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Learning from Opposites

This better work, it's what the guy in front of me did!

This better work, it’s what the guy in front of me did!

A very thoughtful friend who knows I have Seneca heritage introduced me to the teachings of a wise Seneca elder, Twylah Hurd Nitsch. Since then, I have become transfixed by her teachings I want to read and assimilate all her wisdom. She often speaks of truth, the truth within. In an interview with Margaret Wolff she described how we inflict upon ourselves pain and hurt when we avoid our truth within, which also affect our love within and peace within. She also expressed that until we grab hold of the truth and remember our Oneness, which is a truth we hold deep inside each of us from birth, we will continue to learn that truth through opposites.

Now this was where the hair stood up on the back of my neck – she said, “you confront the opposite of truth so you can learn it.” I get in the mud often and bemoan and lament the actions of others I find offensive or disrespectful, but in reality what is really happening? I am learning how not to be, or I am learning how to be, by recognizing what not to be. Think about a time when you watched someone struggle to do something, you see what works and doesn’t work and use that knowledge when its your turn. This concept reminds me of the tough mudder competition I recently participated in, I would watch the contestant in front of me attack the obstacle if they were successful I would use the same approach if they crashed and burned, I did not. So this idea of learning from opposites means that we are actually blessed each time we witness offensive or disrespectful behavior particularly when we recognize it as such.

I know this sounds bizarre but it’s so true. I have witnessed many people who struggle with the truth and my response has always been the same, a mixture of disappointment and pity. Now I recognize they are heyoka’s. The Lakota call those who walk among us and react and move opposite of the people around them heyoka spirits. Heyoka’s violate the ethical rules and societal taboos of the tribe thereby teaching the importance of such rules by creating awareness.

Beautiful and simple yet painful. As I continue on my path in this world I see how the truth really does set me free. The more closely I respect and embrace my truth within, the lighter my load. I recognize now my pious reaction to my heyoka’s is not only misguided it is disrespectful. These people are walking a very difficult and painful path to teach us how to connect with our peace and love within.

So the next time you feel repelled by the behavior of another be grateful that you are blessed to be aware of that behavior and have the ability to choose the opposite.

“It is in vain that we search for an essential difference between good and evil, for their constituents are the same. The crucial distinction lies in their structure, i.e., the manner in which the pieces are assembled. Evil is disintegration, an angry juxtaposition of alienated opposites, with parts always striving to repress other parts. Good is the synthesis and reconciliation of these same pieces.” ~ Charles Hampden-Turner

The Beauty and Balance of the Circle

I noticed yesterday while I was meeting with a person I had just met for the first time how our connections with people are like a series of Venn Diagrams. Do you remember doing those in school?  You would have a series of things and you would draw a circle then list a set of things you would then draw another circle and list a second set of things and where the circles intersected you would list those things common to both sets of data. It’s about common ground and connection.

As I was sitting there with my new acquaintance I was very aware of how many of our circles intersected, business experience, fishing, leadership philosophy, and current business status. As I drove home from our breakfast meeting I also noticed how the duration of our connection with people are also like a Venn Diagram, we have all heard the saying you know people for a season, a reason or a lifetime. Well in a Venn Diagram way I was thinking how with some people your circles may barely touch, those are the people you see as part of your day but perhaps there is not a meaningful connection, maybe they are checking you out at the grocery store, you experience each other and are inexplicably connected at that moment in time, however, once it passes you may not cross paths again. Then there are people in your life where your circles are solidly connected, your family is a good example, your kids, your parents, your spouse. What is fascinating to me are the people you meet who fall in between those two extremes.

Yesterday was a great example, I am meeting this person and I see the common ground we have, yet I am not sure what will happen with time, will our circles intersect? Perhaps and to what degree, right now its part of the great mystery. I have learned not to force these things anymore and to let things unfold in a more natural way. Not to say I sit back and do nothing but rather I understand my intention and purpose in life; connection and inspiration and while in action things will grow from there just as effortlessly as a seed sprouts.

This past weekend I experienced a beautiful connection involving my daughter and her grandparents. It was an amazing and unexpected intersection of circles that evolved genuinely and naturally.

I love the symbolism of the circle it has no beginning and no end. It’s no mistake that I had this epiphany of the Venn Diagram image and connection to life, I attended the Mending Medicine retreat last weekend facilitated by John Two-Hawks. John shared with us how to live a balanced and more harmonious life and used many examples from his Lakota culture particularly the Medicine Wheel or the Sacred Hoop. John pointed out that most indigenous people around the world have a Medicine Wheel or Sacred Hoop image as a core part of their belief system. He also pointed out how modern thinking has gradually developed into a linear system of thinking, which requires a hierarchy, in other words rather than sitting down as equals we have created a system where someone is always above or below the other.

