Kitty Community

Our family includes two dogs (a sweet, behemoth of an Airedale and a Fox Terrier with an Othello-sized jealousy streak) and two cats (a sleek, black Siamese and her curvaceous, calico daughter). The dogs, Flash and Cowboy, stay indoors except for their walks and daily romps in the backyard. They lie next to their humans, follow them around the house, and wait impatiently for the next treat or playtime with their addiction of choice: The Kong! Neither will go outside to play without the other by his side.

The cats, Jezebel and Bebe, are much more independent. While Jezebel snuggles next to us every night, most of her day is spent outside. She and Bebe go their separate ways and roam the neighborhood, making friends and mostly taking naps in the sunniest spots they can find. Yet even these independent cats seek community: someone to lay next to, someone to groom and be groomed by, and someone with whom to dine.

We Americans emphasize the individual. Other societies emphasize community. Neither is right or wrong, good or bad, but a balance is needed.

When I visited Japan, I learned to greet people by their family name because that family identity is the most precious and accurate way of introducing one's self, more so than one's individual name. You simply won't find an empty bottle or scrap of paper lying on the sidewalk, even in major cities like Tokyo. Why? Because each person sees the sidewalk as her or his responsibility to keep clean on behalf of the whole community. In America our streets our littered with the debris of our self-preoccupation.

The downside of Japanese identification with the community is that the needs of the individual are often compromised for the sake of community, family, and corporate loyalty. Commuter trains are full of dapper business people just leaving work at 10pm on a Friday night.

Jezebel and Bebe embody a middle path that balances independence and belonging to one another. Most of us have lost the sense of being part of a village, much less the greater whole of humanity. Living alone, or in our nuclear families or with small families of choice, we feel starved for deeper human connection. Our self-centered stories fail to give us the context for who we are.

So how do we experience that balance of community and individuality? I asked the cats. They told me it's all about listening to the purr deep within you. Sometimes that purr compels you to be alone and explore the limits of your freedom. However, that purr always leads you back home, back to where your heart beats to the rhythm of another's heart. Back to where you are always welcomed with nourishment. Back home with the collective where you start to understand deep in your fur what all your individual wanderings meant. Curled up together, you can deeply least until the dogs arrive.

For reflection: Where do you sense an opportunity for deeper community? What is your next step in that direction?

P.S. If you live in the Bay Area, come join us for our weekly experiment with community: Tuesday Night Live.

A New Birth of Freedom

Politics makes strange frenemies. Two friends. Co-workers. Revolutionaries. Visionaries. They knew each other for over half a century. Their friendship turned to animosity when they battled for the same job, but over the years they reconciled and forged the deepest of bonds in spite of their political differences. They died on the same day, five hours apart, on July 4, 1826. These two friends, then enemies, then friends again, were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who both died fifty years to the day after the publication of the Declaration of Independence.  It was Adams who convinced the committee charged with writing the Declaration of Independence to let Jefferson write the original draft. Their lives were woven together as no other political figures in American history. Adams, our second president, was a hot-tempered, New England Federalist, who believed that the aims of liberty and justice were best served by a strong, centralized government. He said,  "No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it." Jefferson, his successor, was a reserved Southerner and favored achieving the same ends through strong state governments. Oddly, Jefferson's party, which evolved into today's Democratic Party, now holds the opposite position from their founder.

What endures midst ever-shifting political tides is an ideal stated so eloquently by Jefferson, that

"...all men [and women!] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."

While our founding principles are a beacon to the world, our behavior has frequently fallen short: slavery, misogyny, racism, corporatocracy, nearly incessant wars, hegemony, lack of access to healthcare and jobs that earn a living wage, a shrinking middle class, the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and the list goes on.

To suggest that American is anything but the greatest nation on earth is blasphemous in most quarters. But how can we be great if we are unwilling to see the gap between our ideals and our behavior? Why is it unpatriotic to love our founding principles so much that we challenge the deleterious policies we have enacted as a nation? If America is to be great, that claim must be based not on our economic prowess, nor our omnipresent cultural influence, nor our military industrial complex. Rather our greatness is determined by our willingness to rise above prejudice, narrow self-interest, and fear in order to fulfill the bold, egalitarian vision of our founders.

This week also also marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, a horrific carnage that took place from July 1-3, 1863. Months later President Lincoln went to that battlefield and challenged his generation, even more politically polarized than our own, to renew their commitment to these ideals.

What would it look like to renew our commitment? Can we celebrate our heritage in a way that moves beyond jingoistic shouts of "We're Number One!"?

