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Self-Worth

Don’t Convert. Enlighten.

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Photo credit: Robbie Shone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that thought/feeling/framework/narrative true?

Why am I reacting this way?

Why do I care about this?

What belief or value is being threatened?

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

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

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

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

How did you arrive at that conclusion?

Why is it important to you?

What are your experiences with this matter?

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

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

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

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

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

The Incompatibility of Consciousness – Part II

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Credit: lolloj/Shutterstock.com

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

First a few more thoughts on consciousness …

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

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

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

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

Some background …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Learning from Children

By Leadership, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

A piece of art affixed to the footbridge by our house in Austin. Thank you, Eva!

I recently had a walk with a good friend here in Austin. As with all of our conversations, this one flowed naturally; meandering through various topics. In between pauses in conversation as we scaled some steep inclines, we began to talk about the current state of Christianity and traditional religion in general. We talked of the waning influence of institutional religion and the religious fervency of Christian nationalism. We talked of the role and purpose of rituals, especially sacred rituals. 

He then asked two profound questions:

How do you create a spiritual structure for your kids while not belonging to a particular religion or denomination?

How do you teach your kids to be spiritual?

I felt the heft and sincerity of his questions. To the best of my recollection, here is how I answered …

Two notes before I continue …

I believe both his questions and the answers that came to me apply to our own lives as well.

If your soul feels called to (and/or for your kids) to be part of a religious community, please do so. My view on this mirrors a piece of advice that Eugene Peterson once gave when asked about going to church: “If you feel called to a community, find the nearest, smallest one.” 

Onward …

Any sincere spiritual or religious practice is intended to answer three questions:

  1. Who am I?

  2. What am I here to do?

  3. Where do I belong?

In answering the first question, we are deconstructing the self that the ego-mind generated for us in order to be safe, to fit in. We are also examining and deconstructing the forms and views we were taught. Underneath the rind of outside influences is the fruit of True Self. 

In answering the second question, we are discovering purpose and meaning. Not so much the meaning of life in general, but the meaning of YOUR life. I call this “mission” – the thing you are here to do that only you can do. You are equipped with natural gifts, resources, experiences to make this mission the organizing principle of your life.

In answering the third question, we are teaching the process of discerning where we will be living out our life’s work. This could be a geographic location, a career, the friends we select, our community – or a combo of these and other factors of belonging. 

To answer these questions requires some key elements:

  • Contemplativeness – learning inner listening
  • Curiosity – bringing wonder to everything
  • Faith – not dogma, but the accepting of mystery
  • Inquiry – seeking the right questions; healthy skepticism of stock answers
  • Awareness – tuning into sensory elements
  • Imagination – suspending disbelief about possibility
  • Creativity – using resources to make art

These elements will produce some key understandings. Here are a few that seem to have the most universality …

Love is the foundational principle of the universe. From that foundation grows compassion, kindness, service and more.

You are a sovereign being. No one can tell you what you are or what you are worth. No one can make you do anything, say anything, think anything.

The crown jewels of spirituality are compassion, humility and moderation.

Life is art. It is iterative. It is full of liminal spaces. It grows and evolves. When it stops being these things, it becomes static religion or secularism.

Nature teaches us everything we need to know about God (or whatever term you’d prefer to use).

Whatever practice you create or follow, you will know that “the kingdom of heaven is within.” 

From here, you can craft your own rituals and practices. This begins with another question:

What are 3 – 4 key ingredients for a joyful day? 

For some, this may be a more traditional approach – like reading scriptures, attending a religious ceremony, prayer/mantras. For others, it may be spaciousness to create or play. Or being in nature. Or connecting with a close friend. Children seem to inherently know how to create rituals that serve their needs. Yet another thing we can learn from kids. 

I believe it’s also important to have some sort of immersion into what is traditionally called “comparative religion”. This includes reading the teachings of the great spiritual Masters, attending a variety of religious ceremonies, visiting with people of a specific faith and asking questions. 

