The Gray Areas

The Gray Areas

I find myself wanting to play in the gray areas. The spaces that are ambiguous, ill-defined. This occurs more as the world around me strives for deeper shades of black and white. I drift further into the middle, where the colors fade into each other and possibilities still exist.

Where a single word, issue or ideology is not an apt description for a whole human.

I understand the urge to dwell in easily defined spaces. I think it is a natural consequence of uncertainty in an era where facts are alternative, and opinion is the truth. I keep visualizing a tug of war, where no-one is willing to lose ground for fear the ‘other’ might overtake us. Yet out of our uncertainty comes rigidity as the possibility for growth or change diminishes. And solutions to our challenges become ideological fodder rather than real-world possibilities.

The only winners in this game are the ones that have a vested interest in our perpetual outrage. They maintain this carefully crafted illusion through algorithms and commentary masquerading as fact. To support this tug-o-war, they keep the story focused at the level of the group — the story of them.

Us versus the other.

When I hear people talking about ‘the Left’ or ‘the Right’, I want to cringe at the overgeneralizations and 1-D caricatures that will be coming next. It has become too easy to condemn others based on these broad strokes. The idea that the individuals found within these groups tick every box and, therefore, worthy of our condemnation, is unhealthy for our society. Humans are messy and complicated and rarely fill the boxes we put them in. Also, ‘The story of them’ creates bigots of everyone.

See how easy that was?

Someone asked the other day if I ever was a feminist. I said, “Maybe when I was little, but I’m not now”. The current incarnation of that collective story is not something I connect too. Mostly because it has never really occurred to me that I was less than because of my sex. I am grateful to the many women who came before me that had to challenge that idea continually. I’m also grateful to those who rejected it completely and opted for a new story. I was lucky, I had a mother and older sister who showed me how powerful women are.

Today, I plug into the story where we are standing in our power, not perpetually rising to it.

Groups can take generations to evolve and heal, but the individual can change choice by choice. If a man treats me poorly, I don’t have to assume its because I’m a woman. He could just be having a bad day. I lose more power assuming the victim than extending good faith. Most importantly, it gives people the opportunity and room for growth. He doesn’t have to overcome a label or box and neither do I.

When I think about any significant change that has happened over the last 150 years, it is because people decided to unplug from the collective narrative that maintained the status quo. They no longer took ownership of the story and chose, instead, to align with a new one, either individually or collectively.  When we stand for something versus stand against something, we redefine our role in the story.

We move from the oppressed to the empowered.

I think that’s why I’m opting for the gray areas these days. It is not filled with stark ideological lines that limit the potential of all involved. This isn’t to say that I don’t hold values or believe that things are important. It just means I’m not willing to define my story by being in opposition to yours. I want to see the individual rather than just the group you belong too. It’s time to stop playing tug of war like this is a zero-sum game. What would happen if we all let go of the rope, took a seat in the middle, and listened to one another? I think we’d hear we are more the same than we are different. And the places where we are different, we give ourselves some space to make it better.

(c) Can Stock Photo / urfingus

The World I Want to Live In

The World I Want to Live In

We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same. ~Carlos Castaneda

In a recent podcast by Sam Harris, he interviewed Jonathan Haidt on his new book, The Coddling of the American Mind. They talked about our current culture of boycotts, call-outs, deplatforming, and outrage. A culture where the social prestige from doing so is a form of currency. Sam Harris often talks about the, ‘what kind of world do you want to live in test’ and do these actions take us to that world. I pondered this question over the past couple of weeks and here are my thoughts.

I want to live in a world where we can still be whole people and loved even in the face of our fallibility. Where a person can fuck up and still be forgiven. Where a person can be vulnerable and intimate and risk not choosing the right words in doing so. Where a carefully crafted response is not a substitute for authenticity. I think of the times that I have been out of line, or irreverent and am thankful I have people in my life who can see all of me. Even see past the unsavory and still love me and call me their friend. I’m scared we are losing the ability to hold space for the whole human, unpolished and raw.  Especially in our online world, we shove people in boxes of pro-life or pro-choice, red or blue and reduce them down to a single cause, group or ideology to determine if they are with us or against us. We now gather and identify in groups not only based in commonality but the common enemy.

