Champions of Change, Survivors of Storms


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In and around the Texas Gulf Coast town of Rockport, there are magnificent centuries-old oak trees that grow nearly horizontal to the ground.

We saw them recently, on a few days respite from life in suburban Dallas. I was astounded by these incredible examples of God’s enduring strength, these champions of change and survivors of storms

There’s a lesson here about learning to lean where I’ve previously stood flat-footed and braced against the storms of life.

You can learn to lean and not break

There are times when the winds of this world threaten to snap you into  two pieces. I really don’t think I’m the only one who experiences the destructive nature of howling winds that slash at my metaphorical windows. They screech at you until, in your anguish you just know that you’ll be ripped from your moorings. Life as you know it will be finished.

Remember: those bent oak trees are still beautiful in their bentness. And you, no matter how storm-battered, are still beautiful too.

The trick to withstanding the storms of life is learning to pause, assess and respond without reacting.

How to get onPAR (Pause, Assess, Respond)

It’s okay to take deliberate steps away from crushing news. Lord, I can see how people become surly and jaded. When I’m exposed to nonstop news, including the diatribe on social media, I tend to sink into quicksand of sarcasm and criticism.

At those times when I find myself overwhelmed by life’s grittiness, I’m trying to pause (I’m not always successful!) before getting sucked into the grime.

I assess the situation. Do I need or want to play? Is there an option to walk away and not participate?

Once I determine my part, then I respond instead of reacting (the former being a proactive stance).

Here’s an example: Say there is some sort of work drama that affects my department or my piece of the work plan. I can’t walk away but I can choose to sit quietly and keep my mouth shut!

That’s only one example of two trillion.

I’m fortunate that as a contractor, I work alone in my home office. I don’t get pulled into the vortex of office life. But that doesn’t mean my world is always peaceful! Here’s what I do when faced with daily vicissitudes:

I take a break. I write. I pray. I take the dogs for a walk and I deliberately notice the stillness of the water in the lake. Peace, be still.

I breath and I bend, grateful for my flexibility.

One day at a time, I lean toward flexibility and fluidity searching for a profound sense of grace and fortitude. All will be well because all IS well.

So long as you bend but don’t break.

Shenpa and Learning to Listen


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In Tibetan, shenpa describes aggression or craving. Pema Chödrön writes that shenpa is “the root of all conflict, all cruelty, oppression and greed.”

Not to sound judgy, but there is enough shenpa in the world right now to fill an ark, two-by-two and squared.

Although the actual translation is attachment, Pema says she thinks of shenpa as “getting hooked,” while one of her teachers describes shenpa as the “charge,” like an electrical current, behind our thoughts, words and actions.

An example of shenpa is your response when someone criticizes you. The charge fires and you have to respond. You have to say something. You’re hooked.

Someone sends you a snippy email (or one you perceive to be snippy).

You’re running late and someone cuts you off on the interstate.

Your flight is delayed—six times—and then cancelled.

Do you feel that flare? That instant of “Oh my God! Seriously?”

That flash of emotion that scales up from annoyance to outrage and beyond? That’s shenpa.

Shenpa can be managed—that’s the good news. But it takes the consistent and frequent practice of presence.

Here’s an idea.

What if shenpa could be drastically reduced in homes, schools and communities by improving how we listen?

We are obsessed with talking. If we’re not talking, we’re thinking about what we’re going to say when it’s our turn to talk.

Now, I’m not implying that you don’t listen or that you’re not a good listener. But what if you began to practice radical listening?

Listening is the gift that grants peace, whether during a meaningful conversation or a solo stroll along an empty beach.

Quiet digesting of words and thoughts make up the truths and ideals that pull us back from insanity. I’m certain of it.

Listening lets you explore the edges and margins of life so as not to judge or draw conclusions, but to inquire and become more aware.

Listening provides connecting points and intersections of clarity or confusion, sometimes both. We learn to question who we are and what we want—and then how to invite our most cherished qualities of life to those points of connection.

Think of these virtues: love, compassion, forgiveness.

Let’s listen for them today. And then, let’s watch how shenpa—that snap-your-fingers nasty attitude behind so much of today’s snarly public discourse, fades to black.

Who knows? Maybe listening becomes a new cultural phenomenon—the very one that overtakes our distracting obsession with our gadgets. Stranger things have happened!

Photo courtesy of elephant journal

White Heron or Range Rover?


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Over the weekend, I was leaving my neighborhood when a majestic white heron, like the one pictured here, flew low across the street in front of my car.

Seconds later, I turned left onto Village Boulevard (speed limit 30 mph, I believe) when a burnt orange Range Rover with out-of-state plates suddenly appeared behind me, swerved around me and zoomed toward the main entrance.

Definitely not neighborhood etiquette, not to mention downright rude! I quickly opened my iPhone camera and tried to snap a pic of the license plate but I was too late.

I was furious! Good thing I was on my way to my regular Saturday morning 12-step meeting.

Then it hit me

Suddenly I realized how the previous 30 seconds was a microcosm of my life.

Two quick moments: Close encounters with a beautiful white heron and a rude driver of an ugly Range Rover–each eliciting strong, instant emotions. Which do I focus on after the moment has passed?

