Wednesday, October 8, 2014

An Ending and a Beginning

Well, we've finished 12 weeks of our introduction to wholeness ethics. It was received very well and staff have been very supportive. It's a blessing.

We will be starting another group in about a week with new guys. About 25 of the guys who just went through will move over into our "Stewards" portion of the project. This is where we focus more on integrating these things and putting them out to others in our community.

I tell them that the first 12 weeks are about learning the principles of wholeness ethics, but it takes a lifetime to integrate or habitualize them. We sometimes talk about what we would do if someone drops a wallet with lot of money in it. I like to point out that our goal isn't to figure out the right answer to that question but to reach a point where it isn't even a question. That's integration.

The same is true with larger ethical questions like loving all people unconditionally — even those who may have ill will toward us. Who can do that without practicing it? But our goal is to bring it to the point where it's not even a question. Until we get it to that point it remains unintegrated.

So, we go now out of the classroom and into a community and begin the lifelong work of integrating wholeness thinking into our personal lives and into our relationships. I'm excited about it and grateful to all who make it possible and care about it — including all of you.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Compassion as a Point of Connection

I have decided to try to turn all energy into compassion. This is, for me, a way to stay focused. It is also a thing greatly needed in our world.

By energy I mean the various internal energies we experience as emotions and thoughts, as well as the energies that act on us from the outside.

In the first case, if I feel anger I try to transmute this energy — after allowing myself to experience it for an appropriate amount of time — into compassion. A guy recently transferred back here after stealing from me and transferring out some time back. I was angry when it happened and again when I saw him again. I called him to account, telling him he needed to make right what he'd done.

I didn't want anything more than what he took from me, but even after claiming he wanted to make it right, he's made no effort. I've taken the energy of my anger and turned it into compassion — for other victims of injustice, for myself, and for this man whose integrity is so broken that he can't even see the value of trying to repair it.

I can do the same with the energy of happiness, boredom, frustration, self-contentment, fear, self-condemnation and so on. The can each be a point of connection to those in need of compassion in the world.

Energies from outside might be the energy of violence, cruelty, mindlessness, greed or, on the positive side, love, kindness, hope and optimism.

Once again, I can turn these energies into compassion as I experience them. I do so by expanding my awareness out from myself to the world, especially the world where it's hurting or striving. I should mention that this includes the non-human world as well as the human world. Where there is any need for compassion — and where is there not? — I offer it like a drink of water.

If I can do this in the physical world I will, but if not, I offer it up as energy: to the people in Ferguson, Missouri; to those in St. Louis; to the numberless and nameless suffering across our nation and world; to those betrayed by politics, corporate greed, and power; to those left behind; and to those on top, caught up in the delusion that winning is worthy of them.

I will strive toward this and fail, but even if I fail forever, the striving itself, the naming of this as my mission, will be my success.

Monday, August 18, 2014

"To Be My Symphony"


I was reading some quotes and came upon this by William Henry Channing and was inspired.
"To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable; and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages with open heart, to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasion; hurry never — in a word, to let the spiritual unbidden and unconscious grow up through the common; this is to be my symphony."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Fable


Here's my version of the fable I mentioned in this post, just for fun.

Eagles and Chickens

Once there was an eagle who thought he was a chicken. He scratched and pecked in the barnyard alongside all the other chickens and roosted in the coop at night. But he always felt that this barnyard life was too small for him, that he was called to something bigger. He saw birds flying overhead and felt a deep ache in his breast as if he had lost something important but couldn't remember what it was.

When he brought this up to other chickens they said, "What are you doing looking up anyway? Keep your eyes on the ground or you'll miss the crumbs and bugs that keep us alive."

"Being alive is great," he thought, "but what are  we alive for?" He couldn't stop asking questions or looking up at the wide open sky.

