A post by Brandon Marshall on BeBee entitled, “Learn more so you won’t fossilize,” about the importance of being willing to continue to learn throughout your life, got me thinking. While I agree in principal with what Brandon had to say, “…my most valuable asset is my ability to learn,” I think we need to expand and elaborate on the definition of learning. Our ability and willingness to “learn” is often confined to intellectual acquisition of knowledge and skills. We are so enthralled with creating and using the latest widget, app, program or smart phone that we fail to do the more difficult, self-reflective learning that is necessary if we are to use those skills in responsible ways. Since October is “Anti-Bullying Month,” the most obvious example is how digital technology has empowered cyber bullies and can reduce communication between individuals to cryptic exchanges of text. We may have learned to communicate faster, but we certainly have not used that skill to communicate with care and compassion. We must remember that new “things” are only as good as the people who use them. We must examine and find ways to use our new technologies to tackle real world problems. In the case of education, where most of my attention is focused, it should be used to empower children to find and share their stories; to find creative solutions and collaborate with their peers around the world. In this way, the walls of fear, prejudice and judgment can be dismantled and new communication skills, grounded in empathy, kindness and respect for difference can be learned. If we look at history, there are some fundamental and compelling themes humankind has been grappling with forever. They are at the heart of who we aspire to be and a measure of how far we have to go. So to Brandon’s eloquent piece, I’d like to add, by all means keep learning new “things,” but be sure to touch base with your internal compass. Weigh your intellectual knowledge against your moral and emotional center. Does the information or skill you are acquiring help you become a better person? How can it be used to facilitate understanding, make another person’s life easier, clarify an issue or a problem, or connect people whose work or interests complement one another? Finally, does learning this skill or acquiring this information contribute to my personal joy and satisfaction? These are the questions I ask myself before I download an app, purchase a new smart phone, or sign up to learn the latest and greatest SM marketing tool. You see I’m on a mission to address some of the pressing issues we’re facing by using “learning” to recall myself and others to their “best” selves. Which of course doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good game of Angry Birds or Pokemon GO every once in awhile - Jena Ball Copyright 2016 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.
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I’ve been thinking a lot about difficulty. More accurately, I’ve been experiencing and feeling my way through a series of difficulties that my rat race mind is ill-equipped to handle. While this is nothing new (I’ve known for a long time that the mind’s ability to come up with solutions is useful only in the final stages of a lesson), it is still tempting to let my thoughts run through familiar mazes.
I’ll spare you the details, but when I finally arrive battered, exhausted and without a penny to my name at the same place I began, I finally start to let go. I picture myself as a Kyudo archer practicing “Standing Zen.” The goal is to breathe, be present, acknowledge and release anything that comes up. So many people, so much pain, so much anger, resentment and blame. I breathe, nock an arrow, raise and draw the bow.
In “Standing Zen,” shooting the arrow is not a test of skill, but a way to focus on an inward target – something you are intent on knowing and remembering about yourself. Free from past and future, balanced and focused in the present, you shoot from your heart towards the center of yourself.
With every breath I allow who and what I am to pour into that arrow. I infuse it with gratitude and wonder, satisfaction and delight. I cure the wood of the shaft with love of earth – the songs of cicadas and whales and wolves; the light of fireflies flaunting their passion and the cooing of doves nestling into sleep. I stroke the feathers, smoothing the barbs into place so their flight will be effortless and true. Finally, I let myself feel the arrowhead itself – shaped and sharpened with the ability to kill. An arrow like this must only be shot with clear intent – with all the creative chuzpah your heart can muster while focused on the goal – my goal – of expressing, sharing and being abundantly supported for who and what I am in the world.
I take one last deep breath and settle in, gathering my strength, mustering my courage as I pull the string back close to my cheek. When I exhale, the arrow flies, driven by love. I don’t hold back. - Jena Ball
To learn more about that goal I’m shooting for visit: http://NotPerfectHatClub.com
Copyright 2016 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.
“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” — W. Dyer
This quote by Wayne Dyer haunts me. It first appeared in my social media feed several years ago after a friend became homeless. Rather than search frantically for another minimum wage job, she chose to move into and start selling jewelry from her van. I was horrified. She, on the other hand, was strangely content. Instead of bemoaning her situation, she kept her focus on three goals: make and sell jewelry, meet and help good people, and find ways to overcome her health challenges.
Over the years, my friend’s adventures have taught me many things. I learned to look past outer appearances; to see homelessness as a symptom of how we are failing one another rather than an indication of how an individual has failed at life. I discovered that often it is those with the least who give the most — who refuse to look away, who show up and share their last cup of rice, who move heaven and earth to find a temporary home for a dog while his person is in the hospital…the list goes on and on.
Then eight months ago, the mirror of judgment turned on me. Suddenly I was the one without a penny to my name; the one who couldn’t find a job; the one who was eating nothing but oatmeal and facing eviction from my home. Everywhere I turned, people I thought were friends judged me harshly. They were annoyed that I wanted to talk about my predicament, and either offered unhelpful advice or disappeared all together.
At first, I was indignant and hurt. I was the same person I’d always been — the one working 50 or 60 hours a week to keep my business afloat — the one who was now devoting every waking moment to finding a job. But that didn’t seem to matter. It was as if I had become a pariah, a symbol of something they found pitiable or distasteful. Then it hit me. They were afraid. I was living their own worst nightmare, and they couldn’t get away from me fast enough.
As a recovering perfectionist, I was intimately acquainted with this mindset. I grew up judging myself and others by how I looked, how fast I swam and how I performed on tests. I learned that I was in competition with others for love, grades and jobs. My survival depended less on who I was than on how well I was able to please others. It took me many years, and lots of help, to get past this way of seeing and being in the world. Now, thanks to a simple twist of fate (and we all have them), it was my turn to love and validate myself — to ask for help and accept it knowing I was not only worth it, but would be able to pay it forward one day.
Today, Wayne Dyer’s quote reappeared and I have the chance to make that payment. I have been asked to help a friend of a friend named Lisa; someone whose story is long and complex. All you really need to know is that she is a good, kind, hardworking soul who has been diagnosed with NINDS Nuromyelitis Optica (NMO). NMO is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system in which the body mistakenly attacks healthy cells and proteins in the body. It is both excruciatingly painful and incurable. As a result of her condition, and her attempts to find medical care, Lisa is homeless and living in her truck with her best canine buddy Bella-Boo. The good news is that Lisa has both a job and a place to live lined up if she can get the money needed to repair her truck and pay the deposit for her apartment. The even better news is that we have the chance to make this happen together. It doesn’t have to be a lot. It doesn’t even have to be money. It can be as simple as forwarding this post to someone with a note saying, “thought you might be able to help.”
Let’s be there for Lisa and for ourselves. Let’s see past the labels and remind one another that we are better together, and that what helps one helps us all.
- Jena Ball
To read Lisa’s story and donate, go here:https://www.gofundme.com/2gs2aknt
To learn more about her condition, go here:http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/neuromyelitis_optica/neuromyelitis_optica.htm
Copyright 2016 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.