Thursday, November 27, 2014

What's the rioting about?

It's hard to understand why a group of people would riot and destroy their own neighborhoods. It's painful to me to see that kind of anger. Certainly it cannot be about one single event or a single verdict.
We can all look back at times we exploded in anger about something. Observers may have felt we over reacted. In hindsight, we may see that we did as well. Our reaction was caused by a build up of frustration - a series of events. Quite likely our reaction created more problems rather than solving them.
Throughout this country and throughout the world, there are pockets of anger bubbling over into violence. These are symptoms of much deeper issues. If we focus on the symptoms alone, we can never solve the problem. We need to look beyond. That is hard work and requires our suspending judgement long enough to understand.
Our temptation is to dismiss the other person. Our temptation is to pass judgement on their anger and expression of it. Our temptation is to place full responsibility on them. They need to fix themselves.
The truth is that one person's suffering - one person's anger - one person's pain affects us all. We are connected. When that one person's suffering, anger and pain grows to a hundred, a thousand, a million, it will pour over onto more of us. If our response is equal anger and judgement, we help contribute to the growth of the suffering, anger and pain.
Outrage, judgement and dismissal of someone else is an easy path. It pushes responsibility to the other person for all the work needed to change. We don't have to do a thing.
In reality, the pain or suffering of others affects us all. We pay a price. The larger it grows, the bigger the price. If it affects all of us, we are best to participate in the solution.
If we truly believe we have better answers - we know a better path - we need to take responsibility for helping others to see it too. That requires love and compassion. It requires actually trying to understand the source of the other person's pain and actually helping them overcome it.  When we do this, we will grow and overcome our own issues.
If we could all make a commitment to doing this on just a small level, we can begin to change the world. It begins with us.
It starts with training our spirit and minds to seek the connection we all share. It starts with understanding that the pain and suffering of another is our own pain as well. It requires patience and a long term commitment with no expectation of immediate gratification. That's a tall order and it's not easy.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Life of Ethics

Yesterday I caught part of a BBC radio interview with Sir Nicholas Winton who saved over 600 Jewish children from certain death during Hitler's occupation.  If you are not familiar with his story, it's easy to find documentaries and interviews that are well worth watching. While this story is remarkable, the interviewer pointed out Sir Winton's lifetime of service to many charitable causes. And then he asked about religious belief. Sir Winton was born to Jewish parents but became a Christian in his early life, was baptized and described himself as a devoted follower. He became disillusioned with religion as he described realizing that both sides of the war were praying to the same god for victory. The interviewer then recounted the long list of lifetime service and asked, "If faith was not your motivation, what drove you to such levels of service?" Sir Winton answered with one word, "Ethics".
With prodding, he explained. If we would simply be driven by ethics, doing the right things, the world would be a better place, wouldn't it? Just simple love, compassion and doing the right things.
For those who have become disillusioned with religion, Sir Winton's explanation is as plain and simple as it can be. We watch righteous, religious leaders justify abandonment of love and compassion with an odd belief that god has some mysterious ethical standard that supersedes it.
And beyond religion, the lack of ethics has permeated our world in every corner. We live in a world that is driven by greed. In the US productivity is a huge focus - getting the most from the least. Meanwhile, we applaud those at the top for accumulating wealth and demonize the struggling masses in fear that they may "get something for nothing." How is a football player's effort worth millions and a teacher's effort worth thousands? How is a CEO's efforts worth thousands of times what the front line worker makes? What is the ethical answer?
Does anyone ask "what is the right thing to do?"
Living by ethics is very simple. "Do unto others what you would have others do unto you?"
Shed judgement. Look squarely at the facts and act on what is in front of you at the moment.
Sometimes it seems we have been taught to look for excuses not to do the right thing. If I feed that hungry cat that keeps showing up on the front porch, he will keep coming expecting food. True. And then he will return the favor by ridding your home of rodents and he will love you.
Feed people. Give them shelter. Do the right thing. Shed judgement. Shed expectation.
An interesting part of Sir Winton's story is that he did not try to follow the hundreds of children to see how their lives had gone. When asked about it, he said that he trusted that the many adopted homes were well vetted and his mother had ensured all was well. Indeed, you will see if you seek the reunion documentary, the stories are overwhelmingly positive. Sir Winton knew he had done the right thing and needed no validation.
When we know we are doing the right thing - the ethical thing - there is no need for validation.
I believe this is the most deeply spiritual path. It is driven from our deepest core and the deepest understanding of connection to all things. All other paths are false, no matter how you dress them.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

God said so...

