Flags Over the 48

September 11, 2011

Every 9/11, on each the 48 peaks above 4,000 ft. in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, bands of hikers carry up an American flag to plant at each summit. Every hiker has his or her own reasons for carrying the flag or for making the commemorative hike. Today, I hiked to remember the ordinary men and women who lost their lives and to celebrate the transcendent American values that will never die.

Looking at the flag over Mt. Garfield on 9/11/2011

At the heart of American values is the idea that human beings are free and they should not be controlled by someone other than themselves.

Over and over, for thousands of years, the idea that human beings should be controlled has been proven false. When human beings are controlled, a special few determine the production and distribution of goods and these decisions are enforced by the judicial and police powers of government.

The more controls, the more poverty, and the more suffering a society endures. The more controls, the less innovative and the less successful an organization is. Many American do not understand that these are the consequences when freedom wanes.

Wishing for freedom is not the same as taking the responsibility for creating the conditions under which freedom flourishes and thrives. In his book Wow I’m an American, the great psychiatrist Peter Breggin writes, “In economics, as in everything else, human beings need to live by the values of liberty, responsibility, gratitude and love.”

Breggin offers his idea of the principles that make it possible for free markets to flourish and for people to live productive, meaningful lives. Those principles are “protect freedom, take responsibility at all times, express gratitude for every gift and opportunity and become a source of love.”

I would put it a little bit differently than Breggin. We are not a source of love; instead we allow love to be expressed through us, every time we get our ego out of the way.

Love is the basic energy of the universe, and we block the flow of energy every time we try to control others, every time we cower from our responsibilities, and every time we shrink from expressing our gifts. Freedom erodes each time we behave expediently to protect imagined comforts that we think will be threatened if we don’t go along with the status quo.

We insulate ourselves; thinking our circumstances special, we are relieved when the responsibility for renewing a free society falls heavily on the shoulders of someone else. When we think we can avoid responsibility, we are wrong. Without each of us taking responsibility to renew freedom, the American experiment will die.

If freedom does die here in America, it will be renewed in some other place at some time to come; for freedom is a transcendent ideal. But, why not renew our commitment to freedom today? Why not in America?


Making Noise at Lake Solitude

October 15, 2010

The fall colors had already passed their peak in central New Hampshire when we set out for a half-day hike up to the ledges overlooking Lake Solitude. The ledges sit on the shoulder of Mount Sunapee, almost even in elevation with the summit.

An auto road goes to the Mount Sunapee summit, and from there it is an easy walk to the ledges. As we hiked up from the base of the mountain, we had the trail to the ledges to ourselves. Arriving at the ledges we were met with a crowd of people who had driven to the summit.

Having found a spot to sit, we began to eat our lunch when a party of parents and children arrived. Soon they were shouting boisterously, thrilled with the echoing sounds of their voices and the attention they drew from campers standing on the beach of the lake several hundred feet below. Another hiker politely requested that they be quiet. They continued shouting anyway.

My mind began to react against this intrusion. Trying to act non-judgmentally, I resisted the urge to turn around to see who was shouting. The economist in me began to reflect upon incentives: “That’s the kind of behavior you get,” I told myself, “when you make things too easy for someone. They don’t appreciate the etiquette of hikers because they arrived by automobile. They didn’t earn the view the hard way.”

Yes, I felt superior. And if I was special, those who were shouting were different from me. After all, we had hiked up; they drove up. We were entitled to peace and quiet. They had earned my righteous judgment.

In truth, I was making as much noise as the “offending party.”  Although the noise was in my head, I was mentally contributing to the less than peaceful atmosphere on the ledges. When we selected the hike we knew that our viewing place would be accessible to non-traditional hikers. Was I as blameless as I was making myself out to be?

That was just my first mistake. I was not only resisting the humanity of those I was judging, but I was resisting my own humanity.  As I felt my judgments coming on, I reacted not only against the noise, but also against my judgments about the noise. “Why wasn’t I past judging others?”I wondered.

I was condemning the shouters and then condemning myself for judging the shouters. It was as though my finger was caught in a Chinese puzzle—the more I judged those who were shouting, the more I judged and resisted myself for my failure to let it go.

As we set out to hike back down the mountain, we were again alone. My mind was still making noise.  Turning to my wife, I said, “I can’t believe that those parents allowed their children to make so much noise.” My wife, who judged less but looked more, replied, “It was the parents who were started the shouting, not the kids.”

