Cheerfully

“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.” – Seneca

The external turmoil in the world today, especially with the need to shelter-in-place, provides the perfect opportunity to fortify your inner sanctuary. You may not have access to everything you want, but if you’ll allow it, you’ll find that here is more space and less distraction from the rat race.

When you’re used to everything and everyone vying for your attention in the busy world, the novel quiet can be strangely disquieting. Oddly enough, the initial reaction to less distraction is to frantically fill the void with alternative distractions. You might compulsively begin cleaning, exercising, eating, binge watching TV, surfing social media, or bemoaning the freedom you no longer have, but you’ve probably found these things to only have a limited, palliative effect on your discomfort.

Don’t despair. There is hope! You can find happiness and peace in the eye of the storm. The key, as Seneca so succinctly noted above, is to loosen your grip on the desire for that which you don’t have at the moment, and let go to a greater sense of appreciation for that which you do have right now. The greater sense of appreciation, in turn, will put you in a better mindset and as a result, you will be able to live more cheerfully.

This simple shift will expand your inner sanctuary and will allow you to make better decisions. Decisions shape the future and better decisions make a brighter, lighter future. What you and I decide today will likely change the way tomorrow unfolds. You see, no matter how bad things may be, we can always cultivate an inner state of good cheer. This isn’t a contrived, Pollyannaish, state of denial, but rather a deep and abiding unconcern for that which we do not have and a lustful, zesty appreciation for and engagement with that which we do have, here and now.

It may seem strange, but even the most confining of situations can be deeply fulfilling when you being to act from the inside out, rather than reflexively responding to externalities.

 

Novelty

A tiny little novel virus that created a disease called COVID-19 has set the body of humanity on its heels — not gradually, over time, but in a matter of weeks. The fear of its uncontrolled spread has upended all normalcy, not just locally, but worldwide. If ever there was an instance proving the power of something small in the face of something seemingly indomitable, this certainly takes the cake.

The world it has upended was a world both created and driven by man’s desire to dominate the earth, if not moons and planets beyond. The world as we knew it prior to COVID-19 was governed by such sweeping concepts as globalization, democratization, and consumerism. These concepts created a rarely questioned mindset that drove people, schools, businesses, and governments to value productivity and expansion at all costs and as a result, to act and think in an automatic, “time to make the donuts” kind of way.

Tom Cruise, in the movie Jerry Maguire, summed up the experience of many caught in this web: “I am out here for you. You don’t know what it’s like to be ME out here for YOU. It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about, ok?” Now some might say that the world has always been like this, but has it? Sure there are always large forces at work that condition the nature and direction of human thought, but never before had there been such a homogenous, widely pushed agenda as there was in the world we labored under just a few weeks ago. The Roman Empire made a similar effort, but it was hampered by the need for person-person conversion. The internet has put global domination within reach.

I’m sure there will be those who criticize and condemn for me asking the question, but I cannot help but ask: what kind of world do we, as individuals within the vast body of humanity, wish to inhabit? The tenets of globalization/democratization/consumerism appeared to be sacred cows pre-COVID-19, but they, like other constructs of days gone by, are just structures envisioned by man, who, as I said is hellbent on domination.

What if we were to look at our role in the world in different terms? What if we were here to provide dominion, a link to what is above us, rather than domination, where we fancy ourselves at the top of the chain? What if we aspired to be stewards and guardians, not head honchos and top dogs? What kind of world would just that one teeny-weeny, itsy bitsy change create?

My guess is that we would see a very different way to live and get things done. Leaders and followers would conduct themselves quite differently, resources would be handled in an entirely different manner, and the world would become a much more hospitable, nurturing, and fulfilling place. We would have more space to think, more room to care, and a greater balance in all things.

A virus like This novel Coronavirus a part of the web of life. We would not likely survive in our present form in a world without viruses. For example, our mitochondria — those little organelles that generate most of the chemical energy needed to power the cell’s biochemical reactions which in turn, literally “light” up the human part of us and give our our souls bodies and minds to work through — are regulated extrinsically, in part, by viruses.

