POWERLESSNESS

POWERLESSNESS

One of the alarming trends of our time is that more and more people feel powerless. Powerlessness seems to be the root of all negative emotions. Whether it is the large divide between rich and poor, the disturbing political setting, the controversy over climate change or the increase in violent action by thugs and the police gun violence – the world is frightening and all we, citizens of America, do is to stand by and watch.  We are guilty about the past and fearful of the future. We are depressed about our situation today and angry because the prospects of change seem remote.

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Guilt. Depression. Fear. Anger. All stem from the feeling of powerlessness. We are imprisoned by these strong negative emotions. As a result, we accept and tolerate a miserable life. Afterall, we face daily struggles on a personal level, such as a demanding job, a stressful relationship, unpaid student loans and the social-media-driven fear of missing out, and it is no wonder that a rising number of men and women feel so overwhelmed with life, that all they want to do is to check out by taking drugs, alcohol or medication.  Why not find something better.

The difficulty with feeling powerless is that it smothers our innate desire and potential to change and improve ourselves and the situations we are in. The biggest problem with powerlessness is, that it is often an illusion.

We can overcome the paralyzing sense of powerlessness, by changing the dynamic to face our challenges from a place of courage and optimism. We do not get robbed of our power we give it away!

  • You let others make decisions because you do not trust yourself.
  • You make yourself silent and invisible to not get judged and to avoid conflict.
  • You tell yourself that you have to hold onto an unfulfilling job or a dysfunctional relationship because you do not believe you can have something better.
  • You deal with disappointments by putting yourself down and questioning your abilities.
  • You focus more on what is not working in your life and the “what if’s” of the future, than spending time to appreciate and embrace all your blessings of the day.
  • You make excuses for those who put you down or treat you as their punching ball.
  • You complain about your challenges but tell yourself there is nothing you can do to change them.
  • Your lack of control makes you angry.

Personal power is an energy, which is based on the proper alignment of mind, body, and spirit and leads to confidence, competence and compassion for others and oneself. You know that you are in touch with your personal power when you feel safe and secure within yourself and take responsibility for your life. When you trust that you have the wisdom and capabilities to learn and grow from anything life brings you. And personal power means that you allow yourself to discover and express your true, authentic self while being appreciative, patient, and compassionate to all beings in your life including yourself. This is not easy or everyone would do it.

As earlier expressed, being powerless is often an illusion. Let us say you did not get the promotion you hoped for or that lovely lass you met on Tuesday is not taking your call. You could argue that you are truly powerless here because somebody else made the choice. Yes, you do not have the power to control others. But, your real power lies in choosing to either let your mind latch on to these situations and continuously wonder “why?,” “what did I do wrong?” or you could simply let it go. Letting go does not mean rolling over and giving up. It just means that you decide to accept the situations as they are without letting yourself be defined by them.

  • Whatever happened does not say anything about your intrinsic worthiness,
  • that you have the innate potential to learn and grow from any situation,
  • that you are grateful for situations like this because they make your determination to learn to love and accept yourself unconditionally even stronger.

And then there is God. When we have power and are in control, or at least believe we are in control. We do not have much need for God. We do not need to examine ourselves critically or see just what we are made of spiritually. But when powerlessness comes, we are forced to see what we are made of, what matters most, and on what or whom we rely. This is a time of reckoning. When we live in our powerless moments, God can get to the deep places of our being and more thoroughly work in us.

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When we are most weak, vulnerable, and powerless, in a somewhat miraculous way, God’s strength becomes real to us, making us strong. Not only does our powerlessness bring us closer to God, God’s glory is revealed through grace. It is often said, that out of suffering comes change and growth. The power we feel through these growth periods comes from God. God wants us to be meek so we can learn, grow, and do His will so we can truly inherit the earth now.

Meekness is powerlessness that is part of a person’s developed character, not forced upon them. It is intentionally exercised. It is restraint by a person who “can but won’t” stand out, exert influence, leverage strength or demand attention. It is an exemplary characteristic … for someone else to exhibit. We like meek people because they refuse to take too much attention from us or insert themselves too much into our story.

Exercising meekness means that we render ourselves intentionally powerless. We subordinate our will to something or someone greater than us, God. We seek the will of someone else rather than our own. Meek people are not small because someone makes them small. They just realize that something greater is what they need to be about. They realize that someone greater is present that should be acknowledged.

Meekness does not mean that a person is insecure or lacking in self-esteem or talent. It is admittedly difficult to have words to say, but not say them if it is better to withhold them. The meek can do that. It is hard to have opportunity and not to seize it. The meek can see what the opportunity will produce for good or bad. It is excruciatingly difficult for many to have resources and withhold spending them on whatever a person wants to spend them. The meek will look at the bigger picture and choose how to use resources for larger gain than personal gain alone. It is rare to see someone with power who refuses to wield it for personal advantage for the sake of something bigger. Meekness does just that. It is intentional powerlessness when the potential is present.

