Thursday, September 3, 2015

Conflicting Rights

Most disagreements center around conflicting rights.  My right to play the drums versus your right for peace and quiet.  The right to smoke versus the right for a smoke-free environment.  The right to view pornography versus the right to protect our children.  The right to take your dog for a walk versus the right to have a clean poop-free trail.  The right to have a freeway built versus the right to keep a house that is in the planned path.  The right of a woman to chose abortion versus the right to protect the fetus.  The right to protect a news source versus the right to track down a criminal. 

In Hawaii, beach areas are all public property and home owners’ property lines are delineated by where the vegetation grows.  Consequently, some home owners have been growing vegetation over the sand to expand their property line and keep the public away.  The home owners want their privacy, and the beach-goers want access.

These conflicts get down to my right versus your right or the right I believe I should have versus the right you believe you should have.

So much of tension in society is the result of conflicting rights.  The rights of the Israelis versus the rights of the Palestinians to occupy certain territory; the right to protect religious expression versus the right to enforce religious beliefs.

These are the problems that are difficult to settle.  Over years people become ensconced in their positions and beliefs.  Then it becomes a personal conflict, a vendetta, my way of life versus yours.

With no easy solution the conflict escalates.

Much centers around possessions.  People want to own land which leads to my property rights versus yours.  But ultimately we are custodians not owners of land.  It was already here.

It’s only if we can take a wider view that issues of conflicting rights can be solved.  Moving beyond my right versus your right to our rights, requires finding a solutions that embraces the broader interest of both parties.  It’s a shame that so often there has to be an external enemy to get people to come together.  Maybe some day we can learn that the real external enemy is our inability to see ourselves as one.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Using My Left Hand

Two months ago when we moved from Colorado to California, I suffered a hand infection (cellulitis) and for a week kept my right hand elevated while IV antibiotics were administrated. During this time I didn’t do any writing, but I checked email and sent messages. I suddenly learned to do things left handed. As an example I operated my computer mouse with my left hand. At first this felt unnatural, and I couldn’t keep the cursor in the correct spot, but with practice I became almost as proficient as with my right hand. Now that I’m fully recovered, I’ve continued to use the mouse left handed. Who says older people can’t change?


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Motivation and Procrastination

For me motivation is an inner engine that doesn’t let me procrastinate.  I have a strong work ethic and want to get things done before I play.  My mode of operation is to get job-related activities and chores done first and then reward myself with free time to relax and read.

This is good in that I get things done and have completed numerous manuscripts as a writer because of it.  The problem is that sometimes I don’t get to the relaxing part.  The other issue is that I get compulsive.  My project-orientation gets carried away and I find myself “doing” more than “being.”

But I do procrastinate about things that involve confrontation.  After awhile though, my inner engine keeps reminding me to resolve the outstanding issue, so reluctantly I get up the courage to take care of what I need to do.  I also procrastinate about things I don’t feel competent in doing, like fixing the sprinklers and other plumbing projects.

So what motivates me?  First, to take care of my responsibilities.  Once I accept a responsibility, I want to complete it and not leave it hanging.  Second, to do a good job.  I take pride in my accomplishments and want to make a positive contribution.  Third, getting pushed around by “shoulds.”  I should be a good writer, husband, father, grandfather.  Fourth, fear that I don’t want to look incompetent.  So a mix of positive and negative motivation.

I can be very disciplined in carrying out my responsibilities.  I regularly exercise, take care of my writing projects and follow though on my commitments.

For me the challenge is to draw the line between discipline and compulsiveness.  My discipline can get consumed in preparing for the future rather than living the moment.  I run the risk of losing sight of the people when focused on my projects.

In the busy-i-ness of daily activity, I need to learn to stop, take a deep breath and notice the beauty and life around me.

Learn from the past.

Plan for the future.

Live the present.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Impermanence and Attachment

When something gives me pleasure, I want it to last.  Yet the universe marches inevitably toward entropy and chaos.  Material objects fall apart, people age and die, relationships change.

I may experience something and say to myself, I wish this moment would last forever.  But moments move on and so do I.

I may cherish a five year old child, but that child grows into a teenager and then young adult.  It doesn’t mean that the child is better or worse, just developing and transforming.

I often feel a pull toward the status quo, things I’m used to.  I don’t want the hassle of adapting to something new.  This way has always worked.  Why change now?  If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Yet as I age, circumstances change and I’m faced with the realization of a universe of impermanence.

How do I react?  Do I cling to the past, relish “the good old days,” pine for something that no longer exists or do I move on?

We can become prisoners of the past, and we can be so attached to objects or people that we are over-protective and fear-ridden.

There was a man who loved his valuable stamp collection.  He spent hours working with it, adding new stamps.  Then he became concerned about how valuable it was.  He considered getting a lock box at his local bank but worried that the bank might be robbed.  He thought about hiring guards to protect his stamps, but feared the guards might turn and steal from him.  He installed an elaborate security system and barricaded his home.  Then he became afraid to leave his house because someone might try to break in.  He woke up every morning in turmoil and raced down to his den to verify that his stamp collection was still in his wall safe.  Then he became fearful of even taking it out of the safe.  He was so attached to protecting his stamps that he never looked at them and never gained any pleasure from them again.

Compare this to a person who has few possessions but is free to go and enjoy whatever he wants.

