Where You Should Be

Should.

It’s is a problematic word. It implies that the present could be different from what exists now.

It’s a sensible sentiment, the idea that things should’ve worked out differently, but here is the problem: Things didn’t work out differently. The present could be different only if we could change the past. But -to my knowledge- we can’t. Specific causes lead to specific effects even if we can’t measure or understand them. Every moment is perfectly aligned with the causes that created it.

The present moment can’t be different from what it is, and in the mind, fighting what is with illusions of what should be leads to confusion. The tension caused by this battle is like a trap that limits our possibilities. Yet we constantly should all over ourselves (and others).

  • The outcome should be different.
  • You should be different.
  • I should be someone else.
  • I should be a better, tougher, stronger version of me.
  • I should be with someone else.
  • I should be somewhere else.
  • I should be at a better place in life.

The desire to should on life is certainly understandable. When it seems like things aren’t going our way, we have a tendency to believe things should be different. It’s a protective mechanism. It helps saves our self-worth. It helps the world seem a little more controllable and fair.

I’d love to tell you there are guarantees in life. There aren’t any.

I’d love to tell you life is fair. It’s not.

I’d love to tell you you’re in control. You aren’t.

The fact is this: Life is not controllable, guaranteed, or fair. The illusion of control exists when you only account for forces you can observe with your limited awareness. The perception of control is like admiring the top level of a house of cards while completely ignoring the bases that support it. This limited admiration ignores the fragile, connected beauty of the entire structure. Every moment of our lives, forces out of our awareness and control influence what we are capable of thinking, feeling, and doing. Like a house of cards, a change in one aspect can influence a change in the entire structure.

The illusion of control is compelling. It seems to make sense. It’s also quite convenient at times. But the illusion creates problems. When we believe in the illusion of control we tend to throw shoulds at everything we see because we see causality in a very limited, constraining way. This has some consistent effects. When things appear to be going against us, the illusion of control leads to confusion, blame, frustration, and eventual despair. When things appear to be going our way, the illusion of control blocks us from the gratitude that naturally flows from understanding the beautiful and miraculous harmony of uncontrollable forces that have aligned to give us what we want.

We desire control because we imagine it helps us feel powerful. To relinquish control can seem scary and uncertain, but in truth, the illusion of control is limiting, confusing, and frustrating. When we reject this illusion to clearly see degrees of influence in the order of the universe, we gain clarity, freedom, and possibility.

  • We don’t get to change the past, but we can influence how we understand it. A change in perception of the past changes our experience of the present.
  • We don’t have control over other people and the situations of the world, yet when we understand we have creative influence over our own experiences, we gain incredible freedom. Mind over matter isn’t a power struggle. It’s the way we are built.
  • We don’t have control over our thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet we have influence over possibilities that far exceed anything we attempt to control within us. When we learn not to fight ourselves, composure, awe, gratitude, wonder, curiosity, joy, and love flow through us.
  • We don’t get to control other persons’ thoughts, feelings, and actions, yet our influence is far greater than any control we might attempt to impose upon them. Don’t sell short others’ ability to love, admire, and appreciate you and your deeds.
  • We will never truly understand the order that created the present moment or where the swirling forces are taking us from here, yet we can influence finding reason, meaning, purpose, and connection along whatever path we travel. When we learn to dance with the rhythms of life, we find the miraculous in the common.

Much of the order of the universe works outside our awareness and understanding, but our lack of awareness and understanding doesn’t mean things should be different from what they are. Things are as they should be. Every moment is perfectly aligned with the causes that created it. We may not understand or appreciate it. We need not like it. We may wish things were different and even have regrets. But ultimately, the order of the universe is a good thing because if there is solace in the order of the universe, it is this:

You are where you should be. Here and now is the only place you can be. It’s the only place you’ll ever be, and you are enough to be great where you stand.

Blame Elimination Diet

“Be relentless in pursuit of those goals, especially in the face of obstacles. Along the way, make no excuses and place no blame.”

Hockey Hall of Famer Ray Bourque


I’ve had some interest in a mental challenge of the day. So here is one you can try for a day, a week, or a lifetime: Eliminate blame.

