Truth downtrodden, not dead

If I were to look at the world from a teen’s perspective, life is pretty black and white. It’s either hot or it’s cold. It’s good or it’s bad. It is right or it is wrong. Despite the backdrop of this simplicity, life is pretty complicated as emotions swell beyond the youngster’s comprehension.

As we grow older and our emotions stabilize, truth takes on shade. Grey areas emerge. Shadows lurk behind the meaning of things. And we grow accustomed to truth’s dimming shine. Our indignation weakens as adult life distracts us. We are lulled into a quiet sleep, fact-checking less, digesting garbage without thought and passing on recycled beliefs we’ve stopped questioning.

During some moments in history, the light switches back on. Our eyelids peel back, our backs straighten. We start paying attention with an intensity long forgotten in those high school hallways of yesteryear.

Now is one of those moments. When truth is on the witness stand. When what is said is scrutinized more closely. When the litmus test of reality races to the forefront.

Bildschirmfoto 2017-03-25 um 11.47.02Time magazine put three words and a question mark on its front cover this week.

Is truth dead?

The very fact that the editors pose the question tells me it is not. If we truly lived in a post-fact world, we would have no mind to engage in the inquiry.

In Trump’s attempt at weakening what is real, at his outright inability to withstand truth’s might, at his blaming and slandering and pouting and thrashing comes truth’s ultimate power. He is inadvertently strengthening the very thing he cannot stand: groups who disagree with him.

You cannot fight against forces stronger than you. No tower so high, no wife so beautiful, no pocket so deep, no office so revered will ever make an honest man out of a liar. A cheater. A profane example of human impotence.

The truth may be downtrodden, but it lives on. We are ever vigilant now. The tempest is gathering its gale force winds. The greatest revenge is our own success.

The truth will prevail. And so will we.

 

Our Nightmare Ride to Delhi on the Shanti Express

Life in India is like a mandala. So many pieces and parts, colorful and blending, fitting together in harmony in an ebb and flow of energy and stamina.

Roads in India sometimes abruptly end. Without warning. (c) 2017 Klaus Polkowski

Roads in India sometimes abruptly end. Without warning. (c) 2017 Klaus Polkowski

Nothing reflects that truth like a car ride on an Indian highway. The roads aren’t like the asphalt strips with which you may be familiar. They are ribbons of Earth and holes and dust — sometimes the roads cover miles made of tar. But always there is an abrupt ending, sometimes so sudden you have to screech to a halt to acknowledge them.

This man sells model airplanes near the airport outside Delhi. On the highway, where else? (c) 2017 Klaus Polkowski

This man sells model airplanes near the airport outside Delhi. On the highway, where else? (c) 2017 Klaus Polkowski

The road in India is also a place of commerce. A chance to sell toys or food or to beg for money inside the windows of stopped cars.

The gaps in the road are the kind of holes that make give your coccyx a new meaning in life. As the vehicle regretlessly slams your body to the ground without shock absorbers or any type of protection between you and the machine that carries you forth, your tailbone involuntarily stamps a circle in the sand, an ethereal moment of “Yes, I was here.”

We hired a car and driver to make it back to the country’s capital by lunch time.

We awoke to the sound of Sadus’ breath blowing through conch shells, their fingers laced over bells ringing in intervals. The music lured us out onto our balcony for one final look at Pushkar Lake before leaving for Delhi.

The driver greeted us at the hotel entrance in Pushkar. In the pitch black pre-dawn air, we only saw the glint of his eyes.

“Bonjour, ca va?”

We blinked, blinded by the darkness.

“Oui, ca va. Allons-y?”

Numbed by the early hours, we sat in the backseat, clutching our backpacks and wondering how long the ride would take.

The driver, who had introduced himself as Kamal and who had a French girlfriend (thus the greeting), tried to encourage our mood.

“You only need three things when travelling through India: Good brakes, good horn, good luck!”

It was only then that I observed his head periodically spitting brown juice out the window.

My well-travelled love explained:

“He’s chewing a stimulant to stay awake.”

It turns out he had been driving a young married couple since 10pm the night before. It was 5am and he had an eight-hour drive ahead of him.