Rather than place our deceased founders on pedestals and currency, a more useful response would be to take up their unfinished work and embody justice, equality and liberty here and now. Rather than gloat about how great we are in comparison to other nations, it is time for us to own up to our shortcomings and get our own house in order. Rather than down another cocktail as we apathetically watch reports of unchecked injustice on our big screen TVs, it is time to make the necessary sacrifices so that our founders' unfulfilled dream inches closer to reality.

Lincoln's words at Gettysburg, channeling the spirit of Adams and Jefferson, are just as applicable and inspiring now as when first spoken:

"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Happy Independence Day!

Freedom vs. Safety

"Those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin

Since the founding of our nation, the balance between liberty and safety has been delicate. Our history is rife with examples where liberty was sacrificed for temporary safety. From the Alien and Sedition Act in the late 18th century to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II to the indiscriminate surveillance of Muslim Americans today based solely on their religion, the perceived threat of potential miscreants and anarchists has led us to sacrifice the very values we were trying to protect.

In the post 9/11 era, our government has declared a war on terror. The irony is that terror has declared war on us. I'm not referring to the legitimate threat of Al-Qaeda, but rather to our own internalized fright. Terror's true victory is not a horrible plot that reaches fruition, but rather a people who cede their liberty and abdicate their commitment to justice for the semblance of safety.

Into this vacuum of fear step political groups and industries looking to profit. For instance, the domestic drone industry is projected to grow to $90 billion in the next decade. The FAA wants to ramp up the licensing of these unmanned surveillance aircraft that fly over U.S. airspace. Drone manufacturers also seek to offer local and state law enforcement officials the ability to add non-lethal weapons to drones, such as tear gas and rubber bullets. While domestic drones could be a valuable tool for public safety officials (e.g., assisting first responders with locating survivors after a natural disaster), the scope and implications of this program are slipping past the radar of most Americans. Will government entities have to obtain a warrant before using a drone to monitor a citizen's actions? Will domestic drones be weaponized? These questions remain unanswered.

Private companies will also be able to receive permits to fly over our residences, schools, parks, places of worship, and anywhere else we go. With over 10,000 drones expected in our domestic airspace by 2020, one has to wonder if these agents of security will erode freedom and privacy and unwittingly make us less safe. Citizens have successfully prodded officials at the local and state level to enact limits on how drones can be used. Legislation and policies are currently being drafted at the federal level as well. Make your voice heard.

Of course, all of this is just one example of the ongoing tension between freedom and safety.  The external debate mirrors our internal struggle in which we seek to balance our biological inclination toward self-preservation with the impulse toward authenticity, free expression of the truth as we experience it, and risk taking for the sake of that truth. Whether the debate is about government surveillance or personal integrity, I hope that we will find a sustainable balance between freedom and safety...and even tip the scales toward freedom.

Lose Your Mind and Come to Your Senses

When you see the word "freedom", what comes to mind? Weekends? The Fourth of July? Never hearing a Michael Bolton song again? Freedom always has at least two aspects. We get free from something: old habits, an overbearing boss, pain, or a lousy cell phone contract. We also get free to do or be something: be happy, start a new business, or speak the truth fully.  Unless we channel our "freedom from" into a "freedom to become or do", our freedom is likely to be short-lived, either because our new found energy is taken captive by another draining situation or because we squander it on self-absorbed gratification, which becomes its own prison.

How do we get free and stay free? A good place to start is to take the advice of Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt Therapy:  "Lose your mind and come to your senses."  The controlling, critical aspect of the mind keeps us trapped in old patterns that rarely serve anyone, yet we continue to justify the status quo with any number of irrational rationalizations. What's needed is a trip back into our senses, our subconscious, our deep spirit, our inner light and our deep joy.

Whether we do this through nature, meditation, prayer, creating art, singing, yoga, or playing with dogs, the form is not as important as the benefit, which is liberation from our habitual thought patterns. When the old mental chatter simmers down, clarity emerges in which we see things as they really are and respond appropriately with grace and ease. We become fully alive.  Our hearts and minds open.  We freely give back all that we are, all that we have, and all that we do to Life, to God, to the common and highest good of all. We finally come to our senses.

Coming to our senses is more likely, fun, and enduring when we collaborate with others who share a common intention, supportive energy and wise feedback. If you would like to take a deeper dive into freedom, come join us for a series of day retreats this fall. The theme of the three retreat days is "Path to Freedom: Using Challenges to Revitalize Your Life". For more information, check out the page on Classes.