What Do You See?

What Do You See?

Detours in Life

Pentecost 16

 

We each are born and in that birthing, expectations are formed.  Sometimes it is because members of a family all tend to follow the same career path.  Sometimes it is because of specific gender roles within a culture.  Often, though, it is merely the stereotype that makes everyone comfortable.  The problem is that non e are based upon the individual or their talents.

 

Last year American Eagle Company released a commercial that seemed to celebrate men having a positive self-image.  The male models were not the typical male model.  Many would have shopped in the “husky” department and most seemed to go against the standard image types.  The advertisement seemed to emulate recent similar ads focusing on women… with one very big difference.  The American Eagle commercials were an April Fool’s Day joke.

 

Stereotyping is a dangerous although sometimes comical practice.  Comedians have relied on stereotypes for over a hundred years in telling a joke.  While they may seem funny to many, the subjects of the stereotypes are often deeply hurt.  Discrimination is not a laughing matter.  To ignore the vaule of each of our individualities is to deprive a person of their very being.

 

Women are one of the oldest targets for such stereotyping and low expectations.  Even though no one is ever born without a woman being intricately involved in the process, society has for centuries and eons failed to properly respect the potential of the average female of the species.

 

Barbara Askins was born in the late 1930’s and subject to the expectations of the times.  Women were supposed to get married, have children, and be content.  Professions deemed acceptable for women were generally nursing and teaching.  Born in the state of Tennessee, Barbara Askins complied with the stereotype for women of her time.  She grew up married, and had children.

 

Then Barbara did something a bit out of the ordinary.  Barbara created her own detour of life.  She went back to school, earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s of science from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.  Located in the mountainous beginnings of the Appalachian Mountains on the banks of the Tennessee River, Huntsville is home to the Marshall Space Flight Center.  It was at Marshall that the Saturn V Rocket that propelled the USA into outer space was developed as a part of NASA.  It is also at UAH that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has advanced weather labs for studying severe weather. 

 

As a physical chemist, Barbara Askins was in a great location to work, a location that did not try to conform her into an age-old stereotype.  It was at Marshall Space Flight Center that Barbara did some groundbreaking work.  Her invention is one that has benefitted most of our lives although we probably do not know it.  Barbara Askins is the inventor of the autoradiograph, a process in which “images on developed photographic emulsions can be significantly intensified by making the image silver radioactive and exposing a second emulsion to this radiation.”  

 

If you have ever had an x-ray, and the doctor then told you something based upon that x-ray, then you should really thank Barbara Askins.  Ever since 1978 when she received her patent, the ability to read an x-ray has been greatly enhanced –  all because one woman decided to detour around the basic expectations for her living and create a new life for herself.

 

The value of any x-ray and the ability to see what is covered by skin is determined in a large part to the development of the x-ray film.  Over exposure is seldom the problem; underexposure is quite common.  With Barbara Askin’s technique, over ninety-six percent of x-rays that were previously considered to be under-exposed were now readable.  This prevented the need for additional x-rays and radiation exposure via the x-ray to patients.  Her process has also been used in the restoration of old photographs.

 

Maybe you are not someone who does scrapbooking or collects old pictures.  If you are reading this, however, odds are you are alive and either have or will need an x-ray at some point.  You may not have heard of Barbara Askins but you have benefitted from her work.  We all have.  Her technique was originally designed to restore photographs taken by satellites and astronauts.  We have a better understanding of our bodies, our world, and outer space because of her and her detour.

 

Bringing things into focus is a part of education and living.  Time often changes our perspective and that can be a very good thing.  When she was first tasked with trying to salvage a group of photographs and negatives, no one expected Barbara Askins to become an inventor.  We all are inventors.    We invent our lives each and every day.  We need to use our living to bring into focus a brighter and clearer tomorrow.  Together we can change the world.  We just need to forget stereotypes and focus on making a better landscape of our lives, sometimes following or creating a detour in our life.

Detour of Thought – Right or Wrong?

A Detour of Thought – Right or Wrong

Detours in Life

Pentecost 11

 

Recently a world summit ended regarding global concern and action for the environment.  If you do not remember it, don’t worry.  It seems like there are such global meeting of world leaders rather frequently, whether it be about the weather, the economy, etc. 

