How Do You Define Success?

I was taught the American Dream from my young parents who were eager to do better than their parents and expected their children to accomplish more than they would. Sound familiar?

My father, especially, was always reminding his sons that each generation has a responsibility to outperform the previous one; he said the USA was a place where success was not only possible but expected; so, it was unacceptable for his sons to waste their opportunity.

So how do you define success?  Does success include achieving or obtaining more than your parents?

My father completed Junior College with a two-year associates degree in carpentry.  Initially, he worked for a highway and bridge construction company working across multiple Midwest states. He later joined a major utility company and rose to the level of Maintenance Supervisor.  He added to his primary income, by flipping houses on the side. The combined income allowed him to retire early at the age of 58.  He died eighteen years later and said his only regret in life was not retiring earlier. 

My father’s vision for his four sons was for them to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree, achieve a position of at least manager, and, most importantly, retire by age 57 or younger.  I heard this definition of success so many times that, like it or not, it became a yardstick for measuring my own life.

Quick side trip:  It may be worth noting that my parents divorced when I was six, my father was quick-tempered and quick to punch his wife and sons when he was angry for any reason or no reason at all that I could discern. He also had a penchant for offering advice, especially when no one was requesting it, and this could become tiresome and irritating. Also, he was so competitive, even euchre card games became “duels of manhood”, and he regularly pitted his sons against one another to make them “tough.”  To sum up, he was not an easy person to be around.

However, to my father’s credit, all four sons did attend college and  three of four completed graduate educations.  Three of four achieved positions of manager or higher in their professions.  But on the third, and most important measurement for him, none of his sons retired at an earlier age than he did.  So, to some extent, the American Dream mostly materialized as my father had defined it. He outperformed his father and successfully passed on the challenge to his sons.

But, I’m wondering, is my father’s definition of success an acceptable definition today?  I’m curious, how do you define success and is that definition different from your parents?

Cherry Picking

Or a couple of challenging questions on Good Friday, 2021:

  1. Is the planet Earth the Cherry Capital of the Universe?
  2. Is it possible to maintain hope when surrounded by hate?
  3. Are we ever sure of anything?

I was born in beautiful Traverse City, Michigan aka the Cherry Capital of the World. Traverse City- Cherry Capital – Michigan History (msu.edu) This magnificent title is true because there are many cherry orchards in this part of our planet.  It’s also true because the local cherry producers gave themselves the title in 1925 when they established an annual festival to draw tourists to the area. You see, truth is what you say it is, for whatever purpose deem justified at the time.

The term “cherry picking” is used to describe the harvesting of fruit off a cherry tree or the practice of selecting facts that best fit your needs and conveniently ignoring any other facts that belie the truth you’re trying to promote.

“Cherry picking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position while ignoring a significant portion of related and similar cases or data that may contradict that position.” Cherry picking – Wikipedia

Take the American legal system for example, or more specifically, the Derek Chauvin trial (aka George Floyd murder case) currently underway in Minneapolis, MN.  It is a given that the defense will cherry pick facts to defend the police officer, Derek Chauvin, to hopefully create doubt in the jury’s collective mind that excessive force was used on George Floyd preceding his death.  It is also a given that the prosecution will present their facts to make the case that Derek Chauvin went against department standards and thus was the perpetrator of murder based upon his own actions despite the videotaped observations that multiple officers and onlookers were present during the actions leading to death. 

Certainly, some individuals are more guilty than others, but are there truly any innocent parties when others present take less than full action to stop a crime in progress?  Can we ever be sure of the truth when people are not fully willing to collect and consider all the “facts.”

I’m writing this on Good Friday, the commemorated anniversary of Jesus’ death on a cross some 2,000 years ago. Supposedly the Jewish religious leaders, aka Sanhedrin, voted, not unanimously, to turn Jesus over to the local Roman regional leader, Pontius Pilate, for judgment and crucifixion.  Why, because this radical teacher was irritating them, berating them, upturning money tables on temple grounds used for the purchase of sacrifices for worship. Was Jesus innocent of any wrongdoing? Was he guilty of anything worthy of a death sentence? Were the authorities capable of determining truth from fiction and making judgments of merit without a shadow of doubt?

