WHEN YOU SHOW SOMEONE THEIR SOUL, YOU SET THEM FREE.

Do You Really Think?

By PoetryNo Comments

 

Do you really think

all you’re here to do is sit in a pew

or a cubicle zoo?

Lay on the couch?

Drift through life?

Lie to your spouse

About who you really are?

 

Do you really think

God is found in a place

Other than your heart?

That there’s only one way,

And if you don’t follow it, you’re condemned?

That we’re to follow a book of rules?

Do you really think God thinks we’re fools?

 

Do you really think

Going to school gives you an education?

That it’s not just indoctrination?

To live someone else’s life

Pay your taxes

Buy shit you don’t need

Paint on a smile

 

Do you really think

If you thought for yourself,

You’d have the same friends?

Would they reject you, shame you

Talk about you behind their hands?

Call you lost, call you crazy

Because you’re not one of them?

 

You are here to do something great;

Something important,

something brave.

You are a whole human with a wild soul;

A work of cosmic art.

You are free.

You are no one’s slave.

Time is a Mother

By PoetryNo Comments

Time ain’t a father

She’s a mother

She’ll make you cry

she’ll make you sing

Time is a mother

You can’t control her

She’ll whip your ass

She’ll heal your pain

Time is a mother

She’s fast like a dream

She’s slow like Sunday

She’s not what she seems

Time is a mother

And soon you’ll be gone

But she will live on forever

And no one will catch her

Split Being

By PoetryNo Comments

How sweet and sour the soul

On whose weariness takes its toll

Yet onward marching we go

Carrying within us hearts full.

Gratitude and doubt interwoven

Thread of sorrows softly spoken

Spooling out into a life unfolding

Stitched together with soul awoken.

In each dichotomy lies a clue

Find the harmony between two

From this tension song will spring

Revealing to all both sides of you.

Presence When Not Present

By Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Dawning over Del Norte. Photo credit: Me

Pretty much every morning, I have the same ritual …

Up at 5:50am

Turn coffee on (its set to automatically brew at 6am but I get a special satisfaction of beating the coffee clock)

Do push-ups

Go outside and say a prayer of thanks for being alive another day

Make butter coffee and pour into two mugs

Sit in my chair in my corner of the living room and peruse news, social, etc whilst sipping coffee

Read my daily readers: Merton as a physical daily reader and daily emails from Richard Rohr and Seth Godin.

Journaling (sometimes in two different journals depending on the muse)

Do a meditation on Sam Harris’ Waking Up app

Go for a walk

Take a shower

Go to my office and get to work

Of course, not every day is like this. Sometimes, I intentionally mix the order up. Some days, I don’t have space for all of the above. Whatever the order or frequency, I love this morning ritual. Which is an odd thing to write because I generally have hated rituals and routines. They reminded me of loss of control, of empty rote. But as Jocko Willink says, “Discipline equals freedom.”

This morning ritual is how I get present, get centered, tune in to my soul, plan my day. I didn’t realize how much this ritual meant to me until this past week.

On 9/1, Lynna and I headed north to drive to Portland for the birth of our first grandchild. We spent the last 5 days exploring southern Colorado (I’m writing this essay from Grand Junction, CO). It has been a fun adventure with a nice blend of unexpectedness and solid planning — and a strange feeling of not knowing exactly when we will be back to Austin.

Throughout this first leg of the trip, I have struggled with being present. Which produced its own special blend of anxiety — a combo of “destination fever”, fatigue and contingency planning. I was present in a sensory way. I saw the beautiful valley from the big windows of the cabin in Del Norte. I felt the fresh mountain air in my lungs and on my skin. I heard the buzz of my reel as I cast into the Rio Grande. I saw new country that I’ve never been to before. I saw the towering Clear Creek Falls. Outside of our cabin in Cimmaron, I saw the vast expanse of stars. I took in the terrifying and beautiful Black Canyon. I sat on the bank of Crawford Reservoir with fishing pole in hand.

