Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Friday Weekend

Here we are on Black Friday weekend. The weekend that immediately follows the holiday of it’s antithesis, Thanksgiving. In my family, we spend Thanksgiving Day with as many family members as possible, maybe invite a friend or two who might not have family nearby with whom to share a feast, and we feast. We feast on food preparation, on being together, on stories, on working together to create a food feast, and eventually on food, more food than is generally reasonable for the numbers of people seated around our table. It is a holiday that we have all come to deeply appreciate and look forward to. We feel the loss if some of the usual participants are unable to find their way to this, our most celebrated family gathering and holiday. We have all come to understand that if we have to choose to try to make it to either Thanksgiving or Christmas, we’ll try harder for Thanksgiving! It is understood that giving thanks while joining for the mere sake of gathering and appreciating one another’s company, that setting table together and sharing in the festivities of appreciating our lives that have lovingly come together by some combination of chance and effort, is enough. We appreciate, we are grateful, we share, we feast; there is contentment.

It is my experience, in the limited world that I live in, that most people would agree with my family’s experience of Thanksgiving. The holiday of celebrating our simple abundances and the ability to break bread and carve turkey together is by far the most satisfying holiday of the year. And yet as a culture, society, and a nation, we have this phenomenon of “Black Friday”, the day that leads up to a weekend, and then a month of the most spending, shopping, and consuming of the entire year. For some reason, this year the juxtaposition of Black Friday being immediately after the day of celebrated gratitude struck me with a poignancy that I have not really appreciated quite like this before. Gratitude means: This is enough; I am happy and whole. Intense consumerism means: I need more; this is not enough, something is missing; spending money might make me happy and whole. We move from contentment to allowing ourselves to be goaded into spending, and usually spending well beyond our means. Why do we do this??

I suspect that the answer to this sad question lies somewhere in the depths of our truths that we don’t always share, either with ourselves or with our loved ones. We gather to commune, offer joy, thanks, and love to one another. And yet, somehow as we are expressing our thanks, voicing our gratitude, most of us still have this place of, “something’s missing”, that we can’t ever quite take care of. The market place understands this very well, and usually with a great deal of success steers us into opening up our wallets to help us find our wholeness through material gifting. It is when the marketers understand this deep hole inside of us better than we do, that we are the most vulnerable to their methods. This holiday, don’t fool yourself into believing that you are fully whole, and just need to go out of your way to overspend because it is fun and what you want to do! Take the time to understand that little something, somewhere near your heart, that needs nurturing, and challenge yourself to find ways to nurture it that won’t require you to go into deep debt!

With love and gratitude, here’s wishing you a deeply fulfilling holiday season!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Love's Courage

I went to a meeting last weekend with a group of mostly family therapists who gather and call themselves Peaceful Warriors for Social Justice. The conversation came up at that meeting about love and courage. An attendee had a previous conversation with someone, who was not at the present meeting, who suggested that courage was more important than love because without it, what is even the point of love? The conversation that ensued was interesting, most of us feeling that the absent persons opinion was somewhat flawed. I, for one, don’t really see a big separation between the two concepts, but see courage as an important aspect of love, not something that I would want to pull out and call more important. If, however, you were to argue that courage is more important because, without it there is no point in love, I would argue that love is more important because, without it there is no need for courage! Yet, both arguments then end up being pretty circular, so let’s just say love is good, partly because it keeps us strong and courageous.

Love, we confirmed, is definitely an action verb, most of us agreeing that, as Peaceful Warriors we are called to some degree of activism in order to support and advocate for Social Justice. It was a refreshing meeting, spending extended time in the company of people comfortable talking about Love! Imagine a planet with large groups of people on all corners having hours long conversations during their weekends discussing the various aspects of love, courage, and activism towards social justice! Do you think we would be able to sustain as many wars if time off from work lead to meetings of people having such discussions and trying to figure out how to actively and courageously promote these things in the greater world??? Maybe, just maybe, we are on to something here!!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Nice Guys

Whenever someone begins to proudly speak of a man that they know as a “nice guy”, internally I will raise an eyebrow and become a little concerned. What does that really mean, “nice guy”?? Frequently if you begin to poke around looking for more information, you will discover that “nice guy” is trying to mean, not a “jerk”, or “bad boy”, both of which most men are on the look out not to be, and many women are on the look out not to become involved with.

So, what does it really mean to be a “jerk” or “bad boy”? Most people can rattle off a long list of unpleasant characteristics or behaviour patterns that are familiar and consistent with these unfortunate men. They are self-centered, inconsiderate, losers, have big egos, poor judgment, bad tempers and anger issues that sometimes erupt into violence; they often try too hard to be “macho”, and the list could go on. The real issue however, is not so different from what shapes the men who offer themselves up as “nice guys”. The sad state of affairs in the society and culture that we live in is that men are very well trained to shut themselves off from their feelings and emotions. Classically, they are not supposed to ever cry, they are not supposed to be swayed by emotion, they are supposed to be, “strong”, in all the permutations of the meaning of that word. So, “nice guys” are “strong” in that they tune out from themselves and defer to everyone else around them. “Bad boys” or “jerks” are “strong” in that they too do so well in tuning out from their emotional selves that they are also tuned out from every one else and have lost all connection of what it means to be a human being with feelings and emotions. Nice guys or bad boys have different strategies, and yet their strategies both stem from the same root.

