Saturday, April 30, 2016

LASERED IN THE BACK – The Price of Infinity

We all, I daresay, wonder about the universe. Always have. Gazing up into an unfathomable, starry sky, we can’t help asking ourselves, how far does it go? And when you get to the edge, what then? What lies beyond that?

     Shoot an unflagging, perfectly-focused laser 
     beam straight out into space and it will never, 
     ever, reach the edge of anything.

Now I’m no astronomer, and the notion of infinite space can get pretty impenetrable (not to mention that its explanation likely involves the existence of multiple parallel universes). Part of the problem is that we human earthlings and our limited, linear ways of thinking are poorly equipped to understand stuff like this.

But something quite simple that I heard decades ago helps me at least begin to grasp even these inscrutable truths: there is no such thing as a straight line.

That’s right, shoot an unflagging, perfectly-focused laser beam straight out into space and it will never, ever, reach the edge of anything. And how will you know this? From the intense burning sensation…in the middle of your back. Everything—space, time, truth, life—comes back, ultimately, to itself.

So with nothing more than this rudimentary understanding, even some of the veiled mysteries of what it may mean to exist among other, parallel universes begin to peel back. Like what? Like knowing that:

      ...there may indeed be no limits other than those we impose on ourselves.

      ...something we always supposed lay ahead of us, always just out of reach,
      might actually be right behind us.

      ...because there’s always a part of “them” in “us” and “us” in “them,”  it’s
      always about Us.

      ...we could be only just barely separated (if at all) from the ideal, the sacred,
      the timeless.

      “There is a Collective Entanglement of the frequencies of all life's energy. It is this String 
      that ties the past to the future, one’s unconsciousness to another’s consciousness, from one 
      dimension to all the others, from here to the infinite. SIMON CROWNE

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

MY 400th POST!

Have you heard about the new twelve-step program for the habitually long-winded? Yeah, On-And-On-Anon.

Well, sometimes it feels like that's what I've been doing here at One Man's Wonder these past few years. I hope I've been picking my battles and choosing my words well enough so you don't agree.

It seems like just yesterday that I first stuck my toe into this blogging ocean. My first post, So This Ant Walks Into a Bar, got one comment.

At that time, I was grateful just for the support of my family and a few of my closest friends who—despite their shyness about leaving comments—dutifully came to see what Jeff's new diversion was all about.

Four hundred posts, a quarter million page views and seventy-four countries later, I'm feeling pretty encouraged. I think I'll stick with it!

And speaking of encouragement, that, besides the sheer joy I find in the writing, is really what's kept me going—from those requisite visits of loved ones, to the small leaps of faith made by my followers, to all the "lurkers" who tell me they follow me anonymously, to the cherished relationships I've formed with fellow bloggers, authors and other kindred spirits. This online community is amazingly generous and kind-spirited.

Thank you, everyone! I'll make you a deal: you keep checking in at One Man's Wonder, leave me a comment when the spirit moves you, and share your favorite posts with others; I redouble my efforts to keep posting reflections and inspiration worthy of your interest.  Deal?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

NIXED BLESSINGS – Laying Claim to Life’s Elusive Gifts

The past few years have been trying times for me. A couple of serious health problems have been taking a toll on both my body and my spirit.

When I’m down like this, I find that one of the best ways to feel better is to get out of myself and help someone else. So I enlisted as a hospice volunteer.

       Why, when she seems so lost about 
       everything else, did she sound so certain, 
       so fully present, about this?

Today I was visiting Bill, one of my patients. Though he still possesses nearly all his faculties, he lives in a facility that specializes in so-called memory care, so I’m accustomed to seeing his neighbors wandering aimlessly, misplacing what little stuff they have left, often looking quite bewildered.

Just as we’re leaving his room, one of them tottered up to me. June is a very quiet, shy woman who walks idle laps around the perimeter of the floor and often mistakes Bill’s room for her own. She rarely speaks to anyone—certainly not to me—and when she does, it’s usually just to ask for directions.

PHOTO: Imgur

Okay, I thought, maybe she’s mistaking me for a staff member or a fellow resident. So I said a casual hello, and then, just as I turned to walk away, she reached out, put her hand on my back and rubbed it sympathetically. “It’s going to be okay,” she said in a sure but gentle voice. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

That scene—the effect of June’s touch, the clarity of her gaze, the knowingness in her voice—has kept replaying in my mind all day. Was she just confused like she is about other things? Why, when she seems so lost about everything else, did she sound so certain, so fully present, about this? Could she possibly have sensed that I’ve been hurting?

    It’s as if there’s this rhythm to life. We can’t 
    always hear it because the dance hall is such 
    a cacophony of other sounds.

I realize now that it’s entirely up to me what the meaning of this little interaction was—and is—for me. And no matter how or why it was given, I believe it was a gift. Not only did it help me feel better; it also reminds me of how many other blessings there are in my life like this one, hiding in plain sight.

Little gifts like this come very close to us all the time—warm smiles lost in passing, inspirations not seized, narrow escapes unappreciated, coincidences rationalized away, Nature’s wonders taken for granted. It’s so easy to miss them in the muddle of agendas, expectations, worries and sheer self-indulgence that surrounds us much of the time. 