I want to live in a world that allows for complex conversations and nuance. A  place where dualities exist and it is okay for people to hold two ideas at the same time even if they don’t fit nicely into a narrative. Where someone can sit with another’s apparent contradiction and not use it as an opportunity to call them out or gain social prestige. A world where nobody is forced to live in a black or white polarity, they can be Christian, pro-gun, pro-choice, and pro-gay marriage and that speaks to their thoughtfulness and self reflection rather than their hypocrisy.

I want to live in a world where people can acknowledge their wounds but not have to lose their agency. A world where we’ve unplugged from the story of our powerlessness and into one of collaboration and cooperation as we build a better one. We lose so much when we choose to rally around victimhood as our path to equality. In viewing things through the lens of our wounds, we create more of want we don’t want – abuses of power and control. Birthing something new requires a new story of empowerment for all, not just a group.

I want to live in a world that is just and not necessarily fair.  In a just world, we own our own will, meaning that we have the right and the equal opportunity to make our own choices. Fairness, on the other hand, is about equality of outcome based on a subjective opinion on how we think things should be. There is nothing to be gained from forcing people to act in a certain way, not allowing them to speak or shaming them into compliance. Free speech and expression of our own will are hard to retrieve once they have been lost. I’m not prepared to concede to a world that is subject to a certain individual or group’s beliefs about how things should look. We are not entitled to have our feelings protected, however, we are entitled to freedom of speech. We shouldn’t so easily put our wellbeing in the hands of others, letting their words or actions affect us unless it is truly warranted.  I’d rather live in a world where we risk offending someone but can have an open, and honest debate, then jeopardize our ability to do so.

I want to live in a world where compassion, kindness, and forgiveness are of the highest value. A place where we extend good faith to others rather than assume malicious intent. I remember reading somewhere that forgiveness is when you are able to pull your energy out of the situation. So when that situation no longer consumes your attention and resources then you’ve shifted into a state of forgiveness. How can we ever do that if we have to confirm and re-affirm our stances on things and stay focused on our past wounding, rather than healing and moving on to construct something better?

In this time of great revealing which I know is a necessary step, I hope we can think about where we want all of this to go. It has to be about more than just revealing and tearing down what we don’t like – forgiveness, and paths to redemption need to be part of the conversation. We have to think about the world we want to create and I don’t know where you hope we end up, but is our current trajectory taking us there?

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the world you’d like to live in.

The Laziness of Cancel Culture

The Laziness of Cancel Culture

The tragedy of life is in what dies inside a man while he lives – the death of genuine feeling, the death of inspired response, the awareness that makes it possible to feel the pain or the glory of other men in yourself. ~Norman Cousins

I woke up this morning to the #ThingsWeShouldCancel hashtag trending on Twitter. I know that this hashtag was started with levity in mind and not with the usual manufactured outrage that underpins the cancel culture. But the idea of canceling anything is troubling to me. Humans are complex beings who are facing complex challenges. But the cancel culture requires that we shove people into boxes, flattening them down into one-dimensional characters the can be easily judged and dismissed.

I tried hard not to use the term nuance because along with the words foment and tropes, it has been used so often it’s becoming noise. But it really is nuance that I am talking about. A person or position can rarely be fleshed out in an era of soundbites and social media. I’ve written before about my fear that we aren’t allowing people to be whole humans anymore. A whole human can be messy, irrational, contradictory, but mostly redeeming if we see them in their totality. We should resist the temptation to oversimplify something inherently complex. 

