I hope that the last two days’ posts have prompted you to reflect on an episode or two from your own childhood. As we reflect on such memories, we can benefit from them in many ways. For me, the benefits include laughing out loud all by myself, considering how I and other humans mature through childhood, marveling that sometimes I wonder if I or others have matured at all, and stepping back and taking a look at the dynamics of the ego and the heart.
I remember another “Little Rascals” episode that wasn’t quite as innocent. It provides one of those times when I can see how cruelty can develop in childhood through an unchecked ego. In this event, I see how this childish episode is repeated many times over in the world today by adults who are reputed leaders or vying for such positions. The personality quality of the episode to which I refer, one which makes for much strife at many different levels, one which can cause wars, one which is driven 100% by ego is this: self-righteous anger that refuses to consider the point of view, life circumstances, or cultural and political peculiarities of others. Just a bleak, unthinking, cold, unbending insistence on being right rather than on valuing the life, humanity, and possibilities of others in kindness, understanding, and compassion.
The ego views such attitudes as compromise rather than love, and while it can be laughed off, dismissed, or punished in children, it’s not so easy to handle with adults. Let me share my story, a time that shows what an impudent little brat I could be.
In the 3700 block of good old Keokuk Avenue in South St. Louis, the “gang” often played some sport or another in the alley. The best part of the alley — meaning the least broken up — began at the property line of the house adjacent to the little apartment complex where my family lived. One of our favorite games was kickball with the big, softish, squishy red ball.
The only problem is that the house we played by was old Crabapple’s house, which sat below street level, so naturally, when a ball was sent that way, it would quickly drop over the concrete ledge and roll down the hill towards his house. Our derogatory denomination of the man resulted from a combination of two factors: he had a multiplicity of crabapple trees in his yard, and he was crabby. How was he crabby? Well, several times when our ball rolled toward his house, he would come running out and grab it and take it inside — think Sandlot with no dog. Usually, after a minute or two, he would just throw it back out the door. At other times, he would throw it back but yell at us in the process.
Now, in our minds, we didn’t understand that we were probably making a lot of noise, and he didn’t bother to explain, just commanded us to stop playing. One day, though, he kept our ball and just screamed. We couldn’t even understand what he was yelling at us.
At the age of six, I was enraged, so angry at how unfair it seemed, because, of course, at that age I knew we were right and he was wrong and “You started it.”
Yes, I heard the words coming out of my mouth, yelling back at him. I realized that the gang was looking at me.
If I were really smart, I should have known by their expressions that I was headed for trouble— kicking open the paint can and jumping off the garage roof all over again. When I heard my voice, though, and saw them looking at me, I felt like I couldn’t back down. I rallied the troops.
“What are we going to do, Mikey?”
“You guys run through the apartments to the alley and get on the other side. Me and Stevie will stay here. When I say ‘Go,’ we jump down the wall, run and grab crabapples, and run back up the other side. We got to go fast. He can’t keep our ball, it’s not fair. We didn’t do anything.”
“What will we do with the apples?”
“When we get back up high, we will throw them at the house until he gives us back our ball.”
They were enthusiastic. I didn’t even know I had it in me to come up with a plan. His injustice inflamed me. We did it. And boy did he scream. Enough so that my mom, who had come out to check on us heard him, and she came running. She demanded to know what we were doing, and when I told her, she told us to stand still and wait.
She went down to Crabapple’s front door. Wait, she was smiling and being nice to him. He talked to her, disappeared for a second, handed her our ball, and closed the door. Mom came back and made the other kids come from the alley. She proceeded to tell us that we were never again to bother the man.
“But he took our ball and we didn’t do nothing wrong.” Oh, I was so clever and so right, but alas, that was my ego’s rationale. Defeated by my ego once again.
Mom explained that the old man worked nights and when we played and yelled so much, he couldn’t sleep. Not only that but also his wife had died recently, and that made it even harder for him to sleep.
