Sunday, March 29, 2009

03/29/09, We live between what is right for us and what we want.

The Dream

“Have you cut the tip of your finger?” she asked. “What?” I replied. “What’s that got to do with it? How many fingers do I have to cut?” She paused, thinking. “At least four,” she said, somewhat hesitantly, as though there could be more. “Four!” I said. “Why four?” I ask all the right questions. I should get credit for that. But, it seems that she thinks I’m putting off the inevitable, that I should just cut four fingertips and get it over with. Easy enough for her, seeing, as she does, from her point of view. Take a peek from mine, I say. If I’m going to cut four of MY fingertips, I want to know the ins and outs. I want to know why and how that’s going to help and what’s the point. Surely, by now, she has to understand what she’s up against in me, and would gently explain how it is. Seems to me, I hold the trump cards. All of them. I don’t want to swim in icy water anyway. Why cut four fingertips to do it? What does one thing possibly have to do with the other? All I can imagine is that the pain of the finger slicing would take my mind off the pain of the cold water. Which is completely stupid, and much less wisdom than I would expect from the Wisdom of the Ages. I think she is making fun of me, laughing. I’m shrinking back from the cold water, and she is making fun of me, laughing. I HATE cold water. And she knows it. And she’s laughing.

We have to go where we don’t want to be and do what we don’t want to do. If we can make our peace with that, we have it made. Which is to say that what we want has nothing to do with it. What needs to be done is the question. Where do we need to be is the other question. Forget wanting. Wanting got us in the mess we’re in. We see what wanting will do for us. We create a good many of our problems by choosing to have what we want at the expense of what is right for us.

What is right for us has nothing to do with what we want for us. If you are ever going to hear me, hear me here. Learning to listen within in order to know what we know, in order to know what is right for us, past all want-ing it to be otherwise, and to have what it takes to do it, to live in the service of what is right for us, no matter what, day in and day out for the rest of our lives, ah, there be the nature and scope of the spiritual journey.

The way to wholeness, to integrity of being, is awareness, paying attention, waking up. It’s the way of knowing how things are and how things also are (which includes the truth of how we feel about how things are, and also are—the truth of how we wish things were). It is the way of putting truth on the table, the whole truth, nothing but the truth, the truth in all its conflicting, mutually exclusive, cacophonic glory. And letting truth trans-form truth, and wake us up, so that we live in light of all the truth that is true. That is the way of integration. It is not exactly what you would call pain-free. But it is exactly what you would call life lived to the core.

One of the truths that goes on the table is fundamental, foundational: We are at odds with ourselves. We relax (ignore) the tension within ourselves at high cost to ourselves. We have to live consciously within the tension of the opposites within, and choose what we will do each time a choice is to be made. No dismissing. No discounting. No denying. No Ignoring. No running, hiding, escaping, pretending. We bear the pain of our own contrariness as we carry out the business of life on the boundary between Yin and Yang.

Of course it is hard. We’re here to ride the bull. If it were easy they would call it riding the hen. We are here to do what is hard: Face ourselves and our lives and bring to life in ourselves and our lives that which is deepest, best, and truest about us—that which is truly right for us and the time and place of our living.

There are no black foot prints on the spiritual path. We find our way alone, but in the company of those who are finding their way, alone. There is no substitute for personal experience, yet, experience has to be experienced, and it cannot be experienced without being expressed. We have to talk about our experience with those who can receive well what we have to say. In so doing, we see better what is to be seen, become increasingly awake, and find our own way, the way that is truly our way, the way with our name on it. We could not find the way that is our way apart from those who listen to us, enabling realization, discovery, understanding, enlightenment—enabling us to know the truth of who we are (and also are) and how it is with us (and how it also it with us). But, once we find the way that is our way, we discover that it has a cross attached.

The cross was the price Jesus paid for living the life he lived. We all pay a price for living the life we live. The trick is to realize that, and bear consciously the cross and the responsibility for living the life that called it forth—and to know that if we choose to live differently we will bear the cross of living differently. We can’t get away from the crosses with our name on them. The best we can do is bear them consciously, responsibly, smiling along the way, because we get to live the life we are living for the one low price of cross bearing. Of course, that means we better feel right about the life we are living, else the cross will be a bear to bear.

Bearing the pain of our own choices, the weight of our own lives, means paying the price of living the way we live or changing the way we live, but then we have to pay the price of that choice. We have to take what comes from doing what we do the way we do it. If we run up a bill, we pay the tab. But we only pay our tab. We refuse to bear the pain of other people’s choices, the weight of other people’s lives. It’s the Robert Frost line about “good fences making good neighbors.” We have to know where we stop and other people start. We take care of our business and they take care of theirs. And, when we help one another, we help one another help themselves. When we help one another, we help one another bear the pain of their own choices, the weight of their own lives. If we won’t bear the pain of our own choices, the weight of our own lives, we can’t be helped, we can only be carried, mothered, babied, and live as a burden upon others all our lives long.

