Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Time, there was a time...

There's something strange happening with the concept of time. Things are changing at a faster rate. This trend was first flagged in the seventies by Alvin and Heidi Toffler, futurists and authors of the book "Future Shock". The idea in the seventies was that things were changing so fast, more and more people were unable to keep up with the changing times. Remember: this is before the advent of computers, let alone a world wide web.

In recent research Richard Wiseman, author of Quirkology compared the speed at which people walked, in different city's. It was a follow up from research that was done 10 years earlier and in every location people had stepped up their walking speed by at least 10%. We are literally moving faster than ever. In spite of mindfulness movements and meditation becoming more prevalent, we are speeding up.

The analogy with the life of a human being seems apt. When we're young a summer day can last almost forever, the hot summer nights of puberty seem much longer than sitting down at night after putting the children to bed. Time speeds up by perspective alone, 1 year at 20 is 5% of your life while at 50 it's down to 2% of your life. But there's more to it than that.

Another thing that makes time seem to last longer for the young is the level of interest they bring to what they are doing. They are doing a lot of things for the very first time, living it intensely. That first kiss lasted a lot longer it seems than the goodnight kiss you gave your partner tonight, didn't it? When in effect, in terms of clock-time it may have been of equal length.

Mindfulness and meditation aren't enough to turn the tide, if indeed the tide needs turning. Perhaps more and more people are unable to keep up with the changing times, but it may be that we don't need to grow and change all that much. Maybe the latest I-pod or the newest blackberry don't have any appeal except for the very young. Maybe they will grow faster and faster, to keep up with the things that are happening. Certainly the incidence of ADHD and Indigo Children seems to indicate that something is evolving.

How okay can you be with growing older? With not keeping up with the latest trends and not knowing what a flashmob is or how to create one? How much can you enjoy the benefits of growing older? The feel of your aging skin? How wonderful to live and not be that pimply, insecure youngster needing all these playthings to be okay, to feel like they're with the in-crowd.
Celebrate aging
I love new stuff, I love to read how they have invented a portable dvd-player and a Wii so children can play at the computer without going obese. I love that they are winning energy through osmosis from the places where sweetwater meets the salty. I like to stay informed and I twitter and (obviously) blog. I don't need any of these things to feel good about myself though. That's what aging does: It shows you how relative these things are to your personal mission and your happiness.

I have given myself permission to not keep up with the times. I pick and choose, those things that are fun and interesting, I run with, like blogging and twitter. The things that I don't feel add to my overall well being or my mission in life, I give a pass. This has made my life a lot simpler. I don't need half as much stuff, in fact I've made it a habit to give my excess stuff away twice a year. It also means I don't need to sell as much of my time for money. This gives me ample time to spend on the things in life that I find enjoyable. It also leaves me with plenty of time to do something meaningful for the world, which in the final analysis gives me the most satisfaction and joy.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

6 easy to follow steps to "do-gooding"

Do-gooding, as I see it, is doing good deeds for no appearant reason. Some would call it altruism and start a discussion if people do it in order to feel good. Or maybe they do it to avoid feeling ashamed or guilty for not having done it. However, I'm not really looking for a definition. Instead let's take a look at the mechanics.

How to do-good.

Step 1: Find your niche.
You can't do-good all the time and on every topic. The world is too full of small hurts for you to take it all on. Even Mother Theresa specialized in the orphans of Calcutta. On a world scale, you could call that a small niche. On a personal scale it was a daunting task. She made her mark on the world without trying to do it all.
Your niche should be something you care deeply about. Wether it's poverty, the environment, health or any of the millions of things it's possible to care about, choose the one that touches your heart. If you don't feel passionate about it, do-gooding is going to be a chore rather than a service of joy.

Step 2: Define your boundaries
Determine how much of your time and effort you are willing and able to invest. Make sure that the time you commit to do-gooding detract you from the other things you find important and necessary in your life. Neglecting your family, health or job will result in stress in those area's of your life. Ultimately this will negate your positive effect on the world from do-gooding. To my knowledge Mahatma Ghandi only slipped once in his efforts to change the world through non-violence and this was when he was so angry he took a swing at his wife. Don't you make the same mistake, do-gooding starts at home!

Step 3: Set the scene.
Think about place and time: are you going to be do-gooding everywhere or in a specific area. Place and time could mean you volunteer a certain amount of time to a cause of your choice, actually setting time apart, or you could make it a goal to be alert for anonymous do-gooding all the time (see: Heroes). The main thing is that you choose where and when you have the intention of doing good. It will open your eyes to do-gooding opportunities everywhere.

