Colonial Pipeline Shutdown

One of the main threads through my life has been trying to protect Mother Earth and all of us from the consequences of extracting, transport and burning fossil fuels. Refusing to have a car. Organizing as an Action Lead in the Keystone Pledge of Resistance and against the Dakota Access pipeline. Actions at banks to defund fossil fuel projects. Vigils, marches, prayers.

While almost everyone else is freaking out about gasoline supplies and prices from the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, I’m thinking, “cool.

Not that I am advocating for it, but could cyber attacks accomplish what we have not been willing to do? Any argument about the harmful consequences of the abrupt loss of fossil fuel supplies cannot be valid, when the alternative is the annihilation of all life on earth if we stay on the current course.

Those in industrial societies cannot seem to imagine not having readily available and inexpensive supplies of fossil fuels. They will do, have done, pretty much anything to preserve their fossil fuel lifestyles. Including recklessly extracting fossil fuels, destroying water supplies in the process, wantonly burning non-renewable fossil fuels, ignoring treaties and Indigenous rights, contributing to the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous relatives, waging war, criminalizing protest and otherwise destroying our earthly home.

The pandemic has forced us to recognize the fragility of our economic, energy, healthcare, education, social and political systems. It has also provided the time, and opportunity, to re-evaluate our lives. To question things like toiling for hours in unsafe settings to earn poverty level wages.

As the spread of the pandemic begins to come under some kind of control in various parts of the world, people want to return to the pre-pandemic “normal”. They want to return earlier than medically recommended, which will extend the length of time the virus is with us. And if we don’t get everyone around the world vaccinated, we won’t eradicate the virus.

Having seen the fragility of our institutions, will we voluntarily work to build a better way? It seems not, yet, as the public clamors for a return to “normal”. Anxiously awaits the resumption of the flow of oil through the Colonial Pipeline.

Too much damage has been done, continues to be done to our current institutions. We won’t make much of a recovery because the systems we count on will not, can not, completely recover. Now is the time to envision and build better communities. I’ve been learning about and participating in Mutual Aid communities as an alternative.

I’m reminded of a story a friend recently told me. When someone said, “”hey, if no one tells you, I’m very proud of what you do for the community” and I’m like “hold on hold on. Just realize that everything I do is to further the replacing of the state and destroying western civilization and any remnants of it for future generations.” He says “I know and love that. Carry on.”

Posted in #NDAPL, civil disobedience, climate change, Dakota Access pipeline, Des Moines Mutual Aid, Keystone Pledge of Resistance, Keystone XL pipeline (KXL), Mutual Aid, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two Distant Strangers

Last night I watched the short film, Two Distant Strangers, that just won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.

The story is a repeating loop about a black man’s (character name Carter James) encounters with a white police officer. In each occurrence James is killed by the same officer. Each time the encounter unfolds in a different way, illustrating the various ways black people have actually been, and continue to be, killed by police.

The last time in the film, James is shot in the back, and the blood from his body forms in the shape of Africa. The officer says, “see you tomorrow, kid”.

I’m deeply disturbed by the film. I’ll try to explain why I think White people should see it.

I’m going to try to relate this to my own experiences. I’ve written extensively about my time with the Kheprw Institute (KI), a black youth mentoring community in Indianapolis. Kheprw | Search Results | Quakers, social justice and revolution (

I first connected with the KI community in 2013, I think. This is one post I wrote, describing my initial encounter there. Importance of stories

One of the ways I engaged with KI is by participating in the monthly book discussions. The books selected related to racial and social justice, and were led by the KI youth. I quickly realized what a significant education I was receiving. To spend several hours in that community, sharing ideas amongst us. I encouraged, and several members of my local Quaker meeting, also began to come to these discussions.

Several years ago, Imhotep (one of the leaders of KI) said these discussions were revolutionary. That surprised me at first, but I saw that was true.

This time, these experiences in the KI community, determined the approach I have used ever since, for justice work. I, as a white person, needed to spend a lot of time being with, physically present with those experiencing injustice. I had to listen deeply and refrain from offering my thoughts until they were asked for. And then to speak from my own, lived experiences.

Until we White people find ways to be present with those who aren’t White, we will not be able to understand what their lives are like. Attending workshops and discussions doesn’t inform our hearts.

