5 Meditations

Greetings all. Before you read this week’s 5 Things, I want to give a mea culpa. Last week I mistakenly set the weekly email to subscribers only instead of the whole mailing list. That’s my bad. If you are not a daily subscriber, and would like to read the special Halloween edition of 5 Things - 5 Monsters, you can find it here. Sorry y’all.

Let’s get to this week’s list.

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It was challenging to think of a 5 Things for this week. up until the very end of last week, I actually considered taking this week off. I knew that everyone (myself included) would have - at best - a split focus this week. So I thought it might be the time to take some time off.

Then I had another thought. Fuck that.

This was an important week, and the start of an important season. Election day was Tuesday, and then there are 78 days until the inauguration. We have seen that a lot can happen in 78 seconds the last 4 years. 78 days is an eternity. And we have certainly seen how complicated time can be this week. We need each other now more than ever.

So here I am.

This week I am sharing 5 Meditations. 5 things worth considering as we face this week and the weeks to come. Meditations are reflective, and they are intended to inspire contemplation and consideration. I submitted these 5 meditations during a week where we were surrounded by a cacophony of noise - even more than usual. And for the few minutes it takes you to read these meditations, I hope that you will think more deeply about how you can respond to the world, and not simply react.

Because goodness knows the world and the people in it are gonna be begging us to just react as time goes on.

So let’s get to it.

Please keep in mind that these meditations were originally shared during this past week. So consider that they were written originally for the days of the week in which they appeared. Unlike most of my 5 Things, this list is very much rooted in a specific time. So if you read something and think “this happened days ago” then you are right. It did. This is a good opportunity for me to suggest that you become a subscriber, and you will get to read them when they are fresh from the oven. 

Meditation #1

On Anxiety

For all the fun we had trying to come up with an “in house” trick-or-treating solution for Justin on Halloween, it happened after what was a pretty trying day on Saturday. We actually began the day in the pediatrician’s office. Last Saturday marked about a week since Justin had last pooped, and we were there to talk about what to do.

Justin is almost 5. And yet, he has never pooped in the potty. Pooping actually causes him a lot of anxiety. He gets nervous about pooping, and he will hold it. Most of the time we are able to give him some Miralax and he will poop after a couple of days. It is always big and hard and uncomfortable. This only reinforces that pooping is a negative experience, and so he tries to avoid it. It has been challenging to navigate this with him.

The thing is, he can feel our anxiety. So in addition to his own nervousness, he senses ours as well. Something that should be completely natural becomes for him a huge undertaking. It all ended well. We were able to talk to the doctor about some strategies and on Saturday afternoon he was back in business. And there is still a whole lot of anxiety all around, even as we all try and manage it.

The more anxious you are, the harder it becomes to do simple things. Even things that are the most natural in the world. You start to feel frustrated that things aren’t what they should be, and so you bear down. You blame yourself. Your anxiety grows.

And that is when things are calm and natural. Anxiety spikes even more aggressively when things are not normal. And I don’t know if you have noticed, but things lately are definitely not normal.

So what can you do? How can you control anxiety in the midst of chaos?

I think that we have to think about our bodies and how they react to the world. We think of our emotions as complicated and complex. That is the stuff that we ascribe. When you get right down to it, our bodies are pretty basic, and extremely binary. Our bodies interpret every input in one of two ways - YAY! or YUCK!. That’s it. That is how we interpret stimuli at the most basic level. Our brain gets inundated throughout the day with millions of YAY!s and YUCK!s. Our brains then look at our past experiences and says that the particular combination of YAY!s and YUCK!s it is experiencing at any given time is indicative of something bigger. Like anxiety.

Here’s the catch. Our brains like shortcuts. They like to keep things simple. So once the brain has decided that the YAY!s and YUCK!s we are feeling equals anxiety, it stops scanning. It stops paying attention to the other things that are going on.

