Our Differences and the Coming Change


Our Differences and the Coming Change

                  by Neal Lemery

         published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 2/26/2022

We are emerging into new times, new opportunities. How are we going to take advantage of all of the possibilities?

The end of the pandemic restrictions is not going to be a return to normal, “the way it was”. So much has changed, and we are challenged to adapt, to take the lessons learned, and to move ahead into our changed society.

No longer is education only going to be based on in person learning. Many of our work environments now embrace working from home. We are adapting to a variety of virtual learning, work, and participatory experiences, allowing us to be productive in so many ways. We are no longer constrained by geography, but rather by our ability to take advantage of the many ways we can interact, to learn, and to produce value in our lives.

We have rediscovered the importance of personal relationships, and the value of social interactions at every level. 

Children in my neighborhood joyfully interact in small groups, guided by parents and neighbors who have become experienced in the teaching arts. Educators are seen again as masters, gifted in the rearing of our kids. Students are able to access a variety of learning styles, and are discovering how they can better acquire and master the knowledge they need in this changing world.

Now, we cherish social interactions, and the benefit of collaboration and access to public health services. Health care has greatly advanced in the last several years, incorporating the principles of evidence-based research and the development of preventative measures, such as vaccines and universal access to new treatments and methodologies. We have been reminded of the benefits of access to quality health care.

We now plainly see the benefit of community-wide access to the internet, and how each child, each adult, benefits from both technology and one-on-one teaching. 

“If there is going to be change, real change, it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves. That’s how change happens.” — Howard Zinn.

We need to take advantage of all of these changes, and the challenges that have forced us to re-evaluate how we’ve managed in the past, and how we want to live in the future. It is up to us, from the grass roots up. My renewed interest, thanks to the pandemic, in gardening, baking, and in communicating one on one with friends and family on a deep level, has made me more connected, more involved, and more attentive to what really matters in my life, as well as the life of our community. I see technology as a tool to advance my humanity, and not the end result of my use of it. 

We’ve learned that the social institutions and customs that really work, that really improve lives, deserve our attention and require our energies so that they can thrive. And, the old ways and institutions that don’t serve their purposes anymore, need to be left behind, making room for what does work, what really makes a difference.

We’ve learned that the personal touch, going the extra mile with someone, in an intimate and sensitive approach, is profoundly effective. There’s a rise in entrepreneurship and ingenuity. Creativity is blossoming and is finding room in our changing economy. In that, our true core values are being honored and advanced. Individual talents are being nurtured and admired. Quality family time is seen as essential to a happy life and a productive society. 

We are now surrounded by lessons in collaboration. Our differing observations and opinions are really just different expressions of our many common values. Our vocal, often strident debates on what we think are fundamental differences, are really just conversations on how best to advance our common community values: the power of meaningful choices, the value of an individual’s contributions, that differing viewpoints can advance the common good, that a person’s individuality, their uniqueness, is a highly cherished asset to society.  

We have more in common than our divergent, often strident, views. We’re learning the lessons of being good listeners, and learning from a different point of view. From those conversations, we can move closer to finding the truth, and taking action steps that truly address the problems we all face. We need to keep asking “what is the common good?”

If we look at our differences as a process of education and personal growth, and to truly strive for finding the truth in a choppy sea of propaganda and misinformation, we all can work towards improving society, and having respectful, meaningful debates. Each of us needs to be less attached to the idea that only I know the truth, only I am the holder of the correct answer. Then we can truly be lifelong learners and be part of the solutions, be an agent of positive change. 

A healthy democracy requires that we take less ownership in what we think is the unbridled truth, and be willing to accept that there is more to learn, there is more to be discovered. And, perhaps, I can even admit that I don’t know all the answers, that the real truth is awaiting all of us in this journey. This awareness of the dangers of ego-based opinion holding is one of our big lessons from these challenging times. These are good lessons our kids need to learn from us. 

