Friday, July 3, 2009
For thinking before acting,
For hearing before judging,
For forgiving your enemies,
For being candid and frank,
For helping a fallen brother,
For being honest in business,
For thinking before speaking,
For being loyal to your church,
For standing by your principles,
For stopping your ears to gossip,
For bridling a slanderous tongue,
For harboring only pure thoughts,
For sympathizing with the afflicted,
For being courteous and kind to all.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find that it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow.” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.
- Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
Commentary: Aren't our lives exactly this? Filled with highs and lows? Suffering and joy? Love, peace, happiness and anger, distrust, and frustration. Yet we all seek peace...where is it? Are we looking in the right place by denying the constant struggle taking place around us? Or is there peace within the struggle?
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
We go through life with the expectation that effort leads to results. If only it were that simple. Effort leads to character, strength, and the will power to never, ever quit. We view effort as the means, but in actuality it is the ends. It is the only thing that is real; it is the only thing that is meaningful to the soul. Results are fleeting and are founded in expectations, mostly material expectations. And expectations lead to suffering, because results are fleeting, uncontrollable, and are never enough for our egos.
But constant effort is noble; the highest form of which is effort without expectation. This is the yin and yang of life: strive with great effort but release all expectations of gain. Gains are fleeting, the soul is permanent and effort strengthens the soul.
When my wife was thirty she was diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer; we sobbed and sobbed, crying our eyes out we were so sad and scared of the unknown. How could this happen to someone so young; to a couple that was so in love, with a beautiful 2 year old daughter? Life had so much hope for us and here we were with the greatest shock of our young lives. My chest compressed when I tried to tell our friends the news; every time I tried I couldn’t control my sobbing.
We stayed in bed for hours and hours, day after day, not wanting to lose each other and not wanting to believe what was happening. How could it happen?
Slowly we began to emerge from our shells, realizing that living in denial, living in frustration, living in sadness was not living at all…it was worse than death itself…and then we came to understand that although we have no control over life itself, we can control how we respond it. And that depth of our character is determined by the depth of our experiences and our efforts. Our spirits are stronger than anything that can happen to us.
While we could not have known the outcome we knew that we could face it, whatever it would be, with dignity and strength. With great fortune, Carol fully recovered, had three more children over the next 7 years, and continues to be the love of my life to this day.
Life cannot be controlled but our response can be; and in that there is hope, dignity, and free will. Nothing can take that away from us unless we let it.
Monday, April 6, 2009
The shear ubiquity of young female factory workers in China overwhelms the consciousness. All dressed in their standard issue light blue factory jackets covering simple blue jeans and t-shirt tops one cannot help but wonder where do they come from, so many that I have seen in numerous cell phone refurbishing, plastic housing, and plastic painting companies.
They lightly and briefly chat amongst themselves but are mostly silent with each other and rarely make eye contact with the western foreigners visiting their factories. What is going through their minds when they do make eye contact? Can they even comprehend the differences in our lives and standards of living? What do they feel? Are they screaming inside to be freed from the drudgery of these jobs? To not lose their young adult lives to the 6 day a week, 10 hour days of factory life?
How many of these young women are their, performing such basic manual labor as preparing unfinished, molded plastic cell phone housings for the painting line. Brushing and cleaning everyone by hand and taping them and attaching them to the painting assemblies to be painted in modern painting equipment.
These young women are aged 16 to 24 -- some maybe more, some maybe less? Every factory I visit, I see these women. And there are thousands upon thousands of factories across the coastal cities of China set up to serve the growing demand for low cost products across the world. There are millions of these young women in factories across China. Millions of them.
Why don’t factories hire more men? Because women get along better. I have been told that the men tend to fight too much and get involved in drinking and gambling. I guess I would too if I had to work like this.
The workers are housed by the factories in small dormitories. Eight to ten women to a small room in bunk beds. Men are to groups of 6 because of the prevalence of fighting. In some multi-shift plants they hot bunk with a second shift. The rooms are barely 20 by 10 ft. You can spot the dormitories by the laundry hanging out off of ropes outside of every window, air drying in the smog of China.
They receive room and board in most factories as most of them travel in from the countryside mostly sent by their families so that they can send money home to help support other family members who barely survive on their farming wages. The girls earn about $250 pr month plus room and board. That is about $10 per day or $1 per hour. Most of which returns home every month.
