Now

neonbrand-KYxXMTpTzek-unsplashAs we discussed yesterday, letting go of the state of mediocrity requires specific, deliberate action. It also requires a laser-focused state of mind and heart.

Mediocrity is the evidence of the refusal to be fully present, here and now. There is but one point in time that matters: now. The past is dead time and the future is likewise unborn. Nothing will happen in the past and nothing will happen in the future; things only happen now.

We have all lost ourselves outside of now. Any time we’ve reminisced about or bemoaned the past or longed for or worried about the future, we’ve split our focus and therefore our attention. So doing necessitated that we abandon our post in the reality of the present moment. Most people spend a major chunk of their their precious time outside of the reality of the present moment.

The point of power, the fullness of the greatness within you is always and only available in the now. That greatness is only imaginary, a relic or construct of the mind, when considered in relation to the past or the future. YOU — the vibrant, magnificent, eternal, beautiful, mighty being that YOU are  — can only act in relation to the present moment, the now, and your body, mind and heart are the vehicle through which the inner you expresses outwardly, in relation to the earthly circumstances at hand.

When you are not present here and now, you disengage the fullness of YOU from your body, mind and heart. Mediocrity is a symptom of this disconnection. Look at it this way: your attention is like a clutch. Diverting your attention from the now — yes, you have probably done this and likely have your own particular brand of it! — is like depressing the clutch. When you push the clutch in a car, the power of the engine is disconnected from the vehicle; the same happens in your vehicle, that is, your body, mind, and heart. When you are not fully present, the inner, invisible, potent, majestic YOU that you are is disconnected to some degree from the fleshy, earthbound body, mind, and heart that you have. Remember, you are a human being and not “only human” as so many beset with mediocrity would like to believe. (Hint: When someone says “I’m only human,” they are trying to convince themselves and others that their mediocrity is justified).

If you are truly, humbly seeking to move beyond the idled, powerless state of merely existing known as mediocrity, you still have time. You have less time than yesterday, but you still have time. Yesterday we looked at making a list of those people and things that you’ve tended to blame for your mediocrity. Today I encourage you to make a list of those areas where your mediocrity has negatively impacted the world around you.

When we acknowledge that we are a part of something greater and that we have the responsibility and privilege to express the best of ourselves at all times, we begin to see that our state of heart and mind and our actions matter. You matter. Your life is of value and the best of you is sorely needed on earth, here and now.

The Best of Myself

I arose this morning with a simple question in my head: “How long am I going to wait before I demand the best of myself?”  It’s a simple question, really, but it is one that begs a full-throated answer if anything meaningful is to be accomplished in life.

After scanning the morning news, which these days more than ever is filled with pandemics, plagues, shortages, collapse, wars and rumors of wars, I couldn’t help but think about the many things that destroy human potential. Times of great calamity such as these are not new to our species and while they are certainly of concern and must be handled with focus and determination, there is a much more powerful enemy in our midst.

This enemy, like the tiny Coronavirus that is wreaking so much havoc worldwide these days, is small, almost imperceptible. This enemy shortens the lives of millions every day. It attacks men and women, young and old, with equal lethality, but the saddest part about it is the greater part of humanity has accepted it as being as inevitable and unavoidable as death itself. In fact, you are considered normal if you suffer from it, and exceptional if it somehow has not infected your body, mind, and heart.

The disease of which I speak is mediocrity.

In the course of human history, mediocrity has shortened the lives of more people than all the other exogenous factors − wars, plagues, genocides, addiction, etc. − combined. Mediocrity acts stealthily, and as with the present COVID-19 pandemic, many people who initially contract it are asymptomatic. Symptoms such as lethargy, malaise, aimlessness, depression, pessimism, grumbling, and futility may take time to develop, but they eventually present themselves and invariably eclipse all joy, cheer, optimism, promise, and enthusiasm in those infected by this silent killer.

The really scary thing about it is that mediocrity, like a black hole, can even consume light. It gnaws away at dreams, hopes, vision, vim and vigor, and eventually leaves its carrier as a dim, listless, whining, moaning member of the walking dead.  When these things are lost to the individual, he or she ceases no longer lives, but just survives.

In hopes that I am not just filling your heart and mind with more doom and gloom as the media at large is so apt to do these days, I will end this message with words of hope and in fact a remedy for mediocrity. You see, mediocrity is a choice. No one can cause you to become mediocre. No matter how hard you have it, now matter how constrained your circumstances, now matter how bad it is “out there,” you have absolute, total control over your power of choice.

While it may be painful to come to terms with, there is no valid excuse for mediocrity. We may not have had the most nourishing upbringing, the best parents, the most ideal childhood, the best job, etc., but there is no excuse for not demanding the best of ourselves.

So where do you begin?

The first step is to stop blaming other people and other things for your shortcomings in this regard. Think about it. What or whom have you tended to hold responsible for your mediocrity? Make a list. Share it with someone you trust, then, burn it. Solemnly swear to yourself and to another if you’d like that you will never let yourself off the hook again with one of those excuses, for the choice was, is, and always will be yours to make internally.

You may find when you do this that other excuses will creep in. You see mediocrity is a drug, an addiction, that requires time and effort to overcome. But you can and must do it! It will take time, but the fullness of your greatness is at hand. It is just below the surface, right there on the tip of your tongue, ready for expression and actualization.

Act as if your life depends upon it, because in more ways than one, it does. I, for one, would love to see you thrive, to see the fullness of your light shining through the darkness of this world.

What do you say? How long are you going to wait before you demand the best of yourself?

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!