The Miracle of Intuition, By Any Other Name

Posted in Uncategorized on April 18, 2014 by michaelcogdill

Read the comments under that story I’ve linked to below. Taken in total, what do they say to you? What’s their message, from humanity about humanity?

Before you answer, read on here. Indulge me a moment.

Good Friday is perhaps the most deeply human of holidays. It calls us into the tomb of our own mortality, with the expectation that we are, after all, made to harbor Love and not Death. Love as our raison d’etre. The very reason we’re all here, cutting a path through this wilderness life.

People will act, and speak, and tempt us to react, with twin-barrel hostility. Instead, with accountability made of steel, may we shut our mouths. Listen in the quiet. Hear that? That inner voice? It’s the one we hear only when we stop adding to the noise.

That quiet voice is intuition. We all have one. In his brilliant book, Blink, the great Malcolm Gladwell reminded us of this, and made these statements about that inner voice we so often ignore:

“The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.” Malcolm Gladwell.

“In the act of tearing something apart, you lose its meaning.” Malcolm Gladwell.

To understand the significance of something — a relationship, a life decision, or the death of a stranger — we live best when we live by that intuition. Hear it. Trust it. Trust its radical wisdom, especially in the face of WANTING things to be true, as we imagine them.

On this Good Friday, and the days hence, regardless of your faith or the lack thereof, know that whisper is a gift. A human one. A companion within, urging you toward feeling your way through life rather than over-thinking, and reacting. It is a mortal gift of immortal power. It reminds us we are never alone. That we are more than our thoughts.

Listening to our intuition reminds us we think and act best when the mind and spirit truly get it on, inside us. When we let them be together, and dare I say it, make Love.

So, with that image burned into your Good Friday, perhaps you’ll eventually wonder as you read on here, what does intuition have to do with a body found on a Tennessee Easter Egg hunt, and the comments under the reporting on it? What’s it say about Easter?

To me, it speaks of the supernatural nature of this holiday. The story below whispers reminder that the WOMEN who came to the tomb followed an intuition, while the men who’d followed — and betrayed — the Jesus lain into a borrowed tomb had locked themselves away, full of cynicism and worry, thinking they’d seen the end. The woman felt, intuitively. The men thought, fearfully. The Easter story is a revelation first to womanhood. Women get much credit, richly deserved, for their intuition. Men, you have one, too. Listen to it. Show the mettle to act upon it.

A single human death, no matter who, no matter where, calls us to the truth of John Donne, as he talked about Death tolling for us all. We are all lessened by the loss of one another. But my intuition tells me a single death sets off an eloquent reminder that we are equally mortal. A common humanity of uncommon beauty. Humans not measured by money or status or place of birth, but by the fact we each harbor the same inner voice. An intuition.

As for me, I believe that voice is Divine, wise beyond words. Yes, even beyond the language limits of religion. It calls us to find some quiet. Dare our way into the inner tomb field of our mortality, and then listen. Especially there, in the chill of our humanness, our brokenness, LOVE is in the air.

Peace, y’all. Dare a man say, peace, love and Intuition?

Your Own Worst Critic? Fire The Little !@$%^

Posted in Uncategorized on April 17, 2014 by michaelcogdill

When did you last put yourself down in the privacy of your own thoughts?

As someone whose job is to interview people and turn out their innermost thinking, I can say, there is no such privacy. When you demean yourself to yourself, people know. The hurt rises into your eyes and overflows your life. Easy to witness.

The cinders of self-abuse fly all over the place. They spew, lava hot, off tongues in Wal-Mart lines. Flare in the words of internet trolls. Anonymity on a message board is folly, after all.  Our words identify us.  A soul’s inner roiling always shows. The words brand us. Self abuse is a scarring tattoo, destined to peer above the waistline of how we’re seen by the world.

And, sure, self-bullying is nearly always rooted in what someone else said. Even from a long time ago, the words of another bounce around in you, even now. Still scalding hot. Only now, likely, in your own voice.

Consider this. You get to choose what to believe. People can call you anything. You can call yourself anything, even in silence. But only you get to mediate it. Only you get to decide what’s true, even of yourself.

So much of the news I report draws life from this truth, often tragically so. A gentleman once railed at me in a Home Depot store that he wanted some good news. I challenged him to go make some. I’m sure he’s learned by now it’s much easier to make bad news than good. We wired to believe the negative and doubt the good. Even its very existence. Something in us yearns to act out the grim.

