Tag Archives: compassion

In Memory of Robin Mittenthal

Jay and Terri Mittenthal are friends who for several years opened their home to welcome students of A Course In Miracles to gather in their living room to talk about the course and share their life journeys.  In December 2017, they lost their son, Robin, when he was crushed under a tree that fell on him. As testimony to Robin’s impact among the people whose lives he touched, this GoFundMe account has gathered not only funds for his children but also a host of reflections to honor his heartfelt value to those who contributed and left comments.  https://www.gofundme.com/honoring-robin-mittenthal

Now I want to share with all who seek to live courageously with compassionate hearts this poem that Jay was inspired to write:

Grief
Tibetan flags stream on the cold air,
gusty flutter of surprise
like our son’s parka,
never again caught up to wear,
still in his apartment as we enter from the funeral home.
How can this be?  That’s the great surprise,
gone in an instant, back snapped like a limb
of the tree he was cutting down.
We are left behind, bemused, bewildered.
Weary of grieving, reluctant to stop,
we slide again into the abyss when once we start,
wandering in a labyrinth
where movement is a search
for what is not.

Within these lines may all who have ever been separated from loved ones by any cause see our common ground in our steadfast search for peace and love.  In resting motionless there we will find each other and our selves in the heart of Love.

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Spirit’s Goal is to Accurately Name not Distractively Blame

Within the current political atmosphere in the US and beyond, there’s a blinding smog preventing us from effectively addressing social issues that have been neglected for generations.  This smog arises from deeply buried smoldering grievances, much as physical smog arises from smoldering fires in a peat bog.   It also arises collectively from many tiny sources too, much as the exhausts of millions of cars combine to create smog in our cities.  So long as we tend the fires of our grievances collectively and individually, we will continue to be plagued by this blinding smog and fail to see our way clear to address social issues we otherwise have the power – collectively and individually – to address.

Throughout history human beings have avoided our responsibility for the failings of our societies to care for all members of our societies.  When these fails come glaringly to light and we feel compelled to address them, we fail to address them with clarity at their root cause.  We lack clarity due to the smog generated by the root cause’s smoke-generating schemes.  The root cause of our social ills prefers to remain hidden beneath our awareness, protected from being seen for what it is.  Its means of hiding are myriad.  In addition to generous outpourings of propaganda, one of its primary tactics is creating diversions by which to divert the attention of our minds to focus on false causes for social ills.  Blaming a few (or small subclass of) individuals for our social ills is one of those diversions that has proven effective throughout history.

For example, before World War II, fascists convinced many to blame Jews (and others classified as social undesirables or “deviants”) for society’s ills.  After WW II, the winners went to great lengths to identify a few individuals as “war criminals” as a way to mollify the populace’s passion for revenge that arose from grievances experienced by members of all nations involved.  Both before and after WW II, the system of assigning blame remained unchanged. Only the targets of blame changed.  After the war, in our early stage of grief known as “anger” (a natural but not permanent reaction to pain), we cried out for named objects of hate to be tried and condemned at Nuremburg.  We sought to name and blame a few for the harm caused by many.  Seeking scapegoats to counterbalance heroes, as ego always does, we sought to isolate the few “bad apples” from the barrel.  In doing so, we studiously avoided looking for the root cause by which to explain why the many “good apples” had gone along with the few “bad” ones to carry out their orders.  We failed to seek to understand why people will join in becoming cruel instruments of injustice – why a few “bad” apples can spoil a barrel.  We preferred to blame all injustices and associated cruelties that arose on account of hard-heartedness on a few rather than to examine our own hearts for dormant seeds of the same hard-heartedness.

For the sake of society’s welfare, we need to individually remove the dormant as well as activated seeds of hard-heartedness from our hearts.  We all start out as tenderhearted infants who are vulnerable to pain.  Pain sows seeds of resentment that can support a later crop of bitterness and vengeance.  We need to master the art of grieving to prevent resentments from taking root and creating a crop we regret cultivating and harvesting.  Unexamined hearts can become breeding grounds for resentment and support a crop of bitter fruit.  For our own sake and the sake of our families and the greater communities within which we participate and exercise influence, we must relentlessly weed out the grievances buried in our hearts before they put down roots, grow to maturity, go to seed and spread to other hearts.  Societies in which bullying, cruelty and injustice produce painful experiences for all of us are greatly in need of weeding.  It is futile to weed out the individuals we blame for the social violence and injustice we abhor.  We must take responsibility for our own individual roles in promoting such violence and injustice rather than try to shift the responsibility to others as the ego seeks to do.

If ever we are to enjoy living in a society in which we judge each other not by the color of our skins (or any other external demographic), we must focus upon cultivating the content of our characters.  Examining our hearts for unreleased pain and grievances and ensuring that they are progressively released is essential to our creation and preservation of strong, resilient, honest and trustworthy characters and their resulting healthy, mutually caring society. This symbiotic ideal of individual character and collective society is within our reach even now.  We reach it not by protesting against or resisting those our egos would like to blame for the unaddressed social ills we abhor.  We reach it by climbing together along the upward-bound path of grieving with its steadfast belief in – and receipt and use of – the healing power of forgiveness and the gift of love that inspires and fuels it.  The upward path is strewn with fragrant flowers of empathy and compassion for those whose past experiences of pain have hardened their hearts against those they want to blame.  The blame game is a game only losers play because everyone who plays it loses.  Regardless of the loudest proclamations to the contrary, there are no winners in this game’s downward spiral of guilt and blame.  In this game, we all go down the drain together.

