Tag Archives: God

Spiritual Honesty

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. September looks at honesty.

I love cedar swamps. In them, it is easy to find the god of my understanding. Perhaps because they contain so few human tracks. Perhaps because I find it easy to get lost in them.

There have been times in my life when I felt as though I were lost in a cedar swamp in a fog on a moonless night. I had been walking on a raised logging road but wandered off. Now, I had no idea which way to turn to find that road.

Tall trees covered me in shadows from starlight smothered by fog. No wind. There was absence of reference.

My eyes blinked to no avail. There was nothing to see, nothing to feel.

No, not true. I could feel something deep down inside.

Cedar swamps have pitfalls. There are holes between the tree roots, deep holes filled with water and sometimes covered with floating plants. It is easy to step in one so deep your foot cannot find a bottom. It is an interesting experience in daylight.

How can I find my way out, assuming I want to. I have heard Tom Brown Jr. say that you are only lost if you have someplace to go and some time to get there. He attributed it to his Apache mentor, Stalking Wolf.

Have you ever had no place to go and no time to get there? Funny thing about such a condition. It is conducive to comprehending spirituality.

“Religion is for people who’re afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there.”(Vine Deloria Jr.)

Lost in that cedar swamp in fog on a moonless night is an opportunity to get honest with one’s self. I can feel my way with my feet. I can reach out for the next tree. Or, I can take a deep but gentle breath, exhale, and ask for help. If I want to get out of the swamp, I can ask a simple question. “Which way should I go?”

No answer. Spirituality is not easy like that. It is simpler. For the primitive spirituality of gut feeling, all that is required is a simpler question: “Is this the way?”

I face a direction and ask that simple question and wait for the feeling in my gut. My gut is tight. That translates, “No.”

I turn (clockwise because my question is a prayer and I honor the customs of my Native American grandteacher, Stalking Wolf) and ask the question, again. I do not utter the words, only feel the question in my heart.

I have a friend, a veteran of WWII, who shares a quote from one of his teachers. “Prayer is a sincere desire of the heart.” If my wish to find my way out of this swamp is a sincere desire of the heart, it is prayer.

Honesty is a raindrop. Spiritual honesty is honesty from the heart, such as a teardrop.

I turn and feel the question. I wait for the answer. Any release of that feeling of tension in my gut is, “Yes.” That is the way I step, again and again, until I step upon the road.

The honesty required is, first, to admit I am lost; second, that I no longer want to be lost; third, that on my own, I will stay lost. Then, I have to get viscerally honest. What is the sincere desire of my heart? Finally, I have to be honest enough to accept my gut feeling to sense that release of tension.

I love cedar swamps. I do not mind being lost in them. But, I do not choose to wander into them on foggy, moonless nights.

Sometimes the tracks we need to find are in our own hearts. Happy tracking.

Teaching Love

My students have always been my greatest teachers. Here is how I learned something about love from a student teacher.

It was a familiar discussion among student teachers and supervisors, that of classroom discipline. When this young lady read my letter of recommendation, she said that she hoped they wouldn’t think she was too nice. It is common to see a conflict between being nice and being strict. (My former students may understand.)

That conflict is a mirage, an illusion of landscape created by the beliefs of the mind.

“For those whom the Lord loves he disciplines….” (Hebrews 12:6)

Here I learned the conflict—within our definitions of discipline. Originally it meant, “to teach.” That has been corrupted to mean to punish.

That is a naughty definition, but it does serve to help us learn about teaching and love, for too many of us see teaching as telling which is analogous to discipline as punishment. I find the resolution in leadership.

This soon-to-be teacher is clearly a nice person. That is readily apparent to those around her as she treats others with quiet respect. The concern she expressed is that being nice and discipline are somehow mutually exclusive.

She is a lovely person, caring deeply for and respecting her students. Her concern is that school administrators may see this as weakness which may lead to lack of discipline in her classroom. I see her respect as a strength, as a model of her self-discipline, as love in practice.

How do we get a marshmallow into a piggy bank? In a way, it is like asking how many counselors does it take to change a person. Only one, of course, but the person has to want to change.

