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You are looking at posts that were written in the month of March in the year 2008.
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These days I feel as though I should walk around with a helmet on. Bad news bombs explode around me daily. Well actually not really around me. They explode on my TV, radio and newspaper. Foreclosures, inflation, bank collapse, re-inflamed Iraq, failing too-expensive education, failing too-expensive health care, debt, global warming, governments beating up monks, steroids…yikes!
But what does this have to do with our personal reality? Yours and mine? The truth is to some degree the world is always going to hell. Just ask someone who lived through the 20th century. Two world wars, a depression with 25% unemployment, holocausts, the imminent threat of all-out nuclear war. For the first 50 years of the last century we lived without antibiotics nor a polio vaccine and with legalized racism. And…the 20th century was amazingly great. We nearly all got indoor plumbing, lived in houses with heat, got telephones, rode on jet planes, enjoyed great movies, amazing music, high school and college education, and expanded our lifespan by 35 years. And there was no nuclear war after all.
So was the 20th century awful? Yes. Was it wonderful? Yes. And so is 2008. You see, reality is always both + and. Our jobs are both satisfying and dissatisfying. So are our lifestyles, our homes and our 14-year-olds. Reality is messy. It’s supposed to be. But the Grid, our media-industrial complex, likes to present reality as an either/or certainty. Either candidate “A” is the total answer, or he/she is the devil in disguise. Either we’re in a full-scale financial collapse, or it’s not even a recession. Either our marriage is gloriously fulfilling everyday, or it’s an unbearable slog of emptiness. But either/or thinking robs us of keeping a learning, flexible mind. One that is capable of thriving in a paradoxical world of disappointment and opportunity.
Understanding the multi-dimensional nature of reality is essential to living our “good” life. Our choices are served up to our consciousness from our brains. And recent research has discovered we rewire our brains minute by minute by our thoughts. Our thinking habits create mental highways that our thoughts zoom on like an endless chain of cars in a NASCAR race. And if we are not careful about what we think about and whether we nurture a solution orientation versus a problem orientation, we build a mental network of anxiety highways that result in “learned helplessness.” We get in the habit of despair. The habit of anger. The habit of thinking like a victim. Or not. It’s simple; our brains focus our attention on the version of reality we choose. It’s true we are in an economic, cultural, environmental, geo-political storm. It’s also true that we live in a country and at a time where we have the personal freedom to choose our own path through the wind. It’s no time to sit and hide. It’s time to reflect on all the choices we’ve each made that have brought us to our particular place. It’s time to carefully consider what our best choices are now to take us closer to the life of our most noble desires. It’s time to fill our minds with new, creative ideas. A time to learn new skills. Perhaps make new friends or re-kindle our best old friendships. It’s a time to read inspiring books. It’s a time to walk with a deep, inner compass toward the dawn of your best future. At least that’s what I am trying to do. Yes life is messy. Life is great. What an opportunity.
Will Marre, Founder
The American Dream Project
I just finished reading one of the most inspirational books of my life. It’s called The Power of Serving Others: You Can Start Where You Are by Gary Morsch, M.D and Dean Nilson.
The book is Gary Morsch’s first person account of starting Heart to Heart, a global medical relief and rescue organization that are the first responders to hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and war refugee victims anywhere in the world. They also conduct educational clinics in remote, impoverished parts of the planet. The organization is extraordinarily effective. In the past 15 years it has delivered nearly $500 million in medical supplies and has provided thousands of medical volunteers in over 100 countries and across America. Dr. Morsch has also served as a volunteer for Mother Teresa in Calcutta and a combat doctor in Kosovo and the current Iraq war!
Dr. Morsch is simply a people-serving maniac. What he has accomplished is the result of simply responding to dire human need with wise ferocity and fearless commitment.
His message is, “If you want to make the world better, start now. Today. Right were you are. Just do something.” Most of us are waiting for a better time to volunteer or respond to needs. Most of us, including me, suffer from limp compassion. We feel others’ pain but we’re not ready to inconvenience ourselves. But the loss is ours. Helping, serving, loving others makes us clinically happier. It elevates our moods, fills us with gratitude, and sparks creativity. And most importantly can increase the quality of our personal love.
Two days ago I was speaking with a close friend who lives in Boston. He and his wife have a big empty house because their children are away at college. So his wife has started taking in guests. They are mostly foreign students who are trying to renew their visas but are confused by our bureaucracy. They are poor, far from home, lonely and scared. I asked my friend how it was and he said candidly, “Difficult, we’re learning a lot about living with strangers in our home. Strangers from different cultures with different hygiene habits and awkward communication. But,” he said, “we are learning to love extravagantly.”