 

I am always surprised that much is spent on participation in these functions and yet, few enact real changes in living.  Most end up with leaders explaining their views on everything from each other to themselves to the supreme being of those choosing.  It seems like their comments reflect a detour from the gathering’s purpose to one of personal concern and no, I do not mean personal conviction. Each leader speaks with the authority of a deity, secure in the rightness of their position, firmnly against any detour of thinking.

 

Two years ago during Pentecost we discussed various names of deities, particularly the many names for “God”.  The name for the one deity which led the charge for monotheism, the one deity referenced by the three Abrahamic faiths, was “Elohim Shophtim Ba-arets”.  It means “the God who judges in (on) the Earth” and, if I am to be completely honest, I must admit, as I did two years ago, that it is not one of my more well-liked names.

 

The reason for my displeasure with this name is not really the name but rather the context in which it is used.  You see, it appears in the Book of Psalms and references faith in the deity judging one’s enemies.  Because one is considered faithful, it is assumed that one’s enemies are not and will be judged and punished accordingly.

 

My problem is that is seems to imply a deity that shows favoritism.  What if I am the one in error and not my enemies?  Being faithful does not make me perfect; it makes me a believer.  We also discussed two years ago another word that went together with “Elohim Shophtim Ba-arets”.  As you guess, I have a bit of a problem with it as well.  It is “El Nekamoth” or “the God who avenges”.

 

I am not bloodthirsty and so seeking vengeance on someone is not a hobby of mine.  I believe that I have enough to do trying to live my own life and I really don’t try to live others for them.  These two names do raise some interesting questions, however, and I think we should give them consideration.

 

What exactly falls under the prevue of “justice”, the purpose for judging someone?  How do we define “avenge” and is it something best left to the spirit(s) or should we attempt such?  Is there a difference between seeking revenge and avenging?  When we face feeling of wanting revenge, something that always seems to be lurking behind the scenes at global meetings, are we to take a detour of thinking and instead avenge?

 

The website “diffen.com” clarifies the issue for avenge and revenge by stating “Avenge is a verb. To avenge is to punish a wrongdoing with the intent of seeing justice done. Revenge can be used as a noun or a verb. It is more personal, less concerned with justice and more about retaliation by inflicting harm.”  Once synonymous, the two words today have different meanings.  Avenge today implies the process of obtaining justice while revenge is a more personal active physical deed, almost always involving pain or harm for the purpose of retaliatory recompense for real or imagined damages.

 

In the usage of these two names, the deity is expected to protect the faithful by avenging ill will and/or wrong doings, thereby carrying acts of revenge to assuage the injured party or parties.  Such beliefs allowed the people to bear the hardships brought upon them by their faith and I fully understand that.  I just have a problem with a deity being both a god of love and revenge.  For some, revenge is not only pleasurable, it is a form of love. 

 

In an article for the Association of Psychological Science, Eric Jaffe wrote:  “A few years ago a group of Swiss researchers scanned the brains of people who had been wronged during an economic exchange game. These people had trusted their partners to split a pot of money with them, only to find that the partners had chosen to keep the loot for themselves. The researchers then gave the people a chance to punish their greedy partners, and, for a full minute as the victims contemplated revenge, the activity in their brains was recorded. The decision caused a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain known to process rewards (in previous work, the caudate has delighted in cocaine and nicotine use). The findings, published in a 2004 issue of “Science”, gave physiological confirmation to what the scorned have been saying for years: Revenge is sweet.

 

“A person who has been cheated is [left] in a bad situation—with bad feelings,” said study co-author Ernst Fehr, director of the Institute for Empirical Research in Economics at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. “The person would feel even worse if the cheater does not get her or his just punishment.  Theory and experimental evidence shows that cooperation among strangers is greatly enhanced by altruistic punishment,” Fehr said. “Cooperation among strangers breaks down in experiments if altruistic punishment is ruled out. Cooperation flourishes if punishment of defectors is possible.”

