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In an article this week, Why American Leadership Fails, David Brooks differentiates between a career and a vocation. While the main thrust of his commentary is to illustrate current political dynamics, the distinction applies to each of us on our own life’s path.

A career is something you choose; a vocation is something you are called to. A person choosing a career asks, how can I get the best job…? A person summoned by a vocation asks, how can my existing abilities be put in service of the greatest common good?

 A career is a job you do as long as the benefits outweigh the costs; a vocation involves falling in love with something, having a conviction about it and making it part of your personal identity.

 A vocation involves promises to some ideal, it reveals itself in a sense of enjoyment as you undertake its tasks and it can’t be easily quit when setbacks and humiliations occur.  As others have noted, it involves a double negative – you can’t not do this thing.

As one who coaches others to live their lives fully, I find the double negative compelling. The question becomes, how do we discover the thing we can’t not do?

One answer is to clarify what we value most and the things we do best. What pursuits yield our greatest joy? What activities bring us the greatest fulfilment? Who are the people and what are the situations that most attract us?

Students and grads of the equine coaching program with whom Peggy and I work have found their calling and are developing it. You are blessed if you can you say the same about your own path. If not yet, then is it not time to take your next step?

 

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What is it that you long for? A relationship nurtured in love? A purpose that brings fullfilment? A work of creation you cannot ignore? A community that is just and compassionate? A planet that sustains the variety and interdependence of its living members?

Whatever our longings, they are bells of the spirit that we ignore at our peril. Krista Tippet’s interview with Joanna Macy brought this home to me last week. A scholar of Buddhism and systems thinking, Macy is a respected voice in movements for peace, justice and ecology. She is also a translator of the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke.

During the interview Macy shared one of Rilke’s poems (Book of Hours, I 59) that captures the link between our longing and why we are here. It challenges us to explore if and how we may be limiting ourselves, and it encourages us to press forward with our longings beyond what we might have thought possible.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

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When the world of humans saps our sensibilities and we seek to escape the media’s gravitational pull, Peggy and I often turn to nature. This past week we sought a favorite cove on the Maine coast to reconnect with family and friends and to replenish our spirits.

A long open porch offers an expansive view of the bay in front of us. Throughout the day it beckons, hosting individual moments of solitude, quiet sharing with another, spirited ripostes when our numbers swell and of course the repartee and laughter of our meals.

Less than a hundred yards from the porch a sun bleached branch of a long dead tree looms over the cove, offering the perfect hunting perch for the local ospreys. The porch provides a protected but open view from which we track their coming and going, welcome their distinctive cry and marvel at their tutelage of their young. While we have seen it many times, their dive for the mackerel below followed by a telltale splash remains a basic thrill to witness.

This year the routines of the ospreys are disrupted by the arrival of two bald eagles who quickly establish their dominance over the perch and the fishing grounds below. While the ospreys percuss they reluctantly yield to their more powerful cousins.

The proximity of the eagles strikes a deeper chord of wonder, mystery and admiration. It’s easy to see how humans adopt them as symbols, hoping to appropriate even in small measure the strength and independence of these magnificent birds.

The eagles pay us little heed. And why should they? The question arises, who is the visitor here? My struggle for answers brings me full circle to the impulse that brought us back to the cove. Who is the visitor here?

 

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The tendency is to turn outward – for validation, for reprisal or simply to vent. I guess it is a natural default for most of us. Expressing our happiness, affection, anger or fear affirms that we are not alone. We belong to a larger community that shares our history, values, perceptions or temperaments.

The physical and emotional violence on display around the globe each day can be overwhelming. Add to that cauldron the personal challenges each of us faces with our relationships, livelihood and health. Where do we turn for grounding?

A reading I came across recently suggests that an important part of the answer has to do with turning inward. It is a translation of words from Lao Tzu from centuries past found in M. J. Ryan’s collection, A Grateful Heart. I offer it as a reminder that focusing on calming our inner turmoil may be a first step in bringing our peace to the world outside.

Always we hope

someone else has the answer.

Some other place will be better,

some other time it will all turn out.

 

This is it.

No one else has the answer.

No other place will be better,

and it has already turned out.

 

At the center of your being you have the answer;

You know who you are and you know what you want.

 

There is no need

to run outside

for better seeing.

Nor to peer from a window.

 

Rather abide

at the center of your being;

For the more you leave it

the less you learn.

 

Search your heart

and see

the way to do

is to be.

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It is early Sunday morning. The candle burns without a flicker in the still air of the room. Rain begins tapping gently on the skylight, its arrival a surprise. As the tempo increases the mantra of my meditation yields to the refrain of camp directors I once knew. It is a silver day.

Implicit in that message were two expectations. On the one hand, it informed campers and staff that most activities would be held indoors or special gear was needed for being outside. At a more sublime level the announcement was a pivot to channel any potential disappointment into opportunity.

There are many silver linings to a rainy day. On our hillside the thirsty garden drinks, as do the parched fields. The empty brook bed sings again accompanied by the chorus of forest leaves deflecting the downpour. The bird baths fill. Outdoor projects yield to unfinished work inside. It is a metaphor for turning inward, and for those of us who are introverts inward is home base!

The greatest lesson of a silver day is a reminder about the power of expectations. They shape our attitudes and effort which in turn influence the way we show up. A quote attributed to Henry Ford says it all: If you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right!

What does a rainy day say to you? Do your expectations shift? Do you anticipate a rainbow?

