Defenseless?

Image titled I want my mommy by anyjazz65

Image titled “I want my mommy” by anyjazz65

My wife Carol has an amazing affinity for animals of all kinds.  Our house is a virtual Noah’s ark of pets, including dogs, cats, birds, fish, and other assorted, furry varmints.  Each pet enjoys Carol’s special blend of care and attention.  She has a natural ability to communicate with animals in a way that leaves me awestruck.

For example, earlier this week, my son Derek and I were in the basement with the windows open when we heard a commotion in the backyard.

“What’s that noise?” Derek asked me.

“I don’t know.  It sounds like a bird fight,” I replied, vaguely aware of Carol rushing out the back screen door as I spoke.

Five minutes later, Carol called to us, “Don’t let any of the cats out.  I just caught Choco about to attack a baby bird that fell out of its nest!”

Sure enough, when I went out back, there was a baby robin clutching a branch in our little Japanese maple tree.  The loud noises earlier had been the baby’s frantic mother calling for help, and Carol had answered.  Over the course of that evening, we watched her cautiously feed her baby, and tracked his progress out of the tree and onto the top of our privacy fence.

“He’ll be fine as long as the cats and dogs don’t get him,” Carol advised me.  “Be careful when you let the dogs out in the morning.”

The next morning, I followed her instructions to the letter, and even searched our yard for our little visitor, finding no sign of him.  Carol had errands to run in town, and I headed for the computer.  But within half an hour, I heard those same, frantic bird calls from the previous day in the backyard.  Vowing not to make the same mistake twice, I hurried out into the backyard.

I circled our fence twice, finding nothing.  I was just about to give up the search when I discovered our cat with the baby robin on our back deck.  He had dragged the baby to our back door and was preparing for the kill.  The baby looked up at me and opened its beak in a silent call for help.  Tiny clumps of feathers scattered about him on the floor boards testified to the terror he had suffered in the past five minutes.

I quickly tossed the cat in the house, then turned back to tend to the wounded bird.  My first thought was to move him back to the relative safety of the fence again, but as I started to reach down to pick him up, a quieter voice that sounded a lot like Carol’s spoke in my mind: If you touch him, his mother will stop taking care of him.

I knew that voice was right.  So, reluctantly, I went back in the house.

He looked so defenseless sitting there by himself, but each time we went out to check on him, we would find his mother hard at work bringing him food to eat.  It wasn’t long before he was moving around the deck thanks to her efforts.  We helped her by letting our dogs out the basement door and blocking the stairs to the deck to protect the baby.

Slowly it dawned on me that baby robin wasn’t defenseless at all.  His Defender had a plan for him all along, and we were all playing our parts in it.

Late that afternoon, Carol called to me, “I haven’t seen the momma bird lately.  Do you see the baby anywhere?”  A thorough search of the back yard confirmed he had gained enough strength to leave.

Good luck to you, little guy.  May all the others you encounter along your path heed the Voice that brings healing and peace to this world.

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A Vision Of Two Worlds

I missed last week’s post.  I’m in danger of missing this week’s as well.  There’s so much to do…

When I was laid-off in February, I didn’t anticipate how busy I would be in unemployment.  In the last two weeks, I spent a day’s time applying for food stamps and almost two days reapplying for financial aid for our two college-aged children.  And then there’s the job search, which has settled into a frustrating daily effort.

I’m working harder now than I have in years, but with very little to show for my efforts so far.  In fact, this is the answer to the question I posed in the last post:

I’m not unemployed, I’m under-compensated.

Compensation can be corrected – that’s the good news.

Unfortunately, I can’t correct it all by myself.  That’s the crux of my challenge; my problem, my opportunity to grow.

I’ve enjoyed the extra time I’ve had at home with my family over the past two months.  Our relationships are growing stronger, and the flexibility in my schedule is a real benefit.  It’s exciting to envision all the new career paths available to me with my friends and family.  These have been mountain-top experiences.

But I still find it daunting to reach out to “weak” network connections.  When exploring potential leads not perfectly in alignment with my previous career tract, I drag my feelings of lack and self-doubt with me into the conversations.  I stack the deck against myself before I even pick up the phone.  The truth be told, sometimes I lose faith in myself and don’t even make the call, unwilling to risk possible rejection.  A valley like that can feel very deep indeed.

I’m trapped between two visions of competing worlds.  In one, we’re all connected at a deep level, sharing one spirit, brothers and sisters working together in peace and strength.  Success comes through our connections, providing an abundance that is mutually shared and beneficial.