 

In other words, the possibility of justice being meted out in the form of retaliatory punishment encourages cooperation because it instills an expectation of fairness.  That I actually can understand and feel it makes the naming of a deity based upon an avenging demeanor more palatable.  Cooperation is a positive action, often requiring a detour of thought as well since it can include compromise.

 

There are also two other similar names used for this deity of these three monotheistic religions.  They are “Jehovah Hashopet or “the Lord the Judge” and Jehovah El Gemuwal, “the Lord God of Recompense.”  I freely admit I like recompense better than revenge.  Recompense implies fairness in compensation while revenge denotes punishment and pain to me.  I would rather have a world leader that seeks justice for all, not just promotion of themselves.  This, in my humble opinion, would involve recompense rather than revenge.

 

I wonder if my conundrum, the enigma of whether I want my deity to be an avenging deity or a compensating deity, was felt by those early believers.  Perhaps it depends on how recently one feels to have been wronged or the extent to which one felt wronged.  As of this date, I have not found a name for this deity that translates into “God of Fairness”.  Maybe the key is in how one defines what is right and what is wrong.  But then, the context comes into play and we should consider that what is right for one might not be right for another yet not necessarily be wrong enough for the need of revenge or recompense. 

 

In early 2001, a research team led by Cheryl Kaiser of Michigan State surveyed people for their belief in a just world by seeing how much they agreed with statements like “I feel that people get what they deserve.”  Sadly, the events of September of that year changed the minds of many and more and more people wanted revenge for the bombings and murders of almost three thousand innocent victims from over eighty countries.

 

Michael McCullough, author of “Beyond Revenge: “The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct” states:   “You have to have some way of maintaining relationships, even though it’s inevitable some will harm your interests, given enough time.”  Revenge began as an altruistic punishment but, McCullough and his research team believe, a secondary system of human interaction has evolved.  The act of forgiveness is a system “that enables people to suppress the desire for revenge and signal their willingness to continue on, even though someone has harmed their interests, assuming the person will refrain from doing so again in the future.”  Forgiveness requires a detour in our thinking.

 

My problem with revenge is that it is not an answer that permanently solves anything.  It may begin with an attempt to right a perceived wrong but it just invites payback which requires more revenge which invites more payback, etc., etc., etc.  I like forgiveness as a practice for human interaction much, much better but it is a most difficult detour to elect to take.  I would be remiss if I failed to mention one more word for a deity – El Nose, the God who forgives. 

 

Today someone will most likely cut you off in traffic, whether it be foot traffic or vehicular.  Someone will not be truthful and someone else will do their job in such a way that making you angry seems to be part of their job description.  In short, today will be imperfect and normal in its problems.  Will you stand up and pontificate just as many of those world leaders seem to do with little purpose except to be full of one’s self or will you detour your emotions toward a more active and effective reconciliation of the issue?  It is said that revenge is sweet but it often does not make for a long lasting resolution.  Forgiveness is in short supply in today’s world and yet, it is the best detour we could ever take. 

 

Purpose

Purpose

Easter 47

 

“When there is a great disappointment, we don’t know if that is the end of the story.  It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.”  Pema Chödrön is an American Tibetan Buddhist who is also an ordained nun. Her words are important for us to remember as we walk our path of mindfulness.

 

It is not always delightful to be fully present in particular moments of our lives.  Sometimes it is painful and to accept the reality of the pain can be difficult.   Pema Chödrön has some advice for such times.   “Rejoicing in the good fortune of others is a practice that can help us when we feel emotionally shut down and unable to connect with others. Rejoicing generates good will.”

 

We have a choice in how we experience the world, even if we do not have the choice of what, where, and when the world meets us.  We still have a choice and some control because we can choose and control our reactions.   Life is not the series of events that we find ourselves in the midst of without any say.  Life does include those events but it also includes how we respond to them.

 

We are the author of our own lives and mindfulness helps us write our own story.  We are not and should not be merely puppets in the story of our life.  We need to be director, producer, main actor, and yes, script writer.    We should also be the musical director and lighting coordinator, makeup artist and caterer.  What?  How do we do all that?