One early encounter at KI made this clear to me. During one of the early book discussions a black women began to talk of the sheer terror she felt every time, every minute one of her children was gone from the house. She choked up, tears running down her face, unable to continue to speak. It was clear every person of color in the room understood. That didn’t mean I could share her experience. But it did give me a little better understanding of what her life was like.

About a year after that I was thrilled to be asked to teach photography during KI’s summer program. As I prepared for that, I was planning to take some short trips in the neighborhood to take photos with the kids. And I realized how different that was going to be with these black children. So I felt I needed to let the KI adults knew I realized what was being asked of me. I told them I would do whatever was required to keep the kids safe.

The last story I’ll share for now was when my friend Chinyelu Mwaafrika from KI, performed the rap song “The revolution will not be televised” by Gill Scott-heron at the annual event commemorating Robert Kennedy’s speech to the crowd in Indianapolis, announcing that Martin Luther King had been killed. I hadn’t known Chinyelu was going to perform. Afterward I went to congratulate him. We both had big smiles. I sensed he was glad to have a friend there. I was very glad to see him.

Returning to Two Distant Strangers, I think it is important for white people to watch. If you can try to feel some of what happens to Carter James, it might give you just a glimmer of the constant terror black, indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) feel. And might motivate you to seek out ways to learn more, to become involved with BIPOC peoples. The rapid growth of mutual aid groups these days could offer such an opportunity for you.

At the end of the film, the song “The Way It Is” plays as the names of Black Americans who have died in encounters with police scroll up the screen.

The opening verse recounts a story taking place at a line for welfare that illustrates a divide between the rich and poor. and the second verse recounts past social issues from the voice of someone supporting racial segregation. The final verse recounts the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a victory in the civil rights movement, but insists that more is needed.

The Way It Is (song)

“The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby

Standing in line, marking time
Waiting for the welfare dime
‘Cause they can’t buy a job
The man in the silk suit hurries by
As he catches the poor old lady’s eyes
Just for fun he says, “Get a job”

That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
Ah, but don’t you believe them

Said hey, little boy, you can’t go where the others go
‘Cause you don’t look like they do
Said hey, old man, how can you stand to think that way?
And did you really think about it before you made the rules?
He said, son

That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
Ah, but don’t you believe them, yeah

That’s just the way it is
That’s just the way it is

Well, they passed a law in ’64
To give those who ain’t got a little more
But it only goes so far
‘Cause the law don’t change another’s mind
When all it sees at the hiring time
Is the light on the color bar, no

That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
That’s just the way it is, it is, it is, it is

Posted in Black Lives, Kheprw Institute, police, Quaker, Quaker Meetings, race, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families

The Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act (H.R. 2590) was recently introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-04). This legislation would prohibit the use of U.S. funds to support the military detention of children, the demolition of Palestinian homes, and further annexation of Palestinian territory. These practices violate Palestinians’ safety, dignity, and human rights and are inconsistent with international law and longstanding American policy.

Together, with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and Quaker communities across the country, the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) calls on Friends everywhere to urge Congress to protect the rights of Palestinian children.

“Peace can only be achieved by respecting human rights, especially the rights of children . . . Congress must stop ignoring the unjust and blatantly cruel mistreatment of Palestinian children and families living under Israeli military occupation.”

Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-4)

H.R.2590 – To promote and protect the human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation and to ensure that United States taxpayer funds are not used by the Government of Israel to support the military detention of Palestinian children, the unlawful seizure, appropriation, and destruction of Palestinian property and forcible transfer of civilians in the West Bank, or further annexation of Palestinian land in violation of international law.

“Detaining children in a military court system, destroying Palestinian property and expanding Israeli control over Palestinian lands should not be supported by U.S. taxpayers,” said Jennifer Bing, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Palestine Activism program. “Funding these abuses with our tax dollars is contrary to promoting human rights, dignity, and equality which are critical to achieving a just and lasting peace for Palestinians and Israelis.”

New bill would protect the rights of Palestinian children and families
Quaker org urges fast passage to protect human rights. American Friends Service Committee. Apr 16, 2021

Act now: Urge your representative to ensure that our taxpayer dollars are not used to support injustices against Palestinian children and families.

