Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Do you have the courage to be a nobody?

From Jim Perskie in the Washington Post:

I figured out early on that I wasn't cut out to be a neurosurgeon or fighter pilot. So I kinda aimed low my whole life. It worked for me. Sure, the world needs some ambitious people. But it's worth noting that ambition has given us products like New Coke, men like Donald Trump, and war after war. Ambition certainly doesn't seem to make the ambitious particularly happy. By definition, they cannot be content with who they are and what they have. And the world seems to encourage them to inflict their desire for advancement on the rest of us. So to all you ambitious folks out there: Enough. I'll gladly concede that you all 'win.' Just leave the rest of us alone.

How you doing compared with your neighbor? The people you went to high school with? How much money do you make? What kind of car do you drive? Are you famous?

Those are a lot of questions I know I've asked myself through the years (and come up on the losing end with my answers), but now I'm reconsidering even asking those questions anymore.

Does it matter how I compare with anybody else? It can, in a negative sense. I know that much. Time and time again I've made myself miserable asking them. So why do I do it?

Good question.

Which leads to another question: Can a person live without comparing himself to others?

Yes. But from my experience it's very hard to do. But oh, the results are so worth it.

Because when I don't compare myself to anybody else I am fine! Yes, fine. Just the way I am. It's a remarkable thing. My job or my car or my significant other, whatever they may be, are just dandy. It's so freeing.

Give it a try. I promise you it will feel good.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

5 Good things about suffering

1) Suffering doesn't exist. Want proof? What one person considers disastrous, another person is not bothered by at all. So does the event cause suffering? No, our interpretation of the event. So, suffering is not out there. It doesn't exist. Where it does "exist" is within us.

2) Suffering is remedial. It's instructive. It teaches us something. It's impossible to say exactly what. It's different every time. But next time something bad happens, look to see what suffering is trying to tell you.

The problem is that most people never learn the lesson suffering presents to them and so suffer endlessly. (As life keeps trying to teach them the same lesson they haven't been learning.)

3) Suffering is always temporary. 'No way,' you say, 'some suffering is permanent.' Well, it may seem that way but it's not true. Consider this quote from the seventeenth century English preacher, Thomas Watson:

Our sufferings may be lasting, but not everlasting.  

That one requires a little thinking.

4) Suffering reveals what's inside you. You think you're a certain way. You're sure of it. But then you get put under the flame and oh, you are suddenly a very different person! Without that suffering though we live under the delusion that we are one way when we're really much more. Suffering helps us know ourselves.  

5) Suffering is a shadow. Today I turned on the light in my bathroom and saw that the carpet was wet by the toilet. "Oh no," I said softly, thinking of the hassle it implied, the cost of the plumber etc. But when I got down on my hands and knees to feel the carpet it was bone-dry. What gives?

The "wetness" was the shadow the toilet was making on the carpet. Why I never noticed it before I don't know. (Ever hear the acronym for Fear? False Evidence Appearing Real)

Suffering, all evil, is just like that—a shadow. Think of night. Dark, mysterious, dangerous. But really what is night? It's the shadow the earth makes as it revolves around the sun. The light is still there. The light is constant. It's always there.

The shadows we have in our lives are the lessons we've not learned that our suffering has been trying to teach us. Learn the lessons—and poof! the shadows (and suffering) are gone!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Can we trust God to do his job?

I mean, don't you ever wonder sometimes if God is up there, fully alert, handling things? Like we have our antennas out and crystal clear to receive but his transmitting station is just a little buggy today? Like, 'Hey, God, is your site down?'

Not to be irreverent but it does seem that way sometimes. Like our hearts are open to God's working, but there doesn't seem to be much working going on. We know it's not true, but when we don't see palpable results of his working we get a little mistrusting. And that is not good.

There's been a lot of suggested solutions to this problem for people of faith (of course, if you don't have faith, you're like, 'yeah, the transmitting station is not buggy, it doesn't exist!'). Some say that you can't trust your feelings. Some that God works in mysterious ways. (His ways are higher than ours.) I think there's a lot to those things, but what I think the most accurate solution is to see God working in everything.

Whatever we call good or bad or God not working or the doldrums. Whatever labels we slap on things are just that—labels. They are our interpretation of things. It's clear that's the case when you consider how to one person something might be good, while to another that exact same thing might be bad. So it's not what happens, it's how we interpret what happens.

So, when I think God's not moving in my life, that's my thing, my interpretation. The reality is that God's always working. His transmitting station is in A-1 condition, sending 24/7 without fail. God's doing his job. We can trust him.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What stops you?

"After the final no comes a yes."

—from Wallace Stevens poem "The Well Dressed Man With A Beard"

Things can stop you. There can be no doubt of that. A quarter of a million people were killed by the 2004 tsunami that raced across the Indian Ocean.

I work for a bankruptcy attorney. I see things that stop people all the time: illness, job loss, financial mismanagement, greed, mental illness.

So some things can stop you that you have no control over. And some that you do have control.

So what stops you?

Maybe you failed a couple of times and figure it's no use trying any more. Maybe you're a perfectionist that nothing is good enough for. Or you procrastinate. Yeah, there are million things that can stop you.

Sometimes it's not even a disgrace to be stopped. Half the work Leonardo da Vinci did was never completed. Then there is Franz Schubert's "Unfinished Symphony" and Mozart's "Requiem." Westminster Cathedral in London was left undone. And all of these things are considered great even in their unfinished states.

