Does this path have a heart?

“Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.  – Carlos Castenada, “The Teachings of Don Juan”

The focus of our career. Who we vote for. What we say when challenged. Where we spend our free time. The people we decide to hang out with. The organizations and causes we support. The comments we make on social media. How we show up in relationships. Just about anything we opt to give our time and attention.

These are all choices and each imply directionality and our fundamental orientation to the world.

And so…

We can operate from self-righteousness or curiosity. We can employ a mindset of scarcity or one rooted in generosity. We can choose judgment or grace, condemnation or forgiveness, distraction or connection, cruelty or compassion. We can chase busyness or meaning. And so on.

It’s not easy. And I fail at it all the time. Sometimes miserably. And yet…

And yet…it’s always worth knowing which way I want my compass to point. It helps to challenge that which I worship. It matters that when I get to the fork in the road, I know which path I want to choose, even if I get it wrong more times than I’d like to own up to.

Sure the bigger house is nice. The bigger heart maybe just a wee bit better.

 

This post also appeared on my business blog at stevenpdennis.com

A hypothesis of generosity

None of us suffer from a deficit of experience. In fact, “stuff’ happens virtually non-stop.

The daily rhythm of life is that we have ups and downs. Problems manifest, big and small. Complications arise, both profound and mundane. We encounter joys, concerns and everywhere in between. Items get checked off our to-do list. Or not.

Amidst the backdrop of our existence come the many challenges to our equanimity. Often these arise as times when we feel confronted, slighted, or disrespected, Other times we may feel shunned or even attacked.

Maybe we get get cut off in traffic or treated rudely by a stranger. A friend doesn’t call us back. A co-worker doesn’t include us in an important meeting. Perhaps we don’t feel truly heard by our partner. Maybe we even sense that we are being judged or harshly criticized by someone who loves us.

If you are anything like me, you might find yourself drawn to apply a strong filter of negativity, propelled by self-righteousness, defensiveness and anger. If you are anything like me, you might start to make up quite a lot about what’s actually going on and what it all means.

So what if instead we started with a hypothesis of generosity? What if our filter was set to kindness and curiosity instead of assuming the worst possible interpretation? What if we followed Brene Brown‘s advice in her book Rising Strong and we asked ourselves “what is the most generous assumption about this person’s intentions or what this person said?”

In choosing this path we have to challenge our ego. We have to let go of the need to be right. We have to stop getting our needs met through propping ourselves up by putting others down. We have to move toward connection, rather than run from it. It’s not always easy. And it means telling ourselves a fundamentally different story.

But as Brene goes on to remind us:  “What do we call a story that’s based on limited real data and imagined data and blended into a coherent, emotionally satisfying version of reality? A conspiracy theory.”

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This post also appeared on my business blog at http://www.stevenpdennis.com

That which we worship

“What people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.” – Greg Beale

The word “worship” most often has a religious connotation. But we can revere, adore, exalt, venerate and glorify many things beyond whatever concept of a Higher Power we have–or don’t.

We can worship money.

We can worship being right.

We can worship a bigger house filled with more and sexier stuff.

We can worship the demonization of people different from us.

We can worship busyness.

We can worship expanding and protecting our ego.

And on and on.

Of course we can also worship compassion.

Or generosity.

Or acceptance.

Or forgiveness.

Or love.

The thing to remember is that which we worship is a choice, each and every day, in the present moment.

The other thing to remember is that, ultimately, we become what we worship.

 

Prison break

In spiritual circles it’s common to talk about being “on the path.” The path to God (or however we may describe a Higher Power), the path to redemption, the path to awakening, the path to enlightenment.

And we are hardly lacking for guidebooks and maps. Addicts may employ the Twelve Steps to work through their spiritual recovery. Buddhists have the Noble Eight-Fold path to inform their journey. Other wisdom traditions have various rituals, methods and practices to light the way. An entire self-help industry exists to inspire spiritual exploration through books, seminars, retreats, podcasts, YouTube videos and more.

The journey along a path IS real. For most of us, it’s long, filled with twists and turns, peaks and valleys, glimpses of light, flashes of despair. We stumble often on our wanderings through the Dark Night of the Soul. We wish there were an express lane–an easier, softer way–but there is not.

Yet we can spend a long time hiding in our shadow, staring longingly through a window out toward the light. We can convince ourselves that spiritual growth is inherently complicated. We can obsessively analyze competing “truths” and run through countless gurus and teachers. We can get overly focused on arriving at some imagined perfect destination and entirely miss out on what is possible along the way–right here, right now.

The invitation is simply to begin, to emerge from the places and situations that keep us stuck, entrapped. But it’s hard to escape from a prison if we can’t see that we are a prisoner.

Yet, right now, we can in fact acknowledge that we are prisoners of our habituated, reactive thinking, trapped in a room of ego protection, a pathological desire to control and a failure to accept reality.

Right now, we can see the forks in the road, the profound choices we get to make moment to moment. Do we choose forgiveness over revenge? Compassion or judgement? Being open-hearted or walled-off from connection? Do we fundamentally embrace love or fear?

Right now, we can accept that so many of the answers are within us–and available to us–in the present moment.

Often, we witness other people peering into our prison cell, and we think (hope?) that they have the answers, that they will drag us out, that they hold the key to our freedom.