We have to bear the pain of our own choices, the weight of our own lives. When we do not, we neglect our duty to the tribe and pass on to others the responsibility of carrying us along. Then, we become an excessive bur-den on the social structure and undermine the good of the whole. Compare this to our calling to live as a boon to the world, a blessing unto all who come our way, and you quickly see the scope of the damage we bring to life by refusing to bear the pain that is ours to bear. Not only are we not a source of good in the lives of others, but we also deplete what little good there is by requiring them to do what is ours to do in taking care of us. When we grow up and shoulder our own cross, bear the weight of our own life, everyone is relieved and released to live the lives that are theirs to live, and joy comes to life in the world.

We have to do our part. And, we have to prop one another up. No one does it alone, yet we all have to help the others help us. This is called community building. We encourage one another in the tasks of life. We are a compassionate, abiding, presence. Urging each other along. Cheering each other on. Just being with someone who has the right spirit about her, about him, makes all the difference. Joseph Campbell says, “The influence of a vital person vitalizes.” Our individual task is to cultivate the right spirit within, to be vital, alive, and to live as a compassionate presence in the lives of others.

To be connected at the level of truth is the essential connection. To see truth truthfully together is to create a “weness” that forms a lasting bond between us, among us. This is the basis of the community we seek, and must have, to make it. It is not enough to say the truth, to say what is true, we also have to be heard, we have to say the truth to those who can hear us with understanding, who can stand with us as witnesses of the truth we know to be true because we experienced it. The truth must be told, but not only told. It must be told until it is heard, until it is received with understanding, until it is recognized as the truth that it is, by someone, anyone.

The most abusing thing about child abuse is not the abuse itself but the silence that surrounds it. The secrecy. The "explanations." The dismissals. The denials. "Oh, you know your Daddy, Uncle, Brother really loves you, really wouldn't do anything to hurt you," etc. The displacements. "It's your fault." The most abusing thing about child abuse is the refusal to hear the truth of the child, the refusal to stand with the child, and bear the truth with the child, knowing what the child knows, knowing that the child knows we know, refusing to look away, but bear-ing the truth with the child, bearing the child’s truth, the truth of the child, the child, all the way to the heart of truth, and saying, “Yes. That’s the truth. That’s how it is. And it is very wrong for that to have happened, for that to be the way it is. And I am very sorry, and I am with you to bear witness to the truth, and to help you bear the pain of the truth, because two sets of shoulders are much better than one.”

To bear the truth alone, when the world is saying, "That isn't true. That couldn't be true. You know it isn't true," is to risk losing our bearings, to split off from that part of us that knows, and to deny ourselves what we know to be true as a way of surviving in a world that does not believe us. To hold on to the truth and to know what we know and to know that we know what we know in the face of the constant refusal to hear/believe/know is the hardest thing. We need help bearing the truth of our lives. We need those who can witness the truth of our lives with us, to corroborate the truth, affirm it, and thus ground us in the reality of that which cannot be real but is, and provide us with a reference point for navigating through the madness of the world, reminding us that the world is mad, but we are not.

The more truthful we are, the crazier we sound in a world that is not geared to the expression of truth. And so, the need to create communities of truthfulness where we can say who we are (and also are) and how it is with us (and how it also is), to those who can hear us and serve as reference points for the long journey home.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

03/22/09, We have to soothe ourselves somehow.

On the One Hand

We seek justification, redemption, affirmation, validation, because we think there isn’t much to us. We are afraid we don’t count, that we don’t add up to anything, and have no real business being here. We think we are just taking up space, breathing someone else’s air. We live frantic to convince ourselves that our lives are worth the effort.

And on the Other

Who has it down? Who is doing it right? The Dali Lama? I hear he wants to retire. He’s had enough of being the Dali Lama. Wants to tag out. Stop doing it. Quit. Quit being the Dali Lama. Walk away from the job. Since when did it become a job? Let a seven year old kid take his place. So he can just hang out for a while before he dies. How’s that for being grown up? Nobody has it down! Nobody is doing it right! Yet, we are all over our backs for not having it down, for not doing it right. Give me the name of someone who does! No! Wait! Give me the name of the person who thought this up. We need to talk.

We want to be justified and we want to quit. And, the longer we are at it, the more we want to quit. We all know about wanting to quit, wanting to hang out, free of responsibility, and obligation, and duty—to live freely, joyfully, at peace with ourselves and our lives without life getting in the way. Life is hard. We hate it. Want to check out. Quit. But quitting has its hard side. Everything does. Hard is how it is.

Of course, we have this happy fantasy of being able to do whatever we want, whenever we want, for as long as we want, with no repercussions or side effects, and everyone loving us always and forever. It’s called having Mother take care of us. We run up the tab, Mother pays the bill—not our biological mother, who was never the mother we needed her to be, but the Idealized Mother of Fantasy Land who will take care of us the way we want to be taken care of forever and ever, Amen! When it gets hard, we long for Mother.

Life without Mother is the hardest thing. The hardest thing is growing up, bearing the truth of life, making our peace with how things are (and also are), being our own mother, being responsible for doing what is to be done, every day for the rest of our lives, and doing it with gentleness, kindness, compassion and grace. Who do you know who lives like that? See? I told you it was the hardest thing. But we don’t cut ourselves slack or treat our-selves gently for wanting to quit, for wanting to avoid life without Mother.

