SITTING ON A BENCH WITH JESUS

Years ago I used to ponder why the world was as it is. Why, if there is a supreme being, is the world filled with hate, jealousy, racism and the like? Why did I find a lot of those things in my life as well? It was on one of my darkest days in which I finally received the answer. I wasn’t sitting on a park bench like the man in the picture above. I was in a library trying to find a book that would give me some advice on turning my life around. Some books were way to metaphysical for me at the time. Some were very complex and involved psychological phrases you would need a degree to decipher. While getting frustrated at the lack of a book for the average Joe to turn their life around, a voice in my head spoke to me. “If you can’t find one, write one.” From that day forward I have continued to find tools to help the average individual live a more positive and rewarding life.

What led me to this dark and dreary day in the life of Neil was a lot of circumstances. Professional, personal and my surroundings. By surroundings I mean things such as some of the music I was hearing, shows on television I saw, what I read in the newspaper and what I witnessed people doing to each other around me. Again, I began to wonder how the spiritual powers that be would allow such things.

The answer to that question was very similar to the first question I asked, except this one was a riddle of sorts. (yes, even my own head doesn’t always give me a straight answer) “How do you change a dark room?” This may sound foolish until you look at it in the terms of the world as a whole. If you want to lighten up a dark room you do not work on ‘removing the darkness’ you simply add light. If your glass is half-full you do not try to remove the air you just add more water, or rum, or iced coffee, but I digress. If we all remained focused on removing the negativity from the world we would create a vacuum that could very well be filled with…well…more negative things. The only way to decrease the negativity in the world is to add more positivity and love.

Another shocking revelation is that either one of these situations, love or hate, mankind does to itself. We make the choices. If we sit back and do nothing to counter the troubles we see in the world we are allowing it to happen. If you see someone hungry give them food. If you still watch the news and hear about some group being discriminated against, do something to make someone feel more loved and accepted. As the saying goes, “God helps them who helps themselves.” This is not just true for one person, but for all of us everywhere and the world as a whole.

IT IS REALLY THAT SIMPLE

For most of us, despite our differences, would fit into these categories. Ironically, often we search until we can find something that makes a person different from us. It is almost as if saying, “That person is a lot like me.” Somehow diminishes either one of you. When we understand that we all share the same basic needs and wants, judgment and hatred become all but impossible.

If you are a person who loves others and does not want to harm them, and reading a blog like this it would be a safe assumption you are, then it would serve you well to surround yourself with other like-minded individuals. Does it really matter where on this planet they are from? By writing these posts I have met and befriended many other like-minded souls from over 100 different countries. They have brought not only a unique perspective, but a great deal of joy to my life. Does it really matter what color they are? I am blessed enough to have friends of every race. Not only does it include many great and loving people, but our pictures together are a lot more colorful. Politics? Ooh…that is a good one. Quite often we can almost be at each others throats because of different ways to address the same problem. Instead we should focus on the fact that we are both trying to solve the same problem. Maybe their solution takes into account something we overlooked? Maybe a combination of both solutions would work the best? We will never get to that point if we busy ourselves with such low level minutia such as what political party is the correct one.

Even my wonderful friend Nick who sent me this picture, and by doing so inspired this post, has different opinions than me on a wide array of different subjects. Do you know what? That is great to me. Often when we talk he will bring to my attention a way of looking at things I had not considered. Even on subjects where we just ‘agree to disagree’ we still have the same respect and admiration for each other. Not only is it ok with us that we are different in some regards, but it is quite cool that we are also the same in many ways. It is that similarity that prompted him to share the above picture with me and allowed me to share it with you.

Today, celebrate the fact we are all a little different, and when it comes down to the core of who we are, most of us are really the same. Both of those should be reasons to celebrate with your fellow humans.

A LESSON I HAVE LEARNED

There are a handful of lessons I have learned in my life that really stuck with me and defined who I am to this very day. One of them I was told was that “If you hate someone or something you just do not know enough about it. If you learn about it and still hate it, that does not mean it is bad, it means you still have more to learn.” This is something I keep with me to this very day.

If we are being honest, we would have to admit there are lots of messages telling us who we should dislike, who the bad guys are and why. From politics, sports and even religion have messages telling us that there are people who are less than us. When we read about some violent episode conducted by a group of people it can be easy to say “Look this group of people are evil.” If we were to apply that same guilt by association to every terrible act that has been done I fear we would all belong to some group of evil.

How can we ever not harbor some sort of negative emotions towards people who by their very acts cause the death of hundred, or even thousands of people? It is a very difficult question to answer. Quite often we must look back in history for answers as to why things happen today. Was there an event in history where this group of people were made to suffer under the group they attacked?

Even personal history can shed some light on why people can do acts most of us would find unspeakable. Did this person suffer years of physical and emotional abuse? Did their family constantly remind them of judgmental or even hateful beliefs that hand been handed down for generations? Were they raised in a neighborhood that also promoted these beliefs? Maybe while attending school for 8 hours a day surrounded by peers their age they learned to adopt their beliefs? They might have even did so just to fit in at first, but after years of trying to fit in those beliefs became part of their spirit.

