Choosing Peace

We all have a responsibility to experience peace on an increasingly regular basis.  Emotional turmoil, especially that which is rooted in destructive feelings such as fear, anxiety, anger, or hatred, is at the basis of all conflict in the world.  These negative emotional and psychological tendencies color our perspective on the world in dark ways:  we see enemies rather than other human beings.  We see threat, rather than life situations that could instead be perceived as inspiring challenges.

Moreover, whatever our internal experiences, they are never without effect on the outer world.  No human being is separate from the rest of humanity, and our state of mind has an effect, for good or ill, on the people around us.  Regardless of whether we choose our mental emotional landscape consciously and positively or unconsciously and destructively, it has an impact on others, and these thoughts and feelings, positive or negative, tend to influence more of the same, whatever that may be.

The one thing we always have complete freedom to choose is our state of mind.  We may have little or no control over the outside circumstances of our lives, but we always have the ability to choose how we perceive and respond to those circumstances.

And as our thoughts and feelings influence others, so too do theirs have an effect on the people around them as well, so that our choices spread out in a subtle but significant chain reaction that ultimately touches everyone everywhere in some way.  Like the butterfly whose wings move the air, which in turn effects the air around that, and around that, finally effecting in some unknown way even the weather patterns in distant locations of the world, so too do we touch the world with our influence.

In that sense, we all have responsibility for the state of world affairs.  Are we choosing peace, compassion, empathy, tolerance, acceptance, understanding, or are we choosing more destructively?  We will all have an influence, the only question is, what will it be?

On a personal level, these inner perspectives also tend to draw us into outer situations and circumstances that most closely reflect the inner landscape.  Self-fulfilling prophecies are a natural fact of life, and more often than not, we tend to get what we expect, in one way or another.  Dire expectations tend to attract more unpleasant results.

So too it is on the collective level.  The emotional psychological state of groups of people, in a family, a city, a nation, or the world, and their expectations, create the outer events in the world.  Anyone who works on Wall Street can tell you just how true this is.  The market is most often driven not by facts, but by collective beliefs and expectations.

It all begins with each of us and our moment to moment choices of how to be.  Are we choosing peace in this moment?  Or turmoil?  When tempted with the possibility of reacting with fear, anger, anxiety, resentment, or hostility, we can instead choose peace.  We can choose compassion.  We can choose acceptance and tolerance and equanimity.

We are responsible for these choices, whether we are aware of it or not.

Choose wisely today.

Tragedy and Gratitude

Tragedy and Gratitude

Yesterday evening around 5:45 PM, we heard a loud boom, and the house shook as though something large had hit it.  As many of you will have heard, it was actually a huge gas-line explosion just off the downtown square here in Canton, which is just over a half mile from where we live.  One Ameren worker, who’d been working on the gas-line at the time, was killed, and several other people injured, including Dr. Tom Eiselt, a colleague from my Rotary Club here in Canton.

Tragedies such as these remind us of what’s truly important.  Coincidentally, as I’d been preparing for my monthly television segment on WEEK-TV in Peoria, I’d been thinking that having just come through this contentious election season, and since Thanksgiving is only a week away, how really important it is for us to shift our focus away from everything we think is wrong in our lives, and instead put our attention on everything that is right.  And that’s what Thanksgiving is about—celebrating our blessings of abundance.

While it’s certainly much more challenging during times of crisis and loss, this shift in focus—from dissatisfaction to gratitude—is nonetheless really important, because as creative human beings, whatever we focus on intently, we tend to increase and replicate.  Even within the context of last night’s disaster, we can be grateful that there weren’t more injuries or loss of life, as there so easily could have been.

Choosing gratitude allows us to weather the storm of adversity with more grace and acceptance.  Perhaps just as importantly, with an attitude of gratitude our subconscious mind goes to work to create more of the same, and our experience of abundance is replicated.

And of course we’re not just talking about material abundance…  Abundance can take many different forms. In our country, we have an abundance of freedoms and opportunities that many people don’t have. We can also appreciate the abundance of relationships, our friends and families, our health, our safety and security, and even our ability to help others in situations of need.  And whatever we focus on tends to expand.

In fact, when we join together in this experience of shared appreciation and gratitude, our imagination becomes enflamed with possibility, and truly magical things can often take place.  We experience our blessings expanding until our cups runneth over.  We find ourselves acting on this vision of abundance, potently charged emotionally by the feelings of gratitude, and we move unerringly towards its further manifestation.

