It is startling that we desperately hold on to what makes us miserable. Our own woundedness becomes a source of perverse pleasure and fixes our identity. We do not want to be cured, for that would mean moving into the unknown. Often it seems we are destructively addicted to the negative. What we call the negative is usually the surface form of contradiction. If we maintain our misery at the surface level, we hold off the initially threatening but ultimately redemptive and healing transfiguration that comes through engaging our inner contradiction. We need to revalue what we consider to be negative.
John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
This passage in John O’Donohue’s book provided an opportunity for me to pause. In that moment, as I considered the latest news about what is happening here in the US, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of us can see where we are.
It’s as if we are sitting in the midst of a battle royale for the very soul of what this country was founded on nearly 244 years ago. The dark underbelly which has perpetuated division and all manner of negativity for aeons has been exposed in fairly stark terms against the powerful backdrop of a deadly pandemic. Yet, there are some who are not sure what they see, or are afraid of what it may mean to really see it for what it is.
There are so many questions that we must ask ourselves, as if we haven’t already been on a roller coaster of internal query already.
Simply speaking or sharing light and love is very important; and sometimes I cannot dig deeply enough to find anymore to offer. In those times, I must be still. In resting in stillness, I create an opportunity to tap that deep well within which more energy is present for the waning light within me when I feel it is beginning to dim.
When we are afraid, we hold on to what is familiar. Yet, letting go of what is familiar is where our true emancipation lies. I believe that O’Donohue calls us to examine the inner contradiction by looking at our negativity. Even as I type this, I know that my negativity – however subtle I think it is – always pulls me down and into a place that isn’t comfortable.
Like many, I do my best to maintain a positive outlook, attitude and perspective. And as a human, this can be difficult at times. And I know as I continue to examine my thoughts, beliefs and feelings, I will revalue what I consider to be negative. Therein lies a treasure, if I linger long enough to see it emerge.
Rilke used to say that difficulty is one of the greatest friends of the soul. Our lives would be immeasurably enriched if we could but bring the same hospitality in meeting the negative as we bring to the joyful and pleasurable. In avoiding the negative, we encourage it to recur. We need a new way of understanding and integrating the negative. The negative is one of the closest friends of your destiny. It contains essential energies that you need and that you cannot find elsewhere. This is where art can be so illuminating. Art is full of intimations of the negative in ways that allow you to participate imaginatively in their possibility. The experience of art can help you build a creative friendship with the negative.
The dance with negativity is part of the important work of remembering who we are. This work is both supported and challenged by where we are. The times we are in seem ripe for a deep exploration, integration and reclamation of those essential energies.
I send my best wishes to all, as we all continue to navigate the bumpy roads and white water of our human experience.
If you are at all familiar with Rumi, I’m sure you are aware of his poem, The Guest House. I return to it frequently, especially when I feel a little off balance…or a lot off balance! I refer to it so often lately, I’ve printed it and now use it as a book mark in my journal. I include it at the end of this post, if you would like to read it again.
I generally keep myself out of the dark recesses of my mind, wherein I can be returned to the ego’s powerful reminders of what I am not, what I do not have, or any number of those types of things, rooted in past experiences that were unpleasant. In my heart I know and feel differently. And…I am human. This being human is very challenging these days. If the pandemic and all of its concomitant suffering were not enough to see, hear and feel so deeply, I am feeling very weary going in this year’s election. I am heartened by the activism of so many people. Without the helpers, where would we all be?
And yet, the sickness gripping our country at this time – the non-COVID one – is enough to keep us all despairing that we will ever get out of this. And yet, I am here. Now.
There was a time in my life when I was quite adept at minimizing my own feeling of sadness or despair – my own suffering – by comparing my situation to someone else’s apparent situation; emphasis on apparent. We cannot know much of anything about what we observe in another, even if we think we can. When I used to do all of that comparing out – it gave me a moment of comfort, of not feeling so bad about my own situations. And of course, pushing down those feelings didn’t take care of them. They simply piled up deep inside. Depression eventually ensued and of course, I got help.
Today, I honor my feelings – all of them, including those which are showing up lately.
