Believe

Christmas/Hanukkah 2019

Believe

12.27.2019

 

Today is the third day of Christmas, a time for three French hens according to the song “Twelve Days of Christmas”. It is also the sixth day of Hanukkah. We have no true diary of the feelings of the Maccabees as they rebuilt their temple but one can imagine that as the sun was setting on day six, anxiety about the oil that lit their lamp which provided light so construction could continue began to rise. What we do know is that on the sixth day of Hanukkah there was a belief that the third day of Christmas contradicts, at least according to the song.

 

The oldest breed of fowl in France is the Crèvecoeurs. It is not a breed one could rely on for food. That needs to be understood before we continue. Although they are quite rare, Crèvecoeurs are primarily used as show birds and make quite the fashion statement with their unique crests. They are black birds and a rich dark green coloring can be found on the crests, hackles, and tail feathers of the roosters. By the nineteenth century, however, there were also black and white variegated versions of the breed.

 

Today we will continue to get news of politicians posturing, much like the French hens would do, about the upcoming or lack thereof impeachment proceedings of the current sitting President of the United States. Much like a gift of fowl that seems to enjoy posturing rather than being productive, these politicians are strutting about and crowing with little thought of actually doing their appointed jobs.

 

Today more than four times the number of children remains isolated from their parents in detentions camps on the USA-Mexican border than were the number of Jewish captives in 1943 on this same date. These children are within USA borders illegally but is that a reason to deny them basic human rights, especially during a season which proclaims love and happiness? Or is this just more posturing without swift resolution or productivity?

 

The miracle that Hanukkah celebrates includes action. One cannot simply light candles, say or sing the accompanying prayer, spin the dreidel, eat any won gelt, and then go to sleep. One is expected to continue building a temple – a life based upon family and community action. Sadly those in Washington, DC who were elected by a large conservative Christian coalition seemed to have forgotten the message of Christmas. They are celebrating the birth of one child by incarcerating many others.

 

It becomes an issue of what we believe and how we live that belief. Today is also the third day of Kwanza, a celebration primarily of the African-American community but open to all. It is not historic, having its roots in the twentieth century but its message transcends time and races. Kwanza celebrates one’s cultural and ethnic heritage without specifying denomination or religion. It is perhaps what all holidays should represent – peace, pride, love, joy, and happiness in a communal setting.

 

The importance of having something to believe in is profound. What we believe controls our behavior. Our beliefs control all our decisions and influence what we think. They often influence the quality of our thoughts and determine our actions. We translate the world as we see it through the filters of our beliefs. Whatever we may identify with spiritually, including not identifying with any one group, affects everything we think, do, and say. Those who believe only in themselves and their own superiority consequently become their own deity.

 

  1. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur defined the American as an immigrant who has become the exact opposite of his own European past. “The changes that came when the immigrant came across the sea eliminated all of the prejudices and the habit of kowtowing that he had learned in Europe”… or so Crevecoeur believed. He was born December 31, 1735, to a family of minor nobility in Normandy. In 1755 he migrated to New France in North America. There, he served in the French and Indian War as a cartographer in the French Colonial Militia, rising to the rank of lieutenant. Following the British defeat of the French Army in 1759, he moved to the Province of New York, where he took out citizenship, adopted the English-American name of John Hector St. John, and in 1770 married an American woman, Mehitable Tippe.

 

Becoming famous for his books on being an American farmer, Crevecoeur later returned to France so he could inherit his father’s lands and it was in France that he later died. Crovecoeur found himself in America after serving in the French Militia which was on the losing side of a major war at the time so perhaps his beliefs and statements are understandable. Certainly in his native country, he would have been imprisoned as being one of the enemy but in America he became a citizen. Sadly, those opportunities are no longer believed in today.

 

Though the breed of the three French Hens given supposedly on the third day of Christmas share the same name, they were not related to the family of St John de Crevecoeur. The family name translates as “broken hearted” and one can only imagine why the name was given to this breed of fowl. Was it because it was believed they would give plentiful eggs or was their strutting around deemed important and yet disheartening?