I chucked at this unexpected new information. How many times had I behaved rudely and yet, was completely oblivious to what I was doing? Even that day, I was as ignorant as the boisterous ones. I was insisting I was superior. The problem was not as I had set it up. I was not the innocent victim that I pretended to be.

Could things have gone differently? Indeed, they could have. I failed, not because I reacted with judgment, but because I judged my judgments. I had failed to let go of my judgments because I skipped a necessary step. I had not been willing to see the humanity in others because I was not willing to see my own humanity.

The way out of my mental misery was to mindfully begin where I was. I had reacted to the noise; it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. But I could have chosen to be aware of what my mind was doing and then forgiven myself for feeling special, for focusing on superficial differences.

Clearly, I had erected barriers to interfere with my enjoyment of the day; but I didn’t want to see those barriers. To be more precise, I was looking at my internal barriers; but I was looking with resistance and judgment. And, looking with resistance and judgment is not looking at all.

By not looking at my mind’s antics without judgment, I missed an opportunity to reveal the root cause of what I was feeling. I had given away my power to choose. I had falsely accused those shouting on the ledges of robbing me of my peace. In truth, I robbed myself of my peace by my desire to feel different from those I labeled as “rude hikers.”

By staying stuck I also missed opportunities to be responsive to what the day asked of me. Perhaps I could have genuinely delighted in the enthusiasm of those who may have been looking at a mountain view for the first time. Alternatively, a polite conversation about hiker etiquette may have been in order. Or maybe, it was no big deal at all; if I had dropped my resistance to the noise, it may have faded into the background.

On that day on the ledges, I was invested in seeing differences; in truth, those differences were superficial and made up. The antidote was to look at my antics without judgment and laugh gently at myself.

Reciting a spiritual truth such as “there is a great web of life that connects us all” is not a path to peace as long as I am unwilling to look and realize the truth for myself. A child may go on believing there is a monster under the bed, even when his parents go first to look, if he does not look under the bed for himself. I was not past believing in a monster (reacting to the noise and then condemning myself for doing so), and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise.

The real noise at Lake Solitude was in my mind and not in the world. Beyond superficial differences, we on the ledges were all the same that day. They were shouting into the open space; I was shouting in my mind.

There is a lesson for life here—a lesson that I’ve found hard to learn. To get to the peace inside, I had first to look, without judgment, at what was not peaceful in my mind. As with the Chinese finger puzzle, as we take our ego a little less seriously, we remove our mind from its trap.

24-Hour Larry

July 15, 2010

In season seven of Curb Your Enthusiasm Larry David is trying to reunite with his estranged wife Cheryl. Cheryl explains that Larry was easier to be around when he was out of the house working on the Seinfeld show. After he started to be home all the time, “Larry” was too much to take. Cheryl explained that although she missed him, a sliver of Larry was all she could take. To that Larry responded, “I got 24-hour Larry; you think I like it?”

I laughed hard, because when I am in my ego state of mind, I don’t like “24-hour Barry” any more than Larry and Cheryl like “24-hour Larry.” Fortunately for me, my wife is more tolerant of “24-hour Barry” than Cheryl was of “24-hour Larry.” If you are a fan of Curb Your Enthusiasm, you know that Larry’s ego contaminates every relationship and every encounter Larry has. Curb Your Enthusiasm is a huge hit because Larry captures the universal condition.

When we are in ego state of mind we can’t help but be uncomfortable in our own skin and a pain in the neck to everyone else. Why? Our ego is a self-constructed and conditioned identity—it’s not our real identity. When we are in our ego state of mind, we think the solution for every problem is more of us—more of our analysis, more of our authority, and more of our attempts to control the situation.

As our ego bears down, analyzes, and exerts control, the more miserable we become. We are no different than Larry in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Every situation becomes a challenge for Larry as he tries to get what he wants while conniving to convince others that he is really a good person. In the show this almost always backfires—he often doesn’t get what he wants and no one is convinced he is a good person. Occasionally he has his moment of triumph, but these moments are short-lived and his misery returns.

In his miserable state, Larry continually seeks external causes and external solutions for his suffering. Everyone he encounters is a potential target for his blame. In one episode in season seven, Larry’s manager encourages him to give the president of NBC the benefit of the doubt. Larry responds, “I’m not used to giving the benefit of the doubt; I don’t even know how to do it.”