Our world is out of balance and the expression of COVID-19 is a symptom, not the cause. The current construct which governs medicine will dictate that we vaccinate it back into the shadowy unknown from whence if came, but that suppressive/dominative approach will invariably create other imbalances that will come back to haunt us. Such thinking is likely to be considered blasphemous, but nobler thoughts have been labeled the same if not worse, so I’m not too worried.

At any rate, this COVID-19 “black swan” event is propitious for those who seek a better world, a finer way of living. That said, nothing will change if we don’t allow our thoughts to evolve, our consciousness to shift, and our sense of possibility and personal responsibility to raise to a whole new level.

Now is the time to make all things new! Perhaps that is the true meaning of the so-called novel virus behind Coronavirus disease, COVID-19. You may call me naïve for thinking that a small change of mind and heart could usher in a new world, but just a few weeks ago it was almost unthinkable that a tiny living/non-living(?) organism could transform the lives of 8 billion people.

Fathers and Sons

I imagine that most fathers are proud of their sons; I am no exception. My sons, Christopher and William, are remarkable young men. Their vision and perspective is limited by their inexperience and physical, mental, and spiritual immaturity, but they both have hearts of gold.

I am proud of my boys, not for the promise they hold, but for the unique combination of love, truth, and life that makes them, them. I am proud of my boys, not for their outer accomplishments (e.g. their high marks in school, good manners, athletic accomplishments, etc.), but for the spirit that they bring to meet life as it unfolds through and around them.

They will undoubtedly meet with struggles and strife — both internal and external — as all do in the living of life, but my great hope for them is that they remember to always, in every circumstance, give their highest and finest. I wish for them lives filled with the satisfaction of never having excused themselves from giving their best, no matter how daunting, unfair, imbalanced, or strange the things might be that come their way.

Seeing them grow and mature has been one of my greatest pleasures. As a father, I am pained when they suffer and elated when they triumph, and I imagine and hope that deep empathetic connection never wanes. I shall always do my utmost to be available, non-judgmental, encouraging, and at hand no matter what I am facing in my field of responsibility.

There are many lessons I wish to give to save them from the pitfalls I have encountered along the way, and my various writings have partly been an attempt to record some of those thoughts for their future digestion and where there is value, assimilation. At the same time I realize that one of my core responsibilities as a father is to prepare my sons to be independent, free thinking, and reined from within, rather than regulated from without.

There is so much to say about fatherhood. It is a sacred responsibility and a humbling privilege. It awesome, awful, majestic and rapturous…sometimes all at once. I am convinced that the best fathers drop all pretense, never shirk responsibility, never shrink from vulnerability, and always center in love, even when forced to take the hard line.

I imagine that most fathers would say or at least feel this about their own, but I cannot imagine two better sons than Christopher and William.

Thank you, sons, for being you.

Constructs

The onset of the novel Covid-19 virus pandemic is proving to be a black swan event for all of mankind. The mass quarantines it has prompted have disrupted every aspect of our daily lives, upended financial markets across the globe, and changed the way we interact with one another. The fear it has engendered has brought out the best and the worst in our fellows: some have laid down their lives − literally − for those in need, while others have scrambled frantically to protect their narrow self-interests, often at the expense of others.

Although tragic, events such as these offer a rare opportunity. The sudden and nearly total break from “normal” gives us a chance to take stock of where we are individually and collectively as human beings on this magnificent blue planet. Rather than playing out our daily routines in a more or less fixed mindset within the context of the societies we’ve built, we have the opportunity to step back for a moment and ask ourselves: “How much of what I typically think about and do from day to day really, truly matters?”

