Monday, December 30, 2013

2013's Blogging Gifts

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The following is a look back on thoughts from “What if …God Never Hurries” from April through December’s 2013 blogs:

Share time, talent and treasure; know your and other’s unconditional worth; be kind and tolerant; suspend judgment of self and others; listen; dialogue respectfully; allow everyone a voice; employ reason, cooperation and coordination; find a good coach; be a good coach; learn teamwork; stay in the game.

Nature heals; keep your eye on the big blue ball we live on; live simply and sustainably; everything is connected; strength and order flow from the interdependency of diverse communities; be curious; question; trust your mind, heart and gut; all that lives is holy; equal opportunity and adequate resources for everyone benefits us all; freedom workers everywhere deserve deep gratitude; share what difficulty taught us for the good of all; forgiveness transforms; understand complicity.

Suspend anxiety for things undone and the need to be perfect or right; look around and know all is good; use the written language with power and creativity; combine gentleness and strength; heal one another through laughter and tears; trust what comes, comes because it needs to; celebrate what doesn’t get done--enjoy the present; laugh and smile daily; let go of feeling too responsible; hold the questions with infinite patience; find joy and new ideas in the accomplishment of others; there is always a choice versus the victim role; be not afraid; remember serenity, take sanctuary time (rest, breadth and going within); return to being faithful without incrimination; pray daily, “What do I need to let go of today?  What do I need to embrace?”

Admire cheeky courage; affirm courage with a smile and, “You are very brave;” the voice of God within sings for peace not war, love not hate, and acceptance not rejection of the other and creates deep bonds; befriend both light and darkness—let pain be pain and mystery be mystery; silence feeds abuse; oppression hurts everyone; suffering brings deep meaning to the surface; be present to whatever is; honor pain and let it grow us into more caring people; while sitting with pain, breathing and praying eventually reveals the next step toward growth; pain brings awareness of Compassion dwelling within us--creativity flows from compassion, be part of a healing community; presence equals Presence.

Common people do have common sense; empower one another; work tirelessly for a more just world; we have the freedom to be wrong; humility is a gift from our mistakes; we are all evolving; evolution is about randomness, differences and change; we need good paternal and maternal instincts to help us; asking the right questions is critical when seeking truth; the capacity for reflection transformed us into the human species; we can guide the process of evolution to take us where we want to go; pause and reflect; getting upset is so unproductive; how I react to what I bump into determines my progress or decline; catch someone doing something right and praise him or her; smile more; cooperate in small groups using consensus; every student, regardless of age, needs to have a vote in major decisions affecting them; human nature goes beyond self-interest; the idea that self-interest promotes the common good is profoundly wrong; respect and highlight diversity; search for ways to end global poverty; we each play a role in evolution; ask “What do I need to keep me more balanced?” And above all, trust in the slow work of God.      

What if we are all called, and none of us is worthy, and it is all about forgiveness? 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Winter Solstice

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A turning point—the sun at its lowest in the south as it shines upon our earth.  A time when darkness and light are equal in that day—balanced.  Many cultures see Solstice as a time of rebirth.  So when I attended this December’s Full Moon Circle, a gathering of women who look to each other for their place and purpose in the world, we were each asked to share what we wanted to manifest for ourselves in the coming year.  It wasn’t immediately apparent to me.  Needed change often isn’t.  So I asked myself, “What would make me more balance?”  The need to play more became apparent.  It wasn’t hard to figure out where to start.

My yellow lab Ben and I headed out the next day on a relatively mild winter afternoon.  My goal was Lake Michigan’s shore.  Since Ben and I both have mobility issues now, I debated with myself--should I drive to the town to the north where the walk to the lake was easy; or take the more challenging route across an open field, over a wetland dam, and then down into a steep, narrow valley that opens to the lake?  I knew deep joy would be in the valley.  I rationalized that after the more difficult access, I could give Ben a pain pill when we got home.  Just my decision to go the valley route gave me a shot of euphoria.

