Women, Status and Prosperity

      The best clue to a nation’s growth and development potential is the status and role of womenHistorian David Landes in “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.”

As I sorted through some papers a small yellowed fragment of newspaper literally fell into my lap.  It was this Landes quote.  Immediately, I wanted to write about this.  Throughout my life I have seen the roles of women expand exponentially.  When I attended law school, albeit briefly, there was one woman in my class.  Now they are about 45-50% of students.

Women FamilyMy life has been blessed by good women.  Mother, aunts, sisters, surrogates, and all their friends surrouded me from day one.  As I grew up and began my adult life there have been a number of partners from whom I’ve learned so much.  I’ve always enjoyed talking to women at social gatherings; conversations are generally much more interesting!

Watching the women around me be able to express themselves in all sorts of endeavors Liberated Womenhas been a bright spot in my life.  Liberated expression was the exception, not the norm in my earlier days.  It wasn’t that long ago that roles for most women were tightly cast and difficult to escape.  But now these liberties are being questioned, curtailed and controlled.

I know there are a large number of people in the U.S. right now who don’t seem to want to be bothered by the facts.  Why should they, they have their opinions!  The onslaught of legislation on both the national and state levels to control reproductive rights, education and basic healthcare for women is not only insulting, it’s damaging to the well being of our nation.

If historian Landes is correct in his facts, based on extensive research, not voodoo science IssaCircusthat objectifies women as chattel, nations do best when their women are liberated and allowed to contribute as fully as men.  Lately, it seems to be felt by some that a panel of these guys will certainly do a much better job of making decisions for women than they would ever be able to make for themselves.  Do these guys live in relationships?!

Our country did exceedingly well over the last 60+ years as women gained increasing positions of power and influence.  Undoing these gains cannot be allowed, not only for reasons of justice and equity, but also because we realize that all of us together, no matter ethnicity, gender, sexual preference or any other of a host of historic discriminators, are needed to create a better, more balanced future.

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Memoriam for Dr. King

             I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

                                                                                                                                              MLK, Jr.

MLK Quote

April 4, 1968 the shot rang out in Memphis that ended the life of the leader of a movement that changed America profoundly.  It was a spring full of shock and horror.  Just 4 1/2 years before JFK was killed and 2 months after you, Bobby Kennedy was gunned down in kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in L.A.  Dr. King was only 39 years old.

To me Dr. King was a huge figure.  When I was younger I easily imagined being the ambassador to the UN, or a leading figure in a movement, but it was not to be.  Here was a man who, through strength of character and conviction, reshaped the history of racial relations in the U.S. with non-violent means (the only violence being inflicted upon him and his followers).

The nation honors him today along with one of his heirs, President Barack Obama, as he isObama inaugurated for the second term.  As Dr. King hoped, let us develop into a world where men are not judged by the color of their skin but by the character in their heart.

A final shout out to my father who died 25 years ago today.  He judged people by the content of their character and made a difference in the lives of many.  A life well lived.

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“This is a ‘C-PACK’, something you use when you get old to breathe at night.”

I’ll have to admit to interrupting some otherwise very intimate evenings by emitting strong and frightful nocturnal sounds of a man struggling for breath.  Some of these snores are reputed to have shaken windows and rattled door handles across the house.  I slept right through them, so I can’t testify to the veracity of these scurrilous accusations.

Several years ago though, I found myself increasingly struggling to breathe at night.  At times I imagined getting an oxygen tank or an oxygen tent to help me.  More and more I found myself tired and depleted throughout the day.  I was getting desperate, but didn’t know where to go for help.

Finally, after sleeping by myself for far too long, I went to see an old fraternity brother of mine who was a prominent ENT doctor.  He said, you need to get fitted for a CPAP.  “What’s that”, I asked.  “A breathing machine that forces airways open with continuous positive air pressure”, he said, hence the name.  It stops snoring for most people and helps them get enough O2 to sleep and wake up rested.  It has the extra benefit of saving lives.  A local pro football player died at 41 of sleep apnea; that shit’ll kill ya’.

