Be sensitive.

Posted: September 14, 2015 in A Rule of Life, Wrestling with Ideas

Step 8

Know how you impact others.

This is one challenging step. It’s one I wrestle with every day. How am I self-aware? How am I impacting others? How do I let others impact me? What do I do to protect myself from or celebrate this impact? How can I be mindful, loving, kind? How can I model and follow this way of moving fully into, as Brené Brown calls it, wholehearted living.

I don’t know. Not in any universal way. So I am going to let others’ words speak in place of mine and I hope you will take a moment with each quote to savour it, muse on it, and bring it into your place of wholehearted living.

Be sensitive. Know how you impact others. My vow today is to extend the compassion I offer others to myself.

Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
— Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful.”
— Elizabeth Edwards

Human well-being is not a random phenomenon. It depends on many factors – ranging from genetics and neurobiology to sociology and economics. But, clearly, there are scientific truths to be known about how we can flourish in this world. Wherever we can have an impact on the well-being of others, questions of morality apply.”
— Sam Harris

When a reader falls in love with a book, it leaves its essence inside him, like radioactive fallout in an arable field, and after that there are certain crops that will no longer grow in him, while other, stranger, more fantastic growths may occasionally be produced.”
[Books vs. Goons, L.A. Times, April 24, 2005] ― Salman Rushdie

You are here to make a difference, to either improve the world or worsen it. And whether or not you consciously choose to, you will accomplish one or the other.”
― Richelle E. Goodrich

If we’re going to impact our world in the name of Jesus, it will be because people like you and me took action in the power of the Spirit. Ever since the mission and ministry of Jesus, God has never stopped calling for a movement of “Little Jesuses” to follow him into the world and unleash the remarkable redemptive genius that lies in the very message we carry. Given the situation of the Church in the West, much will now depend on whether we are willing to break out of a stifling herd instinct and find God again in the context of the advancing kingdom of God.”
― Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.”
― Edgar Allan Poe

Sensitive people are the most genuine and honest people you will ever meet. There is nothing they won’t tell you about themselves if they trust your kindness. However, the moment you betray them, reject them or devalue them, they will end the friendship. They live with guilt and constant pain over unresolved situations and misunderstandings. They are tortured souls that are not able to live with hatred or being hated. This type of person needs the most love anyone can give them because their soul has been constantly bruised by others. However, despite the tragedy of what they have to through in life, they remain the most compassionate people worth knowing and the ones that often become activists for the broken-hearted, forgotten and the misunderstood. They are angels with broken wings that only fly when loved.”
DespicableMeMinions.org

In anticipation of completing my reflection on Step 7 of the Twelve Steps to an Exceptionally Common Life, I came across this wonderful poem by Thomas Merton. It has been used in many ways, for many reasons. Most recently, I have seen it attached to Richard Rohr’s writings. He names it a “quintessential ‘second half of life’ expression.” By “second half of life” Rohr means that ‘other’ part or perhaps that ‘fullness’ part of a normal life where our option is to leave behind (or at least diminish) the ego-centered activities that occupy us in making a living and forging a social identity. Borrowing from my Anglican roots, I’ll say that finding the Soul of the Serene Disciple is an activity that all should pursue, none must pursue, some will pursue. It a task of the third age or it is a question of the now. For you who engage this practice, may it be a time for diving into the deeper wells of the spirit.

When In The Soul Of The Serene Disciple

When in the soul of the serene disciple
With no more Fathers to imitate
Poverty is a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:
He has not even a house.

Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin.
Saints depart in several directions.

Be still:
There is no longer any need of comment.
It was a lucky wind
That blew away his halo with his cares,
A lucky sea that drowned his reputation.

Here you will find
Neither a proverb nor a memorandum.
There are no ways,
No methods to admire
Where poverty is no achievement.
His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction.

What choice remains?
Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:
It is the usual freedom
Of men without visions.

— Thomas Merton, from A Thomas Merton Reader

I am learning new things at a remarkable speed these days. Most recently, I discovered that I need to learn to breathe. Who knew I’ve been doing it less than efficiently all these years! But the learning is fascinating. In a nutshell, I have come to understand that breathing is all about the exhale.

