* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

John 2:13-25 Building a Temple in Three Days

In 70 CE, the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem and scattered the Jews across the Roman Empire to disrupt their persistent pattern of insurrection. The gospel of John was written some time after this event, so when the authors relate a story about the Temple, they are looking back through the lens of history. The Temple has been destroyed and can no longer be a focus of worship for the Jewish people. Jews manage this reality by shifting toward local synagogues rather than a singular geographic focus. The Christian sect believes that it has a more meaningful response.

Thus, the story of Jesus at the Temple in John 2 has a couple of underlying messages about Judaism, at least as it was historically expressed. First, there is a clear message that the system was corrupt. People were profiting from the spiritual practices of others, and this compromised the integrity of Jewish spiritual identity. Second, the system focused on the wrong things. The temple building was not intended to be the most important feature of spiritual identity, but it had become so. The perspective of people -- particularly people in power -- was so skewed that they missed the very point of having a spiritual identity in the first place.

When Jesus raises a ruckus, then, the authors are commenting on how corrupt and misguided the Jewish system had become. They connect this to a resurrection legend and equate Jesus with the "real" temple where sacrificial offerings are made to a supernatural. We might interpret some different meanings from the story if we start out with a different set of assumptions, and we have been approaching the stories in John from the perspective that the Jesus character is in some way an exemplar.

What observations can we make about Jesus in this story? He clearly did not hold making money as the highest priority. He had an understanding of spiritual integrity that did not prioritize physical buildings. He acted publicly on his principles with impressive conviction. He knew himself well enough that he didn't seek approval from others -- he didn't need external validation.

Jesus' perspective isn't made explicit in this story, but he obviously disagrees with the perspective of the Jewish religious leaders. This seems to be a difference of how one ought to relate to the divine. The Jewish people had a system of well-defined sacrificial acts that they believed connected them to their supernatural -- where they believed divinity was situated. If we consider the possibility that what we call "divinity" is really a set of inward human qualities, then relationship with the divine is really about being connected with that deepest, most noble part of ourselves. Sacrifices don't make any sense in that context. Does what Jesus suggested make any sense from that perspective of inner divinity?

Well, he starts off suggesting that there is something wrong with making money off of the sacrificial system. This has to mean that there is something wrong with the system itself, because many people could not offer the appropriate sacrifice from their own possessions. That's why the livestock and money-changers were there in the first place. So, if there is something wrong with the sacrificial system, this means that there is something amiss about the prevailing view of relationship with the divine -- something off about the common understanding of spiritual identity.

When challenged, he states that if the Temple is destroyed, he will raise it up in three days, which the disciples in the story interpret as a reference to the resurrection. What if these words mean something else? What if the most important thing about spiritual identity is meaningful connection within ourselves, followed closely by meaningful connection with other people? Without the building to distract people, they might start to recognize their own deepest, most noble selves -- their own identities. And they might be able to connect in community with other people in a more sincere and meaningful way. Without the sacrificial system to distract them, people might begin to grasp the true heart of spiritual identity rather quickly. The groundwork for meaningful community had already been laid in the culture. Within three days, all of the necessary elements for spiritual identity could be brought together without the need of a physical structure or a complex system of sacrifices.

After all, what does it take for people to develop clarity about their spiritual identity? They would need to be confident in their ability to engage in that process, and -- because human beings are relational -- they would need a community within which to develop that personal clarity. Perhaps a spiritual leader or guide is also an important element in the mix. They don't need a building, to be sure. They don't need to follow a prescribed set of rituals, particularly when those rituals become rote practice instead of personally significant. They certainly don't need to pay people for the means to connect with divinity. Within a relatively short amount of time, all the essentials for meaningful spiritual community and meaningful personal development could be put in place. True understanding takes a lot longer, but it starts from having a useful foundation.

It bears repeating that we never need to pay for spiritual integrity. We may choose to pay for the services of a coach or guide. We may choose to contribute resources to a community in which we have found meaning. There is something off, however, if we are ever compelled to give money that we aren't giving out of our own desire. Our spiritual well-being does not have a price tag. Our spiritual well-being is our responsibility. No matter what promises are made about more money coming back to us if we give beyond our means or beyond our comfort, our financial well-being is our responsibility, too. When money is coerced from us, there is something wrong with the situation. When we offer money out of our own sense of abundance -- out of our own identity as generous people -- then we can most meaningfully connect that to spiritual integrity.

