Common Insanity

I love to rest beneath the Aspen tree in my front yard. It creates a canopy of shade on a subtle decline. An old blanket and pillow and I have a ready-made oasis. 

After a picnic lunch Timmy and I were cloud watching. We saw lions, bunnies, and even a toaster (well Timmy saw that one). “Dad? Dis a apple twee?” “No buddy it’s an Aspen twee, I mean tree.” “NOOOOOOOOOO! IT’S APPLE TWEEEEE!” He screamed so loudly it shook my eardrums. “Oh, yes, Timmy it’s an apple tree. I forgot.” He crossed his tiny arms with a huff, pouting as he looked down.

You and I know that screaming at an Aspen tree won’t make it an Apple tree. That’s insane behavior; forgivable in a three year old but insane for most everyone else, but we all do it, don’t we?

For example, this past May has been the wettest and coolest in Colorado. I overheard a young lady walking past my classroom with her friends, “If it rains again this afternoon I’m going to be so angry!” What an odd thing to say when you think about it. It is as if she said, “NOOOOOO! IT’S AN APPLE TWEEEEEE!” or “I will make my happiness depend on the weather, which I cannot control, and I’ll take the losing odds.” Why? It’s a common enough thing to say, but why do we do that? Sure enough it rained that afternoon, and I’m willing to bet she was angry. I’m also willing to bet that her anger and negativity affected others around her negatively. 

Negativity is as contagious as the flu and ego loves it. Imagine floating in a bathtub and sneezing. The sneeze disturbs the peaceful water around you which in turn affects the environment (and anyone who happens to be in it). A sneeze is understandable but negativity does the exact same thing but is completely unnecessary!

I’m not immune to negativity. My negativity is quite insane. Ego loves a good meal of negativity with a side of self-pity so I’m always complaining about my salary, what I feel I deserve, how I think others should treat me, and I know exactly who to blame for my circumstances. I cannot control my past, and I cannot control my circumstances really, yet I condition my happiness on them while accepting losing odds. Pure insanity. “If I don’t get this (fill in the blank: job, raise, winning lotto ticket, appreciation…) I will be SOOOO ANGRYYYYY!” This is as effective as yelling at my tree, “YOURE AN APPLE TWEEEEEEEEE!”

Recently I let my negativity seep into a conversation with my brother. You could say I “sneezed in the bath”. He was being quite reasonable but I chose not to seek his intention, (see my post “Ms. Understanding”) and made him the sole target of my aggression and frustrations with life. He took it on the chin and didn’t react (the antidote to negativity by the way). When I explained my irritation he responded with love and understanding. He even told me that he loved me. I had NEVER heard him say that before. I apologized for the aggression, and he said, “It is literally nothing, forget it.” I already have.

Egoicide is harder than I thought.

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If not now then when?

Part 1:  Morning

Cool waters licked the shore on a calm September morning by Lake Winnipesaukee. Dawn stretches into day.

Trash is the catch of the day. A salty treat for those with the strength to stomach it. Seagulls glide on the balmy breeze, and gather where food can be scavenged. One seagull, weary of crowds, ventures alone and is rewarded by a forgotten mussel in the sand. Stopping, he thinks to himself, “What luck!” But instantly his delight turns dark and his prize tarnishes for he thinks, “This is such a rare find! I would hate to eat now and never taste it’s kind again. Better to leave this one today than to be bound by desire for many days to come!” The gull saunters sullenly away.

Not moments later another gull spots the tasty morsel. “What luck!,” he said. But instantly his delight turns dark and his prize tarnishes for he thinks, “I recall a time that I ate a scrap such as this and it spoiled my stomach for hours! I should not take that chance lest I sour my belly again.” This gull too saunters sullenly away.

By now it is noon and a third gull happens upon the mussel in the sand. He thinks nothing, but eats his brunch and basks in the September sun, content.

Part 2: Afternoon

I pull into the garage to see the mud room door swing open revealing two toothy grins and four anxious arms ready to hold me. It’s a welcome I don’t deserve but Maya and Timmy don’t know that! Squealing as she jumps onto my chest, clinging like a barnacle to a hull, Maya rests on me as though she has just arrived home. Timmy waits for his turn at the top of the stares. He’s not so interested in embraces as he is in relating a wordy story he tells between breaths and jumps. “A bee (house fly) was in duh garaj dis mownin’ and I said hey lil’ guy dis not youw home, so I chathed him owt!” Simply amazing.

But the joy of Daddy’s arrival quickly turns dark and her prize tarnishes as Maya turns her eyes of desire to a package arrived in the mail. “It’s my game it’s my game!” She shouts in a pitch only dogs and dolphins can hear. “Can we play it now please please please…” We could not. Dinner was not going to make itself; the evening was already later than usual. “Tomorrow darling, I promise, but not right now.” Daggers, knives, swords, and lances pierced her heart blooming alligator tears from her almond eyes. The frown she wears seems like it is drawn by Picasso, so beautifully sad. “But what if there’s no time tomorrow, or we get busy, or we forget?” She saunters sullenly away.”

