Thursday, September 8, 2022

Companion To History (Condensed)

Sometimes the Universe brings opportunities to us to assist in navigating our spiritual journey. Other times it brings us to where we need to be in order to assist others in pursuing their journey. Sometimes, it is both at once – a shared experience. As I look back on the various twists and turns in my life, there have been many instances of both types of such interactions between the Universe and me. One particular track has been a pattern of key travels, and finding myself at the right place at the right moment in the right unique circumstance. The following is a personal example of multiple such special moments.


Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev gathered for a first summit meeting in Geneva, Switzerland on November 19-20, 1985. As an IT manager for Bank of Boston, I was scheduled to meet in Geneva with its European branches. I arrived in Geneva on the 20th, with tight security visible everywhere I went. I had never seen or experienced such images back in America. But the summit was successful, laying the foundation for future dialog and strategic arms reductions. My understanding of a larger world beyond America was beginning to be irrevocably changed.


Jean-Claude Duvalier became the dictator of Haiti – the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere – after his dictator father died in 1971. On February 7, 1986, following growing street demonstrations by the people, Duvalier fled the country. I arrived in Port-au-Prince a few weeks after the overthrow (another bank trip). I saw the extreme poverty of the citizenry, young men with military rifles patrolling the streets, but also the jubilation of people celebrating their new freedom. I felt lucky to share in that moment of national joy.


In 1997, I scheduled a personal genealogy trip through the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. I arrived London/Heathrow Airport in the evening of August 31. Going to bed early, I woke up around 2am, and turned on the TV. The first reports of Princess Diana’s car wreck and death were just coming in live. Thus would begin a week of all-consuming national mourning over her death that served as the backdrop for my entire trip. On the day of Diana’s state funeral, I was in the far northwestern corner of Scotland, alone in my car, parked on a high bluff overlooking the sea, listening to the service on the radio. I was glad I could be there to “participate” in person. These times and events began a substantive reevaluation of the British monarchy that continues to this day.

Continuing on, I arrived in Belfast on September 9, 1997. Northern Ireland has a long history of violent conflict between the Catholic and Protestant populations. “The Troubles” had claimed many lives over a recent twenty-year period. I visited the Stormont government building where peace talks were being held intermittently. Sitting for hours on the lawn, I silently wished success to all parties involved. My itinerary across Northern Ireland brought me into visible contact with the many signs and structures of this conflict. On October 7, 1997 a renewed effort began to negotiate a multi-party peace accord. The result was the “Good Friday Agreement” on April 10, 1998, that created a new shared governance structure that continues to this day.


As a young teen, I watched a 1930s movie titled “Lost Horizons.” A man crashed in the Himalayas, and made his way to a fictitious hidden civilization called Shangri-La, a land of perfect peace and communal harmony, modeled after the very real land of Tibet. In my 50’s I vowed to see Tibet for myself. I booked a solo trip to go to China (Beijing, Xi’an), and then Tibet in September-October 1999. I hired personal guides for the China portion, and was scheduled to join an international bus tour group upon arrival in Lhasa. Getting off the plane in Beijing, my guide informed me that the city was closed for a week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. The next day they put me on a plane to Xi’an, and then Chengdu, thereby advancing the Tibet portion, doing Beijing at the end. So much for my carefully made itinerary planning.

In my travel journal that I subsequently wrote, I described in detail the daily events of this China/Tibet trip. I was traveling all alone in two countries and cultures uniquely new to my entire life experience – and no one back home knew where I was. I followed a series of local guides, continual coincidences, and Universe-interventions that redesigned all original plans. It simply required me to trust things to work out as the Universe intended for me. By (thankfully) missing the bus tour, instead I was given a driver and a guide to show me around. Being free of the bus crowd, I had the unique opportunity to see and hear Tibet on a 1-1 “people” level. Similarly, the same people contact occurred when I returned for the China leg. I enjoyed celebrating China’s founding anniversary. I saw that same China in the process of destroying an honored Tibetan culture and religion. I followed where I was led.


