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Life

Stones Into Bread

By Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

The title of this essay is from a story in the bible of Jesus being lead into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. In the story, the devil tells Jesus (who had been fasting) to use his powers to turn stones into bread so he could eat. As with most spiritual scripture, the stories in the bible are not necessarily literal instructions on how to behave and much more often metaphorical stories on the experience of being an awakened human.

I use this example not to make a theological argument or religious statement but as a metaphorical backdrop for a very real thing in our modern lives: the application of our will.

We’ve all heard the phrase “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. It is a reminder to be resilient, driven, focused. Of course, there are many times in life where we need to exert our will, skills and gifts to accomplish something. But in the spiritual realm, the phrase would be much more accurate as “Where there’s worth, there’s a wait”. It is a sign of spiritual and emotional maturity to held the tension between “make it happen” and “let it happen”

This is a hard lesson I’m still learning at nearly 50 years old.

In a recent visit, a healer friend asked me “Who taught you to never give up?” I said that, although my grandfather was an example of work ethic, I have always been obstinate. But not about everything. The obstinance and never-quit seemed to only apply to get things I wanted. If I wasn’t interested or passionate about it, there was no drive. Or I refused to quit something out of sheer resentment. My relentless will has served me well over the years. From being a very young father (barely 22 at the time) to major moves to commissioned sales to being an entrepreneur. The shadow of all this is that I made a tremendous amount of painful mistakes. Of course, these painful experiences eventually end up being lessons that contribute to wisdom. But I didn’t need to make it so painful!

A real story of obstinance …

I’d always wanted to live in an old farmhouse on some acreage. In 2003, one came on to the market in Greenleaf, Idaho — about 45 minutes from work. It seemed perfect. Other than the plumbing, the interior had been updated. The acreage was well maintained. It was cozy. It was blue with red outbuildings. Everything about it matched the picture in my head. So I made it happen. I muscled through a variety of obstacles and the dream was achieved. Reality was starkly different. Over an 8 year period, I tried to make it work — all in the midst of being a father to two young boys and in the mighty struggle of being a founding partner in a start-up. Thank God for Lynna during these times. Her resoluteness kept us going emotionally and often, financially. In the end, I just couldn’t do it anymore. The cost of living was too high, the pressure and pain too great. So I walked away. Of course, hindsight reminds me of many positive stories from that time. Our boys didn’t really know about the struggle so they have fond memories of the place. I’m grateful for those moments but it was a tough, necessary lesson about not trying to turn stones into bread.

This year, I’ve learned a different lesson about using my will to turn stones into bread. According to the story, it appears that Jesus did have the power to do just that. That’s likely what made it so tempting — especially when hungry. I believe we all have a similar temptation. We all have spiritual gifts that our ego-mind wants to hijack to fulfill an immediate need. And when we are hungry, lonely, tired that’s when we are most susceptible to forcing a “miracle”.

I am in the midst of experiencing a second awakening. The first one in 2014 freed me from conditions and circumstances. This one is freeing me from dependence. And one of the things I’ve been very dependent on over the years has been my will, my obstinance. The first awakening was about going, being decisive, boldly saying yes. This awakening is about waiting, being patient, surrendering. In this phase, waiting is the bold move.

During the past several weeks, I have been relentlessly tempted to determine outcomes, speed things along, change the timeline, force decision points in almost every major area of my life. I make plans and lists and scenarios — but then in the witching hour, I hear “wait” and when my mind is quieted, I hear “wait”. I have been reminded repeatedly that anxiety is the mind’s way of managing an unstable situation. But I’m learning that anything done out of fear does not make things better. I’m learning that Love does not lead you to lack and plenty-ness is the reward for patience. This time is not about being passive. Even in the waiting, we must still know and ask for what we want. The difference is severing any attachments to outcomes and releasing expectations. Or if you will, having faith.

We call it a leap of faith. And that is often true. But maybe this faith is about being still, being receptive. Maybe this is the kind of faith that forces you into the River of Doubt so that you can learn to surrender to its flow. Maybe mature faith is not a leap but a release of control.

The Premonition.

By Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

“Pale Rider”

In Johnny Cash’s epic song “When the Man Comes Around”, he orates this snippet from the biblical poem, Revelations:

And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts, and I looked and behold: a pale horse. And his name, that sat on him, was Death. And Hell followed with him.

