Train to Live
For the past seven years, I’ve had the honor of helping people die. I’ve sat in homes as children and grandchildren have shared memories. I have sung childhood songs in Emergency Rooms. I have spent a great deal of time in the ICU with patients of all ages. I attend most meetings where doctors tell family members that their loved ones have no chance of recovery. I do my best to fulfill last requests.
I have also sat with dozens of people during the last years and months of their life. I have validated children and grandchildren whose loved ones no longer recognize them. Recently a wife said, “This person is very nice, but he isn’t my husband.” The term Ambiguous Grief applies well to the challenge of dementia, which is probably the hardest condition to deal with.
I am struck by the power of these final moments. Cliches are annoying because they are easy to say and hard to live, yet it remains a common experience that we are most aware of our life and its value when we are closest to death. I playfully but seriously call my end of life work “death at a discount,” because I have that most precious experience of gaining end of life perspective while I am still relatively young, while I can do something about that perspective I have gained.
I am excited that I get to pivot my work from helping with death to helping with life. I already do that to a large extent, but I can’t think of a more urgent responsibility than the one that I will begin next week, that of the Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the Army National Guard.
I look forward to serving those whose service has cost them so much. However, you feel about the military, and there is plenty to discuss on that topic, the cost of military service is real and urgent. I feel called to serve people at the extremes of human experience for several reasons. It is the best use for my intense brain and intense life experience, and I enjoy both the challenge and fulfillment of being able to do good when the stakes are so high. I also value the clarity that these extreme situations bring. What is true in the extremes is usually true in our day to day lives as well, we just have a harder time feeling them.
One of the greatest challenges of being alive is that we are evolved for survival, not necessarily for thriving. In order to feel motivated when we don’t fear for our lives, we have to functionally trick ourselves, or at least impose a structure and discipline that sustains and elevates us. That’s a key point of civilization.
For this job, I want to shift the focus from Suicide Prevention to Life Training, because I believe that’s the best way to address the challenges and pain that are so intense that people would rather tap out than face it (not to oversimplify the complex dynamics around suicide.)
Here are a few “Train to Live” principles that I would like to share.
Name your reality. First, we have to be aware of our contexts and their impact on us. Our current reality really is a global dumpster fire in many ways. The individually focused wellness industry is unethical in part because it fails to take adequate account of the countless ways our environment challenges our efforts to be well. Once we can name those, we get a sense of our challenges and opportunities.
Craft your life. Once we have a sense of what we are dealing with, we can design the best life possible within those constraints. I love the principle of letting our dreams have their own lives, to not limit our dreams, because our dreams tell us what we value. What makes your life worth living? What is your purpose? These are the big questions, the life quest. When we work towards routine and practice and goals that align with our values, we can feel a plugged connection and meaning that helps us feel.
Find your comforts. The term “Self-care” is thrown around all the time, and there are both gentle and rigorous forms of self-care, and we need both. I like the framework of clarity, comfort, and challenge. Sometimes we need to understand what is going on. Sometimes we are ready to work hard. And other times we just need to rest. When we figure out a list of things that help us feel better quickly, we can push into discomfort more consistently. I personally love good food, clean sheets, journaling, and mobile games, among other things.
Develop your skills. We are evolved to want to avoid pain, and understandably, since pain is an alarm system to tell us to stop doing things that harm us, but the discomfort that relates to growth is different. Leaning into discomfort is one of the most powerful paradigm shifts we can experience. When I am working with extreme challenges as a Chaplain, I have functional limitless emotional endurance, because I recover as quickly as I expend energy. I am aligned with my purpose, and I have developed the skills and practices I need to feel good day to day, even when working with the extremes of human experience. I invite you to figure out what skills and routines you need sufficient to metabolize your feelings and experiences. For example, the practice of gratitude has been shown to decrease our stress levels by about 25%.
Foster your fortitude. This principle belongs at the beginning, end, and every step of the path to wellness. Fortitude is the mother of all virtues because if we cannot endure discomfort, including emotional discomfort, we can’t engage reality productively. I am convinced that the root of all evil (I love grand, sweeping statements) is pain and effort avoidance. We don’t want to hurt. We don’t want to work. We don’t want to face the hard truth about ourselves. Perhaps my most important practice has been the simple but brutally challenging experience of simply sitting with my pain and discomfort, without resistance. Learning to companion my pain gently has strengthened me so that I know I can make it through pretty much anything, and that I’m ok even when I wonder whether I can.
The extremes illuminate the ordinary. You don’t need to be military or a first responder to benefit from these practices. Even lives considered ordinary contain extraordinary challenges. This is the cost of being human, of being alive. The purpose of life is to live it. So might as well train to live well.
—Chaplain Jared Anderson
Happy Fall Y’all!
What a summer this has been! 2023 has not disappointed with the hot weather, the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, life after pandemic becoming more recognizable and our beautiful organization coming back to life in person.
