Our Choice

“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.” Margaret Atwood, The Handmaids Tale

My stepson is in the interview process for a teaching position at a prestigious private school. His next step is to teach an hour long session on Dystopian Literature. I had to look it up to see if I really knew what the subject was and found: 1984, Animal Farm, The Handmaids Tale, The Jungle, The Time Machine, and Hunger Games, among many others.

Dystopian stories are the antonym of utopian literature that holds a vision of a future with promise and hope. These tales demand that all who read them abandon hope and travel down the alternate path toward darkness and despair.

Recently on NPR a psychologist was talking about Prince Harry’s admission of dealing, often poorly, with the trauma of his mother’s death when he was 12 years old. The only thing that anchored him to life had been Diana, who in an instant was there no more. Harry has millions of admirers and his message of seeking help to deal with trauma and grief 20 years after the fact, is powerful.

I’ve lived a long time. I’ve seen firsthand the up and downs, trials and tribulations of life, but always I found a more utopian outlook. That choice has allowed me to emerge from all of them bruised but not defeated.

A defeated populace, living lives of grim desperation, is easier to control than a smaller number of educated, inquisitive people. That’s why would-be tyrants go after the intelligentsia early in their purges. We are now living under a system of government that was once the idol of the world. That, however, has been hijacked by the wealthiest, most power hungry people in the world for their own nefarious purposes. They are scheming and overseeing the destruction of public education, a social safety net, health care, and any care for the future of the environment in which we live.

We are being degraded into a third-world country in a well-planned plot. It is only ourselves who can turn the tables. It has never been easy, but it has always been necessary to stand up to tyrants.

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Meaning and Hope

Years ago, late afternoon, as a college freshman, I fell asleep on the luxurious bunk bed with the 2.5 inch mattress provided to us. It was secured with bolts to a lovely, pale green cinder block wall. When I awoke it was almost dark, the time of day I’d come to dread since being on my own.

As I emerged, groggy and somewhat disoriented from sleep, I became aware of a pressure on my chest. I began to panic and raced through every conceivable thing that could possibly be alive and on top of me. The logic of the moment said it could only be a large, heavy snake! As I flung it off of me and started to hit the floor running I realized that it was my arm, not a huge viper.

My knuckles hit the wall at maximum velocity and sent shock waves through me. My arm had just been asleep, and now it hurt like hell.

Colin Wilson, British philosopher and novelist, likens what happened to my arm that day to what we do as humans with our subconscious mind. We go to sleep to the subconscious. Over our lifetime we become socialized and increasingly lose touch with those realms other than the  day-to-day repetition of obligations and commitments.

Once we break with the easy access that young children tend to have to the world of the unconscious and fantasy, we go numb to it. It’s lost to us as surely as a sleeping limb.

As we lose access to it, we lose a sense of meaning. Once we begin living like there is no subconscious realm, nothing other than right here and right now, our ability to connect to it atrophies. Wilson says we can find it again if we restore circulation between the subconscious and the “flow of life.”

Our intuition tells us there is something on the other side of the veil, but we’ve forgotten what it is or how to connect to it. It is the task of the hero’s journey, and that includes each of us, to seek and enable this connection and “to become active participants translating meaning into life.” Otherwise we become just another statistic of those who have lost meaning and therefore hope in life.

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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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