Mom made the solution very clear, and it was not debatable: move further down the alley and play from now on, far enough so that the ball would not go into his yard. I think back at the smart-aleck kid I was that day, the audacity to throw little apples at a man’s house instead of going and asking Mom or some other adult what to do. It represented an immediate, angry, egoic response of destruction without considering the man’s situation.
Maybe that was excusable in some ways, because a bunch of six year olds couldn’t really harm anything except the man’s self-esteem, which was probably the worst part — coming out and yelling at kids and keeping their ball and having them actually attack his house with little apples. My mom let us know, let me know, that day that we should always talk to someone who will listen before we go doing stupid, mean things to get our way. Stupid and mean are choices, and actions based on those qualities would always end up about being right rather than being loving and compassionate. I felt burning shame at my mom’s gentle scolding.
It’s too bad that movements, religions, and leaders of nations do not have the ability to discern when they are lobbing crabapples at one another’s houses, that they cannot for one day empathize with others, no matter how different they are. And it is a sickening shame that they would rather be right than spare human life. I don’t care how simplified it is, it’s just no different: it’s ego over heart, the calm, purposeful, resolving, peaceful nature of the heart.
Are we shooting self-righteous crabapples at others because we are right and they are wrong? Stop it, and listen to the heart. When we realize who we really are and live with the purpose of expressing that pure Self, we would just move down the alley to play.
The drive to be seen, be important, be the whatever-est begins at a young age. Of course, the pure voice of the heart operates, too, and until the ego drive kicks in strongly, the heart may have a profound influence on a toddler and child. This is one reason that I enjoyed my own children when they were so young. I held them, read to them, sang, spoke, made their little mobiles and chairs and all the accoutrements of babies work for them. When they were old enough, I got down on the floor with them and played with building blocks and farms and cars and dolls.
I wanted to encourage them to explore those skills, concepts, and ideas that connected with their hearts. However, I was not a perfect parent, for sure, especially with my oldest son. Know why? Ego. My ego listening to what others thought he should be doing or not doing and “perfect” ways to accomplish those goals. Bullshit.
I have few regrets, but that is one. I don’t give a damn in any way, shape, or form what others think about how to raise anyone else’s kids, and if you are a young parent, neither should you. But also know that neither should you believe that you are superior nor that you should even hint to others about their parenting skills. Stay focused on helping children to know their hearts and develop those; ego comes soon enough.
Oh yes it does! I want to return to my young five year old self when my family lived at 3705 Keokuk in south St. Louis, Missouri, which I wrote about yesterday. The ambiance of the neighborhood in my mind includes memories of the local milkman who delivered to many families, including my mom. In the summertime, we (our gang — think the Little Rascals/Spanky and Our Gang) would see his truck pull into “our” alley because we knew when he got out that it would only take him seconds to plunge his ice pick into the crystal clear blocks of ice in which the milk bottles were immersed. We had ice chips to suck on — just as good as snow cones to us on a hot summer morning.
And then there was the older Italian gentleman who occasionally came through pushing a fruit and vegetable cart, calling out his offerings of the day. In similar fashion, the man who sharpened knives, scissors, and other tools shoving his cart, ringing his bell, announcing his approach made the rounds every two or three weeks in good weather. The gang knew these guys, and we were always intrigued with their skills and wares.
But those times with these men were just not enough to keep us busy. Nope. We played catch with the classic little red rubber ball or played kick ball in the alley. Sometimes, we would accidentally send a ball into the yard of an odd house that actually sat below street level. We called the old guy that lived there Mr. Crabapple because he had crabapple trees in his yard and because whenever he would see one of our balls fly into his yard, he actually tried to beat us to it and take it inside.
One hot summer day when we had lost our ball to him, we decided to scour the concrete trash bins that lined the alley. Oh, baby, a ladder — a broken, wooden, dry rotted section of an extension ladder. We had our little red wagon with us, and we laid the ladder on it and up the alley we went. What would we do with it? How could we have fun with it? How could we do something really big with it?