My prayers go out to all those who suffered loss in this crisis, and I also want express my deep and abiding gratitude to all my friends, family, clients, and my many other connections for enriching my life in so many ways.  May you all have a safe and blessed Thanksgiving.

Love Trumps Hate

Love Trumps Hate

As was reported in the Huntington Post, on July 31, following the murder of a Catholic priest by two French teens claiming allegiance to ISIS, Muslims throughout France and Italy attended Catholic Mass in a powerful display of unity.  Outside the church where the priest was killed, Muslims held a banner saying, “Love for all. Hate for none.”

I find it interesting and a bit disturbing that the acts of violence are far more widely and prominently reported in the media than these impressive demonstrations of solidarity.  To my mind, the real story of our times is not the hatred and violence, but the ever-increasing displays of unity and compassion.  But you’d never know it from the so-called news reported in the mainstream media.

It’s important that we pay attention to these unifying acts of solidarity, because wherever we place our focus of attention is what gets reinforced.  This is as true on the group and international level as it is on the personal level.

If we want more peace, unity, tolerance, and cooperation in the world, we must place our attention on these attributes consistently and regularly, both in our own personal lives, as well as in the world arena.  We can help reinforce these positive trends by thinking, emoting, and acting accordingly.  Hate and fear never get abolished with more hate and fear.  They lose their power when we place our energy and our attention elsewhere, on more loving, compassionate, and peaceful ways of thinking and being.

As Mahatma Ghandi said, we need to “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Whenever some loud shouting voice in the media tries to temp you to brand others as evil, remember that the violence in the world isn’t happening because some human beings are inherently evil.  It happens because some human beings are in deep pain and confused (and therefore easily manipulated into acting destructively) about how to create real change in the world.

We must understand that we don’t defeat violence and terrorism by hating those who commit them, but by instead standing firm with conviction in the power of love, understanding, and tolerance.  It’s not just some idealistic platitude:  in practical, pragmatic, down-t0-earth terms, Love truly does Trump Hate!

Olympic Inspiration and Peak Performance

Olympic Inspiration

As always, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching the Olympic athletes achieve feats of seemingly impossible levels of mastery and peak performance over the past weeks. I’m consistently inspired by their unwavering quest to realize their potential at levels far beyond the norm.

These highly disciplined individuals serve as a powerful reminder of what’s possible for those of us who are willing to consistently hold a potent vision of self-actualization and ceaselessly work towards its realization. We all aspire to be more, to manifest more of our potential as human beings. Aspiration is a fundamental aspect of who we are as humans.

Unfortunately, many if not most of us choose to believe that top notch peak performance is beyond our capacity. We think that the accomplishments of those who, as Abraham Maslow described it, “must be what they can be” are so far out of reach that it’s pointless to even consider the attempt. But the truth is that we don’t have to be world class athletes in order to begin realizing more of our potential and become “peak-performers” in our own everyday lives.

The Olympic athletes can serve as an excellent model for our own peak performance and self-actualization. All world class athletes begin with an inspiring vision of what they hope to achieve. Many are inspired by athletic performances they witnessed as children. They think, “I want to do that!”

Inspiration is the beginning point of all aspiration. What inspires you? What does it say about who you are as a unique individual and what you’d like to achieve in your life?

Next, the athletes form a vivid mental image of their desired outcome, which in their case is to envision a perfect performance in their event, as well as, perhaps, seeing themselves winning a medal at the Olympics.

Mental rehearsals can also play a powerful part in this process. Shortly before the 2000 Olympics, platform diving favorite, Laura Wilkinson broke her foot in a training accident. At the time when all of her competition was undergoing their most intensive training, she was unable to even climb up on the platform, much less practice her dives. All the experts said there was absolutely no way she’d even be able to qualify for the Olympics, not to mention competing or hoping to place.

But each day as she recovered from the injury, she went through her entire training regimen in vivid detail in her imagination—over and over again. She also envisioned herself winning the gold medal at the Olympics. And that’s exactly what happened. She did qualify, and though she started out the competition behind the Chinese divers, she came from behind to win the gold in her event.

Our subconscious minds cannot distinguish between an actual experience and one that’s been vividly imagined. So when we practice peak performance of any kind in our imagination, it powerfully programs our subconscious goal-seeking minds for success.