We were raised on John Wayne and James Bond. They had no weaknesses and did everything single-handedly. Yet, John Wayne smoked himself to death, and James Bond has no friends. Even the actors who play James Bond can stand him only so long. He hates himself. And has to run, or drive, or fly, or swim from one action packed moment to the next. Make him sit still for an hour. Give him our life for a week. He couldn't handle it. His life is one big collection of distractions. But we think he is the master of all things. We think we should be John Wayne and James Bond. We were raised to believe we should stand there and take it. No one can stand there and take it, not even John Wayne or James Bond, but we can’t allow ourselves to get out of the way. We can’t take it and we can’t take not taking it. Who thought this up?

Col. Nathan P. Jessup (the Jack Nicholson character in A Few Good Men) put us all in our place with his "You can't handle the truth" declaration. No one can. Not all the time. We have to put some distance between ourselves and the truth to have a chance. But then, and this is the part I really don't like, what we do for distance becomes part of the truth we're trying to get away from, and we have to get away from it. Distraction becomes addiction. And we have to distract ourselves from our distraction. We have to deny our denial. Escape our escape. Reality keeps shifting on us, becoming something else, tracking us down, breaking in. Who thought this up?
Ignorance is bliss. Denial is ignorance. We will do anything to feel better about our lives. Or to feel nothing. Consciousness is pain. To know is to suffer the fear and anguish brought on by the pain of existence. How much can you see before covering your eyes, looking away? How conscious can you be before you run to Mama? Uncon-sciousness has its place, else it wouldn’t be so popular.

We can only handle so much truth. So much mindfulness. At some point we have to give ourselves over to mindlessness and watch a football game, or play with the puppy, or swing a grandchild, or have some ice cream. We have to set life aside and live from time to time. Really. I’m serious here. We have to get out of our heads and into our lives. If your thinking disconnects you from living, keeps you from living, stop thinking. If you can’t think and enjoy pizza and a beer, stop thinking. Better to be mindlessly alive than mindfully dead. A lot better.

The religions of the east boast of their consciousness quotient, but how alive are they is the question? What is their life quotient? They dismiss the truth they cannot bear to acknowledge as illusion. Dismissal is another form of denial. They live in the midst of horrendous suffering and see it only as Maya brought on by desire, without see-ing their desire to ignore suffering and their responsibility for relieving it. Nobody can be conscious without a break, but to be unconscious of our unconsciousness is bad religion.

Bad religion exists to enable us to feel better about our lives. Good religion exists to enable us to see, hear and understand—to know how things are and how things also are—to feel what must be felt, and do what must be done, and to call time out and step away when that must be done. The pain of the truth of life will be borne, experienced, expressed, either consciously or unconsciously, either by ourselves or by our spouse, or our children, or society, or the world. The pain of the truth of life will be suffered by someone. What we do not bear consciously ourselves will be borne by others, perhaps over long generations. Pain that is not felt, experienced, and appropriately expressed, will be passed along, and the world will suffer from our refusal to suffer our portion of what must be suffered. We always increase the corporate pain level in the lives of those around us when we refuse to bear our personal pain consciously.

But, we cannot bear it all the time, and we cannot bear it alone. We have to have relief at regular intervals. No one can stare down reality. We step in and step out to restore our souls and have what it takes to step back in and do what must be done. Stepping out is one of the things that must be done, but there is a fundamental difference between stepping away from reality to nourish, nurture, and restore our souls, and running to the safety of Mama’s lap.

There is more to us than we can imagine. We are always giving up on ourselves. We don’t know who we are or what we are capable of, but we think there is nothing to us. We think, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly do that, or that, or that. I couldn’t possibly survive on those terms, under those conditions. I must have my bon-bons and my telly.” The Hero, the Heroine, within doesn’t get a chance to show us what we are made of because we are always collapsing in the dust, writhing, whining, moaning, calling for Mother, saying, “Help me! Save me! Won’t somebody help me! Mama! I want my Mama!”

We all have a resilient core that is more than capable of making its way in any world. Look at where we have been—both individually and as a species. Look at what we have dealt with. Hairy Mastodons. Genghis Kahn. Life cannot give us anything that is worse than the things life has already given us. We have what it takes. It only takes trusting that we do. We are the only thing we cannot handle, and stand blocking our way by not having what it takes to trust that we have what it takes, crying for Mama.

What is the pain, the fear, the anxiety? Abandonment? Overwhelm-ment? Isolation? Exclusion? Aloneness? What is it that we think we cannot bear? Too-much-ness? Is the all-ness of life, the truth of life, too much for us? What exactly do we think growing up entails? Growing up means looking our life in the eye and saying, “Show me what you got.” Until we can do that, we are children seeking Mother’s lap. And, the hope is that we will find those who can accept us, lovingly, as we are, even as they repeat the saving mantra, “I’m not your Mother!” and exhibit its truth in their way with us over time, while we grow up and become who we are capable of being.
We cannot bear the weight of our lives without a corroborating witness, or witnesses, standing with us, knowing what we know. We cannot know what we know alone. We have to share the burden of the knowledge of the weight of our lives. Souls sustain souls. That is the work of community. It is the work of sustaining one another in the knowledge of who we are (and also are) and how things are (and also are).