In my early 40s, I had the premonition that I would die before I turned 50. Well, 50 is two weeks from today. So it could still happen. This premonition has served to help me examine my mortality and my perspectives on death. It’s been a reminder to be bold, to pursue adventures, to tell the people I love that I love them. In short, I became at peace (mostly) with the thought of my potential demise.

But I missed the point of the premonition. My westernized brain took it literally. As with many things from the spiritual realm, it was a metaphor, a symbol of something more.

After my awakening in 2014 and the ensuing events of life, I had arrived at the comforting illusion of completion of growth; a finished state to live the rest of my days out — however many that may be. The past 40 days have revealed the premonition was true. And the illusion of permanence was blatantly untrue.

It is difficult to describe the different kind of death that I’m experiencing. But let’s call it the Death of Dependency. For my entire time on this earth, I have sought outside of myself validation and confirmation of my worth. This was especially true about my masculinity; for which I sought validation from both men and women. I wanted to be seen by others as accomplished, tough, desirable, thoughtful, smart. After my awakening, I still wanted all of these — along wanting validation of my spirituality and wisdom. I would often use my sovereignty as a bargaining chip: “I will give you a piece of me which I expect you to validate. And you give me a piece of you which I will validate so that everything will be equal.”

So this thing called Dependency had to die. And for the past 40 days, it has.

The archetype I’d crafted to be admired had to die; and with the death of dependency also came the death of expectations, plans, assumptions, roles, narratives. It killed arrogance — especially the arrogance that I can control time and love. And the arrogance that I can craft a story in which I am loved without being hurt or disappointed.

This kind of death is an ego-death (not death of the ego). Meaning, our mind constructs archetypes that it thinks it needs in order to feel safe, secure and accepted. When the Truth comes along, the mind protects this archetype or identity and reacts as if it is literal, physical death. All of this is dreadfully painful unto itself and manifests as anxiety, grief, fear, co-dependency.

At the root of ego-death is fear of loss. As such, fear of death produces all kinds of dishonesty — ranging from delusional stories intended to comfort and/or control to negotiating to unhealthy self-soothing.

Death is necessary for growth. That is true in evolution. It is true in relationships. It is true in spiritual maturity and emotional resilience.

But it still sucks.

I can say, however, that there is life on the other side of it. It is a resurrection of sorts — but not a resurrection into our old lives and old meanings.

My first glimmer of life-after-death is when I held my grandson for the first time a short while ago. My mind had manufactured a story that becoming a grandfather meant that I was now officially old — and therefore less desirable and more obsolete. As I held him, I felt a space open up in my heart that I didn’t know was there. The story my mind had been telling was not true. In his birth, I felt the stirring of re-birth in me.

If that was a lie, what other lies had Dependency been telling me?

I needed someone outside of me to validate my masculinity and worth. That was a lie.

I needed to tell false stories to make others feel safe and secure. That was a lie.

My plans, my expectations, my ways of doing things were as powerful as God’s plans, expectations and ways of doing things. That was a lie.

Having anxiety, feeling negative feelings, expressing feelings were all things to control lest I be seen as weak. That was a lie.

Everything my mind told me about death turned out not to be true. And, in fact, the opposite was true: Love arrives as death.

As of this writing, I’m not through this valley of death yet. There is still more grief to feel, more listening, more humility and compassion to learn. Hard days remain. Many more tears will be shed. I feel strengthened by acceptance of what is, by perseverance, by sovereign boundaries. I can see a mountain on the other side; a mountain called Integration. Where wholeness of being is the law. Where radical acceptance is practiced and radical truth is told.

If you are willing to walk your own valley of death, I will meet you there at this mountain.

Two Kinds of Muses

By Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Image credit: Ankara University.

If you are paying attention, you will be sent two kinds of Muses.

Let’s call the first one the Inspiration Muse. And let’s called the second one the Suffering Muse.

Sometimes, these are two different people. Sometimes they can both be found in the same person. Sometimes they will be strangers that you cross paths with once. Sometimes they will be friends you will know forever.

The Inspiration Muse is the classic muse from mythology. This is the muse that brings creativity and insight. This muse reminds you of your light side; what makes you whole and worthy. S/he will stir passions, awaken confidence, spark innovation and action. The Inspiration Muse will often arrive as a mentor or a sage. This means there’s a temptation or tendency to worship or guru-ize this person. They are not a savior. Of course, some people will come into your life disguised as Inspiration Muses — but if they want you to see them as a savior, they are not an Inspiration Muse.