In pondering all of this, I am reminded that I/we did teach our sons these things. Despite our belonging to a fundamentalist group for the majority of raising them, I wanted them to answer the foundational questions I mentioned above. I wanted them to think for themselves. I wanted them to question everything. I wanted them to seek, ask, knock. I wanted them to understand the pricelessness of their souls. I wanted them to embrace doubt, to learn from failure, to follow no formulas.

Strangely, I taught them these things well before I taught them to myself. In fact, I could say I learned a significant amount about spirituality from them. When I left “the church” in January 2016, it was what I taught them and how they grew and blossomed which inspired me to go on the adventure of creating my own faith/spiritual practice. 

Children are naturally spiritually oriented. So I believe our main job is just to remind them of that. And then learn from them. 

 

The Lost Art of Gleaning

By Creativity, Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

Painting by François Millet

Gleaning is another one of those words we don’t use much any more. In contemporary times, it’s most often used in relation to bits of data or information. But its history goes back thousands of years.

My views about the term “gleaning” have had connotations related to poverty or lack. This bias comes from both direct observations and from biblical stories.

In the last 8 years we lived in Idaho, Lynna was the office manager for a large farm operation — primarily potatoes. Fall was harvest time. The owner, Doug, is a generous and kind man who allowed people to pick up the potatoes that the picker machine missed. Word of his generosity was widely known so I remember seeing vehicles, many battered and old, lining up around the edges of the potato fields.

My second influence related to gleaning goes back to the story from Jewish history of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 2 in the Old Testament if you are curious to read the whole story.) This story was often either referenced as an example of humility (true). Or a story about unworthiness — a common false teaching in Christian fundamentalism.

Why am I writing about such an obscure word? This morning, the word gleaning was on my heart. I don’t know why. But I do know that when some idea or word appears out of seemingly nowhere, I should heed it.

Some thoughts that came to me …

Gleaning is definitely about humility, but not necessarily about poverty or lack.

Gleaning is about thinking big but doing small things.

Gleaning is about getting low to the ground to discover what’s already there.

Gleaning is about not wasting what has already been provided.

Gleaning is about going back over an area to see what was missed.

Gleaning requires patience, focus and dedication. The same things art requires.

Gleaning requires essentialism. You can’t glean while also lugging around sacks of ideas, thoughts and worries.

Gleaning can be done with all five physical senses — as well as the 6th sense of intuition/awareness.

Gleaning creates presence and gratitude.

If your soul whispers to you “You missed something,” consider going back to an area. It could be an area of knowledge, a relationship, inner work. Any place you passed through is a field for gleaning. Get low to the ground. See what’s already there. The missing thing(s) will be small but very important — like a diamond or a potato for a hungry person.

The Power of Reason + Compassion

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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 Spot a Narcissist

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People with narcissistic tendencies are dangerous — physically, spiritually, emotionally. They are especially dangerous in a crisis where the pressure of a situation reveals the depth of their narcissism. Thus, it’s important to be able to spot them — and deal with them in a rational, thoughtful way.

First, let’s do a level-set …

Psychologically, I’m referring to Narcissistic Personality Disorder. You can do your own search on this issue, but this article has a good summation:

Narcissistic personality disorder involves a pattern of self-centered, arrogant thinking and behavior, a lack of empathy and consideration for other people, and an excessive need for admiration.

Spiritually, I’m referring to someone fully consumed by their ego-self. A metaphor I frequently use is the rind and the fruit. Picture an orange. The rind represents the external identity we’ve adopted to make it through life. The fruit represents our interior true Self. A spiritually healthy person has a fairly thin rind and lots of juicy goodness on the inside. The more the trauma or delusion, the thicker the rind — and the less the fruit. Someone fully consumed by their ego-self is comprised primarily of rind.

It’s important to note that we all have narcissistic tendencies. More on that later.

