Archives for category: Relationships

Daily life is filled with our encounters with others.  Many meetings are in person. Many more arrive on our digital devices. Sometimes, like ocean waves people can lift us off our feet and pummel us. At other times, they can elevate us to see new possibilities.

It’s a mixture isn’t it?  Every day we meet people doing the best they can to live their lives, and we realize they are us and we are they.  As we compare ourselves to others, we see those who inspire or intimidate us with their virtues and achievements. We also encounter those whose beliefs are repugnant to our values and whose behaviors repel us.  What can we acquire from all whom we meet?

In Pocketful of Miracles, Joan Borysenko nudges us with two entries during the month of August. The first is to ask the question: “What can I learn from this person?” If it is someone who inspires, what steps might I take to emulate their path or prowess. If it is someone with whom I disagree, what truths about my values do they clarify or reinforce for me, and what actions might I take in response?

The second suggestion builds on two dynamics in psychology. The first is projection, a defense mechanism in which we attribute to someone else thoughts, feelings and ideas of our own that we consider unacceptable. The second dynamic is identification, in which we seek to pattern ourselves after those whom we admire.

Borysenko encourages us to be aware of any judgments we hold about another’s behaviors or attitudes and the truths our judgments may hold for us.  She also commends a mantra that Ram Dass uses to manage his own projections and aspirations: “And I am that, too.”

It has been a week rich in re-connections with friends – four consecutive days with four different couples and, in one case, three generations of their family. There are many common touchstones, including the college that educated and employed us and the vocations we pursued developing human potential, delivering a variety of healing arts and extending our physical and spiritual ties with the earth.

The backdrop for these gatherings included visits to a special island in Lake Winnipesaukee, the annual loon count on Squam Lake, an Arlo Guthrie concert in Maine and an annual family reunion located this year on Lake Winnisquam.

Over dinner last night a friend of our children’s generation asked what I was up to these days. My reply included culling the files and correspondence of many years and looking to connect the dots of meaning. In response he shared a phrase that struck a chord.

Years ago, on a three day trip to see a Grateful Dead concert he and some friends picked up an older hitchhiker. They had plenty of time for conversation while driving and camping out en route. Explaining his journey, the stranger shared that periodically he took stock and realized that his perspective on life had changed about every five years. He summed up his approach to the future this way: “I just want to stick around to see how the view changes…”

Shifting our perspective can serve us all well, no matter what our age. Are we stuck in the expectation of a pre-ordained outcome? How do we open ourselves and our relationships to new possibilities? How can we continue to make a difference in the lives of those most dear to us and the communities we call home?

 

Are you stuck in your hesitancy to step into dreams or duties deferred?  If so, perhaps this post will encourage you to move forward.  This week brought a valuable reminder of how quickly time is passing along with a wakeup call to fill the days remaining with overlooked opportunities.

The occasion was my college class reunion. Given that it was our 55th, attendance was much less than five years ago.  However, connecting with a cadre of companions who have shared many of life’s milestones sparked some new insight and energy.  Our physical and mental capacities are waning, but the lights of our accomplishments and connections shone brightly, revealing occasions that still beckon.

This morning I received the following message in my inbox.  It is from Joe Riley who shares poems periodically through Panhala.  It reminds us that it is never too late to seize the day and the blessings it holds, even if the actions appear to be small.  May it strike a chord with you.

Variation On A Theme By Rilke

(The Book of Hours, Book I, Poem 1, Stanza 1)

A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me — a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day’s blow
rang out, metallic — or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self saying and singing what it knew: I can.

~ Denise Levertov, (Breathing the Water)

 

Reflecting on the fear that fuels our tribal allegiances and separates us from one another, I came across the inspirational post of indigenous elder, Steven Charleston. His messages are brief and insightful and appear a few times each week on Facebook.

The gentle but firm spirit of his commentaries appeals to our better angels and serves as a needed antidote to the accelerating volume of conflict and division.

It seems that increasingly we consign ourselves to competing clans, intent upon raising ourselves up by putting others down. We think in zero sum terms; for some of us to win, others must lose. In doing so we neglect the life-giving and sustaining cords that connect us as living beings. These bonds are the basis of compassion, love in action. They stem from what Bishop Charleston calls kinship.

Here is a simple but profound piece of wisdom from the tradition of America’s indigenous people: kinship is the spiritual cornerstone for community. Kinship is the sense of relatedness, the acknowledgement that all of life is interconnected and mutually dependent. Kinship bonds humanity to creation and unifies diversity into a matrix of compassion. It says we need one another and must care for one another, no matter how different we may seem. Kinship is the basis for an ethical society. Power builds on fear, kinship builds on trust.

Centuries ago the prophet Micah also called people to strengthen the bonds of kinship: to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly. May our hearts hear and summon the courage to turn toward each other rather than away.

 

Whom do we blame and for what? – two critical questions, whether they apply to our view of others or ourselves.

A high school classmate and I have an ongoing dialogue about which of our human capacities dominates – cognition or emotion. He would say that our rational mind can and should prevail. While I often wish that were the case, I proffer that despite the power of our executive function, many times our emotions take over, especially when dealing with our fears.

In and of itself, finding fault, which is one definition of “blame,” can be a neutral dynamic. It is a way that our “head” identifies the source of events or circumstances. Knowing the cause of a situation often mitigates its threat. Replacing the unknown with knowledge provides us a way of managing if not controlling what confronts us.

At the same time embedded in “blame” is judgment, and judgment is one way our “heart” seeks to protect us from potential threats. We see too many examples of the emotional blame game in play every day in relationships, politics, religion and culture, where our tribal roots tilt the teeter-totter of fake versus fact.

Perhaps more pernicious is the blame game we play with ourselves when we judge ourselves as inadequate or unworthy. Who is to blame – our upbringing, our workplace, our partner? While those may indeed be the source of fault, we are the sole agents of changing the game going forward.

Harnessing the wisdom of both head and heart, we have the capacity, indeed, the response-ability, to create a new future for ourselves individually and collectively. We do control the two ingredients that can do most to lift us out of blaming others and ourselves – our attitude and our effort.

 

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.