Sunday, October 28, 2007

If you have been paying attention, you know that I’m all into self-determination, and self-realization, and self-expression, and self-direction, and self-discovery, and self-orientation, and self-correction—but not entirely, not at the expense of other people. That’s where it gets tricky. We have to be true to ourselves within the circumstances and context of our lives. Finding the way means finding the way of being a self in loving relationship, in right relationship, with other selves. If you think that’s easy, give it a spin!

How much for me? How much for you? You don’t get the answers to those questions in the back of the book! There is no book! There is just working it out in the present moment of our lives. Working it out is painful. Something is always unfair to someone. Someone is always having to pay more of a price than someone else. Someone is always giving up, giving in, giving way, stepping aside for the sake of the relationship, for the sake of someone else, for the sake of paying the bills. We can’t live like two-year-olds and find the way. We have to be a lot older than that to have a chance.

The Toddler’s Creed, you’ll remember, goes something like this: “If I have it, it’s mine. If you have it and I want it, it’s mine. If I put it down, leave it alone, it’s mine. If you put it down, and I pick it up, it’s mine. If I gave it to you and you’re having more fun with it than I was, it’s mine. If it breaks, it’s yours.” That’s the orientation we have to grow out of if we are going to be a self in right relationship with other selves.

We live our lives in relationship with one another, not in a vacuum, not in a cave, not in the woods or on a mountain top. We have to decide what our life is asking of us and then figure out how we can do that within the context and circumstances—within the relationships—that constitute life for us. Where do others stop and we start? And, who says so, who draws the line? We do. How do we know if we are right? We don’t.

We step into the moment and do what can be done there, and do it again in the next moment. We trust our lives to unfold in their own time according to their own direction, and try to not mess things up by interfering too much with the drift and direction things are taking. But that’s a problem, because there are duties and obligations and responsibilities to consider, not to mention local, state and federal laws and IRS regulations. And so it is said, “Straight is the way, and narrow is the gate, that leads to life.” It’s a fine little line that we walk on a slippery surface, trying to determine when, and where, and how to do what.

We find the way with eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. The all-weather secret to seeing, hearing and understanding is being able to set self-interest aside. If we are too much invested in having our way, in getting what we want, in doing what we like, we will never be able to find the way to the good of those concerned amid the tangle of relationships that make up our lives.

An equal danger, of course, is the complete abdication of ourselves. It is easier, much less of a struggle, if we just disappear, if we have no interest at all, if we just “go with the flow,” and are carried along by the will and ways of others. Which is, in a way, having our way by not having a way. We avoid conflict and maintain peace and harmony, but only apparently so. The price if such harmony is the complete loss of self, the loss of soul. To live like this is to not live at all. It is to die the wrong kind of death, and to walk through our lives hollow-eyed and lifeless, awaiting further instruction and the arrival of the undertaker to make our death official.

Much more difficult is the way of life. That is the way of seeing, hearing, and understanding, the way of living open to the reality of each moment, aware of what needs to be done there to serve the good of those concerned. Here’s how that works: The most reliable tool for behavior modification ever invented is not a gun or a whip, but a mirror. When we see ourselves, we change. Awareness is alteration. Even when awareness is affirmation it is alteration, because it enables us to embrace who we are. Affirmed, we relax. Something shifts. And, we can step into the fray, confident, centered, steady, ready, at peace.

Seeing things changes things. Want to change something? Just see it, exactly as it is. Nothing remains what it was when it is seen for what it is. Seeing a thing changes our relationship with the thing, if not the thing, and that changes the thing to the extent that it no longer holds the place it once held in our lives. Things are different with the thing. Things can happen now that couldn’t happen before. Things have changed.

If things are static, unchanging, we have to wonder what we are not seeing, or, what we are seeing that isn’t so. When we fail to see our assumptions, presumptions, and inferences, we fail to see the thing itself. We have to stand aside from what we think we see in order to see. Nothing is quite as freeing and transformative as a perspective that takes itself into account. Seeing our seeing changes what is seen. Changing the way we see changes what we see, changes who is seeing. Seeing clearly is one of the central gifts of finding the heart of life in silence and stillness.

Finding the heart of life is a meditative practice in which we can settle into the heart of what is truly important, ground ourselves at the center, find "the still point of the turning world," and maintain a calm sense of equilibrium regardless of what might be happening in our lives. At the center, we see into the heart of things, understand how things are, know what is needed, and make the necessary response without being undone and overwhelmed by the chaotic turmoil of existence. With practice, we can live with “meditative presence,” apart from any kind of official time and place for meditation, doing what needs to be done with grace and compassion, and creating an oasis of sorts in a parched and lifeless land. Seeing things changes things, but it takes being at the center to see in ways that make transformation possible.