But goodness lives. Thrives. Makes news. From Mother Teresa to Desmond Tutu to the group of kids rallying around a classmate or teacher in crisis, the beautiful DO make news. They’re as human as we are, these news-makers. They harbor dark sides. Their minds echo with criticism. But they are believers in something else, something virtuosic and beautiful, even about themselves.

And they are calling to you and me. Their words, their very selves, trying to chase away that inner critic.

Believe them. Believe in your true self. The one that inner critic has yet to meet.

The Folly of Saving Your Life

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 17, 2014 by michaelcogdill

My father was a conservative — with a small c. He lived as a starving boy of the Depression his entire life, no matter how much he earned. He was afraid to live. Terrified all the things he earned would be the last things his times would drop into his world. If he could have horded life — and its girlfriend, Precious Time — he would have held them captive. Kidnapped them for the ransom of not being afraid they’d run out on him.

Alas, my father gone. Life and that girlfriend — Precious Time — caught the last train for the shore my father loved, but never fully walked. They left him behind. He’s in his grave, having left too much of himself unspent.  My father now knows saving time hording life is folly.

Life isn’t made for hording. It’s built for doing. Time is made to get spent. Get conservative with either at the risk of wallowing on spiny-as-hell deathbed regrets.

Spend yourself. Afraid? Then ask, for what — and whom — am I conserving my life? My time? Knowing that Fear will steal both, right out from under us.

Poverty 101? Take An Incomplete!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 8, 2014 by michaelcogdill

After I spoke at an event this morning, the mom of an Auburn journalism student approached, naturally incandescent with pride in her daughter. Proud, but a tad troubled, I could tell.

Someone, or a group of them, at Auburn has been filling her daughter’s head with gloom speak about her chosen profession. You’ll make nothing. Brace for poverty. Steel yourself for a life lush with canned beans and government cheese. (Not a thing wrong with either, by the way).

There is, however, something wrong with educators trying to cap the expectations of a student. Education is about broadening, not narrowing, expectations. No, that’s no sturdy realism they deliver. Nor is it refining pragmatism, teaching a kid she’ll be poor. It is, I believe, a rant of quiet resentment. A seething desire not to see the student out-soar the instructor.

In my college experience, at Georgia and North Carolina, rare was the professor who tried to cap me with low expectations. Those who did, I don’t remember. I recall only those who said, yes, get after it. Your dream is up there. Here are the afterburners of learning. The tools. Light ‘em up and get the hell after it. Work hard. Get there.

I am a student of the liberal arts, and I celebrate this. Yes, I studied journalism, great literature, the humanities that make us human. I did the math, too, sure. But language lit the air of my heart. It’s still my electrical charge. And I am not poor! Not by any definition.  Thank God, I am anything but poor. I have a tremendous lot, and many to thank for it.

But more than this, I am not measured by my wealth, nor by poverty. I take my measure by the capacity to scatter some worth about the place, especially to those on the downside of advantage. That’s wealth. That, in the end, is what this essay is about. That value set should forge its way off the tongue of those professors at Auburn, and every college and university around the globe.  Teach it.  Demand the mindset from your students.  Inspire them, after all.

Students, don’t believe the drivel of little minds with big pedigrees who say because you study this, you’ll never amount to some significant that. You get to choose whether to believe the doomsayers who, so often, were too afraid to dare. Don’t believe them. Haul off and dare. Dare grandly.

It’s up there. You can reach it, with work. What you love will give you the ride.

Anything For Love? Really? A Thought Born of The Bachelor

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 18, 2014 by michaelcogdill

I admire the one Juan Pablo rejected.  Clare Crawley turned resolute after all.  Stood for her womanhood, not a famous bachelor’s feminine ideal.

Yet something troubles me. Clare told the TV audience when she loves, she loves 1,000% and would do ANYTHING for that love.

Anything? Really? In the fullest defining of the word “anything?”

That anything rattles awake my voice as an advocate for female sovereignty against domestic violence. It shakes me at my core as a man advocating for women to see their individual strength, apart from men.

In the helicopter, Juan Pablo (and there’s no evidence he’s violent at all, by the way) said something that troubled Clare deeply. He hit a trip wire of her intuition. Yet the bomb of self-protection didn’t go off. She showed up the next day to get a proposal from that same man. The one she told off with brilliant power moments after he rejected her.

And in that angry repudiation of him, her intuition was showing. She revealed that there was much she didn’t even like about the man, much less love.