Cancel Culture is Lazy

We, unfortunately, don’t just get to skip to the good parts without doing the work. Not as individuals and certainly not as a society. Besides, there are many differing views on what is ‘good’ anyway. Cancel culture is lazy and reactionary. In a time where we have social media celebrities and influencers with ambiguous societal value, we’ve lost sight of what real change requires (and maybe what the real world is like). Bans, boycotts, cancels provide a short-lived opportunity to gain social currency but don’t catalyze any long term change. People can briefly feel good about themselves while sitting behind a screen. A call-out or cancel lacks the foundation and thoughtfulness needed to avoid unintended consequences. Because we find someone’s thoughts or political leanings offensive doesn’t just mean we cancel them and it goes away. It festers and frankly, recruits. A well-organized rebuttal or in-depth discussion does more for shifting the landscape than a call-out. I think the antidote to talk we don’t like, is more talking rather than canceling.

Inner Work Required

Cancel culture also speaks to a lack of self-awareness and willingness to do some inner excavation. In the spiritual community, we have a name for this type of defense mechanism – spiritual bypassing. It’s when people want to go directly to the love and light without doing the inner work. This way, the person is spared from having to feel any negative ‘vibes’ or emotions. Instead, I think when we are faced with something we are opposed to, it is the perfect time to look at one’s own shit. What are we afraid of? What do we value? Why is someone with a different worldview so threatening?

Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.  ~Rumi

 The offense or anger that we feel is really a signal of healing to be done. Yes, there are times when being offended is justified, but then our focus should be on dealing with the root causes and supporting real change. People don’t like to hear this because we hold our feelings in such high esteem that we think they should be protected at all cost. Instead of seeing emotions for what they are. They are data points. They are spikes on a graph that warrant introspection rather than protection. They are the messages from our wounds.

Reclaiming Your Power

This isn’t about blaming the victim it is about putting yourself in charge of your own well-being. Not every slight or rude comment or dissenting opinion should be allowed to interfere with your contentment . And if it does, then the story that frames those feelings should be addressed. That’s where the inner work can become so powerful. The more we heal the stories and emotional trauma within ourselves, the more untouchable we become. We don’t become untouchable by never being touched. We get there by facing adversity and using those challenges to understand who we are and how we show up in the world. Sometimes people are just douche bags and don’t deserve our time, energy, or resources. Please understand, I am not talking about real crime, abuse, or neglect. I’m talking about canceling something because it upsets you or doesn’t fit into your worldview. We can learn more about ourselves listening to contrary ideas than we can in an echo chamber.

So I hope that we can move past our screen warrior mentalities and opt for real-world change. While we may be justified in some of our anger, we don’t move past it as a society by avoiding the people or ideas we disagree with. There will always be bad actors with bad ideas, but we challenge those ideas with better ones. That is the only way we really heal. First we look within and then we look without.

Listen in to the Chaos & Light Podcast as we explore cancel culture further from the perspective of freedom and liberation.


(c) Can Stock Photo / focalpoint


We Are All Imperfect Messengers

We Are All Imperfect Messengers

I’ve thought a lot about the difference between the message and the messenger. I am grateful as someone who has taught various subjects to different populations in health and personal growth that people can understand the difference. I am not a perfect human. Even though I teach stress reduction, there are still times where I let stress get the best of me. Even though I teach mindfulness, there are still occasions when I spend too much time on my phone or eat while I’m watching TV. How do we talk about change when we are still part of the problem? Do we need to be removed from the culture to address the issues in it?

I find it disheartening what is happening to Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden. I’ve been watching people insult and make fun of her for having the courage to speak about something that is important for humanity to discuss. Whether you agree with her or not, to attack the person rather than the subject is a weak approach. Especially if you’re an adult and that person is 16-years-old.

The thing is, even if you find the topic of climate change debatable, a conversation can still be had about the sustainability of an economic model based on continuous perpetual growth and the burning of fossil fuels. Do we not owe it to future generations to take pause and examine where we want to be in 50,100, 200 years? The level of rapid expansion on all fronts is something we’ve never seen on this scale. If you owned a business with continued pressure to expand, would you do so without a plan, limits, or policies? The globalization of our economies requires us to figure out a path moving forward as a global community.

What happens when China and India continue to follow the industrialized Western model? 