What is it that you’re inspired to achieve? Begin seeing it vividly in your mind as though it were already an established fact. Then do the next thing that Olympic athletes practice: add a burning emotional desire to your inspired vision. How would you feel, if the objective were already achieved? When used in this manner, our emotions act as a powerful magnetic force which attracts us unerringly to our goal.

Finally, Olympic champions take action on their dreams. They undergo both the repetitive practice as well as the physical conditioning which propels them towards victory. In everyday terms, this translates to simply taking whatever physical action is required to achieve the desired outcome—doggedly, determinedly, and persistently—until the goal is reached.

From inspiration to mental vision to emotional passion to physical realization, we can all begin to realize our aspirations and move towards greater self-actualization. Find what inspires you, see it clearly with a burning desire, and act until it becomes reality—and you’ll surely find your inner champion!

The Creative Philosophy of Aikido

Aikido: the Way of Harmonious Spirit

I just came across a video on the martial art form Aikido by Richard Moon.  While it’s on Aikido, it’s really on much more:  a philosophy of life and how to be in the world–in business, in relationships, and in personal development.  His philosophies closely reflect my own and the themes I emphasize in my writing, teaching, and speaking.  As a longtime student of Aikido myself, I relate strongly to the creative aspects of Aikido and other martial arts and movement disciplines.

Sensei Moon identifies three core principles, of “presence”, “harmony”, and “creativity”.  “Presence” means being in the moment, being aware of your environment and of your current experience, whatever that may be.  Moon calls this “feel where you are”.

Once you are aware and present, this leads to Harmony with outer circumstances: harmony with others, with situations, with the apparent stresses that we encounter.  Sensei Moon calls this “harmonious relationship”.  We often tend to resist these outer situations when they appear to be in conflict with what we think we want.  But when we choose instead to harmonize with them, it gives us more power to influence than when we resist.  As I’ve noted before, resistance causes persistence, and it tends to empower that which we resist and weaken ourselves in turn.

Through this harmony with the situations in which we find ourselves, we can then add something of ourselves, which is where creativity comes into play.  When we harmonize with the pressures of life, we can then work with them to find creative solutions to the situations at hand.  Moon refers to this as “share who you are”.  Once we harmonize, we can then bring something of our own unique perspective and individuality to bear on the situation at hand.

In a nutshell, this is the formula which I often identify as allowing us to create our lives as a “magical work of art”.  It is by paying attention, being aware and present on a moment to moment basis, then harmonizing with whatever presents itself, and finally responding accordingly in creative, intuitive ways that allows for this higher creativity to work through us.

To use the language I employ in my book, A Call to Magic, this is the fundamental difference between reacting from the false ego perspective and responding to life from the vantage-point of the Authentic Self.  This is also the ideal solution to any problem or situation that demands our attention: pay attention and be present, harmonize with the situation, and use intuitive insight to act creatively.

If you’re willing to experiment with this simple approach, I think you’ll find is has a profound and truly magical power.  Try it and see!

Here’s Richard Moon’s video, in case you’d like to check it out:

Guilt: an Irrational Choice

Guilt-an Irrational Choice

Guilt is an irrational reaction to circumstances and to our responses and actions in relation to those circumstances.  When we “fall short” and act in ways that are destructive or that have harmful or painful results, what is that?  Isn’t it simply acting in a way that is not in complete accord with the reality of the situation?  In other words, it’s a mistake, an error.

What is the appropriate response to an error?  Isn’t it to simply correct it?  Guilt actually avoids that correction by muddying the waters emotionally with negative self-criticism and judgements.  Guilt says, “I did this, and that means I’m a bad person and I deserve to be punished.”  This is an irrational reaction that prevents, or at the very least postpones, a lucid and appropriate response to the original error.

If you make a math error, what is the most appropriate response?  Isn’t it to simply correct it?  If you’re balancing your checkbook, and it isn’t coming out right, you could beat yourself up with negative self-talk.  You could say, “I’m horrible at math, and I’ll never get this right, and I’m doomed to failure and to being miserable for my entire life.”  But of course, all that does is waste time and energy that could be used to correct the error and find the right answer.  The rational response is to keep working at the problem until you find your mistake, correct it, and successfully balance the checkbook.