It takes two or more standing together to know what we know. We cannot bear the weight of consciousness alone. We cannot see (or hear, or understand) by ourselves. And, we cannot allow one another to run, hide, deny, pretend, excuse, justify, soften, or otherwise ease the atrocity of truth. The truth goes on the table. The whole truth and nothing but the truth. And we live in light of the truth of the table. As we live, we uncover more of the truth, and put that also on the table. We are constantly adding to the truth of the table, and our lives change as truth transforms truth, and perspective shifts, and understanding deepens, and worlds expand.

The ideal community is one in which we draw one another out. Bring one another forth. Birth each other. Enlarge each other, deepen each other, expand each other’s perspective, extend each other’s conscious awareness, wake each other up, enable each other’s coming to be in the world, and help each other bear the pain of the truth of life and become increasingly whole and alive. The work of consciousness is communal to the core.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

03/15/09, A Poetry Reading

I had a poetry phase once, in which I wrote poems every day for a year. And then I quit because it seemed to me that I was a poem, and that everything I said or did was poetry, and I could no longer tell where the poem ended and I began. The more I listened to me, the more I found myself saying, “You’re talking poetically again! Cut it out!” But, I could only shrug and say back, “You cut it out—if you can!” Over time we gave into it and allowed ourselves to splash around uncensored in poetic shallows, occasionally getting in over our heads, sometimes swimming in the waves, or floating with the current, laughing.

She wouldn’t actually have to be Mama. Mama wasn’t Mama. Not the Mama I have in mind. Not the Mama who would take care of me the way I want to be taken care of. So, any reasonable facsimile would do. She could wear a wig, a badly fitting wig, and heavy make up, and have on a red dress cut down to here, and combat boots. Combat boots would be good. You wouldn’t want a Mama who wouldn’t go to war for you. And bangle bracelets, and a turquoise broach. And, she could lie. Who cares. “I’m your Mama.” I’d buy it. For a while. I get desperate sometimes. Don’t you?

Lemme ’splane this to you. We are fragmented, splintered, disjointed and ache to be whole, centered, stabilized, safe and secure. We seek a grounding connection with the core of being. Something to help us make sense of things and find the way forward through all that is in our way. The deck appears, more often than not, to be stacked against us. Or, if you would prefer a different metaphor, the deck is always pitching and rolling. No one can stand upright, and we’re always in danger of being lost at sea. There are times when it is difficult to imagine that anything, or anyone (including ourselves), is on our side, has our best interest at heart, and stands ready to help us toward that which is good. During these times, we have to be glad it isn’t worse yet, and do what is ours to do amid circumstances that come and go according to forces that don’t even know our name.

On Our Own
We are on our own in this place, and make it as well as we do on the strength of our associations and friendships and the luck of the draw. Genghis Kahn, or the US Cavalry, is always just over the hill, and Hitler is waiting in the wings, and we deal with them like we deal with the rest of it, by getting out of the way and making the best of it to the extent that we are able. We think we have a leg up until the phone rings with the lab report, then the structure that held our world together collapses and we are left with making the best of it, to the extent that we are able.

Lab Report
We are never more than one lab report away from the complete loss of life as we have known it, the demolition of our world and all it’s shiny structures. Then what? The task is always the same: Do the best we can with what we have to work with, and do it with as much grace and compassion and good humor as we can muster. We do that by what we tell ourselves, by what we say, about the present experience of our lives. The task is always the same: we are to interpret experience in ways that do not deny experience but, at the same time, enable life. If we get that down, we have it made, as much as we can have it made. That’s as grounded as it gets.

The bad news about being grounded is that the core itself is not grounded! The core is a heaving swirl of possibility, a rolling boil of potential. No wonder the deck is pitching and rolling! We are riding breaking waves of chaos, looking for solid ground! This doesn’t mean we are at the mercy of a mad, mad world. It means we have the responsibility of providing the stability and structure we seek for our lives. We are the organizing principle of existence. We shape our lives according to our reading of what needs to happen and what can happen within the context and circumstances of our living. We work out the details. We make the compromises. We produce the foundation, create the form, provide the meaning we long to have. We make life livable via the perspective we adopt riding the waves churned up by the vital, dynamic core of being.

We cannot look for steady—we provide steady! We are the source of steady! We are the basis of the constancy, the consistency we seek! We bring sanity to life in the world. We are the stabilizing influences in our lives. If we internalize the outer pandemonium, we become the bull—the wave—we are riding and go over into madness, disintegrating beyond reconstitution. The work of integration is the work of interpretation, translation—the work of hermeneutics (Hermes was the messenger of the gods. His work is our work. We bring the messages “of the gods,” of our life experience, to ourselves in a way that makes sense of the experience and enables life in the face of it. We interpret, translate, experience so as to make life possible in the midst of experience. The trick is to do that truthfully).

The Power of Meaning
We have the power of meaning, the power of making meaning, the power of perception, the power of looking meaningfully at our lives, the power of ascribing meaning to our lives, the power of finding meaning in our lives. We have to learn how to use our power to see, and hear, and understand in meaningful ways, in ways that enable us to live well in the time left for living.