With those references in mind, here are five ways to spot a narcissist:

  1. Fragility — Narcissists are famously thin-skinned (which is ironic considering the above metaphor). They tend to become petulant, defensive, angry when confronted. This is because the rind is being pierced — which means their entire identity is threatened. This is why they are always comparing themselves to others.
  2. Forgetfulness — Because narcissists live almost completely in the world of illusion, they are forgetful of their own statements and proclamations. They don’t remember what they said, what they promised, what they threatened. They lack the recall ability of rational thought. This is why narcissists are notorious for not reading, avoiding hard data and being easily swayed by conspiracy theories.
  3. Bad at Moral Math — Narcissists have a strange way of keeping score. They will do 100 horrible things and one “good” thing. When confronted with their horribleness, they will bring up the one thing and proclaim their righteousness. This is also how a narcissist’s enablers apologize for his/her behavior. A famous version of this is in regard to the Italian dictator, Mussolini — where it was said: “At least he made the trains run on time.”
  4. Impulsiveness — Narcissists are fast at what should be slow and slow at what should be fast. They are notoriously impulsive with relationships — or staff in a working environment. They are notoriously slow at grasping facts, data, science.
  5. Destructiveness — Because narcissism is both a mental and spiritual disorder, it never ends well — unless there is some sort of intervention or awakening. If not, it inevitably ends in some sort of bunker — either a literal bunker or a mental one.

So how does one deal with a narcissist? Here are three ways:

  • Practice distancing — The thing the narcissist fears the most is being ignored. Attention in any form fuels their ego. It’s tempting to debate or argue with narcissists. But they love that shit. The best thing to do is to remove yourself from their presence.
  • Set clear boundaries — This is using declarative words and firm voice to establish a clear buffer. Imagine speaking to them as you would a child. This is useful if you have to deal with a narcissistic person in your family or an ex-partner/co-parent.
  • Be empathetic (but not an enabler): As mentioned, we all have narcissistic tendencies. We have identities, roles, views that we get very attached to. I say this because empathy is one of the most effective tools for dealing with narcissists. It’s not so much about empathy for them and more about understanding where they’re coming from as to not become like them.

It is important to remember that, ultimately, narcissists are consumed by fear. Their aggression, self-aggrandizing, reactivity, bluster are all fear responses. Fear of being found out. Fear of being ignored. Fear of being alone. The antidote for fear is Love. In this case, a deep, abiding self-love that is grounded in humility, worthiness and confidence.

Ryan Holiday shares it this way:

“When we remove ego, we’re left with what is real. What replaces ego is humility, yes — but rock-hard humility and confidence. Whereas ego is artificial, this type of confidence can hold weight. Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned. Ego is self-anointed, its swagger is artifice. One is girding yourself, the other gaslighting. It’s the difference between potent and poisonous.”

 — Ryan Holiday: “Ego is the Enemy”

Meditation and Me

By Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

 

I’ve always been a thinker. As far back as I can recall, I was drawn to ideas, imagination, knowledge. I would read Trivial Pursuit cards for fun. I would read books on facts and trivia. (I still have one! “1001 Surprising Facts”). On the ranch, my favorite pastime was thinking. Feeding steers in sub-zero temperatures. Riding horseback amongst the junipers. Sitting on an open-cab tractor in 100+ degree weather. In class. In church. At home in the middle of the night. In all of it, I was thinking, dreaming, planning.

Almost 50 years in, I have a very well exercised thinking brain. It can absorb copious amounts of information. It can strategize and plan. It can problem solve. And it can be paranoid, delusional and anxiety-riddled. Conversely, I had until recent years, an under-developed feeling brain (heart). I was afraid of any emotion I couldn’t control. I felt like feelings were a distraction from getting things accomplished. I viewed emotional people as unstable and unreliable. 

In essence, I was the mental version of the guy in the gym who only does upper body workouts. My thinking brain was all yoked up but my feeling brain had chicken legs. This imbalance came into stark awareness after a spiritual awakening in 2014 and the ensuing shifting, changing (and death) of old forms and structures. Then I felt EVERYTHING. And my thinking brain didn’t know how to handle it.

