Using Humor to Take Down A Wannabee Dictator: The Importance of Joy and Playfulness in Our Lives Today

We hear that Joe Biden is ahead from 3 to 12 points in almost every national poll and we want to jump for joy and act silly. But we know we can’t trust polls. His victory won’t happen unless we make it happen.

 

Other than polls, there is little in the news to bring most of us joy, not after we hear about a plot by white militias to kidnap, maybe murder, Gretchen Whitmer, a sitting Democratic Governor, attack police and incite a civil war.  Not after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg⎼ and instead of passing legislation to help the millions suffering from the pandemic, the GOP in the Senate rush to replace her with a sycophant judge and turn the Supreme Court into an extension of DT’s court. Not after over 219,541 deaths and when 28 states are experiencing a spike or second wave of the coronavirus. And instead of leading the nation in dealing with the pandemic, DT leads the nation in trying to hide and deny it.

 

DT claims to be the “the most perfect person”, “an extremely stable genius” but he is the liar-in-chief, more like a red-faced, malignant ostrich with sticky hands trying to hide his head not in the sand but in a tv set. He has assaulted almost every aspect of this nation, from Social Security, Medicare, the USPS, school children, workers, especially those who are brown and black, the air we breathe and water we drink, our right to protest for justice or to vote.

 

Considering all this, who has the inclination or energy for joy? It would be inconsiderate, or sacrilegious. Fear, depression, anger and outrage seem more appropriate.

 

Or anxiety. I am so anxious about the election I can barely stand it. But we need relief, ways to relax and let our minds clear, and mindfulness and nature walks can only do so much. This is true not only at home, to keep our relationships with family and friends fresh and caring⎼ but also so we aren’t manipulated by DT’s tweets, lies and actions, which are often based on, or are the source for, Russian disinformation. I’m surprised he hasn’t developed a Russian accent. Especially after an unwatchable “debate”, humor can release us from fear and introduce us to compassion. It can help us more clearly perceive our ties to others, our power, and better understand the necessity and the means to act effectively.

 

For the first few years of the DT era, comedians were a prime source of humor and relief. Jimmy Kimmel and other late night comedians helped influence the effective fight against the GOP attack on our health care in 2017 (although there were some who blamed comedians for making the divisiveness in this nation worse. Humor can be used to oversimplify and obscure, as well as to grasp the complex and reveal what is hidden. Intent is important.)

 

In the 9/26 Sunday New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote a piece called “To Beat Trump, Mock Him. The lesson from pro—democracy fighters abroad: Humor deflates authoritarian rulers.” Before DT, we in the U. S. didn’t have much experience confronting authoritarian rulers and so are often stumped about what to do to hold DT accountable. The more normal frontal attacks, and revelations of his corruption and malignant actions don’t work as we expect. As Kristof points out, the impeachment hearings seemed to elevate him in the polls….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to the Good Men Project.

What Do We Do When It All is Getting to Us? The Value of a Good Honest Conversation

What do we do when we feel it is all getting to us? When the outrage and depression over the killing of George Floyd and so many other African-Americans by police, combines with the sadness and anger over the rising numbers of those sick and dying from the coronavirus, combines with the actions by DT to cut off the information from reaching us that we need to protect ourselves? And all this is augmented by anxiety over our economic situation or uncertainty over the future and, of course, fear of getting sick?

 

My mind went through a change over the past weekend. Every time we leave home to go to a public, indoor location⎼ shop for food, get our car fixed, what used to be normal activities⎼ a new waiting period can begin. Since the incubation period for the virus can be two weeks, if we do this more than once during that time, we never stop being on edge, monitoring for symptoms. A chest pain, a cough, a tickle in the throat can cause us to isolate ourselves further in worry.

 

I turned on the tv and there was an ad for a local Public Television program, Behind the Woman, which shared personal stories of women leaders from diverse backgrounds. In this time of different pandemics, those of racism, DT, and the coronavirus, the program reminded me of what a sense of community can be like, with shared concerns and a demand for change.