The other world is a far darker place, dog-eat-dog, where our success comes at the expense of others.  Those others I see as my competitors at best, my enemies in my weaker moments.  I fear they hold a power over me that keeps me from fulfilling my purpose on this earth.

These two worlds are mutually exclusive.  They cannot both exist.  One is true, the other is false.  Yet I’ve experienced both over my lifetime.  And I continue to vacillate between the two, with more and more frequency.

A loving person lives in a loving world.  A hostile person lives in a hostile world.  Everyone you meet is your mirror.  — Ken Keyes Jr.

The time has now come to choose.  I made a plan in share group today with my friend Jim.  Starting today, I plan to reach out each day to at least one person that challenges my comfort.  In this way, I will test whether I can perceive the Savior that faith tells me is in each one of us. I share this plan with you so that you can hold me accountable.

May we all behold the light that others hold out for us.

Stories From Unemployment 3

This post is dedicated to my friend David.  I hope you realize how many friends you have in your “network.”

In Praise of Networking

Exactly one month to the day now since I was laid-off.  I had my first phone interview last week regarding a great local job with a Fortune 500 company.  The position looks like it would be a natural career progression for me.  I’ve been very careful not to let myself get my hopes up, but I can’t help being honest here:

I would love this job, I would rock in that position, and it would exceed all my job search goals: a growing company in emerging technology with better pay and benefits, and they’re located a mile closer to my house.

If I do end up getting this job, it will be because of networking.  I have to admit, I’ve never been comfortable with the term “networking” before.  I always viewed it in negative terms; I thought of it as pushing myself on others to get what I wanted, like a sleazy used car salesman.  I don’t know anyone important and I’m not good at networking anyway, I thought.

But the experiences of the past month have shown me just how wrong I’ve been concerning networking.  It’s not using others to get what you want, it’s really a two-way street.  Neighbors helping neighbors.  Friends indeed helping each other out.

The phone-interview job is a good case in point.  I wouldn’t have even considered applying for it, having been disappointed by the same company on three different occasions in the past four years.  But two friends separately encouraged me to check out the company’s job board, and this position had been posted just two days prior to my search.

One friend made some inquires and learned who the hiring manager is.  She convinced a former colleague to put in a good word for me and to give the manager my resume.  Two other friends that work for the company took my resume to the site HR group.  They even gave me advice on everything from salary ranges to places to research the job’s and company’s details.  Without their help, I never would have gotten the phone interview.

I realize now that I was too proud, and too weak, to allow others to help me.  I can do it on my own, was my unconscious motto.  I didn’t believe others would be willing to help me.  I cut myself off from experiencing true friendship.  I don’t deserve their kindness, was my underlying fear.

But as my network of friends has reached out on my behalf, something miraculous is happening: we’re all being blessed in more ways than we could have imagined.  It’s the pay-it-forward principle – you always receive more than you can give away.  They’re blessed for being a blessing.

Even me, in my current “weakened” position, am finding that I have a great deal to offer.  And as I share what I have, my optimism, my gratitude, and my faith, it’s returned to me a hundred times over.  I can’t begin to express how wonderful the lessons of this past month have been.  My real priorities have become clear.  I will never fear networking with my friends again, nor doubt how many friends we truly have in this big, wide world.

One final “networking” story:

We received an anonymous card in the mail postmarked “Zanesville, OH.”  It contained an inspirational message and $45 in cash.  It was signed, “Praying our blessing forward!  God Bless!”

Thank you my friends.  You gave me a chance to be a generous father to my children, who each had a need for part of that money.  I shared your gift with them.  It was exactly what they needed, and exactly what I needed too.

God bless you, too.

Mind Your Pace

It has now been a little over a week since the layoff.  300 people were let go over two days.  One of them was my friend Brad, who used to work in the IT Department.  The two of us immediately decided to form a support group.

I don’t know how I would have gotten through the past 9 days without Brad’s help.  It’s incredible how many things need to be done when you’re unemployed.  We’ve got each other’s back, so nothing important falls through the cracks.

Brad and I are working harder now than we have in years, we’re just not getting paid for it.  Since we were let go on Ash Wednesday, we joke about giving up being paid for our work for Lent.  Of course, all work looking for a job and no fun will make Doug and Brad crazy-psycho nuts, unsuitable for hiring.

So we agreed to go for a hike in the woods by my house this past Thursday.  We could catch up on our progress while getting some exercise and also get out from under our wives’ feet, so they could both have a break from us – a tri-fecta!

It was clear and cool as we headed up over the hill and down the trail into the Forrey Preserve.  Perfect hiking weather.  Since Brad had never hiked these woods, I led the way, choosing the trails to lead him past some of my favorite areas.

