes or in their comments, if I am communicating with them remotely. At this level of simplicity, we have opportunities that don’t exist in the other two levels of learning.

Tomorrow, I will spend time talking about the dramatic impact finding simplicity can be for you personally, and for any organization you are part of.

Until then,

Thomas