Are you a zombie? Am I? Would we even know if we are?

I watched “The Greatest Showman” the other day. It was a kind of spiritual journey for me. The sound track has been echoing in my head ever since. There were so many lessons, so many truths about living life embedded in the lyrics.

greatest showmanOne of the biggest is to simply wake the hell up.

In the song “Come Alive,” we hear a call to more. To figuratively “come alive.” To get off the treadmill and to become truly present in our lives.

To those of you who know me well, it’s a familiar mantra. I’ve often talked about getting stuck on life’s treadmill or the hamster wheel, but here in the middle part of my life, despite being aware of this tendency of human beings, I have often questioned if that is in fact where I am at: stuck in a rut, going through the motions.

     

     zombieYou stumble through your days

     Got your head hung low

     Your skies’ a shade of grey

     Like a zombie in a maze

     You’re asleep inside

     But you can shake away

 

    ‘Cause you’re just a dead man walking

     Thinking that’s your only option

     But you can flip the switch and brighten up your darkest day

     Sun is up and the color’s blinding

     Take the world and redefine it

     Leave behind your narrow mind

    You’ll never be the same

 

It goes on to say:

     And you know you can’t go back again

     To the world that you were living in

     ‘Cause you’re dreaming with your eyes wide open

Jackman is addressing a psychological truth here, though I doubt he even realized it.

brainOur brains are literally wired for novelty. Our brains are continually taking in so much stimulation that, if nothing changes, our brains decide that we just don’t need that information and so we don’t even perceive it. Essentially, our brain defaults to auto-pilot, or the zombie mode that Hugh Jackman refers to in his song.

What does this look like? Let me try to explain.

Have you ever been in a deep sleep, but bolt awake when the fan, the AC, or the furnace stops running? Why do you wake up when the background noise stops?

Because it’s a change. Our brain is listening to everything. Our brain hears the blood rushing through our veins, the ice dispenser when it drops ice in the middle of the night, the traffic on the street in front of your house. Our brain literally controls what we are aware of. It is continually making judgement calls on our behalf–and sometimes it gets it wrong.

For instance, if you’re a parent, you’re probably pretty familiar with conversations that go something like this:

“Gavin! Get down here! I have told you 5 times to pick up you backpack.”

“Geesh, Mom! Why are you so mad? All you had to do was ask.”

“I did–5 times.”

“No, you didn’t. This is the first time you asked.”

Sound familiar? It should, or something quite like it.

charliebrownThe reality is that, to kids, we are really pretty much like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon: “Waa, waa, waa, wa, waa…”

Our children are so used to the sound of our voices in the background that our brains literally tune us out. It is not your child deciding not to listen (or at least not most of the time), but their brain says, “Oh, this is normal, nothing has changed and so you don’t need to hear this.” But when mom’s voice switches to an angry tone the brain says, “Uh, oh. This you need to hear.”

Our brain does this in all areas of our life. What’s new, what’s novel, what’s different, it tells us is worth seeing. What is normal, expected, mundane–not so much.

This can cause an enormous problem in our day to day lives if we’re not careful.

Couple problems

One of the biggest and most common problems I have heard about in marriages is “he stopped seeing me.” I know that was the truth in my own marriage. The thing that we fail to understand is that that is not the exception–it is inevitable unless we make a conscious choice to keep seeing, to keep changing, and to keep our significant other in the forefront. He or she becomes “status quo” and in the language of the brain “nothing has changed” so we don’t need to notice or see, and we stop seeing.

One of the most frequent regrets I have heard people voice is not appreciating the time they had with their children enough before they are gone. It falls into the same category: once we get used to something, we stop seeing it and appreciating it. The adage “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” embodies this truth. You really don’t know until something changes, the change being the person leaving–and all of a sudden, often when it’s too late, you are aware of just how much that person meant.

birth photoIf you’re a parent, think back to what you felt the first time your firstborn was put into your arms. Do you love him or her any less today that you did that day? But how often do you feel now what you felt then? It takes a choice, a determination to think about, and focus on those little people you love so much, and then it all comes flooding in.

My children are growing. My son turned 14 this year. I have four years left with my little fella (not so little anymore–towering over 6 feet tall). The years have sped by, and I am all too aware of the moments lost and not savored. I have made a choice to choose to actively see my children. To force my brain to think about and appreciate these little miracles I get to live with, at least for the time being, on an almost daily basis.

We do the same thing in all areas of our life. We get used to the routine. The job that once thrilled us becomes “normal.” The activity that once excited us becomes “mundane.” The landscape that once filled us with awe becomes the background. Emerson talks about this in his work “From Nature.”

 “To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At             least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the                       man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child.”

Jim Elliot QuoteEmerson didn’t know the neuroscience that caused this “superficial seeing” but he had certainly observed it–as have we all if we are honest.

One of the choices I have made this year has been to be more present. In this modern world we live in we are inundated with noise. Being present requires reflection, and reflection can’t be had when there is a little glowing screen in the palm of our hand distracting us. I’ve made the decision to put that glowing screen down more often. To put it out of sight. To mute it.