We spoke of what we had been doing the past several days, and  I told Brad how frustrated I was at the pace of my progress.  I hadn’t applied to any jobs yet.  Heck, I was just getting started updating my resume.

As we walked and talked, I discovered I needed to slow my pace a fair amount to avoid leaving Brad behind. “You’re not going to get much of a workout at this pace,” a voice nagged from the back of my mind.

So be it, I decided.  It was too nice a day and I was enjoying our time together too much to worry about whether I worked up a sweat or not.

“It sure is a nice day to be unemployed,” Brad said, as if reading my mind.  The sun shone brightly on the naked branches of the trees, their light gray tips glowing in contrast against the deep blue sky.

Brad has been a computer geek for as long as I’ve know him, but he actually went to school for anthropology, and he worked several years doing archeological field work on local Native people.  As we walked along the trails at his pace, his eyes were always scanning our surroundings.  He paused often to pick something up or to point something out, each time explaining to me what he had found.

I began to understand just how much I had missed by hurrying through the woods at my normal pace.

Brad found a “fire-cracked” stone.  He explained how the Natives didn’t have cook pots that could be heated directly on a fire.  Instead, they cooked by heating stones in the fire and then dropping them into a stew or a soup.  The thermal shock to the stone would often break it, making an edge that resembled a dull axe.

Brad found bits of stone not native to the area, carried there by others in times gone by.  He pointed out an old, shallow trench where someone had mined a small vein of coal.  He spoke of Civil War times, how Ohio had been completely strip-forested to make charcoal for the foundries in the Ohio River valley to make weapons for the Union army.  He explained how the ravines we were passing, like the rest throughout Ohio, were so much steeper than they would have been because of the ecological damage from the run-off of this deforestation.

Brad also showed me the best places to look for arrowheads when I told him I had never found one before.  “Freshly plowed fields are usually the best places to look,” he said, “but in the woods you can find them in the roots of a downed tree.”

At the top of the next hill we found a number of trees that had been blown over by a recent storm.  We wandered like little boys from root ball to root ball, scraping at the dirt, examining everything we unearthed with the solemn focus that only occurs in play.

We continued down the branching trails, my pace now matching his better as I listened to his stories, and that’s when I found it.  There where the trail curved to follow the edge of a ravine just a hundred yards up from the river, I stooped to pick up a bright-white stone nestled in a patch of moss in the middle of the path.

“That’s a piece of Flint Ridge flint that they made into a core,” Brad said.  “See the sharpened edges.  They would have used this to make flint tools like arrowheads.”

Score! I thought, but Brad was looking intently around us.

“I bet this used to be a Native campsite,” he said.  “It’s elevated, so it would have been dry.  The ravine makes it defensible, there’s water nearby, and you can see a long way in all directions.”

I had been past this spot a half-dozen times, but I had never noticed it, nor seen the flint core, in my haste.  I followed Brad into the heart of the ancient campsite, imitating him as he carefully searched under the fallen leaves and around the tree bases.  Before long, he found another flake of white flint.  Then he found a solid black flake.

“This one’s from West Virginia,” he said, handing it to me to examine.  He said another flake of dark gray flint was probably from the Coshocton, OH area.

Now that I knew how to look, I discovered several more flint pieces.  I pocketed my first piece and another large Flint Ridge flake to take home as trophies.  Brad was content to leave his finds where they had been dropped by their original Native owners.

It was the same forest I had hiked scores of times before, but it was a completely different experience, simply by slowing my pace.  I would have passed right by the treasures we found had it been up to me.

I realized in that moment that this was the answer to my job search worries as well.  I’ve been staying focused on the present, following the “flow” minute by minute, working on the top priority of the moment.  In the past week, communicating with my friend, and especially with my family, had been the biggest priority.  They needed to share their concerns and fears, and even their anger.  They needed me to listen to their ideas, to understand their viewpoint, and to share the strength I’ve been receiving with them.

In my heart, I have a sense of peace that I am fulfilling my role since the layoff.  Worry crept in only when I started comparing myself to others, or worse yet, to what I judged I should be doing based on past experience.  I never would have found the treasures in relationships I’ve experienced over the past week listening to that nagging voice in my head.  There wouldn’t have been time moving at his pace.

Yet the miracle this Saturday morning, just two days later, is I have those treasures and good progress on the job search.  There are two solid job applications out in two different fields with two tailored resumes, updated profiles on internet job boards, and a number of other potential leads in the hopper.

There’s still so much to do, but I’m happy to be experiencing the peace that comes from heeding the pace that comes from our higher Source.  My prayer is for you to share this same peace.  May you have faith in the pace He asks of you.

