Eastern Colorado is a flat as a tabletop. It goes for miles and miles in every direction with only the slightest rolling adding contour to the otherwise level topography. It’s the very definition of the Great Plains.
But as you continue west along Interstate 70, an amazing feature begins to emerge from the horizon. The Front Range mountains form a 14,000-foot wall that rises just west of Denver. As far as you look to the north and south it reminds me of nothing so much as the Wall that separated the Kingdom of the North from the domain of the Wildlings in Game of Thrones.
I’ve often imagined some poor settler family, trundling across the prairie in their covered wagon. When they reach this formidable barrier Amos would reign in the horses and declare to Martha, “This looks like a good place to stop!”
That impenetrable wall is just like the one we each face when we run into a challenge that seems bigger than we currently are and scarier than we’re prepared to take on.
Right now, for example, I’m facing the challenge of having to do some old fashioned, cold calling. This is about as far outside my comfort zone as it gets. But an advisor whom I trust gave me this advice and, as much as I squirm and wriggle, he’s absolutely right that, given my goals, this is my best next step.
So what am I doing instead of diving into this vital activity? I’m procrastinating, wasting time, finding other things that are ‘more important,’ and making all manner of excuses as to why I can continue to put it off, if not avoid it altogether.
What are you facing that you’d just as soon avoid?
Maybe it’s way past time for you to confront that bad relationship. Perhaps your body is telling you to end that destructive habit once and for all. Are you overdue for taking the next big step to advance your education or career? Or have you been putting off what you know needs to be done to repair your finances?
We’ve all got those walls that appear to be insurmountable. And we are all incredibly creative when it comes to finding ways to circle around the challenge, make excuses for inaction or engage in busywork that we fool ourselves into believing is actually helping.
When we reach that impasse it’s important to recognize what’s going on. By stepping outside ourselves for a moment, we can see the inner conflict in an objective way and find ways to overcome it.
The real smackdown is happening between my ego and my soul.
My deepest inner self, that highest version of me knows what it wants to become, and is capable of becoming. It has a grand vision of the very best version of me that’s possible and it wants that for me. It also knows that I’m fully capable of being and doing whatever is necessary to achieve that grand vision.
My ego, my lower self, on the other hand, wants to protect itself. It likes things just the way they are and has no interest in stepping outside this comfortable and familiar space. It’s threatened by the actions I know I have to take if I’m to achieve the goals I’ve set for myself.
As we’re discovering through the wisdom of alternative medicines, the body has energy channels that stream through it. When the energy is flowing smoothly, our health is optimized and our lives seem effortless. When the flow of energy is blocked, which happens with inner conflict, health breaks down and our lives begin to come unglued.
When I sit in meditation and contemplate my own inner conflicts, my body will often begin to literally shake as the two forces meet each other at cross purposes because my state of mind is blocking that flow.
Going back to Colorado for a moment, those pioneers had California on their minds and weren’t about to let a little mountain range stop them. As they worked up the nerve to get closer and closer to the big, bad obstacle, they discovered hidden valleys, narrow gorges and mountain passes that were routes through to the far side. They weren’t always easy, but nor were they impossible.
The way to find ways through our own barriers is to examine our fears objectively. Take each worry and identify both the desire and the fear that are behind it by completing this sentence: “I want to _________, and I scare myself by imagining ____________.
I want to move up in the company, and I scare myself by imagining that I’ll be passed over for a promotion.
I want to let my children have happy, healthy relationships, and I scare myself by imagining that they’ll get into serious trouble if I don’t keep them closely supervised.
I want to enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle, and I scare myself by imagining that I’ll come down with some terrible disease.
I want to be my own boss, and I scare myself by imagining that I’ll go out of business and be ruined.
I want to spend the rest of my life with her, and I scare myself by imagining that she’ll turn me down if I ask her to marry me.
When we dig down and discover what’s at the real core of our fears, we often find three things. First, the likelihood of this terrible outcome occurring is actually pretty slim. Second, there are ways to minimize those risks while still going ahead with your dreams. Third, the grass truly is greener on the other side and the benefits of getting to the other side of your mountains far outweigh the risks of the journey.
