“If you live your life to please everyone else, you will continue to feel frustrated and powerless. This is because what others want may not be good for you. You are not being mean when you say NO to unreasonable demands or when you express your ideas, feelings, and opinions, even if they differ from those of others.”
― Beverly Engel
I have learned so much about boundaries in the course of my life…so far. Most of what I learned came from experience; the way I felt when someone or a group or situation made me uncomfortable; or worse, I felt taken advantage of. The hardest part of learning about boundaries is that we must take responsibility for ourselves, which includes realizing that we probably did not say “no” when we might have preferred to do so.
What is the origin of this? Perhaps we learned by example and observation of others, that our preferences were not as important as what someone else needed or wanted (from us). We may even have been recognized or rewarded in some way when we gave up on our desires or preferences for someone else’s.
“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.”
― Brené Brown
The pandemic has provided ample time for reflection, and opportunities to begin again. The beauty of leading our lives is that we can always begin again. Among other amazing opportunities to live fully, leading our lives is about recognizing and taking responsibility for ourselves. Knowing where our boundaries are (and where they are not) is a part of this process.
I continue to learn more about my boundaries, and when the unconscious voice inside tells me to “let something or someone go on by” and deep inside I’m feeling that I am giving up something important, I know I must take action and choose differently. Continuing to go unheeded, the voice gets quiet and a habit is formed. We may even hear a voice from the past that says something along the lines of, “oh, it’s ok. You can let this go for now. It’s the nice thing to do.” These unconscious habits rarely serve us.
As these habits go unheeded or unchecked, we can lose something important in and of ourselves. After months of very little structure (and enjoying most of it), I found myself falling into habits which were not necessarily good for me. Conversations with trusted allies provided a way forward…or back to those parts of my past which were worth bringing forward.
I used to be quite structured in my work. It served me well, because I like to be organized. In fact organizing and having things in their proper places is calming for me. Clutter and piles and having no real structure in my work – when I used to have plenty – was more stressful than I realized.
What is also important, is knowing that our boundaries exist within ourselves. These are not pronouncements that we must make…for we would be abdicating our individual responsibility for ourselves by projecting that responsibility onto the other. Our personal boundaries are just that…personal, within, the guideposts and guardrails that provide comfort to our very existence. That is not to say that, if a situation calls for it, you do not become verbal about what is ok and what is not. Speaking up for ourselves is essential.
You get what you tolerate.
– Henry Cloud
Having personal boundaries is freeing. We do not have to move with the direction of the current situational wind, if it makes us uncomfortable. However, if we are not aware of what does make us comfortable, the inevitable winds will blow us off course…and away from ourselves.
Regarding leadership, Brene Brown has said that being clear is kind and being unclear is unkind. Leading our lives is leadership. It is leadership of the most important and deeply personal kind. It is not abdicating our responsibility, blaming others when our boundaries have been crossed (you know…the ones we don’t know we have until they are crossed?) or projecting our internal unhealed pain onto others. Our personal boundaries are about compassion. Compassion for ourselves, which then becomes the ground for our offering of compassion to others.
Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.
– Brene Brown
Boundaries = Compassion.
Compassion is Kind.
Kindness is Love.
Love is leading your life…clearly, responsibly and fully.
May today be the first day of the rest of your life.
It’s been so long since I posted anything here. I decided to check to see when I last offered something in this space. Surprisingly, it’s been nearly a month, December 26, 2020.
Since that time, I’ve attempted to write several times. Each time, I felt a bit unsettled and wasn’t sure why. Today, I attribute that feeling to what was happening in the larger environment (community, country, planet, heavens). So much seemingly chaotic and volatile energy…and I knew I was feeling a bit off. I just didn’t quite put it all together while I was in it. I read a lot of people who are tuned into the zeitgeist, and clearly the energies were intense. I suppose because we are in the Winter here and still stying close to or at home to remain safe in the ongoing and devastating pandemic, I attributed my unsettled inability to string sentences together in a meaningful fashion, to the seasons we were in.
Below is something I started writing a few days following the attack on the US Capitol. Having had a career in public service (in the federal government here in the US), this experience was shocking and deeply upsetting. Today, I’m glad that I did not delete it. There are some who have been talking about the first “three Wednesdays in January” as being fairly consequential and I wholeheartedly agree that indeed, they were. In fact, I feel we will be living with these consequences for some time to come.
So, I offer the following as reflections on that period leading up to and including the inauguration of a new President and Vice-President.
~ ~ ~
The days have been challenging, and sometimes extremely long and painful. As one who is deeply aware of my sensitivity, I’ve found my nervous system a bit under siege in the past few years. Even knowing all that I know, sometimes it’s hard to get back to center and be calm when what is swirling all around me is anything but calm.
