Your Shoes are My Shoes

Your Shoes are My Shoes

In a recent conversation, a colleague of mine began a tirade of a person who, in their estimation, had no compassion. “How can they hold something that happened a year ago against someone? How can they not see that they caused the problem, and they can let it go?” This was a person who had their own trials and tribulations over the past year, their own “issues” to deal with. The cycle of condemnation continued.

The first words on another friend’s lips was “compassion.” Hmmm, I thought. Compassion is an overused and overrated word in American culture. Let’s be clear, compassion is “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” I’m not talking about this type of compassion. Well, I might be. The difficulty is that people confuse compassion with kindness. Pity is a cause for regret or disappointment, or it can be the same as compassion, “concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” Kindness is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” I think that I’m not really discussing kindness, either, even if it is confused with compassion.

No one is above losing sensitivity for our fellow human beings. We all do it. All of us. Sometimes with ourselves; sometimes with others. A dear friend said to me, “aren’t Freemasons supposed to be these ones who are on the path to enlightenment? Why do they act so horrible at times?” Freemasons aren’t perfect. Freemasons know they aren’t perfect and are constantly striving to find what that perfection may mean – but no, they are not “enlightened” by virtue of being a Freemason.

slack2Then… what is it that we need when criticism of ours sits in our mouths, waiting to be released? What builds up rather than tears down? And how do you show this to others? I’m not sure there is a word for it. There are times, though, I wish we all had more of it, whatever “it” is.

Joe South wrote a song called “Walk a Mile in My Shoes,” which Elvis made popular in the early 1970’s. The lyrics are here:

If I could be you, if you could be me
For just one hour, if we could find a way
To get inside each other’s mind
If you could see you through my eyes
Instead your own ego I believe you’d be
I believe you’d be surprised to see
That you’ve been blind

Now your whole world
You see around you
Is just a reflection
And the law of karma
Says you’re gonna reap
Just what you sow, yes you will
So unless
You’ve lived a life of
Total perfection
You’d better be careful
Of every stone
That you should throw, yeah

And yet we spend the day
Throwing stones
At one another
‘Cause I don’t think
Or wear my hair
The same way you do, mmm
Well I may be
Common people
But I’m your brother
And when you strike out
And try to hurt me
It’s a-hurtin’ you, lord have mercy

Walk a mile in my shoes
Walk a mile in my shoes
Hey, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes

There are people
On reservations
And out in the ghettos
And brother there
But for the grace of God
Go you and I, yeah, yeah
If I only
Had the wings
Of a little angel
Don’t you know I’d fly
To the top of the mountain
And then I’d cry

Walk a mile in my shoes
Walk a mile in my shoes
Hey, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Better walk a mile in my shoes

The song is a poignant reminder of how we actually get to compassion. This week I received several emails from people which were edging toward accusations and criticism. These are people who have known me for twenty years or more, and some for less time but not insignificant. These are people who know that I try to be responsive and kind, open to my own mistakes, and busier than a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest, as a work colleague likes to say. I’m not idle. I am forgetful, struggling to not beat myself for not being perfect all the time, sometimes clumsy, and not the best organizer of my to-do list. I struggle balancing a checkbook and sometimes I struggle to get motivated to get on a plane or send an email. Sometimes, I just want to sleep. Sometimes, I get crabby. Downright crabby.

I am human. I am you. And this is you, too.

slack3And as much as we strive for perfection, we need to remember that it is just that: striving – a journey and not the destination right around the corner. Well, I remember that key part most of the time. The times that are the most difficult to keep the “journey” in mind are when people criticize, abuse, condem, accuse, or even just get crabby with us. When this happens, we believe we have failed them, and ultimately, we have failed ourselves. Failure is a sad and hopeless feeling. The mind is a powerful demolition machine. And when we open our hearts to others, we offer it up to that possible shredding.

The journey toward making a better humanity stops every time any of us tear down another.

There is more to walking in one person’s shoes than walking in their shoes. It’s more than learning not to criticize or condemn. It’s more than keeping your mouth shut when something ugly is about to vomit on someone you love. It is truly about letting go of yourself. It’s about reverting into our minds and hearts, before we speak or write, and thinking about everything. Every thing. Thinking about the other person sitting at their desk, writing that email, what their day must be like, what it could be like, why did they write it like that, is it their tone or mine that is in that email, what words did they use… think about putting yourself at the keyboard and writing those same words. How do you feel thinking about them? Why? Do we really think they are attempting to hurt or abuse us? Really? And if we really believe that, why do we believe that?

Byron Katie, a speaker and teacher, has four questions that she calls the foundation for “The Work.” They are:

  1. Is it True?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it is True?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you think that thought?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?