Then one day the farmer came, grabbed up a chicken by the legs and took it away squawking and flapping. The other chickens fluttered nervously for a few seconds but then went right back to scratching and pecking. Eagle had seen this before but never questioned it. Now he couldn't get the questions out of his mind. "Where did brother chicken go?" he asked several others. They all shrugged. "This is life. Why are you questioning it?"

The next Sunday the farmer came again. This time Eagle jumped and pumped his wings and suddenly found himself on the other side of the fence. He followed and watched as the farmer chopped off the chicken's head, plucked its feathers and carried the naked remains into the house.
He ran back and jumped the fence. He had to tell the other chickens what was going on. He was sure there would be a revolt of some sort.

But there was no revolt. Not even a protest. When Eagle got them all gathered and told them, he realized they already knew. They shook their heads at him and said, "Stop jumping the fence. What's the matter with you?"

He was so frustrated he flapped his wings again furiously. He found himself propelled up powerfully and hovered there looking down at the chickens. That was the moment he realized he wasn't a chicken. And though he had no idea what he was or where he was going, he knew he wouldn't be sleeping in the coop that night. He kept on flapping until the farmhouse was just a tiny speck beneath the endless sky.

Back in the barnyard the chickens shook their heads, clucked their tongues and went back to pecking and scratching the ground.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tending the Orphan Child

One of the biggest obstacles to growth of any kind is the belief that "we're already there." In my last post, I left you with the thought that "maybe you're a wholist," and if so, what does that mean? (If you want a primer on my idea of wholeness ethics, you might want to start here and here.)

First, it means you are in the process of becoming and being whole and the process of making the world more whole where you can. Wholeness isn't a destination that any of us have arrived at, but a process we're either engaged in or not at the moment. Wholeness is a dynamic, not a static, state.

Are you engaged in the process of becoming and being whole in this moment? Is this moment-by-moment tending to wholeness an ongoing practice in your life? Then maybe you are a wholist.

I believe we must get this right and together raise a generation that has reverence, goodwill and justice for themselves, for others, for animals and nature, and for the transcendent. Certain people, for reasons of their own, are actively and very skillfully teaching and advocating the opposite of these on a massive scale.

I recall hearing about a woman who went as a tourist somewhere in the world that was deeply broken. She witnessed oppressed people living in fear under a brutal regime and she found that people began to call on her to come and just listen to their stories. This was several decades ago and she was still working on their behalf.

When asked what made her commit her life to this cause she said, "simply knowing about it."

She went on to say that to know something is to become accountable to that truth, a trustee of it.

I believe this is so. Too often we think of the truth we come to know in life as a personal possession. I've come to think of it more as an orphan child that I, once having come upon, am accountable for loving, raising and sending out into the world.

Wholism is that child for me, but as the saying goes, "It takes a village..." It especially takes a village to raise a truth in this world.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Chickens and Eagles

I never thought I'd say it: Fox News — Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, et al — are right. 

About what? 

They're right that there is a culture war in America.

They are also wrong — about a lot of things — but particularly, they're wrong about who this war is between. They think it's between the "left" and the "right." The truth is, the left and right are not at war, they are in a symbiotic relationship. They orbit one another like a dual-star system, each defining the other's orbit. If one of them ever disappeared the other would not know what it is, because they only know themselves in reference to each other. Eventually gravity will pull them together and this new left-right entity will immediately start looking for another pole to create a new binary system with. This is the life cycle of dualistic systems.

The real culture war is between this left-right dualism and a third option, an alternative (not an opposite) to dualism. This alternative is ethical wholism. There is a war between dualism and wholism.

There are a bunch of problems with this, however. First of all, when it comes to war, wholists are like vegetarians at a barbeque. We don't like the war language and energy, especially the various social "wars" that dualists seem to love. We're also not big on "cliquing up." We're wholists and we believe our clique is everyone. 


But neither of these is our biggest problem, the one that will do us in if we don't recognize and address it. It is that many of us think we're liberals. This is a little like the eagle who thought he was a chicken, but before we get to that, I want to address the first two problems first.