I believe in that moment, Clare learned something about the deceitfulness of the cultural undertow that yanks far too many strong women down to drown in the folly of absolute devotion to being a princess bride. I hope many women learned it. Women AND men.

Last night, as I keynoted an event about domestic violence, I had the chance to talk directly to some very young women in the audience. They’re early to mid teenager — the age when so many women begin to feel the pressure to scan the horizons of their lives for a wedding cake. To pair off. To get validated by their peers with the very idea that they have a man in their lives. For them, likely a boy masquerading as a man.

To the entire audience, with focus on the very young, I said something I’ll echo here: You are a sovereign woman in the making. Ever evolving. A singular human being adored by God. You need NO man to validate that. No man to impress your girlfriends with your capacity to catch a dude. You are a life to get celebrated and lived daringly, with courage and independence. NEVER sacrifice this in the name of pleasing, or catching, a man.

You know this, of course. Deep within. Men who set off that intuition about your sovereign womanhood call you to speak up, to walk away, to seek your relationship fortune elsewhere. Seek it apart from the bravado of boys. Demand of your relationship only the most caring machinery of real men.

Real men celebrate and cherish the sovereignty of womanhood. They are never threatened by it. Anyone who slings around the Philistine notions of male dominant machismo is a threat to this truth. Oppose that threat by leaving it in the dust of your fast feet. Those who wave the scriptural codes of “submit to your husband” abuse holy writing. This is narrowness, ignorance running amok, and a contributor to abusive relationships everywhere. Run. Flee for you life. Your life is waiting. Split it wide open with your great self.

Now, before the hell raising starts about me as an opponent of marriage, know this: I’m a celebrant of relationships that are forged in mutual respect, adoration, the highest embrace of the sovereignty of the individual. There’s beautiful, authentic love in such weddings of the spirit. On the other hand, there is no God who will ever love your relationship more than God loves you. God never wants you absorbed into one that wounds. That stifles the real you.

Okay, reader, by now the song is surely an ear worm. Yeah, that one. That Meatloafian idea of “I would do ANYTHING for love.” Remember the whole of the lyrics? The song says “But I won’t do that” after all.

So ladies, ponder what that means to you. Under your personal rubric of “I won’t do that” for love, list for yourself what you won’t tolerate. Write down and settle up on the abuses you will never take. List how many ways you refuse to get yanked down by that undertow of romantic idealism that says “If you don’t have a man, you’re less a woman.”

And men, this is a calling to us all. Real men never abuse women. Not in ANY way. Our hands, our words, and our mindsets ought never resemble some Sasquatchian cad. If yours do, shave that bad boy Yeti off yourself. Let the fur fly. There’s a real, truly strong and gentle man under there somewhere. But the discovery of him? That’s your work to do.

Not hers.

The Philip Seymour Hoffman in my Granddaddy

Posted in Uncategorized on February 12, 2014 by michaelcogdill

The latest news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, and clearly his last days, calls out a reminder.

It’s easy to believe such an addict is a party-loving hedonist. A self-obsessed pleasure junkie seduced by a lifestyle as much as a drug. Sure such an addict exists. But that archetype is simply a template of a deeper human tragedy.

My grandfather was an opium addict. Paregoric killed him far before I was born, and my novel, She-Rain, became the shovel that let me dig into his life. The book cut me an entryway into the grave that was his spiritual tragedy. His life became an opiate-walled tomb long before he lay for his last breath. No, I’m not twaddling around making excuses for him. He’s accountable for his premature death. He’s responsible for not living to hold his grandson. But the writing spade me into his humanity. In his brokenness, each of us can see some portion of our own frailty.

In She-Rain, I sought to illustrate the tragic folly of trying to incubate a life in a syringe. But much more than this, the book reveals the humanity of every addict, and everyone wounded at the point of that needle.

She-Rain is haunted by this, and more. In the book, the son of that opium addicted father believes he sees his father’s ghost on a roadside. He’s sure he hears the resurrected man whisper, “You belong, son.”

I never got to hear my grandfather say such to me. He died an addict nearly bereft of his great human dignity. But writing of him in a work of fiction, I hear his voice, and a truth he never understood for himself until it was too late. Those words “You belong” remind me I belong to real life, not despair and tragedy and indignity. I believe the spirit of my granddad knows now, beyond this mortal world, he belonged to something greater than he could see. He needed no numbing opiate to achieve peace after all.

