Immigration Issues Are Not Just for the Mainland

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Immigration Issues in Hawaii

Asylum, border security, and comprehensive immigration reform are not just issues for the mainland. In August 2019, three non-profit organizations co-sponsored a forum on issues of immigration and sanctuary here in the Hawaiian Islands. Panelists spoke of the historical roots of anti-immigration sentiment in the United States since the Seventeenth Century. We were reminded that anti-immigrant policies and actions have been implemented under both Republican and Democrat presidencies. Many contemporary detention centers on the mainland are indistinguishable from European concentration camps during the 1930s before they morphed into death camps. Speakers provided context for an immigration crisis looming here in the land of Aloha as well as elsewhere. All made it abundantly clear that the fundamental purpose of the Trump administration’s immigration policy is precisely and principally to exercise cruelty and to instill fear.

It is estimated that there are currently 40,000 undocumented workers in Hawaiʻi. Many work in the agricultural sector, typically flying under the radar of direct public awareness. They grow our crops, tend our fields, care for our children and the sick, and clean up after our tourists. In earlier times Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and Korean workers performed many of these tasks but eventually moved up the assimilation ladder to non-farm jobs, businesses, higher education, and public service.

Immigration attorneys are doing what they can to assist with court proceedings, and places like Harris Methodist Church on Oahu have declared themselves to be sanctuaries for immigrants, providing whatever assistance they can through church and volunteer generosity. I have learned that migrants from the southern border of the mainland have been dispersed here to Hawaii too, not just to varied locations in the contiguous states. Determining who should be the last to arrive in any given location has always been a tricky issue, one that dogs our politics as well as our hearts and minds.

The Federal administration under Donald J. Trump’s presidency has brought out the worst in human nature, and Hawaiʻi has not been able to escape virulent anti-immigration rhetoric entirely, even though the situation here is better than in many other locations. One speaker that evening requested not to be recorded for fear of retaliation against him, his family, and his business.

There are many mixed-status families in Hawaiʻi too, in which some are citizens and others are not, who fear that they are all in danger of intimidation and deportation. Round up first, ask questions later. Once again, American citizens are being questioned for no reason other than presumed ethnicity and national origin. Immigration lawyers have more cases than they can possibly handle. Here. In Hawaiʻi.

What we still lack is a positive, integrative vision for immigration, not only as a country, but also as a state. Eventually the hysteria will pass. Eventually good people will speak truth to power. Who and how will we be then, and what can we do now? The panelists at the August event offered a lot of practical advice, to which I have added a few tips of my own:

  • Find out what is going on. Do not turn away because the truth is uncomfortable and the images are disturbing.
  • Camp out at the offices of our state representatives. Pressure them to support sound immigration bills. Ask them to refuse to support bills that round people up, deny, or circumvent international conventions.
  • Ask our representatives to fight any effort to transfer Federal funds from other important programs, including health and education, to support unwarranted and inhumane military action. Humanitarian aid funds should be used for humanitarian aid.
  • Refuse to support ICE raids and help neighbors you see being harassed or rounded up if you can do so safely.
  • If you can and wish, buy airline tickets for immigrant families who cannot afford to fly back and forth from the outer islands to immigration court on Oahu and then get slapped with deportation orders for failure to appear. Help them get court information and dates right. Here in Hawaii, air travel is the only way to get from island to island.
  • Make donations to the ACLU, sanctuary locations like Harris Methodist Church locally, and other organizations that provide aid and comfort to undocumented workers.
  • Form an immigration-related hui or community group to stay on top of immigration issues, inform the community, and engage in specific action.
  • Pressure the Federal government to end abusive practices of all immigrants seeking asylum on the southern border of the mainland, especially women and children.
  • Speak out against those who claim that the physical abuse of women and children should be considered acceptable “cultural practice.”
  • When you see someone being harassed by ICE or the police regarding immigration issues, walk up to the individual(s) and ask quietly if they are okay and if they need help.
  • Speak up when you see or hear racist remarks or behavior unless to do so would threaten your own safety or that of your family. When you can, team up and work in groups to lessen any individual threats to person, property, or business.
  • Write letters of praise when you see people getting “caught” doing good.
  • Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper about immigration issues and legislative actions that would negatively impact any and all of us. Write op-ed pieces like this one was intended to be.
  • Provide pro bono services as you can afford for individuals and families traumatized as a result of their immigration experience.
  • Notice your own behavior: watch and listen to yourself as you interact with people who are different from you. Remember that many undocumented workers are knowingly hired by local employers, are paid less in wages than other residents for the same work, and pay taxes on the money they receive in the form of sales and other taxes, even if they are paid under the table.
  • Do not turn your anger against adult immigrants onto their children, who are innocent and traumatized. Permit immigrant children to be healthy in every way.
  • Remember your own family history: how long ago were you immigrants here and your family was walking in their shoes?
  • March, carry signs, write-draw-paint-photograph, resist, listen deeply, and learn always. Adopt behavior that is consistent with the best in all of us.

Count Me In!

The morning was filled with politics. What are we for, what are we against? What matters? What could touch the heart of any individual anywhere on the planet? What slogan could unify a divided country, a divided world, a divided self?

At the end of a recent local political meeting the phrase “Count me in!” suddenly burst into the forefront of my mind. Someone mentioned the power and effectiveness of Obama’s “Yes, we can!” slogan, and also Trump’s “It’s a disgrace!” or “It’s a hoax!”

“Make America Great Again,” with four words and even more syllables, has not seemed to carry the same force as those three-word tweets; in fact, most often that particular tag line is reduced to two syllables: MA’GA. Just in the past few days count me in has become identified with participating in the once a decade census: public service announcements show people of varied backgrounds extolling the importance of being counted… counted in!

“Count me in!” captures the importance of personal choice and personal responsibility, while at the same time joining with the rest of humanity. It is personal journey, tailored to the full range of human experience and possibility. I can make it mine; I can find my “tribe;” I can express positive action about something near to my heart without excluding someone else who also wants to be counted in, but whose tribe is different from mine.

We are all joined together by three simple words: count me in. Antithetical to the exclusionary tone of many campaign slogans that offer tests of purity or shared horror, these words embrace inclusion without having to mark people” in” or “out.”

Several years ago, my then teenaged granddaughter and I watched a reality television series called Project Runway. The contestants were to create an entire season’s fashion collection in one week, after which the collection would be judged by successful designers and by celebrities who might one day want to wear their fashions.

By the end of the week the fashion competition narrows to two contenders when the host finally declares, “Justin, you’re in; that means Sarah, you’re out.” Both finalists received high marks, but ultimately one was “in” and the other, by the very nature of the process, was “out.”

“Count me in” does not require that I be sent away, thrown out, fired, or labeled a loser because I only came in second. Rather, I am permitted to have a single focus, a short list of fundamental goals, or a long list that would change the world. I can be counted in the limited stratosphere of particle physics enthusiasts, or global activists for health care or civil rights, or those who want to assure continued corporate dominance. My list could be as long as what could fit legibly on a T-shirt, or it could be succinct: world peace or whirled peas.

Count me in implies belonging, even if I am a recluse or hermit. It offers agency, choice, and power without the need to dominate another. I can be part of a shared experience, whether local or at a distance. I can transcend language and cultural barriers.

Count me in levels the playing field when there would otherwise be separations based on physical characteristics, socioeconomic status, religion, or political point of view. It permits me to support healthcare whether I want Medicare for all, for all who want it, for all who don’t want to give up self-funded coverage, for all who want union plans and employer paid pensions, and for all who want to be left alone so they can create a plan tailored for their special needs, such as prosthetics or mental health.

Count me in gives me the power to decide if I belong or not. It also provides me the opportunity to leave a particular group or cohort if I change my mind. I get to be counted or not. I get to feel a part of something larger than myself – or not. I get to belong even if I don’t know the secret handshake, because being counted in is framed by me. I get to run towards or away from an ideal as much as a political party or social act. I get to shout my passion out loud or whisper it in small font under my “Count me in!” logo.

Count me in can express values as well as actions, identity as well as legislation, financial priority as well as cultural identity or heritage. It can be a tree house hideaway in my back yard or a march of thousands in front of the White House.

Count me in. Period. No more, no less. It is enough!

Guilt As a Cornerstone of American Exceptionalism

We are capable of remorse

As I see it, the most significant difference between the United States of America and other developed countries is the public expression of guilt when its ideals are not met, when it slips up in its efforts to become “a more perfect union.” That guilt goes all the way back to the Declaration of Independence.

Our willingness to name and rectify our flaws is, I believe, the true source of American exceptionalism. In some respects, we are seen as a bumbling but well-intentioned adolescent nation, whose antics endear us to the rest of a world that has seen endless suffering, wars, and dynasties come and go.

The Netherlands, South Africa, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, Japan, China, France, Prussia, England, and the Ottoman Empire displayed little, if any, remorse for their brutal behavior as they colonized known and unknown worlds. Here in the United States, however, we have put our moral heart on display for all the world to see. Typically, we show remorse through legislative arguments and amendments to the Constitution; through varied iterations of a Marshall Plan to rebuild distant locations when we bomb or otherwise decimate a population; through political activism and research; and through continuous investigative reporting by a relatively free press.

Showing our American heart was probably not required, but because we did so, we demonstrated our moral dominance over those cousins who made no claim to care about equality. We are proud that we have embraced different values from those of our class-ridden parents and centuries of European and Judeo-Christian tradition. It is this ideal that makes the world want to come to our shores and that also makes us feel guilty, especially since the end of the Second World War.

Natural vs. Unnatural Guilt

The aforementioned is natural guilt, laudable guilt, a guilt that makes us a more perfect union over time – if we can achieve it. We operate on the assumption that, while we have made significant improvements, we can be even better and we can do better. We are immersed in good intent.

The downside of openness is that we must hold ourselves accountable to our compassionate heart in a public way. Denying our imperfection is what renders us ordinary, just like everyone else; on the other hand, claiming it leaves us open not only to admiration, but also to ceaseless and sometimes brutal criticism. Can we tolerate that? Can we withstand the onslaught of those we inevitably disappoint?

Understandably, guilt can make us want to hide our imperfections; not only from others but also from ourselves. It is this latter hiding, dissembling, even downright lying that becomes the source of our eventual undoing, our unnatural guilt. This insidious form of guilt reflects a deadly combination of self-loathing and arrogance, rooted in misguided, false assumptions that humanity is unworthy, that some groups are more unworthy than others, and that human nature is fundamentally and eternally sinful. My mother said it well, quoting some anonymous source: “God don’t make no ugly.” We are all worthy.

In one of Jane Roberts’ many books, there is a discussion by her source of wisdom called Seth that makes an important distinction between natural and unnatural guilt. Natural guilt helps us navigate the material world and avoid negative and even dire consequences. Unnatural guilt, on the other hand, makes us obsess endlessly about perfection and imperfection; about purity, the threat of defilement, and extinction. It causes us to get stalled in our progress and to project attributes onto others that we notice in ourselves but cannot face.