A marshmallow is similar to a balloon, and I used to demonstrate how to get a small water balloon into a gallon jug. I simply encouraged the gallon jug to want the balloon inside. I did that by dropping a burning match inside, heating the air, and then placing the balloon on top. As the air cooled (I might help it with a cold water bath), the balloon would be sucked inside. For fun, you might try to figure out how I got the balloon back out.

We cannot teach by shoving facts inside. We must educate (meaning to draw out). We do this by lighting the fire inside. Not the fire of ire, but the fire of inquiry. Actually, the fire is already there, as natural as breathing for young people. We only need to fan it from time to time. We do that by showing our fire, our sense of wonder for our subject (aka, our discipline).

For a person dedicated to being nice, teaching others to be nice is a challenge. It means constantly questioning personal and professional decisions. It means holding a tongue that feels like lashing out. It means expecting respect from others by showing them respect, first.

That is discipline. That is teaching by example. It is leadership. Yes, it will mean being strict on some classroom rules. It will sometimes mean punishment. But it is not inconsistent with being nice. It is love, and it is a wonderful thing to teach our young people, our future parents, leaders, and teachers. It is what this young student teacher taught this old teacher, and she did it by living the discipline of her personal conviction.

Wouldn’t you like her teaching your children and grandchildren?

Hollow Bone

“We are called to become hollow bones for our people, and anyone else we can help. We are not supposed to seek power for our personal use and honor. What we bones really become is the pipeline that connects Wakan Tanka, the helpers and the community together.” (Frank Fools Crow)

Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself discussing the hollow bone concept this year, in this blog series, but it is on my mind. In seeking love beyond the romantic or erotic, we find the self to be our greatest obstacle. The Lakota Medicine man described a process by which he removed his personal needs in order to serve others. I believe it applies to PTSD recovery.

Reminder: This blog series is dedicated to love, the various kinds of love beyond the romantic and erotic that support personal growth and healing, especially the healing of invisible wounds from Combat PTSD.

One of the great driving forces of Combat PTSD is vulnerability. Combat Veterans are trapped between mistrust of others (who might be enemies) and the vulnerability of being alone. We need to trust others to relieve our feelings of vulnerability of being alone—yet, we cannot rely enough on others to trust our backs to them.

We feel alone and vulnerable.

You might ask how a hollow bone can help. Gotta feel the love.

Survivors of trauma have felt the opposite of love and continue to feel it on a daily basis. Combat Veterans expect people to be dangerous, violent, and abusive. People, putatively created in the image of God, kill people, often for little or no reason.

What, then, is the image of God held by those with Post Traumatic Stress Dilemma?

We need connections. We need windows. We need doors open to love. Make that Love.

Wakan Tanka is the name Frank Fools Crow used for his highest power, Creator or God. The hollow bone is his metaphor for the action of becoming a conduit of Love, a connection between God and people.

The acts of healing as hollow bones also become testimony in action, exemplification of the healing power of Love, the importance of connectedness. He became the connection.

Nothingness became the connection.

Mistrust, loneliness, and vulnerability are products not of nothingness but of stuff, sick stuff like ugly learned beliefs about people and God.

Loving requires removing the sick stuff—cleaning it out as Frank Fools Crow described—in order to allow the power of love to flow through.

There is power in feeling loved, in receiving and in witnessing the healing power of love. One of the dilemmas of Post Traumatic Stress is that those who need love the most can be the hardest to love. We know that. We cannot even love ourselves at times. Only truly hollow bones can share love with a raging Combat Veteran.

There is even greater power in feeling the love pass through, in being a conduit that shares love with another. Some of us find it easier to love pets than people. Dogs bite but people kill. And dogs are loyal. Actually, they are pretty good hollow bones.

Can you be a hollow bone?

Science of Joy I: God’s Art

This is the season of anticipation of joy. For the next four weeks, I would like to explore the possibility of abundance and joy as appropriate for our human experience. Even as our hemisphere endures the coming of our darkest hours and the austerity of winter’s demands, we can rely upon the bounty of our harvests just celebrated and prepare for spring. We can celebrate our blessings and rely upon hope.

What does Our Creator teach us about joy through His art of Nature?

