Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Soul of a Legend

(Every now and again, I receive an email asking me why I spend so much space on my blog writing about issues of heart and soul. I usually send these individuals this excerpt from my book, Legendary Leadership.)

It was not solely Arthur’s superior skill with Excalibur that caused (Knights) to swear allegiance to him. It was the character of the man wielding the sword. It was not the crown on his head that inspired the Knights of the Round Table to fight at Arthur’s side. It was the flaming crown in his soul.

In Stephen R. Lawhead’s Arthurian tales (The Pendragon Cycle) young Merlin’s teacher, Blaise, speaks of this authority when he explains:

It is a great thing to be king, Hawk. A very great thing, indeed. But there is authority of a kind even kings must bend to. Discover this and whether you wear a torc of gold or beggar’s rags, your name will burn forever in men’s minds. (Vol. 2, Merlin)

Even without the crown or the throne, people would have bent the knee to Arthur. Why? Because his soul possessed an authority that people could see in his demeanor, hear in his words, and feel in his presence. It was what he was as a human that gave authority and power to his skills.

What makes men or women Legendary Leaders is how their souls are shaped.  As I see them, there is an unalterable commitment to maintaining their values and ideals, and an inexorable promise to themselves to striving for excellence and greatness in all that they do.  There is nothing small or petty about such people; they have large visions, huge hearts and lofty standards to which they hold themselves accountable.

When we see the achievements of George Washington and William Wilberforce, Marie Curie and Mother Teresa, Michelangelo and Einstein, we stand in awe of what they accomplished, and rightfully so. However, what made their accomplishments possible—if not inevitable—was the quality of their souls.

When we think about the greatness of our heroes, skills and competencies, talents and abilities, are often all that we consider. However critical these are, I believe it is the unseen quality of their souls that made the difference between a good leader and a Legendary Leader: a good father or mother, or a legendary one, a good business leader, or a legendary one, a good teacher or a legendary one.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, March 2011


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Avoiding War, Murdering Souls

The other night I re-watched the movie Equilibrium. (Written and directed by Kurt Wimmer, 2002.) The story follows the journey of John Preston (Christian Bale) who is a law-enforcement officer and warrior-priest. The setting is a future dystopia (post-WW III) where the State has outlawed feelings and artistic expression, so as to ensure there will be no more war.

How can you require people to not feel? Easy: each and every citizen is required to take a daily injection of drugs. (Prozium) Voila! No more war or conflicts of any kind … except for the sense-offenders who, refusing the drugs, secretly cherish Beethoven, revel in the poetry of Yeats, fall in love, and adore their pets. Anyone caught experiencing emotions or possessing objects with Emotional Content are in violation of the law. These people, when discovered, are summarily incinerated, along with their memorabilia and art.

When Preston decides to begin to secretly stop taking his daily dose of Prozium, he starts discovering beauty and love, anger and heartache. He also begins seeing that, while wars have ceased, the State has declared a war against individual freedom and self-expression, and is committing heinous crimes against its own citizens.

Avoiding War But Murdering Souls
Whether it is the external wars of family conflicts or marital debacles, or the internal wars of, say, self-hatred or bitterness, so many people “deal” with the accompanying tumultuous emotions by some form of Prozium: the favorites are numbing-agents (drugs, booze or comfort foods), escapism (TV, recreation, or work), and denial (I am doing GREAT). Some of us devise cocktails that include all three! And sure enough, the pain “disappears”!

The problem here is that “the absence of war” is not the same thing as achieving peace. Those emotions that have now been medicated into silence or placed into a vault you never open, were seeking to communicate with you. When you cut off this communication, you are committing an act of violence against your soul, inflicting wound after wound, and are slowly bleeding to death.

Refusing to feel what you feel in your relationships also leads, metaphorically, to acts of violence. Preston actually witnessed his sense-offending wife being taken away for execution and he didn’t experience the slightest bit of emotion. Just as the Zombie-like State in Equilibrium had no qualms about devouring the living, individuals who ignore, stifle, or deny their own emotions and, thus, their souls, don’t lose any sleep over all the dead bodies and relationships stacking up around them. If my soul doesn’t matter, neither does yours.

