Pointing to the Moon: Look Beyond Candidates’ Words

lunaditoThere’s one thing nearly every person is aware of at this very moment: the world is shifting and changing, faster and greater than ever before. As people and as humanity we are in the process of accelerated evolution, which is a fancy way of saying we’re all on a freight train speeding over a hill and where the track goes beyond that is as yet unknown. In the US, our current contest for who can convince enough people to vote for them is the most poignant proof of the conflict that typically comes with change. It is shining an unflattering spotlight on our foibles and flaws as a country and society—most obviously the often alarming push-pull between our desire to connect and our fear of getting too close to people different from ourselves.

As I watch our political season play out in all its splendor, an image keeps popping into my head. The candidates are lined up on a stage, all standing behind a podium, their mouths open but no words are being spoken. I know it’s difficult to believe, but they’re actually silent for a minute; just go with it. Each person’s arm is raised towards the darkened sky and pointing to their own individual moon. It took me a minute to figure out why this image meant something, but I remembered something I learned about an ancient teacher, originally in the appendices of the beautiful novel A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. (Find out more about her and her writing here.) I’ll explain.

Is the truth in the words?

Political candidates are constantly talking. Then people talk and write about what they say. Then they say some more and the cycle endures. With each discussion, the original meaning and energy of those words are distorted a bit more, often to support the viewpoint of whomever is now speaking. A twisted messaging telephone game.

Words are powerful, particularly in politics. A few well-timed and expertly delivered speeches can win a black man with a Muslim middle name the presidency. Twice. (The best example can be found here.) As a writer, I am hyper-aware of their usefulness and magic. Words can inspire and motivate. They can broaden perspectives and open people to new ideas. They can create change.

But they also can manipulate. They can validate fear. They can light a fire beneath underlying resentment. Words can transform a crowd wishing to connect with people who share some of their beliefs and hope for the future into a mob incited to reject and eject, literally and sometimes forcefully, those they feel threaten these beliefs. (Watch one example here.)

They are powerful, but they aren’t everything.

Over the years, the details of politics have become less and less interesting to me. I have very smart, knowledgeable, passionate friends and family who believe that politics is won and lost in the minutiae. What does the letter of the law actually mean? What can we actually put on the ground as a result? That used to light my fire. Let’s break it down into bits and determine how we can actually create change using well-crafted policies, government funding and human-generated power, and how I can get my hands in there.

As I get older, politics has become more of a personal philosophical pursuit. The actual acting on my beliefs is still important. I just don’t want to spend hours debating them, dwelling on the words and defending their meaning, and I’m not sure effective solutions are found within government and political discourse as much as I used to.

Still, as much as I’d like politics to be something separate from my time here on Earth, it isn’t. Nothing is, really. How and whether I vote, what I say about it, what I believe about certain candidates, what I believe the role of society should be in supporting those in need or those with diminished rights, how I treat my fellow human beings as a result of my beliefs, how I believe our laws should or shouldn’t support that, how I believe equality and justice should play out. It’s all tied to who I am as a person. And I am, as we all are, a person who lives, writes, thinks, believes and behaves in the world based on where I am in my own personal evolution.

Political candidates are no different from all of us in this respect. Knowing, as best we can, what their true intentions are is more important to me than what they say they will do. Many of my friends and family might call me naïve, and some of them have. Nevertheless, unlike some popular candidates (see story, including video, here), I believe that if the convictions don’t shift, if the pre-programmed mindsets don’t alter, neither will the system. Hands follow the heart. That’s how true change occurs.

If a candidate’s heart is genuine and ego reasonably managed (as much as a politician’s can be), the “doing” will come from the right motivation. They will play the long game and things that can truly and positively impact our society will materialize from the resulting policies—perhaps not immediately, but inevitably.

Herein lies the rub… Before anything can happen, we have to talk about it.

The Sixth Patriarch of Zen (Read more about him here.), who was illiterate, said looking for truth in books (e.g., words) was like seeking truth in the finger pointing to the moon. The moon is the truth, and words can only point the way. Writing is a beautiful and powerful art, but it’s a terrible way to communicate if you’re trying to do so indisputably. Speaking charismatically is a wonderful skill, but the words you choose are only a sliver of the truth. And for some, it’s only a version of someone else’s truth they wish you to believe is theirs.

