About Your Worry About Giving Your Children Enough Religion or Spirituality

October 11, 2010

You already have a fully formed belief system. You already are a whole person with an increasing sense of your connectedness to the core of who you are, to the same of others as well as to the One Who made you. As for the peace we come to feel from something greater than ourselves, inwardly, you  know you are part of that. At the risk of sounding something like a Hallmark card at 6 a.m. on a Monday morning, . . . you already are part of the loving, brilliant, noble and compassionate whole in which we all exist.

Our shortfall, probably because of striving, fear, clinging or delusion, is that we forget. We are distracted by our own and the suffering of others so we forget our connectedness and purpose of compassion.

But your very existence, in all that you are and all that you teach to your children, your spouse and friends, is your gift. Your love and wisdom, as it continually evolves and grows to embrace others, is the “true spirituality” that contrasts so remarkably with the institutional and organized religion that most people have come to think as their religion. “Kindness is my religion” says the Dali Lama.

It’s simple, when we think and read about it for a number of years, but it easily eludes us on a daily basis. We’re confused by our own ambitions, fears and longings. We are absolutely hoodwinked (if that word is still in use) by our own delusions of “success” and “security.” It is unfortunate that we have to find ourselves in ‘near death experiences,’ in ‘fox holes’ or washed up on the shore, barely alive from excruciatingly significant emotional experiences. It is sad that before we are able to be truly present in the moment, we first must learn (and relearn) to present with ourselves – who we really are. Almost like the inattention of a toddler, we forget what we’ve learned and how noble we actually are.

We forget how to let things go and embrace ourselves and others with compassion. We can have compassion and give unconditional acceptance for a child or a hurting adult but sadly, not for ourselves. It’s somewhat pathetic that we can spend a lifetime of mindful philosophical inquiry and study and yet forget the lives, teachings and personal responses to the spiritual leaders of the very religion to which we ascribe. How quickly we have a brain freeze about the essentials of how our core being is to be in relation to others.

We also seem to be blind to how many leaders of organized religion have contorted their theology to portray a punitive god who relates to creation with an “are you good enough” check list. Our blind acceptance of this dominating, caustic and judgmental religion is  baffling. Incredibly, we pay attention to foolish, narcissistic and self-absorbed political leaders who think they have magically purchased intelligence through their own aggression.

There is a never-ending list of insight to unfold in our lives that makes for an infinite number of pigments on the canvas of our lives. Life’s meaning has endless artistic renderings of beauty and redemption. Life is embodied with meaningful themes and scenes that contain compassion and connectedness. Life’s patterns yield learnings that recognize universal suffering and yet healing and unconditional love. Living among other thinking and compassionate beings causes us to learn and respond. It is in the rhythm, cadence and creative flow of our human experience that we encounter wisdom and love.

We learn. We discover that in all of our connectedness, we find we are not truly alone but blessed with a brilliant presence of meaning in ourselves and others that nurtures each of us.

You’ve already passed on to your children all that you have come to learn and value through all of your life’s experiences. It’s now in their hearts and their DNA. They certainly know and perceive your values. You don’t have to worry. The good and what they deem as truly good —  they’ll keep. The views and teachings,that are less wise and helpful —  they’ll discard. They don’t need you to tell them what doesn’t really work. If they are questioning, they will ask you or someone else they have come to trust.

This is true of your children and everyone who has been a child throughout history. It isn’t up to you. It’s up to each of us, in the context of our life’s interactions, to find our own meaning. We can’t and shouldn’t pretend that we can control the flow of what we think is of value.

So genuinely pause and trust the brilliance, the creativity and the wisdom that your children already possess. Trust what is already within you. Trust what is within all those with whom your children interact. Know, in faith, that in us there is the Spirit of Wisdom and Compassion that leads us all to the spiritual expression in which we find ample meaning.

You already have enough. You are enough. Your children already have enough. Instead of worrying, celebrate that there is a Life-Presence that has been with you and your children forever. You don’t have to worry. It is what allows each of us to stop and dance with a child on the sidewalk in the midst of our walk. It is what causes us to create stories about archangels and light forms from another galaxy. It is what enables you and I and our children to bring new things to life that have before, been unimaginable. And this Presence can’t be corrupted by ignorance, hatred, intolerance or raging fear. “Bidden or unbidden, God is present” said the sign over the front door of Carl Young’s home.

Instead, it is the Life-Presence which can bring love, joy, creativity and compassion in any moment. Nobody can take cause it not to exist and nobody can take it away from you. No one can take this Presence from our children.

Like all of us, they’ll often become distracted from the Presence of each moment but they’ll never lose it. What each of us have, already, is enough. You and they will come to joy and understanding.

So we can stop striving for something that is already in our possession. Our children have what they need. Celebrate the Presence. It is enough.

Before and Beyond The Light of Day

One day, during one of Heaven’s typical beautiful afternoons, the unicorns had just finished performing a majestic dance and run across the meadows. It had been their gift to God and to anyone else who happened to wonder by.

After the performance, God thanked them for their delightful promenade and started back to the celestial palace. As it was, God felt like carving, a hobby recently undertaken by the Almighty. As usual, others of heaven’s inhabitants walked along with God just for fun.

On the way to the palace with The Almighty, the unicorns talked of their gratitude. They were still thankful to be free to roam throughout the land, unlike the ancient days when they were confined only to the pastures of sorcerers who thought they owned them.

As they headed toward the palace, they heard the beginning beats of a nearby orchestra which was starting a song. Michelle Branch was standing on a nearby hillside, surrounded by hundreds who comprised a full orchestra and as many singers of a great choir.

As the pianos, electric bass guitars and violins began with the initial beats in establishing a rhythm, The Almighty smiled in recognition of the hymn “You’re Everywhere To Me” (Recorded back in the ancient earth time as “Everywhere”on her CD The Spirit Room.) and immediately begin to sway with the music.

In an instant all who were walking with God stepped into a wonderful dance. They seemed to have been choreographed as all were waving their hands above and around themselves in perfect rhythm with the song. Everyone sang every word and those who could, performed equally exquisite symmetrical dance movements in the sky above. The swells of the chorus and deepening rhythm of the tympani drums thundered down through to the distant valleys. The singer’s high octave soprano voice was perfectly supported by the blending of the sixteen part chorus. Even the trees swayed with the song. At the final chord, God, and all those surrounding dancing and singing beings, landed in a graceful final posture. In that instant, the seraphim angels exploded themselves into a thousand multicolored stars to light up the sky. The hills danced. Heaven thundered with a final cord.

“Cool” said God as they resumed their walk back to the palace.

It didn’t take the Almighty more than a minute to begin singing another familiar ballad with the silver-horned unicorns joining in singing. There were now hundreds who moved along with God. There were people, numerous angels and scores of gleaming fairies who had joined them after the unicorns’ performance in the meadow. In Heaven, most everyone enjoys singing and whenever someone starts up a song, voices blend in with marvelous harmonies, rhythms and antiphonal choruses.

Along the way, Mary joined the group as she was just coming from the weaving cottage. She wanted to give God the beautiful blue robe she had just woven.

“This is splendid” God said, smiling and kissing her and putting it on with obvious pleasure. Its blend of blue hues were woven with intricate artistry, shimmering as it mysteriously reflected the light of the Creator’s countenance.

“Wow! Michael expressed, looking at God’s new cloak.

“Majestic!” said Angelica, a seraphim who was also among those who were in route to the palace.

God decided to express thanks to Mary for the gift and swept a hand out toward the slope of the nearby hill. Instantly the hillside was covered with thousands of bird of paradise flowers – all matching the many colors of the new coat. In a whisper that all could hear, God said “Thank you Mary.”

As they neared the palace, several flew or walked off to other places. While walking down the beautiful central inlaid blue and green marble hallway, God noticed Michael stopping to talk with a woman leaning in her apartment doorway so God also came over.

Above them, the grand hallway of the palace vaulted up to the open and endless sky. The crystalline gothic flying buttresses regally leaned in from above, as if supporting the sky behind them. Between them were intricately carved cave-like stalagmites of gold. Each formed giant ornamental figurines. Their weight and mass created dazzling walls and foundations between and beneath the towering columns – giving the hallway a cavernous and endless depth.

Directly above the hallway was a ceiling of open sky – all of the planets and stars clearly within sight. From standing within this grand palace corridor, one could see the expanse of the universe above – framed by this golden and crystal edifice.

The woman speaking in her doorway was Doris. God remembered she had recently entered the celestial palace to take residence after a splendid life on the earth planet. She had been here long enough to rejoin her husband John and meet most everyone. She even made several new friends who had come from the planet Photon in the Crimea galaxy.