Meanwhile Timmy tells another story, “Der was a pop-thickle and I ate it, and I dwopped it on duh flowah, and Jolie (our dog) twied to eat it but I thed No Jolie! and she wan away.” Simply amazing.

By this time Maya is back, “Dad, do you remember that one time you said you would go back to Dunkin’ Donuts to get a chocolate donut for me?” I did remember, it wasn’t yet 24 hours ago. “Well you never did and I’m afraid you will not remember to let me play the game tomorrow and so I want to play it now!” Of course nothing had changed circumstantially. “I’m sorry sweetheart, we just can’t right now”. She sauntered sullenly away again.

As soon as Maya left my lap, crushed by desire and anxiety, Timmy jumped up, and hugged me, content.

Part 3: Evening

The sun is sinking low beyond the treeline casting long shadows over Lake Winnipesaukee. Dusk coils into night.

Fireflies betray their positions with green flickers, as the croaks of bull frogs blend with the chirps of crickets. By a hidden bank under a willow tree lays a bed of lily pads, each one identical to the other. A male bullfrog awakens from his muddy slumber at the bottom of the lake, taking his seat on top of a floating pad. “Yes, this will do nicely,” he thinks to himself, “An insect or two is bound to fly by.”

Soon he is joined by a companion, taking his seat on the opposite side. “He has taken the better pad for himself,” says the first. “Excuse me kind sir, I was just on my way to that pad before you settled there, would you mind exchanging pads with me?” “Not at all!” replied the second, “I am happy to do it.” And so they swapped, each settling on their new pads.

Not long after, a third frog joins the two taking his seat on a vacant pad. “He has taken the better pad for himself.” says the first. “Excuse me kind sir, that pad on which you sit is the one I’ve used for the past seven nights, would you mind exchanging pads with me?” “Not at all!” replied the third. “I am happy to do it.” And so they too swapped, each settling on their new pads.

And so the shuffling continued with every new arrival until all the pads were occupied. Each frog caught ten flies from their perches, and they all relished the same September breeze. All but one, content.

Part 4: Time

We are not born into time. The day a child takes its first breath he knows nothing of hours, minutes, or seconds. They are born into a moment, a now. “Future” is not a useful concept for a newborn. “I’m hungry now!” they cry. “I’m cold now! I’m uncomfortable now!” they continue. They do not plan for an afternoon nap, they have no appointments to keep. Untouched by the anxiety of “what could be” or the burdens of “remember when’s” they eat and sleep and dream in the only time they know: now.

“Past” is an equally hollow notion. Babies do not long for the days back inside the womb, they do not reminisce about the nursing staff back at the hospital. The “now” is overwhelming enough as it is, with all its colors, shapes, tastes, sounds, smells, and textures. There is a lot to process here and now. Who has the time or energy to add two more dimensions to the abundance that is here now?

Where does the “future” exist? When is it I wonder? 6:00 tonight? No. That is an idea. A projection of the “now”. The “future” does not exist except in imagination. When 6:00 arrives, it will arrive as “now.” That’s all there is.

Where does the “past exist? When was it I wonder? 6:00 this morning? No. That is an idea as well. A memory of the “now”. The “past” does not exist except in memory. When 6:00 arrived, it did so as “now” because that is all there is.

Time is an illusion– a very convincing and sometimes useful one– but an illusion.

The first seagull could not see the mussel in the “now”. He viewed the moment through the lens of future, and so he could not enjoy what there was to enjoy “now”. He suffered for his choice of perspective. The second gull could not see the mussel in the “now” either. He viewed the moment through the lens of past, blind to the goodness that was in front of him. The third gull had no lens, and enjoyed the moment for all its pleasures.

Maya abandoned the moment she was enjoying so intensely with me, only to fetter herself to the anxieties of the future and the hurts of the past. Future and past may be only notions of the mind, but the violence they wreak on our tender hearts is formidable.

The frog hopped from pad to pad, sure that the next pad would be better than the last. We tend to hop from moment to moment, waiting for a different hour instead of enjoying what the “now” has to offer. “I can’t wait until Friday”, “When is this going to be over?”, “I just have to get through this week!”. As every lily pad was the same, most moments are quite identical. Most of the time, one moment really isn’t much better than the next. As we wait for this moment to end, as we “get through” life, we miss most of it, but its right there in front of us to enjoy. Now.

If I cannot live and savor my life now, then when?

  “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matthew 6:25)

True Work

Mr. Dickson was 34, a bachelor, a science teacher, and my varsity soccer coach. Small of stature, with a large personality to compensate, he was the man I had to impress to make the varsity team as a Junior. The three day tryout culminated in the two mile run, now was my chance to separate myself from the others; I prepared all summer for this moment. I finished with a 9:53 just behind Greg, a state track record holder. I made the team!