There is little else to this scene apart from pointing out that the current system was flawed. It will take some time for the overall story to reveal a better way. From this little bit, though, we might take away that we need to clarify for ourselves what is most important, and we need to be clear that it isn't money. We might recognize that our personal development and our sense of community are not about the physical trappings of architecture or prescribed ritual. We might commit ourselves to allowing our guiding principles to source our public actions, and we might begin to build our conviction in that area. Most importantly perhaps, we might begin to develop a sense of self that isn't based on external validation from other people. We can learn from other people's perspectives, even their perspectives about who we are or who we should be, but we don't need to base our decisions on what would make other people happy. There is a more authentic way of being that we can embrace.

Little Experiments: What can you do in three days? If you want to build up your spiritual identity a bit more, there are some meaningful actions you can take that do not require a lot of time. These are steps in a journey, not the destination, but they can still be incredibly meaningful and important.

In the next three days, you could:
Start in on that personal development book you've been meaning to read.
Connect with someone with whom you haven't spoken in a while.
Commit to a practice of meditation.
Decide to give out of your abundance to a cause that you care about.
Seek out a community of like-minded people who are challenging and supporting one another.

If you wanted to, within the next three days, you could plan a simple dinner and invite people who have helped you clarify your own identity, people you have inspired and empowered, or others with whom you would like a deeper connection. That could even be the start of a meaningful community of individuals who are willing to be intentional about their own identities and their relationships with one another. Everything has to start somewhere. You could start something in the next three days.

Monday, September 22, 2014

John 2:1-12 How Do You Change Water into Wine?

Debates about a historical Jesus or the veracity of the Bible (or even what "veracity" might mean in this context) are far from over, and ultimately not very helpful in terms of applying the more spiritual truths of the text in our lives. There is one school of thought that holds that the gospel stories are about the uniqueness of Jesus and why he is so very different from ordinary human beings. We are ordinary human beings, though. So, it makes the most sense to read the stories from a perspective that will give us the greatest resources that we can use in our lives.

Take, for example, the first miracle story in the gospel of John, in which the character Jesus changes water into wine. He changes it into very impressive wine, at that (as if the transmogrification was not impressive in and of itself). We don't gain much from trying to dissect how this miracle happened or even trying to determine if this miracle happened. We get a lot more from taking the story as a story and digging into what it might say about us as human beings.

Jesus and his disciples are guests at a wedding -- they are known by the family of the bride or groom well enough to have been invited. Jesus' mother is also a guest, and in a moment of pushy parenting, she presses upon her son to take care of a problem that really isn't his responsibility. In a certain sense, she asks Jesus to "over-function." Jesus sets a boundary with her, but she persists. Ultimately, for whatever reason, Jesus acquiesces and resolves the issue with extraordinary competence. This bolstered the confidence that other people had in Jesus.

Before we look at what Jesus' actions might say to us, we might first look to Jesus' mother (who is never named anywhere in the gospel of John). There are times in which we press upon others to resolve problems that are not their responsibility. Maybe we know their capability, and we want them to have a chance to shine. Maybe we want people to be impressed with us because of our association with impressive people. Maybe we have a genuine concern that the problem gets resolved, but we doubt our own capacity to address it in any meaningful way. Whatever the case, sometimes we over-function by demanding that other people over-function. Our anxiety provokes us to want the situation resolved, and we put expectations on others to resolve it so that our anxiety will go away.

Needless to say, this reactive tendency to place demands and expectations on others often doesn't stem from our deep values -- it's not a prompting of our deepest, most noble selves. We just want not to feel anxious. When we find ourselves tempted to volunteer others to resolve issues that make us anxious, we can make a few small adjustments to how we handle that anxiety. First, we can calm down. Whatever helps us to start thinking clearly in moments of anxiety needs to be our first step. That may look like taking a few deep breaths, or stepping away from the situation for a moment, or even thinking through our guiding principles. If we've taken the time to get some clarity about those principles or values, and we can frame them in short, memorable phrases, they can guide us out of anxiety.

Once we are calm, we might talk through things with the people around us -- particularly the people we are tempted to conscript into service. Something like, "This is the issue as I see it, and this situation is not what I would prefer. I think of you as a competent individual. Is there something that you would be willing to do in the current situation to help make it better?" And then, most importantly, we accept the response whatever it is. If the person says, "No, I'd prefer not to get involved," we accept it. Maybe we say, "Thanks for considering it." If the person says, "Yes, I'd like to help if I can," then we let that be a free decision rather than an obligation or compulsion. If we learn to calm down and invite people into action, with no demands or expectations, we are likely to live out our guiding principles more often.

