Critical Conversation...oh, and #Coffee

This week I had a visit with a good friend of 5 years now. We met innocently enough at a local coffee house and talked over hot coffee and warm pastries. 


Ardmore Coffee, Winston-Salem,NC

Ardmore Coffee, Winston-Salem,NC

We spent about 2 hours together and I left with a bitter –sweet awareness.

The Sweet – We listened and talked to each other. We asked questions to better understand perspectives. We recalled life experiences and things we had read or seen to add depth and breadth to the conversation. We wondered together. We laughed, debated and share silence. I left feeling grateful for the time and stimulated in my thinking and creativity. Not once did we look at our phones or open a laptop or tablet.

The Bitter - I don’t have lingering, flesh-to-flesh, conversations nearly enough. I know I am busy at work and at home. I know the trend is for 140 character interactions, slinging videos and swapping texts, - trite verbal exchanges (and I’m very good at those – #justsaying), but I know it’s not enough. 

Have we somehow developed into a culture where conversation has been replaced with brief proclamations and affirmations? Has the art of reflective inquiry (was there ever such an art?) become too complicated, too time consuming, too hard?  I think one of the reasons that I love sharing coffee with others – just about anyone – is that it slows things down and creates a moment for conversation. It is hard to be in a hurry when you are trying to drink very HOT liquids!

My life needs more time for coffee and conversation, more space for debating, wondering with others. What about you? Care to join me for a cup of Joe? 

Clear Perspective - For The Birds

While watching the finches on our feeder I learned something about perspective...

 

The large bay window in our living room overlooks our front lawn; a large magnolia and maple tree drape the scene and arborvitae and rhododendron  break up the green carpet of the lawn. A thin pole stands outside the window holding a finch feeder. Regularly finches and other small varieties of birds visit, flitting from rest to flight. One of my favorite morning moments is settling in on the living room sofa with a steaming mug of coffee and watching the birds have breakfast. The view is private, simple and I feel an intimacy as I spy on their world, so thinly divided from mine by a pane of glass.

Today I noticed the blinds that hung, turned open, but still present - slicing my line of sight. The glass refracted the beams of light through hazed glass. Really, the lens through which I watch these birds isn't clear at all. I'd never noticed it before.

We look past things. We grow accustomed to the smeared glasses on our face, or the spotted windshield of our car, and the dirty window pane and the blinds. Now that I've noticed. I know and it bothers me. I'm already planning to dust and raise the blinds and clean the glass inside and out in order to see it the birds, the outside better.

Which causes me to wonder...what else in my day-to-day perceptions might have lost some clarity and could use a bit of polish and shine?

Get up. Move. Perspective.

The Solution: Simply move?

Hanging on the wall in my office, there is a picture of a tree that changes color and definition to reflect the four seasons. As you walk by the angle of the print causes the tree to shift from a winter scene of bare branches and snow, through sprouting spring foliage, the full greening of summer and then the autumn leaves of fall. From my desk seat, it always looks like autumn.


I like seeing the different images of the picture. The variety, changing colors and images offers a nice change from what is often the static unchanging art of an office space. There are times when I will just move to a different place in my office to see and enjoy the picture differently. It isn’t that I don’t like seeing the fall tree, I do. I like seeing the other images, too.


Here’s my thought: My living is often the same way. It is easy to settle into the same routine, the same patterns of moving through life and soon – everything seems to look stagnant. In the same way I have to get up and move to a different place in my office to see the variety of the tree picture, I can move to a different place in my living to see life with new colors.


The business of life glowed more brightly than the drab hues of work...

From a simple move, like visiting a different coffee shop, to a more dramatic change, like ending or starting a new relationship, we can experience the very different seasons of our living. I’m not advocating change for change sake, but I am encouraging myself to remember that sometimes I need to move a little and change my perspective in order to appreciate the rich variety of life.


I sat in a meeting yesterday with a successful local entrepreneur – a very rich man. He was clearly tired, almost exhausted throughout the meeting. After we had finished our business discussions, the conversation shifted as he explained his fatigue. He had spent the previous evening volunteering at a local homeless shelter. As he begin to tell the tale of his time helping others that night his energy lifted, his spirit soared and the conversation moved me to a different place. The business of life glowed more brightly than the drab hues of work...the previous conversation about his business.


