Monday, April 29, 2013

Hermits of the World, Unite!

“What’s My Line?”

While I dearly love meaningful conversations, I don’t do chitchat all that well. I only have a small group of people with whom I share a close and meaningful relationship: these are the only people I call “friends.”  (Can you call two people a “group”? These would be those two guys over there: Wave for me!) I prefer working alone, especially when needing to be creative. I think much of what passes for teamwork today is demonstrably a waste of time and oxygen. Large groups of strangers drain me faster than a vampire can say, “Let’s eat!” I recharge my batteries best in solitude. Reflection energies me, interactions deplete me, unless they are with friends. I am quiet by nature, although my job sometimes requires that I talk. A lot. Those individuals, who assume that, because I am quiet, I am uninterested, amuse and sometimes irk me. I am primarily internally focused, being absorbed in thoughts of the life of the mind, soul, and spirit. While my emotions run deep and intense, I do not readily express them. And believe me, most everything you say, or leave unsaid, is going directly into my heart.

Who am I?

“Ew, ew, I know! Pick me!” Okay. “You’re a neurotic!” Uh, no.

Hello, my name is Monte Wilson, and I am an introvert. My challenge is that I live in a culture where extroverts are exalted as The Way You Must Be To Be Successful, or To Have An Impact On the World. Extroverts are The Norm by Which All Others Are Judged. And, of course, only extroverts can be Knights of the Round Table: all others are squires. Whether it is businesses, churches, or schools, our entire culture is organized around extroverts, so much so that you would think introverts didn’t even exist.

Come into my Bat Cave and lets talk about this.

Socrates preferred caves to people. Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein’s ideas have had a huge impact on the world, yes? Both were introverts. Blaise Pascal, William James, and Carl Jung: check, check, and check -- all introverts. Reading bios on Spielberg reveal that he is an introvert. Guess that’s why his art hasn’t had much of an impact on the world, eh? Susan B Anthony and Rosa Parks: introverts. What about the introverted President (Gen) Dwight Eisenhower: pretty decent impact on history, there. Ditto for Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. And how about the self-professed introvert, Warren Buffet who lives in Nebraska? (Can you say, “Cave-ska”?) He often spends hours a day alone in an office behind closed doors. Wouldn’t you say that he’s had some influence here and there?

In her book, The Introvert Advantage, Marti Lani asserts that there are quite a number of strengths that comes with being an introvert. No. I’m not kidding. She really does. Introverts are great in one-on-one relationships, and maintain relationships over long periods of time. They are independent, creative, studious, great listeners and keen observers, and have no difficulty staying focused on a task without outward direction. They also have superior language skills, preferring writing to public speaking, of course. (Shock, there.) And they do all of this without chatting up all 100 people at last night’s party, or greeting every one they meet as if he were their best friend. Ever. This last line is mine, not Marti’s.

Come on, fellow Hermits. Stop measuring yourself by a standard not meant for you. Cease wasting all that energy on pretending you are an extrovert or judging yourself because you are not. Look at your temperament’s lineage: such great souls and profound accomplishments. Embrace and be grateful for how you were created! Relax: you are cool. Really.

By the way, that whole, “Hermit’s of the World, Unite!” thing: You do know that isn’t an invite to come party in my cave, don’t you?

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Magical Mirrors

On a recent transatlantic flight, I sat next to a young lady who went on and on about finding her “soul mate.” “Our likes and dislikes are even the same!” “We finish each other’s sentences!” “We agree on everything!” She was genuinely and unashamedly happy and wanted everyone to know, which I found very endearing. The happiest of people always want the world to know. However, my inner coach was stuck on her comment that she and her love agreed on everything.

Coach Wilson: So you agree on everything?
Ms. In-Love: (Big smile) Yes!
Coach Wilson: You never argue?
Ms. In-Love: Never! (All her sentences had exclamation points. Trust me.)
Coach Wilson: Aren’t you worried that you might get bored after a while?
Ms. In-Love: (Dreamy eyed) O, noooooooo! Never!!