This can be even worse when an entire society is fed information that is hateful. We can use both Nazi Germany during World War two, as well as early America as examples. In the 1930’s Germany began a campaign against the Jewish people. This was not only political, but in schools, the media and in the home. An entire generation grew up being taught a terrible doctrine of hate and evil. This resulted in the death of over 6 million men, women and children of Jewish decent. In the founding years of America the same thing happened. Americans were told the native people were uncivilized and less than they were. They were told they were violent and threatened their safety. It was also said that the Native Americans stood in the way of the prosperity and freedom of the white settlers. Again, this message was delivered in the media, the government, the home and even the church pulpit. This resulted in the death of over 100 million men, women and children. What is worse is that often entire nations and cultures were lost. Medicine and knowledge we could use today are gone forever.

Does this mean we should hate the German people who did not stand up to their government? Should we hate those who acted on the beliefs they were raised on? Should we still hate the American soldiers who killed pregnant Native American women because when they were being forced to walk from North Carolina to Oklahoma they were going to slow? Sure those acts, among many others in history are hard to understand and even harder to forgive for some people.

We must not only view the history, but be careful not to view it through our own eyes. It may be easy to say “If I was in Germany back then I would have told Hitler to go to hell !” We can say that as somebody who was raised free and without judgment. If we had been told, and often given ‘proof’ as to how bad this group of people were from the time we were born, we might act differently. While there is plenty of proof of people who have overcome very challenging situations to be loving non-violent people, it is impossible to know how we would act in the same situation. In fact, we will never know as we will never have their exact life and genetic makeup.

In a world that urges us to blame and condemn, there is very little accent on compassion and understanding. Those two elements are essential if we ever hope to change the world we live in for the better. Let me be perfectly clear on one very important point. Understanding someone’s violent action does not mean Condoning it. We can certainly condemn acts that harm others, and we should, but without following that with an equal effort to understand why they happened in the first place history would be doomed to repeat itself.

DON’T LET THE DEVIL LIE TO YOU

Ah the devil… Satan… whatever you care to call him. Some refer to this as negative side of the universe. Some just call it negativity. The name we attach to this power of evil is not important to what we are going to discuss today. What we are going to discuss is the lies we have all been fed. These come from all kinds of places, the media, coworkers, history, even well-meaning friends and family. Sometimes the voice seems to come from inside our own head.

The messages may seemed varied, but they all serve the same purpose, to lower our vibration. Whether it is politicians doing their best to convince you that a certain group of people are bad because of their skin color, religion, political belief or maybe even just based on where they live. Maybe the message is coming from the media telling you the world is going downhill fast. There is more violence than ever, there is more hate than ever. Convincing you that you have to live and walk in fear. Even our friends and family telling us not to get our hopes up about that dream we are saying or not to venture away from that seemingly safe career we have because we will fail if we try to do it on our own. They mean well, they are wanting us to be safe.

It is my belief these messages all come from the same source and are intended for the same purpose; to create a world full of fear and devoid of love. When we are divided against ourselves, when we are so busy finding reasons to hate each other it is difficult if not impossible to work together to solve the real problems that exist. Two people’s ideas put together may do a great deal to end world hunger or bring a cure to a certain disease, but if they are refusing to talk because they look different or worship or vote in a different way the world will remain darker.

I propose working together and finding the reasons to come together in a spirit of love and community to solve issues. This does not mean ignoring the problems that plague us all, but working together looking towards creating a solution instead of assigning blame. Is there more violence today or is the world better connected and we can hear about each and every incident? Are guns the problem or is it the promotion of lack of respect and sanctity of life promoted in movies, television, music and video games? I don’t pretend to know those answers. What I do know is this, by focusing on how terrible things are without an accent on finding solutions and healing the hearts and minds of people everywhere, we are letting the powers of darkness win.

So next time you hear the ‘devil’ whisper in your ear about how bad the world is, how truly bad people have become and how hopeless both you and your life are, next time you hear him whisper that you cannot withstand the storm. You need to face that demon, whether it is the media, a negative coworker or even a voice in your own head and reply with conviction that you indeed are the storm! You are a storm of love and compassion that will not be defeated. Even though you are hearing how scary and bad the world is, you will do your part to bring love and brighten a stranger’s day. When you hear about anger leading to violence and death, you can use it as a reminder to respond to hurt with empathy and compassion.

No matter what you hear about the world and people around you, the fact is that the power to change that world lies in each and every one of us. Your act of kindness and of love, no matter how small will have a ripple effect that will affect far more than you will ever know. What you may not think about is so will your anger and negative actions, even your apathy. Do not let the devil lie to you. It is you who are the storm, you who have the very power to change the world and we do so through love and compassion.

WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED IN VEGAS??

It is a little past noon as I write this. I’m sitting in Urban Joe’s, a quaint coffee shop in West Allis, Wisconsin where I live. Curtis, a very charming and congenial young man is working with his wife Danielle. It would seem to be the prefect Monday, with one exception – Las Vegas.