During the annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) in 2014, the following was approved as part of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee report.

We ask the yearly meeting clerk to mail a copy of this letter to our elected representatives in the U.S. Congress. We also encourage Friends to use any parts of this for letters to others, such as newspaper editors:

Dear Representative/ Senator _,

The Israeli government, with U.S. aid, now has the most powerful military in the Middle East. In 2008 Israel attacked Gaza, with 1400 civilian casualties. In 2013 Israel attacked Lebanon, with 750 civilian casualties. Currently Israel is engaging in a massive military siege of Palestine, with over 800 civilian deaths so far. All three of these Israel assaults have involved devastating destruction of schools, hospitals, power plants, and other infrastructure.

Tragically, we the American taxpayers are paying for this human rights travesty. Israel receives 9.9 million U.S. dollars each day in military aid from us. This makes it our largest aid recipient in the world. While Americans are struggling to make ends meet and our government struggles to maintain our own infrastructure, we are subsidizing Israel to conduct activities in direct opposition to international law.

We ask that no more military aid be given to the Israeli government.

The following is part of the Yearly Meeting’s Exercise of the Spirit Committee Report that year (2014).

It almost doesn’t seem right to be here with our family and friends in this wonderful place, to be so blessed, while all around we see the children on the border, the poor and hungry, and war and suffering in Palestine and elsewhere. It seems we can do so little, but we must be faithful and do what we can and pray . . . pray . . . pray.

During annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) that year (2014), Christine Ashley, then the head of Scattergood Friends School, organized a trip that took the Peace and Social Concerns Committee to Iowa City to attend a vigil to call attention to the plight of Palestinians.

NOTE: More and larger photos can be found here

Posted in American Friends Service Committee, Friends Committee on National Legislation, peace, Quaker, Quaker Meetings, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Spiritual Warriors

There are so many powerful, destructive forces at work today. We don’t know the exact timing and sequence of events. But we know they are coming, some already here. Life as we know it is being thrown into chaos. Existential environmental changes, and breakdown of our social, political and economic systems.

Warriors today are forging different ways to live together, or returning to Indigenous ways to live in community. Mutual Aid is an alternative to our broken systems. Warriors are working for the abolition of police and prisons. To escape the colonial capitalist system. Feeding the hungry and finding shelter for the houseless. Collecting clothing.

When I read the following, I think of my Des Moines Mutual Aid friends, who I will be joining shortly this morning as we work on our food distribution project.

There comes a time when all life on Earth is in danger. Great barbarian powers have arisen.

Although these powers spend their wealth in preparations to annihilate one another, they have much in common: weapons of unfathomable destructive power, and technologies that lay waste our world. In this era, when the future of sentient life hangs by the frailest of threads, the Shambhala warriors appear.

The warriors have no home. They move on the terrain of the barbarian powers. Great courage is required, both moral and physical, for they must go into the heart of the barbarian powers to dismantle their weapons, into the places where the weapons are created, into the corridors of power where decisions are made.

The Shambhala warriors are armed only with the weapons of compassion and insight. Both are necessary. Compassion gives them the energy to move forward, not to be afraid of the pain of the world. Fueled by compassion, warriors engage with the world, step forward and act. But by itself compassion burns with too much passion and exhausts us, so the second weapon is needed — insight into the interdependence of all phenomena.

With that wisdom we see that the battle is not between “good guys” and “bad guys,” because the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. And with insight into our profound interrelatedness, we discern right action, knowing that actions undertaken with pure intent have repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what can be measure or discerned.

Together these two weapons sustain the warriors: the recognition and experience of our pain for the world and the recognition and experience of our radical interconnectedness with all life.

-Adapted from Dugu Choegyal, as recounted by Joanna Macy

For us, warriors are not what you think of as warriors.  The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another’s life.  The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others.  His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves and above all, the children, the future of humanity.

Sitting Bull

The Spiritual Warrior is a person who challenges the dreams of fear, lies, false beliefs, and judgments that create suffering and unhappiness in his or her life. It is a war that takes place in the heart and mind of a man or woman. The quest of the Spiritual Warrior is the same as spiritual seekers around the world.

