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Life

What Are You Working With?

By Leadership, LifeNo Comments

Bushcrafter Gear

Go to work.

Get to work.

I have a lot of work to do.

I am working on …

What kind of work do you do?

The word “work” is ubiquitous in our society. Especially the American psyche that values work ethic, productivity and results.

I’d like to present a different kind of work — let’s call it Your Life’s Work. This work requires curiosity, contemplation, humility, courage, consistency, failure. It requires you to release attachments and expectations. It requires you to challenge what you think is true.

In this work of living, we are all working with our own version of the same three things:

What is.

The Unknown.

Core Self.

No matter your circumstances, these three things are the building blocks for whatever life you are creating. They are the essence of your reality.

Let’s break them down …

What is.

There is an is-ness to life that is beneath (or above?) all of the ideas, shoulds/should nots, more, better, when, if. Is-ness is material reality and it involves a number of parts:

  • Resources — what are the tangible and intangible assets you have at hand? This could include tools, technical skills, creativity, knowledge, personality traits, intellect, beliefs, energy (physical, mental, spiritual). In a crisis situation, taking an audit of what’s available is one of the very first things you are instructed to do. By understanding your resources, you can then get creative.
  • Relationships — who can you call? Who can you ask for help from? Who can you serve? Unless you are in an actual solo survival situation, you are not intended to work alone. This is one of the many reasons why nurturing and expanding your network of friendships is so critical. Each person you have a real connection with has something to offer you — and you to them.
  • Conditions — what are material realities that you find yourself in? This could be financial, health, mental, familial, geographic location. Each of these conditions influences how we see what we are working with. Often this means to “embrace the suck” — to accept that some conditions we find ourselves in aren’t fun.

The Unknown.

We are all working within the cloud of Not Knowing. To eliminate this harsh reality and sense of impermanence, our ego-mind produces a bunch of framing devices: assumptions, conjecture, projections and more. These become our biases, which then become our world view. Yet the Unknown is still there. While you can use data, past experiences and good planning to prepare for the unknown, you can’t really control it. So you work with it. To accept that the Unknown is real requires faith. Not necessarily religious faith — although that’s certainly an option. Let’s call it practical faith — the courage to move forward into the Unknown to let things be revealed, experienced, learned. This is so much more rewarding than hunkering down in a defensive posture. Nothing good really happens there. All of the good stuff is out in the Unknown. Walking forward into the Unknown reveals strengths and gifts you didn’t know you had. Venturing, however uncertain your steps are, into the Unknown shows you that courage is underrated, that most risk is an illusion and that you are well equipped to handle whatever comes your way.

Core Self

Who you truly are is your #1 asset. Some call this soul, true self, original self, being — I simply call it Core Self. This Core Self contains a vast array of things to work with, but specifically these two things:

  1. Your Mission. Your Core Self is here for a specific purpose or reason. When you do the work to discover your Core Self, you also discover your mission — the thing you are here to do that only you can do. Your mission then becomes the primary organizing principle of your life; the primary decision-making tool. Your mission greatly determines your career, your relationships, where you live, what you focus on. This is why the journey to find your Core Self is almost always full of struggle and pain. Especially when the life you were trying to build turns out to be different than what your Core Self wants and is.
  2. Your Gifts. Skills are learned. Gifts are inherent. And we all have a variety of gifts at our disposal that come from soul, mind and body. The greatest gift of soul is intuition. The greatest gift of the mind is introspection. And the greatest gift of the body is movement. Those seem to be onboard gifts that we all have. From there, you can expand out to discover gifts that are unique to you. Hint: they will be in support of your mission.

It is certain that some things need to be acquired to master your work — mostly experience. But the apprenticeship of your life’s work can be started right now, today — using what you have, embracing the unknown, being who you truly are.

The Only Formula That Matters

By Leadership, LifeNo Comments

NASA Scientists in the 1960s

I had a really great week last week. Probably the best this year of what I call “The Trifecta”: harmony between soul, body and mind. And harmony between relationships, business and self-care.

Every Sunday evening, I plan the week ahead. This approach has varied from week to week, but the essence is to establish some intentions, determine priorities and think about what I want to accomplish. As I sat down last night with my planner journal, I reflected on the prior week — asking myself “How can I replicate that?” I found myself pondering (with a good amount of anxiety) this question as I fell asleep. This morning on my walk the anxiety continued. What if I couldn’t repeat it? What if I have another flat week? What if I get bored and distracted?

Then the answer appeared: “You can’t repeat it.”

Here’s why …

All the formulas (and rules and systems) are made up. But formulas are so appealing to the mind — especially the linear and literal Western mind so deeply conditioned towards repeatability and productivity and success. What’s the common question when someone loses a bunch of weight? Or builds a successful business? Or has a long marriage? … “How did you do it?” We want a formula so we can replicate whatever success someone else had. So these formulas become advice, or books, or business models. They are all selling “better”. This is why I’ve often said the only formula that works is the formula for selling formulas.