Attachments tie us down and limit our freedom to move.  If we get chained to things or tied to the status quo, we lose our vitality and ability to live life.  We’re locked in the past instead of living now and enjoying the impermanence of the moment. 

So I need to remind myself to rejoice in change.  Embrace it instead of mourning the loss of something that no longer exists.  And I think I’ll continue to collect memories instead of stamps.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Rabbits and Being Present

In the rush-rush of daily living, I find it very easy to get completely absorbed in the minutia of planning for the next meeting or fretting about something unsaid in the last phone call.  I often find that I’m ping-ponging back and forth between the past (things that have happened) and the future (getting ready or anticipating what will happen) while completely missing the present.

While in Orange County, California on a business trip a number of years ago, I tried to focus more on the moment.  As I walked both mornings, I concentrated on being there rather than planning things for the day or regurgitating what had already transpired.  And what did I discover?


In the neighborhood behind the hotel, I spotted two rabbits hopping across the street.  They came to rest to nibble the grass of a well-groomed lawn.  One black rabbit and a gray one.  As the superstition goes, don’t let a black rabbit cross your path because you might pay attention.  A block later I spotted another four rabbits, sitting in a yard.  I came to a nursery and found over thirty rabbits of various sizes, shapes and colors luxuriating on a well-nibbled lawn.  The next street had half-a-dozen dog kennels, right there in the middle of a residential area.

I noticed crows sitting on power lines, felt a gentle breeze ripple across my bare arms, smelled the aroma of bacon being cooked, heard the chirping of birds amidst the periodic barking of dogs from the kennels.

It was exhilarating to be present on my walk.  So much to see, hear, feel, smell.  How unusual.  Rather than being consumed in the thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow, it was a joy to be there in the moment.

Instead of being locked into recordings playing in my head about “What I should be doing,” or “What if?” or “I forgot to do. . .” I was paying attention to what was going on around me.  My feet were moving, I was breathing deeply and I was alive.

No big exciting event, no epiphany, just the calm realization that it was good to be there, being me at that moment in time.

The typical problem is that I get wrapped up in the busy-i-ness of daily activities and writing projects and am not aware of what goes on around me.  I experienced this over forty years ago when we lived in Southern California.  I was driving along the freeway one winter morning and felt strange.  Something was different.  Then I realized I could see the mountains!  Mount Wilson with a cap of snow appeared in the distance.  It was one of those rare clear days, and I could see over the whole Los Angeles basin.  At first I was disoriented.  I had become conditioned to the tunnel vision of not being able to see beyond the usual layer of smog.  I was awed by the visibility of this unusually clear day.

This pattern is repeated over and over again.  Our field of vision is narrowed to the point that we don’t see what is going on around us, don’t feel the presence of others, don’t venture out of our cocoons.

Open your eyes, ears and other senses to the possibilities of the moment.  And you’ll see the rabbits. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Golden Rule

It’s called the Golden Rule because it’s valuable and something we can measure ourselves by.  But what does it really mean when someone says, “Do unto other as you would have them do unto you?”

This way it’s usually stated isn’t quite correct.  How would a masochist act in interpreting, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?”  He’d hurt someone because that’s what he’d like done to himself.

The true meaning is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  Consequently, it needs to be restated as, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you if you were in their circumstances.”  It’s not what you want, but what the other person needs.  If someone is lonely, offer friendship.

It is universal.  That’s why it appears in so many different religious traditions.

The problem in the world is that we’re all so wrapped up in our own wants (our frame of reference) that we don’t pay attention to the needs of those around us.  By reaching out, we move beyond our own closed system of daily problems and can benefit from the giving.

But for me, I forget this with my busy life, packed agenda, overbooked schedule, writing projects and book promotion.  I have to be aware of not being consumed in the “doing” of daily life and miss the people around me.

That’s why it’s worthwhile to stop, take a deep breath, look around and remember the Golden Rule.  It’s a benchmark we can measure ourselves against and an ethical standard for a more fulfilling life.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Prayer: I've Got a Branch

For me, prayer is an affirmation and expression of thankfulness, not a petition. 

When I was in elementary school, we attended a chapel service once a week.  I remember sitting in the auditorium listening to Reverend Rewick, singing hymns and generally not paying much attention.  From all those hours there, I remember one story.

A man fell off a cliff and as he tumbled down he began to pray.  “Dear God,” he beseeched.  “Help me.  I don’t want to die.  I promise to be a good person and not do anything bad again.”

He continued to fall and his prayer became more fervent.  “Dear God, please save me.  I’ll do anything you ask.”

He still fell and as the ground got closer he pleaded again, “Please help me, God.  I’ll dedicate my life to your service.”

Eight feet before being dashed against rocks, he saw a branch.  His arm shot out, he grabbed the branch and came to a stop a foot from the ground.  He gasped for breath, then said, “That’s okay, God, I’ve got a branch.”

I know that I ask for help in the difficult times and then cruise along mindlessly when times are good.  Like taking good health for granted.

We used to do a grace at dinner which was the most basic of prayers.  We held hands and said together, “Thank you.”

At its core, prayer is this affirmation, a thanks for life and all we’ve been given.

Sometimes before going to sleep I’ll say a prayer.  It’s a simple mantra.

“Dear God, thank you for everything you’ve done for me.  Give me the strength to do what’s right and to love those around me.”

That says it all.  The only other thing I could add is not “thanks for the fish,” but  “thanks for the branch.”