Each Warrior of the Light contains within him the spark of God. His destiny is to be with other Warriors , but sometimes he will need to practice the art of the sword alone; this is why, when he is apart from his companions, he behaves like a star. He lights up his allotted part of the Universe and tries to point out galaxies and worlds to all those who gaze up at the sky. The Warrior’s persistence will soon be rewarded. Gradually, other Warriors approach , and they join together to form constellations, each with their own symbols and mysteries. 

Coelho, Paulo. Warrior of the Light: A Manual (p. 89). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition

The following, written by my friend Joshua Taflinger, who lead the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance in Indianapolis. Joshua went to Standing Rock several times.

I am inspired to share with you all more directly a post I wrote, because I consider you an established & effective nature/spiritual warrior, and believe that there is a need for the perspectives shared in the attached post to be more common thought in the minds of the many.

If you feel truth from this writing, and are inspired, I highly encourage you to re-write your own version, in your own words/perspectives, and post to your network.

With the intention of helping us all wake up, with awareness, clarity, and direction.

..spreading and weaving reality back into the world….

This is the post Joshua was referring to:

What has risen to the surface at Standing Rock is a physical/spiritual movement. Learn how to quiet your mind. To find the silent receptive space to receive guidance. To learn to adapt and follow the pull of synchronicity to guide you to where you will find your greatest support and strength.

What I have found in my time praying in the indigenous earth based ways, is that it’s not about putting your hands together and talking to god…. It’s about quieting and connecting with the baseline of creation, of nature. Tuning into the frequency and vibration of the natural world, the nature spirits. The beings and entities that have been in existence, for all of existence, the examples and realities of sustainability and harmony.

It’s about becoming receptive to these things. Being open and flowing with them. The spirit guides us, but we have to make ourselves receptive to feel, sense, and respond to this guidance.

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

Gus Speth

Following is part of the story of how I first became involved with the Kheprw Insitute, a black youth mentoring community.

That left me at the point where I felt I needed to provide some example from my own life. Since KI is built on concern for the environment, I spoke of how I had reluctantly purchased a used car for $50 when I moved to Indianapolis, mainly for trips home to Iowa. Car rental was not common in the early 1970’s. When my car was totaled several years after that, I decided to see if I could live in the city without a car, and have since then, 40 years ago. I was hoping that would show how Quakers try to translate what they believe, what they feel God is telling them, into how they actually live their lives.

At that point Imhotep, with a smile on his face, said something like “Forty years?  You are a warrior.”    I had never been called a warrior before.  It seemed a humorous term to use for a pacifist, but I liked it.

Posted in abolition, capitalism, climate change, Des Moines Mutual Aid, Indigenous, Mutual Aid, peace, police, spiritual seekers, Spiritual Warrior, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Support grassroots work: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives

I’m often with people who are distressed by the many injustices Indigenous peoples once did, and continue to face.

As I wrote recently, May 5th is National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People

One way to help is to donate to the MMIR Fund (missing and murdered Indigenous relatives) which is explained below by my friends of the Great Plans Action Society. You can donate to the #MMIR Fund by sending donations to the address below.

Being born Indigenous is a political act as settler descendant society is still intent on erasing our sovereignty and very existence. We are usually left out of important national conversations but yet we suffer some of the highest rates of violence, sexual assault, suicide, and depression in the country. Many of our youth suffer serious hardships that rob them of their childhood, which forces them to grow up before their time. By middle age, many of our relatives are still suffering from intergenerational trauma and abusing drugs and alcohol.​

It is no surprise to our Indigenous communities that many of our people fall through the cracks. With little to no protection, our Indigenous relatives fall victim to sex trafficking, murder, rape, and other unspeakable crimes. The Violence Against Women Act included minimal Indigenous protection, but it still sits in limbo waiting to be re-approved and passed. Our current administration does little for First Nations in offering protection on any kind of level. As we continue to see our system fail our Indigenous people, we can no longer sit back and watch our relatives go end up missing and murdered. First Nations have taken upon themselves to protect themselves and raise awareness. First Nations are demanding justice where law enforcement and legislation have turned their heads away from this epidemic. ​

With the history of this land, Indigenous peoples face a lot of adversities and hardships. The epidemic known as #MMIR (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives) or popularly termed as #MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women), has recently gained more attention. However, this epidemic started as soon as the first settlers made contact with First Nations on Turtle Island. Throughout centuries of degradation and false imagery, Indigenous people are portrayed in a negative connotation. Indigenous women are continuously being oversexualized in movies and imagery. From this false imagery (usually in movies and books) comes a troubling fascination that puts Indigenous peoples at danger for exploitation.

