Goodbye Old Friend

March 27, 2021

This week, my brother, father, and me said goodbye to our ancestral home in Fombell, Pennsylvania. My 82 year old father had continued to live there on his own, but following a car accident in November 2020, it became clear he would no longer be able to live alone without assistance. The turmoil of the last several months (seeing to his recovery, care, and relocation to an assisted living facility) came to a close this past week as we regrouped at the house to close it out and prepare it for an estate sale In April.

It was no small endeavor, physically or emotionally. The 100+ year old farmhouse has literally been in our family for generations. My dad grew up in it as a kid, and after completing their education in Michigan he and my mom relocated our little family to the farm when I was 5 years old. The house is nestled in a valley and sits on a parcel of 96 acres of rolling Pennsylvania hills with the nearest neighbors about 3/4 of a mile away. There’s a small stream (a “crick” if you’re a western Pennsylvanian) about 200 feet from the house and was my brother’s and my playground/laboratory during our childhood. The hills are filled with hiking paths worn down by our countless adventures and explorations. Looking back, I can’t imagine growing up anywhere quite as idyllic for two curious kids.

Packing up the house was tough. While we are working with a great estate-seller who pretty much handles all the logistics of running the sale and cleaning out all the stuff, deciding on what to let go of and what to keep was an emotional roller coaster. My parents are Boomers and as such, in the early post-depression days, holding on to things was what a lot of people did, so there was a lot of stuff to sort through, and every piece was embedded with memories and stories. Granted, they’re just “things” but those things carried a lot of meaning to me and my family.

One night, after sorting through several shoe boxes of photos, my mind was left awash with so many memories and flashbacks that it made me reflect on how in certain wisdom traditions it’s said that we don’t remember our past lives because the memories would be so overwhelming that it would make it impossible to function in the present. Seems about right.

My dad, jailbreaked from his assisted living facility, spent 3 days with me, Matt, and Shari, and was a trooper considering he hadn’t seen or been back to the house since the day of his accident in November. He helped us sift through all the things we knew were there, and many that we didn’t, gave us history lessons, and shared memories and laughed and cried with us over what a wonderful home it was. Yeah, it’s only a house, but as anyone who ever visited our home can tell you, there was magic there. It was a house filled with love, laughter, tears, joys, silliness, wonderful cooking, dinner parties (my parents loved entertaining) creativity, learning, and happiness. I’m sure many homes have these wonderful qualities – but this was my house, and while I’ve moved through dorm rooms, apartments, and two houses as an adult, I think there’s something unique about the house you grow up in, something that feels as if that special place is encoded into your being, right down to the cellular level.

To be fair, an old house has challenges too. You know — bats, snakes, mice, and loads of little critters all around; an oil furnace that smelled like a petroleum refinery blowing through the heat vents and no air conditioning in the summer; gravel roads through most of my childhood, making bike riding a treacherous, life-or-death undertaking, not to mention the clouds of dust kicked up by passing cars, as well as being the last roads plowed during snow season; an unfinished basement that scared the bejesus out of my 5-53 year old self; well water that tastes like it was drilled into copper mine; and a ladybug infestation that has me convinced that any ladybug alive on this planet originated in my house.

But anyway….

On the last night we were there, I sat up in bed and took a mental tour of each room reflecting on how each held countless memories and stories woven into the space itself. In the realm of parapsychology, the term ‘psychometry’ refers to the supposed ability to ‘read’ or discover facts about a person or environment through physical touch. I can’t say if such abilities exist, but if they do and someone could read the walls of my house, oh, the stories they would tell. And when the playback came to an end, there was only one emotion to feel: gratitude. I was so grateful to have lived there and I recognized that had I grown up somewhere else, there’s no doubt I’d be a very different person, so in a way, I owe who I am to that very special place.

It was a bittersweet departure when we left on Thursday morning. Knowing that another generation of Brady’s won’t live in the house is sad, but the silver lining is that the son of the wonderful man who bought our house will be moving in to start his family there. He has big plans for renovations, reviving the garden, and even raising bees. It’s comforting to know that the property will remain intact, and children will again play in the stream, sled down the hills, and hike the paths like Matt and I did. New eyes will stare at the stars in the light-pollution-free night skies, and new ears will hear the sounds of crickets, frogs, an amazing array of birds, and the running stream enveloped by the background stillness of the countryside. It will be a home again, one that will carry our memories into the future.

