July 2006 Newsletter

Dear Friends,

By reading my newsletters, you’ve given me your trust, which is a gift I sincerely attempt to honor with every written word.  So I hope you will also trust the following recommendation.  Please go see the documentary movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” while it is now playing in theaters.  (It’s at Regal Cinemas Downtown West 8 in Knoxville, and I believe it’s opening soon at another Knoxville theater, Regal’s Pinnacle Stadium 18 @ Turkey Creek.)  I will admit to never having considered myself a fan of documentaries, so I accepted the invitation of a friend with cautious optimism.  Nevertheless I can honestly say the truth presented in this movie was not only riveting but also stunning.  I know summer is the time for enjoying lighthearted vacation movies.  But, trust me, if you love that beautiful seashore or those rolling green fairways or the majestic mountains at which you vacation every year, then you must see this movie.  About “An Inconvenient Truth” noted film critic Roger Ebert wrote, “In 39 years I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: YOU OWE IT TO YOURSELF TO SEE THIS FILM.”  I would add, you owe it to every child on the planet.  I hope you watch it.

Sincerely,

Rhonda

 

Independence Day

 By: Rhonda Jones

July 4th is Independence Day in the United States, commemorating the date on which we claimed our independence from Britain.  According to the U.S. Library of Congress, on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence with its eloquent assertion that “all men are created equal” and that “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  The pursuit of that elusive promise of happiness seems to best characterize the now traditional July 4th celebration.

Philadelphians marked the first anniversary of American independence with a spontaneous celebration, but observing Independence Day didn’t become commonplace until after the end of the War of 1812, the treaty for which was signed between the United States and Great Britain on December 24, 1814.  History records that soon afterward events like ground-breaking ceremonies for the Erie Canal and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad were scheduled to coincide with July 4th festivities.  By the 1870s, it was the most important secular holiday on the calendar with even far-flung communities on the western frontier and Civil War-weary communities Down South managing to congregate for Independence Day celebrations.

If at no other time throughout the year, we certainly expend a lot of energy each July 4th to re-prove the assertion put forth in our National Anthem that we are “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  On July 4th we celebrate our freedom and independence with parades, family gatherings, backyard barbecues, picnics, and fireworks.  This year for me was no exception.

However, as I sat on the south lawn of the World’s Fair Park this July 4th enjoying, as I have now for each of my three years living in Knoxville, the patriotic outdoor concert presented by Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and the all-American fireworks extravaganza, I was struck by a surprising thought.  Gazing around at the thousands who’d congregated there with me, I couldn’t stop pondering that Shakespearean line from Hamlet, “[We] doth protest too much, methinks.”

Are we really as happy as we pretend to be at these July 4th celebrations, or do these determined pursuits belie a deep (and, perhaps we think, shameful) discontent?  Are we living anywhere near the level of happiness our founding fathers had in mind when they penned those fateful words in the Declaration of Independence over 200 years ago?  What does it really mean to be free, independent, and happy?  Are you happy?  What is it going to take for each of us…for you…to know the answer to that question for yourself?

In December 2001, I wrote a little story while sitting with my grandmother in the hospital on Christmas Day, entitled “The Christmas Gift.”  With the harrowing events of September 11 still painfully fresh in my mind, I was struck by the irony of how quickly upon hearing the news of her life-threatening illness my focus shifted from a broad, “What can I do to help my country in this time of global crisis?” to a much more specific, “What can I do to help my family in this time of need?”  It was then too I realized the latter is actually the means for the former. 

If I’m to help the world, then I must first help my country.  If I’m to help my country, then I must first help my home—my state, city, community, friends and family.  And, if I’m to be capable of helping at that level, then I must first help myself.  In fact, that’s the only level at which I can actually exercise any control and influence.  Ultimately, I’m only responsible for and can only make a positive change in my own life.  And while that may seem tiny and insignificant, imagine how powerful it would be if every single individual did just that.

Answering the question of what freedom and happiness really means begins with me.  I cannot contribute to the happiness of those around me, if I do not possess my own happiness…if I’m not free.