As I wasn’t interested in raining on her parade, I decided to refrain from saying, “If you agree on everything, then one of you is redundant.” But my inner conversation continued. It seems to me that what we should be wanting in a soul- sharer is an ability to hold up a mirror to our souls so that, abracadabra, we see what we have, up until now, been blind to. 

Have you ever been in a relationship where many of the encounters left you turning inward, facing unrealized potential or unpleasant realities? (Note: Soul sharers bring us joy but they don’t always make us happy.) This is part of what I am referring to when I write about sharing soul. There is something about this companion that brings you to your attention. I have had such a relationship and, believe me, it is the greatest of gifts.

I believe that one of the most important aspects in developing a great soul is self-awareness. The challenge here is that we only know what we are conscious of: we are ignorant of what lies within the unconscious. Think about this. Whatever remains at the level of unconsciousness remains outside self-critique and self-governance.

Self-awareness doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I need a soulful person who acts as a mirror, helping me to see what has heretofore been hidden and, therefore, holding me back. This is the companion that helps free me to more fully become the self I was created to be and to fulfilling my calling. I do so hope and pray, that Ms. In-Love and her Beau, have found such souls in each other.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013

Monday, April 22, 2013

Treasures Found, Treasures Lost

I love watching all my children together, teasing each other, and laughing their eyeballs out. I love sharing soul with my friends, and my work with charities, serving the world’s poor and suffering. I love spending hours in an art museum, going to hear a symphony, and reading great literature. I love rose gardens and orchids, walking in parks, and watching the ocean, especially at night. I love meditating on and contemplating the nature of God: God’s Truth, God’s Wisdom, God’s Ways, God’s Love and Beauty, Goodness, and Mercy.

These are some of my treasures: where my soul experiences the greatest joy.

Where, and in doing what, and with whom, do you find joy, and how much time are you allotting for such soul nourishing experiences?  Is your soul’s joy important to you? Look at where you are spending your time and ask yourself, “Is this where I truly believe my joy--my treasure--lies?” Are there discrepancies between where you say your treasures are to be found, and where you are spending your time? 

If you asked the people in your world where all you find joy, what would they say: Facebook? Books? Him? Her? Me? Them? (And how specifically do these people know you find joy in them?) Nature? Arguing? Work? TV? Music? Doing nothing? Family? God? Serving others? Sleeping? Drinking? Eating? Working out? What does where you spend your time communicate about where you truly believe the treasure of joy is to be found?

Time for her, time for him, and time for them: time for this, time for that, and time for the other thing. Where you spend your time is where you believe your heart’s treasure resides, for time is your most precious possession, and its expenditure tells her, tells him, tells them, and tells God, who and what Is of greatest value to you. I truly pray that where you spend your time creates the returns, the rewards, and the joy, for which you are hoping, and that you never find yourself looking back in regret … at treasures lost.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Give Me Soul II: New and Improved!

Okay: Loads of emails with questions, requests for advice, and challenges. Let’s see…

While we should remain open to sharing soul with others, the reality is very few want the same. With most people, it is because they aren’t aware they have a soul, or because their soul is entombed in fear or pain. However, even with those people whose souls are alive, sometimes there simply isn’t space or time for you in their world. They have other priorities. People will generally let you know what they genuinely want from you by what they give to you. If they aren’t opening mind and heart to you about matters beneath the surface of life (data), odds are very strong that they aren’t interested in that level of a relationship. For some you will be a friendly, for others you are a resource, and for others, just someone they want to stay in touch with – from time to time. Keep all these levels of relating clear in your mind!

I am not downplaying the value of friendlies -- not at all. These people can enrich our lives, adding some zest and zing, and provoking us in any number of good and healthy ways. Just do not mistake friendlies for those with whom you share soul.

Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. Give your soul to all comers. Just because someone sees something within you that they like and need, doesn’t mean you should share soul with them. Maybe you will want to serve or encourage them in someway. However, if the relationship is based solely on their need for you, it isn’t a place to share your soul. Anyway, what do you call a woman who gives herself to any and all men? Yeah. What I am trying to say here is …

Let your love be with discernment and wisdom. Mature love is not na├»ve. Jesus loved Judas while not being shocked by his betrayal. John wrote of how Jesus didn’t ”entrust himself” to some people, because he knew what was in their hearts. People can change on a dime, lie with a straight face, betray without compunction, or throw your love away as if it were a jar of mayonnaise that is past its sell-by date. Ignoring this reality only sets you up for relational disaster.