Of course, there are some fundamental elements and factors to almost every aspect of life — but they are more like a recipe than a formula. A recipe is laid out for the cook to follow — but every meal will be different depending on the cook’s skill, conditions, equipment, meal size, etc.

I’ve held this view on formulas for some time. So today, I decided to challenge it and test it. Surely, there must be at least one natural formula. Something that could be repeated. I pondered formulas for physical health, spiritual growth, business growth, relationships, parenting, finance, productivity. Nope. All the formulas were made up.

Then I found it.

The formula for Reality …

Logic + Faith = Reality

Let’s deconstruct that …

We are split creatures — part animal and part spiritual. So our reality would also contain both factors.

Logic is the application of reason, science, structured thinking. It’s opposite is irrationality — which is evidence of mental illness. Logic needs faith in order to live and grow in present reality.

Faith is the acceptance of Not-Knowing; the realization there are moments in life that can’t be explained. It’s opposite is certitude — which is manifested by extreme religiosity or rigidity (which are also forms of mental illness).

Without faith, logic becomes sterile, animatronic, stagnate.

Without logic, faith becomes delusion and confusion.

Combined, they create a blending of the mystical and the material. They create Reality. With Reality, we can experience it in the physical realm as well as the spiritual realm. Take anything that’s real and tangible and you can see this. A baby is not just a small human created by two other humans. S/he is also a symbol of creation, possibility, love, commitment.

This is why I also believe that the laws of physics exist in both logic and faith:

Force

Inertia

Symmetry

All three can be experienced in both the material and mystical realms.

Take NASA’s exploration of space — especially in the early years. Logic (applied science) was absolutely essential. But so was the acceptance of Not Knowing. Just listen to astronauts talk about seeing the earth from outer space. They are not making only logical observations. They are expressing awe. They are having a spiritual experience.

So why are all other formulas flawed?

I think it’s because all other formulas are selling some kind of illusion. No two people experience the same life. To promise this to another is to sell an illusion.

All you have is Reality — how you experience logic and faith in your life. This is why mastery comes from consistency. It’s why all of the important things are not processes — they are practices.

I know I can’t exactly repeat my Best Week of the Year. But I can fully experience Reality this week. I can do this with a single pause. I can choose to see at any moment where logic and faith come together to make Reality. And each day, I can make touching this Reality my highest priority.

The Three Jewels of Leadership

By Leadership, LifeNo Comments

Approximately 2500 years ago, Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching – which translates to modern English as “The Way”. While not the oldest spiritual/religious text, it is one of the first to define a specific pathway way for living. Its concepts can be found in Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism,  and Islam – as well as philosophies like Stoicism and Platonism.

One of the concepts is called, depending on translation, “The Three Treasures” or “The Crown Jewels”. According to Lao Tzu, these were the most essential of human traits. They are:

  • Compassion
  • Humility
  • Moderation

These three traits show up repeatedly in history across all cultures, forms of government, world events. As mentioned, they are common themes in the world’s religions – but they are also common themes with other spiritual/mystical writers that are not part of any particular religion. A summary conclusion: there appears to be a timeless universality to these ideals. 

In the last 500 years, these traits were admired but were often considered to be non-essential – or “soft” leadership skills. Of more value and importance were charisma, vision, decisiveness, boldness – big personalities with big ideas. Yet, it’s those leaders with these treasures that often had the most impact – where their actual contribution was bigger than their reputation. Two particular 20th-century leaders that embodied these treasures were Dwight Eisenhower and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

In studying the frequent appearance of these three ideas, I noticed a specific pattern: they most often resurfaced during times of deep crisis or transitional periods. Eisenhower rose from an obscure staff officer to being America’s first President as a superpower. Although a superior orator, it was King’s application of these traits that propelled civil rights forward. 

As noted in my article “The Great Unsettling”, we are in another one of these evolutionary stages between the old and the new. So once again, these jewels have become essential leadership traits. Let’s break them down as contemporary leadership principles:

  • Compassion – In modern leadership parlance, we call this Emotional Intelligence or empathy. Both are important, but compassion goes much deeper. Compassion is a genuine love for humanity – and for individual humans. Compassion keeps the people a leader is leading from becoming abstracts. Compassion reminds leaders that humans are not capital. With compassion, a leader is able to make decisions that make people the highest priority. In addition, compassion allows leaders to further tear down the wall between business and society. Compassion creates principled brands that attract principled people.