We can do better than blame others for not growing more mature and for instead holding onto and cherishing their pain as if it is essential to their identity.  We can model our own progressive growth towards greater maturity and wisdom through our openness of empathy, compassion and forgiveness until it shines a radiance that warms and softens their hearts as well as ours.  We are all one heart, one mind and one humanity.  There is no escaping that reality.  Wise folks cease to try to escape.  Instead they accept their parts within the human race and do their best to shine with authenticity, integrity, humility and wisdom while living among us.  They are the incarnate gospel no matter whether they claim a religious path of faith or disavow all religions in their path of faith.

Let us dare to name the ego as the root cause of our social ills and address it effectively rather than continue to distract ourselves by blaming a few individuals who represent the ego so relentlessly and openly. These “others” are our sisters and brothers in the human family. They merely represent in more exaggerated ways what our own resentments and grievances may one day cause us to become if we do not heal and nurture our hearts as we are today empowered by love to do.

The smog generated by fear’s fiercely burning conflagrations need not blind us.  We know better than to breathe it in.  From within us arises a refreshing breeze of Love that casts out all fear. In that breeze we may live and move and have our being as Love would have us be no matter how momentarily surrounded by the ego’s lies and half-truths we may be.  We can soar on the wings of eagles and run and not be weary . . . because we trust in the Source of Love from whence we all arise.  Even those of us who have forgotten the true nature of our Source and, for a time, may mistakenly blame our Source for our social ills can gain clarity of sight by participating in the healing of our hearts and land.  Just as we have participated in generating the smog together we can participate in clearing it away by dousing the grievances of our own hearts with the healing waters of forgiveness and love.

© Art Nicol 2017

 

Called to Heal the Harm

Within every path of faith there are principles and practices that support healing physical, emotional and mental wounds by faith.  As a follower of Jesus, I am compelled to acknowledge that his path of faith did not stop at the principle “first do no harm” but moved beyond merely “ceasing to do harm” to heal harm already done. This, I submit, is Jesus’ ultimate weapon of mass reconstruction to be applied at any time before we use our ultimate weapons of mass destruction any further.  We are fooling ourselves if we believe that we are not already using weapons of mass destruction and spreading them worldwide into hands of many angry people bent on revenge for past harm done to them and to the group of people with whom they identify.  What will be the most persuasive antidote to such revenge-motivated actions that spread harm further and more massively?  The antidote that will persuade the pain-angered weapon holders to lay down their weapons and join hands in peace will be healing of the harm they witnessed and release from the pain they have endured.

The sacred teachings by which Jesus’ life is surrounded and supported include miraculous concepts that point to miraculous actions that result in miraculous outcomes.  Do we not sense our need for miracles in this modern era?  It is time to activate miracles and set them free to achieve their goals.  We who follow Jesus are empowered to activate miracles, as, I believe, are others who follow other faith-based practices.  Since I am a follower of Jesus, let me address the path of faith along which Jesus walked while on earth to activate miracles and leave it to others more knowledgeable than I to address other miracle-activating paths of faith.  We are all in this together and need not compete with each other over who performs miracles.  There is enough harm already done for as many healers to address as may devote themselves to doing so.

We who follow Jesus are not challenged merely to be “good” people as if conforming to the best of current social norms is enough to satisfy our high calling.  We, like Jesus, are challenged to be “God’s” people, God’s children who activate miracles as Jesus did while walking the earth.  “These and greater things shall you do,” Jesus declared to his followers.  We must now believe him and activate “these and greater things.”  Will we do it by our own power as “good” people who take care of each other?  No, that’s not enough.  Is it enough to take care of strangers and be “good Samaritans?”  As helpful as that is, it does not yet carry us into the realm of “these and greater things.”  Being God’s people who do good towards others is helpful because those actions call into question the doubts others may have about God’s willingness to be helpful to them.  Our helpfulness may open the minds of those we help to the reality of God’s willingness to perform miracles for them, miracles beyond their minds’ understanding but within their hearts’ hopes and desires.

Yet, to be fully faithful followers of Jesus, we must now learn to activate those miracles, those “greater things” of which Jesus spoke.  We will not activate them by continuing to conduct the religious business of Christianity as usual.  We must move radically beyond business as usual to be fully followers of Jesus. The ultimate social justice is to undo the harm others have already suffered and demonstrate that such harm was never intended by God.  We reveal God’s true intentions by releasing God’s power to heal every form of harm completely.  To declare that we cannot do this “ultimate” form of justice is to declare that Jesus misinformed us about our capacity to follow him.  This capacity of which he spoke remains largely unexplored by his modern followers.  Some of his first followers explored and exemplified it. For example, the Bible describes this incident in which two of Jesus’ first followers participated: “But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’” Acts 3:6 ESV.

From this example, it’s important to note that it does not take money to activate miracles.  That fact is of interest to most of us followers of Jesus because we’re not wealthy. Silver and gold we may not have “none” but we have little.  It may even be true that being wealthy would interfere with the conditions under which “greater things” or “ultimate justice” is best activated.  We who are not wealthy need to concern ourselves less with issues related to income and wealth inequality and focus more upon the disparity between the capacity in which Peter walked and our capacity to activate miracles.  What’s in the way of our activating miracles as Peter did?

In the centuries since Peter activated miracles as a follower of Jesus, many influences have come along to dilute the power of his followers to do likewise.  It’s time to cut through all layers of dilution and boldly step out as Peter stepped out.  Peter’s a great example of the boldness we must acquire because he, like us, at first made a lot of excuses for not following Jesus boldly.  But in time he found the courage to do so and to quit explaining away his lack of capacity.

