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?

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.