I have always thought about breathing as being driven by the inhale but the inhale doesn’t necessary drive anything. I can take a deep breath in, hold it, sing it out or speak it out but it does not necessarily lead me to a refreshing exhale. The exhale, however, demands an inhale. The only time I have witnessed a final exhale is just that, the deep exhale of death. But continuing to live,  I cannot exhale without an inhale following. The exhale cleanses, creates a space, opens up for the life-giving inhale. It is where the body work is done.

Go ahead and exhale. And enjoy the delicious breathe in that follows.

It really is all about the exhale.

wind flower

Here is my Secret

Posted: July 22, 2015 in Language of Exploration

Yes, I’m working on another entry. But in the meantime, I wanted to share a passage from someone else’s writing that has touched me over the years. Thank you Douglas Coupland.

First, the secret.

“Now — here is my secret:
I tell it you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God — that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”

Then, the desire.

“I walk deeper and deeper into the rushing water. …The water enters my belly button and it freezes my chest, my arms, my neck. It reaches my mouth, my nose, my ears and the roar is so loud — this roar, this clapping of hands.

These hands — the hands that heal; the hands that hold; the hands we desire because they are better than desire.

I submerge myself in the pool completely. I grab my knees and I forget gravity and I float within the pool and yet, even here, I hear the roar of water, the roar of clapping hands.

These hands — the hands that care, the hands that mold; the hands that touch the lips, the lips that speak the words — the words that tell us we are whole.”

Life after God. Washington Square Press, 1994. pp 359–360.

Step 7

Whether it be spirit or law, find your path.

“When the path ignites a soul,
there’s no remaining in place.
The foot touches ground,
but not for long.”
سنایی غزنوی (persian, Affinities)

“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path. One that we all must take.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Whether it be spirit or law, find your path.

But I don’t know how.

I’m not sure why Step 7 has given me so much difficulty. I have started to reflect on it many times. Each time I stop, I wonder if I’ve lost the point, if I’m confused, if I’m not making any sense. What I really want to reflect on is how I need to think beyond my own needs and, in order to do that, need to choose a path, to choose an approach or method to deciding my way. At times I am guided by the spirit. At times, equally or even more, I am guided in a greater way by ‘law.’ There is security in rules. There is a coolness, a fact-fulness, a surety.

The spiral continues, however, as I remember the old adage that the opposite of faith is certainty and I struggle in turn with losing the spirit behind a wall of conviction.

Perhaps by now you have realized, along with me, that the difficulty reflecting on this Step in the Rule is borne of my own, present struggle to choose a path.

In this life of mine I desire a spirituality that is neither austere nor ascetic, but is directed toward life’s flourishing and peace on earth. I seek a spiritual worldview that embraces our humanness, rather than denies our bodies, and further unites mind and heart, reason and intuition, male and female. Faith experiences honouring an inter-religious or multi-religious path are initiating people into a spirituality that is neither divisive, exclusionary, nor superior; a vision of truth that is neither absolute, dogmatic, nor punishing; a now-ness which celebrates the unity and interdependence of all life forms, elevates female and male to their highest spiritual capacity and recognizes our daily struggles to become more compassionate, generous, and caring. This path affirms and encourages new expressions of the sacred.

[The question is] whether there exists a genuine spiritual foundation and sacred path for people who identify themselves as multi-religious, spiritual but not religious, nonbelievers, lapsed or dissatisfied members of their denomination, or simply seekers of a new way.”
— Beverly Lanzetta, Invitation to Contemplative Study: Awakening the Mystic Heart (http://www.beverlylanzetta.net/images/study-guides/mystic-heart-compilation.pdf)

Seekers of a new way. We become a seeker when we begin to think beyond ourselves. We touch the ground briefly, but cannot ‘remain in place.’ We are hardwired to find that path. “Path” is one of those words that owns something both tangible and intangible. It is the hard dirt trail, the flagstone journey of broken stones, pea gravel set between beds of trailing ground cover or brambles. It is not a road that runs through with unwavering focus leading to a singular destination. Path is a becoming: becoming familiar with curves and hazards and places where delight is sure to happen. Wendell Berry, in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays, draws distinction between road and path:

The difference between a path and a road is not only the obvious one. A path is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place. It is a sort of ritual of familiarity. As a form, it is a form of contact with a known landscape. It is not destructive. It is the perfect adaptation, through experience and familiarity, of movement to place; it obeys the natural contours; such obstacles as it meets it goes around.”