Doris’s face was radiant with joy as she saw God. Angelica and several others were coming to join her in conversation with Michael. She had passed through many human years but as were all, who dwelled in God’s house, she was ageless. The resiliency of her spirit radiated out from her human form in which her essence dwelled.

Pausing in her conversation with Michael, Doris slowly turned and said to God, “Thank You for the two lights You had sent me in my last transition, Holy One. I was uplifted at a time when I needed them most. I will thank them myself when I dine with them at tonight’s feast.”

“Your thanks have already been received, My child” God said, “for it was my two luminary essences and I Who Personally came to you in your move from your apartment to the rehab facility” God said with a gentle smile. “You would be interested in hearing how they came to you?”

“Oh yes,” said Doris with interest as she, and the others who were there, slowly began to sit at God’s feet in the hallway.

As God came to a cross-legged seated position to face the listeners, the winged creatures, in complete syncopation with the Almighty’s movements in being seated, also gracefully collapsed to sit as one unit, folding their wings behind them with the poise of a ballerina’s pirouette. With the natural silence of anticipation and reverence, all were now sitting around God in the grand hallway. God’s face became even more radiant.

Brushing hair back with both hands, God smiled broadly and began with a face of beauty and joy. A story was about to begin.

“Near your eightieth birthday, Doris, I was in the conference room carving on the grand table” the Almighty began. “I was considering how your earthly form was wearing and that you would soon be needing help. Of course I had, long ago, arranged for especially caring people to be coming into place to assist you as you had to change your dwelling.

One of the most difficult sorrows for Me is how I must refrain from showing My children the future. If you clearly saw how I am always beside you and how I unfailingly bring you what you need, you might go about your life less mindful of your own responsibility for your choices. In this domain beyond time – the future, past and present exist – you would have known that you were already here with John and the rest of us as he made the transition to fully experience of My Presence.

“On that side of time,” God went on, “you had to dwell without knowing the future. This is so that you would use your freedom to direct your life’s choices with the resources I’ve already given you. But you could not see this then and I knew you were troubled.

“I was feeling your sorrow when you were grieving about leaving your home to move into the health care center. I know the comfort of familiar friends and familiar surroundings and the sadness that comes with their loss. So as I was feeling your sadness, I was carving in the great conference room table. My current project is the wooden carved reflection of earthen life on the surface of the conference table.”

As The Almighty spoke, all could see the scene of God over in the palace conference room. When God spoke, you saw things as they happened.

In the room was a lengthy mahogany table with villages, farms and cities intricately carved on its surface. If it wasn’t for the uniform deep brown hues of the mahogany wood grain, you would think the table top was vibrantly alive with life and movement.

God was sitting near the end of the lengthy table, slowly shaping the hat of a miniature person walking along a peaceful street in a town. At God’s left was a gentle Turquoise glow, a light form being who, by being there, was reflecting her rays directly on the table at the place of the carving in progress.

To God’s right was a darker, more purple, light form also reflecting upward and around to the other parts of the room. This light was Indigo on the spectrum, also casting a complementing light directly upon God’s carving work. As God continued telling the story, the listeners watched it unfold.

“I was carving on the table with my two luminaries Turquoise and Indigo. They accompany Me wherever I go and as it happened, Turquoise was giving each of us a hot fudge sundae.

Turquoise, . . . I love how she becomes deeper in her hues when she fills with enthusiasm, . . . she began to speak of her meeting with the Sun. She talked of the Sun’s powerful rays. The pulsing radiance of the golden and orange glow. As she ate and spoke, she paused to look into God’s face and then at Indigo but went on.”

All the inhabitants of God’s house, who were gathered there in the grand hallway, continued to see the events as God spoke. They saw God carving at the table, sitting comfortably and casually back in the chair, smiling as Turquoise spoke and changed hues of her color according to the inflection of her words.

“I hope to spend more time with the Sun” Turquoise continued. Perhaps it will increase my own intensity. I know I could glow with a deeper radiance and wider spectrum” she said wistfully, pausing, and then looking at Indigo and then at Me” God noted. “She was looking for advice but I just smiled, knowing Indigo was soon to respond.”

“Indigo agreed with her about the Sun’s warm and powerful rays” but God let her go on without interrupting as she thought, out loud.

“If you ask me,” Indigo finally responded, knowing she had finished and that God was likely to wait until he responded, “consider being more mindful of the perfect intensity you already possess.”

Indigo smiled and let his words sit for a while with Turquoise. He looked at her with a steady and unchanging golden glow as Turquoise pondered what her response might be.”

“As has always been the case,” God said with an engaging warmth and thoughtfulness, “my friend Turquoise had given her pause but before she returned to her thousands of emerging ideas and creativity. She slowed in her thoughts to consider his words. Turquoise looked at the calmness in Indigo’s countenance and then continued her next words. She looked at Me and from the look on My face, she knew I was about to speak. Her smile broadened but her eyes revealed her questioning feelings.

“Turning toward Me she asked, “How can I become more mindful of my intensity? It seems dim in comparison to the Sun’s glow.”

I said, “One of my children is about to enter a life transition, during which she will need you both. Both of you come with Me and the answer to your question, Turquoise, will become evident.”

“With a sudden flare in their light forms, both Turquoise and Indigo thrilled within themselves as they passed out of the conference room with The Omnipotent One to the Milky Way galaxy and to earth. The hot fudge

sundaes had been consumed and like magic, the dishes had instantly appeared in the nearest one of many palace kitchens. In no earthly time, the three of us stood in a modest apartment. The time space was measured just past one of the galaxy’s millennium markers” God said.

As Doris sat nearby listening and watching the Almighty’s story unfold, God turned to her and said, “Doris, here you see yourself sitting and reading through the descriptions of your future living space.” As could the others seated around her, she could see herself in her old apartment. It was the wee hours of a morning and she had woken, unable to sleep. She was looking nervously through the pamphlets the retirement home had given her in preparation of her arrival.

“Your worry has found expression on your face,” God pointed out, “and I felt your sadness. You were struggling with letting go of your familiar furniture. You knew not all of your familiar possessions could be taken with you.

“You were also remembering your years with your husband John. You were overcome with a sense of your loss” God said, reaching over to put a hand on her shoulder. “How I longed to show you how you were already here with John in this place, even though all of your senses were focused only on your earthly residence in time past. You would have never understood how the celestial city exists in times past, present and future. You were certainly not even aware that the three of us were beside you. I wept for your sorrow and the limitations of your awareness.

“It was then, however, that I turned to Turquoise and said, ‘This is your calling. Speak to her of what is possible. As you do so well, put her in touch with her abilities to see what could come about. Lead her to create and bring about what has not yet been’ I said.

“Next, I turned to Indigo and told him to wait for Turquoise to do her magic. ‘At the appropriate time,’ I said, ‘show Doris that things are just as they should be. That all things that matters are connected and there are lessons in each experience that relate to all others.’

“For the time following, Turquoise began to bring Doris’ attention to the pictures of her future dwelling in the health center. Without her knowing of My presence and the luminaries, Doris turned her focus not on what she could not take but on what she could bring with her to her new home. She became full of ideas and possibilities. Turquoise showed her how a small oak table could serve as a writing desk as well as a breakfast table.

“Doris, you remember this time, don’t you?” God said to her as she was intently watching her former form sitting in her apartment. “You were full of energy and some delight as you went through your most prized possessions and contemplated new uses.”

“Yes,” Doris replied with joy in her voice, “I found that what started out as a dreary day had been transformed into a time of creativity. I felt like I did when I was planning for our first new home” Doris concluded with joy in her face.

“In the earth hours that followed,” God continued, “you heard a knock at your apartment door. Your kind neighbor, Andrea, had stopped by for tea and to ask if you needed anything at the store.”

Those attending the story saw a red haired and cheerful woman in her forties, speaking brightly with Doris. “She had many enthusiastic ideas to help you decide what furniture would serve you best” God continued. “With Turquoise’s gentle but new light, you came back in touch with your life-long abilities to think of new possibilities. You embraced your gift of creativity and connected with the new ideas of your neighbor Andrea” God added. By now, you’ve noticed that Andrea lives across the hallway from you here, as well.

Doris nodded in affirmation with a warm smile but soon returned her gaze to the continuing scenes of her past life before her. “I wish I had been more mindful of what You had already given me” Doris said to God. “It seems as if I have lived with less light than I could have for so many years” she noted with a sigh.

“Ah, my dear Doris” God responded with a gentle arm on her shoulder, “that is why I have always been beside you. So that you would never feel the searing and unending despair as one who has no hope. Of course it was Indigo’s role to continue from there” God went on.

In the scenes which followed, Indigo’s purplish glow appeared to surround Doris in her new residence. She was eating in a rather pleasant dining area with other residents, talking with her new friends. At times, she laughed. In other moments, Doris was seen with sadness as she heard others tell of their transitions. Yet in more scenes than not, Doris seemed to have a look of contentment.