Our annual BBQ was last month and was a blast. It was so nice to see so many friendly faces both familiar and new. Even though we got a big rainstorm, which was awesome, it added to the adventure of the evening. In the upcoming months, we have wonderful speakers and our end of the year Humanlight Celebration. Topics like Death with Dignity, Incomparable Good with Inexcusable Costs, and many more.
I have been thinking very heavily about humanism and humanitarianism. Interestingly, conversations about this topic have organically presented themselves recently more than usual…enough to notice the pattern. For me it is important to pay attention and to notice things like this. As you all know, there is still much disconnection and struggle in our society and the world as a whole. The aftermath of the pandemic isolation and its effects is more clearly visible as we take a look at how we are all going to move forward in our individual lives, our communities, our nation, and our world. Our perceptions are our realities and those can be affected by learning, participation in life, and constantly striving to be better. Ask yourself, often, questions of reflection, of action, of curiosity and of wonder. This will help guide you and empower you to live your life on your terms and in your way.
With our humanistic views of ethics and our beliefs in the principles of affirming human worth, dignity, compassion, morality, reason, critical thinking, scientific inquiry, naturalism, and democracy, it is imperative to work these principles into our daily lives and walk the humanist walk. We are a sound people. We are an empowered people. We are looking for ways to assist in creating a world of compassionate accountability, solid moral ethics and humanitarian assistance in small and large ways. Ask yourself, how does this resonate with you? How are you helping (even in small ways)? What do you believe?
Utah is a beautiful place. One of the best, in my opinion. It is environmentally beautiful, still rather unknown in the larger scale of the planet, so it hasn’t been overrun. The people here are friendly, kind, and helpful, for the most part. But most of all, there is a yearning for growth, connection, and an authentic experience to life. Humanitarian efforts are in need and are literally everywhere if you look. Our active belief in the value of human life enables us to practice benevolent treatment of others and aid help reduce suffering.
I am beyond excited to see you all in the upcoming months. Our community is growing, and all are welcome here. Bring your friends to hear the speakers. Their messages are important for everyone. Knowledge is power and there will be cookies!
Friends, we think about you often. We understand the plight of our world and discuss how we can show up, help, and empower others. You are valued, you are appreciated, and we hope to see you very soon.
The Philosophy Bar
Long time HoU member Granger Peck has published a new novel:
Philosophy Professor Dimitri Solomon, in his middle years, decides to go into the ‘bar’ business in Salt Lake City Utah. Not a bar that serves alcohol and caters to boisterous social intercourse, but a bar that presents eminent philosophers who are invited to speak to the patrons. While soft drinks, and simple food are enjoyed, the speaker engages the patrons in classroom-like circumstance—they are invited to ask questions and after the lecture and discussion, they gather at tables or at the bar to continue conversations about philosophical issues.
Dimitri is assisted by his elderly mentor, Professor Alexander Von Williams, and his loving friend, the beautiful Anna Carreras. Anna becomes the “bartender in chief.” The three of them surprisingly make a mild success of the Bar and continue to offer philosophy and food four nights a week in the context of Mormon culture and a very perplexing crime and punishment landscape.
A plethora of characters, police, lawyers, authorities of the church, and a variety of sagacious professors, mix into the drama, which reveals some startling confrontations between what ought to be and what is the case in the crucible of human life.
For readers who want to be enlightened while they are pulled into some intense drama, The Philosophy Bar will enhance your understanding of many things you may have left behind, and it will surely supplement your understanding of how philosophy will always be the mother of all disciplines and the method that leads to the explanation of all phenomena.
The book is available on Amazon.com in Kindle Edition format.
–Granger Peck, author
Bill of Obligations: Ten Habits of Good Citizens
This book, written by Richard Haass, begins by delineating how Rights enshrined in the US Constitution have some limits and are affected by democratic deteriorations over time. They are presented as a primer of American democracy. He documents how they came to occupy a central place in our history. The bulk of the book details a list of obligations that citizens are subject to in order to preserve our American way of life. A full chapter in the book is dedicated to each of these obligations.
· Be informed
· Get involved
· Stay open to compromise
· Remain civil
· Reject violence
· Value norms
· Promote the common good
· Respect government service
· Support the teaching of civics
· Put country first
Richard Haass is a long-time public servant who has been president of the Council ono Foreign Relations, policy director for the US Department of State, close advisor to Colin Powell, and has received a State Department Distinguished Service Award. He says that he is neither a Republican nor Democrat now but has spent much of his life as an active Republican. Many of his quotes come Presidents Bush, and Reagan. He makes persuasive arguments for his belief that virtually everyone in the USA should be informed about who we are as a country, be civilized, be involved, reject violence, and put the needs of our country first over political groups. He also advocates for teaching history and civics in all schools. I highly recommend this book.
HoU Board Member