You are the problem

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Thoughts and prayers are on my mind today. My Facebook feed has been flooded with thoughts and prayers for people in Sri Lanka. Here’s the thing, thoughts and prayers are nice, but they are not a substitute for substantive action. Thoughts and prayers won’t change hearts and minds. Thoughts and prayers don’t write legislation. Thoughts and prayers can’t pull the lever in the polling place. Thoughts and prayers won’t stop suicide bombers. Thoughts and prayers won’t stop racism, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny or any other kind of hatred.
 
God is not listening to prayers and deciding which ones to answer. God is not on anyone’s side. You don’t have the only answer, or even any answer. Believing that has caused the majority of the world’s problems, because a big part of othering is based on religious doctrine. Almost all religions promulgate the idea that it’s their way or the highway, that theirs is the only path to some afterlife paradise. The thing is, the whole idea of some blessed afterlife was most likely developed to keep people in line in this life.
 
What matters is not some make-believe paradise in the sky. What matters is how you live your life right here, right now. What are you doing this day, this moment? How do you “other” people? It’s not always obvious, you have to pay attention, be aware of your thoughts, root out your hidden beliefs and implicit biases. One great way to do this is through Harvard’s Project Implicit. Check out the website. You might be surprised by where your biases lie.

Be Kind

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You can do one small thing today and every day to change the world. Be kind. That’s all. Be kind to everyone, not because you pity people, that’s not kindness, not because you feel superior, that’s not kindness. Be kind, because every person you meet is a human being like you, full of needs, wants, desires, hopes, dreams, disappointments, despair. Be kind even when you don’t want to be. Be kind when someone cuts you off in traffic. Be kind when you call customer service, because something is wrong. Be kind when the person in front of you in the checkout line takes a long time to pay. Be kind when your significant other is in a bad mood.
 
Be kind to those whose views and opinions are radically different than yours. Remember, just like you feel strongly your views are right and that anyone who thinks differently is wrong, the other person feels the same way.
 
Experiment with this and I think you’ll find that being kind to others causes you to feel better about yourself and about the world. When you have the urge to snap, stop for a moment. Breathe deeply and fully, bring to your mind’s eye someone you love or a place where you feel safe, experience that for a few seconds. Now respond.
 
Today see everyone you encounter as full, complex human being worthy of love, worthy of a place at the table, worthy of full humanity.

Do Your Work

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Today, I mourn humanity’s inhumanity. Today, bombings in Sri Lanka killed almost 200 people, and wounded many more. This week, white police officers brutalized a teen age African-American boy in Florida. This week white, armed, right-wing militia men, led by a convicted felon who wasn’t supposed to possess firearms, assaulted people crossing the southern U.S. border, claiming they were aiding Border Patrol. This week an African-American, gay teen committed suicide because he had been relentlessly bullied.
 
Hatred is the problem folks. Hatred. Big hatred and small hatred. It’s easy to see the big hatred expressed in mass bombings and shootings, and to distance ourselves from it by saying “those people” are “crazy”, but it’s much harder to see the small hatred, the hatred bred from fear, inculcated into children at an early age, the fear exacerbated by what we, in America are taught in schools, see in the news media, watch on television and in movies. Today, be willing to look at the ways you, yourself exhibit hatred, big or small. Do you stay silent when someone says something bigoted? That’s practicing hatred. Do you tell racist jokes when you’re in the company of friends, but not in public? That’s practicing hatred. Do you pull your pocketbook tighter when you see a black man walking toward you? That’s practicing hatred. We don’t call it hatred, we call it fear, we justify it, but deep down it’s hatred of the other, born of fear.
 
Today, say no to fear. Today say no to hatred. Yesterday I read a post bemoaning what is happening in America; the person posting was worried about the future of America. Someone responded to the post saying, “I know it will all be allright.” Well, I’m sure that’s what Protestant Germans thought when HItler took power, and it was, for them, but it sure wasn’t for Jews, LGBTQ people, Catholics, Slavs or Romani. Today, it’s not okay in the United States for Blacks, for Latinx, for refugees and migrants, for Jews, for LGBTQ people, for Native Americans, for people with mental illness, for people with physical disabilities.
 
