Sunday, October 30, 2016

No Control

A couple of trees near my local bike path.  Photo by J. Berta.

Greetings All:

Today is October 30, 2016.  For many, the world is less than perfect.  We, in America, find ourselves in the middle of a miserable general election.  Unless you are the most partisan-political animal, you have to be worn down by this campaign, at least a little.  I know I am.

If you're a Clinton supporter, you cannot be happy with the news that came out Friday that the ghost of emails past is again rattling its chains.  If you're a Trump supporter, you have to still be frustrated that your candidate is under attack by the perceived establishment.  

Then, there is baseball.  As I write this, the Chicago Cubs have their backs against the Ivy-covered wall, down three games.  Math is not my strong suit, yet even I can do this simple equation:  The Cubs gotta win all three remaining games.  

I suppose the one bit of comfort Cubs fans can take from this situation is this: The same city where the Indians call home is shared with the Cleveland Cavilers.  That team earlier this year rallied from the same 3-1 deficit against the vaunted Golden State Warriors.

So, to my Cubs fan friends, keep the faith.  Perhaps this photo below might help sooth your troubled self.  I know the walk a recently took with my dog where I snapped these pictures did wonders for me.

A photo of Duck Creek by my local bike path.  Photo by J. Berta

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, angry, despondent, fill-in-the-blank over things beyond our control.  Add into the mix the sheer injustice of certain (any) situations and we can feel our blood pressure rise.  We curse to ourselves, or perhaps outloud, "Dammit, it's not FAIR!"

So it is.  Such is life.

So how to combat such a situation?  I assure you, I have not the answer.  What I do have is a small suggestion.  Here goes:

I have been spending a bit of time in an informal and highly un-organized study of Stoicism.  Stoicism, as defined by our friends at Google, is this:

noun: stoicism; noun: Stoicism
  1. 1.
    the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.
      synonyms:patience, forbearance, resignation, fortitude, endurance, acceptance, tolerance, phlegm
    "she accepted her sufferings with remarkable stoicism"
  2. 2.
    an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

Ryan Holiday is an author I have followed and read for some time.  He is someone whose lived an interesting life and on his own terms.  I admire him for his willingness to lay bare his life and experiences for all of us to learn from.  I have just read (listened to, actually) two of his recent books:  Ego is The Enemy and The Obstacle is The Way.  I recommend both of these books and you can find the Amazon links to purchase them here and here.  (If you would like a recommendation for which one to start with first, it's a close call.  For recovering narcissists like myself, go with
Ego is The Enemy.)

In his writings and talks with Tim Ferriss, he has mused on the virtue of Stoicism.  He's also taken this to another level with his site, The Daily Stoic.  Here's the site:

He has also released a book by the same title.  I will not recommend it as I have not read it yet.  However, as soon as I finish the "Booker Award" winning novel, The Sellout by Paul Beatty, I plan on listening to it as well.  I suspect it will be as terrific as the other works Holiday has published.  In the meantime, I unconditionally endorse Mr. Holiday's work and encourage you to check out his site here.

My wife, Dawn mused yesterday at lunch that to her, Stoicism seems like a form of anger management.  I think she's onto something.  

One of the things Holiday talks about with Stoicism is both understanding and accepting just how little in life we have control over.  He also offers cautionary tales from history (General and President U.S. Grant) who let their ego get the better of them in vain attempts to impress others.  Again, trying to control things simply out of our grasp.

What's my take on Stoicism?  Well, I think it is great, it is beautiful.  And not unlike many other things great and beautiful, it is extremely difficult to understand, let alone master.  

So where to start?  Here's a suggestion.  It comes from the quote my friend, the Rev. Jay Wolin, shared this on Facebook this morning by John O'Donohue:

"May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder."

I like this quote.  I think it ties in nicely with, for me, what is the root of Stoicism- control what you can and appreciate whatever beauty may come your way in a day.  

Take this photo below, for example.  On the day I snapped it, water was barely flowing, a trickle.  Did it diminish its beauty?  Not for me.  True, in the winter, it is far more striking to see it frozen solid.  Or in the spring, when the rains have come and made its trickle a robust flood it is more "impressive."  Yet those days are far removed.  I can no more make that a reality than I can cause time to rewind and help the Cubs have a better second or seventh inning of last night's game.

