In a reading from Pocketful of Miracles Joan Borysenko reminds us that grace is a gift. It is independent of our good works or our failings. She goes on to cite the words of a Hindu master: the winds of grace are blowing all the time – we just need to raise our sails.
Graceful living combines awareness, intention and action. Awareness is being mindful of what is going on around us and what our bodies are telling us. Anyone who has sailed knows the importance of being attentive to the presence, force and direction of the wind.
Intention is setting the destination. It may be to complete a project due at the end of the week. It may be to embark on a journey of many months or even the rest of our life.
However, unless we take action, unless we raise our sails, we will not harness the winds of grace. Stuck in our doldrums we will miss the gifts the universe offers us.
What does it mean for you to raise your sails today?
In her book, Wrestling with Our Inner Angels, Nancy Kehoe highlights lessons from her vocation as a nun and clinical psychologist working with the mentally ill. She cites one patient who described his Zen practice as a way to stay centered and his music as a way to stay connected. Staying centered and staying connected are simple but profound pursuits at the core of spirituality and leadership.
Staying centered is at the heart of most religious traditions and spiritual practices. It involves being present in the moment, developing awareness of self, being mindful of others and the world around us and opening ourselves to the sacred, however we understand it. Staying centered in leadership requires aligning performance with key personal and organizational purposes and values and flexing with inevitable changes in the environment.
Staying connected is a spiritual practice of nurturing our essential relationships with ourselves, partners, families, friends and the animals we tend. Staying connected as a leader involves holding true to the mission, cultivating relationships with customers, team members and other stakeholders and anticipating both threats and opportunities.
Reflecting on staying centered and connected to self and all that surrounds us, I am reminded of a line from As You Like It: “these are counsellors that feelingly persuade me what I am.”
What do you fear? Maybe the best way to deal with it is to lean into it.
It was minus ten degrees this past week – not unusual for winter in New Hampshire. Those of us accustomed to this climate know that we must be aware of two consequences: frostbite and hypothermia.
Exposed flesh freezes quickly when the temperature dips below zero (F). The likelihood increases dramatically when you add wind to the equation. Freezing flesh kills it, leaving dead or damaged tissue when it is re-warmed.
If the body itself cools down below a certain point, critical functions are at risk and begin to shut down. This is called hypothermia. Without warming death is inevitable.
A survival technique I learned in Outward Bound years ago requires you to burrow in the snow to stay warm. It is counterintuitive, a fact that has a great lesson to teach us about life and our fears. One day I built an igloo out of blocks of snow and ice and slept in it that night. The temperature outside dropped to -15 (F). The temperature inside the igloo was 15 degrees. While I was dressed warmly for my experiment, those 30 degrees could be the difference between life and death for someone less prepared.
I dare say few of us will try this stunt. On the other hand, every one of us faces harsh realities and the consequences of our fears. The lesson here may be: rather than let our fears freeze us, we should lean into them in order to reduce their hold on us.
The following is a New Year’s FB post from a young woman I know and admire. Her courage and spirit continue to surface while waiting for a four-organ transplant. May her message inspire you the way it did me to begin the year, and, whatever your spiritual practice, may you hold her in the energy of light and love.
Tonight, I hope all of you have a wonderful time, whether you go out or just chill at home. It’s our chance to start all new, see big things happen and say, “2013 was a _____ year, wasn’t it?” Let’s make that word positive. Do things for others you wouldn’t normally do; spend more time with people you may not stop to think of much; stop to be in the moment; walk in other people’s shoes for a second or two!
Hopefully if we change the world’s attitude to more grateful and happy about just being healthy and being here, then more people awaiting transplants like me will get them and that will give more opportunity to make even MORE happy and grateful for what they got.
Each day we light candles and oil lamps in our home. It is not because we don’t use electricity to see at night. Nor do we avoid the technology of lasers or LEDs. After all, solar panels power our house.
Rather, the flame’s flicker signals our deeper connections of the spirit. The candles attend our daily meditations. They bless our meals. They stab the darkness with gentle spikes that give us strength to deflate our fears. They accompany our celebrations. We light them to remember loved ones, special seasons and rites of passage.
The greatest gift in lighting candles may be to remind ourselves of our purpose in life. When stripped of all pretense and presumption, that purpose may be nothing more and nothing less than offering the light and warmth of our love to all around us. May that flame burn brightly today and all seasons of our life.
A friend who is living with an invasive and aggressive cancer posted this poem on his Caring Bridge page. It is not an easy thought to embrace, and I wonder about his ruminations on it in the middle of his nights.