Technological advancement is now being seen as not the end result of our labor, the “end all and be all” but as a toolbox to further our human values, our relationships, and as a way to provide even more opportunities for learning and happy lives. We are learning that technology is not our master, but our servant. 

And the good change, the needed change, comes from each of us. We’ve all been in school these last two years, learning and relearning some of the basic lessons in life, and contemplating the wisdom of some of our beliefs and our institutions. If we act differently, then our lives can be changed, hopefully for the better.

We have learned that if we want things to be different now, we are the agents of change. We have to know where we want to go, what needs to be different. We need to do the work, and to make the changes that need to happen. It is up to us.

2/26/2022

Pruning Time


Pruning Time

By Neal Lemery

(Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 1/26/2022

The recent sunny weather gave me good reasons to get outside and start my early spring pruning chores. That work includes a lot of social and personal pruning, as well as the work in the garden. 

I have a long list, starting with eliminating some of the clutter and debris in my life, how the community can be improved, as well as taking a long look at the grapes that I had neglected to fully prune last year. 

I’m motivated to sharpen my garden clippers, both literally and figuratively, because I’m seeing a lot of community pruning of our lives, our social institutions, and our daily work in these times of the pandemic. We are challenged by quarantines, other public health concerns and responding to economic challenges. Giving these community challenges a critical eye is a healthy step forward to improving our lives, and having a positive response to these challenging times. 

“Here we are, and what are we going to do about it?”, a friend recently asked me.

The results of that pruning, that reorganization and revitalization are already apparent. Stagnant institutions are being revived, people are becoming more engaged, and new ideas are finding fertile ground. And, practices and attitudes that aren’t helping to improve our lives are being pruned away, to the betterment of all of us. Community life is on a rebound. 

As a gardener, I know that pruning away the dead, the diseased and the overlapping branches of plants improves their health, and stimulates them to be more vibrant, more productive plants. Pruning opens up a plant for more exposure to the sun, and is a proven way to invigorate older plants. I’ve recently learned that when I’m planting a shrub or tree, I should be also pruning the roots, which stimulates the plant and ensures its success in its new surroundings. 

Such practices should be applied to our work in the community. 

“In nature, every plant eventually is pruned in some manner. It may be a simple matter of low branches being shaded by higher ones resulting in the formation of a collar around the base of the branch restricting the flow of moisture and nutrients. Eventually the leaves wither and die and the branch then drops off in a high wind or storm. Often, tender new branches of small plants are broken off by wild animals in their quest for food. In the long run, a plant growing naturally assumes the shape that allows it to make the best use of light in a given location and climate. All one needs to do to appreciate a plant’s ability to adapt itself to a location is to walk into a wilderness and see the beauty of natural growing plants.” (Douglas Welch) 

I’m trying to apply those gardening principles to my own life by exploring new ideas, cleaning out some old time-wasting and stale activities and projects in my life, and finding new ways to improve our community life. Like any pruning job, my personal and community pruning involves taking a hard look at the structure, having a plan of what things should look like when I’m done, and getting tough on eliminating disease and the superfluous, the stuff that gets in the way of vigorous and fertile growth. 

The thoughtful gardener takes the long view of where one’s garden needs to be . By having a long term vision, and taking some bold steps with one’s clippers, as well as the occasional saw, transformation occurs. The needed change will soon produce obvious benefits, with the plant (and our community relationships) becoming healthier, more vibrant.

I struggle with change, and healthy pruning is one of the key tools we have to bring about needed growth in our relationships and our community. Recent stories in the Pioneer and other media tell of how people are instigating change and revitalizing our community. We are taking on new ways of how we work, go to school, raise our kids, and care for each other. These changes are the subjects of deep and sometimes hard conversations. Yet, changes are coming. Indeed, many of them are already here. 

I look around, and see that I’m not the only one out in the yard with my clippers, pruning away the dead, the misshapen, the cluttered shrubs in the yard, and the parts of our social fabric that need revitalized. We gardeners are a persistent bunch, and recognize that pruning is an ever-present task on our to-do lists. We can have sometimes heated discussions on how we should tend our community gardens, our institutions, and how we interact with each other. Our commitment to positive change, to effective pruning, is one of our great strengths, an aspect of our lives that we should celebrate with enthusiasm.