 

On this third day of Christmas and Kwanza and sixth day of Hanukkah, we have a choice. Do we believe in the goodness and hope of mankind and enact effective policies to create a better tomorrow or do we believe that posturing is all that really counts? The day before the French hens, the song celebrates turtle doves, known as a symbol of love. The day after the third day, the fourth day of Christmas, mentions four calling birds. Perhaps on this third day we are to stop strutting about and prepare for a calling to beliefs that would encourage effective behavior and action. The future will be determined by what we believe. There is no one else who can meet the task of building a better tomorrow than each of us. Perhaps the real miracle of any belief is that we act upon hope and a belief in tomorrow.

The Gift of Sight

The Gift of Sight

2019.07-09

 

It has been a troubling summer. A much anticipated summer festival in Gilroy, California, the Garlic Festival is a time of fun, frivolity, and food. It is held annually the last weekend in July and celebrates a much-maligned vegetable – the garlic. A very close relative of the onion, garlic is native to Central Asia and northeastern Iran, and has long been a common seasoning worldwide, with a history of several thousand years of human consumption and use. It was known to ancient Egyptians, and has been used both as a food flavoring and as a traditional medicine. This year was the fortieth anniversary of the three-day event and it ended in tragedy with three dead and thirteen injured in a mass shooting.

 

Much too soon after, the town of El Paso, Texas had a mass shooting. To date, twenty-two have died with over thirty injured. The deliberately planned execution of innocent people whose only crime was to be shopping the weekend before school was to begin in the area seemed incomprehensible. About the time most Americans were trying to make sense out of the senseless killings, another mass shooting occurred in Dayton, Ohio. This time there were two dozen injured and nine victims killed, including the shooter’s own sister.

 

It should be noted that the statistics of such shootings do not always tell the true story in that there are always unreported victims, generally called survivors. Those who escaped the carnage of such acts must live with the memories of them and somehow try to rebuild their lives, even if they suffered no physical wounds. Two students who survived the Parkland Florida school mass shooting have since committed suicide.

 

The aftermath of such incidents always brings up the question “Why?” Perhaps more importantly, there is the follow-up analysis of what could have been done differently to avoid such events. How in the future can we acquire the gift of sight to keep these tragedies from being repeated?

 

If you have an email account, you probably are aware of your spam folder. A Bayesian filter is used to decide which of your emails are rubbish and which are something you might want to read. Companies and advertisers invest quite heavily in copywriters who can bypass these filters and get there promotional material before your eyes. Based upon what you have deleted in the past and what you have opened and read, it is used to evaluate the header and content of email messages and determine whether or not it constitutes spam.

I wish we had such filters on our public speaking. When I was much younger, there was a popular saying: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” These three sentences were what one was to consider before speaking. If the answer to any of the three questions was no, then it was advised not to say whatever was about to be said. It is really good advice.

 

Decision theory states that one should use the same basic criteria with every action taken – risk, reward, consequences, certainty. We need to start applying that criteria to our public speaking, in addition to the above three sentences. Public speaking today has become the repetition of trending phrases so as to sound “current”. Little thought is given to the actual meaning, content, or possible consequences.

 

Quantifiable behavior tells us that we can expect specific outcomes when a particular behavior is encouraged. When those in the public eye resort to trendy catch phrases that inflame and incite fear rather than quote accurate and somewhat boring statistics, then it is expected people will use whatever measures at end to protect themselves.

 

Until we monitor what we say and apply decision theory to it, we cannot expect differing outcomes. We will continue to have rampart fear and the resulting shootings and deaths. Words have meaning and when we speak, we need to speak from a place of honesty and fact. We need to apply a Bayesian filter to ourselves before we open our mouths. We need to speak with forethought and decision, with the intention to accurately inform and not incite. Otherwise, the future will be very easy to predict because it will look like the past month with needless deaths and pain.

Knowledge: Cause and Effect

Knowledge: Cause and Effect

04.25.2019

Easter 2019

 

Mankind took the leap to discover knowledge at the dawn of man.  In the creation stories of the Torah and the Bible, it was curiosity that led to sin and evil.  For many belief systems, education is still a privilege granted only to a select few or group.  Five years ago   the Nobel peace Prize was awarded to the youngest recipient ever, Malala Yousafzai,  because she dared to follow her dream to learn.