I laughed out loud when I got a mental picture of Little Beth stomping her foot and muttering through clenched teeth, “Range Rover.” But the adult, more expansive me? White heron, of course.

Choosing where to place your focus

You’ve had similar experiences, right? A moment of awe or wonder or thrilling adrenaline? And a second moment–maybe within the “good” one, that is ugly or hurtful or just yucky.

It’s the Cherokee fable about which wolf do you feed?

Your decision is crucial because it sets the tone for what comes next–darkness or light? Kind-hearted or gritchy? Loving or hateful?

In the split second you’re given to make the decision, try to see past your self-focused vision to the people your decision impacts. Your family, children, neighbors, or in my case, the people with whom I shared the suburban streets. Our decisions always have consequences.

James Allen said, “Man is made or unmade by himself. By the right choice he ascends. As a being of power, intelligence, and love, and the lord of his own thoughts, he holds the key to every situation.”

My entire Saturday hinged on the decision I made in the 30-second flash of the white heron and the Range Rover. We make those choices multiple times each day.

Teach yourself to be present to those moments and then choose wisely. Your day, and the days of everyone you encounter hinges on your choice.

Peace to all!

P.S. A quick shameless plug for Facing Addiction and the team on the ground in Cleveland at the Caucus for Addiction Solutions during the Republican National Convention. Catch Facebook Live news coverage and interviews. Next week it’s on Philadelphia to host the Caucus during the Democratic National Convention.

Photo courtesy of AcrylicArtist

Look Out For #1 But Be Kind to Others


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Back in the ’70s I was enamored with a book called Looking Out For #1 by Robert Ringer. The basic premise of the book, one of the New York Time’s 15 bestselling motivational books of all time, is you have to take care of yourself before you can be useful to anyone else.

In other words, put your oxygen mask on first!

You have to admit the title is a little off-putting, though, egotistical even, especially during this time of continual Donald Trump yammering.

If we believe that happiness comes from being our best, then maybe the idea of looking out for ourselves is a good one. Think about it: Is there anyone else qualified for the job?

Humble and kind

Two words swirl around me–humility and kindness. Be humble. Be kind.

These two words are a firm foundation to build our best self as we look out for number one. (Can you see the beginnings of the plan to be better so you can do better?)

Tim McGraw has a hit song that seems to be everywhere I turn. His lyrics are simple but the message is powerful.

An recent essay in a recent Sunday edition of the Dallas Morning News describes a fourth grade teacher’s idea to remove all her classroom rules but one: Be kind.

The essay’s author writes about one woman’s decision to be kind to herself. “It’s a decision we make every day. We are in total control of decisions, our choices, our lives. I choose to love and I choose to be kind.”

If kindness is the goal, I believe we’re naturally humble, even when we’re taking care of ourselves.

Three more words

My friend Amy, a former Sunday school teacher and Jesus freak (My description and it’s a compliment), says Jesus’ messages can be summed up in three words–surrender, acceptance and love.

Add humble and kind and you have a winning full house hand, not to mention a recipe for a contented life.

I like knowing that a lifestyle with these five words in my heart and on my mind is always available to me. My simple-but-not-easy task is simply to put my oxygen mask on first and breathe them in.

When I keep my focus on me–looking out for #1–I am less likely to judge you, gossip about you or make fun of you.

Buddha said, “What we think, we become.”

If you want to look out for #1 today, let your thoughts focus on five words that will transform not only your thinking, but your place among women and men.

Humble. Kind. Surrender. Acceptance. Love.

Be AND do all these.

Photo courtesy of 5demayo

So, How Are You?


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You’re asked the question many times a day. It may be, “What’s up? What’s going on?” or  “What’s happening?” but the words behind the question are really How are you?

Most of us give a rote answer, like fine, great or I’m okay. Have you ever really thought about the story behind your answer?

There are different stories

There are stories we tell ourselves (and others) and then there are the stories that we let define us. Seldom are the two versions the same. Here’s what I mean:

You have a magnificent day where everything sparkles. Things can’t get much better, you think.

Then the day ends and, as if in a broken magical spell, you return to reality. It’s back to the grind, you think.

Someone asks how you are. You say fine or okay when you’re obviously not as you launch into the details of blah, blah, blah. If you’re fine or okay, why do you act the opposite?

Seeing beyond the question

The How are you? question has nothing to do with what is outside us, the majority of which is out of our control anyway. We–you–need to stop responding to the question from the perspective of what is happening in your life when the person asking the question wants to know how you are being.

When someone asks me how I am, what if I begin my response by repeating the last two words–I am. When someone asks how you are, don’t you begin with I am _______________.

I am well. I am blessed. I am beautiful. I am energized.

Then, don’t say anything more because you’ve answered the question! And that’s the story you need to believe–not the story about how your Uncle Roy decided to leave Aunt Matilda and as a result your cousin came to town, moved in with you and now your boss won’t give you a raise to help support your cousin. Whew!

One more step, call it extra credit: believe your answer because it’s truth. How are you and what’s going on in your life are not the same story. The first is an autobiography and the second is a narrative of events.

Both questions are important but the first gets to the heart of who you are and isn’t that much more important than Uncle Roy, Aunt Matilda and their deadbeat kid?

Photo courtesy of kakisky