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Thank you teachers

teacher learnerWithout the willingness of teachers to work hard at finding ways to impart skills and knowledge, we’d all be starting at square one which is a daunting thought. So without hesitation my gratitude goes out to all teachers.

However, sometimes it’s not obvious where the line is between teachers and learners. Not all teachers stand in front of classrooms. Not all teachers even see themselves as teachers, but they are.

~~ If we pay attention, children can teach us to be authentic and to live in the now. These important lessons are quickly forgotten as we grow older.

~~ Incarcerated people have allowed me to see that we all have good and shadow sides. I’ve learned about the often invisible privilege that some have and others are denied. I know on a visceral level now that hurt people hurt people. Watching people struggle with the harm done by being institutionalized and by being subjected to extreme isolation has taught me much about abuse of power and about human vulnerability. Reliance on assumptions can be unlearned in this environment because there reality is rarely as it appears on the surface. From these teachers it’s possible to learn to remove the filters and truly see.

~~ Family has taught me about the balance between nature and nurture. Previously I wanted to believe that nurture had more of an influence than nature and now I know that’s not always the case. Acceptance of all is a powerful lesson.

~~ People with mental illness due to severe childhood abuse are the living examples of the human development theory taught by classroom teachers. Allowing one’s self to get close to the extremely intense pain they endure requires learning empathy and boundaries. That in turn provides many powerful learning moments. Not only can these teachers demonstrate that a sense of worthiness and an ability to trust others is developed in early childhood, they can also be living proof of the resiliency of the human spirit.

Who I am rests on the foundational parts of me originally gifted by all the many classroom teachers who skillfully created lesson plans and lovingly delivered all this content. I thank you for your dedication. Your contributions are invaluable.

The passion and commitment of many non-traditional teachers have supported the healing of my heart and the growth of my spirit. Whether your wisdom was delivered in a workshop, a conversation, a book, a youtube video, a blog post or any other format matters not. You have lifted me up and I am grateful.

From all the rest of my unlikely teachers I am grateful to have had real life opportunities to also practice being compassionate, humble and nonjudgmental.

All of these teacher’s contributions allowed me to learn one of the greatest lessons: that everyone is a valued teacher and everyone is a potential learner. I am grateful to be an active participant in this circle.

And where shall we go from here my beloved teacher and learner community?

Paradox happens

So much goes in and at some point it’s satisfying to see what can come out. Shared knowledge and competing theories bombard our worldly brains daily. All of it is diluted and agitated as is clothing in a washing machine. Some bleed and forever ruin others. Some become dull with each repetition of the wash cycle. Perhaps the real value goes unnoticed as the tainted water drains away from each load. The spin cycle borders on violent – all supporting the intention of keeping things clean, odor and stain free. What if we’ve been scammed into believing half truths about the meaning of beautiful or even clean? What if there is beauty along with shadow in all of us and but we have never been taught how to see it all clearly and how to appreciate it.

Drawn to the Paradox Playground, it’s appropriate to feel both excitement and dread. Will the lessons there hurt too much? What if the fear slams eyes shut and ears fold into themselves? Will it then be dark and completely silent making it impossible for anything of value to break free of the logjam? Or will stepping away from the limitations of human senses open the way towards the complete truth? Will there be relief from the relentless stream of incongruent thoughts and feelings? Will it be lonely there or the opposite?

There’s only one way to find out. We need to go and find out. We’ll be gentle.
Family can be the place of unconditional love and acceptance. The connections between family members are straightforward. This one is the parent and this one is the child. This one is the sibling and this one is the cousin. In the cleanliness of a tidy genealogy chart everyone knows the importance of their spot on their chart. Without filling their charted position , others below them wouldn’t exist. This alone gives some a sense of purpose. It can give meaning to lives.
Family can also be a place of disastrous devastation since our sense of worth is determined by the treatment we receive from adults as infants. No need to list the many ways children are harmed by family. There is only a need to note that it happens.

