Deep in the Heart: Giving in the Wake of Disaster

“And the multitudes asked him, saying, What then must we do?”  Luke 3:10 (ASV)

Inconceivable. The destruction. The devastation. The suffering.

As a state and a nation, we are all struggling to find a reason, a context ― or some sort of meaning in the horrendous natural disaster that is Harvey.  We talk of heroic rescues, Texans pulling together under adversity and Divine order; however, the enormity of the hurricane’s wake still exceeds our capacity to comprehend. It’s almost impossible to fathom the numbers (as of Sept. 1):

  • 27 trillion gallons of rain water falling over Texas and Louisiana
  • 50 lives lost
  • 51.88 inches of rain ― the greatest amount of rainfall over land for a single storm in continental U.S. history
  • 40,000 + people forced from their homes and currently sheltered in the state of Texas in 239 facilities
  • 2,882 animals currently being sheltered in Texas
  • 1,000-year-level flood

Yesterday, I purchased a giant box of Luvs diapers and baby wipes for the first time in about 20 years and made a contribution the TrustedWorld.org, which is efficiently managing the logistics of contributed items. I attended a prayer service, but I’m still searching . . .

So, I remembered this article I wrote almost exactly 12 years ago following Hurricane Katrina. I think many of the messages still resonate today.

Reconciling the Overwhelming | Fall 2005

As we continue to grieve the devastating losses of Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath, our nation’s nonprofit sector now faces daunting challenges ― both immediate and long-term. Frontline relief organizations will continue to require sustained financial support as they scramble to manage the biggest displacement of Americans since the Civil War. Thankfully, Americans care deeply, and they are exceptionally generous.  Within two weeks following Katrina’s landfall, almost $1 billion was contributed to causes serving those stricken by the disaster. Unprecedented in American history, this pace of giving overtook historic rates in the early weeks for both the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the Asian tsunami of 2004. And amazingly, this outpouring of generosity is expected to represent only one percent of the total amount Americans are likely to give to worthy causes this year.

However, we must not neglect the frontline nonprofits after the breaking news fades. Even after support spikes have subsided, these organizations must be relentless about maintaining consistent funding levels. Still, as nonprofit leaders in a post-Katrina world, we might be feeling reluctant to actively raise funds for other worthy causes ― hindered by the overwhelming needs burdening so many. Understandably so. These unprecedented tragedies require our undivided attention, and it may be hard for some of us to go about our daily activities ― haunted by the shadows of those struggling in the ongoing anguish of disaster.

But this fierce commitment to humanity and our communities must help us stay focused ― working in the true spirit of philanthropy.

Let us embrace the power of generosity by leading our organizations with a vision of abundance, as opposed to scarcity.  As Americans continue to open their hearts and wallets in inspiring ways, let’s envision an expanding philanthropic pie. In fact, historical data proves that as donors increase their giving levels, they tend not to slide back to former habits. As we build compelling cases for support, giving will increase.  And what a privilege is it is to be part of the growth of the philanthropic sector ― as giving assumes such a prominent position in the American consciousness.

Impact Beyond the Gulf Coast.

Whether you are providing food and shelter for the displaced, education for our nation’s youth, or solace for the spirit, now is it the time to communicate directly and authentically with your donors.

Honor the situation, but do not apologize or shy away from contact on behalf of the cause you represent. Let’s reassure our donors that our organizations are strong and that we are grappling with new needs and shifting priorities. If we are confident and centered, our constituencies will have confidence in us and our missions.

In the long run, dedication to our causes will inspire donors who have already made our organizations priorities in their lives. This is a time for all of us to reflect carefully on our own giving commitments and clarify the impact we hope to make.  Now more than ever, let us strengthen our support of the organizations that speak to our personal truths, knowing that we can make a difference ― across the street or around the world.

Self-Actualization 101: Unravelling “The Four Agreements”

Humans hardly know what they want, how they want it, or when they want it.” 
― don Miguel Ruiz

I admit it. I am a personal development nerd. Perhaps, it’s because I am still searching for the best version of myself and my life ― as well as a way to heal from the experiences that have (gratefully) led me to this moment in time. But, with each new nuance of enlightenment comes another level of responsibility.