This has all led me to think about Independence Day in a totally different light.  The bondage from which we now need to break free is much more damaging than the control Great Britain tried to exert over the American Colonies.  The battle is for our happiness, but the bondage is of our own making.  And if we made it, we can break it.

After some reflection, I believe there are two major bonds from which we must all break free, if we are ever to begin the pursuit of happiness: unforgivingness and fear.

Freedom from unforgivingness means we must break free from the practice of being unable to forgive.  Unforgivingness will control our lives.  When you harbor anger or hold a grudge against another, regardless of how heinous their infraction or how much their actions might easily have been responsible for it, it is you, yourself, that you are holding in bondage. 

I think of it like a tourniquet placed on a life-threatening physical injury.  When someone hurts my feelings and inflicts a wound upon my heart, all the energy expended to continue to dwell on that hurt and anger and disappointment saps the very energy I need to live my life, just as a tourniquet saps the flow of blood to the injured limb.  The life force still trickles through the tourniquet but has become constrained to the point that, unless there is some quick attention, we risk losing not only the limb on which the tourniquet is placed, but also the very life it’s intended to preserve.

I recently heard Dr. Pete Sulack of Exodus Chiropractic in Knoxville talking about his treatment philosophy.  He explained that sickness is the absence of life.  And the absence of life is in fact the result of the brain’s inability to effectively and consistently communicate with each of the 80 trillion cells in the human body through the nerves housed in the vertebrae of our spinal column.  Even as I sat there listening to him explain this, I realized the correlation between that physiology and our psychology.

If the brain’s ability to send life to one of our limbs is constrained by a pinched nerve, the pains we’re feeling in that limb are the symptoms of death.  Without attention, the cells served by that pinched nerve will in effect die.  Likewise, if I’m diverting my thoughts to focus on some wrong done to me in the past, I’m withholding that precious energy from the possibilities of the future.  We can’t change our past.  Exerting any life force to it at all is the same as shutting off the supply to a part of our being that desperately needs it to survive.  The only way we can fix this problem is through forgiveness.  We must forgive in order to remove the tourniquet…unrestrict the flow of energy…and re-energize the part of our being that is struggling to survive.

I know sometimes it can be very difficult to forgive.  But I believe that’s mainly because we have forgiveness confused with our feelings.  Neil Anderson has written, “Don’t wait to forgive until you feel like forgiving; you will never get there.  Feelings take time to heal after the choice to forgive is made.”  It’s just like the gradual healing that occurs in the human body during chiropractic treatment.  Even after the pressure on the nerve has begun to be relieved, it takes a while for the afflicted body parts to mend.  We don’t forgive because our feelings have mended.  We have to choose to forgive, despite the hurt.  John Eldredge writes, “We acknowledge that it hurt, that it mattered, and we choose to extend forgiveness…Forgiveness says, it was wrong, it mattered, and I release you.”

No, it isn’t easy.  But as Gary Chapman points out, “If we only do what is easy, we will never succeed.  There is one sure way of knowing that you are on the right track towards success—the track is usually uphill.”  Someone has said, forgiveness is setting a prisoner free and then discovering the prisoner was you.  Believe that, and set yourself free by achieving freedom from unforgivingness.

The other major bond I believe we have to break in our lives is fear.  Freedom from fear is inextricably tied to our willingness to forgive.  Oftentimes, the same wounds for which we have not extended forgiveness have conspired to create all sorts of negative patterns of behavior, such as self-doubt.  I read about a major league baseball player who was lecturing throughout the prison system.  Upon being asked by one prisoner how he made it to the major leagues, the ball player explained that from as far back as he could remember his father was telling him he was going to be a major leaguer.  If he got a hit, his dad would say, “That’s how they do it in the major leagues.”  When he made a catch, his dad would say, “That was a major league move you made!”  “The only thing I ever heard from my dad,” the player explained, “was you’re going to be a major leaguer.  I never expected any less.”  At this point another prisoner spoke up and said, “The only thing I ever heard from my old man was that I was nothing but a screw-up, and I would end up in prison someday.”