  • Humility – In contemporary terms, this is frequently referred to as Servant Leadership. While a helpful model for understanding hierarchical leadership, humility goes deeper. Humility inspires leaders to surround themselves by people smarter and wiser. Humility reminds a leader that they might be wrong. Humility teaches a leader that planning is a fragile endeavor. Humility isn’t about thinking small. You still need to think big. It’s reminding yourself of your own smallness. It is the counterweight to arrogance.
  • ModerationThis is one of those words that now means something different than it used to. Today, moderation is often seen as moderate; a kind of temperance to not over-indulge or swing too far one way or another. The traditional definition of moderation is more musical. It’s about finding harmony between competing dichotomies or paradoxes. It’s about blending. By this definition, moderation is an absolute leadership essential because it reduces binary thinking. It encourages leaders to find a third way. And matters of innovation and humanity are almost always found in a third way.

 

For me, these three jewels are my measuring stick for leadership. I want to grow them in me (none of them come naturally for me). I want to be friends with people that embody them. If someone doesn’t have them, I won’t vote for them, support them, apologize for them. Not coincidentally, leaders that don’t demonstrate these traits are often defenders of institutions and systems.

The good news is that we all have these treasures inside of us. Sometimes they’re buried deep beneath the surface of the ego-mind, suffering, life struggles and more. But they are still in there. And the world needs as many of us as possible leading this way.

So how do you get to them? I can only speak for my own experience …

Compassion comes from opening my heart to what another is feeling – especially if they are in pain. It comes from a deep, abiding self-love – and a fierce belief that the natural state of the universe is towards restoration.

Humility comes from practicing healthy skepticism with my own thoughts, feelings, impulses. It comes from touching truth and reality and understanding how little I actually have control over. My mantra for this: hold your plans in humble hands.

Moderation comes from curiosity; from seeing problems as puzzles or riddles. It comes from questioning formulas. In my inner world, it comes from making music with all my various dichotomies – especially between instinct and intuition, productivity and peace, planning and acceptance.

As I said, everyone’s journey to find these jewels is different – but all have the same starting point: if you want to find these crown jewels in your being, you have to go inward. They aren’t “out there.”  

 

The Great Unsettling

By Leadership, LifeNo Comments

Photo credit: James Lawton

What do you call a year that includes a global pandemic, a global uprising against racial injustice and an extra divisive US presidential election?

I call it the Great Unsettling.

The rumbles and signs of this unsettling started many years ago and were propelled forward by much broader access to information, smartphones, the proliferation of content, social media — and other internet-related phenomena. Sadly, all of this technology created a kind of unsustainable busy-ness that covered up issues and injustices.

At Root + River, we refer to the old world as the World of Convention. This world was all about production, expansion, hierarchy, order. In this world, we put up with a lot of bullshit in the name of security and stability. In this world, tradition and heritage were valued — as long as it was the tradition and heritage of a majority. The World of Convention ran on institutional trust. And when that trust began to finally erode, this world came crashing down in the Great Unsettling.

Humanity goes through these great unsettlings every 50–150 years. They are painful, but necessary times — a part of what Martin Luther King, Jr. was referring to when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” In each unsettling, institutions crumble or evolve, old ways die, new ways emerge. And we highly adaptable creatures called humans, learn its lessons and create new structures. And we also return to ancient ways as a reminder that we’ve been here before — and that things like love, truth, justice, freedom are shaken but unbreakable.

This particular Great Unsettling has already taught us many things …

The pandemic made us look at death and loss — two topics many Americans will avoid thinking about at all costs. It removed or reduced the insulation between us and the rest of the world.

It broke the grip of chronos time and re-introduced us to the natural world of kairos time. I, for one, am not going back to the kind of busy I was pre-COVID.

It helped us see what was truly important and not important at all. It helped us realize what we had been putting up with a lot for the sake of job security and career advancement. As a friend put it, “I learned that to be productive I don’t need an office or a bra.”

It produced a renewed appreciation for front-line workers, especially healthcare workers, cashiers, servers, delivery drivers and truck drivers, farmers and ranchers. All jobs that can easily fade into the backdrop in “settled” times.

Many of us got to know our partners and families and roommates and neighbors better. We learned we can communicate on Zoom but IRL is more fun. We learned or re-learned crafts like cooking, gardening, puzzle-solving, baking, sewing. All non-tech related things that brought the comfort of tangibility.

The racial injustice uprising made us (especially white people) look at death and loss as well. People of color have dealt with this for centuries. Now, it was so blatantly and horrifically obvious we were faced with a choice: do we go back to pretending like there’s not a problem or do we own it and seize it as an opportunity to change things for the better? Sadly, many people that look like me chose the former. But enough of us of all races and backgrounds are choosing the latter. It appears a new era of justice is emerging.

It caused a great re-examining of our own hearts and intentions. It made us look again at our own biases. Again, many did not do either — to the point that they doubled-down on taking an opposing side. But also again, there was a collective raising of consciousness that we likely have not seen in my lifetime.

