Tag Archives: Love

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.

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!

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!

What I’ve Learned In 12 Years of Marriage

DSC_0230“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

Hello friend,

Today is my anniversary! Twelve years ago, in front of a small group of loved ones on a gorgeous Saturday, I vowed my friendship and love to an amazing woman. Near the end of the vows, I said, “It is my intention to be with you forever….” That’s everyone’s intention, right? So, why does it seem so rare that people actually pull off this trick of staying married forever? Beyond that, why is it even more rare to stay happily married forever, with the friendship and love still flowing? Well, I’ve only been at it for twelve years, so I can’t claim any great expertise or mastery on the topic of a lasting marriage. But, at least at this point, it feels like we are ready to press on to our Forever, walking the Road of Life hand-in-hand. I sure hope so.

Marriage is a challenge. Whoever tells you otherwise is a liar. For almost everyone I meet, I can, within a few minutes, tell you about a dozen reasons why I would not want to be married to them. It is simply a challenge to live cohesively with someone for any extended period. It is why, for most of us, we love it when our friends or relatives come for a visit, but we also secretly love it when they leave.

And I am the worst. There is no way I could be married to me. I am spoiled. I hold everyone to very high standards. I am opinionated. I am stubborn. I am sure that I am always right. And, possibly most challenging in a marriage, I am hypersensitive; I take everything to heart. All of that makes for a combustible mix of “Difficult to Live With”. I would not wish me upon anyone. My wife, needless to say, is a saint.

I never thought I would marry. Before I met my wife, I was too blissful in my singlehood to think of marriage as an option. I just liked being alone and devoting my life to personal improvement: learning and growing spiritually and intellectually. I guess I thought marriage would stifle that learning and development. As it turns out, marriage has taught me a few things that no amount of book-learning or meditation ever could. For a guy who naturally prefers solitude, twelve years in a marriage—and nearly seven as a father—come with lessons that are only understood intellectually but never mastered, that must be re-learned and practiced every single day.

The first lesson that I practice—and fail at—every day is the importance of continuing to act like my partner’s best friend and biggest fan. I think so much of this lesson that when I was asked to officiate at my sister’s wedding a few years ago, I chose it as the main focus of my sermon. It is easy in the euphoric beginning to be the biggest fan and the best friend. The “in love” part is still in full effect, and the personality and behavioral idiosyncrasies—as well as their contrasting viewpoints on what cleanliness looks like, how much time with in-laws is enough, how to spend your money, what to watch on television, how frequently to have date night (and “date night”), where do your shoes go when you come inside, and how to raise children, to name a few—have not been in your face EVERY SINGLE DAY without pause. The challenge is to be able to pull off the “How would the biggest fan act?” and “How would a best friend act?” every day, even while swimming in the pool of all these potential triggers. The lesson I am learning—and trying to remind myself every day—is to ask those questions and be sure that I can answer with my head held high. It is a challenge.

Another daily challenge of a lesson for me in my super-sensitivity is to not take umbrage at every seeming slight or unfairness—“Why do I have to cook so often?” or “Why don’t you acknowledge me for all I do?” or “That comment was passive-aggressive”—because letting all of that stuff stick only makes you bitter and more thin-skinned the next time, as though you are always building a case against your partner. Building a case against them—just like “keeping score” on the dishes or the cleaning or the gifts—is a recipe for disaster. It only makes you more resentful, and only makes them more defensive and distrusting, seeing your love as conditional. I am all for communicating your needs and letting your partner know when they have hurt you—I need to work on that one rather than writing it in my journal—but I have definitely come to see what a terrible waste of energy it is to hold onto every little grievance, or even to take them seriously. Choosing every one makes you a constant victim and makes your partner feel like they can’t do anything right. Neither of those roles is fun to play.

One role that is good to play is Yourself. I am learning—and trying to put into practice—the lesson to let your partner be who they are, even the stuff you would rather change. Challenge them, sure, and help them see if they are being destructive, but sometimes you just have to understand that they aren’t there for you to mold them. Just love them and accept them. Affirm that you love unconditionally. Feed whatever parts work for you while still accepting the rest.

Probably the greater lesson that binds these other lessons together—and actually bonds each of our individual lives together—is the supreme importance of CHOICE in all of this. You have to CHOOSE the right attitude, CHOOSE to be forgiving, CHOOSE to be a fan, CHOOSE to not be petty or snarky. It seems way easier to let a marriage drift into unloving, spiteful oblivion—which I believe it would do if left to its own devices—than it is to CHOOSE to do the daily work of cooperating, forgiving, and supporting. But what do you want? You have to do the things—CHOOSE the things—that get you what you want. If you want marriage to work, CHOOSE to do the things that make it work. Of course, it still requires your partner choosing to do the same, but start with yourself. You have control of that much.

Yes, as a grizzled veteran of twelve years in the marriage game—were those the easy dozen or the difficult dozen???—my takeaways seem to come down to some really simple concepts: appreciation, forgiveness, acceptance, and the absolute necessity of choosing the right attitude. Hey, those sound like my takeaways from LIFE! Oh, what a tangled web we weave. In the end, good principles transcend all institutions and never go out of style. I can only hope that I have the fortitude to keep these lessons front and center for all of my days to come. If I can do that, I can earn my “happily ever after”.