“Your thoughts often returned to your past” God pointed out as they watched. “Whenever the light of Turquoise embraced you, you were filled with profound thoughts of all with which you have been blessed and what could be in the future.

Whenever you were graced by Indigo’s deepening light, you saw that in all of your loss, you somehow were able to embrace the wholeness of your own life. That throughout the many unexpected times of sadness, people and things had come together to the point of there being enough. As Indigo illumined your soul, in the tired sunset hours ending your days, you were mindful of time made precious in time’s passing. You sensed the purity and holiness of each moment in which you have taken breath. Each each exchange, with another of My creatures, is always filled with new possibilities of healing and delight – filled with a never-before-connectedness which makes for the meeting of minds and hearts.”

“All these things you have sensed throughout your visit to earth” the Holy One said, “and it is now that you fully see how wonderful and transformed life becomes with the wisdom of these added lights.”

“Yes, Sacred One” Doris said, looking into the gentle eyes of God. “The light of what can be and the knowledge of how everything is just as it should be makes each moment sacred. How utterly magnificent that we are privileged to breathe in each moment in eternity” Doris concluded.

As the story had gracefully ended and a singer was stepping up on a nearby pedestal in an enclave further down the hall, God, and all who where gathered, slowly rose.

God beckoned, with a slight wave of a hand, inviting Turquoise and Indigo to move into the gathered assembly. A chorus and musicians was beginning a song. What seemed like a thousand musical instruments and voices quietly began a song, just in front of the millions of heavenly hosts.

God gathered the two light forms Turquoise and Indigo closely and said, “It is to you both that I entrust My Spirit of Wisdom for My children.

“Turquoise, before the morning rays of the Sun come to My children, cause their eyes to envision what they can not see. Sing to their hearts of what they can bring about that has not yet seen the light. Fill them with the knowledge that in any moment, with a playful mixture of fun and work, magic can be created in any task. But know that it is the exact intensity of your present glow that brings about this power to transform the ordinary to something of splendor. Turquoise, the Sunshine has nothing on you.”

Turquoise smiled and her light blue hue deepened and all, who were near her, moaned in awe at her joyful glow.

“Indigo,” God continued, “your illumination brings all to see My actual presence in their life. As the weariness of life comes upon my children and as they reminisce over what has been, cause them to see how all things are connected. Illuminate them so they may make the connections between the pain and the healing, the loss and the contentment. Bring them to see the astounding love we all have for them in a time when their hearts are shrouded with the darkness. Speak to them, as you did in speaking to Turquoise, that who they are is just who they should be. That they are and will become what they must. Convince them in their hearts that all things are in transition to good.”

As the music was beginning of the song, God said to them all, “This has been from the beginning. All that ever was and will be is for you. All that I have been and will be is embodied in an unquenchable love of your soul.”

As The Almighty spoke, God’s image transformed to the likeness of a constantly changing person. God’s face and countenance continually changed. God’s countenance became a celestial display of gentle compassion and renown wisdom.

In as much time, again God’s image transformed into a slowly moving swirl of light. It was as if all of the colors of the universe now joined in a dazzling blend of distinct light forms. Yet half of this moving column of light burned with an intense Turquoise – the other half, a deep Indigo.

Suddenly all of the heavenly hosts joined in the rising swell of singing and instrumental song and dance. All that lived, moved in dance or flight into sparkling patterns – all in cadence to the song. The earth, the stars and all the planets of all the galaxies pulsed with the unending universal chorus.

And it was morning and it was evening and everything was just as it should be.

 

It’s a Wonder We Can Think at All

“When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It’s a wonder I can think at all
And though my lack of education
Hasn’t hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall”
from the Simon And Garfunkel 1973 song “Kodachrome”

Remember our priorities back in high school? The things we did to achieve recognition or our own self-worth? We’ve forgotten the very people we tried to please in order to fit in and be accepted.

By our thirties, we had grown out of our myopic high-school view of the world around us. It was like a now too-small suit that our parents had given us, in which we wouldn’t be caught dead. Those adolescent world views and judgments on large swaths of humanity. All these opinions and pronouncements are now gone – vanishing like someone else’s overheard burp from another room. It’s like the vicious radio talk show host who is forced into retirement after society, and all his former show’s sponsors, have moved on with other, more enlightened value systems.

What caused us to disregard what had once been at the center of our values?

Certainly it was exposure to new people and their broader perspectives in life. Likely, it was the pain of suffering – ours and theirs. The test of time ground down the inadequacies of oversimplified religion and ideologies.

It was, as Simon and Garfunkel’s song suggested, a transition of our minds from black and white to ‘those nice bright colors and their greens of summers, that make us think all the world’s a sunny day.’ Most of us emerged from a childhood where we are shown the world through a black and white lens. Perhaps out of our parent’s exhaustion and inadequate teacher credentialing, they did the best they could but wanted to keep it simple. They wanted to control things, or at least appear to be in control. To them, there were the good and the bad; the angels and the demons – “them” and “us.”

By the time we found ourselves in college, we were truly embarrassed to discover that we had actually believed what we had been told. Those millions of people, labeled as “Communists” by our parental units, turned out to just like us – only with a different political system. We discovered that everyone who is poor had not brought it upon themselves (from their lack of adapting, in a Social Darwinist scheme of ‘making it’).

To our dismay, the people and institutions, in whom and in which we were taught to trust for our religion and spirituality, were sometimes false idols themselves. They actually believed that they were the only ones right and everyone else was wrong and headed toward’ hell in a hand basket. ‘We discovered, in time, that the values we have been carrying around, as if precious and holy, were woefully threadbare – contradictory to the core teachings of all of the world’s wisdom traditions.

“Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is”
Pebby Lee, 1969 ‘Is That All There Is?”

“Seargeant O’Leary is walking the beat.
At night, he becomes a bartender.He works at Mr. Cacciatorre’s down on Sullivant Street,
Across from the medical center,
And he’s trading in his Chevy for a Cadillac, lac, lac, lac;You oughtta know by now,
If he can’t drive with a broken back,
At least he can polish the fenders.
And it seems such a waste of time,
If that’s what it’s all about…
Momma, if that’s moving up, then I’m moving out.”
Billy Joel, 1977 ‘Movin’ Out’

“Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Make everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much is really sacred”
Bob Dylan’s 1965 It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

When we did begin to pull ourselves away from “all that crap we learned in high school,” we probably spent a number of years proclaiming what we don’t want for our lives. We expressed our dissatisfaction with the bigotry, prejudice and the painful social injustice. We did it with the clothing we wore, the language we used and our lifestyles. For some of us, we are lucky to be alive from risking drugs, alcohol and Californication. We were hell-bent on stating, with the canvas of our lives, that we were not our parents. We did this with our lifestyle, language and how we spend our time. We were defiantly not what we were raised to be. Or so we thought.

But we were busted. In the course of every day conversation, work-place exchanges and patterns of how we actually did things, we ended up becoming not that different than our parents. We found ourselves riddled and driven by the same fears as our parents. We overused the personal strengths that served us in the past in compensating for our fears.  Our therapists complicated by our task list of schemas which get us caught up in some of the same unhealthy over-compensations as those who raised us. This is not your father’s Buick but it’s a Toyota .- so what? (See  Tara Bennett-Goleman’s Emotional Alchemy: How the Mind Can Heal the Heart)

Genetics? Probably not, except for our body types. But fear drives us to it. We write off people by the millions who approach life differently than us. We fear them and we fear change. We fear the kind of learning that forces us to set aside the old and pick up the new.

Consider how they used to catch monkeys for zoos. They carved out a coconut, attached a chain to one end of the coconut and the other end to a tree. Next, they put fruit in the coconut. When monkeys come along, they’d grab the fruit inside the coconut but refuse to unclench their fist that is holding the fruit inside. Unwilling to let go, they remained stuck to the coconut, chained to the tree.

In potential teaching moments, we are somewhat like the monkeys. We won’t let go of what we know and believe. That’s because it requires us to do the work of stopping and reflecting outside of our usual patterns of interpreting and compensating for our fears. It requires the work and energy to empathize with others – embracing their experiences and perspectives. We aggressively surround ourselves with people who look, act, dress, think and speak just like us. It’s fortunate we all don’t become hermits and wall ourselves away from society – refusing to talk with or read about anyone else. Some people, we guess, actually die of stubbornness and ignorance. We all have bouts with it.

If you enjoy developmental psychology, reflect on what we did with ourselves during our twenties. The school degrees. The striving for certifications. We climbed up rungs up the corporate ladder. The PTA meetings and how we drove our children to “succeed.” Like lemmings, we flocked along, trying to get our self-worth out of our careers or who we are married to, our money or power. We insured everything in sight so that we can replace anything.