It’s as if there’s this rhythm to life. We can’t always hear it because the dance hall is such a cacophony of other sounds. We falter and stumble. But once we manage to turn the din down, even a little bit, sure enough, there it is. And, once we hear the rhythm, feel it, suddenly, miraculously, we no longer have to even think about where to place our feet, for the music is moving us.

Isn’t that the way it is with small wonders? When we allow the background noise of life to get too loud, they don't move us because we can’t hear them. Just like the simple gift June bestowed on me, it’s so easy to miss them, or at least to misinterpret them as chance or error or simply devoid of meaning.

Don’t we have the power—and I would suggest a compelling need—to give them that meaning?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

FALLING SENSATION – The Sad Decline of Empathy

“You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.”   

Are you an empath? How does one even know?

Some time in my thirties my own answers to those questions presented themselves to me. I was watching some kids playing. One little brat tripped a playmate—a klutzy little boy—who fell like a ton of bricks, skinning a knee and a wrist. As he was falling I felt this sinking sensation in my gut…as if I were the one falling.

I’ve experienced that sensation many, many times since. It doesn’t matter who’s falling—a child, an adult…even a bad guy—nor if the fall occurs in real life, a movie or the tiny screen of my iPhone. As long as it’s a fellow human being I always end up sharing the drop. (It’s funny, though; I don’t remember ever feeling it when I see a pro football player falling. Why do you suppose that is?)

I also catch myself absorbing all kinds of other little human dramas—from kindnesses to conflict, gladness to grief. Is there something wrong with me? Do I just have too little emotion in my own life? At times I wish I could turn it off.

If Empathy 101 is simply learning to be aware of and experience others' pain, then the next semester would start instilling the ability to truly care what happens to them. It's what psychologists call "transcendence," a deep-seated desire to see and help others achieve their potential. Perhaps it takes an idealist like me to hope this sort of altruism would beat in the heart and soul of every person, organization and culture.

And I hope it applies not just to what happens to other human beings in the here and now, but even to what might happen in the future after we're dead and gone. I can think of no more telling measure of this kind of empathy than our wise, gentle care and handling of the environment so that future generations may enjoy the same kinds of joyful connection with Nature we experienced when we were young.

   It gets beaten down, covered up…by an ugly 
   collaboration...conspiring to make what’s really 
   all about them feel like it’s all about us.

Empathy, like so many of our better, more practical emotions, is hard-wired into us at birth. How do I know this? First, there’s a wealth of research showing it. And there’s also an element of logic: why, if empathy is not meant to help guide our behavior toward other human beings, would I feel absolutely none of that sinking feeling when I witness an animal falling?

The good news is that this inherent spark of empathy can be kindled—through experience, teaching, role-modeling and the influence of Nature. The bad news? Judging from the growing number of folks who seem to have utterly lost it, apparently it can also be extinguished.

Like children’s inbred curiosity and wonder, empathy too often gets beaten down, covered up, by years of learned structure, stress and cynicism. By values drummed into us by an ugly collaboration of sometimes-dirty players like commerce, politics and the media—all conspiring to make what’s really all about them feel like it’s all about us.

      Scheming, conflict, denigration and gotchas
      —that’s what they’ve decided we want.

The dying out of empathy is not an illness; it is a symptom—of a disease brought on by the Faustian bargain the past few generations have signed onto: we get to make more money, accumulate more stuff, pretend to be “connected” with more people and information. In exchange for that illusion of power, knowledge and love, we agree to allow the circumference of our real, first-hand experience be ever shrunk, reduced to what’s determined by some algorithm to suit us, and then spoon-fed to us through a phalanx of little glowing screens.

Among the collateral damage inflicted by this attack has been the loss of empathy, that most precious survival mechanism, the one that used to give us true connection, allowed us to be kinder, more collaborative, more creative…and kept most of us from killing each other.

But someone's decided kindness and civility no longer sell ad space, air time or bandwidth. So, nearly everywhere one looks—entertainment, advertising, journalism, politics—it’s all gotten turned upside down. Now more and more of the human interaction we see on our screens involves scheming, conflict, denigration and gotchas.

One of the most obvious casualties, during this election year, is an entire political party—one claiming to represent more than half the people in the United States. It has turned, in the past decade or two, from its roots as the protector of individual freedoms and opportunity to an angry, take-no-prisoners ideology based on fear, judgement and control. (I'll let you decide for yourself which one that is.)

If that’s what the powers that be have decided we want, it’s far from what I consider being human to be all about.

Teach them that the way they see the world around them is a product of what’s going on inside them

So, what do you want? Are you still able to see the essential core of goodness in every human being and truly care what happens to them? Can you still feel someone else’s hardship and pain in your gut, even folks who might be quite different from you? Do you care what happens to this precious planet  even after your life on it is over?

After all we’ve traded away let’s take a step or two backward and revisit that Faustian bargain. If we won’t reclaim real connections with each other and with the earth for ourselves, let’s at least do it for our kids and grandkids. Teach them that the way they see the world around them is a product of what’s going on inside them—their awareness, their curiosity, their kindness, their sense of wonder. And teach them never again to bargain away those gifts.

And teach them that, at the very heart of what makes us human lies a generosity of seeing that makes what we perceive hinge directly on what we are willing to give of ourselves to that connection.

“I believe empathy is the most essential quality of civilization.”