Last night was the deadliest shooting in US history. 58 innocent people lost their lives. People on the television as well as in the coffee shop are musing as to what the motive may be and how could this even happen. Questions you may be asking yourself.

Routinely I am asked if the world seems to be getting worse. We hear about terror attacks across the globe and right next door. The level of divide between people seems to be growing.

To me the answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’. I believe, sadly, this sort of violence has been around nearly as long as mankind has. If we review the pages of history we can easily find examples of that. What has changed is the ‘closeness’ of the world. We can hear what happened across the globe seconds after it has transpired. We also hear about every incident. News that used to be relegated to the town it occurred in can now be viewed online by someone half way around the world.

There are two things I would like point out at this time. First is not to give in to the going of fear being pushed on us by the media. Let us not start treating each other with harshness based on judgements we have come to from world events. When we hear about certain groups of people perpetrating crimes it is easy to fall victim to the temptations to pass that judgement on to others who may belong to that group. The only way for us to overcome the social challenges that face us is through treating each other with love, respect and compassion. An “eye for an eye” mentality can only lead us to a blind world.

While we are on the subject of solutions, let us explore how we can help ourselves not feel overwhelmed by all the negative news we are exposed to. This is something I first wrote about in 2012 and several times sense. I refer to a story shared by one of my favorite philosophers, Mr. Fred Rodgers. He once shared a story of asking his mom about the negative news on the television. His mom gave him advice I think we could all use today. She told him, quite simply, “Look for the helpers.”

In the wake up both this tragic event, the recent hurricanes and earthquakes we have seen a flood of people rushing to help from across countries, to across the globe. These heroic efforts can get lost in the deluge of reporting on the Loss of property, lives and love for our fellow humanity. I encourage you to dig deep and read a few of these. See even in the darkest hours of humanity there are always beacons of light. Stay in love and light my friends.

SAME..BUT DIFFERENT

As we watch what is going on in our current political climate i am reminded of my great friend Cari. That is a picture of her above. Not only does she obviously have great taste in books (you can get a copy of that very book by clicking this link A Happy Life for Busy People) but she is one of the sweetest people I have the honor of having in my life. Cari literally will help anyone and everyone she can. When her friends are hurting, she is hurting. She is a great listener and has a kind word about everyone. She even bakes amazing cookies. 

Other than the fact I am grateful for my friend and can take a moment to brag on her,what is this post about? Here is something about Cari and I, when it comes to some very important issues we have major differences. We are both very spiritual people and lean heavily on our faith. It is one of the things that I respect most about Cari. She stands by her beliefs even when it is not the easiest thing to do. She also does her very best to not only stand by them, but live her faith as well. She ‘walks the walk’. She also expresses her faith quite openly.

One evening Cari and I met for dinner which ended up lasting several hours. We discussed at length our beliefs and how they would apply in certain situations. We discovered on a lot of issues, important ones, we were miles apart. On others our views were in direct conflict with each other. 

A discussion like that could lead to conflict between the two individuals. How often have we heard never to discuss religion and politics? Here is what came of the evening with my friend. We expressed our views openly and passionately while the other party listened with the intent of understanding and not to ‘correct’ or even contradict each other. On several issues we agreed to disagree and on others even incorporated each other’s belief to gain a more complete understanding. 

The reason i bring this up is to encourage all of us to do the same. We can obviously see on a bigger scale governments having difficulty doing this, but it starts at a fundamental level between two people. I encourage us all to search for common ground and learn to agree to disagree. You can certainly respect someone and their convictions even if you do not agree with them 100%. Feel free to share any ideas you have for doing so in the comments below. 

HOW TO TURN AN ENEMY INTO A FRIEND

This comes from the religious text of Islam. Without being Muslim myself, I have personally used this great secret often. Read the quote again. It shares with us the plan for turning enemies into friends. It also tells us what to do when we are faced with a negative, or evil situation. What is that? Repel it with what is better? Someone treats you harshly, treat them with love. Someone continually expresses views contrary to the ones you express? Treat their opinions with respect and consideration. Is this easy? Not at all.

Then why should we do it? Why, as the Quran urges us here, should we take the high road? If you look at the beginning of the quote is reminds us that good and evil deeds are not equal. Meaning that in the long run, doing good will be more powerful than doing bad. Thus, the quote instructs us to repel evil with what is better, not just what is opposite. I am a firm believer that good will always triumph over evil. Hitler, Stalin and lots of other famous evil doers had the final years of their lives filled with paranoia and suffering, even though at periods of time it seemed they may never be toppled.

Another reason why we should always counter evil with good, negative with positive is stated in the final line of this quote. The one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend. Enemies are a lot of stress. When we know there is someone who is against us we must always be on guard for deception and wrong-doing. This drains us of a lot of energy and physical well-being. So how do we turn enemies into friends? We cannot do so by force, or by proving our points or our person as superior to their own. The French revolution should be evidence of this. No, the only way we can turn the hearts of our enemies is through Love and compassion. The two most powerful tools against hate and evil.

Tomorrow we tie everything we have learned this week with one amazing example. I look forward to sharing that with all of you.