Just the other day, I started to remember all of what I have been missing as we all cope collectively with a pandemic in a country and a time in our history, where there was no effort to create a nationwide response that would have made a huge difference in every way for every one. Because some of us respect the power of this contagion, and some of us do not, there isn’t a lot of traveling that I feel comfortable doing at all. Outside dining is supposed to be ok, and I’m not even going to do that.
This time of year is quite lovely where I live. Visiting local wineries or breweries and going on short hikes, sitting outdoors in the cool Autumn air is something I always look forward to. Hot air ballooning is another fun activity to enjoy in the Autumn. The stunning Fall colors below, as you float so quietly above the earth are beautiful to see…and the morning sunrise from the air, breathtaking. Visits to family members in other states, or a late summer/early fall beach vacation is always nice. Enjoying a quiet coastal town when all of the vacationers have returned to their respective homes is a wonderful experience. And…well…not this year.
I cannot say I’ve spent much time “missing” any of these until recently. Perhaps it is the “escape” aspect of it all that feels so appealing in these days of so much uncertainty.
I feel I am not alone in the myriad feelings about the complexities of our days. Even as I reach for higher, spiritual connection and comfort, I am still human. This being human…well…it’s challenging some times.
To soothe my aching heart, I pray and meditate and write. To navigate the challenging waters of my human experience in these times, I read and listen to historians. Their life long study of so much of the nation’s and world’s history provides a context for the possibility of a future that we can create together that is more loving, addresses the seemingly endless list of disparities laid bare for us to see now, and begins to heal the planet that we have collectively ravaged for far too long.
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
– Nelson Mandela
The quote above is from Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela.
~ ~ ~ ~
The country I live in, like many others across the world, is seeing it’s ugly underbelly of fear, hate, and violence in full view, as it seeks to be seen and while seeming to take center stage. Anyone who lives here or watches from afar, has seen it becoming more visible. It has always been there, and many of us (me included) had or have been so busy minding our lives – working all of the time, raising children, tending to families, etc. – that we may not have been as aware of the deep pain of ongoing and systemic racism, income inequality, and all manner of rule making and policy development that codifies and grounds the practices which both underlie and underline the existence of all of these.
If the pandemic has done anything, aside from the devastating loss of life and income with the concomitant grief of so many losses, it has provided the opportunity for us to slow down and look; to observe what is endemic to our way of life. The loss of life at the hands of those who have “sworn to protect and defend” has been occurring for far too long, and is now seen in ways it never was before. The advent of technology – put so easily into our hands – has changed everything. What had been hidden is visible. Along with that visibility has been an uncovering of the laws which protect those with the power, when their use of force is inappropriate or too much. It’s reminiscent of the laws that award power largely to the white male establishment (patriarchal power) at the expense of humans of color, women and children of all races, and those who live on the very margins of our “democratic” societies.
How is all of this related to hate?
Let’s first recognize that hate has its roots in fear. Hate is a derivation of fear; an expression of the same. Then, as we reflect on what we have seen, heard, and read some clarity emerges. Fear of the loss of power is playing out in full view today. Fear of the loss of power and control; fear of the exposure of what is and has been hidden, are just some of the examples so visible. Could this be the outer reflection of what is within us?
~ ~ ~ ~
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of policemen in my community at an annual dinner sponsored and provided by a local foundation. Many of us from the community participated in serving meals to officers – “serving those who serve”. A few members of the community were invited ahead of time to make some remarks.
My Dad had served as a police officer until he died in another community in another state. So, participating as a volunteer member on two community teams as a part of their implementation of community-based policing, at the time, felt like an opportunity to give back and in so doing, to honor my Dad’s service to his community. Although I no longer have a copy of my remarks, I know that I sought to honor and thank the officers and their families. In addition and regarding safety in particular, I recall this phrase with great clarity, “When fear meets fear, the outcome is never good.”
Today, I know there was so much I simply did not know about the overall structure of laws in this country regarding qualified immunity, among other long standing laws designed to protect officers. I have no regret about my involvement with my local police agency or my sentiments about it or my words of gratitude and encouragement when I spoke. I grew up in a police family – and that comes with many, many thorny issues – and I know the dangers officers face, the cost of that chosen profession, borne by them and their families…and they are all human. And so are the people who die at their hands – human.
