Tag Archives: fear

How Badly Do We Stink At Being Human?

“Inhumanity, n. One of the signal and characteristic qualities of humanity.” –Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary

Hello friend,

I got in the car the other night to pick up my kids from swimming, and the radio was on to NPR. Within a few seconds, I was fully engrossed in the special segment they were doing on sexual harassment in Japan. I suppose it was because I was caught off-guard due to my thinking that norms in Japan–what I have always thought of as a modern, forward-thinking country–for something like sexual harassment would probably be about the same as they are in America, perhaps better. I was immediately informed that I had been dead wrong.

The report detailed one woman’s struggle against a culture and a legal system that treats harassment as normal, accepted, and benign. She had fought hard to bring her tormentor to justice in the workplace and the court system, something completely unheard of in Japan until very recently. Late in the story, they were talking about resistance to change in attitudes, and they interviewed a woman who supposedly represented a common view in that culture. She basically said that it is right that men should be in charge and have their way, because women aren’t calm and logical and their menstruation makes them irrational and such.

I was absolutely floored. Appalled would probably be more accurate. I simply could not believe what I was hearing. It sounded like a cartoon from the Dark Ages!

It is Japan, what I was thinking as a leading-edge type of country, and here they are in 2018 with these archaic social constructs that are terribly damaging to women (and thus society in general). What the heck???

After picking up the scattered pieces of my psyche from this bomb’s detonation, I was left with a sick, ominous void in my center. This hollow darkness was, of course, the realization that sexual harassment in Japan is just the tip of the mammoth iceberg that is the depravity of the human experience as we have constructed it to this point in history.

We really are horrible to each other. I am not so much speaking in individual, one-to-one relationship terms–though I know we all have our fair share of regrets in that department, too–but rather in the countless and varied ways that we systematically denigrate and deprive massive sections of the population. And I am not only referring to the ways that these many mistreatments directly affect their targeted population, but even more so how they contribute to the more general shortcoming and disease of humankind as a whole, oppressed and oppressors alike. So even as I admit that, relatively speaking, there are obvious winners and losers in this game of stigmatization and oppression, I would just as sternly argue that in the realm of the absolute, nobody is getting away clean here.

We are, all of humankind, losing the race against our potential.

When I think of all the ways that humans keep humanity down–racism, sexism, environmental destruction, war, colonialism, education deprivation, starvation, religious persecution, denial of health care, and slavery, to name just a few–I can’t help but beg for answers. WHY??? Are there common themes that run through all of these things? I want to know if there are a few things we could address, values or ideas that we might interject at crucial spots in our global and societal dialogue that might help us right the ship and steer us clear the next time we were tempted to veer into depravity. Where do we keep going wrong when, if only we would choose right, we would see us all lifted the way a rising tide lifts all boats?

I think that a big part of it is that we seem to enter just about every pursuit from a position of scarcity rather than abundance. We think there is not enough for everyone. So we must horde and wrestle for every scrap of anything we value, even if we plainly have enough already. Food, land, water, money, power, salvation. And when we get in a position to control these things, we set up systems–monetary systems, infrastructure systems, legal systems, systems of thought and culture–that ensure we continue to get more and more while others get less and less. I can’t help but look at the amazing natural gifts that the Earth provides us–truly an embarrassment of riches–and wonder how it is we ever came to this mentality of scarcity. But here we are.

Because humans have chosen to operate from a place of scarcity rather than abundance, we have been forced to justify why some should have more (or enough) and others should have less (or not enough). We have been very clever in our social constructions throughout history. We have taken the other humans–the ones with religions, skin colors, genders, homelands, modes of dress, levels of income, and customs that are different than ours–and defined them as less worthy than us.

Typically, in order to justify our self-serving and “inhumane” behavior toward them, we have had to create the most convincing stories about them, with lots of cartoonish images. The others have been labeled, at various turns: barbarians, savages, devils, heathens, criminals, animals, lazy, stupid, drunk, childlike, greedy, thieving, subhuman, immoral, irrational, overemotional, naturally servile, only good for reproducing, or mistakes of God. You just can’t steal someone’s land, or hold them as a slave, or rape them, or ignore their starvation, or commit genocide against their people without a good story as to why you are justified in doing so. Humans have never stopped committing atrocities in which the perpetrators believed themselves to be righteous in their cause. The Crusades. Manifest Destiny. The Final Solution. Jihad.

The list could–and does–go on.

Maybe in the end, it comes down to operating out of Fear rather than out of Love. Coming from a place of scarcity basically means living in fear that there isn’t enough and that we will go without. When we live in Fear, we get greedy and defensive. We become short-sighted and irrational. We lose our compassion and generosity. We act desperate.

Yes, that’s it! Desperate. That word resonates with me now as I think about human history. We seem to be a desperate species.

But does it have to be this way? I realize that, in terms of the age of the planet, humans are a relatively recent occurrence. And I realize that we had to learn it by failing, trial and error. We were on our own, so to speak, with no other species quite like us to learn from (although the more time I spend in Nature, the more lessons I learn about how to live well). And we weren’t always as technologically advanced as we are today, so it was much more of an eking out of our existence. Maybe we started our scarcity trip then and just never let it go. Perhaps evolution hard-wired this fear and lack into our system after so many bouts with plagues and famines, feudal lords and slave traders. I can see the plausibility in that explanation.

But I am an optimist, so I want to believe there is more in store for the human race than a continuing story of pettiness, lack of compassion, and ruthless greed. So, I look to the examples in history of people–sometimes individually and sometimes collectively–choosing to rise above the Fear, to act better. To act out of Love. I think of the American Indians and their willingness to share their land with new arrivals, secure in the knowledge that no one could truly own it. I think of the many women and men who have risked everything to speak up and resist oppressive movements, such as slavery, Nazism, colonialism, and patriarchy. I think of scientists sharing their positive findings with the world. I think of the vast majority of modern countries providing health care for all who need it (which is everyone) without first determining their ability to pay. I think of the many countries today who accept refugees from war-torn nations, not because it is convenient but because it is right. These humans give me hope for humankind.

I need it, too, because WOW, the scales are overloaded on the other side! I am often found shaking my head in frustration and disgust over the awful performance of the collective humanity in my America. It can feel like we are the Land of Oppression. We try it on almost anything and anyone: women, anyone with a brownish complexion, the LGBTQ community, the poor, non-Christians, Mother Nature, and on and on and on. Sometimes it seems overwhelming and like it could hardly be worse.

That is why that NPR story on sexual harassment in Japan was such a jolt to my psyche. It reminded me that, in spite of America’s disgusting history of inhumanity–a history that continues today in such glaring areas as mass incarceration, income inequality, neglect of the poor, health care denial, and civil rights abuses–we are actually doing better than other countries in some of these areas. That is sobering.

I often wonder what the fate of the human species will be. You know, like, will we still be around in another 1,000 years or 10, 000 or 100,000? And what will we have done to each other in that time? I sure hope that we will have risen above the Fear and the scarcity mentality. I hope that we will have learned that none of us really wins when we define winning as holding everyone else down. I hope that by then, Love is the high tide that lifts us all. But right now, all I have is an unfounded hope. Because if I am just going on human history, I can’t see how this goes well or ends well.

How about you? What is your evaluation of the human race relative to its potential? Open up your journal and free your mind to explore this enormous topic. On first blush–before diving deep–what kind of score are you inclined to give us humans? How do you think your score compares to the judgment of the other seven billion people on the planet today? Are you higher or lower than average? How much do you think your score–or anyone’s, really–is a function of the country or culture they live in (i.e. people from prosperous or progressive countries are more likely to say that humans have done well as a species than people from poor or oppressive cultures)? How much do you think a person’s score reflects that person’s position within her own culture (e.g., a wealthy, straight, White, American man scoring humanity high versus a poor, queer, Black, American woman scoring humanity low)? What score do you think an impartial outside observer (e.g, someone from another planet, or perhaps God) would give us? Okay, back to your assessment. What is humankind’s potential? If you took all of our qualities and capabilities, what would the best version of our species look like? How different is our story (history) relative to that best story? In what areas has humanity done best? Are we near to our potential in any aspect of our existence? In what areas have we done worst? What are some of the most “inhumane” chapters in our history? Would you say we are getting better or worse as the centuries pass? How do you envision our species in the year 3000? How about the year 30000? Will Fear, greed, and a scarcity mentality remain the norm, or will we ever move toward Love and abundance? Will we reach our potential? Do you agree that it can be pretty depressing to read History books or watch the news and see how systematically we bring each other down? Are we destined to remain this way? Leave me a reply and let me know: How badly are we doing at being human?

Rise,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it on social media. Let’s evolve to Love!

P.P.S. If you enjoy introspection, check out my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers.