In times of normalcy it is easy to lose sight of fundamental, world-shaping questions such as these. We run to and fro in the earth, busily increasing knowledge, chasing success, and short of that, struggling to pay the bills, but rarely do we stop in such times to ask: “Does what I am doing and what I am allowing to fill my mind and heart really, truly matter?” Or perhaps on a larger scale we might ask, “Is what we hold dear and sacred in our corner of the world truly dear and sacred?”

I’d like to suggest that the world we live in is composed mainly of human constructs, thoughts and ideas that have taken form in such sacred cows like our educational system, our political system, our economic system, etc. In the West we spend roughly a quarter of our lives in an educational system that is designed to prepare us to be productive workers and valuable citizens. The system we have now didn’t always exist, in fact, education has taken many different forms throughout the ages. Just two weeks ago in the United States for example, homeschooling was the alternative, now every student in the country is learning from home. As extreme and rapid as this change was, the world didn’t end.

These constructs of which I speak are everywhere. For example, we are all citizens of a particular country. In my case, I was born in a nation-state called Germany and I am a citizen of the nation-state called the United States of America. My wife was born in and is a citizen of the nation-state called Switzerland. Under the umbrella of our nationalities come certain expectations, beliefs and worldviews. These unite us in some cases, but divide us in others. But even the concept of “countries” or “nation-states” is a relatively new one in the scope of human history, but these constructs seem like they’ve been with us and shaped our identities forever. Regardless, they haven’t and they might not in the future.

Everywhere you look in human function you see these constructs. These patterns of belief coalesce into institutions that shape human identity. Religion is yet another human construct. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, etc. all hold certain beliefs to be true, that is, to be eternal, immutable truths. These patterns of belief inform a worldview, a way of making sense of the world, and they further homogenize into patterns of thought, word, deed, that are reinforced by rituals, symbols, rites and in some cases, bumper stickers. The major religious groups break down into subsets, and while each of them claim to be right, none wishes to be wrong. But even these towering institutions are not immutable. They, too, change with the times.

The point I’d like to make today is that it’s hard when you’re in the middle of something to get an objective view on it. But times like these give us a chance at that rare glimpse outside of the bubble of our current reality. What of all this really, truly matters? Based on the last week or so of your personal experience, is there any of it that you would like to change? Or do you believe that we have we created the very best world we can create for ourselves?

In my opinion, this crisis has deepened my appreciation for the small moments that are all too easily overlooked, for example, the explosive beauty of early spring, the opportunity to think of the well-being of humanity as I wash my hands throughout the day, and the gentle contours of my wife’s delicious smile. It has also caused me to think in different ways about those constructs that I have tended to hold dear that define and separate me from my fellow human beings, from you.

We are in this together. Whether you see it in religious terms or not, we have the privilege of being stewards of this remarkable spinning globe and caretakers of our fellows. The constructs we assemble and agree to individually and collectively make that job easier or harder. Selfish, self-centered thoughts, words, and actions constrain to smallness, pettiness and a worldview clouded by suspicion, doubt, and the conviction of lack. Conversely, selflessness and magnanimity spawn faith, hope, and the experience of abundance.

Which world do you choose to live in?

Response

brett-jordan-POMpXtcVYHo-unsplash.jpg“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” − Viktor Frankl

Have you ever thought about the way in which you tend to respond to the stimuli from the world around you, that is, the things people say, the way they look at you, the circumstances you encounter? Do you respond predictably, as if automatically? Do certain people or circumstances “push your buttons” the same way every time you run into them? If so, then you might be trapping yourself unexpectedly in a prison of your own making.

The world around you is constantly changing. No two circumstances are ever alike. Similarly, no person you meet is ever the same as they were the last time you encountered him. Admittedly, people do tend to act predictably for various reasons, but you cannot say without absolute certainly that you can predict with 100% accuracy how someone is going to act or how circumstances are going to unfold.

Think about this relative to someone else considering you: is there any chance that you might act differently than expected, that your perspective might have changed since you last met, or that you might see things differently now than you did in the past? Of course there is, so why not accord others the same possibility, especially those you are closest to, be they your best friends or your worst enemies?