In those conversations, we can all grow and change, and become better gardeners of our community and our lives. 

Embracing Change


                                   

                                                –by Neal Lemery

Change is in the air. The rains have returned, leaves are turning, and autumn is here. 

Some change is welcome. Yet, I resist many changes. The old ways of thinking are comforting and soothing, predictable. I’m set in my ways, determined and often obstinate. I most always am thinking I have all the answers, I know all the facts, and I’ve always reached the proper conclusions. 

People I agree with have also miraculously reached these same conclusions.          

I can blame my attitude on age. But I was at least as stubborn in my younger years. Part of who I am and how I navigate life can be traced to genetics, and part on the times we live in. 

This is an age of contrariness, obstinance, and too often, argument for argument’s sake. That feistiness is often wrapped in the blanket of divisive politics and thinking that one’s own theology and morality should be everyone’s correct thinking.

There should be no surprise that our sense of current affairs, that focus on egotism, has persisted throughout human history. Heated politics has always dominated our country’ public forums.

            The chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic has shaken our desire for stability and “normal”. Our fears, assumptions, and problem-solving skills have been deeply shaken by the unpredictability, this “facelessness” of cause of this invisible and increasingly fatal infestation. The pandemic seems out of control. Many resist what others, often experts in the field, say are useful and life-saving practices. The issues don’t lend themselves to resolution and harmony. 

            All this argument increases our society’s divisiveness, making humankind’s informed responses less effective. I am reminded of Lincoln’s phrase: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

            And, real change requires that I deeply examine my own thinking, my own analytics, and look to correct my thinking and be better informed. I need to be more of a citizen and pay less attention to my ego.

            I am but one person. But I can make a difference in this world.

            This change of seasons brings us new tasks and new opportunities. We are being called to action, to bring new tools and new viewpoints to old problems and old thinking. 

            Angela Davis writes: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

            Each of us is an instrument of change, a presence in the world for real fundamental change. It starts inside of each of us, and can then spread to friends, families, the institutions we are part of. Politics and society don’t change unless and until we as individuals change. It starts with each of us, almost on a cellular level.

            The opportunity for real change is here and now. It starts with me, and with you. Now. 

            What we need — facts, methods, organizing, communication — are literally in our hands. Change takes time, commitment, and persistence. We each and collectively have all of this, in abundance.

            “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson.

9/22/2021. Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer

Living With Fear in Challenging Times


https://anchor.fm/neal-lemery/episodes/Living-With-Fear-in-Challenging-Times-e17256f

                                               — By Neal Lemery 

I can find a lot of things to be afraid of. Nights can be long and my imagination can easily flesh out the shapes and skills of many monsters.  Whether or not they might be real doesn’t matter, for they take root in my brain, where I can easily imagine them in all their hideous glory.  They feed on my heart energy, too, sucking away my sense of self-esteem and my sense of purpose in this world, to make it a better place and to live my life as a loving, caring person, governed by kindness and generosity.  

Those fears feed on my self-doubt, and the wounds left from previous battles and the cruel words of others, who have felt entitled to evaluate and grade my many possible deficiencies. They are partners with the insecurities that live in that mental file cabinet drawer labeled “not good enough”.  It is also easy to feed on the drama and gloom of the day’s headlines. 

I can see the glass as half empty or half full, and the problems of the day either a disaster or as opportunity.  Life has an abundance of choices, and opportunities to act with courage. 

We all have choices.  Every generation, every time has had its challenges. Society has faced and managed other crises and obstacles, and the human spirit has prevailed. Now it is our time to deal with today’s challenges, and we are well-equipped to take them on. We are the descendants of generations of successful problem solvers and leaders.  