Seeing from the center sees into the center of all things, and knows them for what they are, as they are. If we would see, we have to seek the center. Finding the center is a function of stillness and silence. Living from the center is meditative presence in the midst of life in its ordinariness. The whiz of life around us is like the whiz of thoughts inside our heads. “Monkey mind” and “monkey life” is the same experience, and is treated in the same way, “Now this, now this.” “ just this, just this.” It is nothing to get lost in, captivated by, fascinated with. It is “just life,” “just this.” And, it will soon be followed by something else.

Practicing meditative presence is about being attentively, mindfully aware of and present in the moment of our living. We can practice being fully present anywhere, any time, any how. We can survive the complete loss of everything simply by being simply present in the moment of our living, in the now that is at hand. Of course, there is a catch or two. The practice of being fully present is, in part, the practice of adjusting ourselves to how things are and what can be done about it. We never have complete freedom of movement. We are always constrained by something. We can always imagine a better world than the world we live in. And, we are always having to come to terms with “This is the way things are, and this is what can be done about it, and that’s that.”

It doesn’t matter what we want, or wish, or desire. We have to step aside and deal with the possibilities and limitations of the moment in which we live. There will always be restrictions to take into account. We cannot live without considering the impact and consequences of our living. What does the “now” mean for the “yet to be”? What implications does the “here and now” have for the “then and there”? We have to be aware of the future we are creating by our response to the present, by our actions in the present. There is more with us in each moment, more to be considered and taken into account, than meets the eye.

Thus, the importance of seeing from the center into the depths. It is quite the art, this quietly seeking to see. It is the end of impulsive, reactionary living. Now, we bring stillness with us into the moment, and listen, look, waiting to hear, see. This is the essence of meditative presence, this waiting in stillness to see beneath the surface. Being fully present in the moment of our living means being fully awake and aware there, seeing, hearing and understanding, open to what is open to us. And, it means bearing the pain of realization.

We cannot see without being open to, and bearing, the pain of realization. We cannot be fully alive and be immune to the impact of life. There is no living without bearing the pain of being alive. And, yet, there is the realization of that which is also true. We are corks on the water, leaves in the wind, AND we are anchored to and grounded in the immovable center. We grieve our losses, mourn our desolation, are crushed, yet untouched at the same time.

In living at the center, we observe the destruction, experience the raw power of the waves and wind, watch ourselves come apart, with an understanding that accepts it all, that says yes to everything, even our coming apart. Of course, we come apart. Who wouldn’t? Who can bear the complete loss of everything without losing it? We wouldn’t be human if that were the case! At the center, watching ourselves lose it with compassion, understanding and acceptance for ourselves losing it, we act also to hold things together. We are in the storm, but not of it. Observing the pain diminishes it. When we are conscious of our pain, we carry it differently. Simply saying, “Well, of course,” to our pain, causes it to shift a bit, and we bear it a little better.

Practicing meditative presence in each moment and living from the center in all that we do, does not decrease the number of difficulties we encounter, or change the facts which face us. It enables us to see those difficulties, those facts, as they are, and allows us to do what we can in response to them. That includes crying, grieving and mourning. We do not live as unfeeling, uncaring, ascetics. Nor, do we live as depleted spirits in a fetal position. We deal with what comes our way as true human beings, seeing, hearing, understanding, and bringing the best we have to offer to life in each moment of our living. Amen! May it be so!

Monday, October 22, 2007

10/21/07, Sermon

We don’t get there by following commandments and believing doctrines. This isn’t to dismiss commandments or to suggest that we can get along without doctrines. The Ten Commandments, for example, or the Eight-Fold Path of Buddhism, are perfectly wonderful descriptions of a life of right-relationship. Throw in “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “Do not remove your neighbor’s land mark,” and you have a beautiful picture of what the right kind of community would look like. But, you don’t produce that community by keeping the commandments.

The commandments are descriptive, not prescriptive. They describe what is happening when things are right between, among, us. They do not prescribe what must happen in order for things to be right between, among us. They are not the path to rightness. Robotic, hypnotic, adherence to the law does not produce eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand. Commandments are good for stiffness and rigidity and fear of stepping off the straight-and-narrow, but they are not conducive to life, and living, and being alive.