The weekend of June 30-July 1, 2001, I attended a Buddhist conference in New York City. The event was held at a hotel/conference center situated in the Twin Towers Plaza. I stayed in a hotel room that looked directly into the plaza and into one of the Towers.  2½ months later, on September 11, 2001, terrorists destroyed the entire complex. “9-11” entered our lexicon, representing world-wide terror, to be avenged and defeated. But I had a first reaction that, in America, “9-1-1” represented our emergency call number and a plea for help. We never responded to that possible perspective of “help.” Thus began decades of involvement and war in the Middle East. Was a different opportunity perhaps lost? I don’t know.


The modern version of Lebanon is a country of widely diverse cultural/religious factions, requiring significant efforts to hold it together. But in 1975-1990, civil war broke out. Afterwards, Lebanon began re-governing itself as an independent country, but with neighboring Syria pulling the strings in background. I was scheduled to do consulting work at a Beirut university in February 2005. On February 14, 2005, a former prime minister was assassinated in a car bombing; Syria’s secret service was blamed.  The people took to the streets in protest Syria’s involvement; it was a very tense time. My colleagues and I were given the option to postpone our visit; instead, we opted to fly in as scheduled. Thus was I at another significant moment of historical change, working side-by-side with wonderful Lebanese people, while being exposed to yet another distinctly different culture that exists in a significant place and time in world history. Syria left Lebanon in April 2005; I made a number of trips back over the next several years. The country has faced many tough times in the intervening years.

***** In Conclusion …

A one-time event is an experience.  Two similar events are a possible coincidence. Three or more similar structural events are a pattern. It is in seeing the recurring patterns that have shaped our lives that makes possible some of our most meaningful spiritual insights. I do not fully know why I found myself at these particular locales at those particular times. But I know they were important to my life path. Important for me to expand my horizons. I know these experiences were brought to me not only by my own doing, but with the assistance of the spiritual Universe. Which required me to step out of “control mode,” and work with the Universe by being a trusting partner and willing follower. Did I bring some tangible effect on others, on my “hosts?” I honestly do not know. We rarely know the domino effects that our actions create for others. Perhaps it was merely to be present. To simply bare witness to a significant moment. My reward was to know these people, locales and cultures on a personal level that remains with me to this day. Maybe that was a mutual gift enough.

Learn from the pattern. The pattern is a window into the Universe. The Universe as Teacher.

©   2022   Randy Bell   

 (NOTE: For a free .pdf copy of the original expanded essay from which this posting is drawn, send an email request to

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Some Things I Have Learned - Excerpt

 In my book “The Divine Intention For Our Human Life” (ISBN# 978-0-9895428-6-9), the perspective is offered that the Purpose of our human life is to Learn. Learn as much as can be possible within one lifetime about all that makes up this miracle of Creation within which we exist … So it is worthwhile to periodically stop in the chaos and frenzy of our everyday life, look back on what we have seen, what we have experienced, and then examine more fully What We Have Learned on a broader, more general perspective … To that end, the following narrative identifies some of the Lessons I have been fortunate to learn over my current lifetime …

I – A Lifetime Journey

#1. Each of us walks a path that defines the spiritual journey of our life. Over time, we move from one stepping stone to the next, a series of adventures and milestones that constitute our life adventures. It is a path unique to each if us, though we likely encounter many companions along the way who appropriately fade in and out of our shared travels.

#2. Most of the stepping stones we walk seem to be haphazardly arranged, a series of disconnected, accidental, unexpected turns. Yet in fact the next stone in our sequence is the cumulative result of the many stones we walked before … If we take the time to map out the links and circumstances that have facilitated our journey to date, that map will reveal a far more connected and purposeful life than we might have assumed.

II – The Structures Of Human Life

#5. Every physical form that is, also exists in different variations within that form … This multitude of forms and their variations is purposefully meant to continually illustrate to us the vastness of all Creation, while demonstrating that life takes many forms, each acceptable in its own right …

#7. Conflict is an inherent part of life … Conflict challenges us to look beyond easy answers, but rather to look deeper into the source and impact of a given conflict, and then to reach deeper into our creativity and accumulated knowledge for how to resolve that conflict … This is to deepen our knowledge, notwithstanding the personal pain we may experience.