The Power of Interpretation
Who says what the dream means? We do. Get it? Therein lies everything. We say what our experience of the dream means. We say what our experience of our life means. We say what life means. We hold the power of interpretation, of translation. We make sense of it all. And we know when we are right, and when we are wrong, when we are on the beam and when we are off.

Trusting the Internal Guide
What is this “beam-knowing”? This sense of rightness? What do we know and how do we know it? Enter the mystery. We are guided by our sense of the rightness of our movement, of our resonating with the direction we are taking, but where that comes from, we do not know. Trust it. Unknowing. That’s the task. And, if it leads you to a dead end, or into the abyss, trust it to lead you out of the abyss, beyond the dead end.

Spin Doctors
Our work is the work of finding meaning in experience, of making experience meaningful by way of interpretation. We spin experience to produce the steadiness we seek. We are the source of stability, the stabilizing influence, bringing life to life in our lives. And, of course, we can tell ourselves what we want to hear. Which is to avoid the work of interpretation and settle for denial and pretense. We have to interpret experience, not deny experience. That’s the challenge of integration, of integrating experience truthfully into our lives.

We Are What We Seek
We take this and make that. We are Alchemists, making gold out of lead, transforming common experience into the elixir of life. We are what we seek. We are the Philosopher’s Stone, the Universal Solvent, producing the aqua vitae, the water of life, from ordinary, hum-drum, events and from the crushing, devastating disruptions of life as we know it. We do that through the magic of interpretation and resonating with the rightness of the spin we give to experience.

The Rule of Life
The rule of life is follow the resonance. Go with what resonates with you. With what moves you. Follow the movement. Go with the flow. Not with the flow of life around you, but with the internal flow making contact with something, someone, in your environment. With the flow of energy connecting you with some aspect of the external world of normal, apparent, reality. And be open to the possibilities, aware of the choices that are yours to make.

Questions Worth Our While
We are after a sense of rightness about our lives. What has to be changed for us to feel right about the way we are living, about what we are thinking, feeling, believing, doing, wanting, having, being… ? Where is the incongruity most pronounced? Where do we feel most inauthentic, disingenuous? Where are we ignoring the voice of opposition within—the voice of what is opposed to our living the way we are living, to doing what we are doing, to the way we are being in the world? What price are we paying to deny how it is with us, to pretend that things are “just fine” with us, to embrace the false sense of rightness that characterizes our lives? Faking some things keeps us from making anything of ourselves, of our lives, of our one shot at being alive. What are we not seeing, not noticing, in order to feel good about our lives? What are we not willing to give up in order to feel right about our lives?

To Know Is to Be Afraid
People who wonder what they are to do with their lives know. We all know, on some level, and are afraid. We are afraid of what it might mean to us to know what we know, and we cannot conceive of paying the price of living the way we would have to live to feel right about our lives. So, we don’t let ourselves know what we know, and wail loudly saying, “Oh, if I only knew what to do with my life!”

It isn’t knowledge that we lack. It is courage. We lack the courage to live the way we have to live in order to feel right about our lives. We all know how we should be living, what we should be doing with our lives. We just can’t imagine doing that and paying the bills—the bills we want to pay—the bills for the things we don’t need to live the life we should be living, but want, and think we need. We try to hang onto the life we want to live, and that’s the problem. We would have to pay different bills to live the way we have to live in order to feel right about our lives, and that’s the problem.

The Table.
Facing the problem is the first step toward living the way we have to live in order to feel right about our lives. The journey consists of putting truth on the table. We have to put the truth on the table. All the truth. The truth in all of its contradictory, mutually exclusive, convoluted, contrary, discrepant, discordant, dissonant, cacophonic, glory. Including, be sure you don’t forget this part, the truth of ourselves. The truth of who we are, and also are.

True Human-Being-Hood
When we get it all on the table—every last bit of it—we have to step back from the table, walk around it, observe it, nod, and say, “Yes. That is so. And that is also so. And that is so as well. All of it is so. That, too. That, too.” And, let it be because it is. And, then we have to decide what we are going to do—what’s next, what’s the next step to take—based on our knowledge of the truth on the table. If you can do that, you have what it takes to be a True Human Being, but you won’t take much pleasure in that achievement, because you know the price of True Human Being-hood.

Living in Light of Truth
The work of the rest of our lives is learning to put the truth of ourselves, the truth of our lives, the truth of life, on the table and live in light of it. This is how it is. What are we going to do with it, about it? How shall we live in the knowledge of the truth that is on the table? To what extent are the lives we are living designed to help us avoid/deny the truth of our lives? To what extent are they designed to acknowledge and serve that truth? The challenge is to wake up and to bear the burden of being awake. To see and not look away. To breathe, knowing the truth. And to live (knowing the truth) in ways that bring life to life there, amid the truth of life as it is.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

03/08/09, Optimizing Our Lives

We are here to optimize our lives. Primarily, this means learning to trust ourselves, our own sense of what is right and what needs to be. It also means learning to nourish our souls and express the truth of our deeper Self (that which is deepest, truest, and best about us). It means learning to see, and hear, and understand—to know what is truly important and do it.

There are two tables. On one table we are asked to put our ideas about the way things are, the way we think things are. On the other table, we are asked to put the way things are. Then, we are asked to live in light of the truth of both tables. That is all there is to it.

