Apr 232014
 

The flow of a river is constrained by its banks. Over time, however, the rushing water erodes the banks and redirects the course of the river. Riverbanks are necessary to give form, and yet the river retains the power to alter its future.

If you would be willing to play along, what appears a game just may prompt surprising questions about the riverbanks that constrain our lives.

Triangle Instructions

Figure 1

Take out a piece of paper and located three points in the shape of a triangle. Label them 1, 2 & 3. Pick any point on the page—inside or outside the triangle, and locate additional points using two rules: pick 1, 2 or 3 at random and move 1/2 the distance from the most recent point to find the next.

In Figure 1, I began at “a” and picked “1” at random. Point “b” is then 1/2 of the distance from “a” to the number 1. Next I picked “3” and moved 1/2 of the distance from “b” to 3 to locate “c”. Then I picked another “1”and moved 1/2 of the distance from “c” to the number 1 to locate “d”. Finally, I picked “2” and moved from “d” to locate “e” 1/2 of the way to 2. Simple enough…go ahead and plot a hundred points or so. I’ll wait…

Triangle 100 Points

Figure 2

If you did that, you would end up with a diagram similar to Figure 2. It appears a fairly random set of dots. What happens if you plot, say, 30,000? This time I won’t wait. But before you look at the resulting diagram below, any guesses what it might look like? Okay, take a look at Figure 3 at the bottom of the post.

I find this result both stunning and terrifying.

I am stunned that such simple rules—rules that appear at first blush to yield chaos—countenance order and beauty over time. Order out of chaos. Stunning! Rules as simple as green means proceed, and red means wait, give order and meaning to millions of vehicles. “Do unto others…” gives order and meaning to our lives.

But there are ways in which I am terrified as well. As long as we remain allegiant to the rules, future dots are determined, and our path is immutable. We remain trapped in the pattern forever.

I wonder how I remain trapped by rules in my life, even those so very subtle they remain imperceptible. Might there be ways in which my future is constrained, rigid and immutable? I hated writing essays in school and remained, for many years, certain of my inability to assemble meaningful words on paper. “I am a loner,” “I am artistically destitute,” “I am not a good listener” and “I don’t like to read,” defined much of my life. While I have not overcome feelings about lacking artistic ability, I have set aside many of the others. As I do, I erode the banks and set the river of my life on a new course.

I leave you with one final exercise. Allow yourself a few moments to reflect on the “rules” in your life. No doubt there are many that provide order and meaning. But if you are honest and look deeply enough, you just may uncover a few that keep you trapped in work, relationships, communities or images of self that limit your freedom, and constrain your future? It just might be time to jettison them, erode the riverbanks of your life and allow stunning new patterns to emerge.

 

Triangle 30000Points

Figure 3

Mar 282014
 

Note: The following is a letter I wrote for Neighbors of Batavia Magazine in 2008 when I was Executive Director of the Batavia Chamber of Commerce. I found it recently and decided to share it on my blog.

A new book has left me haunted, and keeps me wondering about the proper role of the Chamber of Commerce. We are charged with improving the local economic climate, but, if improving that climate just means more business…more customers…more commerce…more activity, perhaps I’m in the wrong job.

The book is entitled loneliness. The capitalization—or lack thereof—is accurate, and telling. When we’re lonely, it leaves us feeling very small in a large and complex world. By leaving the title in lower-case, the authors insure that even book itself seems smaller and less pretentious.

“However wealthy and technologically adept our societies have become, beneath the surface we are the same vulnerable creatures who huddled together against the terrors of thunderstorms sixty thousand years ago.” As I read this statement, I couldn’t help but juxtapose it against the modus operandi of some of the great TV heroes of my generation. The Lone Ranger, for example, saved the day by revealing that he, and he alone, possessed, and knew how to unleash, the silver bullet.

I had a conversation recently with a Chamber member. She expressed her regret at missing a Chamber event—the demands of her job, and the mountains of work she needed to scale, were simply too great to permit time away from her desk. She has 4-weeks vacation this year, and has yet to take even one day. Every year she is sure the pressure and the expectations can’t possibly increase…only to be proven wrong when the new year struts confidently through her door. The look in her eyes was painful from my vantage point…I can only imagine how it felt from hers. Every time I see her, she too is huddled against the terrors…but she is huddled alone.

