Saturday, February 28, 2009

Prayers of Confession, Guilt without Shame

James Hollis has written (In Swamplands of the Soul, New Life in Dismal Places), “To say that I have erred, that I am guilty of bad choices and their hurtful consequences, is not only the beginning of wisdom, but the only path that can ultimately lead to release.” Toward that end, I offer these prayers of confession, as a way of helping make conscious what is true with us all.

01. We try figure it out, make sense of it, comprehend it, and know what’s going on. The way we see it, once we understand how things work, we can work them to our advantage. That’s how it is with everything else in our lives. The Government makes regulations to restrict our behavior and we figure ways to comply with the regulations without changing our behavior. It’s called “beating the system,” and it’s what we do best. But Life is a tough system to beat because nothing works the same way twice. Once we think we “get it,” and devise a system to work the system to our advantage, something comes along to upset our neat formula and remind us that we can’t beat “the house.” In trying to beat the house, we show that we do not understand that we are here to serve and not be served, to give and not receive, to take up our cross and follow the one who is Christ by responding to what is needed in the moment with what we have to offer to the moment. And so, we pray that we might be conscious of what has need of us, and how we might best live in serving a good that is more than our good. Amen! May it be so!

02. We want to grow spiritually, develop our capacity for compassion and grace, deepen our awareness of what needs to be done and do it, without giving up anything on the rest of our schedule. We want to become whole without surrendering our interests or involvements in any of the areas that are important to us. We want to be wise without changing the way we live. We want the comforting, stabilizing, reality of an abiding relationship with Holy Presence, without taking up the task of relationship, doing the work of relationship, making the effort relationship requires—in every moment for the rest of our lives. We seek guidance, but don’t want to do anything differently or be inconvenienced in any way. And we pray for the wherewithal to step beyond the childish orientation of our youth, that we might give way, stand aside, relinquish our agenda, our terms, our ideas of how our lives ought to be, and understand what it means to say, “Not my will, but thine, be done”!

03. We live to have things our way—to the exclusion of every other way. Compromise and concession are terms we avoid at all costs. Getting what we want is the whole point of our lives. It is fine for others to have their needs met, just not at the expense of our own. Sacrificing our goals, aims, purposes, interests and desires for the sake of someone else’s is an idea whose time has not yet come. We have a personal investment in Our Way, and we cannot imagine why we should hand over our hopes and dreams in deference to other hopes and dreams. Yet, in refusing to submit to that which has need of us, we serve values which declare the good of the part over the good of the whole, and fail to recognize a good greater than our good. And so, we pray for vision, wisdom, and compassion required to set self aside in the service of that which truly ought to be, that everyone might be blessed by our presence and the boon might belong to all.

04. We follow the rules to keep from taking chances. We do what we are supposed to do to evade the risk of personal responsibility. We believe what we are told to believe want to be told what we should believe and how we should think to avoid the embarrassment of being wrong about what to think and believe. We have to save face even if it means losing ourselves! We have to look like everyone else even if it means ignoring the rhythms of our own heart and discounting the voice of our own soul. We cannot trust the authority of our own sense of direction, of our own sense of right and wrong, of our own sense of what fits, and what belongs, and what is good, and true, and beautiful. We have to look to see how we must look, and wait to be told what to do. And, in this, we have failed to be true to the truth within, and have not been courageous in the service of creativity and intuition. And so, we pray for vision, wisdom, and compassion required to set self aside in the service of that which truly ought to be, that everyone might be blessed by our presence and the boon might belong to all.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

02/22/09, Whose Life Is It?

“What do you have to look forward to without marriage in your future?” I asked a would-be bride in a dream who had just cancelled her wedding. I didn’t hear her answer. The dream shifted. The bride went off to change clothes. An old man mouthed something to me but the background noise of people leaving the hotel (now that there was not going to be a wedding) drowned him out. And I’m left with the idea that the question is more important than the answer.

We find our own answers. What do we have to look forward to without marriage in our future? For “mar-riage” we have to substitute “what we have been working for, living for, intending with our lives up to this point.” What is a future without that in it? We are brides who have cancelled the wedding when we turn away from the life of our dreams waiting on us at the altar and we step into our own lives, the lives that have their fingers crossed, hoping that we won’t marry and settle for an existence of routine conventionality that is death dressed up in life-like costumes. We have life to look forward to. And, who knows what form, what shape, it will take? Bring it on! Hallelujah! Amen!