Since Peter stopped explaining away his lack of capacity, Christianity has been taken over by hosts of teachers and preachers who explain eloquently and otherwise why we’re powerless to activate miracles.  We are overwhelmed with explainers who want us to believe that they are the exemplars of the maximum possible faith in Jesus. Jesus has a term for such explainers. It’s not a favorable or flattering term.  About such teachers and preachers he spoke when he mentioned “blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” Matthew 23:24 (NAS)  In accompanying passages of the New Testament he had harsh things to say about them as he warned against following them.  Over the centuries, such teachers and preachers have carefully avoided using such passages except when it served their purpose to perpetuate their favorite prejudices and/or preserve their positions of power.  Rarely if ever have they cited those passages when confessing their own blindness and repenting as openly before their congregations as they had earlier misled them. Those who strain to focus on trivial matters so as to distract us from the camel in the room — that they don’t want to talk about and prefer that we’d all swallow together — occupy roles of leadership throughout the human institution that has replaced Jesus as God’s representative on Earth. We need to ditch such blind leaders before they ditch us more than they already have.

We common folk who follow Jesus do not lack the capacity to activate “greater things” by which harm already done may be healed, unless we resist surrendering our lives in service to God.  That resistance to surrender is inherently intertwined within our egos, which are devoted to “edging God out” as much as possible from our lives, as 12-step programs reveal.  The convenience-oriented, complacent, competitive ego active in all of us due to our social training within an ego-oriented society must be de-activated if we are to activate “greater things.”  The ego is interested in activating only petty things, not greater things.  In fact, based on ego, we become activated at the slightest irritation.  Will we follow Jesus beyond our ego’s arguments and explanations for why following him is “impossible?”  Will we cease to allow our ego’s petty irritations to distract us from answering the Spirit’s call to heal?

The ego is expert at formulating excuses and justifications for not following Jesus “that far” and at distracting us from such pursuits.  One of the ego’s main excuses is “No one else is doing that. Let’s not look foolish in trying it ourselves.”  Our fear of failing and appearing foolish in the eyes of others prevents us from taking the risk of serving God in this amazing capacity that Jesus exemplified and promised was ours as much as his.  Peter hid from others for fear of looking foolishly associated with Jesus before men, women and children.  Then he found the courage within him to dare to look foolish so that he might demonstrate why Jesus placed such faith in him as to call him to step from the safety of the boat to walk on water.

Jesus is calling us now to do the same. How do we do it?  2 Chronicles 7:14 states the “how” this way:

“. . . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (NIV)

This is the way Peter did it too.  He humbled himself, prayed, sought God’s intimate presence within his heart and turned from all excuses he’d been making for not surrendering himself in service according to Jesus’ model of service.  In this manner he prepared his capacity to activate “greater things” without taking upon himself the arrogant notion that the power to do so would be his alone.  He set aside his ego to turn from all the ways, values and attitudes of the ego (for such is the meaning of “wicked ways”).  With his ego set aside, he was able to look past his fears and converse with God heart to heart.  God hears within our hearts, where we hear Him/Her as well.  Thus God heard Peter and fulfilled the Divine Promise to heal according to God’s will and way, not the ego’s will and way.  And thus also Peter heard God within his heart and dared to utter his powerfully healing statement of faith.

It’s important to note the context in which Peter’s ego-dissipating faithfulness allowed God to perform “greater things” on account of Peter’s presence.  Peter followed Jesus admonitions and practiced what he’d been taught while walking with Jesus.  For me, four points stand out in the following expanded description of healing that took place:

“Peter looked directly at him, as did John. ‘Look at us!’ said Peter. So the man gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!’” Acts 3:4-6 (Berean Study Bible)

Point 1:  Peter was not alone in his reaching out to others.  John was with him.  Peter acknowledged that fact when he told the man “Look at us” not “Look at me.”  Peter and John were acting in concert.  Thus Peter and John activated “greater things” by “gathering two or more in the name of Jesus.”  Both Peter and John were devoted followers of Jesus.  They were complying with Jesus’ model of sending out disciples two by two and taking few worldly goods with them.  Peter may have been the one who was more ready to speak up as the more socially aggressive member of the team, but John’s presence in wholehearted agreement was essential to the activation of “greater things.” John was not merely being passive.  As an active listener and keen observer, he was a full participant.

(Let’s stop over-admiring those who are socially aggressive in leadership positions and stop assuming that their outspoken nature makes them somehow more important than those of us who remain observantly quieter.  We too have value in activating “greater things.”  By our presence and ability to listen heart to heart and make eye contact, we set the stage for activation of miracles as much as any more verbose person does.  Activation of “greater things” is a collaborative process best set in motion by whole people who collaborate according to their diverse contributions.  When we walk together as followers of Jesus, we discover, reveal and engage in our capacity to activate “greater things” because Jesus keeps his promise to be there with us.  It’s by Jesus power and presence offered by and through us together that miracles take place.)

Point 2: Peter and John traveled in ways that allowed them to cross paths with those who needed “greater things” to happen for them. These were the common folks who were likely more receptive to miracles on account of having spent so much of their lives despairing of any truly effective help ever coming their way.  (In modern society, these would be the folks who lack access to universal healthcare, bank accounts, credit cards and smart phones.)  The man whom Peter and John met had already experienced the futility of expecting “silver and gold” to heal him.  When he looked at Jesus’ followers he looked with “expectation.” He was not as disappointed by Peter’s disavowal of financial wealth as we might believe.  When he heard Peter’s “but,” he knew something better than another trivial coin was about to come forth.  What he received exceeded his mental expectation of alms and addressed his heartfelt prayer for healing.  By reason of his own life experiences, he had been prepared to be receptive to the healing offered.