I’ve examined through much contemplation what is at the core of my discomfort. At first I didn’t believe it was fear. It certainly wasn’t the angry fear that is projected over and over before our very eyes. And yes, I am human. What has been most difficult to reconcile is the deep sadness of what so many do not know – about who they really are.
Reflecting, now I know that there is some fear, born out of compassion, for those closest to me and rippling out from there, who are not aware of what is real and what is not. I’ve had to come to terms with the reality, over and over again, that they are where they are and there is nothing I can do…or should do…to convince, cajole or otherwise attempt to help them see a different way of viewing or leading their lives.
We are human, and fallible. And in our human fallibility, we often don’t take responsibility for things we’ve done, words we’ve said and choices we have made, which resulted in deep hurt in others. We even reject love when we are deeply lost in the beliefs we hold tightly to while listening to the voices (inside our minds and other humans outside) which seem to “egg us on.” We hold tightly to all of that out of fear…of the unknown.
~ ~ ~
As I watched in horror the images from the attack on the US Capitol (January 6, 2021), I felt so many different feelings. Apparent anger wasn’t one of those. What I realized I was feeling was deep sadness, and concern for all of those affected…and even compassion for the wild-eyed insurrectionists who seemed to have strayed far from their moral compass and were inflicting injury to humans, and destruction to the symbol of a democracy which has striven to “form a more perfect union”.
What is apparent to me now is that I share something with all of them. I have a fundamental belief in the Constitution and what it is intended to do and be, as a living document, for our society (in the US). They do, too. The difference between us? When I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, I did so with an open mind and heart, grounded in the belief that even in our human experiences together, we can find ways through our differences.
We are learning more and more about those who participated and now know that many of them had sworn an oath to the Constitution, too. They believed it was somehow being ignored and that they needed to fight for it. Incited by a so-called leader, and fed lies to support their intentions, it is easy to say they “lost their minds”. In fact, when we narrow the walls of our beliefs and therefore our choices and actions, we lose sight of the bigger picture. We choose to not learn that the world is bigger than the smallness of that to which we have chosen to expose ourselves; our minds, our hearts, our thoughts. We fear what we do not know, or choose to not look at or otherwise explore that lies beyond the walls of our individual fortresses of mind.
For those who participated and who had themselves sworn an oath to the Constitution, that oath seems to have been conflated with a blind, unspoken oath to an individual, who had no interest in them; only what they would do at his behest, which would ultimately and only benefit him.. There is much written and observable about the individual, his mental health, his choices, habits, his past experience with business and not governing. I will not repeat any of that here. I seek to only offer a different way of viewing what is occurring in our country right now. This is my view through the lens of my experience.
Giving up ourselves, our hearts – ignoring our very souls – leaves us vulnerable to the voices of those who seek to only make things better for themselves. Betrayals are the outcome of such a giving up or abandoning of self. Our experiences of betrayal – however painful – are truly betrayals of self. We have ignored the still small voice of love deep within which seeks to guide us in this life; and instead listen exclusively to the voice of fear that seeks to offer a small and narrow path toward the expression of grievances. Listening to that constant drumming inside, coupled with the voices of others who echo our grievances only emboldens us further. And then we have the experience of betrayal.
Our comfort zones both protect and harm us.
A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there.*
~ ~ ~
Where do we go from here?
The remembrance ceremony the day before the inauguration was a moment of acknowledgement…of lives lost, of the pain of the seeming intentional ignorance of what had been needed to bring us back from the edges of more loss of life, sadness and ongoing suffering. It was a moment of remembering where we were before the pandemic ravaged our nation and just how dark and dismal the future looked for a while. Tears fell for grief, honoring and remembering and….for hope.
The inauguration was, for me, a day of quiet celebration – the inauguration of a new President and Vice-President – filled with some lovely and disturbing images. And these are the times we are in. Holding my breath through a lot of the ceremony, I was finally able to breathe, as the day went on and there were more images of honoring those lost to war, looking forward, acknowledging the people of this nation, those we’ve lost and steps into a different way of approaching the challenges before us. A wise, experienced and deeply compassionate, empathetic leader brings something we haven’t experienced in a while.
It is quite clear that the road ahead will be a lot like traveling a mountain road on the way to the view at the top. There will be curves, bumps, sudden rock or landslides, and yet we must keep our focus on the road ahead…the hill we climb.**
May hearts be opened to our shared humanity.
May minds be opened to consider that which has been previously rejected.
May a deep sense of shared humanity and the love we each have within us be resurrected to lead us into a future that is more peaceful.
May we work together, side by side, diligent in our intention to prepare the ground for those who will follow us – our children and our grandchildren.
May we all be blessed and know in our hearts the Source of the miracles contained in these blessings.
