Sunday, January 24, 2016

Become a peace "enforcer"

I had a dream last night. I went down to the kitchen in my childhood home. On the table there was a Chicago Sun-Times newspaper, and on the cover a big photo of a Chicago Blackhawks hockey player breaking up a fight. The headline read:


I grew up playing hockey. I even played on a intramural team in college. So from experience I can tell you that hockey is a really fun game.

But at the pro level, the NHL, the National Hockey League, teams have a player, or two or three, designated as an "enforcer." Enforcers are on the team only for one reason—to fight. I've been at NHL games where the crowd chants for the team's enforcer to fight one of the opposing players. And they do! With no instigation either!

Fights break out all over, not just in hockey games. Physical fights, yes, but also mental fights and emotional fights. And there are "enforcers" out there in the world off the ice rink too. Maybe a sarcastic boss, or a troll on the Internet.

The default response is to just watch the fight and think isn't that terrible? But what if we were all 'peace enforcers' and sucked it up and broke up the fights? And that's the thing—peace enforcers aren't pacifists. They're getting right in there, fighting if need be, to break things up. It takes guts to be a peace enforcer.

People like to fight, though, and they like to watch fights, so to be a peace enforcer would not be a popular role to play. But you know what? It would be one hell of a popular role to the person getting beat up.

And in my dream the peace enforcer was a hero, a superstar. And if you're a peace enforcer in real life, you're a real life hero and a real life superstar.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Change your mind, change your life? No, get rid of your mind!

Of course, we can't literally get rid of our minds. But we can figuratively, and that can make all the difference.

The old way of dealing with the mind was to control it.

Milton famously wrote:
The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
So get control of your mind, right? That's the way to go. Well, we all know the mind is a powerful thing, but is control really the answer? I would argue the exact opposite. I would say that by letting go of control we can improve our lives—immensely.

The thoughts of our minds are fickle things. They're entirely subjective. One person loves cold weather, another can't stand it. The cold weather itself is neither good nor bad. Only the thoughts of our minds make it so.

The problem comes in when we take our thoughts literally. And the mind naturally tends toward this. You "can't stand" cold weather. Well, of course, you can, but when your mind tells you can't, the discomfort of cold weather takes on an out-sized significance in your mind.

In his excellent workbook Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life Steven C. Hayes PH.D. refers to the 'big ugly monster' of the mind. He writes:
The situation you are in now may feel like being in a tug-of-war with a big, ugly monster (whether you are dealing with depression, anxiety, physical pain, sorrowful memories, or some other negative situation). It seems as though you can't win. The harder you pull, the harder the monster pulls back. Sometimes it even may feel as if there's a bottomless pit between you and the monster and, if you lose, you'll be pulled into the pit and be completely destroyed. So, you pull and pull. You try harder and harder. You look for different ways to pull, better ways to pull, stronger ways to pull. You try digging in your heels for more leverage or you try strengthening your muscles. You keep hoping that something will work. Suppose, however, that you have a completely different job to do. Perhaps it's not your job to win this tug-of-war. Perhaps it's your job to find a way to drop the rope.
Wherever you are at in your life right now, most likely you have gotten there by relying on your mind. If you're satisfied with how your mind's done the job, hey, that's great. (But honestly if you're satisfied with that, you're probably not reading this article.) But if you're not, drop the rope.

Something (call it God, the Universe, a Higher Power, Universal Mind or whatever you want) will take over. And if you're not satisfied with where your life is at, what have you got to lose by dropping the rope? You know where your mind has gotten you, and if you keep tugging on the rope, it will only be more of the same.

So try a different way. Give it a day. See what happens.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Change someone's life—with a smile!

I had to go to the doctor's for a test the other day. I needed to get up at four in the morning to prepare and then drive in the freezing Chicago winter weather to get there. Anxious and tired, I checked in with the doctor's receptionist, offering her a weak smile, which was the best I could do considering the heaviness I was feeling in my heart.

