Peace vs. Fear

What feeling do you get from this image?

More and more Americans, many of whom would be considered “decent people”, are buying weapons for self-defense. Is this really the best response to the perception of an increasingly violent society?

We each need to answer this for ourselves, of course, as we do all ethical questions which face us in life. My hope is that arming yourself does not become a reflexive response to unexamined fear.

Violence is not the opposite of peace. Fear is the opposite of peace. Peace is an active attitude of trust, contentment, compassion, serenity and gratitude. Fear robs us of peace. We expect the worst, while buying into the idea that danger is always lurking outside the door.

What are the odds that you will find yourself in the position to shoot, or even threaten another human being with a gun? The odds vary by where you live, those with whom you associate, your personal habits, and your level of reactivity.

Every morning I walk by a tent encampment in a nearby park. Assuming that you live in a home, do these people have more to fear than you? Very likely so. Life is dangerous for those who lack safe housing, whether it be an encampment, a shelter, or home in an area with high levels of criminal activity.

This leads to the question of why a growing numbers of individuals, whom many of the “homed” fear, are “homeless.” We all know the answers–destructive personal habits, poor financial choices, mental health issues, or a criminal history which makes housing and employment difficult.

Why do people commit crimes? The answers overlap with why people lack homes.

Rather than spending your time buying guns, attending gun safety training, and going to a shooting range, what about making your community a better place for all people? Work for candidates who choose not to promote fear to get elected. Volunteer for organizations that provide jobs, affordable housing, job training and support, addiction assistance, and mental health counseling. Or use some of the money you save by not buying guns to start your own campaign or organization!

Peace trumps fear every time, my friends.

Listen, My Children and You Shall Hear…

Imagine the glorious sound of this waterfall.

We listen with our ears, our eyes, our skin, our spirits. Listening is the raw input. Hearing is the reception and interpretation of what is heard. We can block out communication, mishear, misunderstand, misinterpret. We filter input through our expectations, biases, and traumas.

The world is noisy. Stop and tune into the sounds around you. What do you hear? I hear my refrigerator, a car driving by, a door slamming, a siren in the distance. In many homes, television or music are on most of the time. On my daily walks through a beautiful park, I observe people wearing headphones or earbuds, thereby missing sounds of the river, breeze ruffling leaves, and birdsong. They miss their own thoughts, distracted by whatever they are listening to.

“The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.” 
― Alfred Brendel

A. HEARING ANOTHER PERSON

1.Words

Person A: “You’re not hearing me.”

Person B: “I’m listening.”

Person A: “But you’re not hearing.”

One of the biggest challenges in any relationship is communication. When I work with couples in counseling, most are challenged by communication. If they are arguing non-constructively (often the case) one thing we talk about is how to discuss a pressing topic: schedule a time and place, keep the discussion to topic at hand, structure so each person has an allotted time to speak without the other responding. At the end of that time, the listener recaps what she/he heard. If the first speaker believes their message was received, the second speaker continues by offering their perspective. If not, speaker A restates and again seeks response. And so on. If it’s a “hot-button” issue, it is best to have the conversation in the public place.

     2. Body Language – This is written in the mask-wearing era. How much harder is to listen, much less hear what another is saying while wearing masks? I find it difficult and disconcerting. We communicate volumes with our facial expressions, posture, relative positioning, hand gestures, and eye movement. We are subconsciously aware of the body language of others, but are oftentimes less aware of the messages we send out.

B. HEARING ONESELF

Yes, we communicate with ourselves.

