Wisdom and Wizardry

Harry Potter
Harry Potter (Photo credit: Pixelsior)

I’ve been a fan of sci-fi and fantasy stories since way back. In a land far, far away and all of that. I always wanted to be the wizard or the Yoda-like person. It seemed cool to have all of that wisdom and knowledge. What I didn’t realize when I was young was that the knowledge they had, came like everyone else. They weren’t born with it. They learned it and sometimes they learned it in very dangerous ways.

I just finished reading Skin Game by Jim Butcher from the Harry Dresden series. There’s a scene where Harry goes to the super-bad, mob guy’s business and is blocked by the security guard. The security guard is glaring ominously at Dresden and is quite intimidating. The kicker is what Dresden says,

“Skaldi’s frown would have been intimidating if I hadn’t spent the past few days hanging out with the Genoskwa (scary Sasquatch).” – Harry Dresden

Harry then proceeds to walk past the security knowing where he’s going, because he’d been there before, which looks like wizardry to the security. His only wizardry was experience.

Sometimes age and wisdom and wizardry look the same. Experience. The path and the answers are mapped out in their head. Here’s my favorite line from The Mummy,

Evelyn: The map! The map! We forgot the map!

Rick: Relax. I’m the map. It’s all up here. [points to his head]

Evelyn: Oh, that’s comforting.

Sometimes we overlook the knowledge that we have. You’ve been there, you’ve done that, you have the DVD collection. Share your knowledge if you can. Encourage others around you. It may seem ordinary to you, but the words you say are the words someone else needs to hear. None of us want to sound like a know-it-all, and there’s always a chance that you will, but another may still need your advice.

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The Simple Life

We say we miss the good old days when times were simple. Snapping green beans on the front porch or eating homemade ice cream comes to mind. Maybe I just miss the innocence of youth.

I feel bad about the struggles on the other side of the world, but I’m limited to what I can do. I can listen to Beatles music. Maybe say a few lines of Rumi. It’s not by any means stopping the skirmishes of fighting tribes. I don’t really wish for the old days, not really. They had their own issues. Days were devoted to food preparation and lives cut short by disease. What I want is simplicity. Living with this moment. Making the most of what I have now. I don’t want to be always thinking about the fun of tomorrow or worrying about the issues that are not in my control.

This We Have Now

This we have now
is not imagination.

This is not
grief or joy.

Not a judging state,
or an elation,
or sadness.

Those come and go.
This is the presence that doesn’t.

From Essential Rumi
by Coleman Barks

The next time you’re watching the news and paying your bills while trying to phone your mom and pet your cat, stop. Do one thing. Only one. Choose your activity wisely and give it your full attention.
Save your sanity and realize your own limitations. It’s okay if you can’t fix everything. It’s okay if you can’t save the world. Now, let’s put on our tie dyed shirts and chant OM.

Recommendation: The No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

Foolish Contentment

Drawing for user page

I went browsing on Realtor.com last weekend, just for kicks. I have pondered whether to fix up my place or trade to a place that has some of the features I’m wanting. With property values down I hate to add a lot of upgrades to my current place since it’s not going to be recouped for a while. This is my line of thinking at least. Thinking, mulling over, and obsessing. Here’s a bit of advice from others that I found helpful:

One of the human absurdities is the fact that we’re constantly thinking about either the future or the past. – Being Nobody Going Nowhere

Surrender literally means to stop fighting. Stop fighting with yourself. Stop fighting the universe and the natural flow of things. Stop resisting and pushing against reality. Surrender = Complete acceptance of what is + Faith that all is well, even without my input. It’s not about inaction. It’s about taking action from that place of surrender energy. – Let Go of Control/TinyBuddha

Letting go doesn’t mean we don’t care.  Letting go doesn’t mean we shut down. Letting go means we stop trying to force outcomes and make people behave. It means we give up resistance to the way things are, for the moment. It means we stop trying to do the impossible–controlling that which we cannot–and instead, focus on what is possible–which usually means taking care of ourselves.  And we do this in gentleness, kindness, and love, as much as possible. Melody Beattie

My fear is of being stuck with a piece of property that will be worthless. Remember the hot potato game we played when we were kids or even the dirty Santa game? No one wants to play the fool. Do I like where I’m at in life? Yes, I do. And not just my location, my lifestyle.

For me it’s not about keeping up with another person, it’s about pleasing myself. It’s not about someone else’s opinion. They can mind their own business. Only I know what’s best for me. It’s not about status, wealth, or fame. It’s about survival. It seems to come back to that a lot. Survival and getting stuck with the foolish choice. There is hope in knowing and wanting and then allowing things to happen. It’s hopeful to know that what I want isn’t a new house. It’s making a wise choice.