To conquer self-doubt and self-destructive behavior, we must not only forgive the wounds that created it, we must also accept this truth: you don’t have to be great to do great; do great and you’ll be great.  I remind myself of this all the time.  Yes, I’m just one tiny soul in this sea of humanity, but my prayer is this, “Let me make a difference far greater than who I am.”  I have accepted that bad things will happen.  Wounds will be inflicted.  But I must forgive and conquer any residual fear they may have left behind.

The thing that makes the difference is how we respond to our problems and doubts.  I recently had the pleasure of hearing Matt Hinkin, Chief Meteorologist with Channel 6 News in Knoxville, speak at one of the civic organizations to which I belong.  He told the funny story of making his first snow forecast in the southeast.  Matt had spent much of his life in the Midwest and Colorado Rockies.  Snow to him was no big deal.  And, certainly, a forecast of 2-3 inches was not even anything to bat an eye at.  So, when the radar clearly declared a winter storm heading squarely for Knoxville, he casually announced on his evening news broadcast that this storm was capable of delivering up to 2-3 inches.  Matt laughs when he tells about his producer’s visit to his office following the broadcast.  “What are you doing?  Are you out of your mind?” his producer asked incredulously.  “Don’t you know if you mention 2-3 inches of snow in Knoxville every man, woman and child will go into total panic?  You won’t be able to find a loaf of bread or gallon of milk now if your life depended on it!”  Matt hadn’t said the storm would deliver 3 inches of snow.  He’d only said it might.  But he learned very quickly how responsive the viewing public was to even the slightest hint of bad weather.  Listening to Matt, it struck me how truly responsive we are to those snow forecasts (yes, I admit to making those emergency grocery store runs after hearing the evening news) and yet how unresponsive we can be to the messages to which we ought to give much more attention.  What if someone said to you, “If you’ll just take this step, you might find happiness.”?  What if that someone was our own inner voice?  Would you respond as readily as you respond to the weatherman?

There’s this little matter of our inner voice.  I’ve written about it before.  I refer to it as our connection to the source of our being, regardless of what you believe that to be.  I explain more about this in my training by describing the primary functions of the left and right brain.  It’s our right brain that is creative, inventive, adventurous and relational.  When we talk about our heart, it’s really our right brain to which we’re referring.  The heart is simply a muscle, but has become the metaphor for the unique individual genius we each possess.  I hear a lot of people talking about their passion.  Our heart’s desire, as we call it, is to be free to pursue our passion.  Well, if the heart is actually our right brain, then following our passion means following the messages received from our right brain.  And our right brain speaks to us through our inner voice.  Those ideas that wake us up in the middle of the night begging to be written down; those revelations that strike us at the most unexpected times; those are meant to guide us.  They are for our own good…for our own happiness.  They are the sign posts and markers on our individual pursuit of happiness.

It seems comical that we would respond to the weatherman more readily than to our own inner voice.  And yet it’s true.  Someone once said, it’s not the great revelations you haven’t had yet that cause you the most trouble; it’s failing to heed those you already have.  If I could inspire you with this newsletter to do one thing, it would be to heed the revelations you’ve already had.  Making your life more meaningful and joyous was their exact purpose.

I heard a speaker say once that there is a type of shark, which if left in a small aquarium will remain about seven inches long, but if released into the ocean will grow to its normal seven-foot size.  This was intriguing to me, because I thought it graphically depicted what happens to us when we hold ourselves back with such bonds as unforgivingness and fear.  So I did some research on his claim, and what I learned was even more startling.  I found report after report from knowledgeable aquarists and professionals refuting the myth this speaker had propagated about the shark.  When held captive in a small tank, far inferior to the environment in which the shark was intended to thrive, it’s true in a sense that they only grow to the size the tank can support.  But that doesn’t mean they grow to that stunted size and then live that way indefinitely.  In fact, the reason they don’t grow beyond that size is because they die!  All fish die in tanks too small to support their innate environmental needs.  They may look alive for a time in the tank, yet all the while they are starving to death.  This image turns out to be even more graphic than I expected.