How about you? What lessons do you take from your most intimate relationship? Open up your journal and dive deep into what makes it go and what makes it stall out. How equal is your partnership? If you had to name a percentage, how much of the load do you feel like you are carrying when it comes to keeping the relationship going? How much of the physical load (e.g., keeping up the house, taking care of kids, etc.)? How about the emotional load? Financial? Is one of you clearly the rock, or does that role get passed back and forth depending on the situation? How long have you been in this relationship? If you had to guess, is it going to last until death do you part? How confident are you in that guess, and what dictates that level of confidence? How good of a job do you do at being your partner’s biggest fan? How about their best friend? Are you doing better or worse at it now than you used to? If worse, why do you think it turned? What can you do to better act like the biggest fan and best friend? How sensitive are you to perceived slights by your partner? How much do you feel like you are keeping score against them and building a case? Does that serve you in any positive ways? How well do you do at allowing your partner to be themselves? How consistent are you in the attitude you choose for the day? Do you usually go more positive and forgiving, or do you tend toward the negative and unforgiving side? What principles guide your relationship? How is that working out for you? If you could choose other principles—(hint: you can!)—what would they be? Do you think it’s up to you how long and strong your relationship goes? What’s your prediction? Beyond just lasting, what have you learned about how to make it happy? Leave me a reply and let me know: What have you learned, and how far is that going to take you? 

Go and love,

William

The ONE That Got Away?

DSC_0227“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” –C.G. Jung

Hello friend,

This is a ghost story.

Where do I begin? When I was 21 and just in the early stages of my acting/exploring the world/discovering myself period, I met an amazing young woman named Alex. And I mean young. She was 18, but, somehow, instead of spending her last few months of high school hanging around her schoolmates and partying, she was working out and hanging out with a bunch of twenties-and-thirtysomethings, including me. We were friends at first, as I was casually dating someone else at the time. When that fling ended and she and I continued to spend time together, I grew to realize that there was something deep and magical about her.

She was not at all like the other women I knew. For one, she was incredibly intelligent. She was fiercely independent. She was one of those “old souls” that made it seem completely natural for her to be good friends with a fortyish guy I knew. There was some pain there, too. She also had an intriguing combination of honesty and distance. She protected herself, even as she was vulnerable. It was a tricky combination to unlock, to say the least. But I admired her greatly, anyway. She oozed potential. I sensed that I would one day hear news of her curing cancer or leading a team of Doctors Without Borders that saved an entire ravaged province in Africa. I was impressed in advance.

The thing about that kind of potential when it intersects with precisely her age in a lifetime is that there is no track record. No history of “Oh, this is how you are and what you do, so I know exactly what you will be doing five years from now, too.” Real grown-up relationships often end with each party knowing just what to expect of the other’s future. There is enough film on them to know their tendencies. But when you are 18 and loaded with talent and depth, there is simply no limit. You can write your own ticket. It is like when space travel first became a real possibility. With no history and with potential to burn, it is bottled PROMISE. It is a degree of HOPE that leaves you breathless. It is, in a word, exciting.

It was during my short time of knowing Alex that I was given my very first journal by a common acquaintance. I was only writing about once a week then and quite briefly, but I am now completely enthralled as I look back on those initial entries. Even when I was dating someone else, I never failed to mention how fascinating and wonderful my friend Alex was. Eventually those entries come to the spot where there was only her in my thoughts, and we were a couple. A combustible mix of two characters protecting their hearts but still caring fiercely about the other, all the while knowing that we were headed in two very different directions. We were a classic case of two star-crossed lovers. Neither Time nor Destiny was on our side. I wanted to be a movie star and anywhere bigger and brighter than where we were, and she would be heading off to college before long and curing the world of its ills. It was a love that could not be.

I had my future of stardom on my mind and jumped at the first chance to leave town. So, instead of spending a Summer of Love with her, I put the fortress around my heart and said goodbye. I told myself that the writing was on the wall for us anyway, that we had a good handful of weeks and that a few more months was not going to change the end of the story. I chose the head over the heart. Or, rather, I chose my dreams of stardom over a possible love story. She even came to visit me for a day that Summer, and I had a very hard time letting her in. At first, I kept her at a real distance because I could not let it go on. It was only later, shortly before she left, that I realized—after all of our protecting ourselves early in our relationship and my firm resolve that we must cut the cord completely, no long-term relationships—that I really, truly loved her. I finally let myself feel that, if only briefly. It was like putting a giant weight down. I loved someone amazing. Someone who was going to set the world on fire with her brilliance. For a magic moment, I let my guard down and allowed that bottled PROMISE to enter my heart and carve its initials there.

And then she was gone. That was it. Never to be heard from again. We didn’t keep in touch. I kept on chasing my dreams across the country and across oceans. And she……….??? I have no answers. I have a million questions and even more visions of what she might have been doing all these years—the people she has touched, the wonderful places she has visited, the diseases she has cured—but they are only visions. Apparitions. She has truly become a ghost for me.

I don’t know why I never took pains to keep up with her or track her down. I never thought we would ever be together again—romantically speaking–so I wasn’t pining in that way. But that POTENTIAL. That bottled PROMISE. That HOPE. To simply follow her life story seems like reason enough for me to have kept connected, even once in a blue moon. But no. Nothing. Not a call. Not a letter. Nothing. I cannot explain my actions.