 

Then I heard news about protests over the police killing of George Floyd, in Portland, Oregon, being met by militarized Federal agents sent there by DT. These camouflage-wearing agents have been stomping on the people’s right to protest and on the legitimate local authorities and the rule of law, creating chaos to serve DT’s own selfish political purposes. And on Sunday, they  were met by a wall of Moms chanting “Moms are here, Feds stay clear.” I felt a silly sort of joy, a shared interest and feeling, with these women, and with these protestors. Until I heard about the teargas and arrests and the joy was replaced with outrage and fear.

 

Hearing about the protests, I somehow felt less alone. When we hear about other people in pain, we want to do something to end that suffering. We want to help. Even babies, when they hear other babies crying, join in. And when we hear about people taking action, we can feel more powerful ourselves and ready to act….

 

To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

 

A Tree’s Sense of Time, A Human’s Sense of Agency

I’m looking out my window at the trees in the yard, an apple, oak and cherry. Today, it’s raining so they look more grey than brown. I feel a sense of gratitude that they’re there, to shield the house from heavy winds, to block the sunlight on hot days, to provide fruit. I admire their beauty.

 

And I wonder, if a tree could sense time, what would that sense of time be? Think about how different time would be for a tree, or a snail for that matter. They both move at so much slower or different a pace than we humans do, and their world, for so many reasons, is so different. They’d miss and be totally unable to concern themselves with almost anything we concern ourselves with, yet they’d notice changes, elements of the world we are blind to.

 

As we speed up or slow down time, like speeding up or slowing down a video, we change how we see the world or the pace at which everything appears. Time is, after all, the rate of change.

 

Lately, my sense of time has frequently been warped. Right now, I can see the rain falling. I can’t see the wind, but I can see how it bends and shakes the limbs of trees and bushes, and how it affects the flight of birds. And I hear it. Oh, how I hear it, all around me, pulling at my attention.

 

And I can remember how different it was yesterday, when it was sunny, in the 60s, quiet, and I felt so calm.

 

And then I turn on the news. The pace at which my inner body moves speeds up. Even if we’re isolated at home, time speeds up. Worries about the coronavirus and how it is affecting family and friends, affecting our sense of security, are like the wind blowing, bending our limbs.

 

And then the political chaos turns the wind into a hurricane….

 

*To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.

Using Imagination and Mindfulness to Inquire into Big Questions

**This article was written and scheduled to be published by the Education that Inspires online magazine 6 – 8 weeks ago, before we knew the devastation the coronavirus could have on our world. The post now seems to me an artifact of a lost time. But one thing I hope we learn from the response to this pandemic is how important it is to constantly improve our critical thinking capacity and enhance it with emotional awareness and compassion. And our whole culture needs to put education, public education, in the prominent position it and our children deserve. Our public schools need to be set free from Betsy DeVos and those like her, set free from the 30+ years of corporate attacks on public education masquerading as “reform,” and allowed to teach critical thinking enhanced by imagination, social-emotional awareness and compassion. If we learn how to think more critically and compassionately, and we study our world and examine what our political representatives say, and do, more clearly, maybe there will be less of a chance anything like this situation will happen again. For now, maybe this post can inspire online educational discussions.**

 

Teenagers are natural philosophers, when the educational environment is open to them asking sincere questions. They are constantly asking themselves, their friends, and, hopefully, their teachers questions like: “Is love real? What does friendship mean? Who or what am I?” So, one of the first things to do is discover what questions the students have related to the course ⎼ or life⎼ and what questions they think must be answered to better understand the course material.

 

One of the big questions often raised, although sometimes students can’t verbalize it, is “Do we have free will or is that just a comforting illusion?” It is related to the question of “Who am I?” And: “How much freedom do I have to shape who I am and what I feel?” Such questions provide educators opportunities to develop their students’ critical and creative thinking and engage with the Philosophic Imagination.