I am my own gatekeeper, the captain of my own ship.  I am the one who has the power to let others in, to march around my heart, and speak to me on a deep, personal, and vulnerable level.  If their presence does not serve me well, then it is up to me to show them to the door and to leave me in peace.  I remind myself that I live my life for me, and not to please someone else. 

If I let fear run my life, to be the governing principle of my existence, my personality, and my spiritual essence, then I need to own that choice, as well as the consequences of that mindset, that perspective of how my life is to be managed and lived.  I suggest, however, that such a mindset, of fear and doom, such a psychological software package, is contrary to my own self-interest, and my own self-benefit.  Being fearful is not who I want to be, nor how I want to live.

Today is Rosh Hoshana, the Jewish new year, a time of self-reflection and new beginnings. I am both comforted and motivated by these wise words from the Talmud:

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

9/7/2021

published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 9/7/21

Taking In A Different View


                        

                                                —by Neal Lemery

             Spring garden chores bring me into a contemplative mood.  I take a fresh look at the garden and the yard, mentally planning out how I want to plant this year.  I also get philosophical while I’m mowing the grass, feeling the energy of spring bursting out all over.  I am often stunned into silence at the wonder of it all. 

            I’m reminded of the renewing cycle of life that brings about change. In the garden, I am an instrument of change, and also a witness of ancient ways. Old patterns can be repeated, or altered and made better.  Often, the best action is to weed them out. 

I am an organizer, a weeder, a planter. Yet the real instruments of change are nature’s: the strengthening sunlight, the occasional rain, seeds sprouting, leaves emerging, flowers bursting into color and brilliance.  I do my best work when I take a long time just being the observer.

            The Irish poet and priest John O’Donohue writes:

“There is a beautiful complexity of growth within the human soul. In order to glimpse this, it is helpful to visualize the mind as a tower of windows. Sadly, many people remain trapped at the one window, looking out every day at the same scene in the same way. Real growth is experienced when you draw back from that one window, turn, and walk around the inner tower of the soul and see all the different windows that await your gaze. Through these different windows, you can see new vistas of possibility, presence, and creativity. Complacency, habit, and blindness often prevent you from feeling your life. So much depends on the frame of vision — the window through which you look.”

            I do better in life when I take advantage of that “other view” and look out into the world with a new vantage point.  It is humbling and also refreshing.  Old patterns, old thinking can be re-examined. Often, new ideas emerge, and I gain a different perspective. I might even dare to set aside my cherished and deeply-held convictions and opinions, and look at the world in a new way, much like how a contemplative gardener looks at their projects on a bright and sunny spring day.  Exploring the alternatives gives us so many more options. 

            Spring is a time of renewal, of growth, a time to think of the possibilities of the coming summer.  I do my best work when I take on the role of the observer, the contemplator, to be a tinkerer of the whole picture, looking on from all of the windows in my soul. 

4/29/2021

Calling For a Change


                                    `           

                                                                        –by Neal Lemery

            2021 is a year of change, of awareness, and a time to reconcile ourselves with our attitudes and prejudices.  At the core of this work is confronting our own racism and the racism of our culture. A re-examination of our history and our culture is revealing our prejudices, our privilege, and a compelling drive to change how we think and how we act.  

            The verdict this week in Minneapolis has hopefully gotten our attention to these issues, and has put a bright spotlight on the issues of racism, law enforcement, and cultural expectations.  It is an ugly sore to open up and drain. The infection is deep.  Our attitudes and opinions are facing the light of day, of public scrutiny, and of thoughtful self-examination. 

            Sadly, this tragedy isn’t the latest, and stories of similar injustices and responses continue to occupy the headlines.  Recent attention to our country’s history shows a long and deep saga of similar outrages and, at times, calls for reform and change. The lessons of history are still there, as opportunities to learn and to cause change. 

            Those of us who aspire to be people of faith and advancing a spirituality based on compassion and good deeds are wrestling with being engaged in a society that too often does not aspire to those values.  It is often too easy to do nothing, and instead to merely pontificate our aspirations to be good and kindly people.   Denial seems easy, and the least stony path. Change is hard. 