The same can be said for doctrines. Buddhism has the Doctrine of the Four Noble Truths, plus a wide assortment of additional doctrines (Like the Accumulation of Merit). Christianity has amassed a sizeable number itself. In the few years that we have been together, we have developed quite a collection of our own doctrines. There is the Doctrine of Being Alive, and the Doctrine of Bearing the Pain (which we will talk more about in a bit). The Doctrine of Stumbling Around. The Doctrine of Reversing Our Way Forward (Also stated: “Without backing up, we would never get anywhere”). The doctrines are everywhere, but they are all organic. Their truth, like all truth (Which is another doctrine), is recognized in the living, not in the teaching, of it. Life is the teacher, being alive is the lesson.

We cannot teach anyone to be alive any more than we can teach her, or him, to be spontaneous, or to be intuitive, or to be funny, or to be awake. But, we can be alive ourselves, and we can give everyone permission to be alive (spontaneous, intuitive, funny, awake). We can help everyone discover the barriers to being alive (etc.). We can remind everyone that life is the teacher and being alive is the lesson, but, beyond that we can only sit around, tell stories, and laugh and cry together, then get up and do what is ours to do.

Here’s the path that everyone is looking for, the way to authenticity and realness, the directions to the Holy Grail, the instructions for becoming a true human being: Love what is to be loved. Mourn what is to be mourned. Grieve what is to be grieved. Enjoy what is to be enjoyed. Do what is to be done. Question what is to be questioned. Reject what is to be rejected. Encourage what is to be encouraged. Affirm what is to be affirmed… Get the idea? LIVE YOUR LIFE! Be awake, aware, and alive. That’s all there is to it. The point of life is to live. The meaning of life is to be alive. This is not a difficult concept. But, I think we must be afraid of it, so few of us actually embrace it and apply it. Most of us walk away, shaking our heads, saying, “There must be more to it than that!”

Well. You can believe that if you want to, but there isn’t any more to it than that. Yet, believing it has threatening implications for the culture, if not civilization as a whole. The economic structure of the empire crumbles once we understand there is nothing more to it than that! Nothing is more subversive, or a greater threat to the status quo, than eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands, than knowing that life is the teacher and being alive is the lesson.

Who is going to buy all those Hummers if we are sitting around telling stories, laughing with those who laugh, weeping with those who weep and doing what is ours to do? If we begin to fill the void within with life, living, and being alive, what becomes of all the vendors hawking tinsel and fine plastic? This whole being alive idea is as incendiary, as revolutionary, as turning over the tables of the money changers in the Temple. And that was the act that got Jesus executed. Beware of being alive, it will require you to die.

But, we can’t let the dying thing stop us, or, the fear of dying! The right kind of death leads to resurrection and new life and being alive, and that is exactly what the world is dying for—the life that is the result of the right kind of death. This gets us back to the Doctrine of Bearing the Pain. Kate Sullivan says pain is part of life, but suffering is not. In this, Kate stands apart from the Buddha, who said that life is suffering. Kate would say to the Buddha, “No. Life is painful, sometimes, but suffering is our choice. We can choose to add suffering to the pain, or not. We can make what’s bad worse by how we deal with it, relate to it. See?” And, the Buddha would have to do the palm to forehead “I could have had a V-8” gesture, and invite Kate in for dinner to hear what else she had to say. The Buddha and the Buddette.

Like the Buddha, we confuse pain with suffering. We run from pain when we should simply decline suffering. We must bear the pain, but refuse to carry the suffering. Pain, yes. Suffering, no. It’s the path to life, and light, and peace everlasting.

Pain and aggravation are regular encounters on our way through this world. Grief, loss and sorrow are real and regular aspects of the journey. Suffering is when we refuse to live after a loss. “Look what life has done to me!”, we say. “How can I live after this?” And we wrap our suffering around us and dwell on the unfairness of lot, and live to exhibit our mournfulness and bear the evidence of our burden for all to see. “Woe, woe, poor me! Poor me!”

The pain of some losses can indeed live with us like a cold stone in our stomach forever, but that doesn’t have to keep us from being alive. We can bear the pain without suffering. We can acknowledge the awfulness of our loss, every day. Some pain remains as real as the moment we got the news. Our grief is as fresh as the knock on the door, the ringing of the phone. The flashbacks still stagger us in the aisles of Harris Teeter, and driving to work, and walking along the beach. We cannot get away from the burden of the pain we carry, and life will never be normal again because we will never be free of our loss. We can bear our pain mindfully and mindfully choose to live anyway, nevertheless, even so!