Pecking order and ego positioning are very real things, starting at a very young age. I was going to be the leader. After all, my dad was the painter and he had a bunch of ladders. I knew how to climb ladders.
“Okay, Mikey, what do we do with it?” Stevie asked enthusiastically.
“Let’s get on the garage roof.” Wow! I was so daring and brave.
We tried to put it up, but the broken ladder was too short. I had the solution for the short ladder going to a very short garage roof: put it in the wagon. It worked.
“You guys make sure the wagon doesn’t roll. I’m going up.” I made it.
“Oh, I can see so much up here.” Until I turned all the way around. Holy crap! I could see right in our kitchen window. My mom would see me. We knew that we weren’t supposed to be up there, but what is right or wrong when you’re being a big shot?
“I have to get down. My mom will see me.”
“Mikey, here comes old man Whipple.” He lived in my building and parked in the garage.
I panicked, ran to the far end so my mom couldn’t see me, and went to see if the gang was moving the wagon and ladder. They were moving okay. Stevie grabbed the wagon handle, pulled, and they were off and running down the alley. The ladder was more broken than ever as it lay at the edge of a garage bay. I did compose myself a bit, because I remember having the conscious thought that I would stay at the far end where my mom couldn’t see me and I could look over the edge and watch old man Whipple go into the building. Then, I would jump.
It worked, except that when I looked down, it looked very far. The guys were looking back from down the alley. I knew I had to get down fast. I don’t know why, now, but then, it was imperative. I hung from the edge and let go.
The pain shot through my right foot and up my leg. Oh, God, it hurt. I was hobbling bad, and Stevie ran back to me. I remember his shocked face and dead serious words to this day.
“Oh, no, does it really hurt that bad? You broke your hip.” It makes me laugh now, but it made sense to me then.
He helped me to the back apartment door and ran. We all knew that I was in trouble — again. I crawled up the flight of stairs to the back kitchen door. I don’t remember what lie I tried to tell my mom because — again — she saw through it. I do remember sobbing that I didn’t want to get caught by Mr. Whipple, so I jumped.
I had a chipped bone in my heel that required cortisone shots on two different occasions, the last being when I was thirteen — eight years later.
Sometimes, acts of ego can have long-lasting effects, both emotionally and physically. Yes, I believe in adults playing with kids, engaging with them in their environment, and not forcing competitiveness on them; that comes naturally and all too soon. What doesn’t happen frequently enough is encouraging the connections with the heart. That could have happened. Adults that saw our little gang could have given us some constructive suggestions, especially in that time when every older person wasn’t looked on as a “creeper.”
Maybe my experiences are why I love to see the natural curiosity of kids and not make them feel bad about it. “Stay out of those trash bins.” “What are you doing with that ladder? Put that back.”
How about “What did you find? What can you do with that? Have you thought about…” And a thousand other possibilities.
Encourage the heart interests of young people, when you have opportunity, when it is appropriate. That builds character.
Maybe I was destined in some way to explore the distinction and contrast between ego and heart, because when I was five years old, I distinctly remember my first internal conflict involving these two elements of my personality.
From six months to seven years old, my family lived on Keokuk Avenue in south St. Louis, Missouri. Each of the little four-building complex contained four three-room “shotgun” style apartment units: front room to bedroom to kitchen with a bathroom off the kitchen. That was it, but that was enough because the real action was always outside for the kids.
I’m pretty sure that the buildings are still there, but the neighborhood has changed rather drastically. It was an old but tidy German background neighborhood, known as scrubby Dutch — definitely 1950s lower middle class urban setting left over from the 1930s or 40s.
But the alleys, oh, yes! That’s where all the action was for us. The garage for the apartments with only space for eight cars — not everyone had a car then — had very low ceilings and were open. The smooth concrete was THE best place to roller skate. Our complex was a little oasis in the midst of houses. I thought that the kids who lived in houses were rich, though.