It is unnatural guilt that brings about arrogance, self-loathing, prejudice, fanaticism, and dictatorship. Natural guilt keeps us from repeating mistakes as we gradually recognize the pain we cause others and ourselves; it moves to eliminate the pain. Natural guilt can become a source of compassion and empathy, derived from individual and collective experience. Unnatural guilt, on the other hand, becomes a source of narcissism: it bolsters the lies we tell about the world, about nature, about others, and, most importantly, about ourselves.

As a nation, the United States is full of both natural and unnatural guilt. We celebrate the generosity of the indigenous peoples of the Americas who helped the early settlers survive in harsh conditions. On the other hand, we wipe them out, steal their land and natural resources, and force them to retreat into smaller and smaller spaces where the land is often not even arable. Similarly, we relegate African Americans to a state of perpetual servitude, then proudly wear Michael Jordan tank tops with the number 23 emblazoned on our own and our children’s backs. As slaves they are dangerous; as sub-human mascots they are endearing. We celebrate Henry Louis Gates as a Harvard scholar and then arrest him on his own front porch because a black man should not be living in that neighborhood. While battling and deriding China’s imperialism from one side of our collective mouth, we import and export vast sums of money, debt, and products from the other side. We flout our dominance in the world, and yet we put our land, iconic buildings, industries, and even our stock market up for sale to foreign nationals and companies. For Native and African Americans, their very being triggers a guilt that must not be named: the sin of coveting the land of others, and the sin of slavery when a centerpiece of the Judeo-Christian story recounts the evils of slavery and the exodus from Egypt.

This interplay of natural and unnatural guilt literally makes us crazy as a country and as a force in the world. We cannot sort out who we are and how we should behave, so we whine and flail and make excuses as the pendulum swings wildly from one extreme to the other.

But our ideals are like no others in the modern Western world. We dream of utopian community, a society free from persecution without the need for force, harsh penalties, and undue violence. We subscribe to higher secular laws, a morality that is meant to govern our social discourse and behavior while protecting the freedom to practice or refrain from practicing any specific religion. We proclaim equality for all. We pronounce the importance of the separation of church and state and the right to privacy. And then we elect a president who is the antithesis of all most of us claim to stand for.

We are full of contradiction and unnatural guilt.

Contradictions persist. We believe in our strength as a nation, but we also believe that we stand on the precipice of racial and cultural extinction because evil and the “Other” are stronger still.

Contradiction is inevitable, but we can handle it. We can embrace our contradictions and still be strong enough to persist, survive, and even thrive as a vibrant and diverse nation. Our natural guilt helps us catch our shortcomings and oversights, as well as our cultural sins of omission and commission. When we see that some members of our society are left out, we create laws to address past oversights. There is a sense of natural guilt expressed here, fixing and clarifying existing harms. There is appropriate conscience and consciousness, even though we seem to be backsliding right now.

Because we are one in spite of ourselves, all harm done to the other inevitably comes back to bite us when and where we least expect it: in our homes and schools and churches and playgrounds and streets – and in our political parties and physical bodies.

What begins as natural guilt gets contorted and distorted, resulting in an effort to exterminate the very people who remind us of our transgressions and imperfection. The effort to hide our unsavory history backfires and becomes the primary source of unnatural guilt in the present moment.

Could This Be the Beginning of the End of America As We Know It?

Guilt, whether natural or unnatural, signifies the presence of conscience and of self-consciousness. Theoretically, the absence of guilt could represent innocence and the absence of malice. On the other hand, it could represent the absence of a moral compass, which might prove to be the telltale sign of a civilization in decline.

What shall we do with our national guilt? Which history will have been written about us one hundred years from now? We are writing that history by the choices we make now. From the vantage point of the future, what will have been your story, my story, the story we created together in our search for a “more perfect union?” Did we abandon that ideal or did we move it forward?

The best gift we have is the gift of choice, a possibility that eluded many world cultures over the centuries. Choice: use it or lose it, and in so doing, take responsibility for our own individual and shared future.

Can we return to a state of natural guilt without getting trapped by denial and unnatural guilt? Can we hold on to moral leadership in the world without having the U.S. become yet another case study in failed democracy? Time will tell and individual actions matter in addition to, or in spite of, collective behavior. In the meantime, I choose the path of natural guilt and an open heart: I will claim my imperfections openly and without flinching, and then I will try to fix them.

Budget Cuts to Education: What in the World Are We Thinking?

When we look for ways to respond to danger, loss, economic challenge, and threats to the future of the planet itself, why are educators and schools the first target for budget cuts, as if education were a “discretionary” expenditure?

These are the people and institutions to whom we entrust our prized legacy – our children – not only to get them educated, but also, if truth be told, to get them out of our hair at last! Teachers and academic support personnel are the people who teach them, feed them on every level, counsel them, and prepare them for a world we cannot possibly imagine. Often scrimping on their own families’ needs to take care of ours, these are unsung heroes.

Let’s face it: educators are underpaid for their equivalent professional training and credentials. Many of them hold doctorates as well as master’s degrees and many studied just as long as physicians and lawyers at the graduate level. Furthermore, the pace of their workday is exhausting! Have you ever followed a K-12 teacher around all day? Apart from lesson prep, have you witnessed how many twenty- and forty-page papers college faculty read and critique in depth during the course of a semester? Astounding! Yet they all persist on shoestring resources and lack of sleep. I know firsthand. I have been there.

To be fair, legislators are not the only ones at fault. Within our institutions of higher learning education is at the bottom of the caste system of academic disciplines. These students and faculty are underacknowledged and downright stigmatized for their “soft” science and allegedly limited academic rigor. And yet it is they who prepare the future leaders of the world in all sectors, leaders who are found not only in private and charter schools and upper-class neighborhoods, but also in public ones as well and in every zip code.

When celebrities, uncommon heroes, scientists, politicians and entrepreneurs receive public acclaim, it is often a teacher they thank first, sometimes even before a parent. They say it was a teacher who saw their potential early on when no one else did, who believed in them, who challenged them to strive and thrive, who was indeed the wind beneath their wings.

Stop the madness. Stop treating education as an unnecessary appendage, always first in line for any austerity measure due to legitimate budgetary concerns and constraints. These institutions already operate close to the bone, having volunteered or been asked to make bricks without straw time and time again.

Look elsewhere for budget cuts. Floating the possibility of a twenty per cent pay cut for teacher salaries and benefits in Hawaii and elsewhere is absurd. If we cut into our future, we are cutting off our collective nose to spite our face. This strategy has not worked before and it will not work now. After leading for a long time, America’s rankings by sector are declining in the world because we fail to honor the importance of a broad-based liberal arts education, strong math and science, and unbiased research. When the time comes to put our money where our future lies, put and keep that money in education, or there will be no one left to work and adapt and lead when the economy recovers.

My Teacher Was a Cottontail Rabbit

 Photo by Maxine Billings

A few years ago we rescued a wild cottontail rabbit whom I later came to call Teacher. Brought into the house in less than perfect condition by our beloved dog Boomer, we spent several days nursing the rabbit back to health.

Caring for Teacher meant feeding many times a day, protecting it from the cat and dog who considered it “lunch” rather than “pet.” We had to block off certain areas of the house to make sure it was safe, adding to an already full life. On the other hand, this little creature was beautiful, tiny, open to being fed with an eyedropper, and to being held against my heart.

Having taken care of a wild rabbit before for a couple of years, we agonized about whether or not to keep it, whether it could survive in the wild after ten days in captivity since rabbits are quickly independent and shun human contact, whether we could handle again the demands of such a delicate pet. We talked, we cried, we changed our minds. The days went by.

Suddenly, one afternoon, I was literally propelled from the chair where I had been sitting. NOW!!! Release Teacher now! I jumped up, took Sam the cat’s kennel, stuffed it full of goodies and water, and took this tiny creature outside on a hill near the house. With the whole family pitching in we found a relatively safe spot not too far away from the house, and hopefully not too close to the ubiquitous coyotes that roam our yard in the night, and we let Teacher go. We knew the coyotes were hungry too and had to eat, but hoped beyond hope that they would let this little creature live.

As we stood on the balcony crying, hoping we had made the right decision, straining for a glimpse of our rabbit, this special creature came right up to the balcony, in plain sight and just yards away, and began to frolic in the dirt right under our noses! It ran up and down right next to the fence, rolling over on its back, digging up dirt, hopping all over the place.

Right then and there, in the midst of our tears, we all broke out laughing.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you for letting me out of that cage! I’m fine, I’m at home and having a wonderful time.” We felt and heard Teacher communicating with us. This rabbit had particular markings, especially since Boomer had wounded it, and its gait was not yet steady.

There was no doubt in any of our minds that this rabbit knew us, traveled across the yard to greet and thank us, and taught us all a little lesson about limits. Given the hectic pace of our lives at the time it would have been hard to keep this rabbit. We learned that there was no betrayal in letting it go, and that by being true to ourselves and responding to that profound and forceful inner voice that said “NOW!!! Release teacher now!” we also supported the fulfillment of our tiny and beloved Teacher.

Later that evening I went for a walk on the dirt road in front of our house in Santa Fe. Still a bit sad, I followed a hunch and walked off the emotion of the day.
As I approached the house returning from my walk, something prompted me to look up at the sky. It was a subtle tug this time, not the dramatic push of earlier in the day that made me set Teacher free. This time it was a gentle sigh, soft and easy, like the sigh that comes just before going into trance.

There, above my head in the early evening sky, was a GIGANTIC cloud in the complete and perfectly shaped form of a cottontail rabbit! I knew Teacher was fine, and I knew Teacher was an ally in my own learning.

This time intuition did not come in the form of a traditional “spirit guide” or disembodied human-like entity. This time my teacher was a rabbit, and its lesson was guided by intuition.

Had I not paid attention to the jolt to release the rabbit “NOW,” had I failed to notice the subtle prompts to take a walk tonight (something I have not done on that portion of our road since), had I not stopped to look at the sky before going up the stairs and back into the house, this series of most remarkable experiences, this turning point in my life, might not have happened at that time. Without learning something about limits from Teacher, I might have resisted the impulse to take well-deserved time for myself and might not have come to Aruba to write this book.

It is only in those realms outside of time and space that these things make sense…in the realm of intuition and the implicate order, holding together seemingly unrelated events and potentialities.

If Teacher had not taught me about the wisdom of setting limits, I might still be that martyr, sitting at home keeping the dog and cat and rabbit separated, struggling to make ends meet, resisting my own fulfillment. Thanks to Teacher, whose intuition was able to link to mine in some way still to be explained, a new stream of probabilities opened up for both of us and for all those in our lives, including Teacher’s children we now see playing in the yard in the warmth of a summer day.



