Author Archive

Accept Responsibility

October 20, 2020

Yesterday, I thought about the words of the 4th Century Desert Father Poemen. He said those who seek to justify themselves are lost.

Yet, that almost seems to be the reason we grew a prefrontal cortex in our brain. Do we humans think simply to justify our actions and thoughts to others and ourselves?

People see through our justifications. We lose their trust. We lose their respect.

With training and practice we can develop awareness of our tendency to self-justify our bad behavior. We can see it developing and nip it in the bud.

We then recognize we have a choice. We can ignore the act. We can decide to own it. It is our choice to behave or speak one way or another.

With further practice, we learn to decided to own our mistakes and the hurt we may have caused.

At some point in the future with practice, we can decide earlier such that we avoid many, most, all (?) of them. We have decided to be a different kind of person. One who is respectful, trustworthy. We find a calmness. No longer are we anxious about how we appear–or try to say we don’t care.

That is why I suggest that New Year’s Resolutions be replaced by defining the person we want to be and writing a picture of that person. Then over the year we become that sort of person.

Don’t Justify Yourself

October 19, 2020

I didn’t make it to the appointment and didn’t call. I was busy with something else that was more important.

I couldn’t practice this week. I forgot about it and was too busy anyway.

I didn’t show up for the project, but I was working on something more important and it didn’t matter anyway.

–or–

I chose to do something else. I chose not to practice. I chose to ignore our date.

Abba Poemen, one of the 4th Century Desert Fathers, once said about the son of Shemai, “His mistake was to justify himself; whoever does that destroys himself.”

When A Proud Person Thinks They Are Humble

October 16, 2020

When a proud person thinks he or she is humble, then their case is lost.

Pride kills the soul.

Self-awareness guides our spiritual formation.

Personality assessments such as the Enneagram are useful only when used to probe for unconscious motivations and understanding tendencies. They also should be a guide toward wholeness as we work on those unhealthy parts of the personality.

Sometimes I think that Wisdom literature assumes that there is no cure for the proud person. I would hope there is. It’s called self-awareness. But an event must happen in our life that wakes us up.

We listen to the little boy who loudly proclaimed the emperor has no clothes!

That cloak of humility covering over our pride is actually transparent to all but the wearer.

Meditate on our thoughts until we can see–see ourselves in the mirror as others see us. The first step of growth.

What’ll I Do Today?

October 15, 2020

My recent reading has led to a couple of lists of daily habits of successful people. I like lists. I make lists.

This list came from Richard Koch in his book The 80/20 Principle that I touched on yesterday. These are seven things he tries to do every day.

  • Exercise
  • Mental Stimulation
  • Spiritual/Artistic stimulation/meditation
  • Doing a good turn
  • Taking a pleasure break with a friend
  • Giving yourself a treat
  • Congratulating yourself (at the end of the day)

These are actually common among successful people however you wish to define success.

Get the body moving, get the brain going, get in touch with your soul and God, do something good for someone during the day even just a random act of kindness, evaluating your day (Benjamin Franklin liked to begin the day with “what good shall I do today” and finish with a reflection “what good did I do today”.)

I liked Koch’s idea of a “pleasure break”–maybe a coffee or even a phone call. Sometimes we forget about ourselves. Get outside for a bit. Or allow yourself a scoop of ice cream.

The key is to be intentional about your day. Avoid just getting out of bed and drifting from one crisis or annoyance to the next. Avoid the things that get your negative emotions agitated.

And when the day is done, you can look back and say to yourself, “I’ve contributed today. Good!”

Achieve More With Less

October 14, 2020

Richard Koch sat in a library at university in Oxford (England, not Ohio) and discovered the works of Vilfredo Pareto. Pareto was studying wealth in late 19th Century Italy and discovered that 20% of the people owned 80% of the wealth. And it was roughly the same in England. And in other countries.

Koch thought about that and eventually brought his thinking into a coherent statement in the book The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less. Tim Ferriss used the same thinking when he reorganized the way he worked at his health food distributorship so that he could take time off for vacationing and experiences while still earning a substantial income which he also chronicled in The 4-Hour Work Week.

Koch expanded the idea that 20% of your resources (time, effort, money, etc.) give you about 80% of your outcomes (happiness, income, etc.).

20% of your study time yields 80% of your learning. You could figure out where you are getting less return on your study and emphasize what you do in the 20%. Maybe you spend 80% of your prayer time worrying about getting the cup of coffee or tea and getting the chair just right and only spend 20% actually praying. Realizing that, perhaps you reorganize to emphasize what that effective 20% is and feel better because you’ve increase your effective prayer time and perhaps saved some time.

Some people have taken this idea too far, of course, just like they can take other teachings or insights too far. But if you can get done with what you need to in less time, then you have time for other things you want to do. Read that stack of novels. Walk in the woods. Travel to other cities and countries (when we can travel again).

