The Menacing Burning Within The Soul

If you jump and leap, don’t leap or jump for the landing. Leap for the experience through the air. -Brene Brown, on Magic Lessons Podcast with Elizabeth Gilbert

As I prepare for my transition, finishing up my last full month in China, I’ve been wondering if I made the right choice. Preparing to jump into the unknown fills you with a lot of doubt. Is this really the place in which I can develop more of what’s best about me? Will my Judy-ness get an upgrade? What about my family, Ryan and Hannah?–will this be the best for them?

Do you ever feel like you have gambled all your chips at the roulette table at Vegas and you’re hoping that life lands on the Red 6?  Well, the wheel is spinning, isn’t it?

We read Wild in our book club a few years back and she definitely left an impression on me as a writer. She doesn’t mince words; strength and power are something that Cheryl Strayed is really good at articulating in her work. Her memoir and her subsequent work encapsulate this idea of Motherfuckitude, which is a combination of 2 seemingly opposing ideas: humility and faith. And, although the term may upset your modesty, I assure you the idea transcends your opposition.

I’m going to really try and I might fail, but I’m not going to feel sorry for myself but I’m going to be strong in the midst of my humility. Forget success and instead put my faith in the work and be really fierce and very exacting. I must demand a lot of myself when it actually comes to doing the work…having a sense of surrender and acceptance that ‘I’m going to do this work and I don’t know where it may lead.

-Cheryl Strayed- (in an interview on the Tim Ferris Show)

bravery.jpgHer words put a ding in my trepidation, making me consider that there could be no way I could fail if not failing forward–towards this furious ache that is in my soul, the one that causes me to be more than I am today.  The one that tells me that I am not too old, too dense, too unyielding, too silly, too pollyannish. Instead, it tells me that ‘life is long and I am young with so much to learn–isn’t that wonderful?’ It berates me until I have no choice but to heed its advice.

Anyone who writes knows how incredibly hard it is to write something that actually is interesting and meets your level of expectation. Anyone who runs knows how incredibly hard it is to run, in the rain, when you’re tired when you’re in pain and injured. Anyone who teaches knows how incredibly difficult it is to plan, to care and to put in the effort when you’re sick when you’re annoyed when you’re disappointed in life. Anyone who parents know how incredibly hard to be attentive, tuned in and patient. I could make a list of any job, hobby or role that we love dearly and are passionate about–there’s a time in which you want to throw in the towel and quit, but you can’t quit because your devotion to it is too strong and your life would be an empty shell without this struggle in your life. With the struggle comes the beauty and the joy.

So I have to wonder–will I expect more of myself in this new environment? As a wife, as a mother, as a teacher, as a blogger?–Can I work at it like a motherf*cker there?  Am I willing to diligently press on when it will be easier allow distractions to overcome me? I wholeheartedly agree with Cheryl, that once you surrender to the hardship of whatever craft one wishes to perform, then there is a grit and dedication that arises and overtakes the urge to abandon the task at hand. And you know, in your heart of hearts, that if you were to maintain a steady focus on it, you would eventually persevere. You believe in yourself and your ability to figure things out.

Long before I put all of my chips on Red 6, I had this menacing burning in my soul to have a fresh experience, to hit a reset button. I have to trust that I have made the best decision, that this move serves the highest vision of my creativity.  I wasn’t looking for a j.o.b.–something that I have to clock into- but instead, something that helps me to improve my art–something that I get to explore, experiment with and craft. I also felt this was the best option for my husband as well. So I must have the faith that this will be a fantastic challenge and that will cultivate joy and curiosity in our lives.

What experience have you had with your struggle to transition? What are you willing to leave behind and what did you want to “pack”, in a metaphorical sense?

Innovate Yourself

There are many great people whose stories provoke me and have made me wonder if I was indeed doing enough with the gifts and abilities that I have have been born with. Currently, I am on the verge of one of a cathartic moment, as I read the biographical book Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. I know it wasn’t on A Tentative Reading Lists for 2017 but it’s a must read. I am so inspired by him that it’s actually taken me a while to even attempt to articulate why it is that I feel the way I do. His struggle to envision the future to me is heroic, on par with my other heroes of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, due to his infinite pursuit of a dream that is larger is than himself. Now I know what you’re thinking–you’re comparing him to those great men?  Yes, yes, I am. Why?-because he stares at the abysmal status quo and is willing to do whatever it takes to disrupt it in an effort to move humanity forward. He has created a movement in technology and innovation that so is understated and he continues to doggedly persist in solving problems that seem impossible.