 

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My head and heart ache from the latest killings and what they represent. I understand that our divisions arise from separate realities. The daily barrage of our endless political drama only fans the flames of difference, polarizing us in our disparities of race, culture, education, income and opportunity.

As my head grasps, my heart recoils. Does human life mean no more than pop-up characters on a screen easily dispatched with the press of a button? Are the lives of other creatures and the planet’s resources nothing more than a means to a better bottom line? Will we ever reach a point of a collective NO, in order to affirm a more just, loving and sustainable YES?

One of the only things we do control in life, whatever our circumstances, is our attitude. Only when we change our attitude will we modulate our words and actions. I have been encouraged by a growing number of citizen voices and those of a few leaders who are summoning the better angels in themselves and reaching out to others to do the same.

As each of us reflects on what we can do in our own circumstances, may these lines from a prayer for world peace inspire our attitude.

We pray for the power to be gentle: the strength to be forgiving; the patience to be understanding; and the endurance to accept the consequences of holding to what we believe to be right.

May we put our trust in the power of good to overcome evil and the power of love to overcome hatred. We pray for the vision to see and the faith to believe in a world emancipated from violence, a new world where fear shall no longer lead people to commit injustice, nor selfishness make them bring suffering to others.

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The aggression of our species spans a continuum of violence, including abuse by self and others, deceit, character assassination, environmental degradation, murders, suicide bombings and war. Those who would be peace makers must wonder where to begin.

A start is to recognize the ironies. Love is the aspiration at the heart of most world religions. It is the opposite of the fear that drives our aggression. And yet, despite the tenet of love, with words and deeds extremists kill those whose beliefs are different. A third paradox is that the warrior energy that drives us to destroy is the same power that motivates us to protect. It all depends on how and where we direct it.

Cultivating the peaceful warrior begins within. In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche introduces meditation practice with a formula. Return to the state of abiding calm through quieting the mind, even for a few minutes each day. Release the fear of loss of attachments, those relationships, material things and status which we take as our identity. Relax into the true nature of mind that gives us rest. The formula seems simple. The “doing” is more difficult.

While it stretches belief to think our actions can change hate-filled hearts around the globe, we can begin where we are. Peace within is the first step in transforming aggression and healing our divisions. The splash of our effort will send ripples across the ponds of our influence. How do we show up with those we love? With our neighbors? What are the messages we deliver to them and to those on our social media?

Love needs us all and calls us to be our better selves. What is one step you can take today to expand your peace making?

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Ever wonder why someone in particular is in your life? That person may be someone who is dear or obnoxious, affirming or unnerving, compatible or divergent. What questions does s/he raise for you?

Those of us who belong to families or interact with children or work with our heads or our hands or teach or buy groceries or volunteer or show up as friends — in short, all of us – define ourselves by the way we respond to the questions posed by others. In fact, where would we be without the queries proffered by life and those with whom we share it?

Raising questions and exploring answers to those questions is critical to shaping our lives and the meaning that accompanies them. We need each other for that exchange. Those of us in the “helping” professions are taught to frame questions in such a way that in answering clients recognize and embrace their own truths.

Even in the midst of our perplexities or discouragement, whether in the asking or in the answering, questions are intermediaries of grace that can lead us into deeper levels of appreciation, insight, wonder, meaning and joy. Denise Levertov brings this home to us in her poem, A Gift.

Just when you seem to yourself

nothing but a flimsy web

of questions, you are given

the questions of others to hold

in the emptiness of your hands,

songbird eggs that can still hatch

if you keep them warm,

butterflies opening and closing themselves

in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure

their scintillant fur, their dust.

You are given the questions of others

as if they were answers

to all you ask. Yes, perhaps

this gift is your answer.

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Rain returns today, dropping a gray curtain on the colors of spring. The drumbeat of the daily news fans the flames of our fears. Friends and family face challenges to health and well-being.

Sometimes we forget what accompanies the shadows of the world: the rain brings water to nourish the land; love waits patiently for our permission to shine forth; a deeper well of meaning waits only for us to lower our pail.

Words of Fra Giovanni in a letter to a friend written in the 16th century come to mind. May they help each of us today find courage to seize the moment, whatever its shadows, and find the peace that passes conventional understanding.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven!

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness could we but see – and to see we have only to look. I beseech you to look! …

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty – beneath its covering – that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.

Courage, then, to claim it, that is all. But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are all pilgrims together, wending through unknown country, home.

And so, at this time, I greet you. Not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem and the prayer that for you now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.

 

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A passage I recently read prompted this post. It expresses gratitude for friendship and the many ways that people walk with us through life.

Friends accompany us along differing paths and in differing depths. They have shared times that have been significant to us – difficult, perplexing, reflective, joyful and just plain fun. In that sense they represent chapters in our living history. They bring out the best in us and give us permission to be our “real” selves, even when it isn’t our best. They bear witness to who we are and what we are about.

I explored this theme in The Company of Friends, a post from this blog a year ago. Daphne Rose Kingma’s passage below brought it all back. Blessed are we who can acknowledge the gifts of our friends’ companionship.

Thank you for the circumstances that brought us together and have bound us into the sacred bundle of life. Thank you also for the gifts of our friendship: for knowledge that comforts, for words that encourage, for insight that blesses, for all the experiences shared, for the sweet bliss of deeply knowing each other in so many ways; for history and a hope of the future, for conversation and laughter, for silence, for bearing each other’s witness truly, for holding each other safe in our hearts with great love and tenderness.

Today is a good time to pause and give thanks for the friends in your world – maybe even contact them to tell them how much they mean to you.

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