As I describe this, my heart sinks fearing that I will put off and deeply offend all those good guys who really do want to be “nice”. That is obviously not my intention. It is my wish to offer a more genuine approach to our humanity; whether you are man, woman, or anything in between. It is precisely in trying too hard to not have any emotion that gets both bad boys and nice guys into the same kind of trouble. This is possibly a long way around challenging what it really means to be nice. Too often people think they are being “nice” if they defer to someone else. Deferring may temporarily avoid a conflict or small dispute, but it is not always the most honest response that could be offered to a situation. Eventually it catches up with us showing up as consequences that, in the end, are not so nice. And, even if in any particular situation the ending does not turn out terribly, if you are trying to forge relationship with someone by not disclosing your truth, is that really the nicest way to offer yourself up? In many ways a nice guys deference is just the flip side of the behaviour of a “jerk” or bad boy”. The common denominator becomes the significant difficulty that prevents honest disclosure, in small and not such small situations. When emotions are squandered, unaccounted for, flattened, or denied, inevitably they will show up somewhere. Possibly as anger, resentment, or cut off from people; sometimes as illness; sometimes as acting out with poor, unskillful, and even violent behaviours; sometimes merely as confusion or a general feeling of discontent. So be careful of either creating yourself as too nice, or of encouraging others in your life to be “nice”. Better yet: rethink nice. Maybe it really is “nice” to risk a conflict in the name of honesty.

I would like to offer that this issue is not a purely gendered issue unique to men. There is a truth however, to the extent to which men are encouraged and well trained in denying themselves that creates a setting that encourages the very difficult pattern I have described here. This is a topic worthy of much greater space and of broad exploration.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Yoga On and Off the Mat

In a recent yoga class the teacher invited those who “have their certificate” to take themselves up into a headstand. The “certificate” is his playful way of suggesting that he doesn’t want to be around for crashes, especially in a big class. Those who don’t have their certificate should find a modification, something leading up to or suggesting a headstand. So, on this particular day I was feeling rather daring, and actually took myself up, or almost up, both feet off the ground, second leg not quite all the way to perpendicular, without going over to my standard friendly wall spotter.

In conversation with a yogi friend, I expressed delight with myself over this accomplishment, and he offered that for him the headstand was, “more about fear than skill”. This got me to thinking about what it is beyond skill that gets in my way. I deeply understand that the postures I play with on my yoga mat, are about so much more than what I do on the mat, but follow me in my life off of the mat as well. So, in entertaining this conversation with others, I humbly acknowledged that for me what gets in the way of headstand, and many other things on and off the mat, is not skill, but a big dose of self-doubt as well as issues with “core strength”. Again, I re-visit the ways I get so deeply drawn to my yoga practice. It is such a safe and reassuring way to contradict my deepest personal struggles. If I have a fight with core strength out in the "real world", it is likely over something that will truly have a significant consequence, like figuring out how much to assert myself with a client, colleague, or family member. If I struggle with core strength on my mat, all I have to do is figure out that maybe the second leg will only make it part way up today, but Hey! I no longer need that wall prop I so depended on forever and ever. If that is the case, maybe, just maybe I can take my levels of self-doubt down a notch next time I am face to face in one of my more challenging relationships! And, I do find that the more I play with some of my doubts, fears, and other agitations on the mat, the more I can make the connections elsewhere. The rewards of practice follow me both on and off the mat.


Friday, January 1, 2010

Loving my New Years Resolutions:

As I contemplate the New Year and the mini hype that I have observed some make about the New Decade, yet again I consider what I want for and from myself in the year ahead. Even as I sit down late in the day on the First of January, I can already begin beating myself up for being “late” in posting a New Years message. No more of that. No more kicking and getting down on myself. My New Years, yes New Decade Resolution is to fully and completely love myself, embrace all my flaws and weaknesses, offer myself all the best I can possibly give myself in my effort to take responsibility for peace in my small corner of the world. Yes Peace, not selfish indulgence, which is what it just might sound like to some.

Think about it for just a moment. If you can offer yourself complete and full loving, all those wonderful virtuous New Years Resolutions that sometimes sound punishing might just happen by default. After all, if you truly love yourself would you go out and ingest all kinds of fatty, sugary, and intoxicating substances into your precious body? Would you become lazy about offering yourself an appropriate exercise routine? Would you become sloppy and inefficient about getting your work done that you know is the source of your life’s income and sustenance? Would you deprive yourself of nurturance in the hopes that someone other than yourself might accept the role of being called upon to know you as well as or better than you do, and give that person responsibility for nurturing you to your complete satisfaction? Likely not. And, you likely would not make choices for yourself that were distasteful and felt tortuous to follow through with either.

So here is my invitation for you to offer yourself New Years Resolutions of Pure Love. Indulge yourself with as much love as you would offer your own child. As I think I have said before on this page, “You are your own first child.” If we all lived our lives loving ourselves with the same loving intention that we offer our children, I believe that the grown ups in the world would be a happier, more content, lot of people. Relationships would be easier. Instead of demanding that our partners and other loved ones in our lives fill all our needy, wounded, sad, grieving hearts, we would be given the latitude to do that for ourselves. From there we would come into relationship more whole and fully available to give, offer, and receive love from a more honest and accessible place. So, close your eyes for a moment, and offer yourself a fantasy of what the world would look like if everyone in it could offer to their self the very love that we spend our lives seeking from people places and things outside of ourselves. Picture the “Peace on Earth”, and “Good Will towards Man (and Woman!) Kind” that would ensue. Go ahead, it really is OK. Breathe into that fantasy, and now decide that you will do your part by offering yourself all the Love that is there, ready and waiting for you, accessible as soon as you say yes to yourself. May you look ahead to the year, decade, and many years and decades to come, with an abundance of love and hope for yourself and the world you live in!