Archive for the ‘Wisdom’ Category

Pride and Power

April 16, 2021

Power seems to draw out the latent personality tendencies within us.

Think of people you have known or read about who achieved some level of power–political, organizational, familial–and whose basic personality came out.

Some leaders use the power to satisfy sexual lust that had lay hidden and eventually caused a downfall. Some have seen their pride cause them to lose their way and alienate those around–even to the extent of losing power and even winding up in jail.

On the other hand, sometimes power draws out hidden strengths. Think of people who have been thrust into powerful leadership positions whether in government, business, church. They stepped up to the challenges often surprising all but their closest friends.

Self-awareness becomes important. We must see those tendencies. We must deal with them before the negative ones cause our downfall.

Sometimes I think that Wisdom literature such as the Proverbs or the letter of James lead me to believe that there is no hope for the prideful. I hope not. Although I’ve seen many prideful people in positions of power who seem unable to come to grips with their own pride following a fall.

A lesson for us. In our daily meditations, take some time regularly to do a self-check. Have people been dropping hints that perhaps our worst tendencies are showing in our leadership? Or have our strength and vision and humility come through?

When The Pieces Come Together and the Image Pops

March 5, 2021

My wife likes to work jigsaw puzzles. I view them as a waste of time–until I get obsessed with the problem-solving aspect. The photo is the last one we completed. 1,000 pieces. We have one laid out on the kitchen counter now. When I close my eyes, I see puzzle pieces. When I woke up this morning to lie in Yoga corpse pose and meditate, I saw puzzle pieces fitting together.

Have you ever worked these?

Isn’t it fascinating when you have concentrated on finding the right piece with the exact fit one at a time and then suddenly the picture just pops out at you?

It happened to me last evening as I put the last piece in a building and suddenly it was almost as if the building came to life.

It’s the same with spiritual formation.

You may study, read, pray, meditate, think.

Then maybe you sing a song and–pop!–there it is. A piece of understanding. Part of the spiritual life just seems to come together. You thank God for the vision and understanding.

You bring that piece of growth into your life.

And then go on to the next section. There are stories about people who put it all together while still living. I’ve not met one. Not even when I look in the mirror. Especially when I look in the mirror. I see a picture partially complete but with more to go to finish the puzzle.

More and More Useless Information

February 4, 2021

When I’m drivin’ in my car, and the man comes on the radio
He’s tellin’ me more and more about some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination.
I can’t get no, oh no no no, hey, hey, hey
That’s what I say
I can’t get no satisfaction, I can’t get no satisfaction.
–Rolling Stones

It was 1965. I was 17 sitting in a pub across the street from the University of Cincinnati campus. Upstairs was a big room with wooden picnic tables for the patrons. Bunch of nerdy guys. We sang out to “I can’t get no” and “Hey, you, get off of my cloud…two’s a crowd.”

We grew up. But some of us Boomers tried to overthrow the government. We’re still living the Stones of our youth. And we’ve become more and more gullible about the man on the radio (TV, Internet now) telling us more and more about some useless information.

Pick your poison, as they used to say in the movies. You can find your favorite flavor of poison without looking very hard.

It is so important to discern what to fill your mind with. It can feed my base emotions and desires for individual satisfaction. It can feed my mind with the kind of satisfaction that only comes from living in the spirit.

Writers for millennia have described the problem and the consequences. Take the story of Rehoboam in the Hebrew Bible, grandson of the famous King David. This happened almost 3,000 years ago. He was just about to be anointed King. He had two groups of advisors. He rejected the wise and listened to his young friends who filled his mind with more and more of some useless information.

On the day of what should have been his greatest satisfaction, he lost most of the Kingdom. What took his grandfather and father years to build, he destroyed in a day. He was seeking satisfaction.

Dignity

February 3, 2021

There’s a word that is little used these days. It’s an attitude rarely seen.

Dignity describes how we treat other people. We can treat other people as the children of God that they are. We can treat people with disrespect and disdain. Cynically. Our choice.

Dignity describes how we treat ourselves. We can stand up like a person of worth. We can let others treat us with disrespect. Or, hopefully, we can leave those behind and choose relationships with those who treat us as they should.