Get up. Move. See. Enjoy.

Happy Birthday, Son

As today marks, by calendar date and tradition, the 25th anniversary of my son's birth and the occasion for gratitude, reflection and celebration, such that these moments bring, I find myself reflecting with fatherly thoughts and gentle emotions upon the man that has sprung, powerfully and dramatically, into life and work from the child that is my son. Many have been the thoughts and numerous the feelings, yet one piece of verse keeps echoing through my head. You will, no doubt, know of the work for it is old and well read among those of us who care to read such things. 

 

I dedicate this post and this classic piece of poetic truth to my son. Happy birthday. You are a man - being and becoming. I'm proud of you.

 

If—
BY RUDYARD KIPLING
(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

A Story... Unicorns and Crosses... #MondayBlogs

At the risk of blasphemy… 


They say it was a spear that pierced his side that dark day, but we know different, we who slide to and fro through the shadows of humanity's denials. We are the substance of fantastical tales, of angels, demons, leprechauns, sprites and of fairy twists and turns. Ours is the story of how the divine is called to watch the human journey, to document their story and on rare occasion we are needed to brush that story back on course - not a defined course, but on at least a path of momentary preservation from a perilous extinction. That day we were simply watching another pinnacle of human cruelty acted out with a hill, a cross and the delicate flesh of God - the brush was about to take place, but not by us this time, by something much larger. 

The guard held the spear in his hand and other than a passing evaluation of the particular smoothness of the spear's tip, had no idea. He was following the simply instructions of his superior, "Grab that spear and thrust it into the Jew's side. I have no intent on waiting here all night for him to die. I have places to be." He was also following the direction of God.

We all know, though it may surprise you to hear, dear mortal, that Unicorns carry the very power of life in their veins. It is said and is true that unicorn tears can heal the flesh. It is said and is true that unicorns can ride on the breath of life and travel between heaven and earth in the beat of a monarch's wing. However, what is not said, never spoken about is the resurrection power of the fallen unicorn's horn. 

When a unicorn dies, which isn't very often, the life of the divine beast bursts into its horn, spiraling upward, and deep into the ivory tip where it is driven by the spinning of life's essence, infinitely packed and powerful and then bursts into the heavens to be reabsorbed by the Divine. This moment is known as Cretaten.  What only I know is that, if by some precisely timed tragic and horrendous event, the horn is cut from the unicorn before the Cretatan is complete, the divine is captured in the horn. That horn would be of infinite value, and if it ever accidentally found itself somewhere, say perhaps fashioned into the tip of a common spear, it would be an unnatural weapon that would be more likely to transform life anew than kill. Such things could never happen, we would never allow it. However, it might be allowed to happen, even be planned, if a resurrection miracle was what was needed.

But, you didn't hear it from me.

Coffee Table Stories

There was a time when coffee tables held the central place in our living rooms. Upon them rested the symbols of our lives. Scattered in plain sight, the magazines, books, and knick-knacks of our interest quietly broad cast the message of who we were. You could tell a lot about us by our coffee table top.

My childhood memories conjure up a coffee table made of 1970’s metal tube legs and glass. The top was a framed glass panel, revealing what appeared to be a star-burst pattern of small, rectangular tiles. The ‘tiles’ were actually a plastic sheet, molded and dyed to the pattern. We kept National Geographic magazine’s 3 or 4 most recent issues fanned out on the table. A center piece of plastic fern in a gold wooden dish was always slightly askew from the bumps and table top activity of us kids. If no guests were around, you would have seen the current homework project tossed into the mix. It wasn’t uncommon to find green toy soldiers tucked into the fern or climbing down the metal gold legs.  If company was expected, the soldiers and homework were always replaced by Better Homes and Gardens and a sculptured ceramic ash tray. Ours was a coffee table that told the story of a modest family, intrigued by learning and with aspirations of being normal. My grandmother’s coffee table wasn’t the same.