Our gang — like Spanky and his crew, not Crips and Bloods! — cruised the alleys, which were swept at least weekly by old women. We looked through the trash bins regularly. These bins were actually concrete surrounds where people put trash cans, so sometimes they would just set some items on the ground next to the cans. One day, and I still remember who was with me, Andie, Paulie, Stevie, and I were scavenging. I discovered a quart can of paint. Eureka!
Obviously, white paint had filled the can, evident from the heavy, dried drips around the lip. Could there be any paint in it? I shook it — Yes! Now, my dad was a painter, so I thought I knew all about painting. “We could paint something, like the wagon or some boards. I can get a brush.”
Oh, yeah, they were all on board, but none of us could open the can. I would be the hero. Andie, who was a six year old girl, would be impressed. “I will open it.”
I started kicking that green-labeled can up the alley. Nothing. Harder. Hey, a little bit of white goop appeared at one spot. Pow! I gave it everything I had. Yep! That did it — to me. White, linseed oil-based, turpentine-thinned enamel splattered up to the knee of my jeans with a good solid coat over the top of my left sneaker and now penetrating my sock.
The gasps resounded up and down the alley.
“What you gonna tell your mom?” Stevie yelled in a panic.
Oh, the horror! My mom! What would she do? Oh, I had to…
Lie. It was the very first time that I can consciously remember deciding to tell a lie — and it was to my own mom. “I’ll tell her I was kicking the can and didn’t know paint was in it.” I heard my heart scream “NO.” For the first time, too.
Or maybe it was Andie screaming. “You can’t tell your mom a lie!”
But Stevie was helping me out, for a few seconds anyway. “You were kicking the can.”
But I looked down. “I, my jeans, oh, no they cost so much.” When I looked up, they were running. (This wouldn’t be the first time that would happen.)
I lied. My mom knew it. She looked at me and said, “Mikey, what really happened.”
I cried. Ego had won, and I still lied after that. Not pathologically but sometimes just to keep myself out of trouble.
We really do have egos as part of our personalities that rationalize almost anything to protect us. We can listen to protective warnings, but we shouldn’t listen to rationalizations that can lead to destruction.
Hearts, though, that’s where truth and answers are. I’m sure I would have had the right words and not broken trust with my mother if I had just said thought NO when that lie popped into my mind. Never too young, or old, to learn the heart’s truths.
I use Bible verses quite often when I write these articles, simply because they work. Whatever one believes about religion, such amazing, ancient writings are not to be dismissed lightly in my way of thinking. I only say this because I am starting out today’s topic with a Bible verse. Literature is filled with biblical allusions, many of which go undetected to those who are not familiar with the book. Proceed!
“For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, / Everyone is greedy for gain, /And from the prophet even to the priest / Everyone deals falsely. / And they have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, / Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ / But there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:13, 14 NASB).
A sense of false peace comes from those who have actively rejected their own hearts. A settled, productive, creative, progressive society or nation cannot be known apart from that key link in my Unified Theory of Humanity: people must awaken to their own hearts, must become mindful and self-aware of true core Self, must make peace with themselves. When a society lacks a majority of those who fail to attain this, especially leaders, it results in lies and this false sense of peace. Without knowing the heart, there can be no peace.
False leaders cover their asses and make everything look good, maybe even pull off a mock peace. Then, the common people who are just confused, searching for self, who may be living lives of “quiet desperation,” wonder why things aren’t any different, wonder why they are so miserable. It’s because the answers aren’t in ego-driven, greedy seekers of gain. Gain isn’t wrong, but greediness is a mark of those not hearing their hearts.
However, today in America we don’t hear a clarion cry of “Peace,” but we have those who are clambering for being the delivering agents of peace: democrats or republicans, liberals or conservatives, more gun control or less gun control. Where is the cry for awakening to self, following the heart, and living life purpose?
When living personal truth and life purpose is in place, peace attends us individually. Individual peace and community peace depends on it. The world depends on it, at least a world that affords freedom to live Self does. Problem? Not everybody wants it.