We have a problem with the dualistic language and energy of war. I understand that and we can take possession of the language if we're engaged. But instead, we poo-poo the whole notion. All that war talk is for crazies on the fringe of both the left and the right. But just because we don't like the language dualists use to describe a reality doesn't mean the reality isn't real. If hordes invade your country the fact that you haven't declared war doesn't mean you don't have to deal with the invasion.

Call it a war, a struggle or simply a clash, but there is a contest going on in America and around the world. It's a real struggle between ideas and for hearts and minds. We have no right to sit on the sidelines and excuse ourselves from the struggle because we don't like the language. Yet this is largely what we're doing. We don't develop or stand up for our ideas and we don't advocate for them. As a result America is becoming more and more dualistic. The dualists are shaping our country and our future because we've ceded the ground.

The second problem is an extension of the first: As long as we deny that there's a struggle we won't see any reason to pull together, to unite as a group, and to learn to articulate our ideas and our vision of the future.

Which brings us back to the eagle who thinks he's a chicken. Most "liberals" I know are either dualistic or deflated. The dualists are a quixotic bunch passionately fighting but not really expecting to win their war against the windmills of ignorance and reactionary thinking. The deflated can't even muster a defense of their beliefs and keep them more out of habit than passion.

I say many of these people aren't liberals at all. They've just fallen for the old dualist trick that if you're attacked by someone you must take up the opposite of that position. Conservatives attack and we take up the position of liberals.

So, if you think of yourself as a liberal, take a close look at your feathers. Ask yourself if the coop and even the barnyard have always felt a little too small for you. Do you find yourself looking up at the sky longingly? If so, you might be a wholist.

I'll leave you with that thought and the question: What does it mean to be a wholist?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Power and Goodness

First of all, thank you to those of you who have taken the time to post comments to this blog. It is very much appreciated. Wordsmythe, I'm looking at your very thoughtful and practical suggestions to see where and how they might best be used. The Provocation Circles are usually informal and held on the yard so some of your suggestions may be more suited to the regular meetings. At any rate, I thank you.

In other news, I've been thinking lately about the relationship between power and goodness and it brought me around to the old adage that "power corrupts." I believe it's our job to question answers more than to answer questions so I asked myself, "Is this true or is it just another cuckoo's egg laid in our nest by repetition?"

My first thought was that it takes power to do anything at all, so if power corrupts then everyone who does anything is corrupt. I don't find this to be true. We use power all the time to help people and make the world a better place. I don't see any corruption in that. Even people with a lot of power like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Dalai Lama seem to have somehow avoided the corruption of power.

It's true that we can name hundreds of others who acquired power and used it in corrupt ways. But it seems to me that the corrupting influence of power is much more related to an imbalance between wisdom and power than it is an inherent attribute of power. In other words, power doesn't corrupt. Power without wisdom corrupts.

Wisdom is moral sense or, in Socrates' definition of education, the ability to do good. If power were an engine under the hood of a fast car, wisdom would be the driving skill of whoever's behind the wheel. Give someone with limited driving skills a Formula One race car, and they will probably hurt themselves and others. But it wasn't horsepower that caused this result. It was an imbalance between horsepower and driving skill.


M.L.K., Jr., said, "Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose." When our ability to achieve purpose outstrips our ability to discern good purpose from bad, one of two things has to happen to keep us from hurting ourselves. Either our ability to achieve purpose (our power) must be decreased, or our ability to discern good purpose from bad (our wisdom) must be increased.

In our time we don't often have the option of decreasing our power because things like the power of technology, the power of knowledge, the power of social wealth, and the power of information can't easily be untangled, avoided or given back once we have them. Our only choice to stay in balance is to increase our wisdom. Yet too often as we gain power we quit tending our wisdom. We stop asking questions about how we're using power and how we should be using it. We stop asking what life's about and what purpose we ought to be serving here.