What I am left with is a ghost. An apparition of who she is. A vision of what she has done. And even a “what if” about an epic love story that might have been if our paths had crossed in a different place and time. It is the kind of stuff that an imagination can go wild with, or that can turn a sane mind insane. There is so much to dream about, so many holes to fill, both in the story and in the heart. Lots of wondering.

It has taken on a life of its own, I suppose, as the years have piled on top of one another. The ghost becomes the thing, perhaps a bigger thing than there ever was in the physical world. I had but a few months to know her and even less to love her. And now, on the other side of the scale from those few months is 21 YEARS! Years of myth-building and monument-making. Based on what? My belief in her potential. In her inner beauty and future greatness. She is immortalized for me the way James Dean and Marilyn Monroe are for others. Dying young does that to you. We only remember the best and imagine what might have been. That is my Alex. Bottled PROMISE. Forever a ghost, made sacred by potential and the sands of time.

Until now.

Yes, earlier this week, I was doing a work assignment of trying to connect to old acquaintances by sending friend requests on Facebook. I was only thinking of people from the last few years. When I finished the task, which had me feeling nostalgic for old friends, I decided to see if anyone existed from my past lives. I searched a few people from the old acting days in California without much luck. Then it hit me: my ghost! Why had I never thought of it before? Honestly, it took me a minute to get up the nerve to type her name. I just wasn’t prepared to see her, as she had existed only in my mind for over 20 years. And then, there she was. Photographic evidence of a real person. I was completely sucked in, of course, checking out her posts of her dog and her recent wedding. But I was also unnerved by it. Worlds were colliding, and it was a bit overwhelming.

I could not bring myself to send her a friend request. It was like it would be an invasion of something that existed magically in another dimension. Making us real adults that had moved on would violate that sacred space. Only later in the evening, when I reminded myself that she was a big piece of me somehow and that this is my one life and that I would actually love to hear her life story someday, did I go back and send her that request. I couldn’t tell if I had just ruined the whole thing or not, but the ghost was now actually haunting me. It occupied my mind and kept me always on edge when I turned on my phone or computer, ever wondering if my request would be answered. After a day had passed, I felt a little relieved that she hadn’t accepted it. Maybe I was a ghost in her life, too, and she preferred me that way. She was going to protect the sanctity of our otherworldly arrangement. I appreciated that.

After another full day passed, however, my heart stopped when I saw that she had accepted. With the dye now cast, I knew I had to reach out and see what the conclusion to our story would be. Not wanting to sound like the crazy stalker but still needing to be honest, I sent a note to tell her that I had always held her in the highest regard and believed that, with all of her talents, she would somehow save the world. I told her that if she ever wanted to meet up and tell me her life story, I would love to hear it. And if not, I wished her all the best. It was my Truth, and I sent it with a clear mind. And then, I waited. There were a million different ways that note could land with someone who hadn’t heard from me in 21 years and with whom I had no idea where I stood in her heart or mind, so I was totally on the edge of my seat. I wasn’t sure if it was excitement or dread. Finally, this morning, the response came. And the ghost story kind of ended.

It turned out sort of the way I intuited it when my first impulse on seeing her Facebook page was to leave it at that and not send the message. It was more romantic and mysterious when it was a creation of my mind. I could wonder forever in the ethereal haze of “What if…” Now I know that she has not cured cancer—though she is a nurse—and that she has only a vague recollection of our time together. Sure, that stings the ego a little bit (or a lot). But it is also fascinating to me, a guy who loves to study the human experience and the way our minds can choose to interpret our world. I caught a glimpse of someone for a handful of weeks, when every possibility in the world was before her, and I immortalized her there. She was my James Dean. For her, it seems, I was a happy moment in her life, but like most moments, soon forgotten. We were two ships passing in the night.

And so, my 21-year fantasy comes to an end. The bubble has burst. With the reality just a few hours old, I cannot say for sure if I regret searching her name on Facebook. I felt enriched by the fantasy all these years, so grateful was I that I got a brief glimpse at Greatness before it became Greatness. That felt good, like I had a secret window that no one else ever would. And really, I did. It doesn’t, in the end, matter if she cures cancer or prevents a nuclear crisis. Like all of us mortals, she is and always will be magic and Divine. And special. We can count ourselves lucky in this lifetime if someone sees all of that in us. But that part is not up to us, as I learned by this experiment.

I learned something else, though, too. I learned that it is perhaps an even greater gift to see that magic, that beauty, that bottled PROMISE in someone else. It is like being able to see through God’s eyes. It’s amazing, truly. Maybe my Divine vision could only sustain for this long because, after my brief glimpse, the vision was only in my mind. It was a ghost, an apparition that I could beckon in its purest form at my whim. It is hard to maintain that Divine point-of-view day after day in the real world, when that person is disagreeing with you about finances or leaving wet towels on the floor. The mind’s eye is more forgiving.

So yeah, as I process this whole thing right now and my fantasy gives way to reality, I really am grateful for this ghost that was my ghost. Today’s reality check just reminds me of what I wasn’t so aware of before: that the ghost was good for me. That the Hope was a gift. That tiny window in my lifetime is a beautiful memory for me and planted a seed far greater. She isn’t the one that got away after all. No, she is the one that will stay with me forever in that Divine form, a beautiful reminder of an important lesson. This ghost story has a happy ending after all. I’m keeping her! The ghost and I will live happily ever after……The End.

