Archives for category: Spirituality

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.”

Over a year ago a friend who harvests timber presented me with a freshly cut maple burl.  Soon afterward I roughed it out and put it on a shelf to dry.  This past week I mounted it on my lathe to finish turning it.  In addition to its beautiful grains, it yielded a valuable insight.

A burl is an unusual growth that results from a tree undergoing the stress of an injury, virus or fungus. While the burl may be detrimental to that portion of the tree, it is prized for its beauty and rarity by those who work with wood.  Its grain is twisted and interlocked, extremely dense and inevitably distinctive.  These same qualities lead both to its unpredictability – it can shatter easily – and its unique character uncovered by the gouge.

Turning the burl got me thinking about the gnarly bumps in my own life and the stresses that led to their formation.  With perspective from standing on the other side of them I also realized that without those injuries and setbacks, I would not be where I am today.  Nor would I have the wisdom I have experienced through their healing and the joy of the new opportunities that were opened to me.

What about you?  Are there some rough patches that are disrupting your grain?  If so, how can you gently turn them to expose their lessons and the possibilities they reveal?

 

In her Pocketful of Miracles meditation for March 21st Joan Borysenko commends the vernal equinox as an occasion to review the forces of light and darkness in our lives and to find the balance.

…how magnificent is the cycle of the seasons and the coming of the spring. As I awaken from my winter sleep, let me seek balance in my inner life and outer life.  Let me value equally the part of me that is healed and in the light and the difficult traits in my character that are grist for the mill of growth.

I know that for those confronting devastating floods and other crises, spring’s advent this year affords little opportunity for reflection. May they and all who support them and their animals find the resilience to persist and prevail.

For others of us the equinox provides the occasion to look at our inner climate and its weather, the gifts that shine brightly as well as the trolls of our shadow side. I find it relatively easy to embrace the light with much gratitude. My blessings are manifold. Dealing with my demons of the dark?  Not so much.  No doubt, the first step is to name them as grist for the mill of growth. Three come to mind for me.  What are some of yours?  Once identified, what do we do with them?

I have found an inspiring resource in The Book of Joy and highly commend it. A chronicle of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the book also contains exercises for overcoming obstacles to living in joy. From two persons well acquainted with life’s dark sides perspective, faith and humor shine as beacons of hope for all of us seeking the balance.

 

Most of us have experienced dark times in our lives. The source may be the actions of others or a random turn of events. Our wounds may be self-inflicted. Regardless of the cause, the pain is real. What we do with the ashes of adversity shapes whether and how we move forward.

Looking back over the difficult times from the vantage of having gone through them, we can see that most of them were stepping stones to new awareness and understanding. However, while we’re in the throes of our challenges, it is often difficult to take our leave from the drama.

Perhaps, the leaving is tied to a relationship or a chapter of one’s history that was filled with significance. While this sort of leaving may certainly be accompanied by the anguish of what was and will no longer be, the free fall of letting go sets the stage for what is to come.

David Whyte reminds us that often the ashes of our vexing conundrums or old hurts point the way to the next chapter of liberating possibilities – arriving to begin again.

The Journey

Above the mountains the geese turn into the light again

painting their black silhouettes on an open sky.

Sometimes everything has to be inscribed across the heavens

so you can find the one line already written inside you.

Sometimes it takes a great sky to find that first, bright

and indescribable wedge of freedom in your own heart.

Sometimes with the bones of the black sticks left when the fire has gone out

someone has written something new in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving. Even as the light fades quickly now, you are arriving.

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.

 

Are you asking who you are meant to be and what you are meant to do in this chapter of your life? Recent observations of a tree may offer some help.

Two years ago, porcupines ravaged one of our locust trees, stripping bark and leaves from almost every branch. Based on the lack of life last year, I thought the tree was dead. This year, observing its lifeless branches as its neighbors leafed out, I concluded it would join our wood pile this fall…that is, until this past week, when the cream colored flowers appeared. While sparser than two years ago, the blooms are unmistakable signs of life.

In addition to how little I know about locust trees, three other lessons surfaced that may help you with the arrival of your own blooms of this season of your life.

Like the tree in question we humans carry within us unique gifts and truths. Locusts grow quickly, even horizontally in outreach to the sun. Their wood is durable and difficult to cut and split. It takes a long time to dry and burns quite hot. What are your special gifts?

The locust’s vitality reminds me of the genius of resilience. Able to withstand the porcupines’ assault the tree persevered for a new day. What persists in your life’s calling?

Each gift of vocation manifests in its due season. I knew that ash trees leaf out later than most others. I now know that locusts leaf out even later than ash trees. No amount of my worrying or coaxing could change their inherent timing.

Maybe these simple lessons from nature’s way can reassure us that our unique gifts will emerge in their due season. Patience, mindfulness and receptivity will also help.

 

The most recent wind storm left behind fallen trees and broken limbs. The top of a tall pine blew off its moorings, landing like a beached ship near the driveway.

