Good Advice – Distilling the Voices

Dreams are strange. I woke up this morning with a great feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction. Although my sleep had been hijacked by a complex and strange dream, I opened my eyes with a sense of peace for my day. I had received good advice through the night.

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As I dressed for my morning walk with Togo, I kept going back to that sensation of calm. But then, my rational voice grew stronger and I began to ask myself, “Who were these people you talked with? What do you know about them? If you don’t know them, who do they represent? What exactly did these dream people tell you?”

Those are all good questions. The same ones I would have asked my clients when I was practicing law. “You need to consider the source,” I would say.

I remember the dream vividly. I was at an encampment. I had obviously been there a week or more and I was preparing to leave. As I gathered my belongings, I was delayed by the realization that I didn’t know how I was getting home. Dreams are chock-full of such odd occurrences. So I joined a group of campers on the long porch of the dining hall and listened in on their conversations.

In a few minutes, the circle of talk pulled me in and there were questions about my work and what sort of life I was returning to. I shared a little, not wanting to dominate . . . still feeling like a bit of an intruder.

Then it came. Advice on how I should proceed to fulfill my destiny. Little details and long brush strokes flooded my mind. Some of it profound and some of it mundane. Some of it opening doors to opportunity. Some of it describing obvious paths I had tried before.

My response in my dream was surprising to me. I just sat and listened. No response. No pushback. I just sat and listened. I felt no challenge from their recommendations and took no offense at their observations. I allowed myself to commune in thought without worry. I knew that regardless of their advice, ultimately the decision to act would be mine.

And I woke up with serenity.

On my morning walk with Togo, we talked a bit about the dream. I talked. He sniffed and explored the treasures of sight, taste, and smell he found along the way. His calm manner of hearing my voice and determining which bits of almost incomprehensible human language to pay attention to brought my thoughts to focus.

Ironically, from the moment I woke, I could not recall the specific advice I had received. I could remember only the voices of those who spoke. I could feel their eyes on me and I could sense that, in those few moments, they cared for me. So, even though I don’t remember their words, I think of them warmly.

Much of life is like that. I’ve had thousands and thousands of conversations. I can remember the particular words that were used in some. But for most, I remember the tone of the visit and I’ve distilled the voices into a memory that will prompt my return to these people for guidance. Some of those voices are long gone from this earth. Yet others are nearby.

I doubt I will never know who the people were in my dream nor the good advice they provided. But I will know their voices. I have a feeling that I will find peace in their incomprehensible language. And, like Togo, I will know when their voices call me to action. For today, I’ll settle for the peace, I’ll listen for more voices, and I’ll be calmed by the knowledge that one of the voices, God’s voice, is always speaking — whether in my dreams or through the tones of strangers and friends who share my journey.

The Nature of Glass

This article appeared as part of my Distinct Impressions series over a decade ago. So many of our fears are unwarranted. Yet, as we dwell on the unlikely, our anxiety builds. And so it was that, on an elevator in Atlanta, I began to consider the nature of glass.

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Photo Credit: LeoSynapse at FreeImages.com

There are 47 floors at this Marriott in Atlanta and the elevators move upward in a giant cavern-like atrium.  While I was looking up from the lobby, someone commented that it appeared that we were in the belly of a big ol’ whale.  (Made me wonder what everyone else in the lobby had done to make God angry.  I had a pretty good idea why I would’ve been tossed off the boat . . .)

I really hadn’t much thought about glass elevators until I boarded one with 15 other people yesterday.  I was the last one to get on.  There was a lady at the front of the car who moved toward me as soon as the door closed.

“Excuse me, but I’ve got to be up close to that door,” she said.  “If I look out the glass, I’ll grow faint and I’ll probably throw up.”

With that she pushed me further back in the car.  It was probably a group dynamic thing, but I suddenly found my face pressed against the glass, unable to back away.  All I could think about was her last words, “look out the glass . . . faint . . . throw up.”

Words are powerful weapons in the hands of trained professionals.

As the express elevator quickly bypassed the first 30 floors, little beads of sweat broke out on my head.  But I couldn’t force my eyes closed.  I just kept watching the floor fall away.