She smiled back. It was just a little thing, but that smile really lifted my spirits. Suddenly the upcoming test seemed manageable. And all because someone cared enough to smile at me. Hers was a smile that seemed to say: Hey, yeah, life's tough sometimes. Believe me, I too know what it's like. But you know how it is—you'll get through it.

And I did. With her help. A complete stranger. And all she did was smile.

Many symbols, actions and words substantially transcend nations, races and cultures. For instance, when people celebrate they throw their hands up in the air. Many languages have adopted "okay." But there is one thing that is universally understood by all people in all times.

A smile.

I watched a documentary about suicide. About people who were going to kill themselves by jumping off a high bridge. Amazingly, a few people actually survived jumping (with great bodily injury), and the story of one of the guys who jumped and survived moved me to the core.

He said that as he was walking to the bridge he decided that if one person smiled at him, just one, before he got there he wouldn't jump. But no one did.

Can you imagine that? One smile can save a life. And what does it cost us? Just getting out of ourselves enough to give another person the attention that says: Hey, I know you're there and we're in the same boat in this crazy human experience and I care.

That's it. Just that little bit can do it.

So the next time you catch eyes with someone, share a little smile with them. You don't know the burden they might be carrying—and the lift your smile might give them.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Are you lost in your life? Relax!

I'm at a crossroads in my life. My personal life, my work life, my health life, my social life. And being at a crossroads is just a nice face-saving way of saying I'm lost. Normally, I'm pretty wrecked by being lost. I feel like a failure. I feel like everybody else is finding their way, why aren't I? And I feel like I should be doing more, so much more. But then I came to realize that being lost is no sin. No, absolutely not. And not only was it foolish to hide from myself the fact that I was lost. It could be the absolute best thing to acknowledge, accept and admit that I was.

Ever hear the saying: 'You can't leave a place you've never been'? Well, if you're lost in your life and yet refuse to accept it, you can't move on from there.

Listen to this quote from Vernon Howard's The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power:
When you do not know what to do, you have no responsibility to do anything, except to be aware that you are lost. Do not do anything but that. Do not permit nervous anxiety to drive you to futile exterior activities. You are not shirking rightful responsibility when you refrain like this; you are wisely avoiding the consequences of muddled action. Clarity, clarity, clarity; our first duty is to think clearly. Make it your rule to understand things, which you can surely do. Then, your action will be right.
If that's not music to your ears I don't know what would be. (It was to mine.)

No matter what is in your life right now it is part of the plan. And that includes being lost.

So you're lost. Yeah, it's not fun, but it's not bad either. It's just where you're at right now. You'll soon be un-lost. So accept being lost. Maybe even enjoy it. Explore it. It's just one more life situation you've encountered, and it may be a time in your life where you're being prepared for better things to come. And being lost may be necessary for you to get to those better things.

So relax! Being lost ain't so bad when you see it in the proper perspective. In fact, it may even be a good thing.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Magic of Jumping

A friend got me thinking the other day. He told me what it was like for him when he jumped out of an airplane at 10,000 feet. When he got done, I asked him what the scariest part of it was. He said, "Well, jumping."

The plummeting through the air at breakneck speed toward earth wasn't as scary as jumping out the door.

Think of all the ways you can move. Walk, run, crawl, stroll, sprint, etc. But how does nature move?

Nature moves in jumps. "Quantum leaps" to be specific. When the time is right the movement is not by drifting, blending, plodding or easing into; it's by jumping.

Even the kids' game of Leap Frog. That's where the term leapfrogging comes from. Here's the dictionary definition from
an advance from one place, position, or situation to another without progressing through all or any of the places or stages in between
Think about it. You can move yourself from place to place in a host of ways, but sometimes (imagine going from one rooftop to another) you just have to jump.