“Walking away from something that we’re used to, even if it’s unjust or inefficient or ineffective–it usually takes far too long. Fear, momentum and the status quo combine to keep us stuck.

“And so it builds up. The cruft [junk work product] calcifies and it gets in our way, making our world smaller, our interactions less human. What used to be normal is rejected and obsolete. It turns out that the status quo is the status quo because it’s good at sticking around.”

                                    –Seth Godin, Seth’s Blog 4/21/2021

            We all want to think that we come from good families, that we had a decent childhood, and that we have grown up to be good hearted, loving people, who are working to build a better society and to do noble and important work.  Yet if I want to change society, I also need to change myself, and to examine myself so that I can truly become an agent of my good values and my talents to do the Godly and charitable work that I aspire to advocate. 

            To not do that self-examination is to be hypocritical and untrue to my highest goals and aspirations as a “good person”.  My own spiritual challenge is to understand that me acting as an instrument of change is one of my purposes as a human being on this earth. A friend calls that being an instrument of God. 

            As Gandhi urged us, we need to be the change we want to see in the world.  And, that starts with self-examination.  It is ugly, often dirty work.  Each of us had a seat in that courtroom in Minneapolis.  Part of what was on trial was a criminal justice system and a culture of how law enforcement officers respond to an encounter with a man, situations where a person’s race and very presence on the street were factors in how a police officer acted.  Our culture of prejudice, discrimination, and bias (even unconscious) was deeply interwoven in that incident and how a cop, and everyone else who was present, responded. The scope of responsibility and accountability for George Floyd’s death casts a wide net.  

            My great uncle was a member of the Klan, and proudly rode his horse in Klan parades in our family’s hometown.  I heard stories of racial and ethnic prejudice from family and friends, and witnessed bigotry and prejudice, often subtle and minimalized. Like all of us, I witnessed bigotry and prejudice, and felt the social pressure to sustain those attitudes. 

We all learned the “code words”, the vocabulary for this thinking. The disease was labeled something else, throughout my life, ever-present yet often cleverly disguised, or covered up.  After all, racism was something that occurred in the South, or the big cities, somewhere else.  Not here, not in my town, my neighborhood, my family.  

            That denial is also part of the disease, the “stinking thinking” that nurtures racism.

            Those experiences are also present-day.  Perhaps they are more subtle, even disguised, conveniently wrapped in the camouflage of politics and “free speech”.  And, pretending that cultural and personal prejudice and intolerance isn’t here and now is simply being a cultural ostrich, naively hoping that these tough issues will simply go away.  They won’t, until we do our tough work, and change. 

            We need to tell our stories.  We need to air out the ugly anecdotes, and look at our own attitudes and beliefs, looking deep within ourselves to learn why we believe and think what we do.  We need to embrace education and deep conversations with family and friends, no matter how uncomfortable those conversations can be.  We can change, and we can grow. That is what good citizens and spiritually-minded people do. 

            Tomorrow can be different.  

4/22/2021

Taking On Change


Taking On Change

by Neal Lemery

The pandemic is a time of postponement, not taking care of business. Life now has a lot of waiting around, and my frustration and impatience show up in high numbers on my emotional dashboard. The personal “to do” list seems to keep growing and has few check offs.

In normal times, my life’s challenges usually get resolved with me realizing it is a time to change. And that work to refresh is always so productive and satisfying. In these times, much of what we are facing seems out of my grasp to change. Most things get booted down the road. Like the virus, procrastination is becoming the new normal.

I often escape into my music. I pick up my guitar and find some solace, literally tuning out the world. Even there, there is a need for change. In guitar speak, it is realizing it is time to restring my faithful six string acoustic.

There’s a lifespan for good steel guitar strings. All my chord making, strumming and picking literally wears out the wires, as well as providing proof of my labors with bigger callouses on my fingertips. In that playing, oil and dirt from my fingers are rubbed into the strings. My picking and the vibrations becomes tiresome to the guitar (and probably the rest of my household).