The idea that anthropogenic climate change is debatable is a Western, mostly American mindset. Maybe because as the world’s largest consumers and users of fossil fuels per capita, we risk the most change to our daily life. But let’s pretend for a moment that it is debatable. What do we have to lose by acting more sustainably? What do we have to lose if we don’t? Would the world not be better off by using more clean energy or by protecting our air and water?

People worry about hurting the economy or relinquishing control, but really it is about power. Currently, our approach is exerting our dominion over nature, our power over it. Living in harmony with nature and honoring the earth and her inhabitants, flies in the face of corporate interests and American exceptionalism. That’s why the oil industry tries to quash any plans for light rail in cities like Phoenix and Nashville. Saying, it is un-American to take public transit. As the most intelligent species, we should look at ourselves as stewards rather than masters. Living in Japan, we don’t have the luxury of pretending that it does not exist. There is no debate; there is only mitigation and preparation for it’s worsening effects.

So I welcome the Gretas, the Leos, and the soccer moms to speak loud and let your voice carry. And please, don’t stop. This conversation needs to happen.

Are they perfect? Hell no, but here is the thing, we are all imperfect messengers. The vegan who wears leather shoes, the activist who flies on private jets, the environmentalist who drinks out of plastic. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in eating less meat, taking public transportation or using less plastic. None of us are flawless. If we wait to consider a message because the messenger is sometimes out of alignment between their vision, values, and actions, then we will not improve. When it comes down to it, it isn’t perfection that is required. It is about balance and harmony. Individually, globally, and spiritually.

Sustainability is just balance and harmony in action.

Sustainability is just balance and harmony in action. And this doesn’t require infallibility, only that we come together, conscious and honest about where we stand. We can debate about the timeline, but perpetual growth based on the exploitation of the earth’s resources is a lose/lose proposition. So while Greta’s pleas may have seen a bit heavy-handed, her worries are not unfounded. At our current pace of growth in all areas, to not include the environment in our discussions, is just insane. The silver lining is that we already have many innovations and emerging technologies; we just need the personal and political will to put them into action.

We aren’t going to solve our problems by longing for the past.

There is not a single person among us who hasn’t lived incongruent to their values. We all take part in the culture we live in, which has been continually formed and developed by present and past generations. It’s okay to discuss where it is failing and more importantly, make a conscious effort to look where were are going. We aren’t going to solve our problems by longing for the past. We are too many, too globalized and too technologically advanced for that to work. Industrialized thinking doesn’t cut it in an information age. So, this requires us to allow all fallible people to speak up because, without them, there would be no one — not a single person to champion this cause. If we focus on the message rather than the messenger, we might be able to get some real work done.


(c) Can Stock Photo / rfcansole

Keeping Our Humanity in Tragedy

Keeping Our Humanity in Tragedy

For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed? 

~ bell hooks

It’s been a couple of days since the two mass shootings that occurred within hours of each other in the United States. I, like most, grieved for the lives lost and their families, but I also grieved for the shooters, their families, and the conditions that led them so far away from their humanity. We can talk about gun control, the role of the NRA, and boosting support for mental health. All of which are essential conversations to have. But there are deeper levels at play, and that is how we continue to play the politics of divisiveness. And deeper still, how this leads to the loss of human connection – connection to ourselves, and to each other. When will we understand that this divisiveness continues to feed a harmful narrative that has far-reaching effects?

Whenever these tragedies occur, some want to understand the motivation for the attack so it can be politicized rather than to take any real steps toward addressing the cause. I have been watching most of the democratic nominees blame Trump for the rise in white nationalism. There is truth in these accusations, but it is only addressing one of the symptoms and not the root. The narrative perpetuated on both sides is one of ‘us vs. them’. When we witness this mean spirited divisiveness at the highest levels of our democracy it breeds at best, nihilism and at worst, extremism.

Deeyah Khan has a great series of documentaries that look at the root causes of extremist behaviors, whether it is white supremacy or Islamic extremism. In her research, she sees commonalities regardless of their particular ideology. It begins with disenfranchised people who don’t feel heard, who lack meaning and feel insignificant. Then someone comes along and preys on these vulnerabilities and provides the strength, meaning, and brotherhood that they didn’t receive in their broader communities. It is easy to see the role the president has played in this regard. But, that doesn’t mean that his dissenters have not also played a role.