What a miracle!  God heard the man’s prayers in part because the healed man had also set aside his ego and become humble before God.  His life hardly provided him the means for “wicked ways.”  Thus in this context, three humble children of God failed to pursue socially “normal” definitions of success and instead encountered God’s healing.  Peter and John would have missed this opportunity had they traveled as members of the privileged class upon a camel, cart or other convenient conveyance.  So, too, modern followers of Jesus fail to encounter opportunities to activate “greater things” when we move about in cars and take advantage of our financial means to serve ourselves with conveniences that are not enjoyed by more humble members of society.  In our cars (or on public transportation with our ears and eyes filled with piped in sounds and images from our smart phones) we may travel alone or together, perhaps even singing songs of praise to Jesus, but always we must be on the lookout for opportunities to step away from the conveniences by which we insulate ourselves from the storms of life and instead walk on troubled waters as Jesus calls us to walk.

Point 3: Both Peter and John looked directly at the man on his mat, noticed him and made eye contact.  Only one of them spoke but both locked eyes with the man who requested help from them.  Neither Peter nor John turned away from witnessing the distressing circumstances of this man’s life. They both acknowledged the man’s presence – and his humanity as well as his divinity.  They both looked upon him with compassion, not disdain or judgment.  In short, they looked as they had witnessed Jesus look upon so many people whose life experiences had humbled them.  When Jesus looked, he was moved by compassion to work miracles.  Likewise, Peter and John exposed themselves to being moved and thus allowed the power of miracles to move through them in their open-heartedness.  They allowed themselves to serve as channels of healing  blessings rather than to maintain their egos’ resistance to that role.

Point 4: Peter and John took the risk of allowing others to notice their power to activate miracles.   They had witnessed how Jesus had been treated when the crowds noticed the miracles that poured forth from his life.  They had seen the fickle nature of the masses who crowded in close around him, then welcomed Jesus as a popular conquering hero and next turned upon him only a few days later to cry out, “Crucify him, crucify him.”  Peter and John had every reason to know that they were at risk if they revealed themselves as operatives of Jesus.  Yet, such mental awareness did not prevent them from setting “greater things” in motion by acting as their heart called them to act.  Compassion is an affair of the heart, not an attribute of reason.  We do not argue ourselves into feelings of compassion, empathy or other emotions that link us to others as members of one race.  We feel those links happening inside of us.  We feel them where Jesus said that the kingdom of God abides.  We feel them where our emerging wholeness beyond the ego allows us once again to feel.

As we “trust, feel and talk about things that matter,” we emerge together beyond ego by sharing and thereby overcome our sense of separation from each other that ego produces.  Sharing our internal kingdom’s energies heart to heart reminds us that we are not alone nor lacking in inherent self-worth no matter what our social status may be from time to time.  We set aside past lessons in distrust and dare to experience renewing lessons of trust.  We set aside our ego’s habits of denying our emotions (and our heart’s wisdom) and instead encounter new habits of realizing, acknowledging and expressing our emotions helpfully (and listening to our inner wisdom heedfully). And we not only talk about things that matter but also do what’s necessary to activate what matters.

Our capacity to activate “greater things than these” matters to the destiny of humanity.  May we each follow Jesus as our role model, friend and empowering presence by joining with other followers to serve the Living God — whom Jesus called Abba Father — who desires to comfort, heal and bless us all.  For such a God is Abba Father to us all as no man has ever been or ever could be alone. (And Holy Mother to us all as no woman has ever been or ever could be alone.)  Followers of Jesus, as was Jesus, are nothing but expressions of trivial futility unless we activate Divine Power to flow through us as we remain connected with our Source.

© Art Nicol 2016

Co-Conspirators in Deceiving Ourselves

Unless you are willing to be diligently honest with yourself about your emotions and learn how to express them in helpful instead of harmful ways, you participate in your family and all groups and communities including society at large as a co-conspirator in perpetuating lies.  Pretenses, deceptions, images, roleplaying, lies, propaganda, marketing, spin-doctoring, excuses, justifications, rationalizations  . . .   It does not matter what we call them. They are all classified as unhealthy for relationships at all levels or “dysfunctional.”  Don’t let the variety of terms fool you.  What matters is that they are all of the same nature at heart.  In their essence, they are all expressions of our failure to be honest with ourselves about our emotions and about our lack of skills in processing our emotions in healthy, caring ways.

Failure to be in touch with, aware of and capable of expressing our emotions in healthy, helpful ways causes our hearts to be deceitful because we need habits of deceit to keep our emotions from coming to our awareness or letting them be spontaneously expressed.  We each build our habits of deceit to mask our emotions.  We build these habits one step at a time through painful experiences as we practice denying how we feel and instead pretend that we either feel some other way or do not feel emotions at all.  For most of us, our habits become reactive and we operate on autopilot while no longer aware of how we hide our emotions from ourselves and others as if emotions are dangerous.  Might we want to practice another, deceit-free way of relating to ourselves and one another and stop pretending that we enjoy our deceptive lifestyles?  Might we want to unwire our autopilot and become consciously aware of and responsible for our emotions again?  The automated deceptive way is not our only option.  We are merely mistaken to believe it is.  We could choose to become diligently, courageously and compassionately honest in all humility and enjoy life a whole lot more simply because we’d be a whole lot more whole.

The root cause of the painful emotions we feel is the way we crucify ourselves and others on the cross of pride and shame as the horizontal bar and guilt and blame as the vertical shaft.  By pride and shame we bar the door to heartfelt intimacy.  By guilt and blame we continuously give ourselves and each other the shaft.  We draw and quarter ourselves on this quadrant of crucifixion when, truth be known, we do not need to crucify ourselves or anyone else if we’d let go of the habits of judging ourselves and others by how successful we are at being dishonest. We could instead appreciate each other for doing our best to be honest as we struggle together to change our habits and master the art of humble honesty.  And we’d no longer have reason to hate ourselves for lacking the courage to be honest about the sensitive nature of our hearts.

