Jul 142018

Having completed nearly 67 years of this human journey, I can recount hundreds of gatherings I have summoned into existence. I wonder what, if anything, has been accomplished. In a world heavily dependent on to-do lists and action items, most people believe there is little hope of change unless a gathering concludes with a list of items to be accomplished, with attendant assignments and due dates. If, after six months or a year, we cannot identify and quantify how the world changed, the gathering was clearly a waste of time.

Einstein reminded us that “problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them.” When we set out to change the world with well-worn thinking, the solutions will leave us wanting. If, on the other hand, you change the way a person thinks, they can’t help but act differently. What we can never know is how new thinking will evolve into new actions and ways of being in the world. They are unpredictable and unknowable. Further, since inquisitives continually challenge their thinking, the new ways in which they show up, and actions they take, can never be understood as the result of any one interaction with the Universe.

The human brain is too puny, and the Universe too complex, to even begin to imagine the implications of the things we do. The butterfly effect informs us that small perturbations in initial conditions change the course of history over time and distance in ways that are unknowable and unpredictable. Dee Hock once said, “Every action we take has intended and unintended consequences. The intended ones sometimes happen, the unintended ones always happen!”

Most wisdom traditions echo the words of the Bhagavad Gita: “You have a right to your actions, but never to your actions’ fruits. Do your work, then step back.”

In moments when I feel disappointment with the outcome of things I attempt, a friend reminds me my worth is unrelated to the results of my efforts. “Why is it,” she asks again and again, “you cannot know you have value absent of accomplishments?”

I will continue to summon gatherings. I will endeavor to be faithfully inquisitive and open to new ways of understanding the world, and I will invite those who join me to do the same. Then I will attempt, as difficult as it is, to step back and trust in the generative, creative nature of the Universe.

May 072014

Note: The Following was published in January 2011 in Neighbors of Batavia Magazine. I recently realized it never made it to my blog.

As I approach 60, the moment of turning the calendar from one year to the next gives me pause. I wonder if I will have left a legacy. Will I have helped moved humanity forward, or might my life have been, as a dear friend once fretted, a throw-away line? I ponder the best way to spend the 365 days I gently step into on January 1.

In those moments, an image painted by Hendrik Willem van Loon in his wonderful book, The Story of Mankind, comes to mind:

High up in the North in the land called Svithjod, there stands a rock. It is a hundred miles high and a hundred miles wide. Once every thousand years a little bird comes to this rock to sharpen its beak. When the rock has thus been worn away, then a single day of eternity will have gone by.
We live under the shadow of a gigantic question mark.
Who are we? Where do we come from? Whither are we bound?
Slowly, but with persistent courage, we have been pushing this question mark further and further towards that distant line, beyond the horizon, where we hope to find our answer.
We have not gone very far.”

I find this image of a single day of eternity compelling. In the face of an eternity this unimaginable, I feel small and insignificant.

I recall standing in the presence of the Giant Sequoias in California and marveling that many have lived thousands of years. Many were alive through the entirety of the Current Era. They lived through the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, the Middle Ages and the rise and fall of the Divine Right of Kings. To them, the ink on our Declaration of Independence has yet to dry. American representative governance, the World Wars, the Holocaust, the Vietnam War happened moments ago. And yet, even to them, van Loon’s “single day of eternity” is unimaginable.

Then I imagine living the life of a mayfly—often a single day. As you begin to mature by mid-morning, you wonder about the species’ evolution. You see so many ways in which it falls short of the enlightened state of which you dream. By midday you are working tirelessly for the betterment of your fellow mayflies. Within hours, as you age, you become distraught because, in spite of your lifetime of dedication and effort, little has changed. The species is no less selfish…its lifespan hasn’t increased…there is no less violence between you and those with which you compete for resources. You wonder if there is any hope for the future. I imagine that species is awed that a human such as myself has witnessed tens of thousands of their generations.

We might witness the mayfly and smile. How silly to imagine, that in such a short lifetime, an insect could hope to actually witness evolution! Then I wonder if the Sequoia looks at us with the same mix of wonder, whimsy and pity.

And yet, as humans, we live with the hubris to imagine that in our lifetime, or certainly within a few generations, we will experience the advancement of our species into something significantly new and wonderful. Not only do we expect to have witnessed advances in evolution, we believe we will have personally contributed to forward movement so significant we can actually witness growth. Then, as we age, we become distraught because, in spite of a lifetime of dedication and effort, little has changed. The species is no less selfish…its lifespan hasn’t increased…there is no less violence between us and those with whom we compete for resources. We wonder if there is any hope for the future.

