Tuesday, February 15, 2011

You're Gonna Have to Serve Somebody


Dylan sang it and wrote it and in his way he tries to live it.  His song, You’re Gonna Have to Serve Somebody, probably has roots that go as far back as the Bible.
You have to serve somebody, even if all you think you’re serving are your own appetites and needs. Even if you’re a bank robber, you’re serving somebody. And if you’re the Ben Affleck character in Town, who is a bank robber, you end up serving somebody other than yourself, anyway, if you’re lucky.
And why not?
What at first may seem like a command, a stricture you have to follow, like taking bitter medicine, probably distasteful at first, but ‘good’ for you in the long run, “You’ve got to serve somebody,” actually offers insightful advice, a brilliant piece of coaching that if implemented in the right spirit can open up the world and make you feel more alive, connected, present, valuable, successful, and yes, even happy.
We are connection-seeking beings, almost every one of us. Connections, solid, deep, and caring have been shown to help a man or woman lead a longer and happier life.
So why not serve and be connected?
Well, you might say, I do that already. I take care of my family. I love them. I guess I serve them and I’m grateful for it.
What about in your job?
What about in your parenting?
What about in your friendships?
What about in all your relationships?
What about when you’re at the checkout counter at Trader Joe’s?
Why not an attitude of service wherever you go and with whomever you’re with?
Of course, we have to be careful of being do-gooders. As Thoreau pointed out, do-gooders, those who consciously go out to do good, are often a pain in the butt. You have to be mindful of what you’re doing and why. But that needn’t stop you from exploring and opening up to a world beyond yourself, a world of other people, available to you when you let others in and consider how you might be of service to them.
Why not take to heart that, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody”?
Not as a doormat, not at the expense of your own needs, and happiness, but as a fulfillment of your purpose as a human being, and as a means to your own growth and happiness.
It seems, to be really happy, we need to be about more than just ourselves.
Me, Me, Me, turns out to be a rather small place to live. And it can get boring.
The more we serve, the bigger our world gets. The more connected we feel to those around us, the more alive we feel. This will be different for each of us. Some of us are more introverted than others, some of us love the grand stage, while others prefer the quiet grove.
No matter. We each have our world and our place to contribute and connect, our place of service. We can serve many who we do not even meet, at least not in person, by our writing, for example. Dylan, though he’s been on tour forever, is, I am told, a rather shy and almost reclusive man when not performing. An acquaintance once met him at a party in Malibu where he lives. Dylan barely spoke a word. And yet his words have served millions.
Dylan believes in music and in songs, the songs that carry the truth of times past and times present. The songs, and he knows more of them probably than any person alive, are his gospel, his sacred texts that tell him about life, love, loss, and the hope of salvation. That’s what he serves, that truth, and the part that he can play in keeping those songs and those timeless truths alive by recording, and performing year after year. He’s serving something larger, something outside himself, something beyond the songs. He must care about people, the people who may hear the songs and may learn from them, and find some truth in them and some comfort.
Bob Marley was the same. He sang his heart out for liberation, for equality, for a life of possibility and hope. During his last concert when he was dying of cancer and he sang, “No Woman, Don’t Cry,” he wasn’t just mouthing words, but living what he believed and what he stood for. Everyone in his band knew he was near the end and that he probably should not be on stage working so hard, but Bob Marley knew, like Bob Dylan knows, that you’ve got to serve somebody. And Marley did so happily, with all his soul, so he could die complete at the age of 36.
            I’m in real estate, not a very sexy profession compared to being Bob Dylan or Bob Marley, but it’s the primary way I pay my bills. Up till very recently I compartmentalized it from much of my life and much of who I am. I loved the people. I often love the houses. But somehow I tainted the whole thing because I thought I was doing it for me, because I needed the money. Which was true, but only partly true. It was also true that I genuinely enjoyed the clients, even the difficult ones. I have a playwright’s heart and can love even challenging characters. Yet I was missing something. I was looking at the whole thing slightly in the wrong way.
I realized that I had been looking at my life in slightly the ‘wrong’ way for too long. I was coming from the position of ‘it’s about me’. I often still do, but I’m trying to get better at it.
You might say that’s very convenient, to look at your work as serving others, while it serves you as well. It even sounds a bit Machiavellian, where you make your deeds look like good ones, while the whole time you’re lining your own pockets.
Some people question whether we can truly be altruistic. They say that our good deeds benefit us and that’s the real reason we do them, not to help others, but to help ourselves.
Maybe that’s true, but I’m certain that the happiest people are those who are connected to others and truly do their best to help them. My ninety-year-old mom has a mailman like that. He serves all day long. For years he’s been bringing the mail up the stairs to my mother’s door. He brings her stamps when she needs them. He takes her packages to the post office, puts postage on them, and collects from her the next day. I think he’s the happiest mail person I’ve ever met. And it’s because he serves.
Or does he serve because he’s happy?
I think the service comes first and the happiness follows.
It’s a worthwhile experiment either way. Try serving others a bit more rather than focusing too much on yourself and see how it feels. You may find that “you’re gonna have to serve somebody”, or some thing to be genuinely happy. It could be beauty you serve. It could be the earth. It could be peace. These things connect to people sooner or later. 
Try it out for yourself. See what it feels like. Open yourself up to the possibility of more and more service in your life. Think about what this means for a person in real estate, or a mail person, or a coach, or a nurse, or a teacher, or a police officer, or an electrician, or a mechanic.
In your interactions with others try holding an attitude of service.
“How can I help you?”
“What do you need?”
See what it feels like, and let us know.