Kiva.org was foolish to think a $25.00 loan could help anyone. Kickstarter.com was foolish to think anyone else would care about up and coming entrepreneurs. Think of all the other fools out there. Foolishness could be bravery or shrewdness if the plan works.

We must learn to let go, to give up, to make room for the things we have prayed for and desired. – Charles Fillmore

As I started to picture the trees in the storm, the answer began to dawn on me. The trees in the storm don’t try to stand up straight and tall and erect. They allow themselves to bend and be blown with the wind. They understand the power of letting go. Those trees and those branches that try too hard to stand up strong and straight are the ones that break. Now is not the time for you to be strong, Julia, or you, too, will break. – Julia Butterfly Hill

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The Process of Doing

Choices

  • First, there’s the discomfort. It’s either boredom or dissatisfaction of where I’m at or how something is working. Inconvenience can trigger the discomfort also, like constantly walking around the same chair in my path.
  • Second, there’s dreaming, of wants, desires or possibilities. Do I like the chair? Should I put in another room? Rearrange the Living room?
  • Third, I bring it down to reality by choosing the most practical ideas. Sketch out my Living room furniture placement. Arrange it on paper.
  • Fourth, I write a plan. Maybe the easiest thing for today is move the chair into the bedroom.
  • Fifth, I take the first steps. Move the chair. I can decide over the next few days if it’s working.

Tailspin

What turns me into a confused ball in the corner of the room is a different solution popping up in front of me. One or two more ways of solving my problem and it starts my process over again. At that point I have to regroup and reassess. How does this change my decision? If I possibly can I like to ponder for a few days until I have my aha! moment. Otherwise I make the simplest choice first, like in my example of the chair. I can move the chair from one room to another easier than I can arrange the furniture again and again. Sometimes you have to do the big thing, but at least you’ve tried the simple ones first.

Sloppy vs Perfected

Life is about choices. Nothing’s inherently right or wrong, it’s only a matter of my preferences. Life is the rough draft and the final presentation is the last breath of life. In those last moments you review all the refining you’ve done. Sometimes the rough draft is alright. Hastily slapped together and just getting it done works better than not doing anything at all when it comes to kisses, food and proposals. I’d rather a quick kiss and an I love you than not ever, ever being told, but there comes a time for refining those choices. If you really love that person, eventually you have to refine your sloppy kisses into steps that have meaning. Whether it’s inviting them to coffee or not forgetting their birthday, you have to take the first step.

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Humanism isn’t Evil and Christianity isn’t Good

Most religious people believe that our moral goodness, our kind deeds, come from Christianity. At this I completely disagree. That’s like saying if you live in Wisconsin, you’re a Green Bay Packer fan. There are many cheese head fans that don’t live in Wisconsin and there are many Wisconsin citizens that are not football fans.

Morality is the main reason most religious advocates say we need the church. This is by formal religions such as Catholics and Jews, as well as fundamentalists. One debate I watched was a female minister who stated that without the religious community, our society wouldn’t have anyone to turn to in times of crisis. She disregarded much of the teachings in the Bible as literal fact, but still held to the concept of formal religion. She stated that it was the church, temple, mosque or chapel community that provided support after a death or during stressful times.

Is Christianity true to its heritage? Why say you’re a Christian? Most say it to mean that they are loving, kindhearted, and generous. They want to portray themselves as loyal to their country and family orientated. We have a picture in our head of the Christian as being the person who comes during a tragedy with the food supplies and blankets. If there’s a fire, the Christian is the kind person providing you with shelter. Why do we have to link Christianity with kindness? Can a person be kind and not Christian? On the other hand, can a Christian not be kind?

Friends are enemies sometimes, 

and enemies friends. -Rumi

I want us to unlink these assumptions. The next time you do a kindness, think about it. Are you doing it in the name of your god or are you handing a child a glass of water because he’s thirsty and you are a loving person? Is that hard to imagine?

The philosophy or life stance of secular humanism (alternatively known by some adherents as Humanism, specifically with a capital H to distinguish it from other forms of humanism) embraces human reason, ethics, social justice and philosophical naturalism, while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism,pseudoscience or superstition as the basis of morality and decision making.[1][2][3]

Scripting Happens and It’s Okay

A number of different Mentos flavors

There’s such a disconnect between scripted politeness and genuine service. The one truth I know is that it’s difficult to teach genuine politeness and service. Here’s an incident I had one hurried morning before work.

Scene: Walgreen’s corner store

After gathering up the armful of items I needed, I started looking for some mints or hard candy like Lifesavers. I get to the checkout and there are no mints. I find a box of Mentos rolls behind the iTunes gift cards. The display box has only the bottom row of Mentos left. I tried three times to get them out of the box and each time knocking  the gift cards on the floor. Nevermind.