What does this mean for us? It means that we start to think that whatever we are feeling is all there is. That anxiety is the only thing in our world. We stop paying attention to the countless other YAY!s and YUCK!s that we are experiencing and only focus on the ones that match our brain’s diagnosis of anxiety.

This doesn’t mean that anxiety isn’t real. It is. And. It is not all there is. Whatever we are feeling is never all there is.

The way to deal with anxiety is to remember that it is not all there is. Even in the moments when it feels most acute. ESPECIALLY in the moments when it feels most acute. It is not the only thing happening.

Our emotions are kind of demanding. They want all of our attention. Especially the emotions that tend to be described as negative. Feelings like anxiety, stress, and anger want to be the star of the show. Joy and contentment aren’t usually as noisy. Anxiety will act out like a small child (or an orange president) to get - and keep - our attention.

Just because they demand our attention does not create an obligation for us to give it to them. We actually have a great deal of control over our attention. What we have to do is simply notice... other things. We have to remind ourselves, and our brains, that there is more to the story. There are more YAY!s and YUCK!s out there.

Anxiety has its place. It has a job. Anxiety encourages us to be prepared. Anxiety helps us make a to do list. It reminds us of the importance of action. Anxiety is our invitation to go and do. The quickest way to pay attention to something that isn’t anxiety is to start doing something about what you are anxious about.

Know what anxiety is. Know that it is not all there is. Think about what anxiety is inviting you to do. Then RSVP. Go do some shit.

Then you - and your anxiety - will have both done your job.

Meditation #2

On Hope

At the end of the day today we may have the first light at the end of the tunnel in a very long time. We may not. We may get light soon. We may not. We may be locked in the tunnel with the lights turned off. We may not. All outcomes are possible right now. And the simple truth is, we don’t know.

In spite of all that, I am allowing myself to feel hope today.

Hope shares common DNA with faith. One of my favorite verses in the King James Bible (which I will always appreciate as literature, if not scholarship) is Hebrews 11:1 in which the writer tells us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I love that. The Christian Bible is at its best when it focuses less on polemics (like wives obeying husbands) and more on the simple truths of the human condition. Like hope. This passage resonates because it is true. What is hope but the promise of things not yet seen?

Hope is future tense. It is focused on things that haven’t happened yet. Even more, it dares create expectations for what the future might hold. The Buddhist in me absolutely recoils at this assumption. Hope creates an attachment to an unsure future. In the wrong hands and in the wrong context hope can easily become toxic. It distracts us from the present moment. If we are focused on hoping for the future then we aren’t in the moment. Hope is scary.

And I hope anyway.

I hope because despite all that has happened in my life I am an optimist. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I am not an optimist despite the things that have happened to me. I am an optimist BECAUSE of the things that have happened to me. Through it all. All of the abuse and the failure and the mistakes and the pain... I am here. I am still standing. WE are still standing.

Our country has been through so much. And we have failed to live up to our best ideals again and again. One of my biggest fears for today is that Americans will have seen 4 years of Trump (and all that comes with it) and sign up for 4 more. It would certainly be in keeping with our national history. We have failed to live up to our ideals so many times that it is more than reasonable to ask if these “ideals” are just a mirage. And despite all that we have been through as a country - all that we are and will still be after today - I still believe in the promise of this place. And I will continue to have hope no matter what happens today.

And the biggest reason for that hope is you. It is because of the care, compassion, and love that people have shown one another despite all that we have been through. It is because of the passion and the commitment that so many people share to make this place everything it says it can be. No matter how improbable, how deluded, naive or... whatever... I still believe. And I hope. I still look for the evidence of things not yet seen.

I have hope that things will go the way I pray they do today. I have hope that I will wake up tomorrow in the same place, but with a new spirit. I know that the cost of hope is heartbreak. I know that I could wake up tomorrow in an even darker country. I know that is the price of hope. 

And I hope anyway.