#8. We are formed by the union of a mother and a father. The result is that we are created both “male” and “female.” Each of us manifests our dual female/male characteristics in varying ways … Yet the male/female separation is simply for functional reasons, typically to facilitate some of how we will function in this lifetime, some of the roles we will play, and some of our life Lessons to be learned …

#9. We cannot change what has already happened. We can only learn from it, build upon it in our future actions. There is no backtracking, no undoing, no wiping the slate clean. There is only starting over from a new place, newly informed. We are best served by cutting our attachments to our past, but only after its Lessons have been learned.

12. We are given a full range of emotions to experience in our learning, arriving in sets of matched opposites. Love/hate … happiness/sadness; success/failure … joy/sorrow; confidence/fear … etc. Each partner in the match works together with the other so that we know both the context and depth of each, by which we ultimately come to appreciate the unity of the match itself.

III – The Search For Truths

#13. There is much for us to learn as human beings, over a vast subject matter we call “Life.” In one lifetime, we can only know and absorb a limited portion of all there is in Creation. Our “knowledge” … should be continually humbled by respecting how much we do not know.

#14. True wisdom is knowledge (facts) gained by observation, which generates thoughts (opinions) which are tested by experience, which are truly understood by reflection, which then becomes the basis for new observations. It is a never-ending, repeating cycle.

#16. A Truth is unending. The more we learn, more doors open for us as we revisit our Lessons and learn them even more deeply. We pursue Truth to learn “The Truth,” but our learning is never satisfied with a false completion. We would like to see Truth as a singular “final” outcome, but such outcomes are only temporary milestones of Wisdom. The pursuit of Truths continues.

IV – The Decisions We Make

#21. Our decisions often seem random and disconnected with each other. But if we trace them back, we are very likely to find a connected thread that ties them together. One decision leads to an action, which leads to another decision needing to be made, which leads to another action, which leads to another decision to be made, which … Our life is not lived in a straight line, but proceeds instead in a series of starts and stops, constantly changing direction.

#24. Decisions have an expiration date. A decision at a past point in time is not necessarily still an appropriate decision for today … We need to learn when to “cut bait” on a decision that once served us well, but no longer does so; when to let go of a prior decision and its resulting actions so that we can move on to our next awaiting adventure …

#27. Our resistance to Change is often overcome more easily when the topic becomes personal and directly relevant to us. When seeking change in others, sometimes we have to help the topic become personal and directly relevant to them in order to help motivate those individuals to join in the Change effort.

V – Living Our Life

#29. Our inherent inclination is to Love, but we are predominately driven in our actions by our Fears … Our fears come from the mental and physical pain we experience … in interacting with the overwhelming vastness and seeming superiority of all Creation.

#30. … Each human life reflects the sum total of one’s experiences, thoughts, opinions, interactions, and decisions, made over time, occurring within a particular geographical and community / cultural setting(s), synthesized in a mix unique to that individual.

#32. Our greatest opportunities in life usually lie outside of our current view. We can only see them when we open up to their possibility.

#35. I cannot save the world. I cannot “correct” all that I perceive is wrong in this world. Nor can I ease all of the pain and suffering I see in this world. But I can make a difference in some small part of the world, in some manner that is available to me … I should try.

VI - Relationships

#37. Treat others as you would want your son or daughter to be treated. Ill-treatments run on a circular track back to its perpetrator.

#39. …Very little of whatever success we have in our life is due solely and entirely on our singular efforts. … The “self-made man/woman” should be applauded for his/her accomplishments, but there are many fingerprints on their trophy.

#40. Every human being deserves our best thoughts, our compassion for what they are going through, whether or not their circumstances are visible to us. But their personal struggles do not give them permission to act in unilateral ways to the inappropriate detriment of others.

#42. Forgiving a person who has wronged us can be hard, but it is warranted for our own peace. Ultimately, their ill-considered actions toward us are best consigned to our past, lest we remain a prisoner locked within their deeds.

#44. Do what you say you will do. Keep your word. Be reliable. Those traits define character, and are foundational for successful human relationships.

#47. A well-stated message, to the right person, at the right moment, in a right context, free of any expectations, is often the best-said message.

#49. We cannot substitute our life and journey into another’s life. Each person must follow their own unique journey.

#51. To get, one must give. To be heard, one must listen.


Some of the many Lessons learned. Yet so much still not fully understood. So many Lessons still to be learned from experiences had and to be had. The process continues.