As we walked across the snow covered field I figured the return back to the car would be easier when the northeast wind would be at our backs.  Ben was euphoric and ran ahead.  In my mind’s eye I saw the four-month old puppy that would bounce down this field and remembered the three-hour summer walk we took here while I seriously wondered if I could keep him because his energy and mischief were so extreme.  (That was a very short ten years ago.)  The six-inch snow cover now obscured the path descending into the valley.  When I eventually found it I broke out in a broad smile.  Carefully, I picked my way down the steep snow covered slope; grateful for the help from my walking stick and the one who made it for me with the carved inscription, “Life is good.”  The calm quiet warmth in the valley seemed womblike and almost brought tears to my eyes.  Returning to this once so familiar landscape was like being greeted by old friends—the winding path and creek, high banks, cedars, and deep silence.  Eventually we reached the beach where a hard cold wind met us, along with three young boys who Ben joyously greeted.  Ben then had a coughing fit hacking up some phlegm.  When the boys looked concerned I said, “He’s just and old guy.” 

Back home I did give Ben a pain pill.  Amazingly, my knee felt even better than when we started the balancing fun walk to the beach.

What if we each asked ourselves periodically, “What do I need to keep me more balanced?”                 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Potential in Vacant Lots and Us

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Applying evolutionary theory on the ground to improve David Sloan Wilson’s city of Binghamton, NY got its start by realizing the potential in the city’s many vacant lots.  A Design Your Own Park competition was created and facilitated by Wilson and a group of his graduate students.  Criteria for participating in the competition required design input from all age groups within the immediate vicinity of each lot; each neighborhood group then developed a system to resolve conflicts; design decisions were made by consensus; a contract was drawn to assure sufficient volunteer help to spread workloads; and after a park was constructed there needed to be on-going interaction among neighbors to help the city with maintenance.  Design Your Own Park was a brilliant start to raise the valleys that appeared on the Geographical Information System map generated by a previous survey asking thousand of Binghamton’s public school children to anonymously rate themselves on their social sensitivity to serving, respecting, and helping others in their community.  (See my November 11, 2013 blog titled Who’s in Your Neighborhood?)  The competition tapped into the creative power of small group interactions; it created an outdoor space that everyone could enjoy; and environment is suspected to be a more significant indicator of behavior over genetics. 

Even though environment may trump genetics, genetics still play a significant role in our lives from affecting how we respond to medication, what we should and shouldn’t eat, and even how we get along with others and make our way in the world.  Wilson states understanding our differences become “part of the knowledge that’s required to know how to operate and fix ourselves.”  Knowing that someone’s aberrant behavior can be genetically based caused my heart to open and fill with compassion.

The following quotes will give you some insight into this good man who wants us to guide the evolutionary process so it takes us where we want to go.  “People are spiritual, or have soul, to the extent that they are searching for meaning in a way that will lead to a better life for all not just themselves.”  “The idea that self-interest promotes the common good is profoundly wrong…”  “If we are not making decisions on behalf of the common good, then we will be generating conflict, neglect, and decay…” David Sloan Wilson’s Evos continues to work with many interdisciplinary professionals researching solutions to make this a better world for us all.

I wanted to read Wilson’s book for I felt certain it would confirm what I convey in my memoir, “God Never Hurries,” telling of my significant struggles and the deep abiding comfort I found in the natural world, along with the help I needed from others to refuse the victim role and find my voice.  Nature did and does heal me.  After my husband’s suicide in 1975 I began filling my house with plants for they are signs of life.  Many of them have aged in place with me and still bring solace.  And in the 1990s, as I struggled for my mother’s care as she descended in Alzheimer’s disease, long walks with a Shepherd-Husky named Bear steeped me in the beauty and comfort of the natural world and kept me sane.  And often, it would only take another’s kind voice, note, or knowing smile to lift me up and keep me going.  I am grateful  for the help that directed and sustained my own evolution.