In 2017, I discovered the power of meditation. My curiosity was piqued when I read Mark Divine’s book “Unbeatable Mind.” If a Navy SEAL and martial artists practiced meditation, then it must be pretty badass!  My prior perception of meditation was that it was for thinking. And I already did that. I also thought it was more for monks and Buddhists. It was fine for them, but I had shit to do. 

I began practicing meditation in fits and spurts in 2018. My bias, at that point, was that meditation was a mind-control tool; that it was to calm racing thoughts, overthinking, anxiety. And it did. Sort of. I assumed that its lack of efficacy was due to my own inconsistencies with it. In 2019, I discovered Sam Harris’ app “Waking Up”. It was then that I established a regular practice. Sam’s sessions were simple, short and non-woo woo. Through those meditations, I learned that meditation isn’t about controlling thoughts. It’s about observing them; sitting in the witness chair. I did think differently, but I didn’t feel all that different.

Then this happened … 

This past weekend, I discovered something new and beautiful about meditation. I made this discovery not by reading or thinking, but by meditating itself. I realized that I was now using meditation to do to my feelings what I used to do for my thoughts: control and/or change them. Sitting in a guided meditation on Sunday morning (30 minutes – the longest one I’d ever done!), this truth flashed to me: Meditation is about accepting feelings, not changing them. This was a game-changing discovery for me. Although I was slightly embarrassed that it took me so long to arrive at it.

Ultimately, all of meditation is about acceptance of and connecting with THIS; the hard-to-grasp presence, now, and oneness of being HERE. Observing thoughts and feelings without judgment, without trying to change them, is part of the process of connecting to THIS. And THIS is where God, Spirit, peace, love, joy, purpose are. THIS is where I am. 

 

PS: I have read a number of books on this topic. Message me if you’d like a list of my favorites.

A New TPQ (Thought-Provoking Question)

By Life, Self-WorthNo Comments

In a recent breakfast conversation with a dear friend, we visited about the most constant messages we each received as kids. And how those messages still influence your thinking and behavior – even if you have reached a higher level of awareness. 

We know that social conditioning creates permanent grooves in our neuropathways. And the more intense the conditioning (such as trauma or violence), the deeper the grooves. Epigenetics shows these family-oriented social conditionings can be carried in the DNA to the next generation. 

While the above is more associated with experiences, messages are the words we hear – spoken or unspoken. They become the norms and framings for what I call the 5 Relationships:

  1. God/religion (belief, non-belief, agnostic)
  2. Money/career
  3. Health/well-being
  4. Education/knowledge
  5. Sex/intimacy

These five areas (and I’m certain there are more) become relationships that influence every area of our journey through the continuum of adulthood. They also frame our actual relationships – who we partner with, who we befriend, how we raise kids, etc. 

Phrased as a thought-provoking question (TPQ), it would be …

What messages did you most constantly receive as a child? 

For me, these are some of the messages I received:

  • “Get to work.” Work ethic, quality of work, ability to work were all a premium in my family. This still influences me today; causing work to be at the top of my attention hierarchy.

  • “Manage your emotions.” In my family, the message was women are expressive with their emotions and men are not. Further, there are emotions that are acceptable and unacceptable for men.

  • “Something is wrong with me.” This one is the closest to a trauma-based message because I received much of this message through experience. Over the years, it became a voice in my head, especially after failure and conflict. 

I texted my sons, Logan (27) and Caden (21) the same question. With their permission, I’m sharing their responses. 

Logan:

Seek truth, question everything, love openly, whatever you do be the best at it, there’s humor in everything

Caden:

Do what you love, don’t be an asshole, Stand up for what you believe, question everything 

After a good cry of both relief and gratitude, I realized their responses were the fruit of a very intentional early strategy their mother and I had to impart the best messages we received and consciously eliminate the negative ones. 

The messages we received, we received. Either positive or negative, our choice is how we let them direct our lives. Therapy and inner work don’t eliminate the negative ones – it just helps us frame them properly. And effort and ability don’t guarantee the positive ones will bear results.

 

If you’re feeling brave, I would love to hear your answer to the question by commenting below.