Archives for category: Relationships

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

 

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One of the blessings of this week was a phone call with an old friend, a colleague from years ago. We caught up on each other’s lives, acknowledged the work we had done together and recognized that our connections of the heart cultivated long ago persist.

Each of us travels through life with cohorts. Circumstance brings us together but it is our choices and actions within those situations (or afterward) that create and sustain friendships.

Last weekend Peggy and I visited a college classmate and his partner. They surprised us with tickets to a Paul Stookey concert. Still writing songs at 78 and protesting the ascendance of our human failings, Stookey’s humor, insight and compassion seen in his days with Peter, Paul and Mary, triggered a chain of reflections that landed on this blog with a song from the same era.

Simon and Garfunkel’s Old Friends captures the wistfulness of this stage of life for me. Sung in their youth the lyrics anticipated a poignant marker: “Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly? How terribly strange to be seventy.”

Old friends come in two categories that sometimes coincide: the length of time we have known each other and the experiences shared; or the depth of the connection, like old souls who journeyed together in past lives.

Take a moment to enjoy the song and bring to mind your own friends. If you haven’t talked with them lately, it may be time to reach out.

Old friends. Memory brushes the same years

Silently sharing the same fear.

Time it was, and what a time it was.

It was a time of innocence, a time of confidences.

Long ago it must be, I have a photograph…

Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.

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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 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.