In the early days of map making cartographers designated unexplored regions with images of threatening beasts. “Here be dragons.” The image serves us today. How do we face the demons that lie within us?

A first step in confronting our dragons is to see them for what they are. My profession has taught me to pay attention to projection – the unconscious tendency to transfer our personal dynamics on to others whom we then blame (or bless). Becoming aware of our fears begins to defuse them.

A second step is to explore what our demons tell us about ourselves. Why are they there? In one of his letters written to a young poet Rainer Marie Rilke writes:

We have no reason to distrust our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors. If it has an abyss, it is ours… And if we would live with faith in the value of what is challenging, then what now appears to us as most alien will become our truest, most trustworthy friend.  (July 11th, p. 192) 

Lastly, when we befriend our fears by acknowledging their truth, we often find they hold a jewel. Rilke continues:

Let us not forget the ancient myths … about dragons that at the last moment transform into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act just once with beauty and courage. Perhaps every terror is, in its deepest essence, something that needs our recognition or help.

If our demons are powers that call out for our recognition or help, what is one of yours? What is its truth? Who is it calling you to be? What is it calling you to do?

 

Have you found your place in the world? A home for your values? A harbor for treasured relationships? Pursuits that quicken your passions?

A few of us know early in life where we belong. The route of others is more circuitous. Count me among those whose paths have taken longer but who now know and embrace the destination.

This week I began the season’s first mowing of our front field, a sloping acre of rough grasses, ferns, and half buried boulders. Exacerbated by recent rains, much of it is also wet, requiring me to trade the tractor for a weed whacker. These days the chore, once viewed as nuisance, affords time to reflect.

Revisiting the past, I realized that each chapter of life fed only some elements of my being. That is, until the last decade, when, as much as they ever will, all the pieces have come together. Up the drive from the mowing field stands the home of our dreams with views of the surrounding hills. Gardens yield food and flowers, and stacks of drying wood stand ready to fuel the fires of winter.

David Whyte’s poem The House of Belonging connects with me here. The images range far beyond his residence. May the closing lines inspire you to read the whole and celebrate your own awakening to your place in the world.

…This is the bright home in which I live,

this is where I ask my friends to come,

this is where I want to love all the things

it has taken me so long to learn to love.

 

This is the temple of my adult aloneness

and I belong to that aloneness

as I belong to my life.

 

There is no house like the house of belonging.

 

Whatever our personal circumstances, there is a way to experience life more fully. Whatever we conclude about external events that buffet us each day, there is a simple step we can take to stay positive. Make time to be grateful.

Gratitude is a key attitude. When we stop long enough to pay attention, we find there are many “little” things in our lives that, while appearing small, add up to a lot. In our busy-ness or self-absorption, we tend to overlook them.

In The Book of Joy, which distills five days of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the two religious leaders describe gratitude as one of the pillars of joy.

A key point in the discussion for me was that making time for gratitude can alter our point of view.

[Gratitude] allows us to shift our perspective…toward all we have been given and all that we have. It moves us away from the narrow-minded focus on fault and lack and to the wider perspective of benefit and abundance. (p. 242)

The ability to shift our outlook from scarcity or blame to the expectation of benefit is a huge fulcrum for leveraging all that is positive in our lives.

What are some ways we can do this? A favorite line from Kahlil Gibran comes to mind: “In the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”

  • Pause before eating to thank all those responsible for providing our food.
  • Celebrate the gift of a friendship by a word, hug or email.
  • Acknowledge the tasks that tap and convey our passions and talents.

What is one of your blessings and how can you express your gratitude for it today?

 

 

Have you been neglecting something important about who you are? If so, this post is a nudge to bring it back into the light.

A few days ago I picked up my guitar. Abandoned in a corner for far too long, it has been with me since 1960. The years of use have chipped its finish but its action is still smooth, its sound resonant. It embodies the gift of music that our parents passed on to my sister and me.

Our family’s means were lower middle modest, but there was always music. A post-war memory still holds my parents dancing to jazz and swing on the radio. I sang in the church choir, the school chorus and the high school’s annual musical. My adolescence accompanied the birth and rise of rock & roll, and I love to dance.

It began when I bought a plastic ukulele for 25 cents (!) and learned to play and sing a pretty good rendition of Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode. It got my parents’ attention. I came home from school one day to discover a Guild guitar on my bed. Knowing our limited resources, that gift meant mounds of affirmation.

I learned to play. There was plenty to emulate with the popularization of folk music in the ‘60s. I sang at family gatherings and hootenannies and to a special girl. In seminary, I wrote and recorded a folk mass that engaged congregations more actively in worship.

Best of all, the genes have made their way to our children and granddaughter, each of whom enjoys music and dance in their lives too. And so, I return to my guitar and the songs of my soul.