When you catch yourself blaming someone or something for how you are thinking, feeling, or acting, just stop. Let it be.

Why eliminate blame?

We act as if blame is a righteous return of fire against an enemy trying to harm us. But that’s not what blame is. Blame is the brick and mortar we use to wall off our connection to others and the freedom that is ours if we don’t construct our own prisons. Blame leads us down an inaccurate path that strips us of our rightful influence over ourselves and the world around us. Blame primes us to be victims rather than seeking our positions of power.

Please don’t confuse reasons or causes with blame. There are reasons why we experience what we do. Our universe obeys orderly rules even if we don’t always understand them. But the chance of accurately understanding why you are experiencing a particular thought, feeling, or action is next to 0% until you can greatly reduce blame. When you eliminate the noise of blame and open up to greater possibility, more answers to your, “Why?” questions will occur to you. When you eliminate blame, you will gain freedom, possibility, and influence.

A small caution: Eliminating blame will not eliminate pain from your life. Even without blame, you won’t like everything you experience, but without blame your sense of influence and freedom will increase.  In turn, this will help limit the frequency, duration, and intensity of your painful experiences.

A couple of thoughts/tips: After you begin to eliminate blame of other people and situations, you may be tempted to blame yourself for your pain. Don’t do it. Continue eliminating blame. Don’t blame yourself either. None of us is perfect. It’s one of the beautiful ways we are connected. Don’t kick your own butt for your imperfections. Imperfect happens and pain results. There’s a reason for it. Blame won’t fix it. It will improve fastest when you simply experience it without blame.

You may not be able to eliminate blame with your current vocabulary. Instead of saying something like, “That made me mad,” which blames an external cause for your anger, try saying something like, “I am mad about that,” which implies an internal experience of anger without blaming an external cause.

That’s it. I hope you enjoy the challenge. I can’t wait to hear how you experienced it, so please post or contact me privately.

I hope you have a great day. Make the plays you can. Cast no blame along the way.

What’s In You Today

What do you have in you today? What can you do, think, or feel today? What is possible for your experience of life today?

Please rest assured, you have enough in you to be great today. I say this not knowing what you intend to accomplish. But no matter how limited your initial thoughts on this topic, please understand my point.

Your capacity to imagine greatness in this moment doesn’t change your capability to manifest it. In other words, the old adage, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right,” is wrong. Dead wrong. It’s not an absolute. Optimists fail and doubters prove themselves wrong on a daily basis. The only thing that hides us from these facts is denial. Why live in the illusion of denial when something more powerful exists? These clear facts exist: We can experience great thoughts, feelings, and actions out of the blue, and others experience the greatness of our thoughts, feelings, and actions without our awareness.

You don’t have the capacity to understand how powerful a little gesture might be to someone else. You simply can’t judge it. You aren’t in their shoes, and you may not be in the right frame of mind to see how powerful any kindness can seem to someone else. Have you ever expressed deep gratitude to someone only to have them shrug off their efforts as no big deal? It didn’t seem like no big deal to you, did it?

Not only that, but the person on the receiving end of your kindness may change her mind about its power down the road of time. How often do we come to understand the impact of someone’s influence on us only after they’ve moved on? Shouldn’t we take time to appreciate those people today? Shouldn’t each of us strive to be one of those people?

Furthermore, you do not have the capacity to judge the impact of your own efforts on yourself without the benefit of passing time. How often do we look back and discover that small seeds sprouted into something enormous? Shouldn’t we recognize the enormous potential of the little things that exist in this moment as it occurs?

Nobody is guaranteed anything. Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you may still be capable of greatness. You may not always manifest it. That’s life. You win some, you lose some. But before rejecting your potential for greatness, allow me to ask: Who are you to judge your capacity for greatness before giving it a shot?

Trust what’s in you today. It’s enough.

It’s Been Fun

Human resilience amazes me.

After a long battle with various ailments and pain, my Great-Uncle Jake died Sunday. We buried him Thursday. He was 87 years old. He was a fine man. A damn fine man.