But I got a grip on myself and began to think rationally.  This glass between me and oblivion was substantial.  In fact, it was plated glass — strong enough to walk on.  I couldn’t break this glass if I tried.  I started going through everything I knew about glass.  It was then that I remembered . . .

Glass is a liquid, you know.  Over time it will actually “flow” as gravity pulls it earthward.  Next time you’re in an old house check it out.  The glass at the bottom of the windows will be thicker.

(That is one of the few things I learned in college physics.  That course, by the way, is why I didn’t pursue a medical degree.  I figured if all I really learned from eight hours of credit was that glass was viscous, I might not be particularly well prepared for a career that seems to pivot on scientific knowledge.)

Suddenly viewing my safety barrier as a liquid wasn’t the best idea of the day.  The thought flashed on my memory screen about the time the door opened. I moved quickly and decisively to nimbly assist the queasy woman off the elevator.

She would have been more grateful if it had been her floor.

I didn’t think the fact that I also had gotten off on the wrong floor was something I needed to bring up.  So, after I apologized and pressed the button for another elevator for her, I wheeled around and strode confidently down the hall.

When I got out of her sight, I ducked in the stairwell and slowly ascended to my floor.  Not slowly enough it seems.  As I crossed in front of the elevators on the way to my room, my new-found friend was just getting off.

“I couldn’t find the ice machine on my floor,” I said for her benefit and walked toward a likely location for an ice machine.  She was kind enough not to ask what I intended to put the ice in. When I was sure she was in her room, I went back to the elevator platform and pressed the button for one more ride to the bottom and back up. I had to restore my confidence — in elevators, in glass, and in myself.

Why is it that we can think ourselves into fear?  And perhaps more disturbing, why is it we can think our way out?  Surely, raw intellect can’t be the answer to every problem we face.

Tomorrow I fly home to Abilene.  The good news is the plane windows aren’t made of glass.  I don’t think that Plexiglas is a liquid.  If you know different, I don’t want to know. I don’t want to think about it.

Social Pain and Social Media

Spoiler Alert. This posting about social pain and social media is not lighthearted. In fact, I’m writing because I’m a little discouraged. I even came close yesterday to withdrawing from social media entirely. Who knows? This expression of my feelings may be the last thing you choose to read from me.

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Recently we hosted almost 50 of our graduate students in conflict residency on our campus. The week, Residency Session, is a highlight of our work. It brings individuals we’ve come to know in our online courses to Abilene where we have an opportunity to sit with them, eat with them, talk with them. We offer them pointers and instruction. And they teach us much. During the welcome, our Academic Director, Garry Bailey, spoke to the group about the way that we as peacemakers should approach everything we do.  He talked about addressing “social pain.” A little later, I made the phrase a noun. “You’ll be experiencing some intense time with your colleagues in the next week. Don’t be a social pain,” I said. “Be a peacemaker.”

As important issues crop up world-wide and our thoughts are drawn to the building tensions from attacks against Israel and retaliations made in defense, the plight of refugee children at the borders of the United States, the seeming inability of US leaders to address anything of importance, continuing crimes against women and children across the globe . . . I find that a majority of those who choose to embrace the social pain vocation are alive and well on social media.

I favor open discourse. But I’m weary of the thoughtless postings of pass-it-on information. And I’m even more exhausted from trying to save some of my social media friends embarrassment by researching things they’ve posted and quietly providing them with more accurate information. I don’t think they mean to be part of the larger problem. They are simply following a normal human reaction.

We tend to support what we already believe and discount the rest.

It’s true across every spectrum — whether it’s a question of politics, social status, race, and even sports. (Thanks, Lebron James, for helping to reveal how much energy we will invest in the most trivial issues while people’s lives hang in the balance elsewhere.) And it’s true no matter where people find themselves — liberal or conservative, moderate or progressive.

Our constant statement seems to be “I’m right and, even if you agree with me, I’m more right than you are. And even though I have no idea if this particular information is true, it would be good for my arguments if it is.”

