Revel in the Awesomeness

What’s really awesome for you lately?

I had such an endearing conversation with a friend this week.  A new empty nester, he reflected on this new perspective.  Having spent so much time and energy focused joyfully and lovingly on his children the last couple of decades, he now has some of that time and energy ‘back’, to do with what he chooses.  And it seems he chooses in part to appreciate the awesomeness of his life a bit more.  Fabulous marriage, meaningful and fulfilling careers for both him and his wife, a chance to make a positive difference in the world around him, and happy, healthy kids.  Yay! 

I absolutely love hearing people revel in awesomeness, don’t you?  Is it not totally inspiring?  When was the last time you looked around and truly appreciated the goodness all around you?  It’s a vulnerable act, if we’re honest.  Too often it feels like tempting fate, ‘jinxing it’, to call out all that is going so well, so right.  So we keep joy at bay, we keep striving, always looking for how it could all be better.  Huh.

What happens when we allow awesomeness to envelope us, penetrate us, move us? 

I think the first thing we get is a deep sense of wonder.  How could it be so good?  How is it even possible?  And it doesn’t even have to be anything big.  I have a cold—fever, congestion, headache, fatigue, body aches, mental fog.  And yet I can hydrate, medicate, and slow down, and still work (not in person!) and take care of the family.  The parameters for normal operation in the human body are remarkably narrow.  And yet multiple systems can be widely deranged, and we not only survive, we function at about 90% or better for the most part.  What an amazingly evolved machine, with perfectly orchestrated and automatically, effortlessly effective redundancies!  HOW AWESOME!? 

For me, from wonder grows gratitude.  Some people can’t actually tolerate a cold so well, but I can.  Some people don’t have access to excellent healthcare, but I do.  Some people don’t have the marriage, career, and kids that my friend and I have—but we do.  And we are grateful.  We don’t have to feel shame or guilt for having it ‘better’ than anyone else.  Everybody has their challenges in life, us included.  And still, counting our blessings is a great way to get perspective in any time, hard or easy.

Gratitude, then, is the fountain from which generosity springs.  I wrote about this in 2015:

When I feel grateful, there is enough. I am enough. Even just saying the word, seeing it on the screen, brings me to a more peaceful state of mind and body. It brings to mind the people in my life—my parents, husband, children, friends, colleagues. I recall instances when someone went above and beyond to help me, or when they thought of me and took to the time to call or write. I feel humble. I feel connected.  I want to share what I have with others.

When we truly revel in awesomeness, then allow wonder to infiltrate our psyche, then bask luxuriously in deep gratitude, how can we help but wish for everybody to have what we have, to feel what we feel?  If I can have all this, when life is this abundant, how can I help but share?

Finally, I believe reveling in awesomeness is the seedbed for my activist heart.  I have much and I strive to share freely.  I wish for everybody with much to share with those who have much less.  I wish for our culture and society to make it easier, through policy, for all to have more than enough, for that to be the default.  These days I have cynicism-optimism whiplash at ever higher speed and intensity.  I see so much self-absorption, biting competition, and scarcity thinking.  Sometimes I just want to shake people and yell, “Look UP!  We have so much potential for good here, if we only choose to see it!”  But I realize folks don’t always appreciate this approach.  So for now I can simply revel out loud for myself, in all the awesomeness I experience every day.  And like my friend did, I can share the light I see—emanate it—and I can keep making a difference starting from there.

Excavating the Dark Side of the Shitpile

Who’s ready to get off this roller coaster?

Bazinga, no dice!  We are strapped in like fat toddlers to professionally installed car seats and this hellish ride ain’t stopping anytime soon. 

What am I talking about?  COVID?  Racial injustice?  The economy?  Politics?  Riots and looting?  Wildfires?  Square dancing hurricanes?  Climate change?  Well, all of it, of course.  We are in it, my friends.  Oh. Yeah.

*sigh*

As always, my friend Donna enlightens me and I feel better.  In our recent conversation I recalled her assertion a decade ago that humanity pushes toward ever increasing consciousness and enlightenment.  Right after the 2016 election I may have laughed out loud (or cried) at this idea.  But today I take a different perspective.  How can I say this in the middle of all the tumult and crisis?  Because tumult and crisis are exactly the evidence of impending breakthrough.  Anyone who has done any truly deep, inner work knows that enlightenment cannot come without a whole shit-ton of pain and suffering.  We also know that on the other, light side, when we get there, the effort was always worth it.  My “Sh*tpile” post may be only the second or third I ever wrote on this blog:

Everybody has one.  We inherit large parts of it from our parents, whose parents passed theirs down, etc.  Life experiences add mass and odor as we grow up.  It sits squarely in the middle of the house of our existence.  For the most part, we simply live our lives around it, walking past every day, careful not to knock any pieces off.  The surface gets dry and crusty; we grow accustomed to the smell.  No big deal.