He hadn’t slept a wink.

Horns in Indian traffic are desired -- and used often.

Horns in Indian traffic are desired — and used often. (c) 2017 Klaus Polkowski

“Don’t worry, my dear,” my love assured me. “There’s so much to do while driving in India that he won’t fall asleep. Ever.”

Somehow I found his statement to be only vaguely reassuring. And I knew I wouldn’t be sleeping much either. In fact, I spent most of the eight-hour ride doing this:

Holding on for dear life. (2) 2017 Klaus Polkowski

Holding on for dear life. (2) 2017 Klaus Polkowski

 

For the first two hours we drove in the dark, getting to know one another. I figured if we knew each other’s life

These mushroom-like bulges are transported everywhere and anyway they can.

These mushroom-like bulges are transported everywhere and anyway they can. (c) 2017 Klaus Polkowski

stories, perhaps even loosely, it would create a bond that would hold us together – and out of harm’s way – for the duration of our ride to Delhi. We stopped for chai and what passed for coffee at a roadside stop. As dawn broke, we fell into a comfortable silence.

That is until, in the span of sixty seconds somewhere between breakfast and the first thought that my bladder might burst, we witnessed the following amazements:

 

  • a shepherd ushering a herd of cows across the entire six-lane highway crossing both directions;
  • a troop of camels hauling firewood and galumphing their load serenely to our left (on said highway);
  • a young child racing across three lanes to get to the other side;
  • tuk-tuks filled with twenty people that any Western family of four would consider tight for their standards; and
  • always, always, always the plea from trucks’ backsides to blow your horn.

Kamal got us to our hotel safely and in record time. He manoeuvred through potholes, toll booths, animal crossings and blinding sunlight. He is the only one working to support his entire extended family.

As I held on for dear life, I wondered if we were going to make it back in one piece. Occasionally, Kamal would spontaneously break out in song or chant something in Hindi. It sounded like a choral prayer and so I began to silently pray with him to the Shiva on his dashboard, then Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and Whoever Else Was Listening. His job is dangerous and he is not able to say “no” to 2 am requests like ours for delivering tourists to their destinations.

“My family is counting on me.”

We thanked Kamal for his courage for getting us to the city in tact.

May the mandala of life continue its endless cycle of flowing energy and endurance.

It was an experience of a lifetime I won’t ever forget.

Alright then...

Alright then… (c) 2017 Klaus Polkowski

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I lost count after 15 as to the number of people in this tuk-tuk. (c) 2017 Klaus Polkowski

I lost count after 15 as to the number of people in this tuk-tuk. (c) 2017 Klaus Polkowski

 

No doors? No problem! The easier to hang out the opening to ride along. (c) 2017 Klaus Polkowski

No doors? No problem! The easier to hang out the opening to ride along. (c) 2017 Klaus Polkowski

 

Oh the driver did. Constantly! (c) 2017 Klaus Polkowski

Oh the driver did. Constantly! (c) 2017 Klaus Polkowski

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time without Meaning

Western understanding of time is that it is a commodity to be exchanged for money. Our entire system, including institutions, commerce, systems for governance and lifestyle, is based on our time-is-money definition. It creates an environment in which clock combat is king. We immerse ourselves in a pressure cooker and wonder why our heads and hearts hurt so badly.

A sign found in Jaipur, India.

A sign found in Jaipur, India.

Our preoccupation with time is further intensified through our alienation from the natural world. Who has time to dally about, reflect or pause? It is too costly, we argue. We can’t afford it.

But Nature and the time we spend with it is as essential as good nutrition. We are natural beings. We need Nature to remember who we are and why we are here. Our communion with the natural world has been forgotten. And yet it is as important as the air we breathe.

For the past few weeks I have been traveling about Nepal and now India, feeling at one with all things and wonder how I could feel so comfortable in a place so foreign to my usual surroundings.

And then, as I strolled through the desert amongst camels and nomads, it suddenly hit me. The people here mill about towns just as casually as the cows and dogs and monkeys that inhabit the places we have seen. The co-mingle, co-exist and co-inhabit with Nature. The food they eat is real food. It is Slow Food that actually doesn’t need capitalization. They don’t eat processed foods geared toward saving time in its preparation because time and nature are the same.