I can be reached at drjohnluca@gmail.com or 680-5572.

I can be reached at drjohnluca@gmail.com 805/680-5572

Friday, February 4, 2011

What Are You Doing to Live Your Life as Best You Can?

I’m in the real estate business, amongst other things, and though we are now at what I believe is the beginning of the end of the real estate meltdown, a lot of people are hurting. I look at foreclosures and notices of default on a daily basis. I see the names of people I know who are behind on their mortgage payments. I see their houses about to be auctioned on the courthouse steps, contractors, realtors, business owners, and others. 
I’m impressed with how people press on, with how they deal with their losses, with how they are trying to reinvent themselves. One guy I know, a real salt of the earth kind of guy, made most of his income from setting tile. That got tough, so he opened a deli. That was pretty tough, so he took some classes, hired the right crew, bought a back-hoe and now along with tile he’s doing driveways, walkways, and walls, and he’s getting by.
But it’s not easy.
Another contractor I know is having challenges with his blood pressure. And there has to be many more like him
Though things are getting better, these are not the best of times for a lot of people. If you look at the news and hear what people in Egypt and Tunisia and elsewhere have had to put up with because of corrupt, unfair, and unworkable political and economic situations, you see that your situation is not that bad in comparison.
Yet it’s tough.
People have to cut themselves some slack during the hard times. I hear clients continually berating themselves for having taken out second loans on their homes, and how they wish they hadn’t done that and so forth. This from a guy who still has hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity in his house, and yet he often wants to chide himself for what he could have done, should have done, might have done.
I sometimes find myself in the same situation.
“What was I thinking when I did such and such with my money?” or something to that effect.
I’m fifty-three. Up till recently I never thought about a pension or retiring. I’ve always been an entrepreneur, mostly buying and selling real estate. I always thought I would be able to make all the money I needed in ways that were relatively easy and appealing to me. An electrician client of mine shared that he never had to go out to ask for work before, and that he was always able to pick and choose his jobs. He now finds it very difficult to go out there and ask for work.
Some friends of mine from chiropractic school shared how, “It really sucks. We got used to making more money each year. Our income went up and so did our lifestyle. That’s all changed, now.”
They live in Florida and own property in Michigan, two very hard-hit places.
You have your own stories and you have friends who have their stories, friends with no work, or who are going bankrupt, or have lost their home.
            You have to give yourself some credit for hanging in their during the hard times, for holding on, for finding ways to live and get your bills paid, for breathing through months, if not years of unemployment. I know a skilled architect who is happy painting houses and putting in landscaping. The physical pleasure of the work is new to him, but you have to know his heart is longing to get back to the drafting table. But in some ways he’s better than he’s ever been. He’s meeting the challenge of the hard times, some days better than others, but he’s doing it. He, along with many others of us, is having his mettle tested as never before, and surviving, even thriving. And that’s a good feeling.
            It’s not easy. I wish it were over, but as long as I can keep on keeping on, I grow and learn. And I like that. To me, that’s a lot of what life is about.
How do you keep the faith? How do you keep breathing? How do you recreate yourself? What are you doing to grow, learn, survive, and thrive?