If you are looking for examples, think of Jesus. Other than the time he drove the merchants from the Temple, did he ever not treat people with dignity? Even those who decided not to follow him? Perhaps he was saddened. Even at the end of his life, he chose not to say anything (much) rather than lash out at his accusers and demean them and revile them.

As I get toward the end of Jonathan Sacks’ Morality, he argues that morality and dignity go together. I envision them as walking hand-in-hand like early-teen romantic couples.

Training at the old Ritz-Carlton (now part of Marriott) for everyone no matter what “rank” included this mantra: We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. How do we want to be in this new year? Try being a person of dignity treating others with dignity.

Keep Justice, Practice Righteousness

January 25, 2021

How blessed are those who keep justice, Who practice righteousness at all times!

Psalm 106:3

Scholars tell us that the Hebrew word translated as blessed can also have the meaning of happy. Similar to the Greek New Testament where Jesus talked about the types of people who are “blessed” or “happy.”

Aristotle talked about happiness as related to virtue–living courageously, temperately, nobly, wisely.

We are tempted almost constantly through advertising and social media to believe that happiness comes from getting drunk and having almost non-stop sex. That freedom comes from doing what we please when we want to want to do it with whom we want.

Happiness and freedom are virtues and responsibilities, not the result of licentiousness. My eighteen-year-old self hates to hear me say that. Many “adults” even into their fifties and sixties still refuse to believe that.

Justice means something broader than selfishly seeking justice for only ourselves. In the Hebrew Bible, it sometimes talks about justice for the entire tribe. And sometimes it includes justice for neighbors more generally. Justice for the poor, the stranger, the neighbor.

As Rabbi Hillel (first century before Jesus) is reputed to have said about the meaning of the scriptures, “Love your neighbor, the rest is just commentary.”

How happy we are, indeed, when we seek justice and practice righteousness.

Giving to Others

January 21, 2021

True words are not necessarily beautiful.
Beautiful words are not necessarily truthful.
One who is achieved does not argue,
and one who argues is not achieved.
One who knows the deepest truth
does not need segmented information.
One who knows vast amounts of information
may not know the truth.

One of whole virtue
is not occupied with amassing material goods
Yet, the more he lives for others,
the richer his life becomes.
The more he gives, the more his life abounds.
The subtle truth of the universe is beneficial, not harmful.

There may be no better time in America to read Wisdom literature. One of my disciplines for more than 20 years has been to immerse my mind in it every January. What a way to kick off a year.

But as I sit and contemplate the world, not one place on the globe can I see where such thoughts would not be worthwhile.

Those words were written perhaps 2,500 years ago and ascribed to “the ancients.” How long we humans have known what is the true path–and how little we have followed it.

As Jesus told the religious leader who correctly identified the “neighbor” in the story of the Good Samaritan, “Go and do likewise.”

Wisdom Traditions

January 14, 2021

I just listened again to a podcast interview on the Tim Ferriss show with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the recently deceased Jewish leader from the UK.

Many of you, my readers, might be offended if you listened to Tim Ferriss often. But he interviews people of high achievement of whom almost all have a solid core set of personal integrity. Ferriss is known as the author of The Four-Hour Work Week, The Four-Hour Body, The Four-Hour Chef, Tools of the Titans, and Tribe of Mentors.

Sacks described offering prayers at the site of the 9/11 attack in New York City along with many other religious leaders including Christians of different traditions and Muslims. He was moved by the experience such that in a subsequent book he wrote (and I paraphrase a bit) all religions are a source of truth—subsequently changed to all religions are a source of wisdom.

Those words resonated with me, since I have since my mid-teens read the wisdom literature of many traditions. Heck, in my family reading the works of Roman Catholics was heretical. St. John of the Cross was one of my favorites. <sigh>

Sacks unfortunately passed away last year only a few months after the interview was released. The interview was a great introduction to me, and I have purchased his last book, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times. I can’t think of better reading and reflections than that book right now.

I don’t think I’ll convert to Judaism by reading his works any more than converting to Taoism by reading the Tao Te Ching (another great and ancient wisdom book).

The book is currently on a UPS truck somewhere. I’ll let you know more when I read it.

My thought of the day despite all this rambling is that we can find sources of wisdom that can be applied to our lives immediately upon learning them simply by opening our eyes and minds and searching. Don’t shut off sources because of ethnicity, gender, geography, era. Start by listening to that podcast and let your heart listen to humbleness, sensitivity, and strength.

