A Crisis of Spirit

Krisis, the ancient Greek word from which the modern term is derived, doesn’t mean something terrible. It means a ‘turning point,’ a moment for a major decision.     Nick Seneca Jankel

I believe it was Carl Jung who said that at midlife all crises are crises of spirit. When we look around us, as so much of life has passed by, it’s easy and tempting to blame others or circumstances for our lot in life. In truth, we have made and we own all that is in our life, right now.

Crisis has been translated, probably incorrectly, from the Chinese hanzi as danger and opportunity. While this may not be the case and a product of rather shabby academic work, when crisis comes we are all about basically saving our own hide. There seems to be little time for opportunity in crisis.

But I think there is often an opportunity in crisis. Life is showing us in vivid and unmistakable terms that things we have swept under the rug are not gone forever. The undealt with will make its presence known, relentlessly.

While we have to deal with the emergency, beneath it and within it is also an opportunity. We can become depressed by the upset of danger and cut off from a vibrant life, or we can choose to become determined to find that opportunity.

As I’ve aged, like most of us, I still feel like the same young guy I’ve always been, but my body tells me a different story. An ache and pain here, a systemic assault there and suddenly there is an emergency that needs attention if we are to continue to live. What then is the opportunity I will find at the bottom of such a crisis?

While these symptoms have a physical basis, ultimately they are symptomatic of a spiritual malaise, a derailment from the course of life we intended to lead. How do we get back on track at times like this when a bad diagnosis or pain catches us by surprise? First of all, we haven’t been paying attention, or perhaps I’ve been in denial, imagine that.

While we know our life will end, it’s always something that lies down the road a bit. When we are faced with the undeniable facts of a frightening situation, the theoretical becomes existential. Suddenly, the inevitable seems much closer than we’d imagined. We’ve been paying attention to what’s urgent, rather than what’s important in life.

Our challenge is to deal with the emergency as well as we can and then explore the opportunity that lies beneath. Life is asking us to work through the stresses and strains of being and identify the spiritual crisis that is making its presence known through pain or illness. Only when we are clear about the spiritual crisis can we heal the physical one.



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The Equation of Love

The old sofa was covered with kids, borrowed tables bulged with food and the whole clan was gathered. It was another one in our tradition of family parties where we all come together to celebrate birthdays, graduations, accomplishments or simply the love we share. I am now the oldest person in the room!

It just so happened that it was Father’s Day weekend, so we had that to share as well. It was also a moment of awareness for me as I thought about my father and our time together.

Bob wasn’t warm and fuzzy; he was impatient and gruff. I’d avoided spending much time with him until we began working together. It wasn’t an easy 15 years, but we got to know each other as men, not just as father and son. As one of my friends said, “If you had that relationship with your father, you’re miles ahead of most men!”

In his final days as he was drifting away, he told me, “You know it’s not so bad being surrounded by people who love you.” This was it! This is what he’d resisted but waited for all his 70+ years. Now in the last 90 days he was shown that there are two parts to the equation of love. It was no longer an idle concept to him, but part of his daily life.


There is giving love, which he had shown in his generosity of spirit. And there is receiving love, the missing part of the equation until he could no longer do it all for himself. Allowing in the love and letting others care for him was his unique challenge in those last days.

As I was journaling about the party on Father’s Day, I realized that during that time I was allowing myself to receive love as I never have before. The liberating factor is the lack of expectation for any of us. No gifts, no demands, no blame, no judgment, just great food and lots of laughter.

Love isn’t a noun, it’s a verb. It consists of giving and receiving in some balanced measure. Without the giving, we are needy, there’s a hole in our soul. Without the receiving, we are cold and distant, too afraid to let others close.

Martin Buber said that the Divine exists in the flow of connection between I and Thou. Giving love and receiving love are the two essential components of a balanced life. When we have those moments of I and Thou we are tuning into that flow and co-creating with the Divine. We are experiencing the equation of love.



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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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