The Suffering Muse is often mistaken as a tormentor. After all, who likes suffering? But that’s not what this muse is about. This muse invites you into the wound. S/he helps you touch all of the most painful parts and convert them into art. This muse forces you to explore your dark side; makes you examine where you feel hurt, where you feel self-loathing. This muse is like a machete or like fire. Their work is about exploring the dark jungles, clearing paths and burning away false stories. The Suffering Muse is often someone you are very close to. So what they reveal may feel like betrayal. Not that people close to you won’t hurt you, but if they do so with malicious intent, they are not a Suffering Muse.

I’ve had several Inspiration Muses — some I’ve known well and others I’ve never met. One I know well is mentor and friend, Ron Price. I met Ron in 2006 at a time of great darkness. I’m sure others have tried to inspire me and show me my value, but Ron was the first one to truly get through to me. His encouragement and guidance put me on the path that I’m on today. Some Inspiration Muses I’ve never met: David Whyte, Richard Rohr, Rob Bell, Bruce Springsteen, Jordan Peterson, BJ Barham. For me, Inspiration Muses represent order, structure, systems, frameworks. They help me function in the world. They make me more disciplined. They make me a better coach and mentor.

I’ve had a few Suffering Muses. I will keep their names private but they’ve almost all been someone I’m close with. They have been the greatest ignitors of spiritual growth and transformation. We’d like to think spiritual growth is all rainbows and unicorn farts, but it is a painful process that can stir anger, resentment and feelings of abandonment. Which is kind of the point of this muse. After all, these are reactions to wounds that the Suffering Muses are here to help me touch and make into art. They often arrive or re-arrive when I’m in a liminal space. I tend to romanticize Suffering Muses far more than Inspiration Muses. This leads to unrealistic expectations and disappointment — again, which is kind of the point. Each of my Suffering Muses have quite different personalities. But they all have these in common: grace, strength, courage. Which, not coincidentally, are the very elements necessary to convert suffering into art. For me, Suffering Muses often represent chaos, disorder, disruption. The work they’ve done has introduced me to the very depths of my soul and has helped me moderate the tension between my light and dark sides. They’ve made me more compassionate, more empathic. And they’ve most certainly made me a better writer, poet and friend.

From a psychological perspective, it seems as if Inspiration Muses arrive to help heal a father-wound. And Suffering Muses arrive to help heal a mother-wound. Both are very different in their approach but each are instrumental in creating harmony and undividedness within.

Healing aside, it’s important to remember that muses are ultimately about creation. We are each here to create. And to create takes a muse. Both kinds. My encouragement is this: pay attention. In times of doubt, look for those who remind you of your worth even if you don’t believe them. In times of despair, look for those that will hold up a mirror of truth and keep holding it until you see what they see.

The Door Makers

By Creativity, Entrepreneurism, Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

David North’s “Door to the Imagination”. Photo credit: David North

“When opportunity knocks, answer the door.” We’ve all heard this, right? Yes, it’s true. Sometimes through your own efforts and a lot of serendipity, opportunity does knock.

Some people miss it because they don’t hear the knock.

Some people miss it because they are too afraid to answer.

And a lot of people miss it because … well, I like how Herbert Prochnow says it: “The trouble with opportunity is that it always comes disguised as hard work.”

But there is another level far beyond answering the knock at the door.

It is the impossibly hard and very risky act of creating a door where one doesn’t exist. Answering opportunity’s knock is a matter of paying attention, perseverance and knowing how to grind. Creating an opportunity door requires all of those plus alchemy, audacity and a touch of madness.

Artists are creators of opportunity doors. Using existing materials, they create a portal to a place that didn’t exist before. To experience something truly artful feels spiritual, magical – because it is. More than anyone, artists seemed to be wired to create doors. This is why they often feel miscast and misunderstood in society. Many artists deal with depression, anxiety, isolation. Which turns out are some of the key materials of door making.

For entrepreneurs, crafting opportunity doors is the work of innovation. Using existing resources, they tap into an unspoken need and create a third way that didn’t exist before. In our work at Root + River, we refer to this as category design. When working with individuals, we help craft a “category of one” – the door to an idea that didn’t exist before. When working with brands, we help create a category for them to own – a big idea that transcends current offerings. In both cases, knowing your category gives your door making efforts a place to start and a point at which to focus on.

Crafting opportunity doors does take raw ability. It also takes the work of discovering or embracing those raw abilities. If you don’t accept your own gifts and talents, it’s virtually impossible to become a door maker. And you do need to do the hard work of turning your ability into expertise and competency. And, of course, it takes courage to be a door maker.