Spirituality and things of the spirit are often on my mind. And yet, I have less and less interest in religion beyond an intellectual curiosity about it's dogmatic purpose. Dig beneath the surface and soon we can uncover a political motivation for most any institution. If ultimately the "truth" of religious teaching leads to "because God said so" you should become quite skeptical that spirituality or spirit have anything to do with it.
Things of the spirit - spirituality - truth - are unquestionable. Not because God said so, but because it resonates as true always. That is the measure. We can call it whatever we want to call it.
For example, we know that when we smile a sincere smile - it is understood in any language and in any situation. Kindness - sincere expressions of kindness - are understood and resonate across all lines. These are spirit. These are spiritual truths.
If your religion teaches you that "truth" is something that does not have this universal resonance, it is not a spiritual or spirit driven teaching. It is that simple.
Creating a God that does not reside in truth is blasphemy. Watch the people who are burdened in dogma. They are driven by divide and destruction with great excuses for abandoning love and kindness. As they stretch to protect their teachings they create greater and greater falsehoods to defend them. This is what happens when you begin with a false premise. We watch them grow more bitter as their need for affirmation is left unsatisfied. They know no peace. They are invested in dogma not spirit.
Spirit and spiritual understanding is deeply personal. It is grounded deep within us. It is our inner voice telling us what to do. It is the connection we need to understand. It is the connection with everything and everyone around us. It is what binds us to all that ever was and all that will ever be. That connection is carried in our cells - our DNA - but it also transcends any physical entity. It is our source. It is part of everything.
Those of you who are animal lovers, like me, can feel it as we connect with our pets. They say, express, teach us - something that is beyond language. It resonates. We feel it. It is pure. There is no dogma associated with their connection to us. It is spirit and spiritual. They love. They connect.
We need to understand spirit and spirituality in that way. Love and connect without judgement.
Shed the religious dogma. Find truth - universal truth. Everything else leads us down a path of destruction even if someone tries to mask it as "God said so."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Be the one....

The holidays are around the corner and there will be events, greetings, shopping, and family gatherings. And sadly, there will be grumbling.
Lines will grow longer at many stores and frustrations will grow. We need to develop some strategies to lighten up. I've pictured standing in a long line with people getting impatient and suddenly breaking into song or some crazy entertainment plan. Create a positive distraction.
If I really want to avoid the lines, I will find a way. I've been known to do my Christmas shopping in the middle of the night. That was before on line shopping made it really easy to avoid stores all together. Another great tactic is to shop at small local stores who will be very happy to see you and are less likely to be overcrowded with irritable people.

Meanwhile, the drumbeat of "War on Christmas" grows louder. We Americans are a stressful lot. 
Even holidays can create conflicts that get people riled up.
Last week I noticed our company made cards available to send out. They say "Happy Holidays". Would some say they have violated Christmas? Probably. Why would a company want a Happy Holidays greeting instead of Merry Christmas?
They do it for the same reason I tell my Jewish friends Happy Chanukah. My greeting is for them not for me. My Chinese friends celebrate New Year at a different time. When it's their new year, I tell them happy new year - not for me, but for them. In turn, they often tell me Merry Christmas or happy new year in recognition of my holiday. It's not a war. It's a simple recognition. Being respectful.
As much as you feel about your celebrations, others feel the same level of connection to theirs. If we can simply be respectful of one another, none of us has to suffer.
If you are in a room full of Christians and say Happy Chanukah, it's going to sound pretty strange to most of them. It's not their holiday. Likewise, saying Merry Christmas to a room full of Muslim people will sound pretty strange to them. It's not their holiday. You might say if the majority are xxx, then go with the majority. Ok - do you want to be the one feeling left out?
If we want to spread a message of love and joy, let it be a language that resonates with the intended audience. That's all it is.
We're becoming more of a global society with people from many different cultural backgrounds working together and living in the same community. Recognizing one another and our differences can make our lives richer. It should not hurt us to know and respect that some don't share our beliefs or traditions. If we make an effort to understand and respect theirs, they will be much more likely to try to understand and respect ours.

In any case, however you view the holiday season, it's yours. Let's greet each other with warmth and sincerity.  Let's be cheerful and respectful. Let's promote peace on earth - during this and all seasons. Be the one who brings a smile in those long lines.