As much as I love language, it is inherently flawed. Shared stories and ideas are limited, a reflection of one person’s perspective. They will be received the same way, through a filter of the other person’s experiences, memories and beliefs.

Words lined up into powerful messaging statements or in the most pleasingly logical order so our brain can comprehend them only wrap us in a comforting blanket of reality that doesn’t exist. They make solid something that is of the air. Truth is just floating out there, waiting for us to see it. Words manifesting as phrases, anecdotes, doctrines, plans, policies, speeches, books and all the rest of what we believe we need to understand things, just get in the way of us seeing and knowing it.

So, we need to look beyond the words.

Here’s what the image reminded me to consider… The intention and energy behind what someone says and writes is more important than the language. And what you see reflected back to you is just as critical. We need to look closely at both, with clear eyes.

It is crucial to know if a candidate is speaking frankly because they don’t want to waste time getting to the core truth of the matter or pretending to speak frankly to build credibility with a crowd disillusioned after decades of political doublespeak.

It makes a difference whether this straightforward rhetoric contains substance, ideas, thoughtfulness and empathy, or simply uses words they know we will identify with—probably via focus groups, political operatives and crafty polling.

It is vital that there be something other than verbiage to support these ideas, such as past or present behavior, established or appropriately rejected relationships, a sense of the person behind the image (for the many of you who trust your intuition on such things).

It is paramount that the intentions behind the words and the actions to follow be positive and not only motivated by ego, fear or desire for power.

With every speech, debate, rally, interview and opinion piece, we need to understand that a candidate’s words are pointing to something, but the finger is only a finger. The moon is what we should be looking at, and which one we choose is up to us.

It is a reflection of us.

Who you trust and how you vote is up to you.

It is a reflection of you.

Make sure you aren’t following the finger that simply sounds the most familiar or rousing.

And make sure you can live with the person standing beneath it.

om

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Happy Holidays: A Ho Ho Ho Meditation

hooooooThe hustle and bustle leave my mind and body as I sink into this chair, reserved for this time and this way. My heart opens. It knows what it needs to do.

I take in a deep breath of pine, cinnamon and family. I breathe out obligations, worry and shipping charges. I close my eyes and let the energy run.

Today I welcome abundant Santa, warm menorah candles and the unconditional love of a boy born in a manger. I choose the sparkly silver that fills the car as my son and I sing about cows and sleigh rides on the drive to school. I free the jaggedy chartreuse of world events and bizarre violence becoming too frequent to be shocking.

Seeing where it came from is worthy. Playing a role in where we’re headed is imperative. But right now is nothing more than space. And the space I occupy is loosely wrapped in tinsel.

Today my heart is bright red and green and tinged with laughter. My holiday table is overflowing with love and abundance. There is plenty to share. It flows out peacefully, covering the earth. It soaks through the dense cities and rolling countrysides, through fault lines and tree lines, all the way to the fire in the belly. It rises up and out in a jubilant rush that fills every molecule, every dark place, every light place and all the spaces in between, and it doesn’t stop until it gently touches the edges of the universe.

One last deep breath. Eyes open. A long, slow stretch. A smile. A soft jingle of a bell.

Happy holidays, world.

om

A Meditation for Peace

worldI can feel it already. That familiar spot in that quiet place. Peace is less normal in our world these days, but this time, this space, this chair doesn’t know that. My weight drops into it. Blessed relief.

Take in a deep breath of silence. No news, no chatter, no pictures that aren’t of my own making. Only truth. Breathe out whatever else there is. Close my eyes and let the energy run.

Today, welcome the perfection of the present moment, the confidence of your knowingness, the pure intention of your nature, the wisdom of your soul. Cry for humanity’s hubris and foibles, and celebrate its terrible beauty.

My heart is filled with love and a desire to ease suffering. It is overflowing. There is plenty to share. It flows out, covering the earth, sating the hearts of all those in pain. It soaks through the dense cities and rolling countrysides, through fault lines and tree lines, all the way to the fire in the belly. It rises up and out in a jubilant rush that fills every molecule, every dark place, every light place and all the places in between, and it doesn’t stop until it gently touches the edges of the universe.