But you can’t stop there. This is why it takes an exceptional human to become a master craftsman of opportunity doors.

I have been privileged to know a number of sensei-level door makers in my life. They have these four common traits:

  • They see the opportunity within the problem. There are lots of problem-solving experts. But the door maker is not motivated to just solve the problem. She wants to use the problem to create a door that didn’t exist before. This is what Sara Blakely did.
  • They have a robust creative practice. They understand that door making requires a ton of creative energy and creative discipline. So they place a premium on spending their time developing and nurturing creative habits. They know a consistent, robust creative practice will always produce the fruit of new ideas, new ways of thinking.
  • They have faith. For some door makers, faith can be directly related to religious or spiritual beliefs. But I’m more referring to the kind of faith that it takes to step into the void, to operate in the unknown. The kind of faith that embraces mystery’s role in creation. This is the kind of faith that encourages you to embrace your higher imaginations and doubt your lower impulses. This kind of faith only comes from within. It can’t be given, sold, borrowed.
  • They are action-oriented. When door makers have a spark of inspiration, they take immediate action. Maybe they sketch something out. Maybe they do a little research. Maybe they make a prototype. Whatever the response, they don’t just sit and think about ideas. They do something with them. When they are stuck and don’t know what to do, they just create.

Every door maker I know or studied has these four traits. But they also all have a fifth trait that is expressly and specifically unique to them. Maybe it’s calmness under pressure. Maybe it’s being great at promotion. Maybe it’s financial acumen. Maybe it’s strategic thinking. Maybe it’s charisma. I’m not entirely sure what to call this fifth trait, but I’m quite certain it is the healthy incorporation of the ego into the door making process.

Who are door makers you’ve known? What traits did she or he have that I didn’t mention?

Speaking from Experience

By LifeNo Comments

Me on Frog Rock. Photo credit: Lynna Foster

For a long time, I prided myself on having an opinion on everything. I realize now that this was an extension of my pervasive insecurity and lack of confidence. I discovered quite early in life that having an opinion and expressing it was a way to create an identity — and a way to muster validation and attention.

In my 20s and 30s, a significant portion of being a know-it-all was a survival strategy — truly faking it until making it. And despite my low conscious awareness that I was kind of a bullshitter, I used my abilities of recall, retention and expression to build a career and create some semblance of adulthood. Ironically, the quest to have people think I was smart and worthy of attention led to imposter syndrome. This is why I now believe that the best antidote to imposter syndrome is to not be an imposter.

As with most things, maturity has brought into sharp perspective the foolishness of being a know-it-all. Life will humble you. I remember one of the first times I confessed this openly. In what was one of many skirmishes with Caden when he was in his early teens, I blurted out “I think you are under the mistaken impression that I know what I’m doing. I do not know how to parent you”.

Mentors will humble you as well. One of my first mentors was a wise and kind business leader named Ed Engel. He once told me, “Justin, you are way too eager to show people how smart you are.” Other mentors like Ron Price, Dave Waldo, Larry Anderson, Jim Hollingsworth gently but persistently broke down my desperate arrogance.

Here is where I am at today …

I try to only speak about that which I have directly experienced or been a witness to. This includes both things I could experience but haven’t and things I cannot directly experience.

The list of experiences that I will never be able to speak directly to is quite long. I don’t know what it’s like to …

Be a woman or a mother.

Be a person of color.

Be an LGBTQ person.

Grow up in the inner city.

Be destitute or homeless.

Overcome a major illness.

Be an immigrant.

Battle addiction.

Face combat.

Be placed in a leadership position that requires life and death situations.

Have extensive formal training or credentialed expertise.

To speak to any of these as if from a place of first-hand knowledge is high arrogance. At a minimum, it is a kind of armchair quarterbacking but mostly it comes across as privileged ignorance. If you have not experienced something, everything you think you know about the topic is a thin and unproven theory.

Two things come out of this …

  1. I ask a lot of questions to people that have first-hand experience that I have not or can not have. This how I have learned that every woman I know has been sexually harassed in some form. And every person of color I know has experienced racism — and been harassed or profiled by cops.
  2. I will challenge those who share their opinions about what they have not or cannot experience. Most recently, it has been the criticism of governors for the way they’ve handled COVID. My question to the Monday morning critics: “What would you have done if you were in their shoes?”

There are a number of issues that I do feel confident in expressing my opinions and views on. And if you know me personally or follow me on social media, you will know that I’m not shy about expressing these things.