Six weeks later we were in the middle of the season and I had managed to hold a starting position. Sophomores were biting at my heels to take my place, and I was smug, riding out the momentum of the work I had done that summer. I was complacent, invulnerable, and cocky

One weekday we gathered in the parking lot for practice. It was rumored that we were running the two mile again. I didn’t feel like running that far, so I convinced a couple friends to run the one mile lap with me, but finish it like we had run two– sprint, collapse, gasp for air– it was all very convincing. And it worked too! 

Well, it worked for about ten minutes, then others crossing the finish line ratted us out. “You…(gasp)…didn’t…(gasp)…run…(gasp)…two miles!” Mr. Dickson was furious at our deception. We three ran the rest of practice and sat the bench the entire next game.

Looking back I’m glad that happened. That cocky little kid needed to learn a lesson about work and respect. Only I’m not so sure how well I learned it. I caught myself doing again just recently.

This blog was the beginning of a sincere journey. I worked hard to be honest with myself, write only the truth even if it was embarrassing. When it started to take a toll on my Ego, it came up with this ingenious deception: (in the voice of Gollum) “Let us suffer a bit and then tell peter we are gone. We can tell him he is enlightened, better than others, and we can stay here as long as we likes…my precious.”

Now I know how Mr. Dickson felt. Instead of doing the work to kill Ego, I settled into complacency and just pretended to do the work. I tricked myself. Made myself into a fool. I walked around town judging people in my head, “I wonder if they know how enlightened I am.” Instead I could have been killing ego, “I wonder what I can learn from them”. 

Perhaps a part of me is all too happy to be tricked, after all egoicide is hard work, and it is painful, so on some level it’s just easier to let myself be tricked into thinking I am doing the work of killing ego, but in reality, I have become spiritually complacent, spiritually invulnerable and spiritually cocky.

Killing ego hurts. If it doesn’t hurt, then it isn’t dying! Here’s my plan:

Do three things today that really hurts ego. And tomorrow I’ll see if I can do four.

For example, was some one rude? Ego has two ways to get fed.

(A) It can say, “tell them who you are, let them know that you thought they were rude!” And confrontation sets in, assuming a position of superiority (Egos favorite treat!)

(B) Other egos work this way, “I won’t say a word but I’ll fester over this event, rolling it around in mind over and over, never letting it heal, picking the scab as it forms.” Ego plays the victim, looking to be pet and stroked by telling this story to everyone with ears, “I mean can you believe that? She just stepped right in front of me and grabbed a napkin! She didn’t even say excuse me. Ugh, people like that just drive me crazy.” Then our “friend” pets our ego, “I’m so sorry! What a bitch!” Who even does that?” This also gives ego a sense of superiority and therefore a sense of self.

Ok so now that I’m aware of the deceit, I’m making my ego run the rest of the day. It will hurt, but it will hurt so good.

Value and Treasure

May and Desmond Whittmeier are happy. Married forty-two years and counting, they keep a modest home just outside Poughkeepsie. Desi had made a living working for the Smith Brothers Cough Drop Factory, while May raised their three boys into men. Besides the grand-kids that fill their laps and Sunday afternoons, gardening is their common joy. “Nothing like a little dirt under the fingernails,” Desi always says. “Except a fresh garden salad from the yard,” May replies on cue.

The couple have rarely been seen apart in public, “We’ve been dating since grade school,” Desi announces with a proud smile, “Love at first sight!” May blushes like a school girl whenever he tells the story.

It was May’s idea to make the first Friday of every month “date night” for her boys and their “gals” as she calls them. She takes all five grand kids into her old style colonial home for the evening. “I know how important romance is to a successful marriage,” she says kissing her sons on the cheek, sending them on their way, just like she sent them off years before to Arthur Mane Elementary.

The house itself is a gem built in 1920, with a generous wrap-around porch, original hardwood floors, and glass door knobs adorning every room. It was the fireplace that caught May’s eye, however, that made her know in her heart that this was going to be her home. The mantle stands a solid six feet high and displays an antique crystal clock that May received as a wedding gift from her Nana. Well, used to display. No one quite knows for sure what happened, but on a fateful first Friday the clock met its demise crashing to the floor, leaving the youngest grandson holding a “Nerf” football alone in the room as the elder children ran for cover.

“Boys will be boys,” was all May ever said about the incident, but that didn’t keep her from checking the newspaper the next morning for a list of local garage sales where she hoped to find a suitable replacement. She spent the next morning driving from sale to sale, until she came to a rather small house on Parkwood Blvd. There she found for sale a beautiful bowl, tagged four dollars. She talked the owner into accepting three dollars, as tradition would have it, and May drove home to place it on the mantel where her clock ticked not hours before. “It’s perfect,” Desi said putting his arm around May, as if they were posing for a picture. Those were the last words spoken about the bowl for two whole years.

Twenty-eight months later the bowl sat on the mantle blending in. It was just another thing, although quite beautiful, that gathered dust and age with the changing of the seasons. At best it was a substitute with no sentimental value, and therefore no worth at all to May.

