Open Borders

Love vs. fear – which is guiding us

As a spiritual teacher, I’ve long taught there are two basic emotions – love and fear, and every emotion and action can be tracked to either one or the other.

If you prefer, call them good and evil, hope and hopelessness, the best of us and the worst of us, but know this: whatever the literary context, it always comes down to right and wrong.

When the border crisis is dismissed as “just political,” I feel compelled to speak. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A humanitarian crisis of historic proportion is unfolding at America’s borders. No ifs, ands, buts, or maybes, the stories aren’t fake but painfully real. It’s not about votes or nightly soundbites, but mothers and children, families and values.

Some things are simply too abhorrent to defend and most of us learned long ago that defending the indefensible will never work out. Coming to terms with a crisis like this is neither easy nor optional. We’ll either figure it out and learn from it or, failing that, risk the moral undoing of who we are and all we aspire to be.

As a horrified world watches America default the moral leadership that has inspired hope and set us apart for nearly two and a half centuries, it’s important to look beyond politics to fully understand what is occurring and what it means in human terms.

We have long stood for the country that takes all – the inscription on the Statute of Liberty reads:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

It’s impossible to reconcile those sentiments with our current stance at the border. We have refugees seeking a better life here, and we are suddenly turning them into criminals and taking away their children in the process.

This can’t be sugar-coated or explained away.

There is nothing political in a baby ripped from her mother’s breast, a toddler sleeping on concrete under a mylar blanket in a facility reminiscent of a jail, or a stunned teenager frightened at a separation he can’t possibly understand.

This emphasis on fear isn’t new, take a look at what’s happening right now in France, German, Italy, and the Netherlands, where fear about the “otherness” of immigrants is being pushed. Around the world people are being manipulated by fear. Emotions are weaponized to trample human values. Ends justify the means as people are used heartlessly as pawns in a much bigger game. That the powerful blame the powerless to stay in power is an old story. Leveraging the emotional vulnerability of the weak to further an agenda is a new wrinkle on an old evil.

Blaming those with different ideas or viewed as threats is a proven technique shamefully enhanced. Look to the language used to justify inexcusable actions, how it expertly stokes fear to manipulate and encourage us to close our eyes to what we see and accept it as okay. Words like “crisis, disaster, an out-of-control influx of criminals pouring over open borders, drug dealers, thieves, rapists” – language meant to incite and further an ugly narrative.

We are told these are people we shouldn’t want or welcome. English isn’t their first language and their skin is often darker than ours. We’re warned that what they want is ours – told their gain is our loss – and it must be stopped.

There are a number of truths here. First, this is a real disaster. Second, it’s a crisis that didn’t have to be; it was discretionary. Third, we have more than enough room for immigrants, as we are a much less dense population than other countries and our population is declining. We should be eager to have these hard-working, highly motivated people who have a lower crime rate, higher marriage rate, and are more church-going than our own citizens, all values we claim to cherish.

Sadly, the tragedy is that there appears to be no carefully thought-out next step, no skillfully-exercised solution conceived to undo the damage done. We can imagine an ever-increasing number of children and families left in limbo for months. The human collateral damage is simply incomprehensible.

By leveraging immigration fears, we’re asked to turn our backs on refugees fleeing tyranny, ignoring our most basic, admirable American values.

I’ve always believed in the idea that there is enough, more than enough, for all of us. Plus, we all learned as children we must give to get. And there is no more basic teaching than the Golden Rule, telling us to do unto others as we would have others do unto us. The answer to our biggest problem lies within us.

Reject fear, choose love.

Value humanity above all else; in the end that’s our best and oldest defense.

Defend against fear by rising above it and meeting it with love.

That isn’t politics. It couldn’t be more human. Or divine.

Children at the border

Why How We Behave at the Border Matters

I was truly moved by the First Lady this morning. She spoke eloquently about immigrant children separated from their parents at the border. Mrs. Trump, following similar guidelines of other former first ladies, urges us to govern with heart.

This crisis at our border is not about politics; it’s about us—our behavior and our core values. It doesn’t matter what laws we have on the books, who put them in place or when. Children are being hurt right in front of our eyes, and we must not allow it.