When we look at Jesus' response to his mother, however, we see the other side of this equation. We don't know what's going on inside Jesus' head, but we may be able to relate to the situation. When we are pressed to respond to a situation that's making someone else anxious, we have at least a few possible choices.

(1) We can say no, set a boundary, and stick to it. We can choose to maintain the boundary calmly and without hostility, or we can become belligerent in how we defend that boundary. The more emotionally mature response, of course, is to calmly set our boundary and let other people be responsible for their own anxiety. It's tough to be emotionally mature when someone is persistent in making demands, though. That takes a bit of practice.

(2) We can give into someone's pressure, essentially giving up what we want in order to meet someone else's demands on us. When we do this, we give other people inappropriate power over our behavior, and we take on responsibility for someone else's anxiety. This is not an uncommon reaction, but it also isn't a very intentional or principled response. When we are intentional about living in alignment with our principles, we take responsibility for our actions and our anxiety, and we don't assume responsibility for other people's actions or anxiety.

(3) We can also choose to accommodate someone's request, even if they are being pushy, out of a sense of love or compassion rather than out of a sense of obligation. Even when someone is being forceful, we can choose to do something based on our principles. We don't have to resist something we actually want to do just because we don't like how we're being asked to do it. When we are thoughtful, we can sometimes see compelling reasons to take action based on our own deep guiding principles -- our own deepest, most noble self.

In the narrative, Jesus sets a boundary, his mother persists, and then -- we don't know why -- Jesus takes action. That, in and of itself, does not give us anything to emulate. Maybe he gave in and resented his mother's pressure. We may be tempted to draw a different conclusion based on a preconceived notion about Jesus, but the story doesn't tell us what's going on in Jesus' head. From the perspective of the author, though, we can assume a high opinion of Jesus. So, perhaps it is implied that he thought about the situation and decided from a clear and principled perspective that he wanted to help out. He could have done the same thing out of a position of obligation and giving in to his mother's demands, or out of a sincere expression of his values. From the outside, those two positions might not look any different. The difference is with regard to his integrity -- whether his actions are sourced by his authentic identity.

In our own lives, we have our own ways of turning water into wine. Our abilities and areas of competence might look extraordinary to people who don't share our training or experience. When I tell people that I am a pianist or a composer, they are often amazed at that ability, because it isn't a skill they possess. From their perspective, they are as likely to turn water into wine as they are to learn how to create music. From my perspective, I worked for many years to become adept in these musical abilities. There is nothing miraculous or mysterious about it. We all have some abilities or skills that are like that. They seem very ordinary and comfortable to us, but to someone who doesn't share that skill, it borders on miraculous.

The people who know us well -- who understand our abilities and are a bit impressed by us -- might try to convince us to act when we don't really feel like it. They might even pressure us to deal with a situation that really isn't our responsibility. When this happens, we have choices. Our typical automatic reaction to being pressured by someone is probably not our best option. When we can get back to our guiding principles, we have a better chance of responding thoughtfully and authentically to any situation.

So, when we are asked to act or intervene in our particularly skillful way, we can thoughtfully choose to say yes or no. We can consider the situation -- and our ability and willingness to engage it -- without it needing to mean something about the person doing the pressuring. If we say No to our mothers, it doesn't mean we don't love our mothers. It might just mean that they are asking us to do something that is not authentic for us. Learning to say No or Yes because of who we are rather than because we feel pressured is a huge step in developing emotional maturity and living into our authentic selves.

A Little Experiment: How do you turn water into wine? What are the areas of expertise or ability that other people find impressive? If you know what those things are, you might better understand how you can make a meaningful contribution to any situation. You can also predict the sorts of things other people might pressure you to do, and you can rehearse setting boundaries or responding thoughtfully and authentically. Practicing ahead of time might help us stay calm and less reactive in moments of pressure.

Another Little Experiment: Say no and mean no. Set a boundary with someone without getting defensive, and without being compelled to be inauthentic. Let it be about something simple, like, "No, I'd rather not eat at that restaurant today." Being willing to set simple boundaries about less important things will help us set more challenging boundaries about really important things.

