Journey into Courage

How to be in these times? What is the relevance of practice? Jane Freedman interviewed 26 influential practitioners and scholars in the fields of meditation, yoga, writing, nutrition, emotional intelligence, coaching, and more to ask them these important questions.

“Practice is the place where we activate the inner yes and live an empowered life!” states Jane. Sign up now to access these free interviews by clicking this link: Journey into Courage.

Summit begins May 3rd.

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Me, Steal? (Part Two)

“Water sustains all life. Her songs begin in the tiniest of raindrops, transform to flowing rivers, travel to majestic oceans and thundering clouds and back to earth again. When water is threatened, all living things are threatened.” Indigenous Declaration on Water 2001

All life is dependent on water, yet we, who, at the mere turn of a faucet have constant access to clean water, tend to take it for granted. The careless habits of big business and complacent individuals are creating worldwide consequences. United Nations statistics are daunting: “Some 663 million people are currently living without a safe supply of water close to their homes; … over 1.8 million people frequent a water source contaminated with human waste; … 80 percent of the Earth’s wastewater returns to the ecosystem without being treated or recycled.”

Week Three: Get into the shoes of a woman from a country where there is no easy access to water. Describe her day. How far does she walk to get water for the day’s needs? How long does it take her? What is the terrain like? The weather? How many children does she bring with her on this daily journey? How heavy are the jugs she carries after she fills them? What does her body feel like when she finally lies down to sleep for the night? If the water is putrid or polluted, what is it like for her to wash and feed her children with contaminated water?

Week Four. Greed: an intense, excessive, rapacious, insatiable desire to acquire more than one needs or deserves –[sourced from dictionary]

Biblical commentator John Ritenbaugh describes greed as a “ruthless self-seeking, and an arrogant assumption that others and things exist for one’s own benefit.” Psychologist Erich Fromm describes greed as “a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.” Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas in the movie Wall Street, proclaims, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies and cuts through to the essence of the evolutionary spirit”.

Reflect on the above statements. What is your definition of greed? Have you experienced moments when greed seemed to take over your life (and maybe your sanity)? Have you felt the sense of exhaustion without satisfaction that Erich Fromm describes? Describe a personal experience you had with greed. What did it feel like? Where did you feel it? What did it lead you to do? What were the results? Trace this experience from beginning to end.

For further reflection watch the following documentaries:

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Me, Steal? (Part One)

“The yogi cannot allow himself to take anything which does not properly belong to him, not only in the way of money or goods but even such intangible and yet highly prized things as credit for things he has not done or privileges which do not properly belong to him.”             -I.K. Taimni

In an interesting turn of events, a court in Italy recently ruled on behalf of a homeless man who stole some cheese and sausage. The court, stating that the man was acting “in a state of need” ruled that “if you’re hungry, stealing food is not a crime”. Makes me wonder if that same court might accuse those of us who carelessly let food rot in our refrigerator or mindlessly discard excess in garbage cans might be held in contempt as the real culprits of stealing.

Week One: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can leave alone.” -Henry David Thoreau

Notice what you can’t leave alone. (clothes, praise, credit for something, fancy coffee drinks, privileges, workshops, social media, books…) In what way does your inability to “leave these things alone” relate to stealing? In what way does your inability to “leave these things alone” create disturbance in your mind and in the world? Notice why you can’t leave this thing alone – can you identify an ego weakness involved? Explore this weakness. What does it feel like in your body? Where do you feel it? What story does your mind make up about this inability?

Week Two. Waste: to squander, to fail or neglect to use, to employ uselessly -Webster

I am reminded of a trip I took several years ago to a small village in Tanzania where I lived for a week. One of the things I remember most about the experience was the total lack of waste and nonexistence of trashcans. Everything was precious. Everything was re-used or re-purposed. My return to the states was startling as I realized the amount of waste that I so carelessly generate through squander and neglect of use.

Statistics show that the United States alone throws away $35 million tons (70 billion pounds) of food annually and more than 11 million tons of textile waste, while much of the world, including much of the United States, lives in hunger and squalor.

This week focus your attention on your habits around waste. What does your trashcan, refrigerator, book shelf, clothes closet, computer storage, and daily use of time say about your waste habits? Notice especially how “normal” having and throwing away trash seems to you. How do your waste habits relate to stealing? How do they relate to disturbance in your mind and in the world?