How about you? Do you have a ghost that you have lived with? Open up your journal and tell your story. Who was your ghost to you? A lover? A friend? A family member? How long did your actual relationship last before it existed only in your mind? Why did it end? Do you feel badly about the way it ended? What role does potential play in this person becoming your ghost? Are you like me and wonder how this person lived her life and changed the world with her gifts? Or is it about the potential relationship you might have had, the epic love you might have shared? Do you believe that your ghost is really “the one” for you, in the romantic sense? Do you think your ghost is somewhere feeling the same way about you? Why is the person still a ghost? Have you ever tried to track him down? What is stopping you? Is it safer just to keep him in your mind, where you get to control the vision? Who is the one person in your history that you would most like to sit down with and hear their life story? Leave me a reply and let me know: Who is the ONE that got away from you?

Love heals,

William

The Sexuality Spectrum: What’s Your Rating?

IMG_1089“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.” –Harvey Milk

Hello friend,

WHAT ARE YOU? This is possibly my least favorite question in the world. We ask it when we need to put someone in a box. We feel compelled to label people and fit them neatly into a category in our mind so that we know how to treat them. “What are you?” We ask it about religion. We ask it about race and ethnic background. There are often very clear answers to these questions: “I am Muslim and White,” or “I am an atheist and am half-Black and half-Korean.” When it comes to sexuality, our WHAT ARE YOU? implies that we expect the same cut-and-dried type of answer: “I am straight. Period,” or “I am gay. Period.” Once in a blue moon, we hear that someone is bisexual, but we tend to dismiss that as an aberration. We prefer the person to fit neatly into one of the two boxes: Straight or Gay. That’s it. Label assigned. No more thinking for me to do about it. You are an option for me or you aren’t. But maybe, just maybe, it isn’t that simple.

I think that sexuality exists on a continuum—a spectrum—and that very few people are 100% at either the heterosexual end or the homosexual end.   We receive so many demands from the day we are born—both overt and covert—to get in a box and stay in it. Of course, in this culture we demand our children to stick to the Straight box. This demand causes all kinds of difficulties for those who come to realize that they were born to be in a different box. But, any move away from the Straight box puts the person on a one-way trip to the Gay box. Straight or Gay: that’s what we are, according to the rules. But, like I said, I think it is more complicated than that.

Humans are complicated. We take the easy way out when we paint others with such broad brush-strokes, turning everyone into a cartoon figure as hero, villain, sweetheart, jerk, witch, great guy, mean girl, and so on. Most people fit all of these descriptions at one moment or another, so to try to put them into a box with a label only gives us a very limited and unrealistic view of their true character. The fewer the labels that we allow in our mental grid of our world, the less accurate (and more cartooned) is our worldview.

So, where does my Sexuality Spectrum fit in here? In order to understand where you truly are sexually, you have to be willing to comb your innermost thoughts, feelings, and inclinations, not just your sexual history. What thoughts excite you? What repels you? What shows up in your dreams, and how do you feel about that when it does? Who do you imagine yourself snuggling up with? Getting freaky with? Growing old with? Then you have to consider whether your honest answers to all of these questions match entirely with the box you are in—Straight or Gay—or if your answers make you feel like your box is getting a bit constraining. Maybe it isn’t so black-&-white. That’s how it feels to me.

If you make me claim a box, I will definitely claim Straight. I always have. I have always been highly attracted to women and find no difficulty in becoming excited at the thought of being naked with them. I have arousing dreams about being with them. When I use my less-sexy test of “What type of body do you want to snuggle with?”—or, another version is, “Who do you want to share passionate kisses with?”–I am definitely drawn to images of women. I sound pretty darn straight, right? Well, yes, but maybe not 100% yes. As I said, humans are complicated. I can certainly acknowledge when a man is attractive. I am not repulsed by the idea of being with a man sexually. I have had a few dreams in my life involving men and could even get excited thinking about some aspects of it. Some. Not all, and certainly less so than my very frequent thoughts of women. And when it comes to my Snuggle-&-Kiss Tests, I have a tough time envisioning myself warmly wrapped in a man’s arms. It is just not as appealing to me as a woman’s.

So, where do I rate? Based on everything I just mentioned, I guess I would say that I am an 85% Straight. Maybe it is more, possibly slightly less, but let’s call it 85%. The immediate thought that comes to me is, “Does that mean I am BISEXUAL?” This takes me right back to the curse of labeling. If I admit to even the slightest attraction to a male, I might be evicted from my comfortable home in the Straight box. Heck, in some people’s mind, that admission might send me directly to the Gay box. Yikes! I don’t want to be in the Gay box. There is way too much persecution there. All of my straight privilege—assumptions that I am masculine, not wondering if I have equal protection under the law, etc.—goes right out the window. And for what, a few thoughts?