 

In the Christian tradition the fortieth day after Easter is known as Ascension Day.  It is the day Christians celebrate as being the day of Jesus Christ’s bodily ascension into heaven.  In a world with the philosophies of Anaximander, Aristotle, Boethus, Diogenes, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Leucippus, Parmenides, Plato, and Socrates, how, you might be asking, could they believe that a man could be crucified, buried, walk among people for forty days, and then ascend to the afterworld?  After all, Leucippus came up with the theory of atoms and he lived five centuries before the man known as Jesus of Nazareth.  How did people think those atoms could be destroyed, rejuvenate themselves, and then vanish into thin air?

 

As it gained momentum, the Christian Church in the form of the Roman Church became the vessel for all learning.  Scholasticism became the method of teaching and it used strict dialectical reasoning to teach Christian theology and to interpret the ancient classical texts of learning.  Using Aristotle’s approach of determining knowledge through our senses proved too down-to-earth for church leaders who felt it took away from the mystery of faith.

 

Nicholas of Cusa proposed something he termed “learned ignorance”.  According to Nicholas who was also known as Nicolaus von Kues, all knowledge came from “the One”, “the Good’.  God, according to Nicholas came before that so it was impossible for a mere human to truly know God.  Nicholas believed that one should use reason to understand this ignorance and that we only knew of God what we could through the “learned ignorance”.

 

Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus took exception with the Roman Catholic doctrine and felt one’s personal relationship with God was much more important that the doctrine of the Roman Church.  The knowledge of philosophy he saw as a hindrance to the basic human traits emphasized in scripture and preached by Jesus.

 

Knowledge had not been seen as evil by all belief systems, however.  Mohammed founded Islam and by the seventh century it had spread from Arabia to Asia and Africa and then to parts of Spain.  Rivaling the empire of Christian Europe, Islam entered into what is known as its “Golden Age” around 750 ACE.  This period lasted for more than five centuries as learning and discovery was encouraged in the field of math, sciences, and scholarship.  Major advances were made in astronomy, alchemy, medicine, and mathematics and Aristotle’s philosophy was smoothly integrated with Islamic tenets of faith.

 

The Islamic philosopher Avicenna proposed a “flying man” theory which married knowledge gained from our senses and reason.  He offered that a man flying blindfolded and floating in the air would still know he had a soul or self, even though his senses were not giving him any information.  According to Avicenna, one’s mind and body coexist but as distinct entities.  He also suggested that if this is true, then the mind or soul existed in a different realm than the body and did not die when the physical body did.

 

Not surprisingly, Avicenna’s theories were not accepted by all.  Al-Ghazali was an Islamic philosopher who felt such beliefs were contrary to the Qur’an.  The Iberian Islamic philosopher Averroes or Ibn Rushd disagreed.  He argued that the Qur’an presented metaphorical truths and that, instead of any incompatibility between religion and philosophy, philosophy could be used to interpret religion.  This way of thinking was similar to the paradoxes of Plato.  They also greatly influence Christian philosophy of the period.

 

The conquests by Christian crusaders in the eleventh century are seen by many as an unjust invasion and their beliefs can be understood.  These invasions unlocked Europe to the knowledge of the Islamic world, though, and soon the influence of such spread throughout Europe, leading to the Renaissance and the losing of control over scholarship and knowledge previously held by the Roman Church.

 

Whether you believe in the ascension of a man who previously presented as a mere mortal or whether you fail to believe in any religion, one cannot deny basic principles of life and our living.  We all need air to breath.  Plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy and then into carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere and creates the air we breathe.  The plants in my garden in one hemisphere are not the same plants I had when living in another.  Yet, they still follow the same basic processes in their growth, their blossoms or fruits, their harvest, their period of dormancy, and their value.

 

For one day a year, the Christian Church celebrates the ascension of the central figure in its teachings.  Yet, do we live every other day in dissension and the descent of knowledge?   What I do or do not do today affects my tomorrow.  The Hindu mystic Swami Vivekananda says “The will is not free; it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect, but there is something behind the will which is free.”  American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Shallow men believe in luck.  Strong men believe in cause and effect.  Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.”

