Not Sure Yet?

Do you ever find yourself annoyed by the people who KNOW what they’re supposed to do in this life? They were born with gifts and talents that catapult them to success from an early age. They are the child prodigies whose paths are paved wider than an eight lane Interstate. Their paths are like U.S. Highway 1 heading south towards Key West; no exits and no doubt where the road will take them.

Yeah, you know.

Those kind.

They annoy me.

Before you label me a jealous prick let me explain. How much easier would life be if you were born with your path already paved? What if you were the next LeBron James, Peyton Manning, or Justin Bieber? It’s not that these talented people didn’t have to work hard to get where they are today, but let’s face it, these folks knew beyond a shadow of a doubt at a very young age what life had in store for them. I cannot say that I dislike these people because of their success: I suppose you could say I’m jealous of their certainty en route to their success.

Some days I feel like I’m on the other end of the spectrum. I feel more like Mr. Bean; the unassuming clueless clown who has no idea what’s really going on around him. (If you haven’t seen the art of Rowan Atkinson portraying Mr. Bean you simply must check it out!)

We have been attending several friend’s graduation parties lately and I suppose that’s why I find myself thinking about this now. Some of my newly graduated friends have their next steps planned out and others do not. I wonder what they might do with their choices considering they have a blank slate to create any life they desire. Should they start working, go to college, enter the armed forces, party it up, pursue their hobby, start their own business, or just chill?

I’ve always been so impressed with artists that create awe-inspiring beauty. Whether it be a painting, sculpture, novel, or song, I find myself longing to have their talent. Seems how I could hardly draw a stick person and could barely even read my own handwriting I gave up on calling myself an artist a long time ago.

The truth is, we’re all artists. Our lives are the blank canvases we paint the masterpiece on. Every day we get to add a few brushstrokes and can affect the beauty of our creation by the choices we make that day. Even though I don’t have the skills of LeBron or the voice and hair of Bieber, it’s never too late to create my own path.

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Why I Write

WHY I WRITE

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There are a lot of reasons why people write.  I can’t speak for anyone except myself so I won’t even begin to speculate on the many reasons why other people write.  Obviously, the very good writers write for a profit and they are handsomely rewarded for it. 

I write for two reasons: to connect with myself and to connect with others. 

Writing to connect with myself usually means I’m writing in my journal and I’m getting as many of my thoughts on paper as possible.  I gather my thoughts so I can use them as clay.  Once they’re on paper, I can rearrange them, mold them, or shape them to better define what I was trying to say.  Rarely (ok, NEVER) do I lay down a sentence and consider it brilliant the first time around.  That is why Anne Lamott so knowingly called these “shitty first drafts” in her book on writing, Bird by Bird.  She suggested that all great writing begins with shitty first drafts. 

I write most of my shitty first drafts in my journal for a few reasons.  First, I love the natural flow I get into when my fountain pen lays the ink across the paper.  There is something very organic and original that resonates with me when I use a fountain pen.  I also write in my journal because I don’t want my mind to edit everything I say before I can get all my thoughts down.  I’m too tempted to edit myself when I write on a computer; when I read my previous sentences I find myself editing before I can move on to the next thought, which is a major flow killer.  With the journal, whatever I lay out there is there, until I type it into the computer later and start the process of editing afterwards. 

The other reason I write is to connect with others.  There is no greater feeling in the world than to truly connect with another human being.  The joy and honor I feel when I hear my writing has touched someone is astounding.  Knowing I’ve made a difference, if only for a brief moment, makes all the difference in the world.  Let’s be honest, there’s enough negativity swirling around our globe so when I can brighten someone’s day or put a smile on someone’s face it makes my early morning alarms worth it. 

Chicken-Shit, Bull-Shit, & Elephant-Shit

Fritz Perls (1893-1970) was a flamboyant psychologist who perfected a popular form of therapy called Gestalt Therapy.  His honesty about the present moment and his matter-of-fact attitude earned him quite a reputation among his peers and clients.  When people talk about present moment and share their experience honestly, Perls considered this genuine communication.  This style of communication is very rare, however, and even trained professionals struggle to stay in the present moment all the time.  In contrast, he came up with three types of shit that people use when they talk to people: chicken-shit, bull-shit, and elephant-shit. 