Distance is not a barrier to sharing soul. My friend Colonel lives in CA. I have shared more soul with him on the phone and in emails than most people do with the closest of friends who live next door. The same goes for my friend Derek, who lives in South Africa.

The most frequently asked question was for some examples of sharing soul. We share soul when we tell our un-redacted story to another person, not as an observer (second person) but as participant. In other words, be in the story you are telling. (If a person is not ready to share their story — past and present — they are not ready for sharing soul.) We share soul when we have meaningful conversations. Given that I am my secrets, sharing some of them with another person can also be an avenue for sharing soul. Now. While your mind immediately went to some past breach of morality, shameful behavior, or painful experience, what of the secret of your deepest hopes and desires? What of the secret of who you truly and fully are?

Maintain the laws of love with all people. Love because it is who you are, regardless of the character or behavior of others—you know, the way God loves you. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, don’t return evil for evil, insult for insult, and as much as lies within you, always be gentle and forbearing, looking for ways to be a blessing to all who you encounter. Remember, however, that being a loving individual is not synonymous with sharing your soul. Or so I believe. 

Copyright, Monte E. Wilson, 2013 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Give Me Soul!

I was speaking with a psychologist friend about what we each were looking for in relationships. While sharing with him my desire for psychological visibility and heart-to-heart connections, he said, “Monte, you are looking for soul!”

Soul: being, life, vitality, the essence of the individual’s identity, the breath of God breathed into us, distinguishing us as “human” rather than animal. Sharing soul in relationships is to share our innermost being, the essence of our true self (good, bad, and ugly; what Pascal called the “glory and the rubbish”), and the divine breath within each of us.

Sharing the news of our lives, email chitchats, even cheering one another on in our quests, are all great things in a relationship. However, keeping up with what is happening in our lives is not the same thing as sharing our souls with one another. Let me quickly add here that neither is baptizing the people around us with every passing emotional or psychic storm in our lives the same thing as sharing our souls.  

In sharing your soul, you open wide your heart: “This is who I am, where I am on my journey, my deepest emotional experiences in life.” This kind of sharing goes deeper than the mere communication of ideas, concepts, and of broadcasting the daily news of your life. It is the difference between spitting out data and opening your heart: the difference between being good buddies (what I call “friendlies”) and the truest of companions.

You sometimes feel the emptiness, don’t you? Possibly there was soul and now there isn’t. Maybe it is the yearning for a relationship you have yet to experience? Even if it’s only for a fleeting moment, you know something is amiss in many or all of your relationships. I think what you are feeling is the loss or absence of soul. Fernando Pessoa describes this experience in his poem, “There is a sickness worse than sickness.”

My soul came apart like an empty jar.
It fell overwhelmingly, down the stairs.
Dropped from the hands of a careless maid.
It fell. Smashed into more pieces than there was china in the jar.

This is what it is like to lose soul. When soul is missing life has “come part,” “smashed into … pieces.” It is a sickness worse than sickness: a disease more deadly than any germ. When a relationship loses soul, you experience a cavernous emptiness – an emptiness that cannot be filled by data, only soul.

While I cannot remember ever not looking for soul in my relationships, I can remember early on in life wanting what I was not giving. I would talk about love, and fear, and pain, and dreams, and quests, and would do so with great specificity, but rarely from my heart: usually, only from my head. I intellectualized and conceptualized … but words emptied of soul only touches heads, never hearts.