 

I remember students gleefully proclaiming in a class discussion that we have no free will. I don’t know if they did this after studying in a science class how every event has a cause, and they were saying to me or to the rest of the class: “I know something you don’t.” Or if saying “there is no free will” was an assertion of it, like saying “I am not bound by old ways of thinking.” It didn’t matter that by saying there was no free will they were denying what their emotions were proclaiming. Or maybe they were just daring me to prove otherwise.

 

Once in a psychology class, we were discussing compassion and one student asked: “Are we really free to be kind when we want? Maybe some people are just born nice. With all that we learned in science about how chemical and electrical messages and genetics control us, how can we be free to decide anything?”

 

I asked: “What does it mean to be free? Does it mean we act without any reason or that there are no restraints on what we do? Or that every time we have a thought or desire, we act it out? Would we feel free then?”

 

“I would feel a slave if I had to express every thought I heard in my mind,” responded one student.

 

“But would I lose my spontaneity if I didn’t act on my thoughts?” asked a third student.

 

Then I asked: “Does what we know or believe influence how we act? If we learned about experiments that show people can learn to act with more kindness and compassion, would we be more kind? Or if we studied experimental evidence that mindfulness training strengthens the parts of the brain that prepare us to act to help others⎼ would knowing that change your mind, or not, about being free to be kind even if you weren’t born kind?”

 

How do you start the discussion? Decide on a question for imaginative mindful inquiry.

 

After students have settled down and we have greeted them, tell them the question for the day. “Our question for today is What does it mean to be free?” Ask them to raise their hands if the question has come up for them in discussions with friends or family.

 

In engaging in this discussion, we need to keep in mind religious beliefs about the question. We might also have to re-shape the questions we ask to meet the age and personal history of our students.

 

One way to start is with an exercise in imagination and mindful inquiry. This can not only introduce the question but develop the skill of self-awareness that is crucial in actually acting freely. And being able to imagine a situation, the implications of one’s words or the consequences of one’s actions, is central to critical thinking and making decisions….

 

To read the whole post, go to the EducationThatInspires magazine.

 

 

The Better Rebels of Our Nature: Friends Can Help Us Remember to “Be the Change We Want in the World”

Three close friends and I recently had a reunion. We visited Ann Arbor, Michigan, where we went to school in the 1960s and rented a house together for a long weekend. When we are together anything can come up for conversation and does. At dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant, we discussed everything from free will to selling out, from politics to Ancient Sumeria, to the music of Dylan, Cohen, and Ramstein, and Michigan football.

 

My friends were not shy about bringing others, who happened to wander by or be standing around us, into our conversation. We were debating if we had free will or if it mattered if we believed that we did, and soon our waiter was involved in the conversation. He and I basically agreed. One of my friends said since our actions were purposeful and the motivation for those purposes were largely unconscious and thus beyond our control, how can we claim to be free? We are more like machines than we like to think.

 

I disagreed. Yes, our actions derive from many unconscious determining factors.  But included in those determining factors is the whole universe, in which we are a part. I brought up the Chinese Taoist concept of Wu Wei, which can be defined as “effortless action” or “acting without acting.” Our actions arise as part of the whole universe moving interdependently together. We can never step out of the universe to view all the consequences of, or influences on, our actions. However, we, meaning our body, memory, intention, and way of thinking participate in determining what we do, along with everyone and everything else in and around us. We all act together.

 

One of my friends asked the waiter about his own life. It turns out he had been a doctoral candidate in ancient middle eastern religions and was studying Akkadian, Sumerian, and other languages as a required part of his study. Then he got bored with learning these dead languages, quit the program, and got a job as a waiter. We wound up discussing Gilgamesh, the first written extended story or epic poem and one of the earliest takes on male friendship.

 

One of my friends then asked, Did I sell out? Have I given up the ideals I fought for in my youth and has my life become merely the pursuit of money and power? Is what I am doing worthwhile and should I continue doing it?

 

We discussed the important successes he had achieved in his life. The question arose how did the world, or the state of U. S. politics, get so bad ⎼ and were we responsible for T?