As a martial artist, I have been punched, kicked, head-butted, elbowed, and knee-ed all over; thrown and smashed in grappling matches on the mat; been donked on the hands and head with wooden sticks and knives; and been drenched in sweat and sucked wind from exhaustive functional fitness workouts; however I am of the opinion that from a mental toughness perspective, there may be no more grueling exercise than getting fitted for a night guard at the dentist’s office.

Yeah, my “I can take anything” mentality met its match this morning. I’m apparently a nighttime teeth-grinder and my dentist recommended a custom night guard so I don’t chaw the enamel off my teeth as I sleep. I have a boil-and-bite guard, but it isn’t doing the trick, so I opted for the office molded version, not knowing that taking the impressions for the thing would make my dentist’s office sound like the Spanish Inquisition.

Maybe I’m being too hard on myself; perhaps if they had told me in advance that they were going to be putting a moose-sized dental tray in my mouth over-filled with pink putty that would spill out of the tray and start to ooze down my throat as the dentist and her technician held the thing in my head, I might not have drooled and gagged like a Saint Bernard trying retch up a bottle of ipecac.

But alas, what to expect was not disclosed and they had their hands full…literally.

I like to think I was a good sport and what made it all the more entertaining was that they were so sweet. As they mashed this stuff in my mouth they told me my response was completely normal and simultaneously yelled at the office Alexa to play something calming to keep me from yacking up my breakfast. So, from this day forward “I Wanna Know What Love Is” by Foreigner will no longer remind me of Miami Vice, but rather the sensation of being waterboarded by my own spit.

After what felt like an eternity (I’m a firm believer in dentist chair time dilation theory) and two failed attempts, they were somehow able to get useable impressions for my top and bottom teeth…yaaay.

The dentist told me I was lucky I hadn’t been there a week before b/c she herself evidently went through the same ordeal as me, but didn’t fare as well (they had to try on three separate days with her), so I guess I did alright overall. But I’m confident I’ll never need to wonder what a horse’s bit feels like. And if I hadn’t been going to the hygienist a few minutes later, they might have even given me a lollipop…So big.

Moral of the story, you never know how tough you aren’t until someone finds that little “humility reset” button in you and you find yourself covered in your own drool.

If you’re an advocate of meditation, yoga, and a consciousness-based lifestyle and like to tout the scientifically based stress and anxiety reducing, immunity-boosting, inflammation-decreasing benefits of meditation and yoga practices while simultaneously attacking the wearing of masks and getting the Covid vaccine, please stop, step back and understand that these two sets of beliefs are incongruent.

You don’t get to selectively practice scientific and rational thinking just for the sake of confirming your biases. If you get excited about the research and benefits of mind-body wellness practices (as I do), great, but you’ve got to recognize that the scientific process that got us those results is the same process that tells us that wearing masks helps to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and went into developing a reliable vaccine.

I’ve recently seen more than a few of my mind/body/consciousness peers taking the conspiracy theory angle while implying (or flat out claiming) to be more aware or enlightened than the “sheep” that are wearing masks and getting the vaccine. Sorry folks, but you don’t get to have it both ways. Evidence is evidence, and the beautiful thing about this modern age is that we live in a time in which ancient practices are being verified by modern science.

But to go all Illuminati/Lizard People/Mind Control/Giving up you freedoms by wearing a mask/Microchips in vaccines with zero hard evidence to back up your claims doesn’t make you sound like someone who’s seeking the truth, but more like someone who just wants to believe what fits with their biases. And doing that gives all of us working hard to seek out the truth wherever it might take us look like a bunch of woo goofballs who rather than trying help their fellow humans, are playing a game of spiritual one-upmanship, and looking down on those who are too un-evolved to see through some sinister scheme hiding behind the curtain.