“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
Pema Chödrön, Buddhist Teacher

©   2022   Randy Bell               


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Blog On Hold

Thank you for visiting this Our Spiritual Way blog site.

Please note that, after 10 years of continuous writing, I am temporarily not posting new essays to this site. Given the national and international events of these past couple of years – cultural, political, medical, and spiritual – I find myself in need of a break from my writing commitment. For me, this is a time for reflection and renewal, a time to pause and better absorb the words and actions that have gone down since 2016, better understand their implication, and extract the underlying themes of what we have witnessed. Only after this needed reflective time do I feel I will be prepared and qualified to adequately resume the discussions to which this blog is dedicated.

My Thanks to all of you for your generous support and quality feedback over these years. Stay tuned – I will be in touch again when appropriate!

Randy Bell

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Listening To Our Messages

 “In a time of difficulty, maybe [the Universe] has sent you not what you want, but what you need.”        —source unknown

Listen. Just listen. Watch. Just watch. Listen to, and watch for, our messages. Our personalized messages. Our Life Messages. It is a tricky business. Sometimes they arrive quietly, almost under the radar, here and gone in an instant. Easy to miss. Other times they arrive with a bang, demanding our attention, unavoidable. But often we nevertheless try to avoid them.

They are the spiritual Messages intended to give us guidance when we are at a divide in our path, and we are looking for a new direction or a new understanding. They point out our best choices for future directions. They help us decipher how things truly work in our world. They help us to understand what we have seen, heard or experienced but not fully understood. They push us beyond the limits of our everyday world into an unlimited world of being.

Every day, we are consumed with Doing. Doing tasks. Tasks initiated by us, assigned to us by others, or inherent in the many roles we have elected to take on. Absorbing words with our ears, images with our eyes, smells with our nose, shape and textures with our hands. Concurrently, we go about the care and maintenance of our body which makes this multi-tasking Doing possible. We long for time and energy to pursue our own Thoughts on all manner of topics to enhance our knowledge and move our life forward. All of these things taken together make for an unrelenting bombardment in continuing assault on our Mind. Each Doing competes for space, recognition; each Doing will likely get less than its desired share; our Mind prioritizes and apportions attention as it sees fit. Judgments of “good” versus “bad” are calculated; decisions are made; actions are taken; new inputs arrive; the Mind reprioritizes. The cycle repeats unendingly.

It is into the midst of this whirling vortex that our spiritual Messages arrive. Against all of this everyday chaos consuming our Mind, it is not a fair fight for commanding attention. Notwithstanding, these are truly the most important claimants for our attention. Yet, more often than not, they are subtle in their presentation. A word, a sentence in a paragraph of conversation with a friend; a flash of an image occupying one small corner of a panorama landscape; a particular smell wafting up in concert with dozens of other odors; the feel and connection of a single touch with another person in a day filled with similar but less-consequential encounters. In an already busy day, an unanticipated event occurs that challenges our assumptions, conflicts with our personal expectations as to what “should be,” perhaps blocks our current path-in-process.

How does one filter, separate, extract these most critical Life Message from the consuming weight, and demands for instant gratification, of our daily chaos? Simply put, we open ourselves to receiving them. We will never recognize our Messages if we do not first believe that such messaging exists. We will not reap the benefits of these messages if we attempt to cherry-pick which messages we accept – i.e. only the “good” and “easy” news that fits our already existing and predetermined plans. (In fact, many Messages are specifically intended to “make the comfortable uncomfortable.”) We will not hear them if we are not open to changing our life in some manner, because our spiritual Messages are inherently about provoking new directions or new ways of thinking. We will not see their importance if we do not pay attention to those moments when we are startled by a particular occurrence in our day. We will not engage as long as we believe that our life is constructed entirely from our own making, with minimal external interference. We will not be moved if we believe that our “coincidences” are just random and unconnected events, curiosities but of no meaningful substance.

In short, we pay attention. We pay reactive attention by our awareness that every moment, every person, every event of our day can be a vehicle for a Message. We pay proactive attention by setting aside time each day to survey the content of our day, to identify any situations that may have slipped by our awareness. In a day filled with Doings, we purposefully create time and space for our Mind to sort through the stories of our day to find the spiritual keys that can unlock the oft-closed doors within which we live. The key that answers the question, “What new thing did I learn today?” The key that tells us, “What am I unnecessarily holding on to?” The key that shows us, “What do I need to see and understand?” The key that shows us, “What bad thing or person in fact helped me to move to my next desirable  step?” The key that shows us, “How are the many separate parts and events of my life actually interconnected?”

