Storytelling at Work
September 03, 2020
Quarantining My Mind

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The practice of quarantine began during the 14th century in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit, at anchor, for 40 days before landing. This word for this phenomenon harkens back to two Italian words, "quaranta giorni", which translate as "40 days".

OK. I get it. Quarantining makes sense. When someone or something is infected and contagious we remove it from society. We protect the whole, by isolating the parts.

But the body is not the only part of us that gets infected. So does our mind -- what the dictionary defines as "the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences -- the faculty of consciousness and thought."

On a good, uninfected day, our mind is a capable of many glorious things: wonder, imagination, gratitude, focus, clarity, creativity, compassion, appreciation, and wisdom, just to name a few. But when it gets infected, watch out, my friends, watch out. The game changes quickly. All hell breaks loose.

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The symptoms of the body's contagion are relatively easy to recognize, especially these days with all the coverage Covid-19 is getting: fever, chills, sneezing, coughing, body aches, and fatigue.

The symptoms of the mind's contagion? Not quite as easy to detect. Why not? Because, like pollution and hidden bank charges, we've become so accustomed to them, we barely notice anymore. But just because we don't, it doesn't mean the contagion isn't wreaking havoc. It most definitely is.

The symptoms of an infected mind? Take your pick: worry, doubt, fear, stress, anger, blame, confusion, panic, powerlessness, loneliness, hopelessness, irritation, frustration, hypochondria, lethargy, and overwhelm -- and that's just for starters.

Simply put our body gets physically infected and our mind gets metaphysically infected. And when it does, its contagion begins spreading exponentially. Other people are affected -- our families, our friends, and our communities.

These days, I have never been more aware of my mind's infection.

Living in semi-isolation as I am, 10,000 miles from home, more time on my frequently washed hands than usual, I am acutely aware of the condition I have. I've caught something. I have something. But the thing that I've caught and have doesn't need to catch and have me. It doesn't. Nope. No way. I'm in charge. Not it.

That's where choice enters the picture -- to quarantine the infected part of my mind before it gets out of hand.

What does this so-called quarantining look like? For me, it begins with a kind of peeing around my soul's territory and then choosing not to engage, not to react, not to fight back, and not to take a single bite from the seeming infinite supply of poisoned cookies my mind tosses my way.

Instead, I take a breath, return to the place of peace inside me, and send the feral monkeys of my mind back to their room for a long time out. And if they refuse my directive, as they often do, I simply turn and walk away, their nervous chattering now fading background noise in the soaring symphony of my life.

Does it always work? No. But sometimes it does. And the more I practice quarantining my mind, the flatter the curve.

Covid-19 is just a dress rehearsal, folks, an opportunity for each and every one of us to see through the illusory nature of the world and all we've constructed -- our identities, personas, possessions, accomplishments, systems, institutions, civilizations, and distractions. None of them are real. All of them come and go in the blink of an eye.

What remains when they skedaddle out of town? Now that's the 279 trillion dollar question, isn't it? What remains?

For now, let's keep it real simple. You and I and the other 7.7 billion people on planet Earth have a choice -- the choice to choose life over death, light over dark, love over hate, now over later, and presence over absence. And, perhaps above all else, the choice to pay attention to that which is truly worthy of our attention. You know what it is. I know you do. No matter what name you call it or how you invoke it, I invite you to pay more attention to that during these crazy Coronavirus days of change.

Photo: Courtesy of TimelessToday
The Two Wolves
Ending Violence with Chopsticks
Is That So?

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:14 AM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2020
Words Written to Ease the Passing of My Friend's Dying Mother

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A few days ago, I got an email from a friend of mine, in Denmark, telling me that her mother was dying and would I be willing to email a few of my stories to her that she might choose one to read, bedside, to her mother.

Whoa! This was not a request that had ever come my way before and I was not at all sure I had anything up to the task. Curious, I began looking through my stuff and, after a few minutes, found a few that seemed sort of possible and sent them on their way.