One More Little Experiment: Say yes and mean yes. In alignment with your deep values -- your guiding principles -- agree to do something for someone else, without resentment or a sense that they owe you one. Go to a movie or a restaurant you don't really want to go to because you value spending time with someone. Run an errand for someone else just because you care about that person, without framing it as an inconvenience or holding it over someone's head.

When we can say Yes and No authentically, our relationships are transformed. It can even seem miraculous, like changing water (or vinegar) into wine.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

John 1: People Notice Authenticity

In the last section of John 1, we meet the main character of the story. We can draw some insights from the behavior of the disciples (students) in this brief summary of how they came to be associated with Jesus, and we can draw some insights from the behavior of Jesus. We might find ourselves situated in multiple places in this narrative. In a way, this flows directly from our observations about John the Baptist's authenticity and brings forward some additional things about people who are authentic.

Part of the purpose of this segment of the story is to legitimize -- or at least relate -- the brief origin stories of some of the significant legendary figures in the early church. This story is not identical to other stories about how the followers of Jesus were assembled, but it serves as an introduction to these men and defines their connection to one another. It appears that all of these initial followers were friends or family members of one another. We can't overplay this observation, because we don't actually have any written materials from any of these followers. We know them (and their relationships) only by tradition. Still, it is perhaps worth noting that the reason people gathered in community around this teacher is because of the invitations of friends and family members -- people who were known and trusted.

Various readers might try to make a big deal about how Jesus knows the things that he knows about people -- as if he had some supernatural insights about them. We aren't explicitly told that he has any telepathic powers, but people read their own impressions into the story. In the context of the story, it's just as likely that Andrew could say to Jesus, "I want to bring my brother to meet you," and the next day Jesus said, "Ah, you're that guy that Andrew was going to bring." And it's just as likely that Jesus literally saw Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree and formed an opinion about him. It's also worth remembering that it's a story that has no means of being verified, so we have to just let it be a story. The point is that it's a story about human interaction, not about superhuman abilities.

In noticing what the story leaves out at this point, two things seem apparent. First, we read nothing about those people who ignored or rejected Jesus as a teacher. We only read about the handful of individuals who saw something worth emulating in Jesus. We also only read one instance of Jesus "calling" someone, and that person seems to have known some other folks who were traveling with Jesus. Everyone who decides to follow this leader makes a personal choice to do so; they aren't all sought out and tapped by the leader as if they had been destined for it since birth.

On the one hand, if we want people to know about what we are doing, we have to talk about what we are doing at some point. That may not mean calling people to follow us, but there are some people who will only consider collaboration when they are invited into it. Maybe that was what was going on with Philip. Who knows. The truth that this story highlights, though, is that if we are authentically ourselves, we will attract people who want to know more about how we developed that ability. It's rare enough to see someone show up authentically that people still find it rather impressive. We won't attract everyone by showing up authentically, but that isn't the point. It isn't a marketing tactic. It's a way of being.

By suggesting that we be authentically ourselves, I'm also not suggesting that we do whatever we want and act like we rule the world. That isn't actually authentic. The attitude that some individuals adopt that seems to suggest that they own the road, or a restaurant, or a store clerk's attention, is far from authentic. Equally inauthentic are those of us who play small and pretend to be invisible, as if we have nothing to contribute and we don't want anyone to find out how worthless we are. In order to show up authentically, we have to be aware of ourselves and aware of our connection to the people around us. It means not pretending to be something we aren't, neither more nor less than our complete selves.

Some people will be attracted to that level of authenticity for different reasons. A couple of John's disciples jumped ship and decided to learn from Jesus instead. Maybe they had learned all they could from John. Maybe they just didn't like what John was teaching them. We have a tendency to do this kind of thing, too. We want to grow or learn something, but when a teacher or situation challenges us beyond our comfort zone, our fear may provoke us to run away and look for something else. We concoct all sorts of excuses, but sometimes the most honest reason we do things is that we are scared.

To complicate matters, there are legitimately some circumstances that are unhealthy or unhelpful to us. We may actually be ready to move on to something else. Some teachers misrepresent themselves, perhaps even unknowingly. If we stay in a situation out of a sense of loyalty, we might actually convince ourselves to stay in relationships that are detrimental to us -- that don't lead to greater well-being. So, we have to consider why we are choosing to do what we choose to do. If we leave one relationship for another without thinking through the honest reasons why -- not just the convenient excuses to cover up our fears and anxieties -- we are likely to find ourselves in similar situations over and over again.