The first night I got it after going through an overnight sleep test, I was hooked!  Hooked I tell you, literally and figuratively.  Hooked on the sweet flow of filtered air unimpeded by a deviated septum and big boy tonsils.  The doctor said about surgery to correct those things that it had a 50% chance of success and a very high chance for the tissue to reform and the septum to distort again.  Forget that.

So now I was hooked to a hose with a nose piece that is not nearly as uncomfortable as it looks, especially when weighted in a cost/benefit analysis.  I was off on business and could carry the CPAP with me.  It was in the early days of more extensive security checks and of course when my bag went through the X-Ray the TSA agent said, “Do you mind if I open your bag and show my trainee here what this is?”  No problem I said.

Quickly the woman opened the zipper and picked up the CPAP from the bottom of the bag.  She proudly turned to the young woman beside her and said, “This is a ‘C-PACK’, something you use when you get old to breathe at night.”  I gave her a loving glare and said simply, “Thanks.”

So, I was officially old, but I could breathe and could enjoy human company all day and all night.  Apnea will kill you and will make you and those around you miserable in the process.  So, bite the bullet and get yourself a “C-PACK” if you think you need one, and if you need one you’ll know it by the comments of those who’ve heard you snore.

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One Mile from the Other Woman

On the way home from the Y after my near-daily swim, I couldn’t resist a little side trip to see the house shown so often on local TV lately as the home of Gen. Petraeus’s biographer, author of “All In,” Paula Broadwell.  On a beautiful street in an historic district amid 80 year old oaks, sat a nicely kept brick house where she lived.

The saga that led me to take the detour had begun last week like so many do, one person who loves being around power hooks up with one who has it and, voila!, sparks fly and people get burned.  The one who, in this case, desired to be closer to major power, turns out, lives less than a mile from me.  As I approached the house the street was blocked by tree pruning trucks, which I immediately assumed were secret agents up in the trees.

Paula Broadwell is herself a very accomplished and powerful person but the cult that has grown up around the upper echelons of the military elite is legendary and often scandal ridden.  David Petraus represented the pinnacle of this military power.  His biographer purportedly became his mistress, and the powerful general became just another man.

The bright, shininess of power contains within itself the dark, sinister seeds of its own destruction.  It is the basis of many of the oldest stories and myths of humankind.  Perhaps it’s even happened to you and certainly to someone close to you.

Years ago, a new senator was sworn in in North Carolina.  He was a family friend and he signed the Bible he used in the ceremony and gave it as a gift to my father.  The inscription read, “There are two very difficult things to do in life, one is to make a good name for yourself, the other is to keep it.”  He then said my father was a man who’d done both.

Later, while in office for many years, the rumors flew about our friend and the affairs he famously had.  The temptations are legion, as they say.  The thrill of power and access to power are intoxicating.  I can’t really blame anyone else for their indiscretions, we all must live with the consequences of our words and actions.  And, if we didn’t have our own faults, we couldn’t recognize them in others.

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“Don’t trust your intuition, obey it!”

It was a typical, stereotypical British day, blustery, wet and gray.  The area was industrial which added to the bleakness of the scene.  The Chairman’s office had no warmth, no feel of humanity about it, but his company made a great product and I thought (the operative word here) that I could make it work in the U.S.

When the time came to sign the paperwork, I felt a hollowness in the pit of my stomach.  It was cold and deep and, as it turned out, a perfect presentiment of what would come from my doing so.  The intuitive feeling, as compelling as it was, could not rise up enough to influence my thinking.  The deed was done and the consequences soon followed.

This memory is from many years ago.  Subsequently, the drama of fear, despair, tension, denial, loss and acceptance played out.  Mistakes were made, relationships damaged and lessons were learned.  But, one of the primary components of a happy life is resilience.  I licked my wounds, got up and got out, back into a new, strangely liberated world.

Since those days, I’ve gained awareness of my intuition more and more often.  It has taken some training and some time, but I now have much clearer access to it.  Pausing for a moment to check in has become routine.  Now, it takes just a short time to sense whether I’m urged to go, or to stay.  If I’m ambivalent now, I tend to stay.

