Archive for November, 2008|Monthly archive page

UFOs and Thanksgiving

The other day, CNN featured a video of fine upstanding pillars-of-communities who join the ranks of those who have spotted UFOs.  One of them, an accomplished pilot, was asked why our exposure is so rare; why, if aliens are interested in us and visiting regularly, don’t they just come in and take over?  The answer offered was that this mature, thinking man is not sure they haven’t already done so!

If you have kids, you may suspect the truth of this possibility.  Sometimes the sensibilities and motivations of young folk seem alien indeed.  Where do they get their crazy ideas?  How is it that my 20-something son and his cohorts have ideas about economy, religion, lifestyle, and ambition that seem to be from outer space?  This example is only partly tongue-in-cheek; I admit to being entirely of two minds on the subject.  I don’t really think my son’s an alien, but then again ….

Considering the likelihood of life on other worlds seriously helps in putting your priorities in order.  If existence encompasses much more than the flotsam and jetsam of this planet – if beings and societies can flourish under completely different circumstances than we know – our standards of measure can change exponentially.   The range of possibilities explodes.  Material wealth, keeping up with the Joneses and the trends, and getting control over your personal empire all shrink to puny endeavors.  Racism, political domination, religious wars, partisan bickering, and the desperation of housewives suddenly become worthless wastes of time.  If we’re not alone in the Universe, we can finally perceive our Narcissism, and let it go.

Thanksgiving’s my most favorite celebration for many reasons.  This year, it works its wonders with special grace and power, I think, because of the economic trouble we’re experiencing.  When stripped of wealth and other indulgences, you can see more clearly the blessings all around, the ones you did not earn or create, the ones that are freely and naturally given.  Like thinking about visits from Martians, this year’s giving of thanks can open the mind and free the imagination – an unbeatable Return on Investment!

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Social media revolution

Studying intensely this strange animal called social media marketing.  As communications is the major focus in my work, I recognize the social media movement as revolutionary in the extreme.  It may upend not only our marketing practices, but every aspect of business planning and operations. 

One issue we encounter when establishing communications online is how to balance personal and professional posts.  Given the time involved in keeping up with, say, your Twittering, you’re probably inclined to have just one account there, and not try to maintain several different ones.  The culture of the ‘net requires a very soft touch in your marketing posts, with an emphasis on your personality more than on the services/products you offer.  Many folk in the social marketing course I’m taking wonder how to synthesize; how to be personable but also aim for an ROI.

In my opinion, this question is at the heart of the movement’s meaning.  We’re looking at re-inventing our economy right now, and a large part of the new global understanding is that we’ll succeed by being authentic, by aligning our personal goals with whatever we do in the business world.

This is a major difference from the past, when your job was generally regarded as something apart from your true self.  Our challenge now is to identify and focus on the things that are actually personally meaningful; to use our personal, native creativity in service to the world’s needs.  When what you do for money is closely aligned with your personal dreams and understanding of reality, posting and commenting online in a way that’s both personable and professional becomes second nature.

Does this mean you should change jobs?  Maybe.  But more likely, it means that if you apply foundational creative thought and practice to your daily grind, you will begin to see how your work is an expression of your self.   Whether you flip burgers at a fast food joint, run errands for the boss, make automobiles, or own the company, careful, creative observation will bring you an understanding of how this work aligns with your deepest motivations.  It’s from that place of clarity that we must all proceed.

Grounding

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I was struck by the strength and steadfastness of this cow on my walk yesterday.  Thinking about re-inventing the self, per yesterday’s post.  Actually, we never have to re-invent our selves; though at times we may be constrained to re-vision our idea of self. 

A cow’s idea of self has admirable tenacity, no matter where she finds herself, no matter what the external conditions.  She is who she is without questioning or apology; and her very ‘is-ness’ provides constant and reliable nourishment.

Big 3 bailout

Weighing in on the Big 3 bailout, I’m thinking about means versus ends this morning, and about the primary responsibility of being an adult these days, particularly in America.  Our understanding of that responsibility is changing drastically.  It used to be that individual professional achievement sufficed to earn both self respect, and the admiration of peers.  But we’re evolving, shaped by global forces, and we are beginning to see that responsibility means using your personal achievement for the benefit of others.