Progress Check: Your 3-Month Report Card

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” –Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Hello friend,

My kids brought their report cards home this week. I always get excited to rip open that envelope and see what their teachers think of the last few months of their time in school. Have they improved or regressed? Met expectations or exceeded them? How well are they learning, and how well are they behaving? Are there any red flags? Is there cause for a celebration?

As first and third graders, my kids are not the least bit interested in their report cards. Still, I like to sit down for a minute with each of them and do a quick review of their teachers’ assessments. I get to remind them of our values and tell them how proud I am of them. It is time well spent.

As I finished hugging them and basking in my fatherly pride, it hit me that I was about due for my own progress check. After all, it was almost three months ago that I sat down at the precipice of the New Year and, full of fear and uncertainty, wrote “Next Year In Review” to get my mind focused and ready for action.

We are almost a quarter of the way through the year already, and I can already feel how fast it is zipping by. I cannot wait until December to look up again and make sure I am on the right track. If I do, I know that I will have let busy-ness overwhelm me and let my priorities slip through my grasp as I juggle the rest of my circumstances. That year-end check-in will be all frustration and disappointment if I don’t get clear right now.

I need a report card.

Thinking about myself three months ago—picturing both how I wanted to BE and what I wanted to DO—what I remember most is that I wanted to feel BRAVE. I knew I had a lot of challenges to face and that Fear would threaten to paralyze me, but I wanted to respond to that Fear with Courage. I wanted to be BRAVE.

My biggest tasks for this first quarter of the year have revolved around my wannabe writing career. I knew going in that if I was going to feel at all good about myself and my progress, I would need to make some serious strides in the direction of completed projects and paying work.

My biggest goal was to finish my book. I am so pleased—and relieved—to report that I can check that off the list. The next goal was to learn how to pitch a book to agents and publishers, and then, of course, to actually do that. It turns out that that part can be nearly as time-consuming as writing the book itself! Still, I am happy to say that I have learned a ton and have started the process. I don’t have any takers yet and have no idea when or how this book will be published, but I know I am on the right path and that I have put in the hard yards to get this far. Despite my lack of tangible success, I am actually going to score myself pretty well on this front. That feels good!

Beyond the book, my other writing goals have revolved around learning about the other ways writers pay their bills with their craft and which of those avenues might work for me. This one is definitely still giving me fits of terror and uncertainty, but I am learning and am not giving up. Score: Incomplete.

As a guy who sets high standards for himself and is easily disappointed, this is actually one of the best progress reports I have ever given myself when it comes to working hard enough to make my dreams happen. I guess I think that I am usually failing completely, so anything above that is a step in the right direction.

There is more to life than just a dream job, though, right? These past few months I have also tried to keep tabs on myself in a few other areas that affect my overall wellness.

Historically, I never have doubts about how much time I am spending with my children and how high the quality of that time is. This quarter, however, I have tried to be particularly aware of that time. I worried that because of the intensity of my focus on all of this writing stuff—stuff that has me feeling uncertain and sometimes unworthy—that I might let those feelings bubble over into my interactions with the kids in the form of distraction or impatience. I have definitely felt those inclinations and caught myself a few times, and that has made me all the more grateful that I am paying attention to it. I will keep at it. They are worthy of my best in every single moment.

I have also tried to be more mindful of my eating these last few months. I am particularly focused on my nemesis, sugar, but also on the overall amount of food I am consuming each day and at what time. It seems to have helped on most days. Even though Girl Scout Cookie season was rough, I have many times caught myself wanting a snack but instead deciding on the sugarless gum in the cupboard nearby. I am trying to make friends with that gum and my water bottle. While it hasn’t helped me lose any weight, it seems to have temporarily halted the gaining. And I feel better. Little victories.

My final challenge for the first quarter has been to limit my time on both the news and social media. I have been up and down with this as well, but I think my general disgust with the news has helped me to cut down on my time on both. I am more aware now of when I am on social media and what I am looking for instead of just mindlessly scrolling and later realizing what a waste of time it was. It’s a work in progress. As John Mayer sings, “I’m in repair. I’m not together, but I’m getting there.”  

That line might sum up my first quarter progress report across the board. I have made some good strides, but I have certainly had my stumbles and setbacks, my moments when fear or weakness have gotten the best of me. But I think that my awareness has improved. I know every day what I am working toward, and that makes it easier to catch myself slipping and get right back on my feet and on the right track. If I can continue to iPmprove on that awareness in the next quarter, I’ll be well on my way to an amazing year. I’m getting there!

How about you? How well did you do with your first three months of the year? Open up your journal and give yourself some grades. What were your biggest priorities and tasks for the quarter? Take them one by one. What was your biggest rock? On the whole, how would you score yourself with that one? Were you like me and had periods where you were good and periods where you fell off? What dictated your worst periods with it? Fear? Distraction? Lack of confidence? Wavering priorities? What got you back on track? How consistently aware are you of your goals and how well your actions align with them? Do you think awareness of them—keeping your priorities on your mind—is the key to scoring well on the progress report? What else works? Will you keep your big items the same for the next quarter? How about the small items? What will you add? Does the act of making this progress report make it more likely you will improve next quarter? Are you satisfied with your efforts for the first three months of the year? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you grade your year so far?

Keep shining,

William

P.S. If this was a good check-in for you, please share it. Let’s make it an amazing year!

Learning to Flex Your Brave Muscles

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’ ‘That is the only time he can be brave,’ his father told him.” –George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Hello friend,

I am attempting a new workout routine to start the New Year. Like any new workout, it is causing me lots of aches and pains. Lots of grumbling, too. It is hard to keep going every day. It’s even harder to step up to those crisis moments, when it feels too daunting to continue, when giving up is the greatest temptation. They say that’s just how new workout programs are. The muscles need lots of time and repetition to get accustomed to lifting the load over and over again. After a while, it will get easier, or so they say. Right now, though, it’s hard to believe them. It just feels like a lot of work and pain and doubt.

Which muscles am I working on, you ask? My Brave Muscles.

That’s what I call them anyway. The Brave Muscles are the ones you need when you feel the most self-doubt. They are the ones you need when you feel afraid, unsure, and embarrassed. You need your Brave Muscles when you feel alone and not up to the task ahead. You need them most when your dreams—the very life of your soul—are at stake and you feel like giving up and playing small.

I have felt all of those things lately. None of them are any fun, believe me. That is why I started my workout routine. I need to build up my Brave Muscles, because they seem to have withered over the years.

The place where I worked for the last few years just shut down, so I am out of work and hoping to avoid a family financial crisis in the coming months. When I started that job, I planned for it to be the last “real job” I ever had, before my writing career took off and I could work from home around my family’s schedule. Well, I wasn’t exactly up to speed yet when the axe fell, so now I am in a minor panic about my future, my dreams, and my family’s well-being. I desperately want to get to some writing projects that could be the transition to that career of my dreams, but the tension is rising as the clock—and my bank account—counts down.

Looming on the other side is the “safe route” of a real job and more money, but that translates to the loss of my dreams and a coinciding loss of my family’s charmed existence of maximum quality time together. I despise that safe route right now! Still, it sings its siren song of safety and certainty.

Needless to say, I am at war with myself. I know I am supposed to feel weak and embarrassed—and I do–about threatening my family’s financial stability by being without a guaranteed, regular income. I know I am supposed to feel guilty—and I do—about selfishly going after my dreams instead of settling for something more stable. The uncertainty of it has me feeling quite alone on my island. Those feelings—weak, embarrassed, guilty, selfish, uncertain, lonely–don’t sit well with me at all.

But on the other side of all of that weakness is this fire raging in me to burst upon my dreams with all the gusto I can summon, to demand from myself and from the Universe that THIS IS MY TIME!!! My soul demands that I seize this little moment—despite it being forced upon me—to lay claim to my purpose and Follow My Bliss. And of course, to make it work.

The path of least resistance—at least on the outside—is the safe route. There is such a powerful allure to that. It doesn’t require the workout routine. My soul can be a couch potato and sloth away the years of my life. When I am not guarding my thoughts closely, I fall prey to all of those self-defeating thoughts and emotions. “It’s too hard (or risky, new, unlikely to succeed, selfish…..). I’m not good (or prepared, talented, connected, wealthy, lucky…..) enough.” They spread like a gasoline fire through my heart and mind.

They come whenever I get stuck at a tough part while writing my book. They come when I am reading about how hard it is to get an agent or a publisher. They come when the bank statement arrives in the mail. They come when someone asks me, “What do you do for a living?”

This is where the new workout routine enters the picture. I decided, entering this year, that how I wanted to feel most this year is BRAVE. So, whenever one of those weak moments arises—it happens many times per day, believe me—and my confidence starts spinning away into oblivion, my job is to recognize it as soon as possible, before the devastation is too widespread. This early recognition is an enormous challenge, but I am getting lots of practice and learning the telltale signs: constricting chest, pit in my stomach, frown on my face, and that twisting, sinking mind. Once I recognize it, it is time for those Brave Muscles to go to work. I remind myself to take a deep breath. Then I clear those awful thoughts from my mind, replacing them with visions of what my soul is called to do. Finally, I speak some words of conviction and determination: “I’m doing this!”