 

Mankind has always been curious and that curiosity has fueled a quest for knowledge that continues today.   Regardless of the period of history or location on the planet or even in space, we are constantly learning as we live.  Living in the northwest part of the USA, young adult author Richelle Goodrich sums up our ascent into living and the subsequent knowledge gained from it this way:  “You are here to make a difference, to either improve the world or worsen it. And whether or not you consciously choose to, you will accomplish one or the other.”

 

I fear the real truth is much simpler and in its simplicity, much more complicated to live.  We cannot spend time on this earth without affecting it.  We occupy space and the air we inhale and exhale affects our environment.  We all have a carbon footprint and that also affects the future.  How we gain in knowledge is really up to us.  That is the simple part.  The complications arise when we live or fail to live our beliefs.  We do make a difference by being on this planet and we will either leave it a better place or worsen it.  The future is the fruit of the seed of our actions today.  What will you decide to do?  How will your curiosity lead to greater knowledge?

 

 

Hope Floats Us All

Hope Floats Us All

Day 39 – Palm Sunday*

Lent 2019

 

I remember reading a biography of a military strategist.  “The outcome [of a particular military campaign] was inevitable.  There was no hope at all of a victory.”  I stopped and reread the previous several pages because I thought I must have missed something.  I had expected this man to be on the side that ultimately won but here he was saying that this major battle was doomed for failure.  I actually reread the pages three times and finally on the fourth time, read them aloud.  I had missed nothing and so I continued forward.  Then I read the last sentence of the chapter.  “Fortunately, the leaders were better at encouraging their men then in military rational.  They had hope and their hope won the battle, a battle that, on paper, was never theirs to win.  Hope that day was the best strategy.”

 

As I remarked yesterday, I do not presume to know what was in the speaker’s mind when he uttered the words we now call the Beatitudes.  I do think their purpose and his intention was to offer hope.  The goodness offered within the text speaks of the expectation of not great times but also the optimism those times can ultimately create.

 

Hope is not the same as optimism.  Optimism is a feeling that sees the good and its approach is quite positive.  Hope is an emotion that often arises in the midst of turmoil, of despair, of grief.  Hope is a choice.  We can choose fear or we can choose hope.

 

Barbara Fredrickson describes hope this way.  “Hope literally opens us up. It removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture. We become creative, unleashing our dreams for the future.  This is because deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out for the better. Possibilities exist. Belief in this better future sustains us. It keeps us from collapsing in despair. It infuses our bodies with the healing rhythms of positivity. It motivates us to tap into our signature capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires us to build a better future.”

 

Psychologist C. S. Snyder, in his book “The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There from Here” defined hope as a “motivational construct” that allows one to believe in positive outcomes, conceive of goals, develop strategies, and muster the motivation to implement them.  While not actively studied until the last twentieth century, it has become apparent that we need hope not only in times of chaos and turmoil but all the time.

 

I believe the Beatitudes to be a commentary of life.  We all will face despair, grief, will feel meek, will hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We also, hopefully, will strive to be peacemakers, be merciful, and pure in heart.  At some point in our lives, we all feel the thorns of persecution.  Hope is the antidote to all of those negative feelings and the motivation for the positive ones.   Perhaps poet Emily Dickinson describes it best:  “Hope is the thing with feathers; that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

*In case you are wondering how Lent can have forty days and Palm Sunday means there are still seven days left in Lent, yet I am at day 39…. In this counting, because many readers are of different faiths, I count each day straightforward.  In the “forty” days of Lent, Sundays are not included in the count.

Value, Love, Intent

Value, Love, Intent

Day Four-Five

Lent 2019

 

What is the value of a human being?  Most cultures in the world, historically and those existing in the period we call now have been at some point in time enslaved.  This is inevitable when kingdoms overtake others, when greed propels mankind into “owning” as much as is possible.  During those periods of enslavement, humans have become commodities.  We may think we live in modern times with enlightened minds but people are still being sold as if they were a loaf of bread.  This is most especially true for females and children.