~ ~ ~ ~
My reverence for life is real and fundamental to my being. And it is often a painful place from which to observe the growing and increasing light being shown on the underbelly of crumbling societal structures.
It is easy to sit on one side or the other of what we are seeing in our collective experience. It would be easier still, to shame, blame or otherwise criticize these conditions and those involved. Yet, to do so is to be lost, caught up in the very fear, hate, and accompanying anguish that all involved are feeling – even if they can’t quite connect to the experiences in the same ways those of us so clearly see as we objectively observe them. Condemning it does nothing to change it – or to begin the healing process at the core of the pain associated with the outcomes of these seemingly intractable societal realities.
What exactly IS possible?
The easy answer is to remember our hearts. Is pain there? Yes. Indeed, the pain that we may no longer feel, because we have chosen to bury it, is still there. It is awaiting our return to see, feel and heal it. Until and unless that happens, we remain locked into our minds with deep festering wounds.
The journey from our overthinking and fear-based mind, to our soft and loving, yet aching heart, is very short, as measures go. However, the journey – the work and our commitment to it – can be longer and fraught with remembering past hurts, questioning (“why me?”), and downright resistance. Who wants to go there anyway?
Well…as we look around, among our family and friends, our communities, cities, states and nations, it is easy to see the vivid and real outcomes of living the resistance to going within to face, embrace and heal all that deeply aches in our hearts…and may even have manifested elsewhere as dis-ease in our bodies. And yet….this is the work of our lives.
It has been said, that in my country, we collectively elected our shadow in the previous general election. The shadow self is that part of us that we have consciously or unconsciously disowned.
“We’re often afraid of looking at our shadow because we want to avoid the shame or embarrassment that comes along with admitting mistakes. We feel that if we take a deep look at ourselves, we’ll be too exposed. But the thing we should actually fear is not looking at it, for our denial of the shadow is exactly what fuels it. One day I looked at something in myself that I had been avoiding because it was too painful. Yet once I did, I had an unexpected surprise. Rather than self-hatred, I was flooded with compassion for myself because I realized the pain necessary to develop that coping mechanism to begin with.”
— Marianne Williamson,
The quote above is from The Shadow Effect, by Deepak Chopra, the late Debbie Ford and Marianne Williamson.
~ ~ ~ ~
Generally we are terrified to take that first step to having a deep, long look at ourselves. We tell ourselves that we are too busy, can’t find the time, or cannot do it alone. And…we do NOT have to do it alone. It’s never quite as dark and ugly in there as we thought it was, once we take those steps.*
Our shame about past choices, actions, and spoken words, is so great, we often cannot find a way to forgive ourselves and we therefore are unable to offer forgiveness to others. Ignoring our aching hearts creates ripples that we are not fully aware of. The implications of not doing this work are significant – for our health as individuals and for the health of our families, communities, nations. Indeed the healing of the planet (our natural resources) will not occur in the ways we may intend (the thinking self) until we make that journey into our hearts to heal (the feeling self). Head and heart are important partners, when they work in partnership.
“Feeling is the language of the soul. If you want to know what’s true for you about something, look to how you’re feeling about it.”
– Neale Donald Walsch
The quote above is from, The Complete Conversations With God, by Neale Donald Walsch.
~ ~ ~ ~
By virtue of being human, we are born with and from the light of our Creator. When our light dims, we are experiencing separation from that awareness of what and who we are. We all have this light. Some of us have experienced what feels like the dimming of this light, and the ensuing darkness of the emotional clouds which feel like they have completely extinguished this light. And yet, like the sun, it never stops shining. It is always there, shining bright with the love that is who we all really are.
As we continue to observe the situations, conditions and events from which we can no longer avert our eyes and hearts, let us all consider our own darkness. Doing so creates the opportunity for us to take that first step toward acknowledging what aches in our hearts; to embrace with love and acceptance the child, young adult, or adult within who is hurting; and to continue the journey to the heart of our being.