At the checkout, I place the bag of cat litter, the 2 liter of pop and various odd items I had in my arms up on the counter.

Me: Do you have any Lifesavers or mints

Clerk: Yes we do. They’re on aisle 19.

Me: Oh. None up here by the check out?

Clerk: (stunned look) No. There are some packages over there.

Me: Yeah, I tried to get those, but they are stuck. And the gift cards are in the way.

Clerk: We have gum.

Me: I don’t want gum. I want mints. Nevermind, I’ll just check out.

Clerk: So, has your day been okay so far?

Me: (I want to laugh hysterically) Sure, fine.

Clerk: (hands my coupons and receipt to me) You have a coupon here for $4.00 off of Prilosec.

Me: (nearly speechless) Thanks.

We’ve all encountered it. It happens everywhere. The waitress that really wants to go home as she half smiles at you or the customer service person which you can’t understand as he reads off of his computer screen. He calls himself Bob, but you know that’s not his name. It’s service, but oh so scripted. It happens because we need service. It’s either scripted help or robots. I guess my point is, that anytime you happen upon a truly helpful person, notice it. Appreciate it and tell them how much you appreciate their help. And when you are in the middle of a scripted moment, just remember to be patient. Remember that scripting is necessary because we live in a modern society in need of service. Scripting happens.

While the coffee is great, (I) can testify that it’s not the primary reason regulars come to Starbucks. It’s the element of personal connection. – Carrie Dils, Good Customer Service Skills

Hormesis – Growing Stronger

I’ve talked a few times about Dynamic Equilibrium, our bodies’ ability to adjust and re-balance after it notices changes in environment or its own status. It’s a constant balancing act.

I recently learned a new word. I read a book called Antifragile, which equates the opposite of being fragile with hormesis. The opposite of fragile isn’t just unbreakable. The opposite of fragile is strengthening with each blow, breakdown or fall.

Hormesis (from Greek hórmēsis “rapid motion, eagerness,” from ancient Greek hormáein “to set in motion, impel, urge on”) is the term for generally favorable biological responses to low exposures to toxins and other stressors. A pollutant or toxin showing hormesis thus has the opposite effect in small doses as in large doses. A related concept is Mithridatism, which refers to the willful exposure to toxins in an attempt to develop immunity against them. Hormetics is the term proposed for the study and science of hormesis. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hormesis

In the book, Nassim Nicholas Taleb mentions how he observed a bodybuilder to learn from him the best way of building muscle. The body builder lifted weights to the extreme, but didn’t do it every day. He would push himself beyond tired, beyond his normal limits, because he knew that his body would rebuild. His body would become stronger than it was before.

This is how our brain learns new patterns. It’s also how our bones become stronger. Our bodies harden and strengthen from use. We have to use it or lose it as the old saying goes. So today, I’m going to go just a little longer on the run. Give myself a challenge that I probably can’t handle and even if I don’t reach the goal, I still will have gone farther than normal.

Check out Antifragile,Things That Gain From Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It’s an interesting read.

Here’s an inspiring story.

Am I Expecting Too Much?

I’m not the sort of person who lets things slide. If a situation comes up in my life, I try to get the entire picture. I want to know where I stand. Do I need to act immediately or can it wait for a day? What are my options? Am I better off fixing it now or letting it run it’s course?

When I was 15, I ran an 8 mile mini-marathon. I loved it. I played soccer in those days and loved running. I loved the burst of energy that surged through my body. I loved going to the front of the group. I loved being fast. People kept telling me to pace myself and I understood the why, but at that time in my life I had no idea how. Pacing myself meant slowing down. And that would mean no surge of energy.

Action steps. Divide and conquer. Seize the day and take the bull by it’s horns. These are the things I believe in. These statements have defined my life since I was young, so how do I learn to pace myself?

How do I know if I should push harder or rest easy?

There’s not an easy answer to this question. It’s like learning how to drive a car. How do I know if I should pull out aggressively in traffic or be at the back of the line. Some things are obvious. Obey the speed limits. Watch out for pedestrians. Leave plenty of room between cars.

Forcing things to happen can cause more damage in the long run. You can’t rush the blooming of a flower and you can’t force a child’s development. Pushing harder is my default, but there are times when even I realize that it will be better if I wait. Some things are beyond my ability to carry out.

How do I know I’m not just being lazy? Lacking in initiative? I have to ask myself why I’m pushing or why I’m paralyzed. What do I fear the most? I’m afraid of  missing an opportunity. I keep alert. Always searching. This makes it difficult to rest and enjoy life. What happens when I let an opportunity slide? Nothing. If I role play a situation, imagine the end result, I can usually make a better judgement call. Would it be terrible if I didn’t take this opportunity?

Where I go wrong.