Being a man, a life partner, a brother, a son, a father, a friend.

Political issues — especially the death of the American conservative movement and the foolishness of basing your life on ideology.

Spirituality and religion — especially related to being a Christian.

Creativity, writing, poetry, speaking.

Being an entrepreneur, business partner, branding coach.

Rural/ag life.

Overcoming a troubled childhood and lack of formal education.

Dealing with depression and anxiety.

Battling insecurity with my body and appearance, my worth, my value.

Passions: Texas, music, football, reading, history, politics and many others.

And very soon … I will be able to speak about the experience of being a grandfather.

Most of all, I can tell you my story. I can tell you of my own journey of self-discovery. I can tell you about the arc of life. I can tell you that the mission is in the suffering. That being a victim is a waste of a life. That love is real. That for me, God is real.

My life has been enriched by these experiences. And it has been even more enriched by a vast diversity of friends who have told me their stories.

What is your story?

What have you experienced that I have not or can not?

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-WorthOne Comment

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.

The Incompatibility of Consciousness - Part 1

By Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Everything I skewer all in one magazine cover.

In a recent conversation on her podcast, my friend Holly asked me “what does consciousness mean to you?” I encourage you to listen to the entire episode (it’s only 20 minutes long), but here is my answer:

“Consciousness, to me, is about space. It is the space between your thoughts and your feelings — and you, your True Self. In western culture, this space or distance between thoughts and feelings and your True Self is often not there. When you begin a mindfulness practice, when you begin to meditate on even a very basic level, you begin to understand that you are not your thoughts and feelings. This opens up a little bit of space. And when that space opens up, your vision changes. When your vision changes, the forms you have and the narratives you have about those forms permanently shift.”

I’m quite new to my understanding of consciousness. It took a while to dismantle the thought structures from being immersed in Christian fundamentalism, conservative talk radio and other influencing factors. The idea of consciousness in these cultures was seen as “woo woo” — or “not biblical” — both of which are bullshit.

While I’m certainly no consciousness expert, I’ve learned a few things that might be useful. One is that there appear to be two kinds of consciousness and, therefore, two kinds of practices: 1) spiritual and 2) psychological. Spiritual consciousness is related to awakening, enlightenment. This is divine, mysterious, unplanned and quite disruptive. For me, this practice is about prayer, intuition, listening. Psychological consciousness is evolutionary. It is moving up Maslow’s Hierarchy to self-actualization through a mindfulness practice. It is neuroscience. Which is why I use Sam Harris’ “Waking Up” app for this practice. Both practices require discipline, solitude, silence, stillness. One involves faith. The other involves logic.

I’ve also learned that, in many ways, consciousness is incompatible with modern life. For one, it is not a coping mechanism — at least not for attempting to keep an illusory life going. For another, it takes actual time. But most of all, consciousness always creates change. And most people really don’t like change.

I’ve observed that consciousness is particularly incompatible with two facets of contemporary times: consumerism and ideology. For this essay, I will focus on consumerism.

Consumerism

Things of the soul are incompatible with consumerism. Not the consuming to exist or to experience — but the consumerism born of productizing the yearning for meaning, purpose, fulfillment. This productizing happens in several areas:

  1. Religion — specifically the Prosperity Doctrine. If you are not familiar with that branch of American Christianity, I strongly encourage you to check out this article. The Prosperity Doctrine is not the only part of religion that is transactional. In fact, you can go back to the New Testament and read of Jesus’ clearing the temple of money changers. Whatever the era, transactional faith is highly incompatible with consciousness because it requires you to participate in the illusion that some prophet, pastor or doctrine provides you something you don’t already have.
  2. Career — I call this the Achievement Doctrine. This is the “American Dream” combined with a “win at all costs” mindset — and the Machiavellian “the ends justify the means.” We tend to place more value on the sum of someone’s achievements over the sum of their character. This too is an illusion, but that’s not the only thing that makes it incompatible with consciousness. The Achievement Doctrine assumes a finite amount of everything — primarily tied to material possessions. And consciousness teaches you there is an endless supply of what really matters.
  3. Self Help — I call this the Motivation Doctrine. This is the idea that something outside of you is the answer to happiness and fulfillment. This often comes in the form of a course, a retreat, a motivational speaker, a book. Book publishers know that if you bought a self-help book in the last 18 months, you are the one most likely to buy another one. I’m not condemning self-help nor these platforms. It is certainly a good thing to get inspired by someone else’s ideas and life. And it’s good to learn and grow. But striving outside of yourself for answers and meaning is incompatible with consciousness.