So take stock of yourself—do an inventory of the good things happening in your life and make note of things that need to change. You may be powerless but God is not. With God and the Spirit inside me, I have power in my life right now. I have the power to overcome temptation, change my life for the better, be healed,  forgive, and enough power to seek God’s will for my life. The real purpose of hope is to allow us the capacity to suffer with wisdom, calmness, and generosity. The ego wants to separate and seek material success. For the soul, it is purpose and meaning. Act with a hopeful heart.

Often God comes to me disguised as my life and my life is a pathway built by actions I have chosen to take. I form an intention to walk the right path, but that intention is not real until I start walking and act. The only power I have to choose between right and wrong is in the present moment when I make the decision to act. By seeking God’s will I receive the power of the Spirit to stay on the right path.

Think big and ask big! What a better way to live.

LIFE & LOVE ARE PRECIOUS

LIFE & LOVE ARE PRECIOUS

What does it mean to be alive?

You are alive, and so am I. My cat, Charlie, is purring and is very much alive.  The tree just outside my window has new leaves which are emerging for the spring. Although sometimes I wonder, I don’t believe that my computer is alive nor is my desk and chair.

What is it that defines life? How can we tell that one thing is alive and another is not?, Amazingly, it is surprisingly difficult to come up with a precise definition of life.  Many definitions allow us to separate living things from nonliving ones, but they don’t actually pin down what life is. With so many human beings dying from covid-19, this is a question we should be asking.

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So what allows living organisms to survive?

Biologists have identified various traits common to all the living organisms. Although nonliving things may show some of these characteristic traits, only living things show all of them.

  • Living things are highly organized, meaning they contain specialized, coordinated parts. All living organisms are made up of one or more cells, which are considered the fundamental units of life.
  • Life depends on an enormous number of interlocking chemical reactions. These reactions make it possible for organisms to do work—such as moving around or catching prey—as well as growing, reproducing, and maintaining the structure of their bodies. Living things must use energy and consume nutrients to carry out the chemical reactions that sustain life.  
  • Living organisms regulate their internal environment to maintain the relatively narrow range of conditions needed for cell function. For instance, your body temperature needs to be kept relatively close to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 degrees Celsius.  
  • Living organisms undergo regulated growth. Individual cells become larger in size, and multicellular organisms accumulate many cells through cell division. You yourself started out as a single cell and now have tens of trillions of cells in your body. Growth depends on pathways that build large, complex molecules such as proteins and DNA.
  • Living organisms can reproduce themselves to create new organisms. Reproduction can be either asexual, involving a single parent organism, or sexual, requiring two parents. Single-celled organisms can reproduce themselves simply by splitting in two! In sexual reproduction, two parent organisms produce sperm and egg cells containing half of their genetic information, and these cells fuse to form a new individual with a full genetic set.
  • Living organisms show “irritability,” meaning that they respond to stimuli or changes in their environment. For instance, people run from bumblebees, many plants turn toward the sun; and unicellular organisms may migrate toward a source of nutrients or away from a noxious chemical.
  • Populations of living organisms can undergo evolution, meaning that the genetic makeup of a population may change over time. In some cases, evolution involves natural selection, in which a heritable trait, such as darker fur color or narrower beak shape, lets organisms survive and reproduce better in a particular environment. Over generations, a heritable trait that provides a fitness advantage may become more and more common in a population, making the population better suited to its environment.

Living organisms have many different properties related to being alive, and it can be hard to decide on the exact set that best defines life. Thus, different thinkers have developed different lists of the properties of life. For instance, some lists might include movement as a defining characteristic, while others might specify that living things carry their genetic information in the form of DNA. Still others might emphasize that life is carbon-based. Me, well I can talk and think and feel so I must be alive

How well do the properties above allow us to determine whether or not something is alive?  The living things we talked about earlier—humans, cats, and trees—easily fulfill all seven criteria of life. We, along with our feline friends and the plants in our yards, are made of cells, metabolize, maintain homeostasis, grow, and respond. Humans, dogs, and trees are also capable of reproducing, and their populations undergo biological evolution.

Nonliving things may show some, but not all, properties of life. For instance, ice cystals are organized—though they don’t have cells—and can grow but don’t meet the other criteria of life. Similarly, a fire can grow, reproduce by creating new fires, and respond to stimuli and can arguably even be said to “metabolize.” However, fire is not organized, does not maintain homeostasis, and lacks the genetic information required for evolution.

The question of what it means to be alive remains unresolved. For instance, viruses like the coronavirus—tiny protein and nucleic acid structures that can only reproduce inside host cells—have many of the properties of life. However, they do not have a cellular structure, nor can they reproduce without a host.

For these reasons, viruses are not generally considered to be alive. However, not everyone agrees with this conclusion, and whether they count as life remains a topic of debate.  Right now, I think most consider covid-19 to be very much alive, particularly if you become the host.

So, what about the idea of love?