But when do we stop talking about what we don’t want for our lives and pursue what we want? At what point, in the short linear path of our lives, do we get down to the business of pursuing what is truly most important to the core of our being?

  • What  most important to our life?
  • What is the meaning of our life and where are we headed?
  • Who and where is our source of learning how to pursue a life of greater meaning?
  • Is there an app for that?

Maybe you’re in the process of discovering that now?

Compassionate Presence

October 11, 2010

There is a lot of sadness around us. As Buddhists would point out, that’s because of the almost constant attempts to control, predict, grasp or fearfully run away from (or avoid) it all. They also teach that everything is temporary but not to the point of existential meaningless where nothing seems to be connected or to have meaning. It is to teach that whatever is, will ultimately change. “Where moth and rust corrupt” in the tradition of your early years of teaching.

To say that compassion is the only thing that is ‘permanent’ is probably better understood if it is said that when all things and people are gone, what seems to endure is compassion.

We remember a person’s character of caring and self-sacrificial love for others. That seems to stay with us when they are gone. It won’t be their temporary ownership of a Heisman trophy in the trophy shelf of the back room of the mansion (that the next mansion owner will likely try to sell to the highest bidder on EBay). Neither will it be the amount of political or financial power one accumulates during this relatively short lifespan.

Instead, what will endure will be the extent we are able to be truly present in the moment with others in such a way that we can fully accept and take them in a loving and unconditional way. It is in those moments we find avenues of reaching out and truly connecting, as kindred spirits, so that we can be agents of compassion and healing. As we form a community (which knows no boundaries), we join in something that is greater than ourselves and become more fully mindful that we are truly connected with all others and all living things.

We gain a keener sense of this in the practice of meditation. That’s because in this sedentary activity, we first learn to be fully present with ourselves. (How many people in your life are really there with you – who aren’t frantically eying their Blackberry or looking at their watch while they speak at you with no eye contact?) Learning to be fully present in the moment with ourselves yields learning to be fully present with others. We need then learn to be open and present with the Spirit Who created us.

Now all of that sounds like a Hallmark card on steroids but a lifestyle of being truly present in the moment, . . . being at home with yourself, others and your Source . . . brings you to compassion. I believe this life of compassionate mindfulness is at the core of all world religions that seem authentic.

These core teachings are present in all religions but are more, in my opinion, intentionally taught in Buddhism. If you’re interested in reading some more on this, take a look at Jack Cornfield’s The Wise Heart. ISBN: 978-0-553-80347-1 (0-553-80347-6)

Pivotal Moments

October 11, 2010

In retrospect, we’ve all had pivotal moments. Like the time you proposed or graduated or it dawned upon you that circumstances have changed so thoroughly that your life has taken a new course.

For me, there was one of these moments at the end of a Baltimore, Maryland 9th grade after school junior varsity lacrosse team practice. An older, bigger, Norwegian-looking team captain run up to me and said, “Do you want to run a few extra laps around the field to keep in shape?”

I looked at him and wondered what planet from which he had arrived and said, “No” and began to walk into the locker room to change. I saw he had gathered about three others and his group began to jog around the perimeter of the lacrosse field as they slowly were rocking the hard rubber balls in the cradle of their sticks as they ran.

I could do this running while cradling the ball but was catching my breath from the practice that had just ended. I had gone out for the team pretty much because I thought lacrosse was cool but I was no athlete. Without motivation or any sense of wanting to develop my skill and meld that into a team contribution, I wouldn’t have made much of a team player. I would need to grow grew up considerably and come “dressed to play” or be willing to “give it 110%.” Which is why the coach came up to me on my way out and told me that he had to cut me from the team.

In that moment, when I did not have the gumption to stop and recognize that this was a pivotal moment, I simply said, “Oh.” After the coach gracefully rattled off a few apologetic sentences about only being allowed to have a certain number of players on the team, I walked off to the bus to home where I would put my lacrosse stick in the basement until it met its fate in a future garage sale. I somehow knew that the coach had asked this team captain to give me one last chance to show some potential for sportsmanship by seeing if I would take a few extra laps.

Had I recognized the pivotal moment and come of age, I would have said, “Coach, you know, I want to play on the team and if you give me one more chance, I’ll show you that I’m here to play – to give all of myself for the team and become your highest scoring forward on the team.”

So it was manifest destiny and I never entered into years of successful lacrosse playing, becoming MVP of my high school team. (The high school in Lancaster Pennsylvania, my family moved me to a year later, barely had a football team and definitely had never heard of lacrosse.) That moment in time didn’t morph into full scholarships for college lacrosse, All-American sports titles nor a lifetime of fame on professional lacrosse sports team. The Seattle Slashers. The Detroit Dominators. How my life would have been different.

Instead, I’m in the basement, scooping out three trays of kitty litter, using disposable latex gloves and my handy slotted stainless steel spoon that I got from a Dansk Factory Outlet in Niagara on the Lake, Canada. But there’s a connection to lacrosse that always comes to my mind during this task.

There are a few nanoseconds when you are digging through the mounds of litter, scooping and then slightly rocking the spoon to allow the litter to seep out the spoon’s holes until you drop the chunks into the garbage bag. There’s an art, if you will, to efficiently cleaning the litter box.

When you stop and think about it, how much is your life is diminished because you don’t play lacrosse? In contrast, how many of us in our culture scoop out cat litter? Have a group of respected business associates invited you to go out for a friendly game of lacrosse lately? Have relatives given you trash cans for your birthday with lacrosse sticks and helmets on the side? At your last family reunion, did you bring your lacrosse stick and one of those frightfully hard and heavy steel balls encased in hard rubber and a helmet with a metal wire cage to protect your face from a certain broken nose or a gouged eye socket in case one of your cousins wants to toss around a ball?

Because I got cut from the lacrosse team in 9th grade, I can now teach my patented technique of lacrosse-style-litter-cleaning in seminars at my new Alliteration Training Center. “ATC, Inc.” it would say on the natural wood sign, in a waspy-looking manicured artificial garden around it, out front of the spacious cul-de-sac of the training and retreat training center in the suburbs. It would actually be a franchise, duplicated all over the country.

Pivotal moments can happen by the litter box or anywhere because it is all connected. It’s a matter of being fully present in the moment – in the now. And in THIS moment, if you complete the enclosed application, you can transform our special low franchise fee of $500 into a multi-million dollar ATC training center of your own in your home town.Imagine coming into a trendy restaurant in your town and people turning and saying about you, “Here comes the ‘Scoopster.’ Who would have ever guessed that almost overnight, they’ve developed this fool-proof system for cleaning out the litter that everyone in town is using. I only wish I would have thought of it myself.”

So however the new year unfolds for you, know that the future awaits you with fabulous promise. Even the private act of scratching in unseemly places on your body can evolve into an enormously popular technique that will yield franchise fees and best-selling books. Runway models and TV talk show hosts will be doing it and paying you royalty fees for the privilege. It’s only a matter of being present in the moment and realizing that every moment is a pivotal moment because it is all connected. Pleasantries for your new year.

Holy Moments

(Written when I was Interim Executive Director of Canopy of Neighbors):


I work for an organization which enables seniors to remain in their homes or apartments as long as possible. We help them thrive and remain relatively independent – preventing them from having to go into an assisted-living institution.

It’s called Canopy of Neighbors.

We do this through a network of volunteers and groups which give their time to do the kinds of things you and I already do to help well-aged friends and loved ones. We give them rides to doctor’s or therapist appointments. Help them get their prescriptions. Sometimes we help them with confusing bank-account or bill-paying tasks. We flip their mattresses or set their clocks ahead or behind twice a year. We change a light bulb that is out of reach – anything to prevent them from stacking kitchen chairs and making a perilous climb and risking a fall.

We also enable them to come to free yoga classes and coffee gatherings where there are featured speakers on health and aging topics. There’s even a monthly luncheon at a local restaurant which offers a low-cost fee for everyone.

I spent a couple of hours this week talking with a couple in their 90s, answering their questions about joining the membership. They are impressed with Canopy. They live in a grand old home in a neighborhood where, in time, only the wealthiest could afford. Homes of doctors, senators and CEOs. Their home was full of life. Paintings filled their home, his paintings. Their furnishings reflected world travels and a lifelong engagement with their children, their careers and themselves. They even have a beautiful Australian border collie who has been part of their household for years.

As I summarized my organization’s services and patiently answered their questions, in my peripheral vision, I could see their daughter. She was in from out-of-town, looking a little frustrated. She’s been here before with them, I suspect. Their hesitancy. Their resistance to get involve with anyone outside of their family for their personal needs. And yet they knew they could use some assistance here and there.

I couldn’t help but think that they only reason they were a little hesitant to join is that it might imply an inability to be independent. Perhaps some giving up of control. Having ‘outsiders’ involved in potentially unknown changes in their lifestyle.