Paradox of family. It’s not either or. It is what it is. It is all of being. It is the Primary Paradox Playground since it is the first place where what feels good and what hurts must be held at the same time. Paradox’s Potential arrives here first. There are always a wide range of apparent choices when it comes time to react: shame, compassion, revenge, healing, kindness, rage, resentment, guilt, love, victimhood, and empowerment. These choices aren’t either or. Typically it’s a turbulent and jostling journey in and out of every choice and every role. The pile of chips in the rage pile may overtake the pile of chips in the empowerment pile. But maybe that rage can be redirected onto itself and the entire pile tossed into its own funeral pyre leaving primarily healing, kindness and compassion. We all experience all of it and then, if we are open to learning, we can end up farther down the path and into the light. No one is immune from the struggle of paradox.

Hey! Wait! Let’s not let our visit to the Paradox Playground turn into a carnival-like whack-a-mole blame game. Instead, hold out both of your hands palms up. If we can see and feel that we each hold what appear to be opposing truths within ourselves and that we juggle those constantly, maybe we can have more compassion for ourselves and others. Let’s see…

Almost all of us have a mixed up, paradoxical attitude about change. Sometimes we think that change isn’t possible. How many times have you heard, “That’s just the way I am.”? We might feel stuck doing things the way we have always done them. Then, aren’t we also often hoping for change with each sometimes insatiable desire for new things, new experiences, and new opportunities? We can find ourselves sometimes hoping for change and fearing it at the same time. We want to believe that change is possible because that means that our lives can be better. But, we can also resist change, even change for the better because of comfort with the familiar.
Are your hands still held out with palms up? Put desire for change in one hand and resistance to change in the other and then juggle! You got it!

Even our most preciously held values are toys in the Paradox Playground. I’ll use myself as an example but I’m guessing that if you look honestly and closely enough you’ll be able find plenty examples in your own life. Some years ago, I became disillusioned with a group that taught the importance of treating all people with respect and dignity. My disillusionment stemmed from observing some of the group leaders only being comfortable with people of a certain social status. It became clear to me to that many weren’t walking their talk. Filled with disappointment, I left the group for about a decade. Eventually I returned for short visits but it took several years of wrestling with my disillusionment with some of the privileged people there before I could see the paradox I had created within myself. I was judging them for judging others. I was doing to them exactly what I was upset with them for doing to others. Oh drat! Good old self-righteousness blinded me to my own paradoxical conundrum.

Hands out with palms up please… Put your values in one hand and put your self-righteousness in the other and juggle away. You don’t think you’ve ever done anything like this before? Maybe you haven’t yet found a way to remove the blinders. That’s ok. Someday, hopefully they will drop away.

Shall we poke around the Paradox Playground just a little more? Sure, why not!
How about this time we just deal with you and you? It simplifies things when fewer people are involved, right? Have you ever felt a need to stay calm and be relaxed? It seems that it shouldn’t be so hard to just relax. But, have you also noticed that the harder you try to relax, the more tense you get? Straining to find serenity doesn’t make any sense but that’s often exactly what we do.

Hands out with palms up please. You know what to do by now. Juggle away!

So how do we deal with all these internal and external paradoxes? We don’t need to whack-a-mole or juggle them. Once we see them, we can own them. What if there really is something that comes off in the wash after we have isolated our personally owned paradoxes. We have dirty clothes in one hand and clean clothes in the other. On the surface it seems that when we put the dirty, soiled clothes in the washing machine and end up with clothing that seems presentable, that’s good but the paradox remains. Without acknowledging the paradox we find that the constant need to juggle and agitate things in life is incessantly and uncomfortably nipping at our heels. What if holding the paradox in each hand without juggling and without agitating was an option? What if by doing that we found value in what normally is sloughed off and is usually ignored like the washing machine water?

The gift is the awareness of the many paradoxes that we hold. If we bring awareness and acceptance to these many paradoxes, then calm has a lot better chance of arriving naturally. Holding each truth with honesty frees us to calming experience peace without agitation

Paradox happens.