No one starts out with the intention of building a life based on lies.  Every one of us without exception begins life as a sensitive, innocent child who knows no better than to blurt out the truth about how we feel.  Yet, so long as we are raised around people who have been well-trained in the social rules and traditions of censoring and silencing their hearts, we will learn to censor and silence ours as well.  We learn as we are punished for being honest and rewarded for pretending.  To get along with others whose hearts are censored and silenced according to the “reward-and-punishment rules of the game,” we must learn to play the game of pretending.  If we learn the game well, we’ll learn to punish ourselves before anyone has to punish us or to shift the punishment to others by blaming or shaming them.  “He started it” is a good start in shifting disapproval to the other towards whom we point our finger of ill-fate.  The other fingers point back towards ourselves in silent self-hate.

To fail to learn to play the game well is to be exiled into loneliness or condemned to suffer at or near the bottom of every pecking order in town.  We learn to scratch in the earth in the barnyard for our tidbits of approval and be afraid of those with more powerful social status and pecking power than ours.  Only when we can peck as well the best of them do we dare to challenge those who previously pecked us and take our turn as a pecker.  Most of us live as chickens, too scared to challenge the roosters in the barnyard, but a few dare to challenge them and learn to crow as loudly and peck and kick as furiously.  But few challenge the whole idea of being a member of the farmer’s cooped-up flock.  To sustain such a challenge promises only more heartache of the most primal nature – total rejection from the group by whatever criteria we identify the group.

The roosters compete to rule the roost.  In the human flock, a rooster need not be a male cock.  She may be a hen who decided to copy a cock’s ways and out-do cocks at their own game.  Female roosters are increasingly more prevalent in modern times as feminism asserts the rights of women to be as nasty in their ways of competition as men have ever been.  The rules of the game don’t change.  Only the players change according to the current trends favoring dominance under the group’s rules for power-grabbing.  And when competing within the rules fails to gain the goals we seek, we subvert the rules and grab power some other way if we can get away with it.  Layers of deceit hide our corruption of the rules.  Politics continues as business as usual in all arenas of life in which power-dominance rather than power-sharing prevails as both the means and the end.  Only the rare bird who declares there is another way of honoring power as a shared community asset to bless the whole community dares to stand apart from the politics of the day and show himself or herself as an example of what could be “if only” we dared collectively to try this alternative long enough to give it a realistic opportunity to prove itself.

On the way to proving that an alternative does truly exist, those who dare to stand apart as examples fall and disappear because the roosters in the barnyard set no self-restraining limits on how they will exercise power to keep and advance their rooster status as they also protect the game that favors their dominance.  Assassination is an acceptable means for those who have in mind as their ultimate goal the maintenance and advancement of their deceitful claims to roosterhood.  Rather than be exposed for their ruthless means of maintaining their roosterhood, current roosters will go to any length to wipe out (or at least disembowel) the opposition’s leadership, oppress the opposition’s followership and write history to demonstrate the superiority of maintaining the status quo of the roosters’ dominance in the face of claims that an alternative exists.  It’s always better that one man or woman should perish than that a whole barnyard of peckers in their pecking order should perish.  By whatever means necessary, these truthseekers – and worse, truth-tellers — must be silenced.

And so it goes throughout human history.  Men and women who seek to stand up for justice for the whole flock and dare to challenge the way things have always been die if they are not willing to be silenced some other way.  The more they speak from positions that may be heard by the flock, the more likely it is that they must die.  Silencing them simply will not be permanent enough for the sake of roosters’ collective claim upon permanent dominance.  Roosters prefer to fight beak and spur against other roosters on rooster terms than to see the whole system by which rooster dominance is preserved be replaced by a system with other values, means and ends.  Roosters fight for preservation of the status quo even when they have to switch out their positions of dominance and take up other roles of power within the flock. Why? Because they have no idea how to participate in the alternative way of distributing power equitably among the members of the flock for the benefit of the flock instead of for the roosters’ own private benefit.  Private benefits, private property, exclusive control and dominance and similar values swing widely out of balance when the roosters become desperate to preserve their positions of power by any means available.  Heartlessly deceptive means are as good a means as any other when the chips are down. What is heartlessness to the man or woman who long ago gave up having a heart in favor of pretending to be satisfied with amassing power for powers sake?

How might we stop playing by the roosters’ game and participate in the alternative way of shared power?  We must stop being self-deceptive and start being honest with ourselves and others about our emotions.  Denial of emotions produces egos that are more than willing to continue to play games to manipulate other people to amass power, property and popularity by any means.  The more hardhearted the ego, the less the rules — as well as personal character, integrity and authenticity — matter. All that matters is gaining more power.  What the cocks and their competitors for power among the hens won’t tell you is what they do not know for sure but likely do suspect.  In their lust for power, greed for prosperity and vanity for insanity there’s something of great value missing from their lives.

What might that “missing element of life” be that can only be experienced by those who are honest about their emotions and free their hearts once again to be tender and compassionate?  What do the defenseless have an opportunity to experience that competitive egos miss?  Listen to your heart.  You may well sense the answer there.  It’s a truth that we all share. It’s the one true power that really matters.  It is love that has gone missing while we’ve scrambled in the dusty barnyard for our bits of grainy approval flung to us by very few who own the barnyard and pen us up so deceitfully.  It is love that can come our way as unexpectedly as insects and worms might pass our way to supplement our artificial diet of bits of putrefying grain.  Love has the power to liberate us to range cage-free.

