Friday, July 30, 2010

Traveling lightly . . .

. . . is not necessarily something I do well. Oh, I'm fairly good at calculating the right number of socks, shirts and shoes. I can get pretty much everything I need into one small suitcase. On the other hand, there are the ancillary things: cell phone & computer (and their requisite power cords), books, writing/journaling stuff, etc. So now it's TWO bags, and maybe that's still not so bad. (Traveling as part of a family -- with kids -- changes the equation substantially, but I'm focusing on MY travel!)

But my nature is to plan, plan, plan. I don't want to arrive in some town, after a long day's drive/flight, and find a "No Vacancy" sign. I want things well-arranged. I want to know that I have a comfortable bed. And, with kids, I want to know that there's a pool (preferably indoor), where cooped-up energy can be expended before bed. So I spend a lot of time on-line, researching hotels and their amenities. How FRUSTRATING to get to the arranged hotel and find the pool down for maintenance!

This is, of course, a metaphor for life. Tightly planned arrangements are subject to unexpected modifications. For some of us this is not a problem: unexpected modifications are opportunities! For others of us (um . . . me), these modifications are irksome. And, of course, lugging all of my baggage up and down stairs (when there's no elevator) simply reminds me of how much stuff complicates my travels.

I've been on vacation the last week. We've driven from Denver, CO to Davis, CA (hotels well-planned in advance!). Along the way we've been reminded of the Conestoga wagons and those early cross-country pioneers. Families of four or more, with ALL of their belongings, and hopes, in a conveyance not much larger than the back of my Subaru wagon. The unexpected was the norm for them. And most of them made it to a land of new possibilities. The world they'd left was only accessible by memory and very slow (if it worked at all) postal service.

I carry a lot of baggage, literal and metaphorical, when I travel--even on vacation. It's very hard for me to let it go; somehow my identity is bound up in what I have and what I do. What might happen if I let it go? What might I experience? Would I lose myself? Or might I gain something more significant? I'm reminded of Jesus' words: "For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?" (Mark 8.36).

I look at the rugged landscape of Dinosaur National Monument, the vast expanse of the Bonneville Salt Flats, or the deserted countryside of central Nevada -- empty, but not empty. Vacant, but not. Beautiful, absent my baggage.

I should travel less encumbered more often.



Friday, July 16, 2010

Say "No" to the culture of negativity

that seems to characterize us! I'm currently at a conference where I was presented with the following: psychologist Martin Seligman reviewed the history of American Psychological Association research abstracts from 1967 - 2000. The subjects of the research broke down:

  • 4484—Anger
  • 44,416—Anxiety
  • 54,040—Depression
  • 415—Joy
  • 1710—Happiness
  • 2582—Life Satisfaction
That's a ratio of 21:1, negative to positive life situations/emotions. 21 to 1! The conference presenters asserted as well that our language presents a similar lean-to-the-negative.

So, where does this come from? Is it some remnant of a fear-based culture where, if we don't keep from offending the gods, we'll be thrown into a volcano? And isn't it counter-productive, this focus on the negative? I remember learning, as a graduate student, that medieval "Penitentials" (the manuals priests would use to assign appropriate penances to sinners) were often more suggestive to the penitent: 'Well, my child, have you done XXX?" "No, Father" . . . (but that sure sounds like fun!).

I'm not saying we don't need laws. Most of us recognize that we need laws to help keep people from doing bad, or anti-social, things (so what was with those early Israelites that they were NOT honoring their father and mother?). But if our culture/society is so negatively-based, aren't we creating a negative atmosphere? Perpetuating a culture of fear? Which creates a "hunker-down" mentality.

It's a challenge. I try to keep this idea before me (I've thought about this for some time -- the statistics just made it more urgent): "Can I express my ideas with positive language, rather than negative?" It's not easy!! We seem to be conditioned to be negative. But, if we focus on the positive, we're more likely to get what we want. Working towards something is easier (and more satisfying) than refraining from something.

Try it for a while-couching things in the positive, and let me know how it goes!



Friday, July 2, 2010

Intentional Industrial Interbeing

I often give myself a little "attention task of the day". Sometimes it's something like being especially attentive to feelings that may be behind someone's words. It may be going for a walk and watching for bugs. It could be watching clouds and figuring out what they look like. I find that these kinds of "attention tasks" get me out of my rational, logical focus. They are a change of pace; they force me to look differently.

Yesterday, I knew I was going to spend some time on the light-rail. So I set, as my "attention-task" to look out the window and see if I could discern the presence of the Divine. Now I've done this before -- but not from a light-rail seat. Usually its on a walk in nature, and I can hear birds singing, and see flowers, and feel the wind rush. Perfect for "watching for God."

The section of light-rail, however, that I was traveling was anything but scenic. (For those of you Denverites, it was the stretch on the southwest line from Littleton to Denver, pretty much along Santa Fe Drive.) On either side of the light-rail are rail-road tracks, busy street, light industry, junk-yards, apartment buildings, some office building, broken-down houses, etc. In short, a pretty urban landscape. And I began to wonder WHY in the world I had set THAT particular "attention task".

But, being a task-oriented guy, I decided to stick it out. And what began to occur to me was the vast mixture of things I was seeing . . . all of which, in some way or another, contributed to the life of the city -- to my life. There was a dairy (not the one pictured above!), with delivery trucks: milk to my home. There was a construction yard, with equipment to repair roads, FOR the delivery trucks to get the milk to my home. There were sign companies, advertising the dairy, accounting firms to keep their books. Almost everything I saw could be interlinked with something else, a vast web of enterprise that most of us don't see at all. And some of it came down to ME.

And I was reminded of the concept of "inter-being" about which Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has written so much. Briefly, the concept goes, if I examine anything closely enough, I'll see that eventually the whole world--including me-- is contained in it. And, for someone who confesses that there is a God, I would have to take the concept a bit further and say that God ultimately is present too, in whatever I'm examining. So, in that interconnected web of industry, humans were being served in many different ways-often quite unaware of it all.

I got out of the light-rail car breathing a prayer of thanksgiving.