Archives for category: Relationships

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

 

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)

 

Anger abounds these days in relationships, households, our communities and our nation. What if we viewed our anger as a messenger and paused to explore the lessons it may be raising for us?

Anger can signal that our values have been violated, reminding us of what we care most about. To the extent that it is a clip of preset responses that is loaded and ready for firing, it can be destructive. To the extent that it festers inside us without resolution, it undermines our health and happiness.

In the appendix section of The Book of Joy, co-author Douglas Abrams suggests some questions that may be helpful. In applying these, focus on an area in your life where the embers of wrath wait only for an external spark to release them into a conflagration.

Anger often involves some disappointment or frustrated expectation. Ask yourself, “What was my expectation? Can I release it and accept what is or how others are rather than how I think they should be? Can I also acknowledge my part in the conflict? Can I see my part in contributing to the situation I am angry about? If I am angry about what has been said, can I see that these are just words that no longer exist, that, like all things, they are impermanent? Will my anger benefit anyone, including me?”

You could also reflect on how, if not contained, anger can lead to destructive action – from saying hurtful things to outright violence – that we later regret. Contemplate how anger can destroy relationships, alienate others, and rob you of your peace of mind. (p. 318)

Examining the messages delivered by our anger can lead us to different ways of being with ourselves and each other.

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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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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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

 

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Feeling the fissures in our nation’s economic, cultural and political life, I was reminded this week of a word I learned in seminary. Most often associated with religion, the word also applies to our secular life. It calls me back to basics. Maybe it will for you too.

The word is liturgy. Most often associated with rituals of worship, it refers to the ceremonies a community uses to convey the content of its faith and express its gratitude. Using words, music, movement and symbols, liturgy dramatizes core beliefs and behavior.

The Greek roots of the word liturgy literally mean – the work of the people – which extends beyond religion to society as a whole. In a democracy “the work” involves several tasks.

First, there is being true to one’s individual values and beliefs. Humility involves an accurate self-assessment of both strengths and weaknesses and the courage to show up with personal integrity.

Then, there is the recognition that we belong to a larger whole that includes people who are different from us. Our lives are inextricably linked. One piece of our work is to understand our differences and seek to find common ground.

Finally, in a diverse society our discourse and commerce require us to treat each other with respect and fairness. One place that each of us can begin to make a difference is to treat each other more kindly. When we do, rather than appeal to our worst instincts, we elicit the best in each other, even if and as we may disagree.

Few sources convey the work of the people more simply and powerfully than the prophet Micah.

…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (6:8)

 

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I have just returned from a week in Colorado where I attended the annual gathering of a community of healers that I have been part of for several years. They partner with horses to coach clients. When they reconnect, their smiles, laughter and sharing wash over the arena like a tsunami of the heart.

 

While together they challenge each other and share best practices. They stretch themselves with renewed intentions that move them toward their respective horizons. It is not all easy. There are shadows and trolls en route for each of us. However, if you were a stranger who wandered into their space, you would be struck by the light of their smiles as a lingering impression.

 

Meanwhile, back on the east coast a friend enters hospice for his final chapter on this plane. As I hold him in prayer, I see his face and the twinkle in his eye that accompanies his smile.

 

Is it serendipitous that my meditation reading this morning framed the energy of the healers, my friend and each of us in terms of our legacy? We may find it modest and but one of many aspects of our lives, but we should never underestimate its impact.

 

Those who are beautiful – who can keep them as they are?

Unceasingly in their faces the life in them arises and goes forth.

Like dew from morning grass, like steam from a plate of food,

what is ours goes out from us.

 

Where does a smile go, or the upward glance, the sudden warm movement of the heart?

Yet that is what we are. Does the universe we dissolve into taste of us a little?

From Rilke’s Second Duino Elegy