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Archive for December, 2019

A JOURNEY IS IT?

Life is a journey that must be traveled no matter how bad the roads or accommodations. –Oliver Goldsmith

This morning Gentle Reader I will tell you a story that has appeared in many different Cultures.  This is one version of many [by the by, I always find this to be one of life’s wonderful mysteries – the diversity of Cultures and the similarity of teaching stories].

Once upon a time there was a man who began to have a recurring dream.  The dream told the man that there was in a distant land a treasure waiting for him.  Day after day, week after week, month after month (he was a slow learner you see) he had this same dream.  Finally, partly out of exasperation and partly out of a growing desire to actually find the treasure, the man sold all he had (for some reason this selling of all one has is a requirement for many such teaching stories) and set out upon his journey.

The journey took years – we all knew this would be required didn’t we – and the man had many adventures and some scaries along the way.  As he traveled the man was encouraged by the recurring dream; he needed this encouragement for there were many times he wanted to turn back.  Finally, the man comes to the place where the treasure is supposed to reside.  He enters a cave and there sits a wise woman (makes sense to me).  She says she has been waiting for the man for years.

The man inquires as to where the treasure is hidden.  The wise woman smiles kindly and knowingly and tells the man that she has been having a dream for years that HIS treasure is behind a door in his house.  YIKES…. The man turns around, hurries back to where his journey began, goes to where he used to live begs the owner to let him into a certain room and there, indeed, was a door that he had never seen before.  He opens the door and there was his treasure.

Life’s journey must be made if one is to find one’s treasure.  Although the journey – is this irony or what – takes us full circle, it is necessary if one is to find one’s treasure.  There are experiences and teachings and learnings that one must be open to and embrace if one is to find the treasure that was there all along (bummer…no magic!).

Each step offers us an opportunity to grow and develop our P.I.E.S. [our Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, and Spiritual dimensions).  Each step actually opens pathways that lead us deeper into ourselves – the way leads in rather than out.  The treasure lies hidden behind a door that we do not know we possess and won’t learn about unless we take the journey (another bummer).  The ancient sage, Silvanus (150AD) encouraged this type of journey:  Knock upon yourself an open door, and walk upon yourself as on a straight road.  For if you walk on that path, you cannot go astray; and when you knock on that door, what you open for yourself shall open.

Each of us is a traveler of the heart.  As we walk the road of our life we come to unknown and unsought doors revealing further truth about our ‘authentic’ self.  We know these doors and yet they are unfamiliar to us – these are the doors that lead us to certain teachings about ourselves; doors that guide us toward wisdom.  Behind these doors information waits for us; information that will help us with our own transformation (our own maturing process if you will).

Our life experiences often divert us and so we begin to question the validity of our search (our call or our life’s purpose, if you will).  The very doors that we deem to be ‘false doors’ are actually necessary for us for they are a source (potential?) of growth for us.

Our life itself is a living parable (a parable is a teaching story).  If we live the parable we will have an opportunity to come upon the doors that contain our treasures (they may, however, not be the treasures we desire – they will be the treasures we need, however).  As I travel today, what are the doors that I will encounter?  Which ones will I open?  Which ones will I walk by?  Which ones will I turn away from?  Excuse me, I just bumped into a door – now what?

Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming; maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that really isn’t you, so you can be who you were meant to be. –Anonymous

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ANGER, PART III. . .

I was in 6th grade when I truly became aware of the anger that I carry.  On 4 April, 2010 the following poem emerged into my consciousness.  I wrote it down and then typed it out.  I have not edited the poem.  Later that year my friend George sent me a photo he had taken.  As I looked at the photo I immediately connected it to how I feel when I am experiencing my anger.  I have attached George’s photo to the end of my poem.

I CARRY ANGER. . .

I carry anger and rage within me
As someone carries concealed weapons;
I am not always aware they are there
Yet when called upon they are within easy reach.