What if every time we used power of any kind we paused and simply looked at the balance between our wisdom and our power? Are we wise enough to measure up to the power we've been given to wield daily? Even here in prison I find myself possessing a level of power that demands constant attention. There are so many ways to cause harm unconsciously. Some of this, of course, is inevitable, but when I do cause harm (such as eating animals) I want to at least be aware of it and pause for a moment to acknowledge it.

If I don't make an effort to maintain this awareness I can fall into the habit of thinking that what I do in life doesn't really have much effect — that I don't have enough power to help or harm. This is a bad mistake. I've been given the power to affect many things. This is a trust and I try to remember this as I balance the power I have with what wisdom I can muster.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Hot Sauce and Compliments

The other day, while searching without much hope for something to watch on TV, I came across a program on Nat Geo called Brain Games. I've seen it before and know it's sort of a Readers Digest version of psychology fun facts. This particular one was on compassion, so I stopped to see what they were talking about.

They were doing an experiment to test people's default attitude toward compassion. They did this by putting people in front of a one-way mirror, looking at someone who couldn't see them. They were then told to give this stranger a dose of hot sauce in a bowl of chili. Their choices were "Mild," "Medium Hot" and "Death."

The majority of people put a small dose of "Mild" into the stranger's chili, thus their default position was to lean toward compassion.

Next the researchers brought in a group of people and had a stranger bump them in the lobby then be extremely rude to them. When they got into the room, sitting in front of the three bottles of hot sauce, the light came on and there behind the glass was the rude stranger. The majority of subjects this time reached for "Death" and (often after asking, "You're sure they can't see me?") administered a healthy dose.

Nothing new here. People who are mistreated have at least an initial impulse to get even.

The surprise came later when they brought in the next group of test subjects. They put them through the same insults and rude behavior from the stranger in the lobby. But when this group came in to the chili room, the researcher said something like, "You have a beautiful smile," or "I really like that shirt." In other words, they were nice to the subjects. And guess what? The subjects, given the chance to be mean to someone who was just mean to them, overwhelmingly chose to be nice instead. That compliment from the researcher tilted their hand back toward the "Mild" bottle, and toward compassion.

Meanness begets meanness and hurt people hurt people. Yet active compassion has the power to break this meanness cycle, even when it comes from a stranger outside the cycle.
 

So tell people they look lovely today or that they're doing a good job or you appreciate their humor and kindness. The world has too much in the way of vengeful attitudes, of people who feel that hurting others is justified by the way they themselves have been treated. If all it takes is a little act of compassion to flip that to an attitude of kindness, it's a small price to pay.

Have I told you lately that your kindness and wisdom are invaluable to what I do and who I am?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Provocative

Good news: Ethics and Stewardship meetings started this Sunday and will meet twice weekly with about twenty guys in each meeting for a total of forty in all.

Something new I'm trying — based on the passage in Hebrews 10:24, "Provoke one another to love and good works" — is Provocation and Accountability Circles (PACs) of two to five guys who will meet outside of weekly meetings to provoke each other to practice wholism and hold each other accountable to their true selves.

This is such a simple thing but very powerful. Do you have people you trust to provoke you and hold you accountable? We all should.

I remember standing in line once up north when a young guy came up and asked an older guy if he could cut the line. The two were obviously affiliated and the older guy told the younger, "We don't really do that." The guy took it well and I began to imagine if we all did this with our closest friends and family. Or if we specifically asked certain people to meet with us once a week so we can provoke, inspire, prod, and call one another to live wholistically and ethically.

I stress to the men here to pick people they trust and to consider it a trust to be asked to be part of a circle. It can easily become a criticizing session if people are immature about it. That's not what it's meant to be. It's more about having people remind us of, and help us develop, our ethical intelligence and put it in action.

I will encourage the groups to use the little cards I created that say: "WHOLENESS: Imagine It, Seek It, Speak It, and Pass It On."