They are truly dear people. Talented and very intelligent. But my heart goes out to them because they seem so frail. He’s a retired but working artist, still holding an office with studio privileges in the local university. But his Parkinson’s is already affecting his mind-to-speech abilities. He drools as he tries to construct his sentences.

In another room, he’s got an unplugged collection of turntable, amp, radio, tuner unplugged and he hasn’t been able to reconnect them. It would take me or another volunteer probably half a day to rewire it. In other rooms, they say their computers are giving them problems and they claim not able to get back into using them. They can’t get their email working.

Her physical condition has left her barely able to move. She has had some disfiguring strokes and yet she is fully engaged in conversations. Reflective, insightful and empathetic toward others. But she says ‘I know we are vulnerable.’

I already know that whatever my organization can offer them, they will need more. Much more. They’ll soon have to contract with outside healthcare organizations for in-home nursing and home-care aids. How much longer can they remain in their lovely home? Who will take care of their dog?

They will be thinking their membership over and will let me know in their own time.

They both have had me thinking, today, of how frail we humans are and temporariness of life. We can get to the point in life where we are blessed with good minds, more-than-adequate resources and all the time we need to pursue anything we’d like. Yet our bodies wear out, out of our control. There is no Toyota to replace parts, even beyond their usual warranty. Our bodies die out from under us. They slip away from us, as do many of our component parts. ‘Moth and rust doth corrupt.

So today, I’m mindful that being present with others, in the moment, is the only place where the meaning and authenticity in life resides for any of us. When I left them, I touched their shoulders and genuinely told them it was a pleasure being with them.

When I got home, I embraced my wife as if it was our anniversary and said I had a great day at work because there were holy moments. ♦

Hierarchical Thinking and The Myth of Redemptive Violence

April 13, 2011

Where did we get the idea that some people have more worth than others? The “we” in that sentence means you and me. For some reasons, you and I seem to believe that some people deserve more than others while others, conversely, deserve less.

Living in America, we acan’t excape the power of of capitalism over our thinking. Those who work harder and are more creative and innovative deserve rewards for their efforts beyond the medioachre. So we have “self-made men” who have “picked themselves up by their bootstraps and made something of themselves.” The assumption, here, is that those who haven’t received rewards for their efforts are medioachre, lazzy and less productive. “People who have made bad choices” in the words of one political executive in our region.

A close companion (and perhaps lover) to this simplistic, self-satisfied, judgmental and completely compassionless outlook on life of the mythic “American Dream” is Soocial Darwinism. This philosohy was brought to us in the mid 20th centry by Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner. Darwin’s insight in biological evolution through adaptation of species who were judged as more fit for their changing environment came to be applied to sociological points of view. The poor and the disadvantaged came to be judged as mal-adapters, unmotivated, lazy. The rich and prosperious came to be judged as better adapters, more evolved in society. Better.

So in various societies, particularly in the US, there are those who believe that there isn’t enough to go around and that it is up to the more evolved to preserve what they have, protecting their things from those who haven’t adapted and propered as well as they have. The other group of people seem to be those who believe that there are enough goods and services in the planet for all to not only survive but thrive. Karl Marx knew of this dicatomy in societies and warned that if the few affluent dictators with power and wealth oppressed the masses, there would be revolutions.

Unfortunately, accompanying this class warfare, there is the myth of redemptive violence. I quote a large section of Walter Wink, The Powers That Be because I believe you find it to be profound.

The Myth of Redemptive Violence

The story that the rulers of domination societies told each other and their subordinates is what we today might call the Myth of Redemptive Violence. It enshrines the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right. It is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the world.

“The belief that violence “saves” is so successful because it doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience unto-death.

This Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today. I myself first became aware of it, oddly enough, by watching children’s cartoon shows. When my children were small, we let them log an unconscionable amount of television, and I became fascinated with the mythic structure of cartoons. This was in the 1960s, when the “death of God” theologians were being feted on talk shows, and secular humanity’s tolerance for religious myth and mystery were touted as having been exhausted. I distinctly remember hearing God’s death being announced on the morning news, and then seeing, in a cartoon show moments later, Hercules descending from heaven to earth, an incarnate god doing good to mortals. I began to examine the structure of other cartoons, and found the same pattern repeated endlessly: an indestructi­ble hero is doggedly opposed to an irreformable and. equally indestructible villain. Nothing can kill the hero, though for the first three-quarters of the comic strip or TV show he (rarely she) suffers grievously and appears hopelessly doomed, until, miraculously, the hero breaks free, vanquishes the villain, and restores order until the next episode. Nothing finally destroys the villain or prevents his or her reappearance, whether the villain is soundly trounced, jailed, drowned, or shot into outer space.

Thankfully, not all children’s programs feature explicit violence. But the vast majority perpetuate the mythic pattern of redemptive violence in all its brutality. Examples would include the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the X-Men, Transformers, the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Ice Man, the Superman family, Captain America, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Batman and Robin, Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, and Tom and Jerry (plus the Power Rangers, where real people act out cartoon characters). A variation on the classic theme is provided by hu­morous antiheroes, whose bumbling incompetence guarantees their victory despite themselves (Underdog, Super Chicken). Then there is a more recent twist, where an evil or failed indi­vidual is transformed by a technological accident into a mon­strous creature who—amazingly—does good (Spider-Man, The Hulk and She-Hulk, Ghost Rider). It is almost as if people no longer believe that heroes of sterling character can be produced by our society, and that goodness can transpire only by a freak of technology (such as electrocution or radioactive poisoning). In all these shows, however, the mythic structure is rigidly ad­hered to, no matter how cleverly or originally it is re-presented.

Few cartoons have run longer or been more influential than Popeye and Bluto. In a typical segment, Bluto abducts a scream­ing and kicking Olive Oil, Popeye’s girlfriend. When Popeye attempts to rescue her, the massive Bluto beats his diminutive opponent to a pulp, while Olive Oyl helplessly wrings her hands. At the last moment, as our hero oozes to the floor, and Bluto is trying, in effect, to rape Olive Oil, a can of spinach pops from Popeye’s pocket and spills into his mouth. Transformed by this gracious infusion of power, he easily demolishes the villain and rescues his beloved. The format never varies. Neither party ever gains any insight or learns from these encounters. They never sit down and discuss their differences. Repeated defeats do not teach Bluto to honor Olive Oil’s humanity and repeated pummelings do not teach Popeye to swallow his spinach before the fight.

Something about this mythic structure rang familiar. Suddenly I remembered: this cartoon pattern mirrored one of the oldest continually enacted myths in the world, the Babylonian creation story (the Enuma Elish) from around 1250 B.C.E. The merely finds evil already present and perpetuates it. Our origins are divine, to be sure, since we are made from a god, but from the blood of an assassinated god. We are the outcome of deicide.

Human beings are thus naturally incapable of peaceful coexistence. Order must continually be imposed upon us from on high: men over women, masters over slaves, priests over laity, aristocrats over peasants, rulers over people. Unquestioning obedience is the highest virtue, and order the highest religious value. Nor are we created to subdue the earth and have dominion over it as God’s regents; we exist but to serve as slaves of the gods and of their earthly regents. The tasks of humanity are to till the soil, to produce foods for sacrifice to the gods (represented by the king and the priestly caste), to build the sacred city Babylon, and to fight and, if necessary, die in the king’s wars.

Later, Marduk was fused with Tammuz, a god of vegetation whose death and resuscitation was enacted in the humiliation and revival of Marduk, an element that is preserved in cartoon shows by the initial defeat of the “good guy” and his eventual victory over evil, as it were, out of the very jaws of death. The only detail in our modern rendition that is different is that the enemy has generally ceased to be female.

As Marduk’s representative on earth, the king’s task is to subdue all those enemies who threaten the tranquility that he has established on behalf of the god. The whole cosmos is a state, and the god rules through the king. Politics arises within the divine sphere itself. Salvation is politics: the masses identify with the god of order against the god of chaos, and offer them­selves up for the Holy War that imposes order and rule on the peoples round about.

Walter Wink, The Powers That BeA Theology for a New Millennium, ISBN: 0-385-48752-5 (Galilee/Doubleday; New York; 1998) Pages 44-48.

That said, the folks who influence us from the Buddhist outlook on things, suggest that the first place of discerning mindfulness happens in our heads. Here are a few questions:

  1. What groups of people do we judge to be of less worth than us?
  2. What gives us (you and me) our worth?
  3. If our circumstances (yours or mine) changed because of war, disease, natural disasters or our own ineptitude, would our worth change in any way?
  4. Isn’t the worth we attribute to ourselves or others actually a value we have in our head?
  5. Who taught us that value system?
  6. What is the value system of your faith expression?
  7. What is the value system of the people who have and do nurture your life, somehow impacting on your current lifestyle, beliefs and activity?