Florence came to visit one Thursday. May hadn’t seen her since their boys finished an Eagle Scout projects years ago. She asked May about the bowl sitting on the mantle, so May told the whole story in a single breath. “It looks really old,” said Florence in an off handed manner, distracted by the tea May was handing to her. “Wells Trading Post up in Red Hook is having an appraiser come next weekend to look at local antiques. You may find its worth the drive. Who knows? You may have something here!” Said Florence, giving her best impression of those guys on “Antique  Roadshow” on PBS. May really looked at the bowl for the first time in years. “Maybe you’re right!” They smiled, sipping their tea in synchronicity.

Sure enough, Desi and May found themselves on Route 9G to Red Hook for the thirty-two minute drive that next Saturday morning. They found the antique shop quickly; there were only two roads in town. May unwrapped the bowl she had covered in news paper and placed it before the man she waited in line for fifteen minutes to see. “Well, let’s see,” he had started his examination of the previous nine items the same way, “what have we here?” The man breathed heavy as he spoke to himself but May wanted to give the question her best answer, “It’s a bowl I bought…” She got no further than that in her story before the man turned only his eyes to look at May, pausing his inspection, making her instantly realize her mistake. “Sorry,” she said in a whisper.

“Yes…yes… hmmmm,” the man spoke louder and louder as his excitement grew. “Jonathan bring the book please,” he shouted to his assistant from across the room. After a quick reference check the man stated with absolute authority that this bowl was over 600 years old, from the Myng Dynasty and worth $200,000 to $300,000. He was absolutely right too, except it was 1,000 years old, from the Song  Dynasty, and sold at auction for 2.2 million dollars!

What’s most amazing about this story is that it is true. See this NY Times Post if you don’t believe me. I made up the characters and details, but this bowl is real and really sold for millions. How could this ever happen?

Value is a slippery thing; it’s subjective and tied to the laws of economics. Treasure, however, is universally recognized. This bowl is clearly an historic treasure. Trying to place a monetary value on it is like trying to sell the Sphinx. No number will do. Sometimes we, as did May, fail to distinguish a true treasure because it’s disguised beneath a rather poor price tag.

Jesus talks about treasure:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
(Matthew 13:44)

He also talks about where this treasure, (i.e. the of the kingdom of heaven) is:

“The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”
(Luke 17:2)

Within me!? What could there be within me, I wonder, that is worth selling all that I have to possess? Surely I would know if there was a treasure within me! Do I, perhaps, disdain this treasure simply because it’s been tagged and valued so cheaply by the world?

Yes!

Yes, yes, yes! The treasure is me! The true me beyond the cave! My spirit! My soul! My life-breath! My consciousness! My being! Me– made in the image of God Himself, my “I AM” that he has fashioned and calls his Kingdom! He speaks of my soul as a King does his empire, taking possession of it as his dwelling and seat. For it is in me he chooses to dwell and may he live and reign there forever and ever!

“I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it very well.”
(Ps 139:14)

We have forgotten this amazing truth, this treasure within us. We sell it cheaply, perhaps for a mirror and glass beads, or for a passing pleasure or whim, simply because we don’t fathom its dignity. It is smothered and marred in Ego, we see only a fallow field where there is buried beneath truly extravagant wealth.

Maybe this is why Jesus talks so much about death and cross. For example if the tag asks three dollars for an historic artifact then that tag is a lie! It MUST be destroyed. Ego is this very tag! And it MUST be destroyed!

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self!
(Luke 9:23)

Ego tells me, “You are not eternal, you will die, you must live your heaven here and now. Please yourself before it’s too late!” And I believed it almost all my life. Of course I still went to church, payed lip service to God with piety, even took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, all while serving, cultivating, and worshiping my ego; myself.

Think about it. How many of us make sacrifice to the god of Ego while ignoring the deep treasure of our spirit that God calls home? We sacrifice EVERYTHING to please Ego, as we pay no heed to our eternal self. Whatever the “I” wants the “I” gets, no matter the cost to me, to others, or to my true treasure-soul.

Ego is a lie and lies must die. Ego must die in me. Jesus called it “dying to yourself”, and “taking up your daily cross,” and “losing your life so that you may keep it,” and “selling all you have to buy the field” and”not gaining the whole world while forfeiting your very self”.

Egoicide is a daily and life-long task. There  is only one problem though: dying hurts!

Beginning of A World; A Rewrite of the Book of Genisis with Poetic Lisence

In the beginning there is nothing. No thing. Dark does not know cold and light does not know dark. Potential is absolute, clear, simple, deep.  Being itself–unexpressed, unformed, undefined– is life. And so Being alone Lives. It speaks but one message: I AM. “I” is life-consciousness, “AM” is being.

Life breathes itself into the void expanding into all things, for all things come from this one sweet source. Forces grow weak and strong, particles collide and cling. Matter ignites and light explodes casting shadows as memories of void. In this place all things are One, and the One is in all things.

Worlds grow diverse and complex. Sands cover the surface of a world and winds blow across its face. In the wind is the whisper of “I”, the life-consciousness received from the sweet source of all things. In the sand is the presence of “AM”, received from the sweet source of all things. Wind and sand together dance across the plains.  The wind and sand know and love one another as they know and love themselves, for they remember that they are one, for all things come from that one sweet source.

