Americans are inflamed by conversations on social media, by divisive rhetoric from our so-called leaders. We are inflamed by the chaos and violence on our streets. We are inflamed by the injustice of systemic racism.
In the body, inflammation is a signal of imbalance in the immune system. When the inflammatory response flares out of control, it’s called a cytokine storm—a term we’ve learned in recent months with COVID-19. The body’s immune system attacks its own cells and tissues, rather than fighting the virus. It can be fatal.
I recently dreamed this thought: our country’s mantra is every man for himself. In that light, it makes perfect sense that one of our national obsessions is about the economy. Remember It’s the economy, stupid? Of course we care so much about making as much money as we can, making more than the other guy. We are on our own. Nobody is going to help us if we fall on hard times. It’s all about feeding, clothing, and sheltering our families, first and last. Every man for himself.
When I wrote this in my journal in the early pre-dawn, it looked a bit puny on the page. It was momentous when I opened my eyes, as if I’d been mucking around in the secret stuff of life, that realm where answers live. Trying to catch this dream message is like seeing a landscape all sharp and shimmery after a storm, as if for the first time. I’m so immersed, so indoctrinated in this story that I rarely even notice it. It seems so true that it’s boring. Obvious. Hardly worth stating. But our lives are not only about survival and meeting basic needs. Everyone should be able to do at least that in a just world. There’s plenty to go around, but the story of scarcity makes us forget. Continue reading →
Our fascination with Story is so deeply embedded I would be surprised if genetic researchers haven’t turned up a receptor gene for it. We are almost as fond of categorizing things as we are of telling stories, so I wasn’t surprised recently to come across an article about the seven archetypal stories. This take on it says that the seven stories are: overcoming the monster, rebirth, quest, journey and return, rags to riches, comedy, and tragedy. Other genre categories break it down differently: love story, thriller, murder mystery, epic adventure, etc. The point is, we relate deeply, even subconsciously, to stories that have familiar themes and structures.
Just as there are types of stories, there are also types of storytellers. Some we call entertainers, others leaders or politicians. Some we call teachers, or pastors, rabbis or imams. Some are advertisers, others activists. All understand the power of Story to help us make sense of our lives, to show us our struggles and shine light on a pathway through them. It’s telling that this particular article ran in an advertising magazine. Continue reading →
In her mesmerizing TED talk, neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor tells the story of having a stroke in her mid-40s. She points out that, biologically speaking, we are not thinking beings who feel. We are feeling beings who think. Great intelligence resides in the space of our heart and when we nurture that with breath and awareness, our resilience and creativity in crisis increases dramatically.
This innate wisdom and gift of connection to our fellow beings is lost in the rush to analysis brought on by recent crises and instability around the world. We channel our inner Jack Ryan when we resort to habitual ways of relating to the crisis, to each other, and to any possible courses of action that occur to us. Still, in modern western culture, reason and analysis are revered above all. Anyone who suggests a more feeling response is ridiculed as soft or complicit. Continue reading →
I am fascinated by the power of story to sell or derail an idea. Sometimes I think of storytelling, that ancient and most connecting of arts, like The Force in “Star Wars.” Story can be used for good or for evil. Even with good intentions, it tends to be used as mindless entertainment, or for selling products or launching a mission-driven campaign. A fine example of the Dark Side of Story is found in the documentary, “Merchants of Doubt,” which jumps off from the 2010 book of the same name by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.
These are the players who sow doubt in the public’s mind about the credibility or consensus of the scientific community around a specific topic. They do this to stall or scuttle environmental and health regulations. They started with tobacco, then moved on to toxic chemicals like flame retardants, and now are using the same proven techniques on climate change. The film employs imagery in creative ways. A sleight-of-hand magician demonstrates misdirection and murky banks of hidden files signify the “playbook” of confusion and lies. Archival footage of experts is intercut with contemporary interviews of the same people, to dramatize the passage of decades, the sweep of lives dedicated either to scientific study or to its obfuscation. Continue reading →
Last week, I watched the first fifteen minutes of the Republican presidential “debate.” That’s all I could stand, those ten men up there delivering their carefully rehearsed sound bites. And the rich white guy with the comb-over playing to the cheering, jeering crowd with his outrageous pronouncements. The next morning, I attended a business breakfast in a place called Martin’s Valley Mansion. As I drove through the fully paved, suburban streetscape to a strip shopping center, I didn’t see a valley or a mansion.
