It is startling that we desperately hold on to what makes us miserable. Our own woundedness becomes a source o 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 can provide more energy for the waning light that 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.
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.
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”.
Our obsession with speed, with cramming more and more into every minute, means that we race through life instead of actually living it. Our health, diet and relationships suffer. We make mistakes at work. We struggle to relax, to enjoy the moment, even to get a decent night’s sleep.
– Carl Honore
I was out earlier this morning, driving to make a couple of quick stops before returning home. I happened upon a car accident, actually an accident involving two large pickup trucks. I couldn’t quite figure out what happened to cause an accident that resulted in what I was observing. As I continued on, I noticed the volume and speed of vehicles, as if we had returned, completely, to living life the way we were before the pandemic found its way into our country.
I reflected upon the quiet, calm, and significant reduction in traffic while everything was shutdown a few months ago. In those early days, there were very few cars on the road. However, some of the few that passed me were moving at a fairly high rate of speed, likely because they could. It was as if the speed limit signs, the stop signs and yield signs were non-existent.
As I continued to watch the road, mindful of the speed limit, the traffic signs and the common courtesy of allowing someone into a lane or moving so they can enter the roadway, I still saw drivers in different sizes and types of vehicle not following the “rules of the road”.
I started to wonder…do they not see the signs? Or did they see them at one time and are no longer aware of their presence or why they are there? Do they not see them because they are thinking about where they are going, or the bills that haven’t been paid, or the loved ones who are sick? Are they talking on the phone and so engaged in the discussion that they are oblivious to the traffic around them, and therefore not aware of the traffic signs?
We had an opportunity during the quarantine period to slow down – if not stop – the busyness in our lives. Time to reflect. Time to ask ourselves questions about our priorities, our habits, our roles, our commitments, our past choices…our futures.
What did we learn about ourselves? What did we learn about our communities? Our countries? Our participation in any of these? Our responsibilities as individuals and citizens of a larger group – our families, our communities, our countries, our world?
If traffic is a metaphor for where we are now, I wonder what we will create going forward?
Is this truly living? Are we satisfied that the ways we are moving through our days are the ways we want to lead our lives?
Is there an antidote?
Nature. It isn’t in a hurry. It has seasons. Seasons of birth, growth and expansion, slowing down and preparing for rest, and finally the rest. Then we do it all again. The cycles of life have so much to show us, if we slow down and consider the moment to moment teachings. Whether you contemplate the trees, the flowers, the birds, other animals, there are cycles inherent in the lives of them all.
What might happen if we slowed down?
What if we considered that our old habits are slowly robbing us of the sacred gift of our lives?
What if we chose to lead our lives more authentically, more thoughtfully, with more love in our hearts?
What could we REALLY see, if we slowed down to look…and listen?
a line on a rock surface or the ground that traces a geological fault.
a divisive issue or difference of opinion that is likely to have serious consequences.
Perhaps we are all familiar with the divisions in the politics and communities within our respective countries. And make no mistake, it’s everywhere – to some degree. However, I can’t say I’ve often heard people speak of fault lines, except in the context of earthquakes (see the first bullet point in the definition). I’m sure it’s been used…just not as frequently as to become vernacular to describe current conditions. That may be intentional so as not to fuel a collective belief that many long standing issues, now coming to the fore in this pandemic, are intractable. As challenging as they are, the conditions we are living in are not impossible to change or otherwise overcome.
However, I feel as if the very foundations upon which our countries were organized; the supporting democracies upon which our systems of inclusive government were formed; and the norms and mores which provide a relatively comfortable structure for our communities, are all cracking open along the bedrock of our common ground – the earth.
As hard as this is to see, understand, and accept, it is essential to our very survival and our ability to let go of the past and to support the development of a new world – a new way of being – that we see it, take responsibility for it and step into the possibilities which are there…waiting for us. The old structures are crumbling. Those “in power” are attempting to hold on as tightly and intently as possible. It’s so easy to see and extremely difficult to watch…all at once. Narrowing the lens, fault lines are opening in our communities – and our families.
This morning, I realized there are four living generations in my family. And there is a deep fault line that runs through two of them. I have hope that the younger of the four are seeing – or are beginning to see – what is happening and may even know deep within themselves that they will not choose a side. Their “side” is the future. Although they range in age from 19 to “waiting to be born any day now” and are influenced by their parents, they have curious, creative minds that will carry them into a new future.
Our responsibility is to lay the groundwork for a future we will not see. Although I am hopeful that I will live to see the dawning of these necessary changes, I know I will not see them at high noon, in full bloom. My hope for the generation of my grandchildren is that they will carry the new and improved world into their sunset…and the generations to follow will inherit a much better place where equality among all sentient beings is the norm and not the exception.
As leaders of our lives, we do not have to wait for the leaders-in-title to take the first steps. In fact, they demonstrate every day that they are not embracing their title as leader to support the people. Many of them have failed miserably to step outside of their individualist and cronyist focus, and are blind to what is needed by the masses.
So, where does that leave us? Empowered to step up and step in. In caring for ourselves, we have a full vessel of love to offer to others.
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.*
Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet.
The world is changing. Our communities are changing. Our individual lives are changing. How are we tending our gardens in the midst of all of this?
Of course, many have taken up gardening this year, since we have been staying at home. There is something life affirming about planting and growing a garden, whether in the ground or in containers. Flowers, plants, herbs, so many options! If you have ever transplanted a house plant – one which has been growing in the same pot for years, and you notice that it just doesn’t seem as vibrant or perhaps isn’t growing the way it used to – then you may well know what “root bound” means. Most of us recognize weeds when we see them…even if they are beautiful plants or flowers growing in a place where we didn’t intend them to grow.
All of this has created an opportunity to reflect on the gardens in our lives. Now, I’m referring to the space in our hearts, the space in our minds – our interior spaces – and our social media spaces, our families, our friends and our communities – our exterior spaces. All of these are either well tended with love, grace, acceptance and an awareness of what to let go of, over the passage of time; OR they are allowed to grow weeds, become root bound, holding fast to those thoughts, ideas or ideologies which we think are comfortable and yet we are not really experiencing any growth or expansion.
Holding on to the old beliefs, the habits of mind and alignments with outer things and people which may not align with our interior spaces can create great suffering. Living in fear of changes over which we have no control can create great separation, perpetuate great division and leave loved ones behind. Often, those in the midst of this don’t even realize what is happening.
As we consider our interior and exterior spaces, perhaps taking a few moments to contemplate, to question ourselves about what we are “growing” (or not), in our spaces might help us take steps toward a more peaceful, love filled life and way of being. Facing our deepest fear is an important step to cultivating a rich “soil” where love, peace, compassion and acceptance can grow.
Love and peace to all in these times of great change.