If I have to go to the Gay box for an occasional thought about men in a sea of thoughts about women, it is no wonder I never actually took the step of entering into a relationship with a man. I have known and liked many gay men over the years, and in my younger years certainly had opportunities to enter into romantic or physical relationships with some. I chose not to. As I think back about that time from this distance, I think that maybe the reason I never did “experiment” or get into a relationship with a man is just this fear that a single transgression would get me permanently evicted from the friendly confines of Straighthood. This is exactly how it works: The Curse of Labeling. When we try to fit neatly into a box—even if it mostly describes us—we deny ourselves the richness of the full human experience.

When I think of the Sexuality Spectrum and of people ignoring it to honor their own Truth, a few examples come to mind. I know a very enlightened woman who always thought of herself as a heterosexual. She met a gay woman and fell in love, and, more importantly, gave herself permission to disregard the labels that everyone else wanted to put on her and allowed herself to enjoy the experience of loving another person. Years later and still together, I would bet she still assigns herself a number clearly on the heterosexual side of the spectrum but would probably tell you that she simply rejects labels altogether. I have another friend who always badly wanted to be on the straight side, so his actions allowed him to be labeled as such, even if, deep down, he knew that he was at least somewhat more on the gay side. When he finally lived long enough to realize that the Straight label didn’t make him approve of himself the way society promised it would, he gave himself permission to test the waters on the other side. What he thought was a tolerable “62% Gay-but-living-as-Straight” turned into the realization that he had always been 85% Gay but was finally willing to admit it to himself and the world. That permission liberated him, and he can now live with the Gay label if you insist on making him wear one. Finally, I think of the movie “Brokeback Mountain” and its two main characters, Jack and Ennis, who fall in love in a place and time that does not accept love between men. Jack, as the story unfolds, is revealed to us as someone who is probably 90% Gay, while Ennis is probably 85% Straight. Yet somehow, each person fell in love with the other person. In their tiny bubble in the Universe, the labels went out the window, and there was only Love.

What seems to happen to most of the rest of us, though, is that we never get past the labels. We get our WHO ARE YOU? answers as soon as we can and then get right to the task of imprisoning ourselves and those we meet in the boxes of those answers. They determine who we can love and who we should fear, who we tolerate and who we persecute. The labels separate us. The labels minimize us. They make us smaller, simpler, and more bland. They strip us of our richness and complexity. But the worst thing that the labels do is reduce our chances to experience Love.

They immediately cut us off from a huge portion of the population. They send us to another label—the “right” gender, race, religion, and economic class for our label–instead of a person. Sure, these labels help us organize our world in a coherent way, but when taken as rule-making truths, they organize us right into a prison of our own making. So, if I am truly an 85% Straight guy who accepts the label of Straight, I am only allowed to fall in love with the women who also accept Straight, no matter if their actual percentages are 40% Straight or 100%. That 15% Gay aspect of my being must neither be acknowledged nor allowed to find love. Instead of choosing freely amongst nearly all of the adult population to find the right one to share my entire, complex, beautiful being with, I am left to scrounge around for true love amongst less than half of the population, most of whom have been stripped of their authenticity by accepting their label without a fight. Suddenly, I don’t like my chances so much!

Thankfully for me, I am happily in love with my wife, and I hope she doesn’t go anywhere for a very long time. But if she does, I hope that I will be strong enough to be open to Love however it shows up. I hope that for my kids, too. In a world where it is such a challenge to find and sustain happiness, and where a significant component of happiness comes from the giving and receiving of love, I hope for them that no matter where they land on the Sexuality Spectrum, they accept themselves completely and accept Love openly and gratefully.

How about you? Where do you score yourself on the Sexuality Spectrum, and how does that affect who you are willing to love? Open up your journal and dive deep. This is a huge and very private topic for most of us, so perhaps your journal is the only one you dare share this with right now. I know that for my part, this letter to you has things that I have never shared with anyone. If I can do it for you, you can do it for yourself! What is your label? Gay? Straight? Something else? How tightly do you cling to that label? Would you ever dare stray to the other side, or would you be afraid, like me, that going there—even just once—might define you as something other than your current label? Does that seem too risky to you? Do you agree with me that people exist all across the Sexuality Spectrum, or do you think it is more black-and-white than that, i.e. that most people are 100% Gay or 100% Straight? Do you think your number on the Sexuality Spectrum changes at all throughout life, or do you think we simply become more clear about it at a certain point? Do you think you are allowed any choice in the matter? Why do you think we make such a big deal about this topic? Why has it been so taboo? How has this affected who you are open to loving? Has it narrowed your choices? Does that seem right to you? Be honest with yourself, and if you dare, leave me a reply. I would like to know: Are you open to Love, however it shows up?

Authenticity is beautiful,

William

Relationship RESET

IMG_1193“Never restart a journey and use the same road that failed you before.” –Dennis E. Adonis

When I was a little kid, it seemed like I did everything with my older brother. I was just like any of the other kids from the neighborhood. We would all seem to find a rallying spot at some point in the day and figure out if we were going to play football, Capture the Flag (we called it “Flag Game”), Kick the Can, or whatever. At that age, I never paused to wonder if I would have considered my brother to be my “friend” or if we were close. We were only a year apart in school, so we were invariably drawn together in various circumstances.

