Friday, December 19, 2014

men, grumpy monastics, and noticing

I sat with a group of men this week who shared openly about their struggles with relationships.  It is always a remarkable experience to see men open up in a culture which constantly teaches us that we cannot fail, we must conquer, and show no weakness.  Brene Brown tells the memorable story of meeting a man at an event once who commented that it was convenient that she didn't research men.  And then he quipped that his daughters and wife would rather he die on his white horse than fall off of it.  I don't know that it is true that as men, those around us feel that way.  But perhaps we do feel that way about ourselves, that we'd just about rather die than admit failure and weakness.  Men all too often are trained from a young age that vulnerability and feelings are pejoratively feminine.  Which makes it all the more remarkable when men are able to open up about the trouble spots in their lives.  Three thoughts on this rainy Florida morning, as has become customary.

1.  We are all looking for that dance with the divine.  I've been immersing myself in New Seeds of Contemplation, and I have been thinking about Merton's own experience with the need to connect with the feminine, notwithstanding his self elected isolation and commitment to the monastic tradition.  My reflection on Merton's experience has been colored somewhat by reading about the grumpy monastics of Mount Athos this week.  Into focus comes the being of balance and the inevitable need for its actualization.  Asceticism cannot remove balance as a categorical imperative; existence. And there is the curious rejection of the need for balance in our traditions, even in the one sided narrative of the "immaculate conception."  What is the relationship between asceticism and fundamental balance?

2.  What is contemplation?  I read the first section of New Seeds a half dozen times, and I am comforted by Merton's observation that anything we say about it must almost necessarily be taken back.  That it is perhaps more a state of granted awareness which comes perhaps as nothing more than a deeply realized state of grace.

3.  One of my goals for the upcoming year is to notice more.

I'll leave you with a small piece from New Seeds:

For the contemplative there is no cogito (I think) and no ergo ("therefore") but only SUM, I Am. Not in the sense of a futile assertion of our individuality as ultimately real, but in the humble realization of our mysterious being as persons in whom God dwells, with infinite sweetness and inalienable power.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Great ways to get your company sued. Thoughts from a busy employment law attorney.

I spend a lot of time working with small businesses these days.  Which is funny, because I never really intended to. I started out as a brand new lawyer working for insurance companies and big business and it felt really cold.  I transitioned to largely working with plaintiffs and love it.  But I haven’t been able to get away from representing companies even though I tried.
One of my transitional cases back into
representing the employer involved a new two-woman company fighting a mammoth multinational corporation over a non-competition agreement.  Thus, the case satisfied my "underdog" requirement.  It was David (my clients) vs. Goliath (the big nasty multinational).  We got the case resolved and my new clients and their brand new company were off to the races and have been incredibly successful.  As they've grown, we've worked together to navigate some of the twists and turns of a growing business.  I admire how hard they've worked to build their business, employ a solid team, and inspire others.  I count the founders as good friends now.  Since then, I've had the opportunity to work with a lot of other dynamic companies with operations spanning the globe.  You'd be surprised at what gets some of them sued.

1. Excessive "corporatization"

People want to be seen, heard, and understood.  Sometimes in the process of growing, I've seen really great small companies lose touch with the personal connections that got the loyalty of their "from the beginning" employees. Simple things like eating lunch with the team, knowing what is going on in their lives, and an occasional handwritten note expressing appreciation from leadership go a long way in building a crew that wins.  Don’t underestimate the power of really caring about employees.  

2. Burnout

You'd be absolutely amazed at the number of leaders who end up in my office absolutely burned out, and their teams know it.  It is terrifying for subordinates to be led by someone who by all appearances is on the edge of a mental breakdown.  Burned out leadership often results in poor strategic vision and litigation will many times follow.  One of the best things you can do as a leader is take really good care of yourself.  Exercise, eat healthy, and have a life outside of your occupational role.  One of my CEO's told me his life turned around when he replaced his Rotary meeting with a meditation class. What can you take off your plate as a leader and replace with “being still?"

3. Lack of guiding principles

If the only thing your company is about is making money, I see litigation in your future.  An entirely dollar driven ethos leads to cutting corners, a lack of focus on the end user (product or service consumer), and greed (unpaid overtime, poor safety controls, unreported work injuries, and running off older workers, to name a few common examples).  We are all in business to make a living.  But make sure you've got some solid principles driving your company.  Do you educate your customers as part of your core competency? If so, consider renewing your company's commitment to education as a guiding core principle. 