Step 4: Start!
This may sound obvious but starting is one of the most difficult steps. Make that phonecall to the volunteer organisation of your choice. Offer to carry your elderly neighbors groceries. Help out at the local foodbank. Pick up that first piece of litter on the ground. There's enormous power in beginning. If you're finding yourself procrastinating, putting off the do-gooding, go back to step number 1, bearing in mind that you may have set your goals too high.There's a story about a man who came to the gates of heaven and to his dismay they were closed. He wept and lamented, begged the doorman for the key. He was there for days, weeping and complaining, moaning and groaning, claiming he had always had the best of intentions and never did anybody any harm. Never once did he get up and try the handle. The door was never locked.

Step 5: Evaluate
Be sure to evaluate periodically, especially important when you're just starting out. Have you made the right choice? Is the area you're doing good in the one you feel passionate about? Are you in the right surroundings, with people feeding you in your commitment to do-gooding? Are you still spending enough time in your daily life, doing the stuff that you had a prior commitment to? Is your do-gooding effort giving you the satisfaction of a job well done? Are you doing good at your own level of competence? Can you do more? Should you do less? Evaluate if the task you've set yourself fit's in with your life and brings you joy.

Step 6: Inspire others.
You've found your niche and you're happily making a difference in the world. You're doing good on a regular basis and at a level you feel comfortable with. You're reaping the rewards, whether they be the aforementioned lack of shame and guilt or the pride you might feel in a job well worth doing, done well. It's time to inspire others to do what you did, show them how much joy you're finding in service. Show them that when you listen to your heart and find your niche everyone can do good.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hubchallenge, day 5: Ten years of therapy

On a different blogsite I'm working on a series of articles that I'm pretty proud of. It's a 30 article series on Childhood Sexual Abuse. I'm aiming to write it from a personal experience perspective without turning it into a sobstory or personal journal. Using my experiences to shed some light on what Childhood Sexual Abuse, and healing from it, looks like from the inside.

Hubchallenge, day 5: Ten years of therapy

Heroes: becoming inspiring individuals

In my last post I speak about the true heroes, those unsung heroes that help an old lady cross the street, pick up that bit of garbage and light a candle in someone's darkness. Today's blog is an attempt to empower people to go out and be a hero.

In response to my last post my girlfriend told me she's been a hero today. Across the street from her there's a supermarket that always has a lot of empty beercans lying around. Some presumably homeless people hang out there and leave their can's lying around. Today she walked past it as she always does on the way to doing the groceries, and instead of just passing them by, she went and picked them up and put them in the garbage bin. I'm proud to have inspired such an act of heroism.

Calling it heroism may seem overdone, but I believe it is the right and proper term. It takes courage and determination to change your own behavior. It means you have to change your own perception, refuse to think of problems as unsolveable and to be committed to making a difference in the world. Calling it heroism may however makes the task at hand seem difficult. As if you have to do something really special and unique to be a hero.

A hero, in my definition is someone who doesn't let an opportunity to make a difference go unnoticed. They pay attention to what is going on around them and help whenever they can. My girlfriend in the above example has probably walked past those cans a dozen times at least, perhaps even hundreds of times. However, today she saw them in a different light and made a choice to do something about it.

This kind of behavior is different and gets noticed, and when it does it's contagious. I remember one night at Carnaval, walking from the trainstation to my girlfriends home. In the south of our country Carnaval is celebrated with as much joy and noise as it is in Rio, and my girlfriend lives in the south. It was quite a new experience for me, all these people all dressed up, walking from bar to bar, singing and having a good time. I noticed however that some vandal had pushed a number of bicycles over, so that they lay in the road. The inebriated crowd was walking by them, but I could see that it was only a matter of time before they'd be falling over them or maybe treading on them, either breaking their necks or breaking the bicycles.

So my girlfriend and I picked up the first bike we saw and leaned it against the buildings on the side. There were at least 7 bikes that were similarly thrown about and it looked like a daunting task when a man in a pigsuit cheered at us. He told us: "I saw you put that bike upright! Good going ladies, that's what the world needs, people who care". He helped us lean the rest of the bikes against buildings and lampposts and told us about Carnaval in years gone by when of course "everything was better and people really cared". We made his night and he made ours.