  1. Dreams – Do you listen to the communication of your dreams? I keep a dream journal, noting in as much detail as possible the content of the previous night’s dreams. As we sleep the deep levels of our interpretive awareness are accessed. While the setting and the people may be drawn from daily life, look deeply at what happens. Understand the dream as symbolic. See the characters as aspects of yourself. It’s great fun. Ultimately, we must interpret our own dreams, although an intuitive dream interpreter may be of assistance. Unsurprisingly, recurring dreams are those with the most to teach is.
  2.  Conscience – Jewish tradition teaches of two competing voices or inclinations, which are constantly vying for our attention: the Yetzer Tov (good inclination) and the Yetzer Hara (bad inclination). The voice we listen to most often becomes stronger, and the one we ignore or suppress becomes weaker. Each of us is free to make thousands of choices each day–what we say, think, do, wear, eat, buy, watch, listen to. The list is endless. The Yetzer Tov seeks to lead us toward honesty, health, gentleness, truth. The Yetzer Hara counsels dishonesty, unhealthy behaviors, violence, deception. Decades ago, I sought to quit smoking cigarettes. I clearly recall a “little voice” in my mind urging me to “just have one.” One was, of course, never just one. Eventually, I tuned out that voice and kept in my mind a list of the people in my life who didn’t smoke. If they could do it, so could I, and I did.
  3.  Monkey Mind – With all do respect to our kindred creatures, the image of “monkey mind” resonates for those who endure racing minds and obsessive thoughts, as if the accelerator pedal in their brain is stuck. This may be a symptom of a serious mental health condition, or it may be a habit that can be alleviated by thought monitoring, quiet time, and some form of meditative practice.
  4. Think About What You’re Thinking About – Thought monitoring can be immensely helpful in dealing with unwanted thoughts, preventing rash decisions, changing unhelpful habits, and becoming a more positive and caring person. If you become aware of angry or fearful thoughts, which are basically the same thing, replace them with, “I will trust and I will not be afraid,” or “All is well; I am safe.” If you are having negative thoughts about yourself, replace with, “I am doing my best,” or “I can either change this, or learn to live constructively with it.” For negative thoughts about another, try a classic, “Do onto others as you would have them do to you.”
  5. Meditation (Bridging outside oneself) – Have you tried meditation and not had success? It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it has to be appropriate for you. Some people find sitting meditation to be very helpful. In the past, I struggled until I discovered walking meditation. Slipping away from oneself into a deep and soaring silence grounds and heals us. Give it a try. Find your own best method.

C. HEARING NATURE

  1. Find a Place – It could be a park, an untended and overgrown lot, your backyard, your balcony, or a country lane. Basically, anywhere outdoors which isn’t totally eradicated by development. My personal idea of hell is a mega-mall surrounded by acres of treeless paved parking. Return regularly to a location and you will develop a relationship.
  2. Unplug Your Ears -This is self-explanatory. Trust, you can take a break from your music or podcasts. You’ll be fine.
  3. What Might You Hear? – Creatures, wind, flowing water, trees, grasses. Those who are sensitive may hear even more…

D. HEARING BETWEEN THE LINES

  1. Hearing Even More – Listen openly and you will receive. This might be the real meaning of a loved one’s words. Or the pain behind friend’s sarcasm. Or the truth under the lie. This takes whole body listening. At times I can perceive the flow of sap within trees. There are frequencies of sound below and above the range of our normal hearing, messages for us, if we only listen.
  2. Poetry – A few poems can be read at face value. “Listen, my children and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere”. Most poetry must be read in levels–the words, the meaning behind, between, and amongst the words. That’s what I mean by “listening between the lines”, as applied to life.

Welcome

Thank you for spending your precious time reading postings on topics that enliven and amuse me.

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Also, visit my YouTube channel for videos on world religions, and Jewish mysticism, known commonly as Kabbalah.

Wishing you health and happiness!

Gail

All of Life is a Stage

First of all, apologies to Shakespeare for rewriting his famous line from As You Like It, where the world is compared to a stage and people to actors. What follows in the play is a description of seven stages of life, from the mewling, puking infant to the aged person returned to childishness, a typically brilliant Shakespearian mish-mash of humor and truth.