I think there are probably too many smart people pursuing internet stuff, finance and law. That is part of the reason why we haven’t seen as much innovation.

Elon Musk

I mean, how many of you worked on, let alone sat and pondered these issues?

  1. Making life interplanetary
  2. Accelerating the transition to sustainable energy
  3. Artificial Intelligence

So many great scientists and engineers have asked questions that are beyond one’s comprehension. However, Elon staunchly believes that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they choose to make a commitment to asking insane questions in the quest of serving the needs of humanity. When your curiousity collides with your passion, a life’s purpose emerges and you can do things so much bigger than you could ever imagine. He challenges the assumption that innovation is a natural outcome of civilization as if evolution is set on an inevitable course. But without drive and intelligence, nothing new emerges and people and the planet languish in complacency’s wake. The notion that something is “good enough” is the antithesis to improvement and growth.

People think just automatically that technology gets better every year, but actually, it doesn’t. It only gets better if smart people work like crazy to make it better…otherwise it actually gets worse.

Elon Musk

As I reflect on these ideas, it appears obvious to me that when people accept what is average, what is the bare minimum and don’t demand more of themselves and each other, then they are ultimately in a death spiral. Doing the same thing over and over again is actually going backward (such as thinking that drilling for oil is the answer to our energy needs now and in the future). I remember a famous quote from Albert Einstein that stated, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”, which if Elon Musk was to rephrase it, it might be: It’s absurd to think that doing the same thing over and over again will yield innovation.

Of course, you might just be thinking that’s all well and good for the development of plasma TVs, internet speed and space rockets, but so what, What does innovation have to do with me. I’m not an engineer or scientist, and I certainly not a millionaire. That may be true, but there is NO area in life that couldn’t be innovated; it only takes a willingness to acknowledge that failure is a possibility and do it anyway.  Take, for instance, Gandi. He went against the British government and won India’s independence through non-violence. Non-violence?! This idea still is revolutionary and to my knowledge, Martin Luther King is the only other man who has attempted to use it against oppressors with success. But the idea works! And yet we still wage war–outdated, archaic and what should be obsolete methodologies–when you look at the power of this innovative strategy. It’s the equivalent of riding a horse and buggy to work, and yet so many people favor guns and bombs over the more impactful approach of non-violence. This astounds me. Yet I digress….elon musk

If you were to trace the trajectory of anyone who did anything amazing, they did things in spite of their fear and knew that the person who they were now was not the person they needed to be, thus they had to innovate themselves. Not only did they seek to educate themselves, but they supplanted their beliefs so that the importance of their cause was too cemented in order to slink away from daunting challenges. These people have loads of fear but their faith in the do-gooding nature of their intended movement has more power over them. Going back to Gandhi, he was a rather wealthy lawyer from India who transformed into an incredible man whose heart was impenetrable to the evils of his self-doubt and worry cast upon him from naysayers. He legacy still remains: Be the Change You Wish To See In The World. This could be a true mantra for a life worth living if we were willing to make small, yet extraordinary changes in our thinking. These incremental changes have a snowballing effect over time. There is a level of willpower that must be developed and exercised so that we can overcome the mentality of the status quo and accept a higher version of what we could create with the intelligence we were given.

Obviously, this is something that I am ruminating on diligently–what sort of mental program do I need to download so that my small-mindedness gets an upgrade? What am I capable of that I am allowing fear to be my obstacle? In what ways can I innovate myself so that I can pay it forward to humanity?

Perhaps you too are haunted by these thoughts as you examine your life. How about we give each other permission and get set to work to do something amazing?

 

Deliver Us From Evil

There’s a question that’s been floating around my brain for quite some time, and that is, can we create “good humans” without religion’s fear of a haunting afterlife or using a penal system to punish “bad” behavior by locking people away.  As an educator who pines for a more peaceful and equitable world, you might understand why I ask such a question as I do believe that I can make a positive impact on a human life.