Tina chose this one and read it to her mother on her death bed -- her mom smiling upon hearing it, nodding, and squeezing Tina's hand.

Those three gestures -- the gestures of a 96-year old woman on her way to the Great Beyond -- a smile, a head nod, and a squeeze of the hand -- is probably the most meaningful feedback I have ever received, enough for me to live on for quite a while, indeed, but the next morning, when I woke up, there was yet another message from Tina -- this one explaining that her mother had, at most, only another 30 minutes left and... would... I... be willing to send another story?

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Stunned, humbled, knocked for a loop, I wiped the sleep from my eyes and tried to think of something I'd written, something, that might be good enough for Tina to read to her mom, now only 30 minutes from death's door.

Nothing came to mind. Nothing I'd ever written felt right for the moment. Nothing fit the request. And then... I got it! NOW was the moment to write it. No mussing. No fussing. No time to waste. And so I did. And here it is:

"I know it seems as if you are dying, mother, but there is no such thing as death. What we call death is really just the walking from one room of your house into another -- a room with much bigger windows, fresher air, and an even better view than anything you have seen so far. The only thing that ends is the body, but the soul flies free, forever. As always, you are in good hands, God's hands, the hands of life, what gave you life in the beginning and will guide you on your way. We come and we go, like pilgrims, just for a while. We see, we hear, we think, we feel, but there is even something greater for all of us to experience and that is the journey you are now on. No one stays here, forever. We are guests, wayfarers, and traveling companions. In terms of eternity, you are leaving only a few minutes before I do. Both of us, like everyone else on planet Earth, is on the same journey -- the journey of letting go and waking up to who we truly are -- the love supreme, the breath of life, the gift we have been given and will always have. You have lived a good life. Be grateful for that. Now it is time to fly free. Wherever you go, know this: you will be guided and protected, always held in the arms of love. Always. Trust that. Go to the light. Fly free!"

NOTE: Out of this experience, only a few days old, I've decided to write a book of stories, reflections, and poetry for people about to depart: The Book of Last Days. I feel called to do this and, God willing, I will.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:08 AM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2020
FEEDING OTHERS

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The following is a guest post from the very soulful and talented Burrill Crohn

The COVID crisis has only increased (vastly) the disproportion between the privileged haves and the far larger population who are somewhere on the scale between hungry and starving (often to death).

While the crisis has seen more hoarder mentality in many, there are others -- individuals and organizations -- who have been able send massive amounts of food to those with little or none. And so can we all, in whatever capacity.

But there is another approach as well, borrowed from the long-time Buddhist loving/kindness meditation practice -- one that breathes in the suffering of others, whether a specific individual or all sentient beings, and on the outbreath sends love and compassion to one and all.

When eating, I do my own variation.

As I eat -- whether snack or meal -- I invite others, anywhere, to come and share in the taste, nourishment and sheer joy of this food. Sometimes it's a blanket, open invitation. Sometimes I focus on a group: prisoners in isolation, someone I read about in the news, or a homeless family I see on the street. Other times I send this energy out into the non-material world seeking specific others or just any and all who can tap into what I'm sending.

One morning, for instance, eating a hearty breakfast, I specifically focused on all the front line COVID emergency responders who might have left home without a nourishing breakfast, or maybe were feeling a mid-morning let down of glucose metabolism and needed a pick-up.

Sometimes I see this like Keith Haring graffiti, lines of energy flowing from me to others; sometimes it's like inviting strangers, as is almost a requirement in many cultures and religions, into my own home (or in this case, body) to share a meal. There are other variations, as well, but you don't need examples from me. As you develop your practice -- if you so choose -- you'll find plenty of your own.

Certainly, facing the horror of pandemic hunger, there are those who will say only action counts. But we also live in a world where we send good wishes to others, offer prayers in houses of worship and the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of more than a half a billion people, says, "Think peace".

So I say, "Think food." It can't hurt, it might even help.