 

The general assessment for a human life has, for a number of years, been placed at somewhere around five million dollars.  Generally speaking, the cost of life or a life’s potency is the value assigned to a specific living organism based upon the preventative cost of said organism’s death.  However, this determined number is not exact and open to controversy.  For example, the Environmental Pollution Agency or EPA puts the value of a human life at $9.1 million dollars while the Food and Drug Administration or FDA places it at $7.9 million.

 

What I find troubling in all of this is first of all, we base the value of living upon the cost to avoid death.  No consideration is given to what that life might accomplish or the love it will share, spread, or encourage.  The algorithm is solely based upon the cost to society to sustain that life and the life’s contribution to society has no value in the algorithm.  The second troubling issue to me is that very few would or could even pay the five million dollars for someone.  Most people hesitate to donate five dollars to the homeless and yet, it will cost them over five million and maybe up to nine million dollars to keep that person from dying.

 

A reasonably well and mentally healthy person will like being alive.  Hopefully, we all love life but life can be messy and at times complicated.  Most of us love being alive but realize it comes with issues, complications, hurdles to clear, and bumps to survive.  Those alive have families.  After all, none of us was born by spontaneous combustion; we all had at the initial beginning, a mother and a father.  To some the value of a family member is great; to others, negotiable.  Sadly, the core of domestic violence is the fact that one person becomes more valuable and believes they have the power to do anything, no matter how harmful or criminal.

 

“You can’t simply say that every life is infinitely valuable,” said John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University whose work focuses on national security and risk analysis. “That’s just not the way the world operates.”  Mueller is the one, by the way, who arrived at the five million dollar amount for the value of a human being.

 

There are times, other than slavery, when the value of a human life becomes a matter for the courts.  After the terrorist attacks on the two World Trade Towers, monetary appropriations were given to the victims’ families.  Washington attorney Kenneth Feinberg managed the compensation funding for victims’ families of the September 11, 2001 attacks.  Using an algorithm determined by the courts and Congress, Feinberg wrote checks based upon the denied future of the victims.  This meant that a secretary’s family was paid less than a banker’s family, even though the contribution to the family of a mother is arguably more than that of a father who was only home six hours out of every twenty-four.  The same was true for the firefighters and policemen who rushed in to help and were killed for their heroic efforts.  Their salaries were much less than the insurance analysts so their life had less “value” although most had saved lives for several if not many years.

 

Feinberg has very definite opinions about the value of human life.  “In the case of Sept. 11, if there is a next time, and Congress again decides to award public compensation, I hope the law will declare that all life should be treated the same. Courtrooms, judges, lawyers and juries are not the answer when it comes to public compensation. I have resolved my personal conflict and have learned a valuable lesson at the same time. I believe that public compensation should avoid financial distinctions which only fuel the hurt and grief of the survivors. I believe all lives should be treated the same.”

 

We’ve discussed authenticity and accountability but it really all boils down to how honest we are with ourselves.  How truthful are we about ourselves when we are alone and no one is listening or watching?  One of the best things about our pets is their authenticity.  I really doubt my dog wants to be a cat and my cats – well, they are convinced they are at the top of the animal chain of command.  Why would they want to be something else?

 

Because they are authentic, our pets give us unconditional love.  It really is just that simple.  To be authentic has been called a “primal urge”.  Did Neanderthal man want something better than himself?  Well, yeah.  That is why we have made strides in living and why we no longer live in caves and eat raw food.  I honestly am not so sure that being authentic is a primal urge.  I just think animals are comfortable in their own skin and realize that they need to get living as what they are right before taking on something else.  In that way, they are smarter than we are.

 

We’ve all heard the phrase “Practice what you preach” ad infinitum and ad nausea.  What we sometimes fail to grasp is that we need to do it for ourselves in order to gain self-knowledge.  We need to live with intention in order to gain a better self, grow a better version of ourselves.  We need to continually and constantly update ourselves to stay current and effective in our own lives.