Beware of the Dog

I continue to be an optimist. I continue to believe that human nature is fundamentally good, regardless of evidence to the contrary. After all, judgment and interpretation are matters of perspective: time and distance are likely to increase my understanding. “Ah, that’s what was going on!” “Ah, those are the consequences of my action or inaction!”

When we look lovingly into each other’s eyes we see in them incredible beauty and our hearts skip a beat. We feel profoundly lucky to have found each other. From the perspective of other animals with different eyes, however, or biologists with sophisticated microscopes, or extraterrestrial beings with different optical and sensory equipment altogether, we may look like hairy monsters with bugs crawling all over us, especially menacing to those closest to us! It is all relative and all true, depending on where and how and who we are, and where we are standing.

Looking back on these years from the future, what will the good intention in all of this current turmoil turn out to have been? Only through hindsight and perspective will we know the rest of the story, and even then a broader understanding might continue to elude us.

We can only act now with the tools we have and the best intention at our disposal. As Maya Angelou is alleged to have said, we have permission to forgive ourselves for not knowing what we didn’t know before we knew it.

We can lighten up on ourselves. We can hold to an internal standard of achievement regardless of the choices others are making. We can hold others and ourselves accountable from our present vantage point, understanding that our knowledge is limited.

When we witness disturbing events we can act to make a difference where and how we are, understanding that those events exist to offer us choice and free will. We get to find out who we are. Lastly, we can come to trust in our own and others’ fundamental good intention, even if what we see right now is unmitigated horror, and even if only the passage of time and a broader perspective can make sense of it all. Our theater, our choice.

I think of the universe as conscious, alive, and collaborative. In my worldview both friends and foes are allies at the deepest levels of awareness to show us not only who they are, but also to show us who we are. When they show us who they are we should believe them and act accordingly. In like manner, when we show them who we are, we should believe ourselves and also believe in ourselves.

In 2000 I wrote that the centerpiece of optimism for me is the recognition that specific events – good, bad, even ugly – provide opportunities for choice and individual action. I concluded that at the deepest levels of our shared humanity, horror and discomfort serve our eventual fulfillment just as much as joy and abundance. I still believe this to be true, just as I believe that bad behavior is the result of distorted, suppressed and repressed good intention gone awry. Understood properly, we have the potential and the mastery to turn negative things around and to reflect the better aspects of ourselves to each other.

So for me there is room for optimism, even now. I intend to find that room and live in it.

Slouching Towards Fanaticism

Broken Friendships

It broke my heart when a dear friend of some 25 years, a soft-spoken, devout pacifist and Buddhist, suddenly began

shouting obscene remarks about a political candidate: not just about her politics, but also about her person! It was hard to believe I was talking to the same individual I had known for so long – or thought I had known. He was unrecognizable as far as I was concerned and we had nothing more to say to each other. We hit a brick wall and the friendship ended. Period. A year or so later, after the 2016 election, we found our way back to each other with incredible gentleness and some sadness, but we have never been quite the same. Something had gone awry in our friendship and something had also gone awry with the American political system.

Yes, it can happen here…

For several years I have been thinking about the issue of creeping fascism in our country and in the world. In the United States this increased intensity began in earnest with the primary season heading into the 2016 presidential elections, or perhaps just bubbled at last above the surface. It has now been almost four years since the first draft of this post sat in my website’s unpublished content folder. My initial plan was to go “On the Record” with this concern and a prediction at that time, but the draft languished unfinished. Typically I post intuitive analysis and predictions, then follow up later when a topic subsequently hits mainstream news outlets. Occasionally, however, I have to wait years for certain predictions to come into public view, and the 2016 presidential election cycle was no exception. I told several friends that there was no way Hillary Clinton, a female, would immediately follow a black man as elected President of the United States. Such a move would spell a threat to the domination and  worldview of a select group of resource-rich white men whose strict constitutionalist view pays homage to a founding document unfettered by later, more inclusive amendments, including the Bill of Rights. I reminded those friends that fifty years elapsed between legislation granting the vote to black men and that giving it to women. The possibility of black and female presidencies following immediately on the heels of one other would raise alarm and would be halted by any means necessary!

And so it was…

Something about the Sanders campaign back then struck a nerve with me too but I could not fully explain why. This concern was especially curious given my decidedly liberal and clearly “progressive” politics. This malaise wasn’t just about race or gender. What was it that was making me so uncomfortable? Why was I focused so much more on Sanders than on the other raft of unacceptable and sometimes patently worse candidates? Why was the hair standing up on the back of my neck as social media became increasingly uncivil and uncivilized?

Fanaticism as an organizing tool

I gradually came to realize that the most compelling issue for me is not about left- or right-wing politics, nor even about racial or gender equality, though all those issues are important to me. The predominant issue for me is – and remains – fanaticism in any form and from any quarter. Fanaticism makes the hairs stand up because as a sociologist trained in social movements and collective behavior, I have seen how quickly the move from civilized to barbaric can happen. The shift usually follows the slippery slope of self-righteous fanaticism, especially the rendering of the Other as somehow less than fully human and undeserving of understanding or compassion.

I have even taken to calling the extreme left the Alt-Left, considering it not one whit different from the Alt-Right. The Sanders campaign and supporters in 2016 were fanatical and have still not let up four years later. Both extremes of true believers would lock up anyone who disagreed with their worldview without a second glance; both would discriminate against me as a black woman with different rhetoric but precisely similar consequences. The right is unapologetic about its political and social conservatism; the left is self-righteous and unaware of its own dismissive and often racist treatment of the very people it claims to represent. Thanks, but I will pass on both extremes, regardless of any professed and laudable platform.

Even with the best intention, fanaticism destroys civilizations and exposes the potential for savagery lurking within them. Savagery is not determined by the presence or absence of written language or creature comforts such as water and technology; it is determined by the presence or absence of fanatical behavior.

Much of my thinking would rightly be considered radical and certainly unconventional by both extremes on the right and on the left. My insistence on living in a both-and, rather than an either-or world, for example, is undoubtedly radical. This is particularly relevant if radical means a dramatic departure from present circumstance or convention, an action that triggers social change. What I hope, however, is that no matter how radical my thinking, my deeply held convictions will not make me a fanatic.

The absence of fanaticism is what I continue to seek in a presidential candidate or a next-door neighbor or a good friend or a teacher. My commitment is to avoid fanaticism in any form and to embrace decency no matter the intensity of agreement or disagreement. Perhaps that candidate’s campaign has changed since then – I certainly hope so.

It is my blessing and honor to have friends and acquaintances who would place themselves at literally every point on the continuum of social, political, and religious perspectives: right, left, up, down, middle, none. What allows us to meet each other is our willingness to step delicately around fanaticism, to ignore it, to actively avoid it without judgment or blame, to simply vote with our feet and our heart. This is not an easy path for me nor for the many I know personally, but somehow we manage to make it work. Indeed, some friendships have suffered and have been lost irreparably, but so many others have endured and persisted and blossomed and flourished over the decades. This warm embrace of deep conviction without fanaticism is possible and this is the sweet spot I seek in all potentialities. I hope and expect to have good company here in our shared space.

Just Say Yes: A Millennial Guide to Ease

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Photo by Kelly Lacy on

The following audio recording is a speech I gave on January 23, 2000, at the Music, Musings and Meditation Fellowship in Albuquerque NM. The talk is about choice and ease at a time when folks were beginning to realize that the anticipated Y2K technological bug did not bring about the end of the world as we knew it after all. Nor will the world end with the conviction or acquittal of President Donald J. Trump. The heartfelt speeches of Adam Schiff and Mitt Romney will stand the test of time, just as will the speeches and actions of the president and all nationally elected officials before, during, and after this impeachment process.

My twenty-three minute speech is a simple one and certainly one without such significant consequences. Nevertheless, it may assist us emotionally and spiritually as we wend our way through the current political landscape. The talk was recorded rather informally in the old cassette tape days by a designated member of the MMM Fellowship, so there is a buzzing sound in the background which I have been unable to clear with my amateur editing skills. Hopefully the content will be powerful enough, however, to hold your interest and attention. Turning down the volume helps.

We are beginning the third decade of this new century in a new millennium. Choice and ease may seem to be in short supply of late; on the other hand, they may be just as available now as they were twenty years ago, or will be twenty or fifty or a thousand years into the future…


This Is How He Does It: Buffering as Trump’s Secret Sauce for Control

Photo by 周小逸 Ian , CC BY SA

“Witch hunt!” “Fake News!” “Crooked Hillary!” “It’s a Disgrace!” Few people can sling around incendiary phrases like the current President of the United States. He engages in what seems to be crazy behavior, eventually wresting control of any situation through surprise, redefinition, name-calling, and denial, at least for a time. This shocks the opposition into disarray while he pushes through his political agenda, always skirting the law. The lag time between his language and legislative response is a principal source of upheaval and change.

Unexpected but legal…maybe

President Trump provides a perfect example of what I call “buffering,” which is the strategic use of an idea to dance in the areas between socially recognized categories in ways that are unusual and unexpected, but not clearly illegal…at least not yet.

He has fired the head of the FBI, attempted to fire the special prosecutor, claimed the power to pardon himself, appointed his children to sensitive government advisory roles, opened a hotel right near the White House that makes money from foreign diplomats and corporate executives, and used the attorney general as his personal lawyer. For the most part other presidents have hewn to political convention, whether or not that convention is also law. This president, on the other hand, routinely mocks precedent while being called adolescent, boorish, a pathological liar, and even downright crazy. Nevertheless, he continues to be “crazy like a fox,” taking his support of deregulation and extreme right-wing causes to the bank.

At first people simply laughed at Trump, but as one, and then another long-held dream of the most conservative Americans became reality, moderate voices fell silent, more and more politicians and citizens jumped on his bandwagon, and ordinary people suffered one social and economic loss after the other. In a little over two years he successfully introduced additional tax breaks for the domestic or foreign wealthiest few, the privatization of education, an onslaught of anti-immigration measures including the separation of parents from their minor children, the end of the separation of church and state, the stacking of appellate and federal courts and the Supreme Court with conservative judges, the end or curtailment of women’s and minority civil rights, increased construction and privatization of prisons and immigrant detention camps, reduction of healthcare benefits, the denial of climate change and rollback of emissions standards, increased mercenary intervention in selected foreign countries, the privatization and shrinking of the most important natural parks in the service of large corporations, the end of international alliances formed after World Wars I and II, the end of robust support for the United Nations, European Union and NATO, and the end of many statutes regarding conflicts of interest and banking regulations. All of these efforts are in play on many fronts simultaneously with significant headway towards realization. Other presidents have made advances in one arena or the other incrementally, but none has successfully removed or limited most protections for ordinary folks all at once. How does he do it???