Today, get out of your bubble, whatever that bubble is and look around. The world is full of beautiful, complex, magnificent people. Get to know them. While you’re at it, do your own work, don’t expect other people to educate you.
 
For white people, I highly reccomend the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.

Be You

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This morning someone posted a photo of Jack Lalanne to the “San Francisco Remembered” Facebook page and it got me thinking. LaLanne was someone who wouldn’t take no for an answer. He stood fast for what he believed in the face of those who said he was crazy, stupid, that what he was proposing was dangerous. He opened the first gym in the United States, in 1936. He developed many of the machines now in use in Gyms across the globe. He was an advocate of a plant based diet and active lifestyle in the 1930s. He advocated weight lifting and resistance training for women, even though doctors said it would make women masculine and muscle bound.
 
He believed in living his best life until he died. The day before he died, at the age of 96, he performed his daily workout routine. He argued that most people “work at dying” not living. I remember watching his workout show as a kid and he advocated resistance exercise you could do with household objects, without having to invest in a gym membership or fancy equipment.
 
He fought against the notion that age equals disability and diminishment. Long before Michael Pollan wrote “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” LaLanne advocated the same thing. He also advocated eating as close to nature as possible, eschewing processed foods, inspired by a lecture given by Paul Bragg.
 
Think about it, he was considered a charlatan, a quack, yet most of what he espoused is now accepted and proclaimed. If you have a dream, stick to it. Maybe you can only work toward that dream one minute a day, but do it. Don’t let anyone or anything sway you. The world may tell you you’re crazy. The world may say no one’s every done that before. The world may say no one who looks like you can achieve that. The world may tell you you’re not wanted. Don’t listen. You are an amazing, wonderful, talented, creative force in this world, just as you are right now. Yes, you. Today, take one step toward your dream. Today look in the mirror and say, “Damn, I’m amazing.” Say it until you believe it.

Look Within

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Instant feedback, that’s what happens when you write a blog. The writing takes on a life of its own as people read and interpret what I write through their own lens. Yesterday I wrote about an experience I had at the doctor’s office that was not exactly pleasant. Not once, in 450 words did I ask for anyone’s advice or opinion. Nowhere in the post did I ask to be fixed. In fact, at the end of the post I asked people to check their own biases. Yet, the majority of the comments I received told me, in no uncertain terms, what I should do about what happened and why.
 
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure these responses came from love and caring, but the human tendency to fix others is really interesting to me. A few of the responses reflected empathy, some people described similar experiences, but the majoriy told me what to do. This is the first blog post that has elicited this type of response.
 
What I asked people to do was look inside, at their own stuff, but instead, what people did was look outside and focus on the “problem” and, in most cases made me responsible for fixing what is a systemic, cultural issue, the devaluation of older people. This is a common response to things that make us uncomfortable, whether that discomfort is conscious or unconscious; rather than look at our own stuff we rush to fix others by giving advice, sharing our own stories of how we did it better, or by jumping on the bandwagon.
 
When people tell you what’s going on with them, they rarely ask for advice, but we often jump to give it. I’ve been trained as a spiritual coach and also have years of training and experience as a cultural anthropologist in person-centered interviewing. What I’ve learned is that giving advice never works, even if people ask you for it. Each of us has inside the means to come to our own answers, if given the chance to process our own thoughts and emotions. What I do as a spiritual coach is facilitate a person’s own process; I create a safe space for someone to do their own work. When we give advice, the hidden message is “I know better than you do how to fix your life, so listen to me.”
 