When we return next week, I hope to remember the lessons I have learned here and, to my very best ability, uphold the same understanding I have gained during my travels to these most exquisite places.

I am humbled by the experience. Blessings to you all.

Why I deleted Facebook

Sometimes self-control is not enough. Sometimes you have to carefully position your own roadblocks to force saner living.

With the press of an “x”, I dismissed the vitriol that had become my daily breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not only have I found myself pining for past Republic administrations that now don’t “seem that bad”, I have also started missing those adorable cat videos and those pumped-up versions of themselves that people like to have us believe is true about their fabulous Facebooked lives.

no facebookI miss the tinge of envy I’d feel at pictures of palm trees in places I definitely was not.

I miss the giggles elicited from videos of furry animals, preferably baby ones, tumbling on top of each other.

I miss hoping someone will “like” my post because they like me.

I miss the Facebook I used to know that I’d sometimes playfully call “Fakebook” because we often use it to look better than we are.

But we have entered a new era now. Many of us have become activists, something I truly applaud. And what better way to broadcast sensible causes than the world’s largest online platform?

Unfortunately, there is a flip side to it. Facebook, in my view, has turned into a shouting match, a place of posturing and yes, at times, a platform to share invaluable information. But the more I’ve tried to digest the unfathomable messages, especially from politicians vying for fame and glory, the less I began to trust it as a source for anything real or true or good about this world.

What motivated me to finally hit the delete button on my iPhone app came after reading a post by a Kentucky Senator who mocked the women’s march, calling women “cute” in the most patronizing way possible.

In his eagerness to earn likes and commentary (at any cost, I might add), he has joined the legions of people who will do and say anything to attract attention. It is so sad.

A like is even more short-lived than a soap bubble on a hot July afternoon. It is meaningless if there are only words without positive action behind them.

It broke my heart to see how broken our system truly is.

Fighting against virtual reality is like trying to capture wind in your hands.

What could I possible do then, in the face of such powerlessness, to make a difference?

Then it hit me. I have invested so much time in conversations with people I don’t even know. What if I were to start conversations with the ones I do know? What if I were to reach out to someone in need, right here, right now, in front of my very eyes? What if I were to dedicate all the time I have spent clucking at the injustice online to a cause in my very own town? Not only would I feel better, but that person would too.

So that decides it. Less Facebook. More face time. In real life.

Yes, a new era has dawned and I am ready to take on the challenge. Will you join me?

 

Why Should You Care?

The unyielding darkness has started to seep into the Northern Hemisphere. Abbreviated sunlight in November has always affected my mood, challenging my natural buoyancy by the stagger and sway of light deprivation. And this year we have an additional force to reckon with: a metaphorical shadowy veil that has been draped across our world.

Even in these pitch dark moments I see opportunity. We have a chance to stand brightly in the darkness and call out all for which we stand: peace, love, joy, beauty, grace, wisdom. The sanctity of life remains untouched for our willpower and minds remain free, even if we feel shackled by political, environmental, social, cultural and economic realities. We can make a difference. Show up for what you believe in in a non-violent, loving way. Others will notice and may be encouraged to do the same.

Self-care is especially vital when we feel this vulnerable. My hot water bottle has become my trusty companion, feeling its warmth on my lap as I type words and phrases and lines, sometimes blurred by distraction and an urge to check in on the world to see if it’s alright.

My sister graciously shared her strategy for comfort. A shower and a nap are the best remedies for sorrow. With gratitude she feels the spray of instant warm water that she knows so many in this world do not have. A mid-day respite, bowing to the altar of Slow, reenergizes the fuzziness and frayed edges. Jumpiness is replaced by a Zen-like calm and we return to that greater part of ourselves that knows this too shall pass.

It may be the end of the world as we know it, to quote REM, but it is not the end of the world. Apocalyptic thoughts leave no room for positive ones.