Michael Moore is certainly a force to be reckoned with.  He may be extreme, but his passion for his fellow humans is to be admired.  Here’s the takeaway:  he uses his talents as a filmmaker in service to society.

Many others do the same, of course, but many, many more do not.  The norm is to apply one’s talents to  personal enrichment, using whatever means to achieve the end, which is envisioned as a place of personal security and happiness.

Global realities, though, and such burgeoning threats as climate change, force us to reconsider.  It is not enough to be a good writer, or musician, or salesperson, speaker, mathematician or scientist.  If we do not apply these skills to the very pressing problems of our fellow man, we are not fulfilling our responsibility and we will not benefit in the long run.

So the Big 3 spent the past 50 years being attentive to the whims of society, but turning a deaf ear to its serious needs.  After 9/11, I remember, some people clamored for SUVs because they felt protected in these tanks.  The auto manufacturers were happy to cater to this silly paranoia.  They were happy to use their talents in service to our weaknesses, because that guaranteed them a large market, for another year anyhow.  They seemed to have no ability to see anything past the next year’s fashionable new styles.

(I find it interesting that my son, who is an awesome actor, refuses to have anything to do with the world of performance.  He’s spending his time seeking a way to work towards a vastly improved future for us all.  He does not view his talent as his ticket to ride: he senses that his happiness lies only in the happiness of us all.)

So, I do not think the government should bail out the Big 3, or any other private business.  Even though their demise could seriously impact the lives of a couple million people or more.  Something has to happen to awaken us to our responsibilities, and bailouts – as any parent will tell you – generally have the opposite effect, enabling, coddling, and obliterating any thought of improvement.

Instead of a bail out, we should let these companies find their own way; let them expire, and let others – such as those of my son’s generation, many of whom seem to naturally understand this new responsibility, lead us into the future.  And those many auto workers?  I feel their pain; I’ve had to re-invent myself several times in my adulthood, and it’s scary in the extreme.  But it’s a choice for life, as opposed to wallowing in practices that are sure to cause global depression and even possibly the extinction of the human race.

Presidential doodles

Wow.  What a lot of fun … cnn.com’s story this morning about presidential doodles.  Check it out.  Obama is a caricaturist!  Now, we know this guy is really smart, but who knew he was an artist?  Actually, these are very advanced, almost not what one would call doodles.  Still, they were apparently produced in that distracted state of usual doodling, which takes place as one listens to something entirely unrelated, such as a speaker at a meeting.  They came, in other words, from Obama’s subconscious; and as such, they reveal that his subconscious is extraordinarily organized.

In contrast, the CNN story made fun of Palin’s messy scribbles.  It also briefly showed the doodles of past presidents.  Apparently, there’s a book that has collected these souveniers.  I’ll have to look it up.

Of course, the story goes a long way towards proving my deep belief in the benefits of doodling.  Perhaps, rather than using the words of a politician to judge their worth, we should look hard at their doodles.  I wonder what McCain’s style is. 

It’s not that drawing excellence, or precision, or organization is necessary in doodling.  But a page of scribbles from any individual, created while their attention was on something else, will reveal with absolute honesty the state of their inner being. 

It appears that, in electing Barack Obama, we have for once made a choice for someone whose inner being reflects all the sense and sensitivity of the outer man.

Ethic of conservation

I’ve been reading Thomas Friedman’s amazing Hot, Flat, and Crowded, and am full of an urgency right now about our collective future.  Friedman says we are in dire need of three things: clean energy, energy efficiency, and an ethic of conservation. 

It’s this last one that worries me the most.  It’s the one that is most difficult to define, talk about, and transition to.  We’ve spent a century being wasteful in the extreme (especially in America, but also globally).  We’ve abandoned thrift and humility; we seriously believe we’re entitled to huge wealth and to using resources any way we wish to advance our greed; we measure success in terms of material possessions, and generally (if sometimes secretly) admire profligate spending.