That’s the message of the dream. The task is to incorporate it into our lives. To live the dream that is actu-ally a dream, and not our dream for our lives. Always the choice is between the life that is ours to live and the life we want to live, between what is being asked of us and what we want to be given, between the ends we are called to serve and the goals we aspire to achieve. The problem is that we are at odds with our soul about how our life is to be lived. Whose life is it? Who is in charge here? We waste a lot of time understanding and coming to terms with who is in charge. In all of this, the soul’s strategy for waking us up is simple: “Okay. Do it your way.”

In doing it our way, we keep trying to arrange life as we want it to be, while the life that is waiting to be lived waits for us to wake up to the emptiness of all our wanting and get with the business of being alive in the time left for living. The clock’s ticking and we’re burning daylight building sheds to store our stuff.

We keep ourselves from being who we are with our ideas about who we want to be. We have to develop our awareness to the point of consciously standing between who we are and who we also are and choosing who we are going to be, here, now, in this moment of our living. And, do it again in the next moment, and all the other mo-ments. There is no quick fix for the division within. Taking the next step consciously will eventually lead us to the finish line, if we live long enough.

Consciousness is the fastest horse to the finish line. The finish line is freedom, maturity, grace, beauty, truth, peace, compassion, Buddha-hood, Christ-hood, Self-hood, True Human Being-Hood, You. The finish line is you coming home to you, to “the face that was yours before you were born.” We come alive by being awake and aware. Conscious. Consciousness is the final solution.

Consciousness is our only tool in the work of the reclamation of our lives. Everything speaks to those with ears to hear. The path is always opening before those with eyes to see. This is not difficult. It is only a matter of knowing what we know, and knowing what is to be known. Wake up! That’s all there is to it. It’s all right there, be-fore us, jumping up and down, waving it’s little hands, whistling, cart wheeling, waiting to be seen. We only have to look to see that it is so. Does the fish know how to swim? There you are. What are you worried about?

The good news is that we cannot give ourselves—or be given—anything that we cannot use in the reclama-tion of ourselves. Every experience goes into the production of us, into the process of bringing our soul to life in the world. It’s all a part of the path. We don’t have to be right. We learn as much from our failures as from our suc-cesses. What is better—to gain or to lose? Nothing is wasted in the work of aligning ourselves with the soul’s idea of the life we are here to live. Of course, if we refuse to wake up and get to work, the whole thing is wasted, but, even then, our example isn’t wasted on those who live to not be like us. Without us, where would they be? So, even in wasting our lives, we aren’t wasted. I don’t think a day goes by when I fail to remember my grandfather, drinking himself to death, hating everybody. Thanks, Grandpa. I’m not like you again today. May it always be so!

When we are genuinely, authentically, being who we are, that’s enough. The world will be blessed. The boon belongs to all, and the boon blesses all when the treasure is content to be the treasure without aspiring to more than being the treasure. What treasure wanted something for being the treasure? When we find the pearl of great price, we sell everything in order to possess it, but what does the pearl get out of the deal? WE are the pearl, don’t you see? There is nothing more for us to want, or desire, or strive for, or have. We are stupid pearls who don’t understand our own value, and keep wishing for something valuable to transform our lives and make all things good. We are the transformation we seek. We make all things good. Just by being truly who we are. Just by being true to who we are. All a pearl has to be is a pearl.

We only have to do what is ours to do until we die. If we don’t do what is ours to do because we are afraid we might die if we do, we just die sooner by not doing what is ours to do. If we aren’t going to do what is ours to do, we may as well be dead. Being dead to what is ours to do is being deader than dead. And that death is worse by far than dying in the service of what is ours to do. So what if we live to be 150 years old and never do what is ours to do? All we can hope for is doing what is ours to do until we die. It doesn’t matter how long we live. It matters how well we do what is ours to do.

“Nobody gets in to see the Wizard! Not Nobody! Not Nohow!” We read the phrase and think that the Wiz-ard has sealed himself, has sealed herself, off from the masses, safe from the world on the other side of the curtain. But the statement raises the question, “Who has locked the Wizard away?” Is the Wizard in self-imposed exile, or is something else going on? The story of the Wizard of Oz isn’t about the Wizard of Oz, but the Wizard of All. Dorothy, and the Lion, the Tin Man and the Straw Man, all discovered their own personal Wizard Within along the Yellow Brick Road. They woke up, as from a dream, to find themselves, and began to trust their own innate ability to dis-cern the right path and choose it, and find their way home—home being not where they came from, but where they were going.