An Idea Put to Use

President Trump does what he does by “buffering.” Currently we hear the term associated with information technology, especially when streaming data are taking a long time to load on our laptops and smartphones. But when I introduced this concept in the late 1970s, buffering was primarily associated with chemistry.

The sociological version of buffering that is relevant to Trump’s behavior permits anyone, including people with limited material resources, to use an idea to wrest control of social situations by dancing in the spaces between recognized and largely accepted social categories through the strategic use of leeway. The categories get interpreted in new ways that are partially recognizable but altogether unexpected, and also not clearly illegal.

One example from a very different moment in American history by a dramatically different leader – Huey P. Newton – can help understand how buffering works in contemporary politics. On the surface Newton and Trump appear to be polar opposites. The way Black Panthers protested in the 1960s and early 70s would certainly be considered the opposite of how an American president would act. I hope to show that they were not as different as one might imagine.

Huey Newton didn’t have much going for him when he co-founded the Black Panther Party (BPP) in Oakland, California in 1967. He was African American, certainly not wealthy, and almost totally powerless. In addition to his signature black beret and matching leather jacket, all he had was an idea — an idea that the real criminals in American society were not the people in jails but the people who put them there: law enforcement officers and a corrupt legal system. Newton claimed that government officials were not worthy of the respect demanded and given them; and that “The MAN,” a slang word for the police at the time, was not really a man at all but entirely corrupt. He called the police “pigs” undeserving of respect.

Interestingly enough, President Trump came to a similar conclusion when he declared the press to be “an enemy of the state,” the Washington political arena to be “the swamp” he was going to drain, and the FBI and Justice Departments inept and corrupt. Both Newton and Trump were convinced that if enough people would accept their idea – their redefinition of the situation – then the so-called criminals could put the real criminals in jail or otherwise divest them of their power and respect.

Higher authority

In my own life I have used buffering to explain and manage situations of external disadvantage based on race and gender. Born during the Second World War, long before the desegregation of schools and the military, encountering the racial divide was commonplace. Under normal circumstances I might have accepted that I was inferior. Somehow, though, I exhibited a healthy sense of self that led me to excel in school and ultimately to develop an explanation for my unusual calm in the racial storms that swirled around me.

As a young child I considered myself a “good Christian” and labeled those who would oppress me or consider me inferior as “unchristian.” That was my particular form of buffering, of name-calling, of using an acceptable social construct for my personal benefit. An Army chaplain’s daughter, I could not use bad words or swear, but I could call those who excluded me unchristian with a certain confidence and smugness. I rejected the dominant definition of the situation that attempted to make me feel inferior as a black girl by resorting to God who, in my mind, was a “higher authority.” Instead of feeling bad I felt quite fine, found all sorts of things to do to occupy my time while my schoolmates attended segregated events away from the military post in Kentucky where my dad was stationed, and occasionally even got to spend special one-on-one time with my favorite teacher while I sat alone in an empty classroom. This is a simple and personal example of putting a social category – an idea – to individual use based my unique and largely unknown life experience. When I later found ways to use that buffering ability as an adult in entirely different situations, no one needed to know my idiosyncratic history, that I was a chaplain’s daughter who used God to outmaneuver racist behavior. I just did it. My very personal definition of the situation permitted me to do well in school, feel confident and competent, and explain away reasons I was excluded.

Eventually, I wrote a doctoral thesis on this subject. I called the process “buffering” and applied it to a black power leader in the 1960s. Recently I began to see they same dynamic playing out once again in the presidency of Donald Trump.

Like Newton, even like me, Donald Trump is an expert at putting ideas to use to control the political climate and to do the unexpected over and over again. He routinely uses slogans like “Drain the Swamp!” “It’s a disgrace!” and “Fake news!” to deflect attention from his actions and to rally his base. For both Newton and Trump their base is comprised primarily of hard-working, largely blue-collar people who feel left out of the political process and the economic benefits of citizenship. Newton’s base was comprised of Afro-Americans and his declared adversaries were the police at a local level who criminalize good people on the basis of race. Trump’s base is primarily white, hard-working, largely blue-collar men and his enemies are the police at the Federal level: The FBI, Department of Justice, and the Special Counsel who threaten good white people (Trump himself) on the basis of race by enforcing inclusive laws for inferior people, and who threaten to expose what he considers normal business practice as wrongdoing. For Trump, the enemy is the Washington elite from both Republican and Democratic parties who hinder his ability to do whatever he wants and believes he deserves. For Newton, the enemy was Oakland police officers and courts that used a variety of bureaucratic and questionably legal measures to keep black people “in their place.”


Name-calling is a powerful tool of the buffering process, and if there is no current name that works, buffering allows us to simply make one up! Most often this involves putting an existing term to a new use or interpreting existing laws in new ways until questions about interpretation eventually get settled once and for all, usually in the courts and other legislative bodies. Settlement takes time and creates leeway, carving out lots of room to maneuver.

The president is a master at name-calling and labeling his adversaries. Huey Newton was too, and he became famous for calling the Oakland police “Pigs.” This was shocking at the time! The FBI was no slouch at name-calling either, labeling the Black Panther Party “Communist” or “Communist-infiltrated.” The communist label gave the FBI an excuse to incite fear, conduct raids, kill, and otherwise violate the civil rights of citizens, since communism was believed to pose a threat to national security. Trump uses “crisis at the border” language, labeling immigrants rapists and thugs in much the same way as the FBI labeled Panthers communists, whether or not they were. Suddenly the routine immigration process becomes a threat to national security in the contemporary context.

Government documents released years later showed that while the FBI constantly labeled the BPP Communists, the agency actually knew at the time that there was no evidence of outside control of the Party, just as our current government knows that Al Qaeda does not enter the country through the border with Mexico. The government simply “made stuff up” and disseminated it, a tactic labeled “disinformation.” This is indeed a very old tactic, one used by various despotic leaders throughout the world as Madeleine Albright explains in her book Fascism. In Trump’s case, he would latch onto anticipated bad news that might threaten to expose him as a liar, for example, jump out ahead of the story and immediately call his adversaries liars; if the question had to do with obstruction of justice or even treason, he would send out a tweet and call those investigating or reporting on him obstructionists and traitors. This is name-calling ping pong; this is buffering.

In the 1960s disinformation was part of a larger strategy to discredit Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party. What Newton was doing was not illegal; in fact, there is evidence he actually went to great lengths to ensure that party behavior was meticulously legal during the years he was in control. The government then resorted to charges that the party must be communist-controlled or infiltrated, tossing it into a category that could be labeled as clearly illegal or as a threat to national security.

Eventually, the California legislature passed what was known as the Mulford Bill, specifically targeting the Black Panthers. One component of that legislation restricted gun behavior and another declared the public gathering of more than three people a “riot.” In response, the Panthers had to adapt and change their tactics to meet the specifications of the new law, including limitations on their right to carry guns or to gather in public. While the bill specifically targeted the Black Panther Party, other groups would also be impacted, so differential enforcement became key and created new leeway for people to conform to the new regulations or not. The National Rifle Association, for example, is an extremely powerful lobby, and California legislators and police were mindful of their duty to protect gun ownership for conservative whites while keeping guns out of the hands of blacks, who were never intended to be beneficiaries of the “right to bear arms.”

The very same technique is now being used both to aid and to stop President Trump. Unlike Newton’s leadership of the BPP in the 60s, or the Communist scares under Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, there appears to be clear evidence of Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election. In this instance, however, it seems to be the president himself who is making things up and then accusing the press of reporting fake news. In both historical examples, it was the use of buffering that allowed an individual or group or even the government itself to control the political situation by putting certain ideas to use.


Count the number of times a day the president proclaims, “No collusion, no obstruction!” He is repeatedly denying the mountains of evidence in Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s Report on potential collusion and obstruction of justice. If he repeats that denial often and loudly enough, perhaps he will convince the public to accept his interpretation and disbelieve their own eyes.

In order to effectively redefine a particular situation, the validity of the prior definition must first be denied, sometimes without sufficient evidence. This denial is often supported by subscription to a set of different or higher laws. In calling on God’s law, I denied the power of human law even while obeying it – in this case segregation. I did not insist on going with my team even though I was team captain, but I did not feel at all the lesser for having to acquiesce.

Refusal to Conform

All of us find ways to conform or resist conforming on a daily basis, regardless of station in life.

In his refusal to make his tax returns public, Trump has avoided traps set to catch public officials who collude with a foreign power or who reap financial gain personally through what is perceived to be a conflict of interest: the “emoluments clause” of the Constitution. While there are laws forbidding conflict of interest and abuse of authority, the law is unclear with regard to when and whether a sitting President is required to make such documentation publicly available. The President and his family have taken advantage of the leeway in social and legal categories to avoid being charged with what would otherwise be declared clearly illegal behavior, at least for a time. He has so far successfully avoided conforming to behavior for which there are clear precedents and conventions but no clear law, even though his actions trigger outrage for some. In so doing he also avoids legal liability by cloaking his actions. He has used this maneuver over and over again to shock, confound, evade, and ultimately to achieve his goals without being held accountable legally. He also relies on the legal presumption that a sitting president cannot be indicted for criminal behavior while still in office. Being a sitting president protects him from criminal indictment, but it also puts constraints on his business behavior for personal gain. He is not accustomed to constraint from any source and it seems inevitable that he will get himself in trouble sooner or later.

What we are dealing with is a multi-headed hydra: there are so many laws to watch, precincts to guard, apparently unrelated nefarious deeds to first recognize and then offset that no one can keep up with them all, letting action after action slip through the cracks, weakening and eroding the ideals for which the U.S. became known as the dominant force in the world – the powerhouse that makes others willing to risk their lives trying to protect and trying to land on these shores in search of a better life.

Trump’s approach can only go so far for so long, however, which is a key element of the buffering process. As the laws and categories catch up to and constrain behavior, the leader is forced to shift ground continuously – shift definitions of the situation – so as to continue to surprise. Eventually other provisions of the Constitution will be used to force him to reveal information he has successfully withheld until now, information that would once again place him squarely within the range and purview of existing law, not just convention and expected Presidential behavior.

The President and his administration are being forced to stay on top of existing law and interpretations of the law in order to remain legal – or questionably legal – as the opposition circles and attempts to regain control of the definition of the situation. The only recourse for those who oppose this administration is to act much like a boa constrictor, gradually tightening their grip on their prey – in this case the President of the United States of America – until escape is no longer possible and no evasive maneuvers remain. The President has gone from predator to prey, and each day it becomes a bit more difficult for him to breathe.

Democrats and other members of the opposition have grasped two key concepts, two ideas – “collusion” and “emoluments” – to corner this President. They, too, are using a little buffering of their own to engage in a battle not only of wits, but also of ideas put to use to gain control of the current political situation.

