Friday, February 27, 2009

Sober Encouragement

Ash Wednesday: For Christians, a Holy Day that gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance. It is the beginning of Lent, where believers begin preparing their hearts and minds for the celebration of Easter.

My line of work—corporate trainer, executive coach, and philanthropy—requires heavy doses of encouragement to others, authentic optimism and such. Rarely a training or coaching session goes by that I do not reflect on a passage written by Annie Dillard:

No child on earth was ever meant to be ordinary, and you can see it in them, and they know it, too, but then the times get to them, and they wear out their brains learning what folks expect, and spend their strength trying to rise over those same folks.

We can be so much more, are intended for so much more, but that awareness is beaten down by the expectations of others, as well as by those “times” that tell us, “No, you really aren’t … can’t … are unable to …” As we are experiencing such debilitating and condemning thoughts, we need encouragement to see that, yes, we can be and do as we dreamed.

The other side of the coin here is that, in our culture, many people go through life imbibing nothing but Hallmarkian bon mots regarding how unique and special they are but never hearing, From Dust You Came, and To Dust You Shall Return. Encouragement that does NOT take this reality into consideration is false and, in fact, frivolous.

Sooner or later, we all die. Living in the shadow of this reality will keep us asking the important questions:

Am I staying on mission? Is there a purpose behind my choices that is guiding and informing my decisions? Kierkegaard framed the question this way: “What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know … The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do … to find the idea for which I can live and die.” Truly an Ash Wednesday Quest!

Am I crafting a life that, right before returning to dust, I will consider a Good Life, a God-honoring Life? Is my life given to that Idea “for which I can live and die”?

Am I filling each moment of my life with meaningful, life enhancing and God-honoring experiences?

Am I truly—in word and deed—loving God with all of my heart, and loving others as I love myself?

Am I consistently working on becoming the fully functioning human being God created me to be?

Ash Wednesday is a slap in the face that helps us shed our vanity and remind us that we are here for a reason, other than pleasing others by doing what he wants, acting as she expects, or performing for them.

Ash Wednesday is a wake up call, inspiring us to stop operating on automatic pilot and discovering where it is we are to be driving—and taking full responsibility for whether or not we are going in that direction.

Ash Wednesday reminds us that Jesus Christ died for a reason, requiring us to confront our lives in light of eternity.

Ash Wednesday reminds us that, however important and necessary encouragement is, so is sobriety.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Brandy: Silent Friend and Therapist

Brandy Lynn Spiccia Wilson
September 22, 1995--February 24, 2009

About twelve-years ago, our friends, the Spiccias, gave us their dog, Brandy. I was out of town. Of course. When I got home I saw that she was not housebroken so said she was to be returned. Immediately. Our youngest daughter, Rachel, went running to her Mother sobbing that Dad was going to give Brandy away. The tears of a child are a powerful and persuasive “argument,” so the dog stayed.

Over the years she ingratiated herself to all of us: not by her obedience (that is an understatement), nor by any special wiz-bang tricks. Her only “trick” was her sweet nature. I was told that Shih Tzu’s were bred for companionship. While there were a number of years where I wondered if Shih Tzu was Tibetan for “Dumb Blonde,” this last year she won me over as a true companion.

Living alone, Brandy was pretty much my only constant silent friend and therapist. She has heard it all: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. After one of our sessions where I was emoting all over the apartment, I looked at her and burst out laughing, remembering the words of Dave Barry: "You can say any fool thing to a dog, and the dog will give you this look that says, `My God, you're RIGHT! I NEVER would've thought of that!'" On the other hand, as Andy Rooney said, “If dogs could talk it would take a lot of the fun out of owning one." YOWZER am I glad she couldn’t talk!

It ever amazes me how one so tiny can leave such a huge whole in my life.

After all these years of being gifted with her, I can now say the only fault she ever had … was dying way too soon.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2009

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Helping You To Get Into the Spirit of Valentines Day!

Peter Gabriel, Come Talk to Me
(Concert, Secret World Live)

Andrea Bocelli, at the Las Vegas Resort, 2006, Besame Mucho
("Kiss me, Kiss me many times ...")

Sam the Sham and the Pharohs, Hey There Lil Red Ridinghood (Starring, Nellie the Wonder Dog)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

To Emote or Not to Emote

For the warrior of light,
there is no such thing as an impossible love.
He is not intimidated by silence,
indifference or rejection.
He knows that, behind the mask of ice
that people wear, there beats a heart of fire.
Without love, he is nothing.
Paul Coelho, The Manual of the Warrior of Light

If we listen to our intellect, we would never have a love affair. We would never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be too cynical. Well that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down. Annie Dillard, poet

While contemplating the above quotes I began thinking about the idea that some people are emotional and others are not, some people cast off all controls and let ‘er rip, while others remain all buttoned up and safe, and that both are particular personality types with unique ontologies that cannot be changed.