And so it is with Philip Seymour Hoffman. In him we find giant of a talent and a haunting to match. Now it’s reported he wrote, in a set of diaries found in his apartment, of being plagued by demons. So this sets me to wondering. As a grandson and son of addicts, I wonder, do addicts think themselves alone? Tragically so? Do they live in a self-imposed exile, deeming themselves different from the world? Set apart from a humanity that will never understand the sufferings ghosting around in them? I believe their demons are the same ones after us all — perfectionism, shame, old malice, rusting dents of childhood and the ever renewing sense of never being good enough. Perhaps because they can’t be vulnerable enough to share their ghosts with the world, they turn to the likes of heroin, or gin. They graffiti the psyche until the authentic self is painted over. My granddad had his own devils, and hiding them with a spray of paregoric cost him, everything, long before that last breath. I believe in the weeks before he died, he scarcely recognized his image in a mirror or even the thoughts of his own mind.

After I posted an RIP tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman, I heard from a woman who knew of Philip’s kindness, his apparently gentle way with the world, his refusal to let celebrity and giftedness give him amnesia of where he came from. There was enormous goodness in the man, clearly. Yes, a man in need of tough love, that he was. But those who believe condemnation of the man is the only stout brand of tough love show weakness, not strength. They prove condemnation is an addiction all its own. I heard from one of those condemning personality types, as well. I believe that person is perhaps Hoffman in reverse — deeming his demons lesser, not greater, than those of the souls around him.

So I write this in hope — the steely muscle of it. I hope Philip’s children, his partner, all who loved him hear the words “You belong.” You belong to a life carried on an updraft, far upward of the cesspool life and death in which your beloved was found. Your Philip was not your problem to solve, and you do not belong to his inner torments. He chose his elixirs that kill and denied all of us his enormous God-granted gifts that were to be. Be angry with him, for a time. But resist the drugs of pride and bravado and unforgivenness. Don’t take them, expecting hurt to diminish, or authentic strength to rise. Authentic strength is found in true vulnerability, radical and daring love — yes, even of the self.

In this, may we all hear, and live by, the words, “You belong.” Authentic strength is born of the humility that says we are a common humanity with an uncommon God, to whom we all belong, after all.

NO! What I Mean?

Posted in Uncategorized on January 6, 2014 by michaelcogdill

A kind soul nominated me to give a TED speech a few months ago. I almost made the cut, but got the axe in the end. At the very last stage of approval, the TED committee said “no” to what I wanted to say about the word “No.”

Fitting, I guess, having “no” turned on a speech about the word ‘NO.’ But, this very blog proves a good, sturdy “NO” can even stop a “NO.” With all respect for TED (I dig y’all, knowing you can’t say yes to all of us), I’m saying NO to the committee’s NO! I’m going to give the speech right here, for the world to read. I think it’s an “idea worth spreading” anyway. NO hard feelings.

At the University of Pennsylvania in 1967, some researchers did something maddeningly unethical. Yet with results revealing some hard truths about how we see the world, and too often get stuck in it.

Their results remind us we all have a voice, and most of us need to apply more of it to that single word that has changed the world.

Yes, the word is NO. Yes, just a fraction of a breath will say it. But it’s a revolution. No — said and meant — has near superhuman strength.

Back to those researchers. They actually took to shocking dogs. Yoking dogs together and delivering electric shocks. Terrible thing to do. And the research concluded that a dog who believes he can’t avoid the shock — can’t do anything to govern or escape it — will begin to show signs of clinical depression, similar to humankind. The dog learns to feel helpless.

The dogs couldn’t say “NO!” Most people can. Yet, too many won’t.

Learned helplessness afflicts humankind with the same tragic force. It’s the scourge of people who feel trapped. Lashed to some despair. Rather than say NO to some darkness, they quietly wither under the absence of light. A resolute NO is the door they refuse to open. Reeling in the dank of helplessness seems safer than living in the light. They refuse to rise up and LIVE it. They won’t throw open a word as liberating as it is small.

In human cultures, there’s likely no more tragic example of learned helplessness — and the unused power of NO — than domestic abuse. Intimate partner violence.

In such corners of human brokenness, where secrets and victims go huddle and hide, NO is a tonic. An antidote to the sickness of enduring victimhood.

We’re called not merely to say NO. We’re called to thrive in it, way out loud.