The Road to Hell is paved with Prozium.  

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sit Down and Shut Up

Busy, busy, stay busy. At all costs, don't be still. Here, there, run, run, run. Go to work. Do something. Join a Cause! Play games. Entertain your children. Watch TV. Take a class on something: anything. Talk on the phone, blah-blah. It’s been almost an hour since you changed your status on Facebook: OMG!!! Hang with buddies. Go see a movie. Read, read, read. Drink, drink, drunk. Fill that calendar. Do. Something.

You tell yourself the busyness is because life is short and you intend to live it to the fullest, but you know better. You know what is haunting you, chasing you down, threatening to break through your defenses. All your talk of living in the moment has nothing to do with savoring life. You are running and hiding and you know it.

"All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone." BAM! Pascal delivers the blow, perfectly aimed. "Quiet" must be avoided. "Alone" is the enemy. “Action! Aaaaaaaand cue Noise!”  But, as the activity and noise escalates, the misery increases.

Shhhhhhhh: Be Still
From time to time, take the time to be quiet. Choose to remember. Let the dead be resurrected and allowed to speak again. Listen. Don't interrupt. In the quietness of your heart, pay attention to where, long ago, your "present" began. "When did I start running?" "What am I running from?" "From whom am I running?" Those ghosts have names and stories. "Where are the rooms in my soul with locked doors?" Unlock the doors. Do it. Now. Get it over with. Trust me, you will be better off for doing so.

Be still.
Be quiet.
Be honest.
Be patient.
Be charitable.

Allow your soul to settle and be centered. Take a breath. Take another breath. Allow your soul to breathe. Embrace the pain that erupts. Sit in it all the way to the end. How do you know you’ve reached the end?

When you unclench your fists,
When tears turn into a smile of acceptance,
When fear is replaced with peace,
When anger is transformed into faith, hope, and love,
When the wound becomes your friend,
When it is okay to be in a quiet room, alone. 

Yeah. Sometimes it will take more than one sit down.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

Owning Your Caca

Men heap together the mistakes of their lives and create a monster they call destiny. John Hobbes

One of the more common ways we have for avoiding painful truths and important life lessons is to baptize our idiocies in the waters of spirituality: This is what God (the gods, fate, the universe) wanted, What God willed, or some such drivel. Rather than acknowledging that our hearts and heads chose the wrong path and that we acted deplorably, we reframe the behavior in terms of providence or fate:

"I know I bowed to Sauron, Voldemort, and Beelzebub, but look what happened. It was meant to be. It's all goooood!"

"Sure, I knifed you in the back, but are you seeing the good that has happened since then?"

Denial may place a hard enough veneer to cover the damage our behavior incurred and leave us feeling "all good," but what lies underneath is an infection that rots the soul. This is not to say that forgiveness and healing cannot turn caca into gold, only that it will not happen until we own the caca as caca. But we don't. We slither and slide around the edges, offering a "sorry" here, a "my bad" there, or an "if I hurt you" over there, showing just enough sorrow so as to tell ourselves and others, "Hey, I said I was sorry. And anyway, can't you see all the great stuff that has come of this?"

(“If I hurt you?" I am lying here with a sucking chest wound and you have the audacity to say IF? So much for ownership. “My bad”? My life was thrown into an abyss of pain and you act like you merely stepped on my toes? Yeah, everyone’s caca smells but yours.)

My experience is that, sooner or later, the rotting of the soul begins manifesting itself in ways that demands our attention. All our professions that "It's all good!" are drowned out by our soul screaming, "LIAR!" We can either own our failures ("mistakes") and deal with them, or allow the monster we have been calling "destiny," to keep leading us down the path that ends in the decay and destruction of our souls.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Reasonableness of Living in Love

What would happen in your life
 if you began to operate primarily out of love?
What would happen if you
 began following where love was leading?