I was in all of these places and had all of these sensory experiences, yet …

Despite all of the majestic natural beauty, great conversations, exploring small towns I didn’t feel present. This filled me with guilt and doubt. My first reaction to any feeling I don’t like is “What is wrong with me?” My second reaction is “How do I get rid of this feeling?” Instead of these old responses, I decided to just sit with my feelings. And to extend myself some grace.

This provided space to realize a few things …

The intention of this trip is the momentous occasion of becoming a grandfather. This new chapter has brought so many feelings — unspeakable joy, excitement, anticipation. But also feelings of running out of time, fear of getting old, wondering if this next phase of life will leave my complacent and overly-content. One of the purposes of getting present is to understand and examine feelings. And these were feelings I couldn’t control — so I avoided them by staying on the go.

I am away from home. Austin is home. It felt like home the first time I went there on a visit in 2012. The mountains are where my body is from and family history is from. But Austin is where my soul is from. I realized that I was trying to experience all this newness as if I was going to move to these places. Instead of just experiencing it like a grateful visitor.

Presence has to be fought for. It doesn’t just happen. And it certainly doesn’t happen by going faster, staying busier. The breakthrough happened yesterday morning. I sat on the front deck of our little cabin, sipped my butter coffee and felt the morning sun on my face. I caught up on my Merton daily reader and also read a section in “A Course in Miracles” (a book I’ve been chipping away at for almost 4 years!). I cracked open my journal and listened. A musing came to me that I shared on social. I was present. Finally.

Ritual is good.

Home is good.

Travel is good.

Life’s big moments are good.

But presence is just returning to my center, my soul — and those are with me wherever I am.

Don’t Convert. Enlighten.

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Photo credit: Robbie Shone

“Don’t convert. Enlighten.” This is a mantra that I tell myself whenever I feel the need to convince you that I’m right.

I really do want to be right. Or more specifically, I want you to know that I’m right and convert to my way of thinking. My wiring is to be right, to persuade, to win. I love debate. I love to argue. I’m a high I on the DISC. I’m an 8 on the Enneagram. My highest StrengthsFinders trait is “Woo”. None of those are inherently wrong or bad. The problem is that in my drive to convert you to my way of thinking, I will dehumanize you. Not necessarily in a mean way (although I do have those tendencies). But certainly in a way where you are now a target of my ego’s attention. 

My ability to persuade people used to be a significant part of my identity. It was played out in my various roles: husband, dad, brother, sales rep, marketing consultant, football coach, fundamentalist Christian, Republican. Again, none of these roles are inherently bad. But as began to awaken in 2012, I began to see how my impulse to convert was harmful to others. When most of those roles fell away (I’m really only two of them now), I realize that the real role of my soul is to be a mentor and a friend. And converting people to my way of thinking is the antithesis of being a mentor and a friend. 

Converting vs enlightening has a long history. In most cases, conversion was related to religion. Much of world history can be summarized as “We have superior weapons. Convert to our god or we will kill you.” Conversion became a staple of political campaigns. Thanks to Edward Bernays, conversion became the core doctrine of advertising and PR. One of the most insidious versions of converting is “Gay conversion theory” – which combines dehumanizing with spiritual abuse and junk science. In American culture, we are conditioned to convince others to be a fan of our team, to buy our favorite products, to listen to our preferred music. Of course, there’s no harm in advocating for these preferences. But it becomes a moral issue when we tell someone they are wrong/bad/ignorant if they don’t convert to our preferences. 

Here’s a simple framework to show the difference between converting and enlightening:

Converting is exclusionary. It is linear and literal. It is often nationalistic or tribal. Its weapon of choice is condemnation (often in the form of violence). Its promise is prosperity. If you convert to our way, you will be safe, have money, live a good life. This type of thinking is rampant in religion and politics – where the creation of “others” produces a base of supporters while fueling divisiveness and division. A recent example is a patently false claim by the GOP that the Democrats “took God out of their convention.” Other traits of conversion-mindset: hypocrisy, abuse of power, wastefulness (all things Jesus spoke against, by the way).