Are we sure about what took place in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago? Are we sure about what took place less than a year ago in Minneapolis? Are we sure what is taking place right now within a thirty foot circumference around us as we read this sentence?

So, back to cherry picking.  Climate change is cited for the reason pink cherry blossoms reached full bloom on March 26, 2021 in Kyota, Japan; just 8 days ago.  Records have been kept for the cherry season in this former capital of Japan since the 12th century. “Scientists have often pointed to the earlier flowering times of species such as cherry blossoms as indicators of global warming. The Kyoto record is described in one study as ‘probably the longest annual record’ of biological life cycles from anywhere in the world.” Earliest Cherry Blooms in Japanese City in 1,200 Years Linked to Climate Change, Says Scientist (news18.com)  

Despite all the records of facts mentioned above, we can be sure that:

  • * climate change deniers will not change their minds,
  • * white supremacists have already exonerated Derek Chauvin,
  • * fundamentalist Christians don’t care about either of the two bullets above because the rapture will protect them from the apocalypse, and
  • * Traverse City, Michigan is truly the Cherry Capital of the World

Or can we?

3 Ways To Avoid Being “Too Smart For Your Own Good”

I’m no genius, and there are many, especially family members, who can attest to this. Sure it’s true, I was always an Honor’s Student and fared well on standardized tests. But, as we all know, there’s a huge difference between book smart and street smart; between the three Rs (reading, writing and ‘rithmetic) and a few other three R’s of note.  For example:

  • The three R’s of animal welfare research: Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement. As a former franchisee for The Body Shop, our store was always advocating for no animal research for any of our products (soaps, scents and cosmetics).  Replacing the use of animals in research is definitely something I support. Reducing the number of animals used for such research seems like a poor excuse for continuing something that shouldn’t be done in the first place. And finally, Refinement of research methods to minimize animal pain, suffering or distress is another half-measure that only delays Replacement which should happen immediately.
  • The three R’s of sustainability: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.  I’ve practiced these for sure but it’s not always convenient, possible or simple to do so.  It’s also very interesting to read the research on the use of plastic bags, paper bags and cloth or canvas bags when grocery shopping.  But this is another topic for a future post.

Following the mnemonic alliteration pattern of the three R’s mentioned above, here’s my Three R’s to avoid being “too smart for your own good.”  They are Resist, Reflect and Respect and here’s what they mean to me:

  1. Resist the temptation to immediately correct a misguided or ignorant comment made by another. As we’ve all learned, it doesn’t take long on social media these days to read something that sounds uncaring, unthoughtful or even intentionally offensive.  And as Forrest Gump once said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”  Well, stupid or not, I think it’s important not to jump into the fray when confronted (or baited?) by the remarks of a truant or a troll.  Casting your pearls of wisdom more than once can say more about you than the original ill-spoken one.
  2. Next comes Reflect, the second R, which suggests it’s worth considering the “audience” and determining what they are actually saying, trying to say, or deliberating “pissing on” if that’s the situation.  A question or reference or even a gentle “good luck in your future endeavors” may be the better way to end a poor conversation. Sometimes you just have to say “Goodbye” if your reflection suggests no good can come from further conversation.
  3. And finally, Respect is the third R and this begins with respecting yourself.  If your emotions are triggered there’s no need to “pull the trigger” in response.  The kindest and most effective thing you can do is “put on your own oxygen mask first before you attempt to assist another.” And while taking your personal protective measures, consider how you can best respect the other.  Sometimes it’s allowing time for their cooling, their schooling, or for others to do the over-ruling.  Let your friends, or supporters, do the “responding” which allows you to move on to the next, hopefully more rational, person.  A couple of thoughts come to mind:

a) It was Jesus who said “If some home or town will not welcome you or listen to you, then leave that place and shake the dust off your feet.” (Matthew 10:14 Good News Translation)

b) And it is Thich Nhat Hanh who said “We have to take good care of ourselves. If you listen too much to the suffering, the anger of other people, you will be affected….This will destroy your balance…We need to receive the nourishment we deserve.” Anger, Wisdom for Cooling the Flames © 2001 Riverhead Books. pp 95-96  

