Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

Happy Independence Day

July 4, 2019

Today is the 243th anniversary of the birth of an idea–an experiment in democracy that we are still challenged with figuring out.

The idea spread. But each culture still struggles to implement it. As do we.

Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to continue the experiment and not let those who would usurp the power to succeed.

It Is Better To Do the Right Thing

July 3, 2019

You can manage your business or your life to stay within the letter of the law. You can avoid being prosecuted. Maybe even sued.

But that doesn’t make what you do the right thing.

Jesus almost seemed to enjoy poking at pompous people who maneuvered the law to make themselves prosperous while putting down other people.

I can’t believe the number of business meetings I’ve been involved in where the discussion devolves into how we can do the minimum to be legal.

Sometimes we interpret the law in our favor even if we must stretch logic like Silly Putty to do it.

Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.

Choose to do the right thing.

Those Silly Assumptions

July 2, 2019

It was a loud, boisterous conversation at a coffee house. Half-dozen guys. One regales the others with a story of an obnoxious neighbor. They argued over how to cut their grass. “Of course, he’s an X supporter” by way of explanation for the neighbor’s behavior.

I thought, how silly. I know X supporters who are not obnoxious. I know plenty of Y supporters who are obnoxious. Aside from politics, I know many people across the US who consider fans of a certain large football-oriented university as the most obnoxious in the country. However, I’ve met one or two who aren’t.

We impute from whom you support or how you’re dressed or what accent you have what your personality is.

There exists some percentage of humans who just can’t seem to get along with other people. Fortunately, these constitute just a minority of people.

Before imputing some negative on someone you’ve just met, I suggest a conversation. I’ve met many interesting people whom at first glance I’d have never thought it.

Most of all, don’t let politics color your perceptions. There really are plenty of good people on both sides. Church politics and office politics as well.

The Science of the Soul

July 1, 2019

Taken literally the original words that compose our word psychology can be translated science of the soul.

If I asked 20 people randomly about the origin of psychology, most would respond with Freud. Some of the more well read may add Jung and James.

That’s what I thought when I read some of their writings while yet in high school.

I’m not positive just when it dawned on me, perhaps when I read John Climacus (St. John of the Ladder) and discovered not mystical realms of another world but depth psychology.

Then I put it all together in my mind. All of the readings of ancient spiritual seekers. They all probe the depths of the human soul–psychology we would call it today. Take the example of writings from 3,000 years ago composed and compiled by King Solomon. We call the collection Proverbs. The analysis, diagnostics, and treatment are just as valid today as then.

We were just reading in the letter of James compiled as part of the New Testament. He probes deeply.

“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?”

He recommends drawing near to God as “treatment” for his “diagnosis”.

When you read the entire Hebrew Scriptures and the entire Christian Scriptures, you will find this consistent thread of meaning about how to live.

It consists of:

  • Removing ourselves as the center of the universe
  • Recognizing that there exists a spiritual power that formed the universe and all within it
  • Reaching out and drawing near to that spiritual power that in English we call God
  • Realizing a life lived with and in the spirit

Doing so (James says be doers of the Word, not hearers only), we can live beyond those “conflicts and disputes.”

Assuming Much, Reacting Too Much

June 28, 2019

Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for economics. He is an academic psychologist and researcher. I could make a comment about the state of economists, but I’ll let it pass. I am reading Kahneman’s latest book, Thinking Fast and Slow. This thought struck me (kind of goes along with my post about assumptions this week). The great comedian Danny Kaye had a line that has stayed with me since my adolescence. Speaking of a woman he dislikes, he says, “Her favorite position is beside herself, and her favorite sport is jumping to conclusions.”

Economists thought for a long time that humans made economic decisions rationally. They called it “the economic man.” Kahneman’s research showed that in fact humans make decisions emotionally and justify through rationality later.

To me, that was a “duh” moment. Want to buy that new house? Want that new bass boat? How about a new car? Emotionally, you want that new thing. Then your thinking mind figures out why you need it. That is the “thinking fast and slow” in the book.

Preachers have known this for thousands of years. They hit you emotionally then give you a few reasons for faith. Or maybe they start with what sounds rational and then work your emotions to get you to agree with them.

The point of Kaye’s description that struck me was the “favorite sport is jumping to conclusions.” Kahneman says that if we are in familiar territory deciding on things we’ve seen before, the “thinking fast” part serves us well. It takes too much effort to think. But if we are faced with something we haven’t seen before or where we have little experience, thinking fast (jumping to conclusions) is almost always wrong. We should have done the work of thinking things through thoroughly.

And when we hear something about a neighbor or meet someone for the first time jumping to a conclusion often leads us astray. I look at someone, and their appearance puts me off. Then we talk, and I discover she’s a really nice and intelligent person.

Sometimes we jump too soon and we wind up off the cliff like Wile E. Coyote.

Intentionally Unplug

June 27, 2019

“Everything works better if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” –Anne Lamott.

Three engineers were riding in a car when it suddenly stopped. The mechanical engineer noticed a clunk sound and reasoned it was the transmission that broke and they’d need to start walking. The electrical engineer thought he saw a flicker in the lights just before things stopped and reasoned it was a short in the electrical system. They would have to trace the wiring. But the computer engineer suggested, “Why don’t we all get out and shut the doors. Wait a minute. Then get back in and start it up.” (Old computer nerd joke.)

We all know this about our computing devices from desktops to laptops to tablets and phones. It is good to occasionally turn it completely off, count to 20, turn it back on. This isn’t magic. There are reasons in electronics physics that explain how it works.

It is the same with us.

One of the Biblical characters I’ve always been most impressed with is Daniel. He was chief administrator for two of the world’s largest empires (up to that time), yet he was disciplined to take three breaks a day to go to his rooms and meditate on God. It’s an example always in my mind.