But the thing is you can jump even when you don't have to. I heard a preacher once talking about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as he agonized before the crucifixion. Jesus talked about drinking the cup of what awaited him (the crucifixion). The preacher generalized from there telling us, 'When you have something difficult to do, when you have a bitter cup to drink, don't sip it. Drink it straight down.'

Another way of saying: jump.

Dag Hammarskjold, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, wrote in his book Markings:
You told yourself you would accept the decision of fate. But you lost your nerve when you discovered what this would require of you: then you realized how attached you still were to the world which has made you what you were, but which you would now have to leave behind. It felt like an amputation, a "little death," and you even listened to those voices which insinuated that you were deceiving yourself out of ambition. You will have to give up everything. Why, then, weep at this little death? Take it to you—quickly—with a smile die this death, and become free to go further.
Isn't that what it's like (a "little death") when you're facing something terrible. I mean, you really don't want to go through it at all. But you have to, so like he said, 'take it to you—quickly.' In other words, jump.

Jumping is where the magic is. It's nature's way. It's our way. Jumping minimizes suffering. It moves you down the road faster.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to the aim.
Make it easy on yourself. Get ahead faster. Yes, jumping is hard, but once you do, the rest is easy and the benefits are great.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What do you want to be remembered for?

What matters isn't being applauded when you arrive—for that is common—but being missed when you leave.—Baltasar Gracian
Newspaper columnist David Brooks wrote a book called The Road to Character. In it he talks about the difference between 'resume virtues' vs. 'eulogy virtues.' In other words, what are people going to say about you when you're gone?

People won't comment on your business prowess or your bank account. Nobody is going to say how good-looking or clever you were. But they will talk about the decency you had and the kindness you showed others. 

It's hard to think about eulogy virtues while we're here. Life is tough. It's a scramble to survive.

But this life is going to end.

Not to be morbid but yeah, it's going to end. Then when it does, what do you want to be remembered for?

Billy Casper, one of the greatest golfers of all time, winner of the U.S. Open and Masters, was interviewed shortly before his death in February 2015. Reading the article you got the feeling that the interviewer was so impressed with Casper's golfing career, and when he asked what Casper wanted to be remembered for, he suggested this golfing feat or that great golfing victory. But Casper surprised.

He said he didn't want to be remembered for any of that. He wanted to be remembered for being a lover of humanity.

So what do you want to be remembered for? If you can figure that out now, you can live in a way that brings that desire to pass.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Is endurance the secret to success?

I have only to endure. I am here to be worked upon.
          —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ever feel like a punching bag? That life is just one blow after another? Can it be that we're the victims of some sadistic higher power that is continually punishing us, torturing us?

I admit that sometimes that's the way it feels, but I think there's something far deeper occurring. I think, like Emerson said, something is working on us. Something is shifting, shaping, changing us into more than we were. And hence our job is just to endure. To ride out the changes to get to the other side of the trials.

But yes, you have to break through to get the benefits. Consider this from Chin-Ning Chu's Thick Face, Black Heart.
...the true nature of crisis is an opportunity in disguise....It is within the process of endurance that opportunity reveals itself. Opportunity always exists within a crisis situation, but when we lose heart in a devastating crisis, we are blinded by our own emotion. When we can calmly endure the unendurable, the opportunity for a better alternative surfaces and reveals itself.
Think of when a parent loses a child. The natural temptation would be to blank out, to deaden (perhaps through alcohol or depression) being conscious. The pain is just too great. But if a person in such a terrible situation can somehow stay conscious through all that pain they often come out as utterly remarkable people. As the saying goes: 'Pain can make us bitter or better.'

Look at the life of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As a young politician many thought him smug and overbearing. A pain in the butt really. Then at thirty-nine he suffered polio and its accompanying paralysis. For years he tried to regain use of his legs.

Years later, when he was president, someone enquired how he managed to stay so patient facing the incredible pressure of the presidency and he said:

After trying for two years to wiggle one big toe, all else seems easy.

So, are times tough? Just hang in there. You don't have to conquer them to win through to the reward. You only have to endure.