Archives for category: Personal Growth

Recently I held space as a friend processed the weight of many pressures. When leaving he said, “you helped me discover what I already know.” That’s a profound insight for all of us and for a coach the highest of compliments.

Most of us who have lived a few years know what makes us tick and what brings us joy. We also recognize that sometimes life buffets us with unforeseen force that can overwhelm our internal GPS. Taking a time out to reclaim our core can help us regain our balance, direction and momentum.

Some of us call our internal GPS our soul’s mission – what we already know about who we are and why we are here. Opening to that sense of purpose is an ongoing pursuit, as the Buddhist Metta prayer reminds us: May I awaken to the light of my own true nature.

A recent post from Bishop Steven Charleston offers timely encouragement when we lose sight of what we already know:

Life will find a way. No matter how dry. No matter how broken. Still the green shoot will appear. The stubborn sign of hope. In each of us there is a force more ancient than any of us can remember. We have sheltered it for generations uncounted. It is not the will to live, for there are times when the will alone is not strong enough. It is the faith to live. The deep roots of life finding water where no water was meant to be, the emerging spirit of life rising to seek the light when all light was supposed to have gone. We carry that within us. You carry it. It is part of who you are and will always be. Have faith. Life will find a way.

 

I heard from two friends this past week. One hovers on the brink of a life defining decision. The other has made hers. The first weighs carefully the pros and cons, hesitant to fully embrace what she knows deep down she must do. Having committed, the other shares with gusto and resolve her first strides into its unfolding.

Do you see yourself in either of my friends? Or perhaps both? I do for myself. Once again, the words of John O’Donohue touch my heart for such moments. Perhaps they will provide some helpful perspectives for you as well. Which of his lines below speak most closely to your current situation?

For the Time of Necessary Decisions

The mind of time is hard to read.

We can never predict what it will bring

Nor even from all that is already gone

Can we say what form it finally takes;

For time gathers its moments secretly.

Often we only know it’s time to change

When a force has built inside the heart

That leaves us uneasy as we are.

 

Perhaps the work we do has lost its soul

Or the love where we once belonged

Calls nothing alive in us anymore.

 

We drift through this gray, increasing nowhere

Until we stand before a threshold we know

We have to cross to come alive once more.

 

May we have the courage to take the step

Into the unknown that beckons us;

Trust that a richer life awaits us there,

That we will lose nothing

But what has already died;

Feel the deeper knowing in us sure

Of all that is about to be born beyond

The pale frames where we stayed confined,

Not realizing how such vacant endurance

Was bleaching our soul’s desire.

One key to successful coaching of self or others is the ability to frame questions that open the mind and heart to new possibilities. The end of the day and the close of the year are propitious times for probing queries that can pull us forward.

In his book, To Bless the Space Between Us, John O’Donohue bequeaths us some compelling inquiries for these moments of reflection. I offer them to you, either as guidance for your reflections at the close of day or your review of the year gone by.

Here are some samples from his meditation “At the End of the Day: A Mirror of Questions” (p. 98).

What new thoughts visited me?

Where was I hurt without anyone noticing?

What differences did I notice in those closest to me?

Whom did I neglect?

Where did I neglect myself?

What did I begin today that might endure?

What did I do today for the poor and the excluded?

Where could I have exposed myself to the risk of something different?

Where did I allow myself to receive love?

With whom today did I feel most myself?

What reached me today? How deep did it imprint?

What visitations had I from the past and from the future?

What did I avoid today?

From the evidence – why was I given this day?

Which questions engaged you the most? In all likelihood, it is your responses to those queries that your head and heart are asking you for.

 

This is a week of arrivals and departures, when many of us will be traveling to see family and friends. For some our gatherings bring joy. For others duty dictates that we manage aversive dynamics. Often it is a mixture of both, compounded by delays from traffic or weather en route.

For those of us whose destinations are filled with fun, friendly repartee and abundant food, arrival is a boon and parting a drag. For those who must navigate contentious currents the exit can’t come soon enough.