To be present in my world.

I’ve also made the decision to consciously see what my brain thinks I don’t need to see. Most days on my way to work, I prayed that God would help me see who and what I needed to see. I consciously looked for the divine moments, the real life moments I was put in this job to be a part of.

You have to understand, in the life of a teacher, the moments fly by. We are assaulted with questions and decisions, class after class, and if I don’t make a conscious effort to see my students, I can go through the entire day jumping from crisis to crisis and/or just hitting auto pilot through my lessons.

But I didn’t get into teaching just to fill young minds with knowledge. I became a teacher to make a difference.

By being conscious, I was able to help students with real trauma and loss in their lives. I was able to inspire some. I was able to let them know that there was someone there who cared. How many of these encounters would I have missed if I hadn’t made a conscious effort to see?

How many did I miss because I am still a long way from living this way every moment?

I want to live with my eyes wide open. I want to see what’s right in front of me. The people who matter the most. The people who need me the most. The possibilities that are right there for the taking–if I only have the eyes to see.

Do you have the eyes to see those moments in your own life? The ones that really matter? The ones that are so very easily overlooked?

If not, in the words of Hugh Jackman, stop being a “zombie in a maze, flip the switch, and come alive.”

I promise you, you won’t regret it!

 

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You Don’t Have to be Alexander the Great to Change the World

I was very discouraged last week.

I wrote a blog, pouring out some of the greast lessons I feel like I have learned in life, and I crafted them with great care. I wrote, I paused, I pondered, I wrote, pondered some more, and rewrote. The end result was a blog that I felt captured the heart and soul of what I wanted to say. With a feeling of accomplishment and pleasure in a job well done, I posted it and waited. And waited . . . and waited some more.

A handful of friends and family read it and appreciated it. A handful. I was discouraged. As so many writers, I blog because I have so much inside myself that needs to come out, but also, because I am a writer–I have things to say and I hope that they are worthwhile things that can speak to the human soul, the human angst, the human experience, and thereby, that my influence, my voice will be appreciated by the masses, not a handful. I was discouraged.

As so many of my fellow bloggers have wondered at some point in their blooging lives, I couldn’t help but wonder why I even bother? Why do I spend my free time writing for an audience that doesn’t emerge when I could just as easily simply put my thoughts and ideas into a private journal? Why spend my time agonizing over word choice and turn of phrase, putting my thoughts out in the universe, when no one is going to bother to read them?

But then I began to remember something. It started with a comment a friend who I haven’t seen in ages wrote on my facebook page. She read my blog, and it impacted her. It helped her. It spoke to her in her present pain, and helped her see that she was not alone, that what she was living, is normal. I cried.

In that moment I remembered a truth that so many of us tend to forget.

I have always wanted to change the world. It has always been a burning passion in me. I want to leave this world a better place when I leave it. I do not want to simply take up space, but instead, to know that my living will have an impact, that my time spent on this planet will mean something.

I’m not alone in this desire. It is a somewhat comman desire, that we leave our footprint, our fingerprints, on this world. I think however, that sometimes we look at that and think to change the world we must do so enmasse, in one fell swoop. We have the misconception that we change the world by personally affecting the lives of many people personally, but that is not how most of those who change the world, change the world. They do so one person at a time.change

I have an absolutely wonderful grandmother. She is smart, she is kind, and she pours into the lives of her eight children and her many, many  grandchildren.

She poured into my life. In so many ways, I am the person I am today because my grandmother instilled within me a moral compass, a compassion for others, and a will do to the right thing because it is, quite simply, right.

My grandmother is getting older. As she is walking into the twilight of her life, she spends a lot of time reflecting on the life she has lived. More than once she has spoken with me about her struggle as she contends with a life that, she feels, has not had an impact, has not been important, has not left an imprint.

She was a stay at home mom in a generation of stay at home moms, and now she wishes she had done something great. Something important.

What she doesn’t understand is that she has changed the world.

Behind every world changer, there are many individuals who have changed them.

Martin Luther King Jr. did not change the face of our country alone; he had behind him all of those who impacted him, who encouraged him, all of those who believed in him and told him not to give up. Every great man or woman does.

My grandmother doesn’t think that she changed the world, but she changed me, and I am determined to change the world, be it one person at a time. Every time I impact one of my students, every time I write a blog that changes someone’s outlook, every man woman or child I helped in my times overseas–my grandmother was a part of that. She changed me, and I in turn changed them.grandma

She impacted her children, who have gone out and impacted others. And she has impacted her grandchildren, directly and indirectly. She helps cancer patients through my sister, she reaches countless adults, women and children through my Uncle Mark, and she has touched almost every continent in this world between her various children and grandchildren. By changing one, we change the world.

And so, though my blog is not read by many, and though my impact is negligible, I will not be discouraged. If I impact one, I have made a difference. As a writer, as a teacher, as a citizen of this planet, I will never be able to impact everyone, but, just like paying it forward, if I can give of what I have and of who I am, and if those I pour into will also pour into others . . . then that is really enough, isn’t it?