In other words, letting go of others’ ignorance, as well as our own “smartness”, often means showing kindness-with-restraint to all parties involved.  Sometimes the most respectful thing you can do is let the other person find their truth elsewhere without letting them pull you down in their learning process.

I’m curious, do you have a set of three R’s? Please leave a comment.

The Challenge in Forecasting the Weather and A Friend’s Healing

This morning’s forecast says rain all day. Yesterday was sunny with the high near 70 degrees Fahrenheit; a very pleasant surprise for a very challenging day.  Our friend survived his open heart surgery; only a double versus the quadruple bypass surgery the heart surgeon said could be possible.  What began at 8:30am was completed by 12:30 pm and the awakened patient’s nodding recognition at 8:30pm.  Many good signs in one 12-hour period.

But today is another day, and if the weather is a predictor, this day will not be as bright and shiny.  Today, the forecasted temperatures will be in the low 60s and wet, not bad for this early Spring period.  Accordingly, a rainy day is a predictable Spring occurrence just like the slow but sure rehabilitation required from major surgery.

We are told that our friend is likely to experience the following progression:

  • 7 days in the hospital before release;
  • Release to either home, or maybe a few days in a convalescent facility to transition with the aid of close medical assistance; and then
  • Two to three months of slow healing before full strength returns

If there are no complications, no unwanted infections, and he is diligent in his aftercare compliance, our friend will be able to transition from gentle walking to full movement by July 4th, Independence Day; to celebrate our country’s independence, his independence and renewed independence for the family and friends caring for him.

However, like weather forecasting, there are a few challenges to keep in mind.  Climate change has “broken” the jet stream leading to unpredictable temperature and precipitation patterns. Bad weather can stall over geographies not normally expecting it.  There can even be harsh weather, like more hurricanes and tornadoes, bringing high winds and flash flooding, and wreaking more havoc along the way.

In our friend’s case, he may feel ready to do more than recommended and his energy could lead to excessive effort in his desire to rehab faster than he should.  He may try to do too much work around his home, try to prove he is back to normal far before he’s ready.  There might be antibodies that attack his recovering wounds.  There might be outside work demands he normally stresses over, having even more of an impact this year.

As part of a large group of caregivers, each of us must be careful not to expect too much too soon from him.  We need to encourage a slow and safe recovery regardless of how much we would like a faster rebound for his and our own release. We must look at Independence Day as the “earliest” possible celebration date and be prepared for a Labor Day back-up plan if any forecasting surprises occur.

May we be calm, be patient, and be compassionate with our friend and ourselves.  Less stress and more understanding will help all of us find the joy in each present moment to come. 

Would I Ask My Grandfather How To Blog?

Grandpa was a quiet man.  He performed a variety of jobs: truckdriver, real estate agent, refrigeration technician and car wash manager along the way. I trusted and admired him and appreciated his life right up until his death in 1985.  Born in 1911, he lived for 74 years and saw a lot of technology change over that lifespan. 

Grandpa was not a Luddite; he appreciated technology improvement and the quality of life benefits it brought.  I remember his clear advice to purchase the best possible item because it would provide greater satisfaction and longer use, making its’ cost less over time.

Grandpa embraced the new, but not just because it was new.  He was discerning on what he acquired because he never had a lot of discretionary income.  That said, when he searched for something new, he did it thoughtfully, carefully and then decided with conviction and didn’t look back.

Grandpa died before the general availability of the internet which didn’t occur in the U.S. until the early 1990s. He was certainly not around to see the explosion of social media or the popularity of blogs.  So, would I ask my grandfather how to blog?