Most friendships are on the data-sharing plan; few involve a deep connection of souls. This is probably because such connections require trust and vulnerability — a willingness to be transparent regarding your true self, your weaknesses and your strengths, your fears and your hopes. It is within these relationships where your soul becomes stronger, brighter, deeper, and where your life takes on a meaningfulness that both strengthens you for your quests and adds emotional depth and richness to your life. These are the relationships that blow the cool breath of life into your inner world.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ethiopia 2013: Ninety Tons of Love and Hope

“I am heading to Ethiopia: Atlanta to Amsterdam to Frankfurt to Khartoum to Addis Ababa. Just landed in Khartoum. When the flight attendant opened the door my breath was taken away by the shock wave of 110 degrees: a brisk spring evening. We aren’t allowed off of the plane so I am sitting here thinking about what lies ahead and mentally preparing myself for the sights, sounds, and smells of disease and death.” (From my journal, April 1) After doing this work for over 40 years, the fact is nothing actually prepares you for what you are going to see, either mentally or emotionally.

There is a fine line between isolating your feelings from what you are seeing so that you can get the job done, and turning your feelings off, altogether. One of the things I learned 30 years ago was that the gift of your full presence is as valuable as the aid you are bringing. The suffering feel invisible and worthless: if I deliver this food as if I were offloading feed for cattle, I dishonor them and the God whom I serve.  

“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor … but have not love, it profits me nothing.”

Look this mother in the eyes: do not turn away from the terror and grief you see in her demeanor, as she thrusts her infant into your arms. “Please care. Please help. Please give me hope.”

Don’t walk around in a bubble: touch people. Hold the screaming malnourished child in your arms and speak words of love and hope to her as you would your own daughter.

Sit down in the mud and play with the children. Make them laugh because there are few things more medicinal for all of us than hearing the laughter of children.

I think of all of this, as we drive down into the southern mountain region of Ethiopia. Day one, we spent over 8 hours traveling 200 miles. These are nerve-wracking roads with people, children so malnourished that they have lied down and fallen asleep in the middle of the road, cattle, donkey-drawn carts, more children, goats, dogs, horses, and truck drivers crazed with chewing chut, all “sharing” the road.

When we pull up to the field for our first delivery, we get out of the truck … and begin fiddling. My friend Derek Hammond fiddles with his camera while I walk around the truck as if I were looking for something. We both know what we are doing: “Suck it up, these people need you.” And then we walk around the building and see what we have seen scores of times: hundreds of desperate mothers and weeping children.

On this trek, we are bringing 90 tons of love and hope for 5 villages. There is 56 tons of wheat that families will use for making 100 gram loaves of bread: 25 kgs per family, 2260 families at a cost of $23 per family. They will eat for months! Yes, a meal out here consists of bread and water.  The response of the people is such that you’d think we were passing out steak dinners.

We also are delivering 34 tons of seeds to 152 farmers. These farmers will reap 228 tons of wheat this year. They will give a percentage of their harvest to “the less fortunate,” keep enough to support and feed their families for the year, and have enough seeds to plant again next year. (Imagine planting 2 ½ acres, one seed at a time, measuring from finger tip to elbow.) Talking with these men each of them noted what, for them, was the most exciting thing: they will be able to send their children to school. Hope for the next generation! Such love and hope only costs $29 per family.

These photos are of a handful of the suffering people we encountered. Remember: there are millions of such people, not only here in Ethiopia, but across Africa. 

Mother and Child

The Face of Suffering 

This girl is 10 years old 

Twin girls! 

Make 'em laugh!  

Farmer: "Honey, you're never going to guess what I am bringing home."

"Thank you for the love and hope. Do come again!" 

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Compartmentalizing, Interrupted

After my last post, I have been thinking about following up with some other thoughts on compartmentalizing. As I am presently doing some charity work in Ethiopia, I haven't had much time to compose my thoughts. The night I arrived, I needed to turn my brain off so decided to go mindless and switched on the TV. Within minutes I was engrossed in re-watching Girl, Interrupted. (1999. Taken from book by Susanna Kayson, Directed by James Mangold.) There is this powerful scene between Ryder and Redgrave's characters that, while not dealing with this subject, I thought it was quite applicable.