So why does the book haunt me? A tool near the beginning shows that I score relatively high on the loneliness scale and one of the key conclusions of the authors’ extensive research is that loneliness appears to be as much a cause of deteriorating health and early death as smoking, poor diet or lack of exercise.

It is no accident that the subtitle for the Chamber’s monthly newsletter is “For the life of your business…and the business of your life.” Once again I am reminded that far too often the business of my life is ill-defined, poorly conceived, and too often simply an afterthought.

Dec 022012
 

 

Note: I beg your indulgence for this particularly long post. I have pulled it from a book I am trying to birth. It speaks to the confusion I face as I try to discern how humanity might find its way home.
The more I learn, the more the explanations I grew up with are being called into question—like mental and emotional rugs being yanked out from under me. For every book or article that proposes one worldview, there is another equally well-documented volume to propose another, often contradictory, view. I wonder if reality exists, or which author’s reality makes the most sense. Then I wonder if sense-making is even what I should be seeking. I wonder if I know anything at all. Are there really any pillars of truth on which I can build my belief systems?
I grew up in a world composed of atoms and molecules that were substantial, measurable particles. I grew into a Universe of quantum entities that zip in and out of existence at a whim, and show up as particles or waves depending on how we observe them.
I grew up in a world of answers and certainty—a world frightened by questions and confusion. I grew into a Universe in which Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle guarantees that I can never have all the answers. Knowledge of one aspect of the Universe makes another unknowable. I have come to learn that answers have a way of ending discovery and learning—while captivating questions open possibilities.
I grew up in a world in which my existence was primarily biological. My soul had a clean slate and one shot, using this body only, to make or break its infinite future in either heaven or hell. I grew into a Universe with legitimate discussion of my soul’s journey through many lifetimes to continue its growth in wisdom and enlightenment.
I grew up in a world where nature versus nurture was the only disagreement about how I came to be the person I am. I grew into a Universe in which some, like psychologist James Hillman and author Gary Zukav, suggest that my soul chose this life, with its possibilities for both joy and pain, because of the work it had to do in order to continue its journey.
I grew up in a world in which dreams were the random firings of 100 billion neurons that yielded meaningless images to be ignored, laughed at or forgotten. I grew into a Universe in which dreams might contain information about what I am called to do, or messages with deep meaning for my life’s journey. My children used Native American dream catchers to keep bad dreams out of their lives, rather than for their original purpose—to capture the meaning of dreams for insight about one’s life and calling.
I grew up in a world that actually had an “other side.” I grew into a Universe where communication technology, especially the Internet, invites the entire world into my living room. The “other side” is now on this side.
I grew up in a world where the American way of life was the envy of all. Consumerism and our market economy were great gifts that had the potential to make every human wealthy. I grew into a Universe in which it is increasingly clear there aren’t nearly enough resources to raise the world’s living standards to those of the United States. Our wasteful ways are raising the global temperature and destroying large portions of the biosphere and may eventually bankrupt the species—financially and emotionally.
I grew up in a world in which every theory, supposition, and belief had, at its heart, the fundamental importance, intelligence and superiority of humanity. Our extraordinary talents and abilities would eventually, I was led to believe, enable us to remake this place into a safe, risk-free and stable home for humans. We either were, or soon would be, the masters of all we surveyed. I grew into a Universe in which order is inherent—order that contains chaos as an integral component—and this orderliness does not require humanity to hold it together or build on it. Not only are we not required, we may be superfluous!
I grew up in a world where lives could be planned and made predictable. It was my job as a youth to find the right career so I could support a certain and stable family. Middle age was for amassing wealth because money was the only route to a bright and happy retirement. I grew into a Universe where the wisest, most deeply spiritual people I know live lives that show up in unexpected ways because they listen carefully to what they are called to do. Their lives are unpredictable and unplanned—filled with terrifying uncertainty, profound confusion…and deep satisfaction. They live lives with unimaginable wealth—sometimes they even have money.
I am slipping from youth to old age with the fear that somewhere along the way, I was supposed to have found wisdom—answers to life’s deep and imponderable questions. What I have learned is that the answers become more elusive with age and the questions grow in number and complexity.
I am a man with significant formal education who knows that his most precious and profound learning was uncovered outside the classroom.
I am a former teacher who discovered that it was not the content, but the context of my relationships with young people that had the greatest impact. And it was they who were the teachers and I the reluctant student.
I am a former manager from a Fortune 500 company who left because there seemed little room for humanity…little time in between sales calls, business meetings and strategy sessions for us to discover who we are as human beings or what we long for. Too much of the conversation was about a bigger bottom line and higher ROI, and not enough about building a spiritual legacy for future generations. There was too much of the masculine voice of decision-making and action planning and not enough of the feminine voice calling us to meaning through relationship.
It is a deeply confusing time. I have many “answers” for the challenges I face. The irony is that most of those answers only work in the world in which I grew up. They are often useless in the Universe into which I grew. The confusion is often so intense I find myself on early-morning walks moving moment-to-moment from despair to joy, terror to ecstasy, sadness to deep gratitude, with tears running down my face to signify any and all of these emotions. I wonder what I am called to think…to believe…to do. While the world offers many “answers” to each of my myriad questions, I know that few will work. I must find my own. I know where I have been—or at least I think I do—but I am profoundly confused about where I am headed.
Sep 122011
 