To me, Jake always looked like Johnny Cash if Johnny Cash were a farmer. He was a big, strong guy. He had a great sense of humor and was quick with a smile and an unforgettable laugh.

If the world around us had ever sunk into chaos, Jake’s farm would have been a good place to be. Jake was self-reliant. He could grow things. He could fix things. He could hunt. When he wasn’t working on the farm “making hay while the sun shined” -as his eldest grandson Steve eulogized – he was working a second job in a saw mill or spending time with his family. He had an unstoppable work ethic and generous heart.

Jake walked a path in life that is hard for me to imagine. When he was 11, he and my grandmother (who was then 16) ran the family farm when their father died (he was trampled by horses) and their other brothers were off fighting World War II or running their own farms.

When he was 29, Jake (and my Great Aunt Mary Lou) lost a daughter. She lived 4 days. When he was 48, he lost his oldest son. Young Jake was 21 when he was cut in half by a drunk driver who plowed into the back of his semi as he attended to it on the side of the road. He left behind a wife and a 9 month old son (Steve, Uncle’s eulogizer, now a 39 year old PhD geneticist with a wife and 2 children of his own).

When I sat down for the funeral and read his obituary printed in the program, I’d forgotten about the young daughter, Marilyn. But I remember when Jakie died. I was 5, but I still remember my mom and grandmother and their seemingly unstoppable tears. It was the 3rd death of a 20-something male in my family in a 5 year span. I was only 7 weeks old when my father died, so it was my first memorable experience of despair.

But this isn’t about despair. It’s about resilience.

Our moods ebb and flow, and with the changes, our thoughts change as well. We go from up, optimistic, open, full of possibility, to down, pessimistic, closed, and devoid of hope. We then feel our thoughts. When we lack awareness, we blame the world for how we think and feel. When we are fully aware, we understand that we project our thoughts and feelings onto the world independent of the circumstances of the world. As John Milton wrote, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

Our experience of the world is what we can make of it. Most of us understand this at times. We have some say in how we experience life.

Yet certain situations seem to have a gravity to them, an inescapable force that sucks us down into it. The death of child is one of those. Uncle Jake lost two of his children.

To me, the most incredible part of the grieving process is our human resilience. While it is completely normal to grieve, it’s also completely normal to move on from it. Yes, when the loss is in mind again, the pain returns. Yet we always move on at times, often long stretches at a time, demonstrating that forces such as gravity do not exist in thoughts and feelings even though it seems as if they do. It’s in our nature to overcome what seems like emotional gravity. We have resilience. We nurture our own emotional crops.

My uncle understood this. You see, farming wasn’t just his occupation. It was his life. He used the dirt of this world as a fertile medium for growing the life he desired.

Once, when Steve asked why he became a farmer, he responded, “You get to be your own boss.” Despite all the lack of control farmers have over weather, disease, and soil, he still viewed himself as his own boss of his experience. He was a farmer. He was his own boss, the man with influence over the crops he cultivated. He did the best he could with what he had.

He understood this to the very end. At his funeral, Uncle’s pastor described his last rites and meal in the hospital before going home to hospice care. He asked Uncle, “Is there anything you want to tell Mary Lou.”

“It’s been fun,” Uncle said.

It’s been fun. Imagine that. After 87 years, under any life circumstances, could you have a better testimony about life? This was from someone who was forced into being the man of the farm at 11, lost two of his children, farmed for a living (and sometimes a starving), breathed saw dust in the mill all winter long, and fought the pain of those physical occupations for decades.

It’s been fun. What a damn fine man my uncle was to be able to see that. And yet, if we are being honest, he was completely ordinary and normal. He is a testament to finding the miraculous in the common.

For his last act of resilience, his sons Bill and Mike have taken on their father’s sense of humor. At the funeral, they laughed the laugh they inherited from him as they delivered a nod to the cycle of life only a farmer can truly appreciate, “He still has one more spring planting to do.”

As the procession left the funeral home parking lot to go plant Uncle in the cemetery soil, we drove past a last reminder of his life here on Earth, a life spent working the earth. Mike had driven his father’s old tractor to the funeral home and parked it in the lot near the road. It was the first thing I saw when I pulled up. It was one of the coolest and most fitting tributes I’ve ever seen at a funeral.

