Here’s Your Sign

There is a certain comedian who came up with the catchphrase “Here’s your sign.”  He was pretty funny, actually. However, there is a not so funny application of that phrase.

We live in interesting times. It is true that people have thought that since the beginning of civilization. However, we are now more interconnected and informed about current events than ever before. What I see when I look at current events is the classic struggle between good and evil—or as I like to characterize it: compassion and selfishness.

Of course, the most glaring current example of this is the war between Russia and Ukraine. It has been dubbed “Putin’s war” for good reason. He has long been enamored with the idea of rebuilding the Russian empire and its latest incarnation, the Soviet Union. Toward that end he has manipulated the situation and lied to his people to gain their support for this endeavor. In fact, since his ascension to power he has shown himself to be a typical dictator in the model of Stalin—imprisoning and murdering his political opponents; and without the pesky communist notions of collective ownership, has used his ruthless tactics to (probably) become the richest man in the world.

 Zelensky, on the other hand, was elected as the “anti-corruption” candidate and has shown himself to be a person of integrity and bravery.

It is difficult to watch the images we see every day of the devastation and suffering the Russian attack is causing in Ukraine and not be moved. Compassion means “suffering with”. I can’t watch these images and not get a pain in my gut. This is why we see so many efforts across the world to help. All compassionate people hope for an end to hostilities and pray that the rest of the world doesn’t get sucked into a devastating war.

So—Here’s your sign: When you look deep into your soul do you stand with the lying bully Putin, or with his victims—the valiant people of Ukraine?  And, having made that determination, do you generalize that decision to other lying bullies? Or, to put it a different way: Do you live your life with the notion that all people have the right life liberty and the pursuit of happiness; or do you prefer the selfish life—lying and cheating your way to get what you want?

I’ll give you a hint. A long time ago a very wise man suggested we should all live our life based on the bedrock of truth and reality—and compassion. The decision-making process you use here also applies to every other area of life–for example, how you treat your neighbor, your family, people that are somehow different than you and even (maybe especially) what political candidate you vote for. Is that person a lying, manipulating bully or a person of integrity and compassion?

I don’t care what your religious beliefs are. But I can tell you that ALL bullies like Putin eventually fall. They eventually fall because their “empire” is not based on reality; just on raw, temporary power. Martin Luther King said, “The arc of history is long, but bends toward justice.” I choose to believe he was right.

Motive?

I’m sure we have all heard about the latest mass shooting. I’m equally sure that most of us are sick of it but don’t know what to do about it. I don’t have all the answers either; but I do know one thing. This morning I heard police are looking for a motive. This is what I know: there isn’t one.

Is the perp mentally ill? Absolutely! Does that mean we should all be afraid of people with mental illness? Absolutely not! Here’s the deal about mental illness: most people experience it at one time or another. Have you ever had the flu? Probably. If you are reading this, you survived it. However, every year 30,000 or so people don’t. Similarly, the vast majority have experienced symptoms of mental illness, even if it is “only” anxiety and/or depression. Most are able to get back on track. Many suffer in silence; thinking that to name it is to give it power when the opposite is true. These people generally live lives that are less fulfilling than they could be. Those symptoms are trying to tell you something. You should listen to them. The answers to these issues are simple: 1. Get rid of the stigma of mental illness. People with mental illness are people like everyone else—not less than. They can and do recover. 2. Spend more money on mental health. People working on the front lines in the battle against mental illness are among the lowest paid, and unfortunately often you get what you pay for. I can hear the opposition now: “You liberals always think the answer to any problem is to throw money at it.” That may have some truth in it, but I know that a society that values professional athletics more than the safety, health and happiness of individuals will have lots of taxpayer funded fancy stadiums and lots of people with mental illness—some of whom will pick up a gun and shoot people.

If you have a society where violence is often condoned and accepted as a viable solution to problems, you will have a small percentage of people with mental illness who will pick up a gun and shoot people. If we want to stop mass shootings each of us needs to examine our attitude toward violence. There is a lot of violence subtlety interwoven into our language.

Getting back to my contention that there was no motive in the latest mass murder: At any given time in this country there is a small minority of people who, because of their mental illness, entertain fantasies of killing people they don’t know because they think it’s cool. In a society that sends mixed messages about violence this is inevitable. When those people have easy access to military style assault rifles it is inevitable that from time to time one of them is going to carry out this fantasy.

So, if you want to stop these tragedies do these things: 1. Put more resources into mental health. 2. We must each look at our own attitude toward violence. 3. Make it less easy for people to get assault rifles. In 1776 it was not possible to go to a crowded place and shoot ten people because you had to reload after each shot. Modernize the Second Amendment.