The day came that the wind blew across the ocean. He saw his own reflection pushing the clouds from east to west.  “I AM alone” said the wind, “for no one else looks as I do and does what I can.” Suddenly it was true. The wind was alone in the world and knew nothing like himself.

The wind blew softly across the sand, deeply saddened by his loneliness. The sand felt the chill of the wind instead of his usual warmth. “Pick me up!” said the sand. “Let us dance across the plains as before and together we will be one!” The wind picked up the sand and she saw her reflection on the ocean glass. “I AM not one with you,” said the wind. “For no one else looks as I do and does what I can.” The sand peered deeply at herself. “I AM alone too,” said the sand. “I AM not as you are and cannot do what you can.” And suddenly it was true. The sand was alone in the world and knew nothing like herself.

And so the One sweet source of all things was first forgotten.

“Let us dance just the same” the sand said to the wind. “If we cannot be with others like ourselves let us unite and bring forth new things that are one!” And so it happened. The sand and wind united and together they created Life and Being where before there was only void. These Creatures grew in number and  soon inhabited the entire world. The wind and sand laughed with one another, knowing that they will be together forever for as long as their creatures are one. For many years the new creatures danced across the plains as their creators had done before them.

The day came that a creature looked across the ocean and saw another creature of great likeness standing on the distant shore. “Who are you?” Asked the first creature. “And what do you intend?” “I AM as you, ” said the second creature, “I AM sand and wind and I dance across the plains as our creators have before us.” “You are not like me,” replied the first. “For I AM here, and you are not here where I AM.”  The second creature went home and reported to his elders what he had heard. As he spoke the words, suddenly it was true. The creatures were alone on their side of the ocean, and they knew nothing like themselves in the world.

Upon hearing the news the elders clenched their fists in anger. “There are other creatures across the sea that are not like us? What do they intend? Do they aim for our destruction?” Anger soon gave way to fear. “We will attack at dawn,” said a creature of authority. “We cannot have others there when we are here.”

War broke out in the plains, destruction reigned, and the world was heavy with blood.

And so the One sweet source of all things was twice forgotten.

The day came that a creature, a child, climbed a hill by his home. Looking over the vast waste that was once all beauty, he wept. Turning away from the pain in his world he looked to the only place there was peace; he peered inward. There he found, and there he remembered the One sweet source of all things, the I AM. The Life and the Being, that unites all things and from which all things come.

“Stop!” cried the child, running to the plains of battle, “you are harming only yourselves! For we are all from the one sweet source of Life and Being!” “Away with you child! This is not a place for you.” said a creature of authority. “Now is not the time for peace. Have you not learned of the atrocities suffered by our people at the hands of others from across the sea? For as long as we are here and they are there we cannot live in peace!”

So the child prayed. He prayed to the wind inside him, his very own source of Life. He prayed to the sand inside him, his very own source of Being. They each, both wind and sand, peered inside themselves, remembering, and praying to the sweet source of all things, that was always present in every thing, every moment, every breath, from the beginning.

And there, in the heart of a child, a new world was born.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me”

John 17:20

A Present and The Present

Walking my kids to the park yesterday we passed by a young woman taking her dog to get her mail in the cul-de-sac by my house. The dog, still a puppy, is a “Labrabull”, a mix between a Labrador Retriever and an American Pit Bull Terrier.  Fifty pounds of pure muscle, the dog goes where it wills, as fast as it likes, as it’s “master” flops around behind him like a kite on a string; a classic case of “who’s walking who?”  I placed myself between my children and the dog.  Although “Loki” seems harmless enough, what is a playful nip for the puppy could be facial stitches for my kids. Better safe than sorry. I suppose I could place my trust in the young lady to control her dog, but I’d sooner trust a zombie with my brains.

Arriving at the park the kids began to play. Maya chose to splash around in the enormous puddle submerging the playground equipment due to poor drainage. Timmy began playing in the pebbles that covers the playing area. (I don’t know why I bother taking them to the park when we have perfectly good puddles and pebbles at home.) I took a seat on a short cement wall near Timmy. I let my mind wander. “Aren’t we all technically half centaur? Why does Dora call herself an “explorer” when she exclusively travels through mapped territories? Are batteries prepaid electricity?” Timmy finished making a mound of pebbles and was calling it a present for me. I wasn’t interested. After all, I had a long day teaching, I just wanted to relax. “Why can’t this kid just play by himself for one minute!” I tried to convince myself.  As he continued to try to get my attention I took my phone out of my pocket to thumb through Facebook for the 3rd time in twenty minutes. “Daddy!”. Check e-mail. “Daddy!”. Check text messages. “Daddy!” Put phone away still ignoring Timmy.