My grandmother’s living room (and it was her living room, even though my grandfather was allow in to sit in his chair and watch the nightly news) sported a large round cypress coffee table. Always on the top of it was a bowl of artificial fruit and an ash tray and candy combination dish. The ask try was never used and the candy was off limits except to guests. You were not allowed to lean on, write on, put anything on top of or run near the table. Once a year, at Christmas, the center piece was moved and replace by a bowl full or gold and white ornaments. The table told a story of constant order, measured hospitality and fragile balance. 

From what I can remember, the coffee tables of old served as statements – sometimes intended, often unconscious – of who we were. I don’t see as many coffee tables in living rooms today and lately have wondered if we might have found something else to take their place. When I look around I see a number of coffee table tops: Facebook, Pinterest, blogs, websites…. On these spaces we can broadcast much easier our likes, wants, feelings and interests. Posting a photo on Facebook, an emotive 140 characters on Twitter or a personal story on a blog all give us a means to set the table for others to see. So, today I’m wondering – what do my digital coffee tables tell about me? What do you see in the things spread before you on your friends and families spaces? How do you present yourself when you know friends are coming by your digital place?

Random thought: Is there a coffee table app? A virtual table with digital objects we cold display to tell our momentary mood or story? Should there be?

Careful. Your Body Is Listening To You!


Every cell in your body is eavesdropping on your thoughts
— Deepak Chopra

Sometimes you never know what you are getting into on Facebook. A friend of mine recently posted the quote from Deepak Chopra cited above. I made a simple comment of "That's good" on her status. A few minutes later I got a message from her asking me to expand on my thoughts about the quote. It seemed like a good idea, so here goes...

First, I do like the analogy Chopra uses. The visual imagine of every cell in our body listening is powerful, if not a little scary. My mind goes kinda "Sci-Fi" and sees cells with ears attending to a anthropomorphic "thought" awaiting the next utterance as if receiving a command. To snag a phrase from EF Hutton, "When your mind thinks, everyone listens." Fun possibilities there. Meaningful possibilities there, too.

Second, I think the message Chopra is sharing is that our thoughts tend to direct our focus and thus our actions. There is an old saying, "If you hang around the barber shop long enough, you're going to get a haircut." We laugh because we know it's true. If we think about it, a similar correlation can be drawn from something that precedes hanging out at the barber shop - thinking about the barber shop. Our continued thoughts about people, places and things pave the way for us to walk right up to them. In a very basic way, thought commonly precedes action. The point here is that we need to be mindful (pun intended) of how we are thinking. I'm on-board with that, and most spiritual traditions - from extreme religious asceticism to tantric sex practices - place importance on the power of our thoughts to produce action and results.

Lastly, I'd like to go metaphysical on you. If you take Chopra's statement beyond analogy and consider the possibility that there is a cellular (or perhaps spiritual connection) between the cells and processes of our bodies, then it makes sense that the energy exchanged in the process of thinking does have a butterfly effect on all of our cells and thus our body. It isn't too much of stretch to see the connection between our thoughts and our physical and spiritual well being. Of course, we might wonder if those thoughts aren't driven, as well, by the overall health of the larger system. We might also so say, "The voice of the mind speaks but the opinions are of the body collective" - (we are borg??). Nevertheless, the point is a profound one and it is my personal belief that we can make meaningful changes in ourselves by immersing ourselves - body and mind - in an environment that promotes the values of our deepest beliefs. If we hang around the barber shop, we'll likely end up with less hair. If we spend our time with negative and shallow thinking people, we might very well find ourselves with less joy and analytical capacity.

Wait!- I guess I have another point, or thought at least. Within the Christian faith, we often speak of the 'Spirit' and our connection with the Divine. Chopra's tantalizing analogy nudges my mind to think of that connection of mind and body to also include spirit. As goes one - so resonates the others. If this is true, then maybe sometimes, when we are listening (eaves dropping) carefully - we might hear some thoughts that are greater than our own - moments when we are privy to eaves dropping on the thoughts of the Divine. If thoughts lead, then perhaps God's thoughts are one way the spirit is present with us, guiding, inviting us to respond to a possibility of change outside of what we can produce on our own in any given moment in time, and perhaps - it isn't about when those Spiritual thoughts are there as much as it is about when we are intently listening. Could we then say, 'The devoted mind is eavesdropping on the very thoughts of God?" 

I like that…and all from a social media interaction.