We can wrap our arms around life and live boldly, joyfully, in memory of all we have lost. We can live defiantly, courageously, determinedly, deliberately! We can live a life those we have lost would be proud of us for living! We can carry them consciously with us into life, and live as much for them as for ourselves, living harder for two (or three, or however many) than we ever would dare to live for one. Our lives can be a living testimony to the goodness of life in spite of our loss, even though our pain remains present and real. We can live with pain, without suffering. It’s a perfect conundrum, or koan, or paradox, or contradiction. And, it takes us to the heart of spiritual truth, which is the heart of reality, which is the heart of life itself.

Living fully, completely, unreservedly in this world of pain, anguish, and agony is a bold statement about the essential nature of that which is at the heart of reality. Living is governed by life, not death, and we will not die before we are dead. Thus, we say, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

We suffer when we expand our pain, deepen it, enlarge and enhance it through the things we think and say about it. We nurse our pain into suffering. We allow our pain to keep us from living, from being alive. “But, how can we live, having lost as much as we have lost—having seen all that we have seen? How can we do anything but go through the motions of life? How can we ever live again with our heart in what we are doing when our heart has been broken, crushed, taken out and thrown away?”

We have to know that heart is the easiest thing to lose, and that painful encounters are challenges to our ability to live with heart, anyway, nevertheless, even so! Being alive is not easy. Living will take the life right out of you. There is much that will take heart away from us if we allow it. And so the need for a certain set to the jaw, a certain glint in the eye, a certain disposition of soul that says, “I am not going to die until I’m dead.”

We can bear the pain of life without being overcome by it, without succumbing to it. We can live defiantly in the face of the worse life can do. We can live with heart without losing heart. We can extend grace, nurture compassion, manifest peace, show mercy, create hope, and provide a healing space by the quality of our presence in the world. We can soften the blows of life by our response to those blows, and bring others to life by the way we live with them.

“The influence of a vital person vitalizes,” says Joseph Campbell. Life is contagious. Pass it on. We pass it on by refusing to be undone by the difficulty of picking ourselves up and doing our best with the time that is left for living. It is not easy. There are no answers, or strategies, or solutions, or fixes. It’s a mess. It’s always been a mess. Do what you can. Do what can be done. And, let that be that. We can’t begin to straighten the mess out. We cannot make things like they ought to be, because we cannot make people who they ought to be. We will not get the cooperation we need to make all things good. Do what you can to make something good. Do what can be done to make things as good as they can be. Don’t look at the big picture or think in terms of “making progress.” Just do what you can. Just do what can be done to bring life to life in the moment of your living. And, you will have done enough.

Monday, October 15, 2007

10/14/07, Sermon

I don’t buy the Principle of Non-Interference. Lao Tsu can let things go their natural course if he wants to, but the Crab Grass and the Johnson Grass are going to take over the cotton, and the Cut Worms are going to destroy the tomato patch, and if you don’t build a reservoir or two (or three, or four), you’re going to be in trouble when it stops raining. The natural course would involve not shaving, not bathing, not cutting your hair or brushing your teeth and never taking the dog to the vet or the kids to the doctor. You wouldn’t ice down a sprain, or heat water for tea. You wouldn’t off-set astigmatism with reading glasses, or have laser surgery to remove cataracts. You and Lao Tsu can let things take their natural course, but I’m against it, and am going to do what I can to make things as good as they can be for as long as possible.

The trouble with that, though, is this: We don’t know where to stop with the improvements. We can make the best better. Paradise wasn’t good enough for Adam and Eve. “Here, sweetie, a bite of this will make it even better!” We’ve been rearranging the world to suit ourselves ever since.
We’re never satisfied for long. It’s what we are proudest of about us. “Progress,” we call it. We moved from the caves to the high rises in only a hand full of years, geologically speaking. “Look what we’ve done!”, we say, as though we’ve done something.

The Aborigines who wander through the outback with their families, with nothing to show for their journeying, appear to be happier with their lives and better adjusted to their world than we are. Not that they know what they have and remain immune to the allure of the lights and the thrill of fine plastic. Our culture is deceptively attractive. You can’t keep them on the farm once they’ve seen gay Paree.

But gay Paree is a lie. An illusion. There is a hole in the soul of all of us in the land of lights and plastic. A hole that cannot be filled with development, alteration, improvement, transformation of the world in which we live. Because we only know what it takes to live in that world. We do not know what it takes to be, you know what’s coming, alive.

Easier living does not equate to being alive. What is better does not have any correlation with what is good. Lights and plastic serve the eyes, but what serves the heart? What does it take to be alive, to live well, to be at-one with heart and soul? These are the questions the church exists to answer.