As an engineer I am profoundly aware of the balance of a circle versus a linear design and find it very interesting that as a society, we have “evolved” in such a way that we have actually moved farther away from the perfection that nature has revealed to us and created a system that is more and more out of balance and out of harmony. It’s so simple yet it’s not easy.

I had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate a good friend’s birthday last night, as we all enjoyed each others company we could not help but discuss the current event unfolding, the national election. We discussed the current tumultuous state of our political system and how can we create more harmony among our leaders. So much valuable energy is being wasted on discord. She said the system is such that people from each party sit across the aisle from each other when in reality they should be sitting next to each other. She suggested a seating chart organized by States or an alphabetical seating chart but democrats and republicans would sit side by side. She also said they should break bread with each other and often. She said it sounds so simple but felt very confident this would lead to a more balanced and harmonious approach to governing our country. She basically described creating a circle rather than the current linear system or approach, where one feels superior to the other. So beautiful!

I believe we all have the knowledge within us to know what will create balance and harmony, the choice is ours to listen to our inner wisdom or to succumb to the external influences that drown out the ancient wisdom we all carry inside us.

As you go through your day notice the circles in your life, where you have disharmony or imbalance let the circle inspire you to create harmony and balance.

You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round….. The Sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours….

Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. – Black Elk, Oglala Lakota Sioux Wichasha Wakan


“The Wizard of Oz is such a great movie,” my girlfriend told me the other day.  She shared how the movie, filmed in 1939 based on a book written in 1900 by L. Frank Baum, is still relevent today.  And honestly I could not agree more.

Each of the characters in the story are seeking something they are missing, Dorothy is seeking a way home, the scarecrow is seeking a brain, the tin man is seeking a heart, and the lion is seeking courage.  So they all travel to the Emerald City to seek the great Oz and basically find out he is just a regular guy who can’t really manifest for them what they seek.  In the end they all find out they already had that which they were seeking, or in Dorothy’s case, she always had the ability to go home, you know the ruby slippers……..there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.   Great story, great movie, great message even for today’s standards.

I was reflecting on my friend’s observation as I attended a retreat this weekend.  I want to digress and tell you about the retreat, it was amazing.  It was the ‘Flute Discovery Retreat’ with John Two Hawks at Stillpointe Wellness Center.  If you do not know about Stillpointe or John Two Hawks I strongly encourage you to discover both, you will be better for it, I know I am.

Ok so back to my original train of thought; my friend’s observation, the Wizard of Oz still being relevent, and I am at the retreat reflecting on this.  So as I am attending this retreat to discover the power and reverence of the native american flute.  My eyes were opened to the beauty and I developed a deep respect for, the flute, but part of the collateral benefit was that I also witnessed great examples of personal courage.  I was particularly moved by the courage of three people.  One woman’s life story was so profoundly courageous, I wept.  I was so moved by her incredible courage and her beautiful spirit.  The other two stories of courage were also amazing; a person overcoming tragic beginnings and yet emerging with such kindness and compassion, and the third person was currently dealing with a very difficult situation and I mean knee-deep in it, even as I write this, and yet again her beautiful spirit was shining with compassion and kindness.

So of all the Oz characters I most closely relate to the cowardly lion at this point in my life.  I know I have courage somewhere inside me, but I need to make my pilgrimage to Emerald City to find it.  If only I could find a tin man, a scarecrow and a farm girl with a scruffy dog to go with me!  However, instead I was presented with these wonderful people and their examples of personal courage but most importantly courage displayed with kindness. 

I realized as I watched these beautiful souls share their stories of courage that it can and should be done with love and humility.  The common theme they all shared was courage with love is powerful and with humility is compassionate.  My greatest challenge with courage is how to be courageous and kind.  I always thought courage meant being unkind, and that is my greatest fear to be courageous for myself at the expense of treating another unkind.  At this retreat, as I watch these amazing people share their stories of courage, I saw the deep humility they all possessed and how that cast their courage in a completely different light for me.  Courage with humility is always kind.

I was taught many great examples of the ancient traditions of the Lakota way this weekend through stories and lessons and there was a common theme of honor and humility.  Again I am reminded as long as I keep my higher purpose in mind, loving kindness, I can face my challenges with great courage and with loving kindness and emerge better for it, and the world will be better for it.

All I can say is wow, I get it, now can I put my intent into action?  Stay tuned beautiful readers and offer a prayer to our creator that I can.

“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” – Maya Angelou
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