Archives for category: Relationships

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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.

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A passage I recently read prompted this post. It expresses gratitude for friendship and the many ways that people walk with us through life.

Friends accompany us along differing paths and in differing depths. They have shared times that have been significant to us – difficult, perplexing, reflective, joyful and just plain fun. In that sense they represent chapters in our living history. They bring out the best in us and give us permission to be our “real” selves, even when it isn’t our best. They bear witness to who we are and what we are about.

I explored this theme in The Company of Friends, a post from this blog a year ago. Daphne Rose Kingma’s passage below brought it all back. Blessed are we who can acknowledge the gifts of our friends’ companionship.

Thank you for the circumstances that brought us together and have bound us into the sacred bundle of life. Thank you also for the gifts of our friendship: for knowledge that comforts, for words that encourage, for insight that blesses, for all the experiences shared, for the sweet bliss of deeply knowing each other in so many ways; for history and a hope of the future, for conversation and laughter, for silence, for bearing each other’s witness truly, for holding each other safe in our hearts with great love and tenderness.

Today is a good time to pause and give thanks for the friends in your world – maybe even contact them to tell them how much they mean to you.

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I have returned home from a week in Colorado filled with friends, clients and family. The blessing of these relationships brought to mind a line from Carly Simon’s song –  these are the good old days.

How easy it is to spend time looking back to what our life used to be or anticipating what might lie ahead. Given my age, I confess to a certain amount of dread for what the coming years will bring.

This focus has been fueled in part by Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal which I have read in preparation for an upcoming discussion with friends from high school days. Written by a doctor, it is a frank account of the aging process and death and ways we and our culture deal with both.

In Still Here, a book by Ram Dass completed after he experienced a debilitating stroke, I found a gentle reminder that has bolstered my spirits and resolve to be here now.

As the Tibetan teaching instructs, we learn not to “invite” the future into our thoughts before its time, or to cause ourselves unnecessary discomfort, for just as the past traps us in memories, the future traps us in anticipation.

 In the popular idiom of days gone Carly Simon’s classic sums it up well.

We can never know about the days to come

But we think about them anyway

And I wonder if I’m really with you now

Or just chasin’ after some finer day

 Anticipation, anticipation is makin’ me late, is keepin’ me waitin’…

And tomorrow we might not be together

I’m no prophet and I don’t know nature’s ways

So I’ll try and see into your eyes right now

And stay right here

‘cause these are the good old days.

 

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In a note last week to her parents whom we know well a young woman recounted a conversation they had almost thirty years ago. It ended with their mutual conclusion that it was time for her to leave home. It was not an easy decision for any of them. She was completing eighth grade.

The prospect of her absence from her family as she grew into adulthood loomed large, but what prevailed over convention was a compelling gravitational pull. In was, in the words of Joseph Campbell, to follow her bliss, and for this young girl her bliss was dance.

Her path took her many places. She danced in New York and venues in Europe, Russia and South America. She created her own company and along the way discovered a love of teaching.

The occasion for her note of gratitude was the culminating performance for her Master of Fine Arts degree. She choreographed and danced in a 30-minute piece of her creation involving twelve other dancers. She chose the music and integrated graphics created by art students who attended one of her rehearsals. In the audience her parents beamed along with siblings, her husband and her daughter.

Words from Kahlil Gibran came to mind.

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself…

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; for even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

 

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Last week I joined some friends in harvesting ice for their refrigeration system. Much more than an annual ritual it is only one element in the composition of their chosen path of homesteading. Living off the grid, they have been creating a life of self-sufficiency that nurtures mind, body and spirit and leaves a minimal carbon footprint on the planet.

Cutting and retrieving 120 pound blocks of ice requires teamwork, and our friends are able to join with staff and volunteers of a local summer camp to share in the labor and harvest. A necessity before electric refrigeration began to replace the ice box, gathering hunks of frozen water has become an annual tradition of the Rockywold Deephaven Camps since the late 1800s. They continue to use the ice boxes of yesteryear for their refrigeration.

As this 2-minute video of this year’s operation reveals, today’s ice-collecting methods include some contemporary tools – e.g., gas-powered saws, winches and trucks. Sparingly, our friends use some of those devices as well for cutting and gathering firewood and transporting heavy loads, although they use manual block and tackle pulley systems to lift the ice blocks into place.

Covered in a foot of sawdust to insulate them from the summer heat, the blocks are stored in an ice house and will last up to 12 months. Harvesting ice is a throw-back for sure to days when folks tapped every resource available for survival in northern climes and banded together to help each other make it through the year.

In today’s world of short-term grab for greed and convenience, I celebrate occasions that highlight both the ingenuity and determination of self-sufficiency and the mutual interdependence of community.

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