Reality Wins

I have been thinking lately about my relationship to reality. Maybe I have been spending too much time by myself. Anyway, this is my conclusion: I am way happier if I pay attention to and accept reality regardless of how it fits in with my wants or needs.

Say I hear a funny noise from my car. I know it probably means something is going bad, but I don’t want to think about it because I fear it will cost money I don’t have. So, I drive it until it breaks. Now I have a bigger problem.

Or: I used to know a guy who was having chest pains for a while, but he didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to worry his family; and didn’t go to the doctor because he was afraid of what the doctor would say. We know this because he told us after his first heart attack. His second one killed him.

My personal favorite: The world seems to be full of people calling me or emailing me trying to pull some scam or other. Either they want money or my personal information. So, here’s a few pieces of reality: Social Security does not call people. Medicare is a program administered by the Social Security Administration, not an organization that calls people. There is no person living or dead in the US or any other country that is going to give me millions of dollars if only I forward my banking information. I am sick of people lying to me to get something.

One group of people notorious for lying to get something is politicians. This group is so notorious for lying to get people’s vote that many people don’t vote. They think it doesn’t matter because they are all crooks anyway. That notion is not based on reality. I believe there are many people in politics who sincerely want to help people. Just as there are many who only want the power and money that goes with it.

How do you tell the difference? If someone tells you what you want to hear just to get your vote, chances are they are lying to you. If someone tells you about a problem we all have, even if you don’t like it, then talks about possible solutions—even if you don’t like the solutions; they are probably telling the truth. I find I am happier if I vote for the truth tellers.

A good example of what happens when you elect liars is what happened on January 6. The Liar-in-Chief told all his followers the election was stolen, in spite of the fact that there was absolutely no evidence to support that notion. Then he invited his supporters to Washington, told them to fight like hell and to march on the Capitol “stop the steal”. People died because of a lie. We almost lost our democracy because of a lie.

Sometimes I get worried that the liars and bullies are going to win and make life for the rest of us miserable. Then I remember one irrefutable truth: Reality always wins in the end. If you step off a cliff, you will fall—no matter how much you wish you could fly. So, listen to what people say with a critical ear, check what they say against what you know to be true. Don’t give money or personal information to people who call out of the blue. Don’t jump off a cliff even if you want to fly (planes still work just fine). And don’t vote for liars—but do vote. If you don’t vote for the other guy, the liars will win and muck things up for the rest of us. That’s just the plain reality of things.

Ticks

So, the other day I found a tick on one of my dogs—a tick in the middle of January. I have lived in Minnesota all my life and found plenty of ticks, but only in the warm months—never in January. But it got me thinking.

I hate ticks. When I was a kid there were plenty of wood ticks. Sometimes just talking about them was enough to make you feel like they were crawling all over you; searching for a tender spot to latch on and suck your blood. As if that wasn’t enough, then along came deer ticks—just as creepy but can also give you a potentially fatal disease.

However, by far the worst tick in my experience is the poli-tick. You know; those people creeping around in the political system, sucking the metaphorical blood from this nation—possibly giving the democratic system we all enjoy a fatal disease.

I’m not saying all politicians are bad. There are plenty of people in public office working hard for the public good. However, there are also plenty of the other kind. You know these people—seeking public office so their bank accounts and egos can become bloated just like a tick’s body.

One of the side-effects of this is this: many people think all politicians are crooked; so, they don’t vote. I find this particularly disturbing because voting these people out is one of the few defenses we have against the poli-ticks. For example, in this last election the enough people had had enough of Donald Trump, so they voted him out. No matter how you feel about it, Biden is in and Trump is out.

I guess the moral here is this: Learn to recognize the poli-ticks and vote for the other person. Your children will thank you when it is their time to vote.

Armed Protest

I heard some disturbing, though not surprising news today. Apparently, the same people who brought you last weeks treasonous attack on Congress are planning similar attacks next week on Inauguration Day in every state; and I assume Washington.

They are calling for “armed protests”. Let me be clear: If you are carrying a gun to a “protest” it is not a protest. It is an insurrection, a rebellion, treason. If you look back in history, you will see that such violent action invariably precede take-over by a dictator.  For example, Hitler, Mussolini, and many other such vermin. Take this seriously. These people want a civil war. They have been preparing for years and see this as their chance—just as Trump sees this as his chance to be president for life.

Again, let me be clear: not all Americans believe in the promise of equal rights and freedom in the Constitution. Lying about the reality of things is but one of the sins they are willing to commit to get what they want. Democracy does not flow from the barrel of a gun.

I have a few suggestions. If you voted for Trump, please do some serious thinking before you participate in any protest. The possibility for a bloodbath is very real. Is that what you want? If you did not vote for trump, stay home. We have people who have sworn an oath to protect the constitution, like the National Guard and FBI, as well as the various state governments and police agencies. Let them do their jobs.