By bounding ourselves up with unforgivingness and fear, we construct a tank much to small to support the life we were born to live.  Within the walls of that tank, we may look like we’re alive, but all the while, we’re dying.  Proverbs 17:22 says, a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

We must gain our freedom from the fear of following our own inner voice and breaking down the walls we’ve constructed around ourselves, if we’re ever to engage in that pursuit of happiness the way it was intended.  The more I travel and the more experiences I have, the more I realize that the greatest discoveries are not out there, but inside me.  The pursuit of happiness is not out there either.  The pursuit of happiness is inside of you.  I hope you take that journey.

Note to readers: I wrote the following for a couple of professional organization newsletters to which I contribute a monthly column.  This month’s topic fits very nicely with the advice given above for gaining our freedom and independence.  It’s a little how-to for starting to listen to your inner voice.

 What is Your Therefore?

By: Rhonda Jones

Last month in this column I posed the question, “Are you giving 100% of yourself to what moves you?”  I’m always surprised, when I speak or write on this subject, by the number of folks who express in bewilderment, “I wish I knew, like you, what my calling is.”  They seem to vicariously enjoy my exhilaration very much, but have given up on ever experiencing that freedom for themselves.

It reminds me of a funny story I heard about the trainer who had become disillusioned with his work.  (Truth be told, when I heard the story it was about a preacher, but since I contributed this to a newsletter for trainers, it’s going to be a trainer.)  This man had become so burned-out in his work as a trainer.  He’d reached the point where he just didn’t feel he could go on, when he saw a want ad in the paper.  The gorilla at the zoo had passed away unexpectedly.  While they were seeking a new primate to replace him, the zoo wanted to hire someone to dress up in an ape suit and sit in his cage, so the zoo visitors wouldn’t be disappointed.

Intrigued by this easy, stress-free task, the ex-trainer applied, and before you know it was suited up and manning his post in the gorilla’s cage.  Day after day children and adults alike streamed by.  After a while, he decided rather than just sitting there staring back at the zoo visitors, he would sort of act the way he thought a real gorilla would act, so they wouldn’t be disappointed, of course.  Before long, he was really getting into his act.  He would jump around the way he’d seen other apes do and make the noises he’d heard them make, swing on the trees and scratch and pretend to be interested in the humans outside his cage.  Eventually he became a big hit at the zoo with people lined up to peer into his cage and see what he was up to.  He was really starting to feel good about his performance, and sometimes he seemed to forget that he wasn’t really a gorilla.  The more the people oohed and aahed, the more he tried to increase his antics. 

Next to the gorilla cage was the lion cage.  True to character, as the gorilla screamed and jumped and swung around, the lion paced the fence of his cage back and forth stalking the gorilla’s every move.  The man in the gorilla suit noticed the lion’s behavior and began to taunt him and incorporate that into his act, much to the delight of the zoo visitors.  One day the man was feeling especially spirited and, urged on by the cheers of the crowd, began to swing wildly letting his body extend out over the top of the fence of the lion’s cage, working the lion into a frenzy.  The man was having a ball, when suddenly the vine upon which he was swinging broke, just as he was making a big sweep once again toward the lion’s cage.  With no means to stop, the man in the gorilla suit went sailing over the fence and into the lion’s den.

The people watching inhaled with a large collective gasp and waited in shock for what would surely come next in the hungry lion’s den.  The lion, momentarily stunned by the gorilla’s presence in his cage, stared him down before slowly beginning to take one calculated step after another in his direction.  With each step the lion’s pace quickened until he was now running at full speed toward the man in the gorilla suit who was backed as far as he could go into the corner of the lion’s cage.  The man in the gorilla suit stayed in character for as long as he could.  But with the hungry lion now charging in his direction, he couldn’t pretend any longer and began to cry out, “Help!  Help me!”

Upon hearing his cries, the bewildered lion slid to a stop just inches away.  The man in the gorilla suit continued to scream and cry out, until he was surprised by a voice.

“Hey, shut up, will you?”

The man froze for a moment, trying to discern the source of the voice.

“What are you doing, Man?  Be quiet!”

The man in the gorilla suit couldn’t believe it.  The lion was talking to him.