But some things really are a disgrace if you let them stop you. Things like giving up. Or being afraid. Or being lazy. Or not trying.

That's where the Wallace Steven's quote comes in. There is a "yes" coming into your life. You may not get to it. You may. But whatever you do, don't let the wrong things stop you from finding out.

So let the Grim Reaper take you out. Maybe you'll get struck by lightning.

Or maybe you won't.

Inspirational writer Catherine Ponder, herself an early failure, writes: "By refusing to give up or give in to failure, failure is finally worn out by your persistence and gives up its power to success."

A Japanese proverb says: "Fall seven times, stand up eight."

Your "yes" is out there waiting for you.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

What's your gift?

Not just your talent, but what's your gift to the world? Do you have one? Should you?

Here's my take on the after-life. We all have one. (Of course, I don't know that.) I think heaven or hell is going to be our memories.

How did we live? What did we do? Did we die rich, fat and happy? Huge bank account? Reputation as a shrewd businessperson? Big winners at the game of life?

<shaking head> I don't know about you but I wouldn't want to be thinking about that for eternity. I'd want to be thinking about what I gave.

For me, part of my gift to the world is writing. I have a free novel, lots of free short stories on my website. I help other writers whenever I can. And it's not just that my writing is free. People might not like my writing. They might think it's lousy. No one might even read it. But none of that matters—it's the intention of the gift that counts. And I do intend my writing to be a gift. A gift to encourage and bless as well as entertain.

But it's not only about writing. Just the simple human kindnesses I've shown people are precious memories for me. Any of the times I've really helped someone in need.

It's funny. Maybe you've seen these magazine subscriptions that are very inexpensive. Most magazines don't need you to subscribe to make money. The ads they carry are already doing that. But if you subscribe, you will be one more in their circulation, which allows them to charge more for advertising, so they offer a year's subscription for ten bucks or so.

On a lark, I signed up for Forbes magazine. Forbes is all about business and specifically about getting rich in business. Seems every issue is about billionaires and how to be one yourself. Most of the billionaires featured don't do much for me, but there was a bio of one guy that  touched me so much I cut it out from the magazine. The guy was big into charity and he said that his ultimate goal was to "die with a net worth of zero."

That inspired me more than all the others—who just cared about racking up more and more cash—combined.

I'm a pretty selfish person. I'm no hero. It's hard for me to give. I feel like I don't have a lot so why should I be giving. But that said, the times I have given are the very best memories I have.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Is there such a thing as a mistake?

And what's the opposite of a mistake? How come we don't have a term for it?

Who decides if something is a mistake?

When is the decision made?

When is the decision final?

A mistake is the vaguest of concepts. And yet it can be crippling emotionally if taken to the extreme.

"I made a mistake." Even "I am a mistake."

The fact of the matter is people make the best decisions they can, they take the best actions they can. No one ever thinks, "This decision/action is a mistake."

No, it's only in hindsight that the mistake label is slapped on. And even then it's not terribly reflective of reality.

Back to "I made a mistake."

It simply is not that cut and dried.

You made a mistake forever? Couldn't your "mistake's" consequences change over time?

Aren't there multiple categories and viewpoints to be considered? You made a mistake when your business lost out on an investment. So okay, it's a mistake for your business' bottom line. But that investment loss allowed you to spend more time with your family, so it's clearly not a mistake in that sense.

Mistakes are bogeymans, nothing more. People do the best they can at the time and how things play out are multitudinous. "Mistake" is just too simple, too easy and very inaccurate.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Are "good" and "bad" meaningless concepts?

A friend of mine one day discovered a lump in his abdomen. Over time the lump grew. This was bad, my friend thought. Fearing cancer, he went to the doctor. After all the tests had been run, it was determined that the lump was a hernia. This was good (compared to cancer anyway). But also the tests revealed that my friend had the very beginnings of bladder cancer. This was bad. But the cancer was caught so early it was easily cured. This was good.

If my friend hadn't had the lump (bad), he would've never discovered he had bladder cancer and he would have died (bad). So maybe him having the lump was not so bad, after all. Maybe, dare we say, it was good?

That's the catch. Labeling things "good" and "bad" is pointless because we never know if what we're calling bad might ultimately be good for us and vice versa.

I was a heavy cigarette smoker. When I quit many years ago I knew that even though I'd quit, there was still a substantial risk that I'd get lung cancer. So I was reading the newspaper one day and there was an article about how consuming beta carotene (an organic compound found abundantly in carrots) greatly reduced the risk of getting lung cancer in former smokers.

So every day for one solid year I ate carrots, which I really don't like, but hey, it was good for me.

Then one day I was reading the newspaper and there was an article about how consuming beta carotene increased former smokers risk of getting lung cancer.


Well, now that was quite a surprise to this carrot gobbling guy. But there it is again. What I thought was good was acutally bad.

All this isn't to say that life is arbitrary and the choices we make make no difference. But it is to say that the judging we do (assigning things as good or bad) is exceptionally unreliable.

Personally, I think life is much better when we avoid judging things altogether. By all means be aware as best you can of what your options are, make your best decision. But leave off the good and bad designations. And leave them off events and things, as well. You don't know what might be good or bad for you. What you thought was the worst thing might in hindsight be the best. Life flows more peacefully without all the judgments. Something happened. Well, something happened. Just leave it at that. It will be a more accurate representation of reality, and it will save you the ups and downs of calling it good or bad.