Each of these is a real activity, not just clever words. What does it mean to imagine wholeness? To seek it? To speak it? To pass it on?

You have just been provoked.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Who's Tending the Garden?

I have dedicated my life to seeking, practicing, and advocating wholeness ethics. I've done so for several reasons. Chief among them is my conviction that our knowledge of how to live well on earth is being far outstripped by our manipulative knowledge. Knowledge is power, so we are, in effect, trading our power to be good human beings for the power to manipulate our world. We're trading wisdom for wizardry.

The ability to be good human beings alone and in groups is a power that must be consciously built, maintained, and distributed in human culture.

Stop for a moment and ask yourself if this is true. Is the ability to be good a thing that grows wild in us or is it a thing that must be cultivated?

If you believe it grows wild (or that the wild strain is hardy enough to balance out the technological power we've accrued in modern times) then by all means close this page and don't trouble yourself any further with this pointless question. 


But if you believe it is, in fact, a thing that must be cultivated, ask yourself who's doing the cultivating in our time? Has this job been given to the right people and are they doing it well? Is this a thing that should be specialized and turned over to a few select individuals while the rest of us lose the knowledge altogether? If not, then what is our job in this community garden? And are we doing it well?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Recombobulation

So, these past two days have been busy. The warden put in to have me moved to a unit set aside for programming because she's interested in my ethics program. I got most of my property ready for the move the night before, thinking I'd get up in the morning and have a cup of coffee and finish packing.

Six a.m. on the day of the move the officer showed up at my door and told me I needed to be over at the transport desk at 7:10 for a road trip to the prison next door. The doctor had put me in for x-rays and Fate picked move day to send me there.

Fortunately, it was a relatively quick trip — about an hour and a half — and when I got back to the unit the officer told me the call had come to move. So it was rush rush rush but I got to my new unit  yesterday and all is well. A decent new bunkie, good room, and a good (quiet) unit.

Maryann once sent me a picture from an airport of a big sign that pointed the way to, among other things, a "Recombobulation Room." Moving makes me feel like I could use a recombobulation room for a day or two, but things eventually settle back in.

I will miss the sparrows that used to come to my window every morning. Although I did get a nice good bye from them. I received a call to go pick up my laundry from the other building. Walking into the building I saw, huddled deep into the corner by the door, a baby sparrow.

We'd just had several hours of thunderstorms and it had probably gotten blown in by the wind and lost its way. I knew others wouldn't come this close to the building to pick it up so I picked it up, expecting it to be docile and sleepy.

The tiny bird had other ideas. It squawked and bit my fingers and fought back with all its minuscule might. I went on into the unit to pick up my laundry and thought maybe if I put it in my pocket the little guy would calm down.

It didn't. Instead it clawed and fought and climbed up out of my pocket under my shirt. I reached up under there and put the little guy back into my pocket and got my finger bitten in thanks.

Finally, with laundry in hand, I headed back outside and looked for some adult sparrows, which I found almost immediately at the base of one of the big oaks we have here. I put little Mike Tyson down and he took another bite of my hand before waggling his tail up under a bushy flower. When I walked off, the adults were flying in to investigate the racket coming from beneath the flower.

I told the friend I was walking with, "With all that fight, he'll be all right." I hope so.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mother Maya

Maya Angelou, a giant in the blessing business, died at the end of May. Her spirit was true and she left behind her a field of words that will continue to bloom and bear fruit on earth.

"I've learned," she said, "that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

So:

"Here on the pulse of this new day
Have the grace to look up and out
and into your sister's eyes
Your brother's face, your country
and say simply
very simply
with hope — Good Morning."

Because:

"I have found among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver."

And lastly,

"The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned."