Enlightening is inclusionary. It extends acceptance and understanding. It is sensitive to matters of justice and equality. It is fueled by openness and invitation. Its motivation is not to build a fan base but to create an impact. To be clear, I don’t believe enlightenment is some sort of intellectual relativism where all ideas have equal merit. But it certainly means that each person has inherent value and worth. Example: “Flat Earther” vs science. The premise is ridiculous and easily refuted. But if a person chooses to believe in flat earth theory, its not my job to convince them otherwise. 

Which leads to this question: how do you practice enlightenment?

That’s exactly how you do it. You ask questions. 

You start by asking yourself questions. As I wrote about back in April, I believe learning to ask yourself questions is the #1 life skill.

Is that thought/feeling/framework/narrative true?

Why am I reacting this way?

Why do I care about this?

What belief or value is being threatened?

These are just a start. There are thousands more self-directed questions that will enlighten you as to your motivations, biases and perceptions.

Once you’ve got the hang of asking yourself questions, start asking questions to others. Of all of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits, Habit 5 is probably the most quoted. Yet it is also probably the habit that is most neglected. As Phil Drysdale points out, Jesus was asked 183 questions. He answered 3 of them. And he asked 307 questions. This is a pretty good ratio for practicing enlightening someone, not converting them.

The questions you ask are largely framed by your intention for asking them. So be very aware of that. I would strongly suggest not asking passive or leading questions. Its easy to slip into a prosecutorial mode. Its easy to slip into questions that are intended to condemn instead of enlightening. 

On almost any issue or belief, you can ask these questions:

How did you arrive at that conclusion?

Why is it important to you?

What are your experiences with this matter?

Three other things we can do to enlighten instead of convert …

We can extend grace. Grace is not passive acceptance or tolerance. Nor is it excusing someone’s violent or damaging behavior. Grace is being able to see the whole person behind their opinions and views and behaviors. This is especially important when conversing with someone that you disagree with.

Be declarative. Paraphrasing John Eldredge, let others feel the weight of who you are. If your heart is pure, you are not responsible for their reactions. You are responsible for being clear and direct; for not being passive-aggressive or obtuse. And you are responsible for extending those same expectations to someone you are talking with. But you aren’t responsible for their feelings and reactions and they aren’t responsible for yours.

Tell your own story. This invites curiosity. It puts a story arc to your experiences. It allows you to provide witness or testimony to the things you’ve experienced and the conclusions you’ve come to. This is why I make it a practice to try to only speak to that which I have actual experience, expertise or knowledge.  

It’s easy to stay in our insular bubble – where people we disagree with are only on social media or on the news. But this practice of enlightening not converting can only happen in real interactions with actual people. Tomorrow (Sept 1), we leave to make the trek to Portland for the birth of our first grandchild. The journey there will take me into parts of the country where my views and ideas will be the definite minority. I will be spending time with family that has different views as me and strong opinions. I will get to practice and test these ideas in real life. I will very likely fail at times. But in each failure, I will learn. And learning is enlightenment. 

The Incompatibility of Consciousness – Part II

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Credit: lolloj/Shutterstock.com

Last week, I wrote about consciousness and two elements of modern life that seem to be incompatible with consciousness: consumerism and ideology. Last week, I covered consumerism. This week, ideology.

First a few more thoughts on consciousness …

Although a person of faith, I have a primarily secular view of consciousness. This is a combination of my own experiences as well as learnings from Sam Harris, Abraham Maslow, Alan Watts, Pema Chodron and others. A short doctrinal statement: I believe God is master of my soul and I am the master of my own mind.

To me, consciousness is the result of two specific efforts:

  1. Mastery over our reactions; being grounded in reality rather than reacting to ego-fueled stimuli.
  2. Realizing that we are not our labels — either those we’ve adopted or those we were told.