Look, I consider myself a seeker and I truly want to know the truth. The truth of how the world works, who we are, why we’re here, what it all means, and how and what this year of pandemic hell is trying to teach us. I don’t claim to have all the answers and I have gaps in my knowledge for sure. But when I have those gaps, (and there are plenty of them) I turn to the experts in those fields to help get the answers. And the experts I’m talking about typically aren’t found in YouTube documentaries spouting off crackpot theories with no verifiable evidence to back up their claims and who don’t understand the scientific method, critical reasoning, or the burden of proof.

I read, I ask questions, seek out experts when I can, and I trust the science, which has proven itself to be the most reliable model we have for understanding the universe to date. You’re welcome to your perspective; unique perspectives are what make us individuals, but as W. Edwards Deming reminds us, “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” Opinions aren’t facts, no matter how hard we want to believe them. And if we’re truly going to call ourselves seekers, then we need to get past our opinions and biases to look at what the evidence can show us and not what we’d like to believe.

Thank You Mom

December 12, 2020

Thank you Mom

Today’s a pensive day for me. It’s the first anniversary of my mother’s passing. Since her death was the first I’ve experienced of one of my close family members, I’m not exactly sure how I should feel. I suppose I could dwell on spending the last few hour and minutes at her bedside, the grief and sadness that followed, or the emotional and psychological turmoil of trying to put the experience into perspective. However, after thinking it through, I’d much rather focus on what my mother meant to me and how grateful I am to have been her son.

Looking back, I’m struck by all the little details of things she did. Things that at the time seemed small or insignificant, but were the defining qualities of her character, and would greatly influence who I would become.

My mother, Nancy Ann Brady was an amazing woman. After her own mother’s passing at an early age, she helped raise her two younger brothers Joe and Mike. Like my father, she was a schoolteacher who upon having me and my brother, took a few years off from her career to raise us.

If you’re noticing a theme of self sacrifice, that would be accurate.

She was a true teacher – she loved her students, and was passionate about making a difference for the next generation, a quality my brother has carried forward with his students. She taught science, and brought her lessons home to me and my brother. I attribute my interest in science to her (and a little bit to Carl Sagan, whose Cosmos TV program she introduced our family to in 1980).

My mom gave of herself tirelessly. When my dad had not one but two heart bypass surgeries, she shouldered the burden of seeing to his care and recovery while simultaneously keeping an eye on two sons in college or later on, living far away from home. She, alongside my dad served as President and Vice-President of our high school band boosters while Matt and I were in school, chaperoning us along with 100 other people’s kids in school busses to football games, pie festivals, and band trips.

She served as my dad’s right hand in putting together the yearly Boarshead Festival, a medieval Christmas Pageant that my dad directed and produced for a dozen years at our local church. She worked the concession stand at our local summer stock theater, The Red Barn Theater, while her husband and two goofy sons sang and danced on stage during our high school and college years.

She loved to bake and cook. Family dinners, church potlucks, family reunions, and holiday meals were made brighter by her recipes, and who of us could resist her post-Thanksgiving dinner question, “Would anyone like some pie?”

Her personality was lighthearted and jolly. She loved to laugh and chit-chat. Deep down however, she was a very proper lady; a quality that Matt, dad, and I would occasionally exploit with a well-timed joke or off-color comment with the sole purpose of making mom gasp in appalled disgust.

She was patient, thoughtful, and creative. For several years while I was in high school and college, she would prior to my birthday, send blank, pre-addressed birthday cards to celebrities I liked asking if they would sign the card for me. I still have those 14 birthday cards and I treasure them not just for the signatures of my high school idols, but because of the time my mother put into sending them out.

Kind, loving, and supportive, she was always there to listen on long phone calls while we were in college or living far from home. Along with my dad, she volunteered and supported those in need and even helped build houses for Habitat For Humanity. For her giving wasn’t an obligation or a skill to be cultivated – it was written in her DNA.

She was truly an incredible person. Steve Jobs once said, “I want to put a ding in the universe.” Looking back at my mom’s life, I believe she did just that. She touched lives, brought happiness and joy, and made the world a better place. My dad, my brother, and me owe more than we can ever express to her. Thank you mom, for all that you were and all that you continue to be to me. 🙏🏻

On this day, one year since her passing, this is how I choose to remember her life.