Simple things can summon them from their resting place;
An interruption when I am concentrating,
A question that challenges me in some way;
I sense no pattern although I believe one exists.

Sometimes I wonder where all of this anger and rage comes from;
Sometimes I simply accept the reality of their existence.
At times I am puzzled, if not perplexed, by their presence;
At times I surrender to the reality of their residence.

Although I have experienced their spontaneous awakening
for many years I am almost always taken aback by their
intensity.

The spark that ignites the flash in the pan is the result
of a remark, observation or question.  The flash of fire
touches the black powder that explodes and sends my
anger and rage ripping through the once calm air;
This is an anger and rage that tears into someone like
a mini-ball does when it spreads soft skin and shatters
bone and organ leaving deep wounds and permanent scars.   –4 April, 2010

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ANGER, PART II. . .

Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not easy. –Aristotle

When I view my own aggression in the primordial light of our hunting past, the intensity of my urge to anger and to attack is easier to understand.  I strive to remember that in addition to being compassionate we are ferocious at birth.

Elias Canetti captured this as follows: ‘The human body bristles with power.  The most innocent seeming gesture recalls the primitive seizing and devouring of prey.’ Gentle Reader, if you’ve ever been in a crowded store on the day of the ‘big sale’ you know of what Elias writes.

We are each endowed with an anger instinct that seeks for discharge and waits for the proper context to be expressed (some would say that a number of us humans are waiting for ‘any context’ within which we can express our anger).

Zoologists tell us that if human aggression were more or less at the same level as that of other mammals that human society would be peaceful and nonviolent.  Most mammals are aggressive only in situations of crowding or limited resources.  We humans can, as we well know, behave cruelly and destructively in the most benign situations.  Humans who are ‘anger prone’ tend to eagerly await (and often help create) situations that permit their rage to engulf all.

A conclusion: ‘Anger’ requires ‘mindfulness.’  Gentle Reader, consider this:  Repression is an underrated strength in our Culture obsessed with liberty.  Repression IS a faculty of ‘Mindfulness.’  As a Culture dedicated (or is it ‘addicted’) to the proposition that all men are created equal, and that all ‘free’ men should let their freak flags fly, we have come to underestimate the value of ‘holding back,’ containing, suppressing and sublimating.  We have adulterated ‘freedom’ into ‘license.’

Research supports that more repression, not less, enables folks to be happier and more contented.  Now this might seem ‘Un-American’ to some who are ‘freedom-obsessed’ it is truly about ‘what’ we repress and ‘how’ we repress it (in this case –anger).

Mindful self-censorship is more liberating than oppressive.  All moral-ethical behavior is rooted in limits and paradoxically, the limits are liberating (again, this makes sense if one views ‘freedom’ as rooted in responsibility and not in license).  To put it another way: ‘Freedom’ is not the result of blowing our top every time we feel like it.

The Buddha, as is his wont, can be helpful to us.  In his teaching on right speech the Buddha provided us with three criteria that will guide us as we seek to determine the wisdom of shooting from the lip:  First, ask our self if it is ‘true.’  Next ask our self if it is ‘kind.’  Third, before we blast somebody we must determine whether or not our assault is ‘necessary.’  This type of ‘repression’ can actually set us free – we can be ‘free from…’ in order to be ‘free to…’

An angry man is again angry with himself when he returns to reason. –Publilius Syrus

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ANGER, PART I. . .

The opposite of anger is not calmness, its empathy. –Mehmet Oz

Consider this: Anger is neutral.  Anger is survival-based energy.  We can use it for good or ill.  The Buddha did remind us that ‘anger with its poisoned root and honeyed tip’ can seduce us into self-righteous aggression.  Anger requires me-you-us to pay attention to proportion, appropriateness, timing and targeting – the question, of course, is how often do I-You-We actually pay attention.

Just as self-righteous anger drives folks to revenge and prompts good people to guilt-free murder for their faith, anger may also activate our moral behavior.  Anger can be directed toward the good.  We are often critical of aggressiveness, but without it we humans would have been dead in the water, literally.