Remaining Adaptable and Flexible

As conditions change, so do the names people call each other and the actions individuals and groups take. A key element in successful buffering involves remaining flexible and adaptive to constantly changing circumstances. If the various parties are not vigilant they could easily get caught in one legal situation or the other as each party maneuvers to entrap the other.

In recent efforts to secure the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, for example, news articles surfaced alleging that attorneys and representatives of the President and the Republican Party attempted to pay women who knew the judge in college to say that he always treated them with respect and did not drink to excess. If proven, such actions would be illegal, but the process was organized in ways to avoid providing opponents access to complete information. Republicans used legal but unexpected ways to circumvent sharing complete information with Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee: they provided only one copy of the document in a single location with individual access of Democratic committee members limited to one hour the night before the vote. Meanwhile the President continuously called the Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings “a disgrace,” earning sympathy for the judge from women as well as from men.

In the buffering process all parties use whatever tools are available to them and even go so far as to make things up when there is insufficient evidence to make the particular case they wish to make. Remember, the efficacy of buffering is that it involves an “idea put to use.” Ideas are ephemeral, invisible, and exceedingly flexible. They can adapt much more quickly than codified laws and institutions. It takes a long time to bring about change, whether the desired change is maintaining the status quo or upsetting it.

Any idea can work

Huey P. Newton made up a name for what he was doing: he called it “shock-a-buku.” This was his personal tactic of catching his opponent off guard with legal but unexpected behavior. He thoroughly enjoyed being thought of as crazy and used that moniker to his advantage to render the local police “apoplectic.” Trump does the same thing when he uses Tweets, berates his own officials publicly, fires by press report, veers off script during public events, and embraces white nationalism in the full light of day.

Again, this may be unprecedented and certainly unexpected behavior, but the burden of proof in declaring his actions illegal rests on the President’s accusers, who comb the news and case law daily looking for loopholes that might catch him in some violation of the law, at last bringing unexpected behavior under expected control and possible criminal punishment.

This is the heart of buffering and of the buffering process, especially when an individual has no significant resources and no institutional authority. Furthermore, when one explanation no longer works the individual can pull a different one out of his or her unique life experience to get through, get by, redefine, and perhaps even ultimately control any given situation. This is what Huey P. Newton did in 1968 and what Donald J. Trump is doing now. While my personal actions using ideas of being Christian or unchristian occurred on a very small scale, theirs occurred and occur on a national and even international level. The process, however, is identical.

Polar opposites at first glance, these two leaders were much more alike in leadership style than one would imagine: they used a series of crazy ideas and flamboyant name-calling to gain control of their respective political situations. Newton’s black beret is matched by Trump’s red Make America Great Again hat. Both men – each in his own way and for very different reasons – sent out the call to “Drain the Swamp!” Both reveled in being thought crazy because it permitted them the element of surprise and the ability to accomplish political goals once thought to be impossible.

What distinguishes Trump from Newton is their respective access to material and legal resources. As President, Trump can now claim control of the government, majority control of the Supreme Court, support of the very rich, and control of the military. He has not yet succeeded in controlling the press, and so he declares it the “enemy of the state” and an “enemy of the people.” In effect, he is attempting to neutralize the fourth estate and the power of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which could offer the greatest threat to his new definition of the situation and trigger a true constitutional crisis. Furthermore he declared the FBI, which has not been entirely controllable, a “cancer in the system,” rather than the protector of democracy.

Newton, on the other hand, possessed a black beret, a black leather jacket, a good education, a legally owned rifle, and a powerful idea. That’s it. In spite of the chasm between them, both leaders managed to turn the nation upside down for a time. I believe they were able to do this by the strategic use of an idea: “Off the Pig!” or “Fake news!” While Newton’s power ended decades ago, it is uncertain how much time the President has left to continue manipulating public awareness by engaging in crazy and unexpected behaviors. In the meantime, using the phrase “It’s a disgrace!” when he is challenged has had a powerful and enduring impact on voters long after the 2016 election.

When one is able to use unknown and idiosyncratic tools that emanate from within the mind of the individual it becomes almost impossible to fully know, understand, predict, and control the behavior of that individual. This is how he does it. As a nation we continue to watch in awe while the president continues to surprise and to evade control, even by his closest advisors, West Wing staff, the media, and even long time friends. People throw their hands up and eventually give up trying to figure out what will come next. Trump is not playing by the rules, by historical convention, nor even by the law.

The Art of the Deal

This is how he does it. Not why, but how he does the implausible and otherwise near impossible. The idea that shapes his definition of the situation is called the “deal” and his is increasingly called a “transactional” presidency. He attempts to shape domestic policy and international accord through deal making that lines the pockets of the President and his immediate circle of family and associates, while excluding others’ participation in his special deals. He has perfected the art of the steal.

Think about the ways the word “deal” has crept into public awareness. Barely an hour goes by when I don’t hear the word crop up in news feeds and in ordinary conversation. Even the most staid news outlets report routinely on deals that are on or off the table as the United States interacts with other countries. The traditional language of international diplomacy – convention, agreement, accord, entente, détente – have all fallen by the wayside and been replaced by the single word, “deal.” The power of this president’s definition of the situation has now permeated not only American culture, but global culture as well.

As I listen to world news in English and French, the deal has taken over. That, in itself, is a stunning example of the power of the buffering process, of putting an idea to use to gain control of a situation. One notable exception: the host of one of the most respected news outlets recently interviewed a South American ambassador to the United States and constantly used “deal” in her questions to him. Interestingly, the ambassador insisted on using the word “accord” and assiduously avoided using the term “deal” during the extended interview.

Nevertheless, and whether or not this president is impeached and brought into submission, I have a hunch that the “deal” word will remain embedded in global language for a very long time.

What Next?

Donald Trump is in trouble now. People are expecting him to act crazy and are developing strategies to block his unprecedented but possibly legal behavior by rewriting or reinterpreting the law. Whoever uses an idiosyncratic idea to redefine the situation in his or her own terms eventually runs out of options when new laws are passed to curb the legal but unexpected behavior. Therefore it is critical to come up with some new surprise, some different “shock-a-buku” tactic to keep people guessing a while longer. Nevertheless, the proverbial chickens will eventually come home to roost.

In the meantime, President Trump has learned to make the secret sauce of situation control: do the unexpected within the bounds of questionable legality, then do it again to stay ahead of the game and make people think you are crazy. Then change your tactic. Deny what is right there in front of your face. Make up your own terms for things as you go along and change your terms often to keep others off balance and surprised. Never permit yourself to become predictable; that is the kiss of death! The more outrageous your behavior, the more you dominate the definition because there are no words – and most importantly – no laws to contain you. This is not a mark of stupidity but of brilliance, so the leader gets to smirk while others feel self-righteous in their outrage. If you are a misunderstood leader, being underestimated comes as an added benefit and keeps you in control.

What a formula for success! …At least for a time until others figure out what is going on. Buffering is universal, but for Donald J. Trump buffering is indeed a special “deal.”

The Appropriate Use of Procrastination and Deadlines

The Great Procrastinator

For years the L. in my middle name stood for “late,” “lazy,” “loony,” and seemingly downright “lackadaisical.” My negative inner voice was relentless and the outer voices were often a match. I would put things off and put them off again until I had frustrated everyone around me and myself as well: just ask the members of my dissertation committee or my first book publisher!

The only conclusion to draw was that I must be undisciplined, scared of rejection, not very good, and, truth be told, I must not have that much to say of any value. Thankfully none of this was true, but it took me a very long time to find redemption. I was actually guilty of working too much, not too little: a ball of constant disorganized motion, taking on more, losing focus and a clear sense of priorities, all fed with an incessant and addictive need to prove my worth. I had become the proverbial absent-minded klutzy professor long after I left the classroom and the administration building.

Finally – and I must admit quite recently – it dawned on me that contrary to popular opinion, procrastination is not necessarily a debilitating moral weakness, it may actually be a signal from the deeper self saying, “Not yet, be patient.” I was “putting it off” because “it” was not exactly what I wanted to say; it was not quite the time to be heard; it (the idea) was not fully baked and might not serve my deepest intention. I didn’t want to end up with the wrong brand, didn’t want to be stuck talking endlessly about something that was not passion for me. Nor did I want to throw out an idea that could not be understood or accepted yet and might make me appear to be flaky or “woo woo:” after all, I still had something to prove about being a serious academic and a serious writer, even about comical things.

At last it dawned on me I that I had come to use procrastination as my personal biofeedback mechanism: warmer, cold, warmer, cooler, closer, waaay off the desired track… now!

Procrastination can be a gift, at least for me

After weeks and months and sometimes even years a magic moment happens: for me that moment is a deadline, a possibility, an opening through which I can move with clarity, assured that this is indeed what I wish to say or do or become. Or, I can let that door close, trusting that when the right configuration shows up I will walk through the next one with ease, and that there will always be…always!… another door. My approach can drive the plugging away and persevering and perspiration crowd crazy, but it is, after all, another viable approach. And when I stop judging myself so harshly for working this way the period of time when I am procrastinating may even get shorter and shorter. Or not.

Deadlines, and how to use them

Deadlines serve a critical function for the inveterate procrastinator like me. Left to my own devices I could procrastinate my life away, but deadlines serve to capture my attention, harness my energy, and make me choose. They are the sudden whirlwind that shapes my total focus and clear priorities:

  • Is this the moment?
  • Is this the vehicle?
  • Is this the title?
  • Is this the label/brand I accept and offer the world?

I saw a local magazine announcement on the subject of writing tips a few months ago and tucked it away, dredging it up to the surface of my conscious awareness from time to time, without worry or attachment. That same announcement popped up some time later and I noticed that the deadline was exactly one month out. I jotted down a few notes and still the article percolated. Not yet, warmer, not quite, closer, hold…

A short while later, searching for something apparently unrelated, I suddenly gathered the energy to complete that piece in two days, and also stumbled upon the subject of my next book, which I began many years ago and have been passionate about for much of my adult life, but kept putting on the back burner for decades. All of the “bits and pieces” I had been pulling together and slogging through fell neatly under the rubric of an old topic that had been tickling my sociological and creative fancy for thirty years. I knew at last that my next book would be completed and I knew that the piece – this piece – would make its dreaded deadline.

This was the writer’s “harmonic convergence:” clarity of subject, moment of opportunity (in this case, deadline) that pushed me to choose. In a flash, surrounded by the cacophony of Kahala Mall where I was writing, it was done. I am now clear, I have chosen, I have met a deadline, and I love the subject matter!

In the meantime the magazine that submitted the call for the piece seems to have fallen off a cliff (did it ever exist at all?), so I have decided to publish it right here as a blog instead: “The Gift of Procrastination.”

The dual gifts of procrastination and deadlines have once again worked wonders for me. In one fell swoop I have conquered another of the great American fears: the fear of being lazy. And, by the way, that next book I was talking about, the one that has been percolating for decades? It is appropriately called The Great American Fears, part one of a trilogy under the broader rubric I call “Grits and Granola.” The book is a combination of down home political and social commentary embedded with deeper spiritual and metaphysical meaning. We’ll see if this is the door that finally opens….