You may be familiar with the Hindu teaching of the Four Stages of Life, which is less physically focussed than Shakespeare’s stages, and less psychologically-based than the the stages of human development famously proposed by psychoanalyst Erik Erikson*. The four stages in Hinduism are known as Ashrama and are roughly correlated with biological age:

  1. Brahmacharya (Ages birth – 24) – Student Life, focused on education, including the practice of self-discipline, learning to live a life of moral righteousness and duty, including celibacy (hmmm).
  2. Grihastha (Ages 24 – 48) – Householder Life, focused on relationships and earning a living, all undertaken virtuously.
  3. Vanaprastha (Ages 48-72) – Retired Life, a time of handing over duties, serving as an advisor, and transitioning to a more spiritual life.
  4. Sannyasa (Age 72-on, or any time after age 24) – Renounced Life, release of material desires and prejudices, represented by disinterest and detachment from material life, generally without any meaningful property or home, and focussed on peace, simplicity, and spiritual life.

No matter which phase you find yourself in the Ashram scale, one can benefit by keeping the main thing the main thing, and assessing where our priorities are off track or unhelpful. What I love is the priority given to ethical training and behavior, along with the deep significance of the final stage of life.

For many older people with their life’s work done, finding a continued sense of purpose can be a challenge. Hobbies and television can only take one so far before the deadly despair of loneliness and boredom take hold. While particularly the bane of the elderly, this can really happen at age. Many in their peak earning years are trapped in unfulfilling jobs, living from vacation to vacation, from purchase to purchase, or paycheck to paycheck.

I am in the process of marketing a novel entitled Borderland, in which the protagonist, Claire Blixt, undertakes a major transition to a simpler life, inwardly knowing what she needs without really knowing what she’s doing. In the midst of ennui and on the heels of several disasters, she tries and fails at suicide via bridge leap. Instead of suiciding her body, she suicides everything except her physical existence. An ill-considered move to a remote town where she had never been bring her to a connection with the natural world and to people whom she unexpectedly learns to love.

As the materialistic trappings and desires of her former life melt away, Claire finds meaning and purpose.

And isn’t that the goal for each of us?

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erikson%27s_stages_of_psychosocial_development

Summer Solstice

IMG_6566
Minnehaha Falls

Yesterday summer officially began. As usual, my dog and I started the day with an early morning walk through Minnehaha Park to the confluence of the Mississippi River and Minnehaha Creek. Other than a couple of fisher-people, we usually have the place pretty much to ourselves. Armed with a plastic bag and gloves, each day I pick up garbage left by visitors since the previous morning’s cleaning. It is satisfying work.

Public parks are such a gift. Natural features are protected from development and harm, and everyone is welcome. Fees are minimal; many are free. Public parks allow access to beautiful places regardless of your ethnicity, race, income, age, or gender. Think of it! We all own riverfront, lakefront, and historically or environmentally significant areas that we can visit whenever we wish.

Along with parks as great institutions of equality, we need to place public libraries. As a small-town kid one of my greatest joys on summer days was riding my bike to the library and checking out a stack of books. Anyone can get a library card and educate themselves. They can use a computer to look for a job, do their homework, or research an interest. In my adult life, when I need a change of scenery, my public library offers a quiet, comfortable place to work on writing projects. Plus libraries smell great. Like books!

My kids attended a diverse public high school in St. Paul. There they had the opportunity to excel and grow as human beings. On a daily basis they interacted with students who were born in other countries and who were culturally diverse. A few students were well-to-do, some were mid-range, as we were, and many were truly poor. With all due respect to those who send their kids to elite private schools, I believe that a real education must take place in the real world.

Public institutions are created to be bastions of equality. Parks do this well, libraries, too. Public schools certainly have a way to go in terms of funding. Our legislature would well to consider how our schools are paid for, and how to distribute funds fairly across all school districts. There is no excuse for kids in Edina, for example, to get a better education than kids in North Minneapolis, for example.

In addition to supporting and improving parks, libraries and schools, we can extend the equalizing power of public institutions by working toward universal health care, free home internet access for all, and free community colleges. I had the good fortune to teach at a great community college in Chicago for a few years. Many students were newly arrived immigrants, as well as those who had ability but didn’t thrive in their high school environments, and those who were wise enough to see community college as an affordable option for their first two years. Every American of any age or circumstance should have the opportunity to attend community college free of charge. This should be extended in the future to 4-year state colleges and universities.

In this time of social upheaval and momentum for improvement, let’s look to the equalizing power of our great public institutions as agents for societal change.