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The Nullification of Truth (Part 2)

Truth is like a vast tree, which yields more and more fruit the more you nurture it. The deeper the search in the mine of truth the richer the discovery of the gems buried there, in the shape of openings for an even greater variety of service.” -Gandhi

Week Three. Contemplate what the impact of post-truth, alternative facts, fake news, and truthiness is on yourself and the world at large. Note that it has become “normal” for emotions, gut feelings, personal beliefs and personal convenience to take precedence over observable facts and data.

Glenn Fairman wrote, Truth is a lot like virtue — in that most everyone claims to desire it, but the general consensus deep down is that they would rather have pie.”  This week notice in what ways your desire for ease, convenience, and personal preference determine your willingness to settle for “pie” rather than to seek Truth.

Week Four. The Russian dissident and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov tweeted: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

How might you guard against “critical thinking fatigue”? In what ways can you nourish, sharpen, protect, and guard this faculty of critical thinking for the long haul? Gandhi found strength and fortitude by tapping into Satyagraha, “the force which is born of truth.” Have you ever felt connected to this “force which is born of truth”? How might you root yourself in the power and resources of this force to sustain your potency and integrity in these times?

For further study and reflection:

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The Nullification of Truth (Part 1)

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain

Truth has often been a long time sufferer. Under dictatorships the comedians, journalists, artists, and educators, who are often some of the most poignant truth tellers, are first to disappear from the scene (along with whatever group of people is being scapegoated). We know that truth is often at stake in our personal lives as we do mental gymnastics to avoid or enhance certain details about ourselves. Partial truths are often advantageous.

Yet, when Patanjali reveals the 2nd restraint, he is clear. He does not say “non-lying”, he says “truthfulness”, a direct mandate to stop at nothing short of the full truth. I call this a “go all the way” yama. What is the difference between non-lying and truthfulness? This is an interesting question among many in a world where truth has become dangerously irrelevant.

Week One. I’m reminded of a cartoon where a little boy is in dialogue with his mother. The caption catches the little boy saying, “Suppose honesty isn’t going to work in this situation, what’s my next best option?”

Do you remember the first time you lied as a child? What were the repercussions, if any? What did you gain by lying, if anything? Who taught you to distinguish between truth and a lie? What is your current criteria for knowing “truth” in your personal life? In the world at large?

Week Two. Consider these words of Gandhi, “The seeker after Truth should be humbler than the dust. The world crushes the dust under its feet, but the seeker after Truth should be so humble himself that even the dust could crush him. Only then, and not till then, will he have a glimpse of Truth.”

This week watch your level of humility as you find your judgment, criticism, self-righteousness, animosity, and disgust rising in response to current events. What would it be like to be humble? What does your attempt at humility change?   Can you be both strong in speaking truth to power and humble in your recognition that truth is bigger than you know?

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Conversation with Nonviolence; What We Can Learn

“The ultimate question for a responsible man [sic] to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906 in Germany. He possessed a great intellectual capacity and faced a promising academic career as a Lutheran theologian that was abruptly altered when Hitler ascended to power on January 30, 1933. From the start, Bonhoeffer was an outspoken critic of the Nazi regime, yet he stood firm in his pacifist views.

All of this began to change as Bonhoeffer learned the full scale of atrocities being committed in his homeland. In what must have been an agonizing conversation with morality and ethical choices, this pacifist began to turn his attention toward stopping Hitler and eventually joined in an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life. He was imprisoned and ultimately hanged for this failed attempt.

Bonhoeffer began with an ideological conception of nonviolence; for him that meant pacifism. Yet, as events unfolded in the horrors of the time he was living, as he began to see the murderous acts and injustices being routinely executed, he began to struggle with what it meant to be ethical in that moment in time.

Bonhoeffer was courageous enough to re-open his conversation with nonviolence. He was willing to reflect and soul-search and agonize with current events. He concluded that that “the ultimate question for a responsible man [sic] to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” These are words we too might ask ourselves as we watch the events of our times unfold.

This is not a post inviting us to become would-be assassins. Nor is it a post holding up Dietrich Bonhoeffer as the poster child for non-violence. I have trouble believing that Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr would have made the same choice. I doubt that Bonhoeffer himself felt morally justified by his action.

