A New Year’s Wish: We All Share the Community of Breath

I want to celebrate. It is the solstice, and so many holidays are here, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Years. But the days have been getting so dark lately, not just in terms of being the darkest time of the year, but emotionally. It’s also cold today. And the numbers of those sick from COVID is frightening. Two friends of mine are suffering now from the illness and must quarantine. No holidays with friends and family this year.

 

It can seem like we are all in quarantine, at least emotionally. When some of us are in quarantine, a part of all of us is in hiding, from the news and crazy weather if not from the pandemic.

 

In the four years that DJT was unfortunately in office, he fostered fear and oppression, hate and violence. He did this it seems in an effort to shock us so frequently or create enough chaos we would surrender and allow him to crown himself King or anoint himself absolute ruler just to turn off the fear. This is why the GOP have been working feverishly to strip away  our voting rights and protections. But to allow him to seize power would only make the threat inconceivably worse.

 

And even though, thankfully, we now have a caring and rational President in Joe Biden, this might seem to many like just a pause, a calm before the storm. It might seem like the efforts of those who would rip our rights and lives from us are succeeding.

 

And the state of the earth itself is adding to this darkness, not only with normal seasonal changes but with abnormal roars of dismay and anger over our abuse of the planet. Historic windstorms and tornadoes last week followed record droughts and fires in the summer and fall, shaking us to realize what happens when the earth warms too precipitously.

 

What is there to celebrate?

 

My wife and 2 of our 3 cats are sitting near to me. We create a place of safety, a haven or home for each other. Outside, the green grass is lightly coated with white. The tufted titmice, blue jays, and chickadees are energetically diving down to get the food we left for them and carry it off to eat.

 

The winter solstice clearly signals both an end, and a beginning, but of what, besides a date on a calendar? Our ancestors, the earliest humans, might have met the dark unsure if the light would ever come again. They might have felt they were returning to the birth of the universe or of life itself, when the world was born from the womb of matter or chaos. They might have wondered what they had done to create the dark. But if creation could triumph over destruction, then maybe light would return; maybe they would not only survive but thrive.

 

The universe itself can thus remind us of what is possible. The movement and tilt of the earth as it rotates around the sun brings seasons, night, and day. Likewise, we can help bring a new season of light to the human world….Protecting Voting Rights

 

**To read the whole piece, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

How Do We Face What We Believe is Unfaceable?

How do we face a fact or situation we believe we cannot face? Or respond skillfully to a personal or collective crisis?

 

In the Winter 2021 issue of Tricycle Magazine: The Buddhist Review, there is an article by environmentalist Paul Hawken adapted from his new book Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation. Hawken says we live on a planet dying due to severed connections between human beings and the natural world that sustains and contains us. The decline of the earth is its’ adaptation to what we are doing to it.

 

72% of Americans know that the consensus of scientists is that climate change is human caused. A U. N. panel recently labeled the situation a climate emergency. But Hawken says that if we stop making the mistakes we’re making, if we end the disconnection, if we cease the production of fossil fuels, redirect the economy to stop overconsumption, deforestation, wars, etc. the earth will come back to life. This is difficult but possible. But many don’t, won’t or can’t allow this to even be a possibility in their mind.

 

Many have come to think we have already gone too far, or it would take generations to stop catastrophic global warming. But Hawken says, if we can reduce carbon gain and achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050, we can regenerate the planet in one or two decades.

 

It is easier to not-think about it. To not consider the possibility that the planet, or human life on it, can be saved. For some of us, to bring the earth’s future back to life inside our heart and mind brings the hurt back to life. Pain. It can feel easier to fashion scabs of anger or ig-norance than face pain.

 

I think of two friends and neighbors who say they have given up. They usually vote. Maybe this is a sign that vestiges of hope or commitment remain⎼ or of love. But they won’t do anything more. Won’t help get out the vote or call politicians or take to the streets. They say it will do no good. Maybe the grief they feel over the dying earth has immobilized them.

 

And I understand this response. I too feel the grief for what and whom we’ve lost, for the losses from the pandemic, for an easier time when I did not feel the earth itself was on the way to the emergency room, or that white nationalists might once again inhabit the White House like they did just a year ago. I, too, yearn for comfort.

 

In a recent blog, I described how it’s less the situation we face, or the sensations we feel, that determine our emotional state, but our response to the situation and feelings. We often think of fear as what readies us to act to protect ourselves. But as psychologist William James pointed out over a hundred years ago, we don’t have an emotion and then act. We don’t see a bear in the woods, or maybe a domestic terrorist on the street, and then feel fear, and run.

 

Instead, our response is constructed in stages. We feel fear as our body begins to sweat, our heartbeat speeds up, our legs twitch. Fear is an interpretation added to sensations. The sensations themselves are the same as a stress response or emotions like excitement. The interpretation includes thoughts such as labeling a threat as unmanageable as well as an inclination to act, for example, by hiding….

 

**To read the whole article, please click on the link for the Good Men Project, who first published the piece.

Stories that Free Us from Limiting Thoughts: Turning the Best of What Might Be into the Reality of What Is

The psychologist Milton Erickson was a transformative figure in therapy, using stories as ways to motivate, change, or de-hypnotize us from hurtful and limiting patterns of behavior. When I was teaching, I used his and other stories to make a point and engage students when their attention drifted, or when they needed something real but approachable to appear in the classroom.

 

One example of a story I always loved was how Erickson taught an athlete to win an Olympic gold medal. This version was told by Sidney Rosen in his book My Voice will Go with You: The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson.

 

A high school athlete named in the book as Donald Lawrence had been practicing to set a national high school record for throwing a shot put. But after a year, he could only put the shot 58 feet, way short of the record.

 

His father brought him in to see Erickson, who at their first meeting helped Donald go into a trance and feel his muscles one by one. On the next visit, after repeating the trance for muscle awareness, Erickson asked Donald if he knew a mile used to be four minutes long. The record had stood for many years until Roger Bannister broke the record. Erickson asked, “Do you know how?”

 

Bannister had realized you could win a ski jump by a tenth of a second or a race. Since a four-minute mile was 240 seconds, all he had to do to set a new record was run a mile in 239.9 seconds, or 239.5. One tenth or one half a second faster.

 

“You have already thrown the shot fifty-eight feet…Do you know the difference between fifty-eight feet and fifty-eight feet and one-sixteenth of an inch?” Donald said no. Erickson slowly enlarged the possibility of what Donald could do in his mind until 2 weeks later Donald set the high-school record. He went on to set more records until four years later he brought home the Olympic gold.

 

Erickson, says Rosen, used obvious truths to plant suggestions for personal growth. He told Donald, “You’re four years older now. It would be all right if you take the gold medal.” The first was true; the second could be true. By juxtaposing them, Erickson made the unrealized realizable, the unknown known. He demonstrated the control Donald had when he moved step by step and eliminated the anxiety that can erupt from the past. Donald was left with each moment being the first and only moment to focus on. And then he, or the real person ‘Donald’ represents, won the gold.

 

Likewise, each of us can be freed from many of our fears and limitations….

 

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