Each of these areas has its celebrities, its gurus. And each of them feeds their audience a steady stream of highly profitable consumable material. And because consumerism can’t feed the soul, people keep lining back up at the conveyor line for another helping. It is a hell of a business model.

Here is what consciousness reveals …

What your soul feeds on is always free. It just needs to be cultivated. Stillness is free. Compassion is free. Acceptance is free. Movement is free. This makes consciousness not just incompatible with consumerism, but a threat to it as well. This is because consciousness connects you with reality. And in reality, we need very little once our soul is fed.

As I said, I don’t have this all figured out. I still like stuff. I’m still drawn to status symbols. I still get a thrill of seeing an Amazon package on the front porch. Just way less so than I used to. Consciousness has definitely taught me a level of essentialism. It makes me examine my motivation behind wanting to buy something. It makes me examine my ego’s need to make a statement. And it has greatly enhanced the value of all the free things in life.

I’m Worried About You

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No, I’ve never been.

I’m worried about you. Yeah, I mean you.

I worry about people. Including those I don’t know well — or don’t know at all.

I worry that someone will read something I wrote and call me out.

I worry about injustice and unfairness.

I have geographic worry — Austin, Idaho, Oregon, the country, the planet.

When I watch sports, I worry about the players getting injured.

I worry about how independent musicians are going to make a living.

The list could go on and on.

So imagine how I feel when I do know you. And especially if I have a relationship with you.

As I do in these writings, I’m inviting you into my inner processing and examination of why I worry about everyone.

You have been warned.

In the language of the DISC behavioral assessment, I am a high “D” and high “I” — close to 100 on both. My business/creative partner, Emily, sums it up succinctly: “Justin wants to win and Justin wants to be loved.” This explains some of my dichotomies. Like Meyers-Briggs, Enneagram or any other in-depth behavioral assessment, your dominant tendencies also have a shadow side.

As a high I, the positive is that I am gregarious, relatable, a good conversationalist. The negative or shadow side is that I’m a “people pleaser.” My great friend, Juan Kingsbury, is an expert on the DISC. He states, “Why do high I people want to be liked? Something occurred when you felt left out, overlooked and speaking up got you a kind of attention that felt good. This causes high I people to over-focus on being liked or heard and sometimes miss the mark on the intent of their communication/interaction.”

In my parts therapy work with my therapist, Adrienne, I call this part of me the “Border Collie”. It means I’m very protective and sensitive about roles, boundaries, rules. I’m very tuned in to risk and want my “herd” to feel safe. It means I like to know where I stand, that you find me valuable, useful, needed. I get hurt, resentful, withdrawn if I don’t feel like I’m valuable. (Adrienne also expertly observed that I try to “engineer” relationships in order to prevent getting hurt.)

In the Enneagram, I’m an 8w7. 8s are the challenger archetype. We like to be seen as strong, decisive, courageous leaders. As such, we are really good at denying, stuffing, covering up, or ignoring what we perceive as weakness. And I definitely view worry as a weakness.

Yet, I worry.

And the worry definitely increases the deeper our relationship is — which produces some interesting paradoxes.

If I care deeply about you, I want you to feel safe. Which includes keeping you safe from my shadow feelings.

If I care deeply about you, I want truth to be an essential part of our relationship. Yet I will hide from you the truth of what I’m feeling.

If I care deeply about you, I want you to see me as strong and reliable. Yet I have a tendency to wall off from or distance myself when threatened.

So what is the solution? As it is with every healthy relationship, the solution is VULNERABILITY.

Damn you, Brene Brown!

I refer to vulnerability as “emotional nudity”. Here I am. This is me. Like actual nudity, it’s not for everyone. Not everyone needs to see the raw me. But those that I love and that love me certainly do. Vulnerability is stripping down to the essence. Even if it is scary.

How terrifying to tell you the truth of what I’m feeling. This fear produces a doubt loop of “What if I’m wrong?!” and “Why am I so weak?!”

Yet, the only way to break that loop is for me to be vulnerable. There is no other way.

I will close with this …

As I often do, I create mantras for the things I want to change, improve, transform. Here is my mantra for vulnerability in relationships: If you are worried about your image, it’s not a real relationship. 

If I love you and you love me, there is no need for performance. There is no transaction, no obligation. There is simply the truth.