Have You Tried Being Quiet?

Cheri HuberAs with many Asheville, NC days, this Saturday morning was overcast with clouds sitting on us at 2200 feet. The studio we sat in was spacious and open and the beautiful hardwood floors got the attention of our knees, hips and ankles after sitting for a long meditation session.

We were there with Cheri Huber, a Zen teacher and perpetual seeker. Cheri’s wisdom shines through her sparkling eyes and easy smile, as does her sharp (when necessary) wit.

Few people I’ve ever met could combine the somberness of Zen sitting with funny life lessons that deepen the teaching. Today was going to be one of those days!

There were about 30 of us seated in a circle on cushions and blankets, covering ourselves against the late fall chill in the big, airy space.

After we sat for our first 45 minute sesshin and after talk and teaching called teisho or dharma talk, we would resume with our 2nd period of meditation.

Cheri was deep into a discussion on a topic that was of interest and meaning to us when one of the women in the group took off her watch and held it up in the direction of Cheri.

For a moment she ignored the woman, but then she got quiet.

“Are you trying to get my attention?”

“Yes” replied the obviously irritated woman. “I’m feeling the need to be quiet.” She meant that Cheri should bring her teisho to a close so we could meditate again.

Cheri sat like Buddha for a moment, she looked down, lifted her head, obviously suppressing a big smile and said, “I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, but have you tried being quiet?”

The group, as one, let out an audible gasp at the beauty and simplicity of this lesson. It was as if it were a setup designed by the Universe to deliver just the right message, in just the right way, at just the right time, which of course it was.

The woman, now appropriately enlightened or chastened (perhaps the same thing?), put her watch back on and went quiet.

As we move into even more hectic times with work, holidays and world events, when you find yourself feeling ornery or impatient, try being quiet. Quiet the mind and a quieter life will follow.



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More Dreaded than Death

DSCN1876Glossophobia–a fear of speaking, especially speaking in public.

Since I was 16 years old, I’ve been singing and playing music for people. Our band was opening act for Jerry Lee Lewis and his band of good ole’ boys for 3-4,000 people. I’ve sung for reunions, weddings, funerals, festivals and friends. But an interesting thing happened when I had to speak in public without singing or playing, I’d be scared to death!

My father was instrumental in Wake Forest University becoming a reknowned golf school. He told the athletic director (AD) 60 years ago that the school should focus on what they’re known for, Arnold Palmer and golf. When dad died the AD came to our house and brought a rendering of the new golf practice facility and asked if it could be dedicated to him. Of course, we said yes. Then he asked me something that made my blood run cold: he asked me if I’d come make remarks at the dedication.

Public SpeakingPublic speaking for me, as it is for millions of people, was a dreaded occasion. As the day of the ceremony approached, I rehearsed the 3 minutes of thanks on behalf of the family, but still I couldn’t get over the growing anxiety about having to stand in front of professional athletes, the Board of Trustees and many of his friends from all over and speak. Yikes, I was a mess. When the day arrived I went to the school and nearly ran away!

Instead, I managed to do it and didn’t pass out, throw up or die. It was a great lesson: do the thing you fear and, coming through it, you will have taken a step on a path to freedom. Once we know that we can do something outside of our comfort zone, our whole outlook on life can change. Since that time I’ve done hundreds of presentations and classroom teaching. It’s still not stress free, but at least now I know I can face up to something I feared more than death and thrive from it.

Anyone else have stories to share about coping with or overcoming a fear?

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We’re Not Loving It!

Proverbs 24: 21-22 — My son, fear the Lord and the king; Do not associate with those who are given to change for their calamity will rise suddenly, and who knows the ruin that comes from both of them.

Burger King

As I’ve watched the growing movement for a living wage among fast food and Walmart workers, I recall a conversation with a guy at a Christmas party several years ago. The man and his wife own several Burger King restaurants and live in a beautiful home full of original and interesting artwork and ceramics, in one of the best zip codes in the country.