The easiest way people avoid any kind of emotional contact is by talking about chicken-shit.  Chicken-shit is the small talk about the weather, sports, or any other cliched conversation.  Talking about chicken-shit serves a rather important purpose for me since it keeps me safe.  I don’t have to risk being vulnerable when talking about chicken-shit. 

Another way to avoid emotional contact is by talking about bull-shit.  Bull-shit is the intentional lies I tell for three reasons: I lie to hide the truth and wrong-doing, I lie to protect myself or someone else, and I lie to gain something (like prestige, power, money, sex, etc).  Talking about bull-shit also keeps me safe since I don’t have to be vulnerable while talking about bull-shit. 

I’ve heard two explanations for elephant-shit and I like them both.  First, elephant-shit is when I talk about everyone else’s chicken-shit and bull-shit.  Elephant-shit is when I get together with my friends or family and talk about other people’s drama.  Or, more popularly known as gossip.  As long as you and I have our neighbor’s chicken-shit and bull-shit to talk about, we never have to be real with one another and talk about what is truly happening between us.  The second explanation I heard for elephant-shit refers to the grandiose plans I come up with so I never have to face reality or take responsibility.  In other words, I talk about what I’ll do once I win the lottery but I won’t even buy a ticket.  Either explanation works for me since they both give another example of how we avoid true connection. 

Since I heard this explanation of chicken-shit, bull-shit, and elephant-shit, I can’t help but say this internally when I’m talking to someone and listening to their words.  I really do long to make genuine connections with those around me but our society seems programmed to avoid these connections.  I totally understand life cannot be lived bluntly telling everyone exactly what we think of them in every moment.  That’s probably not the easiest way to win friends and influence people.  However, I do believe that life presents plenty of opportunities for genuine connection but it takes hard work to steer clear from the chicken-shit, bull-shit, and elephant-shit. 

Why I Write

Back to why I write: I write to avoid the everyday, unimportant chicken-shit, bull-shit, and elephant-shit.  I write to promote genuine connections among myself and others I come in contact with.  I write with the hope of starting a conversation between people who have talked with chicken-shit, bull-shit, and elephant-shit their entire lives.  I write with honesty and integrity longing for just one person to say I made them think differently.  I write from a loving disposition because we are all learning as we go and none of us have all the answers.  I write the way I try to live my life; sometimes I put an explanation point where it doesn’t belong but I’m never ashamed to use a question mark. 

Many years ago I decided I would expand my mind by reading books.  I made up my mind to become a life-long learner and I’m thrilled I made that decision.  A large percentage of the books I read have to do with human relationships, memoirs, and different philosophical perspectives.  You could say I write now because after years of learning and living what I have learned, it’s time to share some of it with the world.  I write as a gift.  If I can make you smirk, smile, laugh, or cry, then I will consider my job successful.  My gift to you today is a smile.    🙂 

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Peace and Love!

 

~Travis

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Portland, Oregan

I’m sitting in P.F. Changs at lunchtime polishing off a plate of Almond and Cashew Chicken in downtown Portland. I’m here for a two-day seminar put on by Donald Miller called Living a Better Story. I have so much I want to share from this event but my fat thumbs simply cannot type well on this tiny phone’s keyboard so I will have to save it for later. More to come soon . . . I promise!

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Inner Voice and Finally Home

“Some people hear their own inner voices with great clearness, and they live by what they hear.  Such people become crazy, or they become . . . Legends.”

The opening line to one of my all-time favorite movies, Legends of the Fall, is something we can all learn from.  The people who listen to their own inner voices with great clearness and become legends are the ones who consistently and without fail stay true to themselves.  They refuse to be sidetracked by the beliefs and agendas of those around them.  They steer clear of the magical-thinking and the techniques used to manipulate the masses.  They are aware of their greatness, accept their humanness, and shatter any self-imposed or external obstacles that stand in the way of fulfilling their destiny. 