But then middle school, high school, and college rolled around, and it quickly became clear that no matter what we were before, we were now anything but close. I don’t really remember even any conversations with him from those years. We didn’t fight or have sibling rivalry; it wasn’t like that. We just seemed to live in completely different worlds, even as we sat right next to each other at the table or in the car. My brother drove me to school for a couple of years in high school, and I don’t remember ever talking to him during one of those rides. That seems so weird when I think about it now. I will save the sociological and psychological analyses of how our society socializes boys and the communication patterns of adolescents for another post, but suffice it to say that during those years, I was totally invisible to my brother.

With all of that as background, you might be shocked to learn that by the time I arrived in my mid-20s, the same guy that completely ignored me for more than a decade had become something of a hero to me and one of the people I most enjoyed talking to in this world. That has continued to this day, and even though I don’t talk with him very often—a recurring theme with even my very closest relationships—there is still no one I would rather get a call from. We can instantly dive into a topic, and there is a mutual respect, admiration, and interest in the other person’s thoughts that I never would have dreamed possible when I was 16 and invisible. It is one of the greatest discoveries and gifts of my life, this late-blooming relationship.

My brother and I somehow managed to find the RESET button on our Relationship Remote Control, and we both chose to press it simultaneously. Nobody was holding any grudges from childhood, so we kept what we admired and otherwise gave each other a clean slate. It was as though we stepped off of our separate flights, found each other at the gate, and chose to bypass the baggage claim as we stepped into our new relationship. When I look back at our story from this distance, I can see how hitting RESET and really giving the relationship a fresh start was quite feasible. There is a tremendous divide between childhood and adulthood in terms of how we act in and care for relationships. So many childhood friendships are accidental, a product of whose team you were placed on or who sits next to you in school. As an adult, we bring a little more of an opinion to the game. We are intentional. We choose. And we are also able to see that so much of what happened as kids was so totally unimportant. Think about it: do you remember the specifics of your relationship drama from when you were 15, and do you still hold that against the other person now? More than likely, if that person somehow re-entered your life today, you would take a fresh look and see if they are worthy of your time and friendship, and go from there. Friendships that pass from childhood to adulthood can be restarted and happily go the distance.

But what presses on my mind today is not a mere friendship and it is not a lifelong relationship. I want to know if a marriage or other adult romantic relationship can really hit RESET. When we agree to become life partners, we sign onto a tremendously complex and fluid organism that is our relationship. People grow together or they grow apart, and the commitment to grow together is an admirable but incredibly challenging one. Once we get past that blissful, falling-in-love phase and settle into the reality of an actual life together, things get interesting. Adorable idiosyncrasies shift in the direction of annoyances, and things we once looked past now seem to dominate the scenery. Some of the luster gets scraped off that superhero we built our partner up to be at the beginning, and that disappoints us—sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

And life happens. You go through tough stuff together, whether it is the loss of a job, a death in the family, or just a really bad fight between the two of you. These things deepen the relationship, but they also leave scar tissue. Baggage. Our partner becomes inextricably intertwined with these things, though. We come to know them in so many different ways. With that, of course, comes knowing their weaknesses and their insecurities. We know how to hurt them, and—sometimes more importantly—we are keenly aware that they hold the power to hurt us. Everyone silently hopes for a continuous cease-fire, as we have all been witness to at least one divorce that turned evil, a testament to the power we have to either protect or completely shatter our partner’s heart. Most of us are happily in denial of the fact that in a long-term, committed relationship, we are walking on the razor’s edge between being the object of our partner’s loyal love and the object of their unbounded hatred.

For me, life seems to unfold in front of me as a direct reflection of my thoughts about it. I believe we see what we expect to see. If we think of the world as inherently beautiful and people as inherently kind and generous, we find examples of that in our day. If we think of the world as cruel and people as selfish and rude, we will just as surely find examples of both as we go about our business. The world presents itself the way we expect it to, and what we focus on shows up more often in our space. The question, then, is: What do you choose to focus on? What do you expect to see?

You might be asking, “What does any of that have to do with my restarting my relationship?” You see, as I said above, we come to know our life partners from so many different angles. We see all of the charming and admirable stuff that we fell in love with—the person we wanted to show off to friends and family—but we also see that other stuff that we wish they would be, and the annoying parts, too. Their portrait becomes a lot more complex. So, what do you choose to focus on? From what angle do you choose to view them? It is a choice, after all. I am not talking about burying your head in the sand and living in denial of issues that really need to be addressed. I am talking about dumping your baggage, grudges, and competition, and seeing anew the qualities you fell in love with, and MORE. I am talking about going in with eyes wide open—not ignoring the things you wish they would change but accepting them as part of the package that you dearly love—and choosing to focus on the good.

I suppose this is where this question goes from the micro to the macro level. It is as much a Life question as it is a relationship question: Can you take the brighter view? Can you choose to focus on the positive? Can you accept the parts you wish were different because they belong to a whole that is amazing and admirable and worthy of love? It is no small task. It requires discipline and a willingness to start every day with the proper focus, with your heart and mind centered in a generous and loving place. That’s tough. But ask yourself: “Is the great love of my life worth it?” I think you already know the answer. I know I do.