So I’m settling in to make those calls, knowing that the terrible things I’ve imagined might happen a) likely won’t, b) are under my control, and c) will lead to the outcomes that I want on the far side of this mountain.
What about you?
There’s a nasty internet meme that’s been around for a while that characterizes the look on someone’s face when they’re relaxed or resting. While the label ‘Resting Bitch Face’ (RBF) has an obvious and horribly offensive sexist tilt, scientists using facial recognition technology confirm that it’s equally present regardless of gender.
The software they used compiles 500 points on the face to analyze facial expression and detect the emotions that are being communicated. The one that’s communicated most often with RBF? Contempt.
While it’s nice to have empirical confirmation, it doesn’t take a scientist to notice that the faces of just about everybody you encounter are expressing something far from happiness.
Why is everyone so miserable?
There’s no shortage of people who are quick to explain that our collective gloom is in response to the horrible world in which we live. Terrorism, climate change, raging partisanship, rising xenophobia. And now let’s throw in coronavirus just for fun!
It’s easy to conclude that anybody who isn’t miserable or frightened is either not paying attention or too dumb to realize what’s going on.
And yet there are some very smart, very attentive people who refuse to play along.
I’ve recently met a new friend, Michael Ray. He lives in Louisville and life hasn’t exactly been handed to him on a silver spoon. He suffered the death of a child, a divorce and his 21-year-old daughter, Maddie, has Down Syndrome and has been non-verbal her entire life.
It would be so easy to wallow in self-pity.
While Maddie’s never been able to speak the words, “I love you,” that doesn’t stop her from letting Michael know how she’s feeling. The smile that radiates from her face lights up everything in a way that mere words could never convey.
So Michael took his cue from her smile and started the Smile Project Louisville. Now his mission is to change attitudes and behaviors by spreading love through smiling. He says, “It's the simplicity of a smile, it doesn't cost anything."
My late Mother never seemed to get the memo either.
Despite painful and embarrassing skin problems, blindness and Parkinson’s Disease, you’d never see her without a smile on her face. That joyful expression, however, was a choice. Just as it is for all of us.
Mom decided to be happy. And so she was. She didn’t wait around hoping for happiness to arrive, she went looking for it, created it, plucked it out of thin air. And then she drank it up, delighted in it, splashed around in it and shared it with those who were lucky enough to be around her.
While there was (and always will be) plenty of ugliness around, she deliberately chose to see the joy and the beauty instead. Whether it was a bird at her feeder, a new flower blooming in her garden or the notes of some music that delighted her, she consciously chose to look for and see only those things that she wanted to see.
There are plenty who would call this refusal to face reality naïve or stubborn. But our reality is made up of what we choose to see regardless of what we’re looking at.
Take Mother Teresa for example. Here was a woman who gave up everything to spend her entire life serving the dregs of humanity in the most horrible surroundings. But I dare you to find a picture in which she’s not smiling or her eyes aren’t glowing with some mysterious inner radiance that I’d love to know more about.
Nelson Mandela’s another one who didn’t get the memo. He spent 27 years in prison and then, when he got out, worked hand-in-hand with the people who put him there to fix what was broken in his country. Instead of seeking revenge, he formed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to heal the wounds of apartheid. Just try to find a picture of him when he’s not smiling.
If you’re still not convinced, search for a photo of the Dalai Lama or Pope Francis that doesn’t just glow with happiness.
I always wonder why the pictures we see of Jesus have him looking so glum. I never got to meet Him in person but I’ve got to believe that He, just like His buddies the Buddha, Mohammed and all the other great teachers were a riot to hang out with. Laughing, joking, smiling all the time. And making those around them feel so darn good!
Imagine trying to take a selfie with the Buddha. He’d probably be laughing so hard you couldn’t hold the phone still. And I bet Jesus and Confucius would have photobombed it if they’d been close by.
They created their own realities by focusing on the joy they found around them. And that joy radiates from the faces of everyone who also finds joy in their world. It comes out through the eyes. It radiates from the smile. It positively glows through the skin.
But let’s get back to that resting face.
Our faces have no choice but to reflect what’s going on inside. Try it yourself. Think of something that makes you really happy and see if the corners of your mouth don’t start to turn up, even just a little.