It caused us to re-look at history and begin to reconcile some of the wrongs — even if some of that reconciliation was symbolic.

Which leads us to this …

One of the markers of Great Unsettlings is the removal and shifting of symbols. This has been going on ever since the people got tired of Ozymandias’ shit and either tore down his statue or let it become a relic of history. It appears to be a rite of passage; the tangible evidence of revolution.

This Great Unsettling has its own share of symbols that mean very different things depending on your world view.

A common phrase is “being on the wrong side of history”. This most definitely happens in a great unsettling. You can see it in the symbols I mentioned above. This is because unsettlings force us to take a side. And one side generally advances and the other does not. I wish it wasn’t so binary — but history tells us that it is. And that after we decide, it gives room for nuance and for a third way to emerge.

In another ironic twist, a new symbol has emerged that represents one of these sides: Karens (or the dude version, which I refer to as Darens).

Out of all this, a new world is emerging. We call it the World of Integration — because we integrating our inner world and our outer world. We predicted this world would emerge in the next 15–20 years. But the Great Unsettling has propelled us into it now. We are closing old divides and opening up new possibilities. The World of Integration requires active citizenry. It requires leaders with humility, compassion and moderation. It requires thinkers and truth-tellers and artists. It requires healers, warriors, messengers. The great threats to this new world are tribalism, moralism and authoritarianism. Societies simply can not advance beyond an unsettling if these powers are allowed to rule us.

For me, this Great Unsettling has been part of a decade-long personal unsettling where my own symbols have crumbled or shifted. My priorities, what I give my attention to, what I’m pursuing have changed. In particular, this Great Unsettling has made me sensitive to others. I feel more connected to people — even those I don’t understand. I can feel the odd mixture of grief and denial. Those grieving the loss of life, the changing of plans — and those in denial of these seismic shifts.

Other than as important history lessons, I have no interest or ties to the old world of Convention. I have no symbols that I’m defending. No old, stagnant ways that I’m apologizing for. In all of this, I feel more grateful. I am more committed to listening — but also more committed to giving voice to my own knowings. And more determined than ever to live a life that is based on connection, art and meaning. More determined to take this Great Unsettling and become a better leader in this new world.

The Root of the Beast

By Leadership, LifeNo Comments

Official White House photo

In these current times, I’m extra aware of sharing thoughts and opinions only on things I have credible knowledge about and/or personal experience. I identify myself as a Christian with generally libertarian views on social matters and generally conservative views on economics and the role of government.

The topic I chose to write about today is deeply personal to me. It has been a source of heartache and horror. But it has also been a source of renewal of my own convictions and faith. I have felt called to give voice to these views. I hope they are consumed with that spirit in mind.

As religious terminology, the term “evangelicalism” has shifted from “spreading the gospel” to mean “conservative Christian” — or the more common phrase, “The Religious Right”.

I used to identify as a Christian conservative. But somewhat squeamishly. There were many inconsistencies that I could not reconcile — especially in the last decade. I left the GOP in 2006 and left the conservative movement in 2016. As has been said by others, I didn’t really leave these groups. They left me.

Since 2016, I have observed the very non-liberty and non-Jesus like behavior of conservative Christians. As I do with all things, I began to research and go deeper; to “dig around the roots” to quote Jesus. I discovered that what we are calling the Religious Right or conservative Christians or evangelicals is more accurately described as “Christian Nationalism”. This best describes the current state of Christians on the right — many of which are Trump supporters.

Overwhelmingly white, Christian Nationalists are the largest, most reliable wing of Trump’s base of support. They make up a significant portion of the Trump triumvirate — allied with non-religious conservatives (commonly referred to as the Alt-Right) and 401k’ers (people who don’t care who is President as long as their stock portfolio is growing). Included in this mix are the purveyors of the “Prosperity Doctrine”. You can do your own research on that.

Here are some of what Christian Nationalism’s fundamental tenets:

  • America is the new HQ of Christianity
  • Government policy should be determined by Christian beliefs
  • Non-Christians are a threat to American supremacy

Like most philosophies and doctrines, Christian Nationalism in the US has evolved. But those tenets remain deep and strong in the contemporary version of the movement.

In the first 150 years of our nation, Christian nationalism provided biblical justification for slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, and the oppression of women and people of color. This also extended to scorn and violence against Catholics and other Christian groups deemed to be wrong. Southern white Christians promoted a form of white supremacy. This is a part of our American history that many conservative-leaning Christians have yet to come to terms with. Any thoughtful discussion about current events must include awareness and acknowledgment of these roots.