“The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.”

– Brandon Lee

I’ve always loved this saying because it’s a concise description of how we are creating our reality based upon what we’re observing and how we interpret it. The world isn’t so much as it is as much as it is the way we are. We see what we want to see based upon our pre-existing beliefs to create a picture of things that matches our worldview, also known as:

con·fir·ma·tion bi·as

“Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values. People tend to unconsciously select information that supports their views, but ignoring non-supportive information.” – Wikipedia

There are various types of confirmation biases. Our brains and mind are very clever at deceiving themselves in order to produce an interpretation of events that fits our preconceived notions of what’s good and bad, true and false. Many of our biases are factory-installed; we may have inadvertently inherited them from parents, friends, or others, the acceptance of whom we were dependent upon. Most biases are also unconscious – they run silently in the background subtly influencing our interpretations, thoughts, speech, and actions, ultimately defining the reality we each experience.

For example, in scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning, I noticed that based upon an individual’s biases, one interpreted last night’s speech by the President Elect as an articulate message of hope, unity, decency, and a return to the core values many have felt to be lacking in the current administration. Another interpreted the speech as evidence that the President Elect was ill, had dementia, and was a participant in a conspiracy to advance a sinister Democratic plot.

The point is, two different individuals witnessed the EXACT SAME SPEECH and arrived at completely different interpretations upon which to base their reality. But surprise, surprise – reality isn’t out there – it’s IN HERE. The truth of the speech isn’t an absolute; it’s relative to the one who is watching. Therefore, our interpretation of reality says very little about what’s “out there” but says everything about what’s “in here”.

What lens(s) do you filter the world through?

It’s only when we’re willing to admit that we have confirmation biases are we able to transcend them to see the truth.

“…we should look within ourselves to see where our particular problems lie and our cause of ignorance. You see, ultimately all type of knowledge simply means self- knowledge. You must look for truth yourself and directly experience every minute detail for yourself.”

⁃ Bruce Lee

How do we, as Bruce implies, seek out the causes of our ignorance (and our biases)? In my experience until we can settle our minds, seeing past the murk of a lifetime of hardwired beliefs and biases is virtually impossible. Therefore, learning to quiet the mind through meditation or some similar practice is the first step. Once we’ve learned to separate observations from evaluations, we can witness our thoughts, beliefs, and preconceptions. This witnessing eventually gives way to the intellectual honesty that is required to see things as they are, unclouded by our beliefs about them. We can ask ourselves, “If I react to this experience in ________ manner, what does that say about me and my state of awareness?” Or going deeper, “Who would I be if what I believe about this situation wasn’t true?”

It can be uncomfortable at times, no doubt. But if you want to get past your own crap and see things as they are, or for that matter see yourself as you are, there are no easy fixes. Grab your night-vision goggles, your pick axe, and get digging. What you discover just might surprise you. I know it has with me.

As always, just my opinion.


Argument Disqualifiers

August 19, 2020

I rarely, if ever climb into the comment section of a social media debate. I’ve done it a few times in the past, but learned the hard way like many of us that thanks to the deceptive nature of our minds, a host of logical fallacies, our need to cling to our beliefs, and just a stubborn attachment to being right that trying to change anybody’s mind through social media is a pointless exercise. In fact, I think social media literally works against a civil, emotionally intelligent discussion between people holding opposing viewpoints. Unless you’re a highly evolved being, it’s damn near impossible to read a given comment section without losing faith in humanity; which is why I avoid it. Or maybe I don’t post anything controversial enough to be debated. Or maybe no one follows my posts…

But anyway, I do have friends who routinely have comment sections that look like a Civil War battlefield – bodies everywhere, screaming, ranting, hostility and ugliness. If you’re one of them and enjoy getting all riled up, you do you and to each their own. We could talk about all the stress, anxiety, and hostility that is generated in your mind-body by this type of interaction and the way it affects your health and peace of mind, but that can be another post.