Lately, I have been thinking about the “The Four Agreements.” If you have not read don Miguel Ruiz’s multi-layered, yet elegantly simple work of modern philosophy, I urge you to grab your copy immediately. It’s more than “a great deal” on Amazon Prime Day. It will utterly transform the way you see your life ― and live it. This platform gives you a fresher, healthier way to engage in relationships, activities and even difficult encounters. It’s another installment in my continuing #InsideJob series.

The real challenge is practicing them in a disciplined away ― basting your brain in profound yet practical consciousness until it becomes second nature.  Perhaps, that’s why all Four Agreements are so appealing. In a way, they are a practical guide to peace. I am just going to take each one, summarize it and then, briefly provide an action item. Pretty sensible, right? Try them out, and let me know what happens. (We’ll start with the first two in this post.)

Agreement 1: Be impeccable with your word. 

Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using your word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

I think this means consciously aligning your words with your truth and heart. Your words are your power to create ― and they are an extension of your divine energy.  Choose them carefully, because they can manifest your reality before you know it. They can also deplete, diminish, discount and sabotage. So, be mindful in every moment ― “one mindfully in the moment,” as we say in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Yet, this is easier said than done ― especially when you consider Dr. Joe Dispenza’s observation in “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself”:

Even when we engage our conscious minds, they comprise only about 5% of who we are. The     other 95% is a composition of our subconscious minds ― our habits and behaviors that have been deeply programmed on our mental hard drives throughout our lives.

In other words, it takes work. We may all need to spend some quality time in #BrainBootcamp, but the glorious payoff is the confidence to take full responsibility for your actions. Release any element of judgment or blame by speaking from this authentic place of kindness, love and truth. Wow, wouldn’t that make a difference in our divided world?

ACTION ITEM: Pay attention to the actual words you use today ― and those other people say to you. They are potent messengers. For instance, what is your default when you respond to a compliment? What words do you say? Do you express a desire by planting yourself firmly and saying, “I need . . .”  How does that feel?  How comfortable do you feel asking a question in a meeting or open forum? Become aware of your own inner dialogue (or that pesky inner  critic) ― how you speak to yourself. I know I find myself saying things like, “Goofball, why did you do that?”  That’s not helpful. Rewiring, Will Robinson! Write them down, and then consider how you can turn them around to produce a more positive result.

Agreement 2: Don’t take anything personally. 

This one is the game changer for me, but then, as an over-functioner from way back, I tend to be far too focused on what other people are doing, saying or thinking.  It’s all about understanding how to set healthy boundaries.  But, here’s the deal ― nothing other people do is because of you. Period. What someone says and does is simply a projection of his or her own reality. Ruiz says, “All people live in their own dream, in their own mind.” It’s not your version of the world. What’s worse, taking things personally makes you ripe for abuse and pain. When you are impervious to the opinions and actions of others, you take back your power, escape needless suffering and find peace on your own terms. Love that.

ACTION ITEM: Make a list of people who seem to “push your buttons.” Notice where you end and where the other person begins in any given conversation. You do not need to take another person’s bad behavior personally. You may notice an emotional impact, but you are free to choose whether to continue engaging or not. Knowing it is not about you is incredibly freeing.

The trauma other folks express goes far deeper than the current interaction with you. However, even though the behavior is not about you, your reaction to it may have something to teach you about you. What is it triggering? What wounds are you activating in you subconsciously? Ruiz says, “You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you.”  What a productive way to contextualize difficult folks in your life.

The first two are magic. Love them so much.  Next post will look at the other two. Can’t wait! Stay tuned. 

Finding Peace in Community: When Your HOA is an SOS

“All politics is local.”  ―Tip O’Neill

I attended the monthly meeting of my Home Owners Association (HOA) this week. As I entered the room on the humid summer evening, the atmosphere was heavy with expectation and simmering with skepticism.

You see, we are in the midst of launching an extensive and costly community-wide renovation project addressing years of deferred maintenance. But the project we are all funding is more than six months behind schedule. It has not even begun. Now, the board and residents are at loggerheads ― embroiled in a major kerfuffle over the financing and management of our seriously delayed initiative. With tensions festering, tempers flaring, and barbs flying, I felt very uncomfortable in the middle of this murky morass.