I think that sometimes I put more emphasis on the events, thinking they are the most important. Maybe the important part is the emotion or pleasure of that experience. And most experiences are interchangeable. If I want a thrill it probably doesn’t matter if I go bungee jumping, drive a race car or ride in a roller coaster. They are all thrills. There are many ways of seizing the day. You can get up early and get to your tasks, not wasting a moment slouching or you can stay in your pajamas and grab every moment to snooze on your couch, resting your tired body. Both are good at the right moment.

Walking on Ice

Many times in life we realize an old rule no longer works. We find ourselves going about the same actions because it’s familiar but our circumstances have changed. What’s that saying, Insanity is doing the same thing the same way but expecting different results?

Walking on thin ice.

I’m from the lower plain states. Every winter it freezes, just a bit. Not enough to freeze anything deep, especially not deep enough to walk on. Our rule is not to walk on the ice. Any story I’ve heard growing up that had ice and people in it, was a cautioning tale. Like the time my dad’s hunting dog drowned under a thin sheet of ice. It happened so quickly the dog was gone before anyone could save him. I listen with dread when I hear of people’s stories of trying to challenge nature every winter on one of the nearby lakes. Usually it’s some high school guy trying to prove something to his friends.

As children we have rules to keep us safe. As an adult now those rule need to change. It’s okay for you to walk across the street alone. No one needs to hold your hand. We know this and we adapt.

Recheck your rules.

  • Old rule: Don’t walk on the ice. Why? It will break
  • New rule: You can walk on the ice if it’s frozen deeply enough.

It’s difficult to adapt to new rules of living but it’s possible. At first thought there’s no way I’d walk on the ice. Old conditioning says it’s dangerous. But in frigid climates, they land planes on the ice. Polar bears walk across the ice.

Know your climate. Learn the rules that apply to your current life.

My difficulty is knowing what’s an old rule that can be disregarded and what’s an old rule that still works. Healthy eating is one. 4 square meals? Dessert? No pop?

One of my “no longer applies” is really just a useless fantasy. The fantasy of needing to be chosen. Of walking into a room or down the street and a modelling scout grabs you and must have you to model for their latest project. Or the boy who discovers that his quirks and shortcomings are actual strengths to help him on his quest of saving the village. We’ve read these books and watched the movies. It a common theme. The being chosen part isn’t so terrible if we realize it’s just fantasy most of the time.

When we are young, we do a lot of waiting. We wait for buses, teachers, lunch, water fountains, and bathroom privileges. At the time we didn’t control our own lives. Now, our adult lives are full of choices and initiative. More commonly we apply for jobs, walk into the office and hunt down the person in charge. We go from passive verbs to active verbs. There are no real map tattoos that suddenly appear on our bodies or diaries from our deceased aunt explaining our heritage. The difficulties of our lives are as simple as this question, Do you want to sit and wait to be picked or do you want to get up and dance?

  • Old rule: Wait to be discovered and wow the world.
  • New rule: Take a chance. Write the book. Grab the microphone and sing. Dance your heart out.

What Color Are Your Towels?

Quite a few years ago I watched an episode of Oprah that didn’t sit well with me. Like food poisoning it made me feel ill and I just wanted to expel it. Normally she doesn’t bother me. Normally I agree with her style. But this one episode was about towels. Towels that match, to be precise. Actually the episode was probably a lot deeper psychologically than the blues or greens of your towels, but it’s been a few years ago.

Of all the things I can do to help the world be a better place for my children or other’s children, matching my towels is very low on the list. I can think of feeding the seniors in the Dallas/Ft Worth area that Dogma Debate recently promoted until the end of 2013 Dogma Debate-donate. There’s supporting the gift of water to those who have no access to clean drinking water that Matt Damon’s organization sponsors, water.org.  The ASPCA  programs to help abandoned and abused animals. Kiva organizes low-interest loans to those wanting to better their economic circumstances. There are hundreds of projects and programs to help those around me.

Also, throwing away perfectly good towels just because they are red, blue, brown or pink when I really want a blue bathroom today, seems wasteful. Replacing the towels and wash cloths will cost me, and why? To help my self-esteem? No, it really won’t. So when I get up in the morning and take my shower, if my towel is the red and blue striped one with faded spots on it, I really don’t care. I got to share in the water.org project and feed a low-income senior citizen for a month instead. That brings value to my life, but most importantly is there’s absolutely no reason that our elderly should go without a meal, EVER! And you know those people in India or Latin America? They can cook their food in safe water.

Alright, I’ll get off my preacher box now. It’s not that getting new towels is so horrible. It’s only that people with influence over the minds of others could encourage us to so much more. It bothered me then and it seems it still bothers me. Please, I welcome your comments. For or against? Let me know.