If you are struggling with how best to care for yourself, consider this:

  • Switch off the noise – both internal and external. Surrender to your need for rest when you require it.
  • Minimize your exposure to online vitriol. It won’t help you, but will only serve to fuel confusion, wrath and disconnection.
  • Eat vitamin-rich food. Especially now as the sun quickly genuflects to the horizon, Vitamin D is essential. Ensure you get natural sunlight. Compensate with supplements if you cannot.
  • Connect with others. Isolation feeds insanity. Gather your tribe.
  • Hug more often.
  • Watch a comedy. Laughter heals.
  • Express love and gratitude.
  • Respect our differences. Remember that you may appear as foreign to someone else.
  • Create a safe environment for dialogue with people you meet.

Why should you care? Because you can. Because you do. Because caring for self is the first step in caring for others. The opposite of love is indifference. Recent events have shown we are not indifferent, although we may feel powerless. Your power begins within you. Embrace the power of Slow. The result of its force is mightier than any politician on the planet.

Yes, We Kant

It is in times like these that we are most tested. We say we are for equality. We say we are for freedom. We say we are for tolerance. But can we show tolerance for someone we do not believe in? If we fight back with the same vitriol, we do not land higher. We land in the pit with those we do not respect.

The outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election is indeed shocking. I was up all night. Perhaps it is my exhaustion speaking, but I feel the need to stand by my principles of love for everyone.

We create our own reality. And people’s realities have been shaped by false messages based not on facts, but on emotion. The outcome of this election originates within people’s feelings about what is happening, not about what is actually happening. The bigotry shown at the polls by the majority’s support for Donald Trump exceeds my wildest imagination about the United States’ underbelly.

But it is about something more as well.

In the wee hours of the morning, I watched an exhausted German moderator attempt to have a conversation with a panel of three women, two of whom were American. One of the American women was a professor for gender studies at the University of Maryland. Even she agreed, well before the polls leaned in Trump’s favor, that it was an uphill battle for Hillary to win as a woman. Her gender, not just her misguided use of an email server, was a great stumbling block. The professor admitted it would be tough for her to lead the country as a woman because only men had ever held the office.

What?

So just because it hasn’t been done before, she’ll somehow have it harder? Being a trailblazer has been her speciality. In my view, she would have done just fine. Further, that kind of argumentation is what tries to keep women playing small. Hillary wouldn’t have it. She played larger than life. And was crucified for it.

Hillary did everything right. She was prepared. She was disciplined and organized. Hillary Clinton deserved to win, but she did not. If she had made even a fraction of the comments Trump had, as a woman she would have been burned at the stake. But Trump? He is a white man with a lot of money. Being foul-mouthed, the populace claims, is something to be overlooked.

Are we that fascinated with the rich and stupid? Our obsession with the Kardashians tells me yes, we are.

It turns out it’s not so much what you say, but what gender you are that makes the difference. Hillary didn’t fulfill the image of what a woman should be: soft, loving, compassionate, demure, sweet, unthreatening.

She scared the bejesus out of people. It’s a shame that the US voting population couldn’t see that as an asset, but as a threat to their own beliefs about how a woman should behave.

I am disgusted, discouraged and deflated. But there is good news on the horizon.

Germany is the land of Immanual Kant, one of the philosophers who drove the Enlightenment. Rational thought, he argued, was what forms our human experience. I studied his works during graduate school and came to the conclusion that Kant encouraged embedding morality in legality. Formalize the moral code and we will go far in life. Kant was also one of the earliest exponents of the idea that perpetual peace could be secured through universal democracy and international cooperation.

The United States does not have the same philosophical background. It is a land of possibility in which it is truly possible to never have held public office, make outrageous comments with no basis in reality and become the leader of the free world. This too we must accept if we are to embrace the level of freedom so many have fought for.

Today I say: Yes, we Kant. We will maintain our moral codex in the face of this catastrophe. It begins with you. It begins with me. If we come from love, we will never lose, even if our candidate didn’t win.