The narrative of the ‘other’ starts when we pigeonhole people into boxes. We then draw clear distinctions and this often requires that we see people as one dimensional. Letting one issue or position define a person. So instead of listening and receiving ideas from people who hold different views from our own, we judge, call them names and blame them. This happens on both sides of the political spectrum. Just because a person’s motivation for killing someone is in alignment with your opposed political leaning does not mean you win the righteousness debate. It means we all lose. If we don’t get that and continue to politicize the atrocities, we will continue to feed the story that breeds these events and ideological uprisings. 

Some feel the need to continually expose the president for who he is, because if we don’t hi-light his moral/ethical, and political deficits than he is somehow getting away with things. I feel we shouldn’t waste all of our energy trying to point out everything he does that is offensive. The president came into office with his faults on full display, instead, we should keep moving forward and focus on the vision of the world we want to live in. Yes, Trump creates a combative climate, but every time we blame him, his rhetoric, or his followers we continue to match his combativeness. When our only focus is on exposing the ‘other’, we are kept in the muck with those we oppose.

I often think about our end game in this battle of left and right. Do we really want everyone to join our team, to see the world precisely as we see it? Would we be more abundant or better off if there were no differing opinions or worldviews? Even that choice is a fallacy because most of us are a multitude of dualities. We are a rich tapestry of experience, ideals, and seeming contradictions. For example, I am pro-choice up to about 18 weeks, then I’m pretty adamantly pro-life. And even in that, there would be room for exceptions. So what box do I fit in, which label should I assume? Does that label make you more comfortable or justified?

Marianne Williamson was right when she said we need to use love to counteract our current climate. Acting with love, compassion, and focusing on creating the world we want to see and the policies that will get us there, is a better path. It’s definitely a healthier one. I’ve thought about what that would mean – to lead with love. For me, it would mean looking for the humanity in everyone, finding our common threads and respecting and honoring our differences. It would mean working on my judgment and resisting the temptation to put someone in a box and allow for contradictions or mistakes. It would be mean putting my energy into creating the world I want rather than spending too much time on tearing something down. And, it would mean holding myself accountable for when I fail to live up to my vision for the world.

One of my favorite meditations is an ancient Hawaiian reconciliatory practice called Ho’oponopono. In this meditative prayer, I repeat the words, “I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank-you, I love you.” This teaching assumes there is an underlying spiritual truth that we are all connected. So nothing exists apart from anything else. Even though I’m currently in Japan, I said this prayer after the latest shootings because I believe that while I was not directly involved, I am part of the whole. This belief prompts me to accept accountability for any time I may have promoted violence, judged or treated someone as less than myself. I know this may be a stretch for many of you reading this, and that is fine. In fact, it is perfect. It provides an opportunity to do what was mentioned above and to listen and receive ideas that are different from yours. Can you find a common thread between you and me? Maybe it is merely the desire to create a better world.

Most challenges humanity faces are complex, and there are solutions on many levels. The violence we see can be partly addressed through common sense gun control and offering better mental health support. And we also need to look at things with a broader lens too. It’s not an either/or approach, there are both/and solutions. I like Marianne’s view of politics and society because she’s asking us to look at our dark underbelly with honesty and an understanding we have all played a role in where we are. I believe this level of responsibility and accountability is how we elevate the conversation around the violence in the country and how we begin to heal our nation.


To read more on this topic, read The Story of Them

The Story of Them

The Story of Them

“We are all here to contribute our gifts toward something greater than ourselves, and will never be content unless we are.”

― Charles Eisenstein

Last week I visited Hiroshima. It happened to be the same day that Trump stated he wanted to leave a decades-old arms treaty with Russia. Saying something to the effect that we need to build up our arsenal so there comes a time when we don ’t need them. As I stood at the place where the first atomic bomb dropped all I could feel was hurting in my heart. From where I stood, it seemed inconceivable even to entertain the thought of using a weapon like this again. With all that we know about each other and the world, could it really be possible? Would humanity let it happen?