A wise man told me years ago, talking about the value of reclaiming this ability to pause between stimulus and response, “Don’t trust your intuition, obey it!”  The pause makes all the difference.  This instant frees us up to see the choice we are offered and to consciously choose.  It is in this ability to choose that our freedom lies.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl


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Perfecting the Illusion

“Live to be in the present. Safety, security, knowing and being right are  all synonyms for death.”–Cheri Huber

It’s cool out, the air is damp and the clouds hold promise of rain later.  The window is open 1 inch to capture the essence of the freshness and newness this Sunday morning offers.  My room is comfortable, equipped with current technology and good coffee.  All is well.

On several different occasions over the years, I studied with Cheri Huber, a Zen teacher and perpetual student herself.  Cheri is a no nonsense, much fun companion in the study of the ineffable.  Her sayings, as captured by those around her, cut right to the core of whatever situations we encounter.  Instead of “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” in Cheri’s words, we are constantly engaged in trying to “perfect the illusion.”

The good news is that the illusions we create for our lives (this morning it’s this room) have substance and provide value.  Today it is a quiet space to think, be and write.  The difficult thing to accept is that all of it is fleeting and transitory.  Only for a while is our nest feathered just so.  Change is the only constant and only by letting go of the old can the new emerge.

On NPR this week, Judith Schwarz, a former trauma nurse at Compassion and Choices was interviewed.  She said that while some terminally ill patients store up enough meds to kill themselves, most of them ultimately die from their illness because, despite their expressed desire, when it came time to do it, many would not.  The difference is that for those who still felt control of anything, even the perceived freedom and ability to make the smallest of choices in their lives, death at their own hand would be premature.

So, while surrounded by your things, perfect the scene to your liking.  Use your ability to create to its maximum.  Create the most pleasing environment you can in your current circumstances.  This is life force expressing itself.  Ultimately it’s an expression of our desire and ability to have choice in our lives.  This is where evolving consciousness lives, constantly on the edge of desire, making choices and manifesting as we go.

Desires, and our sense of what is perfect, will evolve until the perfection we once saw, for a brief moment, no longer fulfills the new longing that has welled up from within.




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And Joy is Everywhere

I had finally broken down, just as my antique Palm Centro was breaking down, and ordered a new, my first, iPhone.  Sad to say, I have virtually (pun intended) disconnected from the digital world anytime I left the office and my laptop.  Only the thin, invisible chord of light of my cell phone connected me to anyone or anything other than my thoughts.  How have I survived?!  Just me and my thoughts. . .

The happy day arrived in the form of a neat little package.  I unpacked it, started looking at the steps necessary to activate and said, later.  A tech support guy said, and I have the transcript of our Chat, “It will be a breeze to get your number changed back and transfer your data.”  Yeah, right.  An hour and 15 minutes later with 3 other people, it was determined that the only way I could get my number back was to send this phone back and start over.  Ballistic.

I chose, as soon as I hung up the phone, to change my attitude.  At the FedEx office to return the phone, a woman came out to help me.  It was just the two of us in the small space.  She helped me repack it, tape and label it.  I asked her if she knew my nephew in their Asheville office and we talked about how long she’d been there, nearly 28 years.  She was great.  Suddenly, the anger and frustration I’d felt for having wasted 3-4 hours with the whole process, melted away and I made the choice to see things differently.

When I did get back and reconnect with the world, one of the first things I encountered was this poem by the great Indian poet, Tagore.  He reminds us that where we give our focus, thoughts and attention, there we will be also.

“And Joy is Everywhere; It is in the Earth’s green covering of grass;
In the blue serenity of the Sky; In the reckless exuberance of Spring;
In the severe abstinence of gray Winter;
In the Living flesh that animates our bodily frame;
In the perfect poise of the Human figure, noble and upright;
In Living; In the exercise of all our powers;
In the acquisition of Knowledge; In fighting evils…
Joy is there Everywhere.” Rabindranath Tagore, 1861-1941, Nobel Prize in Literature, 1913

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Never Alone

“The only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we are alone.”  Mitch AlbomThe Five People You Meet in Heaven

For more years than I like to recount, I have trudged in and out of office buildings for meetings and business matters.  Generally, these are not places one expects to find moments of Grace, but they are always there, in potential.  One organization I’ve worked with has a saying that we meet with a CEO and, amazingly, he or she is a human being.