Many do, though. The general populace yearns for peace, I want peace, you want peace, so why don’t we have it? Simply because too many neglect their hearts — no, wait, it’s more than that.
The decision makers, the so-called leaders, live by ego. They claim that they will have peace by war. By the way, I don’t believe that war is the antithesis of peace; hatred is. If one is ever in doubt about the motivation for war, there’s the answer: hatred, hatred derived from self-hate of rejecting the heart that spills over into hatred of others — personal violence, societal violence, international violence. The soul of the world and the Spirit of all points to peace as the natural state of humanity, even seen in simple things.
I bought a pen some months back, and I bought it specifically because it is made of olive wood, which for thousands upon thousands of years has symbolized peace. I’m not getting into religious discussion here, just the words as presented in the Bible. When Noah checked to see if the flood was over, he sent out a dove, who returned with a sprig of an olive tree. He knew that somewhere the expressed wrath of God was over and that a fruit-bearing, life-giving tree was growing. The olive would feed people and give oil for light that symbolically allows us life and the ability to shine our core Self to others.
We should all want that, but not all pursue it for various reasons. It’s simple in one way and hard in another. The simple and hard ways are the same: Know yourself. If we have come to that knowledge, we are faced from time to time with this question: How do I, if I am at peace with myself, respond to hate?
In The Fellowship of the Heart, Alaun Cadeyrn, one of the protagonists, makes an observation about that question: “I love how peace attends those who love and follow their heart.”
Peace, my friends.
Yes, I have thought about death today; however, it has not been due to depression, defeat, or morbid feelings. I simply walked past the church cemetery in my neighborhood this morning with my puppies. We have not gone that route for some time, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it.
Why? When I was younger, I used to think that death was to be diligently, intelligently, fearfully avoided. It was an unpleasant thought, one that was best ignored until necessitated by funerals.
I’ve changed. I know that I’ve mentioned this before, but I think death, even though it causes sorrow, really serves as a dark background on the canvas of life that highlights and dramatizes our light, no matter how dull or bright that light may be. Somewhere in every one of us a light glows. Death has a way of allowing that light to be seen by those who remember us.
This morning I thought of the light that all of those souls represented by those tombstones must have emitted when they were here in physical bodies. I looked out over the field where the bodies of those spirits lay, an amazing collection of energy symbolized there. What did they do in their jobs and careers, with their families and friends, in society, their neighborhoods — actions and words and gifts and love? How many of them had their own children, who in turn will shine in this world?
No matter what opinion or reputation someone has, there is always some bit of light that at some point in their lives shone from them. If it’s someone who currently is rotten, maybe if someone, anyone, had noticed and encouraged them when they were shining — well, who knows? And that’s a whole other story. But why not believe and act as if it matters; why not look for that light, that goodness in others? Our lives, our world would be a lot brighter, wouldn’t it?
To really shine or to observe others shining, it really helps to come to know ourselves, discover that bright, burning light deep within us: our own hearts. We need to discover core Self, and then we see through a lens that looks for goodness. Also, it helps us to see those things that are dark; however, when we live our own truths and are focused on shining our own light we expose darkness. And beyond that, we don’t feel a need to eradicate it or change others. We simply love through living and expressing and shining core Self to all.
Just shine, look for the light in others, and see how bright life gets. Death — well, value it for what it is, an usher into new adventures that only serves to show the brightness of those whose spirit and life energies move on. How many times have you gone to a funeral and not heard at least someone say something good about the deceased? At death, people always look to find something positive from life. Let’s just get a head start and do it now.
John Donne wrote about death in the early 17th century in his sonnet “Death Be Not Proud.”
“Death be not proud, though some have called thee / Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so. / For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow, / Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.”
Donne says that death has no power over us, that death should not be feared because we have a life energy that cannot be destroyed.
Yes, the light of lives, the positive energies of people live on after their physical death, and the life energy moves on to new discoveries. Sorrow?
Yes, but we should move past that to celebration, too. We are amazing beings.
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!