Conundrums and contradictions are everywhere. On the one hand, We think life consists of enjoyable pass times. Passing the time in comfortable surroundings, in delightful ways. Golf and cocktail parties. Concerts and art galleries. A six-pack and a football game. We think life is about walking around looking at life—going to movies, watching someone else live, watching actors act the part of someone else living.

And, on the other hand, we want to relieve ourselves of the anxiety and discomfort of not knowing what to do by doing something, anything, now. Any action, in our view, is better than no action at all. We do not wait. We do not watch. We do not reflect. We do not listen. We act. All the heroes are Action Heroes. Not one of them ever sits in a rocking chair drinking a cup of coffee looking out the window. Action is a way of distracting ourselves from the deeper task of waiting to see what needs to be done, what needs us to do it.

The work is always watching and waiting. We wait for an opening. We cannot hurry growth, or see beyond the current limits of our seeing, or understand more than we are capable of comprehending. We always think we are more ready than we are for the next thing. The next thing comes in its own time, in its own way. Our place is to wait and watch, and follow the white rabbit when it appears. The trouble with this plan is no one knows where we are going, not even the white rabbit! You can’t beat this for a ride! We make it up as we go! Are you coming or not?

We make it up as we go because there are NO BLACK FOOTPRINTS! That’s the rule for life, living, being alive. There is no plan, no map, no doctrine, no dogma, no recipe, no agenda, no profile, no prototype, no model, no replication, no way to do it. And yet, it is done, everywhere, all the time, by everybody who listens and hears, looks and sees, and brings forth who she, who he, is within the terms and conditions, context and circumstances of her, of his, life.

And we find the way together. But not too much together. This is the tricky part. We are on our own and we can’t do it alone. God can’t do it alone! Should be a bumper sticker. Nobody can do it alone. We all need one another to encourage, sustain, resource our lives, to help us make it through the night. And the day following. And the next night… God needs us, we need God, or the gods, however you imagine divinity, the Mystery, That Which Knows, the Dynamic Core/Center of Life and Being... Ah, and what is it to be done? Life! Life is to be done. Within the terms and conditions, context and circumstances, of this world of physical, concrete, normal, apparent, reality. And we, like God, are on our own in the doing of life, and we can’t do Life alone. No one can. Another beautiful little conundrum, don’t you think? Here comes another one.

What is the good we call good? The trouble with the good, of course, is that it is also bad. There is a down-side to the upside. Which can fool us. The good is tricky that way. We have to be onto it, and do it, for better and for worse. We could also not worry about it, and do the bad, which is also good, on some level, and force good to come out of hiding by slinging bad around. But, that’s too easy, and no fun. How many bad guys enjoy themselves? They are always on the run, hiding, denying, pretending. No bad guy was ever alive. You could look it up. To be alive, you have to pay the price of waking up and doing good, even if it is also bad. You have to trust me in this.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

02/15/09, The Price of Being Alive

If we aren’t depressed, we either are not paying attention or, we are in denial. We have to be depressed to have a chance. Insomniantic (I made that word up) depression is caused by our inability to remain asleep in our lives, which is different from biological depression and situational depression brought on by loss and life events. If we are suffering from insomniantic depression, we are either not quite awake but know, on some level, that we need to be, or we are waking up and don’t want to. We have to face our depression and let it be, because it is. We can’t talk ourselves out of being depressed. We can only wake up and bear the pain. That’s the price of being alive. And, that’s depressing.

One way of squaring up to the depression that comes with waking up, is to tell ourselves, “Of course, you don’t want to wake up. Why would you? Who would? It’s so much more blissful and serene to be there, safely secure in Mother’s arms (Not our biological mother, who never was the mother we wanted her to be, but the Ideal Mother of the world of happy fantasy, who takes care of us the way we want to be taken care of, or would, if we could only find her), dreaming of roses, rainbows and white picket fences. Who would leave Mother’s lap to grow up and make her, make his, own way in the world? Hush, little baby, go back to sleep. If you can.”

Another way—and my personal favorite—of dealing with the depression that comes with waking up is by bellowing loudly from time to time (a crowded elevator is a great place), “Mamma! I want my Mamma!” (Not our biological mother, who never was the mother we wanted her to be, but the Ideal Mother of the world of happy fan-tasy, who takes care of us the way we want to be taken care of, or would if we could only find her). I don’t hate anything quite like I hate the idea of having to take care of myself, and deal with my own problems, and do what needs to be done in every moment of every day for the rest of my life. “Mamma! I want my Mamma!”