Rights and Responsibilities

January 12, 2021

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

First Amendment to the US Constitution

People seem to get confused about what the First Amendment actually says. It is a restriction upon the government.

It doesn’t address how we use this “freedom of speech”.

I keep having flashbacks to my university years when talk of responsibilities over rights sounded like the mutterings of old, crabby, conservative people trying to shut up young people with ideas. Well, those young Baby Boomers grew up to screw up a lot of stuff. But I learned the value of responsibility. Although I am now “old”, I am decidedly not conservative and hopefully not crabby. Well, in most regards. Maybe I just grew up.

Try these bits of Wisdom literature mostly 3,000 years old and just as relevant today.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 19

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech.

Proverbs 10

Fine speech is not becoming to a fool; still less is false speech to a ruler.

Proverbs 17

Better the poor walking in integrity than one perverse of speech who is a fool.

Proverbs 19

Do you see someone hasty in speech? There is more hope for a fool than someone like that.

Proverbs 29

I can take a hint. I have no more to say today. Peace.

Seeking Wise Counsel

January 8, 2021

“Where there is no guidance, a nationa falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” — Proverbs 11

“Without counsel, plans go wrong,
but with many advisers they succeed.” — Proverbs 15

Sometimes I think of the Hebrew story of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, who became King of the united Israel upon his father’s death. And then he had to make a decision. He consulted with his father’s advisors who were schooled in wisdom. And then he consulted with his buddies, other younger men.

He chose poorly. Instead of being king of a united country, he was reduced to king only of one tribe and one small territory.

We can look at world events. We can look into our own hearts.

Are we seeking and heeding wise counsel?

What will be the story told about each of us in future years?

Prepping for 2021

January 4, 2021

Welcome to 2021.

What we call things does not affect the thing. It surely affects us, though. Just having a new name for the year benefits our state of mind.

Some thoughts of preparing ourselves for the new year. This will certainly be a year of change from 2020. I don’t predict or prognosticate, but I do think that we’ll see a change in the pandemic for the better. Probably the change will happen before we realize it. Hopefully the vaccine helps.

Maybe we need to change the type of person we are. Or, maybe just reinforce the person we are becoming.

Eating

Did you pick up the dreaded “Covid 15”? That is 15 excess pounds–or more?

Start being the kind of person who naturally and normally eats a little less for each meal. Energy-boosting snacks become almonds, peanuts, apple slices, and the like. I buy little packets of green olives from Thrive Market and keep some around for a snack. Save sweets, salty processed snacks, and colas for “cheat day” if at all. Drop sodas, both sweetened and “diet”, from your shopping list and clean out the refrigerator.

Follow Michael Pollan’s advice from Food Rules: An Eater’s Guide:

  • Eat food;
  • Not too much;
  • Mostly plants.

Exercise

If you haven’t already, start moving. Be the sort of person who walks more or takes up jogging or running. Of course, exercise within the bounds set by your physician. But most of us can walk briskly. Make 30-60 minutes a day part of the daily routine. If your body is up to it, throw in a few sprints a few times per week for a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout. That helped me lose a few pounds.

Buy some dumbbells and check out some YouTube instructors. I use 10 pound weights for a couple of shoulder exercises and curls and extensions for the biceps/triceps. I’m using 20 pound for standing rows and squats. Throw in some bench pushups and 30 minutes of Yoga stretches and ab work. 45-minutes to an hour three times a week in your bedroom (assuming the gym is still on limited availability) will work wonders.

Mental

Pick up a good book and read it. Be the type of person who expands and strengthens their mind. Take notes so that you think about it.

Spiritual

Feed your spirit with appropriate reading. I usually suggest January as a time to read the Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible. (Old Testament to most Christians) There are 31 chapters. Do a chapter a day for a month. Or perhaps the Christian book of James (another Wisdom writer). This year, I am reading an ancient Wisdom teacher from a different tradition. It’s good to see how alike we all are in our pursuit of spiritual growth and peace. I mean all cultures and all epochs. From 5,000 years ago to current Wisdom literature, there is a steady current.

Stop, pause your busyness. Meditate and pray at least once per day. Maybe twice–morning and evening. Do this and after several months people will probably comment about how calm you have become. Trust me. That has been true for me.

Blessings to you all for 2021.