Might we dare to value love more than another insect or worm that holds protein for our bodies but no energy for our spirits?  Might the owners of the barnyard and our pens be amazed if we were to fly the coop entirely and cease to be imprisoned by our egos?  Might we be willing to discover once again that we have wings meant to fly free and range beyond our cramped cages and fenced-in barnyards? Might we discover what’s been too long missing in our own lives and value it so highly as to stop pecking on each other long enough to discover that in each of us is a sister or brother who once was a good egg until she or he mistakenly learned the barnyard’s games of power-dominance and mistook it as the only way to survive?  Might by love’s power it be possible that we all may thrive – all without exception or exclusion, including the roosters who previously believed so cruelly and self-deceptively otherwise?  As we each forsake the way of self-deception let us always remember that we once, too, were deceived into forming ego’s habits of dishonesty.  May we allow every other person to rise free of ego too – without pride or shame, guilt or blame remaining to taint their risen presence.  We all need to be resurrected from the ego’s tomb and allowed to see and be the light again.

© Art Nicol 2016

United in Opposition is Not United

Current dynamics at work in US politics highlight the false idea that our nation will ever be truly the “United States” while the call to unify is based on opposition to some identified opponent, here or abroad.  Check out the pattern prevalent in US history. You will see example after example of groups of various descriptions supposedly uniting in opposition to the identified opponent of their day only to have their “unity” disintegrate once the occasion for opposition ends.  Today we see this pattern at work in our presidential election as two main parties call for unity within themselves by clarifying and rally around their opposition to the “other” party.  Within our republican form of government where one vote more than 50% wins all the marbles, this practice works temporarily to put some people temporarily in power but is not a sustainable practice for the welfare of the nation or the world we so heavily impact.

We have become participants in this pattern as if it is the only option available. The media hypes this pattern in order to gain market share and profit from the controversies it helps stir up by sensationalizing them moment by moment as entertainment.  Are we truly entertained by watching our nation cycle through this pattern of futility decade after decade?  Do we truly want to elect and empower men and women to lead us around and around in this pattern without hope for any alternative of true, universal, national unity?  Where might we find the common ground for sustainable unity not based temporarily on identifying an enemy abroad or at home?

We will find that common ground buried beneath the rumble of painful emotions we harbor in our hearts.  We harbor them out of ignorance.  We neither know how to release these painful emotions and the memories seared into our brains by pain or to establish the noncyclical stability of peace we’d prefer “if only.”  But we can overcome our ignorance if we truly want to.  We can learn what we need to learn.  It is not beyond our capacity to learn.  It’s actually child’s play, more natural to children than to adults but still within the capacity of adults to relearn.  Adults do struggle with issues and responsibilities by which children are not typically burdened, although many children are bearing such burdens these days in earlier and earlier years.  In failing to release our emotional pain in caring, healthy ways so as to discover how to enjoy sustainable peace (domestic tranquility instead of domestic violence in all its forms), we are dumping our buried pain on children and expecting them not to be harmed by being dumped upon.

Buried pain, like harmful toxic waste, leeches from the dumps where we think we safely bury it to contaminate the waters of life within which we expect our children and ourselves to swim and find clean water to drink and bathe in.  Our buried pain poisons our lives and robs us of the most enriching qualities of life we’d otherwise enjoy.  We must cease to use our hearts as waste dumps for toxic emotions.  To cease to participate in this pattern, we must learn to grieve through our pain and find peace again beyond it.  In our present state, our society allows no one to avoid experiencing pain.  Thus, we all must learn to release pain as a necessary life skill. To fail to master this skill means to guarantee that the pain will pass along to the next generation for them to deal with.

We adults must stand up for protecting our children from the pain we’ve not yet processed, stand up as adults before us likely did not do for us.  In some period of our history, the cycle of pain must stop.  Our current generations of adults can be that time.  The cycle can wind down and be replaced with healthier conditions if we are willing to participate fully in those conditions.  It’s up to us to have the courage, compassion, commitment, creativity and curiosity to discover again how to cooperate with each other in unity about this process.  It is a process that requires no opponents and instead welcomes all to participate.  By definition, grief is universal to us all.  We can stand together not in opposition to pain but in unified commitment to learning how to release pain in all its forms and reasons for existing.

Pain need not be as prevalent as it is.  It need not be endured forever as we’ve been taught to believe.  We can learn to stop perpetuating it.  To release our personal pain one person at a time releases the nation from pain.  Let’s help each other enter into a process of grieving through the lifetime of pain we’ve endured as dumping grounds for other people’s pain and unite in peace beyond our pain.  Peace will not come immediately because the process of grief must allow time to identify, express and share our buried pain for healing and release to happen.  But our commitment to the process of grieving is enough to ensure peace will come in time.

Peace is actually our natural state of being.  It is the tender condition that exists within our hearts but is now buried beneath the rumble of the patterns of opposition we’ve endured.  We have the power within us to seek no longer to engage in artificial reasons to perpetuate our pain and instead to free ourselves of the rumble and return to our natural state of peace and goodwill among all peoples – of every age, gender, station in life and other demographic parameter by which we measure ourselves.  Let’s now measure ourselves as peacemakers and peace-sustainers instead of as participants in the internal warfare to which politics currently calls us under the mistaken notion that that’s the only way.  There is another way.  It leads to the end of suffering for us all.  Might not that outcome motivate us all to explore this possibility?

© Art Nicol 2016

Chickens Coming Home to Roost

We live in a distressing time in the US because we live amid the nests to which the chickens are coming home to roost.  The phrase “chickens coming home to roost” refers to the cycle of insanity that returns to those who act insanely the consequences of their deeds.  “Chicken” is an especially apt term because it’s also typically used as a label for a person who is extremely afraid.  (Supposedly, chickens are easily scared and scattered in fear before a marauding fox. Yet, if one has tried to interfere with a hen who is protecting her brood of chicks, one might not be convinced that all chickens are readily frightened away.)

Let’s look at the possibility that “chickens coming home to roost” refers to the actions of scared people returning to haunt them.  Since actions arise from thoughts and since feelings of fear can cause thoughts that are irrational, one can readily see how actions that are of chicken nature are based on fear.  Fear distorts minds to think irrationally, even to the point of causing chronic irrationality we label “insanity.”  In recent generations, the US has become a society of chronically frightened and irrational people who prefer to deny our emotions and hide behind the masks of our egos in pride than to admit that we are afraid most of the time.  We acquired the habit of denying our fears by many decades and multiple generations of denial of emotions in general.