There are no new problems and no new solutions. All the problems and solutions are forever old. We don’t have enough of the right kind of help, and something is always preventing us from having our way. In a perfect world, everyone would mother me. Of course, you see the problem. All of my potential mothers want to be mothered themselves. And, this is not a new problem. Old as the ages. The solutions are, too: We can have a tantrum and hope to be mothered the way we want to be mothered, or we can sulk and pout the world into mothering us properly, or we can cry and wail until the right mother comes along, or we can sink into motherless depression in pro-test and rebellion and hope that our suffering will be duly noted and tended to. The final solution, of course, is that we can grow up, but who in his or her “right mind” would opt for that one? That’s the one we put off until we have no choice.

All of our real problems are completely irrational and absolutely real. Hopelessness, despair, anguish, depression—anyone can give us perfectly valid reasons not to be any of these things. “You don’t have it nearly as bad as some people. Stop complaining until you are as bad off as they are!” We can agree with the logic and admit that we wouldn’t trade with them, but our problem with life doesn’t disappear just because it’s been invalidated. “Reason can’t uproot what reason didn’t plant,” goes the old saying. We cannot think our way out of the deep ruts and the dark woods. The quickest exit is to bellow loudly: “Mamma! I want my Mamma!” (Not our biological mother, who never was the mother we wanted her to be, but the Ideal Mother of the world of happy fantasy, who takes care of us the way we want to be taken care of, or would if we could only find her). And keep it up until she comes along, or we decide to do our own mothering.

We want what we want so much that we believe we can have it. We tell ourselves, “If you wish for it, it will come” (The Law of Attraction, you know). We believe in Mother. Not our biological mother, who never was the mother we wanted her to be, but the Ideal Mother of the world of happy fantasy, who takes care of us the way we want to be taken care of, or would if we could only find her. We go to our graves, in one form or another, believing in, and waiting on, and looking for, Mother. All we ever wanted was to be mothered the way we wanted to be mothered. The spiritual journey consists of finding our way through this world without the Mother we wish we had. How’s that for the worst news in the world?

There is nothing like knowing we will not be mothered the way we want to be mothered to wake us up to the truth of how it is with us. No one is going to mother us the way we want to be mothered. No one CAN mother us the way we want to be mothered. Every real would-be mother falls far short of our imagined ideal, who reads our mind and brings us coffee the way we like our coffee, no, orange juice, no, oatmeal, no, a red Ferrari with a black Lab in the passenger seat, no, a Golden Retriever, no, a Honey or a Hunk… Ain’t no Mom like the Dear Old Magical Mom we wish we had. But, we resist the intrusion of that truth into our lives, and wait for Mom to come. Mom isn’t coming. The work of growing up is ours to do on our own.

Our only tool in that work is consciousness, making conscious that which is unconscious, knowing the truth about us and the world in which we live, and the worlds beyond the world in which we live. Awareness, awareness, awareness. Eyes that see, ears that hear, hearts that understand. Seeing into the heart of things and knowing how things are, and how things also are, and what needs to be done about it, and what can be done about it, and what is ours to do, and doing it. This is the path of spiritual development, whose other name is, you guessed it, Growing Up.

All the talk about growth, spiritual growth, personal growth, psychological growth, is just about growing up. There is no growth apart from growing up. We need to grow up. Tie our own shoes. Solve our own problems. Make our own choices. Find our own path. Live our own lives. And stop looking for people to take care of us. And stop living as though someone is in charge of us, overseeing us, approving or disapproving everything we do.

Consciousness recognizes the tension of opposing positions, points of view, places itself squarely within the dialectic and chooses what to do knowing the contrary impact that its choice has. Things are not good OR bad, better OR worse. They are good AND bad, better AND worse. We make our choices and live with our outcomes. For better AND worse. Which makes it very difficult to know what to do.

It is no light thing to take up the work of soul, of listening to soul, of aligning ourselves with soul. This is no lark. It is no Sunday morning exercise in which we get our inspiration for the week, so that we might feel good about the lives we are living, the goals we are serving, and step into them and do what we must to make them work like we want them to. Soul doesn’t care about what we care about. That’s the first hurdle we have to climb—the first shock to the system.