Only you have answers for those seven questions. But here’s one last question for your consideration.

Life is pretty short. When you come to the end of your gig in, as Ira Glass terms it, “This American Life,” what affect will your existence had on people where you’ve been?

Try wrestling with these questions. We’d benefit from hearing from you because we are all in this together for what seems to be a very short time. We are open to learning.

Being Present in the Transitions

We do a lot of grasping throughout our lives  We like our stuff. We want to hold on to our things. We want to keep our activities and surroundings the same. We maintain the way we do things, the way we think and what we value. We go from day to day as if we will always have and control our life’s experiences. ‘To have and to hold to cherish’ suggest our wedding vows. “My Precious” said J. R. R. Tolkien’s character Gollum in  The Lord of the Rings.

But what is it that we hold on to? Pretty much everything. We prefer things around us to stay the way they are. We’re often ‘change-resistant.’ The way things are have become the way we do things around here. That goes for how we stack dishes in the cupboard, where we store things in the closet, the people we strangely judge as not as equal to us because of their differences. My gosh, we’ve put our socks in the same place in our dresser for years.

It’s probably why couples, at least in the first couple of years of marriage, fight over the way toothpaste tubes are squeezed, cars are parked in the garage and the lopsidedness of perception of household chore responsibilities. It is a miracle that two people can amiably negotiate the ordering of their household. Then there is the use of how we handle power. The extent that we can create an environment of fair and consensus-based decisions. If nobody ever modeled it or taught us or we never learned how to use our power and influence in decisions in an egalitarian way, we are doomed to a life of loneliness.

Not to mention that all this grasping and controlling, unfortunately, has a lot to do with how we measure our self-worth. We mysteriously think that if we have a lot of things or financial power, we are doing pretty well. House. Car. Gadgets. Job. Things, you know, <strong>my</strong> drill, <strong>my</strong> lawnmower, <strong>my</strong> position in the company. Keeping up with the Jones. Maintaining a lifestyle that approximates the TV and movie characters with whom we seem to identify.

This is immediately fertile ground for the topics related to personal growth and fulfillment. If we relentlessly strive to hold on to the way we do things and what we now possess, we don’t grow or mature. We wall ourselves into a nice little box. A person wrapped up in themselves makes for a pretty small package.

But our lives are full of transitions. Everything changes. This is why we cry at marker events like weddings, births, graduations and funerals. Things keep changing and the ceremonies frame the transitions to new changes.

There are few circumstances that bring us to face the temporariness of life more obvious than the first day of retirement or walking out of the courtroom after the divorce is finalized. This is because we’ve programmed ourselves to define who we are in our introductions. Like, Hello, my name is Bill and I am the Vice President at BigBox Corporation. Or Hi, I’m Sharon and I’m <strong>married</strong> <strong>to</strong> Bill and we have 2.3 children, we <strong>own</strong> a house in the burbs and I’m <strong>a member</strong> of the PTA and <strong>work</strong> as an investment broker for Too Big To Fail Bank, LLC.

We broadcast who we are by defining ourselves by what we do and with whom we are in relationship. Somehow, just us and our own interests, likes, passions and allergies and phobias aren’t enough. We even tend hold on to the things we don’t have but aspire to have or do. We spend years holding on to our careers (and roles) because we think that if we keep doing the same thing with ourselves, things won’t change. We won’t have to give up anything.

Career wise, we pursue excellence in what we do. We pursue further training. We try to meet company goals. We seek to excel and win the approval and admiration of those who are higher up on the corporate latter. Throughout our lives, we seek to hold on to our position, our title, our salary level. We pursue tenure as if craving for oxygen.

Frankly, there isn’t much in life that we don’t strive to keep the same. So unless we are creative artists and musicians seeking new venues and textures in our work or performances, we strive to keep things as they already are. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

This brings us to transitions.  There are changes foisted upon us or self-chosen migrations to different experiences we feel we must make. We resist change and frankly haven’t cultivated pursuing change in our lives in order to grow.

If we define our sense of who we are by what we do and with whom we are in relationship, when those things change, our life can seem to unravel – at least in our mind. Like it or not, despite our overwhelming predisposition to prefer things to stay the same, they don’t.

But what happens when the people who once related to us only by our position in the company are not there. The social circumstances, once resulting from relationships we had, may disappear. We’re now looking at different visual imagery throughout our day. Our daily communication with others has remarkably changed – maybe stopped in several ways. The phone. The emails. The conversations, the meetings, the written reports. Say, presentations, deadlines, calendar management. Social obligations.

  1. Who we are in the company has no significance (although who we are as a person is huge).
  2. What we do for an external group is no longer a valid means of weighing our self-worth.

The fact is, a corporate position, salary and power doesn’t add anything to our worth. (But note that nobody in America thinks this. That’s why we seem to be obsessed with holding on and adding to what we have and can control.)

The absolutely transforming thing you get when you are beyond your full-time career years or are experiencing less of a socially connected life is that you can come home to yourself – to be at home with yourself.

Come home? you ask as you fiddle through your now empty calendar on your smart phone in vain. Come home as if I’ve been away? you continue to muse. But where I have I been that I would come home?

Well, that’s the point. Where have we been all these years? Chances are that we’ve not been real present with our spouse or significant other. That’s because we’ve put so much more of ourselves in our careers because we thought that would bring ups more or ensure that we keep the level of money we needed to maintain control of our lives. More of what we like – what we’re used to. ‘Keeping things the way we like them.’

But sometimes at transitions, we find that we haven’t been very present in our lives to begin with. Some of us couldn’t be present in the moment with our spouse for the time it takes to eat a meal. We’d feel uncomfortable with moments of silence (as if is mandatory that one or the other of us has to be laying down a bed of words to dispel the silence).

Check this out. When you are in the room with your significant other for ten minutes, do you know how they feel? At the end of the day, if you were magically transported to a college classroom and you were asked to write an essay on what is most important to your spouse, how many sentences would you be able to scribble out?

Complicating almost any transition is our lives is that we haven’t been very present with ourselves, those closest people to us or even the transitions and changes themselves. How present are you with yourself, those around you and what is happening in your life in this very moment?

“Riley, do you love me? “Peg asked.

Riley responded: “Well I live here, don’t It?

Do you feel that who you are, without any career position or social relationship, is just as it (you) should be? Do you feel that if you suddenly found yourself living in a totally new context, that whoever you’d meet would find a good and worthwhile person in you? Do you feel that in whatever context you’d find yourself in, others would find you to be a worthwhile human being who positively contributes to their existence?

This is a far cry, another planet or cosmos if you will, from the daily striving to get, hold on to and protect what we have and have been for all our previous years. It’s an entirely different orientation to life.

It’s not the money. It’s not the investments that may or may not be working for us while we’re sleeping. It’s not the house, the car, the boat, the property, the career. That’s because when all of the ownerships and responsibilities into which we’ve placed our energies are gone,  all we have left is ourselves. To whatever extent we’ve been able to be present in the lives of our most significant others, it comes down to< now. What we’re left with is just us. Can we even be present, in a comfortable and loving way, with ourselves?

You see, it comes down to this moment. Be present in the transitions. Our lives are full of them.

The good news is that you’ve got a wonderful and noble person along with you in all of these transitions and change – you.

As I Transition Out of Your Care

A letter to the staff of the Western New York Cancer Care Center

————————————–

Dear staff members,

Today is the last of my 45 treatments for prostate cancer. The Maker should have recalled these defective parts centuries ago but a successful class-action suit has yet to be achieved. One out of six males – one out of four on African American models.

Then there’s the design flaws. The main fluid draining conduit runs right through the middle of this walnut-shaped little part but integral to one of the higher orders of human experience. Location, location, location. If you get any swelling or irritation in this flawed part, you’re stuck with the ridiculous drama of having  to know the location of every public drainage facility for miles around. Clearly Google and all of silicone valley partners should have resolved this problem by now.

The same should be said of breast cancer and those who blithely and casually dismiss the worthiness of 99% of the rest of humanity who don’t measure up, in their judgment, to their station in life. Didn’t society move beyond the 19th century classicism portrayed in PBS’s “Upstairs Downstairs?”

But you work at Cancer Care of Western New York and you are doing significant things to resolve these parts of the problems. You serve on a team of gifted individuals who are successfully battling cancer.

Now all of us are compensated for what we do in our careers. No matter where we go, they’ve got to pay us to work there. What is different about what you do is that you are called to be present in healing encounters. Those of us who come through your doors come with some brokenness. We are in transition, having learned that something in our bodies is in need of repair. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of them all.

We come into your office, as you well know, with a the waterfront of fears, unknowns, anxieties and sometimes depression being expressed by all the personality types of humanity.