What captures me in Berry’s defining is that paths are neither destructive nor perfect and always, however vaguely, familiar. When I set myself to the challenge of being exceptionally common — not as easy as it sounds if you have any ego at all — the twelve steps definitely followed a vaguely familiar path. (food for thought — A friend once said that “the exceptional person knows they are not exceptional.”) The Rule might be read as a manual for personal development, a template for therapy, an outline for successful living, a guru’s manual for leaving behind the mundane and taking up commonness as exception! But it is not. The Rule is, for me, a vaguely familiar path upon which I hope others might join me. Perhaps it is vaguely familiar to you as well.

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”
Gautama Buddha, Sayings Of Buddha

We can share a path but each of us has to do the work of walking it. I believe the other ‘thing’ we are hardwired for is community. This sometimes means that the labour is shared and integrated, but it can also be parallel movement or working alone in a group, borrowing an energy and animation to keep moving.

Like many amateur seekers, I look to my dog when considering the complexities of the universe and how to thrive within it. Bowen is a big dog who is afraid of everything (except food and red-coat bitches!). He absolutely loves to go to the dog park where he arrives, sniffs a few friends, and goes on his happy way having little or nothing to do with the other dogs. He simply likes to be in the pack. He likes to be around his ‘people,’ to find new smells to follow, on his own, amidst a community of other sniffers and wrestlers and fetchers. I watch him amble along and think, “That’s me!”

I am an extrovert, meaning only that I draw my energy from the gathered community and interaction rather than from my inside and quieter self. (It is, by the way, a whole different path for extroverted contemplatives!) “That’s me” means that I am the wandering seeker, following yet sometimes creating a path, finding a direction or finding something completely new. As one of my favourite fantasy/science fiction novelists — Guy Gavriel Kay — writes in Tigana, “There are no wrong turnings. Only paths we had not known we were meant to walk.” I think being brave enough to choose the path means we are bound to find either the tools or the people to move with us.

Let each man take the path according to his capacity, understanding and temperament. His true guru will meet him along that path.”
Sivananda Saraswati

When you find your path, you must ignore fear. You need to have the courage to risk mistakes. But once you are on that road… run, run, run, and don’t stop till you’ve reached its end.”
José N. Harris, MI VIDA: A Story of Faith, Hope and Love

This path-choosing is not all rainbows and unicorns. Finding a path, even with companions, can be difficult to do. Choosing to follow that path can be even scarier. Maybe this is why I began this post with the disclaimer, “But I don’t know how.” I wonder if what I really don’t know is how to make the journey ‘successfully,’ pain-free, happy, that religious wish to be ‘blessed.’ I fear failure, getting lost, maybe even leading others astray. Fiction predicts the sorry future:

For the likes of you, the path to happiness is one mean son of a bitch of a path.”
Dean Koontz, Dead and Alive

Let’s put the emphasis on ‘fiction.’ Perhaps the path does not have to be mean; maybe together we can simply laugh! Inside the bubble of anxiety about the path and the potential failure it brings, I also long for the happy ending. It’s not a mushy, sappy, sickening sweet wrap up to a tough story — we can leave that to Hollywood. Instead, there is the laughter of delight in discovering that the path might be challenging, scary, difficult, but that it is not death-dealing.

A death-dealing path is a last resort borne of terror. David Foster Wallace, once a contender for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, offers one of the most articulate understandings to the death-dealing path. Wallace committed suicide at the age of 46. I want to share this quote with you to grieve this choice and to clarify why one might choose death-dealing when the path is too difficult.

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt the flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

This quote and the one that follows by George Carlan cause me to reflect on the direction we face traveling the path. Forward and back. I have been depressed. I spent a lot of time looking behind me. And when I did look forward, it was dimly, through broken glass. When I have not been depressed I have not looked back with any judgment or regret or disappointment. I see only what has led me to now. When I look forward, I see possibility. Please make no mistake that I am presenting this as though forward and back are simple choices. Maybe they just are.

But if even a bit of lightness shines through, may you grasp it with all your might and let a “new idea” slip into the cloud.