Last summer I walked the trails of Florence County land with my new camera. High in the sky above the sugar maples I spotted a raven and decided to experiment with the automatic focus and fast-frame shooting on a setting for motion. To my surprise, I was able to catch the bird in flight with a few shots. Here is one picture blown up several times.

Diving Raven

Only when I looked at the enlarged photos did I realize what this bird was doing. He or she was playing. Ravens are not predators hunting by diving. They do not snatch prey from the air as falcons do. For some reason that sure looks like sheer joy, this probably young bird was flying aerobatics, soaring high and tumbling into a dive, then pulling up, again. We can learn a lot from ravens. Do we still play? Do we live our joy?

Puppies play—and coyotes, foxes, wolves, bears, cougars, otters. When is the last time we enjoyed watching them play?

Deer are curious. Several years ago, I cut many aspen saplings to clear an area, so I dragged them down by the edge of the open stream valley to make a hunting blind. I watched one doe walking across the valley on a trail in front of the blind. She took notice of my work and turned off her course, stepping right over my saplings and into the blind. For several moments, she looked around, smelling, as if to ponder the question about what this thing might be. Are we still curious? Do we wonder? Or, even notice something new?

Enjoyment might be simpler than this. One of the exercises I offered to students in Solar Starship was a quiet sit in Nature. Go to some natural place where you can enjoy peace and solitude. Walk into the area as slowly and quietly as you can. Sit, preferably right on the ground or log for half an hour or more—until time no longer matters. Clear your mind and simply observe God’s art. Walk back from your sit area taking at least twice as long as walking in. Write your reactions, especially how you feel.

Many students did this, and the reports they shared with me confirm that most enjoyed it. If you have never tried such a thing, give yourself a gift this season. If you have experienced this but it has been too long, give yourself a gift. You don’t need wilderness. Even your own back yard may suffice, but I prefer more animals and fewer people to observe. Animals seem to enjoy life more.

Observe the plants, the rocks and water, even the air. Feel a part of it. Be a part of it. Then, come back here and post your comments for others to share. I will give myself a gift and post my comment tomorrow.

Enjoy.

God’s Art: Heroes in Nature

Willie Nelson sang, “My heroes have always been cowboys.” It makes a nice Country Western song, and it may be a common sentiment, but it is not a philosophy for life. It does not really illuminate the elements of character that guide us through the maze of human experience. Who are our role models?

We faithful at the University of Wisconsin sporting events sing, “If you want to be a Badger, just come along with me.” Now, there is a role model. Pound for pound, a badger is as tough as any creature in Nature, just about as tough as our neighbors’ Wolverines, and certainly tougher than Gophers. Never mind that the badger became a mascot of Wisconsin because of the Cornish miners living in caves like badgers in holes. On second thought, the badger was a role model for these industrious diggers of the Earth.

We have totems. One of my former students is still called Bear. He sports pictures of many different kinds of bears on his Facebook page. I don’t recall how the name came about, but he is identifying himself with this powerful and attractive creature. Another Bear in my life was a spiritual teacher given a four-part name that included Bear Medicine. His logo was the track print of a bear’s forepaw. The black bear is one of my totem animals.

Animals, plants, streams, rocks, and even air can be role models. We can learn quiet power from wind, relentless pursuit from water, patient resolution from rocks, adaptive flexibility from willows, stoic acceptance from oaks, and duty from all sorts of animals. Yes, duty. Each animal species has a role within the community of its ecosystem and biome, and every individual has a role within the family of a tribe, pride, herd, or colony. They do it. Animals live their duty.

We can spend a lot of time and energy debating whether an animal’s response to duty is learned or inherited. We know it is both. Learning is predominantly through a form of inheritance called culture. Through hunting experiences, I know much behavior is inherited. I know where to find deer and ducks because I know their behaviors. Never in my wildest dreams would I use a cat to hunt ducks. Some dogs like water and love to retrieve. It’s genetic. You know what my Yellow Lab did when she saw the stream in the picture, below.

I am a hunter. I don’t even like killing and I hate handling bloody meat. I like eating game, but I love hunting. I can’t help it. When I don’t hunt, something is missing from my soul. It’s genetic—or, at least inherited. My role model is the cougar. I camouflage myself like the cat whose name means “false deer” so that I might get close. I watch trails and areas where deer are likely to appear. I prefer a quick, clean kill. Cougars are my hunting heroes.