If you don’t enjoy it and would prefer not to get into it on your or someone else’s wall, I offer my personal list of argument disqualifiers. Although there are undoubtedly more that could be listed, these five are pretty clear indicators that the person on the other end’s argument is not going to be worth investing your time in. When I see any one of these in my or someone else’s feed, I usually head for the exit. Nothing to see here.

I’ve been an armchair student of critical thinking for the last few years and have worked hard to understand how slimy my mind is and recognize the tricks it likes to play. I’ve got a ways to go yet, but on this road to wade through the muck, I’ve learned to develop my own ways to filter the information that comes into my dome. If this helps you out, cool. Hopefully these hints save you some time and peace of mind. If not and you think I’m full of crap, be sure to say so in the comments 😉. Take ‘em for what they’re worth.

Instant Argument Disqualifiers:

1. Spelling or grammatical mistakes. Look, I’m not a trying to sound all high and mighty here. Throughout my life I’ve had atrocious spelling. Spellcheck is my lifeline and I have to proofread anything I write at least 3 times to catch my fat finger mistakes, and the occasional typos still creep through. But come on man, the butchering of the English language on social media needs to stop. There, their, they’re; two, too, to; your, you’re; sentences that read like a drunken stream of consciousness, nonexistent punctuation. If you want to convince me that your position has validity, how clearly you articulate your words makes a big difference in me taking your argument seriously.

2. Typing (screaming) in all caps. This one will get me to airlock someone pretty quick. Just because you’re trying to come across as passionate or loud doesn’t make you right. I get that you’re trying to make a point, (or drive it through everyone’s head like a jackhammer), but if you can’t write it clearly and articulately without making it seem like you’re about to burst a blood vessel, it might be a symptom of not having a super-strong argument to begin with. Screaming at your audience is a sure fire way to lose them.

3. Ad hominem attacks. Simply put, attacking the person rather than the position they are holding, see also, name calling. We see this one a lot on social media these days. This is probably because of the anonymity that social media allows for; unless you know this individual personally, chances are, you’ll never ever meet them face to face, so why not call them the son of a motherless goat instead of attacking their argument? Name calling seems to be the weapon of choice in the comment feed, but make no mistake, it does zero for your argument. If your lead-in is the latest derogatory name for the opposing political party or anyone else for that matter, you have already shown yourself the exit in my book. If you can’t bring yourself to use civil and non-dehumanizing words to others who don’t share your views, you’ve lost more than your argument if you ask me.

4. Whataboutism/Deflection. Another mainstay tactic of modern social media debating. We’ve all seen it – a point of contention is raised about a specific individual or group, and those on the opposing side of the argument, rather than defend against that point, deflect attention away from the issue by saying, “Well, whatabout that time you played belly button music when you were drunk at that party? That was just as bad!” No, it had nothing to do with it. I get it, it’s often used as a comparison tool to show that you and yours did something twice as bad. But here’s the thing – we’re not talking about that. Chopping the head off another doesn’t make you stand taller. Defend the point at hand, or at least admit you can’t. Stop shaking your keys and saying “Ooo, look over here!” Whataboutism is so much of an obvious deflection in leu of having a genuine rebuttal it’s downright painful. Debate/critical thinking fail 101. Please turn in your argument card at the door.

5. Posting memes as an argument. Memes have their place. Used at the right time they can add just the appropriate punch or emphasis to make a point, create inspiration, or make someone laugh. Used as an argumentative device, they are a hard fail, especially in political arguments. Political memes aren’t a means to further the discussion or to elaborate on a position; they’re meant to trigger emotion. Images of a political figure sprinkled with a handful of degrading and volatile words are posted to do one thing – light you up. See memes for what they are and don’t fall for it. In my opinion it’s a troll tactic, a lazy man’s attempt to shut the opposition down by throwing a cheap shot against the wall. If your argument consists of a snarky visual insult against your opposition, you really don’t have an argument.

So there you have it. My 5 red lights for spotting a no-win argument situation. When I see any of these in a comment string, I know I’m probably going to be dealing with more frustration than it’s worth. Like I said, trying to prove a point on social media is a big gamble. If it’s really important to you and you think they are truly willing to hear another point of view, go for it. But if you see any of these flags in a string of comments, just know that your return on investment will most likely be pretty small.