How about you? Do you have a relationship that needs to be restarted? Open up your journal and dig in. Who is it with? While I was stuck on the idea of restarting a romantic relationship, you don’t have to be. I think a parent-child relationship is another wonderful and challenging option, actually, as one party has been an adult the entire time and one may have transitioned from childhood to adulthood and is ready to be viewed as such. What parts of your partner are the most appealing and admirable? Why did you love them so much in the first place? Are those qualities still there? Which of their characteristics do you most wish you could change? Is anything on that list a deal-breaker on its own? How about the collection taken as a whole: too much to handle? Is there something on this negative list that must be addressed with your partner before you can start the relationship over in your mind? Which ones do you just need to get over? Can you focus on the good stuff? Can you give them a break? Can you let go of the grudges? Can you wake up tomorrow looking for their goodness? Can you love the whole, complex package? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready for a relationship RESET? 

Live the way you want to be remembered,

William

Is Awe Still In You?

DSC_0601“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”  –W.B. Yeats 

Hello friend,

A couple of weeks ago, I brought my kids downtown to see the skyscrapers. As suburbanites, I often point out “Big City” in the distance as we are driving, but never in their lives had I taken them there to see the tall buildings up close. We parked the car just out of downtown so that we could walk through a sculpture garden and park on the way to the buildings. To get there, though, we had to cross a walking bridge high above a busy freeway. We got to the top of the steps to cross, and my 3 ½ year-old son’s mouth dropped wide open. He stared in wide wonder as, right below him, cars and trucks went speeding by in several lanes side-by-side. He was absolutely mesmerized by the entire scene. Awestruck.

The look on his face was priceless, like a brand new world had just opened up and was flooding his senses. He was stunned, but giddy at the same time. It was, for me, one of those moments when time slows down and every image gets etched into my heart and mind. I was so glad to get to share in a really cool moment in his life that instantly became a really cool moment in mine, but for very different reasons.   For him, it was that he was being blown away by this amazing world and all of its magnificent offerings—like cars and motorcycles racing right under your feet—and for me it was pure gratitude: for him and for the idea that I could provide this jaw-dropping moment for him. The thought that really grabbed me in that moment–and hasn’t let go of me since–though, was “Oh, to be so lucky! To be completely in awe of so many things in this world that the rest of us walk right by. What I wouldn’t give to have the WONDER of a child. The susceptibility to AWE.” 

If you spend any time around little kids, you quickly learn how amazing our world is. They are excited about almost everything. Even when we don’t even leave my house and yard, I can’t tell you how many times a day my son hollers for me: “DAD!!! You GOTTA SEE THIS! This is TOTALLY COOL!!!” He could be talking about a leaf, or, just as easily, what he has just created in the toilet. But beyond mere excitement, this sense of awe is nearly as common. Children are so good at staying in the moment that so many things feel brand new to them every time, and that sense of novelty is the key ingredient in awe. You can stare in wide wonder at a world that is new to you and full of magic.

Regarding the Yeats quote I mentioned at the top, I think kids do a better job than us adults at keeping their senses sharp, i.e., being present and open to the magic that fills the world around us. Where and when do we go wrong, though? When do our senses dull? When do we stop being so awestruck by this place? Is it simply the repetitive nature of our lives, the fact that we see and do the same things over and over? Is it in how terribly busy we get as we grow, our minds trying to keep ourselves organized rather than stopping to smell the roses, or even noticing their presence?

I am trying to think of all the times I have been in awe as an adult. Sadly, it is a challenge to come up with examples. I was completely awestruck by my daughter when she was born. Simply her presence in the world, that this little living thing was breathing and crying and melting my heart when only moments before she was living inside my wife’s abdomen. That was truly amazing to me. I was in awe of her every development, in the first couple of years especially. I remember vividly, in the period of 18-24 months, being completely dumbfounded almost daily by the new intellectual feats. Human development is an astonishing thing. In the old days, when I spent all of my time on personal/spiritual enrichment and didn’t have a care in the world, I found many moments of awe in the Universe, most frequently when I was in nature. Put me by the ocean or a glacial lake in the mountains of Montana, and I ooze awe. What a wonderland we have been gifted with in which to live! Other moments of awe, for me, have happened at concerts, when the music and the artist stir my soul into a frenzy. The last one that comes to me is the head-over-heels falling-in-love phase of a relationship, being in awe not just of the other person but of the utter magnificence of existence now that you have found the key to the whole thing.

Babies, Nature, Art, and Love. These are the things that have dropped my jaw in adulthood. Four things? My son’s list is longer than that before breakfast! So how can I be more like him: amazed and excited by nearly every thing he comes upon? I think a big part of it is presence: simply staying in the moment and appreciating what is. I can also do better at taking an attitude of gratitude, being more mindful of the intricacy and interconnectedness of all Life in the Universe. When I consider the most minute details of how this place runs and all the conditions that had to fall exactly into place so that I could sit here and write this to you, I cannot help but be in awe. That awe makes me feel so much more alive. Einstein had it right when he said, “He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

So, how about you? What makes you “pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe”? Get out your journal and start writing. When was the last time you felt that wonder, that awe? How much do you envy children for their wide-eyed approach to the world? What is your biggest trigger, the thing that makes you most likely to feel amazement? What can you do to put yourself in position to feel it more often? Do you think it declines steadily with age, or does it rise and fall with your attitude and life circumstances? Be honest: do you sometimes think you might never feel it again? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is awe still in you?