I am an emotional person. By this I mean that I feel things in a Big Way. I rarely have any middling emotions: they are all incredibly intense and deeply passionate. I spent most of my life seeking to hold these emotions at bay, to subdue them, and, sometimes, (more like most-of-the-time) even to deny them. As they were usually so damn intense, they scared me to pieces! The problem, of course, is that I cannot learn to appropriately manage my emotions if I don’t first acknowledge and accept their presence.

Anyway, I can’t even begin to count the times I have heard people say, “Well, I am simply not that way.” The typical idea here is that some people are emotional and some people are not: some people are swirling pools of Emotional Highs and Lows, while others are more cerebral by nature. But I have an idea that, while there is some truth to this difference in personality-types, all humans actually are quite “emotional.”

Even the most Stoical person usually experiences great emotions when they fall in love, do they not? And although this experience may be masked by icy composure, deep within the emotions are on fire. The question I have is, Why the composure? Why not let the fire blaze? Why not allow others to see and feel the blaze?

I often think of all this when I am attending a church worship service where everyone is so controlled, their emotions all buttoned-down and managed, sounding as if they didn’t actually believe a word they were singing. Reminds of me of another quote by Dillard:

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” Teaching a Stone to Talk

Here we are standing in the presence of Almighty God the Creator and Savior of the world, responding as if we were merely attending a mundane lecture on how to make mashed potatoes. Exactly how is this an appropriate emotional response to what actually is occurring?

I think part of the challenge for some people is simply (I do not say “simplistically”) a case of being uncomfortable with displays of emotions of any kind. Here it is a matter of learning to be comfortable, of maturing in Emotional Intelligence.

Another challenge for some people is that sense of ”losing control.” “What if I say the wrong thing?” “What if I appear foolish?” “What if my emotions are not met with approval or acceptance?” And so forth. Far wiser to suppress the feelings than to be, do or say something “wrong.”

Yes, yes, I know that emotions as I am describing ebb and flow, and cannot be the sole basis for behavioral choices and decision-making. Yet why is it that, for so many people, this is the first thing that comes to mind? Why is the first thought about control or about downplaying the significance of our emotional responses? This is not a rhetorical question, but an honest one for some of you to reflect upon.

For you whom are followers of Christ, consider the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work within you. Let’s take peace and joy. Are these not psychological states, particular emotional responses to life, people, events and circumstances rooted in your faith regarding the Sovereign and Good of God? Ask yourself this: do you want a little bit of joy, or to be overflowing with joy? Do you want a small measure of peace or a peace that passes understanding?

Making promises and keeping them, regardless of passing emotions, are one of the marks of a mature character, sure enough. Yet it intrigues me that so many people’s lives are defined solely by Will Power, rarely experiencing the joy and pleasure of the process of committing. What does it say, for example, of our committing to Christ, when we fail to en-joy the process? Again, I acknowledge that our promise is what holds us steady when we fail to “feel” like being a faithful follower, yet if we rarely (if ever) experience joy or his promise of the Abundant Life, what is this communicating to us about the state of our faith, the state of our ongoing relationship with him? And, changing contexts, what does it say about our commitment to living life to the fullest when we experience so little of what is available to us? Or should I be asking whether or not you are committed to living life to the fullest?

For many people the lack of emotional experiences is not so much due to a particular temperament, but to a desire to protect oneself. They intuitively understand that if they are vulnerable to love, they are vulnerable to pain; that if they are open to joy, they are also opened to sadness; that if they “lose control,” they lose the ability to protect themselves from unwanted emotions. They are correct of course; yet living this way robs them of the life and love hey were created to experience, and arrests their growth as a fully functioning human being.

Given our God-created capacity for giving and receiving love, for experiencing joy and peace, regardless of circumstances, why settle for a “controlled” love for God and others, or for a “managed” joy, or a mere pittance of peace? Standing on a cliff where we perpetually consider the risks, calculate the potential costs, and ruminate over what-could-go-wrong is no way to go through life and all that it has to offer. At least not if you wish to find love, joy, peace and the fullness of all that life has to offer.

I am with Annie Dillard here: the only way to experience the fullness of all that life has to offer is to jump off the cliff and build wings on your way down.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2009