Conversation

“The reason why so few people are agreeable in conversation is that each is thinking more about what he intends to say than others are saying.” – Francois De La Rochefoucauld

In Middle English, the word “conversation” denoted “living among, familiarity, intimacy”. I love these shades of meaning because even the most mundane conversation can take on that quality if the participants are willing to let it be so.

A review of the day with one’s spouse, a discussion about how the school day went with a small child, or even a heated debate in a Presidential election can take on these qualities when there is a genuine interest in hearing another out. That genuine interest comes naturally to an individual whose heart that is rooted in love and whose mind centered in truth, for “worship” of this nature cannot help but be reflected outwardly through the thoughts, words, and deeds once established internally.

You may know or have known someone who faced a life-threatening illness and then “saw the light.” Such experiences tend to ground the individual in thankfulness for what truly matters, and more often than not they forgive past grievances, relinquish the sense of entitlement to withdraw love or abandon truth, and dedicate themselves to living their remaining days with greater dignity. The inner change or realization often precipitates a dramatic outer transformation.

I love speaking with people who have had such an experience because conversations with them tend to be conditioned more by “living among, familiarity, and intimacy” than just about any other quality. There is less mixture in their concerns, a greater respect for life, and as a consequence, a deeper appreciation for their fellows. Selfishness may even give way to generosity and the concern to be a blessing may eclipse the concern to get something for oneself, be it getting one’s point across, getting a rise out of someone, getting one’s jollies, or getting a word in edge-wise.

Conversation ought really be nothing more than letting an inward reverence for the sacredness of life find expression in words. Private conversations between two people are often referred to with the French phrase “tête-à-tête” (“head-to-head”), but I think that true conversations are as much “coeur-à-coeur” (heart-to-heart) as they are tête-à-tête.

If you let nothing but love and truth condition your part of any conversation, you have done well. So doing allows you to focus your concern in relation to discovering and agreeing with the love and truth in those with whom you are conversing. Moreover, this approach allows you to solve the harder issues you might face with greater civility and dignity.

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What Good?

For as long as I can remember I’ve had mixed feelings about holidays. As much as I love the change in rhythm, I’ve never been able to look past the fact that many of our holidays in the United States celebrate and venerate what may well be humanity’s greatest blunders.

If the story of the life of Jesus Christ is true, for instance, the fact that His birth His resurrection are celebrated gloss over the fact that He was rejected and executed by well-meaning, “good” men and women like you and me is thinly, but effectively whitewashed by stylized crèches, a hefty dose of commercialism, and a healthy admixture of pagan rituals (a bunny that lays eggs, really!?!) that divert our attention from the real meaning of the celebration.

Thanksgiving, too, is not without controversy. I was told as a school-aged child that Thanksgiving marks the day that the kind and helpful Native American Indians helped the Pilgrims by giving them food, showing them new farming techniques, all of which helped the Pilgrims survive harsh New England winters. We colored cute pictures of Pilgrims and Indians but we were never really told much about the near decimation of millions of Native Americans that soon followed. We celebrate Thanksgiving now as if the tragedy had never happened. Somehow family, food, and football make it seem justifiable.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not against holidays as a rule, but I do feel it important that we not lose the underlying meaning of the time we take “off” from our normal routines. These holidays ought to teach our children how to be better people while allowing us to shrug off the cares of the world for long enough that we regain our perspective and focus on what truly matters.

When we scan the pages of human history, we see that we have made some pretty outrageous mistakes as a race. If we did indeed mock and attempt to remove the King of Kings from the earth because His talk and example of righteousness inconvenienced us and forced us to look at what we were doing wrong, then shame on us. Whether we rationalize our forefathers’ behavior 2,000 years ago by the thought that the whole thing was predestined and actually a gift is a personal decision, but to celebrate it and venerate it…isn’t that going a little too far? And if mass murder, forced relocations, and the appropriation of land were justifiable as the cost of progress, then say it like it is, but don’t stuff it and dress it up.

We can numb ourselves with sweet treats or tryptophan or make sweet songs and heartwarming traditions that gloss over these tragedies, but what good does that do, really? It makes us feel good at a certain level, but what good does it do? How does what we do in these precious times of family, reflection, and frivolity make the world a better place? Or less ambitiously, how do these times “off” bring us closer to understanding the hearts of those who gave so freely and selflessly of themselves?

I don’t feel I have all the answers to these questions, but I do feel it is important to raise these questions. My hope is that these thoughts will compel you to think a bit more about it yourself so that we can work together to take full advantage of the wonderful holiday times we are so privileged to enjoy. To do this we must understand the purpose, the “reason for the season” as they say, but in a way that goes deeper than we traditionally have and typically do.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the holidays and how we can make better use of them! Don’t be shy…

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Autumn Rains

“Autumn Rains”, a haiku by Gregg Hake

Darkened clouds above
Pouring out their tears below
Wilt thou clear by dawn?

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Timing and Readiness

Yesterday morning my youngest son told me that he was hungry no more than 5 minutes after eating a big breakfast. I told him that it might be a good idea to wait a few minutes so that his stomach could report on its new contents and he exclaimed: “Daddy, I know how that works: your brain is normally talking to your heart, so it has to interrupt the conversation and sometimes that takes a while.” I had to smile at that one, but as usual, the observations of children often get me thinking.