Love is a tether to the limitless. It is the limitless. In truth, it is all there is. Just keep saying it, I hear. Live it. Be it. It will, eventually, become humanity’s truth.

One last deep breath. Eyes open. A long, slow stretch.

Much love to you all.

om

Call for comments: Are we too reliant on technology?

cellphonesIt’s in vogue these days to be critical of most people’s frequent use of and strong reliance on smart phones. Even in the broadest sense, it’s a hot topic. The careful balance of power between modern technology/science, human interaction and intention, and traditional (even ancient) beliefs in our modern society comes up more and more frequently in the media and among those in my circle.

The Huffington Post recently published a column by Hector L. Carral that went viral, called Stop Saying Technology Is Causing Social Isolation. I posted it on Facebook along with my story below and asked for comments. As expected, people had things to say. So, I’m posting the link to the article here, and after that you can read my little personal story below if you like. Please feel free to comment or send me your thoughts. Happy typing!

A few years ago, after just moving to Seattle, I took my then-two-year-old son to the beach for some fresh air and a break from the temporary housing. While there, I received an important and potentially volatile email from a client requiring an immediate response. I sat in the sand, typing on my device periodically while also responding to my son when he needed me, as I crafted my reply.

A fellow toddler, his mother and his grandmother wandered over and started playing with Henry. I politely said hello and returned to my task. They played with him for a while and I took little breaks to interact a bit and make sure my son was okay. But really I just wanted a minute to finish my email so I could focus on him. They stayed for a little, completely distracted by the fact that I was typing away, then walked away in a huff, judging me in full voice for finding “texting with my friends more important than playing with my son” and other ways my rudeness illustrated the technology-driven downfall of humanity. Once they left I was able to finish the email quickly and then focus entirely on H for another hour or two of peaceful midday beach play time.

Modern technology offered me the opportunity to diffuse a touchy professional situation (immediately) for a few minutes while sitting in the sand with my son on a lovely day. Once done, I was free to fully engage for as long as I wanted and needed to. It helped both my son and me have a more pleasant day and I accomplished two critical things at the same time. Without knowing the full context of what was going on (since I didn’t want to take the time to divulge it to strangers) the people around me assumed I was being a selfish slave to my phone.

It’s all about perspective and intention. We use the tools and technology we have to accomplish what is important to us–now much more quickly and conveniently than we used to. It’s up to us to decide what we do with that power.

Thoughts? And before you come to my defense saying these people were just judgmental thingamobobs, etc., know they are not alone in their attitude. Society is already judging me, you or anyone they deem too attached to their technology. It’s not about my little story. My son and I are fine. It’s about the larger themes it illustrates. Thanks for reading!

om

Using technology to connect to ourselves

Laptop on stumpTechnology is not the devil. There, I said it. Whew.

What a relief to admit that I don’t believe that email, the Internet, smart phones, Bluetooths, social media, YouTube, online news, television, radio, podcasts, blogs and vlogs portend the end of civilization. That they are so interwoven into our daily lives does reveal that civilization is changing extremely and quickly. So, perhaps it reveals the end of civilization as we know it and that we are smack in the middle of a massive paradigm shift most of us feel in our very cells…but not the demise of all.

Perhaps what makes us feel sometimes like the end of the world is nigh is that we are still struggling with the balance between embracing the new—innovations that help us connect, evolve and expand—and continuing to use and learn from the old—indigenous cultures, nature’s wisdom, naturopathic medicine, long form storytelling, human contact, the art of conversation and, most importantly, the spiritual connection and self-awareness that brings profound healing.

I believe it’s possible, and vital, to embrace both. (And, between you and me, this is the major theme of a novel currently in the works.) So, nothing thrills me more than when I discover a “new” use of technology that serves as a bridge to one of the less concrete qualities of the “old.”

I believe that’s its truest and highest purpose.

Reply All is a podcast about the Internet produced by Gimlet and hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. It tells poignant, weird and funny stories about how people use and react to the Internet. It produced its eighth episode in January, but as I’ve just discovered these 15- to 25-minute audio nuggets I just listened to this one about Paul Ford. He is a writer and programmer who creates Web sites to address most of his life issues, including a site to remind him of things decades away and a weight loss site only he and his therapist have access to where he records his daily calorie counts.