About 15 neighbors and I were attending the “working board meeting” to inquire about project status and related decisions impacting our finances and homes. But some of the board members were not amused. They responded to our questions with escalating hostility and defensiveness. One fellow resident even left in tears.  Such drama. The whole event was profoundly disturbing.

Days later, I am still feeling unsettled ― but I recognize this small community meeting in Lake Highlands, Texas  was truly a microcosm of our nation’s broader, brooding dysfunction. I do not understand this behavior, this lack of tolerance. When some folks encounter differences of opinion, they tend to lose all ability to relate as mature adults. In this unconscious breakdown mode, listening, respect and compassion cease. Polarization sets in.

Why is this happening? Why do opposing opinions make us all enemies? It reminds me what happened in the 2016 election as we hunkered down in our separate psychic silos. But, here’s the rub ― don’t we all want to live in happy, healthy, pleasant environments? So, what is getting in the way? Why are thoughtful, honest questions interpreted as personal attacks ― lambasted and dismissed? Evan McKenzie, University of Illinois political science professor and author of the book Beyond Privatopia: Rethinking Residential Private Government, explains that a complicating aspect of HOA disputes is that they often become personalized, “so you can’t even resolve them.”

One thought is this. The road to resolution is an inside job. It requires that we all commit to building authentic, aware relationships with ourselves, first. What I witnessed Monday evening ― and afterward, in harassing texts from a participant who took issue with my right to ask questions, was unconscious reactivity. And it spilled out all over the patio after we were dismissed as the “closed session” continued. There is no changing other people. Ever. But we can shift our own realities.

So, there is hope. There is mindfulness.

Essentially, I’m talking about the discipline of staying present, awake and aware in the moment. A great Forbes article states:

When you are mindful . . . you become keenly aware of yourself and your surroundings, but you simply observe these things as they are. You are aware of your own thoughts and feelings, but you do not react to them in the way that you would if you were on ‘autopilot.’”

I love this definition, because it’s about aspiring to a higher level of consciousness. Yes, it takes practice, but it is a practice that improves mental health ― as well as relationships. This means building mastery over your emotions and impulses — allowing you to adjust your behaviors.

According to a 2014 study from Carnegie Mellon University, self-soothing skills, mediation, and relaxation techniques that are part of mindfulness training have been proven to decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and meditating for just 25 minutes a day for three days in a row is an effective way to alleviate psychological stress. There is a great, new app I’m using to keep me on track with my meditation called Headspace. It’s been proven that meditation can actually enhance empathy, creativity and focus ― all core elements of a joyful, peaceful, centered existence.

SOS: Small Organization Stress

HOA board meetings can be tough rooms. Stress levels for the board members can be high, because the job is voluntary with very little appreciation involved. Resources and time are limited. The organizational structure is likely insufficient, and there is usually no official training for positions that carry significant responsibility. Boundary function is probably not optimal regarding task assignments, and these unexamined resentments can easily manifest as contentious and unsavory behavior. Not exactly a recipe for a good time!

An insightful Entrepreneur article reminds us of the importance of process ― not mistaking impulsive action for productivity. This is something I have been tackling in my own life for the past couple of years. It involves becoming aware of my own emotions, taking a breath and a beat ― and retraining my brain to intentionally consider the pros and cons possible options. It’s called “wise mind.” Start your day with a contemplative practice ― breathing, mediation, journaling, etc. Or, spend 15-20 minutes a day walking outside in nature. Gain perspective. Space. When you feel yourself reacting emotionally, take a moment ― and ask yourself what the reaction is about. Is it an unconscious response?

Make Mindfulness Matter

Mindfulness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence — and a way to help you create a more fulfilling life. Here are a few tools to make that journey more manageable for leaders in organizations:
• Delegate
• Listen
• Empathize
• Resist making snap judgments
• Ask for guidance and opinions ― know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness
• Evaluate your operating structure and responsibilities
• Realize that you are completely biased ― love that one!
• Get clear about what you really want out of a relationship, transaction or activity
• Prioritize — you won’t get everything. Clarify for yourself what is most important
• Recognize that folks have other opinions, and they have nothing to do with you.

Above all, get real! And find a way to enjoy the process. Courageously assess your strengths and weaknesses, continuously. We are all spiritual beings having physical experiences, so let’s try to make the best of it.

Do you have suggestions or questions regarding nurturing healthy communities ― from the inside out? Please share.