Intuition Hot Spots IIA: The Kitchen

imageSeveral years ago I attended a conference during which one of the presenters introduced us to muscle testing games about deeply held beliefs. I used to complain a lot about being in the kitchen and often found myself in full martyr mode: “Nobody else is cooking or cleaning up after themselves! I‘m having to do it all! …blah, blah, blah.” This was a perfect example of one of my negative beliefs. Much to my surprise, however, my body’s nonverbal response through muscle testing in that workshop seemed to indicate that I actually liked the kitchen!

Then it hit me. Precisely because nobody else dared go in there, the kitchen had actually become my refuge over time, my one private place where my thoughts could flow uninterrupted by regular household goings-on and mundane thoughts of daily life.

Furthermore, at the time this was happening, the kitchen sink in our home in Santa Fe offered an unobstructed view of wild cottontail rabbits and jackrabbits and birds, all jousting in the high desert grasses just outside the window.

My “chores” had given me unbridled access to my intuition, and to the beauty of life around me. I loved looking out that window even though I complained vociferously about having to do the dishes – again!

Many thoughts came to me during those times about the nature of communication among animals, and between animals and humans. I reveled at how those rabbits managed to play all around that prickly cactus without getting pierced the way I did when I got too close to one of those painful needles. I talked to the animals in my mind and felt them respond to me, sitting still and staring directly into the kitchen window for long periods of time precisely where I was standing. I thought of stories I would like to write or classes I would like to teach.

Eventually, that kitchen sink became and remains an intuitive haven for me to this day. I finally stopped complaining about the chores and now use that time in a different house far away from jackrabbits to play with thoughts while I watch the progression of the sun and moon across the sky, or the neighbor’s garden change with the seasons, or the birds dart in and out of the avocado tree. It is the single most consistent spot where I get information about people in my life, precognitive phone calls and connections, and ideas to pursue intellectually or metaphysically. It is certainly more than musing about what to put in my stomach, the fridge, or on the shopping list!

The kitchen is a terrific intuition hot spot and, like the sign “Come here often?” my mom posted on her fridge to discourage snacking when she was trying to lose weight, I actually do come to the kitchen often. What about you?

Here are a just few intuitive games you can play in the kitchen:

  • Without looking at the package directions, guess how long your food should take to cook in the microwave and try it. At first you can read the package after you pick a number, just to see if you are in the ballpark. As you continue to practice, however, watch how much better you get at estimating the perfect cooking time.
  • Ask your body what it feels like eating, take the very first thought that comes to mind, and eat that.
  • As  you eat your breakfast or prepare your lunch, ask yourself the question, “What is the one thing I need to know today?” If you think you will forget later, write that one thing down on your calendar or a notepad.
  • As you prepare food for your children or your partner or your pets, look at them for a moment and ask the question, “How are they feeling? Is there anything they need, or need me to pay attention to on their behalf?”
  • As you prepare for work or a meeting, ask yourself, “What is the one thing I need to know in order to make this day or this meeting successful?” Listen while you wash the dishes, prepare lunch, pour coffee, or wipe down the counter.

Now that I understand the important role of the fridge and the entire kitchen in my intuitive flights of fancy, I can come here often without having to eat everything in sight and without having to feel angry about those chores! Maybe I can translate that deeper thought into an idea that sticks in my mind and improves my life, rather than into a pound of flesh that makes me unhappy and sticks to my body instead.

Maybe I’ll go into the kitchen now and test out my new creative idea…or maybe I’ll wash the dishes in the sink…or maybe I’ll have a piece of toast! Maybe I’ll do all those things with ease. Maybe now that I’m thinking differently about eating and connecting with my intuition in the kitchen I’ll have a bite of, uh, kale! Just kidding, I’ll have both: toast and kale to go with my intuition!!

Train yourself to notice your negative beliefs that may actually be holding a sweet refuge for you as well. Be open to surprise and be open to the voice of your muscles and your intuition showing you what is really going on in your kitchen and your life!

Kudos to Teachers!!

There is an old saying that has stuck with me my entire life: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” On the one hand teachers are canonized (sometimes called philosophers and prophets, professors, almost always male, who are initially ridiculed and later revered). Some are teased affectionately (absent-minded professors). On the other hand some are dismissed as irrelevant and out of touch.

Teachers of the young and old (i.e., learners not currently in the workforce), are found to be incapable, unworthy, not so smart, or at the very least, dismissed as unimportant. These teachers, including the professors, are often female and they work their hearts out in a peculiarly modern and distinctly American educational system that is gradually killing off the very individuals to whom it entrusts its cultural, economic and political future.

I confess that I, too, have occasionally felt ashamed and guilty for being “merely” a teacher, as if teaching were the profession of losers, of those who are there simply because they couldn’t make it in the “real world,” the corporate world. Teaching could not possibly be an honorable choice, a first choice, a joyous choice, a true avocation! I know better, of course, and my own experience tells me so in the most profound ways on a regular basis. But with constant cultural reinforcement the teacher stigma attaches and crawls beneath the surface of the skin, eventually lodging in both the brain and the heart.

Frankly, I am actually more fortunate than most: because I always taught at the university level I have received a bit more respect than many of my counterparts who teach pre-kindergarten through high school. But there are others who cannot seem to get any respect at all: teachers who are entrusted with the next generation of leaders when these students are at the tenderest of cognitive ages, and teachers whose gift is engaging the sunset generation who are finally retired and interested in learning for learning’s sake through adult education programs. Learning for learning’s sake actually hearkens back to much older notions of a true academy that has breadth and depth and is much more than a job mill. Let me add quickly that I am also a strong supporter of professional programs that prepare students for immediate work in the contemporary world. We need workers who are skilled and who think deeply and adapt quickly to changing circumstances and requirements.

There is a palpable but unspoken pecking order of academic disciplines and institutions, so those who work diligently at the community college level are somehow considered less worthy than those who teach at four-year institutions. And those who teach at Ivy League institutions are somehow more worthy than those who teach at “ordinary” colleges and universities. And those who teach science are more worthy than those who teach art or literature.

Teachers’ workloads are increasing now at an astounding pace since their unions are being systematically undermined and dismantled, their funding is the first to go, they are being asked to make bricks without straw, all too often paying for classroom materials out of their own pockets, and ultimately they are blamed for underperforming in what amounts to a variety of combat situations in which teachers literally face life and death on a daily basis.

This is where we are now. And yet, when successful entrepreneurs are asked what got them where they are today, most inevitably remember a teacher who saw them, who protected them when they were being bullied or dismissed, who encouraged their inventiveness and creativity, and who assumed they had something valuable to say and show and share with the world…who assumed they had something valuable to do!

I have been such a teacher for others and teachers have been such a guiding force for me throughout my entire life as well. In the deepest sense, that support is probably what fostered my desire to become a teacher too. I know that what we and they do matters, whether or not portions of the country or community or the world see our contributions as extraneous. I do not have supportive data at my fingertips, but I daresay that disdain for the teaching profession is a peculiarly American phenomenon and I would love to know why. Eventually all of us will have plenty to regret if we do not understand and support teachers and teaching as a form of worthy “doing.”

Let’s hear it for the teachers! At last I have washed away the brainwashing and I can be proud to count myself among them.


Consent to be adversaries means we are allies.
The battle for the soul of our country and the world rests on a foundation of mutual consent, even among hostile forces. On deeper and often unconscious levels we have agreed on the reasons for war, on the rules of engagement,  and ultimately on shared definitions of  what is valuable to be gained or lost, what is worth fighting for. We are, therefore, allies at the deepest level.

Consent is a very tricky issue. How do I know if consent is real or even possible? How do I tell if what I am consenting to and what you think I am consenting to are the same? What recourse do I have to change my mind and take back my consent midstream for any particular action, including a dramatic personal or global event? When all is said and done, what does consent really mean?

My fundamental premise, which probably seems counter-intuitive at the start, is that nothing – and I mean nothing! – happens without collaboration and consent from friends and foes alike. The fortunate, the damned, the victorious, the suffering, the freed, the oppressed – all must give consent in some form at deeper levels of awareness. In order for an event to “break through” from mere potentiality into a shared physical reality there must be mutual consent on some level.

In my worldview this deeper level of consent is lodged in a realm of consciousness where the greater good is known by all and understood to be without contradiction. It is the stuff of dreams and daydreams and yearnings and complex theatrical productions. It is not an imposed Platonic absolute but a shimmering, pulsating action that is continuously re-framing and refreshing itself based on the awareness and behavior of all its component parts. Each of us dives into that unconscious or semi-conscious realm many times a day and many more times at night when our usual filters and controls fade into the background or disappear altogether. As we step back and discover the broader framework of our collective action, we understand how adversaries could come to be perceived as allies for our development and the exploration and reaffirmation of our purpose. We are known to each other in that realm outside of time and space.  Apparent contradictions are understood and resolved: we can agree to take on various roles that ultimately serve the greater good, even if service means taking on the role of “bad guy” or gal for a limited period of time. We may be victim in one moment and perpetrator in the next; leader in one context and follower in another; revered sage in one domain and ridiculed fool in yet another.

I may no longer be alone in thinking this way: more and more mainstream scientists, philosophers and ordinary people are sharing a similar perspective about the awe-inspiring synchrony, as well as terrifying dystopian behavior expressed in the material world as we know it.

Consent is emotional and subjective, offered in the service of a greater good that may not be realized or recognized for a very long time. It may result in joy or pain, comfort or horror, even life or death. For me, the greater good can be described as a conscious or subconscious resonance of shared well-being; it is not a specific social ideal or material destination. Rather, it is a journey towards an individual or collective feeling of fulfillment, and there are infinite ways to get there.  We may initially find that resonance only within ourselves, but as our energetic signature radiates outward, our feeling tone perhaps attracts and links first with those of like mind, and then farther outward until we encounter resistance and threat. Finally, however, we find a place where everyone, including friends, adversaries and full-out enemies, are connected and smile simultaneously when we hear a hauntingly familiar and mutually pleasurable sound that for all of us is Home.

Whatever perspective we hold at any given moment, individual qualities combine with collective ones until we find a temporary “sweet spot,” a shimmering tone of unspeakable beauty that we all share and find appealing because the beauty speaks to a part of us that is our common identity.

Alas, such a moment of conscious unified consent usually lasts but a fleeting instant. Sooner or later, however, we learn that impermanence may be our most precious gift of all because we get to leave and return, agree and disagree endless times from endless perspectives! We are not condemned to eternal limitation, nor to reward or punishment based on what we thought was best at any particular time or limited range of awareness. As Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we do better.” We dart in and out of understanding the way hummingbirds dart in and out of flowers in search of their sweet nectar.