Now, I know some people reading this are getting defensive about now, although you might not label it as defensiveness, you might just think you’re pissed at me for getting in your business and misinterpreting your message. I invite you to take a look at that defensiveness, that pissosity and see where it leads. Keep the focus inside instead of turning it outside. I extend the invitation again, look at your own hidden beliefs, unexamined biases and implicit assumptions. They can be difficult to tease out, but the rewards are great. As they say in twelve step programs, make a “fearless and searching moral inventory” of yourself.
 
I look forward to your comments with love.

Ageism

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Ageism. It’s everywhere. I experienced it yesterday at the doctor’s office. I see my doctor at UK Clinic and, during the school year she often has an internal medicine resident working with her. The resident, who is in her late twenties, came in full of concern, because I’d been to the doctor a lot in the last year. We talked about the pneumonia I had in December. She looked at the wrong x-ray report and said, “It doesn’t appear you had pneumonia. You know when we get old, regular viruses can make us sicker.”

I resisted the urge to smack her, figuring that would not end well. I didn’t even directly address the issue, instead I resorted to being passive/agressive. I said, sweetly, “Well, I think you’re looking at the wrong x-ray, because I had an x-ray two days later that clearly showed pneumonia. Dr. F___ called me to tell me I had pneumonia, this is not a diagnosis I made on my own.”

She then went on to tell me I couldn’t have had shingles (also diagnosed by Dr. F___), because what I had wasn’t typical. I indicated I had researched it, and found that, because I’d had the chicken pox vaccine, I could have had a milder case. She looked at me, smiled and said, “Well, I guess I’ll have to research that, I’ve never heard of it, but I really don’t think you had shingles.” Well, I thought to myself, is she thinking I’m a hypochondriac, is she thinking I’m lying, is she thinking I’m a dottering idiot? Again, I remained silent and so I was complicit in her behavior. I didn’t mention it to Dr. F___ when she came in to see me. I just let it go, but I was pissed. Pissed at being treated like I was an idiot. Pissed at being dismissed because I’m “old.” Pissed at being treated suspiciously, because I have a background in public health and know a thing or two about medicine.

The thing is, everything that happened says more about her than about me, and I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but I did and I do. Age is not something to be ashamed of, not something to be hidden, yet even thinking about writing what age I am fills me with trepidation, because of what people will think. I’ll be 59 in May. Don’t say to me, “Oh you look good for your age.” Don’t say to me, “Oh, I would never have thought you were that old.” That’s ageism, plain and simple.

Today, examine the hidden beliefs you have about aging and about people older than you. With luck, you’ll age too. How do you want to be treated?

Fog

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Life is so interesting. I write and, admittedly, I write about what is interesting to me and I write about what I believe to be true. I don’t expect anyone to agree with me, or to share my opinions. People comment on what I write, based on their own interests and their own beliefs. People read into what I write and interpret it in ways I never would have thought and in ways I didn’t intend. That’s okay, but what is really interesting is when peole insist that they are right about what I intended, based on their opinion.

Last week I wrote about living in San Francisco, about living on the fog line and about how there were days when it was foggy in my backyard and sunny in the front yard and I could choose my experience just by picking a particular door. Many people assumed I valued the door leading to the sun over the door leading to the fog. That is incorrect and yet, when I mentioned this a few people became indignant, wanting to know why on earth anyone would prefer fog to sun. Well, that’s incorrect too. I don’t prefer one over the other, I appreciate both. That idea was, apparently too much for some people.

Here’s the thing, I love fog and I love sun. I love experiencing life to its fullest in all its permutations. Fog, to me, is not negative. I grew up in Californa (mostly) and fog is magical. I remember tule fog in northern California. Tule fog rolls in suddenly, blotting out the sun, so thick you can’t see a person standing right next to you. Then, after a time, it rolls out just as quickly. In the midst of the fog everything is fuzzy, uncertain, indeterminate, just like life is some times. The best thing to do in the midst of Tule fog is to be still or move slowly and carefully, knowing soon the air will clear and the sun will return.

Today, can you be still in the midst of fuzziness and uncertainty? Can you allow the fog to swirl around you and remain centered, knowing this is just another life experience?