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When events overwhelm us, it is helpful to remember that there are only two things we control, our attitude and our effort. Words from a dear friend this week offer an exercise that can elevate our attitudes and what we do with them.

Anne Hillman is a musician, author, educator, speaker and small group facilitator who focuses her work on understanding and nurturing the interior life. In the material she shared from her current Soul Work course the following caught my attention.

It is a meditation from the Sermon on the Mount, incorporating a contemporary interpretation by Philip Newell. I commend it to you.

Contemplation Practice: Healing the Separation

Notice which of the first lines in each couplet jump out at you. If you choose one to contemplate in silence for several days, it may provide insight. Perhaps choose another . . . and another. Listen for what each one means to you—and what you may need to do to live it.

Blessed are those who know their need for theirs is the grace of heaven.

Blessed are those who weep for their tears will be wiped away.

Blessed are the humble for they are close to the sacred earth.

Blessed are those who hunger for earth’s oneness for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the forgiving for they are free.

Blessed are the clear in heart for they see the Living Presence.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they are born of God.

 The Beatitudes— Matthew 5:3-9

—Interpretation, Philip Newell

 

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While running the rapids called Hell’s Half Mile on the Green River years ago, I was spilled into the depths of a hydraulic hole when our raft caught a rock. Trapped at the bottom, pummeled in the deafening roar of the turbulence and looking up at the light on the surface, my world slipped into slow motion.

The image returns today. Caught in the churn of current events, I struggle to keep my head from debilitating panic and my heart from unsustainable pounding. I am searching for words that will be a life line of perspective to pull me out of the hole and back into the raft.

Born under the sign of Libra, I am disposed to seek balance and harmony, especially when it comes to the scales of justice. The prophet Micah captures it best for me: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

How does one “do” kindness in the face of injustice? When conflict and obstruction replace comity and compromise for the common good? When zero sum reigns supreme, requiring losers so that others may win? When truth is held hostage to alternative universes of spin? When fear fed vilification of “the other” replaces a welcoming light for the stranger?

How can one be true to self and speak truth to power? What are the words that will free our trapped longing to fill our depleted lungs, releasing us the way the Green River freed its captive decades ago?

How do we in this day live the prayer of St. Francis – Lord, make me an instrument of your Peace?

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How many times have you plopped into bed at the end of the day too tired to remember or value the gifts in your waking hours? How many of your days have flowed into weeks and then months, perhaps even years, without your dreams interrupting your routines?

The start of a new year offers an opportunity to reset intentions. What if you choose one episode to be the day’s gift? At the start of the day set one expectation that you anticipate. At day’s end look back upon the interaction that had the most impact and the lesson it served up for you. During the day, when you are surprised by an interaction, pause long enough to wonder about its meaning.

I am adopting this practice and finding it to be a very useful way to nurture mindfulness, joy, appreciation and purpose. One example comes from connecting the dots between recent conversations with a colleague. They are leading me to a modest role in a project he is coordinating related to our mutual professional interests.

Just one thing each day can add up to significant shifts in our life’s trajectory. Words from Maya Angelou’s 1993 inaugural poem, On the Pulse of Morning, elevate the message.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need for this bright morning dawning for you. History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage, need not be lived again. Lift up your eyes upon the day breaking for you. Give birth again to the dream.

Women, children, men, take it into the palms of your hands. Mold it into the shape of your most private need. Sculpt it into the image of your most public self. Lift up your hearts. Each new hour holds new chances for new beginnings.

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Each of us writes our life’s narrative. Have you ever wondered why certain people have shown up in it? — those who lifted you up, those who darkened your days or those who left you wondering?

The closing of a year provides a timely opportunity to ask ourselves, “who were/are these people to me?”

Our stories have many purposes. They relay information and interpret events. They entertain. They also define us as individuals and communities.

Have you noticed that many of the most memorable stories are populated by distinctive characters? Often, they seem larger than life, exaggerated versions of our fears and foibles, our hopes and dreams. In most stories, and certainly in our own lives, the characters we meet often play a special role.

Reflect for a moment. Who were Tiresias, the Sirens and Cyclops to Odysseus? Who were the White Rabbit, the Cheshire cat and the Mad Hatter to Alice? Who were the Winged Monkeys, Glinda and Oz to Dorothy? Who were Yoda, Princess Leia and Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker?