So, let's give thanks for her steward's soul and honor her by touching someone or something today with our full heart and thinking of the courage to bless life unconditionally in all its flawed beauty. Goodbye, Mother Maya, for now.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A True Human Being

Though he lived in mid-thirteenth century Turkey I met the Sufi poet Jelalludin Rumi in prison in America some eight centuries later when I came upon a scrap of his poetry. Or maybe I should say I met him in a field, considering the piece of poetry that introduced us. It was this little sparkle of light:
Out beyond ideas
Of wrong doing and right doing
There is a field.

I'll meet you there.
These words struck me as a call to go beyond the goodness of accomplishment and punched tickets to heaven to explore a deeper kind of goodness. I've since come to see this deeper goodness as a state of unconditional love and goodwill. A place where we love simply because this is our truest nature and is the only way to become what the Sufis call a "true human being." I immediately felt a connection to Rumi. It wasn't, however, until a friend heard of this and bought me a book of his work that I got to know him a little better.

I found him to be a giant in human spiritual history. He has the power to reach across hundreds of years, as well as the sometimes insurmountable chasms of religious and secular culture, to speak to me as if sitting across the room from me saying something that I've never heard before.

His words are like the tap of a silver spoon on a wineglass in the noisy room of my soul. When I hear them the clamor of small talk dies away and the silence fills up with expectation; a craning of necks and a slight leaning forward to be sure I don't miss what's being said.

I can hardly talk about poetry or being a true human being without giving a deep bow to this great master. Check him out and in the meantime I'll close with this gem:

Gamble everything for love
If you're a true human being
If not, leave this gathering
Half-heartedness doesn't reach into majesty.
You set out to find God but then you keep stopping for long periods
at mean spirited roadhouses.
Don't wait any longer
How does he know me so well?

Monday, May 19, 2014

My New Book


Well, The Knitting Birds have finally flown in the form of a little book of poems written by yours truly and put out by the tiny but lovable Whole Way Press.

The title poem is a sort of daydream about two of my favorite things: Maryann and birds — in this case, mythical knitting birds with long, thin beaks who knit the world from dreams. They live between moments and we catch glimpses of them whenever we get distracted from ourselves.

Of course, it's rare that we get distracted from ourselves, so sightings of knitting birds are rare as well, but they do occur.

Maryann, on the other hand, is not mythical. She's the editor of The Knitting Birds and sightings of her are slightly more common, though no less enjoyable.

I hope you'll check this little volume out and tell a friend or two.

An Introduction


I’m thinking about two things as I write this: 1) What will you show up to read? and 2) What do I love enough to keep writing about for any extended time?

Another question might help me answer the first. Who are you?

Let me see if I can imagine:

You’re someone trying to stay awake. There is plenty of better “entertainment” (i.e., sleep aids) in our culture than I can provide, so I assume, unless you just have very poor shopping skills, that you’re not coming here to be entertained. I believe that all human behavior falls into two categories: Stuff that makes us sleep and stuff that wakes us up. I can tell you, I have no magic formula for attracting and attending to the latter but it is what I’m trying to do: stay awake.

Let’s see, besides being someone trying to stay awake, I imagine you also as someone who believes words and ideas have a role to play in that process. You have an affinity for the written word and a memory of an encounter with words that was akin to your first kiss or first love. All the ugly, back-stabbing, money-grubbing, shallow, arrogant and ignorant words you’ve been subjected to since then have not been able to destroy that sublime encounter or put out the fire it lit in you.

In other words, you are a believer in the true and the good; in the power of mindfulness despite all the mindlessness around us.

I don’t write poetry because I love poetry. I write poetry because I love the true and the good. Anyone who writes or reads poetry for any other reason is someone out of communion with me — and with poetry itself for that matter. I say the same of philosophy or any other kind of writing.

I have no desire to be a “writer” or a “poet,” but only a true human being and there’s no reason for a true human being to open his or her mouth or mind except to enter into communion with the true and the good, however imperfect that communion might be. This is the only love big enough to keep me coming back so I will assume, if we are in any form of communion, the same is true of you.