These people are trying to start a civil war. Think about what that means. We still haven’t recovered fully from the last one. If they succeed in starting a civil war hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people will be killed. In the last civil war families found themselves on both sides. Think about what it will be like when crazy Uncle Fred brings a gun to Thanksgiving dinner. Think it couldn’t happen here? I can name several places in recent history where neighbor rose against neighbor and killed them. For example: Rwanda. Crazy talk turned to crazy action. If you think a pandemic is hard on the economy, wait until you see what a civil war does.

In closing I want to say: This is a time for Wise-Mind. Wise-Mind is the concept from mindfulness practice that acknowledges your emotions but tempers your actions with reason. So, be wise, be safe and maybe as a nation we can walk the narrow path to recovery.

Objective Truth

One thing I think we all can agree on is that this country is very divided right now.  While there are fundamental differences in how each side views reality, both sides are sure they are right. I think it would be helpful to find a way to establish an objective truth.

One such tool that has been used with some success is the truth and reconciliation commission. The idea here is to have a bipartisan—or even better, apolitical—organization set up to establish what the objective truth is about the many issues that divide us.  If they do it right, there will be some discomfort on both sides. But let me be clear on one thing: there must be an even number from both sides that most people on the respective sides trust. Then they must relentlessly pursue truth.

The idea is not to punish, but to establish a consensus on what the truth is.

At this point I want to be clear:  Storming the United States Congress with the intent of stopping them from conducting their constitutionally mandated duty is an attack on the very heart of our democracy. It is illegal and those involved must face justice. When I say justice, I mean when actual evidence supports the assertion that someone committed a crime, they should be prosecuted, convicted, and punished as the law prescribes.

One truth I would like to find is what about Donald Trump that makes people so blindly supportive? On a more basic level: What do Trump supporters want that they think he will get for them? What does he promise that makes people willing to attack Congress? I know he promised to make America great again.

But what make America great? I will share what I believe to be true. The thing that makes America great is a constitution that guarantees individual rights including the right to vote with the expectation that your vote will be counted the same as everyone else’s. We are a nation ruled by law and not individuals. By the way, all the evidence I have seen supports the idea that this last election was the cleanest ever.

Remember that Trump claimed there was widespread voter fraud in the election he won in 2016. He even set up a commission to investigate. They found nothing. Look it up.

In closing I would like to suggest you view your “opponents” with curiosity and compassion, and hope they do the same for you. Perhaps then we can establish a consensus on what the objective truth is.

Rock-Bottom

Anyone who knows me or has followed my blog knows that I have long studied and promoted recovery—both in my own recovery and as a professional working with others. One thing I know for sure is that no one changes until they think they absolutely have to—until they hit rock-bottom. I also have observed that rock-bottom is not only different for everyone, but rock bottom is wherever the individual says it is. It is when the person says, “If I keep doing what I am doing something I really, really don’t want is going to happen.”

In previous posts I have drawn an analogy between personal recovery from addiction or mental illness and collective recovery, such as a nation pulling back from the brink of civil war—or recovering from a civil war. I don’t think it is a stretch for me to say that America is deeply troubled right now and is in need of some recovery work. The only question right now is: have we hit rock-bottom? It is up to us individually to decide when to start the hard work of recovery.

I am hoping that when a violent mob, instigated and directed by the President, his son and attorney; storms the Capitol building to stop official certification of an election he lost—is rock-bottom. Clearly, we need to change. Change will come. The only question is: when will we decide to do the hard work of recovery? Where is our rock-bottom?

If we decide to start the hard work of recovery, where do we start? We have to accept some hard truths. For example: Donald Trump lost the election fair and square. Joe Biden will be the next president. Accept it. The millions of people who did not vote for Trump the first time had to accept that he won. We did not like it, but we did not try to violently change the results of that election.

On the flip side, those of us who voted democratic must accept that those on the other side are most likely decent people who love their country as much as we do. The next time you are in a public place where there are other people, like a grocery store, look around. Almost half of those people voted for Trump. They are our friends, neighbors, and families. I urge you to set your judgmental thoughts aside and accept the truth of it. You are not going to change their minds by telling them how wrong they are. If that approach worked, there would be no alcoholics in the world.

Full recovery for a nation—like an individual—will take a long time. For now, lets start by accepting those difficult truths. Let us remember we are a nation of laws. Let us remember that we are all Americans. And finally, let us remember that CHANGE IS GOING TO HAPPEN WHETHER WE LIKE IT OR NOT. We have the power to direct that change if we as individuals decide to do the hard work of recovery. Let us declare as a nation that we have hit our rock-bottom

A Few Thoughts About Racism

There is a lot of talk about race these days—and rightfully so. It seems that change is needed—a recovery of sorts. What I mean by recovery is the thoughtful application of the principles of change to a dysfunctional situation to arrive at a more functional one. In an individual the disfunction might be physical or mental illness, an addiction or even financial distress. While broad change across society may be more complex, it really boils down to individuals looking at themselves and changing dysfunctional attitudes.

