A Better Chance of Survival

“I am pessimistic about the human race because it is too ingenious for its own good. Our approach to nature is to beat it into submission. We would stand a better chance of survival if we accommodated ourselves to this planet and viewed it appreciatively instead of skeptically and dictatorially.” – E.B. White

My sons and I took a walk through our field and around the pond yesterday and my youngest gathered specimens of the most interesting flora along the way. He started with pinecones and pokeweed and ended with honeysuckle (after hearing about the sweet drops of nectar hidden deep in the flower). There were so many different and wonderful sights and smells that it was hard to leave the world crafted by nature and reenter the world made by man.

Dominion is so very different from domination. It is a terrible privilege, one that begins and ends in devotion.

View from my Balcony

View from my Balcony by Gregg Hake

Undulating grasses, green pond welcoming landing egret.
Deer nibbling on grass, ears perked and heads turned toward unfamiliar sounds.
Cumulus building, painting sky white and shadowing mountains in blue.
Every inch, teeming with life: chirping, creaking, croaking, splashing and dashing,
View from my balcony urges me to remembrance of life’s infinite wealth.

Are you ready?

Morning dawns are you ready? by Gregg Hake

Mist rising from lake below
Air rich with summery scents
Infusing earth’s crescendo
Heart is filled with what presents.

All things made new
Not one refrain
Doth nature feign
I heed her cue.

My world today unfolds
A new song, a new day
Infused with fresh bouquet
This charge my life upholds.

The Web of Life

Nature has a way of transforming a dirty and drab world into a verdant garden each spring. Its capacity for renewal defies even the boldest imagination.

Man has for ages sought to master nature, to subdue it with his intellect and to control it by means of his ingenuity. Whether his latest achievements are the most advanced I cannot be sure (given the numerous remnants of earlier civilizations that are hard to explain), but the scope of his present domination is impressive in relation to recorded history.

If anything, nature’s remarkable annual display of regeneration should serve as an example to man as he seeks to make his way through the world from generation to generation. When his conduct is squared against nature’s way, it is painfully obvious that he has much to learn. For instance, man usually builds using dead forms rather than finding ways to blend harmoniously with the life that surrounds him.

His diet, too, increasingly reflects this tendency. In our century the time between the culling of the food supply – be it animal or vegetable – and man’s consumption of it has increased dramatically through refrigeration and preservation. So called progress and development divorces him further from the web of life of which he is a part. At what cost? Time will tell. Surely the prevalence of chronic diseases point to the wages of such an approach.

Man can shift his approach from domination to dominion, if he so chooses. To do so he can look to the example of nature, where life begets life, rhythmically, cyclically and predictably. Fortunately for us, nature’s abundant generosity forgives even man’s most egregious errors. As Pablo Neruda once said, You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.

Whether or not there is a point of no return, a point beyond which nature and man can no longer coexist is an intriguing thought, but why tempt fate, like a teenager testing the boundaries of his parent’s patience, to find an answer?

The Value of Decision

Lexi, my Red-tailed Hawk hunting partner, has taught me a great many things over the last two-and-a-half years. I have a deep respect for her hunting style, which centers around an uncluttered capacity for decision.

Human beings have it relatively easy. We don’t, generally speaking, have to risk life and limb every time we eat. We don’t, in our homes or at a restaurant, have to perform death-defying feats that push us to the edge of our physical and mental envelope to keep our food from escaping before it is served. Hawks do, each and every meal.

There’s nothing like facing a life-or-death situation to test your capacity for decision and your resolve once you’ve committed. Lexi approaches the split-second decisions she must make when chasing her quarry with with an intense focus and an inimitable grace. She is not, of course, endowed with the complex (and often overly and unnecessarily complicated) consciousness that her falconer and his fellow humans possess; nevertheless, her majestic example serves as an inspiration and a challenge, a call to continuous refinement of the capacity for decision.

The greatest single impediment to decisiveness is found in a troubled heart. The mental faculties are not typically the root of indecision, in fact, it is the overly and unnecessarily complicated emotional environment in which we tend to flail around as we move pillar to post instead of steadily forward on our journey through time. A troubled heart disrupts the normal thinking processes, creating a state akin to hypoxia.