The church is the mid-wife of the soul. The church is the only reliable guide to the heart of life. The church knows the secret. The church knows what it takes. The church understands. The church is our hedge against the complete loss of soul in the world of lights and plastic. The church’s place in our lives is to align our living with what brings us to life and makes us alive. The church connects us with heart and soul, awakens our spirit, nurtures and nourishes us into the wonder and joy of being fully alive.

It does that by asking us questions that deepen our awareness and enlarge our perspective. Questions like, “When you buy something, is it a prop or a tool? How does it help you do what you came to do? To do what you do best? To do what you enjoy doing most?”

“Where do you spend your time? Where do you spend your money? Where do you wish you could spend your time and money? What’s keeping you from doing that?”

“What percentage of your bills goes for the cost of living and what percentage goes for the cost of being alive? Do you understand the difference between living and being alive? How much time and money do you devote exclusively to being alive in a day, week, month?”

“What are you living for? What exactly does it take to do what you are living for? How much more do you have than you need? What do you need that you don’t have? What is forcing you to have what you don’t need and keeping you from having what you do need? What is standing between you and being alive?”

The things standing between us and being alive may be external things, or internal things, or a combination of both. We become aware of them by taking a reading of our “vital signs.” We are familiar with vital signs on a strictly physical level, blood pressure, pulse rate, temperature, respiration rate, mobility, consciousness. But, they exist on a spiritual/emotional level as well: Enthusiasm, passion, zest, sense of humor, laughter, alertness, “presence,” capacity for investment in—and engagement with—the moment of living, joy of life. Vital signs are absolutely 100% trustworthy predictors of the depth and quality of heart and soul.

If our vital signs are non-existent, if we are listless, depressed, unmotivated, detached, remote, unavailable, disinterested, uncaring and unresponsive, we have to begin the search for what is standing between us and being alive, for what is preventing us from doing the things that bring us to life, and are life.

The church is the path to life in the world. It exists to serve life, enable life, nurture and nourish life. The church is an oasis in the desert, a light in the darkness of lights and plastic, a way-station in the wilderness, a “well-spring of living water,” a table offering the bread of life and the cup of renewal, the source of resurrection and new life.

Or not. We know it isn’t so. We are here because of the failure of the church to be the church in our lives and in the world. We know that the church has opted out of its calling, that it has become an extension of the society, of the culture, of the civilization—a conduit and expression of the very things it is here to challenge and transform. We know that the church is as “lite” and as plastic as it gets (“Too shallow to splash,” as they say in the deep south). Which makes it our task to save the church and the world. We do that by waking both the church and the world up to the importance of being alive, here and now, in the time left for living. We do that by being awake and alive ourselves.

The terms are interchangeable. We can’t be awake without being alive, or alive without being awake. And, we can’t be awake and alive without bearing the pain of existence. It hurts to see, and hear, and understand! Eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands will break your heart! It is an agony to look into the heart of things and know how empty things are! We live in a wasteland of lights and plastic, and distract ourselves from the truth of our own emptiness with newer models and brighter colors of nothing.

But, it is better to be mesmerized by the sweet promise of happiness being only one more major purchase away—it is better to be hypnotized by the kaleidoscopic combination of lights and plastic—than to face the reality of nothing at the center and know the truth of emptiness at the core. The bad news is that’s where life begins. In the wilderness is the way of life.

This is foundational to the Christian take on how things work: The right kind of death leads to resurrection and new life. In dying the right kind of death, we are born again into abundant life. In opening ourselves to the emptiness of our lives and bearing the pain, the cross, of piercing the illusion of what life is all about, we take up the way of life and know the true joy of being alive. It is paradoxical, and contradicts all that we presume to be good and true, and is very much in-keeping with Lao Tsu’s advice to let nature take its course.

Letting nature take its course is to embrace the lovely lie, crash into the wall of reality, wake up to the emptiness of all we thought was life, die to the illusion of being able to save ourselves from the pain of existence with our attachments and possessions, bear the pain all the way to the heart of the matter, and discover, at the core, the wonder of who we are and what is ours to do.

The natural course is to wake up to the emptiness of all that promises fulfillment and ecstasy. The natural course is to know that being with our lives as they are, doing what is ours to do while not neglecting what needs to be done, is essential goodness, incapable of being improved by the addition of lights and plastic.