I play my guitar for its mellowness, harmonizing tones and its predictability in terms of the sounds that are emitted, consistent with one’s repetition of chord patterns, strumming, and finger picking. One gets to mix it up, of course, by using different sizes and materials for strings, and the qualities that are unique for each guitar.

Other variables are at play: the type and age of the wood, the thicknesses of materials, the design, humidity, and how precise you are in tuning each string. You add other variables, too: the methods and styles of finger picking, flat picking and slides, plus little touches like pull offs, hammer ons, and chiming; not to omit the likely dozens of other techniques and styles I’ve yet to hear about, let alone begin to attempt. Guitars become “sweeter” with age, the wood conditioned by time and playing to evolve into an even more expressive instrument. It is a metaphor that I appreciate more the older I get.

Yet, it all goes back to having strings in good shape. It really is the simple things that make a big difference in how my guitar sounds in a day. Aside from all the complexities and sophistication of the accomplished musician, it is the act of restringing and putting on a set of new strings that makes my guitar come alive again. Sometimes, you just need to get rid of the rust and dirt and the “worn out” aspects of life.

I procrastinate, doubting myself that it really might be time to change the strings. I’m good at the kind of self-talk that talks me out of making a needed change. I’ll bargain with myself, offering excuses like time, or effort, or thinking it really hasn’t been that long since I put on the strings that are there now. I ignore the principle of guitar strings that age and wear out are a function of how much you play, versus what the calendar might say.

It’s not like I have to run down to the music store for a set, or that the cost will break my budget. For all their magic, guitar strings are a bargain. I almost always have on hand good to high quality strings, engineered for a long and vigorous life, with promises of crispness and high-quality tones. And, I have all the little tools, wood cleaners, and the other gizmos of the specialized world of guitar string replacement. I learn by trial and error in my music. My string changing regimen is a product of years of redoing and reliving most every mistake you can make, plus having some exciting adventures along the way.

Today, for instance, was the reliving of the occasional crisis of having a wooden peg pop out and plummet into the depths of the guitar box. These little pegs, which I want to think are insignificant, are really essential. They secure the little “ball” end of the string snug in the hole in the body of the guitar. They grasp one end of the string, so you can then tighten it, eventually giving enough tension on the string that it will vibrate and produce a note.

When pegs run wild, I feel helpless and inept, adding salty language to the experience. The peg then plays hide and seek, rattling around the inside, and getting caught in nearly every crevice of the various wooden bracings inside. I do the dance, holding and shaking the upside-down guitar in every angle and configuration, hoping to maneuver it to come out of its cave and rejoin its companions on the face of the guitar. There is the added chance of having the peg flying through the air and lodging under the nearest piece of furniture, prolonging the chase. More excitement comes when the cat decides to help.

This game is sometimes played with a guitar pick. My personal record for chasing the reluctant and shy guitar pick inside the guitar is a (now) laughable three weeks. At best, the usual plastic pick is worth, maybe fifty cents, but still, it’s the principle of the matter and a personal challenge. Man vs guitar pick. I WILL prevail.

The string changing ritual offers other challenges, such as squinting sufficiently in order to thread the thin wires through the holes in the tuner pegs at the other end of the guitar, so you can then wrap the wires around the pegs and begin to tighten them. The shiny wires blend in well with the chrome tuner pegs. In this stage, it is easy to qualify for a Purple Heart for Guitarists, by giving yourself a substantial poke in the finger. My guitar is frequently sanctified by my sacrificial efforts, accompanied by that now well used salty language.

You have to put the strings on in the right order, of course. Each string has a different diameter, with lower notes produced by thicker strings. That seems simple and logical. But, we’re talking me and mechanical tasks. Disasters can occur, with a brand-new string in the wrong place that’s tightened too much, accompanied by the unexpected loud twang of a broken string. Then there’s that deep feeling of ineptitude. Another box of strings is now on the table, adding to the potential confusion. I’ve learned to practice rituals of how I lay out the paper string packets and the manage the order of installation, much like a priest officiating at a high mass.