            A client of mine has gone back to school to become a Latin teacher. I’m serious. He loves language, and it seems in top-notch schools there’s a need for Latin teachers. Another client of mine who cut his teeth in the real estate business managing construction projects is retraining for health care management, where there is a need for his skills.
Not everybody is being affected by the downturn in the same way, but there are commonalities. A buddy of mine is doing work on the BP oil spill out in the gulf. He’s a hydrologist, a water specialist, and though his work has been steady throughout the downturn, he still has to deal with his house being worth significantly less than it was a few years. The same is true in all fields, whether you’re a doctor or a high-end attorney. About one in every four households owes more on their house than it’s worth.
            I find myself stressed by what’s happening, but I also must confess I like it. I also like hard uphill climbs in the Sierras that make my lungs burn and my thighs ache. These trying times have forced me to reach further into myself. I haven’t had it this hard before, (I still have it way better than most.) and I’m finding the resources and the strength to do what I need to do. I take encouragement and support and inspiration from those around me who are finding ways to reinvent themselves and thrive.
            I’m much more appreciative now. One gift I gave my son for Christmas, I didn’t even tell him about. I promised myself I would play chess with him often. And that’s what I’ve done. It wasn’t that it was free, but something about trying financial times made me think about what was really valuable and memorable to me when I was kid.
What I remember after my dad died is that my father’s best friend, my Compare` John Santoro, would sit with me for hours playing the Italian card game Briscola. He never ever let me win, but I didn’t mind because he was treating me like a man, and spending time with me, though I was only seven. In retrospect, he seems to have had the card-playing capacities of a saint. I don’t remember ever winning, but I’ll never forget the two of us playing together.
That’s something money could never buy. I remember that now when I play chess with my son, or sit with my family watching a movie. There was a time I could never fully relax and just sit there laughing at some silly movie with my family. I was too busy. I had things to do, things to learn, important things.
Now, I can’t really think of anything more important or enjoyable than sharing a few hours with Syd, Mateo, Lisa, and Iko. It’s as pleasant as pleasant gets. It’s what life is about, at least as far as I can tell.
I’m the type of guy who can remember, while watching Ironman 2 that we’re living our lives on a speck of moist dust called Earth, hurtling through incomprehensible expanses of space and time, and that my entire life will pass in a flash, and that no matter how widely I travel, I will always be stuck, at least physically, in a very, very tiny corner of this wild universe, but in this context nothing else really seems to make sense other than to do what Jesus and all the other great teachers taught me, which was to love and care for those around me, to be as gentle and as compassionate as I can be, to be tolerant, to learn the ways of my own heart and mind so that I might be free of prejudice, greed, unnecessary suffering, limiting beliefs, anger, fear, sadness, and that I live a life open to the beauty, the mystery, and the sacredness of life, even though my bills are piled high on my desk, and thousands are in the streets in Egypt and elsewhere struggling and yearning for the most basic of freedoms and the most inalienable of rights.
            It’s tough, and beautiful. It’s the only life we have, at least for this leg of the journey. So look around. Take heart from those around you. Try to live well and wisely. Give what you have to give to those who could use your help, a smile, a kind word, a game of chess. Live now, while keeping an eye on the eternal.
          And if at all possible, be happy.
          Email me and let me know what's working for you.
          I can be reached at drjohnfluca@gmail.com or 805/680-5572. Namaste