Finally I turn to him. “Yes, Timmy what do you want?” I said with patience. “I made you a present,” he told me with a big ol’ toothy grin on his face, completely unphased by my lack of attention. I walked over to the mound of pebbles and said, “Thank you so much Timmy.” “Open it!” he said excitedly. I moved the pebbles and found a twig. “Wow, thanks Timmy this is awesome”. I mustered as much enthusiasm as I could. “That’s not it Dad, open it!” I kept digging. I found a buried dandy-lion underneath. Again I said thank you with a feigned interest not understanding his message. “There’s life under there!” He said smiling from ear to ear!

It hit me that Timmy wanted nothing more than to connect with me. He didn’t know how, so he made something up. He extended his expression of love to me the only way he knew how, and he did it without hesitation for fear of judgement. I, however, was trapped in my cave of thought, mindless and meaningless, thinking only of myself and how others should treat me.

No big deal though, right? I disagree. I was no different than that young lady being pulled from one end of the street to the other by her dog. My mind, my ego, my cave was pulling me away from the beauty in front of me, putting on a show inside my head that I could not look away from. Becoming present while we are with other people is exactly what it means to leave the cave. Presence. Be where you are. Be with who you are with. Connect! In this world of ours it is far too easy to be lost and lonely even within a sea of people.

What if we could learn from a three year old? What if children know exactly what we are supposed to do in life, until we “teach” it out of them? What if we can learn to love and connect from children instead of dismissing their vital message as cute or endearing but misguided and naive? What if we are the ones who know nothing about the real world and children are the ones that know better? What if “growing up” means forgetting that essential message we all know as children, sealing the entrance to the cave?

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” (Matthew 11:25)

All I know is I’m going to leave my phone at home the next time we are at the park.

I really need to get out of my cave.

Ms. Understanding

Imagine this scene: balancing my son in one arm, pushing a shopping cart full of groceries and a six year old with my other arm, all while crossing a corrugated parking lot. The front wheel of the cart hits a divot directing all of us towards the center of traffic.  I quickly resorted to the trusty “one-handed forearm twist”, attempting to turn the top heavy buggy back on course.  An oncoming car stopped short as I made eye contact with the driver. Her window was down so the standard awkward silence arose.  “Hey… I promise I won’t hit you,” I said to the woman who looked like an “Erin” to me.  I was attempting to break the silence with low grade humor.  “No, no, no, I understand, don’t even worry about it,” she reassured me.  “I’m in your way, I’m sorry,” she continued.  She was all “understanding” but why didn’t she laugh? 

What exactly happened there? Perhaps she felt I was judging her speed in the paking lot? Perhaps she heard sarcasm as if I was saying, “Watch where you’re going lady!”  Who’s to say? From my perspective I know two things.

1. I know the words I said, and I know the words that she said.

2. I know my intention– the reason I said anything at all– to break the silence, and even maybe make her smile.

What I do not know is what she intended by her words.  Conversely she did not know my intention, which explains why she didn’t respond the way I expected.

The basis for all misunderstanding is the assumption that one knows another person’s intention simply by hearing their words. True understanding, true listening requires a pursuit of intention.  The pursuit of intention requires being conscious and aware.  Being conscious and aware requires getting out of your egoic cave.

For example, if I walked by and said, “Nice shirt.”  What just happened there?  Who knows? The words mean very little without knowing the intention. Ego may choose to hear a compliment, or it may choose to hear sarcasm.  Either way, ego does not investigate intention but judges it to be one or the other without speculation.  Consciousness may not know anymore than ego at first. Consciousness, however, withholds judgment until it has detected intention.

True friends, spouses, or siblings, may not ever need the “pursuit of intention” because it is always clear to one another.  It is unnecessary because two people have known each other so well for so long.  Often times understanding reaches such a level that you know what the other person is saying even if they are not saying that at all.  Among friends words point in a general direction but the true meaning comes from somewhere else; from experience, history, intuition, empathy. It’s as if you communicate beyond the words.

Misunderstanding is usually between people that aren’t so friendly, don’t share the same point of view, or simply are too lazy to pursue intention in order to reach true communication.  So what is this “pursuit of intention” thing?  Here’s my idea:

Steps of Pursuit

1. Hear:  Hearing is basically wanting to listen. “Daddy!  Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!  Daddy! Daddy!” I’m looking at my phone, or I’m concentrating on a very important thought, or I’m talking to someone else. My kids are largely unheard. I couldn’t imagine the level of frustration I would feel if I was ignored even a fraction of the time that they are. Then they yell, or cry, and finally they get attention, but it’s probably in the form of an irritated, “What!”  That’s an ego response. Sometimes not hearing comes in the form of not calling my mother, or avoiding a person that annoys me or even just not caring. Hearing seems passive or automatic but it requires a conscious decision to begin hearing.

2. Listen: Listening is even more conscious. It requires opening a window to ourselves and allowing another person’s voice, ideas, and perhaps biases and negativity to enter our space. It’s permission granted onto the campus of our minds and hearts for another person to roam for a moment, leaving their footsteps, messages, or messes behind.  It’s like lending a mountain cabin to a friend; you want them to enjoy it but hope they follow the rules of etiquette and wash the towels before they leave.