From that place, we can begin to heal ourselves, and all that is hurting in the world outside of ourselves – our families, our communities, our cities, our states, our nations.
Love is always there…waiting for us to return to being that which is our true nature.
*Without the therapists, spiritual directors, and many other healers with whom I have worked, my journey might have been far more difficult. Having traversed the challenging road back to myself, I offer a compassionate listening heart to those who are curious about the journey for themselves. I refer, when necessary, any person to the appropriate experts if their needs are well beyond a what a listening heart and soft inquiry can provide.
“What we have before us are some breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.”
—John W. Gardner
There are days, when I look around at the world we live in and I wonder if and how we will make it through the multiple crises that we seem to be living in. It all seems intractable.
Then, I remember. I can relax, because nothing is under control. To be honest, there was a time in my life when I would have panicked at the very idea that nothing is under control. Today however, I am deeply grateful. If all of what we are seeing and experiencing was happening because everything was “under control”, we would be in a far worse place. The mere fact that nothing is ever “under control” is a powerful gift of living possibility!
I also have seen more clearly how very differently we all see the current milieu. I have been watching the posts of many friends on Facebook, and watching how many people in the various circles in my world appear to be swirling around, or sometimes even flailing about, over some current topics. It is quite apparent that many are seeking to change the minds of others – which in itself is a fruitless effort and only misuses vital energy.
What is also true is that we all have inherent or implicit bias. What makes inherent bias so dangerous is…it is unconscious. When we are not aware of our biases and don’t slow down to consider their origins, we continue to project, attempt to “change minds” and end up creating more distance – which is generally not our intention! It is in being completely unconscious to our most basic biases and instincts that we create gaps in relationships of all kinds. The unintended consequences are that we can find ourselves alone, even in a group of like-minded people.
Leading our lives includes being completely responsible for ourselves – our biases, our behavior, and growing up…as hard as it is. It is the work of our lives!
I’m a believer in the power of asking questions. However, even in asking questions, we are either aware or unconscious when we inquire. For example, consider questions like this:
“Why do you believe….?”
“Don’t you see that…?”
This even feels like an inquisition! I’m being asked WHY about my beliefs, and being shamed a bit about my belief with the second question. Is there a different way to ask questions like these? Well, yes, if you are really interested in learning something that may be very different from your own perspectives on the same topic. For example, different questions might look like this:
“Would you mind telling me a bit more about what you believe and how you came to believe that?”
A follow up question might include a request to expand upon a point or two…and that would certainly indicate that the person asking the question was clearly and intently listening, and was interested!
And the outcome? The other person feels seen and heard. And quite possibly, the relationship begins to expand – to open; and the person asking the question may begin to learn something that he/she had not even considered in the past. Can you imagine what could be different in our world, if communication was intentional, and people really cared enough to listen and learn, rather than talking all of the time? If you are a participant in social media, I invite you to read through your newsfeed or whatever you see in a platform you participate in, and attempt to view it all as an objective observer. I wonder what you would see. Would you recognize your triggers? Would you feel you have to react or correct someone else? Listening or observing from a position of defense is far different than listening or observing from a place of openness, and honest curiosity.
Be a good listener. Your ears will never get you in trouble.
– Frank Tyger
Intractable = hard to control. Relax…nothing is under control.
Clearly our inherent biases keep us from hearing or seeing others. This is part of being human. Even when we do our work, we practice observing and asking questions of ourselves, we are still carrying around biases. It is our job…and ours alone…to recognize and question ourselves about our biases as we notice an internal (or even an external) reaction to something/anything. Most questions about beliefs that another appears to have are best asked of ourselves first. If we understand the origins of our beliefs, we are more likely to be curious about another’s beliefs. If we do not examine our own, then we seek, accusingly, to know what the other person’s positions are and why.
My intention here is NOT to minimize the very serious societal issues that we are facing in the world in 2020. In fact we are facing many very serious issues with devastating consequences every single moment of every single day. I wish for us to awaken to the ways we might attempt to make it better. Brow beating those we perceive as being part of the problem will not add anything useful to the process of healing and creating anew what must be addressed. Taking the time to listen and to consider our own inherent biases will allow us to know that others have biases just as we do. They may or many not be different. We will never know if we don’t even care to inquire. We have two ears, two eyes and one mouth for a reason.