LESSONS LEARNED ON THE RACQUETBALL COURT

I’m new to racquetball. The first time I ever played was 6 weeks ago. But I love it. Today while I was playing I was totally in the novice racquetball zone.

Life lessons were streaming through my mind as I hit the ball against those lovely blank walls. You can read these tidbits as if they only apply to racquetball if you’d like, but in my mind they were synonymous with major life lessons.

1. You don’t have to know all the rules to get the goodies from playing.

2. If you hit the ball really hard, it might feel fantastic but it flies back at you really hard and this makes the next shot nearly impossible to make.

3. It is better to play by yourself at least until you feel confident that you can have a certain amount of control of your hits. Then, only play with someone else if you feel like it.

4. Sometimes it’s good to miss because then you can get a minute to breathe before it’s time to hit the next ball coming at you!

5. If you hit the ball too high, it bounces back way too high to hit.

6. If the ball comes back too low on the floor, it’s best to just pick it up and start again.

7. If you keep playing, you’ll get better and better and better.

8. You don’t have to compete to have fun.

9. If you practice focusing on what you’re doing, you’ll hit better and you’ll hone your concentration skills at the same time.

10. If you hit the ball with medium force, it’s easier to return and easier to control.

11. Sometimes it feels GREAT to just smash the ball has hard as you can and it doesn’t really matter what happens next.

12. Just because you can hit a blue ball against a blank wall over and over and over is a good enough reason to do it.

13. You don’t have to chase the balls that you’re pretty sure you’re going to miss because after they hit on the back wall, they usually eventually bounce near you.

CONCERNED TO COMMITTED, TALK TO ACTION, CYNICISM AND IDEALISM

I wonder what moves people across the line from concerned to committed, from talk to action, from individual expression to organized and collective action. People can do great things when they are committed to positive action. But what is positive action?

Often it seems there is a battle between cynicism and idealism. All breakthroughs, from inventions to social leaps forward, begin with the assumption that change is possible. If cynicism wins in that battle between cynicism and idealism, creative thinking, the belief in the possibility of change and the desire to act for improvements is destroyed. So, it is important to reject cynicism and to choose to embrace hopefulness and idealism.

What does idealism mean? It means to believe that it is possible to live by a set of specific values and ideals. Idealism does not mean naiveté or even simple optimism. It is having your life’s decisions driven by your ideals. Bull-dog grip idealism means refusing to give up those values, goals and dreams. It is to persevere in spite of the struggles, the challenges and the unrelenting chanting of the cynics.

Gandhi’s teachings encourage us to become the change we want to see.

At Justice Works!, the criminal justice reform non-profit I lead for twelve years, we spoke often of our founding principles and our values. Our work was to replace the societal myths and societal secrets with solutions based on the same values that we espoused and worked so diligently to live by; safety, justice, empowerment, accountability, and collaboration. Our message consistently repeated – sometimes movingly, often quietly, always insistently – “Things aren’t what they could be, things aren’t what they should be, we can do better, and we must try.”

This bulldog drive for idealism works. In 1989, there were 69 democracies in the world, today there are 167. Rugged idealists from Lech Walesa, to Vaclev Havel, to Corazon Aquino, to millions of everyday people who took to the streets are the behind this march to democracy. The Berlin Wall came down without a single shot being fired. The Soviet Union disintegrated, and Eastern Europe was liberated. Nelson Mandela went from prisoner to president in a remarkably peaceful revolution. Peace came to Northern Ireland in a Good Friday agreement. For the first time in human history, a majority of people on our planet live under some form of democracy.

In the past 20 years there has been an explosion of growth in civil society. In the U.S., we have gone from 464,000 non-profits in 1989 to 1.1 million in 2002. Worldwide, the number of civil society organizations has grown by at least 43% over the past ten years.

Still challenges continue. We’ve witnessed the terrible day of September 11, the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq war, genocide in the Sudan, AIDS, terrorism, persistent global poverty, the ongoing struggle for peace in the Middle East, and more.