Life and love are intertwined. Love brings joy to the living and without it, life often lacks meaning and purpose.   Love is a complex set of emotions, behaviors, and beliefs associated with strong feelings of affection, protectiveness, warmth, and respect for another person. Love can also be used to apply to animals, to principles, and to religious beliefs. For example, a person might say he or she loves his or her dog, loves freedom, or loves God.

Love has been a favored topic of philosophers, poets, writers, and scientists for generations, and they have often debated its meaning. While most people agree that love implies strong feelings of affection, there are many disagreements about its precise meaning, and one person’s “I love you” might mean something quite different than another’s. Some possible definitions of love include:

  • A willingness to prioritize another’s well-being or happiness above your own.
  • Extreme feelings of attachment, affection, and need.
  • Dramatic, sudden feelings of attraction and respect.
  • A fleeting emotion of care, affection, and like.
  • A choice to commit to helping, respecting, and caring for another.
  • All or some of the above.

“life and love are very precious when both are in full bloom.”

― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

FEAR HOPE GREED

FEAR HOPE GREED

Fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger which has strong roots in human evolution. If people didn’t feel fear, they couldn’t protect themselves from legitimate threats, which in the ancestral world frequently resulted in life-or-death consequences.

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In the modern world, individuals often fear situations in which the stakes are much lower, such as public speaking, but their bodies and brains may still treat the threat as lethal. This can trigger an extreme, although often unnecessary, fight-flight-or-freeze response. As a result, people may find themselves avoiding challenges that could benefit them in the long run or hanging back during social interactions.

When people today do face deadly or extreme danger, it can sometimes cause lingering trauma. Such trauma can trigger a fear response that is hard to quell, even when the risk has passed. We will fear the coronavirus until a vaccine emerges in 5 years and for many years after.

The process of creating fear takes place in the brain and is entirely unconscious. There are two paths involved in the fear response: The Quick Response is quick and messy, while the Thoughtful Response takes more time and delivers a more precise interpretation of events. Both processes happen simultaneously.

The idea behind the quick response is “take no chances.” If the front door to your home is suddenly knocking against the frame, it could be the wind. It could also be a burglar trying to get in. It’s far less dangerous to assume it’s a burglar and have it turn out to be the wind than to assume it’s the wind and have it turn out to be a burglar. The quick response shoots first and asks questions later.

The thoughtful response is much more cerebral. While the quick response is initiating the fear response just in case, the thoughtful response is considering all of the options. Is it a burglar, or is it the wind? Have I seen this particular stimulus before? If so, what did it mean that time? What other things are going on that might give me clues as to whether this is a burglar or a windstorm?

The sensory data regarding the door — the stimulus — is following both paths at the same time. But being thoughtful takes longer than a flash. That’s why you have a moment or two of terror before you decide to run or not.

Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.  Hope comes into its own when crisis looms, opening us to new creative possibilities. It includes the existence of a goal, combined with a determined plan for reaching that goal. The difference between hope and optimism is that the former includes practical pathways to an improved future.

I hope the vaccine for the coronavirus happens on a shorter time frame than I expect. This fear will remain and will limit future improvements. But my hope is that it will enable us to see our connectedness and need for each other.

Hope should be viewed as a cognitive skill that demonstrates an individual’s ability to maintain drive in the pursuit of a particular goal. An individual’s ability to be hopeful depends on two types of response: the individual’s determination to achieve their goals despite possible obstacles and the individual belief that they can achieve these personal goals without a doubt. But it is important to set realistic goals that have a reasonable probability of being achieved. It is important for individuals to find something they can be passionate about, makes them feel good about themselves and would help them remain hopeful of their ability to achieve these goals. Hope is a way to maintain personal motivation, which ultimately will result in a greater sense of optimism.

I have high hopes!

Greed is the intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.  Greed is an excessive love or desire for money or any possession. It is not merely caring about money and possessions but caring too much about them. The greedy person is too attached to his things and his money, or he desires more money and more things in an excessive way.

We tolerate greed, because we accept the hard bargain that it can do good, not that it is good.  The pursuit of self-interest is the driving force for assembling resources and putting them to their best use. Greed bears fruit in many ways.

Greed has always been the imp of capitalism, the mischief it makes for those faithful capitalists. Their troubled consciences are not the result of doubts about the efficacy of free markets, but of the centuries of moral reform that was required to make those markets as free as they are.

But greed has taken America too far.  Companies no longer pursue increased productivity, new and improved products or new production facilities.  CEOs keep sales on a modest upward track and use cash to buy back stock which increases earnings per share.  With increases in earnings PER SHARE, the stock market rewards shareholders with a higher price. Everyone is happy including the CEO and other senior managers as their big bonuses are triggered.

I have long felt that fear, hope and greed fuel the stock market and most everything else. Look at the following chart.

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Fear is the bottom of a bear market and no one wants stocks.  Of course, it is the best time to buy.  At the top (greed), everyone believes this market will go on forever unlike any cycle in the past. It doesn’t!

Is this pandemic a means of acquainting us with suffering, so we can retreat from greed, become fearful and then regain hope again?