Most of my heroes are animals, but I do try to model my social behavior after some people. My father is one of my heroes, and I regret never telling him that. A younger me tended to focus on what I saw as shortcomings rather than strengths. That tendency was unlike my father, patient and tolerant most every day. It pleases me to be growing more like him in my senior years. I hope I live long because I have a ways to go.

My heroes do their duty. Labrador Retrievers are especially good at that, particularly because they are willing to choose when their duty is other than the most recent command. They will disobey to follow a superior duty somehow remembered and reasoned. It makes them especially useful as helper dogs. That is precisely the behavior I look for in human heroes. It’s hard to find—no, it’s hard to see right under our noses.

My daughters are my heroes because of the ways they care for my grandchildren. Likewise, both my sons-in-law are my heroes for the ways they care not only for my grandchildren, but for my daughters. Like a lot of parents, they make their personal sacrifices for the welfare of their families. People do that—a lot of people—and we seem to overlook it. I guess it is my duty today to point out these everyday heroes as the role models they should be.

My life is blessed because I am surrounded by heroes after whom I can model my behavior. It is probably a major reason I have found health and happiness that can be called success. Now, it’s time to go kiss the hero in our kitchen.

Black Hills Stream

God’s Art: Choice Freedom

For years, every test I gave to 9th grade science students had this question: True or False—The meaning of life is choice. Now, before you get excited, let me tell you two things about my tests. First, students were always invited to explain their answers on the test papers. Second, I gave them credit for any reasonable explanation. If a student chose false, I marked it wrong. If s/he gave a reason, such as, “I believe the meaning of life is Jesus Christ,” I changed the mark to correct. It was one of my ways of helping students from three different 8th grade schools to adjust to the realities of high school, the responsibility of
consequences of our choices.

In preparation for this post, I did a little “content” research on the topic of free will and quickly concluded I wanted no part of it. Western philosophy seems to dwell on hypothetical conjecture like postulating that if God is omniscient, then He knows what I will choose, and therefore, I really only imagine a choice. I choose to not pursue a Western philosophical content, today—at least it felt like a choice. Maybe it is a form of relativity.

Hartley Peavey believes he made a choice, or a series of choices. He chose to become a rock star with a guitar. When evidence convinced him that it would never happen, he made another choice, the one to stay involved in music by doing something he had already learned to do. He built amplifiers. Serendipity brought a salesman to his door who sold them. When retail sales were restricted by guitar manufacturers’ policies, he chose to build guitars as well. His choices resulted in the international multi-million dollar Peavey Electronics Corporation.

This “God’s Art” blog section is predicated on my choice to look for evidence of the nature of the universe, particularly the nature of the mystery, design, or principles, by looking at the physical evidence in Nature. Man is part of Nature. Man’s behavior, even as studied by psychology, is a part of Nature. In my mind, the ways we humans think, cognition, is a medium of God’s Art. We make choices. Therefore, God made us with the ability and propensity for choice.

True, not everything I am results from choice. I did not choose (as I recall) to be a WASP, but I was born into a poor, white Anglo-Saxon protestant farm family. I did not choose to be male or straight. I did not choose to be a reflective introvert, either. I don’t even believe I chose to be a liberal thinker. The combination of my personal nature and my experiences, many of them shaped by my early choices, causes me to evolve in a certain way, and here I am. Am I responsible for the way I am?

Yes. And, no. I can choose to accept me as I am, deny that I am this way, or work to grow into something different. I will never be a rock star. I will never be President of the United States. I will probably never be a Nobel or Pulitzer Prize winner. My beautiful yellow Labrador Retriever, Serenity, will never be a guard dog—she loves and trusts people too much.

Some people ponder and argue about whether or not humans have free will. Not me. I was once called a pragmatist, in a derogatory way, by a fellow graduate student in science. I guess I am. That’s why I look for God in Her art of Nature.

I look now at Serenity, curled comfortably on the carpet, and know that I have a choice to make because she is not at all comfortable. She is confused and in pain. Even if she recovers from this episode, her age, alone, is proof that a choice is imminent because our ethics do not permit us to watch our pets suffer the way I watched my mother suffer. The day will come, probably very soon, when Nancy and I will choose.