But what I can do is appreciate what I see and feel around me.  And I think it is OK to only experience the "in the moment" feeling for a short while before being pulled back into the other external stuff.  
What mattered is you had that experience, however brief.

A tiny waterfall off my bike path.  Photo by J. Berta.

Oh, and lest anyone think I am some proficient practitioner of Stoicism, I'm not.  Truth be told I acted pretty damn un-Stoic this weekend on several occasions.  I even had a couple mirco-bouts of mini-depression/anger.  I'd like to tell you I re-read Meditations and all was well.  Nope.  I just went to bed, counting on the next day being better.

And it was.

I'll close with a reference back to the opening photo.  Here are two trees.  One stands majestic, wrapped in a royal red robe of crimson leaves.  The other, standing subordinate and behind it is bare.  But for the image saved on my iPhone, I would never be able to see these trees this way again.  Should I mourn for having missed seeing the second tree's fall folage?  Of course not.  That would be both stupid and silly.  It's a damn tree after all.  

Yet I can look at this image and recall seeing it in person and know that was able to see it, experience it, enjoy it.  I had no control over the leaves changing, or falling, or the wind blowing or any of that stuff.  I had no control over the sun shining or the temperature being a glorious 70+ degrees.  No control, no control at all.

Except over my appreciation of the experience.  

I'll take it.

Be well my friends,

p.s., here's a link to order Meditations via Amazon.


Monday, October 24, 2016

It's Almost Over

My absentee ballot for this year's general election.

Greetings All:

I just noticed it has been about six weeks since I last posted.  I'll spare you all the litany of excuses why I haven't written for a while and instead, simply say:  It wasn't enough of a priority.  

Yah, and um, what is going on in the world...let's see?

Well, first the good news:  The Cubs won the pennant.  Yes, that's right, for the first time in seven decades, The Chicago Cubs are playing in the World Series.  Although I am clearly a bandwagon fan, I am happy for all my fellow Cubs fan friends.  Last night, we were in our friends' backyard and they had the game on the big screen, projected onto a screen.  It was fun to watch.  And far more fun to watch my friends revel in the joy of the moment.  If Iowa ever goes undefeated and wins the National Championship, I know I'll feel the same way.

There is the little matter of winning the next few games.  And Cleveland is no slouch as a team this year.  Still, here's where I stand on who I think is gonna win...

My $10.00 wager on the Cubs winning it all from the sports book at my favorite Vegas hotel.

The other big thing we're all dealing with is the election.  This has been a particularly brutal election.  I read something today about how nasty the 1828 election was.  I was going to link to it but cannot find it.  And then again, that was then, this is now.

We've got our own problems.

Here's my two-cents on this election:  

1.  It will be over soon (thank God); and
2.  We will be OK, whoever wins.

I get it that people are upset about the choices, the issues, the circumstances...the bullshit.  (I do not think I have ever used profanity in my blog before, yet I cannot think of a more appropriate or accurate word to describe what is going on with our body politic.  Sigh.

I have not gotten too deep in the weeds about politics on this blog.  Maybe that is one of the reasons I have not written much on my blog.  I suppose it is one way I have avoided the elephant defecating in the room.  But here it is.

And since it is with us, I should make it clear that I do have a horse in this race and it is not the gentlemen from New York.  Based on the latest polling, it is pretty damn clear that Trump, like the Dodgers last night, is down to a handful of outs.  According to The New York Times, Clinton has a 93% chance of winning.  Here's the link.

As I commented on a friend's Facebook wall, this is NOT the time for those on side of HRC to take a victory lap/spike the ball/fill in the blank about talking shit about this win.  

Although I am glad it appears one Donald J. Trump will not be President, this is not without the clear recognition that many, many (that's code for tens of millions) of my fellow citizens are voting for him.

And before anyone jumps down my throat and calls them all members of the alt-right or "deplorables," they are far from it.  They are tax-payers, active/reserve duty members of our Armed Forces, Veterans, civil servants and first-responders.  They are people for whom certain matters, social issues if you will, are critically important.  They do not place Mr. Trump on the pedestal of hero worship.  Instead, they simply view him as the vessel from which their beliefs would be best served.