When nothing remains, when all else has been cleared away, when you hit rock bottom and look around there is only one thing that can make you climb. It isn’t love for yourself or other people - you have already used all that up. Maybe for years. It isn’t someone telling you to get up. It isn’t even the God who left you down in that hole. When you are down there - and I mean really down there y’all - the only thing that is left is hope. Hope makes you climb. Hope is with us when nothing else is.

Hope IS us. Hope is what makes us human. 

I hope you will have hope today. And all days. Now and forever.

Amen.

Meditation #3

On Reality

When we lived on Fort Bragg, we attended a very small Methodist church that met in a local elementary school in Fayetteville. It was a conservative church (very conservative actually) but the people there were amazing. We had a tight knit church community that really cared for one another.

I was part of a men’s group that met every Thursday night at a guy named Ken’s house. Ken was affectionately known as the Bread Man. He worked for a bakery and delivered Wonderbread to local grocery stores. He had lived his whole life in and near Fayetteville, where his dad had been stationed at Fort Bragg. We talked a lot in that small group about very heavy things. We talked about the challenge of being husbands and fathers, especially when several of us had grown up with difficult relationships with our fathers. We talked about the challenge of male friendships, of competitiveness, the need to be strong and the confusion about what that meant. No one in the group would have said it (and I certainly didn’t understand it at the time), but we were dealing with the challenges of toxic masculinity.

During one of our meetings one of the guys talked about all the struggles he was having in his marriage. He and his wife had met in college and he had joined the Air Force shortly thereafter. They had two young daughters. They were both busy and tired and short of money. It had taken a toll on their relationship. He was explaining all this and said that his feelings about his wife had changed. “You know,” he said, “I am just not sure I love her anymore.”

Ken sat for a second. He was a really good listener. And then he looked at our friend. “Well,” Ken said, “You better get to lovin’ her.” Ken went on to explain that marriage was a commitment and that it was often a challenge. That there were hard times and challenges. And because it was hard, Ken explained, your feelings would change and shift. That was part of growing together. You had to commit. You had to get to lovin’ her. 

It was a master class in how to be loving, kind, generous, and wise, while also being honest, direct, and not sugar coating the reality that must sometimes be faced. I think about that night a lot. I learned so much from Ken.

There is something refreshing about honesty. Sometimes, you just have to hear the truth. I believe in kindness. I believe in decency. I believe in civility and being polite and having respect. 

And.

Sometimes the most kind thing that you can do is just be completely up front with people. Sometimes being direct is the path to growth. It feels counterintuitive. We have come to equate gentleness with not being confrontational. That’s not quite right. You can be confrontational. You SHOULD be completely honest and direct with people. Gentle in your presentation. Kind in your concern. And honest.

Let’s be real for minute, y’all.

This is a hard country to love. And last night was only further evidence of why. All the polls and the sugar highs and the fever dreams of a blue tsunami all ebbed away and we are left with the truth. And we learned (well, more accurately we re-learned) some very important truths.

  • This country is deeply divided. So divided that reality (kids in cages, pandemic, chaos in government) does not affect it. We are almost purely tribal. We vote for the people that look like us and agree with us. We see no other reality.

  • This country is profoundly and unreservedly racist. There really isn’t any way to argue it at this point. We have lived under the “leadership” of the most aggressively racist president since Wilson and we collectively shrug. Racism is not a thing that we deal with. It is a fundamental fact of the American DNA. 

  • Our divide exists along several lines, but perhaps the most visible and important is the rural / urban divide. If you live in the country, you are most likely a Republican. If you live in an urban area, you are most likely a Democrat. That has huge impacts on the way we feed ourselves, the way we innovate, the way we think about the future.

Finally - and most critically - we are a country where an incredibly high proportion of our citizens are comfortable with demagoguery and authoritarianism. Not just comfortable. They actively seek it out. And the reason is simple. When things are stressful, when things are scary, you want answers. And you want someone to give you someone to blame. That is what demagogues give you.

Think of ALL that has happened the last 4 years. Now think about the fact that as I write this we don’t know for sure who will be President. Biden may very well win. He may very well not.