As always, just my opinion.

Break the Cycle

July 7, 2020

Our bodies are eavesdropping on our minds and the external world in every moment. Every bit of raw data we perceive, either consciously or unconsciously alters our mind, our body, and our perceptions of reality.

And this is where a steady diet of negative news or media content can become problematic.

Note – I’m not bashing all media as bad. It’s become vogue to lump all media sources into one untrustworthy bucket of “lamestream media.” That’s not what I’m talking about here. It’s important to be properly informed by reputable and objective sources, be they mainstream outlets, or smaller, equally qualified channels that maintain neutrality in their reporting of the facts.

What I am talking about is the quality of the information we allow into our minds. With so much data flooding our senses, it’s vital to mindfully curate the content of our awareness. It’s too easy to turn on the television or scroll through a social media feed with no concern or filter on the quality of the content we’re absorbing. This unending stimulus washes over us causing a direct and measurable change in our thoughts, emotions, and physical well-being.

Here’s how it works in a nutshell: Any incoming information makes its way into your awareness through the gateways of one of your 5 senses. In the case of a news report, you receive a combination of visual images coupled along with the sounds of spoken words or background noise. That input is perceived and triggers your brain to release neurotransmitters (brain chemicals that send signals between brain cells) and activate neural networks that code for specific thoughts, interpretations or beliefs about the information you’ve just consumed.

Those thoughts then causes the release of certain neuropeptides (chemical messengers that cascade throughout your body to various tissues and glands). Those glands then release specific hormones that ultimately influences the way you feel physically.

So now we’re feeling differently because of the information we just let into our minds.

But it doesn’t stop there. Our brain notices how we’re feeling differently and then we start to think the way we’re feeling. It’s a feedback loop – we absorb negative information, signaling our body to feel the way we think, and then our mind notices we’ve begun to feel bad and we start thinking the way we feel.

Rinse and repeat.

Run this cycle for a few hours or days, that state becomes a mood.

Continue it for a few weeks or months, it becomes part of your temperament.

After years, that negatively or fear becomes a personality trait, or state of being.

See the problem here?

So how do we escape this trap? In a word, awareness.

Understanding how this happens is a good start. But you have to be vigilant. Notice what you mind has settled on and recognize that what you are attending to is changing your neurology and biology moment by moment. Then make the commitment to be skillful, conscious, and mindful when it comes to the data you consume. Your attention is a precious resource and it shouldn’t be squandered on toxic, negative, hateful, or fear-generating news. Focus on the positive, the good, the uplifting stories and aspects of life and relish the way those make your body feel. Create a feel-good feedback loop.

(This would also be a good time to talk about the power of gratitude, but I’ll save that for a future post.)

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

Most of us may not have given it much thought, but we each get to decide what goes into our mind. Sometimes rising above life’s negativity can be as simple as consciously deciding where we put our attention.

True Freedom

July 4, 2020

As Americans celebrate Independence Day, it’s a good time to pause and reflect on what it means to be free. In this country, freedom generally refers to our ability to live free from oppression and tyranny, to be treated equally, to be able to speak as we choose, to come and go as we please, to bear arms, to vote for whom we choose, to love who we want, to worship whatever god (or lack thereof) we like.

This concept of conventional freedom has been a powerful ideal that has and continues to make this country an amazing place to live. These freedoms cannot and should not be taken for granted. Countless lives and enormous sacrifices have allowed us to enjoy the freedoms many of have come to accept as the givens of our daily existence.

However, freedom goes far deeper than these things. To truly be free we have to be free from the past, free from conditioned thinking, outdated beliefs, and the bondage of karma. Whether we realize it or not, many of us are prisoners of our habits, perceptual cycles, and the grooves we’ve dug into our nervous system through repeated use for years and lifetimes.

In truth, we’re not free. Not as long as we keep doing things the way we always have. Rather than being awake, creative, aware, and adaptive to the changes of life, we’re in a prison of our own making; we’ve built our cell, locked ourselves inside, and the prison warden is ourself left over from yesterday.