Healing through technology innovation, and a little humor

Paul also struggles with paralyzing anxiety. As he describes on the podcast, he constantly hears that niggling, negative voice in his head telling him he’s weird and bad and in danger, no matter what is really going on. His reaction, create anxietybox.com.

Here’s how it works. The site—or, more accurately, the bot inside the site—essentially outsources his anxiety’s voice. He can add as many anxieties as he likes and his email address, and the site sends him messages from his anxieties.

The horrible, negative things he used to hear in his head—e.g., “History will forget you because history forgets people who are unable to finish anything.” Or, my favorite, “People on Facebook look at your picture and think ‘in possession of a weird nose.’”—are sent to him throughout the day. They’re funny, but ruthless.

As I listened to the examples Paul read, I cringed. The host was similarly skeptical. Why would anyone subject themselves to these negative reinforcements? How could that possibly help? He was losing me fast.

But then Paul described his reaction, and I changed my mind completely.

Because he externalized his anxiety’s voice, he was able to look at it. Laugh at it. Even reply. He could see it for exactly what it was: his mind and ego, trapped in a cycle of anxiety and self doubt, intelligently crafting ways to make his true self feel badly.

Once he saw it, everything shifted. He understood the pattern of suffering and its source, and he was able to put it all into a broader perspective that helped him minimize its effect.

In Paul’s words: “It’s so ridiculous to scream at yourself all day long… Seeing it actually externalized as 20 messages in a Gmail inbox, it was so much like what my brain was producing. It was like, oh my god, I’ve been wasting so much time with this son of a bitch.”

Because of this simple technology, created by him, he was able to see the anxiety as something separate from his true self, soften it and eventually stop having anxiety attacks altogether.

He reminded me of a critical but tough lesson: awareness brings healing, and eventually peace. Once we are willing to acknowledge and truly see something or someone for what it is or who they are, their power over us diminishes. In the light of our gaze, it can only be exactly what it is. With the clarity of truth, we see ourselves for the perfectly flawed and mighty beings we are.

Truly looking at the things or people in our lives that we have created unhealthy patterns around is difficult. But once the truth has been seen, it can’t be unseen.

Anxietybox.com. Genius. Counterintuitive at first glance. But truly moving in its simplicity. Paul intuitively used what he knew—technology—to build a bridge to what he needed. This time it connected it to himself.

It doesn’t get more old school than that.

om

To find out more about Reply All, go here. To find out more about anxietybox.com, go here. To subscribe to updates on Rebecca’s upcoming memoir, Laugh at the Sky, Kid, go here. To find out more about her writing and coaching services, go here.

A Meditation for Dealing with the Crazy

swirlImages and thoughts surround me, circling around and within. But I can feel it already. That familiar spot in that quiet space. They all slow down, waiting to see if I will set them free.

My heart opens. I see the world and so many of its inhabitants continuing to spin, too fast to be able to see anything but a blur. We are distracted by comb-overs, county clerks, rivers of refugees and hashtag movements. We are overcome by life. But our hearts know it is only a dream. My mind tries to recreate memories, pictures and lingering pain—my own and others’—but I remember: my center is always calm, always open, always connected, always available.

I take in a deep breath of joy. For being alive in this tumultuous, confounding time. For knowing my place in the shift. I breathe out confusion, fear and the judgment that can only come from feeling separate. I close my eyes and let the energy run.

Today I welcome the silliness of a playground, the warmth of a bowl of homemade food, the laughter that comes when someone truly sees you and still wants to be with you. I welcome the ability to watch closely, speak carefully and create change without revisiting the anger.

Simplicity is healing. This moment is all there is. Connection is real. Love is the truth.

Today my heart is filled with a desire to help and heal, to slow the merry-go-round long enough for everyone to just be. It is overflowing. There is plenty to share. It pours out resolutely, covering the earth. It soaks through the dense cities and rolling countrysides, through fault lines and tree lines, all the way to the fire in the belly. It rises up and out in a jubilant rush that fills every molecule, every dark place, every light place and all the places in between, and it doesn’t stop until it gently touches the edges of the universe.

My mind opens, and all that churns within is released. It rises to the sun, explodes in fireworks of transformation and rains pure gold upon us all.

One last deep breath. Eyes open. A long, slow stretch. A smile of relief.