Hmmmm…..

There are more than a few people who base their life and important decisions on spiritual texts and practices well over 1,000 years old.  In fact, there are people who dedicate their lives to the study of antiquity; especially art and philosophy, to better understand our species progress and to project our future based on the behaviors and values that persist over time.

Going even further back in history, it’s thought that we homo-sapiens developed language almost immediately, (see When Did Ancient Humans Start to Speak? – The Atlantic) and the oldest evidence of the written word is over 5,000 years ago which was used by Sumerian scribes in 3200 B.C to document business transactions in ancient Iraq. (The World’s Oldest Writing – Archaeology Magazine).

Would I ask my grandfather how to blog?  Our very history as a species suggests we have learned and cognitively developed over millenniums based on our ability to communicate.  So, YES, I would ask my grandfather how to write and communicate more effectively.

And based on my previous post, The Thin Veil, I still have the opportunity to ask him.

I’m curious, would you ask your grandparents how to write and communicate more effectively? And, if so, why?

The Thin Veil

The physical world is real; especially when we stub our toe.  There is mass and when it interacts with other mass there is contact, sometimes described as “Ouch!”  Our everyday life reminds us this physical world is real.  And yet….there is the unseen that impacts us, energy that shapes our here and now.

The borderline between the seen and unseen is sometimes called the Thin Veil.  On a metaphysical level the veil is considered a barrier between the physical and spiritual realms. On a quantum physics level this “borderline” becomes a little more defined when we read about the multiple dimensions.

In our everyday existence we are familiar with the three dimensions of height, width and depth. The fourth dimension adds the factor of time and motion.  We can see this when a 3d object moves; it’s demonstrating the fourth dimension aka space/time. But what comes after the third dimension? There’s a Rod Sterling quote “There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man.  It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition.” In a more down-to-earth explanation, some have used gravity as an example of a higher dimension (i.e., a fundamental natural force that is unseen yet impacts our three-dimensional universe.) See  The 5th Dimension | Science Trends

Scientists focus on what can be measured, even if it’s unseen to our human eye.  Somewhat similarly, theologians focus on “how things change.” Theologians also ask and attempt to answer big questions like: How the universe came into existence? and What happens to individuals before they are born and after they die? It is this intersection of physics and metaphysics that has always interested me.  For example, there are two Albert Einstein quotes that have inspired my wisdom search:

“For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” -Einstein, The Expanded Quotable Einstein. Calaprice, Alice, ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000). p. 75.

“I believe that I have cosmic religious feelings. I never could grasp how one could satisfy these feelings by praying to limited objects…. The whole of nature is life, and life, as I observe it, rejects a God resembling man. I like to experience the universe as one harmonious whole. Every cell has life. Matter, too, has life; it is energy solidified. Our bodies are like prisons, and I look forward to be free, but I don’t speculate on what will happen to me. I live here now, and my responsibility is in this world now…. I deal with natural laws. This is my work here on earth.” – Einstein, Einstein and the Poet. Hermanns, William (Branden Books, 2013) p.64.

I look forward to learning more about the Thin Veil and someday passing through it to visit with my ancestors and loved ones who have preceded me. What a wonderful reunion that will be. I’m curious, what have your experiences been with the Thin Veil?  How do you perceive the higher dimensions?

Midwinter Melancholy

Shakespeare reveled in midsummer

Enjoying his Athenian romp

While humbly we survive midwinter

With no circumstance or pomp

No funny or cunning storyline

  No hint of subterfuge

Just a lonely cold winter’s landscape

               Neither miniature or grandly huge

Missouri is a compromise

               Of pain and revelry

The past too painful to forget

               The future too bland to see

Such is life in February

               When we but hibernate

Perhaps in Spring our joy will return

               But now we simply wait;

Now we sit and wait.