Either way, if we pay attention to our energy accompanying our arrivals and our leave-taking, occasions like the coming holiday hold lessons for us about being present. Focusing on the jewels of insight in each moment, even when difficult, becomes more and more precious.

Yesterday’s entry from A Year with Rilke titled “Spectators” struck a chord.

And we: always and everywhere spectators, turned not toward the Open but to the stuff of our lives. It drowns us. We set it in order. It falls apart. We order it again and fall apart ourselves.

Who has turned us around like this? Whatever we do, we are in the posture of one who is about to depart. Like a person lingering for a moment on the last hill where he can see his whole valley – that is how we live, forever taking our leave.

How much of our lives do we spend watching ourselves come and go, overlooking what beckons before us? Do we linger over parting, or are we quick to say goodbye? After all, it is the “stuff of our lives” even when it seems burdensome.

My wish is to focus more and more on gratitude each day before the final leaving taking arrives.

 

They catch her eye. Wild or cultivated, it doesn’t matter, although this season they are the last blooms from our land. What she sees is the gift of their beauty, which, of course, unbeknownst to her awareness, is a mirror of her own.

Then there is the joy of arranging them, discovering what combination of colors, textures and heights call her to place them together in a sublime embrace. It is as much the dance of playfulness as artistic endeavor that leads her on. At some point she stops, content with what has emerged, mindful that the essence is both their individual contribution to the whole and the whole itself.

The attraction to flowers is a legacy from her mother, who found in her gardens a serenity otherwise inaccessible from the challenges of her life. Her mother-in-law loved flowers as well, further composting the soil of her interest. It is a legacy being passed to her daughters, who in their own ways arrange the blossoms of their lives.

Beyond honoring the beauty of nature’s gifts and expressing her joy in the playful act of arranging there are other intentions. The arrangements gently remind us of our gratitude for the abundance of our lives. Perhaps most of all the bouquets beckon our company with quiet hues of welcome. Placed in the guest rooms, they are simple sentinels of hospitality that she carefully deploys to watch over their stay.

Wild and cultivated, her bouquets are peaceful beacons of love and expressions of the blessings of her own bountiful spirit.

Reunions are a time when past and present converge. The resulting emotional kaleidoscope requires interpretation. How do we (re) present ourselves to ourselves and those we claim as cousins of distant circumstance?

Living in the decade of the “fiftieths,” I have attended my high school and college reunions. Last week it was my seminary class. Wading into the waters of each gathering I have felt the tugging undertow of questions. What was the reality? What might have been otherwise? What is now the routine? What still may be possible?

Reunions require us to tell a story about how we define ourselves. An insightful lyric from Stephen Stills offers a warning: “Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now.” Certainly, our experiences have shaped who we are today, but our creativity guides who we become tomorrow. Reunions can re-enkindle the imagination of possibilities.

One spark from last week was the inspiring examples of two women bishops whom our Episcopal seminary honored for their leadership under very difficult circumstances. Women were not ordained as priests or bishops when I was a seminarian.

The second ember to be fanned was a re-ignition of two friendships for whom a fifty-year hiatus was but an interruption. We will likely become part of each other’s narratives in the years ahead.

What is the tale you tell yourself? What do you present to others? Rilke’s words encourage all of us to articulate the truth and promise in our story today.

Here is the time for telling. Here is its home.

Speak and make known: More and more

The things we could experience

Are lost to us, banished by our failure

To imagine them.

Old definitions, which once set limits to our living,

Break apart like dried crusts.

Ninth Duino Elegy

 

A beeping smoke alarm recently signaled the need for a battery change. Reaching for the container of replacements, I was greeted by my mother’s handwriting on a box she had addressed to us decades ago. Each time I open it I welcome with a smile the waves of memory her signature summons.

My mom has been gone for more than twenty years. Her writing is more precious with the knowledge that it came from the years before degenerating eyesight deterred her from writing at all. In my mind’s eye the squiggly lines of her script morph quickly into moments with her that have become increasingly prized for their truths and their absence.