And I am. One crisis moment at a time, those Brave Muscles are getting stronger and stronger. I know there will never come a day when I don’t need them anymore, so I might as well get lots of repetitions in now, to build that strength and endurance for the long haul. The biggest dreams need those things.

The workouts may be exhausting and the signs of progress frustratingly slow to reveal themselves, but I can already tell that it is worth the effort. These Brave Muscles are flexing, and every time they do, I can feel my soul begin to rise. I think I might just soar.

How about you? In what part of your life could you use more courage today? Open up your journal and let yourself feel around for your weak spots. In what part of your life are you operating out of fear? Is it in a relationship? In your career? Your finances? Your politics or spirituality? In what area is your self-esteem the lowest? Where are you in relation to your dreams? Are you following your Bliss? If you are not, why not? What would being more brave look like in your life? Would the changes be subtle or dramatic? How does that image of a Brave You feel in your heart? Pretty awesome, right? What specific things are keeping you from flexing your Brave Muscles and demanding that life? How good are you at catching and correcting your mind when it starts spiraling out of control with thoughts of fear and self-doubt? It’s hard! But your best life is worth the effort. What small act of bravery can you take today to better yourself? I dare you! Leave me a reply and let me know: How strong are your Brave Muscles?

Stake a claim to your greatness,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it. And make sure you are signed up to receive every post in your email inbox right when I publish them. Make it a brave week!

Can You Be Present With Your Mind On The Future?

dsc_0457“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.” —Mother Teresa

Hello friend,

I recently finished a book in the Motivational/Self-Help genre. I liked it. All along, the author talked about how great I was going to be and how that greatness was going to come about. I was going to keep my focus on my goals and not lose sight of what I knew in my heart that I would become. I was going to do everything in my power to make that future of my dreams happen. It was a good (and necessary) kick-in-the-pants kind of reminder to keep planning and taking action toward my biggest dreams.

So, the book had me totally looking forward to my best self living my best life and generally nailing my future. I was excited! Then, near the very end of the book, I got thrown for a loop. The author was into the major instructions portion, where she lays out the exact habits and attitudes required to take those crucial steps forward to the life of my dreams. I was chomping at the bit, ready to soak up the wisdom. And there it was….

Just stay in the moment. Be present.  

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Not that vexing answer! My brain began having flashbacks to this issue that I have, in all of my years and efforts to read and understand different spiritual and psychological perspectives, never quite been able to unravel the mystery of. That is, How can you keep your mind totally in the present—live a brand of “walking meditation” continually—but at the same time plan for the future and dream?  

I am a big believer in meditation and the growth that can come from simply quieting the mind and controlling the breath. And I am all in favor of stopping to smell the roses while they bloom. My kids have taught me the beauty of living in the moment.

But aren’t I supposed to be planning to improve myself and make positive change in my world? To grow, to challenge myself and others, to dream big, to plan for greatness, and to seek out the best course of action? My gut tells me that is the right thing to do. But isn’t that stuff, by definition, in the future? And isn’t the future, by definition, not the present? I am vexed!

How do I reconcile these two wonderful philosophies of life? I see the value in both, but I am just not sure they mesh as easily as the author of my recent book let on. In fact, she didn’t explain it at all. She just plopped this brilliant “stay in the moment” suggestion, which is a staple of human growth, smack in the middle of all of this talk of forward thinking, then kept right on going, expecting me not to notice the dissonance my brain started feeling immediately. Well, I noticed! And now, as Fate would have it, I really need an answer.

The owners of my day job just announced this week that we are going out of business. A few short weeks from now, I will no longer have a job. Yikes!

Amazingly, in the days since the announcement, I have not totally freaked out. I have not succumbed to the worry/fear/dread combo that I know are one of one of my options in this situation. I am pretty proud of myself for that, actually.

What has been my reaction? Basically, I have started a mad dash to get a book project and other writing stuff done as fast as possible, hoping to produce something for submission by the time I am out of work. Instead of getting bogged down by what has happened to my job or dealing directly with my shock and sadness over it, I am flinging myself headlong into the future.

But what about the present? 

That is the question that keeps haunting me. As I zip through my plans, hopes, dreams, and visualizations, I sometimes catch myself and give myself a little scolding for getting out of the present moment. That’s what the meditation and self-help books would say, right? “Just be in the moment. The precious present. There is nowhere else to be.”

But don’t they see I need a new career? In the near future! I have to plan, don’t I?

I think maybe I am trying to be too literal with the “Stay in the moment” instructions? I mean, I understand the general gist of the instruction. I have read enough books on the topic and can easily regurgitate quotes like “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift. That is why they call it ‘the present.’” The idea is not to dwell on the sorrows and regrets from your past, because you can’t do anything about the past anymore (I am pretty good with that side of it), and not to live in worry and fear for your future, because most of what we worry about is out of our hands (and often doesn’t happen anyway). Basically, regrets and fears are a waste of time and energy, and they distract you from the beauty that is right in front of you in this moment, which is the only one that exists.

So, stay present! Be here now. I get it.

I am, by nature, a rule follower. This is especially so when I agree with the rules. And I love this rule! I have reaped the benefits of it. As I said, I see the beauty of it in my children. I am a huge believer in presence and the magnificent gift that it is, both to ourselves and to the people around us. So, I try really hard to color inside the lines on this one.

This is exactly why I am so torn right now over my inclination to plan ahead for my future of joblessness. I want to follow the rule. I want to put my intentions out into the Universe and then just be present, trusting that the right thing will come my way. No worry, no fear.

Ahhhh. That is so calming even just writing the words. Present moment, wonderful moment. Om…….

But darn it, I am about to lose my job! I need income for my family! In the present moment, I have to think about my future and make plans for what comes next. I need to think about who I want to be and what I want my life to look like, specifically how my next job will mesh with my vision. My present has to be about my future! Is there a loophole for that? {That reminds me of my kids’ movie “Inside Out,” when the Sadness character glumly says about Joy’s plan, “You’ll get lost in there.” Joy responds, “C’Mon! Think positive!” Sadness, totally authentically, replies, “Okay…. I’m positive you’ll get lost in there.” The loophole!}

Seriously, in all of my years of studying personal growth, this is the one bee still in my bonnet. How do you reconcile these two animals: 1) remaining in the precious present, and 2) striving for new, better, and more in the future? I want both!

As I am writing this, I am beginning to see that maybe what my tension around this issue is, more than anything else, is that I want permission to have both. I want some expert to tell me it’s okay, that I have, indeed, discovered the loophole. I want the guru to say, “Sure, as long as your time and energy spent focusing on the future involve planning and striving for positive things rather than worrying and fearing about what will come, go for it!” Yes, I think that is it (see what journaling can do!). I guess I just need to get over my need for permission, trust my instincts, and go out and stake my claim on the future. (And then maybe meditate for balance!)

How about you? Which tense do you live in: past, present, or future? Open up your journal and take a journey in your mind. Where do you find yourself? How much time do you spend in your past? Are your thoughts of the past positive ones—which, I suppose, is the corresponding loophole for that tense—or are they full of regret and shame? Are even happy memories just crutches we should mostly let go of in favor of the present? How about the future? How much time do you spend looking forward? Is it more about dreaming, planning, or fearing? Are you a worrier? What is there to gain from worrying? After your thoughts of past and future, how much time is left for the present moment? How good are you about staying focused on the now? Do you have any practices or tricks—meditation, yoga, deep breathing—that help you to be more present? What works best? How aware are you of the workings of your mind and which tense you are in? Are you like me and get annoyed at yourself when you recognize your thoughts have wandered too far off, especially into fears of the future or regrets from the past? Am I crazy to need a loophole in the “rule” about presence to give myself permission to plan ahead or dream of what I wish to become? What is the right balance of tenses? What works best for you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is there such a thing as dreaming while being present?  

You are bigger than you imagine,

William

P.S. If today’s letter helped you understand your mind better, please share it. We are complex characters who could all use a little help. Blessed be.

My Fellow Americans: A Patriotic Challenge for You

DSC_0646“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” –John F. Kennedy

Hello friend,

Happy Independence Day! This is one of my favorite holidays, because, at least where I spend it, there is a nostalgic, America-in-a-simpler-time kind of feel. It feels wholesome and good, the way I want to feel about my country and my countrymen.