In a quiet moment, we ask what Life (the Universe) is trying so hard to tell us. Having posed our question, we blot everything else out. We do not force a reply. Rather, we sit back and just listen. Watch the thoughts go by. Withholding judgment. Waiting until that intended core Message we seek comes through to us. We see anew. And then we act.

©   2021   Randy Bell   


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A Really Big Small Thing

On May 8th, Spencer Silver died at the age of 80. His death did not get much notice or attention at the time, a shame considering his important contribution to societal progress. Whatever successes I may have had in my professional and/or personal life, some portion of credit must be attributed to the revolutionary tool he made available equally to us all.

Spencer Silver was the 3-M product developer who created the Post-It Notes. Those little yellow 3” x 3” square pads ubiquitously scattered about in home and office. The special sticky glue on one side allowed them to be posted virtually anywhere, on anything, moved around or removed at will. Upon them has been written the major building blocks of “things to be done” and “information to remember” that has kept America undeniably running more smoothly. No high-tech equipment are required when your pen and Post-Its are immediately handy on nearby countertops and desks.

In my own case, as a strategic planner, they made possible the easy collection of group brainstorming ideas, little visions of the future captured in 3-5 words sharable with others. As a project planner, individual project requirements and milestones could be easily identified, and scrambled and sorted into variable options for consideration. The home “to do” list covering all sorts of tasks-to-do are conveniently noted at the moment of realization, then efficiently transported to the appropriate wall, mirror or desk most appropriate to any household member you feel needs “reminding.” Highly important is their use as a sleep aid – those minutes (seemingly hours) you toss and turn in bed thinking about some “critical” idea, or brainstorming a needed solution, or drafting a document to be written (e.g. a blog essay), all in dialog with your over-stimulated mind in lieu of sleep. Finally, you get up, grab your pen and Post-It pad on your nightstand, and write down those key words that assure you that your ideas will not be forgotten come the rude awakening of morning. Nervous energy turns into calm sleep at last.

For these and many other examples, we owe a debt to a guy by the name of Spencer Silver. It is human nature to want to save the world, change the difficult life conditions of humanity, accomplish “big ideas” for the sake of future generations. Yet, in its own way, the Post-It note reminds us that sometimes it is the small idea, the single step forward, that just helps us along a little more easily. It is someone – typically unnamed – who benefits us by sharing a moment of their inherent creativity. We should remember that it is often the accumulated little steps we take that make the big ones possible, so it behooves us to notice and acknowledge such contributions and acts of kindness as we come across them.

For that reminder, we thank you Spencer Silver. And I now consign to the paper recycle box the Post-It note written weeks ago reminding me to write this statement. Task done.

©   2021          Randy Bell        


Thursday, April 8, 2021

Family History And Heritage

In the mid-1980s, I was infected with the genealogy bug. I had a desire to know more about my family history: who I came from; who those people were; how their life unfolded; how I resulted from their journey. I began by following the traditional route of family history researchers. First, we identify the cast of characters by name in our ancestral pool, both direct ancestors and their siblings and descendants. Next comes the basic, dry facts of them: dates (birth, marriage, death); their relationship to us. Then their geography (where did they happen; what were their movements). We interview extended family members for their recollections, oral histories, and perhaps personal documentation. We search the public records in federal / state / local archives: census reports for each decade; wartime service records; business directories; newspaper articles: state and local bureaus of official records. We search the ancestry data resources available.

The stories in the history books find a place on our desk. When we begin to connect the stories and events and dates within the school textbooks to our emerging genealogical landscape, our accumulated names gradually come alive as “real people.” People who were part of the historical story; historical stories that were lived by the people. Over time, our own life begins to expand. Expands beyond one’s usual day-to-day existence, our usual focus on ourselves as the center of the Universe. Connection with our ancestors helps us share connection and space with our contemporary companions.