3. Understand: Understanding is percieving.  It’s personally visiting and examining the idea the person has placed inside you during their short stay. This is where the pursuit of intention happens.  “What is this person saying with these words? What reaction are they hoping to elicite? What are they seeking by placing this in me?” The answer to those question come in many forms, but most people are looking for connection by their words. They are being emotionally vulnerable looking for some form of reciprocation or return, an intimate affinity, a sense of being loved, or just a sense of companionship.  Or mabe they just want you to pass the salt, but you know what I mean.

4. Love: I saw a post on Facebook that said, “You cannot hate someone whose story you know.” I don’t think that’s entirely true, but it works for me here.  By listening and percieving a person, and knowing their intention you may feel “on their side”, and prepare a response. The response bubbles up from within you, not  from your thoughts or ego, but the you that is outside the cave.  The response is unequivocally sympathetic, empathetic, loving, and forgiving. You may discover a sense of unity with the other person and wish to express this back to them.

5. Respond: Speak to them from that loving space.

All of this seems like it would take hours to do. In reality it is as quick as thought, but takes some intentional practice at first. Of course we don’t react this way to all encounters with all people, but isn’t that the goal? I think this is the “Peace on earth and good will toward men” thing we sing about at Christmas, but it won’t come from above. It comes from within. It requires all of us to buy in.

Mothers

Today is Mother’s Day.  A day set aside to honor the women in our lives that have birthed us, fed us, kissed our boo boos, encouraged us, worried for us, yelled at us, and sometimes embarrassed us with love.  They know, without being told, exactly what is on your mind, in your heart, and under your bed. They sacrifice without prompt or reason. They volunteer, they organize, they schedule, they clean. They are, in a word, the heart of God on earth.

I want to be a mother.  Don’t laugh, I mean it.  Motherhood has nothing to do with gender.  It’s a spiritual gift, a grace, an understanding and wisdom that comes from outside the cave of ego, and I want it!

I woke up this morning, turned over to my wife and whispered in a thick morning voice, “Happy Mother’s Day”.  She said nothing.  Can you believe that?  I mean really.  Can’t she at least acknowledge unconditional love?  Why didn’t she cup my face with her hands, look deeply into my eyes and say, “Thank you so much for your thoughtful words! I’m so lucky to have a man like you!”  It was the least she could do after my selfless gesture.

Well let me tell you why she didn’t do that.  She was up til 10:00 pm trying to get the kids to sleep after Timmy’s 3rd birthday party, which she cleaned up mostly by herself because I was in bed.  What. I had a cough!  It was now 6:30 am, and she spent at least an hour during the night putting our son back to bed.  Timmy was now sitting on her chest screaming for a chocolate baba, announcing that she was not his friend anymore.  So no, she did not hear me.

“I said Happy Mothers Day”, I repeated loudly.  She rolled her eyes and covered her face with the sheet.  

My Ego jumped at the chance to reestablish itself as me.  Once I experienced the “true me beyond the cave”, my ego’s life was sentenced to death. I aim to kill that parasite that has been living my life without me.  That’s what leaving the cave does by the way; it kills the ego.  There isn’t enough room for the both of us in my life.  Jesus said it like this:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it

(Luke 9:23)

“She doesn’t appreciate me”, my ego finished saying before the sheet was even over her head.  That’s what ego sounds like. It says, “Hey you, yeah you!  I want you to change ’cause I don’t like how you talk to me.” It’s quite sensitive and always ready to point the finger of blame. It insanely accuses everyone else of being the reason for its unhappiness. My ego is a mean, miserable old man from the Bronx that judges everyone, and ridicules those who serve it. It’s where my demon hides if you like “Imagine Dragons”.

So what did I do? I got out of bed to get the chocolate baba for Timmy out of love. (I checked out what I looked like in the mirror with jeans and no shirt too, not bad by the way). 

Well, yes, I got the baba but let me be the first to tell you it wasn’t love.  It was ego saying, “go on, get the stupid thing, take the moral high ground, be the better person, show her how much you do for her.”  I believed it too! Man that ego’s tricky.  He got me right back in my cave by being the victim, one of his favorite roles to play. 

If my true self were acting, the one outside the egoic cave, I would have done the same action but I would feel so excited that I get to be Dad to this beautiful and hilarious boy! I get to give something to my wife and child first thing in the morning.  That opportunity was sadly missed, but I’ll get you next time Gadget!

Ego needs to be stroked, petted and told it exists. If it doesn’t get fed this way it weakens and dies. “Tell me I’m appreciated, tell me you love me, and if you don’t I’ll cry and be a martyr for my own cause”. Either way it gets what it needs.

So, today on this Mother’s Day I will expose two egoic lies.

Gratitude:

1. Ego says gratitude is a standard protocol owed to ego for all its actions. But really gratitude is a,

2. Deep seated satisfaction with and consciousness of abundance in life, coupled with a sense of humility in light of all blessings bestowed.