For example, during one insane cycle of fear-generated violence, one generation created nuclear weapons to solve the problem of needing to feel more secure and then faced the very real possibility of triggering a nuclear holocaust to destroy humanity and render our planet cruelly less habitable.  Chickens threatened then to come home to roost.  But, we learned to live under that cloud of nuclear fear and march on undeterred in our commitment to our consumerist militarism.  We proudly called our lifestyle Darwinian capitalism and by well-crafted propaganda fooled many of us into believing it was “free enterprise” — an expression of our more expansive freedoms as free people,  who, as it turns out, failed to realize how seductively our egos were enslaving us on account of our unconscious fears.

We still live under the fear of pending doom of nuclear disaster and many other fears that have piled on top of it in the dark caverns of our minds where our egos entomb them rather than face them. We still march on undeterred as long as we can manage to remain undisturbed by the consequences of our decisions.  On account of our habit of denial, we’ve become increasingly indifferent to the legitimate needs of human beings, others and ourselves.  Instead of caring how our actions may affect “others,” we carefully plan our actions to make sure that their ill-effects fall on others but not upon us.  We’ve practiced this principle of exporting ill-effects for many generations in both our military ventures and our business ventures.

In our military ventures, we expected US citizens to go “off to war” in two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and many other smaller scale combat actions. And somehow we expected them to function within horrifically terrifying battlefield conditions without falling apart or being adversely affected by their experiences.  We expected them to be brave and strong and committed to protecting their faraway homes from the threats we believed were so significant that we placed our citizens in harm’s way in distant lands to avoid those threats.  Those who survived physically, we welcomed home as heroes with far too little regard for how their service to our welfare cost them emotionally. We saw physical wounds and disabilities but not emotional ones.  We failed to expect, as reason dictates, that after the intensity of battle is over, the falling apart comes along naturally as a part of grieving.  It must if anyone is to regain his or her sanity after being subject to such insanity.  To us who had learned to harden our hearts and deny to our emotions their sane, healthy role in our lives, emotions became invisible and readily ignored.  It takes sensitivity and empathy to detect emotions in ourselves and others and we learned well how to deaden those human attributes of sanity and pretend to live “well” without them in operation in our lives.  In fact, we often ridicule and look down upon as “weak” and certainly unmasculine those who have not deadened their sensitive, empathetic nature. We too have learned not to fall apart nor to grieve to restore our sanity.  Insanity — to one degree or another preserved by unprocessed emotions — has become our national norm.

We have avoided bringing the battlefield home to us by exporting it abroad to other cultures and lands where we felt freer to resort to violence that spilled over into civilian populations, but not our own.  Now the chaos and violence of the battlefields we exported under the influence of our fears are coming home to roost.

We also have exported the harmful commercial side-effects of a materialistic, hedonistic society to place those burdens on others as much as possible.  We’ve used the “toilet bowl theory” to justify dumping toxic wastes where we who enjoy the byproducts of that waste are not directly affected or even confronted by the sights and smells of toxins that are robbing others of life, liberty and their pursuit of happiness.  Extraction and use of fossil fuels — and the disposal of waste produced by their extraction and use — proceed apace so long as the harmful consequences of the their extraction, use and disposal fall on others.  We don’t care unless toxic waste or garbage dumps show up in our backyard. Someone else’s backyard is just fine with us. Pollution is other people’s problem so long as we have options to avoid it.

As a long-term consequence of playing chicken with the truth and failing to honestly face our fears throughout multiple generations, we are now no longer able to reroute the chickens from returning to the roost from which they originally flew.  The chickens of our militarism and consumerism are coming home to roost.  The empire we’ve enjoyed living within for many generations is now undeniably soiling its own nest.  Our lifestyles of denial, of pride and of shifting blame no longer protect us from facing the consequences of our insane, heartless decisions.  We are faced with the consequences whether or not we want to be. And we find it difficult to see the justice in this backflow of chickens to their roosts.  But just it is.  How we’ve come to abhor justice!  We fear justice most of all!

If we are to adequately address the escalating violence rising in our society, we must hear and heed the call of justice and do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God — not “our” God as if we define God but “God” as if God defines His/Her own nature.  Micah 6:8 states what is required of us, oh, fallible mortals that we are.  We must face the fact that those whom we trained to use weapons to protect our insane lifestyles are returning home to find other uses for their training and their weapons.  We trained them to become insanely insensitive and lacking in empathy like us and we now object to their teaching us the consequences of our heartlessness.

Certainly, we find it attractive to hire some of our former military personnel to staff our internal civilian military forces to protect us internally from harm that we have created through our heartless lifestyles and to route some of our citizens off to prison.  Mass incarceration is another form of dumping ground for the waste products of our militarism and consumerism but we must face the fact that God created no human being to be labeled “waste” and so unjustly treated.  Although we claim to be, we are hardly entitled to critique those whom we’ve trained to do our dirty work of harming others on our behalf in the course of their assigned duties as if we might expect them to be always capable of setting aside their emotions and acting reasonably – with sensitivity and empathy –  in the face of perceived threats to their well-being.  We’ve trained them to react instantly without out consideration for the harm that might flow to others from their defensive reactions and then later purport to hold them accountable for using reflexively the training that we required of them.  Having required of our guardians of domestic tranquility other than the duty to do justice, love mercy and walking humbly with a merciful, forgiving and gracious God, we reap the consequences of our unholy expectations.  We must hold ourselves accountable!