Shadows in the Light

Where there is much light, there will be much darkness. Ah yes, those ubiquitous shadows that dance in the sun’s rays. My intention in life has always been to spread love and light wherever I can. I really mean that. It may sound naive, and perhaps it is. But I am always shocked when I meet people who don’t live with that level of integrity. When they feel more drawn to the darker side of things because, well, it’s cooler and no one can see what they’re up to. If no one witnesses your lying as you lurk in the shadows, have you really lied at all?

Dancing with the Freiburg sun

I recently watched a fascinating documentary called Dishonesty: The Truth About Lies. It turns out we all lie, yet most of us still think we are good people. We are hopelessly optimistic that somehow we are above average. We cheat mostly when our social surroundings support that behavior with the promise of a more favorable outcome with a very low to zero chance of getting caught. So it’s not the honesty we care about, but about whether we can pursue our advantage by whichever means available to us while still being liked or loved.

Shocking. And somehow so true.

Have you ever been in the check-out line at the grocery store and you forget to place one of the items in your cloth bag onto the conveyor belt. You noticed it when you get home. You literally stole it without knowing it. Do you make your way back to the store to return or at least pay for the item? Chances are if the cost in terms of time and energy is above a certain threshold, you won’t. You’ll live with yourself and your justifications about how it doesn’t really matter. Most likely, you will believe what you are telling yourself. And even if you tell your friends, they most likely will too.

Have you ever received too much change after a purchase transaction without giving it back? Have you ever run a red light? Walked across a crosswalk while the pedestrian sign says ‘Don’t walk’?

We look for shortcuts to get things done faster. In the name of economy, we lie our asses off. And sometimes when we get caught, we feel a sense of shame. But usually only the first time. The more we lie, the more it feels normal. Dishonesty tells a few sobering tales about some liars who ended up getting jail time.

So what about those shadows and that light? What makes us choose to step into the light instead of hiding out in the darkness with our reasons and fear? It turns out even being reminded that there is such a thing as a code of ethics can vastly impact a person’s willingness toward honesty. Study after study showed that when participants first read a line about the moral standards set out at the university at which the research was being conducted, people shaped up and gave honest answers. That’s encouraging. So we can learn to be upstanding with a little nudge from the ethics’ committee.

André Gide says: “The color of truth is grey.” A little light. A little shadow. A blend of the two makes up what we believe to be right. Even if we’re sometimes wrong. Or naive. Or both.

 

Who Gives a Shift?

Change. It’s the only thing we can count on. And it’s gonna happen, whether we like it or not. Although we may try to prepare ourselves for life’s transitions, it isn’t really possible to consider all eventualities.

Back in the day when I was scraping by as a glorified secretary at a Boston investment firm, I provided administrative support to several people, including one working mom who would call me from her car phone (yes, we still had them back then) so I could fill her in on all the office politics. She worked remotely most of the time so she could spend more time with her kids. And she would constantly say at the beginning of each call, “I need to know everything so I’m not blindsided.” I would roll my eyes and pretend to be nice, filling her in on this and that. Back then I wasn’t a working mom. I had no idea how important my function was to her until much later when I became one myself.

Being blindsided comes from the world of sports. It’s that blind spot your opponent hopes to fill so you can’t see him or her coming. Taking inventory from the last nine months of this year, I would say my blind spot has been filled a time or two too many. Shift happens. Whether we like it or not.

Hindsight is indeed a helpful thing. It is the platform for gaining wisdom when things happen unexpectedly. If you have a tendency toward feelings of regret, hindsight can mock you. It can stand there with its hands on its hips like a bossy older sister, telling you “I told you so!” Or you can allow it to gently nudge you toward an alternate course in your direction like a noble mentor who truly wants what’s best for you.

I tend not to regret most things, but I do question why I chose to do what I have done in my life sometimes. Why did I chose to spend time with certain people who clearly have their own interest at heart? Or how could I trust others not worthy of it?

Those who give a shift roll with the times. They don’t resist it or at least accept some parts of it, taking responsibility for what they have created in their lives. They bounce. They rock. They roll.

Resilience is a survival skill I learned early on in my life. Researchers say resilience may add to your longevity. It makes us happier people who tend to make healthier choices. Resilience makes sense as a key ingredient to a fabulous life.