 

This turn in the conversation reminded me of one I had had in the gym earlier in the week. After greeting me, a man who was more than an acquaintance but not yet a friend asked what I was doing with my life. I mentioned house repairs, teaching martial arts twice a week, and writing. I asked him the same question. He replied by switching topics and stating that all the people from the 1960s who dropped out of society to “go back to the land” (implying that I was one of those people) were responsible for the awful state of our nation today. We should have stayed in society, he said, become CEOs and reformed the corporate world.

 

Although I could understand his argument, I was incredulous. He seemed to be following a meme inspired by conservatives of blaming the 60’s for almost anything. I agreed that if conscientious people do nothing, they therefore leave the world in the hands of those who think only of their own power and money. But making people aware of this was what the 1960s rebellions were about.

 

I don’t think anybody who knows me would say I had dropped out or given up. In the early 70s I did move to a rural location to build a house with my then girlfriend and now wife. We moved with a group of people involved in creating a free school, not-for-profit businesses, and a community development fund. We were intent on changing the economy and the values that drove this society.

 

Going back to the land was not a running away from responsibility but a refusal to live by materialistic values. It was a way to educate ourselves in how to live in a more sustainable and less destructive way. If we had joined the corporate world and tried to change it from within, how long would we have been able to sustain that motivation if we hadn’t, first, learned how to live without all the material rewards of corporate wealth?

 

The 1960s rebellions warned us about the dangers we face today, of narcissistic leaders, of politicians lying to the people, and of alienated men and women who refused to look at the state of our world and the dark side of technological advances. The 1960s, or people like Martin Luther King, Jr., the Berrigan brothers, so many writers, artists, musicians, and activists, taught us that poverty, racism, sexism and the lust for power do not just hurt the people immediately affected by these blights on humanity, but undermine the whole society.

 

There were also people like G. Gordon Liddy, one of President Nixon’s “plumbers” who organized the break-in at the Watergate Hotel and illustrated just how far alienated men could go. His autobiography, Will, described a man whose hero was Adolf Hitler and whose primary motivation was to become as powerful as possible. Besides admiring Hitler, he envied and tried to create in himself the power and emotionlessness of machines. Here was a man who had not just accepted the simplified metaphor that humans were machines, but glorified the possibility.

 

The argument by the man in the gym was akin to blaming the victim. The people responsible for putting profit before people ⎼ and personal power before the health of our world ⎼ were primarily responsible for making working for the common good and democracy impossible.

 

But, since we are all interdependent, every one of us is part of us, part of all that is happening. Because we can be affected, we can affect others. Our true power and freedom lie not in escaping emotion and our responsibility for what happens in the world, but in becoming more aware of it. Only by increasing our mindful awareness of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that affect our behavior can we have any conscious power to direct that behavior.

 

For example, our theories and beliefs about reality tell us how much power and choice we have in affecting that reality. If we think we are machines with no free will, then we are more likely to abdicate responsibility for our actions and allow ourselves to act mechanically.

 

Our fault in the 1960s was not in our building communal groups and rebelling against jobs and politics as we knew them.  It was in not understanding how complex the struggle would be. It was in focusing so much on our own righteous need to achieve our goals that we couldn’t compromise or adapt and believed we could and had to change the world in a few months or years. The result was that when the revolution didn’t happen, many gave up the struggle.

 

Even though we children of the 60s embraced a sentiment later attributed to Gandhi about being the change we wanted to see in the world, or about living the revolution, we didn’t know how to do it. And we are still learning this. Learning how to be the change is what life is about. And our deepest friendships can help remind us of this, and how to be the better rebels of our nature.

 

This post was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dynamic Relationship of Joy and Fear

It can be so difficult these days to think about joy. Joy is such a short and simple word, yet it means something both basic and profound. It can be of such benefit yet many of us create obstacles to it in our lives or have had obstacles created for us. What is joy? What happens inside us when we’re joyful? How does joy affect our outlook and ability to think and act?