In a lifetime of teachable moments, I most cherish these precious and rare opportunities to share something of human value empowering the best in us; moments that attest to our highest purpose which naturally inspire our spiritual growth.

This is one of those.

Our values are expressed by our behavior and we can’t ignore the consequences of our actions. The way we behave impacts the behavior of others, which in turn influences their treatment of others. We choose how to create our world.

Because behavior doesn’t occur in a vacuum, it makes a public statement, serving as a lens into our heart that showcases our values. Our actions, even small ones viewed as inconsequential, can have profound consequences. No one is exempt from the impact of his/her own behavior. Sadly, learning to take personal responsibility for how we behave may be one of life’s most urgently needed but difficult to learn lessons.

When we allow what is happening to innocent children at our borders, when we hear doctors and psychologists describe the lifelong damage it causes and remain silent, and when our response to such cruel behavior is to do nothing or worse, argue about who’s fault it is, what does that say about us?

As a spiritual teacher, I counsel against accepting less of ourselves, and to demand more. Each of us makes that choice and our behavior tells the world the choice we’ve made. And, in the end, our behavior reveals our humanity and core values defining our moral compass.

Whether we are red or blue, black or white, rich or poor, young or old, we must choose to protect innocent children being ripped from their mothers’ arms. Here’s a moment to make our world a better place, defined by the best we have to offer, instead of debasing the world with the worst .

It’s what these children and our future world deserve.


Open Road, Open Heart: How Travel Transforms Us

Once people achieve the basic necessities of life—peace, freedom, and security—what do they begin to yearn for? You wouldn’t be wrong if you guessed travel! People are curious explorers who want to learn and discover and grow. The Open Road of myth and legend is actually a path to an open heart and an open mind, qualities that the human spirit is always seeking. At our best, we want to know our world and be connected in peace and understanding to all who share it with us. Travel is about people, who we are and what we want and need.

We put our discretionary income where our hearts are. According to the U.S. Travel Association, travel and tourism generated over $1.7 trillion in economic output in 2016 and supported 7.6 million jobs. A heartening feature of the travel industry is that it is highly dependent on human labor—robots will not be taking jobs in the travel industry any time soon. When you think of it, travel is people-centric. We travel to see new landscapes, it’s true, but we also want to meet the people who occupy those places. What do they eat? How do they dress? How do they live and what is important to them? What can we learn from them that will expand our hearts and minds?

You Don’t Have to Travel Far

There’s no need to travel around the planet to enjoy the benefits, although you are very blessed if you can manage it. The world is large, but you don’t have to go far to find a place where people live a different life from yours. As the late and much-beloved traveling chef, Anthony Bourdain said, “If I am an advocate for anything, it’s to move as far as you can, as much as you can, across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.” Visiting a small farm town in the Midwest can take you a world away from the bustling mega-city where you normally spend your days. Extra blessed are those who can cross the oceans and the continents and meet people who speak a different language and raise goats instead of social media presence. They shall be rewarded with tolerance, understanding, and a new perspective on life.

As another TV travel hero, Rick Steves, says, “Thoughtful travel helped me become a better citizen of the planet.” Steves specializes in European travel but has visited nations from El Salvador to Iran to discover what the people think and feel as well as what they eat and drink. He says these connections with people “open you up to things” as they show you new ways of looking at the world. It’s hard to think in terms of “them” and “us” when we discover the shared concerns of people everywhere. Mark Twain famously said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

Any reduction in those human weaknesses would be a blessing indeed. And travel provides joy, adventure, and education while accomplishing this spiritual expansion.

Forget Fear and Embrace the Unknown

“Fear is for people who don’t get out very much,” says Rick Steves. Tourist industry experts report that more and more people are letting go of the “sanitized” excursions of yesteryear that offer to keep life just like home as you travel. Isn’t the core idea of travel to leave the everyday behind and experience the new? To recreate and reflect and come home with fresh energy and vision? More travelers are letting go of fear and letting the new enhance their chances of self-discovery. Travel organizers have responded with more trips designed to help people “transform” with adventure, exploration, education, volunteering, even spiritual training. Why do people love travel and seek it out to the tune of trillions of dollars each year? Because, when we look closely at ourselves, we see that to learn and grow makes us happy.