Without any help or funding, many grassroots organizers are left to make proactive solutions.

Great Plains Action Society is one of those grassroots organizations. Our goal is to help fundraise money to help victims and their families in their healing process as well as seeking the justice that their loved one deserves. Our goal is to create proactive solutions.​

All proceeds will go to legal fees, memorial planning, travel/lodging (for court or #MMIR-related event), educational workshop materials (paper, pencils, etc.), and domestic violence prevention (self-defense training, workshops, etc.). This fund will be for victims and their families. ​

We would like to extend our gratitude for our “on-the-ground” grassroots organizations who truly put in the hard work in collecting data, providing safe spaces, searching for our relatives, and any other capacity that deals with this trauma work. It is not easy. We extend our support and hearts out to families, friends, and anyone who has been affected by the loss of a loved one, a co-worker, a sister, a brother, a child due to physical, psychological, and emotional abuse. We will continue to serve as an ally to those individuals. 

Checks and money orders can be made out to:

Indigenous Iowa, INC.
4211 Grand Ave. #3
Des Moines, IA 50314

Learn more from this video created by Operations Organizer, Trish Etringer of an MMIW/KXL rally coordinated by Feild Organizer, Mahmud Fitil.

NOTE: you can see me at the end of our First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March group crossing the bridge at the end of our 94 mile sacred journey, September, 2018.

Missing and Murdered Relatives gathering in Des Moines in 2019

Posted in #NDAPL, Dakota Access pipeline, decolonize, First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, First Nations, Great Plains Action Society, Indigenous, Keystone XL pipeline (KXL), Uncategorized | 1 Comment

NO MORE Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives

Yesterday I wrote about the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People. My friends of the Great Plains Action Society held an event at Sioux City, Iowa. See videos and related stories Great Plains Action Society. And below are posters related to NO MORE MMIR

I just want to say thank you to everyone who helped and being flexible! Everyone that was supposed to be there, was there ❤ I wanted to share right away, but have other footage to look through. I can’t even express the gratitude and respect to all the families who traveled and did their truth telling 🙏 I hope that we all continue to demand change and justice for our #MMIW#MMIR#MMIPThis was an event to bring the community together and what I saw was a collaborative effort and healing tonight. Love you all! ❤✌🙌

My friend Trisha CaxSep GuWiga Etringer

May 5th, is the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People. Yahoo News is about the only national news organization to report on yesterday’s events that I’ve found so far. Group Performs Traditional Ceremony in Portland to Honor Missing or Murdered Indigenous People. My friends at the Great Plains Action Society organized a powerful event in Sioux City, Iowa, but it looked to be sparsely attended and mainly by Indigenous people. I’ve heard the personal stories of my friends. And know this is related to the man camps of construction workers, building pipelines. Tragic because we need to stop building fossil fuel infrastructure.


May be an image of 2 people, people standing and text that says 'Standup Speak out. Demand ustice. Repeat. JuceF NO More SStolen Sisters @GreatPlainsActionSociety National Day of Awareness for Missing Murdered Indigenous Women May 5th 5pm-7pm Sioux City Public Museum Thís is a free event. First 100 will DANCERS receive a free Indian taco and drink. WELCOMED Please be respectful and remember the ones we have lost to thís RESIST IOIGINZE epidemic LOUIS BRO Family Style Barbecue. Grent Plains Action ActionSociety ESTABL SHED 2014'
May be an image of one or more people and people standing
May be an image of text that says 'NO MORE MMIR MISSING & MURDERED INDIGENOUS RELATIVES Body Sovereignty No More Stolen Sisters NoMancamps Land Back Two Spirit Rise for MMIW Indigenous Bring Them Home Why We Wear Red Women, Men, children Protect the Sacred MAY 5. 2021 NATIONAL DAY OF AWARNESS @GreatPlainsActionSociety'


Posted in Indigenous, Native Americans, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People

Today, May 5th, is the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People. Sometimes abbreviated as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) or Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives (MMIR).