So much of our limitation to hearing our own natural inner voice is that it’s drowned out by the white noise of those around us.  We don’t trust ourselves so we lose our clear connection with our inner voice.  This lost connection isn’t necessarily our fault—we were conditioned to not trust ourselves.  Anne Lamott put it beautifully in Bird by Bird, “When we listened to our intuition when we were small and then told the grown-ups what we believed to be true, we were often either corrected, ridiculed, or punished.  God forbid you should have your own opinions or perceptions. . . So you may have gotten into the habit of doubting the voice that is telling you quite clearly what was really going on.  It is essential that you get it back.  You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side.  You need to trust yourself.” 

In Legends of the Fall, three brothers exhibit three different aspects of listening to their inner voices.  The youngest, Samuel, is rather naïve and carefree.  The oldest, Alfred, seems to have no true inner voice of his own. He becomes a politician and is manipulated into following other’s agendas for him.  Tristan, on the other hand, has his own inner voice and he follows it no matter where it takes him.  The journey of Tristan following his inner voice is played out for us to see throughout this movie. 

Towards the end of the movie when Afred’s wife commits suicide, after everyone left her graveside except him and Tristan, Alfred had these words for Tristan while trying to figure it all out; “I followed all the rules—Man’s, God’s—and you, you followed none of them.  And they all loved you more.  Samuel, Father, and my . . . even my own wife.  Huh. I’d like a moment alone with her Tristan.” 

Alfred could be credited with following everybody else’s rules but he was guilty of not following any of his own.  He had no inner voice so he had no internal compass to guide him.  Alfred reminds me of most religious people I have encountered through the years.  They have no real inner voice of their own because they are so engrossed in a system that discourages independent thinking and absolutely condemns being questioned.  Like Anne Lamott said earlier, after being corrected, ridiculed, or punished you start to doubt yourself.  Children raised with a strict religious upbringing are full of self-doubt because they are taught nothing good can come from within them and everything good is from an external source.  Instead they should be taught to think for themselves, trust their own judgment, and know they are perfect just the way they are.  

Most of us—myself included—prefer not to willingly put ourselves in harm’s way.  Tristan, on the other hand, went looking for it.  He was grieving the loss of his younger brother and that grief took him to places that you and I would never dream of going. 

Tristan is the character that most women are attracted to and most men want to be like.  The only problem is most women want to tame him because the wild heart they are attracted to is the same wildness that they are hurt and abandoned by.  Men long to be like Tristan because they long to be tested and come through victorious.  The difficulty with most men, however, is they are looking for someone to tell them they are real men instead of actually going out and being one.  They have to shred the self-doubt, lose the rules, and trust their own inner voice no matter where it takes them.  Otherwise they grow old feeling like a counterfeit—a carbon copy of someone else’s agenda, a parrot who mindlessly repeats what he’s heard.

So I come to the point where I need to say something catchy and clever to convince you to trust your own inner voice.  You have read this far and you are anticipating a cliffhanger in view of the fact that I referenced a movie that ended with a nail-biting one.  Unfortunately, I cannot produce the suspenseful ending for you.  The real cliffhanger is what you choose to do with this information.  Will you toss it away because it contradicts what you were raised to think or believe?  Will you compare it to other writings that you have grown to trust?  You will experience the real cliffhanger when you decide to be militantly on your own side and get your confidence and intuition back and begin to allow your own authentic inner voice take you to places you have never even considered possible.

I look forward to hearing about your newfound adventures!

Finally Home

Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!!  You know the feeling!  That feeling of walking through your door after being on a long trip away from home is priceless.  That’s the feeling I have this morning now that I have found myself in front of the computer again.  My life was bombarded on June 19th at work with the annual plant shutdown.  This scheduled shutdown is necessary to do all the maintenance that can’t be done while production is in full gear.  Also the required boiler inspections and critical projects are all done at this time as well.  Those few weeks were exhausting due to long hours and hard physical labor that my body isn’t accustomed to (Hey, at least I can admit it).  J  We were also having All-Star softball practices five nights a week so my body was spent.  Then after a July 4th weekend of trying to catch my breath I couldn’t seem to get myself in bed at a decent hour.  I have had a few topics brewing for quite some time now and it seems like torture to not get them out.  So last night I decided to go back to a neat concept I heard about years ago.  The concept is starting your next day at bedtime.  Instead of saying that tomorrow starts when you wake up, decide that tomorrow starts the moment you go to sleep.  Go to bed eager to start the next day. 