This is the time for action! But, how do we move from concerned to commitment and from talk to action? How do we strengthen idealism and discourage cynicism?

Idealism inspires action and change. Cynicism leads to apathy and fear. Idealists act. Cynics re-act. Idealists create. Cynics tear down. Idealists say, “Let’s go! How can I help? I have an idea.” Cynics respond: “It’ll never work. Why bother?”

When Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus, she was practicing bull dog idealism. When the abolitionists insisted that slavery was morally wrong and had to end, they were practicing bull dog idealism. When the Suffragists fought for women to be treated as full citizens and equals by having the right to vote, they were practicing bull dog idealism. When Nelson Mandela repeatedly refused early release during 27 and half years of prison, he was practicing bull dog idealism. When students sat in at lunch counters, boarded buses for freedom rides, launched the anti-Vietnam war movement, marched in Tiananmen Square, and rose up in Soweto in 1976, they were all practicing bull dog idealism.

When we live our everyday lives according to our values and when we participate in social justice actions. We are practicing bull dog idealism.

And I hope that many will step it up and practice even more. Why? It’s because idealism seems to be in retreat here in America. We may be the richest country in the history of the world, but the census tells us more Americans are living in poverty – thirty seven million with more than 13 million of them, our children, living in poverty. 3.5 million people, with well over one million of them children, will be homeless in a given year in America. Virtually every day the paper is filled with new stories of senseless acts of violence. It has to stop. Around the world, the situation is much worse. 842 million people across the world are hungry, and six million children die every year as a result of hunger. About 1 billion people – one fifth of the world’s population – currently live on less than $1 per day. These numbers are not just statistics. Every single one of them represents a human being, a fellow citizen of our planet, who is struggling. They are people who need our help. I am hoping that we can find new and better ways to build prosperity, opportunity, and most of all liberty and justice for all. The solution is not a political ideology; the solution is us, as many of us as possible. Ideally we can encourage many of our citizens and the companies we engage with to join us in service. It is anyone who steps forward to be a bull dog idealist.

Gandhi also said that there were three keys to building a democratic society: the ballot, the jail and the spinning wheel or the spade.

The ballot is the basic rights – especially the right to vote – that you get by being a citizen in a democratic society.

The jail is your right to protest. It is your right of civil disobedience. Your right to put at risk the most precious thing you have in a democracy – your freedom, your liberty – in protest over some law that you think is fundamentally unjust. By doing so, you can arouse the consciousness of the citizens in the democracy to change the law.

But, Gandhi said that it was the spinning wheel or the spade that was actually the most important of the three to make a democratic society work. For Gandhi, the spade was the willingness of citizens to get out there and do the day to day work that it takes to build a democratic society; to form associations, to teach people to read, to build houses for the homeless, to care for needy children, to help feed the hungry, and to empower citizens. Gandhi believed this one – the spade – was the most important because it engages citizens directly in their democracy.

In the coming days, weeks, months and years, I hope that more and more people will dig a little deeper, and find it in their souls to work harder to make our great democracy stronger. Do it in large or small ways that work for you. Don’t judge yourself or others for their choices regarding what type of actions to take. Instead, suggest, encourage, support, and be your values every day.


LOVE YOUR ENEMIES – ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

In a recent group conversation focusing on the topic LOVE, it was acknowledged that loving one’s enemy is oftentimes nearly impossible.

Why? The actions of our enemy represent values contrary to our own. Our enemies can be scary. Many people absorb the feelings of others and we want to stay far away from people whose feelings we don’t want to absorb. We don’t like them. We don’t want to be around them. They make us angry, resentful, frustrated and more! We hate them!

But, what do you do if you really do believe in love? What if you believe in compassion or empathy? Should we only express those emotions when it is easy? But, but, but…..