I did not become aware of this myself until I had opportunities to spend time with Native Americans in Indianapolis, and when I retired to Iowa in 2017.

Christine Nobiss and Donnielle Wanatee spoke about this when we were in Minneapolis in February, 2018, to bring attention to U.S. Bank’s continued funding of fossil fuel projects. There is a relationship between the man camps at construction sites for pipelines, and missing and murdered relatives.

Christine also spoke at some of the Poor Peoples’ Campaign events.

This became personal to me as I learned more about it from my new friend, Matthew Lone Bear during the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March in September, 2018.. He told me about his work using drones to search for missing people, including at least one person close to him. People like Matt spend months and months searching. That is also highlighted in the video above.

Also on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, Foxy Onefeather carried a sign about missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Foxy Onefeather, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

Posted in First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, Indigenous, Poor Peoples Campaign, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The best use of time is to lose track of it

I’ve been writing about languishing, flow and focus. When I recently read about languishing and how to respond to it, I recognized numerous things in my life that relate to those concepts.

I often wonder if people think I’m talking too much about myself. One of the reasons I write is to explore new ideas, or organize my thoughts. I try to speak from my own experiences. As my friend Ronnie James says, “anyways, brag, brag, blah, blah”.

Today I want to work through some things in my life related to “flow” and focus that Adam Grant wrote about when he was discussing languishing. Perhaps something here might be of some use if you are experiencing languishing, yourself. It does seem many more people are languishing in response to the upheavals of the past few years.

So what can we do about it (languishing)? A concept called “flow” may be an antidote to languishing. Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away. During the early days of the pandemic, the best predictor of well-being wasn’t optimism or mindfulness — it was flow. People who became more immersed in their projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their prepandemic happiness.

Fragmented attention is an enemy of engagement and excellence.

The lesson of this simple idea is to treat uninterrupted blocks of time as treasures to guard. It clears out constant distractions and gives us the freedom to focus. We can find solace in experiences that capture our full attention.

There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing,
The neglected middle child of mental health can dull your motivation and focus — and it may be the dominant emotion of 2021
 by Adam Grant, The New York Times, April 28, 2021

Grant writes that “flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away”. I’ve long recognized flow in many things in my life. Some examples follow. In each of them, distractions disappear to the extent that is possible, depending on the environment I’m in. As Grant also says, “the lesson of this simple idea is to treat uninterrupted blocks of time as treasures to guard.”

As I’ve been thinking about this, I came up with: “the best use of time is to lose track of it.”

We need to create the conditions for uninterrupted blocks of time.

Yesterday I wrote about my writing, and Quaker worship as two examples of focus and “flow” in my life. How I need the first thing in the morning as time to write. And people know not to interrupt me during that time, as much as possible.

Quaker meeting for worship is a time a group gathers together for an uninterrupted hour or so for meditation or worship.

The best use of time is to lose track of it

Jeff Kisling

My professional career in medical research primarily involved writing computer software to automate testing and analyze data. There were many parts that were a significant challenge. A baby’s respirations were monitored and displayed in real time. Every 0.05 seconds three channels were read from the amplifiers for flow, airway pressure and jacket pressure. Each data point was converted to a digital value. A fourth channel, volume, was calculated by numerical integration of the flow signal over time. Then each of these values were displayed on a graph, so the test personnel could monitor how the patient was doing.

For the lung diffusion test discussed here, channels for various gas concentrations were also read and displayed. Concentrations of some gases were in the hundredths of a percent. (Read from a mass spectrometer).

A complex sequence of logic would determine when triggering various valves had to occur Again within milliseconds. Infant’s respiratory patterns were often “noisy”.

Adding to the complexity, major changes in the software tools were emerging nearly daily (really). Twenty percent of my time was spent on learning these emerging technologies. There was an inflection point where I completely wrote all the software in a new computer language.

It took three years to completely develop a test to measure the diffusion of gases in baby’s lungs. Ours was the only lab in the world that could then do this testing. And since, have used this test for a variety of research studies.