So, anyway, enough of my poor excuses.  I appreciate your patience during my absence and I can say with no reservations that it feels great to be home!

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Raw and Unedited

There’s something scary about posting my writing raw and unedited.  However, I promised myself I would sit down for 30 minutes this morning and simply write.  I wouldn’t edit, judge, change, or reword anything.  I have tried to write most mornings and have worked on some pieces surrounding some quotes that have moved me but this morning is a free writing morning.  I have done some free writings before that are not appropriate to post online just yet so this promise to post whatever comes out of me is a little scary!

 

Getting the fingers moving is the first step.  I have to give them their pre-writing morning workout.  They have to do their stretches, curls, and pushups.  Then just like watching the pitchers in MLB warming up they have to start with some soft throws just to get the muscles moving before throwing the heat.  When my fingers stop moving, that’s when I have to bring out the drill sergeant and get in their faces.  I have to strongly encourage them to keep moving.  Keep typing.  Keep punching those keys.  They slow down; I can feel it coming on before they do.  That’s not good enough private!  They have to keep moving in order for this exercise to work properly. 

 

Sometimes I have learned that my fingers aren’t the problem.  I have sat at the keyboard with fingers ready and willing but no content flowing in their direction.  The brain sometimes fails me in those moments.  I would like to make excuses and chalk it up to writer’s block but anyone that knows anything about writing knows you simply have to sit and start writing.  Grease the wheels, so to speak. 

 

There is definitely something mysterious about sitting down with determination to write.  Content starts to bubble up from within that you had no idea was even there.  You start to follow a thought and before you know it three paragraphs are laid on paper (or more-likely on the monitor unless you are old-fashioned).  I have taken some writing classes in college and in all the books I have read they suggest not filtering anything the first draft.  Merely write.  I remember Anne Lamott devoted a whole chapter to Shitty First Drafts in her book on writing called Bird by Bird

 

The successful writers are the ones who do more than just “fit in” writing.  They are the ones who deliberately carve out time in their schedules for writing.  They are the ones who have a message that needs to be shared.  I have noticed something in my years of reading countless books.  The writers who struggled to write a book are the books that I struggle reading.  But the books that seem to have been written by the message and not by the writer are the books I can’t put down.  Do you know what I mean?  Some messages are just ripe for humanity and have to be written.  Those are the books that turn into classics.  That’s why writers try so hard to get into the flow.  The flow is this mysterious energy that naturally and effortlessly takes you downstream in your writing.  If you can plug into the flow you don’t have to work at it.  Sure, just like canoeing you might have to steer around some branches or make some portages, but I would say tapping into the flow is more like canoeing the St. Joe River instead of the Portage River that runs behind my house. 

 

An aspect about writing I love is never knowing how my writing will be received.  Some people will love a piece that other people are frustrated and offended by.  That is why I have to view everything I write as a gift.  Hopefully, the gift to you—whether you like it or not—is a gift that will cause you to think a little.  There have been several times in the past where I have been upset at somebody for telling me something I didn’t want to hear but in the end I was better for hearing it.  That’s the way I hope some of my writing comes across.  Even though some of what you might read isn’t what you have heard all of your life, my goal is to inspire questioning. 

 

I have learned to love living in the question so my goal is to invite as many will join me there.  Living in the question is admitting we don’t have Life figured out and being alright with that.  Those who tell you they have life figured out are lying.  They are overcompensating for their fear of the unknown.  The funny thing about life is that it doesn’t care what plans and beliefs you have.  Life just comes along and shoves her agenda right down your throat whether you’re ready for it or not.

 

Now I am starting to get sad.  I just looked at the clock and realized I only have about five minutes left before I have to give my wife a kiss and rush out the door to work.  So in order to post this online and shut down the computer I have to slow my fingers down.  Just when they really started to hit their stride, too.  Oh well, there is always tomorrow morning (unless of course Life plans to shove her agenda down my throat and I’m not aware of it).  In that case, keep living in the question and keep your fingers moving! 