Consent means that we do not have to be, nor can we remain forever oppressed or forever victorious. Even when we feel as if we want to stay where we are forever, inevitably the yearning to experience new challenges takes over and we find ourselves running off to new adventures. If we learned safety, we might become curious about the experience of those who lack it; if we learned poverty, we might become curious about the experience of those who want for nothing. Thank goodness, nothing in our three-dimensional world or in that invisible realm is set in stone or eternally limited! This is true free will in action, true consent expressed. This is the deepest meaning of the assertion that we can and do live in a “safe universe.” The probabilities and mechanics of our multiverse are increasingly and similarly described by mainstream scientists and spiritual teachers, in sharp contrast to countless unsafe images projected at us from every corner of our world.

Quite literally, in my view, we do get to have it all – one way or the other, sooner or later, in time and space or outside of it. We get to know not only what is or was or will be, but also what might have been or might be still. We experience the possible, the probable, the likely, and the actual, over and over and over again in any moment or hour or day or century. This is the gift of self-awareness, of consciousness, of consent. Our consent to take part in the greater good, in the resonance of shared well-being, permits us unlimited experience in unlimited roles from unlimited vantage points. This is the deeper meaning of consent and the reason we can stop avoiding or denying our participation in mass events we do not like. Such events give us the opportunity to find out who we are and for that we are eventually grateful. Another way to put it, as my father liked to say, is this: “All is revealed.” Through mutual consent we are revealed to ourselves and to others, as they are to us.

Understanding these deeper levels of consent actually returns our power to us. Sooner or later we must embrace our agency and mastery, even if some of our shared creations make us horrified and ashamed of what we have built. The good news is this: just as we can create anything, we can also transform anything – including horror – into a moment of unspeakable beauty when with one voice we say “Aaaaaaahhhh” or “Enough!” We can even fall back for a time in awe, into the silence of the void where nothing at all is expressed outwardly and where consent therefore has no meaning. No meaning, that is, until the desire for individualized expression begins to stir again and we look for new consensual partners to produce yet another series of “passion plays.” How fortunate we are for the gift and the grace and the responsibility that comes with consent!


















Stranger in a Not Entirely Strange Land

From Mamou to Munich 1963

Nothing makes us more aware of our similarities with others in our own country or town than travel abroad. No matter how marginal I felt in the United States for much of my younger life, trips to my West African ancestral home in the 1960’s and 70’s made me intensely and even painfully aware how American I was after all. It was relatively easy for me to pass for African in most ways: I spoke French fluently in French-speaking formerly colonial West Africa. As an added bonus my dark skin made me a part of the black numerical majority for the first time in my life, not a minority outsider the way I often felt at home growing up in mostly white surroundings. As an idealistic young adult I expected that in Africa I would suddenly fit in and belong at last! Alas, that was not to be. I imagine that women and men from other hyphenated-American groups experience similar feelings when they travel to their ancestral homes too, even if their families, like mine, have been in the U.S. for multiple generations.

Once I arrived in West Africa it was my walk, of all things, that inevitably gave me away as being “not from here.” I had successfully mastered the don’t-act-like-a-typical-American-tourist routine in many ways: I ate local food and avoided McDonald’s and a colonialist demeanor like the plague. I learned the local French dialects and some traditional ethnic phrases as well. I also became comfortable with local ways of managing time and doing business. What I didn’t count on, however, was the fact that American women, regardless of ethnicity, have a kind of indescribable freedom in the way we walk that is a clear giveaway: not only are we outsiders, we must be American outsiders. In totally unconscious ways our gait yells from the rafters that we are not local and definitely more free as women than in most other places in the world. Both men and women pointed this out to me time and time again when I traveled outside the U.S.

While initially it was my telltale walk that made me “American,” I appeared to be unlike most Americans in other ways, including the color of my skin. This was true not only in Africa but also in Europe and Japan and the Caribbean. Americans generally were perceived to be wealthy, white, arrogant, and either unwilling or unable to learn a foreign language. Descendants of slaves were perceived to be poor and unlettered. As a black person who spoke French I had to be somehow “not American.” I am ashamed to admit it now, but at the time I felt smug about this until I learned to love myself and my people and my country more. In each African country I lived or worked I was considered to be some sort of African or immigrant from a former French-speaking colony in the Caribbean, just “not from here.” I was always treated as an outsider: sometimes deferentially, sometimes disdainfully, never neutrally.

But then there was that giveaway walk which could only be construed to be American. It was the saunter of privilege and leisure, of independence from men and the right to make unfettered decisions. It was a long stride, arms swinging instead of balancing pots or children, full of the freedom to travel unaccompanied by a male. Additional qualities of “otherness” gradually emerged, but ultimately I was categorized definitively and culturally as an American: an African-American, mind you, but an American nonetheless.

If we persist long enough as a culture, the effects of our values will eventually show up in our biological structure: people could actually see the effects of democracy and freedom in my walk, no matter how bad things were for blacks and women at home! If we lose our freedoms now, I daresay that any subsequent lack of freedom will show up eventually in our biology as well: shorter steps, eyes averted, nondescript clothing, increased efforts to become invisible and non-threatening as we try to avoid the lash or the fist or the prison or the deportation vehicle.

Later in my life, as Africa began to go through a period of successive neo-colonial and post-colonial military coups and dictatorships, I became increasingly proud of our flawed American democracy and found myself glad to spend more time here in my native home rather than in West Africa, whose peoples and lands I had come to love and admire so deeply. Those years in Africa included varied roles: first as a participant in a private summer  exchange program, later as a fiancée, a group leader for the same exchange program, an international consultant working for a private American firm on a hydroelectric project, and finally as a rural sociologist employed by the United Nations Development Program.

Through my deeply personal experience I discovered that the perception of any of us as being “from here” is always relative, depending upon the context and the times. It does not matter whether that perception casts me as an external threat, a neutral outsider, or eventually as someone who truly belongs. I also realized that what is fast becoming fairly mainstream conversation about the possibility of an invasion of our planet by malevolent extraterrestrials is not too far afield from my decades old experience of  “otherness” among my genetic cousins on the other side of the world.

When I first wrote this piece I lived on the American mainland. Now I live in Hawaii, which by some accounts would place me on one of the farthest outposts of the United States. The issues I face here are not unlike those I dealt with in West Africa decades ago: I am too different and here too recently to be “local,” and yet I am asked occasionally if I am from Fiji or some other “not American” place.

No matter how much angst I went through about whether or not I could pass for African or be identified as American; no matter how freely I feel I could travel in the deep south or Down East Maine as a black woman; any cultural outsider would eventually come to understand that I am human, and might even discern that I am an American human. I can only imagine what someone from another planet might experience were it to come first into close contact with me and subsequently in contact with a Caucasian woman from Tucson or South Carolina. For the real-deal extraterrestrial, distinguishing one type of human being from another would cause no more consternation than comparing a tabby cat to a calico or siamese one. In that context the issue is probably a no brainer: the woman from Tucson and I are obviously both earthlings! Whether I felt like I was going home or coming home, accepted or rejected when I traveled to Africa, I remained always an American and unquestionably an earthling.  How simple things can be from the proper vantage point!















Dates to Notice

24 March 2017. Awakened from dream with this date to watch. No insight as to the reason or source.

11 April 2017. It turns out that March 24th was the date the attempted repeal of Obamacare failed in the U.S. House of Representatives, dealing a major blow to the Republican Party and the agenda of the new administration. On March 22nd an attack occurred on British Parliament and the Westminster Bridge in London. Both were significant events nationally and internationally, yet neither was on the radar at the time of the dream.

2016 Elections a “Stunning Upset?” Nope.

Foresight Means Paying Attention

Below is a verbatim text message I sent to a friend dated 24 July 2016 at 3:23PM. Fast forward to 13 November 2016: Mike Pence is now Vice-President Elect, Paul Ryan was “drafted” to be Speaker of the House, and Reince Priebus has just been named White House Chief of Staff in the new Trump administration. The clues to the upset were hiding in plain sight, but our glasses were on our laptops and poll numbers, not on our faces.

Private text message to a friend in Chicago:
“BTW, Reince Priebus, Paul Ryan, and Scott Walker are all from Wisconsin and are co-founders of the Tea Party, along with Mike Pence from neighboring Indiana. They are moving intensively to control all three branches of govt. simultaneously, and if Sanders continues to help weaken Clinton and Trump makes a back door deal re: Pence as de facto President, they will have succeeded.

Trump has made a deal with the Tea Party, which cut off debate at the RNC Convention on his behalf: ‘You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’ Frankly, he [Trump] is a sociopath and doesn’t give a [damn] about anybody, so he would help them accomplish their goal for a fee: the titular Presidency. He doesn’t want to be President [regarding daily bureaucratic functions] and is happy to hand its management over to Pence. The Tea Party would, in effect, have taken over the government without the burden of having to have been elected. Ryan was “drafted” as Speaker of the House, controlling Congress. Then they would replace Supreme Court Judges and there would be no room for a shift away from that agenda for 30 years or more.

Ryan has already stated publicly that the NRA [National Rifle Association] should have authority to approve Supreme Court nominations [????!!!!], leading to the tie-in with Bernie Sanders and his (mostly white) people. Have you seen “The Sanders Network” statements on C-Span? Still going after Hillary big time [even though the primaries are over].

This is going on in plain sight, and yet few are talking about it openly. I am dismayed to watch how they [Pence, Ryan and Priebus] are pulling it off without a hitch. Sometimes I wish I weren’t a sociologist!” [End of text message]

You can’t have foresight if you are unwilling or unable to look…







A Dog’s Intuition

Chaco on the JobSince we humans are creatures of immense and apparently very predictable routines, my dog Chaco decided he’d teach me a thing or two about his mastery of intuition, and my equally impressive lack of it from a dog’s perspective.

It All Started With Separation Anxiety

When Chaco the dog’s first human became ill and subsequently died, he began to show signs of severe separation anxiety. He would bark, scratch, jump up and down, hide so I couldn’t tuck him away and leave him behind, lick his paws until they bled, and eventually try to chew through the bedroom door.

Something had to give! In order to solve “his problem,” I sought advice from books, the Web, and a slew of local veterinarians, including some who specialize in dog behaviors. Bottom line, they told me: humans give off a huge range of nonverbal clues about our intentions well ahead of time, especially when it comes to leaving home without them.

The key to diminishing separation anxiety in pets, they say, is surprise: the pet owner facing this issue must vary the daily routine so much that the dog is never certain what the human will do next: when she will leave, and when she will return. For years I had been teaching people that the key to mastering intuition is also surprise. Maybe I needed to attend Chaco’s workshop!

Human Clue #1: When I am preparing to leave the house, the first thing I do, of course, is simply think about the fact that I’m leaving. Uh oh, first big mistake. I haven’t even opened my mouth and Chaco’s ears perk up from across the room. He knows something is about to happen. My first thought is, “How does he know already that I’m getting ready to leave the house?”