 

The director tells an actor where to go and how to portray the character.  We need to direct our lives, making choices of what we do and how we do it, including how we respond.  The producer helps prepare for the production and handles the detail stuff.  We cannot live blindly; we must take care of the “small stuff”.  Skipping the script writer for now, let’s move onto the music in our lives.  Mindfulness is especially helpful here as we listen to our world and take in the beautiful sounds of living – birds chirping, ducks splashing, children laughing and yes, even the sounds of grief in muffled sobs.  We set out own stage by our choices in life and we either see the world around us lit up in all its glory or we turn off the lights and dwell in darkness and despair.  The face we present to the public is the demeanor or make-up we put on every day.  The food choices we make go a long way in determining our health.

 

These are all mindful decisions we make each and every day.  We need to be aware of them and make them responsibly.    That takes up back to the script writer.  How are you writing the story of your life?  A recent scientific study defined mindfulness as “the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.”

 

What is your purpose and what do you want it to be tomorrow?  By living and practicing mindfulness, your awareness of your life experiences will help make the future successful and a much happier place to be.  Mindfulness affords one to have less stress and a healthier living, things that should be among our top three reasons for being.  Health becomes more positive and productive as do relationships.  Simply put, the purpose for mindfulness is to experience life more fully and with positive results.

For the Minute

For the Minute

Easter 4

 

There is an irony in the fact that, as I am writing about being mindful, the art of being actively engaged in the moment we are living, I have to take a time out.  Life is messy and the past week was… well, quite messy.  There was simply no time to meditate.  We’ve all had those days, right?  Where, for each minute, we really need another sixty.  So how can we be in the moment when there are so many things vying for our attention?

 

What if it was possible to be mindful in less than sixty seconds?  Dr. Alice Boyles offers some tips of how to practice mindfulness in less than one minute.  First, she suggests, as we are eating, we should practice mindfulness but instead of attempting to do mindful eating all the time, “try mindful eating for the first two bites of any meal or snack.  For the first two bites of any meal or snack you eat, pay attention to the sensory experiences – the texture, taste, smell, and appearance of the food, and the sounds when you bite into your food.  You don’t need to savor per se, you’re just paying attention to your sensory experience in an experiential rather than evaluative way.”

 

Next she has an idea about something we all do – breathing.  “Instead of formal meditation, try paying attention to what one breath feels like.  Feel the sensations of one breath flowing into and out from your body. Notice the sensations in your nostrils, your shoulders, your rib cage, your belly etc.”  I tried this on an elevator.  It was a new elevator and I was only going up four floors but that gave me enough time to pay attention to one breath.  It also helped calm my usually jittery feelings about being in an elevator.

 

Some of her other tips include just being and giving your brain a minute vacation instead of trying to catch up on one’s email.  We all tend to take those few minutes of nothing to do just that.  Instead, she suggests, we should give our brain a break and simply be in the moment.  Trust me, the emails will still be there and you will probably feel more included to answer them later.

 

Another mindfulness practice in less than one minute is to simply focus on the feeling of air upon our skin.  Dr. Boyles explains that this allows one to “practice being in experiential processing mode (as opposed to evaluative “judging” mode, which is our default.”  We can also do a mental body scan and think about how we feel.  Don’t just focus on the aches and pains, though.  Include some positive feelings as well.  If you do have some negative feelings, try to soften or improve them.  Scanning for feelings of comfort gives one a sense of well-being and that is also calming.

 

My favorite piece of advice is to practice mindfulness on something you tend to do out of habit, some little something you do every day.  For instance, if you take a printed newspaper, slowly and mindfully open it.  If you drink a hot beverage in the morning, deliberately think about getting the cup out of the cabinet, pouring the liquid into the cup, smelling the beverage and then slowly sipping it.

 

Life is far too precious to waste any of it and by practice mindfulness, we are attuned to the beauty of our living.  Mindfulness enables us to observe our thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

Present and Accounted For

Present and Accounted For

Easter 2

 

Most of us began our childhood days in school by answering to a roll call.  A teacher would call out our name and we would answer “Here”.  Then the teacher would send a note to the office or record in the roll book that all were “present and accounted for”.  A teacher needed to keep track, especially since school attendance is compulsory in many areas.  Knowing that your child is safe inside the halls of academia is also a good feeling for the parents.  It does, however, set up expectations for us that perhaps go too far.