The key point for all of us I think, is that ethical principles are not so much rules to be followed, but a way of being in the context of our times. They are not nouns; they are verbs. They are not stand-alone concepts; they are a living breathing experience of living in relationship. They are an ongoing conversation with our lives in relation to all life, living and yet to come.

These times are inviting us all to have this conversation.

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“I’m not a violent person…”

There is a danger to these times we live in, and that is the ease with which we can let ourselves off the hook. Violence is in its glory, and we, by comparison, can look pretty good. It’s the ole’ good apples, bad apples thing….we certainly don’t belong in the bad apple basket so we must belong in the good one.

But in the essence of our hearts and minds, there is only one basket, the human basket, and it is a mixed bag. Now, more than ever we are called to scrutinize the deep corners of our being for signs of our own moral weaknesses.

It is not easy to look at ourselves; it takes great courage. But it is necessary for a kind world, a gentle life, and a peaceful mind. The looking itself is hard, but the seeing begins to free us. Just to be aware begins to heal us. So take heart, this is the most important work of our lives.

As I have traveled and taught and received emails from many of you, one request I hear often is for additional questions to each of the yamas and niyamas. In light of that request and with an attempt to address the challenging times we find ourselves in, I will be blogging new questions to each of the yamas and niyamas throughout the year, beginning with nonviolence.

Week One. Search for your perfect “nonviolence” quote, the one that speaks right into your heart and soul. You will know it when you find it. Then memorize it, embrace it, reflect on it, and post it to your bathroom mirror and your refrigerator door. Read it first thing when you wake up and before you go to sleep. Let it fortify and inspire what is noble in you. And if you feel so inclined share your quote in the comments below or on Facebook.

Week Two. Notice each time you place yourself in the “good apple” basket because of something you have just witnessed or heard on the news. Stop comparing yourself. Instead notice the ways you have that very same quality you are condemning. Just sit quietly in that knowing. [Don’t condemn yourself or try to fix yourself. It actually takes more courage to just sit quietly in the awareness of your own moral weakness than to try to do something about it.]

Week Three. Take a world event, policy, or political leader that is particularly offensive or troubling to you. Every day this week sit quietly with this situation or person in mind for 5 minutes and be a neutral witness. Watch all the commentary your mind parades before you. Watch the intense feelings that may arise. What do you notice from this practice? Please note: this practice is not to condone complacency but to get ourselves out of the way of our own strong reactions, so that any necessary action or inaction will be clear to us and appropriate to the issue. [This idea comes from Thomas Hubl:  5 Minute a Day Practice.]

Week Four. This week be a student of kindness and its qualities. Perhaps you might bake cookies for your neighbor, provide childcare for a single mom, help out in a soup kitchen, let someone go in front of you in the check out line… Explore how little it takes to brighten up the corner of the world you occupy.

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Post-Truth

Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 international word of the year: post-truth

©MartaDirks2016

In my growing up years, truth was a highly valued commodity. I remember being punished more than once by a parent or a teacher for attempting to alter or bypass this sacred principle. I soon learned that although telling the truth could be painful, not telling the truth was painful also.

In this new “post-truth” era, things are different. Truth is no longer valued, in fact it has become inconvenient, irrelevant, and downright bothersome. It is now unfashionable to entertain the complexity of things or to stick with the facts. We have become prisoners to the ease of a quick answer and the thrill of being emotionally charged. Lies parade as truth and we bow in worship.

In contrast to this era of post-truth, there was a man who lived from 1869-1948. His name was Mahatma Gandhi, and he dedicated his whole life to discovering truth rather than avoiding it. “Truth”, he said, “is God”, and it has its own power, a force he called Satyagraha. Gandhi told us that the way to seek truth was through nonviolence, through studying and learning from ones own life, through facing ones own demons, and by being as humble and lowly as a speck of dust.

There are those who tweet lies in the middle of the night arrogantly seeking to define truth. And then there was Gandhi who humbly sought to serve truth, not define it.

There are those who fight and kill for their small truth. And then there was Gandhi who respectfully dialogued with his opponents in the hope that no one would be harmed.

None of us can ever hope to hold or know the immensity of truth. But in a time where lies are creating untold suffering for the earth and its inhabitants, we can, like Gandhi, become humble seekers of truth and valiant defenders of its power and complex simplicity.  Gandhi helped show us the way.

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