As a pilot who has had specific training in hypoxia-awareness, I can aver to the fact that hypoxia’s debilitating effect on the mental processes is secondary to the peril of the false and misleading sensation of well-being that accompanies it. The problem with hypoxia is that you tend to feel great, if not euphoric, at the very moment that you should be most concerned.

So it is with a troubled heart. When your heart is troubled – either overjoyed or dejected – your perception of what is really occurring, that is, the truth of the matter, is skewed. As such, when you are faced with a difficult decision you are wise to first come to the point where your heart is as untroubled as possible. When your heart is at rest your mind has a much better chance at working as it was designed to work, i.e. a tool for rational thought rather than a tool for rationalization.

When your heart is troubled your mind will tend to waste its energies trying to make sense of the distorted and unreliable information it is receiving from your heart. Like walking through a hall of mirrors or making your way through a busy room while wearing a pair of your friends glasses, you have to think extra hard to find your way through the situation and the course you take is rarely optimal.

How you let your heart come to rest is for you to decide. Sometimes a couple of deep breaths and counting slowly to ten will do it. Other times indulging in a brief distraction to “take your mind off of it” for a moment can help. Some, I’ve heard, even benefit from “sleeping on it” as the opportunity permits. There are many techniques that can help you in this regard, but ultimately you’ll find that deliberately cultivating an unflappable appreciation for the privilege of decision and adopting a radiant stance in all that you undertake is the key to maintaining an untroubled heart every waking moment of your life.

If you have a better day today because of what you’ve learned, don’t thank me. Thank Lexi. Thank the natural world around you. Give thanks and give freely of yourself and better days will no longer be the exception, but the rule.

Living in an Air Castle I

Living in an air-castle is about as profitable as owning a half-interest in a rainbow. It is no more nourishing than a dinner of twelve courses—eaten in a dream. Air-castles are built of golden moments of time, and their only value is in the raw material thus rendered valueless.

The atmosphere of air-castles is heavy and stupefying with the incense of vague hopes and phantom ideals. In the man lulls himself into dreaming inactivity with the songs of the mighty deeds he is going to do, the great influence he some day will have, the vast wealth that will be his, sometime, somehow, somewhere, in the rosy, sunlit days of the future. The architectural error about air-castles is that the owner builds them downward from their gilded turrets in the clouds, instead of upward from a solid, firm foundation of purpose and energy. This diet of mental lotus-leaves is a mental narcotic, not a stimulant.

Ambition, when wedded to tireless energy is a great thing and a good thing, but in itself it amounts to little. Man cannot raise himself to higher things by what he would like to accomplish but only by what he endeavors to accomplish. To be of value, ambition must ever be made manifest in zeal, in determination, in energy consecrated to an ideal. If it be thus reinforced, thus combined, the thin airy castle melts into nothingness, and the individual stands on a new strong foundation of solid rock, whereon, day by day and stone by stone, he can rear a mighty material structure of life-work to last through time and eternity. The air-castle ever represents the work of an architect without a builder; it means plans never put into execution. They tell us that man is the architect of his own fortunes. But if he be merely architect he will make only an air-castle of his life; he should be architect and builder too.” ~ William George Jordan

My company concluded its annual sales representative conference the other day and I was left with number of impressions, particularly in relation to those reps just starting their sales careers with us. For starters, I realized more clearly that working as an independent contractor and therefore as a small business owner provides a number of specific advantages. You are your own boss. You determine your level of success and the scope of your employment. You set your own hours. You have what many long for: independence.

On the other side of the coin, of course, you find that you are also responsible for your business 24/7. You cannot leave your business to another on nights and weekends. You tend to be much more invested in your work – physically, financially, emotionally – and the fate of your company, “You, Inc.,” rests squarely in you. You cannot hide behind a boss, a co-worker and you typically don’t have much of a cushion, especially early on, to absorb your inattention to the fundamentals. The privileges you gain, in short, come with a corresponding responsibility.