During my high school psychology class, I remember learning about an experiment in which a social scientist, Stanley Milgram asked if the Holocaust could happen again.  In his experiment subjects played a role of the “teacher”, and they were told that the student was about improving memory. If the “student” could not remember something, they were to apply increasing amounts of electric shock to the finger. They could go all the way up to 4blindobediance50 V, and not surprisingly, “students” pleaded and cried to have the shocks stop, fearing that it might be fatal. At which time, the “teachers” were reminded by someone in a lab coat (not a real doctor or professor) that they have a job to perform and this shock treatment was for the “students” own good. With this reminder, the “teachers” continued to provide shocks to the “students”.  This experiment involved over 1000 participants and demonstrated the idea of “blind obedience”, in which people can be easily coaxed into mean and corruptible acts when they believe that the person giving the directive is a respected authority. This same experiment inspired other experiments that explored good people doing bad things; in particular, the most controversial and telling one by Dr. Phil Zimbarbo, who created a  prison simulation whose good kids were turned “evil” by the social situation in which they found themselves. (The experiment was supposed to go for 2 weeks but had to be stopped after 5 days due to the sadistic acts done by the “prison guards” to these mock prisoners.) Ironically, the images of Abu Ghraib in Iraq were eerily similar to the cruelty exhibited by these prison guards done in his experiment. When he was interviewed about the shocking similarities, Dr. Zimbardo came in defense of the soldiers who took on these roles because it was the expectation of the authorities above them:

Most American soliders are good apples and what we have to realize that someone put them in a bad barrel and we have to know who are the “bad” barrel makers are. And this becomes the metaphor: bad apples, what is wrong with the individual vs. bad barrels, which is situational analysis; and of course the system is the bad barrel makers, the people who make those situations and sustain them.

-Dr. Phil Lombardo-

He calls the impetus to do bad the Lucifer Effect, which if you want to know more about, you can watch his TED talk below. It’s fascinating and uncomfortable to learn about.

I postulate that this is true for all people, whether we analyze slavery, Nazis in WW2, gang violence, the genocide in Rwanda, Columbine shootings or the more recent terror attacks done by the Taliban and ISIS.  I think this is the same reason why American police officers have such a bad reputation and why the Black Lives Matter campaign began to humanize people of color so that people of authority can start to see their humanity and stop stereotyping them as criminals.  Never the less, all these people started off as “good apples” who got sucked into a system in which the lure of evil seduced them and they began to follow the orders of people they see as superiors.

 

Christians around the world say “lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.” And the point is that evil comes in many sizes and many shapes. There is the evil of action, doing bad things, but there is also the evil of inaction, not doing the right thing when you could.  This is the bystander effect. …People around the world do not come to aid of someone in an emergancy who needs their help. It’s so easy to cross the line…..but what about those people who resist the temptation and  power of the group, especially when everyone in the group is doing it. I began to think of them as everyday heros.

-Dr. Phil Zimbardo

 

That’s an interesting perspective and definition of “heroes”-the people who question authority and the system that allows for the dehumanization of people. As someone who was raised with Christianity, I always found Jesus to be a social deviant, caring for lepers and befriending prostitutes. He was an extraordinary and courageous man because he challenged the cultural structures of his time–and you know what that got him?-crucified!   It’s challenging to go against authority but in one of the scriptures,  Jesus tells his apostles that they can do what he does and more, encouraging them to stick their necks out for the greater good.

Dr. Zimbardo explains that small acts of evil can become an unconscious habit of compliance in our system and are compounded unless we make a conscious effort. In Confuciusism, there is a saying that “the small man thinks that small acts of goodness are of no benefit and does not do them; and that small deeds of evil do no harm, and does not refrain from them; hence wickedness becomes so great that it cannot be concealed.”  Dehumanism is the first symptom of going down that slippery slope of evil and happens easily when we begin to label people—perhaps you recognize these some of these labels:

Mexicans, terrorists, Muslims, Christians, immigrants, blacks, women, men, Republicans, Democrats, Communists, Politicians, WASPs, Jews, Kooks, Asians, Blonds etc…

helpers

I agree with Fred Rogers, it’s vital to shift our focus toward the people who are helping others. And hopefully, those people are us. Maybe we can stand up or our children who stand up and make a difference.

These are easy to spot and quite obvious, especially when one turns on the news, as it shamelessly glorifies violence and hatred as a form of entertainment.

However, the antidote to evil is to begin to look at others as humans–people who share the same life struggles as we all do–then it is simple to do more good towards one another. It’s easier to stop and give that “bum” (a common label in society for people who are poor and homeless) a dollar when you act with compassion toward a person, knowing that ANY of us could be in that situation and connect with the thread that binds us all. Currently, the research shows that only 10% of people globally practice “mindful disobedience“–Zimbardo’s term for heroism–these are the whistleblowers and the everyday individuals who take extraordinary actions that defy the norms of the system they find themselves in. Not many people choose to challenge authority because of the negative consequences that they may encounter as a result of their action. For example, the Private who disclosed the abuse at Abu Ghraib had to hide him and his family for 3 years due to the death threats and emotional suffering that he encountered. Not everyone can go into exile like that, which is why so many people shy away from such acts of heroism.