But when you’re in front of an audience and you make them laugh at a new idea, you’re guiding the whole being for the moment. No one is ever more him/herself than when they really laugh. Their defenses are down. It’s very Zen-like, that moment. They are completely open, completely themselves when that message hits the brain and the laugh begins. That’s when new ideas can be implanted. If a new idea slips in at that moment, it has a chance to grow.”
George Carlin, Last Words

lanzetta

Beverly Lanzetta has been an inspirational and challenging guide for much of the work and practice that I have moved to embrace these last few years. I invite you to share in the wisdom and gift of her teaching: http://www.beverlylanzetta.net/images/study-guides/mystic-heart-compilation.pdf

Step 6

Even as I write the title, my hands begin to sweat, my stomach does a flip, my heart beats a bit fast, and I look for the nearest exit. I don’t think it is an understatement to say I hate change. I seldom express that I hate something but I think it actually bears repeating in this circumstance: I hate change.

Change, however, has been my norm these past two years: change of province, change of home, change of employment, change at my present work, changing some friends, even a change in my family! I would be remiss without saying that there have been more than a few challenging changes in myself. Life in the face of change has become a bit of the old cliché of the “chicken and the egg.” I think I like being inside the egg…I’m safely changing by taking only “baby steps,” I think what I want is some stillness, some boring, steady-as-you-go, gentle growth time.

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. — C.S. Lewis

This does not, however, coincide with the initiator, the creative, the high energy person that can bust through a strong shell to fly into life in a different way. You see, the other truth of my life, something some might see at a different end of life’s continuum, is that I also really want to be one of the crazy ones…

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” — Steve Jobs

Maybe it is not the change(s) in me that are so problematic. Maybe it is external change, change that feels beyond my control. Perhaps the pain of change hits me when my insides collide with my environment, when I slam on the brakes at the crossroads of a change much bigger than myself. I want to agree with George Bernard Shaw who wrote, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Simultaneously, the words of Viktor E. Frankl are significant. “When we are no longer able to change a situation — we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Change and changing are pieces of a puzzle that bring my insides outside and the outside in, breaking through a membrane of self-protection and caution. I can sometimes give in to requests for personal change with seemingly no discretion. I long, and I really mean long, to control external change. It takes me a week to recover when my partner changes around the furniture! And — in my controlling, no-change-allowed way — I want to say that people who like change or say they “thrive” on change, are lying or insane!

Lao Tau counsels that, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” This is dangerously true. Change outside and change inside are unique, different one from one another, the sui generis of transition. They are, at the same time, so tightly interwoven that no change in situation can be independent of internal change.

I am here to say, however, that there is nothing light or easy about either kind of change. Internal change, as Anatole France reminds us, brings about melancholy. It can be more than melancholy, bringing us to the precipice of pain.

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. — Anatole France

Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” ― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

I will remember that I can make change. I can make change in my mindfulness and my awareness. I can make change in my spiritual practices. I can make change in how I care for this temple of holiness I claim as my body. I can make change in relationships.

We are not trapped or locked up in these bones. No, no. We are free to change. And love changes us. And if we can love one another, we can break open the sky.” ― Walter Mosley, Blue Light

I will not even pretend to have a solution to how one might just roll with change. Some do it some of the time but I have yet to meet someone who walks through all change with grace and fortitude. I am learning, however, how to survive change. It cannot be done alone, in isolation. You cannot pretend to change; at least, not for long. You cannot inflict change or hide forever from change that is moving your way. You can take care of yourself as you get onto the change-train.

  1. I have a friend who, quite regularly, tells me to, “Breathe.”
  2. I have friends who share their wisdom, their experience, and walk along beside me.
  3. I sought out a paid friend (my tongue in cheek name for counsellors or spiritual directors) who can stay objective and help me pick apart the pieces of my resistance to change and my reactions to change and point out, with more than a bit of humour, that I change all the time.
  4. Look for a person like the friend I was lucky to find who will listen with care and, when necessary, tell you to “suck it up, buttercup!”
  5. Give in. Change happens. You don’t have to do it with style but you do have to do it. It is not as voluntary as the poets would like you to think. You can’t avoid it. Change is coming for you!

Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

This is my vow: I will continue to take the steps — and to seek the support of others — in order that I can be open to survive (with some sense of dignity!) change.