Starting in the 1950s, Christian nationalism turned its attention to influencing and creating government policy. While the temperance movement certainly had a strong element of Christian influence, it wasn’t until the concept of a “moral majority” that it became a specific strategy. At that point, Christian nationalism became much more of an activist group. They sought to get conservative Christians elected. They took on issues like adding “One nation, under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, putting the 10 Commandments on government property, prayer in schools, etc. They felt like America was being led down the wrong path by non-Christians and the solution to that was for public policy to be more biblically oriented. From this philosophy sprang influential movement leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson — and later Ralph Reed. The “Republican Revolution” of 1994 and later George W. Bush’s two election wins were largely carried by the coalition of Christian and small-government conservatives.

During the Obama presidency, a new strand of Christian nationalism began to emerge. Rooted in the old idea of exceptionalism, the movement began to promote the idea of America as the “new Israel”. Religious figures like Robert Jeffers, Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr. began to preach that America was being destroyed by liberals, gays, atheists and non-Christian minorities (which included Catholics). The only solution was to repent and double down on theocratic policies and make America a truly Christian nation.

They just needed a national candidate they could get behind. McCain, then Romney, then Jeb Bush were all labeled as “liberals” or RINOs.

Enter Donald J. Trump …

Despite his many business failures, Trump has always had excellent marketing skills. He understood the old marketing maxim of finding a large audience with an unmet need and provide them a product. In the case of Christian Nationalism, he was and is the product. Like the lonely teen-ager attracting an online predator, Trump gave them exactly what they wanted.

According to Trump-supporting Christians, he is has been anointed by God to save America — to make it great again. Similar to its early roots in white apologia, the modern Christian Nationalist movement provides cover for Trump. That his behavior and policies are the antitheses of Jesus’ teachings is entirely acceptable. As long as he is putting conservative judges in place to overturn Roe v Wade, everything else is justified. Spreading vitriol on social media is fine. He is the Sent One; the new Messiah. So authoritarianism in the name of Jesus is just fine. White supremacy in the name of Jesus is just fine.

Our nation’s founders were driven by two primary fears: 1) a monarchy and 2) state-run religion. Despite their many, many flaws they understood that anointing kings and removing the wall separating church and state would inevitability end in authoritarianism.

The founder of my faith was a non-white tradesman named Jesus. He came to prominence in a different era of tyranny. He witnessed the oppressive, violent alliance between the paganist Romans and Jewish religious leaders. The people wanted him to lead an uprising — to make Israel great again. But he refused. Instead, he taught about love, compassion, forgiveness, kindness. He taught that the state of your soul had little to do with government. He had an entirely new definition of power. He started a consciousness movement, not a political one.

I will close this with a message to Christian conservatives.

Believing in authoritarianism and Jesus are incompatible. Tolerating racism and Jesus are incompatible. Hate and Jesus are incompatible. Trump has already destroyed the GOP. Will you also let him destroy Christianity?

The Power of Reason + Compassion

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthOne Comment

A metaphor …

All helicopters have a similar design. They have a main rotor for lift and power and the rear stabilizing rotor for, well, pretty much what it says: stabilizing. Without both rotors functioning, a helicopter can’t take off — and if one of these malfunctions in-flight, they will almost certainly crash.

Like helicopters, we humans need both. For the sake of this metaphor, the main rotor providing lift is reason. The rear stabilizing rotor providing stability is compassion. (If it works better for you, I would be totally cool with the idea that compassion is the lift and reason is the stabilizer.)

Reason is a blend of critical thinking, emotional intelligence and logic — with a dash of mystery and principles thrown in for flavor. Reason requires humility — that we don’t always have the right answers or do the right things. It requires consciousness to prevent over-identification with thoughts and feelings. It requires a practice — ideally, learning and mindfulness. Reason uses data but doesn’t project biases on to it. Because reason requires a heightened level of consciousness, it also reduces biases. And when we reduce our biases, we don’t project them as narratives. Reason gives us the power to explore, expand, experience, grow, discover.

Without reason, we descend into madness. By pathological definition, loss of reason is mental illness. We use terms like “you’re out of your mind” or “crazy” to describe this state. The further one distances themselves from reason, the darker it gets. The opposite end of reason is nihilism — the complete absence of meaning. This is why loss of reason frequently leads to spastic acts of violence. Loss of reason makes yourself and other humans abstracts — which then become targets of destruction.

Loss of reason in leaders is most often manifested as authoritarianism. The tyrant boss, the tyrant political leader, the tyrant sports coach. Loss of reason requires suppression of rights, of speech, of information, of individuality. Loss of reason makes questioning forbidden. It requires idolatry reinforced by a culture that is controlled by propaganda and violence. And it causes anyone with reason to have to leave the culture, society, team.

Now let’s talk about compassion …

All great spiritual teachers have taught the transcendent nature of love. Paul the Apostle wrote about love as greater than anything else. The Beatles sang about love being all you need. Compassion is love’s activator. It is what makes love a verb. Compassion moves love from idle intention to action. The first recipient of compassion is ourselves. Without self-love, it is near impossible to have compassion for others. Further, lack of self-love produces self-loathing — which is inevitability cast on to others in the form of abuse. Love expressed as compassion transcends ideology, religious dogma, race, economic status, borders. Compassion makes us see the human — not the abstract or label. Compassion impels us to speak up, cross lines, defy authority or social norms. Compassion invokes the power of forgiveness — for ourselves and for others.