We are now experiencing the upside of the cleanse. It is as though the storm blew away the remnants of a tenacious winter. Daffodils and crocuses bravely reappear. Forsythia reaches its yellow arms to receive the embrace of the warming sun. The grass grows again into its richest greens of the year. Lower morning and evening temperatures temporarily cool the fervor of the black flies.

I am reminded of the life force that animates all living beings. The lyrics of a song from a favorite musical, The Secret Garden, captures the hidden but powerful “streak of green” in plants. “Wick” is the living essence cultivated by warmth, light and attention. The message is metaphor for us humans as well.

When a thing is wick, it has a life about it.
Now, maybe not a life like you and me.
But somewhere there’s a single streak of green inside it.
Come, and let me show you what I mean…

You clear away the dead parts,
So the tender buds can form,
Loosen up the earth and
Let the roots get warm…

You give a living thing 
A little chance to grow…

So, grow to greet the morning,
Leave the ground below…

And all through the darkest nighttime,
It’s waiting for the right time.
When a thing is wick, it will grow!

As spring returns most of us cannot help but feel the life force within us regaining strength. It is unique to each of us – our soul, our passion, our life’s energy. What are you doing to honor and cultivate yours?

 

This past week I received an email from a friend with whom I spent three years in seminary. Until a fiftieth reunion last year, we hadn’t seen each other since graduation. I was reminded how often back then he and I shared frequencies regarding life’s conundrums and possibilities.

Arriving last week, my friend’s message was a brief but powerful outcry over our brokenness as a species. Examples he cited from this year’s forty days of Lent epitomize our capacity for treating each other inhumanely, a morbid prelude to the crucifixion of “Good” Friday.

Efforts to rationalize all that is going on in our country and around the world seem futile, especially if one is attached to outcomes. Believing an Easter experience is the Christian response to a Good Friday, my friend re-framed the quandary by suggesting we turn to another realm of truth-seeking – the wisdom embedded in our place among the mysteries of the earth and its cycles. He shared two poems by Mary Oliver, one of which is below.

Here in rural New Hampshire it is lambing season for some farmers. Is the timing with Passover and Easter this year just coincidence?

Mysteries, Yes

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous / to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing / in the mouths of lambs.

How rivers and stones are forever / in allegiance with gravity

while we ourselves dream of rising.

How two hands touch and the bonds will / never be broken.

How people come, from delight or the

Scars of damage / to the comfort of a poem.

 

Let me keep my distance, always, from those

who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say

“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,

and bow their heads.

Mary Oliver

 

Across our valley one day last week the setting sun kissed the tops of the hills. Continuing its arc to the west, it cast shadows that revealed the contours of the terrain that are hidden from our view at midday. The sight grabbed my attention. With their fleeting hues the passing moments of twilight were blessing the day, bestowing a fuller perception of its gifts and lessons.

Mid-way through my eighth decade I see the sun’s retreat from the peaks as a visual reminder of my life’s twilight. I am learning to embrace it. Slowly cleaning the clutter of expired years, I revisit and cull correspondence and writings, claiming the perspectives they provide on the people and events who have brought joy, challenge and meaning to my life. Like the contours of the hills revealed by the setting sun, views appear that were missed while I had been absorbed in the day’s dramas.

However, twilight’s perspectives are not reserved for the final decades of life. They are available whenever the light of our mindfulness softens the sky. Times of perplexity or promise, when we may procrastinate or prevail, can point us to the blessings of a new understanding.

Some lines from John O’Donohue encourage us to pause at day’s end to capture and appreciate an insight hidden in the glare of our midday tasks.

As light departs to let the earth be one with night,

Silence deepens in the mind, and thoughts grow slow;

The basket of twilight brims over with colors

Gathered from within the secret meadows of the day

And offered like blessings to the gathering Tenebrae.

(from “Vespers” in To Bless the Space Between Us, p. 183)

 

Have you asked yourself lately where you are in your life? Are you clear about your purpose, the reason you are here? Are you fulfilling it? Are you content with your answers?

The familiar Shaker hymn reminds us – ’tis the gift to be simple. ‘tis the gift to be free. ‘tis the gift to come ‘round where we ought to be.

First, a disclaimer: the word “ought” can be fraught with danger. Too many of us “should” all over ourselves to the point of diminishment, convincing ourselves we are not enough. Rather than self-blame, what if we think of “where we ought to be” as an embrace of the truth of who we are and why we are here?

Having said that, I don’t want to imply that “simple” means easy. Rather, simplifying involves focusing on the essentials of who we are and aligning ourselves accordingly. It is a process that can reveal and reinforce the gifts we have been given and those we bring to others. Our circles of influence may be small, but they are uniquely ours and critically important.

If you have not yet explored deeply your sense of life’s purpose or wish to revisit it, let me suggest a resource that served me well over a decade ago – Alan Seale’s Soul Mission, Life Vision book and training.

Having a clear sense of purpose is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and others. Knowing who we are, why we are here, and having a vision for how we can live that purpose is a significant key to a rewarding and fulfilling life.

May each of us in our own way manifest our intention “to come ‘round where we ought to be.” What’s your first next step?