What if you speak the truth (as you understand it) to your co-worker because you care for her well-being, rather than confronting her out of fear or anger: fear that you will appear weak if you don’t go to war, angry that she isn’t Doing It Right.

What would you experience in your relationships if, each time you sensed love welling up in your heart for an individual, you followed it, without knowing exactly where it would lead? “Was thinking of you and wanted to call/write/drop by: how are you? Is there anything I can do for you? I wanted to tell you how much I love you.”

How would your experience of work change if you approached it with love: love for serving others, love for the work itself, love for the grace of even having a job.

What if your Quest for Knowing God or for knowing whether or not there is a God was fueled by Love (Love for Truth) rather than fear of being wrong, fear of “eternal torment,” fear of looking/sounding/acting like “them” or fear of not looking/sounding/acting like “them”?

What would happen in your relationship with your Significant Other if you permitted love to cast caution (fear) to the wind and stood before him or her with a naked soul?

“O, Monte. Be reasonable!” I am. If love is what makes the world go around, if we were created by and for love, then living in love is the most reasonable thing you can do.

My experience is that when the conversation turns to love and people start talking about being reasonable they are usually hiding, running, or justifying their failures or fears regarding love. Consequently, much of the beauty and meaningfulness of life is constantly being drained from their lives.

Pascal wrote, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” Love believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love sacrifices for others. Love is vulnerable. Love gets underneath people and lifts them up. Love is forgiving. Love is accepting of others. Love is caring and affectionate. Love is as soft as tears and stronger than steel. To Love, you can’t be any more reasonable than this.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Danger of Loving With All of Your Heart

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” –Jesus

Much of my early years were filled with teachers who spoke of love like an engineer speaks of plans for building a bridge or like a mathematician explaining formulas or a stoical Spartan speaking of doing his duty. Even when these teachers spoke of I Corinthians 13, there was no poetry, no feeling, no passion or compassion, no enthusiasm, and definitely no fire.
God did not create us in the image of a Vulcan -- Greetings, Science Officer Spock! He created us in His Image: the God Who Is Love.
Isn’t a love that is void of feelings far, far beneath what God intends for us to experience for Him and for others? Sure, some people need to remember to bring intelligence and willpower to demonstrations of love, but just as many need to take their hearts out of cold storage.

The Danger of Love
Love is dangerous because it is the nature of love to surrender, to lose control, to be vulnerable to the point of becoming fragile. And herein is the reason so many people avoid allowing themselves to love as they were meant and made to. Love is both a wonder-filled experience and a painful one. As many people have a predisposition to avoiding pain, they close their hearts to it, and in doing so close their hearts off to love.
It is far safer to approach love for God and others solely as acts of our wills: do your duty, and keep your commitment. Just do it … but don’t feel it, because once you throw your heart into the arena, someone is going to step on it.
Ask yourself this: Do you feel loved by a lover or friend who resigns himself to performing his duty toward you?

Monte: Hey George. I really don’t feel like serving you today. I have no sense of compassion or affection toward you, really don’t even want to be here, But. I. Will. Serve. You. (Cue sounds of grunting and straining.)

George: You can leave now.

Sure. Love requires our intelligence, our strength, and our willpower. But it also involves our hearts. And yes, there are certainly times when your heart just isn’t in it. However, if heartlessness is a lifestyle, if this is my way of being in relationships, then something is terribly wrong with me.
Love is a flame: it ignites, it blazes, it consumes. The flame both warms us and often burns us. Sometimes the blaze purifies, sometimes it scars; sometimes it empowers, sometimes it reduces to ashes. If there were a sure-fire way of only experiencing the happier aspects of love, more people would love more freely! But love is dangerous: like dynamite or wine.  
Given the danger, so many people go through life hiding from love. O, underneath the cool exterior there are hearts filled with the desire to love and be loved, but they keep that longing in a box, buried deeply, far away from the risk that comes with bringing their longings to the surface and into the light. But this is not living as God created us to live. For, if we live this way, while we will be safe from pain and suffering, we shall also be safely shut away from truly living.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013