The only way I could do that was with nearly uninterrupted time for eight hours a day of the work week (and some weekends). There would be the usual interactions with my friends in the lab. But they knew I needed as much uninterrupted time as possible. Each day I would sit in front of my computer and begin to write code. Or plan how to code certain procedures. Or study the new emerging technologies or computer languages.

There were many times that were frustrating. Something that should take a relatively short time to do, would end up taking days or weeks. Or I might have no idea of how to code something. That meant learning new coding techniques. In the case of the software for the lung diffusion testing, this went on for three years. My colleagues were extremely patient. But there were times when we wondered if we should just give up.

Once the software was at the point of beginning to collect the data and trigger the valve sequences, others began to be involved. The software was used in a simulation setting. Then one of the doctors in the lab would have to painstakingly do manual calculations to validate the program’s calculations. That could take more than a day. Then we would have to figure out what changes were needed in the software. Then update the code. Run more simulations and then check with manual calculations again.

This complex programming could only have been done with intense focus. By creating the conditions in the lab where my “sense of time, place and self melted away”. This “flow” would be interrupted for lunch, then begin again, until the end of the day. I would lose sense of time, often surprised when I saw hours had passed.

I knew how fortunate I was to have a career that I enjoyed so much despite (or because of?) the challenges and frustrations.

As Gant wrote above: The lesson of this simple idea is to treat uninterrupted blocks of time as treasures to guard. It clears out constant distractions and gives us the freedom to focus. We can find solace in experiences that capture our full attention.

NOTE: Permissions were obtained for the use of the patient photos

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Freedom to focus

Recently I shared some of what I’ve been learning about languishing. I was interested when I read an interview with Adam Grant, who just published an article in The New York Times. There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing, The neglected middle child of mental health can dull your motivation and focus — and it may be the dominant emotion of 2021. He is an organizational psychologist at Wharton, the author of “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know” and the host of the TED podcast WorkLife. I’ve been reading “Think again.” (but having second thoughts about that 🙂 )

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.

When you add languishing to your lexicon, you start to notice it all around you. It shows up when you feel let down by your short afternoon walk. It’s in your kids’ voices when you ask how online school went. It’s in “The Simpsons” every time a character says, “Meh.”

There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing,
The neglected middle child of mental health can dull your motivation and focus — and it may be the dominant emotion of 2021
 by Adam Grant, The New York Times, April 28, 2021

Matthew Iasiello, MA, an Australia-based researcher, is investigating techniques to promote flourishing and reduce languishing. Earlier this year, he and his colleagues published a review of current psychological interventions that are being used to improve mental well-being.

Further research is needed, but the initial data point to mindfulness, cognitive and behavioral therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy-based interventions as places to start.7

Mindfulness involves intense focus and awareness of what you’re sensing and feeling, moment by moment, without judgment. It has been shown to help people relax and reduce stress.8

“The one intervention type that worked incredibly across the board [was] mindfulness,” Iasiello says, adding that “the cool thing about mindfulness is that there’s lots of different ways to practice it.”

What Is Languishing, and What Can We Do About It? by Sarah Simon, VeryWellHealth, April 29, 2021

An antidote to languishing

So what can we do about it? A concept called “flow” may be an antidote to languishing. Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away. During the early days of the pandemic, the best predictor of well-being wasn’t optimism or mindfulness — it was flow. People who became more immersed in their projects managed to avoid languishing and maintained their prepandemic happiness.

While finding new challenges, enjoyable experiences and meaningful work are all possible remedies to languishing, it’s hard to find flow when you can’t focus.

Fragmented attention is an enemy of engagement and excellence.

The lesson of this simple idea is to treat uninterrupted blocks of time as treasures to guard. It clears out constant distractions and gives us the freedom to focus. We can find solace in experiences that capture our full attention.

There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing,
The neglected middle child of mental health can dull your motivation and focus — and it may be the dominant emotion of 2021
 by Adam Grant, The New York Times, April 28, 2021

Wow! I don’t know how to express how reading this has affected me. I’ve recognized these patterns in many aspects of my life, all my life.