It is even more fun with a 12 string guitar. String changes on a 12 string increase the challenge by several magnitudes of difficulty, where the rubric requires the lowest four pairs (courses) to be tuned in octaves, but the top two courses are tuned in unison on the same note. Doubling the number of strings and the number of pegs that can go wild more than doubles the fun.

As one hits the home stretch, with all six new strings in place, you get a sense of impending success. When you finish up the tuning ritual with the electronic tuner and the seemingly never ending turning of the pegs on the tuner machines, the transformed guitar begins to sing its songs with a fresh, much improved voice. I’m always struck by the sweetness of the new strings.

“Wow, I should have changed these long ago. The new ones sound great,” I usually proclaim to the household, causing my wife to mutter that I always say that when I put on new strings. Still, it is continually a fresh and delightful discovery, each and every time. I am, perhaps, a slow learner.

I coil up the old strings, and attempt to put them in the garbage can, along with the handful of snipped off string ends, from both the old and new sets. This tangle of wires always resists me, usually breaking free and uncoiling onto the kitchen floor, attempting to evade my thick-fingered efforts to corral them and restuff them into the can. After all our quality time together, they just don’t seem to want to leave. It can be another perilous time for exposed fingers and toes, another opportunity to earn a Purple Heart for Guitarists. Now, though, I can see them in all their dirt and grime, the finish worn off and dull, any new effort to bring forth any decent sound doomed to failure. Tired and worn out, they are ready for a rest.

The rules and the pleasures of guitar string changes applies to other parts of my life, as well. I learn a lot from this occasional task. Familiar jeans well past their prime and faded, torn t-shirts and flannel shirts, with ripped sleeves, deserve similar replacements. Shoes, however, are the worst. I can easily wear out a pair of my favorite hiking shoes, my daily attire, until every last aspect of padding and support are long gone. A new pair tells me immediately that the old shoes were at least several months past their lifespan, and that familiar phrase again crosses my lips, “I should have changed these a long time ago.”.

These discoveries can be applied to other aspects of my life: toothbrushes, cracked glassware, chipped plates, bent forks, even one’s favorite chair. I can apply these lessons to my community life, as well: overly familiar places to hang out and tiresome, sometimes toxic people who refuse to grow in their thinking and experiences.

My guitar teaches me a lot about life: perseverance, consistent practicing, having a regular time to focus on some quality “me time”. And, change.

We can wake up in the morning, engage the world, and remark to everyone within ear shot, “I should have changed this a long time ago.”

9/30/2020

A New Start


 

by Neal Lemery

 

Organizing

Straightening, thinking through

Planning ahead

Pushing away the detritus, the distractions

Taking out the trash

Visioning the vision

Seeing the possibilities

Options for change, renewal

The essence of what could be

What could become, could evolve into.

 

New thoughts, new values, goals

Aspirations

Looking over the clouds

Tomorrow’s sunrise

Next year’s promise, potential

Twenty years from now

A hundred years later

Could start today

Now, this minute

A step in a new direction, on a new path

With one footprint in a different, unexpected place.

 

A slight alteration, deviation

Far from the norm, the usual

The predicted, the expected

The status quo—

An opportunity, today.

 

I just have to make that first step

Now.

 

8/5/2020

Wanting Change: How Does That Happen?


By Neal Lemery

 

Often, I react to the news with despair, anger and frustration.  I remind myself that the “news” is often sensationalized, that the news business is a business, and that almost all the “good news” is not included in a news program.  Yet, what much of what is “news” stirs me up to wanting change, a different approach to old problems.

If I want change, I have to act.

If I am passive, then others will make changes, or not.  And those actions or inactions will likely not be what I want to see happen.  I will not have a voice.  My silence, my inaction diminishes my soul and my purpose in life.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world,” Mahatma Gandhi famously said.

Yet, to borrow a phrase from Al Gore, it is an inconvenient truth.