“Excuse me?” The confused gorilla asked, to which the lion replied, “I’m an ex-trainer too!  They hired me to pretend to be a lion!”

Every time I imagine that scene unfolding in my head I laugh, but the underlying message is no laughing matter.  It makes me wonder how many folks are out there, wearing the suit they’ve been paid to wear, even falling victim to their own illusion, spurred on by the appraisal of others, when all the while down deep inside they are really something different.

People say, “But I don’t know what my calling is.  I don’t have that clarity down deep inside about who I am.  I wish I did.”  Well, I’m going to tell you how to find out.  The answer lies in knowing the answer to this question, “What is your therefore?”

When I was working through the Tusculum College master’s program, one of my study group cohorts asked one of her work colleagues—a professor at Carson Newman College—to read and provide feedback on her thesis.  Upon receiving her paper back from him, he had repeatedly struck out every use of the word “therefore.”  His rationale, he explained, was that her use of this word was invalid.  “Using the word therefore implies that you have proven your argument,” he explained, which apparently he did not believe she had done.  In fact, he went so far as to say one could never prove anything to the point that using therefore would be justified.

This was an eye-opening and thought-provoking perspective for me.  I spent quite a bit of time thinking about it and have decided this professor is wrong.  There are indeed plenty of circumstances in which use of the word therefore are justified.  I came to this conclusion in part by reflecting upon the many different applications of the word with which I was most familiar.  One place I’ve seen it used a lot is in the Bible.  I heard a pastor say once that whenever you see the word therefore in the Bible, you need to pay attention.  He explained the reason is that you will find it will have been prefaced with chapter upon chapter of explanation and rationale and proof for the claim that is now being made with the therefore statement.

It occurred to me then that we all have our own unique and personal therefore statement.  Just as with the Bible study analogy above, we have many chapters in our lives that have been building a mountain of proof for our therefore.  We may say we don’t know what our therefore is, nevertheless it is staring us in the face all the time.  We are just hesitating to write the therefore statement in our life story.

The man in our funny story at the beginning of this article seemed to be saying, “I am wearing a gorilla suit.  I am in a gorilla’s cage.  I am swinging on a tree and making gorilla sounds like a gorilla.  Therefore, I am a gorilla.”  And while we can laugh at that and say how foolish he was, I think that’s what many of us do in our own lives.  We’ve been wearing the gorilla or lion suit so long, and we’ve become so complacent that we’ve stopped paying attention to the truth about who we are.  We say we don’t know what our calling is…who we were born to be…when in reality what we’ve done is simply accept the suit we’ve been given to wear.  We’ve stopped questioning whether it’s the right suit.  We’ve stopped listening to that voice inside urging us to do or be…something…what is it?  Only you know.  It’s your therefore.

For over two decades of my life, I wore the suit that corporate America paid me to wear.  But all that time, regardless of my title, I was writing, teaching and motivating.  That was my passion, although it wasn’t what I was being paid to do.  Then finally I met someone who challenged me to stop pretending.  “Repeat after me,” he said, “I write; therefore I am a writer.”  It’s a simple technique that I now use daily.  “I teach; therefore I am a teacher.  I love to tell motivational and inspirational stories; therefore I am a motivational speaker.”  I feel like I’m the one who’s finally been set free from my gorilla suit and cage.

What is your therefore?  Think back over your life.  Remember the moments that took your breath away.  Reflect upon the times in your life when you felt the most fulfilled.  Recall your dreams and yearnings, perhaps from a younger more carefree time in your life.  Discern the messages and desires, which have crept into your consciousness over and over throughout your lifetime, and see them as the proof they are intended to be.  Then write your own therefore

Fill in the blanks for yourself:

“I                                                                                                                             

Therefore, I                                                                                                                .”

Commit to yourself to not only write your therefore, but also do two things for yourself:

(1) Repeat your therefore to yourself every morning (and repeatedly throughout the day, if necessary.)

(2) Do at least one thing every day to be the person your therefore is telling you that you are.

Before you know it, you’ll find you don’t need that gorilla suit anymore.  In fact, you really never needed it at all.  Because your therefore is what you're here for.