We also object to finding scummy green algae clogging the beaches upon which we prefer to frolic in our escapist activities so necessary to offset our denied internal emotional pain.  We have learned to flee from the natural consequences of our harmful, heartless lifestyles to beaches, parklands and other scenic nature preserves to which we have consigned the last remnants of nature by which we feel rejuvenated while we cause it to become ultimately extinct.  The loss of beaches and waterways to algae on account of unfettered use of fertilizers to grow profitable crops and the loss of picturesque mountain vistas to rapacious mining and deforestation or to acid rain from the byproducts of industry to feed our materialistic appetites are chickens coming home to roost too close to home for us to ignore.  But ignore them we will if we can.

And if we can no longer ignore them, we will shift to others the blame for causing them and the responsibility for correcting and cleaning up our messes – if we can.  As taxpayers who have already funded construction of the highways and airports we use to escape on our vacations to beaches, waterways and mountains, we hardly think it’s fair to also expect us to accept responsibility for the harmful side-effects of our lifestyles and bear the cost of cleaning up after ourselves. Let someone else bear the brunt of our insanity!

And if you say that there is no one else available upon whom to shift the burdens, you are wrong.  We may no longer be able to find others in different parts of the 3-dimensional physical world upon whom to foist the consequences of our insanity, but we are creative thinkers.  We can export the consequences into the 4th dimension – to the future and let the next generation deal with it.  Or perhaps not.  Perhaps we are living amid the time frame of that “next generation” even now as the chickens we raised and exported to the winds now journey home to roost among us.

© Art Nicol 2016

Arbitrary Power Expresses Maximum Powerlessness

News media reports the arbitrary use of power against innocent targets with increasing frequency. Why? Why do we hear of and see so many senseless expressions of power used to harm the least reasonable targets?  Because such expressions of power are symptomatic of an underlying social condition of perceived powerlessness.  Individuals who used to comfort themselves by associating in their minds with being part of a powerful group, team or nation no longer find comfort there because those opportunities for vicarious “power by association” are disappearing.  Traditions of parasitically drawing a sense of power by belonging to an unassailable, always winning group are crumbling.  In the absence of traditional temporary relief from secret (often unconscious) feelings of personal powerlessness and resulting frustrations about lack of control over one’s own destiny, individuals who are vulnerable to such feelings of powerlessness for whatever reason are popping to the surface with their frustrations in both planned and spontaneous acts of reactionary violence.

The USA population includes many frustrated people who no longer believe that they have power to influence the course of their lives and cause any improvement in their lives or the lives of others they care about.  The mythical American Dream of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps and single-handedly achieving success on some terms valued by the achiever is a bubble that has burst.  Like the housing bubble, .com bubble and so many other illusions of permanent prosperity based on constant growth, the American Dream of continuously improving prosperity based on continuous expansion of the economy and of dominance by the USA empire around the world has burst.  We’d like to pretend to blame that bubble’s bursting in air on current leaders or even upon past leaders and comfort ourselves with renewed bombs bursting in air, but that’s another illusion.  The truth is that illusions are illusions and don’t last forever.

If an individual feels powerless, one way of compensating for his or her sense of powerlessness is to find convenient targets of sufficient weakness to inflict harm and pain upon in some way dramatically obvious that the “power to cause pain” flows from the individual according to his or her arbitrary willfulness.  “See how powerful I am?” is the message.  If the individual feels frustrated about not having his or her way in other areas of life, at least in this one area he or she is can assert unchallengeable dominance.  The more arbitrary the expression of power in relationship to any true justification for that expression of power, the more powerful the person feels temporarily.  It’s like a “fix” for that person.  Arbitrary use of power is addictive, a drug upon which the powerless person depends for relief.  Plus the more publicly the person gets away with his or her abuse of power, the more thrilling the expression of power becomes.  Targeting senseless victims for abuse becomes not only an addictive habit but a destructively meaningless hobby, sadistically amusing to the person who expresses power in this manner.  “Getting away with it” adds to the thrill of arbitrary power.  “Getting away with it in the open with no one being able to stop me” is the greatest thrill of all.  “Recruiting others to protect me while I am openly abusing power by harming innocent victims” also adds to the person’s false sense of power.

The emotional and mental inner workings of people who senselessly use power to harm or cause pain to others is not as much of a mystery to humans as we’d like to claim.  Most if not all of us have had occasion to be at least tempted to engage in such power dynamics as a way of compensating for the frustrations of our lives.  “Kicking the dog” in private is a minor expression of power for this purpose.  Punishing weak members of society for their acting out their own frustrations in public upon arbitrary victims is another expression of this power.

We much prefer to accuse others of doing what we’d likely do ourselves when the shoe is on the other foot and then inflict pain upon them as if to flagellate ourselves vicariously for participating in such a weakness.  The temptation is strong to point the finger at others and declare ourselves free of any related habits and hobbies.  It would be better for all of us if we’d spend at least as much time pointing the finger towards ourselves and confessing our own misunderstanding about power and how power to cause pain and harm to others is never a true expression of power.  It’s a game our egos play to express how undeserving of love we secretly believe we are and to convince us how much we are powerless to do anything about improving the condition of the society in which we live.  The ego lies.  True power is the power to help another person recover from having been the victim of arbitrary power or any other form of pain and find his or her path to freedom from otherwise, in turning the table, becoming an abuser of power too.  We must get up from that table and take no side of it. Instead we need to fashion campfires and other circles of reconciliation around which to gather as one village.  If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes this kind of transformed village to raise us all up to envision and share true power from another perspective.

If our nation is ever to stop abusing its power by subjecting weaker nations to pain and harm, we as individual citizens of our nation must undertake personally to adopt a different understanding of power and participate with wisdom in the alternative vision of power as a capacity to heal rather than to harm.

© Art Nicol 2016