In this case my thoughts expanded on another conversation I was having in my head about readiness. Readiness, that is, the active state of being ready, is often limited to its physical or mental implications. I would argue, however, that readiness is as much a matter of the heart as it is the body or mind.

The heart plays an important role in preparedness. For starters, the heart is the custodian of wisdom. If you consider wisdom not as knowledge, but as the sense of the fitness of things, you’ll recognize that careful attention paid to wisdom pays enormous dividends. It is commonly accepted that “timing is everything”, so I would imagine that a better sense of timing cannot hurt!

When you prepare for something, you must attend to the details surrounding it, but you must also “wrap your mind around it”. These are both necessary, but not sufficient to successful preparedness. If your heart is not ready, you simply won’t be ready.

Oddly enough, getting your heart ready is less a matter of bracing (as you would “pluck or screw up your courage”) and more a matter of coming to rest in relation to the factors at hand. If you’re not at rest in your heart, your faculties will be impaired at a certain level and your timing will – unless you are really lucky – be off.

Timing is everything because of the forces at work in the universe. Some are under your control, others are beyond it. If the action you are considering is timed rightly, the “stars” will, as they say, “be aligned”. If, however, you try to push things through with your body and mind and pay insufficient heed to the messages of your heart, then your sense of timing will suffer and you will likely act too soon or too late.

Physical and mental preparedness are necessary but not sufficient to generative, efficient action. You must listen to your heart and more importantly, you must learn to let your heart be at rest in relation to the decisions you must make as you navigate the waters of your life. Do this and you will be generously rewarded. You’ll be ready to act when the time is right and perhaps just as importantly, you will act when and only when the time is right. Right timing is the wages of wisdom!

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The First Step

Watch the first step: it’s a doozy! I am training a young Harris’s Hawk for falconry at the moment and one of the most significant steps in manning (training) a hawk is getting it to hop from a perch to the glove for food. My new bird, Oya, did that last night!

For the bird, it is a matter of trust. It has to have sufficient courage to overcome the fear of the unknown. I suppose the same is true of us, isn’t it? In the beginning…in any beginning…in every beginning we have to reach that point in ourselves where our desire to act overcomes the inertia of remaining where we are. It is a critical point in anything and everything we undertake.

The wonderful thing is that a victory in any area of your living can be parlayed into any other area of your living. Whether you successfully took that first step on a snowboard or while standing behind podium in front of an audience, no one can take that victory away from you. And once you’ve succeeded – even if it seems to you to be an insignificant matter – you can use the internal momentum (the stuff of assurance!) to help you take the first step over and over again in every area of your living.

The first step may be a doozy, but the rest are typically much easier!

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Righteousness

I recently read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, which was written in response to a written statement of public concern issued by a group of white religious leaders of the South. In it King described his rationale for non-violent demonstration in relation to the unjust segregation ordinances in place at the time. He defended his participation and the action of those protesting in no uncertain terms and made a number of interesting points about societal evolution that got me thinking about the nature of relationships and the responsibilities of the individual participants in those relationships, be they work-related, school-related or more intimate in nature.

In his defense of “why now”, King pointed out that there is a time for waiting and a time for direct action. He felt direct action was warranted because the underlying tensions inherent in the situation were unlikely to be resolved due to a lack of visibility. He saw non-violent demonstrations as a means of raising awareness so that a resolution could then be negotiated. They were a means to an end.

I wonder how often in the life of the individual or in the course of managing one’s relationships the underlying tensions are kept deep below the surface? It’s easy to do, and there are many techniques for doing it. Just a few I can think of are: denial (“That couldn’t possibly be true, you must be mistaken!), distraction (e.g. getting angry when the issue comes up or diverting attention à la “look, there’s a circus!, etc.”), resignation (“You can’t fire me, I quit!), accusation (“I wouldn’t have to deal with this if it weren’t for you or that thing!” The said thing is about such approaches is that they never, I repeat, never resolve the issues. In fact, they tend to compound them.

I am a firm believer in the fact that there is a right timing for every action. Living life effectively is as much a matter of timing as it is anything else. To be sure, you cannot simply wait for everything the resolve in your life; neither can you force everything to happen. There is a sweet spot in between, where the factors are aligned for resolution, that is, for the underlying tension to come to the surface and be transmuted into a solution.

You are better off being prepared for when the time is right and a process of self-purification often precedes the big event. As the tension slowly (or quickly as the case may be) rises to the surface, it may very likely bring unresolved factors in the heart or mind along with it and those elements can be dealt with as soon as they come up.

The only way to deal with such elements is through humility, honesty, and a willingness to forgive or be forgiven. You have to acknowledge them, often in the presence of others who will provide agreement with the new standard being set. Once acknowledged, these previously weighty matters typically become weightless and as a result, easy to move out.

If you don’t allow them to come to the surface, you risk re-submerging the tensions, which has the same effect as sweeping dirt under the carpet when you’ve been asked to clean the floor. It eventually trips you up and makes things worse!

One of the best things you can do to help those around you to deal with these tensions is to provide the steady pressure of righteousness. Righteousness in this sense performs the function of non-violent demonstration, that is, it raises that which doesn’t belong in another to the surface. By not agreeing or reacting to the elements in others that are inconsistent with either love or truth, or as King put it, “eternal law”, we provide a safe place wherein that which doesn’t belong can be looked at for what it is and released into the abyss of nothingness from whence it came.

 

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