Eventually I figure out that the first point in his workshop tailor-made for me is: “Stop talking to yourself and saying, “Okay…”

Whenever I have been sitting still for a time, reading or writing, or engaging in some routine household task like washing dishes or dusting the floors, apparently the first thing I do when I’m ready to shift gears is say out loud without thinking, “Okay…” I am usually alone when this happens, so after a long time and several trips to the vet I discovered that talking to myself and saying “Okay” out loud was a clue to the dog that a change was gonna come, and  the change might not include him. AAARGH!!! Gotta get a grip on talking to myself!

Clue#2: I head to the bedroom closet and drawers. “What in the world am I going to wear?” Clothes have always been a source of discomfort for me, so Chaco not only picks up the discomfort, he picks up the routine that searching for clothes means either somebody’s coming or I’m leaving – or I’m getting ready for a stay-at-home Skype video session and can’t look too disheveled from the torso up. He gets nervous for a moment until he figures out that this time it’s Skype rather than leave the house, and then settles right back into the chair beside my work station, waiting for me to set up the computer next to him.

Clue#3: Right after rummaging through the closet I immediately head for the bathroom to clean up even more.

Chaco: “Uh oh. This is serious. She’s going out!”

Combing my hair is the worst sign of all for the dog, whether I’m staying at home or leaving. After all, I would be mortified to face the world with my frizzy hair all askew!

My taking a long shower can be a sign of leaving, of settling in for the night, or of going out during the day, so Chaco scopes the weather and the light outside to see which it is more likely to be this time.

Chaco: “Ah, it’s midday so it must be that yoga class for old folks, because she goes into that bag in the other closet and puts clothes on over her clothes. The last time she tried to take me with her to that class I barked up a storm, so I know I’m grounded now.”

Me: “Oh, I live in Hawaii now; it could rain at any moment. Gotta make sure all the windows and doors are closed and locked.” On top of that, I am regularly reminded that there is more and more theft in this neighborhood: can’t be too cautious.

Chaco: “There she goes, walking around the house closing up everything, even though it’s as hot as the dickens outside. This is really bad now. But will she take me or leave me at home? Oh no! She’s turning on the light and radio covering the bed and… OMG, she’s getting out my Kong Toy with the peanut butter inside! I’m done for. No hope now. My human is leaving me behind.”

Smart dog!

So the behaviorists have told me to vary my routine: get all ready to leave and then stay home. Put on the radio even if I’m staying home. Get dressed even though I’m not going anywhere. What???? Get dressed even though I’m not going anywhere? That is the biggest sacrifice of all, trying to cooperate as a two-legged with four-legged separation anxiety. Being trussed up is not my idea of a pleasant morning or afternoon alone at home, when I could be relaxed and funky instead while I read or write.

Clue#5: “The most dreaded of all: a trip to the yard to ‘pee pee’ when I don’t even have to go! How humiliating! I’m done for. I’ll just hold it and hide around the corner or under the stairs instead. Maybe she won’t find me; maybe she’ll give in and change her mind and take me with her, or maybe I can even make her late by hiding, so she’ll have to miss her appointment and stay home with me instead.”

Now that I, the human, am settling into a new location, I will go through the routine of trying unsuccessfully not to have a routine and go over to the box where the red harness and leash are stashed close to the front door. “Yippeee!!” Chaco exclaims. “I’m going; I’m going this time!”

Most of these actions are done wordlessly, mind you. Chaco is an expert at what some in my field call “pattern recognition:” paying attention to subtle clues that the clue-giver has absolutely no idea are being communicated like big red flags. This is a left-brained way of talking about right-brained things we really don’t understand. Chaco, unlike his human, has a PhD in pattern recognition.

But Wait, There’s More…!!

There is another quality of intuition that defies visual and verbal clues. When I am sad, for example, perhaps in another room of the house out of sight from Chaco, he will suddenly perk up, much like he does when I unconsciously say “okay,” out loud to myself, signaling a change in activity. He will trundle across the house to find me, nuzzle me, knowing in that very moment that he needs to comfort me. I am not boo-hooing, I have made no verbal sign, and I was not visible to him physically. Something else beyond pattern recognition is going on, as such an episode follows no pattern or routine that I have been able to discover – yet. Does he know that it is August 15th or October 1st or September 1st and that I am thinking of a parent or partner or aunt? How does he just “know” that it is sad I am feeling, rather than happy or simply focused? One thing I know for sure: he only does that when I am feeling sad.

Something more is going on and I am heaven bent on finding out how this type of intuition works; after all, it is a significant part of my professional work. People I do not know call or email or Skype with a question and I just trundle off to the universe and provide them with meaningful information that they tell me makes sense and even confirms what they were already thinking about as a solution for their situation or concern. How is it that my dog is even better at this than I am?

What is the pattern recognition in this type of intuition? No visual clues, no verbal clues, no prior knowledge, no prior emotional attachment on my part with the client. No routine. There is so much more to explore!

So Chaco has taught me more than I ever wanted to know about pattern recognition which frequently explains a large percentage of known and hidden behaviors. But he also taught me about a kind of knowing for which there are no overt verbal or physical clues. Mastering the ability to mask my intentions about something as simple as leaving the house is a lot harder than I thought! Chaco may also have something to say about more complicated subjects like politics and privacy, but he’ll have to save that for his advanced workshop – I’m still struggling with the basics!


Chaco’s “problem” was pretty simple after all: he suffered from unspeakable grief and loss, so much so that he couldn’t bear to stay on the planet without his beloved human. Behavior modification techniques just weren’t enough to cure his profound depression. He taught me more about himself and about myself than I could ever imagine and I miss him still. He was an amazing teacher!

Intuition Connects Everything!

binarycodeIntuition is a continuous signal. This signal emanates from all physical and nonphysical  environments and sends messages instantaneously to any outpost of literally all that exists: beliefs, emotions, mountains, people (whether we like them or not), animals, universes we know nothing about, immeasurably small particles…literally everything! It provides information about the nature of our worlds and their component parts, of literally All That Is, of the whole. That signal is never broken and continues to send out its messages whether we pay attention to them or not. There are no down networks in the domain of intuition!

Whatever scientists ultimately call the smallest measurable unit,  each unit has its own signature and is simultaneously aware of its own existence and the existence of all other units of the whole. It does not matter whether these units are identified individually or collectively, and the units are constantly changing form and emotional intensity. Their identity, nevertheless, is inviolate and known by all others whatever and wherever they are. Intuition tracks their whereabouts and alerts the “family” regarding their latest adventures. That unit is, after all, a unit of consciousness.

Intuition is language. Its purpose is communication within, between, and among these unique parts of the whole. Whatever the parts look like, act like, or become over time and entirely outside of time, intuition keeps track of their comings and goings and lets the others know. The units can morph with ease, but they cannot be destroyed and they cannot be “un-known.”

I do not know whether intuition is the matrix of connection or just travels along the matrix. What I do know is that intuition is everywhere connecting everything.

No wonder intuition is a central part of my life’s work. After all, what better job could a busybody have? My family didn’t call me “Miss Know-It-All” for no reason! Intuition helps us all know it all on demand naturally, without meddling. Intuition is birthright, woven into the very fabric of our existence. What a treasure!

Quick-Style Vision Board

Management and self-help seminars often use a process with senior executives and managers called creating a “vision board.” This is a way to discover deeper and often hidden wishes without relying so heavily on logic. Once completed, the vision board can actually jump start change in team participation and enhance the long-term success of the company, as well as of individual employees. I have come up with a simpler version of the vision board that is more fluid and easy to use on your own for personal and professional issues. When you are mulling over something, trying to sort things out or set priorities, here is a tool you can use with great success: I call it the “quick-style vision board.”


Get a piece of blank poster board and place it somewhere you pass by often during the course of your day at home or at work: on the floor or an empty chair, or on a coffee table or game table, for example.

As you walk about during the normal course of your day, pay attention as your eye catches images. This could be a magazine cover, or headline and article clippings in a newspaper, or a favorite painting or photograph that you suddenly happen to notice for the first time in a while. Or it could even be a view from your window, or a funny antic your pet does that prompts you to take a quick snapshot with your smartphone and print it out. Just drop things on the designated space as you walk by and go through your day. Don’t think too much, just place things there that catch your eye.

Later you might take the time to cut out the images and make them into a true collage, a finished product. But for now the “quick and dirty” version of the exercise works just fine. I have found it very helpful to just walk by, drop the magazine or image or object or word on the poster board or clipboard without thought and keep moving. I don’t tear out the pages of the magazine; I just leave it cover up if it is the cover that caught my eye, or open it to the relevant page and plop it down with that page showing. If it is newsprint, I just circle the headline or image and drop it there on the poster board along with the pile of thoughts and images building up there. I might even write down thought or ideas on a piece of scrap paper and place them there.

Again, you don’t have to do much framing of the question with this technique  (sometimes framing the question is important, but not this time); you just move through your day and put things down as they catch your eye. Most importantly, there is no need to judge what you are noticing: you are just dropping images that grab your fleeting attention. You don’t even know yet what this will all turn out to mean later.

Making sense of what you placed on your quick vision board

After a day or so, go to the poster board (or game table or coffee table) that you have dropped things on, and see what you’ve got. You will be amazed as you notice a theme that shows up in that apparently jumbled pile of “stuff.”

Go for images that catch your attention or draw emotion from you. Notice what your eyes are noticing. Notice if you keep going back to the same place or image. Pay attention to the clues for resolution all around you in your daily spaces, calling out answers as you walk by.

That seemingly random “stuff” will help you know what’s important to you about the issue you are mulling over even if it makes no sense to your rational mind. You can play around with putting the images in some order, mixing them up randomly, or even sorting by type or look or color or theme.

At the end of the process,while looking at the board, ask yourself, “What should I do about X?” As always with intuition, take the very first answer that pops into your mind. If the question has to do with ranking of priorities or actions, make a list in rank order while you look at the board, and while moving the images around it.

When you have completed the exercise you can save or toss the stuff you have collected and leave the poster board or table top free for your next musing. In this way you keep the fluidity of your thoughts going, and nothing is frozen in time. If the issue is a really important one for you and you want to save and savor this moment, you may actually want to take the time to cut out the images and glue them to the poster board or piece of construction paper for remembering and looking at later. Or you can simply arrange them the way that suits you and take a photo of the arrangement on your smartphone so you can access the image any time you wish without creating more clutter in your physical space. Either way, this fun and often surprising exercise can resolve a deep issue that you may not easily have been able to frame or discuss. It can also help with a more neutral but complex issue you have been considering for some time without achieving clarity. And it is almost effortless. Try it once and you’ll see what I mean!

  • Originally published in August 2012, revised and republished on 24 June 2016.


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