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Athoritarian Religion

Authoritarian religion is something I was raised with—and something I really don’t have any use for anymore.  Shredding the heavy cloak of authoritarian religion was one of the most difficult processes I have gone through; and at the same time the most rewarding and freeing.  Why do we willingly subscribe to a system that blatantly tells us we are no good—from birth all the way to death—and then submit wholeheartedly to an authority that we think will help make us good?  How is it we can look back on history and easily see the harmful effects of authoritarianism and yet continue to structure our lives in the same manner?  What kind of person does this?  Erich Fromm gives some thoughts here:

 

The authoritarian character structure is the character structure of a person whose sense of strength and identity is based on a symbiotic subordination to authorities, and at the same time a symbiotic domination of those submitted to his authority.  That is to say, the authoritarian character feels himself strong when he can submit and be a part of an authority which is inflated, is deified, and when at the same time he can inflate himself by incorporating those subject to his authority.  This is a state of sado-masochistic symbiosis which gives him a sense of strength and a sense of identity.  By being part of the “big” (whatever it is), he becomes big; if he were alone, by himself, he would shrink to nothing.  For this very reason a threat to authority and a threat to his authoritarian structure is for the authoritarian character a threat to himself—a threat to his sanity.  Hence he is forced to fight against this threat to authoritarianism as he would fight against a threat to his life or to his sanity. 

 

People turn to modern-day religion seeking independence and freedom but what is usually prescribed is a heavy dose of guilt and shame in order to assimilate into the herd.  They may come as an outsider Just Visiting but within a few visits they are expected to know the dogma, speak the language, and fall in line.  Before they know it, they feel guilty about darn-near everything they do and they lose their ability to think without turning to someone in the herd first.  Seeking freedom, they have gained an authority.  Unfortunately they don’t realize that full freedom and independence exist only when the individual thinks, feels, and decides for himself. 

 

With so many different thoughts and images bombarding our minds on a daily basis it almost becomes difficult to decipher whether we truly think for ourselves; or are we unconsciously acting out whatever the flavor of the day is that is flashed across the television or scattered across the airwaves or spoken from the pulpit?  For an eye-opening experience you might want to consider watching Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky.  He does a great job explaining how everything we see on the television, read in the paper, or hear on the radio is—in one way or another—designed to manipulate us. 

 

Let’s get back to the person that feels he must subscribe to this authoritarian religion.  Even though it seems to be a little different for everyone, most people—myself included—were conditioned by their parents or caregivers to think, act, and believe this way.  Our culture cannot help but live out this system of hierarchy that has been ingrained in us for centuries.  With that said, the person who doesn’t have confidence in his own human powers willingly seeks out this kind of authoritarianism.  Similar to what Fromm mentioned above, the authoritarian character’s identity and sense of worth are given to him through this outside source.  He arranges his whole belief system on the idea that he is one of the “chosen” and his authority is to be awed and respected the way he awes and respects his authority. 

 

The entire system of authoritarian religion is nothing more than a religious multilevel marketing scheme.  The object is to work your way up the ladder of authority and grab all you can for yourself.  How does this happen?  First, you “sign up” with someone who will show you the ropes and help give you the guidance you need to be successful.  You assimilate into the culture of the authoritarian religion and learn the legalese in order to give the spiel properly.  Next, you tell all of your friends and family about your amazing new opportunity and try to “sign up” everybody you can underneath you.  Finally, with determination and dedication you will have signed up enough people to gain a respectable amount of authority.  With some luck you might even sign up a shooting star under you whose success helps rocket you to the top.  As your authority and influence grows you are careful to align yourself with all the right agendas and you are sure to hate all the detested ones.  Speaking of hatred, Eric Hoffer said, “Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life.  Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance.  A mass movement offers them unlimited opportunities for both.”  So in the pyramid scheme of authoritarian religion, the endless climb up the ladder by amassing converts is essential to satisfy the never-ending desire to belong.  This never-ending desire for belonging is partly a desire to lose yourself—an escape from reality.  Through this escape from reality there is an enormous amount of imitating going on.  The more you mistrust your own judgment and luck, the more you are ready to follow the example of another.  It is always easier to imitate an authority that is successful in your eyes than to engage in the struggle of being your own authentic self. 