That's the random acts of kindness that I believe are truely heroic. And aside from making a difference they also make you feel good about yourself! It's fun to look at the world and look for small ways in which you can improve it, right here and right now. So I propose we start a movement: the RAK-movement. RAK meaning: Random Acts of Kindness. It's easy and anyone can do it. But just to get you started and to inspire others: let's keep a tRAK-record. Let me know what RAK you did today!

If you like this post, you may also enjoy:
On being human: The case for mediocrity

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Good and Evil

"All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing"
Edmund Burke.

Evil came into my life early in the form of a child molester who abused me for 9 years. I experienced first hand the truth of the statement by Edmund Burke. In the nine years I was abused I'm sure some people must have seen something strange going on with me. I have no memory of anyone ever acting on my behalf thought. Instead, I was scolded for the way I acted out, told I was lazy and a rebellious teen.

In coming to terms with the experience of evil so early in life, I've thought a lot about good and evil. It has made me very aware that I have a choice, at any moment, to commit evil (by act or ommision) or good. I learned the truth of Alexandre Soltjzenitzyn's statement:

"The line between good and evil runs through the heart of every human being"

It's a moral choice whether you do good deeds or evil deeds.

Conformity experiment
That moral choice isn't as easy to make as it might seem: most of us are easily influenced by peer pressure. In the famous Asch experiment of conformity a full 75% of the people tested at least once gave a wrong answer when everyone around them gave the wrong answer. The question was: which of these lines on the right is of equal length to the one left, A B or C? Not hard to answer that one is it? In fact, without peer pressure only 1 person out of 35 tested ever got it wrong. When everyone around them gave the wrong answer however, 75% failed to give the right answer.

What's true for factual matters is probably double true for matters dealing with right and wrong. Given a situation where you perceive yourself to have no choices, where someone in authority is taking responsibility for your actions, and peer pressure to conform is high, you too might commit attrocities, like them poor soldiers in Abu Grahib. There but for the grace of God go I. An inconvenient truth? Yes. Can we escape it? Maybe.

In no way do I excuse people for the evil deeds they commit, I solidly believe in personal responsibility. However I also believe that there is no such thing as an evil person. Every one of us has a potential for good AND evil. Circumstances may call forth one or the other. The only thing we have to assist us in doing good is making a moral choice.

The hero's choice
A very simple example is littering. Interesting study done about that shows that when a street is very clean you don't normally litter, although about 10% of the people do anyway. If the street is very dirty, 90% of the same people just add to the mess. You have a moral choice:
  • You can put your own litter in the appropriate bin.
  • You can drop your litter as you go.
Then there is also the hero's choice:
  • Clean your entire street of litter and engage in a community program to keep it clean.
What we need in order to escape from the risk of us becoming the very monsters we fear, is everyday heroism. We need to celebrate the everyday hero that helps an old lady with her groceries. The hero that helps you pick up your papers when you drop them. The kind of hero that doesn't stand idly by when something bad happens, but goes into action when it counts. Every day we have a chance to be the hero that we are. All we have to do is be on the lookout for it.

So ask yourself at the end of every day:
"Did I have a chance to be somebody's hero today? Did I grab the chance?"

Monday, July 6, 2009

There is no "us" and "them"

I newly discovered this great site called TED. It has video podcasts on various topics from all sorts of innovative speakers. One that really touched my heart was the following talk by Diane Benscoter. As a former Moonie she's made a study of what kind of processes go into making someone go to the extremes for their particular set of beliefs.

She makes a valid point near the end: if a problem is of human origin we can tackle it ourselves. Instead of relying on God, the government or whatever higher power you may find yourself believing in. Because that would be making the same mistake again.

Think your own thoughts
Be aware though: Believing you're on the right side of the conflict is not the way out. As long as you're willing to make the other person into an enemy, dehumanize them or perceive them as essentially different from you, you're falling victim to the oldfashioned "us and them" paradigm.

The way out of this whole mess is through critical thinking. Asking yourself and each other the kinds of questions that open our minds, rather than close it. It's being open to different solutions, new modes of thinking, rather than settling for a new solidified "truth". It takes being aware, awake to all possibilities, aware of your own needs and wants and curious about someone elses.

Jonestown, Abu Grahib, Nazi Germany, terrorism and anti-terrorism all use the same logic. Any kind of thinking that points to a possible villain is part of the old modes of thinking. It's time to do away with such blanket judgements and start thinking of ourselves as one human family and figure out a way to avoid killing each other.