I wish you peace, world.

om

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing and services, visit laughattheskykid.com and rebeccagifford.com.

5 Ways to Avoid Being Misled, Deceived or Otherwise Hoodwinked

overprotected2We’ve all been there. You discover a secret, a deception, a falsification of fact or identity. It could be relatively innocent, perhaps finding out a friend lied about being busy to avoid a social occasion and didn’t want to hurt your feelings or your bachelor neighbor fibs about being divorced.

But sometimes it’s a whopper—a web of lies carefully spun and expertly crafted over the years with a deft hand, using the unique combination of words she knew you wouldn’t be able to doubt.

Once the truth is out, you and your ego feel hurt, angry, naïve, vulnerable, and—even though my son would call me out for saying this forbidden word—stupid. You begin to wonder if “they” make seeing eye dogs when your third eye is on the fritz. Are there spirit guides who hover next to your head and tug on your left earlobe when someone isn’t truthful? Two tugs when it’s a big one worth challenging.

I suppose you can get one if you like. I heard they might be available for a limited time on the astral plane, or craigslist. But, if you follow the below airtight tips, you won’t need one. There are things you can do that are (nearly) guaranteed to help you avoid the catastrophe and interminable burn of human betrayal.

Protect yourself. Build those firewalls carefully, people. Make them strong using concrete, cynicism, mistrust and doubts about the human spirit. Without impenetrable barriers, defensive weaponry and other forms of protection, who knows what kind of lies or energy or magic can creep into your space and taint everything, maim your dog and ruin Christmas. If you can’t fire at will upon what may or may not be out there with your worst interests at heart, what is the use of trying at all? And keep all your passwords in a safe place.

Keep quiet. Never share your thoughts, your truth or your real feelings. Openness only reveals you to be weak and vulnerable to attack. When asked nosy questions like “What would you like?” or “How are you?” change the subject, accidentally topple the interrogator’s drink or, better yet, distract them by pointing out a squirrel on a tree and run away. Best to evade any attempted intimacy or follow-up questions.

Avoid human interaction, relationships and all forms of social media. Repeat after me: Connection is bad. Knowledge is worse. We were meant to be distant. Communication should be difficult and slow. Relationships are supposed to be hard. These days we’re all way too close to each other. All this interconnectedness just gets us in trouble, and frequency of interaction—in-person, soul to soul or digital—only gives everyone more opportunity to share stories and spread falsehoods.

Don’t try to understand. It only opens the door to empathy. And empathy, my friend, is not your friend. Questions only lead to more information and more connection, both of which I’ve already explained are an enemy of any committed Deception Dodger. If you look for the pain, doubt or isolation that led to the lies, what’s to keep you from feeling these yourself? What’s to keep you from becoming a liar? You’ve never lied before, and you’ve surely never felt any pain that would induce you to mislead. So why start now? Best to allow them to wallow in their guilt and what surely is an uncomplicated existence focusing on only two things: a) deceiving you and 2) hurting you. Just leave them to it.

Never, ever love. Even if you don’t take any of these other tips to heart, please heed this one. To be a true friend, partner or family member—to truly love—is the most vulnerable and hopeful thing you can do. So, of course, it’s absolutely forbidden if you want to avoid being betrayed by your fellow human beings. And with our inherently flawed nature, how could any of us deserve it? It wouldn’t make any difference if we chose to offer love to someone who feels like they must lie to survive, or questions themselves so much they’re not sure what truth is anymore, or is caught in a cycle of addiction, programming, disease or imbalance that makes reality unbearable. To do that would validate them, acknowledge what they’ve done and why, or perhaps even help them. Worst-case scenario: you might forgive them.

And finally… We live in a universe where we have free will but our shared consciousness, our collective journey as both humans and souls, our beautifully complicated web of lives and identities, means we are all in this together. When one tether of the web shakes or falters, we all do. Some of us are closer to the shaky ones than others and more profoundly feel their imbalance, often manifested as deception inadvertently directed at us.

There are lots of ways to handle it once it happens. Or you could simply follow the easy steps I’ve outlined above. Your choice.

om

To find out more about Rebecca’s writing and coaching services, visit rebeccagifford.com. To get updates on the publication of her memoir, visit laughattheskykid.com. Thanks for reading!