Susanna: I'm ambivalent. In fact, that's my new favorite word.
Dr. Wick: Do you know what that means, ambivalence?
Susanna: I don't care.
Dr. Wick: If it's your favorite word, I would've thought you...
Susanna: It means, "I don't care." That's what it means.
Dr. Wick: On the contrary, Susanna. Ambivalence suggests strong feelings in opposition. The prefix, as in ambidextrous...means "both." The rest of it, in Latin, means "vigor." The word suggests that you are torn ... between two opposing courses of action.
Susanna: Will I stay or will I go?
Dr. Wick: Am I sane or am I crazy?
Susanna: Those aren't courses of action.
Dr. Wick: They can be, dear, for some.
Susanna: Well, then, it's the wrong word.
Dr. Wick: No. I think it's perfect. "What world is this? What kingdom? What shores of what worlds?" * It's a very big question you're faced with, Susanna. The choice of your life. How much will you indulge in your flaws? What are your flaws? Are they flaws? If you embrace them, will you commit yourself to hospital for life? Big questions, big decisions. Not surprising you profess carelessness about them. +

In one arena, I feel strongly about behaving according to these moral values. In another arena, I feel just as strongly about behaving according to opposing values: except when we compartmentalize, we aren't "torn." Being torn would at least mean our consciences were still active! Anyway--

Provoking questions

The choice of your life:
How much will you indulge in your flaws?
What are your flaws?
Are they flaws?
If you embrace them, will you commit yourself to hospital for life?
Big questions, big decisions.

* Hercules: Quis hic locus, quae regio, quae mundi plaga?
"What world is this? What kingdom? What shores of what worlds?"
--Seneca, Mad Hercules +

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013

Monday, April 1, 2013

When Moral Values Collide

At home, you are a loving husband and father: empathetic, caring, and attentive. Here, you place a very high moral value on love, loyalty, and kindness. However, at work you are a mercenary that will do pretty much anything you can get away with so as to get ahead, and, accordingly, are hard, calculating, and ruthless. At home you are the paragon of virtue, always respectful and cherishing in word and deed. At work … well let’s just say people would be shocked that you went to church. And all of this rarely, if ever, gives you the slightest pause or even a hint of guilt over your glaring incongruity and hypocrisy. 

With all that lies within you, you assert that love is your highest moral value. You regale your friends with tales of a life-laid-down for others, are revered at church, and support numerous charities. So how is it that you so easily write people off who offend or disagree with you, and keep a list of every wrong ever done to you? And how do you so successfully pull off being Mother Teresa at home and in your spiritual community, but at work you are the Queen B@#ch from hell? How do you avoid the stress of cognitive dissonance that comes from holding contrary beliefs and moral values?

“Get real, Monte. Some behaviors and conversations are appropriate to home that are not appropriate to the work place, and vice a versa.” I agree. But, alas, this is not what I am writing about. “Okay, but there are going to be times when we have to put some things out of our minds, such as empathy: to isolate our feelings so we can do our work … like soldiers in Afghanistan needing to push away their loneliness or concern for family, so that they can get the job done.”  Good one. Are you deflecting? Isolating thoughts from emotions can be a useful tool, as long as we get to a place where they are wedded again, as soon as possible. (Or expect some massive therapy bills later in life.) But I am not referring to this, either.

I am referring to holding moral values and beliefs at home (for example), while behaving according to conflicting values and beliefs at work or elsewhere. It is one thing to have different yet complimentary values from arena to arena. It is quite another thing to actually defy moral values and beliefs we call sacred in another context. How is that we can pull this off with no stress, no guilt, and no chocolate mess?

We compartmentalize!

Compartmentalization is when you have two or more conflicting beliefs or moral values, and take each of them and place them in separate mental boxes. A very useful and effective defense mechanism that allows you to tell yourself, “This has nothing to do with that. In fact, that is irrelevant, in this context!” Phew! Glad you cleared that up.

Man of integrity in this arena, Captain Jack Sparrow in another arena.

Sister Prim Evergood with your family and spiritual community in this file, Lady Gaga when out with the gang from the office in that file.  

Conflicting beliefs and moral values: not a problem. All we need are some mental filing cabinets, decent acting skills, and a certain level of expertise at rationalizing. O, and a caviler attitude toward your soul, reputation, sense of personal honor, and those whom you truly love, also comes in handy.  

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013