So as life tosses more dodge balls at my head, I’ll live on with change as my constant companion, smiling all the while with anticipation of what will come next. Maybe next time I won’t be blindsided. I have heard that wisdom offers a pretty good shield against such things. Nothing is guaranteed in life except the change we experience. I’m opting to enjoy the ride and dance to the very end of it all.

Won’t you join me?

 

Breaking the drama cycle

Are you as tired of the apocalyptic news reports as I am? I am not advocating placing our heads in the sand, but I will say this: the 24/7 access to negative news has left an imprint on our souls. The more negative news we hear, the more depressed we become. The more depressed we become, the less productive, joyful and hopeful we are. The less productive, joyful and hopeful we are, the more we become like the people the news stations report about.

We can break the cycle of drama by hitting the “off” button and turning ourselves on to the life we are meant to lead.

Taking a hiatus from the news — and yes, even Facebook has been infected with tirades about All That Which Is Wrong With the World — will help considerably. Watching a funny movie, reading a humorous book and — above all else — having a good laugh at ourselves will help right the wrongs we seem to think are dictating the world we live in.

Oh, the healing power of laughter! If we can still laugh at ourselves, then there is hope. Losing our sense of humor in times like these would qualify as the greatest loss of all.

I keep a journal that I ignore a lot. Every once in a while, I’ll get in the mood to write something in it. Typically, I will journal at times in my life when I need to release some negative emotions so, as you can image, it’s not a very uplifting read. Last night I scanned some of the entries and recognized that I’ve written about the same things over and over again. Only the cast of characters has changed. The common denominator is always me and the feelings I have. It made me laugh out loud at myself because there it was — clear as day and in black and white.

Life has little to do with what happens and everything to do with how we take it. 

The only way to affect change is to shift our perspective, which then informs our actions. After only a few entries, I grew tired of my own complaints. It was a wonderful mirror and reminder that we can indeed change how we see the world. But first we need to recognize that we tend to see it a certain way. And if that way isn’t working for us, well then! I guess it’s time to look at it from a different angle.

Like turning off the incessant news feeds that feed nothing but our fear. Or flipping through a journal that plainly shows a remarkable trend in attitude.

We can make this world a better place and break the drama cycle. It begins here. And now. With you. And me.

 

To See the Light Again

Some days just can’t be helped. No matter how hard we try, bad days come. The good news is they go again too.

Yesterday must have been the worst day I’ve had in a really long time. Sages say to live as if this day is your last. If yesterday had been mine, my life wouldn’t have ended well.

Nothing a good night’s sleep and perspective can’t help.

Every day we get to decide how we will see the world. When several ugly events collide, it’s like a snowball effect. Our mood goes downhill, then lands in the toilet. If you are a human being reading this (and I’m going to assume that you are), then you know we can’t always be — or have — sunshine. But we can do something about it.

Self-soothing is a fabulous way out of the mess we sometimes find ourselves in. Laughter can heal, especially if we can laugh at ourselves. Inner joy is always humming beneath the surface even when we forget to look there. The trick is to find our way back to that place.

You might be asking yourself, But how? How can I recapture that joy I once knew?

Everyone has their way of rediscovering that dwelling place of inner peace. Yours might be connecting with Nature, your pet or your friends. If you know yourself at all, you will find it. Sometimes all it takes is a little push from the outside. Or the inside. Depending on where you are standing.

My mother taught me early in life to be resilient. We all have the capability to develop that bounce mechanism, but it is a learned skill. On days when I forget that anger and upset are a part of the human experience, I tend to believe I will disappear. That somehow I will die if I show my true feelings.

Not so.

This morning I woke up. The sun rose (behind the clouds). A flea market is taking place in front of my house. My son is giggling in the other room.

Life goes on.

The Universe is a place with no beginnings and no endings. It is like a circle and somehow we have found our way here.

We evolve. We transform. We make mistakes. We get up again. We apologize. We make more mistakes. Above all, we live.

Those who stay with us through the bad days are meant to be here. Those who do not are not.

And for those who have departed too soon, we mourn that loss too.

I am counting my blessings today for the chance to see the light once again. And to share the joy and love with all my heart.