Skating Into The Moment

Image by flattop341.  Click on the photo to view more of his photos.

Image by flattop341. Click on the photo to view more of his photos.

Sunday our boy scout troop went ice skating at the local rink in Newark, Ohio.  I’m a decent in-line skater, but I hadn’t been on ice skates since I was a teenager.  As it turns out, I’m able to ice skate as well as I roller skate, although my braking abilities leave a lot to be desired.

I’ve always liked skating.  Some of my happiest memories as a teen and as a parent center on visiting the roller skating rink with family and friends.  I enjoy gliding around the oval with a breeze on my face, the music and the noise of the other skaters drowning out my thoughts.  I enjoy the physical exertion of skating for a couple of hours and the challenge of picking my way through the constantly changing cloud of other skaters moving about the rink.

Sunday’s experience on the ice was just like those times spent in the roller rink, only chillier.  A large number of skaters of varying shapes, sizes, and abilities all joined us on the rink.

With so many different people moving in different directions at very different speeds, it’s necessary to be completely focused and present. As I passed through the other groups of skaters, weaving and shifting to avoid collisions and maintain my speed, I once again experienced “flow.”

I intuitively knew where to go.  I adjusted with ease to the constantly changing movements of the crowd around me.  It felt very much like a dance.

My whole world shrank down to the ice immediately in front of me.  My attention was completely focused on taking the next step on my skates, to find a clear path through the other skaters moving and weaving in front of me.

Often my conscious mind would judge the best path to take to maintain my speed and desired direction.  As I flowed around the rink, however, another intuitive voice directed my steps, frequently in a different direction from my judgements.

Each time I followed the intuiti0n, it was right.  The path I had judged as better would be cut off by a change in direction from another skater.  Whenever I followed my judgements, I needed to correct sharply or brake to a stop to avoid a collision, no easy task given my braking ability.

As I gained experience trusting to my intuition, I began skating at faster speeds.  It was exhilarating to move so effortlessly through the crowd, skating at the limits of my abilities to maintain control, the danger that I should have felt replaced by a thrilling peace as I relinquished control to that intuitive voice.

What a rush!  I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face as I glided around the rink in a counter-clockwise direction.  I wondered if  others experience this sensation.

As if in answer, a man skated in behind me saying, “I’m going to follow you.  Now I don’t have to think about where I’m going.”

I was pleased that he could see how I was performing, but I knew that he wouldn’t be able to follow me for long unless he also attained a state of flow.  The intuition was very soft, just a whisper or a tickle in my gut; without total focus on the present moment, I wouldn’t receive its guidance.  Sure enough,  it wasn’t long before the other skaters cut the man off behind me and he abandoned his attempt to follow me.

As I turned my skates at the end of the afternoon, that quiet, higher voice whispered one last time to me, “This is what life can be like all the time.”

There are so many people with so many ability levels, all moving together in a chaotic, ever changing mass.  Our task is to be present, living in the moment, forgiving and releasing the past.  In the present we can hear that voice and receive His guidance.

And He will show as how to help, not harm, each other, how to set the example for others to follow, and how to share what we’ve learned with our brothers and sisters in this world.

A Quick Answer To A Prayer

Image titled Pacific Spirit by lawmurray

Image titled "Pacific Spirit" by lawmurray

Many of the posts to this blog have been inspired by my prayer journal, but I’ve never shared an experience directly out of its pages before now.  The following account is taken from my journal entries for Friday, February 20.

I started as I do most mornings with my prayer time at my desk before the day’s activities.  In my journal I wrote this prayer, which was inspired by the work I’m doing in A Course In Miracles:

Lord, help me to hear the Voice of God.

Yes, I know that deep in my mind I’ve resisted this request.  I want to prove I’m right; I secretly want to play the role of God.  I don’t know all the reasons I harbor this secret desire to be apart from God and His Love.  I imagine I need to acknowledge those reasons before I can hear His Voice.  Help me to see Spirit, so that I may hear.

Then I felt inspired to write:

* Forgiveness is letting go of the past, so that we may live in the present.

-> You have to believe that today can be different from yesterday.

I finished my prayer time and morning chores, and headed off to work.  This is what happened next:

I had a realization concerning my project this morning, so I went to talk with Brian Tigner (a coworker and friend).  I was feeling present, and our conversation turned to faith.

“If God would grant you one wish, what would it be?” he asked.

I’d never considered this question before.  After a few seconds consideration, I said, “To know God.”

He approved, saying, “Most people would say they’d ask for a billion dollars or to be put in charge.  You can tell a lot about the kind of person someone is by the answer they give to that question.”