True freedom means digging a tunnel out of your cell by seeing beyond old habits, emotional addictions and ways of thinking, questioning your personal status quo and discovering the tiger snares you have set to trap yourself as you hack your way through the jungle of your own mind.

“To see a thing uncolored by one’s own personal preferences and desires is to see it in its own pristine simplicity.”

⁃ Bruce Lee

To really be free, we have to question the authority of our beliefs, the cultural programming we have inherited, and our ideologies that hold us back in a limited understanding of who we are, why we’re here, and what it all means. We have to ask ourselves “Does this thought, this idea, this concept or philosophy truly serve me? Is it and evolutionary choice for me? (and everyone impacted by it (and if you understand the interconnectedness of the universe, that means everyone)).

Will we hang on to our old broken worldviews of exclusion, separation, rampant nationalism, racism, hostility, distrust of knowledge and wisdom, or will we liberate ourselves to experience unity, wholeness, inclusivity, peace, truth, and understanding? Now more than perhaps any time in the past, we stand at an evolutionary crossroads – one path pulls us back into primitive, reactive, unconscious tribalism; the other path leads to a an evolved global community of compassion and understanding informed by knowledge and expanded awareness.

In Sanskrit, the word for liberation is Moksha. Moksha is emotional, intellectual, and spiritual freedom. It invokes the image of the peeling away of the layers of conditioning we have built up around ourselves like the skin of an onion. As each layer is removed, we become a little more of ourselves; pure unbounded beings of unlimited potential. Moksha is the freedom the world needs now. Only when we free ourselves from the past, the fear, and reactivity, will we move forward as a society.

On this Independence Day, may all being be free. Free from suffering, free from pain, free from the prison of conditioning that holds us in the ruts of the past.

Moksha 🙏🏻

The third step on the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path is Right Speech. Right speech implies speaking words that bring peace, harmony, and compassion into any interaction. It means choosing words that come from a place of truth, authenticity, but are also infused with kindness and understanding of their implicit intentions. To use the words of Don Miguel Ruiz in The Four Agreements, ‘Be impeccable with your word.’

The bottom line in right speech is to do no harm.

For example, we often relish hearing a biting and sarcastic comment, however such comments are often made at the expense of another. Cynical, critical, snarky, hostile, or aggressive words cause harm.

Equally important to the words themselves are the things that go unsaid, or the implied subtext contained within the speech. When we practice right speech, we have to ask ourselves, “What am I trying to convey? Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Does it improve upon the silence? Am I being mindful of my words in a manner that uplifts and helps to bring understanding?”

Which brings me to the attached image. I have to admit, I debated sharing it, knowing that It might be emotionally triggering to some, but I believe it underscores the lack of understanding and compassion we are suffering from as a society right now. The left column lists some frequently heard responses to mask mandates or stay at home orders in the interests of our public safety, health, and well-being. The right column lists how those words could be interpreted.

We are in a bona fide health crisis and the science is clear that we have to adjust our way of life (wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings, etc.) if we’re going to get through it. The pushback voiced in some of these frequently heard comments often betrays a constricted and egocentric view that doesn’t take the bigger picture into account.

I’m not saying that everyone who says one of the phrases in the left column necessarily feels equivalent to what’s on the right side. However, those phrases do carry a degree of insensitivity to how they may be interpreted by the listener. Yes, we filter the world and the words of others through our own biases to perceive our own reality. But that doesn’t lift the responsibility of the speaker to choose words with care. Those comments also indicate a level of ignorance to the multiple factors involved in this issue:

Do you know someone who has had or died from COVID-19? If not, at the rate we’re going, that’s likely going to change.

We all want to get back to our lives, but what do you deem to be an acceptable sacrifice to make so that can happen? How many lives? Will those lives be people you know and care about?

No one wants to live in fear. But this really isn’t about fear, it’s about concern for others. Wearing a mask or avoiding large gatherings isn’t a statement that says, “I’m afraid”, it’s a statement that says, “I care about others not getting sick”.