In the vast windowless ballroom (walls faux-painted in Second Empire French drapery and fluted columns), about two hundred women drank coffee and networked. This yearly celebration of women in business sponsored by the local business newspaper is always well attended. This year’s panelists were leaders in the tech industry, giving intelligent advice about how to get ahead and thrive in a world dominated by men. They spoke frankly in answer to such questions as, How do we make this issue of more women in tech into more than a “women’s issue”? No one remarked on the irony of that question in a gathering of over 200 women and about 10 of their male colleagues. Continue reading →
“I wish grace and healing were more abracadabra kind of things. Also, that delicate silver bells would ring to announce grace’s arrival. But no, it’s clog and slog and scootch, on the floor, in the silence, in the dark.” ~ Anne Lamott, from Grace, Eventually
Grace is a word you don’t hear much in secular discourse. Last week, President Obama’s eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney was both about grace and full of grace itself. It awakened a memory of a conversation about grace with my father when I was in High School. He was one of those traditional dads who worked and did dad things, so I didn’t have a lot of interactions with him. This conversation about grace was a rarity. Turns out, he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, either. I think he spoke of God’s presence or friendship, and we both enjoyed wondering about it together. That in itself was a moment of grace, a precious heart connection to each other and to something bigger than us.
Human affairs are full of flaws, opposition and contradictions. There never seems to be that one right solution that we can all agree on. And so we wrangle. In interactions with friends about the President’s recent successes, they were quick to point out his many failures and betrayals. It’s true he compromised on health care reform, and I can’t say I understand the appeal the Trans Pacific Partnership, which seems to me like a nightmare for workers and the environment. And let’s not forget, these friends say, about the drone strikes and the “Surge.” I get it, I do. And yet, there’s something we are missing when we argue like this. It’s too easy to find these imperfections. Continue reading →
It’s been a busy week of writing deadlines, so I’m taking a shortcut today to share this wonderful article, “Why Do We Experience Awe?” from last Sunday’s New York Times. I love their suggestion, based on years of social psychological research, for how we can feel more connected to each other and the world around us. It’s simple: experience awe on a daily basis.
“ . . . awe is the ultimate “collective” emotion, for it motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. Through many activities that give us goose bumps — collective rituals, celebration, music and dance, religious gatherings and worship — awe might help shift our focus from our narrow self-interest to the interests of the group to which we belong.”
The world we’ve created for ourselves is so complicated, fast-paced, hyper competitive, and stressful. It’s a profound relief to encounter a couple of scientists who’ve taken the time to test, and prove, this simple hypothesis: Continue reading →
Under the influence of the Judeo-Christian values of modern culture, I have the habit of believing the story that we are all flawed, that part of my task in this life is to work on myself, to fix my failings, and try to be less bad. While it’s certainly rewarding to grow and learn and increase my awareness and equanimity, there is a big difference when I come at it with the intent of discovering innate capacities, rather than purging unwanted ones, or rooting out evil and unworthiness.
Forgiveness and blame are two sides of the coin of pardon. When I forgive another, I forgive myself, because pardoning comes from a sense of worthiness—my own and another’s. We are all worthy of empathy and understanding, and therefore pardon. Blame is the opposite of pardon. Blame directs anger outward, making an object out of a subject, creating separation and “othering.” Through empathy and compassion, pardon draws both subject and object together through a shared understanding that we are all connected. Continue reading →
Yesterday, I mentioned David Korten’s work on new economic systems, which he calls “living economies.” This strikes me as a beautiful interim step away from our unquestioned disconnection from nature and elevation of reason over intuition, towards a more humble, conscious, and connected relationship with the living earth. We’re talking here about “biomimicry,” which I first discovered from Janine Benyus, a science writer who published a book by the same name in 1997.
Biomimicry has three basic principles. 1) Nature as model. Study, learn, and imitate how nature works, rather than how objects in nature look. 2) Nature as measure. Use an ecological standard to judge the rightness of our innovations. Nature has a 3.8 billion year head start on us and has learned what works, what is appropriate and what lasts. 3) Nature as mentor. Approach nature not from a perspective of what we can extract, but of what we can learn.Continue reading →