 

First, in today’s world, school is not always a safe haven.  Young girls are abducted by fanatical groups who see strong women as a threat and educating girls as the first step in creating strong women.  Mental health issues unaddressed have also been at the heart of most school shootings and have resulted in many school now spending as much on security as they do on textbooks.

 

Taking attendance at school is not a bad thing and school security has been important for over forty years.  The problem comes when we expect our life to be as clear and simple as taking attendance.  Just showing up is important but as we go through our living, are we truly “present” or do we just go through the motions?

 

If we are to really live what we learned during our Lenten series, we must be mindful of our living.  We must be present each hour and not just go through the motions.  All too often we awake dreading the day.  Life is not always fair.  There is no getting around that basic fact.  There will always be someone who appears prettier, has more toys, gets ahead in what seems like an easier and faster career projector.  Life is messy and, at times, unfair.  It can still be good, nonetheless.

 

Instead of waking up thinking of all the things you “have to” do that day, why not open your eyes and marvel in those things that you “get” to do?  You have to get up early and go to work?  Rejoice that you have a job; not everyone does.  You have to clean house; be grateful you have a house.  Someone made fun of your religious head covering?  It is always wrong for someone to bully another based upon religious or spiritual preferences but give thanks that you are strong and secure enough in your faith to wear it in public because not everyone is or can.

 

Life is not always fair but it is always good and a blessing to live.  Hopefully in these fifty days of Easter we will explore the many things we get to do in our living.  I hope today you will be mindful of those blessings and present as you do them.  Life is the greatest gift of all and we get to experience it each and every day.  When we are truly mindful of that, then we are not only present, we are able to recognize and account for the beauty that life can be.

In-Between to Birth

In-Between to Birth

Easter 1

 

For almost a month, I joined millions in watching the live feed from an animal park in New York state.  A giraffe was due to give birth and the world seemed fascinated.  There were various feeds one could follow and several offered advertising with proceeds in the form of pet supplies and food being given to local animal shelters.  I happily participated in making my watching count.

 

There were those, however, who felt it all a great deal of nonsense.  “Get a life” was the most common negative comment seen.  Some readily admitted to watching in-between commuting and so felt they were not for whom such comments were directed.  Others felt they were being mindful to the miracle of birth.  I claim to be a part of neither camp.  I watched because I find giraffes fascinating creatures.  I do wonder at their evolution and creation for they seem to be a bit in-between the larger mammals and the delicate faces of the smaller ones.

 

The Rt Rev Steven Charleston recently made a comment about our being “in-between”.  Yesterday, as I was watching the birth of the giraffe calf so many had eagerly awaited, He posted this:  We are in-between. Right now, we are in-between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. But in reality we are always in-between in life. In-between is where we live and move and make our reality. We go from birth to death between many polarities: health and illness, joy and sadness, hope and despair. We inhabit these spiritual spaces of transition, constantly moving from one level of experience to the next. It is in the in-between that we discover the presence of the sacred, that creative force that helps us transition and adapt. We are the people of the in-between.”

 

Watching the young calf be born, along with millions around the world, I realized that we were all in-between and teetering on the edge of something very similar to world peace.  This young calf and his two giraffe parents had united millions around the world, something no politician or political party had ever been able to accomplish.  As we spent time in the in-between of a fifteen-month pregnancy and its culmination in birth, we were all feeling hope and fear, joy and wonderment.

 

Being mindful of our living is something we often fail to experience.  The reality of this birth was beautiful.  As the calf slowly edge his way out, the mother would welcome him with her tongue and kisses.  It was as if she realized her calf’s reality was changing drastically and she wanted to encourage him and comfort him that all would be all right. 

 

Our blog series this Easter season will be on mindfulness.  I hope this period will bring you joy and enlightenment in your living.  Life is all around us and while we need to spend less of it online and more of it in person, we can learn from all aspects of it.  Today is a new day and our reality, much like the new giraffe calf’s has changed.  Let us give thanks for this new day and recognize the new life ahead of us all.