What if we all understood the role we play in each other’s evolutionary process? 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Looking with Evolutionary Eyes

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I have been looking at events of this past week with an eye toward evolution.  There was my ten-year-old granddaughter’s holiday program where I saw her class on an evolutionary timeline and wondered what positive outcomes and challenges lay ahead of them.  I noted a sprinkling of ethnic diversity in her class and also children differently able both physically and emotionally.  I recalled the NPR program I heard earlier that day that featured Paul Salopek who has embarked on a seven year project to walk around the world on a route that would have been traveled by our pre-agrarian hunter-gatherer ancestors.  Salopek said his slow paced foot travels is giving him a heightened presence to people, their significant problems, and to the landscapes he is encountering.  I wondered if the ease my grandchildren have with electronics, and which allows us all to accomplish so much more in much less time, also contributes to what I see as hurry sickness that leads us to be less present to what matters.  And I let myself get rattled as I was beginning to back out of my parking space at the Post Office, and another driver darted into the parking area, laid on his horn, and then shot past me to make a sharp right into an adjoining parking space.  I thought of David Sloan Wilson’s depiction of the less than social water striders and felt like I had just bumped into one.  And I attended the funeral of a Caucasian family friend, a kind and gentle man whose children intermarried and gave him beautiful grand children mixed with Black heritage, another with Hispanic heritage.  And then there was Nelson Mandela’s death this past week and his beautiful legacy of forgiveness—true liberation, and his deep concern for continuing widespread poverty throughout the world.  Looking with evolutionary eyes has seemed to facilitate reflection and that is a good thing.

We are so very young as a species.  Our hunter-gatherer ancestors began leaving Africa 60,000 years ago.  (The age of our earth is approximately 4.54 billion years old.)  Agriculture began 10,000 years ago and the first cities appeared only 6,000 years ago.  Wilson tells us in his book, “The Neighborhood Project--Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time,” that human nature does go beyond self-interest, and that reason needs to be the basis of our actions.  To that end an interdisciplinary effort to look at how nature regulates, and apply that regulation to economics, became the focus of a conference titled the “Nature of Regulation. “  The conference brought together highly respected individuals from animal behavior, anthropology, business, cognitive psychology, economics, ecology, evolutionary psychology, finance, history, law, neurobiology, peace studies, political science, prevention science, social-insect biology, sociology, and theoretical biology to consider the following:

-       Rethink the theory of human regulatory systems from the ground up.
-       Learn from other biological systems about the nature of regulation.
-       Reach a consensus on what constitutes human nature.
-       Appreciate the importance of environmental mismatch.
-       Take cultural evolution seriously.

What if we all looked with evolutionary eyes that go beyond self-interest; eyes that respect and highlight diversity, and search for ways to end global poverty.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Transformational People

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According to evolutionary scientist, David Sloan Wilson, the most effective way to promote positive change in another is to catch someone doing something right and praise him or her.  Since evolution is a response to the environment, creating a more positive environment through praise engenders within us the desire to strive for more improvement.  Even smiles were proven to redirect behavior over frowns. Studies show that students who were praised for their hard work worked harder than those praised for their intelligence. (Ironically, praising intelligence stunted growth for the drive to take on harder tasks was diminished.)  This past week I was privileged to experience an off-handed compliment and did become aware of my desire to do even better. 

Evolutionary scientists, prevention scientists, behavioral scientists and social scientists are just beginning to interact among themselves.  Those interactions will lead to more right questioning which will eventually help us move in more positive directions.  A master’s thesis done on preventing young children from running into the street showed praise and small tangible rewards were much more effective than reprimanding which made the problem worse.  A good behavior game, created by students coming to consensus on what good behavior is, easily became the culture of the group.  Wilson states, “We are designed as a species to cooperate in small groups that are coordinated and policed by norms established by consensus.” 

Wilson says,  “Our current educational system dumbfounds our instincts…” Learning needs to be less structured and more spontaneous since we learn easiest when at play.  We need to highlight differences, not try to eliminate them.  We need to accommodate differing reactivity by assessing and placing each child in an environment where they can thrive.  Classes of mixed age groups were found to foster a spirit of nurturance instead of competition resulting in less bullying and where slower students don’t stand out.  And every student, regardless of age, needs to have a vote in all major decisions.  All of the above makes me recall Teilhard de Chardin’s prayer titled, “Above All Trust in the Slow Work of God.”

I am over three quarters of the way into Wilson’s book, “The Neighborhood Project – Using Evolution to Improve My City One block at a Time,” and was surprised to first learn now that he is an atheist.  His support of praise, diversity and everyone having a voice sounds like a little bit of heaven to me.

What if each day we challenged our self to catch someone doing something right, praising him or her, and smiling more?