Some of the people who approach Jesus in the story have to get over their own prejudices. "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" is not far off from some of the assumptions we make about the capabilities of people who come from different cultures. When we buy into the idea that people are intrinsically different just because they have some different practices or beliefs, we run the risk of considering ourselves to be worth more than other human beings by virtue of superficial things. When we understand that all people have inherent value, but that we all have different perspectives, we have a better opportunity to assess ideas honestly and still honor and respect the human beings who hold those different ideas. From one perspective, we are trying to "win" somehow -- to be right or to be better than someone else. From the other, we might grow toward a best possible version of ourselves by remaining open to other points of view.

We said early on in introducing this book that we would be meeting ourselves -- or at least our potential selves -- in observing the main character of Jesus. In this story about gathering people in community, we see the possibility of understanding ourselves and our connection to others so clearly that other people notice something compelling about how we show up. We might expect that the rest of the story will suggest some of the means to grow toward that level of authenticity. For now, let it suffice to say that we often show up the way we think other people expect us to show up, or we show up reacting to other people out of our anxieties about ourselves. When we are comfortable with our deep values and we show up confident in our authentic identity -- not pretending to be more or less than who we really are -- people will notice.

A Little Experiment: Our journey begins with noticing how we are -- how we choose to be. Notice this week when you are trying to "win" something you don't need to win, like driving or drawing the attention of a store clerk away from another customer. Notice also when you are letting yourself pretend to be invisible or playing small, like not speaking in a conversation or trying not to be noticed. What is going on for you when you are trying to prove your importance or hide from people? What would it be like for you to be more authentically present? More aware of who you actually are and more aware of your connection to (and impact on) other people? What would it take for you to be comfortable showing up without any sort of mask?

Monday, September 8, 2014

John 1: Being Comfortable with Ourselves and Pointing to Others

The next section of the gospel of John sets up the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. In John 1:19-34, we see a brief character sketch of John the Baptist before we are officially introduced to the character Jesus. Some scholars see evidence (in biblical and extrabiblical sources) that John the Baptist and Jesus had competing cults, and that eventually the Jesus cult received many of John's followers after John was executed. It is possible that John was the leader of a Mandaean sect. There are still some Mandaeans today in southern Mesopotamia, and they generally revere John the Baptist (among others) and reject Jesus of Nazareth. A significant Mandaic population in Iraq and Iran (tens of thousands of people) has dwindled in recent years due to war and religious persecution. If the Mandaic community and the new sect of Christianity were at odds with one another in the first century, it would provide some incentive for gospel writers to attempt to bridge that conflict in a way that placed their group in a superior position. Such a conflict, however, is largely conjecture at this point; the scant evidence that exists is only suggestive.

From just reading the story, we get an impression of the John the Baptist character, though. Here is a man of conviction, unafraid to stand up to the religious authorities of the predominant culture, and even impish enough to be a bit cryptic while he does it. John the Baptist reflects a person who knows himself, and isn't afraid of pointing the way to another leader or teacher. His rejection of the Pharisees is not simply a manifestation of authority issues or narcissism; he is willing to recognize true capability and wisdom when he sees it. This character sketch may have some value for us.

There are some other bits that make for a compelling story, but it would be rather fruitless to get too mired in details from a historical or factual perspective. There is simply too much time that passed between any actual events and the writing of this narrative, and there is no way to accurately guess what was going on in John the Baptist's mind. Did John refer to Jesus in such obsequious tones? Nobody can know, and it ultimately doesn't matter. Did John actually see a dove-like supernatural manifestation? Probably not, but he may have seen something that he interpreted as a supernatural event. Or he may have been having a heat stroke. Or he may have had other hallucinations that aren't recorded anywhere. Or he may have made things up to bolster his own identity as a mystic and to convince others of the veracity of his words. Other religious leaders have been known to do so. There's really no telling if any of this "actually" happened. It's a story. Let's take what we can from it and leave it at that.

So, this fellow John is the focus of these few paragraphs. He knows who he is, and he is presumably a capable leader of his sect (otherwise the Pharisees wouldn't care what he was doing). He is also able to see competence in others, and he is not intimidated by another capable leader. Quite the contrary--he recommends another capable leader to some of his own followers. He apparently does not base his own sense of personal value or identity on the behavior of other people. He doesn't base his self worth on people's reactions to him. He acts out of his own guiding principles and lets that be enough.