-- Burrill Crohn

Photo: Ashkan Forouzani, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:20 AM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2020
NEW FROM PREM RAWAT: Once Upon This Time There Lives You

NEW from the master storyteller, Prem Rawat! ONE 2 ONE, a series of daily talks about the story of all our lives -- the real plot... the true telling of the tale... and YOU are the character.

Feel free to subscribe to his newly launched YouTube channel to stay up to date with the timeless.

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:14 AM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2020
Sheikh Waseem

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The first week of my two and a half year relationship with Al Siraat College -- a K-12 Australian school in the Islamic tradition, I facilitated a 90-minute workshop for the school's teachers and staff. The experience, praise God, was very well-received and a big relief that my somewhat oddball approach to "teaching" was acceptable.

The next week, just as I was about to begin a second workshop with the same teachers and staff, one of the school's Quran teachers, the very noble Sheikh Waseem, approached me.

If this was a movie the two of us were in, "central casting" had nailed it because Sheikh Waseem was, most definitely, the living embodiment of a Muslim man -- at least the one I had in my mind: bearded, long white robe, white turban, and the kind of seriousness that spoke of a deep commitment.

With a twinkle in his eye, he stepped closer.

"Mr. Mitch," he said. "You are my teacher."

Caught off guard by this unexpected comment, I smiled, slightly bowed, and replied, "Oh no, Sheikh Waseem, you are MY teacher."

Then Sheikh Waseem smiled, bowed in my direction, and spoke yet again. "Oh no, Mr. Mitch, you are MY teacher."

The two of us just stood there, looking at each other. Realizing it was my turn, I spoke again, "Oh Sheikh Waseem, I am very curious. Why do you say that I am your teacher."

"Because Mr. Mitch, last week, at the workshop, I learned something very valuable from you."

"And what would that be, Sheikh Waseem?" I replied.

"I need to have more FUN!"

Wikipedia: Prophet Muhammed, PBUH

35 sayings of the Prophet Muhammed
An excerpt from "A Thousand Muslims and a Jew"
Meanwhile... in Mexico

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:51 AM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2020
SILVER LINING STORY #1: Finding Our Common Humanity

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This just in from the totally wonderful Julian West in Kathmandu.

As countries worldwide slam shut their borders and condemn millions of us to enforced and self-enforced isolation, something wonderful is happening. A new sense of humanity, fueled not only by natural compassion, but the knowledge that from Beijing to Bologna, from Seoul to San Francisco, we are all going through the same thing. The Big C is here, everywhere, and it could be coming for us, too.

All of us are worried: about our health, the health of our friends and families, our communities; our livelihoods and those of others; our ability to survive. Governments everywhere have proved themselves inadequate, in many different ways, to coping with this crisis. In a matter of days, countries like Britain are melting down: the ragged state of the safety nets designed to protect people, but torn apart by decades of government cuts, exposed. We have a health service that can't respond; employers that either cannot or will not pay sick leave; supermarkets whose supply chains have broken under the weight of human fear.

But we also know that ALL of us are experiencing this. And from that shared experience is blossoming something rare and precious: community, humanity, compassion, and kindness.

I belong to Nextdoor, one of many neighbourhood groups, usually carrying notices for workmen, or local news and tips. For the last two or three weeks the site has filled with offers to help elderly people; links to volunteer groups; tips to stay healthy and fed; compassionate words of support and advice for the sick or scared -- of whom there are many. It helps people feel less isolated. To feel they are not alone. For indeed we are not.

The other silver lining to this dark cloud hanging over us all is the improved environment. For the first time in years, in Beijing you can see the sun. Smoggy grey skies are now blue. In Kathmandu where I live for much of the time, streets are clean of cars; the magnificent Himalayas are out in full glory; we can breathe.

These are just some of the ways this crisis is helping us: to find our common humanity, to see the glory of the beautiful world we live in; to offer, as a counterpoint to dystopia, something truly divine.

-- Julian West

How to submit a silver lining story to this blog

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:09 AM | Comments (0)

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