The psychologist, E.O. Wilson has identified seven different types of human aggression.  Consider these: protective anger, sexual anger, anger geared toward dominance, anger as rage and ‘empathic anger’.  Empathic anger enables us to identify with others who’ve been wronged and provides us the energy to fight on their behalf.

There is, as we well know, a trap.  Since anger tends to be self-justifying, as well as morally blinding, it is too easy to cloak my selfish anger in the robe of righteousness.  I have put on this cloak and I don’t believe I am the only cloak-wearer afoot.

There is acute anger and chronic anger.  Chronic anger is one of life’s banes, wanton anger seeking its own release, ruining relationships, health and morale.  Proneness to chronic anger is a stronger predictor of dying young than smoking, high blood pressure or high cholesterol (so the researchers tell us).

The ferocious anger that is rooted within one overwhelms one.  ‘Seeing red’ is more than a figure of speech.  When rage grips the limbic brain, a scarlet veil of bloodshed from millennia past seems to color the rational mind.  It is crucial that you-I-we remember that we’ve inherited a ‘carnivorous psychology.’  We humans have lived 99% of our time on earth as hunters.  We owe our biology, psychology and many of our customs to the aggressive legacy of our mastodon killing forebears.

Our intellect, interests, emotions and basic social life are all products of our hunting heritage.  I also found it sobering to learn that war is viewed in much the same way as hunting.  The psychologist, Richard B. Lee, noted that ‘war has been far too important in human history for it to be other than pleasurable for the males involved.’  Thankfully, warfare as sport is no longer tenable in a world where clubs and spears have morphed into A-Bombs.  Sadly, warfare as sport is still practiced by too many of us (in our Culture we have taken two metaphors and morphed them into one – the ‘war-sports’ metaphor).

We must not deny our carnivorous roots.  We must never forget that it is easy to teach a human how to kill, and it is a daunting challenge to teach a human how to be peace-full.  We are reminded of this every day.

Our carnivorous roots continue to provide us, at a primal level, a fascination with blood…

A broken bone can heal, but the wound a word opens can fester forever. –Jessamyn West

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MORAL LIVES, PART III. . .

If you do not trust the people you make them untrustworthy. –Lao Tzu

Our revolutionary Founders discerned the need for character to reside within ‘We the People’.  ‘Moral Character’ was essential to the vitality of the Founders’ experiment in ‘Democracy.’  In 1801 Thomas Jefferson wrote: ‘The steady character of our countrymen is a rock to which we may safely moor.’

For Jefferson, the significance of ‘Moral Character’ was a reverberation of all he knew from the lessons of history.  Consider his words: ‘It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigor.  A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution.’

James Madison offered a complement to Jefferson: ‘Is there no virtue among us?  If there be not, we are in a wretched situation.  No theoretical checks – no form of Government, can render us secure.  To suppose that any form of Government will secure liberty or happiness without any form of virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.’

For Jefferson and Madison, ‘Moral Character’ was a major tap root that nurtured, sustained and enabled our Democracy to develop from the potential to the actual – to move from the ideal to the real.

Two generations later, Alexis de Tocqueville toured our American countryside and discovered that the hopes of our Founders had been provisionally realized – virtue was, in fact, central to the vitality of American democratic life.  He wrote: ‘These habits of restraint are found again in political society and singularly favor the tranquility of the people as well as the durability of the institutions they have adopted.’

As I reflect upon all of this, I am not surprised that the challenges we are facing today are rooted in a weakening of our ‘Moral Character.’  History – theologic and philosophic – teaches us that the flourishing of ‘Moral Character’ is rooted in essential virtues that nurture and sustain justice, mercy, caring, compassion, empathy and democracy.   ‘Moral Character’ is part of our inheritance and it is part of the Legacy of our Founders.  ‘Moral Character’ matters!

If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do us no harm. –African Proverb

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