It is often the little things that end up getting companies sued.  And it can be little quarter turns that equate to the kind of positive company culture that keeps employees loyal, your customers happy, and you out of the courtroom.

whibbsandstone.com

Sunday, November 30, 2014

crawl spaces, herons, and new growth

New painting is much more glamorous
than work in the crawl space
I've spent the better part of the last three days under our new (well, new to us) house.  You'd be amazed at what will collect in the crawl space over nearly one hundred years.  It may be a testament to OCD or just neurosis in general that I cannot help but clean out even the crawl space.  In my defense, the less stuff for rats to make a home in the better.  I've had a pretty miserable attitude the last few days to be honest. 

Clarence Bell 
I had lunch with my family today at Five Sisters, where my good friend Clarence Bell plays for brunch.  He observed that I am fortunate to have a home. Something clicked and I realized I'd been looking at things wrong.  I found myself grateful as I crawled around in the dirt later in the day.  It is like so many things in life, perspective and outlook completely color whether our days will be filled with gratitude or misery.  Three thoughts on this Sunday evening, as has become customary:

1. I read a spectacular journal entry from Thomas Merton this past week on the Ox Mountain parable. The need for the quiet of the night and the healing of morning.  That we cut down the trees and the oxen trample new sprouts before the new growth can really take hold.  And he makes the observation that it is the same with men and women.  We allow little time for stillness and healing.  We are too busy to allow the new growth within us to thrive.  It gets stomped out these days in many cases with unending progress.


2. I am troubled by the events in Ferguson, and its dramatic proxy for explosive tension just below the surface.  I've come to see race relations ever so differently since having read Twelve Years a Slave.  How many generations does it take for slave wounds to heal?  I am mindful of this especially as I am making my way through Exodus.  


3. A magnificent heron flew over my old truck as I drove out along the beach today, with the sun setting off in the distance and the mystical fog of sand and surf everywhere.  It was a breathtaking moment.  And I thought of Merton's observation of the heron flying off in the distance, trailing an old bi-plane.  Was the plane running or the bird chasing?


I'll leave you with a poem on the house.  It has consumed me.  The literal house, not the poem.


house


a brave old soul
you were already sixty
when I was born
wise and tested
and true


rusty pipes and old wire
pulled and run
hammers and a few tools
I've never even seen before


the workers seem amused
by me
and my attempts
to be a man who works with his hands


your scars all covered with fresh paint
we wipe away years of grime
finding secrets along the way
sharp objects tucked away in dark corners
steal my breath


the scene of future
coffee and embrace
lazy Saturday breakfasts


until then I'll leave my blood
and sweat in your walls and
attic and crawl spaces


old girl
what will you give in return? 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

privacy, marriage lessons via pug, and widening rings

Everyone under the age of fifteen is down at the beach house.  Jessica is with friends, and I am relaxing after mediating a near international incident which involved my seven year old daughter's pointed allegations of "purposeful invasion of privacy."  Yes, this is the type of thing that children of civil rights lawyers say. Despite the presentation of much cross examination and argument, it is not entirely clear what happened. Her diary and brother and sister were involved.  My son and oldest daughter maintained that it was all in good humor.  And for good measure, I might point out that my oldest daughter called me convinced several days ago that she had contracted the Ebola virus.  Things can be a little dramatic around here.  You just never quite know what you are in for when you walk in the door. Three thoughts on this quiet Tuesday night as has become customary.

1. My wife and I were watching a movie the other night when we noticed that our male pug kept flipping out when there was explosion.  First, he would run at the television barking and then attack our female Weimaraner, who looked at him with eyes that said, "did you forget to take your Lithium?"  My wife casually commented, "hey, that is kinda what you do to me when you get stressed."  And then a light came on and I thought, dear God, she is right.  In my defense, this is clearly a universal male reaction.  Stressed out married man = woman probably dealing with seemingly crazy husband who may randomly attack her between awkward sexual advances.  It must be baffling.  Thanks be to God that I am a man.  I think.
Am I the only one who learns these profoundly important lessons about life is such weird ways?

2.  I just started Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo and have really enjoyed it so far.  I'm burnt out on heavy stuff.  A good story of redemption is in order.

3. I ran across a picture of me and the two youngest a few days ago.  It reminds me how fast time is flying by.  I am grateful to be awake enough to be participating in the lives of my wife and kids.  What would I do without so much grace?

I'll leave you with my favorite couple of lines from Rumi so far, who I am (somewhat confusedly) fumbling through for the first time.