I told the group about a sermon I heard years ago that really impacted me. The minister told us about a time when she was demonstrating against racism at a KKK rally when she saw something that stopped her dead in her tracks. It was a woman who lovingly straightening the folds in the white robe worn by her young child. While she obviously understood the horror of what that white robe represented, for a flash she saw the humanity of that woman. She saw a person worthy of empathy and compassion. And yes, even love. Confusing.

Why would anyone even want to waste any energy even thinking about loving your enemy?

All the reasons for NOT loving one’s enemy are very easy to understand.

Feelings of resentment, anger, and others are completely normal. There is no value to feeling badly about experiencing these emotions. It’s what we do with them that matters.

But at the risk of sounding grandiose or preachy, here are some reasons for wanting to learn to love our enemy.

Does it make you feel happy to distain and loathe others? Does hate encourage healing or the change that we really hope for? Does carrying hate make you proud of yourself? This is NOT to challenge your good values. Instead, these questions are to help you examine the value of old ways. You really will feel happier if you can live a loving and peaceful life and release hatred.

Harboring hatred is not only exhausting; it can literally be harmful to your health. So, if you think your hatred is hurting the other person, think again! It’s likely that you are harmed the most by harboring your hatred, resentment or any other negative emotion!

Even if it isn’t your intention to change anyone, love and respect are literally powerful tools. Someone who might be used to being disrespected and hated will be shocked to their core if they feel your love and / or sincere respect. This shock can fuel positive change. They may begin to even subconsciously think, “Maybe I can act differently if this person sees me as worthy.” This can be a surprise but potent impact of loving your enemy.

You can feel satisfied about the example you are setting for others, especially children. You know that displaying hatred and bitterness impacts children. Demonstrating how to love, even under extremely difficult situations, is a powerful lesson for others.

It is better for the community. Loving others brings out the best in them. If a person sees themselves as a “bad person”, they will take hurtful actions. If they see themselves as a valued and productive part of the community, they will take ownership for the health of the community.

What does it really mean to love thy enemy? Let’s say it means to set aside whatever it is that makes them your enemy and to muster the feelings that will allow you see the humanity of this person. It doesn’t mean that you need to invite them to your home for dinner or to love them like you love a friend, family member or respected role model. But, there are lots of different kinds of love. The kind of love that we’d give to our enemies would be to open our hearts to them and to have some loving feelings toward this human spirit. It might mean you’d say hello to them and maybe even smile if the situation called for that. A greeting or a smile to an enemy doesn’t mean that you have changed your values. It means that you really do believe in treating all people with respect and dignity. It means that you really do embrace love, compassion and empathy as your spiritual path. It demonstrates that you have the spiritual strength to take action on your values even when those actions will not be understood or even accepted by many.

If you can remember that you are accountable to your own self and your own values, you will ultimately feel comfort in your decision. And you will eventually find internal peace because you’ll feel comfortable with your choices and unburdened by the need to constantly carry hatred and resentment.

Again, we all know how hard this is; almost impossible for many. It’s a very emotional issue. It’ll only happen with people who really want it. Maybe these few words might help someone move closer to being able to love all.

Loving one’s enemy is a life-long challenge. Isn’t spirituality a lifelong practice too? One is a reflection of the other.

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” – Martin Luther King Jr.


DANGER CAN LURK BEHIND PLATITUDES

Danger can lurk behind platitudes.

But what is a platitude anyway? It’s a statement that is offered as if it is a wonderful, moral, or deep thought. Generally it’s a statement that is overused, trite and therefore empty. But is it just that?

I don’t think so.

Here are just a few of the most common platitudes we all hear regularly.

Good things happen to those who wait.

It was meant to be.

You reap what you sow.

Time heals all wounds.

Everything happens for a reason.

Anything that doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.

This too shall pass.

Typically a lot of energy goes into determining if these statements are true or not. Below are a couple examples of these efforts. I’m not saying that there isn’t validity in the analysis presented here. Instead, I’d like to look at platitudes from a different angle!

Example 1 and example 2.