Introducing and firmly establishing an ethic of conservation is a formidable mission.  The term does not mean just recycling soda cans or newspapers; it suggests a transition that changes the roots of thinking.  It involves losing all sense of entitlement, and fostering an attitude of constant gratitude and care.  It actually requires that we orient our lives towards compassion, that we leave personal greed behind and exist only for the benefit of others.

Anyone out there see this happening anytime soon?  Probably not, but our healthy future depends on it.

I have an older sister whom I idolize.  About ten years ago, I noticed something about her that, at the time, actually irritated me.  She has a way of being infinitely gentle with absolutely everything: people, ideas, and things.  She is always attuned to the feelings of others, and will sacrifice without hesitation for their needs.  She asks questions, rather than making pronouncements.  She puts away the clean dishes without making a sound.  When I first realized this, I was irritated by what I perceived as a weakness in her.  But soon enough, I came to undertand that she was not at all being obsequious; rather, she was operating from a well-entrenched ethic of conservation.  Ever since, I’ve been working on emulating her.

We must take conservation to heart, to the very source of consciousness and personality, and learn to exist day to day in unbroken compassion for all things.  Such a re-invention of thought is an almost impossibly tall order.  Nonetheless, we must chip away at it, or eliminate the human race.

Observing urges

To continue this rumination on joy, I must clarify a little.  There’s a vast difference between happiness and joy, for instance.  I think we can manufacture little sources of momentary happiness for ourselves, but joy is an encounter of entirely different dimensions.  Joy is a wellspring which, once located, eternally feeds us.

We traditionally use religion as the vehicle towards our joy, but these old standbys have crumbled in the past few decades, their mores and promises have proven unhelpful in our time.  Many Americans have substituted financial success for joy, and abandoned the search for anything more meaningful.  Certainly, the demise of organized religion is the biggest difference between us and our ancestors.  Without it, we must individually re-invent our joy.

The first step in the journey is calming the mind, releasing your clutch on everyday tensions.  You must allow the possibility that you are not in control, and open wide to the instructions from the universe, which can be subtle, whispered hints.  You must cultivate your sensitivity so that you can hear the directives.

Note that this is not about some new religion; the instructions from the universe are instructions from your inner self, and the ‘being still’ that I recommend has to do with transcending the petty details of society and conditioning so that we may glimpse a larger reality.

So the technique I want to share today comes from the theater, from an exercise we used to do in rehearsing improv.  It’s called ‘urging.’  Four or five of the group stand within a marked-out ‘stage.’  There is one directive:  move only when you must, move according to your deep urges.  The spectators watch as the ‘actors’ begin to explore their urges.  Some move frenetically, others do not move at all.  The door to authenticity begins to give. 

You can do this in any quiet moment, if such moments exist in your life.  Be still, and then observe your urges.  Let whatever you discover inform you; it is sacred information.

More about Joy

Though growing old ain’t for sissies, one of its major benefits is the slow coming to understand mysteries that have plagued us for decades.  A thought that’s been enlarging in my awareness is that life is meant to be a journey towards joy. 

More and more, I order my activities according to what I really want at this moment.  The trick is knowing what you really want.  Opting for actions that seem attractive but are not aligned with your ultimate pleasures will not work.  It requires quite a bit of sophistication; the ‘gimme gimme’ of youth has nothing to do with realizing joy.  You have to have an idea of perfection, a vision of ultimate joy, and your choices must continually refer back to that ideal.

But once solidly aligned with your ideal, you have a sure way of being, one that remains in close contact with your joy at all times.  You see that it’s unnecessary to take any action that’s unrelated to your joy.  You consider, at every juncture, only what will make you really happy.

The conundrum for many is how to find their joy.  Things thought to be happiness-creating end up empty.  There certainly is no prescription that works for everyone; it’s a solitary search for every individual.  I try, in this blog, to make little suggestions, like inverting your spine, or doodling.  The only suggestion that is truly universal, though, is to set the intention.  You have to consciously want to find your joy and believe in the importance of this mission before you’ll get anywhere with the project.