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

LINCOLN AND THE INDIANS

My grandson, Ryan, will celebrate his 28th birthday on February 12.  It is easy for me to remember because this day is also the birth date for Abraham Lincoln. Interestingly, Lincoln’s birthday has never been a national holiday and Presidents’ Day is reserved mostly for Washington.  Nonetheless, Lincoln is a revered historical figure and very popular. So I was astonished when I heard a snippet from a documentary on American treatment of Native Americans that simply said, “Lincoln ordered the execution of 39 Dakota Indians.” That was hard for me to accept on face value so I decided to look for more information.

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The Dakota tribe had existed for generations on the land surrounding the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, site of the present-day cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Translated roughly into English, Dakota means “the allies, and they were a group of seven Indian bands that lived mostly in harmony in the region’s bountiful river valleys. Their only enemy was the Chippewa to the north. The first European explorers there had done little to alter the Indians’ way of life, although the French dubbed them the Sioux—a mutation of the Chippewa word for “snake. Real change began after 1819, when federal soldiers’ built Fort Snelling, a sprawling outpost above the mouth of the Minnesota River. After that the stream of white traders and settlers became a flood; land treaties in 1837 and 1851 and Minnesota statehood in 1858 pushed the Dakota off their native lands westward to a narrow, 100-mile-long reservation on the harsh prairie along the Minnesota River. The exodus also forced the Dakota to change their way of life. Government agents on the reservation favored those Dakota who settled on plots, learned English, cut their hair, and took up farming.. Those Dakota who refused to give up their traditional ways were in an even worse position and spent many winters in near-starving conditions.

The situation reached its flashpoint in the summer of 1862. The financial cost of the Civil War was bleeding the government dry, and rumors flew that there would be no annuity gold for the Dakota. Traders who had liberally given credit in the past now slammed the door. One trader named Andrew Myrick announced that if the Dakota were hungry they could “eat grass. Tensions mounted until four Dakota led by an Indian named Killing Ghost murdered five white settlers on August 17. Some Dakota leaders sensed this was an opportunity to strike back at the U.S. Government, and they pressed Chief Little Crow, to strike at the whites while many soldiers were fighting in the Civil War. Little Crow initially wanted no part of a war with the whites, recognizing the calamity that would surely follow. But when faced with a challenge to his authority, he reluctantly relented. Ironically, the annuity gold shipment had left St. Paul that same day.

The Dakota raged across the countryside with a fury. Four to eight hundred white settlers were butchered during the first four days of the rampage, while their farms and fields burned. The Dakota hit first and hard at the reservation agency, killing dozens. One of the victims was trader Myrick. His killers stuffed his mouth with grass. The Dakota also struck at the region’s army outpost and towns. They annihilated a detachment of soldiers dispatched from nearby Fort Ridgely before being repulsed in two assaults on the garrison itself. They twice attacked and burned most of the town of New Ulm but failed to capture it from its armed residents.

Panic surged throughout Minnesota. Tens of thousands of terrified settlers fled and virtually depopulated the state’s western regions. Governor Alexander Ramsey dispatched 1,200 men from Fort Snelling under the command of Henry H. Sibley, a former fur trader, politician and friend of the Dakota. Sibley was not regular army, but he heeded Ramsey’s call and accepted a commission as colonel. Unsure of his authority, Sibley failed to declare martial law and moved excruciatingly slowly. He did not engage the Dakota until early September 1862, when Indians surprised and butchered a 150-man reconnaissance detail at Birch Coulee. The debacle slowed Sibley even more, and he did not meet Little Crow in full force until September 22, when he won a decisive victory at Wood Lake. The Dakota scattered over the prairie. Sibley finally managed to capture about 1,200 men, women, and children, but Little Crow was not among them. Sibley intended to prosecute as war criminals those Indians who had participated in the rebellion.

Sibley ordered a commission of five military officers to try the prisoners summarily and pass judgment upon them. If found guilty of murders or other outrages upon the Whites they would be punished. Major General John Pope, recently banished to Minnesota by President Lincoln after Pope’s humiliating defeat at the Civil War’s Battle of Second Bull Run, saw an opportunity to redeem himself at the Dakota’s expense. He immediately approved Sibley’s plans.

The commission began the hearings on the reservation on September 28.. The charges ranged from rape to murder to theft, although most Dakota were accused of merely participating in battles.  Of the 393 accused, 303 were found guilty.  Pope and Sibley wanted to begin execution immediately, but they needed the President’s consent.

Lincoln asked Pope to send the full and complete record of these convictions and to identify the more guilty and influential of the culprits. As Lincoln began his deliberations, people on both sides of the issue bombarded him with letters and telegrams. Politicians, army officers, and clergy called on the president at the White House, each adding his take on the situation and offering advice. Lincoln dutifully and patiently listened.

Bishop Henry Whipple, head of the Minnesota Episcopal Church, spoke often of the hypocrisy of federal Indian policies. Whipple was a cousin to Henry Halleck, Lincoln’s general-in-chief, so the bishop gained an audience with the president in November and urged clemency. Lincoln was impressed.