Each step, each contact, in the genealogical journey yields more pieces to the ancestral puzzle, yet also another research step to be undertaken. Until a trail runs cold, and the next ancestor in the line disappears, apparently lost into time. At which time we start down a new trail and repeat the process. For all its time demands and inevitable frustrations, it is a highly rewarding journey. If you are a White American. Preferably of Western European descent.

If you are an African-American setting out on a genealogy journey, you will likely travel a very different trip than the one described above. Many of the above resources and official records created between 1900 and the present would be available, whether one’s ancestors came to America post-1900 or before. But “story information” could be harder to come by, given how much Black history in the 20th Century has been buried and under-reported until fairly recently.  If you had ancestors in America during the post-Civil War / Reconstruction / 1865-1900 period, resources and information could be a mixed picture. Black Americans were just beginning to be “officially” recognized as individuals in the Census recordings, the Vital Statistics records, school records, etc., but it would be very hit-and-miss depending on one’s individual situation within the Jim Crow racial segregation and  oppression framework.

But it is the Civil War that rings down the genealogical curtain, hiding an unseen civilization behind its silence, a curtain rarely raised except for perhaps a quick peek. In the 245 years that Black America was also slavery America, Black Americans were treated as non-human beings. There were no birth certificates. If given a name, it would be one determined by the slave owner. Death was routinely burial in a mass, unmarked grave, its occupants identified by no headstones. If recorded in one of the census listings, a slave could be noted as simply one of a number – e.g. “6 slaves,” individually unidentified, familial relationships unstated, perhaps even with a dollar value assigned. Further, our Constitution directed that slaves be only counted as “3/5 of a person” for government representation. In short, slaves were legally considered on the same par as farm livestock, sold and bought at public auction, “property” literally chained to their owner, their existence found (if at all) only in commercial records, not government recordkeeping. These antebellum Black Americans may have been highly visible in the flesh given their numbers, but the acknowledgment and substantiation of their existence was invisible, lost to time. They are known only in the collective, except perhaps the few “family oral histories” that have survived.

“Heritage” is the accumulated stories of our ancestors reflecting their times and events. Stories often only partially true, historical snippets that selectively pick out the “good stuff” while ignoring uncomfortable omissions. But that is intellectually and ethically dishonest: we have to take the good together with the bad before we can properly claim “our heritage.” They are also stories handed down over potentially long periods of time, increasingly impassioned with each tick of the clock.

There is much talk these days about “our heritage,” and the need to preserve and defend it from supposed attack (e.g. the “cancel culture” movement). The first problem with this call to arms is that most people cannot define what their heritage is. At best, we get those romanticized ideas that quickly come to one’s mind. The second problem is, whose heritage are we referencing? White southern history; Black southern history; New England history; Southwestern frontier history? Asian- / Italian- / Scottish- / Middle East-American history? Each person, each group, has a unique heritage story. These stories, collectively and interwoven, form America’s collective and complete heritage. Which is why, when we talk about our own personal heritage, we are obligated to remember that our personal heritage is not everyone’s heritage. My story includes soldiers on both the North and South side of the Civil War. So whom do I honor? What is my heritage? Black heritage is not my personal heritage, but my personal heritage interacts with Black heritage to create America’s heritage.

Can it be that the outcry we hear today about “protecting our heritage” is not from the fear of potential loss? Rather, could it be the growing pains of our national heritage expanding to include our many heritages trying to live together? What I feel confident in saying is that there is no White American who has an ancestor that was bought, chained, sold, forcibly separated from family, and lived an undocumented life with no legal rights as a free human being, and no safety protection from the State. My heritage is not your heritage. But they are our shared heritage.

©   2021  Randy Bell    


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Advice Regarding Advice

Advice. People have been giving and receiving advice ever since the first human beings arose on this earth. There are people more than willing to offer their opinions on a host of topics regarding what one should think and do, and others more than happy to receive said opinions. They can be opinions on major life decisions, or a simple task now in process over the next five minutes, and everything in between.

Structurally, there are two sources of advice available to us: “Institutional Advice,” and “Individual Advice.” Institutional Advice comes from three principal providers: Government, though its constitutions, laws and regulations; Religion/Church, through its formal dogma, rituals, and sacred writings; and Culture/Society, through its codes of acceptable conduct within one’s group. We may not think of these institutions as true “advice givers,” but rather as the necessary and acceptable mechanisms for holding group societies together. But given that – for better or worse – humans can accept or deny these various institutional rules, and decide whether to follow them or not regardless of any societal punishments, then realistically all of these institutional expectations are ultimately simply advice from which we make our life choices.