There is a part of me that wishes we could skip to the good parts. To the place where I hope we are evolving toward. A place where we get along, where we can feed our people and where we see the earth as a living system and not as a resource to be exploited. The thing that seems crazy to me is that most people I know feel the same way. If we were to get out of our heads and into our hearts, most people ache for a better world not just for them, but for everyone. So why are we here? Why are we contemplating another arms race?

The story of ‘Them’ is deeply rooted in our culture. We see it played out in our media, our movies, and our politics. This story requires a hero, an enemy, and a victim. There is a battle to be fought, and there are always winners, losers, losses, and costs. If we really do want to get to the good parts, then we desperately need to write a new story. One with less collateral damage.

Many things have changed since World War II. Our world is increasingly interdependent; international business, tourism and living abroad are commonplace. We indeed are a global village. I can talk to my family while they are camping in Oregon as I sit at my table in Japan. We now face existential threats that can’t be solved by the actions of a single nation or a few banding together. It will take a worldwide effort. We are tied together in ways that aren’t easily untethered. This is also a time of increasing transparency. We are no longer able just to see glimpses of the planet from our little corner of the world that networks and/or governments allow us to see. We can see the whole world and talk to people on the other side of it in real time. This makes it increasingly difficult for those in power to manipulate or maintain a particular message. And with all of this, we are chipping away at the idea of ‘Them’ and looking toward the story of ‘Us’.

The ‘Them’ story is the ultimate game of distraction. It makes for exciting and dramatic television, but it also provides a justification for being perpetually angry, fearful, offended or indifferent. There is also an underlying message of futility that we are doomed to repeat this story over and over. After all, it is human nature, right? So, our only action is to hold tightly to our tribe and rally around the enemy. But I believe that if we took a minute to challenge this story, we’d see that we aren’t that different. That person sitting next to you isn’t the enemy, but rather just another human trying to do the best they can with what they know. I know this because every time there is a natural disaster or wide-scale human suffering – people show up. They show up regardless of their political affiliation or their membership to their tribe. They show up because in their hearts they feel moved to help. Somewhere they understand our connectedness.

The story of ‘Them’ is just a mutually agreed upon construct that we can pull the plug on any time we want. We can choose to stay focused on the enemy, and their contribution to the ills of society or we can choose to interrupt the regularly scheduled programming of fear and divisiveness and witness each other with compassion and humility. And while it seems like we are moving further away from each other, I think it is just the last throes of a dying paradigm. Right now more people are paying attention, people’s eyes are opening, and the reaction is to lash out at what they don’t want to see. The next step is to create what we do want to see. And that requires that we pull the plug on this narrative.

We may not have the same values or skin color or the same reasons for what gets us up in the morning. But we share something much more profound than any of those things. I know that you suffer and hurt sometimes. I know that you care about the world you live in, and you want things to have meaning. I know that you are a person that loves and wants to be loved. So, I choose to extend something more than judgment, fear or distrust. What if the best ‘weapon’ I have against our misunderstandings is not to condemn you but to sit with the notion, that maybe I just don’t understand yet. And until I do, I will just be with our differences and seek out our similarities. 

Our culture’s battle mentality likes to fight wars, drugs, poverty, and illness. People are hailed as survivors and heroes and talked about as allies, enemies, and victims. What if stories of man vs. man and man vs. nature have been done to death (literally)? Maybe the only interesting story left to tell isn’t one of conflict but one of peace and collaboration. The question shouldn’t be who is right and who is wrong, but what is it I don’t understand and where do we align? That is the core of the story of ‘Us’. It seeks the true causes of our behavior and circumstances and allows space for change and growth. We will never bomb our way to a better world or spread democracy through invasion. We could easily fund this new story too if we didn’t need to fund the perpetual battle against ‘Them’. And let’s be real, in the face of existential threats, the story of ‘Them’ has a really shitty ending.