So what is Larry to do? What are we to do? In April, at the announcement that there would be a eighth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry quipped, “After much soul searching – and by the way, it was nowhere to be found – I have decided to do another season of Curb. I look forward to the end of shooting, when I can once again resume the hunt for my elusive soul. I know it’s here somewhere or perhaps in the rugged mountainous regions of Pakistan.”

But what Larry is looking for? What are we really looking for? Is the happiness we seek that elusive? I know from my own experience, when I try to find “spiritual Barry,” my ego is in charge of the search. And although “spiritual Barry” may be a little bit more pleasant to be around than “24-hour Barry,” “spiritual Barry” is likely to be just as miserable and just as likely to treat other people as objects.

So, how do we find what in my book The Inner-Work of Leadership I call the True Self? The most important step is simply to realize that there is nothing to find. Our True Self already exists fully developed; we have just made a decision to turn away from it. Yet, we have the power of choice to choose our True Self at any time. If we are in our ego state of mind, no one else is to blame–we have chosen to identify with our ego. The clouds—our judgments, our anger, our anxiety—that block our True Self from our awareness have no external cause. The clouds are there because we want them to be there; they vanish the second we decide otherwise. This is a statement of our absolute freedom to choose again.

So the task of finding our True Self does not, as Larry quipped, require a trip to the proverbial remote mountains. It is instead a process whereby we become aware of and look without judgment at all the specialness we have chosen for ourselves. Our ego promises us that we are special in many ways, both positive and negative. We have strengths, and we have our problematical life circumstances which we call our special problems. We have a unique identity with which we are comfortable. We have a set of judgments and opinions we hold about ourselves and everyone else we encounter. As we look at our specialness without judgment, the clouds begin to lift. Our True Self is always there. The fear of relinquishing the identity we have constructed is great, so frequently we return to our ego state of mind.

When our ego has us in its grip, it seems like our 24-hour virtual character is here to stay. Watching Larry lie, manipulate, and seek to find happiness where it can never be found, we can laugh at our own foibles. And as we do, the grip our false identity has on us loosens. Gently laughing at ourselves is good medicine.

Warning: If you have never viewed Curb Your Enthusiasm please be cautioned that the show contains frequent swearing and adult situations.

Eva Kor’s Universal Lesson

April 22, 2010

Eva Kor was born in Romania in 1934 where she and her twin sister Miriam lived with their family. In 1940 her rural village was occupied by Hungarians allied with the Nazis. In 1944 she and her family were transported to Auschwitz. Immediately upon disembarking, her father and her two older sisters were sent to be gassed to death; soon after, the same fate befell her mother. At age 10, Eva and Miram were alone; but they were kept alive to be used in barbaric experiments under the direction of the infamous  Dr. Josef Mengele. Most of the children used in Mengele’s experiments perished, but Eva and Miriam survived until the camp was liberated in 1945. The girls were then 11 years old.

Eva was free from the Nazis but the pain from her ordeal persisted. As an adult she began to realize that her continued pain was self-inflicted. In the movie Forgiving Dr. Mengele, Eva explains how she came to realize that she had the power of choice: “Whatever was done to me is no longer causing such pain that I cannot be the person I want to be.” She decided the way out of her pain was forgiveness. When she forgave, she finally felt free “from all the burden the pain inflicted on (her).”

Eric Butterworth writes in Discover the Power Within You,

We may have a perfect justification for a bitterness and anger. We may be completely righteous in our indignation. But we will have to pay the price of the broken connection of the divine circuits … We can have our unforgiveness and bitterness and anger if we so choose, but we will also have our stomach ulcers and nervous tension and heart trouble, and mental and physical breakdowns. Turn on the light—not so much for the benefit of others, but for you.

In the movie, Eva makes it clear that she was indeed forgiving for her own sake. Some Holocaust survivors, as well as others, found it incomprehensible that Eva could forgive such heinous crimes. It is important to realize that Eva was not in denial over what she experienced. In fact, she is currently devoting her life to Holocaust education.