One of our senior reps noted that one of his most painful (and subsequently freeing) realizations was that there were no shortcuts to success. He recognized that he could not outsmart the system, skip over the fundamentals and build his business as Jordan described: “downward from [his] gilded turrets in the clouds.” Such an approach may give the appearance of working, particularly early in life if school comes easy, if there is natural talent in sports, music or the arts, but such endowments are rarely sufficient to fund the start-up of a new business, let alone the expansion of an existing one.

Our V.P. of Sales reminded the participants over and over again that you must do the work if you expect to succeed. You must pay attention to the fundamentals your entire career, in fact, there is no point at which the fundamentals lose their value in the present and influence over the future.

According to the science of tree physiology, there are four phases of tree growth: 1) newly germinated seedling, 2) young seedling/primary growth, 3) year-old seedling/secondary growth and 4) two year-old seedling/bark and wood development. An interesting website on the subject notes that:

As trees and other plants mature over time, new structures appear. Developments may be obvious, as when flowers or other reproductive structures first appear, or more subtle, like the maturing of the xylem or phloem.

BUT – this does not necessarily mean that earlier structures disappear. Instead, they often spread up and out with the branches or down further into the ground with the roots…The structures that appear when the tree is a tiny seedling are still present in a huge tree – at the very tips of the branches and roots.

So it is in business development, except that you, not the forces of nature beyond you, are the builder of your dreams. As you parlay the time and energy you might typically expend articulating what you would “like to accomplish” into specific action steps, where attention to the fundamentals is paid each and every day that you work, you begin the building process. You begin your journey of personal and professional development, an adventure that leads consistently onward, upward and outward.

The Struggles of Man

Religion, Society, and Nature—these are the three struggles of man.” ~ Victor Hugo

If all the human activity undertaken in the course of a day, month or year were put in a pot still and reduced to its fractions, there would be but three fundamental components: religion, society and nature. Every man who has ever lived has wrestled with these matters. Every book written, every movie produced, every opera composed deals with one or more of these three topics.

They present themselves to the mind and heart of man at every turn, begging understanding and attention. Some try to cultivate their understanding from the bottom up, building layer upon layer of the bricks of understanding in an effort to reach the highest levels of knowing. Others espouse a top-down approach, believing that comprehension comes not from mental strain, but from yielding heart and mind to a less tangible fountain of wisdom and inspiration. Most fall somewhere in between.

Living is, in a word, the process of dealing with these struggles. Great scientific thinkers, spiritual leaders, prophets and the like offer occasional and intriguing glimpses beyond the veil of usual human understanding, yet most spend their lives bouncing from pillar to post without ever really overcoming the struggles which guard the gates of understanding in religion, society and nature.

Henry David Thoreau once declared: “I have no designs on society, or nature, or God. I am simply what I am, or I begin to be that. I live in the present. I only remember the past, and anticipate the future. I love to live.” In a way you must relinquish your designs to be able to see the true design clearly, just as you would see a friend more accurately if you were to release all prejudices and judgments about him.

I see this as one of the greatest challenges that face our educators, leaders, and parents today: how to provide sufficient starting points in truth so that all truth can be known in these areas. Too few starting points and the individual will be lost at sea, adrift in wave after wave of mixed information and likely to be swayed by the strongest influence coming along – true or not. Too many starting points and the person’s heart and mind are no longer an alembic of creative thought, instead, they become megaphones for a dogmatic if not fanatic perspective. This imbalance occurs in religion, society and the study of science and when it does, it is devastating to the individual and a terrible loss to the whole of which he is a part.

The way you handle these struggles in your life define you. Acquiesce and accept another’s view on these components and the unique perspective you bring on the eternal truth of the matter is lost. See life as being strictly a mental exercise, a matter of mind of matter, and you will fail. Simply follow your heart, after swallowing the foolish notion that your heart alone can guide you into all knowing, and your life will likewise come to naught.

Your heart and your mind must cooperate in the process. A pure heart, a keen, supple and well-trained mind capable of original and rational thought are the means by which the wisdom which seems to sit so elusively on the other side of the veil of human understanding is made available to you.

The truth of these matters is at hand. To know the truth, you must share the truth and this, my friends, is not a laborious chore but a profound pleasure.

Stand upright, speak thy thoughts, declare The truth thou hast, that all may share; Be bold, proclaim it everywhere: They only live who dare.” ~ Voltaire