But I do think we can do something about that 10%. 

The first step begins with us as individuals. Awareness and reflecting on our actions and words–are we participating either actively or passively in dehumanizing others, demonstrating agreement with exerting power over individuals that deny them dignity and compassion? C’mon–there’s a 90% chance that we are. Look hard enough and you can find ways that you are contributing to hatred and evil in the world.  Goodness knows that I’m searching my conscious and definitely find ways in which I could improve and be a kinder and more involved human.

And of course, it’s about education. I believe that you can teach children this skill of recognizing our humanity and helping them to develop the courage to stand up for each other, even if it means ridicule from our families, our religious community or other cultural structures that they find themselves in. If we can teach guide dogs for the blind intelligent disobedience  (the dog’s ability to know when not to execute a command it’s given when that command would bring harm to the person), then we can teach kids mindful disobedience as well.

Hopefully, newer generations will feel compelled to take positive action in the face of what may be the status quo of their culture or the system they find themselves in.  This could take the form of telling someone politely that their racist joke is actually quite offensive or disagreeing with your pastor’s advice to vote a certain way, or choosing not to post something on social media that dehumanizes others.  Deviation from these behaviors will hopefully cultivate a “new normal” over time, in which we begin to understand that the rights of others are everyone’s responsibility, regardless of race, religion, gender or beliefs. Respect and acceptance can become commonplace in our political and social systems if we develop awareness in ourselves and our children. I do believe that we can be “delivered from evil”, and I hope that you will take a moment to pause and consider how you might become a better human being as well because it’s simply the RIGHT thing to do.

 

 

A Love Protest: The Donald’s Presidency

My doubt and questioning is not the point of this blog post. However, for sensibility’s sake, I make my disclaimer: I did not support Donald Trump to become President. For the same reason why I want a highly qualified teacher in charge of my child’s learning at school and also why don’t want my manicurist to fly my plane to China–I believe that not just anybody can do any job, especially without proper training, even a business celebrity like Donald Trump. However to allow this to become a rant would be useless, and, quite frankly, doesn’t move us forward in our humanity.There are all kinds of data that are expressed through this man, which I feel could serve us in developing our consciousness. I think there is a wonderful divine lesson to be learned if we can get beneath the story of this election and the personality of this man, taking a moment to reflect and connect with the threads that bind us.

First of all, everything happens for a reason. Whether you study the science of the cosmic or the microscopic levels of life, there are integrated pathways that are set into motion with the slightest effort.  We all conspired to make this a reality. Let’s take responsibility for that. We, as a humanity, agreed to this, even if it wasn’t consciously. There was a deep yearning to “Make America Great Again” long before Trump, and he just happens to embody this ideal. (Maybe some of you didn’t have him in mind as the leader to this anthem).

Truth: You Can’t HATE Your Way to Love.

No matter how hard you squeeze an orange, you are not going to get apple juice out of it. Likewise, there is no amount of hating that will bring about love and personal peace. Not going to happen, people. So you have to make a choice, do you continue to point out his shortcomings and secretly wish to avenge the other half of your friends and family who voted for him? Or do you transform your disdain by practicing principles of equity and acceptance, beginning with the guy who cut you off in traffic?

When you hold people in judgment and anger, it’s like that idea of building a wall on the Mexican border.  Yeah Trump thinks Mexico is going to willingly finance it, but you also irrationally believe that the person you are cussing out in traffic is also going to pay for his misdeed and suffer. Nope, that person has moved on, and so should you. You can’t build walls of hostility–there’s a price that you pay for your acrimony. The Chinese proverb reminds us of that: if you aremartin-luther-king-quote seeking revenge, best you dig 2 graves–one for yourself and one for the other person.

So, get clear that you have to love no matter what. No matter how ugly, profrane and stupid you may find people or ideas, there’s always something valuable in them. Start looking for possible ways to find the silver lining and become connected to our common humanity. I love the advice that the hero Martin Luther King Jr offers during his call to action during the Civil Rights Movement, which couldn’t be more poignant today.

So, as we move forward in the next 4 years of this man’s leadership, here are some ideas that I intend to employ when embracing the “pussy grabbing man who colludes with the Russians”.