Fortunately, most of us will never experience a classroom as extreme as Eva’s. Yet, most of us have suffered wounds of our own; and unlike Eva, many of us pick at the scab every day. As we do, the wound is freshly opened. As our wound opens again, we believe the cause of our suffering is in the world rather than in our mind. Eva is teaching us that we are deceiving ourselves. The cause of our suffering is a decision we made in our mind. Why, unlike Eva, do we relish our victimhood? The answer is clear: As victims, we have someone or something to blame for not being “the person (we) want to be.”

In his seminal book Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankel speaks of his experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Auschwitz is the camp Eva survived too. Frankl writes: “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

These are mere theoretical words, until we make the decision that Eva made to no longer be in chains. But the question is, “How do we go beyond the theoretical?” The secret to Eva’s salvation is that she realized—in direct contrast to what the world was teaching her—that she was inflicting her pain on herself. Nobody and nothing in the world can remove pain that we decide to keep. All healing begins with the realization that we have a mind that can make another choice. Until we realize we can make another choice, we look for change in the world—often in the form of a new job, a new relationship, or a new geographical location—to escape from our pain. All these things may indeed provide temporary pleasure; and when inevitably they fail, we remember the temporary pleasure and we go right back trying to change the world rather than changing our mind. With our focus on the world we refuse to examine the ongoing decision we are making in our mind. The world will cooperate with our self-deception—we all have found allies who agree with us that our pain has been caused by that which we haven’t forgiven.

In his fine book The Happiness Trap, physician Russ Harris observes that most of the thinking that constantly plays in the background of our mind is like a “Radio Doom and Gloom Show, broadcasting negative stories twenty-four hours a day.” This “show,” Harris adds,

Reminds us of bad things from the past, it reminds us of bad things to come the future, and it gives us regular updates on everything that’s wrong with us. Once in a while it broadcasts something useful or cheerful, but not too often. So if are constantly tuned into this radio, listening to it intently and, worse, believing everything we hear, then we have a sure fire recipe for stress and misery.

Now, if you’ve ever tried to stop thinking a certain thought, you know how frustrating it can be.  Our thinking is not easily changed, but what Eva Kor has taught us is that we can choose which thoughts we value. Eva doesn’t value the thoughts that keep her in chains; so when they arise, she can choose to let the thoughts fade away rather than analyze and entertain them. But, we can make that choice only when we realize, no matter what we have experienced, we are not mindless—we have a mind that can choose again.

In Love with Our Own Thinking

January 28, 2010

While we spit into the wind and complain about the insanity of our leaders, we might as well examine our own thinking. President Obama is not so different than you and me—when we are in an ego state-of-mind, we are in fascinated with our own thinking and the solutions that arise from our thinking.

No matter how dysfunctional our thinking is, no matter how much pain it causes us or others, we refuse to question it. We are in an abusive relationship with our own thinking, and we fail to see that we can open the door and just leave those thoughts behind.

My elderly aunt is in a nursing home. Although her physical situation is problematical, her mind is still “clear.” The only problem is she spends her days using her mind to rehearse grievances. My brother and sister-in-law live nearby, and the burden of my aunt’s care has fallen primarily on them. My aunt complains bitterly, almost daily, about my sister-in-law. No matter what my sister-in-law does for my aunt, in my aunt eyes, it is either not enough or she did it the wrong way. The other night, I had this conversation with my aunt.

Aunt: “Your sister-in-law has not been here to see me.”

Me: “That’s good; you complain about how much she upset you every time she comes.”

Aunt: “She should still come. She makes me upset whether she is here or not.”

Me (Attempting to get her to see the absurdity of what she is saying, laughing I say): “I’m glad you still have your sense of humor intact.”

Of course, a problem for my aunt is that she has no sense of humor. She would rather, metaphorically, grind glass into her hands each day, via her own painful thinking, than be interested in anything else. She is an extreme case—she is literally interested in little else than her own thinking. But, what she does is not so different than what you and I do.

Notice that my aunt uses the language of a victim when referring to my sister-in-law: “She makes me….” Ask my aunt if thinking about her grievances all day is helpful and she will tell you that she needs to remember and that she has no choice.

We all have a choice of two teachers; in our mind is a teacher of love and a teacher of hate. Which teacher we turn our attention to will determine the thoughts we will receive. The teacher of hate—our ego—will disguise itself. It will convince us that the thoughts it generates are appropriate reactions to the circumstances we are in and that we are being completely reasonable. Its teachings are rooted in erroneous interpretations of cause and effect. Often, it will disguise our inwardly hateful thoughts with appropriate social veneers.