Let your inner kid go out to play today,

William

Love & Privilege

DSC_0247Hello friend,

I just had a conversation with an old, dear friend, during which he shared the wonderful news that he had fallen in love.  There is very little in life that I enjoy more than talking with someone newly in love.  It is that exuberance, that giddiness, that total intoxication with life and all of its new possibilities.  The heart feels as though it could burst open with joy, and you want to shout about it from the rooftops for all the world to share in.  The enthusiasm is infectious to be around.  I appreciate it all the more knowing how rare it is.  For most of us, we are blessed with this crazy, blissful, intoxicated, falling-in-love feeling only once or twice in our lives.  I am grateful to have had my turn to shout and shine, and now I enjoy sharing in the new love stories of my friends and family.  Love is to be shared, and there is no more thrilling time to share your love story than when you are in that early, passion-filled phase.

So, why did I even have to ask my friend if he had told anyone else his exciting news yet?  Why did he tell me that, even though it has been a couple of months, that I am the first one he shared this amazing, soul-stirring life event with?  Why did we have to strategize about the best way to share this great love story with his family, who have always tried to set him up or get him into online dating to find “the one”?   With all of the happiness he was feeling, why no rooftop shouting?  Because he fell in love with a man.

We finished the conversation with me telling him how happy I am for him and urging him to enjoy the ride, reminding him how rare and breathtaking these moments are in our lifetime.  I was thrilled for him and proud of him at the same time.  But as I processed it more and more—of course, with the great help of my journal—I recognized an air of sadness about me surrounding our conversation.  The more I wrote and thought about what might be the source of my sadness, the more I kept circling back to the idea of privilege, in this case heterosexual privilege.

Privilege is an enormous, can-of-worms kind of issue when it comes to conversations around social justice.  Frankly, it makes most of us who are privileged feel very uncomfortable and defensive, as we generally live in denial of the existence of privilege.  Ironically, that very denial is one of the privileges of being privileged.   Let me explain.

Privilege can probably best be defined with examples.  As a White person, I can walk through a store without being followed by clerks.  I can move to a neighborhood almost anywhere in this country and expect people to be neutral or pleasant to me.  I can answer a question in a class and never be considered the voice of my race.  When I read a history book or watch a television show, I can be sure that my race is well-represented.  If I happen to swear or act badly in public, I don’t think people are going to attribute my behavior to the poor morality of my entire race.  And I have the privilege of not being aware of these things.

As a man, I have the privilege of having both a career and kids without people thinking I am selfish for not staying at home with the kids.  If I choose to not have kids, my masculinity won’t be called into question.  If I drive poorly or make bad financial decisions, people won’t attribute that to my sex.  I can sleep with a lot of women without serious social disapproval or name-calling.  My decision-making ability will not be questioned based on what time of the month it is.  Very little time and expense are expected of me when it comes to personal grooming.  And I have the privilege of not being aware of these things.

As a heterosexual, I have the privilege of being open about my sexual orientation without worrying about my job.  My masculinity isn’t questioned, and nobody calls me straight in a mean way.  People don’t ask me why I chose to be heterosexual or why and how I came to be open about it.  I can be sure that my schoolbooks have examples of other heterosexuals.  I never leave a gathering feeling outnumbered or isolated.  I am not defined by my sexuality, and I can go for long periods without anyone calling me straight.  I can be pretty sure that the people I meet and know will be comfortable with my sexuality.  I have no fear of the ramifications of my family finding out about my heterosexuality.  And I have the privilege of not being aware of these things.

But I am becoming aware of these things as I write them, and I am understanding why I am a little sad after hearing my friend’s wonderful news.  Not at all sad that he is in a relationship with a man—Love is Love, and my Maker is nothing if not a being of pure Love—but sad because we had to talk about how to tell his family about what should be a shout-it-out, sing-it-out life event like falling in love.  Sad that he will have to think about all of the aforementioned privileges and wonder why, simply because the love he found had one chromosome different than the one we expected him to find, he has to live on the other side of those privileges.  In being his most authentic self and being open to love however it showed up—what should be a totally liberating life event and admired by all—he is forced to carry around our societal baggage like a yoke around his neck.  That is a heavy load to carry simply for living his Truth.

My hope is to do my part to make his load lighter in whatever way I can.  My wife is a Black woman; that is a mighty load, too.  It is daily work to try to lighten her load as well, whether that is just being a sounding board for the offenses of the day, or allowing her to educate me so that I can pass it on to you (she provided the examples of privilege I mentioned—they hit close to home in my house).  I feel compelled to make whatever changes I can in my little sphere of influence, not to erase my own privilege but to spread that privilege to all.

So, my challenge to you today is to get out your instrument of choice—journal, laptop, scrap paper, Comments box—and write about your privileges.  Think deeply about this, because chances are, you haven’t before.  And go beyond the categories I mentioned; add religion, socioeconomic class, and anything else you can think of.  Explore the many ways in which you are privileged, and try to imagine being on the flip-side of that privilege.  Feel that pain of injustice and the full weight of society’s ignorance.  Next, think about your own sphere of influence.  Write down a few ways that you can do your part to make your little corner of the world more enlightened, more loving, more just.  It may seem like too big a task, but remember, it all starts within you.  If you have read this far, you are already well on your way.  If you take me up on my challenge, I know that change will be made.  I believe in you.

Keep thinking & keep writing,

William