The Call in the Time of Trump

The “normal” state of mind of most human beings contains a strong element of what we might call dysfunction or even madness. The collective manifestations of the insanity that lies at the heart of the human condition constitute the greater part of human history. It is to a large extent a history of madness. Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth.

 

In 1994, I said yes to an intense calling: I set out to be my own learning laboratory. I wanted to learn how to live from a new world view: a view of the world as an alive, engaged, interwoven and interdependent living system where the human spirit mattered. I joined a movement to change how we lead, follow and work in organizations.

I completed a Ph.D. in Leadership and Organizational Change; began to write essays; and consulted with leaders and organizations. I hoped to be a catalyst to help them learn and grow as people and leaders.

The movement I joined with such excitement in 1994 did not change the organizational world as I had hoped. Occasionally leaders with insight and great hearts would elevate an organization to high levels of engagement, involvement and business results but when the leader left, the group would fall backwards. Often the decline went not back to the original starting point but a fall backwards of many generations of leadership. I retired after 13 years, my heart and soul worn out from the resistance to meaningful change. People wanted to feel better at work: most didn’t want to do the hard work to feel alive.

I now fear the same type of regression for America.

America elected a new president—an unconscious ego-driven man replaces a conscious and spiritual man. Desperate for change, even as they complained of too much rapid change, the Trump voters selected a president knowing he’s unfit for the job. In doing so, they put everyone at risk.

Many of us fear that America, having sat balanced precariously on the precipice of decline for some time now, chose in this election to return to previous states—personally and collectively–that may have seemed to work at an earlier time in our history—a more immature and unconscious time. And this choice will, many of us fear, take America into a deep and dark decline, which will threaten our well-being and our democracy.

On the edge of old age, part of me would like to drop out and live out my life in peace. But I cannot. I’ve been on my intentional personal journey in life since 1974 when I spent a month in a tough alcohol treatment center and had my first awakening.

Running away has not been my nature; going forward into the scary and often painful unknown has been my path. So I will do what I can and continue my efforts to bring some sanity to our mad world through my small contributions. Feeling alive comes from striving to achieve noble objectives. Living true to myself matters more than peace or success.

Many feel upset about the election and moved instantly into an attack mode at anything Trump or Republican related. I think most Republican approaches deserve strong criticism as so many cause human suffering. But I think we would be wise to pause and reflect on this election, how we feel about it and what we can do in positive and thoughtful response. Otherwise we will miss the opportunity for our own growth that resides in the pain we feel.

Trump is not the root problem: he is a symbol and a symptom. The human spirit suffers. Our human madness in how we live is the root problem. The suffering intensifies when demagogues convince people they will feel better by harming others. They will not. We should focus our efforts on fighting for the human spirit everywhere in whatever way aligns with our purpose and values.

If you feel great loss over this fundamental shift in America, take time to ponder what life calls you to do. Our primary purpose in life concerns the kind of person we become. Eckhart Tolle wrote in A New Earth that every human being shares a common purpose: To Awaken. Awakening brings a shift in consciousness from which we see life through new eyes. We also have our own unique personal purpose for how we use our unique talents in the world. Perhaps in our personal reflections, we can bring forth greater consciousness in ourselves.

The Roman philosopher Tacitus observed: “the desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.” Tolle wrote: “If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it [uncertainty] is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and creativity.” We can feel alive by putting uncertainty aside and pursuing noble goals of our choosing.

If, under great pressure to conform to the madness of the world, we stay true to our deepest values and purpose for our lives and take purposeful actions, we will feel alive and together we will model a new and evolved consciousness to others.

Time Alone in the Desert

Aloneness is a vital part of any spiritual path. Tom Brown Jr. in Grandfather

 

Casey (my American Eskimo) and I had two weeks alone in the Sonoran desert. I decided to make the time my personal spiritual retreat—a time for my soul: I got up at 6:00 am, walked in the desert for five miles, exercised under the rising sun as it warmed the air, meditated for 45 minutes twice a day, read three excellent books on consciousness, journaled, studied, ate healthy foods and took some peaceful photographs.

The books I read were: Life Reimagined: The Science, Art and Opportunities at Midlife by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, Ending the Pursuit of Happiness by Barry Magid and A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. Each book added to my knowledge. The Tolle book was especially powerful to me. Many pages spoke to me and my life. I would read and study more of Tolle’s work.

In 2001 I lived on the side of a mountain near Ouray, Colorado for 14 months. I read, wrote essays on life and leadership, grieved some losses and pondered life in the natural hot springs. I consulted enough to pay my bills. I often spent weeks with little human contact. I came face to face with many demons. I felt lonely at times. But I knew the time alone would not last forever and sometimes I have to sacrifice something in order to experience something else. A powerful new vision—now real–evolved from that time alone.

My time in the desert was not all peaceful: I tossed and turned in my bed at night, often woke long before my 6:00 am wake up time and wrestled with ideas and insights from the books I read and my meditations. Once I jumped up: I had to write the ideas that came to me when reading Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. I felt excited when his words provided context for issues I had been struggling to understand for a year or longer. This was a time of inner expansion.

I worked hard to be present. I am a novice at meditation. I began to meditate about 1 ½ years ago. First I sat for 20 minutes a day. Then 45 minutes. At the end of my retreat, I committed to 60 minutes a day. As I meditated, I focused on my breathing. I observed the feelings and thoughts that passed through me. I often asked: “What am I resisting?” I concentrated on my senses while I walked. I admired the blooming flowers—new ones each day—in the Sonoran Desert. I listened to the doves and the quail sing their morning songs. I watched the roadrunners scurry among the cacti. A couple of nights, I sat patiently waiting for the beautiful sun to set below the horizon.