What must they be thinking everyday hour after hour? Does this eliminate the spirit from them? Do they ever smile? I never see them smile. Do they have hopes and dreams? Do they fall in love? Can they imagine life outside of this world? What is their one day off per week like? Do they laugh and play with their friends?
They only return home once per year during the Chinese New Year when the entire country shuts down for two weeks. The trains are filled with migrant factory workers returning home. Platforms are filled with thousands of people heading back to see their families who they haven’t seen for a year. Can you imagine your daughter being sent away at the age of 15 or 16 for a year to work in a factory and then to be sent back again after her week-long visit? The train rides can take several days each way. Many girls do not want to return to the factories away from their families, friends and siblings. The factories often withhold two months of back pay to keep workers locked in to their jobs.
And they leave for their families every year with barely enough cash to pay for the train ticket home. Last year, in February of 2008, a rare, devastating snow storm hit northern and central China and literally shut down the entire Chinese rail system across the country. You probably saw the news stories and the video of millions of stranded passengers on train platforms across the country with no place to go and no money to feed themselves. I left China just as this storm was hitting and I was astounded at how many Chinese people were sitting on platforms in southern China going nowhere. It was a national emergency. But the people could only sit and wait. I cannot imagine what it was like in the north.
Are these young Chinese women better off or worse off? How much choice do they have? What happens to them after the age of 25? They must get married. With China’s one child policy, there are millions of men that will not be able to find wives. There are just not enough women in China.
Can this really happen in the 21st century? Can you even comprehend the living conditions? Can you comprehend making $10 a day? Living a dreary monotonous young adulthood. The years of your life that should be the most exciting and the most full of opportunity? Can you imagine sending your daughter off to this life? It is a modern Dickensian tale… a haunting one that brings us cheaper and cheaper consumer products to meet our insatiable consumer appetites.
If you are interested in reading more on this topic I encourage you to read: Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie Chang and The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage by Alexandra Harney.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
So what can we do to free ourselves of these bonds and to free our children of these bonds – to break the karmic circle? Conscious effort and equanimity. Parenthood is the perfect vehicle for many of us to complete our development as humans which requires both conscious effort and equanimity. Conscious effort because human nature is to avoid that which is difficult, be it physical, emotional, or psychic work. Equanimity because so much is beyond our control as humans in this intricate, beautiful, unpredictable world.
In my own efforts to overcome these bonds I have focused on six key principles: Trust, Touch, Laughter, Expansive Mindset, Being Present, and Letting Go.
Trust: I have an agreement with all of my children: If they do anything wrong or make a mistake and they tell me about it then they will not be punished. Implicitly I am communicating to my children that I both trust their judgment and understand that they will make mistakes. I am also teaching them that making mistakes is a part of growing … we all make mistakes and have lapses in judgment … but we need to take responsibility for our actions and our mistakes not cover them up. This teaches children and young adults confidence, trust, and more importantly maturity. Maturity is the ability to learn from your mistakes and grow from them without being defensive. There a countless other side benefits from this: it encourages openness and sharing of experiences, it provides teaching moments, it prepares children for adulthood, and it shows love.
Touch: I believe that we need to touch, hold, snuggle, and tickle our children as much as possible especially when they are young but even when they get older. There is no more fundamental way to show our love and affection for another person than touching, kissing, and hugging them with sincerity and all of our being. As adults this sometimes appears superficial, but with children it is instrumental in the development of their self-confidence and self-love. A sincere hug is the ultimate demonstration of unconditional love – the physical contact and two hearts being so close together is a profoundly special experience – and one that is unfortunately rarer and rarer as leave childhood. How sad for all of us adults. Human beings are meant to be close and loving … it creates energy, passion, strength, caring, and community.
Laughter: Laughter heals all wounds and energizes our very being. It relieves stress in adults and well constructed humor builds verbal and abstract intelligence.
I never, however, use sarcasm, cynicism, or poke fun at others in humour. I personally believe that such remarks only leave a negative impression no matter how playful they are intended to be. Building on “touch”, tickling is one of the most wonderful ways to generate laughter in children, but use it very carefully. It can be a very intense experience… for one of my children anything more than 3-5 seconds is overwhelming for him.