The timing of the Dakota crisis could not have been worse for the president. On a personal level, he and his wife, Mary, still grieved over the death, nine months earlier, of their 11-year-old son, Willie. On a political level, the administration faced one crisis after another. The war effort was in tatters. Major General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac lay no closer to Richmond after the ill-conceived Peninsula Campaign and the bloody draw at Antietam. McClellan tolerated precious little advice from the president and sometimes even refused to meet with him. Finally the exasperated president dismissed the insolent general and replaced him with Ambrose Burnside, soon to be responsible for the Union disaster at Fredericksburg. As the blunders mounted, Lincoln also faced a challenge to his leadership from disgruntled cabinet members. Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, perpetually jealous of Lincoln and furious that the president did not turn to him for military advice, sulked and plotted behind the president’s back. Lincoln knew of these designs and only tolerated them because Chase was a supremely able leader of his department.

Slavery issues preoccupied Lincoln as well. Somewhere between the bad tidings and bouts of depression the president managed to work on the final drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order that would free the slaves in most of the South, even as he was being called upon to suppress the Dakota. The Minnesota business weighed heavily on Lincoln’s mind.

The president could also see how the trials’ rapidity prevented a full and fair analysis of the facts. The weight and impact of evidence simply could not be properly processed in a few minutes, especially in capital cases with their ultimate stakes. Undoubtedly the brevity of the trials resulted from the absence of defense counsel. The president could also see how the commission convicted many men with insufficient evidence.

Nevertheless, Lincoln’s compassion played the largest role in the predicament.. He was only merciless in cases involving cruelty or sex offenses. Lincoln’s order to Sibley—in his own handwriting—allowed the execution of only 39 of the 303 condemned Dakota. Of these, 29 had been convicted of murder, three for having “shot” someone, two for participating in “massacres,” and one for mutilation. As Lincoln told the Senate, only two had been convicted of rape. Curiously, the president allowed the executions of two men who were convicted merely for participating in battles.

This was wartime; Lincoln could not have reversed the convictions wholesale, either ordering new trials or disapproving the proceedings entirely. The former would have caused great delay and the latter great outrage, either of which could have led to mob violence in Minnesota. Such actions would not necessarily have prevented the Dakota from being tried in state courts, where they would have received little sympathy from citizen juries. Lincoln had to make a final decision on the matter, and he did. On December 27 President Lincoln received a telegram from Sibley: “I have the honor to inform you that the thirty-eight Indians and half-breeds, ordered by you for execution, were hung yesterday at Mankato, at 10 a.m.

The full story!

GRIEF

GRIEF

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Grief is the acute pain that accompanies loss. It is deep, because it reflects what we love, and it can feel all-encompassing. Grief can follow the loss of a loved one, but it is not limited to the loss of people; it can follow the loss of a treasured animal companion, the loss of a job or other important role in life, or the loss of a home or of other possessions of significant emotional investment. And it often occurs after a divorce.

Grief is complex; it obeys no formula and has no set expiration date.  A number of experts say there are clear stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I think it is safe to say that grief is a highly individualized emotion and not everyone will grieve the same way.

Grief is sometimes compounded by feelings of guilt and confusion over a loss, especially if the relationship was difficult. Some individuals experience prolonged grief or complicated grief, which can last months or years. Without help and support, such grief can lead to isolation and chronic loneliness.

Many of the symptoms of grief overlap with those of depression. There is sadness, and often the loss of capacity for pleasure; insomnia; and loss of interest in eating or taking care of oneself. But the symptoms of grief do tend to lessen over time, although they may be temporarily reactivated by important anniversaries or at any time by thoughts or reminders of the loss. Unlike depression, though, grief does not usually impair one’s sense of self-worth.

I lost a very good friend about a week ago. I met him for the first time about 1982 and we were casual acquaintances for a long time. But about four years ago we reconnected through a major case of serendipity.  We both got old and ended up in the same senior living community much to our surprise.  Books, conversation and reminiscing, cats, and new friends became our new way of living. Life was good and we became real friends.

Because grief obeys its own timetable, there is no timer for feelings of pain after loss; nor is it possible to diminish or avoid the suffering. In fact, attempts to suppress or deny my grieving for Walter is likely to extend the lifetime of the pain and require so much effort that there is little energy or room left. So, I am dealing with it.

Grief has its value: It reminds us what we care about and I truly cared for Walter. Some cultures embrace death, dying, grief, and loss like they are simply a part of life; they see no need to suppress or deny the pain. Customs and practices of grieving can be elaborate and entrenched in tradition, most of which eases suffering to some degree.

The word grief has come to be understood solely as a reaction to a death. But that narrow understanding fails to encompass the range of human experiences that create and trigger grief. Here are four types of grief that we experience which have nothing to do with death:

Hopes and dreams (expectations) often go awry. Most of us walk around with a vision of how our lives will play out and how we expect the world to operate. When life events violate our expectations, we often experience a deep sense of grief and unfairness.