Freedom won’t be very relevant if illness sweeps throughout our entire country and collapses our health care system. If your breathing is being managed by a ventilator, freedom to breathe unaided is going to be a slightly bigger concern than a nationalistic ideal.

Although both sides continue to politicize the issue, 2.74M infections and 130K deaths is a lot of people. This is not make believe. It’s real and it’s serious. In the final analysis, it’s about people’s lives and not who is to blame. (although consequences and karma are inescapable…)

I can hear the pushback from some, “Oh you’re just too sensitive, too politically correct. People like you make our country weak. Suck it up, buttercup!”

To a certain extent, that’s right. I am sensitive to the words we choose to use. Despite its shock value or humor political incorrectness won’t ever qualify as right or mindful speech. I hate to break it to you, but being deliberately cruel or careless with your words doesn’t make you the tough, brutally honest, tell-it-like-it-is hero. It just makes you mean. It dumps more negativity into our collective consciousness and continues to hurt others. And since when is being sensitive to the concerns of others a bad thing? We’ve been misled to believe that compassion and caring are signs of weakness. They aren’t. They take more strength than you imagine.

“Compassion and tolerance are not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.”

⁃ The Dalai Lama

And maybe it’s me, but I always thought that looking out for the little guy, helping those that were weaker than us, and taking care of each other were part of our core American values.

Ultimately, you as the speaker, don’t get to determine how your speech will be interpreted. You may not think you’re being insensitive or hurtful with your words, but if they carry passive-aggressive, uncaring, or hostile baggage just below the surface that intention will still come through. You can’t un-ring the bell. Once the words leave your mouth, they can’t be pulled back in. To mindlessly fire a salvo of talking points to justify a narrative doesn’t serve anyone and only feeds a wave of ignorance and selfishness that’s sweeping the country.

Speak mindfully. Speak with compassion. Speak with understanding. Speak from a position of awareness. Speak what one of my teachers called the “sweet truth”.

Words matter. And they have consequences. They tell others who you are and what you stand for.

What will the legacy of your speech be?

But that’s not what we’re taught. In fact, we’ve got it backward. We’ve come to believe that everything humanity has achieved has been through rugged individualism, toughing it out, and me against the world-style drive and ambition. It’s not that those qualities aren’t important; they have their time and place. Or perhaps it’s better to say they HAD their time and place.

However, the real unsung hero of a civilized society is compassion, caring, kindness, and the spirit of cooperation. I help you, you help me, and the world is better and moves forward because of it. If we understand the principle of interdependence, we cannot ignore the fact that no one is an island. Infinite networks of relationships are responsible for keeping us fed, clothed, connected, sheltered, paid, healthy, and fulfilled.

Have you ever stopped to consider the incredible self-reliance and ingenuity of some of our primitive ancestors? Their ability to figure things out, to build tools, weapons, or farming implements were the building blocks of our society, but it was only in the sharing of those ideas and the caring for each other that we were able to become more as a group than as isolated individuals.

Compassion is the Yin to the Yang of self-focused, me, myself, and I thinking. It’s the necessary glue that brings people together out of a desire to help, to care, and to eliminate the suffering of others. It’s the opposite of the ‘survival of the fittest’ that says only the strong survive. Compassion teaches us that the strength of the strong can help support the weak and we all move forward.

Compassion is also the true key to our survival and growth as a species. Force, struggle, and wrecking-ball politics are dinosaurs that will ultimately lead to our extinction. As Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine said, “Evolution favors the survival of the wisest.” Compassion is the choice of wisdom, of growth, of healing, and evolution.

It is our greatest strength. And without it, we are doomed.

I’m a huge fan of Star Trek, for countless reasons. But one of its most appealing qualities for me is the spirit of collective peaceful exploration and cooperation across all cultural and species barriers. To me it’s always stood out as a beacon of what humanity could become and in my heart, I like to think that the archetypal energy of Star Trek is out there, on the edge of a metaphorical event horizon pulling us toward that future. It’s not a perfect future, but it’s an image of where we could go if we remember what it means to be human and set our moral compass to the true north of compassion, kindness, understanding, and awareness.