While it may be marginally better to have appropriate social veneers, there is another choice we can make. We can stop inwardly sugar-coating our thoughts. We can stop justifying our thoughts, and we can become more aware of the pain that our thinking is causing ourselves and others. Once we reach that point, we can make another choice to begin to drop our dysfunctional thinking. With that choice we automatically choose a different inner-teacher.

For my birthday, I received a Logitech Internet radio. This is an ingenious device; in the flip of a button, I can listen to a classical radio station from Paris or a rock station from Seattle. The content of the radio’s output is exactly equivalent to the choice I make. And so it is with our thinking. We are not victims of our thinking—while we don’t choose each thought that arises, we choose the channel that determines the content of the thoughts we receive. Understanding this truth is not the end of our troubles, but it is the beginning of a process that helps us to make another choice.

Tiger Woods’s Universal Lesson

December 15, 2009

We’re told by some pundits that Tiger Woods has a sexual addiction disorder and that he needs to be more actively engaged in repairing his public image. Both conjectures are self-serving. Both are designed to give the pundits more to talk about and to give their audiences cheap thrills and comfort. The cheap thrills come from focusing on someone else’s life instead of our own. The comfort comes from believing that somehow, because he has been labeled an addict by the experts, the human drama in the life of Tiger Woods is fundamentally different from our own.

Polly Berends, in her book Coming to Life, observes, “Day by day, year after year, we live our lives out of certain fundamental assumptions of which we are almost completely unaware. These assumptions govern our lives, yet they are so universal and unquestioned as to be virtually unconscious.” We don’t have to look far for a universal, fundamental assumption that few ever question. The universal human drama throughout the millennia is people doing foolish things, because under their behavior lies an unquestioned and unexplored assumption that something outside—power, money, sex—can fill the emptiness they believe is within.

Woods is perhaps the most famous athlete in the world, he has more money than he could spend in many lifetimes, and he has a beautiful wife. Yet, something was missing; and something within drove him to foolish behavior. Labeling him as an addict with a disorder allows us to dismiss a universal lesson that he is inadvertently teaching. While most of us will never reach such extremes in behavior, we have our own repertoire of coping behaviors to fill what seems to be a universal void. These behaviors may include excessive eating, drinking, shopping, Internet surfing, and television watching. Often we engage in these activities to avoid becoming aware of and then questioning our own faulty assumptions about what we think will make us feel complete.

Our failure to the question our assumptions is all the more remarkable since our coping behaviors never relieve our angst for more than brief intervals of time. In his classic book on addictions, The Diseasing of America, Stanton Peele writes,

One of the key dynamics in the alcoholism or addiction cycle is the repeated failure of the alcoholic or addict to gain exactly the state he or she seeks, while still persisting in the addicted behavior. For example, alcoholics (in research, these are frequently street inebriates) report that they anticipate alcohol to be calming, and yet when they drink they become increasingly agitated and depressed. The process whereby people desperately pursue some feeling that becomes more elusive the harder they pursue it is a common one, and appears among compulsive gamblers, shoppers, overeaters, love addicts, and the like. It is this cycle of desperate search, temporary or inadequate satisfaction, and renewed desperation that most characterizes addiction.

But what are we hoping our coping behavior will do for us? Berends writes, “All compulsive behaviors make sense in relation to some perceived threat to self survival. It is impossible to give up an impulsive behavior until the underlying perception of threat is faced and seen to be false.” Berends echoes the perennial spiritual wisdom when she explains the origin of our pleasure seeking: We are afraid. She writes, “Afraid? Of what? Feel it. What is it? Fear and separateness. Separateness and fear. These occur together.”

Separateness? Berends writes, “The threat is always of some separation—from job, boss, financial support, family, spouse, from psychological and emotional outreach and support—from whatever you see as your interpersonal life-support system … Whenever something makes you doubt your viability, a desire to make some connection is triggered.” In other words, we seek unreliable and false ways to fill empty, inner void—a void of which we often don’t let ourselves become aware.