Expansive Mindset: This is perhaps the most critical of all six principles. Metaphysically our thoughts dictate our self-perception, our experiences, and our reality. Underlying every negative experience, you will find a negative thought. No person was ever great, who saw themselves as less than capable or worthy as a human being. You cannot have success if you do not believe that you can be successful. It would surprise me if most people did not realize this to be a fundamental truism in life. BUT I believe that most people do not realize that this thought energy can be transfered to other people. This is one reason why sometimes when I am developing a new idea I am reluctant to share it with others, because I do not want the negative, skeptical judgements of others to interfere with the incubation of the idea. How many times have you been told that you can’t do something only to have it come true?
Unfortunately, our children’s minds are even more receptive than our own and they pick up on all kinds of cues, both verbal and non-verbal. This is why it is so critical to have completely open, expansive mindsets for our children. Most healthy children truly can become whatever they want to become. I believe that they are limited more by negative, limiting unconscious imprinting than they are by the boundaries of their innate potential.
This has very profound implications for parents: for one, we have to let go of all our own baggage in order to let our children be as great as they can be. So many adults are so unhappy, disappointed, or self-limiting (perhaps from their own parents imprinting) that they limit those around them by projecting negative, limiting beliefs (consciously and unconsciously). Do you have an expansive mindset when you think of your children? When you speak to your children? When you talk to others about your children?
I truly realized how profound this was when one of my children did something that truly disappointed me. He was very young and he harmed a small animal. My wife and I were really shaken by the experience and as it turned out, after a professional opinion, we were convinced that he was too young to realize what he was doing and that it was completely innocent. But before we were comforted by that expert insight I found myself creating a judgment of our child that was very negative and limiting. I actually felt my physical being, my cellular structure, shifting. I started to view him as a mean, unloving, hurtful child and I felt the shift inside of me. And I was struggling to return to the expansive mindset of him that I had before this event: intelligent, loving, curious, and happy. In fact, it even affected how I spoke to him and touched him. I had an incredibly profound realization that children pick up on these cues, both the conscious and unconscious ones. And of course, as parents how we treat our children is completely consistent with our views of them. But I realized in that moment that children, more likely than not, live up to our expectations of them: be they great or small.
Being Present: In the same way that our children are impacted my our unconscious mindset they are impacted by whether or not we are truly present and available to them. For children, especially but not only younger ones, there is no tomorrow. Too often as adults we forestall our pleasure until tomorrow because we are distracted by something more important. As adults we can understand or rationalize these events (although it becomes unhealthy if we postpone happiness, fun, and living too long). But children do not understand this, although that they know is that they are being ignored at worst or feel alone at best. This has a direct impact on their sense of being loved, important, and their self-confidence. Similar to the metaphysical impact of the expansiveness of our mindset our children also respond to the conscious and unconscious cues of how present we are when we are with them. Being present is like sunlight…it is critical to the full, healthy growth and development of our children. A couple of cloudy days are fine, but constant cloud cover limits the full development of our children. Although I personally have a career that is very demanding of me during the week, I have made it a priority not to work on the weekends and to spend that time with my children and my wife and to be as present as possible during that time. I believe that quality is much more important than quantity if you are not present and emotionally available.
Letting Go: Our children are not perfect, we are not perfect. If we follow all of the first five principles we really cannot be disappointed with whatever life brings to us and to our children. Not all of our children will be rocket scientists, doctors, authors, popular, athletes, or even happy. Life will bring them what life will bring them and everything will be perfect exactly as it is. Do not judge yourself or your parenting and do not tie your ego into how well or how poorly your children do. Keep the bragging to yourself and do not beat yourself up (or children up) over their shortcomings. Life is perfect exactly at it is. Life creates the exact experiences that we need, and that our children need, for the evolution and development of their being in this lifetime. For some it will be easy and for others it will be hard. It will be what it will be and if we adhere to the first five principles then we cannot and should blame ourselves.
Nor should we expect our children to live “up to” our judgements and priorities. So many parents have expectations that their children will be athletes, or the smartest, or the most popular. Let go and let your children be. Let them be what they are meant to be, not what you were meant to be or what you believe they should be.