Identity loss occurs when a person loses a primary sense of self. They’re tasked with grieving who they thought they were and eventually creating a new story that integrates the loss into who they have become. Their identity feels stolen, as in the cases of the person who feels blindsided by divorce and or a breast cancer survivor. For those individuals, the grief may feel compounded by the lack of control they had in the decision.

The lost sense of physical, emotional, and mental well-being often creates feelings of anxiety and hypervigilance. We should feel safe in our homes, our communities, and our relationships. The lost sense of safety, be it physical (after a break-in) or emotional (after an affair), can make a person’s world feel distinctly unsafe. Symptoms of lost safety may include a sense of hypervigilance even in the absence of danger or numbness. For survivors of trauma, violence, and instability, that feeling of internal safety may feel hard to restore, even if circumstances stabilize. In addition to healing from the trauma, the individual is tasked with grieving the lost sense of safety and learning to rebuild it.

The inability to properly manage one’s life cuts to the core of every person’s need to be in control of themselves. Loss of autonomy triggers grief over the struggle to maintain a sense of self. In cases of illness and disability, lost autonomy (and often lost identity) marks every step they take. New forms of decline invite grief for their lost independence and ability to function. Grieving those losses and reconceptualizing who they are in the face of these limitations is incredibly difficult for most people. In many cases this realization accelerates the decline and the will to live dissipates. I think this may have happened to my dear friend.

Loss of expectations, identity, safety, and autonomy are all losses that warrant a sense of grief. Grief as a framework can help each of us work through a moment of chaos with the gentleness we give a mourner. My grief for Walter is being replaced by the joy of his memory and by his cat, Charlie.  This cat chose Walter as his companion several years ago as a week-old kitten scrounging for life. As was his custom, Walter took him in, loved him, cared for him and was a good friend.  Charlie now lives with me as an acceptable substitute until he and Walter meet again.

The mourner receives compassion. So should you. Your loss is real. My loss is real. I miss my friend.

THE ART of RELATIONSHIP

The ART of RELATIONSHIP

The most essential relationship of our lifetime is the relationship with ourselves and our most important task is to discover who we are as best we can, our TRUE SELF. Ideally, we will learn from our experiences so that moving forward, our lives will be better, healthier, and more meaningful. Once we have a pretty good idea about who we are, we seem to be ready to start the journey of being ourselves in a relationship. In this endeavor we have to focus on the job of making sure we live our own life to its fullest capacity and potential, while incorporating the capacity and potential of another’s life into a relationship. The complexity and difficultly that evolves in the creation of an experience that is healthy, honest, respectful, inclusive, joyful, and loving, and that values and promotes individual expression and personal growth for both partners is massive. WOW!

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The work with a partner is not intended simply to fulfill physical or emotional needs, but it’s aim is to accelerate the process of awakening. The power of relationship wakes us up in areas of life where we are asleep and where we avoid naked, direct contact with our existence. A loving relationship cannot evolve out of sheer romanticism, that initial rush of erotic attraction that is all most of us ever know of love. Love is not a product of attraction. It is a commitment. The relationship becomes a spiritual practice of partners laying down their lives for each other—facing their shadows, relinquishing old patterns and agendas, allowing all self-justification to be seen, brought to the light, and released. I have found this to be very difficult.  I have failed on several occasions to awaken my shadow areas and get beyond romanticism.

Friendship, sexual attraction, intellectual compatibility, and love are also fundamental to relationship development.  No doubt, love is the glue that keeps a relationship strong and solid. BUT, dreaming that love will save us, solve all our problems or provide a steady state of bliss or security keeps us stuck in a fantasyland, undermining the real power of love.

Consider a large oval mirror for a moment. This mirror is without ego and mind. Imagine you are standing in front of the mirror, as it reflects your face and shoulders. It reflects the table and crooked picture in the background. Everything is revealed as it really is, without self-consciousness on the part of the mirror.  If you choose to move on, the mirror lets you. The mirror is always empty of itself and therefore able to receive the other. The mirror has no preconditions for entry, no preconditions for acceptance. It receives and reflects back what isthere, nothing more and nothing less. The mirror is the perfect lover. It sees as God sees.

I believe that true love lives and thrives in the heart space without conditions like the mirror. It keeps me from wanting to hurt people who have hurt me and prevents me every day from entertaining obsessive, repetitive, or compulsive head games. It can make the difference between being happy or being miserable and negative.

When we meet someone, love is not something we feel right away.  That strong feeling of attraction, like a magnet pulling you towards that person you’ve just met is actually infatuation and sexual chemistry. Mother nature gives us a big dose of infatuation in order to get us together initially.  Love does include sexual chemistry but it differs because it is an emotion that takes time to build.  Lust can appear in an instant; love evolves over a period of time as you get to know the other person inside and out. If you don’t develop a base of loving feelings with your partner, once the sexual spark dies down, you will become bored. Humans are built with the capacity to love over and over again.  My 8th grade crush was Melinda. Without my humanness, I would still have just a crush and wouldn’t know love.