Without compassion, our own souls are hidden from us. We become cynical secularists that no longer believe in mystery. Everything needs proof. Everything has a scientific answer. Love is just a chemical reaction in the brain. Without compassion, we become insular, stagnant. Without compassion, reason becomes our god and is no longer reason.

Humanity has always had a shadow; an ugly side. This shadow is populated by those that have lost both reason and compassion. When both reason and compassion are missing, there appear to be two endings: becoming either a feral, mean pack anima or a docile, obedient farm animal.

To me, living without reason and compassion is what hell is like.

So we can do what all spiritual teachers tell us to do: rise up. Let reason lift us to new heights and let compassion stabilize us. Together, they give our lives momentum, inertia, a direction. Together, they give us meaning and purpose. With reason and compassion working together, we can experience what it’s like to have both an open mind and an open heart. With reason and compassion, we can become better leaders at home and in our communities. And even lead those lost in the darkness to the light.

How to be a Heretic

By Leadership, LifeNo Comments

A motivational poster from the Dark Ages

I love powerful words. Words that have heft and meaning. Words like sovereignty, dichotomy, hubris, pablum and so many more. One such word is “heretic”. I love this word because of what it represents — questioning, rebellion, being a threat to the Man.

Like many of the words I love, “heretic” has ancient roots but still has modern usage. We need heretics more than ever — in society, business, religion, science, politics. Another reason I love this word: being a heretic is a phenomenal brand strategy. Consider most of the change-sparkers and movement-makers in history. The list is long and impressive. Sure, being branded a heretic may get you killed or persecuted, but it will also make you a legend.

So how does one become a heretic?

You don’t have to become an ascetic. You don’t have to start a revolution. You don’t have to dress funny or give yourself a different name.

But here are few things being a modern heretic requires …

  • Point out the illusions. It is very easy to live an insulated life full of routine, busy-ness and people that think and look like you. It all feels so real. Unfortunately, it’s in this stasis that illusion blooms. Possibly the biggest illusion most people have is related to the future. We see it in our heads and form expectations. From these expectations we make plans. We map our futures. The fact is all of the future is an illusion. It does not exist. The very next second could contain an unplanned, unforeseen moment. There are others: the illusion of an efficient government, the illusion of job security, the illusion of materialism. As a fledgling heretic, you will need to speak to these illusions — starting with yourself. It is quite impossible to be a truth-teller while also being a participant in illusions.
  • Question and challenge orthodoxy. This is the more classic definition of a heretic. Someone who takes on authority, established traditions, doctrines. Orthodoxy exists wherever there is an institution. And wherever there are institutions, heretics rise up to challenge them. Institutions are everywhere and have a tremendous influence on our lives. In many ways, institutions determine the ontological meaning of things. They tell us what something is and why we should care. Heretics look at all of this with fresh eyes and a clear perspective. One of my favorite heretics was, an Army officer who questioned the orthodoxy of military thinking in the post WWI era. So much so that he was imprisoned for a time in Fort Leavenworth. As I said, orthodoxy is everywhere. Probably right in your family, your neighborhood, your industry. There are plenty of opportunities to say “Why does this matter?” or “Why are we doing it this way?”
  • Find the Third Way. We live in a very dualistic, binary society. So it is pretty easy to take the opposite side on an issue. But that’s being a contrarian, not a heretic. A heretic finds a third way. In branding-speak, this third way is forming and owning a category. It’s creating a way that didn’t exist before. Jesus did it. Abraham Lincoln did it. So did Elvis. And Martin Luther King, Jr. And Sarah Blakely. Rather than just take an opposing side, a heretic will advance society by pointing to this third way. Find an issue with two dominant opposing sides. (It won’t take long.) It will likely be an issue where you don’t agree with either side. Find the crease between the opposing sides. This is where artists and mystics do their thing. In this crease will be a third way that you can give voice and structure to.

If you are going to embark on the heretic’s journey, you are going to need a few things along the way. You are going to need some funding. You are going to need a platform. You are going to need some friends. Most of all, you’re going to need courage. Buckets of courage. Because the temptation and pressure to blend in, stay silent, go along is enormous.

Being a heretic is not a license to be an asshole. The best heretics operate from a place of love, compassion and empathy. They are driven to free people from illusions, institutions, dogma. You free people by telling the truth and loving them, not by shame or shouting down.

If you become a successful heretic, you are going to need a shit ton of humility. Because the temptation will shift to having an inflated sense of self-importance. Praise, money and status have turned plenty of heretics into institutions.