It got me thinking. Loving is a lot like building muscle strength. It’s easy to love the lovable. Little resistance, little growth. But our capacity to love grows when we’re loving “in spite of.” In spite of the fact it’s inconvenient, in spite of the fact the person isn’t appreciative, in spite of the fact the person isn’t deserving. That requires pressing against real emotional weight. That builds love muscles.
Here’s how I see it. Heart to Heart isn’t just a rescue mission for disaster victims. Heart to Heart is a way of thinking. It’s the rescue mission of our daily lives. Most of us are too busy, too stressed, and too scared to do what our hearts have been telling us we should do for a long time. All of us have family members who are selfish, thoughtless and often cruel. All of us work with some people who are mean, back-biting jerks. All of us have been betrayed by friends, or even spouses. All of us are carrying the scars and wounds of deep disappointment. And all of us can heal by loving more extravagantly.
With those whom you trust, love with all your might. Be fully present, fully authentic, fully vulnerable. Enjoy planned, positive experiences together. Go for walks, rides, picnics, concerts, sports events, take classes; talk of your hopes, fears and desires. Fill your souls with each other. This may be a friend, children, a parent, or if you are fortunate, a spouse.
With those whom you love but do not trust, be cordial. Be respectful. Affirm what is good. Help them in practical ways when they don’t deserve it. But don’t be intimate with all your thoughts and feelings. That’s like offering drugs to an addict. Bullies and manipulators use vulnerability to hurt others and destroy themselves. Love powerfully but wisely.
Pray/meditate for your enemies. Yes, there may be people who seem to hate you. People who are jealous, resentful or just plain mean. Either pray, or if you don’t pray, meditate with positive intentions for them to be blessed to let go of their hatred and to have all the good things that you desire for your life to also be theirs. Pray/meditate for them to forgive you even if you’re doing nothing wrong. Also, forgive yourself of all your past mistakes. Your life has brought you to this point of wisdom. Be grateful for your wisdom and the silver lining of your painful experiences.
Finally, returning to the inspiration of Dr. Morsch, we would all be better if we would turn the whispering of our heartfelt compassion into action. We do not need to have fear about being wise about our compassion or even be effective at first. It’s in the doing that we become wise and effective. Imagine what our world would be like if we just acted on our noble voice. Volunteer. Relieve the pain in others you most feel in yourself.
It’s time to Spring Forward.
Will Marre, Founder
The American Dream Project
Our nation’s economy is burning and many of our dreams are going up in smoke. But are they? We live in a time when the relentless pursuit of society’s definition of success is blow-torching our happiness. Our peace. This always happens when we adopt goals that are thrust upon us. For years the media has programmed us with discontent. They have sold us the illusions that an endless spending spree is non-stop happiness. Most of us bought. Now we all have to pay. Bad things are beginning to happen now to lots of hard working people who didn’t participate in the sub prime insanity or haven’t abused their credit. But prices are rising and income is falling
This is all real. I know. I went broke during the last major inflationary recession in 1977. The bank that was financing my surf-wear business decided it was only going to loan to triple A borrowers. I was 26. My business was two years old and growing like a house on fire. It didn’t matter to my banker. He shut down my credit lines and called the loan. He didn’t even want a workout. It was easier for the bank to get what they could and write off the rest. It’s called a credit squeeze. It squeezed my neck until I passed out. I had to close my business and sell my house to pay off taxes and creditors. I had a wife and two small children. I had no job or house. There were nights when I felt so much stress I felt my head was going to explode with a blood-red mushroom cloud.
One night as I was driving over to see my brother, it suddenly occurred to me. “I don’t have to suffer like this. I just need to dismiss these ferocious, man-eating thoughts and think about what I am grateful for. I don’t have to feed myself anger and regret, and instead I can imagine ways to create new opportunities from my recent experience.” It was the first time I became conscious I could actually control my own thoughts. I could choose to think what I wanted to think about. Then a feeling like soaking my face in a warm washcloth came over me. If I choose my thoughts, I choose my feelings. I don’t have to feel bad. Or afraid. Maybe all that’s obvious. It wasn’t to me. Not in that time of intense feelings of failure.
Virtually all the “Wisdom Literature” of human history agrees on the essential purpose of life. It is to give love and receive it. Now brain research confirms that when we feel love or give service, we feel content, happy, and satisfied. Our immune system is stronger, our blood pressure lower. Yes, eating healthy and exercising is good for us, but the real multi-vitamin is love. Big love. Active love. The noted psychologist Alfred Adler claimed that most people could be cured of their depression in 14 days if they “try to think every day how you can please someone.” I’m not suggesting that serving others can cure all clinical depression. But I am saying that continuous loving acts of service from reading to children to helping shovel a widow’s walk can chase our own blues away.