The cancer, with which we’ve been diagnosed, lingers on like a giant outdoor billboard plopped down on our front yard. It says YOU HAVE CANCER! To our dismay, the giant billboard also appears in our living rooms, kitchens, certainly our restrooms, our cars and at work. CANCER no less. . . . Me, <em>for cripes sake</em>.

So your patients are jumping in and out of all of Kubler-Ross’ s stages of <em>On Death and Dying</em>. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Regardless of our grasp on reality, everything is temporary. No matter how many years we’ve enjoyed the comfort of our personal lifestyle and all of its familiar coffee shops, dollar stores, local pubs, favorite shopping malls and TV shows, ‘we’re just a passin’ through.’ Everything changes.

As patients, we also carry into your office a real sense of loss. As we are jolted into realizing that we are in the ever-shortening last stage of our lifetimes, we sense that our lives are going to change. Our lives will never be the same as before.

What we all don’t immediately realize, after our biopsies, is that while you provide care and services for us, we become part of the Cancer Care of WNY team. The closer we follow the play book (the protocol advice of each module’s specialist), the smoother and more effective the results will be in bringing about our healing. But we’ve got to become team players ourselves.

In any spoken or printed words of what would help us, we are not quickly seeing all the work that has produced it. Unless we have benefitted from medical training, we don’t see the thousands of research and practice hours behind each aspect of treatment. We don’t know about the published and collegial-scrutinized research papers, the doctoral dissertations, the measured and evaluated clinical trials, the blind and double blind tests that thousands, before us, have undergone to determine the best courses of treatments. We don’t hear any of that but in a way, we trust that all of those things are behind everything we experience.

<strong>Trust.</strong> That’s something all of us patients cling to with a lot of motivation. Your white coats are actually not necessary. You’ve got 5 million dollar IMRT machines buzzing their merry way around our bodies like R2D2 on steroids. So we know your competence must precede your responsibilities amidst the mammoth financial investment in this life-sustaining infrastructure around you.

Hope is the holy grail of the healing process. Every one of us is looking for hooks on which to hang our hope for our futures.

By now, we know life will not be the same from this point on. Our frantic but unrealistic hope for lack of change always must yield to reality. “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” Reality always trumps and holds all winning cards. With whatever cards we hold, we optimistically call the other side of our transitions “the new normal.”

At Cancer Care of WNY, you are essentially working in a battle zone. You see a lot of suffering and pain. You see, on our faces, the fear, the pain, the depression. Sometimes the brokenness. You see some of us shuffling in and wonder how it is that we are still ambulatory. In nanoseconds, you can sadly see other eminent medical problems that will necessitate care in other clinics.

The other day, in the waiting area, an elderly woman was brought in for therapy in a wheelchair. Shortly after arriving, she began to cry. She was weeping from her unbearable pain. Whatever was the cause, the enormity of her internal pain could not remain silently contained in her frail body.

Fortunately, your staff colleagues rushed to her side and helped her into an examination room for immediate pain support.

Despite all the suffering you see in your patients, you stay focused and resilient. Your energy and fortitude in the midst of the suffering is remarkable. You are thoroughly professional and somehow you remain personable and caring.

But here is where you shine, not only here at the Cancer Care Center of WNY but on into your future.

Not only are your patients in the midst of transitions themselves, all of us experience transitions throughout life. You already have and will definitely undergo changes of your own. You’ll experience transitions in your relationships, in your careers. You’ll change your thinking on some of the things you once valued above all else. Some of the things you pursued will be left behind for other matters you will come to value as more important. As the old Simon and Garfunkel song said, “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”

As much as we like to embrace our seemingly unchanging world, it changes and we simply can’t control most of it. As do those of us who are patients, you, will go through transitions in your life.

Most of us already have migrated through changes, however old we may be. But when you think back through your transitions, you know there were some difficult ones. But who were the people who helped you most during those transitions?

Significant others. It was a friend or relative who was particularly present in your life when things got out of hand and were most scary. They listened to you when you made no sense. They stayed with you to help you get more information. They were there for you to take in and absorb your frustration, your denial, anger, bargaining, depression and ultimately your acceptance of the way things landed. They were “your person” as the Christina and Meredith characters portray in ABC’s <em>Grey’s Anatomy</em>.

As the same time, that’s not what your job is at work. You have a very medical, technical or clinical responsibility. Certainly the pain and uncertainty you witness on a daily basis causes you to sometimes leave work with your batteries totally drained. You’ve undoubtedly experienced burnout. You may have seriously wondered if there is another line of work that would call forth from you yet untapped yearnings and dreams without leaving you emotionally shredded and run through the wringer.

I was a Protestant minister for fifteen years. I loved the work. The teaching, the counseling, the writing and the many opportunities to be creative were at the center of my academic, intellectual and emotional career life for 60 to 80 hours a week. But I was burned out. I had to get away from the endless hours amidst funerals, crisis counseling and the usual petty skirmishes over which color to paint the lavatories or whether investments on the youth groups should triumph over architectural repairs.

One year, I changed careers. I went into marketing, advertising, writing, technology and videography.

At first, people were utterly shocked that I’d make such a change. Early on, though, I discovered nothing had changed in me. I found the obvious truth that customers (seeking my marketing or technological support) needed the same focus and caring as those who were once my  parishioners. Obviously different contexts and delivery of services but the same focused listening and human caring is needed.

So how is that relevant to your truly brief daily interactions with those of us who are your patients?

It’s clear that your patient encounters are not lengthy sessions on helping us sort through the problems and hardships of our lives. Your job is to empower the therapy and to teach how how to make adjustments that support the therapeutic protocols for our healing.

Your presence in the tasks at hand is the same as how you and I relate to a neighbor when we’re handing them a poorly aimed newspaper. It is the same when we exchange a few words with our mail carrier or a clerk at the store. We’re looking them in the eye and relating to them in an unconditionally accepting and open way. We are taking them fully in, in the moment, however brief the exchange may be.

Your patient encounters all seem to transpire in brief moments. It’s not the duration of the exchange. <em>It’s about how present you are in those moments</em>, even though there are many moments and many of us patients who interact with you throughout the day.

It can, and should, become routine because of the limitations on time and the narrow focus of your work. But the magic ingredient in every one of your patient encounters is you.

The magic that is taking place is in your extending of yourself. Your non-verbal communication. Your tone. Your full presence in those moments, as short as they may be.

In each of these moments, you have been genuine and friendly. It’s when you are being kind and patient with the guy who feels woefully inadequate because he doesn’t think he’ll be able to retain the water he consumed in order to suspend his bladder up out of the way of the soon-to-be radiated prostate. It has been years since he was frantically waiving his hand in second grade to get the teacher’s permission to go to the rest room. The feelings are still the same.

In each of your patient encounter moments, you are being flexible and open for any question that might come your way. When you use your energy and focus beyond your job task to be responsive in these moments, <strong>you are being truly present in the moments</strong> in this transition period of your patients. You’re putting your personality and humanness into the mundane acts. That makes our experience here, with your team, transformative and healing.

The way you are responding in these moments makes us feel that we are not just in a drive-through medical center, ordering up a cancer cure to go.

Instead, we feel that we are fortunate to be a part of a greater team that is committed to our personal healing. It makes us feel more whole, even though the hand we were dealt is not optimal. You make us remember that however brief the moments we are with you, we are part of something that is much bigger and more embracing than the smaller concerns that are just contained in ourselves. You are making us feel, and reminding us always, that we are all intricately connected to and part of the wonderful human race. <strong>You are doing this with your presence</strong>.

That’s what I want to thank you for. For what you do, I am grateful. But for who you are and have been, in the 45 days of treatments, for your personal presence in this segment of this transition for me, <em>thank you</em>.

 

Cerish the abilities you possess and are using in this current career. They are embodied in in your DNA. And nobody, no transition, no circumstance, can ever take away from you the unique aspects of who you are.

Thank you for your presence. I’m sure that many others will feel the same gratitude from your presence in the years to come – wherever you choose to live and work. It is in being mindful of this sense of presence, that you possess, that you will find the meaning of your life. Cherish it.

Aquarius, Please Bear With Us

 

<h1>How To Manage Hydration During Prostate Cancer Radiation Therapy</h1>

“Are you ready?” every one of us hears in the waiting room of the prostate radiation treatment center. “Do you feel the urge?” the nurses frequently ask, trying to sound sympathetic but within earshot of everyone in the waiting room. And when these guys are older and their hearing is failing, these beleaguered medical professionals have to repeat themselves even louder. Then it sounds like an exasperated parent dealing with their three year old who is in-between meltdowns with an eminent bladder accident.

“Are you ready?” even the receptionist asks the guy standing before her who is leaning against her sign-in counter, with his eyes nervously darting back and forth from her face to the therapy room door beyond.