Monday, October 08, 2007

10/07/07, Sermon

We don’t have to know where we are going, or what we are doing. We only have to know how we are going to go, how we are going to do. It’s all about the HOW, not the WHAT, or the WHERE. We are creating a way of life recognizable by such qualities as compassion, and respect, and honor. The means IS the end. HOW we do it determines WHAT is done. This is the reverse of how we generally think. We generally think that we have a goal and figure out the steps required to achieve the goal. We generally think that the end governs, if not justifies, the means. Wrong! “The means always determines the end” (Aldous Huxley). We cannot treat one another poorly and have a community worth belonging to. We treat one another well, and trust that the community will emerge over time.

So, what we are doing here is trying to treat one another well. We aren’t trying to get one another to agree with us. We aren’t trying to get one another to believe, or behave, according to our ideas of how everyone ought to believe or behave. We aren’t trying to choreograph the dance, or orchestrate the sections, or direct everyone’s reading from the same script, making sure that all the players come in on cue and exit on schedule. We’re just trying to treat one another well.

Don’t think that’s easy. We irritate one another. We get on one another’s nerves. We make one another crazy. And we believe the dumbest things. It would be so much easier to treat you well if you were all like me. Which is what each of us could say about the rest of us. We have to understand that treating one another well is not contingent upon anyone being like we are. We are not after agreement on any level. We don’t have to agree about anything other than the importance of treating each other well. That’s the only agreement. Beyond that, everyone is free to embrace her, to embrace his, own perspective on everything.

This is critical. In the church of our experience we all embraced the creeds and the catechisms and the doctrines, and said we believed what everybody else believed. Here, we are saying that honoring one another, respecting one another, and treating one another with courtesy, kindness and compassion is the core agreement, the foundational belief (“We believe that it is crucial to treat one another well”), and that we can believe anything we want to in addition to that, but that’s the only thing we all have to believe (That it’s important to treat one another well).

This means we are free to embrace Taoism, Zen, Astrology, Evangelical Christianity, Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and any one, or combination, of the ten thousand other ways of structuring the spiritual and physical worlds as long as we treat one another well. What we are after is not converting others to our way of thinking, or establishing the validity of one worldview over that of all the other worldviews. We are after an atmosphere in which people are honored and respected, and treated with courtesy, kindness and compassion. We can believe anything we want to as long as we treat one another well.

But, there is a catch: we have to help other people treat us well. The burden is shared. Other people agree to treat us well, and we agree to help them do that. We have a part to play in our own decent treatment. We can’t be a jerk or a twit and say, “You have to treat me well because Mommy said so!” We all have to be working to be decent human beings on both the treating and the being treated side of the equation. We start here and now in the work to be decent human beings.

I know you are waiting for me to say this so, “Here’s the deal:” If we have never been loved enough in the right kind of way, we will never be loved enough in the right kind of way! If we have never had enough of the right kind of attention, we will never have enough of the right kind of attention! If we have never been cared for in the right kind of way, we will never have enough of the right kind of caring. If we missed out on the right kind of parenting, we just missed out on the right kind of parenting, and there are no surrogate parents to make up for what our actual parents failed to supply. Here’s the rest of the deal: There is no consolation! There is no compensation! There is no off-setting the deficits and squaring accounts and making all things as they should be!

We will never have enough of what we didn’t get when we needed it. Our deficiencies are our deficiencies. Our losses are our losses. Our life up to this point is our life up to this point. If it is to be better from this point forward, and there is every reason to think that it can be, it will not be magically better by virtue of our finding the fountain of emotional wellbeing where we can drink all we need of all that we are lacking and be fulfilled forever.

There are three things we can do to make our life better from this point forward, and to help other people treat us well. The first is name the pain. What did we miss? What are we lacking? What is the deficit? The deficiency? The loss? Name it. Spell it out. Say exactly what it is. Know precisely what the hole is inside that cannot be filled.

The second thing is bear the pain. Don’t run from it. Don’t hide. Don’t numb yourself to it with any of the addictions of the day (alcohol, food, shopping, TV, cocaine, prescription pain killers, the list is really endless). Name the pain. Face the pain. Feel the pain. Bear the pain. You lost whatever it was that you lost, and that’s the way it is. It’s lost and gone forever just like my darlin’ Clementine. But, here’s the secret, ask the pain for the gift. The pain bears a gift. Claim the gift. I’m not saying that’s compensation, or consolation, or that the pain exists in order that you might gain the gift. No. We would be better off if our life had been what our life should have been. But, it wasn’t. And, there is a gift. Ask for the gift. Claim the gift. Make the gift yours as part of the work of bearing the pain.