It is a crazy time that we are living in. Bombs are going off seemingly all around us. People are killing each other in the name of God and country. Politicians running for our highest offices are trying to provoke fear and hatred (which will, of course, lead to more bombs and more fear). There is an atmosphere of “us” versus “them,” and you can decide on the Flavor Of The Day for who the “them” is going to be: Muslims, the police, Black Lives Matter, the government, the Christian Coalition, women, immigrants, Democrats, Mexico, the media, China, the LGBTQ community, refugees, Republicans, you name it. The list goes on and on. Who can I blame for my troubles? Who should I fear? Who is definitely NOT me? Simply open your eyes and ears—to Facebook, Fox News, Twitter, or your local watering hole—and you will be told any number of answers to these questions.

There are all kinds of “them” out there, very few of “us.” At least that is what we are told. It can feel kind of scary, I admit. Kind of isolating. Like you just want to huddle together with your little “us” and live your life, however small it has become from all of this antagonism and fear-mongering. I get it.

But I don’t believe that is what “America,” the concept, is all about. And I don’t believe that smallness—that scared, angry smallness—is befitting of We, The People of this amazing country.

So, on this week of celebration of our country, in this age of fear, hate, and isolation, I have a challenge for you.

My fellow Americans, I challenge you to be bigger.

I challenge you to rise above the characters on the TV news and the snarky memes on Facebook and the politics and the racism and the xenophobia. I challenge you to see those things for what they are when you meet them (which you will do many times per day), and then rise above them.

Stand up to people when it’s necessary. Call out bigotry and narrow-mindedness when you can. Do not be silent on issues that really matter. But don’t dirty yourself in the process. Offer your insights with grace. Let people know that you respectfully disagree or that what they are saying offends you. That can be done with kindness and without anger, no matter how disgusted you may feel in the moment. Rise above it.

Seek first to understand people. Before you rush to judgment based on someone’s appearance or ancestry or personal history, try to find out where they are really coming from. What is in their heart? What matters to them? How are they like you?

Give people the benefit of the doubt. You have no idea what burdens any other person carries. You don’t know whose mother just died, who just lost their job, who just got the results of their biopsy, and whose marriage is falling apart. You just don’t know. So give people a break. Let it go. Rise.

Find common ground. This has been a tough one during this election cycle. Republicans are commanded to simply disagree with whatever the Democrats say, and vice versa. Both sides are suffering for it, as are the rest of the people who don’t want to be stuck on one side or the other. But it is not just a political thing. It is a religious thing. It’s a global thing. And it’s a neighborhood thing. We are all—and I mean all—so much more alike than we are different. Seeking out the ways we are alike humanizes each other. It makes everyone less scary, too. Choose that.

Seemingly on the flipside of finding our sameness, try to recognize that each person is different, even members of groups that have big names, like Muslim, Mexican, and Republican. Uncover the nuances that make each person unique. Don’t let a politician define for you how a Muslim acts. Or a Mexican. Or a Republican. Open yourself to the richness of the tapestry woven into each group, even if others want you to believe it is just one thread, one color. Then you won’t be surprised when you meet that Mexican Muslim Republican who lives down the street!

No matter how much you educate yourself, try to remember how much you don’t know. Let that keep you humble. And let it keep you ever searching for more knowledge and a greater understanding. Grow.

Dare to be yourself. Understand what lights you up and do more of it. Speak your Truth (respectfully, of course). If that means you don’t fit neatly into a box or a political party, great! Whatever you do, let it come from your heart. It sets a wonderful example.

Be the one who reaches out, who lifts another up. There are so many people who need help. A job. Advice. Money. Encouragement. Food. A warm smile. A place to stay. Someone to sit by. An acknowledgment of their worth. You have the power to give something. Find what it is and give it.

Expand your circle. Look more strangers in the eye. Look for ways to connect with people who have different life experiences than you. Allow those connections to help you to better empathize. Expand.

In the end, my fellow Americans, I suppose my challenge to you can be boiled down to this: Choose to act from Love rather than from Fear.

 Trust me, if you operate from a place of Love rather from Fear, you will instantly find yourself living bigger. Your surroundings will look completely different to you. Opportunities to learn, grow, and give will appear everywhere you look. Interactions with people who are different than you will excite you rather than scare or aggravate you. You will begin to find similarities where once you found only differences. At last, you may even come to understand the truth in the phrase, “When you see nothing but yourself wherever you look, you peer through the eyes of God.”

I challenge you to get there. And I believe you can. Believe me, I am working on these challenges myself. I see the beauty of Life increase with each step I take in the right direction. It gives me hope.

Hope for myself. Hope for you. Hope for us all.

I feel like our country needs that right now. It needs a whole bunch of people taking steps in the direction of Love. It needs a whole bunch of people to be bigger than we have been. Our future depends on it. It depends on you. I believe you are ready to step up to the challenge.

How about you? Do you accept my challenge? Open up your journal and explore the ways that you can—right now—begin to live a bigger life, a life based more in Love and less in Fear. Perhaps the process begins by identifying the times in your life when you operate out of Fear. Which people—either individuals or groups—seem to draw that out of you? Are you able to articulate what it feels like when you operate that way? What is it about those people that triggers you? What makes you act small? What purpose does it serve for you? Do you feel better or worse because of it? Does looking down on some person or group—or hating them, or badmouthing them, or blaming them for your problems—make you feel stronger? Is it energy well spent? When was the last time you really got to know someone from a different walk of life than you? How did it benefit you? When was the last time you really helped someone who needed it? Do you make a habit of it? How does it make you feel when you help someone improve upon their existence? Do you find it is usually worth your effort? How good are you at maintaining a level of class and grace when you are strongly disagreeing with someone? What triggers you to sink to a level you later regret? How diverse is your circle? Are you willing to try to broaden it? How will you start? On a scale of one to ten, how compassionate are you? How well do you empathize with others? How well do you understand your own privilege? How humble are you? I think that if we all put in the effort to bump up our scores on each of those questions, we would be better for it. Better parents. Better sons and daughters. Better friends. Better neighbors. Better citizens. We could make a better America together. Leave me a reply and let me know: Will you take my challenge with me?

 Be bigger today,

William

P.S. If you believe the challenge is worthwhile, pass it on. Let us rise as one!

Slasher Films, Heights, & The Principal’s Office: What Scares You Most in This World?

DSC_1155“Don’t be afraid of being scared. To be afraid is a sign of common sense. Only complete idiots are not afraid of anything.” –Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel’s Game 

Hello friend,

It was a perfect afternoon for Spring skiing in the magnificent mountains of Montana. It was the early 80s, and I was a boy of no more than ten. Every year when I was a kid, we would load up the family truckster and cross the flatlands of North Dakota to those beautiful mountains, one state away but feeling like a whole other planet to me. By the time that fateful day came around, I had been on skis for several years. I was an intermediate—not better—but I had fumbled my way down some pretty serious terrain with my daredevil older brothers and our mountain companions.

We usually shared our family trips with other families—a couple of crews jammed into a condominium down in the valley by night and spread out all over the mountain by day—and that year’s trip was no different. My partners for the day were my brother Jacques and our friend Mike, both a year or so older than me, and both fearless. They would go full-speed over the biggest of jumps and then zip through the woods to find more of them. They never worried about getting hurt and never minded breaking the rules in their search for fun and adventure. In this way and more, I definitely proved to be the odd man out in that young threesome.

I was the scaredy-cat of the group. When they threw caution to the wind, I made sure to catch it for them and keep it safe. But that had always been me. I was the kid who took every warning and cautionary tale to heart. Although I came by it naturally, my worrisome mother put the fear of many things in me, including such things as motorcycles and snakes. She was sure the “loads” smoking in the alley across the street from the middle school were big trouble, and I became obsessively frightened of them as a little kid. I was terrified of Mr. Medalen, my elementary school principal (and every principal thereafter). I remember being in his office when I won the school spelling bee, and I was still sweating bullets thinking he was going to grab my ear for some offense I didn’t know I had committed. I was—and still am, I must admit–that way around police officers, too. I also never liked scary movies (though perhaps that is because I shouldn’t have been watching “The Amityville Horror,” “Friday the 13th,” and the like as a second grader), and I always feared hurting myself if I went fast on bikes, skis, or skateboards. I guess caution and fear were just in my nature. So, it’s no surprise I was not the leader of the pack with my brother and Mike that day on the mountain. Oh sure, I followed them off the same jumps and through the same woods, but I did it with less speed and more fear than they did. They were older and cooler; who was I to argue?

That is how I found myself, on that loveliest of mountain afternoons, scared completely out of my wits. It all started with mischievous Mike, who had skied the mountain the day before we had arrived and claimed to know where the best trails were. He led a large contingent of us—adults included–on a beautiful, untouched powder run earlier in the day. Of course, the only reason it was untouched was that we had to ski under the out-of-bounds rope to get to it. This, of course, terrified me. I was just sure we would be discovered and banned from skiing at the resort ever again. I could not believe my parents were allowing it to happen. I was the youngest from both families and powerless to say anything. I was nervous the whole way down, certain of our imminent capture and punishment. To my great relief, we made it down and back inside the ropes without incident.