As I’ve grown older, I learn more and more that I know less and less. I’m willing to grant that I probably know less on many topics than a majority of people out there. Yet, as I’ve matured, I find myself genuinely interested in knowing the diverse viewpoints of others.

I once worked as a volunteer in a nonprofit organization with a very talented person. He was deeply infected with the need to always be right and the drive to assert himself over others. Over the years, he told me and hundreds of others that we “just don’t understand.” In other words, it was important to him for us to know how ignorant and insignificant we were. He was a social pain and, on top of that, a social bully.

Those who choose to fuel the flames of discord by passing on questionable information aren’t much different. And those who make open attacks are much worse. Particularly those who attempt to thinly veil their attacks in humor. I’m sorry. But jokes about the homeless, the poor, children at our borders, the addicted, enemies of every ilk, are simply not funny.

My guess is that this post will anger a lot of people. I regret that and it is not my intent. However, your anger is your choice.

I’m just asking that you consider rising above your rights to consider your responsibilities and privileges. I’m asking you to leave the social pain status to others. Raise your voice for what’s important, certainly. But raise it in a conversation. When all else fails, ask a question instead of launching an attack.

What do you have to lose?

 

Slow is the New Excruciating

Let’s face it. I’m not an exercise fanatic.

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I don’t do CrossFit. I don’t run, walk, or crawl long distances. Shucks, I don’t even stand up straight most of the time.

But I am fairly active. And when I’m not traveling, I make a valiant effort to hit the gym 5 times a week. Yes, I do travel a lot, but you’re missing the point here.

I also read things on the internet about working out. And weight loss. I’m not carrying around a lot of extra weight, but I’d be much better off if I was 10 or 15 pounds lighter. Not a day goes by that my attention is not captivated by the “I ate green bananas and bad cheese and YOU WON’T BELIEVE what happened next!!!” headlines. (Actually, I think most of us really would believe what would happen next. And it’s not the result the article would lead you to believe.)

Again, you’re missing the point. I work out . . . some.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I decide to quit playing it safe and to start testing the boundaries of my endurance and strength. Somewhere I read that rather than doing long, same-paced bouts on the elliptical machine and the treadmill I should insert some workouts with intermittent changes in resistance. Shortly thereafter I became a fan of the “Hill+” feature of my cardio equipment. Basically, I choose a hill, set a speed, enter a level (and I really don’t know what that means, but I pick one dead in the center of the offered range), set a time, and go. For the next half hour, the blinking red pixels on the screen tell me that I’m facing incredible inclines. The resistance tightens or the deck of the treadmill takes on a frightening angle and I proudly huff and puff my way through.

These programs have yet another feature — COOL DOWN. On the elliptical, it’s simply 5 minutes with less resistance. But on the treadmill, it lowers the incline AND cuts the speed a little bit every minute, until in the last minute, I’m creeping along at 1 mile per hour.

The last three of those 5 cool-down minutes are extremely hard for me. After a quick pace (and again, “quick” is a relative term — don’t judge me) for half an hour, the slower rhythm is difficult to tolerate. When I get to that last minute, not only are my legs screaming at me to get moving, but I become aware of another feeling.

I’m embarrassed.

What if someone is watching me? How decrepit do I look . . . slowly lifting my feet and planting them again as the belt slips past me at the speed of old chocolate syrup?

Yet, I am determined to stay true to the program, dictated to  me by the machine, as a test of my patience — not to mention just a little allegiance to that obsessive-compulsive gene that lurks within me.

In moments of clarity, I recognize the fact that no one is going to be watching me at the gym. After all, the tall blonde at the end of the row watching movies on her iPad and laughing uncontrollably while she gallops at 20 to 30 miles per hour, not to mention the guy dressed up like a pirate on the elliptical behind me, tend to garner most of the attention of every other individual in the place.

Sometime in those same moments, I began to realize that slowing down is something I’m missing in a lot of areas of my life. God didn’t give us the Sabbath without putting a lot of thought into it. He and all of nature recognize the importance of cycles. Of working hard. Of taking rest. Of slowing down. Of learning to match our pace to those around us who need someone to walk with.

It remains difficult and sometimes excruciating to slow down. But if you master the art, you’ll have a far better life. And people will notice.