As you know, I have eclectic reading habits. Maybe I want to know everything about everything. Or, maybe I find insight in almost everything I read–even murder mysteries and business books.

Meditate With A Pen

October 13, 2020

Learn how to meditate on paper. Drawing and writing are forms of meditation. –Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Meditation comes to us in many forms. Today many, at the behest of their therapists, are using iPhone or Android apps that are essentially guided meditations leading toward mindfulness. And, hopefully, calm.

The Hebrew Bible, especially in the Psalms, tells us about meditating on God’s word. An excellent starting point.

Some traditions teach focusing on breath and totally emptying the mind in order to sit in perfect tranquility until God’s voice breaks through the “cloud of unknowing” and we receive some enlightenment.

Zen koans are an amazing way to “blow your mind” as you sit contemplating a totally nonsense phrase–“what is the sound of one hand clapping” or “if a tree falls in the forest with no one around, does it make a noise”?

Merton suggests at times sitting with a notebook. The size I find most handy to carry around it the approximately 5.5″ x 8.5″ Moleskin-type. Some people carry smaller ones that fit in a pocket–useful if you are on a walk. Some like the 8.5″ x 11″ (A4) size for the freedom that additional space gives.

Stealing a thought from a section of a book, Drawing Like Da Vinci, don’t worry about making a perfect drawing. You’ll learn from sketching and observation how to approximate shapes and combinations.

A part of my daily meditation is sitting down with this laptop, attempting to clear my mind, filtering through a hundred thoughts to focus on one–which often morphs during the writing. Then I type. I try to be the Enneagram 5–observer/investigator that is my dominant response to life (thank you mom and dad). But at times the frustrations and angst of a type 4 (my very strong wing) creep in and I have the ability to get other people’s emotion stirred.

Sit with a notebook, make sketches of your thoughts, jot notes of thoughts that visit, you’ll arrive at new insights and perhaps even new directions for your life.

Someone Is Counting On You

October 12, 2020

Christ is counting on you.

I went on a weekend spiritual retreat about 25 years ago. It was called a Walk to Emmaus. It was a life-altering event.

In order to keep the spirit that was ignited within you alive, the organization encouraged small groups. Going through my library the other day looking for something, I found the “Order of Reunion” card they gave us as guide to small groups. It is a small, wallet-sized tri-fold heavy paper. It proclaims in bold letters on that top page the saying I quoted above.

It’s laying on my desk. Staring up at me. I return the stare. “What does that really mean?” I ask.

Your teammates on an athletic team count on you to fulfill your role. Your family counts on you to fulfill your role. Your boss counts on you to show up and crank out the work.

But Jesus? What could he possibly need from me?

Bury myself in the busy-ness of church work? Stand on a street corner forcing pamphlets upon people passing by?

Perhaps spiritual growth–becoming part of the Kingdom of God? Living differently. Helping others.

I constantly remember how there were plagues throughout human history. And how the Christians of Rome added to their numbers by how they lived and served during a couple of those plagues (we now say pandemic) in Rome. And how people were impressed by their manner of living. And how they said, “I want what they’re having.”

And where did that go?

Maybe Christ is counting on me. And you. And you…

We Don’t Ask Why Enough

October 9, 2020

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine till five,
For I am busy then,

As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men.
But different folk have different views;
I know a person small—
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!

She sends’em abroad on her own affairs,
From the second she opens her eyes—
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!

From The Elephant Child–Rudyard Kipling

We don’t ask why enough.

There is a problem-solving technique within Lean Manufacturing, which can be called Lean Thinking. It is called Five Why’s. By the time you arrive at an answer to the fifth why, you should have arrived at the real problem. You can fix the root cause and not just a symptom.

This applies to us like the little one in the poem with ten million questions. How I love the curiosity of the little ones!

How I wish I could ask even more questions!

I don’t ask why enough. I need this reminder taped to my computer screen and notebook.

Peaceful Coexistence

October 8, 2020
Scene from a pond near my house in the morning. Heron and ducks.

Thought from a biologist, “Violence, sexism, and general nastiness are biological since they represent one subset of a possible range of behaviors. But peacefulness, equality, and kindness are just as biological–and we may see their influence increase if we can create social structures that permit them to flourish.”

Kudos to a few of my friends who try to bring civility and thoughtfulness to social media.

But, I think as humans we still have much to learn to just get along.

Seeking Peace Within

October 7, 2020

So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God most of all. And instead of hating the people you think are carmakers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed–but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Yesterday I looked at Thich Nhat Hahn, a respected Asian spiritual teacher. Today, the words of Christian contemplative and writer Thomas Merton.

We can find wisdom if we seek it. From people of all races, traditions, geographies.

The wisdom is that peace must start within us. In that place within where we meet God. Not when we merely say “yes” to a statement about God, but when we say “yes” to the invisible, infinite God Himself.