And I realized in that moment that the Spirit was speaking to me through Brian, answering the question that was in the back of my mind, “Is that what I really want?”

Our conversation went on, discussing potential manufacturing layout scenarios.  He expressed concerns about the employees accepting the changes based on past experience, and I found myself explaining the need to forgive the past in order to live in the present where the Spirit can reach us.

“You have to believe that today can be different from yesterday.  If you’re always reacting to people based on the unforgiven issues of the past, you’ll misperceive the present and make the future turn out just like the past.  Forgiveness is letting go of the past so that we can live in the present.”

As I talked, I heard what I was saying and realized that it was true, and I also realized that the authority of my words was coming from a deeper Source.  The Spirit was speaking through me, connecting with both Brian and me.

By the way, Brian’s parting words to me were, “It’ll be interesting to see how things work out for you and your studies.”  Walking the walk will do far more than talking the talk.

After our conversation, I opened the Text, and the Spirit spoke strongly to me again in the next section that I read, confirming what had just happened.  (that section is titled Finding The Present and you can read it by clicking this link.)

Forgive me Spirit for my misunderstanding.  I do hear Your Voice.  You have been speaking to me, I just wasn’t paying attention.  I was focused on hearing an internal voice, like the voice in my head.  I’m sure You could do that if You so desire, but I shouldn’t try to limit You, just as You’re unwilling to limit me.  Thank You for answering me in such a strong and rapid way.

Halfway And Just Beginning

Image by Erika Mugglin

Image by Erika Mugglin

It was my birthday last week.  I’m 48 years old.  Not a major milestone birthday like 50, but it got me thinking: this could be the halfway point in my life.  My grandmother celebrated her 95th birthday back in December and she’s still going strong; it’s not unreasonable to think of reaching 96 in my own lifetime.

Halfway done.  50% complete.

And here’s the most amazing, surprising, and sometimes frightening thing: I honestly feel like I’m just getting started living my life.

It’d be nice to say that “just getting started” means I feel like I’m poised at the starting line of a race that I’ve been preparing to run for the past forty-eight years.  That would give a favorable impression.  The world respects strength, vision, and perseverance.  I enjoy writing from a position of authority, of power.

In this case, however, “just getting started” feels more like being a newborn baby.  I’m beginning to see that I’ve misperceived a great deal in my life.  “Truths” that I’ve accepted all my life are being questioned and found lacking.  So many have fallen lately that I no longer have confidence in any of them.  All of my core beliefs, the way that I understand the world and how it works, are being challenged.

The cause of this reexamination is A Course In Miracles, my sole goal for 2009.  I mentioned the Course (published by The Foundation For Inner Peace) and my goal in a previous post.  So far, I’ve progressed to Lesson 46 in the Workbook For Students and I’m halfway through chapter 13 of the Text.  The Text reading has gone slower than planned because I find myself taking so many notes in my prayer journal; the journal has been virtually taken over by these notes.

I also read Gary Renard’s The Disappearance Of The Universe, a book describing his experiences from the Course, back in January.  And I’ve located an ACIM website that provides all of the Course’s lesson and Text on-line; it’s a great resource when I don’t have my book available.

The Course has been very good.  It has also been very challenging to me.  At times I’ve been truly inspired by the beauty and peace that the Course is teaching.  At other times, I’ve found myself resisting its message of love and healing.

The Course teaches that there are two mutually exclusive forces at work in our world: the Holy Spirit and the ego.  The Spirit operates from our true self, offering us a vision of love and wholeness in God.  The ego operates from our false self and gives us fear, guilt, and separation to maintain its own existence at our expense.

When I choose the Spirit as my guide, I give Christ permission to work through me for reconciliation, blessing others and myself.  But when I attack in word or thought, I’m siding with the ego, making its insane beliefs real in our world.

My efforts to side with the Spirit have caused a great deal of resistance within me from my ego these past few weeks.  I’ve felt worn out and sick for a large portion of the last two weeks.  I lost confidence in my ability to express these new ideas and avoided posting to this blog.  Even my efforts to advocate the core Course principal of responding with love and not fear fell short in comments I exchanged with my friends in the post What Message Are You Sending?

The journey is just started, and it’s too early to have an idea of the outcome, although the Text takes pains to assure us that we will all ultimately succeed.  For now, the newness of it all is daunting, especially when I think about how to share it with you, my readers.  But the experiences I’ve had so far as I’ve practiced the principles of A Course In Miracles gives me faith that its teachings are true.

I invite you to check it out for yourself at the links above.  I also invite your comments and questions below.  Salvation is a shared experience, and I’m ready to get started.