Last month I was asked by a business acquaintance to join in a meeting with a very successful financial services guy.  Bill is tall and lean, early 50’s and tanned like the avid golfer he is.  During his career he has managed the entire eastern U.S. sales force of a Fortune 100 company.  This is not where I expected to find a piece of perennial wisdom.

The first meeting went well with some mutual interest in what we could perhaps offer each other from our perspective disciplines.  There might be some worthwhile synergy to pursue.  Two weeks later we met again, alone in his office with a window that frames the entire skyline of Charlotte.  As we talked he asked if I’d read Albom’s book.  Yes, I had, I replied.  He also wrote Tuesdays with Morrie which is similar in some ways to meetings with my mentor years ago.*

He began talking about human nature and the resistance we form to various things over time in our lives.  Through the impact of the teaching we receive and life experience, our nature is forged and hardened, for good or for ill.  Some of us even resist and argue against the things we know would serve us well (recognize that one?).

What we forget he said is Albom’s admonition that, “The only time we waste is the time we spend thinking we are alone.”  I was surprised and touched that Bill would say this in this setting.  It is not typically in the repetoire of my business associates.  This wisdom is something I’ve come to learn, in part.  I’ve adopted a technique that helps me remember.

In the dark hours of the night, if I find my fantasy going to a dark or worrisome place, I go to my breath.  I inhale consciously to a count of 3 and then release over a count of 5, for a total count of 8.  As the breath comes in, I gradually let go enough that it can flow deep into my diaphragm.  There I imagine that my small “s” self, connects with my eternal Self.

In that moment of connection I realize that I am not alone, ever.  While it may seem naive to imagine such things, it’s not a matter of the intellect. It’s a matter of our emotional being, our spirit, the part of us that, like it or not, exists beyond the bounds of these bodies.  When I’m able to make this connection of self to Self, I know that I am never alone.


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Last Call?

Could it be true?  A reliable source has intimated that a Romney presidency would move to, just like Islam, outlaw the manufacture, distribution and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the US.  Since his faith outlaws it and it fits in with the family values that he espouses, it would possibly be outlawed, by Executive Order, in our country.  No more Bud on Sunday at the football game, no more expensive white wine in the executive suites?  AAAAGH!

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Biology and Consciousness

White cells are merciless and will hunt down and kill every last pathogen they can find.  Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson has written another great book entitled, A Short History of Nearly Everything.  He previously wrote a book that I really enjoyed entitled, A Walk in the WoodsIn this audaciously titled book, Bryson examines the world from the micro to the macro levels and talks with interesting detail about the lives and findings of those who discovered so much of what we (think) we know today.

On page 313, I read about white blood cells.  I don’t know about you, but I’d never thought too much about these little critters except to be thankful they’re there when an infection strikes.  As it turns out, there are in fact about 10,000,000 different varieties of them in the human body, each variety designed to respond to a specific type of threat!

They aren’t arrayed as standing armies ready to attack, but rather as scouts that constantly monitor the body and identify which variety is needed as any given time.  When a threat is discovered the message goes back to the cells that produce the white blood cells.  These little manufacturing plants spring into action creating the army of cells that will fight, relentlessly and ruthlessly, until the last threat is gone.

This is all interesting information but suddenly I thought, is this not the way consciousness acts as well?  Remember a time in your life when you developed a strong affinity for something.  For me, I remember seeing early bluegrass musicians playing Martin guitars.  While I didn’t play at that time, I knew I wanted a Martin and to learn how to play it.  At that time, once I identified my desire, the forces of the the Universe began creating the circumstances and events that would allow that to happen.

At first I got a cheap guitar that was basically unplayable.  When I was 15, however, I bought a nylon string guitar from a friend for $10 and that was the beginning.  Over time, I honed my desire and forces conspired to bring me the guitar and ability to play it that I wanted.  Just like the white blood cells, conscious forces rushed in to help fulfill my desire once I had clearly defined and identified it.

So it is with all of our lives.  Once we get unequivocally clear about what we want, forces beyond our own puny efforts gather to help make it come true.  Our job is to align with this energy and get out of the way, taking our own small actions to move in that direction and allow them to be amplified by the life force that infuses all that we are, all that we have and all that we do.

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