That’s what we are all reduced to in the mandatory task of keeping our bladder filled with water in order to tighten it up with water in order to keep it from sagging down over the prostate during the radiation delivery.

We never saw that coming and there aren’t even Cliff’s Notes or “Hydration Preparation for Dummies.” Since grade school when we were frantically waiving our hand, trying to get our teacher’s attention for permission to pee, it has always been the same. Through the years, we’ve rarely got caught short, having to urinate but having no place to go. Whenever we felt the call, we just went to the nearest restroom. Like our ‘videos on demand,’ we are used to urination upon demand.

Now, having been told to drink one-and-a-half 25 ounce plastic containers of water one hour before your therapy, it seems like a setup for failure. Through the years, we have had no practice in ‘holding it.’ We’ve always just gone when we’ve had to go. That’s why every building structure in our society invests in ample restroom facilities. ‘When you to to do, you got to go.’

So suddenly, within one week’s time of being told that you’ve got a diagnosis of prostate cancer, you’ve got to learn how, for the first time in your life, to make yourself have a full bladder and not urinate through your pants and look like a complete idiot. Every guy going through radiation therapy for prostate cancer finds himself in this predicament. You’ve got to do this for the initial cat scan and MRI alignment of the radiation equipment. You’ve got to do this every day for each of the ensuing 45 days of treatment. Every day! Rain or shine, snow or hail.

So this is a new experience for us with no prior training. We essentially have one week from the diagnosis to the initial equipment setup to get this right.

On the day of diagnosis, we’re told, by a cheerful and well-experienced nurse practitioner, that “my guys drink one-and-a-half these containers one hour before treatment; . . . you want to feel the urge before you go into treatment.”

As you hear her refer to “my guys” it sounds endearing. It sounds somewhat comforting, like a nurturing hen gently but confidently gathering her chicks under her protective wings. And when you’re getting used to your new cancer diagnosis, perhaps even “intermediate” or “advanced” cancer diagnosis, you’ll take all the nurturing that’s available.

But that’s essentially it in terms of instruction. Having heard the level of fluid you’re supposed to down, you want to be like the rest of “her guys” so you put that in your daily check list. But you have no idea what it means “feel the urge” other than feeling the need to urinate.

The first time you try it, you discover there is a range of “feeling the urge” from ‘Oh my gosh, I better be near a bathroom’ to ‘Holy shit, how am I supposed to not wet myself in front of all these people?’

This is totally new ground. You wonder if they did this to prisoners of war to break them down. No matter how accomplished you’ve been in your career; no matter how close you are and have been to your friends and loved ones, you are now forced to be in a miserable and potentially socially embarrassing circumstance seemingly beyond your control. <em>Make yourself have to pee but you can’t and you’ll have to wait!</em>

One thing that lurks in the back of your mind is if you don’t have enough water suspending your bladder up away from your prostate, the radiation could burn your bladder if it didn’t have enough water and sagged down in the way of the radiation beams aimed at your prostate.

Actually, this fear is unfounded, I’m told by Chris, the radiation technician. “We can see how full your bladder is as we begin and we simply wouldn’t do it if you were not hydrated. We’d make you go out and drink some water in the waiting room so you’re always safe.” (Which happened to me at my 3<sup>rd</sup> treatment.) But more on that in a minute.

Having to drink more water before therapy begins apparently happens so frequently, that they’ve got a water cooler in every waiting area. We are the water bearers – this is the age of Aquarius – at least for next several weeks.

This, of course, is better this than a slow and miserable death, some years later, by prostate cancer that has metastasized to your vital organs – right when you were starting to enjoy your relationships, your life, dance at your kid’s weddings and attend your grandchildren’s graduations.

So what are the tricks to “mastering” your bladder control for the sake of your radiation therapy?

If you ever participated in a competitive sport, you’re in luck. You had to do a lot of things to make the team and thrive on the team. You had to:

  • Get in shape and exercise
  •  Pay attention to your diet
  •  Practice, practice, practice
  •  Keep it constantly in your head that you can’t do it alone but are on a team that functions interdependently

Here are some straight-forward bits of advice that embody the above four tips.

Whatever shape you are in is what you’ve got. Remember, you have a matter of days from the time you’re diagnosed until you’ve got to get used to having enough water in your bladder to push it up out of the way of the instrumentation. But regardless of your physical condition, at least start walking. Get your muscles and body, in general, to the point of having oxygen and blood going through it to get as good a circulation as possible. You already know you should have been doing this for years but start now if you haven’t already. It makes a difference on a number of levels. Our bodies are complex chemical and nutritional exchanges, all of which helps every bodily, emotional and intellectual function that makes up who we are.

You already know what irritates your bladder – coffee and any drink that has caffeine. There’s caffeine in chocolate. Immediately eliminate all of them from your diet (at least until after you’re cancer-free). Get a grip and take aspirin if you get caffeine-withdrawal headaches but discipline yourself to do it. It makes a huge difference in helping you go through this therapy.

The practice part of it has to start immediately. Being told to drink 1.5 bottles of water one hour before therapy is almost no help unless you put yourself on a timed schedule and record how many oz. you drink; what time you drank it, what time you first realized you felt you have to urinate and at what time you could no longer hold it. That’s three points in time.

You almost have to do this once a day as an experiment because you can’t really do this two or three times in one day. You’ll be hydrated from your first try and any time you try it later that day will not be helpful in your calculations. It will probably take you 4 or 5 days to figure out how long it takes you to feel your bladder full, how many ounces it takes and how long you can hold it until you must relieve yourself.

This obviously takes a disciplined focus and commitment to learning how your body handles water. Each of us are different and it has to do with our level of exercise, when we drink the water, our weight and our level of anxiety.

For my particular body weighing in at around 170, it took me 7 days to find out that if I drank 28 ounces of water, in 40 minutes it would trickle down and my bladder would feel full and I could hold it for another 30 minutes.

The Breakthrough Fact About Hydration

One time early in my therapy, I was waiting for my turn and I absolutely couldn’t hold it any longer and went into the restroom and let out what I thought was most all of my bladder. I fully expected they’d tell me to go back out to the waiting room and drink 3 cups of water and wait for about 15 minutes. But they didn’t.

They had me come in and get on the table and they could see how much water was in me with their imagery equipment. It was enough, even though I thought I had urinated out everything that was in my bladder.

“It’s because you were hydrated enough. And don’t forget, it takes a while for what you drink to make its way down to your bladder.”

“You were hydrated enough” was the pivotal phrase that turned everything around for me. This is because at the beginning, all I thought was involved was drinking a certain number of ounces of water so many minutes before the therapy. Instead, it’s about hydration. It’s about getting your body hydrated, having enough fluid running throughout your system so that when you begin drinking your water at a certain time (before the therapy), you will not be starting from zero hydration.

That’s why they say that most of the time, guys come in there on Mondays, after a weekend of not drinking their usual daily fluid for therapy, they are less hydrated than the rest of week when they’ve been consciously drinking for their therapy sessions. Mondays see the most incidences of patients being sent back out to the waiting room to drink more water.

So how to you maintain hydration? In your experimentation, drink other fluids earlier in the day before you drink your water before therapy. You might ordinarily have a protein-blueberry shake at breakfast. You might have a glass of water or green tea with you your eggs or cereal. Whatever you drink at the start of the day, keep doing it and also practice drinking your pre-therapy container of water.

Ideally, by the time you go in for your first session where they calibrate the radiation machine, you should have a pretty decent sense that when they do it, you will be in the zone where your bladder has a lot of water in it but you’re not going crazy trying to hold it. You should be hydrated and that you could hold it another ten minutes or so.

And suppose you can’t? Suppose you have to urinate and you just do?

No problem. If you’ve been drinking fluids throughout the day, you’re already hydrated. IT ALL DOESN’T ONLY DEPEND ON THE WATER YOU DRANK IN THE LAST HOUR TO FILL YOUR BLADDER.

This was startling new information to me that I didn’t get when I was initially told to drink so many ounces of water so minutes before the therapy. After a while, I confidently urinated right before my therapy time and because I was hydrated enough, it was usually determined that I had enough water in my bladder for the treatments.

But I got to this point only with help from the radiation technology team. If you are not hydrated enough, they’ll send you out for a few drinks of water and a few minutes wait. But in the process of experimenting, perhaps by the 2<sup>nd</sup> or third treatment, you’ll learn exactly how much water (or liquid) before treatment you’ll need and the timing. Learning to fine-tune this process truly takes a team effort. It is a training task that you, primarily, have to do yourself but you have to have the radiation technicians helping you make those final adjustments.

That’s why I’ve used the sports analogy. Most all of it is on you to get in shape and discipline and do what you have to do in order to get hydrated and be in touch with your own bladder. But you need the team around you to make it happen.