Once in a while, something moves us to start digging, like that sudden urge to clean out the closet.  We quickly learn that sh*tpile insides stay fresh and painful, like unhealed wounds when scabs suddenly get torn off.  Our eyes water, our senses are overwhelmed, and we want to escape, and fast.  Maybe we avoid that room for a while, or we come back driving a tank to flatten the pile, to the destruction of other property.

Then last year I wrote about the poop flinging that happens when somebody else knocks off a piece of our shitpile, in “All Hail Your Dark Side”: 

What triggers you?

I don’t mean your pet peeves (please, stop using “there’s” when speaking about anything in the plural).  I mean what gets under your skin and affects you viscerally, really hijacks you?  I’m talking about the thing that escalates you so fast or intensely it’s like an out of body experience—you know you’re overreacting, you know it’s irrational, and yet all you can do is sit by and watch it unfold, powerless to control or direct it.

I submit that we are at this moment, collectively, neck deep in our triggered societal shitpile. I’m thinking mostly about systemic American racism, but I also include our profoundly political, ideological, and cultural polarization.  We’ got some serious reckoning to do, my peeps.  How the hell did we get here, and how the f*** do we get out?

“What if this is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?”  Valarie Kaur asks.  What if this is exactly the Work we all need to do to reach that higher plane of human relationship?  What if we are all called to participate—fully, both feet, deep end—with only one another as life preservers?  Brené Brown calls it “Day 2,” the messy middle between realization and resolution, where the Reckoning, Rumbling, and Revolution happen.  It’s the second act in Joseph Cambell’s hero story arc, after the hero has tried every way of avoiding, denying, deflecting, and averting the task, and finally resigns, and rises, to meet it.  The gripping, tense, thrilling part of any story is this messy middle, the part we dread and relish at the same time.

In the Shitpile post I assert that we can use our life manure to cultivate a life garden that brings joy, fulfillment, and peace.  I use the metaphor of wise gardeners and tools that we can recruit to make the Work easier and more meaningful.  The pile is deep, pungent, and squishy in that way that creates a vacuum, sucking you further in every time you move, apparently impossible to escape.  But we can do it.  Look for help from people who already wield the most effective implements—Curiosity, Humility, Respect, Openness, Non-judgment, Kindness, Empathy, Self-Awareness, and Self-Control.

I present below my hardware store of other tools, accumulated to date, that help me relish ‘way more than dread.  They inform, educate, challenge, and stimulate me.  Along with my pit crew, these resources and practices give me the vital energy and strength, and really the joy, to pursue the hard conversations, to engage ‘the opposition,’ and to make a God. Damn. Difference.  I hope at least some of it resonates with you.  What else would you add to the store?

The Books

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Four Days to Change by Micheal Welp

How to Be and Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (still getting through this one—it’s the esoteric lecture)

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad (will revisit this one—it’s the life workbook)

But I Don’t See You as Asian by Bruce Reyes-Chow

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

The Websites/Groups/Resources

Braver Angels—depolarizing America, one conversation at a time

Uprooting Inequity –Ayo Magwood—American history scholar teaches history of racism in America online.  I’ve taken two of her classes and recommend them highly.

The Root—“The Blacker the Content the Sweeter the Truth”

The Dispatch—conservative news

All Sides—news from left, center, and right organized around topic/issue

David French, The French Press

Chris Ladd, Political Orphans, and formerly GOPLifer

The Concepts and Practices

Technical vs Adaptive Challenges and Change—Heifetz and Linsky

PEARLS:  Fostering connection in communication—a copyrighted framework from the Academy of Communication in HealthcarePartnership, Empathy, Acknowledgement, Respect, Legitimation, Support

Asking truly Open, Honest Questions—Parker Palmer, Center for Courage and Renewal

Cone in the Box:  Perspective taking—Judy Sorum Brown

Managing Polarities—Barry Johnson

Rest In Power, King

https://www.facebook.com/chadwickboseman/photos/a.10154144681649864/10157949281529864

My heart is so heavy this weekend, friends.  Maybe yours is, too.  Humanity lost such a bright star last night.  I post today to collect, for myself in one place, words and videos of and about Chadwick Boseman, so I may return here for inspiration and grace hereafter.  This is my tribute.

Read about his most visible and important body of work, in the space of only seven years.  I wish I had known him sooner.  But I’m sure many would agree, once we knew him, we were mesmerized.  Just seeing him, watching and hearing him speak, we felt an immediate kinship.  Superhero?  Yes, absolutely.  And also someone we could sit down with over a drink and really relate—easily.  At least that’s my fantasy. Through his work, he calls us to be better, to fulfill our potential.

Read about his family and early life experiences, his journey to and through acting, and how he approached his characters and life in general:

In a pop taxonomy of black male nobility, he is cut squarely from the mold of Barack Obama — generally cool-blooded, affable, devoted to unglamorous fundamentals — a figure whom he is doubtlessly on a shortlist to portray in an inevitable epic.