But more often that not, we have the key, we just don’t see it.

We need to see it. And we need to use it.

We need to open those windows and unlock the door. And then we need to walk over the threshold and out into the light. There the path becomes so much more clear.

And we can begin the journey with a lot less baggage.

 

What breaks your heart?

Everyday, if we allow ourselves, we are going to experience a full range of emotions; some intense, others minor and insignificant. And some of them are felt deeply and mindfully in true presence and awareness.

Others are reactions–habitual, triggered. And many them we experience in a flash. If we are not careful, we are dragged back into–and mired in–a regretful past; love lost, opportunities missed, silly mistakes, personal slights, envy and so on. On the other end of the spectrum we can easily be set adrift in worries of an impossible to know or control future. If you are anything like me, sometimes that means grasping the wheel that much tighter, radically overestimating our power.

At other times, when the feelings become too intense, we employ anger to mask them or turn inwards with deflection, self-loathing, avoidance and numbing. It often seems easier to occupy our worried, shame-driven minds by protecting our egos or distracting ourselves with mindless activities and pointless concerns.

If we’re feeling jealousy, the need to win, the urge to lash out, the desire to be right, there is a good chance we are in reaction, operating from a place of a wounded or needy ego.

If we find ourselves compulsively fascinated by reality TV, compelled to stay abreast of the latest comings and goings of celebrities, or merely repeating the same unworkable habits over and over, it’s likely we are avoiding the real work of the soul.

Once we go deeper, once we clearly see what breaks our heart, not in the romantic sense, but from a perspective rooted in understanding what substantively challenges our capacity to express our worldly unconditional love, extend compassion freely, act generously, live out our purpose joyfully and celebrate our shared humanity and connection.

When we comprehend what breaks out hearts we also get the keys to what lifts our spirits and drives how we truly wish to be in the world.

Whether we get upset by fighting things outside of our control (reality) or the random activities of people that have no bearing on anything substantive in our lives ( reality TV), the result is the same.

There is nothing wrong with accepting that this is just the human condition, the product of our past traumas, our monkey minds at work. Our hearts are not challenged, our egos are.

The key is to see it for what it is. Dance with it. Laugh at it and ourselves.

Then we get back to do the real work, the work of the heart and the soul, intentionally, with concentration, mindfulness and lovingkindness to ourselves and others.

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Does anger scale?

We live in an intensely angry world right now.

From the vast number of conflicts around the globe, to what we consider normal political discourse these days, to simple daily human interactions at work or on the road, so much of what we encounter is anchored in anger, drenched with hate.

We know that anger and frustration can be a catalyst, an accelerant, the fuel for action–big and small. And for me, anger most often comes in two forms.

It’s easy to see how anger at an unjust status quo calls us to action against systemic racism and related equity issues–or whatever the social impact issue might be. On the business front, there are countless stories of entrepreneurs creating new and better solutions to address areas of intense frustration. This first kind of anger, however motivated or pointed, is energizing and doesn’t involve a dangerous misalignment with ego. And it certainly doesn’t require hating or humiliating those who stand in opposition–or simply may not “get it.”

Then there is the anger of judgment, self-righteousness and one-upped-ness. The “I’m right, you’re wrong, and my ego is only going to be okay when I win and when I make you feel less than me (or even less than human).” We see this every day from Donald Trump and the “alt right“, from the road raging driver, from the religious zealot and, sometimes, in the day-to-day arguments with friends and loved ones. If I’m honest, I’ve been that guy more times than I care to think about.

This type of anger is rooted in fear. And fear rarely calls us to be our best selves. It often emerges from deep insecurity and generates a sense of false empowerment. It pushes people away. It makes connection impossible. It is devoid of compassion, generosity and basic humanity.

And it may work for awhile, but eventually it collapses under its own weight. And it certainly doesn’t–or shouldn’t–scale.

Bridges are better than walls. The bad driver is not going to change because I gave him the finger and leaned on the horn. I might feel better for a bit by “winning” the argument, but the possibility for lasting connection is lost and my reservoir of humanity is slowly drained.

In the battle between love and hate I know which side I’m taking.

Anger keeps us trapped, stuck, unconscious.

Love liberates.

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An unexamined faith

“An unexamined faith is not worth having, for it can be true only by accident.”

James Luther Adams

Reason and faith are not polar opposites, nor are they mutually exclusive.

Reason and faith are not in constant battle, though it may often seem that way.

Reason does not have a monopoly on thought. Faith is not the sole province of intuition.

Reason isn’t just about science and law. Faith is not only a religious concept.

Even the most “reasonable” and left-brained among us exhibit plenty of faith.

Don’t believe me? Make a list of the things that you are convinced are true even if there is no objective basis to have that conclusion.

It may be as simple as believing that the Cubs will win the World Series. It may be as complicated as thinking your view of how the universe came to be is the right one.

It may be as deep as your faith that things always happen for a reason. It may be as shallow as your conviction that something you just bought will make you happy.

Reason is not strong. Faith is not weak. They not only can co-exist, they can be mutually reinforcing.

Faith is not the problem. Blind faith is.

When we accept that something is true without a level of true understanding, without discrimination, without going deep into our intentions, we risk making those that believe differently “the other.”

Indeed, we risk making the certitude of our faith a weapon.

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