Not choosing is, itself, a choice. We have no choice about whether or not we choose.

I had wanted this blog to be fun and funny, especially after the last few downers, but life happens. I chose to share it with you. Choices about stuff in space and time define life.

Re Quest: Material Instructions

Many years ago, Charles Kuralt on a Sunday Morning show introduced a book called The Wisdom Keepers. It is a collection of interviews with Native American elders. I do not have a copy with me, but here is my recollection. When they approached one elder, he held up his hand to stop them. “Stop,” he said. “I know why you are here. When you came to this land, you forgot your instructions. We have never forgotten ours.”

Do we remember our instructions on how to take care of this land?

I picture a young couple with a large and growing family. The parents provide for all the children’s needs with shelter (including clothes), water, fire, and food. They hunt and gather materials. They even grow and harvest their own. As the children grow, the parents teach them how to spin and weave clothing, tan hides, make tools, and create art in pottery and baskets. The children learn to hunt, gather, grow, and harvest. They learn to make their own tools and weapons: knives, clubs, axes, atlatls, darts, bows, and arrows.

Some children turn the weapons on their brothers and sisters, claiming power and dominion over them.

Do I exaggerate? One day in 1941, bombs killed 1500 men in Pearl Harbor. Four years later, one bomb killed perhaps a hundred thousand men, women, and children in Hiroshima. Years later, a decade of war killed some 3 million people in Southeast Asia. We now have the capacity to kill that many with the push of one button.

We learned to make hotter fires from coal and oil—fires hot enough to turn rocks into steel. We learned to turn crude oil into kerosene and gasoline, creating byproducts of chlorinated aromatic hydrocarbons not usually found in nature. We learned these new hydrocarbons are especially good at killing pesty things, and we had herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, carcinogens, and teratogens such as PCBs, Dioxins, and Furans. We created the most poisonous chemical known to man: 2,3,7,8, tetrachlorodibenzodioxin.

We learned to make explosive white putty. One little piece the size of a wad of bubble gum would heat my canteen cup of water in half a minute instead of half an hour with the alcohol fuel in C-rations. We learned to make plastic hips and plastic lips and plastic works of art.

We learned to steal energy not only from the electrons of atoms, but from the nuclei, also, in the fission process. Still, we want more, and we yearn for man-controlled nuclear fusion—more energy, more power, greater dominion.

We have taken a bite of the apple.

God-like power requires God-like wisdom.

Over two thousand years, many trillions of dollars, and political wills of nations—and against winds of heresy, persecution, prosecution, and excommunication—we have discerned many laws of the material universe. How do we like us, now?

How dare we employ the tools and weapons of material research without the tools and weapons of moral research? Where are our discussions of ethics? Have we not only forgotten our instructions, but abandoned all interest in them in the pursuit of greater glory and dominion?

A view of freedom as the absence of rules is the folly of adolescent bullys.

Where and when will we discuss our rules for caring for this land and each other?

God’s Art: Intelligent Design

An imagined prehistoric fireside conversation on the kindness of stuff…

“Hey, Org, there’s a lot of stuff around here.”

Org looks around at the fire, rocks, and pieces of wood. “What do you mean?”

Nog picks up a small piece of wood and tosses it at Org. “Feel that? Stuff takes up space.”

Org rubs the bump on his head and picks up a rock. “Stuff can be heavy, too.”

Nog pulls a long, burning stick from the fire. “Some stuff is hot, too, Org.”

Org drops the rock, staring at the fire. “What about fire, Nog? It’s not heavy.” He passes a stick through the fire. “Doesn’t take up space, either.”

“Hmm,” Nog says, “different kind of stuff.” The two look at each other.

“Nog?” Org says, picking up a rock and a stick, “this stuff is….”

“Is Stuff,” Nog says, gazing at the fire. “Fire isn’t,” he adds, throwing a stick into the fire.

“Fire isn’t,” Org says, “but it does.”

“Does Stuff,” Nog says.

“Is Stuff,” Org says, holding a rock and a stick.