 

Sometimes joy can be like discovering a secret that you can’t wait to share. Sometimes your hands want to rise up, your body wants to dance, your face to smile, as if you were embracing the world, and yourself.

 

I remember such moments. I remember receiving an email from my agent that my book was going to be published. I could barely believe it. Excitement and ordinariness both arose in me. Here was an email—I had received thousands of emails over the years, but none like this one. It was as if I had been hoping for this moment for my entire life. As if all prior emails had this one buried within them as a possibility. Likewise, when good friends came to visit, I felt joy. Or when I was a student, on snow days, or at least when I first heard the announcement of a snow day. Or when a burden was lifted. Or something feared was ended.

 

Joy can be what pushes back against fear; fear can dissolve joy. All emotion has this dynamic quality to it. No emotion is just one emotion. When one emotion surfaces, others arise on the periphery. For example, love can carry fear as well as joy. Why is there fear with love? Maybe because love is allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Part of the ecstasy of love is the affirmation and sense of strength that comes from believing in yourself enough to know you can be vulnerable, you can feel this, even though pain might result from it.

 

Meditation on Joy

 

One way to understand joy and feel it more often and more powerfully is provided by meditation or simply letting yourself remember a moment of joy and what it felt like. Meditation can assist mental clarity and the letting go of internal impediments.

 

To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.

How Wide Can We Open the Door to the Mystery of Ourselves?

The More Troubling the Social-Political Environment, the More Important It Is to Understand Ourselves (and Get a Good Sleep).

 

Last night, I woke up in the middle of a dream. And almost immediately, the world of conscious reality reappeared with only a hint of the dream remaining. Only a hint that I had dreamed at all and that there were worlds aside from this conscious one. This fascinates me.

 

When I was teaching secondary school, discussing dreams, as well as learning more about their own psychology, fascinated most students. They wanted to understand from where or why these crazy images or stories showed up in their lives. Many people, as they age, lose this drive for self-understanding or it is socialized out of them.

 

But regarding sleep ⎼ teens get too little of it and tend to push the limits or even rebel against it. Each night we go to sleep ⎼ or should go to sleep. This is the rhythm of life. We sleep and wake. We forget our dreams in the daytime and lose or reshape the daytime world in our dreams. We might have no awareness that we dream at all or resist the very idea. Yet, we do dream. It is a necessity. Exactly what dreams do is not known. But when we don’t dream or don’t get enough sleep, we pay an enormous price.

 

Scientists say when we dream, we show rapid eye movements (REM) under our closed eyelids, as if we were watching a scene played out before us. But the rest of our body remains mostly immobile. Our brains are active; the large muscles of our bodies inactive (REM atonia). This is called paradoxical sleep.

 

According to Mathew Walker, in his book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Dreams and Sleep, during dream sleep our brain is free from noradrenaline, which produces anxiety. At the same time, emotional and memory-related areas of the brain are activated. This means that, in dreams other than nightmares, we can experience emotional content without all the stress. We can process emotional experiences more openly and heal.

 

Walker discusses the negative health consequences of the consistent loss of even one or two hours of sleep including accelerated heart rate and blood pressure, an overstimulation of the threat response system, weight gain, and an increased risk of dementia…

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

The Fruits of Our Actions: Transforming Self and World

Wouldn’t it be nice if people who seem awful to us got their “just” rewards? If bullies and thieves were stopped and punished and we got to see the punishment? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if narcissistic rulers who ripped off their nation and committed acts of inhumanity were taken from the White House to the jail house? Oh, if only. But it’s obvious that it doesn’t always work that way, at least not in our personal timeline ⎼ except maybe in the section of our imagination reserved for wishes and dreams. …..

 

A Meditation on Taking Action

 

And when the rage and the fear and the tears about the state of the world breaks through, or when the despair threatens to overcome us, when we feel isolated (because fear is isolating), or want to run to a different universe, then we need to take a breath and step back from the emotion. Instead of hiding it away, we can notice it. Make it something to observe and learn from. Such fear is not a message to run away but to open up.

