self/others

Self

PROBLEM:
We wait for a messiah—an Obama or Bush, a Trump or Sanders, for unleashed capitalism or enlightened socialism, for neo-Zionism, fundamentalist Christianity or radicalized Islam—to deliver us from our sense of powerless. Doing so, however, doesn’t relieve us of our burdens: Kicking the can further down the road as we do nothing only adds to them. We wait for some leader, some movement, some external compass with which to navigate our precarious, potentially fatal times. We look outside our Selves for a Magic Answer, yet it’s been right beneath our noses the entire time: The sole way to change the world is to be transformed by the renewal of our minds—a process as easy as taking a deep, long breath.

PROPOSALS:
Spend 10 more seconds this hour than you did in your previous waking hour, tracing your breath as it enters and exits your mouth. Feel your heart as it beats and thus pumps blood throughout your body. Acknowledge your feet, hands and head, noticing what you smell inside your nose, what you hear around you or see in front of you, the moisture in your mouth or taste on your tongue, and what you feel under the tips of your fingers or toes. Think about the transitory fact of your being alive in this moment… and about the fact that you have not always been nor are always going to be “here,” in this “now.” help ...

If it helps you, do this 10-second exercise every “0” minute of an hour (10 past, 20 past, 30 past the hour, etc.), for a maximum of 60 seconds—a mere minute—per hour. Also, instead of trying to mark the 10 seconds on a watch or some other way, simply drop your hands to your side and, as you follow this exercise, count sub-consciously on the fingers and thumb of first one, then on your other hand, so that the counting does not distract your attention from being focused on your perceptions. One of the goals of this exercise is to slow life down, to gently but continually pull us back into Here and Now.

3-image collage a

PROBLEM:
We moderns think our gadgets assure us comfort and vast “conveniences” of which our ancestors never could have dreamed. In truth, while some may “save” time, in aggregate we live “faster” than any generation before in the history of the world: Typically, we cram our days so full of activities that they fly by faster than a weaver’s busy shuttle. Long have Americans held that “time is money” but if that be true, then most of us are poor, indeed.

PROPOSALS:
Spend 10 more minutes today than you did yesterday, sitting (or standing) still, alone and off-screen (no cell phone, iPad, computer, television), doing nothing but noticing your breath and letting your thoughts or feelings roam where they will. See how that fits; then, spend ten more hours this month than last, going on a solo-outing, without a schedule or definite destination: Spend time with your Self, going slowly and mindfully as you follow the unfolding hours—open to meeting new people, receptive to whatever surprises might avail themselves. Spend as little money as possible during these ten hours and eat or drink only enough to not grow weary; consider keeping a journal or writing a letter (yes, by hand!) to a friend. Plunge the depths of your soul and monitor how it feels to experience more fully being alive—and, once you’ve explored day-long solo outings, spend ten more days alone this year than you did last year, “not doing” many of the sample activities above. And, for an ultimate journey inward, spend ten more months alone this decade of life than you did your previous one, doing something “just for you:” Study an academic year abroad; spend ten months as a short-order cook on a Mississippi River barge; volunteer in a battered-women’s shelter in your state’s capital city or in a Brazilian Favela; care for an ill relative or an ailing neighbor—in some way, expend yourself on behalf of some thing or someone else and, in the process, expand your Self.

3-image collage b

PROBLEM:
We allow so many constraints and distractions to command our attention that many of us seem to be rarely truly present. If we aren’t rushing about in a dizzy daze, we zone out on mind-numbing media or any number of addictions: shopping, substance abuse, sex, etc.

PROPOSALS:
Spend 10 more minutes today than you did yesterday, wondering how you got to be here, now, noting what you are doing—or not doing—in this very moment, and how the world will have been changed—or not—by your having been here, now. Ponder what burdens you at present, then contemplate what enriches you at present—and if or not you are able to feel gratitude for the burdens you have been spared or relieved of, as well as for the wealth which life has afforded you.

collage a

PROBLEM:
We’ve become so conditioned by media and social pressures to conform, that we often can’t distinguish between real “needs” and mere “wants.” In the resulting blur, we consume randomly, trying to fill a hole that can’t be filled by bobbles or idle amusements.

PROPOSALS:
Spend 10 more minutes today than you did yesterday, considering what 10 things you feel you “need” most at present, as opposed to 10 things you think you “want” most. And, think of 10 people who would most wholeheartedly support you getting your needs met, as well as 10 (other?) people could potentially help you realize your most ardent wishes. Ask yourself how your meeting your “needs” either enriches or impoverishes others and the planet, as well as how realizing your wishes would. Imagine 10 ways you might meet each of those 10 “needs” as well as 10 ways you might—without impoverishing or harming another—also realize your “wishes.”

collage b

PROBLEM:
One of both the roots and the results of narcissism is the illusion that we as individuals are all-powerful, omniscient or indispensable. We need help to remember that we didn’t get “here” alone, but rather ride the creative energies of hundreds, thousands before us. We both thrive because of the efforts of others, as well as act out old wounds visited upon us.

PROPOSALS:
Spend 10 more minutes this month than you did last, acknowledging the people, experiences or moments that fundamentally helped form your perceptions, values, choices and character for the “good,” in constructive, life-affirming ways—as well as for the “bad,” in destructive, life-denying ways. Then, contemplate how you might feed the “good” and starve the “bad” in you. help...