Now, before we run deeper into that intimate partner violence, look at the word. One syllable. Hardly that. Yet it lies too little used by nearly all of us. Demeaned as impolite. Indicted as a threat to our relationships, when, in fact, it is often the only word that can heal a relationship of dysfunction. Alas, though, NO stays shut out of our minds. Locked off our tongues. We don’t dare, when daring is called for.

And, so, we remain captives to the moldy old ways of doing and enduring the same things, expecting different results. Madness, isn’t it? Einstein thought so. And he really adored saying NO to giving up. He lived it.

So did Martin Luther King Junior. He said NO. He lived it. He lived out a NO to oppression and a NO to violence, and he changed the world.

Nelson Mandela did likewise. He lived his own NO to South African Apartheid. He dared his way through a crunching captivity, yet liberated — and was liberated — by the resolute living of NO.

Because courageous men lived the simple word, countless people live in a great light.

Mother Teresa knew it, too. She witnessed searing poverty and said NO. She lived intolerant of people living and dying with indignity. Her NO matters to this moment, long after the breath went out of her.

Such legacies of NO are immortal.

NO, lived with daring compassion, is a beautiful INTOLERANCE. Perhaps the only great intolerance known to humankind.

It calls to us all, with a period at the end.

And, yet, there it stands, unspoken. NO is that deeply human inner door unlocked, yet unopened, holding back the light craved by broken human relationships around the world. Around the corner. Perhaps in the next room.

In 1965, a woman tried to wake her husband off the sofa of their modest house in Arden, North Carolina. He was drunk. It took hardly a second for him to spring from his intoxicant sleep and pin her to the floor. He beat her unmercifully. Beat her until blood flew about the room and into the face of their three year old son, who cried the wordless cry a child will cry for help. Such a cry is often a child’s most articulate NO! So often unheeded.

This stalwart, wounded mother answered. She lifted the husband off herself, crawled to the child, scooped him and ran to a bedroom. Nurtured and calmed him, wiped her blood from his face. She restored calm to his pulse and her own and gave the illusion of order.

And, she stayed.

For the next decade and a half, she stayed with a man who was episodically violent. A man whose alcoholism only worsened.

But she stayed. Learned helplessness tragically afflicted a strong, bright, regal woman.

Fearing what others might say, and for a slew of other destructive reasons, she refused to say, and mean, NO. Locked in what looked like a spiral she couldn’t control, she wouldn’t live up to the NO that was at hand. She would not reach for what NO demanded of her. She felt helpless. Anxious. Depressed. She was, at times, an emotionally dead woman, living in a threat of mortal death too much of the time.

NO was her calling. NO was her doorway, rattling to get thrown open, right off the hinges. NO was her portal of freedom. Her revolution, in waiting.

And I finally threw it open. I became the revolutionary.

I am her son. I am the child scooped screaming off the floor of that violent act of 1965, cradled in her care and locked in the madness of a NO left unsaid. Unlived.

In 1979, I finally said it. And lived it. NO! NO MORE. I was inspired, beautifully, by my mom to say NO MORE.

I divorced myself from my father. He was drunk, near death, a low-bottom drunk, as the recovery movement might say, and I left him. Went to live with an aunt. Departed our house vowing never to return. NO was my parting. NO, I said, to watching him die. NO to trying to sustain myself in a home of violence and living death.

NO was my mantra out the literal door of the only home I had known. I am living proof we can UNLEARN HELPLESSNESS.

And this became my father’s doorway to a healing accountability. When I said NO, in my own revolution of SELF CARE, he hit bottom, finally, and he bounced. Bounced off a low bottom and recovered. And, yes, he was at Death’s door when he did.

Somebody had to say it. NO became my family’s revolution. NO stopped enabling my father to die and, instead, enabled my father to choose a beautiful life of sobriety for decades to come. It changed the world. NO was a YES to fully living. That singular NO has brought me here, as I am today.

And there is far broader evidence of its power. A resolute NO to religious oppression and imperial sanctimony founded these United States. It’s the enduring affirmation of our liberty. A gust of breath blowing open the gates to freedom.

Such a seemingly impolite little word, this NO. Fear will nearly cause you to deem it incompatible with love. And yet, NO. The word NO and authentic love dig one another. They’re made for each other.

So, perhaps in the end, this is a wedding toast. Cheers to NO. A toast to the perfect union of healthy, liberating love and that simple word that holds it true.

If you are living in domestic violence, get SAFELY away. Do it now.

And no matter the oppression of your heart, your place, your times, answer it. Help yourself to the benevolent wind of your own breath.



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