Will you be taking the Open Road this summer? Will you find ways to discover, learn, and grow? Whether you are flying to China to walk on the Great Wall or driving to Omaha to visit Aunt Charlotte, you can make your summer travel transformational. Wherever you go, you will see places, meet people, and hear stories. Of course, you’ll take photos. Try also to keep a gentle journal of your travels so that back home you can make a small memory book with favorite words and pictures to help you remember and reflect. Most of all, have fun! Learning opportunities that cost only loving awareness are everywhere for all who keep an open mind and an open heart.

Pet Power

Pet Power: The Amazing Ways Animals Help Us Heal

Pet Power: The Amazing Ways Animals Help Us Heal

It’s no secret that our animal friends, our beloved pets of every species, provide us with companionship, love, and an overall feeling of wellbeing. They help us feel good in so many ways that we accept their value without question. In fact, all the animals of the Earth are worthy of our concern and protection and, today, need our attention more than ever. Although we’ve always known how important animals are to us, our knowing has been personal and intuitive. Now a new era of research has begun to discover the hows and whys of our bond with the animal kingdom. We know about “pet power” from our personal experience, but now science is exploring the power of human-animal connections to document and strengthen those ties!

Paws for People 101

In 2015, Tufts University launched a new research wing, the Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction to discover more about this important connection. The campus library was already “healing with the animals” in a program called Tufts Paws for People, bringing pets into the library during exam week to help students handle their stress and anxiety. Customer satisfaction ratings were high. Everybody loved it! Later, the university documented the positive stress-reduction results with hundreds of students participating in a survey about their stress levels before and after they spent time with the animals. When science documents the feel-good power, support grows for more research and development in this life-changing field.

What Can “Pet Power” Do?

According to the American Heart Association, pet ownership is linked to a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and reduction in obesity. Research has shown that interacting with animals can increase people’s level of the hormone oxytocin, the “hug hormone,” which brings feelings of happiness and trust. Being with pets also causes your body to release serotonin, dopamine, and prolactin, more feel-good hormones. Pet your dog or cat for a few minutes and your cortisol, a stress-related hormone, will dip. Interacting with pets helps us relax, and they are pretty happy chilling with us, too!

Pet ownership is often recommended for people suffering from depression, low self-esteem, and severe anxiety. Animals are role models for being present, enjoying simple pleasures, being active and awake to their surroundings. Taking your pet for a walk takes you out of your head and into the world, where they eagerly and joyfully demonstrate how to explore and appreciate the environment.

Pets Bring You to Life!

Dr. Marty Becker, known as “America’s Veterinarian,” has made his life’s mission advocating for the wellness benefits of the animal-human bond. “Pets bring you to life,” he says, citing the physical, social, and medical avenues of healing that pets provide. In his lifetime, he has seen the human-animal bond move from the realm of folk wisdom to the realm of scientific research. “We have to prove it is true,” he says. Science is now confirming that people who interact with pets enjoy better physical health, a stronger social connection, and a greater sense of joy and wellbeing.

And, the wellness feeling is definitely mutual. What Dr. Marty Becker calls the “love loop” between humans and pets can be measured. Adoption rates increase at shelters where volunteers visit the animals to play with them and help them develop their social skills. Pet owners with chronic pain report less need for medication than people who don’t have an animal presence at home. Counselors, therapists, and teachers are drawing on the healing power of pets in their work. From veterans with PTSD to children with autism, more people everywhere are “feeling the healing” with pets!

Want to Help?

You can contribute to animal welfare by supporting your local shelter and donating to animal protection organizations. But what if you have a pet you would like to train with for animal therapy work? Look for opportunities in your community to join visitation programs that teach people and their pets how to help and heal. It could be a wonderful learning experience for you and your animal companion!

If you love animals like I do, you’ll love my new course, Communicating with Pets and Animals.