One example is this blog. I started writing on January 1, 2015. Since then I’ve written 1,918 blog posts that have been viewed 114,058 times. I write almost every day. I realized long ago that if I didn’t write first thing in the morning, it wouldn’t be possible to write that day. The “flow” wouldn’t happen. I wouldn’t be able to find my “focus”. I learned these uninterrupted blocks of time were treasures to guard and gave me the freedom to focus. People who know me know to leave me alone until I’d finished writing that day.

I think this is especially important when I’m trying to write about spiritual things. The Biblical phrase “still small voice” refers to how we might hear the voice of God. Quakers speak of the Inner Light as the direct awareness of God that allows a person to know God’s will. Quaker meetings for worship are a communal gathering in silence for about an hour. A time when each person present is listening for what the Inner Light might be telling them. If a person has received a message from that still small voice, they speak that into the silence. Doing this as a group often seems to enhance the ability to heard God’s message. Friends often talk of what someone speaks relates to what they have been experiencing, also. “That Friends speaks my mind.”

There are many more examples of flow and focus I plan to write about soon.

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Live Boldly

Once again I wasn’t sure what I would be writing about this morning, but the Spirit is leading me once again. I used to feel awkward talking and writing about things in spiritual terms. Well, still do. But I sense a great spiritual poverty. And with so many turning away from organized religion, where do people fulfill their spiritual needs? So many of us, of all ages, spend a lot of time on social media platforms like Facebook, twitter, etc. And reading blog posts. So, one of the reasons I write is hoping things I’m working through and/or experiencing might be helpful.

But that isn’t the only, or primary reason I write. From my days at Scattergood Friends School, a Quaker boarding high school on a farm in Iowa, I used writing in a journal to create the conditions to help me focus on what the Spirit might be trying to tell me. I believe we need some sort of spiritual discipline, whatever that might be for you. Because this praying is an ongoing process, I know there will be things I once believed that might change with further reflection or experience.

I was at Scattergood at the time of the Vietnam War. The country was in turmoil. The Selective Service System, or draft, was forcing thousands of young men into the military. Almost 50,000 soldiers would die. On one of the national moratorium days to stop the war in Vietnam, our entire student body walked in silence for twelve miles from the school into the University of Iowa.

My journal at Scattergood Friends School
Scattergood School, Moratorium Day march the University of Iowa

I wrote a great deal about Quakers, pacifism and war during those days. I was trying to determine whether I would register as a conscientious objector, or else refuse to participate in the system. It was a difficult choice for several reasons. If I chose to resist the draft I could be sent to prison. But I knew this decision would set the path for the rest of my life. If I believed I should resist the draft, but took the easier way out as a conscientious objector, I knew that would haunt me the rest of my life. I decided to become a draft resister. It turned out I was not arrested for that, though many others were.

Yesterday I was blessed to attend the graduation ceremony at Simpson College, where my very good friend Reza Mohammadi received his degree. I was moved by the ceremony, and witnessing a pivotal moment in the graduate’s lives.

The blog post by Sheila Kennedy today is related to this. Triggering Introspection | Sheila Kennedy

Charles Blow of The New York Times, was pondering what he called the “second phase of adulthood,” which begins, in his estimation, when one’s children graduate from high school or college and leave home.

No matter how we calculate the phases of our lives, death becomes an inescapable intrusion. As Blow notes, parents decline and die, we lose friends and relatives, and those losses change us.

This seemingly sudden intrusion of death into your life changes you. At least it is changing me. It reminds me that life is terribly fragile and short, that we are all just passing through this plane, ever so briefly. And that has impressed upon me how important it is to live boldly, bravely and openly, to embrace every part of me and celebrate it, to say and write the important things: the truth and my truth.

Blow enumerates some of the changes he is making in his “second phase”–as he says, he’s started to manage his regrets, to forgive himself for foolish mistakes and poor choices, and “to remember that we are all just human beings stumbling through this life, trying to figure it out, falling down and getting back up along the way.”

Transitions of this sort–common to all of us as we age–tend to prompt introspection. Where has life taken us? How do we want to spend the years remaining? What hard-won insights, wisdom or support do we have to offer our friends and families as they confront those same questions?

Triggering Introspection by Sheila Kennedy 5/2/2021

I know Reza will continue to live boldly, bravely and openly.

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