There are too many to list, but here are a few modern heretics I admire: Justin Amash, Dave Chappelle, Sarah Silverman, Dave Asprey, Esther Perel, Mitt Romney, Joe Rogan, Lady Gaga, Jordan Peterson, Andrew Yang, Dan Price, Tom Nichols, Mark Manson, Russell Brand, Richard Rohr. And pretty much every artist and mystic.

Let’s add your name to this list. I hope I’m on it. See you at the stake burning!

Commandments & Commitments

By Leadership, LifeNo Comments

Tattoo on my right forearm. Design by @reluctanthobo

“Commandment” is a strange word that is likely correlated with rigid religious doctrine or biblical stories. For the sake of this discussion, I’m using the term to describe a divine order. You might call it a calling, a mission, a purpose. 

I have received some specific commandments over the years …

In the darkest era of my adult life (2007 – 2010), I repeatedly prayed the question “What do you want me to do?” The answer was always the same: “LOVE MORE.” I first took this to mean love others without expectations or conditions. I later realized that it also extended to loving myself unconditionally; to see my own pricelessness and worth. This commandment has been so important to me, it’s tattooed on my right forearm (the picture above).

When I decided to face my brokenness and wounds, the commandment was “heal” as well as “explore”.

When I first decided to leave Boise after nearly 20 years, the commandment was “go”.

When I was trying to figure out how to create value in the world, the commandment was “teach what you’ve learned”.

When I decided to create a business with Emily, the commandment was “build”.

In the past year, I’ve received the commandment to create; to embrace my identity as a creative. This has recalibrated my priorities from task-orientation to creative output. The result has been consistent output – from musings on social (almost daily), co-creating content with Emily and writing these Monday posts (this is #19 for the year). 

I vigorously followed these commandments – which greatly influenced my current life, state of being, mindset. I am a different person because of them. My days are different because of them. So are my relationships. 

But there are a few commandments that I have either ignored or sporadically followed …

“Take care of your body” – I am reminded of this almost daily. Yet there is a stubborn resistance that has produced a lot of narratives in the form of excuses.

“Receive” – I am a striver. I’m an almost 100 D in the DISC. I’m an 8 on the Enneagram. My identity has been around making things happen. The commandment to “receive” requires a new kind of patience and trust that I’ve yet to master. 

In all of these commandments, I’ve learned that none of them happened (or will happen) without my commitment. It is a collaborative effort. Without commitment and discipline, these commandments are idle. Not commitment in the form of rigidity, hardness or shaming – just simple follow through. It’s also not a set-it-and-forget-it thing. These commandments – and my commitment to them – must be revisited constantly.

I am also learning that commitment is not just following a system or formula. Something seems to be lost when I do that. For me, commitment needs to be nurtured and grown – through things like: stillness, rest, solitude, freedom, silence, nature, connection. 

The relationship between commandments and commitments is a continual unfolding mystery made up of daily choices, listening, observing. Each experience where both are in harmony brings with it growth, peace, confidence, meaning, joy.  

What are you being called to do? Are you doing it?

Six Ways to Cult-Proof Yourself

By Leadership, LifeNo Comments

Dwight so desperately wanted to have his own cult.

We know the stories. There are thousands of them. Rational, well-educated people suddenly or slowly being co-opted into cult-like groups and movements.

Sheesh, Justin. That’s a heavy topic for a Monday.

Yeah, probably.

So I first want to acknowledge that “cult” is a loaded word. It carries with it a lot of variable contexts based on our individual experiences and biases. Consider this … when you read the word, what image came to mind?

For the sake of this discussion, I’m defining a cult as any group or movement that encourages low conscious thinking and behavior. Based on that definition, a cult could be a business, a religious group, a political movement, a sports team and/ or celebrity fan base — and even a family dynamic.

The analysis of why and how one becomes part of a cult is fascinating. However, I want to focus on this …

How do we cult-proof ourselves?

Here are six concepts to consider:

  1. Know who you are. Many of us have not done the work to find out who we truly are. We are frequently a composite of our childhood experiences, social/group norms and general social conditioning. As such, we get our identities from our roles and skills; from the group we belong to. This creates a gap between the illusory self and the True Self. And the wider this gap, the more susceptible we are to manipulation.
  2. Heal your emotional wounds. We all get wounded by life. Some of us are more deeply wounded than others. When left unhealed, these wounds become scabbed over — just waiting for someone to come along and pick at them. Cults always present an enemy as the source of your wounds. This creates hatred and resentment, which are oxygen for cult-like groups. When you heal these wounds, they cease to be an invitation to manipulate you.
  3. Practice humility. Humility is an illusion killer. It prevents pretense from becoming our reality. It makes us seek out help and counsel. It prompts us to search for wisdom. It shines a light through our own fog of bullshit. It gives you a beginner’s mind; the spirit of a learner. The more humble you are, the less likely you are to be co-opted into a movement or group.
  4. Be a critical thinker. Critical thinking is rooted in the mantra “question everything” and in the question “Is that true?” Critical thinking encourages a healthy sense of skepticism — especially related to one’s own biases and reactions. Mindfulness and meditation practices are especially helpful here. The more of a critical thinker you are, the more of a threat you are to a cult — which becomes a natural repellant.
  5. Boost your spiritual intelligence. Intuition, awareness and creativity are all immunizers against cult-like thinking. All three come from within — the soul. Intuition tells us the truth about people and situations. Awareness helps us see around the corners of our own blind spots and biases. Creativity fuels imagination and art. Awake people have these traits of spiritual intelligence. Note: awake is different than “woke” — which, in my view, is a cult.
  6. Be a heretic. Cult-like movements and groups are orthodoxies. They require a level of sameness and submission. In order to ensure this sameness and submissiveness, dogma is presented as truth. Questioning is presented as disloyalty. As such, being a heretic is a sure-fire way to not be a part of a cult. Of course, being a heretic also means attracting persecution and pushing back against our own deep need to be liked and accepted. It’s also important to note that the line for heresy is ever moving. What was heresy can become orthodoxy pretty quickly.

As mentioned, our need for belonging is strong. Especially if we are in a place of fear and uncertainty. This need for belonging, for safety, can be high-jacked by everything from persuasive advertising to tyrannical leaders. To prevent ourselves from being unwittingly co-opted, we must have healthy boundaries and self-awareness. We must take ownership of our thoughts and actions. We must love with clear hearts and clear minds. We must remain as curious as children but as cautious as lions.

Souls Knit Together

By LifeNo Comments

A grove of aspens has the same root system.

Friendship is one of the most enduring human experiences. References to friendship go back 8000+ years. The concept of friendship has endured every significant era, tragedy, evolutionary leap. 

In his timelessly relevant book “Anam Cara”, John O’Donohue poetically lays out the Celtic concept of a “soul friend” (the English translation of Anam Cara). A similar concept is “Agape” – commonly translated as “divine love”. True friendship links the body, mind and soul of two people- with both contributing to each other without reduction of identity. 

While every culture in every era put a premium on friendship, these modern times have seen a reduction or dilution of the concept of friendship. There are circumstantial friendships (classmates, roommates, co-workers, neighbors). There are digital friendships (friends and followers on social media, contacts in your database). There are strategic friendships (business, survival, combat). In modern romantic relationships, “friend mode” is seen as less than “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”. 

So the concept of a “soul friend” in contemporary society may feel strange, foreign or woo woo. But I am a direct witness and participant in the experience of having mystical friendships. Outside of a few long-term friends, this is a newer concept in my life. It was when I began a spiritual- and self-examination around 2010, that I started to notice how certain people crossed my path at certain times. Since then, I’ve experienced dozens and dozens of soulful connections. Some flamed out due to timing or circumstances. Others have endured and grown. Some I talk to almost every day. Others a few times a year. In either case, the connection is strong and vibrant. Mystical friendships are like having many “best friends”; a sort of polyamorous and fluid band of brothers and sisters.

These mystical friendships are my tribe; my people. I belong to no denominational, political, social groups. Not because I’m opposed to them but because these mystical friendships nourish my soul. I have a vision of all of these mystical friends gathering in one place. How awesome would that be?!

These mystical friendships have several essential traits. These traits can show up in a romantic/intimate relationship or a completely platonic relationship. Mystical relationships can span decades or a magical few hours. 

  • Mystical friendships don’t need to rush into or force form. There’s little to no need to “define the relationship.”

  • Mystical friendships produce some sort of output or manifestation. They are not passive or casual or convenient.

  • Mystical friendships can withstand any conversation; any truth.

  • Mystical friendships run more on Kairos time (God/nature’s time) than on Chronos time (human time). 

  • Mystical friendships have different compasses but point in the same direction.

  • In mystical friendships, plans are negotiated but needs are not.

  • Mystical friendships transcend time and space – and even death.

  • Mystical friendships run on “hypernome” – a Greek term for everlasting endurance, fortitude, purpose, courage.

How will you know if someone is a mystical friend? Pay attention. 

The first few markers of a soulful connection include: energetic compatibility, a sense of having met before, an instant depth of conversation, a natural momentum.

You will notice that these soulful friendships will often be seen as a threat to existing relationships, systems, agreements. This is why mystical friendships require courage. 

You will notice that dark forces will also arrive. They are attracted to your light. They are not mystical friendships because they want to possess or control you. 

Final thought: 

Your first mystical friendship is with yourself – or more accurately, your Self. When you are your own mystical friend, other soulful connections begin to show up in your life.