In this context, by “rational”, I simply mean that you’re responding appropriately to and in accord with the “truth” of the situation.  The truth of the situation is that you made an error in your addition or subtraction somewhere along the way, and you need to go back and find it and correct it.  That’s the most rational response because it’s the most effective for reaching the goal of balancing the checkbook in a timely manner.

If our goal is to have a happy and fulfilling life, we must similarly choose the most effective responses to the truth of any situation, and correct any errors along the way as they arise, in order to reach our objective.  Guilt always interferes with this process.

Just as with balancing our checkbook, there is also a natural “balance” to the truth of more complex situations that have more personal and far-reaching implications on our lives.  But unfortunately it’s much easier to become emotionally attached to and judgmental about the consequences of such situations.  Nonetheless the same principles still apply.

For example, when we act selfishly and do something that results in causing pain for someone else, the “balance” may be that they will withdraw from relationship with us and, assuming we value the relationship, the effect may be that we experience the pain of their withdrawal.  The purpose of our pain is to help us realize the error of selfish actions.

At this point we can beat ourselves up emotionally with guilt over our “evil deed”; or worse, we can project our feelings of guilt onto the other person and blame them for withdrawing from us.  Or… we can simply identify our mistake, acknowledge it, and take actions to correct it.  We can apologize honestly and sincerely, do our best to learn from our error, and avoid acting selfishly in the future.

When we act in selfish, destructive, and harmful ways, it doesn’t mean we’re bad.  It just means that we don’t yet understand the “truth” of the actual cause and effect of the situation.  If we did, we simply wouldn’t behave in that way.  If you haven’t yet learned that 2 + 4 = 6, it doesn’t mean you’re inherently bad at math.  It just means you don’t yet understand some of the rules of addition.

That’s what trial and error is for.  It teaches us the “rules” of cause and effect in any situation.  When we get unpleasant or undesirable results, the rational response is to look for the actions that caused those results and change them.  Harboring guilt, or blame (which is really just guilt that’s been projected onto another person or an outside situation), prevents us both from seeing the truth of the situation and from acting appropriately to correct our mistaken perspectives and actions.

It’s true that the cause and effect of complex personal life situations can sometimes be difficult to uncover and understand.  But any form of guilt always stops the process and muddies the waters.  So the first step must always be to eliminate guilt from the equation.  Often simply doing so will open our eyes to the truth of the situation and allow understanding to arise.

Sometimes simply allowing ourselves to let go of guilt can be a truly magical and enlightening experience.  It can be one in which we’re immediately freed from our blinders, and our previous confusion and frustration are powerfully overshadowed by a deep and abiding insight into the truth of a situation that shines forth in blinding clarity.

It’s also important to understand that guilt is not the same as remorse.  Guilt is beating ourselves up emotionally for a past mistake.  It thereby prevents clarity and understanding and makes it likely that the mistake will be repeated.  It’s actually a way of holding onto the error.  Remorse, on the other hand, is realizing that our actions caused pain, having empathy for the pain that our actions brought about, and being moved to correct the error and alleviate the pain.  Remorse helps with correction, guilt prevents it.

Understanding all of this is in fact one form of learning about the rules of cause and effect.  Holding guilt is the cause that results in the effect of a lack of clarity, a prevention of the correction of errors, and of postponing the realization of our goal of fulfillment and happiness.  Furthermore, since our subconscious mind acts to bring about whatever we hold in our imagination with a strong emotional focus, holding guilt actually acts to reinforce and recreate the very error that we feel guilty about.

But when you notice that you’re holding guilt, don’t make the further error of feeling guilty about your guilt!  (An all too easy mistake to make for those of us who are in the habit of holding guilt.)  When you realize that you’re feeling guilty, the rational response is to simply acknowledge that it’s an erroneous choice and that you can in fact choose differently.  Then simply take action to do so.

You can begin to form different habits of responding to your mistakes.  You can even become grateful when you realize you’ve made a mistake.  Instead of, “I can’t believe I did that, I’m a horrible person, I’ll never get it right!”, your self-talk can instead become: “Oh!  That’s why that didn’t work out the way I intended.  Now I know exactly what not to do in the future.  I certainly won’t make that mistake again.  Awesome!!!”

And above all else, remember that no matter how many times you’ve chosen guilt in the past, you can always choose a more rational approach here and now!  The choice is yours.  The choice is true magic!