* This quote is attributed to many different people – authors and other speakers alike.
** A nod to Amanda Gorman’s beautifully written and articulated poem. You can see and hear her read it here, if you haven’t yet enjoyed this beautiful writing.
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.
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.
Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained.
– Helen Keller
Each of us is responsible – individually – for ourselves. We lead ourselves, whether or not we are fully aware of this awesome responsibility.
Each of us can choose to lead from a place of love and compassion for self and other – or we choose only for ourselves, without regard for other(s).
As I watch and reflect on what is happening in my country, I cannot help but wonder if it is happening elsewhere in the world. My guess is, that it is – at least to some degree. As much as I had hoped that we might all begin to find a different way forward in the midst of a sweeping pandemic, quarantining at home with some opportunity to reflect and observe; I wonder today, how much this time will have made a difference in the myriad ways we see ourselves and others.
No one outside ourselves can rule us inwardly. When we know this, we become free. – Buddha
On this Memorial Day weekend in the US, even the opportunities to pause and reflect upon lives lost in wars past and present, seem to get lost in the fray of those who feel their rights have been violated, by the necessary quarantine. It is curious to me that at a time when a nation seeks to honor those who have died in past wars, ostensibly for the purpose of maintaining freedom for our country, we seem to be more locked down, internally, than ever.
What could I possibly mean by that? Well… I have another question.
Why do people protest about their freedoms, guns in hand? Do they believe that are not free? I wonder why they perceive their rights have been violated. Do they still have breath in their lungs? Do their hearts still beat? I wonder if they stop to consider those who have been lost in this pandemic – those whose lungs filled with disease, and were ultimately robbed of a beating heart – for just a moment?
~ ~ ~ ~
*I am not ignorant of the economic impact of the quarantine in the lives of so many people. In fact, I could write quite extensively about the many cracks and gaping holes in our fragile societal fabric, which have been laid bare in this time. The condition of our planet – the place we live – has improved and risks returning to its very sick condition – a pandemic of a different kind. We cannot look away any longer. To do so makes us complicit in perpetuating the ongoing suffering of all, from sentient beings to the living and still trying to breathe planet Earth, our home. The authentic leaders in all of us are needed…to begin to right these wrongs, to make different choices. I acknowledge this reality and am comforted by the work of communities to care for those, living at the margins, who are often forgotten and left without. Those who tirelessly stand for our planet and those who open their hearts as they reach to those who need the simplest of things to survive deserve our gratitude and support.
~ ~ ~ ~
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. – Nelson Mandela
Until and unless we realize that our freedom is truly an inside job, and that no one can grant us freedom – not another person, not another organization, not another government – many will continue to suffer in their fear, wrapped in the tight embrace of their beliefs that something as important as freedom, is being withheld.
The chest-beating, gun-wielding, deserve our compassion. For they have not yet found their freedom within – inherent in the precious Life they are given to live on this planet.
I know but one freedom and that is the freedom of the mind. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
If we are leading our lives with authenticity (from the best of ourselves within), we take responsibility for the choices we make. We may consider the impact of our decisions if we can foresee them before we step forward. Or, if we couldn’t comprehend an outcome, we take responsibility for not knowing and we make a different choice. We apologize for the unintended consequences, if others are affected, and we move on, enriched by the experience, so that we add to our growing wisdom.
The outer world doesn’t always make it easy for us to lead our lives. There is so much noise – distracting, challenging, shaming, blaming, etc. – which pulls us away from ourselves. Why? Because we all yearn to fit in. The siren’s song of fitting in – by itself – takes from us. It is the definition of allowing ourselves to be lead by the noise of the outer conditions and files narratives about what is valued.
We abandon our true essence for the shiny objects of money, power, the biggest and best anything, all for the purpose of fitting in and rising to the top (of what? I’m not sure.) Are we leading ourselves? Sure. Some would argue that they made the choice to go for it all…all of the marbles, the brass ring as it were. At what cost, the marbles, the brass ring, the fitting in or rising above?
True love, freedom and peace are found deep with us. The shiny objects hold no sway when we know who we are and what is most important. Our service to others comes from a place within of love and acceptance. We offer our best, not our worst. What we offer is us – our trues selves – not a dressed up version that is driven by thoughts and shoulds.
My hope is that as the days, weeks and months unfold, we will see and honor our own fragility. This is the doorway into the most vulnerable places within. This is the place where our courage to be ourselves lives. It awaits our arrival. If and when we find our way home to ourselves, any outer acts of service – including non-violent activities on behalf of those who are not seen and whose voices are not heard – have the greatest chances to make a difference. The love in our hearts is the home for our growth, healing and evolution. The evolution of inclusion, acceptance and peace is within our grasp, I just feel it.
Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.