I will use myself as an example. Like many people, I was taught by my parents that all people are created equal. However, I can remember my father expounding on the large number of black athletes in professional sports. Though this was a decidedly racist notion, Dad would have been deeply offended if anyone called him racist.  Furthermore, I can remember using the “N” word when referencing African Americans, though without derogatory intent. Of course, there were jokes about people of all races which were funny primarily because they played on racial stereotypes. Though we didn’t think of these as derogatory, they really were. Mostly, we were good people; just uninformed.

I grew up in rural Minnesota where there were very few African Americans—none in my hometown. I rarely thought about it, but when I did, I considered myself to be non-racist. Then one fine day I found myself walking down the street in Minneapolis and saw some black kids playing in an alley. As I walked past, I realized I was scared of them. I fought the urge to walk faster and started wondering why. Was it the stereotypes from the jokes or TV and movies—that black people are violent and dangerous? Maybe. Was it because there were several of them and only one of me? Maybe that was part of it too.

The point here is that most of us have at one time or another held racist notions—not because we are bad people, but because we hadn’t looked at those thoughts close enough to see what they really are. I believe that the way to move forward with easing the racial tensions is for people to talk about things the way they really are. We are all human beings who have been taught bogus things. The only way I see to change that is to examine those bogus things and let them go. This is how recovery works. Recovery is about change—about letting go of false beliefs and replacing them with acceptance of reality.

The reality is that we are all equal under God and under the law. The reality is that our society has always had a racial bias and that needs to change. If you want to change a society, you have to change the individuals in that society.

If, like many people, you have extra time on your hands, perhaps you could take some time to look inside and see if you, like me, have some old ideas that need to be let go.

Keeping Busy

Last Spring the world held its collective breath while we all waited and hoped for the COVID 19 pandemic to run its course so we could get back to normal. However, you can only hold your breath so long before you have to get back to it; and the virus proved more persistent than we hoped. So, here we are trying to keep going while trying to stay safe. Meanwhile, there are other issues clamoring for our attention: The economy, civil unrest, election year BS, and a host of other issues. All this can have a negative effect on a person’s mental health.

I have found mindfulness practices and principles to be extremely helpful in keeping my poor, besieged brain from spinning out of control. In particular, regular deep relaxation meditation helps keep things in perspective. However, I have also found that using Skillful Means to ferret out the truth of a situation helpful in that the reality is often less scary than a lot of the misinformation out there.

Another thing I have found helpful is keeping busy. Since I live on a small farm, I have many things to keep me busy during the Spring and Summer. However, I now have some time on my hands, so I am returning to another thing that helps my mental health—regular blogging. It helps keep me centered.

I will expand on the above topics in future posts. For now, I’ll just mention that my fantasy trilogy, The Rebecca Pendragon Trilogy will be free all Labor Day weekend.

Random Thoughts About Corona Virus

We’re all pretty sick of hearing about the Corona Virus I’m sure. I know I am. So, I thought I’d share some of the random thoughts I have been having on this topic.

First and foremost: Don’t panic. Use your wise mind. Regardless of where you stand philosophically, a pandemic is something where science rules. Virus don’t care if you believe in it or not. The only way we can reduce the impact on us individually and as a society is to apply the scientific method and use that knowledge to fight it. By the way, the same thing is true of other phenomena involving the natural world like climate change.

Political aside: The Trumpster originally tried to tell us the virus was a hoax. He has since changed his tune. It would be nice if he would have a similar epiphany regarding climate change. When in doubt, go with science.

Lots of people are getting the cabin fever, so if it helps any I have set my fantasy The Rebecca Pendragon Trilogy to be free on Amazon for the next couple of days. Check it out. Some people like it.

What’s the deal with the toilet paper shortage? People are not using more of it. I know when I looked for it one day last week the shelves were empty. So, since there isn’t really a shortage, there must be people in my local community with closets full. I have only one thing to say to those people: Shame on you! Good job putting your panicked wants supersede other people’s needs. Use your wise mind.

I have been gratified, however, to see the good in many people rising to the surface. This often happens in times of trouble. I choose to believe this is because most people are good. Let’s try to remember that after this crisis is over.

Also, it occurs to me that learning mindfulness practices might be helpful to people staying home because of the virus. Though I can’t make it free at this time, my book The Mindful Lifestyle is a good way to learn about mindfulness.

One final thought, someday this thing will be over. Try to remember this, it may help your mood. But also, when it is over, things will be different. What our world looks like after depends on each of us. Be kind, be smart, be safe.