Similarly, I know too many parents who allow them selves to be drawn into their adult children’s lives because they cannot let go (in another sense of the phrase). But as much as they want to help their children, they are only enabling dysfunctional behaviors. Adult children have to be responsible for their selves. Let go and do not enable these behaviors.
Everything is perfect exactly as it is. It couldn’t be anything but perfect, because we are who we are at this very moment. How could it be anything else? The entire world, the entire history of humankind, our forefathers, our families, our parents, our everything has brought us to this exact moment exactly as we are. How could it be anything but perfect?
Sunday, March 1, 2009
My Dearest Madeleine,
Soon you will be three years old! My how you have grown. You are so beautiful and smart and determined.
Beautiful and smart you can never change. This you will always be.
But determined with the will and stamina of a bull. This you must keep burning in your heart. So often I see people who have given up. Literally, flat out, abandoned hope or ambition or dreams. It happens at all ages to all types of people. To most it happens very early on in their lives. They are taught that they “can not” do this or that. That they are too poor, too weak, too dumb. It brings tears to my eyes because it just isn’t true. Reality, our past, present and future, resides in our minds.
"Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force, that thoughts rule the world."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
That which we can imagine and dream, we can achieve. This is the fundamental truth of life. This is what I call “Applied Metaphysics”.
I promise to you, Madeleine, that I will make your childhood a classroom for this reality. You must never forget that you are capable of achieving anything that you set your mind to. Not because you are beautiful and smart, but because it is an immutable law of life in this dimension. It is available to anyone who understands and practices it.
Now, understanding it is one thing, practicing and believing it in your gut is quite another thing. The most difficult of this, for most, is believing it. Why? Because even if one can break his or her mind free to understand (this most simple and fundamental of concepts!) he or she must then break free of the societal and familial brainwashing that she has endured throughout her life. Constantly we are reminded and taught that we are victims, incapable of changing ourselves or our position in life. It is all a lie! But our leaders, coaches, parents, reporters, etc, do not even know this. Or, worse, they have unwittingly abandoned such hope because it would mean facing up to their failures in life and developing the discipline and will to change themselves. Oh so sad!
You, of course, will not have to overcome this brainwashing because I will teach you through concrete illustrations and experiences that we, our bodies, are completely free agents if we can harness the power of our spirit/soul.
This gets to the root of the other challenge that I pointed out above. We must practice this belief/skill I call manifesting. Practicing does two things: first we refine our manifesting skills and second we come to believe in our gut the power we have to manifest. This believing is always a challenge because we are fighting mainstream belief systems which are very powerful in creating (right word?) grooves in societal belief patterns that attract thought consciousness. We must constantly struggle to stay out of these ruts.
Furthermore, practice is required because we must develop judgment/wisdom which is 98% experiential. Sorry, sweetie pie! But there is no other way! We must learn to control our thoughts and emotions lest we unwittingly strike out and hurt ourselves and others! But this too you will come to understand.
Also, we must practice to learn to develop our determination and will power. Not everything goes your way. This is part of the lesson. There are forces in life that will often win battles over you. The key for you to remember is that losing small battles early in life prepares you to handle losing larger battles later in life. The battles do not get any easier. You must continue to fight tougher battles if you are to grow and be capable of winning tougher battles
Now comes the paradox. Winning doesn’t matter. Fighting is all that matters. You must become equanimous with outcomes, yet ruthless with self-awareness and inner-strength.
"Equanimity is the power of the mind to experience the changes in the realm of form, the realm of feeling, the realm of the mind, yet remain centered and unmoved. Equanimity is developed as we learn to keep our heart open through the changing circumstances of our life and our practice."
"The man of discipline, striving with effort, purified of his sins, perfected through many births, finds a higher way."
Continue to practice this my dearest Madeleine. For you are a saviour unto many. And remember that the greatest thinkers of all times understood these laws. If you have any doubt of what I say, or how to proceed listen to the voice that never ceases in your heart.
"Listen to your heart. It knows all things because it came from the Soul of the World and it will one day return there."
Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist
And never abandon hope.
"I learned this, at least, in my experiment: That if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."
Henry David Thoreau
I am with you always,
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Hope is not letting go of responsibility ... but rather taking responsibility and accepting that whatever the outcome, everything is perfect exactly as it is.
Thank you, spirit, for giving us everything that we need to do what we want and everything that we want to do what we need.