In each case the characters represent more than their physical appearance. They tweak our curiosity. They threaten us and stoke our fears. They surprise us with insights and new possibilities. They tap our imaginations. They show us our courage when our knees are weak.

They are gatekeepers to the world of shadows and enlightenment. They are guardians of crucial information. They are guides who provide protection and encourage us to see the precious jewels in adversity. They help us see the essence of who we are.

Who are the main characters who populate your narrative? What was/is the meaning of their presence? Who are those who had/have the most impact on your life? What did/do they teach you about yourself and your journey?

 

 

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The season celebrating festivals of light is upon us. Solstice marks the returning length of the sun’s daily presence. Hanukkah heralds the miraculous supply of holy oil that lit for eight days the lamps of the temple’s re-dedication. Christmas welcomes the child destined in the eyes of believers to be the light of the world.

A recent message from friends arrived as their invocation for this season of light. They are teachers whose curiosity links with their love of travel, nature, people and knowledge. From one trip this past year, they chose the wind as their metaphor for the season’s lesson. May their message inspire your own hopes during this time of re-ascendant light.

Let us leap into gratitude

like cliff divers seeking the wind,

hope-filled, trusting,

and unafraid.

(original by Penelope Stokes)

Dear Friends,

As we emerge from this November of our lives, we find we are not at all sure which way the winds are blowing and how best to find the wind that will carry us to a place that is safe for all of the people we care so much about…

 So we are searching anew this season and looking,

for winds that promise new understanding,

for faces that remind us of all of the blessed variation in our species,

for new currents in the winds,

for courageous people who are willing to stand up for others,

for laughable insights,

for surprises,

for special places we had not intended to go,

for the sacred in the midst of the ordinary,

and for quietly inspiring moments.

May each of us in our own way find the quietly inspiring moments that will strengthen our resolve to soar on the winds of change toward new light and hope.

 

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Has life ever handed you set backs or conundrums? Has it surprised you with health issues? natural calamities? relationship dynamics? job loss? cultural or political shifts? In one of his most compelling teachings, Alan Seale suggests that your answers to three questions may help you find your way.

When something extraordinary rocks our world, it usually exceeds our ability to explain or justify. A line from Bob Dylan’s song Ballad of a Thin Man comes to mind: “…something is happening here but you don’t know what it is do you, Mr. Jones?”

The first question is: What wants to happen here? Alan encourages us to turn from fear to curiosity. Since our usual explanations are inadequate, what are some possibilities that we haven’t considered? The Chinese word for “crisis” combines the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.” It takes courage to believe there is opportunity on the other side of our vulnerability. However, unless we venture, we will never know.

Who is that asking me to be? Responding to new possibilities may force us either to reclaim basic values we have neglected or to embrace capacities that we have failed to acknowledge. Who are the parts of self that the crisis is calling into the center of our personal mandala?

What is that asking me to do? What are steps I can take to acknowledge that I am not in Kansas anymore? I may not be able to rewind a circumstance, but I do have the power to move toward the openings that new possibilities present. The actions need not be large. They need only be sustained.

For a more detailed exploration of the questions Alan poses, read his blog for this week.

 

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Years ago, I participated in two retreats led by Parker Palmer. A writer and teacher of deep faith, abiding curiosity and gentle engagement, he is one of my inspirational guides.

After Leonard Cohen died last month, Parker posted a tribute to him which is excerpted below.

In LC’s spoken intro to “Anthem,” he talks about a world “plunged in darkness and chaos,” referring to the global economic meltdown of 2007-2008. Those words apply to our moment in history as much as they did back then, as does the now-famous chorus of “Anthem”:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

I think LC is saying, “Whatever you’re concerned about right now, don’t go looking for the very best thing to do, then give up when you can’t find it. Offer the world whatever gifts you possess — no matter how imperfect — gifts that might move us a little bit closer to love, truth, and justice. That’s how the light gets in, through our cracked imperfections.”

I’d add only this: it’s in our brokenness, not our illusions of “perfection,” that we connect most deeply with one another. So at this historical moment, when so many are feeling broken, we have a chance to renew our civic community – if we’re willing to forget our “perfect offering” and “ring the bells that still can ring.”