Unsettling as it is to our conventional ways of answering our doorbell, it is an invitation to each of us to reflect on a deeper definition of our soul’s hospitality.
THE GUEST HOUSE – Jelaluddin Rumi (translation by Coleman Barks)
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
The presidential campaigns employ a powerful strategy: define the opponent before he can define himself. Better to be seen on the offensive than defensive!
A twist on that dynamic raises a life lesson I encounter in coaching. Too many of us accept someone else’s definition of who we are and then spend most of our energy on defense. Should we be surprised that our lives are out of alignment?
Of course, we have been defined by others since our childhood beginning with our parents and siblings. Soon, it is our teachers and peers and advertisers telling us who we are and who we should be. Our acceptance of these messages becomes our story. Repeated often enough, we accept the story as our destiny. It defines us.
Unfortunately, like the political campaigns these stories are often based on others pointing out our deficiencies – lack of looks, lack of smarts, lack of ability, lack of ambition. They tell us these things out of anger in the moment or to put us down in order to build themselves up. Too often we accept the messages. We give the power to others to define us.
Creating our own narrative is the most sacred task we have been in given in life. The key to writing a new history begins with a decision to leave the “lacks” in the past, acknowledge our innate power and step fully into it.
We can begin by answering these questions. What do I care most deeply about? What are the things I do well? What is the story I want to create for myself and live now?
I am a problem solver and a doer, and when it comes to seeing people wrestling with life’s challenges I tend to want to ”fix it.” In part it may be a guy thing, or it may be related to my temperament.
As a coach and a caregiver, however, I have to check myself, because this tendency does not serve me or my clients well. It is more important for me to help them clarify their challenge(s) and their options and then hold the space for them to choose their course.
The same applies to our more intimate relationships. If you are also a “fixer,” today’s meditation from Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening is a good reminder to us.
“Frequently, this reflex to solve, rescue, and fix removes us from the tenderness at hand. For often, intimacy arises not from any attempt to take the pain away, but from living through together; not from a working out, but from a being with. Trust and closeness deepen from holding and being held, both emotionally and physically.
I’m learning, pain by pain and tension by tension, that after all my strategies fail, the strength of love waits in receiving and not negotiating; in accepting each other and not problem solving each other; in listening and affirming each other, not trying to change or fix those we love.”
My soul mate is on a plane to Denver. Tonight she will visit our youngest, and then she will head north to work with students we coach in the equine certification program. Our house is quiet, the sky filled with clouds, the earth awaiting rain.
Yesterday we celebrated our anniversary. We had a relaxed dinner at a place whose cuisine we enjoy. It was very different from a year ago when our children surprised us with a gala barbecue that filled our home with family, friends, music and laughter.
Reflecting on our years together, I am reminded of a friend’s observation that those who choose marriage end up in three relationships. They can be with the same person or different people. I can see that ours has followed that pattern in 20-year chapters.
The first relationship was marked by the passion of exploring the attractions that drew us to each other, creating a life together, stuttering starts in employment and the miracles of four children. It ended on some bumps that led to a defining recommitment.
The second relationship accompanied a deepening of the professional pursuits we each adopted and attending to parental responsibilities, as our children bounced their way through adolescence and launched into adulthood.
We are now in our third marriage, living many of the dreams that our hearts embraced long ago – children who love and honor us and each other as siblings, a home on a hill with a view, a business of our own that delivers the values of what we have learned over the years. Did I mention our grandchild?
We continue as companions of each other’s history. We focus on the joy in each day and gently prepare for what lies ahead. With deepest gratitude we celebrate the blessings that have come our way and that we are to each other, one marriage of three relationships.
We spent Memorial Day weekend with our four-year old granddaughter and her loving mother and father. We also spent time with some of my high school classmates. It was a bookends experience: the limitless possibilities of childhood, where all the world is a stage, and the more focused potential of our senior years, where the triumphs and scars of experience guide the choices we make in creating our present moments.
The wonder of a four-year old was somehow mirrored in the delight of aging companions. It is only now, two years after our 50th, that some of us are meeting almost for the first time like somewhat familiar strangers. Over the course of a leisurely and abundant meal the grace that decades of living have taught us brought stimulating conversations and heartfelt sharing. Whether formally retired or not, the energy to make a difference still pulses in us.
It matters little whether the connections are new or rekindled. They are threads of a shawl that will join us together in warmth, fellowship and support for the years remaining.
Memorial Day pays tribute to those whose service and sacrifice made possible moments like we shared this past weekend. To the extent that each of us celebrates with child-like wonder the days given to us, contributes our gifts to the commons and offers our deepest gratitude for being alive and the freedoms we enjoy, we honor their legacy.