Our perception of truth keeps us from perceiving the truth. We come into the room (any room, every room) with ideas about how things are, about the structure of reality, about what is in control of our lives and how we can manipulate the controlling forces by giving them what they want. If we figure out the hoops to jump through in the proper sequence in the right frame of mind (we have to be true believers, you know), then the gods, or God, or the stars, or the Universe, will smile upon us and life will be, finally, grand.

We think it’s all about our arranging grand lives. Life is pretty stinky. And, if it is not stinky yet for us, it is stinky for a lot of people and we want to guard against the stink settling in on us. We want to avoid the bad and amass the good, and so the search for the right hoops to jump through, and the right steps to take in the right se-quence, and the right recipe to follow to the life of our dreams, and if not quite our dreams, at least close enough.

So, we come into this room, into every room, with ideas. Motives. Agendas. Interests. We come into the room with something in mind. You know what you want to hear. You know what I’m supposed to say. And that limits what can go on here. There should be a sign for us to check our baggage at the door. Wouldn’t that be nice? Com-ing in here with no baggage. Completely open. Free to ask any question. Free to examine all of our ideas, motives, agendas, and interests. Free to put everything we think about reality on the table, and take everything off the table, and bring back to the table only those things that are truly helpful in growing up, waking up, seeing, hearing, and understanding, as those who are increasingly awake, aware, and alive. Wouldn’t that be something?

Where do we get the idea that our personal comfort is the idea, or that we know what to want? What is there really beyond living knowingly with compassion? Beyond doing unto others as we would have them do unto us? Beyond bearing the cross of realization, awareness? Beyond living in the searing tension between how things are and how things ought to be and working endlessly there to make things more like they ought to be than they are for all people, for everyone, even the least of our brothers and sisters around the world? And, what do we need for that work beyond clarity and courage? Yet, we look for what? Not for clarity and courage, but for assistance from the gods, or God, or the stars, or the Universe in avoiding the bad and amassing the good for ourselves and those we love alone, and if there is any extra good left over that we don’t need, perhaps it will trickle down to the poor masses who have failed to please the powers. We have a long way to go. And it begins with putting what we think about how things are on the table.

We have to step back from our seeing in order to see. But, isn’t that the trick, though? Seeing how we see things is the first thing to see. When we see, we see that the way we see things is just the way we see things, and it has no necessary connection with the way things are. What are the statements we call truth? The things we believe to be valid? We have to put them on the table, and step back from the table, and consider the table and the things on the table. And the things on the other table.

We have to square ourselves with who we are and who we also are, and how it is with us. What are all the things that are true about us and our lives? These are the facts of life. Put them on the other table. The work of wholeness is the work of recognizing the truth of who we are and who we also are, and how it is with us (the truth of all the things that are true about us), and living in the light of that truth as we make our choices in the time left for living.

It is difficult to face the truth of ourselves and it is difficult to bring forth the truth of ourselves within the truth of our lives. It doesn’t get easy. If you are looking for easy, don’t wake up! Dying is easy. Living is hard. The disparity, discrepancy, between how things are and how things ought to be will take your breath away, and not give it back. We cannot breathe knowing the truth. The first task is breathing, knowing the truth.

What nurtures, nourishes our soul? Expresses, exhibits our Self? We have to do more of those things. We have to live to nourish our soul and express our Self. And the two are likely to be one. We have to be true to our-selves within the context and circumstances, terms and conditions, of our lives. That’s where we run into trouble. We have competing, contradictory, mutually exclusive truths at work here. We are torn within with conflicting mo-tives and agendas, and we are faced with the impossibility of living in the world, on the world’s terms, in light of the best we find within.

We also have to bear the contradiction between what we experience as true and what we have been told is true. We have to bear the weight of our experience without the comforting buffer of what we have been told is true. Reality is a hard pill to swallow. The Way is about consciously bearing the tension between who we are, and who we also are, and what is required by, and allowed in, the context and circumstances of our lives. We have to walk slowly along that way, knowingly, with compassion, every step along the way. It is amazing how difficult this is. Dying is easy. Living is hard.

There is a price to be paid for waking up. It’s the price of a new pair of shoes. Jim Hollis is always quoting Carl Jung’s statement, “We walk in shoes that are too small.” By that he means that we live lives that are too small. He means that as people we are too small. We are small people who need to become large. Who need to grow up. We grow up by waking up. We wake up by seeing, hearing, and understanding how things are with us. We wake up by living consciously, by being conscious, being aware, of the life we are living, and of the lives we are not living. We wake up by being attentive to, paying attention to, and aligning ourselves with what Jim Hollis calls “the soul’s summons.” But to live like this is the most subversive life imaginable. This is a problem.

The problem is that the life our soul would have us live is not the life the culture, and our parents, and our peers, and anyone who matters in our life, including us, would have us live. From the beginning it has been this way. In the old story about the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ignored the life their soul had in mind in favor of that which “was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise (but not really)” (Gen. 3:6). And, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus exemplifies the struggle of those who follow their soul’s leanings when he prays, “Not my will, but thine, be done!” (Mark 14:36).