Another part of the work of bearing the pain is addressing the pain. Write a letter, or several letters, to the pain. Allow the pain to write you back, using your own hand and pen. Talk to the pain—imagine the pain is in an empty chair. Speak to the pain. Then, sit in that chair and allow the pain to speak through you in addressing the things you have said.

Another part of the work of bearing the pain is feeling the pain. How does your body carry the pain. What is the feeling associated with the pain—what does it feel like to have the physical pain of the emotional pain? Talk to that place in your body that feels the physical pain which is associated with the emotional pain. Say, “Hello,” and see what the pain says in reply. Carry out the conversation. See where it goes.

While you are doing all this naming and bearing, you also have to be aware of the second secret for dealing with the pain of what we lost, of what we missed. Not only do we ask the pain for the gift, but we also understand that when dealing with insatiable need (like for the right kind of love and the right kind of attention), it is not a matter of having our needs met, which will never happen, but of being what we need! That’s what I said. If you need to be loved in the right way, be loving in the right way. If you need the right kind of attention, offer the right kind of attention. Be what you need!

You can’t believe how difficult that is until you take it for a spin around the block. You probably won’t be able to get it out of the driveway. We are so deficient and so focused on our needs that we can’t see anyone else, much less hear them. You can make a quick assessment of the neediness of any group by talking about a problem you have. Make one up. Talk about having your leg amputated when it seems to everyone that you have two perfectly normal legs. It won’t matter. In the space of about two seconds someone will take your problem away from you and start talking about their problem. “Oh, that’s nothing,” they will say, “When I had the flu and had to go get the paper and check the mail, I didn’t think I would make it back to the house.” And they will go on about their difficulties and leave you and yours high and dry. That’s what you have been doing to other people, up until now.

Now, you are teaching yourself to focus on them and their needs—the most unnatural thing you will likely ever attempt. But the rule is inviolable. Be what you need! When we care about others the way we need to be cared for, we move ourselves out of the center of our own concern, and become concerned about the needs of someone else. When that happens, everything is transformed, and we discover that we have actually helped others treat us well by not being so desperate for their love and attention that we scare them away.

It’s like this, you’ll have a better chance of having a Grandchild climb into your lap if you don’t try to get the Grandchild to climb into your lap. By being what you need, you stop thinking about what you need, and you look up and there is a Grandchild in your lap. But, you really have to stop thinking about what you need. You really have to not need it in order for it to work. By then, you don’t care if it works or not. That’s the key. We can only really care when we don’t care if we get anything out of caring. Isn’t that how it is, though?

Monday, October 01, 2007

09/30/07, Sermon

My life goals are simple. And, I think I speak for the species when I say that I want to spend more time doing what I like to do and less time doing what I don’t like to do. I want more assisting me, and less getting in my way. I want what I want when I want it, the way I want it, for as long as I want it, and then want something else instead. I merely want what any two-year-old would love to have. Interesting, isn’t it, how infantile we remain no matter how old we get? Growing older is the easy part. Growing up is another matter entirely.

Why would anybody ever want to grow up? Set themselves aside? Do what needs to be done, even though they don’t want to do it, enjoy nothing about it, and derive no benefit for having done it? Living requires us to do what needs to be done, and being alive requires us to do what we enjoy doing, and therein lies the rub. We cannot embrace one at the expense of the other. We have to do what it takes to live, AND do what it takes to be alive. And, we have to do that consciously, deliberately, mindfully, attentively. If we live well on the earth, we do it intentionally, not accidentally.

Here we get to the heart of the matter. Psyche and Soma. What it takes to live on the level of Soma and what it takes to be alive on the level of Psyche. What Psyche needs and what Soma needs are not the same needs. It is not enough to live. We live to be alive, fully, deeply, consciously. On the border between Psyche and Soma there is life becoming aware of itself. It is the place of consciousness to bring Psyche to life, while doing what it takes to live, by being aware of being alive in the time that is ours for living.

Part of the process of living and being alive intentionally, willfully, is listening to our lives and knowing what is being asked of us. How do we work ourselves into our own lives? How do we decide when it is our turn? It takes understanding how things are and how things work to know.
It has always been the task of the Wisdom Literature of the Ages to explore the questions of how things are and what can be done about it. Whether we are talking about the writings of Confucius or Lao Tsu or the I Ching or Proverbs or Ecclesiastes or The Sermon on the Mount, the questions addressed are the same: How do things work? How can we work within the givens of life in ways that allow us to be alive? What does Life and Being Alive require? What does living require? Of what does being alive consist? And, where is the balance point between the two? The balance point is in constant motion. We cannot move beyond the question, “What does living and being alive require, here, now?” The changing answer encompasses the work of being human.