Appreciation:

1. Ego says appreciation is the responsibility of others to praise ego for doing anything.  Public recognition for being awesome. But really appreciation is the,

2. Awareness of the generosity and beauty in others.

A Mother’s work is love. Love is a gift, and so does not seek compensation.  Love has no need for gratitude or appreciation.  Only ego has a use for that.

So if mothers love and so don’t need appreciation or gratitude, why should we set aside a whole day for them to do just that? Because we find in our hearts a deep seated satisfaction with and consciousness of abundance in life, coupled with a sense of humility in light of all blessings bestowed by our mothers. And because we are aware of the generosity and beauty in them. 

I really want the gift of motherhood. 

The Allergy of the Cave

I am a religious person. It is a big part of who I am.  I am also a truth seeker; an even bigger part of who I am.  So what happens when truth seeking leads beyond religion?  I’m about to find out.

I have never had an original thought.  Even this thought about original thoughts is not my own. (See Ecclesiastes 1:19).  My jokes are mostly taken from someone else, my opinions are articles I’ve read.  Somehow I feel that if I become jokes and opinions then others may think I am funny or interesting.  I do this quite convincingly.  (It’s my greatest talent actually.) My identification with humor is so obvious that even strangers know to tell me, “You’re so funny,” as if they were petting the head of a puppy.  As I voraciously accept their kind offering I hear my ego respond in Gollum’s voice, “Yes, yes, tell us we’re funny, tell us we’re interesting, my precious, they love us my precious!”

I’m really tired of doing that.  So if I am not those things, who am I?  What does it mean to know thyself?

Nearly 2,400 years ago Plato said becoming conscious of the cave begins the process of knowing your true self in his “Allegory of the Cave”, (read more about Plato’s Cave here if you like).  We are all still cave people.  We all have a cave that is.  There’s my cave, your cave, Steven Colbert’s cave, that person in aisle 7 looking at shampoo’s cave.  Even Popes and Dalai Lamas have caves.  These caves disguise, imprison, and hide our true selves.  I’m in a “funny-interesting cave”.   Today, caves go by the more common name “ego”; that is, the “me” that I show the world.

So, if I’m not my ego who am I really?  Well I know first what I am not.

Am I a son? No, but I have parents.  Am I a brother? No, but I have siblings.  Am I a father? Am I a husband? No, but I have children and a wife.  Am I a teacher?  No, but I have a job teaching.  These roles I play are not me, but they are part of who I thought I was– my ego.

Am I happy? No, but sometimes I feel that way.  Am I angry? No, but sometimes I act that way.  Am I hungry?  No, but sometimes I get a craving for cake.  I am not my feelings, but feelings are part of who I thought I was– my ego.

Ok so I must be my thoughts then.  I am my mind.  I am a sentient being that can know physics and math and discover the mysteries of the universe both great and small through the miracle of modern science.

Well, no. I am not my mind, but I can think. I have all those abilities, but they are not me.  I am not a thought, I am not a perception, I am not a discipline, I am more than the sum of my memories.

So what’s left? Take away what I am doing, what I am thinking, and what I am feeling, and all that’s left is what I am.  I am my being.  I am my existence rather than my non-existence.  If I take away my ego, step out of my cave, I discover my essence, my pure consciousness that observes my actions, my thoughts, and my feelings. I am the watcher of my life; the constant witness of Peter, the observer of thought and action, a single membered audience in love with my story.  Or maybe better still, I am the invisible author of the movie script entitled “Me”.

I am the life in my limbs, I am the spirit in my flesh, the director of my thoughts.  I am the intelligence in my cells, the animator of my molecules, the conductor of my systems. I am the remainder when all the atoms in my body have made agreements to bond themselves into new molecules in the bellies of worms.  Everything assembled will one day be taken apart, but I am uncomposed, undivided, unconstructed.  I am spirit, I am eternal, I am the image of God!

But who wants to be all that? Yesterday I am a  high school teacher, and today I am eternal?  I just want a beer every once in a while, make enough money to get by, and not ruffle anyone’s feathers.  I like being my thoughts, I’m comfortable being the funny guy.  My wife would whack my arm, as wives are sometimes known to do, if she heard me say that I’m not a husband.  My cave is safe, being my ego is safe.  I’m going to put my feet back on solid ground, quit the poetry, and take out the trash.  I almost believed all that for a second.

There is one problem though.  I’ve developed an allergy to the cave.  I cannot find my identity in thought, feelings, and actions anymore.  I’ve discovered that the prison of my cave exists and I’ve glimpsed the light coming from the outside.  I cannot return to the egoic lie that used to be me.  I exist beyond the cave now.  My spirit swells allergically to being in the cave like my sinuses in June, and it congests my sense of joy that I used to receive from ego, making all egoic pleasures taste like I have a latex glove on my tongue.  I’m claustrophobic in what was once  a spacious cave full of echos.

So I may still steal your joke and tell it as my own, but I can no longer find my meaning in it.  I’ve learned so much from my religion. But there is truth outside too.  Walk with me?