Flow down and down in always
widening rings of being

Sunday, October 5, 2014

cable television, valor, and whips

Greetings from Pensacola Beach!  We are now in our third temporary rental home during "Operation Relocation."   Jessica somehow managed to secure it within hours of us being without quarters on Tuesday afternoon.  It is a wonderful place, and allows me to at least somewhat check my "lived at the beach" box.  And it feels like we are on vacation around the clock, which is an undeniably great thing.  We had Chris and Janie Cobb over for dinner last night, to include a lively discussion on how the paint will be handled in our upcoming renovation.  Funny what becomes the topic of discussion.  Three thoughts on this beautiful Sunday morning, as has become customary:


1.  We have been without cable for probably the last two years.  Don't feel sorry for us.  We still watch a lot of movies and occasional shows on Netflix, but no cable.  We've had cable in two of the last temporary rentals over the last couple of months.  I have become unaccustomed to the non-stop barrage of every company known to man telling me what I should want to buy. Life has basically become one long advertisement.  I did find myself engrossed with an airplane repossession show that I'd never seen before, who knew there was such a job!  Stopped from binging too long on Friday night only because the camera work was too bouncy.   The entire family watched Mom's Night Out last night, piled up on the couch. It was a memorable scene.  Overwhelming gratitude watching them all quietly from the kitchen. 


2.  In a short entry I just read from Thomas Merton, he speaks of the merger of early Christian thinking and the "valor" and violence of Europeans.  Can the same phenomenon perhaps be observed in our very homogeneous manifestation of American Christianity today?  Have we turned Christianity into a carefully choreographed sociopolitical and economic platform, from which we measure the legitimacy and polite conformity of others?


3.  "You must like pain, because you keep whipping yourself."  Heard a friend mention that his  spiritual advisor told him this once.  Jessica and I have been talking a lot about perfectionism and shame, prompted a great deal by Brene Brown's writing.
My little ones say hello!  I'll leave you with a piece of the Merton entry mentioned above. Have a great week.


Hence the strange paradox that certain spiritual and largely nonviolent ideologies which were in fact quite close to the Gospel were attacked and coerced in the name of Christ by the Christian solider who was often no longer a Christian except in name: for he was violent, greedy, self-complacent, and supremely contemptuous of anything that was not a perfect reflection of himself.



Sunday, September 28, 2014

moving, travel blogs, and pseudonyms

I am always trying to figure out what the different levels of Dante's Inferno would be if the story were retold today.  I place dealing with technical support at the bottom rung.  Move up, and it is closer to the moving experience that we have been in the middle of.  We have been out of our home for eight weeks now, and do not yet have a closing date.  Hopeful that we'll at least have a date by this upcoming week.  The first few weeks were spent in Perdido Key, which was nice.  Beautiful beach runs and sunsets.
Only offset by the four man rock band that practiced several times each week in the vacant retail space beneath our condo.  That was a little anxiety inducing.  Our friends were kind enough to let us rent their small home in East Hill for the past few weeks, which has been incredibly convenient.  But everyone is ready to not be living out of suitcases and eating out.  Who ever thought we'd complain about picking where to eat out.  Again.  But these are first world problems.  I am reminded to be grateful.  Three thoughts, as has become customary, on this rainy Sunday afternoon.  I write from the public library for a change in wallpaper.



1.  I stumbled across an incredible travel blog yesterday, www.roadsandkingdoms.com.  Read two stories over the last couple days, which remind me of how much is out there to learn about.  First was on the "stalkers" who've made a subculture sport out of sneaking around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site!  I would have been there as a kid if I'd grown up in Russia.  I'd probably have an extra ear by now with exposure to radiation.  Second, a wonderfully written piece on the southern Faroe  island of Stora Dimun. There are two school age children on the entire island, and students often helicopter in and out as part of their schooling.  I am ever increasingly interested in the ways that kids all over the world are educated, given our own adventures with homeschooling and living outside of the box in general. And I have now confirmed that I want to be a travel blogger when I grow up.  Its official.

Credit: roadsandkingdoms.com

2.  I passed my original copy of Paul Laurence Dunbar along this week.  Done so in honor of  an unexpectedly budding new friendship and as I simply try to get better at giving books away.  It has been great reading, and I am sure he will enjoy it.  When I gave it to him, I could tell it was in the right hands.  I have been thinking about how much I love books.  How grateful I am that certain books have made their way into my hands at various points.  That many people have passed different pieces of reading to me when I needed it.  Save God, I am not sure there is anything else as powerful as a book.


3.  I've been chewing back over much of the Brene Brown book I just finished (again).  There is a lot to think on.  But one small change is that I didn't put a pseudonym at the end of the poem I posted last week.  It's mine and its good enough.


Life is good.  I'll see you around.