The Beginning in the End

The Beginning in the End

Lent 31-32

 

Things end.  It is an inevitable fact of life.  Yet, in many cultures, death is but a dormant season.  Winter may seem like a period in which things die but in nature, winter is a time of hibernation, a time of rest before the rebirth of a new season, the beginning of a new cycle which has spring from the ending of an old cycle.

 

The cause and effect of the Beatitudes illustrate how in our pain and turmoil, we might consider that we are simply in a period of dormancy, having paused on a landing before continuing on our journey.  The marathon runner knows to pace him or herself because the race is not won at the start but rather at the finish line.  Perhaps we should consider that those periods of season of nonsuccess or non-joy are merely stepping stones towards our ultimate victory.

 

Yesterday was the end of the month of March and today begins the month of April and yet, for many of us, the days were very similar.  One ending swiftly faded into a beginning with little fanfare or change.  Often the transitions in our lives go unnoticed and we neglect to recognize the value of each step along our path.

 

Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne discussed how we determine happiness in our journey in an article for Psychology Today published several years ago.  “In many ways, living in the moment has its benefits. While you’re in the midst of an enjoyable experience, you’re most likely to be tuned into the pleasures signaled by your body’s senses.  By contrast, an experience marked by pain, mishaps, and inconvenience is one you’d just as soon get out of as soon as possible. Even so, after it’s over, many of us forget how badly we felt while it was going on. When pain outweighs pleasure, living in the moment isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. 

 

“As it turns out, many of us are pretty likely to form biased memories of our experiences. The biases can go in both positive and negative directions. According to Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the “peak-end rule” is just one of many errors of judgment that affects the accuracy of our cognitive apparatus. An event makes its mark in our memories more by what happens at its end than at any prior point. In his book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”, Kahneman points out many of the illogical features of our thought processes, including the contrast between our experiences in the moment and the way we remember them.

 

“Studies of happiness in the moment use a method called “experience sampling” in which people provide an instantaneous reading of how they are feeling. New technologies allow researchers to “ping” participants, asking them questions about what they’re doing right now, instead of having them provide recollections at some later point.  For example, German researcher Bettina Sonnenberg and her colleagues (2012) asked participants on their mobile phones to report the activities they were engaging in while pursuing their daily routines. The participants also completed standard survey questionnaires about their use of time. People’s reports through experience sampling were very consistent with surveys that they later completed regarding questions about the amount of time they spent at paid work. However, when participants were asked to estimate how much time they spent in less regular, predictable activities (such as errands or leisure), the survey reports diverged substantially from the moment-to-moment data they recorded through experience sampling.

 

“It’s no surprise that people rate their happiness while having a previous experience higher than they did while going through the experience itself. While you’re in the moment, you are aware of more of the “objective” features of the situation. You may be having your favorite meal, trying to unwind after a stressful day, and although you love the music itself, your mind strays to some of the unpleasant things that happened to you earlier. If we “ping” you to rate your happiness, your rating may reflect not the food you’re trying to enjoy, but the recall of what caused you to feel stressed.

 

“Many studies support the peak-end rule. People will prefer and even choose exposing themselves to more pain (objectively determined) if the situation ends with them feeling less pain.  Think about it this way. If you are having a tooth drilled, you’d find it was less painful if the dentist ends the procedure with some lightening of the drill’s intensity, even if the procedure is longer than it would otherwise be. Counterintuitive? Yes. Common? Definitely.

 

“We approach not only our experiences of pleasure and pain in this way, but also our acquisition of objects that we’re given as gifts. As reported in a review article by Dartmouth psychologist Amy Do and collaborators (2008), participants given free DVD’s were more pleased with the gifts if they received the more popular ones after the less popular ones, then if they received the exact same DVD’s in the opposite order. When it comes to pleasure, it’s all about the ending.”

 

In the Beatitudes, the blessing or happiness is promised in the ending.  We tend to fear endings but, as this research supports, what really matters is not the actual experience but how it ends.  After all, when running up the steps to a monument, the victory comes with the completion of the task, the ending.  This is what gives us a feeling of triumph.  We win because we lived and, having lived, we eagerly await the next new beginning.