Later in the day, though, as closing time rapidly approached, the three of us youngsters split off from the group, and the real adventure began. Mike said he knew about one other special run for us. As we casually cruised down one of our usual runs, suddenly Mike—with Jacques right on his heels—darted to the right and under the out-of-bounds rope into forbidden territory. Dread instantly consumed me. The run behind the ropes was called “War Dance.” I was familiar with it, as each morning as we drove up to the mountain in the family van, I could see its imposing moguls, steepness, and especially its “cliff” cutting right across the middle of the run. It looked like the last place I belonged on that mountain. Since it had a name and a rating (definitely black diamond), I assumed it had been open at some point in history when there was enough snow to cover over the branches and rocks of the cliff that bisected the run and had to be navigated to make it to the bottom alive. But I had never seen it open and had no plans to visit if it ever did. Clearly, Mike had other plans.

With my heart in my throat, I ducked under the rope and raced to catch up. The top of the run was much flatter but full of deep powder from lack of use. My adrenaline was fueled by the potential for capture, the dangerous cliff and steepness that I knew were up ahead, and finally, a race against the clock. It was the end of the day, and by taking that turn under the rope, we were headed to the back side of the mountain, where the only chairlift was about to close and there was no other way back to the lodge and our families. We needed to get to the bottom alive, without getting caught, and fast!

As we drew to a halt at the top of the cliff, we were all stumped as to how to make it down to the next tier. The snow just stopped, and in the ten or fifteen vertical feet before it began again, there were only rocks and twisted branches. I was as scared as I had ever been. I skied side-to-side from one tree line to the other, trying to find an opening, a path that would not lead to death or dismemberment. Finally, seeing no way to ski around it and knowing we were almost out of time, I made the fateful decision to take my skis off and carry them on my shoulder as I climbed/slid down the cliff. Shaking with fear, I inched my way down, then watched as my companions abandoned their fears and skied right over the tangled branches and rocks, both miraculously making it without breaking a bone or a ski.

Feeling some relief that the cliff was in the past, it seemed like all that was left was an all-out sprint against the clock. Unfortunately for me, my troubles were only beginning. On the steep face of a mountain that was covered in deep powder, getting my skis back on proved to be a nearly impossible endeavor. While Jacques and Mike made their way over the moguls and finally a beeline to the long catwalk that led out of the woods and toward the lift, I fought with my equipment to get the snow cleared just enough to get my boots clamped in, however tenuously. Sweating profusely and hearing the clock ticking in my mind, I finally got them on and did my best to catch up.

As I pulled out of the woods and caught sight of my partners approaching the lift up ahead, something was eerily missing from the scene. People. No one was there. Our side of the mountain was closed for the day, and even the lift operators had gone up the mountain. Terror filled my heart as I drew nearer to the base of the lift. Our one salvation was that it was still moving, carrying its hundreds of empty benches up the mountain. For a brief moment, I thought we might get off scot-free. We hadn’t been killed on War Dance, no one knew we were out of bounds, and now we were going to make it to the top so we could ski down the other side of the mountain and see our families again. Hallelujah!

As I poled my way toward the lift, Mike tried to jump on quickly, but in his haste, lost his balance and fell off immediately. As he collected his equipment and put it on again, Jacques hopped on to the next one. Nearing a fear-induced coronary, I eventually made it to the line. Just as I was hopping on, Mike clicked into his ski and made a leap in from the side to join me on my chair before it ascended. He just made it, but he knocked me off in the process. In a desperate panic, I gathered myself, reassembled my skis and poles, and climbed safely on a chair.

And that is how we rode: Jacques way up ahead, then Mike in the middle, me in the distant rear. We could hear each other by shouting, but no one was in the mood for banter at that point. After all of the drama, at last we were on our way to safety.

And then, the lift stopped dead.

My heart felt like it stopped right with it. It was my worst nightmare. Gripped by fear, we all started shouting for help, hoping desperately that someone on top of the mountain—someone far out of our sight—would hear our calls and start the chair again. We yelled and yelled, but nothing happened. The chairs just sat there, dangling from their cable high above the ground. I was in shock and disbelief. Could we make it through the night in the cold? What if I fell asleep up there and slipped off? Might the Ski Patrol make a final sweep of the mountain and rescue us? Were we going to be banned or arrested? The only certainty seemed to be that if we survived, our parents were going to kill us.

When we finally gave up our shouting, there was an eerie silence over the mammoth mountainside. Not a soul in sight except for Jacques and Mike, a couple of kids dangling high in the air above the frozen earth. Trapped. I felt so small and powerless. And afraid. I was really, really afraid.

As I poured over the dangers in my mind and prepared to settle in for the toughest night of my life, Mike, ever the impulsive one, yelled that he was going to jump. Jump??? He was the highest up of any of us, and it was absolutely the worst idea ever. Even with all of these years to think about this, I am still fairly certain that he would have been killed by the fall. At the very least, he would have broken both of his legs and other bones in the fall (with skis and ski boots on, remember). I looked on in horror as he let go of his poles, imagining him about to take the same long, slow fall to the hardened snow far below. He turned sideways on his chair, shimmied one leg and cheek off the edge, and…..

The chair started moving.

I heard the breath finally come out of my lungs. My friend’s life had just been saved, and we were going to get to the top of the mountain that day! Relief does not even begin to describe what I felt. Of course, I was still scared to death of the consequences facing us at the top of the mountain from the resort staff, and at the bottom of the mountain from my parents. But that was so much better than the fear of seeing my friend jump to his death or freezing on a chairlift all night. I learned on that fear-filled day that there are degrees of awful.

As it turned out, we got off easy on all fronts. The lift operators stopped the lift three times before I finally touched the ground—once before each one of us got off at the top so each guy could dangle there one last time and be bawled out individually before they set us free. None of us said a word as we skied down the other side of the mountain. When we finally made it to the lodge at the bottom, we found our parents in their usual spot at the bar, having hardly noticed that we were late.

My nerves were shot. My body was all knots. I was traumatized. As I listened to Jacques and Mike re-tell our tale later that night to our older siblings, I was amazed at how they were able to make it sound like a fun adventure that they would happily repeat. Their bravado astounded me. It was just another great story in their growing catalog of daring-dos. Not me. The thought of getting into more trouble or risking my life only brought back all the feelings I had lived through that day. I don’t need any more memories like that. That one has never stopped haunting me.

How about you? What scares you most in this world? Open up your journal and your memory bank, and write about your most frightening life experiences. Which events jump out at you? Are they from childhood or adulthood? Are the details vivid in your memory, or do you just remember being very scared at the time? What are your big ones? Physical pain? Punishment, like my fear of the principal? Heights? Snakes or bugs? Dogs? Confined spaces? How do you do with horror movies? How much of our fear is innate and how much do we develop through negative experiences, especially as children? Overall, how much of a scaredy-cat are you? Do you wish you were more or less fearful? Can you think of times when your fear has helped you? Is fear mostly a waste of energy, like worry? Like most things in life, it’s complicated and different for all of us. How does it fit into your life story, both past and present? Leave me a response and let me know, What was your scariest day? 

Own your story,

William

P.S. If my story made you think of your story, share them both with someone. Boo!

Thanksgiving & Responsibility: Refugees & the Home of the Brave, Part 2

DSC_0061 2“The price of greatness is responsibility.–Winston Churchill

Hello friend,

Thanksgiving Week is always–for me, and probably you, too–a time of reflection about all of life’s many wonderful blessings. Seeing everybody’s gratitude posts on Facebook and getting texts from family members, it always puts me in the mindset of counting my blessings. This year was no different. Although I think of myself as habitually grateful—reminding myself every day in my journal of how blessed I am—Thanksgiving Day found me thinking in specifics about the things that make this life so magnificent.

Halfway through that day’s journal entry, I wrote to myself: “I am truly grateful for this wonderful life of mine. There is Love all around me and in my heart. I cannot believe how lucky I am to share this little world with Karla, India, and Isaiah. We have the best time together, and it makes me shudder to even begin to imagine a world without them. They are the best. And of course, my big Rutten family is all I could ask for in that department. I am also so, so grateful that I woke up a couple of years ago to the fire inside me and the need to pursue my passion and share my voice with the world. I am every day driven by that, and happily so. It is an enormous challenge, but that challenge represents the blessing of knowing who I am and what I have to give. It’s a beautiful responsibility. I’ll take it! It is plain to me in this moment that I am blessed in every way. It is a Happy Thanksgiving, indeed! Life is beautiful.

It’s a pretty typical gratitude check for my journal, the kind of sentiment that has filled up many lines of many pages of many journals in the last twenty years of writing. The part that my heart keeps going back to this Thanksgiving week, though—the word that feels exceedingly relevant in light of recent world events—is “responsibility.” Yes, with all of the focus everyone is putting on being thankful, my mind cannot help but carry gratitude to its next logical step. For me, Gratitude’s child is Responsibility.