What if there was a war and nobody went?
Fortunately these are also the times when great movements are happening. More perhaps than ever before we are working together to solve problems, learning to use non-violent communication, finding new ways of resolving conflicts. The world is becoming a less violent place. We're learning, albeit slowly, to cherish and love one another.

Having an unbirthday party

Remember Alice in wonderland? She fell into the rabit-hole on her birthday, which was quite a shame because down in the rabit-hole they only celebrated unbirthdays. How inspiring that is: instead of a single day of celebration you get 364 days, sometimes even one more. I always liked that concept, except for the fatal flaw in it: why not celebrate birthdays as well?

I have a friend who's birthday is in november. In Holland this means fall weather, sometimes even snow and this all amounts to an indoor party. However, my friend enjoys the out of doors, so together we came up with a better plan. This weekend we celebrated her birthday, on the fourth of july. Having lived in America for 6 years, I particularly like that date because of Independence day, but most Dutch people aren't even aware that the 4th of July is a special day for Americans.

We had a picnic by the river, a rather historical spot where during the war the allied forces dropped in by way of parachute and unfortunately were killed in large numbers by Germans being stationed on the hills overlooking the Rhine valley. This postponed the liberation of the north of our country leading to the worst famine ever in Holland because the north held most the farms. These days however, the spot is a favorite for the beauty of the riverbend, the river locks, the great picnic area right on the waterside.

There were a lot of people there from many nationalities. In Holland we have immigrants from such places as Morocco, Turkey, Iran, Albania and other exotic places. More perhaps than the Dutch they are fond of picnic's. It was great to see how integration works on a field like that. First it's the children, they pretty much play together as soon as someone brings out a ball. They don't notice or care about differences and a headscarf is nothing to worry yourself about. (the Dutch parliament has been in a gridlock about it, should civil servants be allowed to wear one when on duty?)

Later on some Turkish (?) people taught us how to dance a traditional folkdance. Some fishermen explained to a group of children all about river-fishing and another group played snakes and ladders on the grassy lawn. There are many prejudices in Dutch society about people from other nationalities and cultures, but when you actually meet them on an outing, they are all blown out of the water.

Integration is a hot topic in Dutch politics, in fact, it seems like for most European countries it's high on the agenda. To me the solution doesn't seem to be: sending people on a mandatory three day course on how the Dutch do things (another wonderful invention from our government). I would rather see them arrange, stimulate and fund parties where people get to informally meet each other. Any excuse will do, anything that brings people together, a party can help dissolve the mistrust, the misconception and the preconceived notions about "foreignors".

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


In Ode Magazine this month there was an article by Tijn Touber. After all his meditation exercises, guru's and mindfulness experiences he's finally arrived at the inevitable conclusion: "I am already enlightened." All the spiritual practises and training is actually keeping us from knowing this. At the heart of the matter, there's nothing other than: we are already enlightened.

When I was about 16 I was a prolific reader. People at the library got to know me, even to the extend that they offered me my first job ever: putting books back on those shelves. A bit of a bookworm I was in those days. I still enjoy reading a lot but it's never been like those days because I figured something out pretty soon. All the psychology books, all the self-help and sociology books, even the romance novels I read were about one thing only: Being human.

Being catapulted into enlightenment like Tijn talks about in Ode reminded me of something my good friend and mentor Tom Crum used to say. "We are already connected"
We don't end where our skin ends. Recent discoveries in quantum mechanics show that something of who you are gets absorbed into your surroundings, a measurable quantity of you remains in a room even if you only spend an hour there. And I assume something of your surroundings gets absorbed into you. That means that at least a little bit of who I am becomes part of who you are. Hurting you is tantamount to hurting myself.
We are already connected. Enlightenment, indeed being human is about accepting that connectedness.

Enlightenment, in my opinion, is the recognition that we're all part of this great quantum soup, each of us a drop in the ocean. Each of us with our own individual beauty and part of a greater truth at the same time. When those two beliefs are united within us, that's when you are enlightened.

I believe I'm enlightened, although I'd say I'm a part-timer at it :-). It's all too easy to get caught up in our littleness, our separateness and loose sight of the fact that we're also the great ocean of abundance. It's like I know that I am the light, or at least part of the light, but I get caught up making sure my lampshade is good enough. Oh well, I'm only human...