If it helps, ponder this parable: A novice asks the master, “How can there be both ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in the world, at the same time?” The master: “In each of us is a lion—a force of power, of destruction, of ferocity, always hungry and on the prowl—and a lamb, a source of gentleness, affirmation, of peaceablility, needing little yet always content. Our whole lives, these two creatures vie for preeminence within our souls—sometimes one is more prominent, sometimes the other.” Perplexed, the novice asks “And in the end, after so much struggling and floundering, which one prevails?” The master: “The one we feed the most.”

collage c

PROBLEM:
It is the wounds we carry in us that obscure the light we also carry inside. At the risk of self-indulgence, we need to actively bolster the good in each of us even as we keep our lower angels in constant check. Light generates more light, just as darkness breeds darkness.

PROPOSALS:
Spend 10 more minutes this week than you did last, identifying 10 people, things or experiences which likely would help you feel better about your Self, your life, the world and others in it. Contemplate how you could remain more mindful of and in touch with those 10 people, things or experiences more often than otherwise would be the case.

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Spend 10 more minutes this week than you did last, envisioning ways to tap your innate abilities and talents, as well as both your positive and negative life experiences in order to more fully enrich your life today and your future, as well as that of others. Ask yourself if you “owe” others doing this—or not.

collage e

Spend 10 more minutes this week than you did last, listing 10 positive legacies you’d like to bestow our world when you leave it at some unforeseeable point in the future, and 10 destructive dynamics you’d like to resolve before you are no longer here to do so. On a personal level, reflect on your life till now and identify 10 ways that you’ve grown as a person in the past ten years, as well as 10 accomplishments you’d still like to achieve.

Luick family portrait

PROBLEM:
At present, so much darkness—hate, fear, envy, greed—courses through the world. Just as pouring gas on a fire stokes it, responding to darkness with darkness only feeds it.

PROPOSALS:
Spend 10 more minutes this today than you did yesterday, contemplating 10 ways to show the love you possess already inside of you, and 10 hurts in your Self, others or the larger world that you could help ameliorate which, unresolved, continue to block realizing love for yourself, others or our shared planet—our sole home in the entire, endless cosmos.

Others

PROBLEM:

Most people living in industrialized countries move about in a culture of over-saturation: We suffer from too many calories, too many unused clothes in our overflowing closets, too many… well, just fill in the blank. Swimming about in over-saturation numbs us to our own depths even as it pads us from truly experiencing those around us. Less would be more!

PROPOSALS:

Spend ten more hours this week than last week fasting, doing with less: calories, media… and if you fasted last week, then spend ten more days this year than last, fasting, doing without things you know are not good for you: white sugar and flour, large amounts of fat, polluted air or impure water, vapid content on iPad/computer/television/movie screens. Take some of what you would have spent or consumed (money, food, clothing, time) and share it with someone, who you know or don’t know. Give… give… then give some more.

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PROBLEM:

Westerners tend to think that we are “inevitable,” that the world has been waiting for us to be in it—and with that assumption, that others on the planet, at the same time as we, are here “for us,” for our benefit and service. In truth, the one that became “you” was only one of millions of sperm that swum upstream, looking for an egg to join… and all of the people around you share the same biography. Over the millennia, you are but one of an infinite sea of dots of life coursing through the cosmos in search of greater life. Remember that.

PROPOSALS:

Spend ten more minutes this week than last, picturing in your mind the faces or drawing on a piece of paper the names of all the ancestors that you can recall without consulting a recorded source. Once you’ve exhausted your ability to recall them, imagine removing just one of those ancestors from your line—and now picture what becomes of… “you.” Next: Do the same for someone who you hold dear, followed by doing so for someone you don’t.

2-image collage b

PROBLEM:

The vast majority of immigrants who left Europe and Asia for New-World countries (the USA, Canada, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa) did so out of poverty. In the US, the decade-long Great Depression left our (grand-)parents longing for a better life, without material want or lack of basic physical comforts. In Europe, two world wars left much of the continent too familiar with wide-scale destruction, hunger and death. Such influences have left those of us alive today in many industrialized the recipients of postwar generations’ desires for “the Good Life.” The children of affluence, we take for granted a level of material wealth unimaginable even by the kings of old: We assume this is our “right” and behave as if we are “entitled” to continue living at this level of consumption.

PROPOSALS:

Spend ten more minutes this week than last, picturing yourself as a baby: Who fed you? Who changed your diapers and dressed you? How much were you able to do on your own as a baby; as a five-year-old; at age ten? Who taught you, drove you, disciplined you? Who paid your bills until you could pay your own? Who protected your neighborhood, removed your waste and delivered to you/r family water, food, clothing… everything you needed to live? Now, picture to what degree you, today, do those things for others: for whom, why?

2-image collage c

PROBLEMS:

We moderns endure increasingly atomized lives. Though many hunger for authentic connection, our swelling narcissism isolates us ever further from others, the world around us and, ironically, even our Selves. To be able to join forces with others—a crucial step in assuring our own self-preservation—we need to be able to recognize the experiences, the needs and wishes of others. To rise above the isolating tenor of our times takes discipline, for our technology, the media, public education at all levels, patterns of consumption and so much more are organized not around the shared but the separate. To overcome this reflex, we have to buck decades, even centuries of default acculturation and behavior.

PROPOSALS:

You are only the latest in an endless procession of generations that have led to you being here, now. Spend 10 more minutes this week than you did last, contemplating the lives of those who bestowed you a life. List at least 10 (for example) places your ancestors lived, schools they attended, professions they held, civic or religious bodies they belonged to, journeys they took, political parties or movements they might have supported, wars they fought in, diseases they endured, legacies they left… Then, spend 10 more minutes this week than last, contemplating the same for any of the 10 people you consider dearest to you: What do you know about the ancestors of your partner, friends, colleagues, clergy, neighbors? Finally, do the same for any of the 10 people you think you disdain the most.

group collage