 

Lent is a time for intentional living.  You can just be true to yourself and then live with intention.  Oscar Wilde once said “Most people are other people.  Their thoughts are someone else’s opinion; their lives a mimicry; their passions a quotation.”  Live YOUR life today. Be yourself.  Walk your own path to personal fulfillment.  Let the voice you hear be YOUR voice.  I bet it’s gonna be beautiful!

 

During Lent we often engage in discussions of love and self-love.  Lent is a liturgical season for talking about “growing” ourselves.  Love is certainly the fertilizer and food that enables that process.  Our first step has been to discuss self-worth.  Your life has value, probably ten times any number that an algorithm can determine.  However, if we do not love ourselves and allow ourselves to be loved, then we are killing our garden before it has a chance to blossom.  I hope today you will love yourself today and have faith in the value of your living.

 

 

 

 

The Best we Can Offer

Mirror Image

 

We are coming to the end of our series on mindfulness, a series that was written more in social media than at this website.  I hope you followed along on my twitter page.  We now our approaching Lent.  Lent is, after all, a four letter word and often that is felt with the commonly held attitudes about four letter words!

 

Lent is a time of reflection and often, sacrifices.  It is really a journey we undertake.  Perhaps one way to undertake keeping a holy Lent would be to follow the example of Lewis Carrol’s character Alice and fall into our mirror.  What would we really see if we fell into the looking glass of our lives?

 

“The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.”   Mark Twain spoke gospel words when he said that.  How often do we look in the mirror and think we are not as good as we should be?  What happens when we are too full of ourselves?  When are we being prideful and when are we practicing self-respect?

 

Many would say that pride and self-respect are the same thing while others have written that they are two different sides of the same coin.  I have no worldly wisdom here.  Let me say that before we go any further.   I too am on a quest.  If I was perfect and/or had all the answers, I would no longer being seeking.  I would have arrived.

 

In my humble opinion, pride is fine as long as it does not include a sense of better-ness, of being on a higher plane of existence than anyone else.  I might even go so far as to say there are many times in which pride and self-respect can be synonyms.  However, pride that elevates one’s personal worth to being “better” than another is wrong.

 

Self-respect means seeing the value in one’s existence.  That existence will not be perfect, though, and it will have its challenges.  It will be a journey and like most journeys, it will have its detours and delays.  However, the journey will also have a purpose and value.

 

The Reverend Peter Marshall once said Americans should not look to their Constitution as carte blanche to do whatever they wanted but rather as an opportunity to do right.   When you live with intentions, you live with purpose.  Anyone who lives with a purpose has to have self-respect.  You cannot and should not separate one from the other.

 

The dilemma about self-respect and building it is not a new challenge.  In his “History of the Peloponnesian War”, Thucydides spoke of it.  “Self-control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage.”

When we look into a mirror, we see a reflection staring back at us.  That reflection is just an outer covering.  What we should respect and inspect is the deeper self of the character within the outer shell.  Joan Didion explains:  “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.”

Life is not for the weak or lazy.  It takes courage and it requires an intention to live.  When we accept those two gauntlets that being born shoves on us, then we can live and build our self-respect.  Author Adrienne Rich agrees.  “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.”

 

The reward to really being the image we want to see in the mirror is the best prize of all.  We gain self-respect and control over our being.  No one can ever deny us that.  You will never be without yourself when you can respect yourself.  Happiness requires that we have some measure of self-respect.  Be happy and start building your own bed of self-respect.

 

Life is much easier when you look into the mirror and can smile at your own reflection.  Then we are able to smile at others and be sincere.  A smile is the first invitation to others to join us on our journey of faith.  That is the blessing of truly keeping a holy Lent.  The end of Lent is not the end of our journey but rather an important layover.  The story does not end with Easter.  The resurrection is our invitation to fully live into our own self-worth.

 

Religion is not about the end game – a series of rules in which one wins a golden ticket into heaven if they are all followed.  Religion is about the game of here and now, living each day to the best of our abilities.  We achieve true spirituality and make the most of whatever dogmas we hold to be true when we are able to see ourselves in the faces of all we meet.  We are the world and each of us is, in some form or fashion, related to our neighbor.  If we are to have a future, we must first see ourselves in each other.