I have always been a big believer in the principle, “With great gifts come great responsibilities,a.k.a. “To whom much is given, much is expected. In my mind, if you are lucky enough to have hit the lottery in one form or another—your intelligence, your physical abilities, your wealth, your power—then you have an obligation to do the best you can with your special gift. Honor what is special about you by using it to its fullest, especially in raising up others who were not given your gift. And don’t act like you are so much better than everyone else just because you won the lottery. You got lucky. Be grateful for that, not arrogant. That’s how I see it.

Lately, my beloved America has been embroiled in the drama of the Syrian refugee crisis. Even though there is, theoretically, space enough and resources enough for a few more in this great land, we ardently demand that our borders be closed and our resources saved just for us. Mine, not yours! It is greedy and small of us. But mostly, it just feels like our response is a blatant display of ingratitude.

We have struck the geographic lottery by being born in America, where we have tons of freedoms, clean water, never wars on our soil, and relative economic prosperity. And very few of us have personally done anything to earn this stuff. We got lucky by being born here. We have so much, and we like to think of ourselves as the world’s leader (e.g. we have taken it upon ourselves to explore space on behalf of all humankind, and it is always a “U.S.-led coalition” that goes after the bad guys). And yet, when a situation like the current refugee crisis arises, we avert our eyes and sit on our hands, pretending this is not EXACTLY the time that the world needs a real leader. The world needs a beacon of light right now, and instead, we are playing small. I am embarrassed by that.

The other angle of this situation with American attitudes toward the refugees that increasingly bothers and embarrasses me is the religious hypocrisy slant. Despite liking the idea of being a melting pot, the majority of people seem to cling desperately to the idea that we are a “Christian nation.” Though I am not a Christian, I have been one, I’ve read the Bible from start to finish, and I think very highly of the man called Jesus of Nazareth. From what I know of him and his principles, my guess is that he would be first in line to welcome the refugees and help them to re-establish themselves and become prosperous and contributing members of our community.

Jesus was, if nothing else, a teacher of love, tolerance, and humility. And yet, here we are as a nation of his followers, and the dominant features of our attitudes in this situation are fear, intolerance, and hubris. I shake my head as I think how sadly appropriate the meme on my friend’s Facebook page was this week showing Kermit the Frog sipping tea, with the caption reading, “All of the Bible Belt states refusing refugees put on a Christmas play every year about a Middle-Eastern family seeking shelter, fleeing persecution…but that’s none of my business.

It is easy to have principles when everything is going your way. It is convenient to be righteous when nothing is being asked of you. Well, guess what? Something is being asked of us now. We are being asked to share. Share our compassion. Share our resources. Share our country.

For most of us, the reason we are Americans is that our ancestors came here seeking a better life, a life with greater opportunity and less persecution. Others of us are here because our ancestors were brought here against their will and sold into slavery. Whatever the case, we are all here now, and we are pretty darn lucky to be here. We are blessed in so many ways that others are not. We have good reason to celebrate Thanksgiving. Collectively, our cup is full.

The question we have to ask ourselves—individually and collectively—is this: How are we going to express that gratitude? Not just, “How are we going to be grateful?” but rather, “How are we going to act grateful?” What will we do? How can we make ‘gratitude’ a verb? Will we take up the responsibility that our many blessings call for? Will we take Jesus’ example seriously? Will we lead? Or will we play small? Will we hide behind fear and bigotry, seeking only to protect what we are sure is “ours” alone? We have to look ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves a loaded question.

Basically, if we really are grateful for all we have and all that comes with being an American, then we have a responsibility to help. To open our grateful hearts and share. I want to think that we are big enough to rise to that. I want to. But are we? Our day of reckoning is here. Let us reveal ourselves. I am ready to stand with my arms open.

How about you? What kind of responsibility are you feeling this week? Open up your journal and explore your relationship with gratitude and responsibility. What are you most grateful for this year? How grateful are you to live in this country? What about being an American is so special and makes us so lucky? Is it mostly about the principles that the country was founded upon? Or is it the economic prosperity and opportunities? How about the relative safety and security? If you are reading this letter, you are probably one of the more prosperous people in the world. How much of that is your own doing? Do you agree with me that much of what we have is dumb luck, that we could just as well have been born in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, or Syria? If this is true, then how greedy are we justified in being with “our” space and “our” resources? Where would you be now if your ancestors were shut out of America the way so many of us are demanding that we shut out the refugees now? If we are as blessed as I believe we are, don’t we have a responsibility to help these people who are literally without a country? If not us, who do you think should help them? When you turn your back on someone in need–someone whom you have the resources to help–how does that make you feel? Powerful? Or small? It makes me feel small. Are you a Christian? What do you think Jesus’ stand on helping the refugees would be? Do you think it would matter to him what their religion is? What can you do to step up today, to honor your privileges? Leave me a reply and let me know: Do our many blessings come with greater responsibilities?

Happy Thanksgiving,

William

P.S. I thank you for reading my letter. If you are grateful for it, please share it with friends.

Searching for Light in a Time of Darkness: Refugees & The Home of the Brave

DSC_0522“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” –Nelson Mandela

Hello friend,

A dark cloud has followed me around this week. Feelings of sadness, disappointment, frustration, and despair have figured prominently in my days. I’m disheartened. The terrorist attacks on Paris were a painful reminder of our vulnerability and the fragility of life. It can all be over in a moment. The attacks also showed vividly how a force of evil can be the dark, scary monster lurking in our collective closet, something we can all rally together against. And though the terrorism hurt my heart, it has not been the darkness that has been my companion through the week (sadly, the regularity of mass killings in our society has numbed me a bit, making me better able to bounce back from their shock).

No, the disappointment and sick-to-my-stomach despair I have been carrying around have been caused not by terrorists but by my own countrymen, my acquaintances, even my own friends. My Facebook newsfeed is a storm of anti-refugee sentiment. People are shouting (in their Facebook voices): “Lock the gates!“Refugees are terrorists!“Muslims keep out!“Not in MY state!They are calling for the President’s head because he simply suggested we keep our hearts open to these people who are literally without a country due to the atrocities and widespread destruction in their homeland. They literally have nothing left, and yet the level of negativity toward them is absolutely off the charts. Honestly, it breaks my heart.

It pains me not simply because innocent people in dire straits are being subjected to intense bigotry based on their religion—though that would be reason enough to hurt my feelings—but mostly because it is happening in my Facebook feed. In other words, my ‘friends’ are the bigots. Like most people, my Friend List is a huge mix of people who are from my hometown, my extended family, or other stops along my path. Some of them I know well, some not at all, and everything in between. But somehow, one of us invited the other one to become ‘friends,’ and the other one accepted. I have to take some ownership there. So now I have these people in my little web–some of whom I was just last week liking their photos of their kids’ swim meets or their vacation or whatever–who are unleashing all manner of ignorance and negativity upon me in the form of their posts and shares of videos and memes. It is a gut-punch. It feels like my house is infested with fear and hatred, and I have the guilt of someone who allowed it in by creating the group in the first place. I feel dirty.

I have gone through my own evolution of reactions to the ignorant posts as the week has progressed, something like the stages of grief. At first, I was in denial. When I saw the first few, I just shook my head and tried to pass them off as someone who was just unusually misinformed on the situation. I made sure I read up a bit more on the real situation to be sure I had my facts straight. When more posts came in, I started to see the seriousness of the situation. It wasn’t just a random extremist. I began re-reading them several times, angrily rebutting the bigotry and misinformation in my mind. Pretty soon it felt like bombs were falling on me from everywhere, and I started to become numb to it. I tortured myself by reading the comments after the hateful posts, which, of course, just piled it on thicker. I felt helpless. What could little old me do in the face of such darkness? My stomach was actually sick from it. Psychologically, I went into the fetal position. I went to bed that night a beaten man.

When I woke up the next day, my mind had cleared just enough to resolve that I had to do something to feel good and authentic again, something that proved to myself I wasn’t yet buried by the darkness. Scrolling through my newsfeed, I soon came across a meme from a ‘friend’ (who I don’t actually know) that was both false and totally mean-spirited. Before I blocked him, I commented on his post: “Do you actually think about these things before you post them? His response: “Facebook is supposed to be fun. Enough said.