  1. See the child-like innocence in the person–if they knew better, they’d do better. Even Trump.(And I hold this level of compassion for my own failings, which are many). I trust in the goodness in one’s intentions and try to extend goodwill towards them.
  2. Remind myself: We are all learning here! Some are mentally, emotionally and spiritually in kindergarten and others have advanced degrees. However, having an advanced degree doesn’t make you an expert unless you exercise your knowledge in meaningful ways.
  3. We are different versions of each other and act as a mirror, reflecting what is “good” and “bad” in ourselves. The same faults or virtues are contained within the human seed, so I need to look more deeply at how I judge others. So what is Trump showing me about me? How am I thin-skinned? How am I shallow and petty? Likewise, what am I charismatic about? What ideals can I renew (make America great again)?

Speaking of  Greatness?

The idea of making America great again is a vision that all of us support. You god-confusioncould say greatness is strength or power, but I think defining it is personal. And so is the task of being great!

But it’s not something outside of us, it’s not done unto us, but through us–through our actions, words and deeds. So I am deciding now to tune his Tweet diplomacy out and focus on ways that I can be a better version of myself. To look at him through the eyes of the heart, feeling grateful that he has brought up so many issues that need to be reviewed and reflected on. And, it is my hope that I can come out a better, more peaceful human being as a result of this experience. At the end of the day, no one is in charge of my Joy except for me. So it is my responsibility to practice goodness, kindness, and compassion to facilitate the greatness that I believe is possible. It is my intention that I  develop the courage and determination to go to the outer limits of loving humanity so that I may be transformed into the teacher, mother, and wife that I aspire to be.

I’ve heard that nothing proves that you love someone more than mentioning them in your prayers. So let this prayer for Trump demonstrate to my commitment to love:

As God is the molder of human clay, I pray for that you are shaped into a model of compassion, strength, and love. I pray that you lead with a sound mind and your judgments are wise. I pray that your thoughts be soothed so you speak peace. I pray that your heart feels empathy deeply and you connect with a broader perspective of the people you serve. I pray that you look upon God’s creation, our natural resources and creatures large and small,  and desire to protect it. I pray that you bring about actions that unite, not only America but the whole world. I pray that your decisions bring about prosperity for all.   I finally pray for your health and the wellbeing of your family. 

I pray this, not only for you President Trump but for all the leaders in government.

Amen.

(As I look at this prayer, I think that I could just an easily pray this prayer for myself as I could for Trump. Hmm… as I look in “the mirror”, it seems that all the fear and hope that I have for him also resides in myself. Perchance you feel the same way .)

 

Mystification

The adjacent possible is the map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself. It implies a different way of looking at things. It is not held back and will not be bound by what is but is always remixing how we can transform the material world into…these delightful future possibilities and literally pull the present moment to meet it.  -Jason Silva-

I haven’t been writing much these days because I have too many thoughts in my head and I’ve been trying to put a pin on one of them. It’s like watching a leaf float on a stream’s current, except that the leaf is bobbing along on rapids rather than a lazy river. Perhaps we all have times when our minds are engrossed in a state of chaotic peace.

It seems like every moment is full of some serendipity or idea that is pulling on my heart. That makes sense since I’ve been debating whether or not to stay in Wuxi, knowing that my husband is starting his career and creating our new life in Barcelona. rwemersonI knew that
this was to be my last year in China, a place that I never expected to love as much as I do, but here I am, conflicted, to stay and work here or go with him in January. So I said a little prayer earlier this week and now every time I open a book, hear a song or listen to a podcast, a similar message pops up: Take a leap of faith! That quote over there from Emerson–that was the message on my tea bag. I didn’t even know that that brand of tea even had little adages or quotes until I began steeping my tea a moment ago! How am I to ignore this all?

So here I am, trapped with my ideas about my career, thinking about “responsibility” and “duty”, which are begging to be redefined. Believing in new things and new realities takes diligence and fidelity to this “adjacent possible”.  Inviting novelty, stretching oneself, even when the outcome is uncertain, seems like lunacy when complacency can be so satisfying and cozy (read: steady paycheck).

I listened to a riveting discussion by Dr. Norman Doidge about neuroplasticity and I found it interesting that he recommended that we use ALL of ourselves (mind), listening to yourself carefully and then obeying your dreams in order to get things accomplished so you can cultivate your best self. I am taking all of this in, thinking about the gift of mindfulness. If I didn’t have this personal practice, I wouldn’t even recognize the awe and wonder that surrounds me and supports me in embracing the unknown. This gives me immeasurable courage to let go and be willing to take a chance, even if my options seem a bit precarious.

All I know is that there is infinite potential within me–as within everyone–and I have the capacity to express it. I have to trust that what is in seed, will take root and grow. There is so much that I do not know, however, to know that my “shoots” will go towards the light, gives me calm and determination. And I am confident that this confusion is temporary.

I just have to Keep Breathing!