A loving relationship is not built in a day.  The threads of love take time to weave together to form a strong bond.  It is only as you and your partner share your thoughts, fears, dreams and hopes that love takes root.  This actually happened for me in a 27-year marriage to a woman that became a perfect partner for me, strong where I was weak, willing to do what it took to keep our love growing and our family unit intact. Alas, I became the Master of the Universe.

In a truly loving relationship, we give to another without condition or expectation. There is no account keeping.  Giving pleasure to our partner gives us pleasure.  When we see our partner happy, we feel a sense of joy.  When we see that they are sad or depressed, we feel their mood..  With love comes empathy for the other person’s emotional state.

When we love someone, we are willing to compromise without sacrificing our own self in doing so, nor should our mate require us to sacrifice our own self for their personal gain.  When we love, we are respectful of each other.  We do not intentionally hurt our partner.  When we talk about them in their absence, it is with such warmth that the listeners can hear the love in our words. Our love for the other person enables us to act morally and ethically, both with them and in our community.  Their presence in our life makes us want to be a better person. If in love, we never feel lonely, even when alone.  The very thought of the other person makes us feel as if we have a guardian angel with us at all times.

When our partner succeeds at something after a long effort, we beam with joy.  There is no jealously or envy, just pure pleasure at seeing our beloved’s success. Even when separated for work, travel, or other commitments, our thoughts drift towards them and what they might be doing “right now.”

With love, sex becomes sacred.  Different from the early days, our sex becomes lovemaking, a unity of body and mind. The presence of love in the relationship allows us to feel protected and safe.   We feel a sense of security and stability.

Our partner sees us for who and what we are and still loves us,.  We can show all our sides, positive and negative, and receive their love unconditionally. Love allows us to bare our souls and feel grace in return. Love allows us to disagree without developing a debilitating resentment.

Love in a relationship allows two people to grow exponentially and evolve as God intends for nature and man.  God loves me and you love me. I love God and I love you. What else is necessary?

THE AMERICAN CHESTNUT

THE AMERICAN CHESTNUT

In late October, a friend and I went to Pipestem State Park near Athens, West Virginia.  The setting is exquisite with abundant forests, changing leaf color, and wonderful mountains. As luck would have it, there was considerable rain on our second day and so we looked for an indoor activity.   AHA!!!!!  The resident naturalist, LYNN and her dog Alice, were giving a lecture on the demise and resurgence of the American Chestnut Tree. I love chestnuts roasting on an open fire, so it was a perfect time for us to learn about this beautiful tree.

A close up of a tree

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The American chestnut was at one time the most important food and timber tree species in the eastern half of the U.S because it could grow rapidly and attain huge sizes. The tree was often the outstanding visual feature in both urban and rural landscapes. The wood was used wherever strength and rot-resistance were needed.

In colonial America, chestnut was a preferred species for log cabins, especially the bottom rot-prone foundation logs. Later posts, poles, flooring, and railroad ties were all made from chestnut lumber.

The edible nut was also a significant contributor to the rural economy. Hogs and cattle were often fattened for market by allowing them to forage in chestnut-dominated forests. Chestnut ripening coincided with the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday season and turn-of-the-century newspaper articles often showed train cars overflowing with chestnuts rolling into major cities to be sold fresh or roasted. The American chestnut was truly a heritage tree.

The chestnut was almost completely destroyed by a bark fungus accidentally introduced from the Orient in 1904. Within 40 years, over 30 million acres of chestnut trees were killed from Maine to Georgia and west to the Mississippi. This tragedy was the largest ecological disasters in American history.   There has been essentially no chestnut lumber sold in the U.S. for decades, and the bulk of the annual 20-million-pound nut crop now comes from introduced chestnut species or imported nuts.

The Chestnut’s beautiful, rot-resistant lumber was used for everything from furniture to fence posts, and its tannin used in the tanning industry. The loss of the chestnut, at the time of the Great Depression, had a devastating effect on the people and wildlife of the Appalachian Mountains. The economic loss from the chestnut’s demise amounted to untold millions of dollars.

Despite its decimation as a lumber and nut-crop species, the American chestnut has not gone extinct. The American chestnut has survived by sending up stump sprouts that grow vigorously in logged or otherwise disturbed sites, but inevitably succumb to the blight and die back to the ground.  It is considered functionally extinct by the USDA but the blight fungus does not kill the tree’s root system underground.

Accordingly, there are millions of sprouts that can be found in the eastern US.  Although the sprouts may only reach 15 feet or so before the blight kills them, some produce nuts before they die leading to new generations of trees to grow.

A very small number of mature chestnuts still exist, apparently immune or resistant to the blight. Some foresters have been collecting seeds from these mother trees, with a goal of producing a blight resistant chestnut tree by hybridizing the American chestnut with other species of chestnuts.  This is an 18-29-year project.