The relentless message of our time is that “success will bring us happiness.” Wait, won’t it? No. The most we can expect from success are brief flings of satisfaction. Or in some cases relief from not failing. But enduring happiness? No. Success arises from setting and achieving challenging goals. Focus, discipline, persistence, and action are the timeless tools of success. Happiness on the other hand, is different. While we achieve success, happiness is experienced. Happiness arises from feelings of gratitude for our lives, our family, our friends, our opportunities, and our experiences and fills us with feelings of contentment. If we feel gratitude consistently, we feel enduring satisfaction.
So stop. Why not use this time to redefine success as our deep soul-chosen goals. Take time to consider what material enoughness is for each of us so we can be better acquainted with the spiritual abundance that surrounds us. We need to honor our honest responsibilities but also need to face the facts of our lives. If we feel trapped, over-worked, exhausted and discouraged from working so damn hard at things that have no meaning, it’s time to intensely re-connect with the people and activities that give us wisdom, creativity and energy.
We are entering a time of purging. A time to eliminate all the distractions that are poisoning our happiness. A time to travel lighter and love bigger. Amidst the rubble, we will find wild flowers of hope growing there just for us. All we have to do is look.
To visit American Dream Project’s home page, click here.
To see video blogs on this topic, visit ThoughtRocket.com.
As the primary election season gives way to the general election I am concerned that the battle for the White House is still a war of new sound bites hiding tired ideas. Something more is needed.
How We Lost Our Vision
If you think wisdom, integrity, and new ideas are missing in our government leaders, you are not alone. That’s because both major political parties have lost their understanding of the four values America is centered on: freedom and responsibility, opportunity and equality.
America’s promise has always been that you can determine the quality of your own life. Where you start in life does not determine where you finish. We strive to be a society that promotes the key conditions to help us optimize our quality of life no matter what our circumstances. Doing that isn’t easy. It requires constantly balancing four distinct priorities: freedom and responsibility, opportunity and equality. If any one of these values are lost or even de-emphasized, our system is thrown out of balance. People lose confidence and our national mood sours. Today, lots of us are in a sour mood. The ideology of the left screams for personal freedom and equality. The right insists that personal responsibility and unfetter opportunity are America’s only true values. But these arguments lead us nowhere. Both sides are correct but incomplete. The result is a distorted, twisted gridlock of half-baked compromise in action. America’s true center is not the mid-point between big paternalistic government and greed-based free-for-all. Our founders understood it as a higher center. The optimization of these four ideals, not their compromise.
When leaders govern from the high center, they do it from a balance point that gives all of us the best chance for life, liberty and happiness. That’s why, most of the time, leaders who advocate policies that respect all four values simultaneously make the most sense to the most of us.
Jefferson’s “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” was designed to expand in meaning as our vision expands. The question today is, are we really committed to these ideals? As a nation are we really interested in removing the causes of avoidable suffering? Things like substandard education, unaffordable housing and health care, urban and school violence to name a few.
Shouldn’t we all be working to ensure that the real American Dream flourishes not only in the productive, creative expression of our own freedom, but also in our mutual responsibility to create a physically and psychologically healthy society for our children? All of our children?
So now our media-trained politicians tell us they are all for change. But is it really change? A Right-based platform of low taxes and uninvolved government and big military is hardly a plan that accounts for what’s happening in our lives and the world. And Left-based high-tax, we’ll-solve-all-your-problems program sounds like the 1960’s Great Society recycled. Perhaps there’s another way. A way that starts with the fundamentals of our founders. When we view the future through the lens of optimizing freedom and responsibility, equality and opportunity for all, a New American Agenda emerges.
The New American Agenda is simple: we must demand better from our government. Government has the central role in providing a safe society needed for Life and a fair society that is the meaning of Liberty. Together these play the major role in creating conditions for the pursuit of Happiness. According to research from the World Values survey, countries in which citizens report the most personal well-being have most of the following characteristics. As you read them, think about how we’re doing. What direction is America headed in?
1. Citizen voice.
2. Fair and equal enforcement of laws.
3. Lack of violence.
4. Leadership accountability.
5. Dependable government services.
6. Absence of corruption.
7. Effective regulations.
8. Universal Access to Capital, Health care, and Education.
9. Fair and Simple Taxation
10. Strong, Wise, and Good Foreign Policy
Well, that’s the list. If you’d like my perspective on what each one of these 10 factors might mean in terms of policy changes for 21st century America, download the 4th American Revolution excerpt. It’s free. You can read it on your computer or print it. I wrote it to help us consider what advice we might give the candidates who are running for president. If enough of us speak up, in time we may have the country we want our children to grow up in.