So what’s going on inside you? What are you choosing as your reality? What are the emotions you’re feeling when you’re simply at rest? What will the rest of us see reflected in your eyes and on your face?
Is it contempt? Or is it contentment?
We’re spending a lot of time and energy these days focusing on what’s not working. The things we can’t do, the places we can’t go, the vaccine that hasn’t been found yet…
But in the midst of all this upheaval, quietly, in the background, some remarkable and positive changes have been happening. Few of them are making headlines. But if you know where to look you can see that maybe, just maybe, there’s a sea change occurring in the midst of all this upheaval and confusion. And it just might result in the world becoming a better place.
While it’s easy and even clichéd to say that all challenge contains the seeds of opportunity, it remains a universal truth that proves itself every time. Sure, we’re seeing anger, frustration and ugliness. But I believe that, as always, humanity is proving itself to be more resourceful, more resilient and more compassionate than we often appear to be.
Most obvious, of course, is the mind-blowing effort and sacrifice by the front-line medical workers. Their superhuman determination is the very definition of ‘above-and-beyond’ as they show up every day to work in conditions that are every bit as dangerous and stressful as a battlefield.
Then there are the scientists working to find treatments and vaccines. I can’t even imagine the pressure, the emotional roller coaster and the mental exhaustion they’re experiencing.
But aside from those specialized skills we’re watching ordinary people step forward in extraordinary ways. In the grocery stores. In the delivery vans. In the continuing availability of clean water and electricity. The folks that are keeping all these ‘systems’ operating are emerging as our new heroes.
Our day-to-day world has turned into a Masterclass in gratitude and appreciation. Have you ever, prior to this, seen anyone thanking a grocery store clerk for their service? Me neither.
In the midst of the worst public health crisis in 100 years and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, I’m seeing daily examples of reasons to be hopeful. Reasons to be optimistic. Reasons to be cheerful. Things are happening now that couldn’t have been imagined just a few months ago.
And there are bigger, much bigger changes happening as well. Fundamental changes to how we see and treat each other.
Universal Basic Income, the idea that everyone in a society should receive a minimum income, has long been suggested as a way to promote equity and streamline economic support. While it’s always been a political hot potato, suddenly it’s being implemented and has a good chance of remaining. Learn More
Prison reform and the overwhelmed justice system have moved to the front of the line as judges and sheriff’s departments, who have been advocating reform for years, are releasing thousands of detainees who were awaiting trial or close to their release dates and judges hand down more lenient sentences. Learn More
We’ve been talking about the shift to a remote digital workforce for a long time now. While there are challenges, the move saves money and energy on office space, enables a global talent pool and allows workers to find better opportunities without leaving home. As Daymond John, multi-millionaire entrepreneur and member of the Shark Tank panel writes, that future has now been expedited. Learn More
In spite of the restrictions, there’s evidence that families experiencing lockdown together are growing closer. In a survey of British families, 80% of the parents believed that their families have formed even stronger bonds because of the time they’re spending together. Board games, puzzles and – wait for it – CONVERSATION! are replacing screen time and digital isolation. Learn More
The sudden and unprecedented move to remote instruction and home schooling for students around the world is producing unexpected benefits. Competition and comparisons surrounding testing have lessened, the chaos of the overcrowded classroom is gone and many students are finding the freedom to express talents and interests that were previously suppressed. Learn More
Like the Victory Gardens of WW2, people around the world are voluntarily finding a new interest in growing their own food. Seed suppliers are seeing a rush of orders as people plant herbs and vegetables in balcony containers and backyard plots. The #quarantinegarden movement is easing demand on an over-stressed food supply system, providing a source of high quality and ultra-fresh produce and offering built-in stress relief as new and returning gardeners get their fingers in the dirt. Learn More
Our hope for the resolution of this crisis does not lie with some miracle cure or the wisdom of politicians who we had assumed would lead us.
No, our wonder drug is the hope, ingenuity, resourcefulness and compassion with which we humans are already inoculated. We only have to watch as the quiet ones who don’t make the headlines have been stepping up and showing us what’s possible.
In the midst, and as a result of this global crisis, it appears that we’re shifting to a world that includes more compassion, caring and consideration. When the old rules no longer apply and we have to think for ourselves, the true depth of our human potential begins to surface.