Let’s not debate about if this or that platitude is correct or not! Although I do think that danger can lurk behind a platitude, I don’t want to criticize anyone who relies on platitudes. Let’s instead look at WHY people might resort to these shallow bits of un-wisdom.

Frankly, some people don’t have the intellectual capacity to comment beyond the platitude. That’s OK. Everyone is just able to do what they are able to do. No danger here.

Some people have used these statements so often in their lives, that they derive comfort from them. All good. No harm done.

Sometimes platitudes are spoken by capable people during emotionally stressful moments when that person really doesn’t know what to say. They feel awkward. They feel embarrassed. So, they look for something to say that might pass as meaningful. That’s pretty common and pretty inane.

So, where is the alleged danger?

OK. When someone covers up low self-esteem with a steady stream of less than inspiring platitudes, trouble could be right around the corner. Platitudes could be an attempt to cover up feelings of inadequacy. Low self-esteem comes with a built-in negative filter. This filter provides a less-than-helpful negative interpretation of life, people and interactions along the way. As these negative incidents happen, typically a passive or passive-aggressive response is given. During a difficult moment, a confident person would normally respond calmly in a respectful but assertive way. Their goal would be to resolve any misunderstanding so that both sides feel good about the outcome. But over time, inside the person with low self-esteem pressure accumulates as negativity festers. Eventually defensiveness and aggression explode into an irrational and unproductive display. These incidents are dangerous, indeed. They are especially dangerous if these outbursts become a persistent and predictable pattern.

Or, maybe there is a person whose self-esteem is healthy enough but they haven’t yet mastered how to handle their anger. Anger is a normal emotion which can be very instructive or very destructive. If it isn’t used to provide a positive lesson, it can set the stage for an outburst that creates harm in the short term and potentially the long term. Again, irrational statements are blurted out and bad decisions made are often regretted later.

So, what is the point of all this? It’s not to criticize or judge others. Rather, it could serve as a reminder to look at oneself. The only person we can change is ourselves. Ask yourself these questions to see what is possible.

Do I often use platitudes rather than making appropriate and authentic personal comments? Do I listen well so that I can even know what is appropriate? Are my responses to others superficial or sincere? Do I need to learn how to move towards a better self-image? If yes, what will I do now to avoid making unfounded negative interpretations? If I respond in a passive or passive-aggressive style, where and how can I learn how to switch to healthy assertiveness? What I get angry, do I wallow in that anger or am I able to step back from it to look for the healthy lesson? Where and how can I learn how to better deal with my anger?

Best wishes and love coming your way!

MY TRIBUTE TO THE WEIRDOS

In my bathroom sits this three tiered holder of river rocks. I’m a potter. I made the small bowls myself. I call this simple thing my “tribute to the weirdos”. No, I don’t use that word in any other situation. Just this one… And, when I say this, the word is used consciously and with tenderness. I know; that doesn’t seem to make any sense. Read More…

A GIFT FROM A TELEPHONE SOLICITOR

I just got a gift from a telephone solicitor. No, it wasn’t a new gizmo, or $25 off something or having someone shampoo half of my carpet.

It is something much more valuable than that.

Here’s what happened… Read More…

DISAGREEING – THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE REALLY UGLY

It’s a given that we all disagree with people. That’s normal, healthy and perfectly ok. We disagree with people who hold different values. Differing religions, politics, lifestyles, and priorities are common fodder for disagreements. When there is a disagreement with someone outside our circles, it’s easier to speak out and present our case! But, when the disagreement is with family or friends, there are a wider range of unhealthy responses. Fortunately, there are effective ways to handle disagreements.

Read More…

THE VALUE OF MORTALITY

I’m turning 64 this month and I’m feeling motivated and very enthused about life! For a long time, I’ve pictured myself living an active, full and healthy life to at least 100 and I still do. I don’t feel overly concerned about aging. I’m still very young compared to my 100 year old self!

However, it is part of the human condition to wonder about what happens when our time on earth is done. Sadly, this is often accompanied by a fear inspired negativity towards aging in general and elders in particular.

Read More…