But what if the void that we do not let ourselves feel is itself not real? Again, echoing the perennial spiritual wisdom, Berends tells us, “The basic idea that we are separated and disconnected, from each other and from everything else, is the one idea we have not examined.” You may not have examined your belief in separation, but others have, and they assure us it is false. For instance, Einstein wrote,

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

Berends writes, “Whatever our false surface goal may be, before it can be relinquished, it has to be questioned. Before it can be questioned, it has to become questionable. For most of us this is a painful process. For anything cherished to become questionable it has to not work out.” It would be hard to find a human being that to one extent or another does not have a problematic life situation—often things do not work out. We have the power of choice—before we reach for another drink or click the remote again, before we choose another angry outburst, before we…—we can question our faulty assumptions and make another choice.

The Missing Ingredient

October 7, 2009

The film The Ramen Girl tells the story of Abby, a twenty-something American women who is stranded in Tokyo after being dumped by her boyfriend. She decides to stay. To earn a living, she begs a tyrannical Japanese ramen chef, who doesn’t speak a word of English, to teach her the art of making ramen. In Japan, ramen making is a high art.

Abby and her teacher clash, but the ramen master begins to soften towards Abby. Yet, despite all of her hard work, Abby cannot make a decent ramen bowl. In desperation, the master takes Abby to see his own mother. The scene unfolds as Abby prepares a bowl of ramen and serves it to the master’s mother:

Ramen master’s mother: Her broth is bland.

Ramen master: I wonder why? She’s mastered the techniques perfectly.

Mother talking to her son: Sometimes too much technical training can get in the way.

Mother talking to Abby: You cook with your head. Understand? Your head is full of noise. You must learn to cook from the quieter place deep inside of you.

Abby: How?

Mother:  Each bowl of ramen that you prepare is a gift to your customer. The food that you serve your customers becomes part of them. It contains your spirit. That’s why your ramen must be an expression of pure love; a gift from your heart.

Is this new age blather? Or, are we hearing business wisdom? After all, you can sell many things without having much regard for your customer. But, what about in today’s emerging economy where frugality will be the norm?

My wife enjoys an occasional cup of coffee. She recently told me the story of a coffee shop in town that she visited once and then did not return to for over a year. Why? It is a small shop, she related, and the server was not very welcoming. Drinking a cup of coffee, like eating ramen, is an experience. This is nothing new; companies like Starbucks were built on the experience they offer.

But does Abby really need to be so responsive to her customers that her work becomes an expression of love? The workday of a ramen chef is very long and repetitive. Many of her customers she may never see again. Kahil Gibran asked the question, “And what is it to work with love?” He answered his own question with advice that echoes that of the ramen master’s mother:

It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit…

Inspiring words, indeed. But what about the noise in Abby’s head that is getting in her way? Gibran asks us, “When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music. Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?”

Gibran is offering a pointer. We must allow ourselves to be found by life—to be found by the music that wants to sing through us in harmony with every living thing. A ramen cook becomes a ramen master when his cooking nourishes more than the body. A cook’s ingredients may be high quality, but there is more to cooking than ingredients. Are we part of the web of life that unites us all? Or, have we cut ourselves off? To ask the question is to be ready to receive the answer.

Abby is clearly trying to find her place in the world; but understandably given her circumstances, she is preoccupied with herself. The way out for Abby is to give even more of herself. This giving is enlivening rather than exhausting. Abby is called upon to have an intimate relationship with her customers—she is called upon to share fully of the gifts of her spirit. Doing so, she is united with her customers in their human journey; they are not mere objects playing their parts in Abby’s journey.

Eric Butterworth wrote, “Love is not an emotion that begins in us and ends in the positive response of another.” That kind of love is merely a deal destined to fall apart. Love doesn’t begin in us. We allow Love to flow through us when we can laugh at the noise in our head which is focused on the gratification of the endless demands of our own ego.

As she gives more, Abby gets more. But what she gets she could not have planned for or even conceived of. Some people go through life expecting to get before they give. Others go through life giving but then keeping score to see if what they receive back is in balance with what they give. Neither of these ways of being in the world will allow life to sing through us. We are the ones placing boundaries on the notes that can be played. If we continue to see the world through the eyes of our egos, life becomes very small and tedious.

In many of our organizations, work is tedious. Employees don’t share their gifts fully, interpersonal conflict is the norm, and dubious decision-making is routine. For the successful corporations in the future, a culture which supports the idea that their products and services are an expression of pure love will become a business necessity. Consumers will be buying more of what adds real value to their lives, and by economic necessity, they will be buying less of what merely fills the void in an unfulfilled life.

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