Then there are those for whom this election is a higher elevation of torture.  They are certainly no fans of Clinton.  Many are lifelong, committed Republicans.  The thought of not voting for their party's nominee is repugnant.  And yet, and yet...

And yet they cannot do so.  They are locked onto the true north of their own moral compass.  For them, the needle consistently points away from casting a ballot for Mr. Trump.

One of my friends on Facebook is such a person.  He is one of the finest people I know.  He has not only fought for this nation, he has led others in battle.  He is a thoughtful, gracious, intelligent, and compassionate person.  He is unapologetic in his faith, yet I never feel he is forcing it down my throat.  If anything, he slides out a chair and invites you to sit down with him.

And he's taken some HEAT rounds for this position.  For some, the "either your with us or against us" stance is non-negotiable.  That's sad.  

It is fine to be passionate about causes that matter to you.  It is not fine (uncool, actually, if you ask me) to get upset at someone else, especially a friend who does not agree with you.  I know I've been guilty of this myself in the past and I'm working on it.  What's the old saying, "Knowing you've got a problem is the first step in a cure..."

This morning (October 24, 2016), it was announced that former California State Senator and former student radical Tom Hayden had passed away.  You can read his obituary here.  He was someone who spent over half a century fighting for what he believed.  Some of those fights were ones I could not support, such as traveling to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  (Interestingly, The State Department looked the over way during the first trip, utilizing it as a way to initiate formal peace negotiations.  I still think it was an anti-American thing to do and Hayden said as much in his book, Reunion.)

Like him or hate him, one cannot deny the impact of Tom Hayden.  He was involved in the process.  Like him or hate him, Donald J. Trump has gotten millions of people involved in the process.  Like her or hate her, Hillary Rodham Clinton has gotten millions involved (or perhaps kept them involved, but participating none the less).  Let's not forget Senator Sanders from Vermont.  I did not support him this year, yet am impressed, and yes...grateful for his contribution to the process.  Millions of new voters, mostly young, came out to the polls and crowded into caucus locations to "Fell the Bern."  That heat was felt in the Clinton campaign all primary season.
It's almost over, that's the good news.  Here's the bad news:  the problems and challenges we face will still be there...

I've heard several well-known political observers quote and paraphrase the famous response that Benjamin Franklin gave to the woman on the streets of Philadelphia who inquired as to what type of Government this new "Constitution" had given the people?  Franklin replied, "A republic....if you can keep it."

With all the negativity and anger surrounding this campaign, it is easy to feel down.  The yard sign below is a sentiment I suspect more than a few folks feel this year.

From my cousin Ivan's Facebook page, kinda sums up the way a LOT of folks feel this year.

Whether we like it or not, it's our job, all of ours, to keep our republic.  So how do we reconcile our (collective) feelings of dismay with our civic obligation to engage in the process?  
That is admittedly not an easy answer.  Yet I do offer a few suggestions:  

1.  Vote.  Go to the polls, do early voting, get an absentee ballot, but vote.  If you cannot bring yourself to vote for the top of the ticket, fine.  But please do not ignore the many down ballot races.  Oh, and educate yourself on the candidates;

2.  Stay Informed.  After the elections are over, it will be natural for many, many people to say, "Thank God this is over!" and do the mental equivalent of balling up the Christmas lights, shoving them in boxes and hiding them in the garage.  We cannot do that.  Stay informed, at least on a few issues that matter to you.  With the internet, the information is easy to obtain but PLEASE, vet the source;

3.  If you have a friend who you had a following out with, who posted something on social media that just, well, pissed you off, let it go.  Reach out to that person.  Have a conversation, listening for the lion's share of it.  Trust me, you'll feel better; and

4.  Recognize that no matter what happens, we'll be fine.  I hope the Cubs win, but if they do not, we'll be fine.  If ______ wins, we'll be fine.  Deep breath, big smile, it's all good.

Yes, the election will be over soon.  Then the hard work begins.  Lets all get to work.

Be well my friends, 

And p.s., GO VOTE!  Thank you.