For some reason we discussed a board I sat on for 5 years that studied the causes and effects of systemic poverty in North Carolina. Our study showed that 20% of the citizens of our state live below the national poverty level, which is itself artifically low. In fact, when you factor the cost of raising a family in any decent fashion, the poverty level should be twice what it is.

Of course, my host didn’t like this conversation. He said he’d payRobo Cop as little as absolutely possible to his employees and, truth be known, he probably did this already. I looked at him and said, “When people get desperate enough unpredictable things start to happen. You’ll need a 30 foot high wall around this house when that begins.” This was beyond the realm of his possibility.

Walmart SignSo now we see it. Workers who can’t support their families in even the most meager fashion protesting for a fair wage. Police are called out to act against the workers at the behest of their wealthy bosses. Taxpayers support Walmart workers to the tune of about $900,000+ average for each store, each year in the form of public assistance and SNAP food support.

As my first course in political science taught in college, the pendulum is always swinging in politics. It will swing too far to the right and then too far to the left. You would just prefer not to live in times when the extreme is being reached in either direction. Are we now approaching such a time? If full-time workers cannot support themselves or their families, what will happen? A nation of ill-educated, poor and unhealthy citizens will not and cannot long stand, but that is the direction in which we’re headed.

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3 Life Lessons

“We are addicted to our thoughts. We cannot change anything if we cannot change our thinking.”― Santosh Kalwar

Sample page with penFor many years now I’ve kept a journal and I’ve written about it here. This week, I’ll finish my 92nd stenographer’s pad of memories, dreams and reflections. Today I read back to the beginning of the current volume and encountered some thoughts from 4 months ago that, as Kalwar says, changed my thinking.

There are three life lessons I’ve learned along the way as part of the perrenial wisdom that is the focus of MentorBoom. Out of all I’ve read and learned of the uncommon wisdom I write about here, I learned that:

1) “Be kind, everyone you encounter is fighting a great battle.”* I read this and it was one

Martin Buber

Martin Buber

of those moments that made me pause. It slowly sunk in that no matter what I am experiencing that is causing me pain, or fear, or anxiety, everyone I meet has a similar or greater problem. Suddenly I became more compassionate with my interactions. I began trying to see other in the light of Martin Buber’s I and Thou, each encounter a meeting of equals in which there is the possibility of the Divine to flow, for Grace to be given.

2) In Buber’s concept of I and Thou there are 3 different ways of encountering others. We can make them objects as we do with our cultural heros and those we despise and “idify” them, making them greater than or less than ourselves. When we do this, we make an object of ourselves, feeling that we are not as worthy as our heros or that those we see as despicable, for reasons of color, ethnicity or class, are less than we, even less than human. When we see others as equal manifestions of the Divine we can relate in true relationship and divinity flows.

3) “The secret of success is constancy of purpose.”** Benjamin Disraeli was twice Prime Benjamin DisraeliMinister of Great Britain in the late 19th century. This quote attracted me for its succinct advice of making our way in the world. Many have offered advice about clarifying your vision and sticking to it. This quote can serve as a mantra when I feel pulled away from the important at the urging of the insistent. Remember my purpose and return to it every time I am pulled away and eventually, I will achieve greater success than I otherwise would.

*Plato or Rev. Ian Mcclaren (born John Watson)
**Benjamin Disraeli
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Speaking Up for Social Justice

And if we want peace, we must work for justice, or else nothing that we gain will be worth the cost.”                                    

                                                                  Rebels and Refugees, a song by Robert Caldwell

DiscriminationAndrew and I were at lunch this week. He referred a client to me from his network of clients. The client is a wonderful company and I work with the owner and her son as they prepare for succession to the next generation. It’s work I love and it gives me meaning.

We were discussing some political event. I don’t normally discuss politics with people I suspect of being on the other end of the political spectrum from me. Due to Andrew’s work as an investment advisor to wealthy people, I figured that would be where his beliefs lay.