It was a fine tribute to a fine man. A common man yet a miraculous man. A man who used his life to point in the direction of our incredible resilience and capacity to enjoy life.

I have no answers folks. I won’t pretend to understand how the spiritual works here on Earth or beyond. I won’t tell you what to think, and I am fine with whatever you believe. But today I like to believe that Uncle drove his tractor to heaven, hopped out on two good knees, and firmly shook God’s hand. And I like to believe that God grasped my uncle’s big, powerful farmer hand in his own and gave it a worthy shake, the type of firm, respectful shake I practiced with Jake when Mom and Grandma tried to teach a father-less boy how men shake hands. And I like to believe God greeted Jacob Hoffman with the message I would speak to him if I had one more chance to tell him what I thought about his time in Earth’s dirt.

“You cultivated a damn fine life, Jake. Glad you enjoyed it.”

The World Doesn’t Give a Sh!* about Your Should

A friend and I had an interesting conversation the other day. This friend lives by a strong ethical code. His moral compass points sharply and consistently. It’s part of what makes him very good at his job and a number of other endeavors.

Codes are not laws of the universe. Codes are ideas and principles that describe what should happen for societies and cultures to run smoothly. Codes are necessary, but they can also be a personal source of misery.

“The world doesn’t give a shit about your should,” I told my friend, pointing to the fact that the laws of the universe and human nature don’t behave according to what he thinks should happen.

He laughed. He knew it was true.

Look, I’m not suggesting you should change your codes. Societies, cultures, organizations, teams, families, and individuals should codes. I’m simply pointing out that if you believe the rest of the world is going to conform to your code or even care about it, you might be in for some self-created misery.

If you try to map your code of what should have happened onto what exists, you are in for a particular brand of misery. What has happened and what exists are perfect expressions of the conditions that preceded them. If you want change, do what you can right now to bring about the new conditions you desire. Wishing away what is for what should have happened won’t work and will only serve to increase your own misery.

Wishing away what is for what you believe should have happened is constricting. It takes the mind to another time and situation. It clouds perception. It closes off awareness to the possibilities that exist right now.

A recent example of this was Sergio Garcia’s play in the Masters on Sunday. After losing a 3 stroke lead to Justin Rose, the wheels appeared to be falling off his round. Matters appeared worse when he hit his 13th tee shot into an unplayable lie and had to take a penalty stroke.

In the past, Sergio would have blamed the world for not producing what he thought should have happened. Sunday, he told a different story.

“In the past, I would have started going at my caddie, “Oh, you know, why doesn’t it go through and whatever?'” He took a different approach Sunday. “I was like, ‘Well, if that was supposed to happen, let it happen. Let’s try to make a great five here and see if we can put a hell of a finish to have a chance. If not, we’ll shake Justin’s hand and congratulate him for winning.'”

With expectations that what happened was meant to happen, Sergio remained composed, stayed open to possibilities, and made a play. He saved par, made birdies on the next two holes, and went on to win his first major in a one-hole sudden death playoff (with a birdie no less).

What I love best about this story is that Sergio was prepared to give his best and accept the consequences even if they didn’t conform to what he wanted, what he believed should happen. This openness and acceptance creates clarity, freedom, and possibility. It is a sign of trusting yourself and the order of the universe.

You should give a shit about your should. Just don’t expect the world to return the favor.

The Can’t Pile

For years I’ve watched myself and others sort what is possible into piles: The Can Pile and the Can’t Pile. Sometimes this is done for seemingly good reasons, such as sorting into piles based on what I can control and what I can’t control. The thinking is, “Why bother with what I can’t control? Just let it be. Save my energy.” On the surface, it makes sense, but there is a problem with sorting like that.

When you sort like that, the Can’t Pile gets too damn big. Please do not limit your influence and possibility in this way.

Let me give an example. I was talking to a young softball player one time, and she was discussing how she controls the controllables and leaves everything else be. She can’t control it, so why bother?