But we just had an election with the highest national turnout in 100 years. MASSIVE participation across the board. And we still don’t know. After everything. We don’t know.

The truth is that this is a hard country to love. That is the reality. And we have once again been reminded - honestly and directly - of exactly what this country is. And what it isn’t.

Reality is hard to hear sometimes. And it is also a kindness. Because you can’t say you don’t know. What we are is what we are. And we all see it.

Now we decide what to do. You can quit. You can decide not to love this place anymore. 

Or. You can get to lovin’ it. More honesty — I don’t know how to do that. Not today. Not right now. But I will not give up. I will never ever give up.

Meditation #4

Holding Space

Yesterday I had lunch with two of my very best friends. Despite some unfortunate jokes near the end (you know what you did), it was pretty magical. It was a reminder that even in the midst of... all the things... there is space for laughter and joy and respite. 

We talked about the election. We talked about our frustration and our disappointment and next steps. We talked openly and honestly about how we felt. And all that was fine. Good even. But the very best thing was that we were just there together. Sharing space.

The first time I ever heard the term “hold the space” was at a 12 step meeting. And I thought the term - like the meeting - was odd and a little cultish. I mean. If you wanna talk, talk. How the hell does what I am doing affect you? Just say your piece and don’t worry about me.

The next time I heard the phrase I was at the Save a Warrior program in Malibu. I was in a very different place then. I was ready to heal. Really heal. I wasn’t in active addiction. I was not an asshole. Well. I was, just not as aggressively.

Our leaders at SaW talked about holding space in a reverent, almost holy way. Holding space was almost like a sacrament. It was a way of giving something not just to the people you were with, but to yourself, and to what you were creating together. 

Holding space doesn’t mean talking. It doesn’t mean being silent either. It can be reflective. Holding space can also be active. It can be joyful and full of laughter - like lunch. It can be mournful and full of tears - like a funeral. It can be some of both. Or neither. 

Holding space is about holding the door to the universe open for someone else.

It is about sitting with someone. Wherever they are. Wherever YOU are. Sitting with them and feeling whatever they are feeling.

Barbara and I dated all through college. We did have a serious breakup our senior year. Years later we were talking about that time. Barb told me that she knew which girlfriends were keepers based on how they responded. I was confused. “Good friends,” she explained, “want to be where you are. If you say ‘I broke up with him finally’ a good friend will be like ‘I am so proud of you I knew he was no good.’ And then 5 minutes later when you are crying and saying how much you love and miss him good friends will be like ‘I know, it will be okay, y’all will get back together.’ Cause they are just there to help you. And they will tell you how they really feel later. When YOU feel better.”

Right now, shit is crazy. It has been crazy. Here is a hard truth - it will stay crazy. That is just how life is. It’s crazy. We have big problems and big challenges and big stressors. None of those go anywhere no matter who gets elected to what.

Now is the time for us just to be where we are. And hold space with one another. You wanna break up with your country? I completely understand. They were never good to you. You want to try and fix it? I am here to support your efforts. 

Whatever it is, I am here with you. I encourage you to be there for others. 

We’ll talk about the future tomorrow. Today, just be where you are, and feel what you feel.

I got your back.

Meditation #5

On Endings

One of the things that I do NOT miss about being in the 82d Airborne Division is the quarterly ruck.

Once every 3 months, we were required to do a 20 kilometer march in full gear. We had 4 hours to complete the march. Soldiers were asked to carry a pack that weighed a minimum of 35 pounds, although leaders would be expected to carry more. I usually marched with 75 pounds, a little less than half my body weight at the time (165 lbs). 

I hated doing it. Walking 12 miles carrying that much weight is profoundly unpleasant. Every part of your body screams at you. Especially your feet. 