“Does stuff,” Nog adds, stirring the fire.

 

E = mc2

Elegant Parsimony. Our universe is governed by immutable laws that can be discerned through disciplined human inquiry. All laws are relationships. This one quantifies a relationship between two kinds of stuff observed by Org and Nog.

Have you heard that systems spontaneously move toward chaos, from order toward disorder? This is half-true at most, and the next law explains why.

∆G = ∆H – T∆S     where represents quantified change.

You might find information by searching The Second Law of Thermodynamics, Free Energy, or Gibbs-Helmholtz Equation. Basically, it says that disorder (entropy, S) is but one component of spontaneous change, the other being energy released in stability of chemical bonds (enthalpy, H). T is temperature in Kelvins.

The secret is in the atoms. Most of them are unhappy, thermodynamically unstable, and react with other atoms. Sometimes these reactions spontaneously increase structure or order in creating more stable stuff such as water, one of God’s delightful miracles.

Life on Earth is unimaginable without all of the physical and chemical properties of water. Here are a few:

1)      Water is a heat sponge allowing livable temperatures over most of our planet;

2)      Water exists in three physical states at Earth temperatures, contributing to # 1;

3)      Water is transparent, conducting light to feed aquatic and marine plants;

4)      Water reflects light in diamond sparkles, sky-blue oceans, and mirror pools;

5)      Water refracts light, giving us rainbows;

6)      Ice floats–else fish would not survive most Wisconsin winters;

7)      Water is most dense at 4oC rather than at freezing, so ice forms on top of the water rather than the bottom, which is really nice since ice floats.

There are more, but you get the idea. Water is really cool stuff. So are carbon dioxide, native copper, and DNA.

Yes, I studied Genetics and have a special fondness for DNA, another miracle that could not exist without the special polar nature of the water molecule. The coolest thing about DNA is that it replicates with almost perfect fidelity. The miracle is in the slight infidelity in replication which produces mutations. Here I see the genius of design.

Intelligent Design is not in the creation of kindness in flowers and bees, but in the physical and chemical laws that make evolution not only possible, but inevitable. All of Creation is the result of laws governing atoms and stars, space and time, and you and me. The artist that creates the universe is a lover of math and science.

Reflection: Celebrating Life

Today I pause for reflection on the intersection of time and space we call life before proceeding next week to physical stuff. I pause while my mother passes.

Life as existence is the occupation of space for some time. The space we claim and share affects many other entities for the duration of our mutual existence and beyond. Our tracks endure.

My life consists of nearly 24,000 days and counting. My ego asks, “What will I leave behind?” Then, I see the blessings of my life: my wife and daughters, grandchildren, students, family, and friends whose lives have touched mine. I leave tracks, some that endure briefly, and some quickly obscured by the sands and snows of busy lives. Regrettably, some tracks are scars of my mistakes. I hope we learn from them.

Each of our lives is shaped by others as well as one’s self. Self—an interesting concept. I consider myself a product of three natural forces: Genetics and Environment of course, but also Spirit. The Nature/nurture argument is silly without regard for the piece of God that became my Soul. Perhaps I digress. Perhaps, not.

Because my father lived and loved, six children were born, eighteen grandchildren, thirty four great grandchildren, and twenty three great-great grandchildren. We occupy space on this continent because brave ancestral souls crossed the Atlantic, at least one on the Mayflower, and because at least one Native American joined the family.

My father passed inYuma, AZ, in 1988 in the same hospital where Nancy now works. I grieved two years, complicated by the loss of a sister in the same year. My grief ended in the desert near Florence, AZ, on Fathers’ Day of 1990. That was a good, spiritual day with verbal prayers of gratitude.

There is a lonely finality to death. No more can I ask advice, listen to a story, or watch interactions between the deceased elders and our children. Oh, but I can, because I am blessed with memory. So, today, I watch my mother slip away and I clutch the gratitude of memory, but my little boy inside does not want to say his goodbye.

I will grieve, but I am not sad. I am blessed. She lived 96 years, 9 months, and 3 days, passing on Sunday, August 28th, 2011. Mom leaves many tracks that endure and most of them compel us to smile. Please, smile with me.

Sacred Space

Sacred Space