Knee-jerk reactions stifle your creativity and stunt your growth. It doesn’t matter if you are good at reading people or if you feel like you think you know everything about what is going to happen, reacting automatically without measuring your response will likely further restrict your freedom and limit the possibilities for a positive outcome.

Realizing this and understanding that you, like most people, would probably enjoy more freedom were it available to you, it makes sense that you would do everything in your power to optimize your responses to the world around you. The first step in doing this is taking all the time available to you (which is often more than you might imagine is available) to consider your response to a particular stimulus. Don’t rush to judgment or jump to conclusion when the events of the future cast their shadows on the present moment. Instead, observe, consider, and ask yourself this simple question: “How can I enrich this person or this circumstance”, before you respond.

If you give away the power to choose how you will respond, you give away the power to influence. Rather than acting, you will be acted upon. It is for this reason that so many people feel victimized by others or by their circumstances. While it may appear that another person or your field of circumstance or both are imprisoning you, you are only confined if you refuse to choose your response.

Choose your response. Choose which feelings you will back with the full faith and credit of your mind. Choose your words. Choose your actions.

For goodness’ sake, choose!

 

 

The Last of the Human Freedoms

man standing in the middle of woods

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

No matter what you are facing, remember this one thing: everything can be taken from you ― your family, your friends, your home, your possessions, your reputation, etc. ― but you still have the remarkable, powerful , transformative, and most of all, inalienable privilege: to choose your attitude. It may not sound like much, but this freedom, the liberty to choose the way in which you will respond or radiate into the world around you, is the most potent and indelible of all your outer capacities.

When all seems lost, when the feeling of emptiness and impotence consume you and seem larger than your ability to overcome the dark, cold void, you can and must let go of the fear for just long enough to admit to yourself that you still have the choice as to how to respond. In this split second, the potent, transfigurative power of love, light, and life will flouresce from within outward. Through this aperture you will maintain your alignment with righteousness and as a consequence, your self-respect.

You need not relinquish your dignity, your honor, and your self-awareness when the chips are down or when the pressure is on you. If you refuse to break down and give in to whatever addictions have tended to control you, if you resist the impulse to go on the attack, and if you spurn the temptation to retreat into the shadows in these critical moments and deliberately choose instead to let love radiate without concern for results, your dignity will remain in tact, regardless of what others may think of you or how things may appear on the surface.

Now this may sound like a tall order, but it really isn’t much more than coming to terms with the reality of the enormity of your being. Remember this: an ounce of reality, of the real and unadulterated, unapologetic, uncompromising you weighs more than all the tons of bullshit (yours or anothers) in the world. Exercising the power to choose how you will respond is what allows miracles to happen, the so-called “light” to “shine.” It’s effect, and the feeling of connection to the very heart of reality that it engenders is unequivocal, deeply comforting, and life changing.

If you don’t trust me, try it for yourself. What do you have to lose?

 

Enrich the Present

You can live to avenge the past, or you can live to enrich the present.” – Edith Eva Eger

On the suggestion of Ryan Holiday, I’m reading Dr. Edith Eva Eger’s The Choice: Embrace the Possible at the moment. It is a remarkable piece of literature and a must-read in conjunction with Viktor Frankl’s Man‘s Search of Meaning. These books detail the depths of human depravity and the triumph of the human spirit, and both provide starting points for overcoming the worst things that life may bring to your doorstep.

What stands out to me this evening is the notion of personal agency. No matter what you might be facing, how you live your life is truly up to you. The decisions you make must of course take into account the people and circumstances at hand, but they need not ever be dictated by externalities.

If you are facing a difficult circumstance, a frustrating person, or a painful memory, rather than fretting, take a moment to ask yourself “How can I enrich this person, place, or thing, here and now? Rather than avenging the ills you perceive, use that energy to build, to thrive.