This is the price we pay in waking up, in living between the life soul would have us live and the life we wish we could live—the life the culture wishes for us to live—and choosing to go with soul more often than not. Our task is to nourish soul, to express the Self’s true desires, within the terms and conditions of our lives.

Waking up means waking up to the need to be responsible for our own lives. It means being uncomfortable, and disturbed, and squaring up to the way things are (and the way things also are), and finding our way, over, un-der, around and through the terms and conditions, context and circumstances of our living to the deep truth of our-selves, in order to relish and express the wonder of who we are, and be alive in the time left for living.

“The facts” resist us, oppose us, enlarge us, deepen us, expand us, and grow us up as they challenge us to be who we are within “the terms and conditions, context and circumstances of our lives.” We are bigger, better, people for having lived our lives with an eye on “the facts” and an eye out for our own hearts (which is one of the facts) serving the interests of our souls (still more facts) within the limitations and restrictions of space and time.

We have to adjust ourselves to the realities of our lives. That’s the work of maturity, of consciousness, and grace. The world is not how we would have it. Life is not lived on our terms. We have to square ourselves with “the facts,” all of them, internal and external, and live in and around them, finding ways to express the contrary truths of our core values within “the terms and conditions, context and circumstances of our lives.” To be awake and alive we have to consciously bear the pain of living, and live as fully as we are able within “the terms and conditions, context and circumstances of our lives.” That’s all there is to it. No diversion, no distraction, no denial. Life in the raw. Life on life’s terms. Without capitulation or surrender. We live with the facts of life in ways that are true to our own hearts, souls, selves. And our lives are works of art.

The work that is art is squaring ourselves with the facts governing our lives and living to bring the good to life, anyway, nevertheless, even so. It is to blow on the coals of love, joy, peace, etc. and ignite a roaring blaze of ex-ceptional worth and unaccountable value in the time left for living. Our task is to know exactly what the deal is and live as though we don’t know, or knowing, don’t care. Our task is to be an enigma, to not make sense, to be an anomaly, to stand as a stark contradiction to all that we cannot deny. To explode in a mighty burst of goodness, and generosity, and mercy, and grace. To let no opportunity to express compassion and exhibit kindness pass unseen or unseized. To live as life should be lived. Without worrying about the outcome, or thinking things are invalid if they don’t last. Fireworks don’t last. No one ever boos and hisses at fireworks. Live like fireworks. Make them oou and ahh at your passing. And, don’t forget to wink on your way out, as though you know something.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

03/01/09, Process, not Programs!

I’m here to change the way you think (and you, of course, are here to change the way I think). Now you were all happy when I was talking about being here to change the way the church of our experience thinks. Change the way they think, sure, let’s do it. We can all clamor aboard that wagon. But, I’ve “quit preaching and gone to meddling” when I talk about changing the way you think. But, that’s the deal. You don’t think right. I have to change it.

Here’s what I mean. Even though you’ve had it with the church of our experience, that’s the only model of church you can envision. You don’t even want to use the word church when you think about what we are doing here. Never mind that the word church, ecclesia, simply means gathering (or “gathering of those summoned”). Like a gathering of sojourners. There is nothing churchy about the word church except by way of what goes on in your heads. I have to change what goes on in there. I have to change your thinking.

I have to change your thinking about what we are doing here. You have the old model of church in your heads, and you think what we do here has to be based on that. Particularly, you’re thinking of programming, and programs, and what we do to perpetuate ourselves and our thinking through the long generations of those that will follow us. We have to know what we stand for, you know. And be able to teach it to others. And design programs, curriculum and study guides, in order to convey what we want them to know and how we want them to think. I have to change your thinking about that. We want them to think what they think. I want you to think what you think. And, I have to change your thinking about what you think to get you to think what you think.

That’s beautiful, isn’t it. Contradiction. Paradox. These are the things life is made of. Learn to love them. Embrace them. Relish them. Delight in them. I have to change what you think about your thinking in order to get you to think what you think. Where are you going to go to beat that?

There is no program to tell you how to think. The only thing to tell you is think what you think consciously, with awareness. You think about your thinking when you say what you are thinking in the company of those who receive what you have to say without debate or argument (which only solidifies us in our thinking by forcing us to defend, excuse, justify and explain what we think) but with acceptance that seeks clarification, deepening, by pushing you to think about your thinking and asks you questions (like a good clearness committee) to get you going. There is no program. There is only intently interested, and hence interesting, conversation. There is no program, there are only people listening carefully to one another. And bringing to light the contradictions, the paradoxes, in what they hear us saying.

Process Not Programs. Could be a bumper sticker. We are engaged in creating a process, an atmosphere, an environment in which and through which we might grow up. No kidding. That’s all there is. Growing up. Becoming mature. Waking up. Being aware. Being conscious.

Karen Najarian is a breast cancer survivor who has a solid grip on the kind of attitude we are developing here. She says, “Get a pick and a shovel (and maybe a camera) and dig deeper into your life. THAT's real medicine. John Muir said it best: ‘Between every two pine trees lies a door to a new life.’” You can’t be clearer about what we are about than that. Digging deeper into your life. How deep can you go? We’ll never get to the bottom of it. There is enough life there for each of us to keep us busy for the rest of it, even if we work hard at digging deeper every day. We are here to help each other dig deeper into our lives.