If I don’t like what I read in the news, then either I am an instrument to change the world, or I do nothing.  My inaction assures that I lose my right to express my disagreement with what is going on. After all, actions speak louder than words.

I am in charge of how I react, respond, how I am an instrument of change, putting action into my beliefs, and thus creating change, building a better world.

If I don’t like what I see in my community, my neighborhood, my family, then I need to step up and get involved, and become an instrument of change.

A healthier community starts with me. Put up or shut up.  It’s all on me.

The simple acts are the easiest and the most effective.  They have the greatest impact long term.

Here’s a list of actions for me, and, hopefully, you:

  • Invite a friend to coffee.
  • Play music, and teach someone else, sharing music with others, creating joy and community.
  • Start a conversation with a stranger.
  • Send an inspirational note or story to a friend.
  • Reach out to a prisoner, someone who is going through a hard patch, someone in pain.
  • Acknowledge someone’s loss, or a challenge, and offer them a compliment, a few words of cheer and encouragement. They are not alone.
  • Practice patience and understanding.
  • Don’t expect a reward or recognition. Acting anonymously can be very sweet.
  • Practice forgiveness and compassion, even if another’s words or acts seem hurtful.
  • Imagine walking in the shoes of another.
  • Remember the Greek proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they shall never sit in.”
  • Slow to judge, quicker to forgive.
  • Intend to follow the Golden Rule.
  • Examine your own biases and prejudices. Do some personal housekeeping. I’ve found this to be very humbling and enlightening.
  • Suspend judgement.
  • Don’t assume.

 

My ego gets in the way in this work, but if I am honest, I learn more about myself and the world, and I move forward to be a better human being.

 

And, the world changes, just a little.

 

9/21/2019

Changing My Attitude


 

–by Neal Lemery

 

A friend recently asked me how can we change, how can we transform ourselves from who we are, into something that is less of what we don’t like about ourselves. What will be our legacy? How will we be remembered? How can we become our best?

 

“When you die, only three things will remain of you, since you will abandon all material things on the threshold of the Otherworld: what you have taught to others, what you have created with your hands, and how much love you have spread. So learn more and more in order to teach wise, long-lasting values.  Work more and more to leave to the world things of great beauty. And love, love, love people around you for the light of love heals everything.”

— Francois Bourillon

 

Our creativity is a force, not only to fuel the light in our hearts, but to give light to others, to express thoughts that perhaps are inadequately expressed by words.  Rather, we communicate with the light in our souls. Our own creativity, our own ways of expressing love, are unique to ourselves, and we are in control of that process, that message that we choose to share.

 

“But should you continue to be a respectful and helpful neighbor to her? Yes you should.  Your behavior should reflect who you are, not who she is.”

–Advice columnist Ask Amy

 

“We have to change our thinking.

 

“…how to move forward into the future in such a way as to not leave the past behind, to once and forever destroy the idea that to live one kind of life meant shedding the other; and to find some productive balance between growth and violence, between destruction and regeneration.”

–Bobby Matthews, quoted in The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, (2019) by David Treuer

 

Each of our journeys is unique, wholly owned by ourselves, and what we learn from this, and how we choose to express our knowledge and our wisdom is ours alone to communicate and share.

 

Today, I am a different person from who I was yesterday.  And, tomorrow, I will again be different, changed, transformed by today, and tomorrow, and also all that is in my past, my origins, the society in which I have lived my life.

 

The past is part of me, yet I can choose how I let it be a part of me, how it may be the cause of who I am, and who I am becoming.  The past is a teacher, and, at times, a guide, but it is not my god, it is not directing me, nor does it command me to follow a certain path.  There are many paths to wisdom and knowledge, and I am able to choose the paths that will best shape and enlighten my own journey.

 

I choose to build community, to find strength, determination, purpose, and resiliency.  In seeking others to be my compatriots and fellow journeyers, the question of where we each have come from seems to matter less and less to me.  More important is the direction that we are going.

 

“Bending to a common purpose is more important than arising from a common place.”

David Treuer, The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present.

 

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