Note: The following is the text of my remarks at Batavia’s memorial on the 10th anniversary of 9/11
 
Thank you Mayor Schielke,
 
Please join me in also thanking Chief Deicke, Chief Schira and all the men and women of the Police and Fire Departments for the amazing work they do to protect us.
In his poem “This Being Human is a Guest House” Rumi suggested the following:
 
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
 
How, even ten years later, could we conceive of being grateful for the horrific momentary awareness that visited our house on September 11, 2001? How can we ever forget or forgive the violent deaths represented by the candles that remind us that the light of 3023 lives has been extinguished?
It turns out “How?” is seldom the right question. A better question is “Why?” Why should we choose gratitude? Because here, in this moment, we have a choice about how to move forward.
We can choose sadness, or it’s painful relative, depression, as our guide. But anyone who has lost a loved one knows that sadness, grief and depression become a hole out of which we must climb if we ever hope to begin moving forward.
If not sadness, we could choose anger, or it’s more vicious, destructive relative, hatred. But if we choose hatred, then those who, on this day ten years ago, were motivated by hatred have won. We will have been recruited by them into the dark side of our nature…the side of our humanity that has always dragged us backward.
So if not sadness or anger, perhaps we should choose fear, or terror…cower and tremble in a corner. But that path forward truly dishonors the 3023 we are here to remember.
So if not sadness, depression, anger, hatred, fear or terror, then what.
We might choose…admiration…admiration for the more than 300 public servants who raced with courage into harms way, and gave their lives to keep thousands of other lives from being extinguished.
We might even, as the poet Rumi suggests, choose gratitude. We could be grateful for the billions of acts of generosity—both large and small—that erupted during the past ten years. We could be grateful for each person who came here tonight hoping to find a new way forward. Look around and be grateful for the intentions, hopes and humanity of these, your neighbors.
We might even choose joy. Why joy? Because the 3023 lives extinguished on 9/11 contributed to humanity before their tragic end. In the late 1970s, I taught Algebra and Geometry to a quiet, young man named Richard Guadagno. Rich went on to become a naturalist and inspire hundreds to love the wilderness that remains on this planet we lovingly call Mother Earth. Rich was on United flight 93 that ended its journey, and his, in a field in Pennsylvania. He is represented by one of these candles tonight. I will choose to honor Rich’s life by remembering the joy he brought to so many…including me.
 9 years ago tonight we stood here silent and sad, because 10 years ago we stood in disbelief. Tonight we stand here having been given an opportunity to turn our dis-belief into new beliefs…and make new choices.
There have been nearly 316 million seconds since the tragedies of 9/11. 316 million moments of truth in which I could have chosen, with heart ripped open, the possibility of becoming new.
At the memorial nine years ago, I said,
 
“It is not within my power to change anyone but myself. So here is the commitment I make. I will honor the pain by living each moment with more kindness and generosity… honor the loss of loved ones by living each moment with more awareness of the needs of those around me…honor the loss of my sense of humanity by living each moment with more integrity and love. And I will honor each of you by trying ever more diligently to understand—truly understand—our differences and disagreements.”
 
It has been said that the path forward can seem backward and the path into light seems dark. As I ignite a few of the candles that will share their light with us, I pray to be shown ways in which I might shine light wherever there is darkness, joy wherever there is sadness, gratitude wherever there is hopelessness, and love wherever there is hatred.
Tonight I ask you join me in making new choices that will move us all forward with a new understanding of what it means to be human.
Thank You