 

Close your eyes and notice how you are breathing. If you feel powerless, it is not a message about giving up but that you need to act. If you feel lacking in courage or you can’t imagine what to do, then imagine someone you know or have read about or wish to know who acted with courage. Someone compassionate and driven to act, or someone informed who knew and did what needed to be done. Maybe someone creative who thought of something no one else thought of.

 

Who was this person? Imagine her or him. Imagine what she looks like. What was it this person did? What do you think she felt when she did it? Or felt before she did it? Imagine the fear or self-doubt he might have felt? How did he act despite the fear? Imagine her feeling fear yet acting anyway.

 

How is this person just like you? Is her fear any different from yours?

 

Imagine him feeling he had to act. What have you done in your life that was helpful to someone else or creative?

 

You and this person are not so different. You both feel fear. You both breathe in and out. You both notice what is happening.

 

So now let come to mind some situation you want to change, and you feel needs addressing. Let come to mind something you can do. And imagine doing it. Where do you start? Who can you talk to about it? Who would share your concern?

 

And what do you need to know? Where could you find that information? And what would the change look like?

 

What would it feel like to have taken these actions?

 

Take a breath in and out. How do you feel now?

 

To read the whole blog, go to The Good Men Project.

#Me-Too Can Awaken Us to the Humanity of Others

We need a better education, in this country, in how to face our own inner reality, to know ourselves with honesty, and to know the role other people and our world play in knowing ourselves.  For example, we might grow up thinking our happiness lies primarily with what we own or how much money we have, so we are never satisfied with what we have. Or we think true power results from control over others, so we never feel in control of ourselves. We look externally to satisfy what requires us to look internally.

 

I hope I’m not simply projecting, but I think #Me-Too is now being taken by more men I know not as an attack on them, but as a way of waking us up to the reality of the women we relate to. By awakening to the reality of others, we wake to the reality of ourselves. As long as we men see women primarily in terms of our own needs and projections, we will always be dissatisfied with our relationships with women. As long as we try to feel strong, or create a secure, satisfying relationship by controlling our partner, whomever she or he is, we will never feel strong, secure or satisfied.

 

As long as we think of those we love, instead of our own inner emotional nature, is the source of our love and excitement, we will always feel somewhat controlled by the other, and powerless. And some kind of dissatisfaction, even resentment or anger, will develop and undermine our loving….

 

We might think that by destroying the power of others we increase our own power. But by doing so we develop an addiction. We think we are so weak that we can only feel powerful when others are powerless. We grow dependent on weakness. So we need stronger and stronger hits of the drug of weakness and delusion. We grow more and more incapable of looking at the world directly or clearly….

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

Kindness Allows Us to Breathe in Life More Deeply: A Meditation on Kindness

Imagine kindness spreading across a room, a stadium or a city. One person influencing those around him or her until everyone joins in.

 

So often in our lives, we are pressured to blindly follow what others do. I usually try to resist just going along with how others go along or being swept up by other people’s emotions or ideas. But I would gladly join a bandwagon of kindness. Kindness is actually a cure for blindness. It wakes us up, so we actually see who we’re standing with and what we’re doing. This is the essence of kindness.

 

Kindness is the brother of joy, the sister of compassion, the father of insight, and the mother of transformation.

 

Acting with kindness can be one of the simplest of things to do. It can be like breathing. We breathe every moment. In fact, breathing is one aspect of ourselves that we can never do without. But being aware of our breath can take practice.

 

Many of us don’t breathe fully and deeply. We don’t realize that when our breath is calm, it is a friend who teaches us to be open and friendly. Or when it gets too rapid, it can dim our vision so we see others as enemies.

 

Likewise, when we act without kindness, we pay an unbelievable price. Just take a moment to remember what it feels like when we act out of fear, anger, hate, or greed. Or what thoughts or images rage in our mind. Our breath becomes tense and rushed. We erect a wall around ourselves built out of suspicion and muscular tension…

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.