Ring them, listen for them, gather around them, and summon up an America where everyone belongs.

I invite you to set aside a few minutes to view the video of Cohen introducing and singing Anthem as he performed it live in London in 2008. And enjoy the accompanying photography.

 

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I always thought equanimity meant finding a balance – somewhat analogous to the way the body achieves homeostasis. My parents frequently cited a saw from their parents’ generation they felt was a key to equanimity, “everything in moderation.”

Another word that comes to mind is calm. For Christians, “the peace of God that passes all understanding” describes an inner tranquility from a divine source that exists as the eye in life’s storms.

For Buddhists, the sources of suffering stem from our attachments and our aversions. Until now I understood the balancing act to involve distancing ourselves from those things that elicit in us too much desire or revulsion. However, this week I found another meaning while reading David Whyte’s book, The Three Marriages.

In the Buddhist tradition the ability to be happy is often translated into English as “equanimity,” roughly meaning to be equal to things, to be large enough for the drama in which we find ourselves. (p. 32)

This opened me to a new appreciation for what it means to face into those things that most trouble us.

The election has revealed the extent to which our national body is out of balance. One step in regaining equilibrium might be for each of us to sit with these questions and open ourselves to the answers that surface:

Can we summon the better angels in us to let go of some outcomes to which we are attached and open ourselves to greet new possibilities in our current drama?

How can we be large enough to turn our individual and collective bodies toward healing and homeostasis?

What does it require of each of us to be equal to these things?

 

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What is the difficult conversation you are avoiding and with whom – partner? friend? boss? self? No doubt, it wouldn’t be difficult if it didn’t matter, and you are postponing it because you want to get it right.

A recent trip to the dentist yielded a lot more than a new crown. He and I frequently converse before and after he attends to my teeth. In our most recent exchange we shared our mutual aversion with the current polarization in our country. As I left, he handed me a summary of a model based on the book Crucial Conversations.  

Crucial conversations are those where stakes are high, opinions vary and emotions run strong. The key to handling them is to achieve and maintain dialogue. The hand out he gave me captured several key principles for guiding dialogue, but the following seem most applicable for the length of this post.

  • Be honest and clear about what you really want as a result of the conversation.
  • Help create and maintain a safe container for discourse. One tool in assessing safety is to be mindful of forms of silence (e.g. withdrawing or withholding meaning by understating or selectively sharing true opinions) and forms of violence (e.g. coercing the other to adopt your perspective and stereotyping something to dismiss it).
  • Listen actively to each other’s “stories” and explore with genuine curiosity each narrative without blame or judgment. (e.g. “I wonder what that is all about?”). Revise the narratives as appropriate.
  • Create a path of action forward based on mutually beneficial outcomes with specific benchmarks for accountability.

While there is a lot more to respectful dialogue than space here allows (click here for an outline of the book), we need not use that as an excuse for delaying important conversations.

 

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Sitting on a remote New England hillside relishing the color of the season’s splendor, I am mindful of my privilege. I choose to live here, and I have the resources to live my choices.

I am grateful for all that surrounds me, beginning with the people and relationships that are most dear. At the same time, something inside nudges me toward a deeper awakening. Unlike the proverbial fish, presumably unconscious of the water it swims in, I seek greater awareness of my privilege, to what extent I “earned” it and what I owe for its exercise.

Responding to that nudge, I have taken a modest step and joined other leaders in our state in guided conversations about our privilege. Our focus is to better understand our advantages as white people and how those dynamics intersect with the realities of people of color.

The vexing dynamics of race will only amplify in the coming decades, as our country becomes a “minority” majority. There is no escaping this tide, even in a rural state like NH.

Each of us has choices in the face of difficult times. One of my morning readings provides me with grounding in the face of overwhelming challenges. May it center you as well for the choices you are making in your own life.

Empower me to be a bold participant, rather than a timid saint in waiting, in the difficult ordinariness of now; to exercise the authority of honesty, rather than to defer to power, or deceive to get it; to influence someone for justice, rather than impress anyone for gain; and, by grace, to find treasures of joy, or friendship, of peace hidden in the fields of the daily you give me to plow.  – Ted Loder