If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk.
Dear Readers, I hope this finds you today, in a place of relative calm in a world that feels so out of “order”. The world does feel “out of order”, more or less chaotic at times, and the future is anything but clear. I do feel, however, that out of all of this will grow, albeit slowly, new seeds which are being planted now.
For the last three weeks, I’ve been reading a series written by Fr. Richard Rohr, of the Center for Action and Contemplation, on the topic of “order, disorder, reorder.” There have been several daily writings in that series which have inspired me in deep ways and given me much to contemplate and consider. Today, what he shared resonated in a different way. Perhaps because I am a mother and my sixth grandchild was born earlier this month. What is quite beautiful to me in reflecting upon the entire piece, is that one doesn’t have to have given birth in order to understand the powerful metaphor presented. In fact, the period we are living in at this time, has felt like a period of labor…before a child is born. We are all living in this right now, whether or not we see it through this particular point of view.
Fr. Rohr shared an excerpt from Valerie Kaur’s most recent book, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love. I offer it here for your reflection and discernment, if not clarification of where we all find ourselves in August, 2020.
“The final stage of birthing labor is the most dangerous stage, and the most painful. . . . The medical term is “transition.” Transition feels like dying but it is the stage that precedes the birth of new life. After my labor, I began to think about transition as a metaphor for the most difficult fiery moments in our lives. In all our various creative labors—making a living, raising a family, building a nation—there are moments that are so painful, we want to give up. But inside searing pain and encroaching numbness, we might also find the depths of our courage, hear our deepest wisdom, and transition to the other side. . . .”
The spiritual journey, that road we walk in order to find and heal ourselves, can feel like a long series of “labor pains”, until we transition…we let go…we find our freedom from fear. Does that mean we are finished? We have made it to the top of the mountain and we can live an easier life? No. It’s a bit like caring for our children. The joy that comes when we receive them is challenged by fear when they are hurting and we cannot seem to “fix” it; or when they begin to test the boundaries of rules and safety that we create (or impose) and we grow concerned for them as they enter the big world of unknowns. Yes, the ups and downs there are very similar to the ups and downs we continue to face as we live our best life and walk our spiritual paths.
What changes, then?
The way see, what we see, from a place of love, peace and acceptance within, is different. We develop a different lens through which to view and experience our life’s challenges. The challenges don’t stop coming. The ways we respond – rather than react – do change.
As we live in this period of disorder, I feel the very best we can do is care for ourselves, so that we are well equipped to help others. Not all of us can be out in the world, on the front lines as so many people are. That, by itself doesn’t mean we cannot help another. We do it every day. The words we say or write either help or hurt. The choices we make either support or separate – ourselves or others. It’s all connected, anyway. Chief Seattle’s quote – which I’ve used here before – really gets to the heart of just how much impact everything we do and say affects the collective.
Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. – Chief Seattle
The disorder has within it, the seeds of reorder. Truly we are planting them every day.
What we choose today is creating tomorrow.
If you or anyone you know is struggling to come to terms with the chaos we are living in and could use a compassionate “ear with a heart attached”, please have a look at the Compassionate Listening page on this site.
Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.
– Andre Gide
As a recovering over-thinker and over-planner, I cannot help but wonder about the active over-thinkers and over-planners and whether they are finding this well worn habit useless in the face of shutdowns and quarantines, increases in sickness and deaths. In the earlier parts of my life, I’m quite sure I might have found all of this to be a bit overwhelming, especially as I was also living with depression. I feel great compassion for all who feel as if control of their lives has been diminished or taken away. I’m certain I would have felt the same.
What I know today, having a few more years of life experience behind me – you know….pain, suffering, betrayals, losses, etc. – is that giving up “control” can be a peaceful way to live. I was a little crazy to believe I could control it all anyway. I tried, though. I really did try. I know today that my efforts to control were for my protection – even when I told myself that all of the over-thinking and over-planning were to ensure everything went well for everybody in whatever setting I was in, including my vacation!