We all drink the same water, but we dig our own wells. You can think of life as the water we drink, or God, or The Mystery… It can be all of these things, and other things, all things. But we can’t drink someone else’s water. We have to dig our own wells. Thelma Foster says, “Each generation has to come to its own understanding of God.” And K Misenheimer says, “God doesn’t have any grandchildren.” They are both saying that we have to dig our own wells, by digging deeper into our own lives.

There is no program to tell us about God, or life, or The Mystery. No shortcuts. No doctrine. No list of things to believe. No creed or catechism to memorize. No sacred book to study forever. “Get a pick and a shovel (and maybe a camera) and dig deeper into your life.”

Where do we start digging? Anywhere, really. One good place is by looking in a mirror. We can’t wake up without facing ourselves. When we wake up, we wake up to ourselves, to who we are and how it is with us. To who we also are and how it also is with us. Where’re you going to start? How about with your feelings, your moods, your reactions to the events and circumstances of your life?

In the presence of any strong feeling, emotional response/reaction, to our environment, we have to ask, af-ter James Hollis, “Where have I been here before in my life?” “This reminds me of what?” “This triggers what in me?” “What experiences does this stir in me?” “What am I defending myself against here?” Everything wakes us up to something else. The web of connections is vast within. Our responses to the events and circumstances of our lives are memories stirring. Our reactions are wounds that still need healing. Remembering is healing. Knowing is healing. Consciousness is Gilead’s balm for the soul. But our fear is great before the door closed to pain.

When you are stunned by life into not being able to breathe, see if I have this right. Life just planted a big juicy wet one smack on your kisser. Is that it? And winked? And told you there was more where that came from? When you can't breathe, it's life on your chest, laughing. It's great, isn't it? Where would you go to beat it? Who coulda thought this up?

There is nothing like a healthy dose of reality to wake us up. Disturbance clarifies. It’s the only thing that does. Discomfort is the prelude to, and the price of, growth. Think the seed is happy to become a plant? It’s death. Death to the seed is life to the plant. And, look what happens to the caterpillar. Who is in charge here? Who’s idea is this, anyway? Of course, we are the ones who oppose us. We oppose ourselves. As Walt Kelly observed, “We have met the enemy and it is us!”
We cannot run from our fear, from our anxiety, and wake up. We have to wrestle with the angel of death if we hope to be alive. The blessing is life, you know. If we are going to dig deeper into our lives, we are going to have to face the thing, the things, of which we are most afraid. Walk right up to it and plant a big juicy wet one on its kisser and wink. And say, “There’s more where that came from, Sweetie.”

What I’m saying here is that the conscious recognition of feelings—emotional responses to the experience of life—and the concomitant reflection, exploration, acceptance, experience and appropriate expression of them is the path to True Human Being-hood. It’s called bearing the full impact of life in the world. We can’t do it alone. We have to share the load, grieve, cry, laugh and rejoice together. Human Being-hood is a participation sport. We cannot be True Human Beings by ourselves.

This is where the church as the right kind of community comes in. A gathering of those summoned by the task of life. A gathering of sojourners. A gathering of those who have taken up the work of soul, the work of digging deeper into our own lives, the work of becoming awake, aware, and alive, the work of growing up, waking up, being conscious, and present for the good of one another in the moment of our living. We help one another wake up, grow up, see, hear, and understand.

Look at everything in your experience as a Rube Goldberg device that your soul has put together to wake you up. Everything that has happened, and is happening, and will happen is as it is to wake you up. To shake you awake. To stir you to life. So that you might be consciously alive in the time left for living. It’s all about you. Your life is the Truman Show, and the real point is Truman leaving the show, leaving his life, and stepping courageously into his life. You are Truman. So am I. Here’s to us.

We cannot live without trusting ourselves to ourselves, to our lives, to one another. Yet, all is not worthy of our trust. Part of the task of life is learning who is trustworthy and who is not. And, the learning is not intellectual, logical, rational. The learning is spiritual, of the soul. We learn to wake up, to be aware, to be conscious, and to lis-ten to what resonates with us and to trust ourselves to that knowing. And even when it proves to be not trustwor-thy, we don’t see that as evidence of the untrustworthiness of the way of resonation, but trust it to get us out of the situation it got us into. We trust ourselves to the way of resonation, to the way of awareness, to the way of consciousness, all the way to the finish line.

And, we have to come to terms with the facts that limit our lives. Life will not be like we want it to be. Certainly not for long. What are we going to do about that? Dance with it! Do what we can with it! Wake up to it! Square up to it! Live with it! Live in and around it! That’s part of the work of being alive.

Our lives may never be what we wish they were. If we can come to terms with that, make our peace with that, we have it made. To the extent that we can have it made. We cannot do much about the things that matter, but we must do what we can. We must do what can be done. We must live in the service of the best we can imagine within the terms and conditions, context and circumstances of our lives. We cannot acquiesce to death before we die. Everything depends upon our being alive in the service of the best we can imagine in the time left for living.

The point is to be as awake as we can be. The point isn’t to build pyramids or change the world. The point is to be as awake as we can be. That’ll change the world.