If it is naive to expect my life will make a noticeable difference in the course of human history, what then? How should I decide what to do, how shall I spend the moments I am given in the year ahead?

One answer to that question, and there are many, rests in the flapping of the wings of butterflies. The Butterfly Effect tells us that a minute air disturbance in one part of the world can, through a complex and unpredictable chain of events, foster a tornado halfway around the globe. And the butterfly that set the future in motion has no idea of its impact thousands of miles away and months or years later.

The future unfolds based on “initial conditions.” An infinitesimally small change in this moment, can, as a “single day of eternity” transpires, allow an entirely new, dramatically different future to blossom.

So what I think about, as I step into the 365 days that begin on the first of January, is what initial conditions am I creating in this moment? Is the wisp of air I am disturbing filled with joy, kindness and generosity, or anger and hate? Am I aware of the pain and heartache in the face of the stranger next to me, or am I focused on me and my needs? What can I do in this moment to give the future the very best foundation on which to begin its next “day of eternity”? My stay on this Earth is far too short to witness the impact of the initial conditions I set, so all I can do is have faith that the future will best be served if I serve this moment in the most loving and attentive way I can.

So for me, life is a constant struggle to meet, and negotiate with, each and every moment. As I approach the next, I hope to serve it the best I can as I inhabit it, and it inhabits me. And then, perhaps, I must simply trust that the “single day of eternity” that that moment and I become part of will take care of itself.

Aug 062012


Note: This article will appear in the September-October issue of Neighbors of Batavia magazine.
How are you doing? Before you answer, think carefully…there might be more at stake than you think.
I might be wrong, but there is a good chance your immediate response would have been to a question other than the one I intended. If you are like most people, you were tempted to say something like “Fine, thanks,” “Couldn’t be better,” “Not so great,” or perhaps “Life has been a struggle, but I’ll make it through.” Those are answers to the inquiry “How are you?” What I asked is “How are you doing?”…as in “In what manner are you completing the task in front of you at this moment?” Recently, I have begun to wonder if the manner in which I approach the activities of my life is just as important, or perhaps far more important, than the activities themselves. I have been reflecting on my “to be” list as actively as my “to do” list.
Having watched some of the Games of the XXX Olympiad, athletes know attitude is critical when translating mental desire into physical results. On a golf course, if I pull a driver from my bag and approach the ball with confidence, I am far more likely to hit a solid drive than if I approach with the belief that hitting a microscopic white orb with a small mallet at the far end of a very long graphite shaft is simply impossible. (You now know why I haven’t played golf in twenty years!) I was on my bicycle recently when I came upon a very narrow path, perhaps fifty feet in length, bounded on both sides by a high railing. While I never have trouble keeping my bike steady in the open, once bounded by the railing, fear welled up and made the first 30 feet a difficult and treacherous escapade. Once I neared the end of the challenge, my confidence returned and the final 15 feet were easy to negotiate.
My attitude toward day-to-day activities has an impact far beyond how my brain’s neuronal impulses might ease or challenge the movements of my muscles. If I am filled with animosity as I wend my way through my daily toils, I will create different outcomes than if I am joyful and filled with gratitude. Interactions with others, especially my family, are more fruitful if I begin by remembering how much I love them, rather than entering a conversation angry over a perceived lack of respect or difference of opinion. When I begin my interactions by reminding myself to focus on their wholeness rather than mine, life is far more generative. There is a reason why we say “if you’re angry, count to ten before you speak.”
Edward Lorenz was a meteorologist, who, in 1969, coined the term Butterfly Effect, when he discovered that infinitesimally small changes in initial conditions can radically change the course of weather over time and distance. It is said that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world, by changing initial weather conditions ever so slightly, can cause a tornado, hurricane or tsunami weeks or months later halfway around the globe.
The Butterfly Effect applies to far more than insects and inclement weather. Any time we change initial conditions, the course of human history is altered. And while it is difficult to imagine that some distant, future international conflict may erupt because of the attitude with which I approach a golf ball, it is not difficult to see how a careless, angry comment from a parent to a child can change the course of their lives. I know…I hear from callers on the suicide hotline how tsunamis of painful emotion have erupted because of thoughtless or angry comments from important role models many years earlier.
So, I’ll ask again. How are you doing? How are you approaching what you are doing in this moment, or in the very next? If you are anxious, angry, greedy or frustrated could you stop for just a moment, take a deep breath and instead approach the next moment with more generosity, care, love and concern?
It just might be that the future of humanity hangs in the balance.