All of this is to say; as we watch the openings, rolling back of openings, schools trying to decide what to do; all unfolding before our eyes, I wonder if we will see over-planning, under-planning, thoughtful responses or thoughtless pushes. And what will the impact of all of this movement be for everyone?
My hope is that we might all consider our individual experiences in life – where we planned, where we didn’t – and what the outcomes were. Were we patient because our over-planning didn’t foresee something that took us in a completely different direction? Or did we get angry and upset because we didn’t see the fork in the road until we were far down the wrong side of the fork? And who did we get angry and upset with?
I raise all of this because we tend to project, deflect and blame when things do not go as we had planned or expected. What is called for as we take old steps into a new way of being in a new world?
Patience. Taking responsibility for ourselves.
Some will take baby steps. Some will take running steps, not even looking except in the direction of the destination – and will miss everything along the way. Some will look upon others wearing or not wearing masks and will make judgments rather than simply accepting what others are choosing – while keeping their own safe distance and continuing to take precautions.
Today, I had a brief conversation which caused me to consider the differences between fear and awareness. These two seem as if they do not belong together in any way. And yet, they could, if misinterpreted, be considered related rather than mutually exclusive. It all comes down to perception. Is there fear “out there” in the midst of all of the pandemic feelings, emotions and experience? Yes…we all know there is. And then there is awareness. Are we aware that there are known and unknown risks? Well, yes, some of us do. Does choosing to be aware mean that we are courting fear? I don’t think it does at all.
What I hope we will see more of, as a result of this up and down or seemingly endless “time out”, or whatever you wish to name it, is an increase in compassion and respect as we move toward creating our new ways of being together.
Are we coming out of the woods, or down from the mountain of the peaks of this pandemic? I wish we were. In some places, perhaps. In others, perhaps not.
We always know more in retrospect than we know in the moments we are living in – if, and only if, we are honest with ourselves.
I recently came across a wonderful set of cards that serve to both highlight and showcase the beauty in our world, as well as to inspire with thoughtful words for reflection and contemplation. Each card has a theme printed on a picture of a natural setting and on the reverse, a thoughtful message.
This morning, as I was enjoying my morning tea, and reading some articles and catching up on messages sent, I came across an inspiring quote (shared below) which lifted me and reminded me that even though the times we are in feel very dark, we will rise to something even better…in time. Following guidance provided in the box of Beauty Cards, I shuffled them and then pulled one from the middle of the stack. The minute I looked at it, the synchronous message in the quote I had seen earlier came into clearer focus.
The Beauty Card, “Looking Forward” had this message: “From your now moment softly turn your inner gaze to what lies ahead. Imagine a future for yourself that is filled with joy, beauty and wonder. Ask yourself: what’s the best thing that can happen?”
I’ll be honest here. When I first awoke, I felt a little tug of despair and sadness at all that is happening in our world. So many people are dying, and so many more will, from a virus that we still do not know everything there is to know about it. People are dying from violence, desperation, and so many other reasons. It feels as if fear, anger and hate are so pervasive, that seeing love, light and hope can be difficult.
Yet, I am reminded by what I really know in my heart, validated by the card I pulled this morning and the quote below, that we will move forward to a brighter and better time.
We are living the myth of the Phoenix falling from its perch into the fires of transformation. Much of our familiar world will indeed be reduced to ashes. And yet, the promise of the Phoenix is that it will rise again – it always rises again. And so will we.
– Caroline Myss
Looking forward also means, learning and acknowledging the past. By taking responsibility for ourselves – our words, our choices, the way we regarded others – and acknowledging the ultimate sacrifice of others, we have the opportunity to be more clear eyed and open hearted about our visions and answers to the question posed in the card: “What’s the best thing that can happen?”
Today, I wish to offer gratitude to the many whose bodies have been lost to COVID-19, the senseless violence that pervades our society, and those who have left their bodies at this time for other reasons. I know their souls have returned to the great beyond (or true home) and they are with us – always with us – as we may wish to call upon them.
As has been said following the death of John R. Lewis following the years of sacrificing his body as he stood for the fundamental rights promised in the founding documents of the United States, “we will take it from here”.