Later that day, another ‘friend’ shared an article and her own rant about how all of us soft-hearted people should be forced to house these terrorist refugees in the article so that we would learn our lesson. In my new resolve, I read the article with an open mind and found that this was probably not the best piece to back up her opinion, as it pertained to Americans who were leaving our country and going to Syria to join ISIS. I decided that, even though her emotions were already clearly charged up and her opinion decided, I would still respond in a neutral yet authentic way. My comment: “This article is about AMERICANS traveling to Syria. I’m guessing the refugees would like to avoid these folks as much as you would. Perhaps learning a bit more about the atrocities happening there and the unlivable conditions might give us all some more compassion toward these people who have nowhere to go. Her response: “Zero background checks. That’s all I need to know. Apart from that being false, it was clear that her mind was made up and my energy best spent elsewhere. Before she was unfollowed later that day, she had posted a harmless anti-Obama meme meant to be humorous—which I don’t mind at all—and then a twenty-minute, extremist, rock-video style video meant to frighten everyone into shutting out every future refugee from anywhere (as many of the folks in the video were definitely not from Syria).

It was then that I decided that I cannot have a personal exchange with every hate-monger, fear-monger, and misinformed person out there. Sure, I can block and unfollow, and I can comment where I think there are ears that might hear, but it isn’t in me to squabble continuously. Thankfully, in the midst of all of the dark posts, I found something else that resonated with me. Another ‘friend’ of mine, herself in a minority group that has dealt with hatred and ignorance aplenty, posted a very personal message of how pained and disenchanted she was by the darkness that had consumed her own Facebook newsfeed, to the point that she would no longer be on it for a while. It sounded like the way I was feeling the day before. I sent her a short note of support, and suddenly my burden felt a little lighter. Later that night, I found an article and a meme that I thought would help people understand the situation of the refugees more clearly and shared them, and I have since shared a video that will hopefully open people’s hearts and minds regarding Muslims in general.

Much more than those shares, though, is that I have combed my newsfeed for posts that are positive and uplifting, and I have made it a point to like and comment on them, to thank the person for sharing. I have especially made it a point to send support to people who seem to be feeling the way I was—overwhelmed by the hate and fear-based posts—to let them know that they are not alone. It is no fun to be alone in the dark and under attack. In these attempts to connect with and support people who are leading with open hearts and open minds, I have found myself and my voice again.

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” –Father James Keller

How about you? Which emotions are driving you at this unique point in history? Open up your journal and really get down to the bare essence of what is in your heart. When you think about the situation with the Syrian refugees, what feelings well up? Sympathy? Suspicion? Sadness? Self-preservation? Openness? Guardedness? Are you able to separate your feelings about the refugee situation with your feelings about recent terrorist attacks?  Some people say that our attitudes and actions come from one of two places: Love or Fear. In this situation with the refugees, which one do you think is driving your position? Compared to the people around you, are you closer to the Love end of the spectrum or the Fear end? How do you deal with the people on the opposite end of the spectrum? Do you try to state your case and get them to change their mind (are you calm or passionate in your pleas?)? Do you simply avoid the topic or ignore their comments that oppose yours in order to keep the peace? Do you block and unfollow people? Whichever way you approach it, how does your response make you feel? Are you okay with it—proud of yourself, even–or do you feel small and inauthentic, perhaps frustrated with yourself? Do you stand up to some and let others go? How do you decide? What about when it comes to those who are on the same end of the spectrum as you? Are you more willing to speak up around them? How openly supportive of them are you? Do you know someone whom your opinion inspires? Are you proud of that and the example you are setting? What can you do today to bring more love, more hope, and more light to our world?

Be a light, always a light,

William

P.S. To live our best lives, we need to know ourselves better. If this letter helped you to better know who you are, share it with the world around you. Many thanks!

Living By The Opinions of Others

DSC_0397“Conformity is a copout. It threatens self-awareness.” –Alexandra Robbins

Hello friend,

Most weeks after I write my letter to you, I forget about it immediately and move on. After a few days of allowing my mind to be free and open, I start to wonder about what I will write to you next. This week, however, has been different. As I was closing last week’s post, “How to Change and Still Be Yourself,” one of the thoughts that sprung from my fingers to the screen regarding fear of being judged by others was, “Why do these people have so much power over you? Have they earned it?” It was one of those moments of writing when I said to myself, “Where did that sentence come from?” I didn’t think of it; it just came out. But when it hit me, it stuck. Really stuck. It resonated way down deep in me, touching a nerve that, apparently, needed some care and attention. All week long, I have returned to to this question.

I have questioned myself more than once as to whether I really got to the heart of the matter in last week’s post. It was about daring to break out of your comfort zone, and I talked about how I was trying to balance my desire to share my new business, which I really believe can help people, with my innate discomfort with selling anything. In the process of writing the letter, I became more certain that it was worth it to get past my discomfort in selling things because that is outweighed by the potential good I can share with others. The issue was supposed to be resolved with that realization.

So why has the topic lingered so much? It was that question about granting other people enormous power over my choices and actions without doing anything to earn that power. I have been thinking that maybe the crux of the issue is not that I am not a salesman; maybe my real comfort zone is when I don’t do anything that could draw criticism or rejection from my peers. This includes sales. I am thinking that the essence of why I don’t want to share a product and business that I believe in is that I am scared to be judged and rejected.

You are probably thinking, “Yeah yeah, we are all a little self-conscious and want our peers’ approval. It’s natural. Aren’t you used to that at your age?”   Well, yes and no. Of course, there has always been some desire for public approval (I was an actor, after all, and now I am a writer). But I have actually passed through periods where I believed I was somewhat free of my ego’s need for acceptance. When I was in my early twenties, I lived for a short time in New York City. The city was an animal like nothing I had ever experienced before. Everything—everything—was so big, so loud, so busy. And I didn’t know anybody. I was completely anonymous. I loved it! I have vivid memories of walking down the streets of Greenwich Village in the evening, singing out loud. Not to get anyone’s attention, but just because I felt like it. I felt so free to follow my whims because I was totally anonymous. No matter who I passed, I was quite sure I would never see them again. If they thought I was a lunatic for singing out loud as I walked, that didn’t bother me at all. Their opinions meant nothing to me. I could just as well have been walking alone in the desert. It was me and only me who I had to answer to. That freedom from caring about judgment gave me a free pass to be myself. It was a new Myself, though, one that I hadn’t known before, because I had always been around people that I knew and whom I had given permission to make me feel right or wrong, good or bad. But it was definitely me singing down that city street. The song in my heart was expressed. I was liberated.

Until I wasn’t. Gradually I slipped back into being too sensitive, too aware of what others might think of me. Maybe it was living in Hollywood, where everything is about the look, the image that people have of you. I suppose I succumbed to trying to be what I thought was the right way to look and act for the people in those circles. Eventually, though, I tired of that mindset. In my last several months in California, I took a deep dive into my spirituality and was heavily focused on its development. I was reading lots of books, and a genuine internal revolution was beginning that would come to shape my outlook on life for all of the years that have followed. I found myself achieving moments when I seemed to transcend this world, causing me to believe that I was becoming immune to the opinions of others. This week, as I was working on my late-night hobby, The Journal Project, I happened to arrive at an entry I made on September 1, 1997, about a month after I had left California. I was assessing the period of deep personal growth that I was in the midst of, and these were the phrases I used to describe my progress and position:

“It is a feeling of total peace within myself, as though there is no place I would rather be than my own skin. I have completely accepted who I am, and I am so very happy about the person who it is that I have accepted….I feel as though I have gradually but certainly taken a good look in the mirror and owned all of my attributes, some of which I am happy with and some of which need some work. But I have embraced them all and committed myself to become a positive force in this universe by trying to improve each attribute and use them to the best advantage of that universe. It is in embracing my total self that I am freed from self-doubt and freed from the opinions of others. In becoming free from the opinions of others, or perhaps because of it, I have allowed God to more fully become the true force guiding my life. I surrender myself to His will, and thereby make my life an extension of His hand. With this comes my release from the bondage of opinions. And with this release come a freedom that is so far beyond that which we speak of in our daily conversations. And it is as though I had no idea I wasn’t free until I was actually free.” 

Wow! Who was that guy? I envy him! How did he disappear? He definitely slipped back into being too concerned about what his family, coworkers, and Facebook friends think. And even though I try every day to be authentic and share myself honestly with the world around me, I know I fail at it. Every day. I don’t walk my neighborhood streets singing. I catch myself wondering what people will think of my wardrobe as I set my clothes out for the next day. I want a positive reputation. And clearly, as last week’s post reveals, I am worried about how people will think of me when I talk about my new business on Facebook. I am guilty!

And yet, I have my moments. I overcome it sometimes. I think I do it best for these Journal of You letters that I write to you. I made a little deal with myself during the first few posts I wrote that I would “follow the fear.” If a topic seemed uncomfortable to reveal my opinion about, I made myself address it. I made myself write about my weaknesses and insecurities. I made myself take on religion and politics. I shared about my family. I did this because I wanted Journal of You to be authentic, and I believed in its/my purpose. If the examples from my life and my opinions can get someone to start a journal and get to know themselves better, then exposing myself was well worth it. Maybe writing my Truth here will make me feel confident and more willing to share my opinions elsewhere and not be so sensitive to the opinions of others. The “real me” has appeared and disappeared too many times through the years. It is time to claim Myself again!