It is in this area that I believe consciousness is incompatible with ideology.

Some background …

I have always been into politics. I started reading about political history when I was 10 or 11. Until 2016, I watched the election returns for every presidential election since 1980. Most of my family were Republicans. I’m sure this had some influence over my political views. But I was also influenced by what I read and how I processed it. One book stands out. When I was around 12 years old, I read “The Conscience of a Conservative” by Barry Goldwater. I found it in a stack of books in the back of a closet at my grandparent’s place. Freedom, opportunity, strength, liberty — were all ideas that resonated with me.

In 1986, halfway through my junior year of high school, we moved from sleepy Baker City, Oregon to bustling Gresham, Oregon. As part of this move, I decided to “rebrand” myself (yes, I called it that even way back then!). In search of an identity, I decided to be the “Alex P. Keaton” of my high school. I argued with my leftist teachers about politics. In my bedroom, I had a poster of Oliver North next to my poster of the glam-rock band, Poison. I volunteered for the Bush-Quayle campaign.

Just a few years later, I discovered Rush Limbaugh. His clarity of conviction, his ability to communicate and his use of parody all appealed to me. For the next 20+ years, I was all in with the conservative movement. It became an integral part of my identity. And when ideology becomes your identity, everyone that disagrees with you is seen as the enemy.

Around 2008, I began to become disenfranchised with GOP. This was for two contradictory reasons: 1) I thought the GOP had become too entangled with the “religious right” and 2) I thought that most Republicans were “RINOs” — not real conservatives. (Ironically, I believe both of those even more now!) So I changed my registration to Independent but continued to vote exclusively for Republicans. In fact, the first Democrat I ever voted for was Walt Minnick, a moderate Democrat congressman with a strong business background.

As I have shared a number of times publicly, I had a spiritual awakening in April 2014. For me, the awakening changed my taste for truth. Falseness or untruth in any form felt bitter on my tongue and produced nausea in my stomach. I felt it sitting in church services. I felt it in some of my relationships. And I definitely felt it with my political beliefs and influences. I remember listening to Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck with a sharp awareness that I no longer believed them. I no longer saw them as ineffable prophets of conservatism but saw them as they are: hucksters taking advantage of someone’s conditioned biases.

As my consciousness grew, my ideological labels fell away. I did not become “more liberal”. I just grew beyond ideology. Which makes sense. Ideology is one of the most binary forms of thinking there is. And binary thinking and consciousness are definitely incompatible. In Maslow’s terms, I began to become self-actualized rather than others-actualized. Interestingly, this returned me to some of those resonate ideals of my childhood: freedom, liberty, justice, opportunity. I became more curious, more open. I became more interested in talking with people that I might disagree with.

Which returns me to my thesis for Part II — the incompatibility of consciousness with ideology. Ideology encourages you to believe things that are incongruent with consciousness or mindfulness. I also observe that the two cult-like ideologically extremes of our era (the “Trumpists” and the “Wokists”) are heavily reliant on low consciousness. I believe these kinds of low-conscious ideologies discourage free thought, asking questions, discourse and internal disagreement. Some examples:

  • Your ideology becomes your religion; a form of cognitive dissonance.
  • People who disagree with you politically are the enemy and must be defeated or destroyed and proven wrong.
  • You see the labels, not the human. You will see roles, not souls.
  • You proclaim your political ideas as absolutes; leaving no room to be wrong.
  • You excuse or enable abhorrent behavior from people you agree with politically.
  • You become easy to manipulate and susceptible to conspiracy theories.

I’m still fascinated by the political process. And I certainly still have political views. It’s just that neither of these is my identity. If pressed, I will say that most of my views would fall under the realm of “libertarian.” I certainly think you can be a Republican or a Democrat (or some other party) and still be a high-conscious person. Just not if these ideas separate you from reality.