The answer changes because life itself is not static. Death is the only steady state, and the more steady your state, the more dead you are. What living requires is not the same thing that being alive requires, and what each requires varies with the time and place of our living. We have to pay attention, live with mindfulness and awareness, and decide between the requirements of living and the requirements of being alive. Ah, but. That decision is hell itself. Consciousness is an agonizing burden. It is better to be asleep, to just want what we want, when we want it, for as long as we want it, and then want something else instead.

We want to live exactly as we want to live without anything unwanted happening to us. We want recklessness without consequences. We detest consequences, and try to arrange our lives so as to be consequence free, and the people who deny that they do, take medication to off-set their life style. “Bring on the Zantac, I’m eating onions and bacon!”

What of alignment, living in synch with the way of things? What of granting concessions, stepping aside? Let’s say you’re walking on a path and meet an elephant coming toward you. The prudent thing to do is step aside, give way, make room. When you meet an elephant on the path, step aside. Growing up is setting ourselves aside—something a two-year-old is incapable of doing. Growing up is standing aside, giving way, letting the elephant have the path.

Growing older is a path replete with elephants. Our sleeping patterns change, our digestive ability changes, our endurance and stamina changes on both physical and emotional levels. The list is long. We can hang onto youth. We can willfully impose the ways of the past onto our future. We can grow older, or grow up. We can deny the changes and refuse to step aside. But, these things are elephants on the path. What are we thinking?

The level of symptoms for which we are being treated nation-wide, both physical and emotional, would be reduced by 75, maybe 90, per-cent if we stopped trying to will what cannot be willed. We make ourselves sick by not stepping aside, by refusing to let come what’s coming and to let go what’s going, by failing to make adjustments and accommodate ourselves to our lives.
Ah, but. We don’t want to go too easily into that good night! We are here to “rail, rail, against the dying of the light”! We are certainly here to live as fully as possible as long as possible. What’s the difference between stepping aside and complete capitulation, between acceptance of the way things are and unconditional surrender? Awareness is the difference. Awareness, awareness, awareness.

By paying attention to how things are, we can make the distinctions required to do what can be done without willing what cannot be willed. We can find the difference between forcing something and finding a way. We can listen to our lives and discover what they will allow. In any situation, circumstance or context, we can do more than we are afraid we will be able to. Stepping aside for the elephants is not leaving the path for good.

The world is filled with people who are accommodating themselves to their losses and living beautiful lives. They have stepped off the path without losing their way. They have adapted themselves to their circumstances while maintaining their sense of identity and their connection with what is truly important. They have lived with disappointment and heartache without becoming bitter or brittle. In spite of all they have suffered, they have not been consumed by cynicism and despair. They remain gracious and kind, and are a joy to be around. They incubate life, cradle life, nurture and nourish life. They carry life forward into ten thousand futures. They are who we must become.

And so, on the trains to Dachau and Auschwitz and Buchenwald , we make a pledge to one another, we take a solemn oath: To Life! To Living! To Being Alive! We swear to one another that those of us who survive will live—as fully as possible for as long as possible—in honor of, in memory of, those who do not survive. Life is the gift. We cannot surrender it to fear and intimidation and the threat of the complete loss of everything. We cannot die before our time for dying. And so, we swear to one another that we will live, we will nurture life, nourish life, cradle life, incubate life in the face of the worst that life can do. And, in order to do that, we have to understand what life requires.

In Costa Rica, they have a saying, “Aqui estados!” “Here we are.” It might be better, it might be worse, but “here we are.” The cornerstone for life, the fundamental building block, is the understanding, “Here we are.” This is the foundational realization. The Wisdom Literature of the ages is geared to bringing us to the point of understanding “Here we are.” “Here we are.” What are we going to do about it? What now? What next?

Everything flows from this point forward. Everything depends upon our response to this here, this now. Since we are here, we may as well make the best of it. We may as well make ourselves available to one another, and offer each other as much of the right kind of help in the right kind of way as we are able to do.

We may as well offer as much kindness as we can muster, as much humor as we can spare, as much grace and warmth as we can manage, as much gentleness and generosity as we can summons. The truth is “here we are.” The question is, “What are we going to do about it, with it?” The question is, “How are we going to live here, now, in ways that bring as much of the good to life as can be brought to life?” The question is, “How are we going to incubate life, cradle life, nurture life, nourish life, here, now?”