When I first arrived in the division, the march was an individual event. We had a course and could complete it at our own pace. As much as I hated the event, this arrangement made it bearable. I had a technique. I would walk up every hill (and there are some surprising hills on Fort Bragg), and run the downhills and flats. I tried to use weight and momentum to propel me along. It worked. I was almost always one of the top 2 or 3 finishers.

My second year at Bragg all that changed. A couple of the guys in another company got caught cheating on the ruck march. Instead of following the course, they took an extreme shortcut that cut 2.5 miles off the course. After that, we were no longer allowed to complete the course alone. We had to do it as a unit.

That meant that the entire group moved at a slower pace. When I was by myself, I could complete the course in about 2 1/2 hours. It was miserable for 2 1/2 hours, but it was at least over in the time it took to watch a movie. 

When we did it as a unit, however, we took the full 4 hours. That meant an extra 90 minutes of walking. An extra 90 minutes of weight bearing down on your shoulders and back. 4 hours of just unrelenting suck.

It reminded me a lot of 2020.

Only, there was one key difference. When we did these marches (alone or together) there was always that moment when the barracks would come into view. You would see the end. Just seeing it would make your heart leap and make your steps lighter. You would forget the pain and the suck and just imagine that moment when you would be free of the weight.

There is nothing quite like getting to the end. 

Sometimes endings are bittersweet, like when you finish a great book. Or when you move away from a friend. Sometimes endings are exhilarating, like that moment after the grocery store when you are in the car and finally get to take the mask off. Yeah. You know how good that feels.

Sometimes endings are complicated, like divorce or the death of someone you love. 

Endings can be hard and they can be magical. 

We love endings, especially happy ones. We like it when our team wins, and when the couple finally gets together, and when differences are healed and when we put the past behind us. We like it when the big The End scrolls up on the silver screen after the movie.

Endings help us make sense of the world. They help us compartmentalize. They help us put things in their place.

And.

Not everything ends. In fact, the truth is that most things don’t end. The story is ongoing. Endings are for ruck marches and movies. Real life is more complicated than that.

Divorce doesn’t end a marriage. It changes it. My mom has been dead for 2 years now and I think about her, and feel her impacts, all the time. 

By the time you read this, the counts in some of the remaining states (like Georgia and Pennsylvania) may be done. Joe Biden may look to be the President-elect. But it won’t be over. There will be court challenges and wild, baseless claims of a stolen election. Trump will run around yelling and tweeting and breaking shit, just like he has done for 4 years. And Biden will face the almost impossible task of dealing with a recalcitrant Mitch McConnell and the suddenly obstructionist Senate. The same Senators that took Amy Coney Barrett from nomination to the Supreme Court in a matter of days will suddenly lose the ability to even move nominations out of committee.

Even when Biden is inaugurated (and he will be) this won’t end. The coronavirus will still be everywhere. Trump will still be with us. Only angry and scared and embarrassed and unaccountable. 

Endings are often elusive. You ever hear someone say they want closure? How many people do you know that actually get it?

This may feel heavy. It may cause you to get down, or feel like nothing will ever change. I don’t choose to see it that way.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. You have heard me say before that we are on a generation ship. We are building bridges to the future for the people we love, and the world we live in. There is no ending because we can always do more, things can always be better. 

The fact that we are not at the end is an invitation to joyfully participate in the world. A chance to continue to make a difference. To keep connecting, to keep loving, to keep hoping.

It’s true. The work doesn’t end. That also means that the opportunity doesn’t end. That there is a comma and not a period. That as long as you have breath you have energy and you have presence and you have power. Just because you are you.

Energy is not created or destroyed. There is no ending. Your power endures. No matter what.

So breathe. Take the next step. Then the next. Fight the temptation to look for the finish line. Focus on the next step. 

Look beside you. I am there with you. And we will get through all of this together.

Today. And all days. 

Without end.

As always, thank you for reading. Be well friends. If you are not a yet a subscriber and would like to get the 5 things (and a whole lot of other good stuff) during the week, I can’t encourage you enough to become a subscriber.

See you all soon. Keep pounding the rock.