Monday, September 22, 2014

collection

Collection


looking back softly
what is the common thread?
I find myself asking more
and more


days and nights
broken hearts
lost paths


compasses anew
grace everywhere
love


I stand on the edge of water
asking if you hear me
if I please you


so, do you?
do I?

what is this thing?
is it more than a collection of stories?



Monday, September 8, 2014

retreat, slaves, and mountain climbers

Returned from Manresa yesterday afternoon, and the kids and Jessica came and hung out with me at the office for several hours of trial preparation.  I'm a lucky guy.  If you have to be stuck at work on Sunday night after retreat to get ready for court, having your family there makes it better.  Retreat was wonderful.  As always, there were gentle nudges and quiet spaces.  Found myself in the chapel late at night seated on the ground looking up at the crucifixion.  Just changing my usual vantage point from pew to ground did something to change my prayers and reflection.  As did walking meditation without shoes. The earth feels different beneath your feet when you can actually feel it beneath your feet. Was pleased to be joined this year by my friend Hill Crawford, who took several remarkable photos that you can find below.  Three thoughts on this overcast Monday afternoon.


1.  Over the weekend, I read back over the better part of half of Brene Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection.  Which I just noted was on the NYT's best seller list for "how to."  Especially funny considering that Brown says the whole idea of "how to" is a cheap shortcut to the real messy soul work.  I am especially intrigued by her definition and description of shame and its relationship to perfectionism: not good enough, never enough.  I also appreciate that she reminds us to own our stories.  Indeed.

2.  I also had some time to read through about half of Solomon Northup's harrowing account of kidnapping and plantation slavery in Twelve Years a Slave.  Which was fitting, as much of the book is set in 1840s Louisiana.  I found myself having difficulty comprehending how humans can do the things to each other described in the book.  And I was very inspired by Northup's ability to discern the good in those who even owned slaves.  Of course, there are those in his narrative with no redeeming qualifications.  It is a remarkable story of resilience, fortitude, and discernment.  I encouraged a client today who is struggling with his own raw deal to take it in.  I hope he will.

3.  Was with friends today when the topic of fear came up.  Reminded me of my days as a young boy living on military bases, where I was all too familiar with the "cold war" and "nuclear proliferation."  All of the recent unrest in the Ukraine brought me back to elementary school in a way I never could have anticipated - I could taste the air in rural Indiana as an elementary student, often watching strategic bombers from the playground!  A reminder that childhood memories are powerful.  But most importantly, I thought of a friend who told me the story of having worked as a mountain climbing instructor.  He mentioned that big burly men were often the biggest babies on the side of the mountain.  And that women often just bounced around secure in their harnesses, all smiles!  I could relate, as my own knees had buckled hanging off the side of a rappelling tower years ago.  He told me that he'd come to see God a lot like that rope that ties his students in when they are fearfully flailing about on the sides of mountains.  We can be as dramatic about hanging off the side of the mountain as we want, but at the end of the day, we are tied in.  I like that picture.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

a glorious run on Perdido Key

Early morning rise and the best run I've ever been on.  And I've been on a lot of runs!  Another unexpected course, which we did largely because I thought about Barbara Brown Taylor's admonition to get lost sometimes.  So Duchess and I made our way along part of the Gulf Island National Seashore in Perdido Key, unsure of where we were going or where we would end up.  It was an unexpected blessing.  I snapped a few shots along the way, which I'll share with you.  Peace be with you on this day.


View from the Gulf side this morning.  Caught the bird at the last minute (on the right side).
I especially liked the twiggy tree.  He seemed oddly placed against the backdrop of the sky.
Small trail over wetland that Duchess and I ran on near the beach.  Wonderful to be over terrain that we normally wouldn't be able to traverse. Mindful of a Jesuit's suggestion once to avail ourselves of guests via the power of imagination, I ran for a short stretch with Christ and Thomas Merton.  As usual, neither said much.  But they were welcome and present.
Inspired by Michael DeMaria, stopped and did some beginner's poses this morning.  
Wonderful beach house.  Wondered what was being read or prayed in the watch tower room before the sun showed its face. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

terrorism, Manresa, and open windows

The sun hasn't poked its bright face out yet.  Jessica left the house for work at 4:45 this morning, and gently reminded me that I needed to get up and get a few things done today.  So I am up.  My brain isn't quite ready to work, so a quick post while I let my coffee do its thing. 