 

I hesitate to insert a large quote from Erich Fromm here in such a short blog but I feel it really expands on what happens to an individual who’s ensnared in the web of authoritarian religion. 

 

While in humanistic religion God is the image of man’s higher self, a symbol of what man potentially is or ought to become, in authoritarian religion God becomes the sole possessor of what was originally man’s: of his reason and his love.  The more perfect God becomes, the more imperfect becomes man.  He projects the best he has onto God and thus impoverishes himself.  Now God has all love, all wisdom, all justice—and man is deprived of these qualities, he is empty and poor.  He had begun with the feeling of smallness, but he now has become completely powerless and without strength; all his powers have been projected onto God.  This mechanism of projection is the very same which can be observed in interpersonal relationships of a masochistic, submissive character, where one person is awed by another and attributes his own powers and aspirations to the other person.

 

When man has thus projected his own most valuable powers onto God, what of his relationship to his own powers?  They have become separated from him and in this process he has become alienated from himself.  Everything he has is now God’s and nothing is left in him.  His only access to himself is through God.  In worshiping God he tries to get in touch with that part of himself which he has lost through projection.  After having given God all he has, he begs God to return to him some of what originally was his own.  But having lost his own he is completely at God’s mercy.  He necessarily feels like a “sinner” since he has deprived himself of everything that is good, and it is only through God’s mercy or grace that he can regain that which alone makes him human.  And in order to persuade God to give him some of his love, he must prove to him how utterly deprived he is of love; in order to persuade God to guide him by his superior wisdom he must prove to him how deprived he is of wisdom when he is left to himself. 

 

But this alienation from his own powers not only makes man feel slavishly dependent on God, it makes him bad too.  He becomes a man without faith in his fellow men or in himself, without the experience of his own love, of his own power of reason.  As a result the separation between the “holy” and the “secular” occurs.  In his worldly activities man acts without love, in that sector of his life which is reserved to religion he feels himself a sinner (which he actually is, since to live without love is to live in sin) and tries to recover some of his lost humanity by being in touch with God.  Simultaneously, he tries to win forgiveness by emphasizing his own helplessness and worthlessness.  Thus the attempt to obtain forgiveness results in the activation of the very attitude from which his sins stem.  He is caught in a painful dilemma.  The more he praises God, the emptier he becomes.  The emptier he becomes, the more sinful he feels.  The more sinful he feels, the more he praises his God—and the less able is he to regain himself.

 

So the difficulty of authoritarian religion will continue to exist until a generation finally decides it is unnecessary.  As long as people are unwilling to take hold of their own personal power of reason they will continue to wander in the wilderness of authoritarian religion.  It will take the demise of a backward-thinking generation in the wilderness before a new generation can enter the promise land of higher awareness and peace and love for all of humanity. 

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Droids

I must confess, it has been one crazy hectic weekend.  I had every good intention to spend some quality time with the keyboard this weekend but life took over and here it is Tuesday already.  My wife upgraded her car this weekend and yesterday I finally had enough with Nextel so I went out and purchased Droids for both of us.  OK, now I have to confess, I probably could have spent some quality time with the keyboard yesterday but I just purchased Droids.  If that’s not a high quality excuse then I guess I don’t know what is.  I have been in the dark ages of Nextel for so many years and I have watched with just a touch of jealousy as those around me were enjoying their far-superior technology.  No longer do I have to wait 2 and 3 minutes for a text to download.  No longer do I have to stand on a chair and tilt my head sideways to get a decent signal inside our house.  And no longer do I have to wait until I get home to respond to an email.  The only aspects I will miss about Nextel are the two-way feature and the hassle of getting my new number out to everybody (for some reason Verizon couldn’t use my local number).  So far, however, the good totally outweighs the bad with our new purchase.

I was hoping to continue my line of thought on When Life Happens but we are eagerly heading out the door to see Bill in a few minutes.  I will have to hold that thought until the keyboard and I can sneak some time together tonight or tomorrow morning.

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