But for some reason I did. I said, years ago I was asked to run for Congress by a representative of the Democratic Party. At the time I was still running our business and couldn’t both run for office and run the company, so I passed on the opportunity.

Andrew asked, “Why Democratic?” I thought for 5 seconds and said, “Social justice.” I Nazisrelated my connections over the years with 3 people, 2 African American and one Jew who escaped Nazi Germany by the slimmest of margins.

These were some of the finest people I’ve ever known and the way they were treated at times in their lives led me to be adamant in my belief that all men and women deserve our respect and decency until they prove themselves unworthy of it. I don’t see that in the right wing of American politics today and it is inexcusable in my opinion.

JusticeHe said he’d never thought of it that way. His clients always talk about making money, investing it, growing it and minimizing taxes. There is seldom, if ever, any talk of the needs of others. It was like a light went off in his mind. If my words can have that effect, it is my obligation to speak up more often and spread the word of social justice.


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Bananas and Geopolitics

ChiquitaJust up the street from the Carolina Panthers football stadium where they’re playing today here in Charlotte is the new headquarters of Chiquita Brands, the huge fruit company. Just up the road from us in Davidson, NC today is the final round of the Chiquita Golf Classic. This time 60 years ago in Central America a plot was being hatched that would forever, indelibly rebrand this company as complicit in a grave injustice.

In the early 1950’s the duly elected president of Guatemala was Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. TrumanHe didn’t like the idea too much that 42% of the arable land in his country was out of production and off limits to indigenous farmers because it was owned by the United Fruit Company. Arbenz created a law, Decree 900, that gave farmers access to that land. That in turn pissed off United Fruit, but more importantly their private army known as the CIA.

Within 2 years of Decree 900, Arbenz was forced out and military dictators began a 40+ year ruthless, bloody rule. The misery unleashed, in large part, by the illegal and immoral overthrow of a foreign government by the U.S. government is well documented. When I visited there in the early 1980’s the military junta had recently been named the most repressive in the Americas. Quite a distinction in that cast of character!

Guatemala 1954So what did United Fruit Company do to clean its hands after their very dirty role in all this? They rebranded themselves into bright, sunny, smiling, squeaky clean Chiquita seen above. Gradually, over time, the world forgets these small atrocities, but they continue unabated as we speak today, all over the world. Let’s end with this quote:

William Blum, in Killing Hope
… the educated, urbane men of the State Department, the CIA, and the United Fruit Company, the pipe-smoking men of Princeton, Harvard, and Wall Street, decided that the illiterate peasants of Guatemala did not deserve the land which had been given to them, that the workers did not need their unions, that hunger and torture were a small price to
pay for being rid of the scourge of Communism.


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8 Thoughts on Change

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Albert Einstein

I was reading back through a journal from 2012, looking for ideas I’ve written about, but left to moulder there in those old pages. One such thing I found was this material about change. Since there was a lot of change going on in my life just then, it was what I wrote about. Think about the meaning of life change and your resistance to or acceptance of it.

Einstein on Energy1) If Einstein is correct, change occurs in my life only when I want it. If change is something that I want, then resistance to it is ultimately futile. The greater the resistance to it, the greater the pain involved.

2) Change comes from thinking differently. Only through my willingness to think different thoughts in different ways, will change occur.

3) I have to come to the place of wanting change by my own thought and subsequent change of heart.

4) Change need not be a huge leap. Small steps repeated often will work nicely. The secret of success is constancy of purpose.

5) The duration and intensity of the pain of “change resistance” diminishes with Gandhiprogressively accepting and allowing the change to occur.

6) The physiological sensation of being stuck in a troubling situation leads to focused thought that seeks a different way of dealing with or extricating myself from it.

7) Recognizing that I strongly desire a better, improved situation leads to a willingness to change.

8) Change is the only constant. We breathe it in and out until we breathe no more, then, no worries.

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