Boseman told me his method of humanizing superhumans begins with searching their pasts. He’s looking for gestational wounds, personal failures, private fears — fissures where the molten ore of experience might harden into steel.

Watch Black moviegoers, young and old, express what he means to them in his portrayal of Wakanda’s King T’Challa in Marvel’s Black Panther. This video made me cry. To see the deep and profound emotions of people who finally see themselves represented on the big screen—why have they had to wait so long? It reminds me of how I cried during Crazy Rich Asians, when I heard Yeh Lai Xiang, a song I grew up listening to, when I heard such familiar words spoken by the characters, when I watched and understood viscerally the meaning of the ma jiang scene. Watch also how Boseman emerges from behind the curtain to meet and embrace each of these fans—see his presence, his empathy, his respect, humility, grace, humor, and magnanimity.

Watch him speak on behalf of his colleagues on their challenges in their industry, and the meaning of their success for themselves and those who will come after them. Watch how he effortlessly inhabits confidence, strength, humility, authenticity, hope, and challenge. See how he graciously accepts accolades while simultaneously conveying a message that we have work yet to do (that’s how I hear it). To be “young, gifted, and Black,” indeed.

Finally, watch—don’t just listen or read, really watch—his 2018 commencement address at his alma mater, Howard University.  See his easy and relaxed, generous and relatable demeanor.  Hear his words—stories of challenge, integrity, perseverance, and generosity—both his and the students’.  Feel his hopes for and blessings on the graduates, and his admonishment to us all, to be better, to lead, to take the harder path, for the sake of those who come after us.  Some brief exerpts: 

But beyond the physical campus, the Hilltop represents the culmination of the intellectual and spiritual journey you have undergone while you were here. You have been climbing this academic slope for at least three or four years. For some of you, maybe even a little bit more. Throughout ancient times, institutions of learning have been built on top of hills to convey that great struggle is required to achieve degrees of enlightenment. Each of you had your own unique difficulties with the hill.

Most of you graduating here today struggled against one or more of the impediments or obstacles I’ve mentioned in order to reach this hill top. When completing a long climb, one first experiences dizziness, disorientation and shortness of breath due to the high altitude, but once you become accustomed to the climb, your mind opens up to the tranquility of the triumph.

As is often the case, those that follow most often enjoy the results of the progress you gained. You love the university enough to struggle with it. Now, I have to ask you that you have to continue to do that even now that you received your demands. Even if you are walking today, you have to continue to do that. Everything that you fought for was not for yourself. It was for those that come after. You could have been disgruntled and transferred, but you fought to be participants in making this institution the best that it can be.

Your freedom of speech was exercised in a way where you can contribute to this place. It also shows that you can contribute to the democracy. The administration and the campus police at the time when I was protesting were not nearly as open-minded as this current one. I know this was a difficult time, but because of both of you, I believe Howard is a few steps closer to the actualization of its potential, the potential that many of us have dreamed for it. Students, your protests are also promising because many of you will leave Howard and enter systems and institutions that have a history of discrimination and marginalization. The fact that you have struggled with this university that you love is a sign that you can use your education to improve the world that you are entering.

…execs of the show called me into their offices and told me how happy they were with my performance. They wanted me to be around for a long time. They said if there was anything that I needed, just let them know. That was my opening. I decided to ask them some simple questions about the background of my character, questions that I felt were pertinent to the plot. Question number one: Where is my father? The exec answered, “Well, he left when you were younger.” Of course. Okay. Okay. Question number two: In this script, it alluded to my mother not being equipped to operate as a good parent, so why exactly did my little brother and I have to go into foster care? Matter-of-factly, he said, “Well, of course she is on heroin”.

That could be real, I guess, but I didn’t want to assume that’s what it was. If we are around here assuming that the black characters in the show are criminals, on drugs and deadbeat parents, then that would probably be stereotypical, wouldn’t it? That word stereotypical lingered. …I was let go from that job on the next day.

…But am I actually black balled. We are hesitant about sending you out to some people right now because there is a stigma that you are difficult. As conflicted as I was before I lost the job, as adamant as I was about the need to speak truth to power, I found myself even more conflicted afterwards. I stand here today knowing that my Howard University education prepared me to play Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and T’Challa.

Graduating class, hear me well on this day. This day, when you have reached the hill top and you are deciding on next jobs, next steps, careers, further education, you would rather find purpose than a job or career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose. When I dared to challenge the system that would relegate us to victims and stereotypes with no clear historical backgrounds, no hopes or talents, when I questioned that method of portrayal, a different path opened up for me, the path to my destiny.

Our time on this earth is truly short, my friends.  What are we doing with it? 

God bless you, Mr. Boseman, for your shining example.  You are a king of our hearts in so many ways.  Now you rest.  We carry on in your honor.