What is one of your neglected gifts? Is it time for you to sing that song again too?

 

Obstacles in our lives come from two sources, and each can define us. Powerful weather events – violent storms, floods, wildfires – inflict change that is outside our control. Less obvious but perhaps more influential are the constraints we impose on ourselves from within.

The stories we tell ourselves are one example of a self-imposed limit. Many of those stories originate with hurtful events that have scarred us or messages of inadequacy that we have adopted and reinforced by repetition – not smart enough, not attractive enough, not good enough. Many of us have carried these stories around for years. What if we could remove those obstacles and tell a new story?

Fear is the second obstruction that most of us face. Who hasn’t worried about being abandoned or embarrassed or failing at something important? Often, our fears block us from stepping out, up or in to our fullness. What if we could move through our fears to acknowledge and embrace our gifts and celebrate the unique person we are?

If you are one who tends to constrict yourself, The Book of Joy may be a good resource. A quick and inspirational read, the book captures five days of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Each has known incredible hardships imposed from the outside. Spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama has lived much of his life in exile. Spiritual leader of Anglicans in South Africa, Archbishop Tutu has lived much of his life under the system of apartheid.

Each has met those challenges with astounding resilience, revealing the inherent love, goodness and joy within their hearts. Their examples inspire each of us to remove the obstacles that hide the radiance of our own inner light.

 

I am spending time these days sorting through stuff. What to keep and what to release? It is a worthy task for any decade but even more so in our later years.

The accumulation of what we once thought important enough to lug around collides with the knowledge of the way life turned out. Fewer “rainy days” remain, and what is wanted now, much less needed, may not be what we saved long ago.

As a “Jack” of many trades I have collected much: shelves of books; files of weddings, sermons and eulogies from days of ministry; course syllabi and curricula from teaching; plans, proposals and publications from leadership roles; speeches and correspondence.

To be honest, in addition to easing the load on those who must deal with this stuff when I depart, the sorting provides an opportunity to revisit the story I tell myself. Wouldn’t most of us want to emphasize the times when our better angels prevailed?

Then there are the forgotten jewels. During an unsettling transition in my twenties I bought a pricey camera to explore an interest in photography. Two of the boxes I am culling contain slides, negatives, and photos that I developed and printed from that period.

There are family members, friends and landscapes; moments of play and laughter, music and fellowship – images of my life frozen, preserved and now re-presented to delight and refresh an aging memory.

Each still-life frames a gift with which I am blessed – loving relationships, connections to the earth, a quest for meaning and opportunities for service. These treasures reinforce the core values of my story and justify the effort to lug this stuff around all these years.

And you? What is the weight of stuff you carry? Is it a burden or a boon?

 

The power has been out in our community for two days, and our local co-op forecasts that for some of us the outage will last another 24-36 hours. While we in northern New England have learned to prepare for this form of March madness, the blizzard calls us back to basics. I think of two for this post.

The first is how much I take for granted. Focusing first on the mundane: flipping a switch to see in the dark: turning a tap for running water; pressing a handle to flush a toilet; opening the fridge or the freezer for food; taking a hot shower at day’s end.

It doesn’t take long for those mundane daily “dos” to morph into the realization that there are many in our world whose power is perpetually out, who scramble each day for food, shelter and safety. There is also the realization that our power grid is a network that is vulnerable not only to mother nature but to human malevolence.

The second basic lesson derives from the first: gratitude. Peggy and I have shelter and sufficient experience and resources to manage the inconveniences of this outage. We know that dedicated men and women are working under very demanding conditions to restore the power. We also know that neighbors are checking in with each other, especially the elderly, to make sure they have the essentials they need.

The Chinese pictograph for our word “crisis” combines images for “danger” and “opportunity.” The danger accompanying a blizzard holds the opportunity for each of us to stop taking our lives and life styles for granted and return to the ground of gratitude for self-reliance as well as interdependence with others in community.

 

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As part of my daily meditation I read brief selections from various books. One of them in my current cycle is A Year with Rilke translated and edited by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows.

This morning’s reading calls us to examine the knots of our own making. It reminded me that when we fail in our efforts to make things bend our way, when we “push out beyond what we each belong to,” it may be time to return to earth’s intelligence.

With the lengthening daylight heralding spring’s approach, the message seems timely.

How surely gravity’s law, / strong as an ocean current, takes hold of even the smallest thing / and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing – / each stone, blossom, child – / is held in place. / Only we, in our arrogance, / push out beyond what we each belong to / for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered / to earth’s intelligence / we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves / in knots of our own making /and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again / to learn from the things, / because they are in God’s heart; / they have never left him.

The Book of Hours II, 16

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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?