This takes practice, again and again, and even more after that. It’s a journey. I think we begin at the first question above and we’d like to think that we have the answers. We forget there are more steps in our process. Our ego speaks louder than Truth at times. But each time we take that step towards working on finding the truth, something inside of us shifts. It says “it’s okay that you’re not the most important thing in the room. You are still going to be you, you’re still worthwhile. You are still good and okay.” In fact, the more we seek the truth, the more we are able to let go of the baggage and be objective, observant, listening, and of service.

slack1Freemasonry seems to teach the ultimate walking in someone else’s shoes. Every Freemason can be any office within a Lodge, and each has a different function, a different talent to explore, and a different set of challenges. No one does any office perfectly, and each office provides its holder with experiences to challenge and uplift. We might criticize the way someone performs a certain task but there will come a time when we too take up that mantle and are assigned the same task. We learn to forgive someone’s past because we’ve learned that it’s not as easy as we all think. To fail is to learn, and “cutting someone slack” doesn’t mean to ignore the mistakes and challenges. It means paying attention to what happens to another person because, someday, we are on the receiving end. As Joe South says,

If I could be you, if you could be me
For just one hour, if we could find a way
To get inside each other’s mind
If you could see you through my eyes
Instead your own ego I believe you’d be
I believe you’d be surprised to see
That you’ve been blind

An elder Freemason, a while ago, said that we humans are “closed loops.” When I asked what he meant, he said that our communications, our thoughts, have nowhere to go. They spin around inside of us, not able to build up anything tangible, or real. We can’t connect with reality, generally. He said there was only way, he believed, to break the loop really connect to another person and to break out of our negative feedback about our reality. When we clear out the garbage of these destructive natures, we can find the true nature of ourselves, and that is, wait for it…love. Ach! Yes, I used the L word! So, it seems as if this compassion, kindness, truth, questioning – it all comes down to what we ultimately call love. Love for ourself and love for the other, whomever the other is. What we want for ourselves is what we want for others and what we want back for ourselves. It is truly a loop. It has to start somewhere. With everything negative to lose, I choose to start with me.

What is love is another exploration all on its own; however, it seems key to perfecting humanity. It is the next map point on our journey.

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive. – The Dalai Lama 

The Nature of Fractals – Part I: The World Around Us

The Nature of Fractals – Part I: The World Around Us

Man continually seeks deeper understanding of the world around him. From the deepest reaches of space, to the depths of our oceans, to the smallest particle, Humanity seeks to gain ever more profound insight into this world we all experience together. However, what if the clues to gaining some insight into our existence lie right before our eyes?

As I journey through my life, it continues to amaze me how complex and yet simple our existence really is. Humans have a remarkable ability to discern patterns. Repeating patterns are a phenomenon seen throughout nature, such as the fractal. Could our ability to discern those patterns and their existence be an indication of deeper truths for this reality?

Example of a Fractal

A fractal is defined as a “natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale.” No matter what magnification the observer uses, the same pattern is evident, just at a larger or smaller scale depending on the magnification used. The Mandelbrot Set is one such fractal and is illustrated to the left. Mandelbrot described the fractal as “…a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole…” (New World Encyclopedia, n.d.)

One example of a fractal is seen in a hyperbolic fractal tessellation. A tessellation is a closed, countable set of tiles arranged so that they do not overlap with a repeating pattern. They essentially form a two-dimensional shape within the Euclidian Plane. A hyperbolic fractal tessellation combines the traits of a tessellation and a fractal in a manner similar to the illustration at the right.

Fractals can be seen in our daily lives. The manner in which this article was assembled has fractal patterns – start at the highest level, build a framework (outline), select one of the subsections and write to that, inserting a sub-framework around which the words are assembled, repeat until the depth of detail desired is reached. The antennas used in cell phones are fractal in design as well. This design was selected to solve an early problem with cell phones – the large number of different frequencies each phone had to receive. The length of an antenna must be a whole fraction of the wavelength of the signal for the signal to be received. Dr. Nathan Cohen discovered in 1988 that an antenna designed as a fractal could receive multiple signals because a fractal antenna realized antennas of multiple different lengths, either matching or a whole fraction of the wavelengths of the received signals.

Fractal Pattern in Nature

Fractals are ubiquitous throughout nature as well. From a certain perspective, the fractal antenna above was successful because it replicated the concept seen in nature. Some of the more commonly seen fractals include trees and ferns. For trees, think about how the trunk is the base for multiple large branches, which form the foundation for smaller branches, so and so forth to the leaves at the end of the smallest branches. Certain sea shells also exhibit a fractal pattern. You may wonder why natural systems behave in this manner. As quoted from Dr. David Pincus:

Essentially, fractal systems have many opportunities for growth, change and re-organization. Yet they also are very robust. They maintain their coherence; they hold together well, even under tough circumstances. They are balanced in this respect, between order and chaos. They are simple, yet also very complex. This balance is often referred to as “criticality.”

And the term “self-organized” is often added because systems tend to become fractal on their own, simply by putting a lot of system components together and allowing them to exchange information. Think of a party. All you need to do is come up with enough people at the same place and time and they will start to form complex patterns of connection with one another.”  (Z.McGee, n.d.) I like to think that fractals are so complex that they are simple.

Fractal Pattern in the Brain

It turns out that the brain is fractal, both in the way it is organized physically and functionally. On the physical level, at the smallest scales are the pyramidal neuron, which is the most common neuronal structure in the brain. These form into cortical columns, consisting of numerous pyramidal neurons. Finally, the Columnar Complex consists of a number of cortical columns. All of these structures exhibit branching both into and out of the arrangement.  (The Fractal Brain Theory, n.d.)

Indeed, illustrations of the neuron and its surroundings depict a fractal type of construction. Even the way the brain works is fractal in nature. Psychologists discovered in recent years that behavior patterns and social behavior adhere to those principles. So Humanity exhibits a fractal nature from the smallest to the most gross scale, which may explain our connectivity to Nature itself. One author describes this connectedness as “broadband connectivity” and explains how that may be related to our consciousness.  (Ph.D., 2009)