Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Before I got sick, I was a business analyst (in the IT world) for the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Early on in my career, I was very fortunate to "study" under a gentleman by the name of Joel Schwartz. Joel had been working at DHS long before I ever came into the picture and continues to this day to be quite respected for his skills in system architecture. I use the term "study", because I, along with many others, consider Joel more of a teacher than that of a business associate. Although, in the end, he became one of the closest friends I have ever had - impacting my views on things such as politics, philosophy, spirituality and relationships to name a very few. It's only been within the past couple of years that I have come to realize how his fundamental and intrinsic understanding of Buddhist philosophy is the clarity through which his immense wisdom emanates from. It took me awhile to slow down enough to understand these things. I can not tell you the frustration I felt as a green BA needing to "get the job done" when our daily meetings would begin with statements such as, "there is no self" and other profoundly ontological quips. How these things had anything to do with building software applications was far beyond me.

But I learned.

Speaking from an analytical perspective, one of the foundational truths he taught me when building any new system - or working on any project for that matter - is that you always begin at the end. Totally counter intuitive to how I was used to functioning. Seems only right - you start at the beginning.

Input - Process - Output

But the best way to insure a correct end result (output) in programming, is to figure out the piece right before the last, sequentially, leading backward to the first (input).

Output - Process - Input

I have since realized the value in this wisdom and it's implications on things well beyond the IT world.


Since the news broke Sunday evening, millions of people have been discussing the death of Osama bin Laden. It is horrifically tragic when the life of a human being becomes directed toward the destruction of so many other human beings. Yet this has been true of countless individuals throughout the history of this world, perhaps the most noted in recent times being Adolf Hitler. I have sat at my keyboard motionless since this event took place. Wanting to say something. Most of my time being spent reading other people's responses to the event. As time passed, I then found myself reading responses to those responses. But still the words didn't come - at least not for this blog.

I did, on the other hand, express my views somewhat publicly on my personal facebook page. In a time of unprecedented and universal emotion, I am very proud of the conversations I was a part of - as few as there were, they were good, healthy conversations. It took only two responses before I realized why I could not find the words to write this blog. After stating my opinion as to why I believed the killing of Osama was not something I agreed with or felt should be cause for celebration, the question was asked of me, "Then what is your solution?" As the words appeared on the screen before my eyes, I can honestly tell you that not even breath found it's way into my being. I was paralyzed. All the work I have been doing over the past two years, all the reading, all the soul searching, all the "truths" that once glared so clear seemed to have skipped out the back door while I wasn't looking. And in a moment of panic, I was empty.  


People, me included, want solutions. "How do I keep from getting sick?" "How do we prevent bullying in our schools?" "How do I loose weight?" "How do I control my anger?" "How do I get out of debt?" ... We have problems. We seek solutions. Without getting caught up in semantics here, I feel as though we are a people very concerned with solutions and not all that concerned with answers. In my mind, solutions do one thing - they solve a problem. Maybe. Often times, temporarily. Answers, on the other hand,  lend themselves more towards understanding the nature of why there may be a problem in the first place. Like...what lead to the problem? What sequence of events, played out over time, created an unfavorable outcome? Do you follow me?

Output - Process - Input. I took my fingers off the keyboard and I grabbed a piece of paper and began to write...

What's the Output?

Compassion. True Compassion. We can not hate what we have compassion for. Genuine compassion is based not on our own projections and expectations, but rather on the needs of the other: irrespective of whether another person is a family member or an enemy.

Yes, it's a big subject. Break it down. Go backwards. What comes right before compassion? Think about it.

Empathy. We have compassion when we realize we are all equal in our suffering. When I learn there is much more that makes us the same then different. When there is no more Us and Them. When I see myself in you.

How do I find empathy?

Connection. I can not be connected to something that I keep my distance from. Connection forms when I recognize my interdependence on all people and all things.
How do I feel connected?

Vulnerability. Really. In being vulnerable we actually feel more loved, more sure, more connected. Think about it. Vulnerable people are the first ones to say I love you, they're the first ones to get into relationships that may not last...they are willing to risk, because risk is neither good nor bad. It's neutral. When we are weak, we are strong. In forsaking all, we gain everything. It was not until I lay on my death bed that I realized this. And it was at that point that my real life (my life of being real) began.

Alright...keep going. How do I feel safe enough to be vulnerable?

Un-attach. Less stuff, less to loose. Let go of identities, expectations, labels, things, thoughts... I'm not saying give them all up. Un-attach yourself from them. Open yourself to the unfinished statement, "I AM." Period. Don't add anything.

Okay, I could keep going - really, I could just keep going. But I won't, because I think you get the idea. Sifting down through the rubble of our lives we find ourselves in the fine details of what make up our every day experience.

I can not solve the problems of the Middle East. I have no immediate solution for the problem of terrorism. Or bullying in our schools, or violence in our homes, or a broken health care system. I do have a basic, fundamental belief in the sanctity of human life. There is no one solution to any of these problems. But, there are millions and millions of little choices that lie in between, that we can make. That we do have the answer to. That make sense. THIS is how change occurs. One choice at a time.

I won't see the solutions to many of these problems in my lifetime. But I will be part of the answer. I know that violence, met with violence only escalates to more violence. I know that before I can love anyone, I must first love myself. Little by little, grain of sand by grain of sand, choice by choice, generation by generation... we are changed.



Julia said...

I enjoy reading your thoughts on the recent news regarding Osama's death and putting it into a reverse perspective. I was also a little surprised to see our country's celebratory reaction; however, I can't say that I think it was either the right or wrong thing to do. There are definitely some questions, reasons, and answers I believe that are beyond my understanding.

Theresa said...

Hello Julia!! Thank you for your comments. Yes, I agree - there is a lot I do not understand. More so than that which I do understand - that's for sure. I think that's why, in the overwhelming-ness of the situation it was important for me to sift things down to that which I do have a grasp of. The finer details in life that make up my every day choices.
I deeply appreciate your comment about it not being "right" or "wrong" - the choices we make are neutral in and of themselves. This is so important to remember when dealing with events that are so powerfully emotional. True compassion means understanding another's suffering as our own - not judging it.
Thank you again, Julia.