Feel

Feel

2019.02.10

Mindfulness – The Human Spirit

 

 

My vacation is over and I realized through it all that some things never change.  Whether we are on vacation, at a spiritual retreat, or caught up in the busyness of everyday living, we continue to feel.  For the last decade, it seems like all we hear about are opinions rather than facts and how we should feel.  It is enough to make a person want to hide.  At a time when most people need to cool down and stop spreading the hateful, nonproductive rhetoric that marked the last several years of political mudslinging in the USA and worldwide, it might seem strange that I am encouraging you to be open and feel.

 

I sincerely hope I get some responses to this question:  How do you feel?  I am not asking just about how you feel regarding the political verbiage.  I am asking how you feel… in general and specifically.  How do you feel?  It really is not a trick question.  Nor is it a complex one.  How do you feel?  The reason I am asking you is that feelings matter.  They comprise the very core of who we are.

 

Feelings are important.  The University of Wisconsin encourages students to consider their feelings as a barometer of their own health and emotional well-being.  “Feelings provide essential information about our reactions to situations. They are often our best clue to the meaning of our current experience — they are less “processed” and more “raw” than our thoughts. They can provide accurate feedback on our current “inside” state.”

 

Eckhart Tolle explains the important of our feelings this way.  “Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body’s reaction to your mind – or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body. For example, an attack thought or a hostile thought will create a build-up of energy in the body that we call anger. The body is getting ready to fight. The thought that you are being threatened, physically or psychologically, causes the body to contract, and this is the physical side of what we call fear. Research has shown that strong emotions even cause changes in the biochemistry of the body. These biochemical changes represent the physical or material aspect of the emotion.”

 

Emotional competency is a popular phrase that is trending right now and learning to recognize the emotions of others as well as ourselves helps build strong relationships.  That brings me to my intention with today’s post.  How are you feeling?  Have you realized that others are feeling those same emotions?  We all experience the same feelings.  Perhaps not at the same time and not in the same consequential fashion but we all experience the same emotions.  At some point we have all felt happy, sad, proud, scared, jealous, hopeful, envious, sorry, tired, exasperated, sympathetic, upset, overjoyed, angry, elated, relieved, grateful, bored, excited….. The list could go on and on.  We all feel the exact same way although not at the exact same time.  Why?  Because we really are, at our core, similar. 

 

Some might argue that not all of these are emotions.  Some would characterize them as mental states of being.  In the 1991 book, “Emotion and Adaptation”, author Richard Lazarus lists several mental states that may be emotion related, but are not themselves actual emotions. The list includes the complex states of: grief and depression; the ambiguous positive states of: expansiveness, awe, confidence, challenge, determination, satisfaction, and being pleased; the ambiguous negative states of: threat, frustration, disappointment, helplessness, meaningless, and awe; the mental confusion states of bewilderment and confusion; the arousal states of: excitement, upset, distress, nervousness, tension, and agitation; and finally the pre-emotions of: interest, curiosity, amazement, anticipation, alertness, and surprise.

 

Again, we all experience those very same mental states of being.  Why?  Because they are related to our emotions, the very same emotions we all experience.  So how does this affect our actions?  After all, most words used to describe emotions are adjectives, not verbs.  It is relevant because our emotions often affect and determine our actions.  More importantly, when we criticize others for their feelings, we limit our right to experience those very same feelings.

 

No one is so good that they should not experience sadness and we all, at some point in time, will.  Even the bravest of us have felt fear and I sincerely hope that we all have hope.  My wish is that I get back hundreds of responses telling me people felt happy, relief, joy, gratitude, etc. but the reality is that some today experienced grief, uncertainty, or pain.  Life is not easy.  Not all feelings are going to be positive.

 

“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times? …As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”  This passage from Cornelia Funke’s book “Inkspell” refers to reading a book but I think it applies to our feelings.

 

Feelings broaden our perspective and when we allow others to have those very same feelings, we broaden our world.  We begin to see that the world is not made up of many different people but of different variations of ourselves.  The outside packaging might look very different but each is a version of one, at different stages.  When we learn to respond to the pain of others, listen to their feelings, then we can begin to be together, truly together, living in peace and harmony.