Our signature is a unique witness to who we are and what we stand for. Legal contracts require it as a testament to our half of the obligation. It conveys to our friends and loved ones the special connections of our relationships and our commitment to them. The way we sign off tells who we are. It is as true of our lives as our letters.

I read recently that some schools no longer teach cursive, apparently yielding to the dominance of the digital age. If so, the speed and short hand of texting and emojis comes at a price. I once devoted time to practicing calligraphy, searching for a distinctive presence on the page. It forced me to think about who I was and what I wanted my signature to convey. Then literally I had to put it in writing.

Perhaps that is the core message: what our words and deeds say about us to ourselves and others become our life’s signature and the legacy we leave for our friends and loved ones

Have you ever gotten caught up in the drama of the day – maybe yours or your partner’s? Or a media story? Perhaps one of your least favored characters momentarily escaped the guardians of your sub-conscious to wreak havoc on your playing field.

Whatever their source, dramas happen to each of us. Life-threatening catastrophes are certainly in a category all their own. However, too often we rise to the bait of more mundane melodramatic triggers.

When that happens, having a talisman to ground us is important. I found one of these touchstones this week in some centering words of John O’Donohue that arrived with my subscription to Panhala.

The words provide a perspective that may refocus each of us on our essence in life and mitigate the unnecessary dramas we either create or participate in. Let us focus on the quiet miracle that we exist at all.

For Presence

Awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.

Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.

Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon.

Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to follow its path.

Let the flame of anger free you of all falsity.

May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame.

May anxiety never linger about you.

May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul.

Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.

Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.

May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.

~ John O’Donohue ~ (To Bless the Space Between Us)

 

Sometimes, when adversity threatens to overwhelm the spirit, focusing on a simple task can bring us back to center.

There is much to weigh us down in life, from personal challenges to the daily bombardment of media images and commentary. The devastation from recent wildfires and flooding is a case in point.

How do we bring ourselves back to center? One dramatic example occurred in the outpouring of assistance in the wake of Harvey. It was an inspiring glimpse of our better angels transcending the demons that normally divide us.

Most of us regain our footing through the routines of nurturing our families, caring for our animals, volunteering for causes we believe in, pursuing hobbies or practicing yoga. I have found another form of meditation.

We heat with wood, and I split most of it by hand, a little each day. One of the storms last winter brought down some trees in our forest. Before the black flies arrived in May I bucked up the trunks and limbs into stove length rounds. Last week I began retrieving them to split and stack on the woodpile. The tractor access stopped 45 yards short. This meant carrying the rounds and returning the same distance for the next load. Viewed from one lens, it was a highly inefficient process.

Earlier in life impatience would have led me to desist. Last week I slowed my pace and coordinated it with my breathing. I lifted only manageable loads. I used the many return trips to appreciate how much joy I felt walking among the trees. I have the time to do this now. The woods nourish me aesthetically, and they feed my provider persona.

Maybe the reset boils down to this: pay attention and be grateful for the abundance in the moment.

 

As the events linked to Charlottesville continue to unfold, three references come to mind.

The first is a mural in one of the library reading rooms of the college I attended. It is titled An Epic of American Civilization. Painted between 1932-34 by Jose Clemente Orozco, the mural depicts the influence of indigenous people and European colonists on North America and the impact of wars and rapid industrialization on the human spirit. It is a dark picture, indeed, and reminds me of the deeply embedded roots of our human dispositions. Those of you with interest can learn more from a critical article written by Erin Harding in 1999.

The second source is Colin Woodard’s book American Nations in which he describes the motivations and distinctive values of the waves of those who came to populate this country. One of his conclusions is that the dominant values each group brought with them persist today and account for many of our regional differences.

The third source comes from the oft-referenced and aspirational words of Lincoln’s first inaugural (March 4, 1861) at the outbreak of the civil war.

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

As with many today, I wonder whether the better angels of our nature will prevail and how each of us can find the courage to bring forth the best in ourselves to meet the tasks at hand.