For that matter, I’m beginning to think that studies in approaching joy are all that we ought to be teaching young people in school.  We should be learning from the git-go that our responsibility as humans is to live our joy.  We should be taught methods in using creativity – both personal and group – and we should be bred to understand that all other effort is subordinate to the search for profound happiness. 

Few adults today were taught anything like this; our grooming was more along the lines of fear of judgement and poverty, fierce competition, winners and losers.  We seek ‘success’ much more than happiness.  We’re sadly out of touch with our native creativity. 

So I’ll keep up the patter here, hoping to cajole readers into a search for their personal joy.  For today, I return simply to breathing; inhale deeply, exhale slowly, take a 15 second break to perceive and appreciate the instant purification that oxygen supplies.  This is where the search for joy begins.

The old toe touch

In these giddy days of major change, it’s instructive to compare our general outlook with that of folks 50 years ago or so.  Noting the stories of African-Americans who in the 60s never imagined we’d change so much as to vote in a black president, I’m proud of our ability to progress, and I’m also reminded of how our maturation has resulted in a different approach to life.  So much has changed all around us, and our inner changes have quietly tagged along; now we’re products of the new technological world, citizens of the globe. 

Life used to be simpler, no doubt.  And it used to be perhaps more approachable.  The options at hand are so extensive now as to utterly bewilder the individual.  And since we’ve neglected care of the soul in our mad rush to technical, financial, and political prowess, it’s easy to lose your way in life today, finding yourself washed up on the shore of disillusionment.

For this Monday morning, I have just one little suggestion for keeping in touch with your basic humanity, the flow of blood and breath, the source of being.  A primary way in which we differ from people 50 or 100 years ago is that we simply move less.  Our lives and work do not require much physicality, and it’s common for people to do no more in a day than sit, stand, and walk short distances.

My suggestion is to adopt a habit of inverting your spine every day.  This does not require twisted yoga postures.  It’s just a matter of dropping down, as if to touch your toes, and letting your blood reverse course for a few seconds.  If bending is not possible for you, just letting your head drop, chin on chest, is a great beginning.  

There’s a specifically correct way to do this, but I’ll skip the details for now in favor of promoting the concept as a whole.  The more you do it, the easier it will be.  Try it once, mindfully, breathing regularly as you do it, and you’ll be amazed at the refreshment you feel.

Little practices like this can make all the difference to your attitude, courage, generosity, and energy.  I fear for a society in which we’ve lost touch with physical vitality.  Letting your body do its part in unfolding your path will brighten your awareness and bolster your hopes as you spin around the dance floor with this crazy world.

Unemployment and education

They say that the future for American workers – a future that is pressing closely on our present – is one in which people can expect to change jobs many times during a career.  The old days of working 30 years for one employer are gone.  Certainly many thousands are now dealing with the syndrome, as unemployment reaches 14-year highs.

I know well the shock and confusion that ensue when challenged to reinvent yourself as an adult.  We work hard at learning a profession, we carry debt from university training, we put in our time, and then in middle age it’s suddenly necessary to do it all over again. 

The reason why this is so difficult is that we’re conditioned to think we grow up to become something.  Identity is absolutely dictated by occupation.   And the reason why this is so, is that we’re just not very good at knowing our souls.  We don’t know who the hell we are, and so accepting that we’re a dentist or insurance salesman or hamburger flipper is the best handle we can get on our identity.

I had the dubious honor of working in public schools for some time in past years, and it’s certainly no wonder that we have such wimpy self-knowledge.  Public education does its best to wipe out curiosity about the self; studies in creativity are regarded with the highest suspicion.  Creative disciplines are relegated to the wierdo art room, and the vast majority of students are not exposed to the profound resources of the creative self.  Students are encouraged to learn about the world, but they’re given no instruction in learning about the self.

As with so many of our current issues, change in education is the only sustainable way to effect change in the larger society.  For those of us advancing on seniority, however, dealing with today’s challenges has to happen without a foundation in creative discipline.  I sincerely hope that this experience will cause changes in the way we teach young people, so that middle age identity loss becomes a thing of the past.  And I continue to be committed to exploring in this blog ways we adult Americans can reconcile economic demand with the dictates of soul.