Some roles in our society require pointing to others. When a concert pianist performs a virtuosic solo, she shows up very differently from when she is accompanying a vocalist. In one instance, she is the star feature, and in the other she has a supporting role. It takes a slightly different set of musical skills to be an excellent accompanist. One has to be tuned into what the other performer is doing if one is to really collaborate in creating a musical experience. The same performer can be an excellent soloist and an excellent accompanist, but it requires a shift in attitude -- it requires showing up a little bit differently. I'm sure you can think of other roles that similarly require directing attention to others rather than to oneself.

We sometimes find ourselves in a roomful of people who want to be seen as capable, who want to be recognized as competent leaders. Often such people talk about themselves. A lot. They have an experience that relates to (and possibly trumps) whatever anyone else says. Or perhaps they have been down that road before and they have expert advice to share. We have all probably been in those conversations. Unfortunately, at some point in time, we have all probably been the person who wanted to share advice or who had a "better-than-you" story to tell.

Gaining a feeling of superiority and giving advice are reactions to the anxiety we feel when we want people to see us a certain way. This anxiety becomes particularly acute when we think that we might not actually be that competent, capable person we want people to see. When we are telling stories that trump other people's experiences or giving unsolicited expert advice (or doing anything else in an effort to seem better than somebody else), we are often trying to show up as somebody different than who we really think we are. We are trying to convince people of something about us, and perhaps we are not so convinced ourselves.

When we show up authentically, when we are honest about who we are and what we are capable of doing, people will notice. Part of this requires managing the anxiety that we feel when we want to be seen a certain way. For some people, it requires being visible -- showing up and being fully present rather than shrinking away from attention. Showing up authentically does not mean playing small any more than it means pretending to be more than we actually are. It means being honest about who we are and how we want to engage in the world.

John the Baptist (as he is portrayed here, at least) is an example of that sort of person. He is clear about how he wants to show up, and he seems to be relatively low-anxiety about that. He does his thing, and when another capable leader comes along, he acknowledges it. Now, John the Baptist may go a bit overboard in humiliating himself and propping up Jesus. No one needs the sort of boot-licking compliments that John the Baptist heaps on Jesus in this story. Compliments are nice, but people can be personally responsible for showing up authentically without us going off the deep end in our attempts to "sell" them to other folks. John saw something that impressed him about Jesus, though, and he wasn't threatened by it. He told other people that he saw something impressive without it needing to mean anything about John's capability.

Now, as we continue along in the story, we'll see that showing up authentically does not mean that everyone else is going to love you. Other people are still potentially wrapped up in their own anxiety, and their reactivity is out of our control. John the Baptist's authenticity gets him killed. Or maybe it is his lack of tact. We'll see. The point is that showing up authentically is not risk-free. The advantage is that we aren't pretending to be something different from who we really are. Knowing how we want to show up as a reflection of our deep values -- our guiding principles -- means that we give people an opportunity to see us more clearly. Some people will be attracted to that. Some people will be threatened by it. The real advantage is that we are at peace with ourselves -- that we have integrity. Who we are on the outside can reflect who we are on the inside.

Of course, the first trick to this is knowing ourselves better, and that requires managing our anxiety better. We all carry around fears and lies about who we are deep down inside, and how we think we have to show up so that no one sees the "truth" about us. We have to dismantle those fears and lies in order to be the people we most want to be. This story into which we're delving will point the way for some of this work.

For now, we can recognize that we don't need to be threatened by other competent, capable people. We can point to what impresses us about others without demeaning ourselves. (Are you listening, John the Baptist?) We don't need to trump other people's stories or give unsolicited advice in order to impress other people. When we show up reflecting the things that matter most to us, people will either be impressed or they won't. Our role is to live out of our deepest values.

A Little Experiment: The next time you are in a public setting, notice whether you are trying to be impressive or trying to compete with the people around you for attention or acknowledgment. If you're willing, try to relax into yourself and let go of that anxiety. Consider the possibility that you may not need to pretend to be something other than yourself in order to be seen the way you want to be seen.

Another Little Experiment: Be on the lookout for authentic people -- people who seem comfortable with themselves, who aren't giving unsolicited advice or trying to gain superiority through story-telling. Allow yourself to be impressed by other people's authenticity.