1.  I've been reading bits and pieces about the tragic murder of James Foley, and the seemingly out of nowhere emergence of ISIS onto the international stage.  It was timely that I listened to Krista Tippett's 2013 interview of Thich Nhat Hanh on an early morning run this week.  In the interview, one of the most compelling questions asked was how we deal with the horrors of terrorism.  The monk rightly pointed out that terrorists are the victims of their own misconceptions, but also pointed out that we must look closely at the policies which fuel conflict.  I have been reflecting this week on what this means.  It is particularly interesting to me that Thich Nhat Hanh cut his teeth on the international stage in seeking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s support in opposing the Vietnam war.  A conflict which at the time was justified by sophisticated strategists as being necessary to impede a domino affect of communist expansion. 


Now terrorism threatens to expand as a geopolitical flavor.  Yet fear and anger beget more fear and anger.  How do we as humanity, arrest the cycle of violence?  And as Americans, are we assessing with clear eyes the manner in which our policies might contribute to fanning the flames of distrust and conflict?  How can the cancer of metastatic religious perversion and political ideology be effectively countered?  Are we even attempting to properly frame the discussion?  Many thorny questions.


Many great thinkers have called for a collective engagement in these and other great questions of our humanity.  The real trouble may be that many of us simply aren't willing to be awake enough for them.  Myself included.


2.  Several good friends will be joining me for retreat at Manresa this year.  I am counting down the days to silence.  I told my good friend Tom that one of my favorite parts is seeing St. Mary's Hall for the first time as you pull up from the highway, having by then passed many fields of sugar cane and small country homes.  It is a moment which begs for a deep exhale. 


3.  Jessica and I attended a guided meditation with Michael DeMaria this week.  I am not entirely sure if I was deeply relaxed enough at one point that I lost track of time or simply fell asleep.  Either way, it was wonderful.   


I'll leave you with a lovely excerpt from a 1930 journal entry of Frank Laubach:


To be able to look backward and say,  "This has been the finest year of my life" - that is glorious!  But anticipation! To be able to look ahead and say, "The present year can and shall be better!" - that is more glorious!


If we said such things about our achievements, we would be consummate egoists.  But if we are speaking of God's kindness, and we speak truly, we are but grateful.  And this is what I do witness.  I have done nothing but open windows - God has done all the rest.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Cash, the Muse, and Lessons

Been a hectic couple of weeks.  Coming up for air.  Three thoughts on this hot Tuesday afternoon, as has become customary:

1.  Jessica and I depart for our Winshape retreat on Friday.  I am looking forward to having a few days to explore what the retreat has to offer.  In that area, I have been reading through a few bits and pieces of Jiddu Krishnamurti's thoughts on relationship.  I am intrigued by the idea that we assign images to people and that what essentially ends up happening is interaction between the images we hold for each other.  He suggests attempting to look at someone without all the history and baggage we carry into our perspective.  Of course, my thoughts are: how in God's name can that be done and is it even safe?


2.  Listened to a wonderful interview with Rosanne Cash yesterday morning as I blazed an early path to Panama City.  Of most worthwhile note in my mind was her mention of the idea that perhaps the artist discovers what is already in existence.  Finding a painting that is already in the ether, or prose which has just been waiting to materialize.  I like that idea.  She also made mention of Steven Pressfield's quip, "You have to show the Muse you're serious."  Indeed.


3.  I have been enjoying the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar.  I especially like this poem, which I will leave you with.  Henri Nouwen's book, Wounded Healer, is on my list.  But somehow I suspect that this poem may sum up the entire book in a few lines:


The Lesson


My cot was down by a cypress grove,
And I sat by my window the whole night long,
And heard well up from the deep dark wood
A mocking-bird's passionate song.
And I thought of myself so sad and lone,
And my life's cold winter that knew no spring;
Of my mind so weary and sick and wild,
Of my heart too sad to sing.
But e'en as I listened the mock-bird's song,
A thought stole into my saddened heart,
And I said, 'I can cheer some other soul
By a carol's simple art.'
For oft from the darkness of hearts and lives
Come songs that brim with joy and light,
As out of the gloom of the cypress grove
The mocking-bird sings at night.
So I sang a lay for a brother's ear
In a strain to soothe his bleeding heart,
And he smiled at the sound of my voice and lyre,
Though mine was a feeble art.
But at his smile I smiled in turn,
And into my soul there came a ray:
In trying to soothe another's woes
Mine own had passed away.                             

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

bread of life

Bread of Life


the body broken
placed in hand
incomprehensible gift


God as man
dark shame dispensed with
sin forgiven


blood ran slow to its fill
cup of grace
passed to the cosmos


as I kneel and pray
grace surrounds me
gently bathed in logos
and the light


G. Ricci