Then there are the more familiar Individual Advice Givers. They are the friends, family, sometimes even strangers who give us their perspective on some issue or activity with which we are engaged. The fundamental goal is to help the Advice Receiver find from within him-/herself the solutions and decisions appropriate to him/her; it is all about Self-discovery. When done well and with purity of intention, such advice can be very helpful to us as we plod our way through our daily lives. For the Advice Giver, it can be personally satisfying that one’s experiences and opinions have some value worth sharing, and satisfying to know that one has been helpful to another human being. For the Advice Receiver, the ability to share one’s burdens, and having the benefit of wider experiences from which to draw, can ease the burden of one’s personal decision-making. But when done poorly and with impurity of intention by either party, advice can make our already complicated and difficult life even more problematic; a potential gift from the emergence of one’s latent creativity may be forever lost. There are four key scenarios that disrupt well-intentioned and effective giving and receiving of advice, and can in fact create personal friction in the relationship between Giver and Receiver.

1. Receiver: “What would you do [in this situation or problem]?” What I would do if facing your challenges is speculation on my part, because I am not actually facing your very real challenges in your very real circumstances. So my imagined solutions would be theoretical at best. My desired outcomes are not necessarily appropriate to your aspirations. The real question is, what are you trying to accomplish? What I think I might do is irrelevant to your decision-making, other than perhaps illustrating some options that you might consider for yourself.

2. Receiver: “What would you do if you were me?” or Giver: “If I were you I would …”: I am not you. My life experiences, goals, priorities, and circumstances are different than yours. My current situation may have similarities with yours, but overall our lives are significantly different. Without strong restraint, I will wind up describing what I would do for ME, not you. The best I can do in this scenario is to surround my reply with full disclosure of how I reached that conclusion for me. Thereby, you can determine whether my decision considerations and objectives have any relevance to your aspirations and concerns.

3. Receiver: “What should I do?” I do not know. I cannot possibly know. What I do know is that this question turns the conversation on its head. It effectively allows the Receiver to surrender control and responsibility for making his/her own personal decisions. We each have to make our own call in response to the challenges we encounter. We each need to take advantage of the opportunities for personal growth, maturity, and learning that come with making and assessing our decisions. As tempting as it may be in the moment, those opportunities are lost when the Receiver avoids the decision and leaves it to others to determine instead.

4. Giver: “You should ...” The two killer words in any advice discussion. Nothing of real value comes from any words that follow after. The Giver has moved from a position of “helper” to one of control, of dominance over the Receiver. In turn, the Receiver has moved either into a position of subservience towards “going along with the should,” or defensiveness in order to retain the integrity of his/her Self. This is no longer a conversation, but a lecture. It is not to be mistaken for advice, but rather a treat for the ego of the Giver.

There is one check that is helpful to measure whether our intention as an Advice Giver is in its proper place. When we give advice, it is critically important that we detach ourselves from the advice itself. That we retain no sense of expectation or judgment as to whether the Receiver takes our advice or not. We were asked for our thoughts and opinion. We gave same. If we take personally the Receiver’s ultimate decision, and are miffed if s/he goes another direction, then we know that we actually attempted to make the conversation about us, not the Receiver. The goal was for us to be humbly helpful to another in their struggle by finding where their heart and mind are leading them. It was not supposed to be about our own wonderfulness, the superiority of our knowledge and supposed wisdom, and our life instead of theirs.

Which brings us to the final overriding and cautionary axiom for Advice Givers: THE WORST ADVICE THERE IS, IS UNSOLICITED ADVICE. Advice giving is a response function, not a self-initiated function. Sometimes the best advice is to say nothing at all, but to just listen; minding our own business can often be the best advice we can offer. Often, what people really want is just to be heard. If our egos really call us to offer advice not requested, then we would do well to at least first ask the permission of the Receiver as to whether s/he wants it.

This is my unsolicited Advice Regarding Advice.

(With thanks to a special meditation group for stimulating this essay.)

©    2021   Randy Bell