Meadowview, Virginia is home to The American Chestnut Foundation’s research farms. This property and its facilities are used to breed American chestnut trees for resistance to the blight fungus. Meadowview includes more than 50,000 trees at various stages of the breeding process, planted on more than 150 acres. The American Chestnut Foundation is based in Asheville, North Carolina with five regional offices located throughout the Appalachian region.  www.acf.org

If you have never been to Pipestem, put it on your bucket list for weekend adventures.  The beauty of the place is wondrous. The McKeever Lodge has lovely rooms and spectacular views.  There is outdoor and indoor swimming, a zip line course, a tramway up and down the mountain, four eateries, a golf course, a nature center, a recreation center plus cabins and a campground. www.wvstateparks.com

DIS—EASE

There is a natural connection between the way we live and the diseases that come our way.  Science is just beginning to discover the linkages between specific negative emotions and specific physical disorders, but already many of these connections can be made. 

Negative emotions damage the body. When we perceive a situation to be dangerous, adrenaline and cortisol are released by our bodies to facilitate “flight or fight” responses.  The problem is that most of the “dangers” that cause stress cannot be resolved by fighting or running away! I have tried both and neither ever worked. 

Modern life is characterized by a tsunami of stressful events and daily pressures coming at people from every conceivable direction. And yet the real culprit isn’t the situations which surround us – it is the emotional reactions to these events.

Emotions are not confined just to the mind or heart, but they are often translated into chemical reactions which occur at both the organ level and the cellular level! Apparently, the “most damaging” emotions are feelings of un-forgiveness, anger, worry, fear, resentment, and frustration.  Clearly, no one with an emotional life is immune to the danger, particularly FEAR (FALSE EVENTS APPEARING REAL!)

These negative emotions which place so much stress on our bodies come in two forms: those that arise out of present situations and those that are embedded in our deepest memories. These unhealed memories are actually concealed as false beliefs and negative images in our mind, formed as destructive remembrances.  Our immune system is the primary healing source in our bodies. Stress is the one thing things that diminishes the immune system.  Healing these memories is the only way to allow the immune system to do its job.

Reducing the emotional symptoms of stress starts with reducing the sources of stress in your life. There are a variety of stress-reducing techniques.You have to find the ones that work for you in providing relief, but they don’t eliminate the reasons for your stress.

  1. Physical activities such as running, jogging, and aerobics are a great way to relieve stress and tension.
  2. Relaxing physical activities such as yoga or tai chi can help to work your body while relaxing your mind. 
  3. Mindfulness techniques such as contemplative meditation and prayer can strengthen your emotional responses to stress.
  4. Reducing stress in a particular area of your life can help to lessen your exposure to chronic stressors.
  5. I use some mobile apps, such as Calm, that engage my mind through guided conversation which helps me manage stress and anxiety.

Over time, you may find that your resolve against stress becomes stronger and that your symptoms improve.  However, if you find that you’re still struggling to handle the emotional aspects of everyday or chronic stress, it may be best to reach out to a mental health professional. You cannot allow these techniques to mask the underlying problem.

Learning how to recognize sources of stress in your life is the first step in managing them.  Everyone has different stress triggers, but work stress tops the list for most people.

Causes of work stress include:

  1. Being unhappy in your job
  2. Having a heavy workload or too much responsibility
  3. Working long hours
  4. Having poor management, unclear expectations of your work, or no say in the decision-making process
  5. Working under dangerous conditions
  6. Being insecure about your chance for advancement or risk of termination
  7. Having to give speeches in front of colleagues
  8. Facing discrimination or harassment at work, especially if your company isn’t supportive.

Everyday life and personal relationships also have a big impact.

  1. The death of a loved one
  2. Divorce
  3. Loss of a job
  4. Increase in financial obligations
  5. Getting married
  6. Moving to a new home
  7. Chronic illness or injury
  8. Emotional problems
  9. Taking care of an elderly or sick family member
  10. Traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, theft, rape, or violence against you or a loved one.

Sometimes the stress comes from inside, rather than outside. You can create stress just by worrying about things. All of these factors can lead to stress:

  1. Fear and uncertainty. When you regularly hear about the threat of terrorist attacks, global warming, and toxic chemicals on the news, it can cause you to feel stressed, especially because you feel like you have no control over those events.  Also, major fears develop over money issues and paying the bills, particularly when an unexpected bill arises and the budget is thrown off. Shit happens.
  • Attitudes and perceptions. How you view the world or a situation can determine whether it causes stress. For example, if your television set is stolen and you take the attitude that’s why we have insurance you’ll be far less stressed than if you think the robbers are coming back to hurt you. Similarly, people who feel like they’re doing a good job at work will be less stressed than those who worry that they are incompetent.
  • Unrealistic expectations. No one is perfect. If you expect to do everything right all the time, you’re destined to feel stressed when things don’t go as expected.
  • Change. Any major life change can be stressful — even a happy event like a wedding or a job promotion. More unpleasant events, such as a divorce, major financial setback, or death in the family can be significant sources of stress.

Your stress level will differ based on your personality and how you respond to situations. Some people let everything roll off their back. To them, work stresses and life stresses are just minor bumps in the road. Others literally worry themselves sick.