We can unplug two to three times every day for perhaps 10 minutes or so. Stop, get into a good posture–sitting upright, standing, laying on your back–just breathe evenly for a time. You can meditate on a word or a picture–I often suggest a peaceful location to go off to in their imagination.

The Pomodoro technique to thought work is to work 25 minutes then take a 5 minute break. I will batch work then get up and walk around. I find walking refreshing. Even for five minutes, it’s like the old commercial tag line–the pause that refreshes.

Then take longer breaks–long weekends, week-long vacations.

You can even write all of these breaks from the 5-10 minute ones to the week-long one right into your calendar. Set reminders. Begin now.

They Are Not All Out To Get You

June 26, 2019

“You’re not paranoid; everyone is out to get you.” (An old psychologist joke.)

We humans are so quick to reach conclusions about others. “Look at what that kid did to me.” Or, “I know she’s plotting revenge.” Or, “Why is he angry with me?”

It reminds me of the truth within Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which can easily be attributed to stupidity.

Most of the time others are not thinking of us at all. They are merely pursuing self-interest, or they are careless or unaware. We? Merely innocent bystanders or collateral damage.

Don’t feel smug. I know that when I write thoughts such as these I am swamped with flashbacks of moments when I acted or spoke with complete and utter stupidity. I’ve had so many of those moments that even the flashbacks seem like a movie trailer.

What about you? Perhaps a little grace is required.

What You Say Can Kill

June 25, 2019

My wife and I have been hooked on BBC detective shows often shown on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery. Some of these, such as Shetland (takes place in Scotland) and Unforgotten (English) use the entire season series of 5-6 episodes to explore one murder case.

We just binge-watched the latest season of Unforgotten, a cold-case theme. A sub-plot, and you need many when you write something this long, featured a young woman who developed a Web page devoted to opinion/reporting on stories. Naturally, the story she was following concerned the featured case. The more things went forward, the more incendiary her writing got. Until it provoked an unstable person to kill someone.

She took great delight in gaining followers, “likes”, and the like. It becomes a vicious circle of writing incendiary posts, getting more likes, becoming more incendiary, getting still more likes, until some inevitable climax is reached.

I’ve been teaching from the letter of James from the New Testament. He evidently has witnessed the emotions and reactions to an untamed tongue (or untamed fingertips typing on a keyboard). He marvels at how that one little part of the body can both bless people and curse people. How it can bless God, and then immediately curse a human being created in God’s image.

Sometimes we get caught up in a cycle of emotion–sometimes just to reinforce our egos or sometimes as a business model. I’ve had friends diss on so-called “liberal” or “conservative” media. I tell them they have missed the point. It’s all sensationalist media designed to encourage emotions that encourage “likes” and views that encourages even more outrageous commentary that encourages even more likes and views, and so the cycle goes while the business rakes in tremendous income from advertisers.

Someone complimented my writing once and suggested a Website I should write for. I sent some samples. The editor replied that she liked my writing, but that in writing for her I needed to follow some tricks for enhancing the number of views I’d get. I never replied. I prefer a smaller number of views to using those Internet tricks to get more page views.

There are two sides to this modern instant instantiation of the tongue. One side is the responsibility of the speaker/writer. The other is the awareness of the reader to not get sucked into the whirlpool of emotion.

Be careful. Words can kill–emotionally, if not physically.

When You Are Not Feeling Right

June 24, 2019

There are times when we are just not in balance. One emotion or another is driving us. We cannot settle in to what we need to do. Or we feel a vague sort of fear.

Here are five things to check that need to be in our spiritual discipline tool box.

  1. When have we last eaten?
  2. When have you last had some water to drink?
  3. Have you exercised?
  4. How much time have you just spent on tech devices?
  5. How much sleep have you been getting?

Your body needs fuel. Skipping a meal is not a good thing. Of course, eating too much leads to lethargy. But, make sure you have fuel for the day.

Dehydration leads also to lethargy. It can also lead to the hospital emergency room. A significant percentage of ER visits for supposed heart attacks turn out to be dehydration. Drink water mostly.

Get out of the chair and move. If you normally get in some morning exercise, either running or walking, and you miss it. You’re emotions will miss it as well as your body.

Don’t get up and then get lost for an hour or more first thing checking your phone or tablet for social media, email, search engines (this morning I blew 20 minutes searching for the lyrics of a song I remember from long ago for another post–can’t believe that much time passed).

I’m told that operating on six or fewer hours of sleep per night leaves your brain in the same condition as when intoxicated. Get your seven, eight, or nine hours (whatever your body and soul need) every night.

Five simple daily practices to keep your body, mind, and emotions on the right path.

A Contemplative Life

June 21, 2019

We get our emotions all worked up into a frenzy.

Maybe because we are too busy. We are rushing here. Rushing there. Picking up; dropping off. Seeing this; shopping for that.

We do much; accomplish little.

Get angry about political or social issues. Either think everyone is out to get us; or we cannot understand those few who disagree with us.

Every statistic of life shows great improvement over life in the past. Yet, politicians and the media tell us we are worse off–and we cede reality to their hype and believe them.

We

Could

Slow

Down.

We could

Pause…

For as little as 5 minutes twice a day.

We could slowly control our breathing.

We could slowly pause and remember God (no matter how you define God).

We could contemplate wisdom and the spiritual life.

The result would be that we would become a calmer, more accepting, more loving, people.

Disagree? OK.

But with love? Of course.

Breathe in through the nose and count to 4.

Hold your breath and count 7 at the same pace.

Exhale through the mouth and count 8 at the same pace.

Repeat.

After four repetitions, you’ll feel much better.