How about you? Whose opinions most dictate what you do and how you do it? Open your journal and expose yourself. Are you marching to the beat of your own drummer, or are you following someone else’s lead? In what areas of your life do you feel you are being most authentic, living your Truth? When you are in that mode, do you feel more or less sensitive to the opinions of others? What is it that allows you to be authentic despite your insecurities? Do you think you can carry that courage with you to other areas of your life? Has your sensitivity to the opinions of others remained pretty consistent throughout your life, or are you like me, having passed through periods of greater freedom and authenticity? When were you at your most free? How did you get there? Do you ever think you will get to the point where you literally do not care what anyone else thinks of you? How far down the road might that point be? Exactly which people are the ones you are allowing to oppress you (whether or not they know it or are intentionally doing so)? Is it your parents, family, friends, coworkers, Facebook friends, or society in general? I go back to my lingering questions from last week: Why do these people have so much power over you? Have they earned it? I know that in my life, I have given my power away too easily. The people I have given it to did not earn it at all. That realization is what eats at me. That is why those questions have lingered all week and will probably linger forever. How about you? Have you given your power away too easily? Has anyone earned it? What could someone do to truly earn your power? Leave me a reply and let me know: “Whose approval are you living for?” 

Life is short,

William

If I Won The Lottery…..

DSC_0141“If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, would answer you: I am here to live out loud.” –Emile Zola

Hello friend,

I have started to think that I am a hypocrite. Almost every week in this letter to you, I urge you to uncover your purpose—what makes your heart sing—and then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. I ask you to align your actions with your dreams, to take steps along the path of your Truth. I beseech you to not settle for less than what you believe you arrived here on Earth to do. I challenge you to be wholly authentic and to disregard the mega-dose of fear that is inherent in the activities of being so boldly you.

After all, finding your Truth requires a lot of experimentation, a lot of trial-and-error. You have to try on different versions of You and see how well they fit. People can be creative in a number of different ways. There are many ways to educate, many ways to heal, and many ways to serve. In your quest for authenticity, you have to jump head-first into a pond you have never swum in before, knowing that you may either fail miserably at the jump or simply decide that it was the wrong pond for you after all. When you have been brave enough to admit that, you then have to be even more courageous to jump right into the next pond that you think could be the one for you. It is like the hopeless romantic, willing to lay her heart on the line for the prospect of true love, even after the last prospect just ripped that same heart out and stomped on it.

Inherent in any life change, in any risk—whether that is a new career, learning a new skill, sharing your feelings, or cutting someone out of your life—is the very real likelihood of failure. What I have come to realize more and more as I study successful people is that the characteristic that they seem to have most in common is their extreme willingness to fail. In many cases, they have literally failed their way to success. In their quest to find their one true thing, they have put themselves out there, repeatedly taking a chance on themselves. And “failing” often. Yet that is what I ask of you in these posts. Lay your heart on the line. Try out a new you. Make bold moves in the spirit of your Truth. The level of courage it takes to be truly authentic in this conformist world is nothing short of heroic.

I have tried, in sharing my experiences with you, to be a real-life example of someone trying to know himself better in the service of living an authentic life. I believe that through journaling, I can better know who I really am. I can know what my purpose is, and that can only help me in following my Bliss. Most days, I like to think that I am doing a good job of listening to that inner voice. I hope that I am staying true to my dreams and taking chances where I can. I want to think that I can walk it, not just talk it. I don’t want to be an empty voice. I want to be someone worth admiring.

So why, over these last couple of weeks, have I started to believe that I am a hypocrite? I have, after all, been working diligently at getting my new businesses started so that I can pursue my dreams and serve people more effectively and more in line with my purpose. I have, at least on the surface, been staying true to my message.

In all of my busy-ness of late, I had the occasion a couple of weeks ago to stop and ask myself if it was all worth it (see “The Storm Before the Calm? Does BUSY Ever End?”). In ruminating on that topic, I had one of those “Calgon, take me away!!!” moments, and I began fantasizing about winning the lottery. I pictured myself with all of those millions at my disposal, and I wondered how it would change the way I pass the day. Sure, it is always fun to think about what you would buy with all that money—perhaps a post for a different day—but what I was interested in was which of my current pursuits would I still be doing if I had all the money I wanted and no need to work. Would I still be writing these letters to you every week? Would I keep my regular job? How about the two new businesses in skin care consulting and life coaching? If I won the lottery, which of these would stick?

In my lottery-winning mind, I quickly dismissed my regular job. Next went the skin care. I gave the Life Coaching longer consideration, because it is important enough to me to be of help to people in living their best lives. I would find a way to keep doing it in some form—even very part-time–as I rolled around in my bed full of dollar bills. As obvious as it was to dismiss my day job, it was equally obvious that, no matter what happened or how many millions I won, I would never quit writing. Never. The book ideas that I have—especially The Journal Project—would absolutely press on. I would bask in the newfound time that winning the lottery would offer me, and I would use that time to write. I would keep writing Journal of You to you every week, and I would spend the rest of the free time (that was once work time) writing my other stuff. Of course I would!

This is where I first caught a glimpse of my hypocrisy, and it has been eating at me ever since. Here is the crux of it: if writing is so important to me that I would pursue it even if I didn’t need any money from it, then why is it the one thing I have never tried to pursue as a profession? I have never looked in the classifieds. Never researched the job market or read one of those “Jobs In Writing” kind of books. Never sent out a query letter to a magazine, publishing company, or agent. Never pitched anyone with a sample of my work. NEVER! I am getting more and more annoyed with myself as I write this paragraph. For one, how could I never have even looked into this? And two, what kind of a fraud am I to prod people to be true to themselves and their dreams, to live authentically, and to be brave enough to fail, all the while I have not even fully chased my own most important dream? That is shameful!

The power of FEAR is amazing to me. In reading through all of my old journal entries from the last twenty years, I was shocked to find how frequently I mentioned the desire to write. I don’t think I was ever fully conscious, for most of that time, that I wanted to be a writer. I had things I wanted to write about, but I was seemingly always in the midst of doing other things and planning other career moves. In my times of uncertainty—when one life path seemed to be fizzling out–it never crossed my mind to go into writing. I guess I thought it would be too difficult of a career or that I didn’t have the experience or training. At bottom, though, I can see that it was FEAR that was keeping the thought from becoming conscious.

I will accept that excuse for most of my years, right up until the last few. Since then, I have definitely been conscious of the dream. The desire to do The Journal Project was the first step. Actually reading through twenty years of journal entries was a huge reminder, as scattered throughout the years of entries were hints at my dream. The next thing that kicked in was the realization that I wanted to share my thoughts with you immediately, rather than wait years for a book to be written and published. That realization spawned Journal of You and these words you are now reading. It has been a tremendous hobby and very fulfilling for me, a wonderful reminder of what puts wind in my sails.

So why haven’t I pursued it as a real, paying career yet? Why have I distracted myself with other avenues that also are meaningful to me but don’t quite light my fire the way writing does? The only conclusion I can see is FEAR and INSECURITY. I haven’t dared to put it out there to be judged. I haven’t believed in myself enough to risk it. Sure, I publish this for you every week and hope that I can make a difference in your life, but you get to take it or leave it in silence and anonymity. If I actually submit something for acceptance or rejection by a publisher or agent, I face an entirely different degree of vulnerability. I could be told that my work is poorly written, not marketable, or, worse, that it cannot be helpful to anyone. Am I prepared for that? My actions would say that I am not. I find that completely shameful. And worse: HYPOCRITICAL. I am not walking my talk, and that realization leaves me feeling disgusted with myself. I need to do better. I need to take a chance on myself and my dreams. After all, if I am sure that I would do it even if I won the big jackpot tomorrow, it must be my thing. It is time to cash in my winning ticket.

How about you? What would you DO if money was not an issue? Open up your journal and consider your current life. What things would you keep doing if you had the money to choose? Are you passionate enough about your job that you would keep doing it even if you didn’t need the money? Most people I know would walk away from their job on the spot the moment their number was called. Is that you? What about your hobbies? Is there something that you do now that you would keep doing? Would you make any of your hobbies into full-time pursuits if money were not an issue? If so, does that make you think that you ought to be looking into that right now? How much of a risk would it be for you to pursue your passion? Is it a risk more about finances or about your ego? How much do you fear failure? Usually when I have these discussions in my head, the question that clarifies the issue is this one: Do the temporary discomforts of taking a risk and failing at something that speaks to your soul outweigh spending the rest of your life with the knowledge that you never took a chance on your dreams? That is the one that I can’t sit with. That one makes my decision for me. What about you? Is there something brewing in you—or something that you are already doing—that must be pursued in order for you to live out your days in peace? Leave me a reply and let me know: What would you do if you won the lottery?

Dream big and start chasing,

William