I wanted an example, so she mentioned that she can’t control umpire calls, so she leaves them be and doesn’t worry about them (doubtful this always happens, but I love the effort). In other words, umpire calls are in her Can’t Pile.

This was curious to me, so I asked, “Do you think you can influence umpire calls?”

 She thought about it for a moment. “Yes, maybe. I can talk to them. Thank them for coming. Not complain about calls but rather ask nicely about calls and their strike zone in between innings. I think all that influences calls. If someone likes us, maybe they give us the benefit of the doubt. And people like it when others are nice to them.”

“So if we put umpire calls into our Can’t Pile, aren’t we limiting the true possibilities of our influence?”

She got it, and I hope this example suffices to make a point. When we sort too much into the Can’t Pile, we are limiting our influence too much. We can’t control anything (read the * below if you want more on my definition of control), but to me, we should operate under the belief that we can possibly influence everything to some degree.

Despite our lack of control, our influence is powerful. When we act on what we can influence, so many times we find that forces align to give us what we need and want.

While it is true that our influence is very small sometimes, a small influence can make a huge difference under the right conditions. And small influences over time can have rather large cumulative effects.

Thinking in terms of influence, potential, and possibilities will help open up new worlds to you, so please do not sort into Can and Can’t Piles. The Can’t Pile is too damn big and limits the possibilities you recognize.


*I know control gets confusing for people because I am now the, “We don’t control anything guy,” which makes me a freak in some circles but also seems to hit home in a profound way with so many people. So let me explain.

My definition of control is that to have control, one must control not only their action (or thought or feeling), but everything that goes into allowing that action to happen. I’ve yet to meet anyone who can demonstrate to me they even control something as simple as their consciousness. We are awake now, and we want to be. We don’t control it. It’s a happy coincidence, a beautiful alignment of what we want and what we’ve got, a coming together of forces to give me the illusion of control in this moment.

 If you think you control your consciousness, fall asleep right now and wake up five minutes later to keep reading this. If you can’t do that, the best we can say is that you have some influence over your consciousness, but it certainly doesn’t reach my bar for the definition of control.

Sad About Death

I am departing from my usual post themes because in my household we are sad about death tonight. A classmate of my daughter lost his life in an accident. As a school psychologist, I’ve been around the death of school children dozens of times, too many times. I am, and have been, sad about them all.

Please note that my phrasing sad about death, is quite intentional and one of the main points of this piece. Most of us might say death makes us sad, but in truth, the feelings don’t work this way. Nothing makes us feel or think any certain way. Even death and its finality doesn’t have that power.

What’s my point? It’s certainly not to cheapen life or downplay death.

I have no real words of encouragement. I only want to point in a direction of understanding. Our reactions to death vary because our thoughts about death and life vary as time goes on. Our thoughts and feelings vary even from moment to moment. One moment we are crying thinking about loss, the next we are laughing at a glorious moment we shared with our deceased loved one. You see, death doesn’t make us sad. We are sad about it, and that changes over time even if the sadness keeps coming back when the loss is in our thoughts.

I hope we can be understanding of others. In those deaths I’ve experienced in the schools, I often see finger pointing and blame. Children accuse others of crying too much or crying too little because of perceived relationships and closeness. So and so wasn’t as close as I was, so they shouldn’t be crying as much. We all deal with death differently based on our thoughts about it, and it’s alright that we don’t all feel the same at the same time.

It seems like death makes us sad because we almost all view the loss of life as a sad event, and this is especially true when a child dies. But when we remember that death doesn’t make us sad, we are sad about it, I think this nearly universal reaction is especially informative.

We are sad about death because of the way we think about death. We are sad about death because of our thoughts about loss: What we lost, what family and friends lost, what the deceased lost, what the world lost. We are sad about death because we know some people never get over a loved ones death. We are sad about death because we believe a light that burned so brightly isn’t visible anymore. We are sad about death because we remember loved ones we’ve lost.

Mostly, we are sad about death because we love life, and the loss of it can seem unbearable at times. So if you have the chance today, I hope you celebrate life, even the life of someone who has passed away. After all, we feel our thoughts, and in our thoughts, the life of everyone we remember lasts as long as we live.