Monday, January 31, 2011


It’s another beautiful morning in Santa Barbara. It rained yesterday, but it was wonderful in between the brief downpours. Though it’s January, the rains had an almost tropical quality about them. They came and went and came and went. They were fast and hard. Then it was sunny and windy.
Kind of like life can be some days. One hour you feel like it’s a great sunny day. You’re happy and things are going your way. Next minute psychological clouds gather, the mind darkens, and you’re not even sure what made your mood turn from sunny to cloudy.
Then, something else happens, that you may or may not really notice, and your mood changes again and you’re feeling happy and alive.
Not everyone goes through this everyday, but fluctuating moods are a challenge for many of us, though we may label the moods and deal with them in different ways. Not everybody gets noticeably depressed or unhappy when things don’t go right. Some of us get stressed, or angry, or we move faster, or we eat, surf the net, or distract ourselves in another way. Some of us go for a run, or call a friend, or meditate, rather than having a beer, or a smoke.
            Some of us deal with emotions by trying not to have them. This only works to a point. Trying not to have emotions is a little like trying not to sweat or go to the bathroom. It’s not a wise plan for the long run. Heart attacks, ulcers, hemorrhoids—you name it—a whole slew of health problems are related to an ability to handle difficult emotions.
Not having emotions also makes it a little tough to be a satisfying partner, and being emotion-free, like a robot, is probably a good way to have seriously messed-up kids. You hear this when troubled kids say things like, “My dad’s body might have been there, but he was somewhere else.”
To show up as a human being means to show up emotions and all. And we really wouldn’t want it any other way. Psychopaths and sociopaths seem to lack an ability to feel what is going on inside themselves and an inability to feel what is going on in others. And look how wonderfully their lives turn out.
To show up as a human being is to feel and be felt by those around us.
Our emotions, our feelings, have a great deal of intelligence in them. They help us do the right thing. They guide our intuition, which research is starting to show has a lot more going for it than we ever thought. Our emotions connect us and motivate us to do great things. Our emotions add color to life. They make us human.
They can also get us into trouble. That’s why we’re told we have to control our emotions and not let them control us. Emotions like fear make us run when we should stand. Anger makes us lash out when we should listen. Sadness makes us collapse when we need to rise.
This sounds like we are a house divided with good emotions versus bad emotions, with good cops versus bad cops. Emotional intelligence involves more than simply controlling our emotions.
Who’s being ‘emotional’ and who’s doing the controlling, anyway? Are there two people in there? Two personalities?
Can we bring about a bit of unity, which may lead to a bit of harmony and a bit more ease?
The more aware you can be of what’s going on inside you as you ‘react’ emotionally to things, the better. React is the operative word here. Often our anger, our fear, our sadness, is triggered by events, or more precisely, by events and the thoughts we have about those events. This often happens quickly and automatically.
 “Of course, I’m angry. The kids aren’t ready.”
We say this as if we’ve stated a law of nature and that our anger necessarily follows our kids’ lateness as necessarily as the planets follow Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation.
So why does your wife get depressed rather than mad when the kids are late? Is there a different law of nature working in her case than in yours?
This example may seem trivial, but it’s not. If you look, you will see many places in your life where you are saying, “I feel this way because…” and then you fill in the blank.
One of the most powerful things you can do to increase your happiness, success, and sexual prowess (Do I still have your attention?) is to take more and more responsibility for your life, including your emotions.
This is a very important step. Your emotions are yours. They are not simply caused by outside events. You are not a billiard ball being hit by another billiard ball that has no choice but to ‘react’ in a certain way. You have many degrees of freedom. You can look at what is going on when something begins to upset you. You can begin to cultivate a space between the action and your reaction. You can, if you want to, if you’re willing to accept the power and the possibility and the responsibility.
Responsibility can be said to mean ‘the ability to respond in a number of different ways.’ If you only have one way of responding, like a struck billiard ball, then you can’t be held responsible.
Is that what you want? To be free of responsibility for your emotions and your actions, like a billiard ball? Or do you want to stand up and take the responsibility and the opportunity to live and act like a human being?
Being human is a wonderful opportunity, but it’s also hard work. Life is often not easy. Most of us do not come pre-programmed with everything we need to live a full and happy life, nor do outside circumstances always work to make our lives safe and fulfilling. Life can be ‘red in tooth and claw’. Many of us are hurt even before we crawl, and have to work hard to find our way.
One of the most powerful moves we can make is to take more and more responsibility for our lives, beginning with our emotions and our reactions. Once we take responsibility, we can begin to learn how we’re built, how we operate, how we react. We can learn to be more aware.
Like building up our bodies, we can build up our ability to feel and be with uncomfortable emotions without reacting. We can learn to see the thoughts and belief systems that keep us imprisoned and restrict our ability to handle challenges. We can challenge those patterns and beliefs and live less reactively.
But for all this to happen, we first have to accept responsibility for our lives. That’s the foundation.
And that’s where most of us give our best excuses.
First things first, take responsibility wherever and whenever you can. That way you give yourself power and dominion over more and more of your life.
Don’t misunderstand me. This is not contrary to a religious or spiritual position that says you need the help of a higher power to fully live your life. Maybe our very existence is only possible because of a sacred energy creating and sustaining all things. Maybe not.
            You get to choose which is true for you and how you will live.
            Or you can choose to live like a billiard ball.
            That's your choice as well.

            I can be reached at drjohnluca@gmail.com or 805/680-5572