Soon it was time to clean the house and pack our SUV. I was ready to head for home. Casey was ready to come with me wherever I went. My mind was filled with ideas for projects, books to read, blog posts to write and things to do back home. My purpose renewed, I felt alive after a dormant period (See my blog post: Purpose Renewed).

I transitioned with several days in Canyon de Chelly and Canyonlands National Park for some photography. I loved the intensity of my travels and early mornings out in the natural world and days filled with new places and new images. I like contemplation and I like action.

We live better and longer lives with healthy relationships. We do need people. We also need time alone where we can reconnect with ourselves and the natural world, ponder our interconnection with all of life and renew our spirits.

 

Purpose Renewed

Purpose in life is more important than education or wealth in determining long-term health and happiness.

Life Reimagined: The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife by Barbara Bradley Hagerty

 

My month in a tough alcohol treatment center (1974) was a painful, high anxiety and profound time of spiritual awakenings, moments of metanoia and akin to turning from the shadows to the sun in many Plato’s Caves. I left the hospital a scared, hopeful and humbled young man and began my life of often muddling conscious evolution. My purpose was to stay sober, live true to my values and care for my family.

I next thought of my purpose for my life about 16 years later.

In the early 1990’s, I had a leadership experience that awakened me to the vast dormant and untapped human potential in most organizations. I felt alive as we transformed a major business unit. Results were phenomenal. This experience was the second great expansion of awareness in my life. Treatment had saved my life and this leadership experience changed my life forever. As successes multiplied, so did the fear in others and resistance to us grew. I sensed our work would be destroyed by the dominant culture. I began preparations for my departure.

“I don’t want to leave because I am angry,” I said to Diane Olson, Ph.D. my consultant. “I want a new vision to go toward.” I spent two years working with Diane and consultant John Johnson to develop a new vision for my life, a purpose statement and my core values. The work was hard. I read, pondered and talked with John and Diane frequently.

My purpose:

I live my life as a series of emotional, spiritual and intellectual adventures and I share what I learn with others.

This purpose aligned with my new vision for my life: to complete a Ph.D., to begin to write and to consult with organizations.

I left the company in early 1994. I set out to use myself as my own learning laboratory—that was scary.

I had many emotional, spiritual and intellectual adventures over the next 20 years. I changed my life dramatically. I felt alive and had many peak experiences. I shared my experiences and insights as a writer, coach and consultant.

For the past decade, I’ve had three core strategies in my life:

  • To optimize my physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual health,
  • To partner with Melanie to keep our love alive always and
  • To have meaning and creativity in my life

I am fit and healthy. Melanie and I have a wonderful life together. We feel grateful. But I was aware of an angst in me the last couple of years that I didn’t understand. My feeling of aliveness had dissipated. I felt my life contracting: Retirement had shrunk my involvement in the world and didn’t feel as meaningful as robust work had. People I cared about were dying more regularly. Children were grown and didn’t want or need my experience or guidance. I experienced foreshadowing of physical decline and, as I approached 70 years of age (the entry to old age), I was well aware of where the contraction ultimately led.

Last summer (2015), my older brother got sick and died quickly. This unexpected loss affected me deeply–more than I expected it might. I felt that part of my foundation had cracked. Other losses added to the pain I felt. I wanted to feel differently. I wanted to feel alive again. My third strategy needed renewal.

Trying to repeat the past was the wrong solution. To do nothing would mean I had stopped learning and would lead to the resentment and bitterness that some feel in retirement. I needed something new to learn that would engage my spirit and create positive energy that I could creatively give back to life. I stumbled along seeking what would bring meaning and aliveness back. I needed a new emotional, spiritual and intellectual adventure.

My friend Heather gave me a trial subscription to HeadSpace.com. I decided to try meditation. I began with 20 minutes a day. I had tried meditation over the preceding decades. Unable to sit still, I soon quit. Now I could sit and begin to slow my mind.

I read the book, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by John Kabat-Zinn. The book inspired me to expand and deepen my meditation experience. I had a feeling that meditation and consciousness were what I sought to bring meaning and aliveness back in this part of my life. I began to meditate 60 minutes a day. I realized new things about my inner world. I understood that constant, unmanaged and compulsive thought may be as insane as alcoholism. I realized that I had lived much of my life in the past and the future, not in the present moment. I needed to ponder my identity and my attachments. Meditation is much more than I had thought it was. I had much to learn.

In A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Eckhart Tolle wrote that we each have an inner and an outer purpose. We share an inner purpose: to become awakened (a gradual shift in consciousness). This aligns with my purpose of living a life of inner adventures. Our outer purpose–unique to each of us–is how we live out our inner purpose in the world. Almost every page of this book spoke to me powerfully. I know the feeling from past transformative experiences: I had found a new adventure.  I enter the organic, mysterious and potential-filled world of contemplation and consciousness.

I am a novice again.

I feel alive in the uncertainty of the unknown.

This experience reminded me of something that I knew during my career: My happiness came from the pursuit of noble goals—goals I might never achieve. I felt alive striving for objectives that mattered to me. During those years, I never thought about happiness. I thought about what I would do the next day to move closer to the top of the mountain I was climbing at the time. I realized that in retirement I need that same sense of dedication as a part of my life. All of us do and we will live longer, happier and healthier lives if we have a vibrant sense of purpose.