TERPSICHORE

Is it Terpsicore or Terpsicurry?  “If that’s all there is my friends then let’s keep dancing” (song by Peggy Lee).

My first book of poetry, Tangoed Up in Blue, was about learning to dance at an Arthur Murray’s Dance Studio in Kentwood, Michigan.  My wife and I spent seven years learning, competing and generally enjoying dance in many forms.  We met many new people, visited dance studios and floors across many states and acquired a small wardrobe of dance costumes.  We considered it our “country club membership” and spent more than a few dollars each year enjoying the art.

Prior to lessons, I considered dance as something akin to doing jumping jacks or slow Frankenstein rotations that could only be performed in loud, dark environments after three drinks, at least.  Fortunately, with lessons, alcohol was not needed but didn’t hurt; especially, if you were being asked to dance by strangers in a crowded hall.  I remember one night at a dude ranch in Sheridan, Wyoming, being asked to do a Western Swing dance with someone half my age in an old barn used to introduce visitors to one another.  My wife and I were there with her family for a horse-riding family reunion and she encouraged me to accept the invitation.  Yes, dance is a fun way to make contact in a strange place with strangers.

I’ll never forget the first time I danced with a man.  It was my wife’s professional teacher and he wanted to see how I waltzed.  My wife was trying to explain how I couldn’t really lead that dance so her teacher wanted to experience my lead for himself.  Sure enough, I needed many more lessons 😊  Funny, how that works out.

They say, dance is good for physical fitness, mental clarity and emotional stability. “They” being dance instructors mostly.  But are there are more important reasons we dance?  Self-expression, body/mind alignment, releasing depression and endorphins?  Certainly physical touch alone can be healing so full body contact while swaying and gliding across a dance floor must be truly liberating.

If/when this COVID-19 pandemic subsides, I might consider taking lessons again. It’s been close to 15 years since my last lesson and there’d be a lot of rust to work off; but, as the Zimbabwe proverb goes: “if you can walk you can dance.” The opportunity to “shake a leg” would be a fun way to enjoy an evening or two; hopefully without a facemask and latex gloves, of course.

Would you like to dance?

(See Tangoed Up & Blue by Patrick J. Cole (goodreads.com))

The Third Eye

So tell me again about the third eye. Does “right view” come from higher consciousness or insight? Can anyone be a see-er, or seer, to understand more than what our optical nerves can detect? Does meditation, strengthen this mental skill, or does qigong enhance our visual abilities?

“Richard Rohr says the concept of the third eye is a metaphor for non-dualistic thinking, the way the mystics see.” Third eye – Wikipedia  Rohr says there are three levels of sight: sensory input, then reason or reflection, and ultimately, the mystical gaze which builds on the first two to arrive at insight.

Or is it more biological, such as the pineal gland that resides between the two hemispheres of the brain? Something that can sense light without needing the optical nerves in our physical eyes.  Like knowing where to go and how to navigate in deep darkness.

I don’t know much about auras, or chakras, or perceptions of invisible worlds, yet there have been times I’ve “seen” things that guide me in one direction over another.  Where does our “intuition” come from?  That ability to know something “in our gut” without needing to collect facts and reason them out. 

Or am I confusing the metaphysical with just plain common sense? My wife likes to tease me when I ponder something that’s so obvious for her.  She regularly quotes from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:  “You just keep thinkin’ Butch.  That’s what you’re good at.” I always forget to respond “I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals”. 🙂

P.S. Don’t look too closely or you will see the trifocals I’m wearing 🙂

What’s on my desk

I spend more and more time at my desk these days, doing everything from completing three different daily journals to working on this blog. Because of this, my workspace needs a little upkeep from time to time. For example, right now there are a dozen books within arm’s reach that would normally be on bookshelves four to five feet away. I’m accessing them all but for some reason having them close by seems necessary right now. Am I expecting wisdom by osmosis? Inspiration by proximity?

Before the week’s end I will tidy up to start the next week with a clean and organized desk again. How about you? What’s your desk or writing area look like?