All this time we thought soul was on our side, our spiritual Mother, ready to help us be happy if we just thought the right things about God and led a moral life. The soul doesn’t care about our happiness. The soul cares about our aligning our lives with its interests and living to incarnate its values/intentions in the world, and do what it wants done. WE are the soul’s Mother!!! How’s that for the really worst news in the world? We mother ourselves, all right, but not in the way we want to be mothered—in the way our soul wants to be mothered!

We cannot draw up a profile for a soulful life. There are no black foot prints to follow. No rules to memo-rize. We live it in the moment of our living, always alert to what needs to happen now (asking soul, “What can we do for you now, honey?”), and not knowing what the next step with be or where it will take us. We hate the insecurity of not knowing what is going to happen, of not having a map, of not knowing where we are going. We like to be comfortable with predictability, and certainty, and stability—and soul is like the wind that blows where it will.

The future unfurls one step, one choice, at a time. And, if we go to sleep, and allow the last step to deter-mine the next step, and fall into a pattern, a routine, of always doing what is expected of us (or what is not expected of us), or what best serves the goals we set when we were in college, or, were set for us by our parents, or the culture, before we were born, we lock the future into some presumptive vision produced in some forgotten past to avoid the agony of deciding what to do now and smooth our path to the grave, and that path is itself a grave, which we walk with lifeless eyes, until someone mercifully buries us, and we can continue to rest in peace forever.

It’s hard enough for me to decipher the next step, to pick it out from among all the possible steps that I might take next. I may be right or wrong, it doesn’t matter, because then the task becomes that of deciding what the next step is, which, itself, may be right or wrong, and calls forth the situation of deciding what the next step is then. Intent on the situation “as it arises,” and what is being called forth there, what is needed there, and taking the next step in the unfolding of what is important and what must be done to serve it, I lose complete sight of the compilation of the steps, where they are leading, what their purpose might be. I don’t know. I don’t have time to bother with it. I have to decide what step to take here, now.

The saving grace is we don’t have to be right. We only have to let being wrong wake us up. That’s beautiful. To say we are wrong when we are wrong is as right as we need to be. Our lives will correct us all the way to the heart of truth—if we can be corrected. We don’t have to figure it out. All we have to do is listen. And take the next step. That’s the plan for the rest of our lives. Don’t have to know what you are doing. Listen and take the next step. Trust the core and take the next step. Nothing to it. And, everything rides on it. The only reason we don’t do it is that we are afraid. Who are we going to trust? Ourselves? Trusting ourselves is what got us to this point in our lives. If we continue to trust ourselves, we can only expect more of the same. But, ultimately we have no choice. We only have to wait until it is bad enough in order to have what it takes, which is nothing to lose, to trust ourselves to listen to that which is asking us to die to all that we thought was good in order to embrace the good and live.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Frog King, or What's Wrong With Us All

It happened quite by accident deep in the night when the moon was dark and dense clouds covered the sky, and no one could see anything if they were awake that late, and looking, which the Wicked Witch Peggy of the Dismal Forest was. Of course, you couldn’t actually say she was “looking” for anything. But, she was searching with rapt concentration. The Wicked Witch Peggy was trying to find tender sprouts of Night Creeper Vine, which grows only during the darkest night of the last week of spring, and are highly desirable for a number of witchy brews and spells. Since the slightest bit of light is enough to spoil the Night Creeper Vine sprouts, you can’t look for them with lanterns or even candles—you have to sniff them out.

So, The Wicked Witch Peggy was on her hands and knees, sniffing along the floor of the forest, searching diligently for the object of her desires, when several things happened at once. She nosed into a puff ball and inhaled a solid quart of puff power; she opened her mouth to gasp and wheeze; and a frog named Gibley Dade, frantically trying to hop away from all the commotion, landed squarely in The Wicked Witch Peggy’s mouth.

The Wicked Witch Peggy gagged, and sputtered, spewed, and coughed. “BLEAATCH!!” she bellowed, sending Gibley Dade flying into the darkness. She wiped her mouth, trying to remove the thought of a frog on her tongue from her memory. It didn’t work.

She whimpered and shivered and gagged at the very idea, and ignited a small shrub with the snap of her fingers. In the light of the burning bush, she saw Gibley Dade trying to rub the feel of witch’s tongue from his memory.

“Ha!” said The Wicked Witch Peggy. “There you are! I’ll curse you forever for this, you filthy frog! May your fondest dream come true!”

Having his fondest dream come true didn’t sound like much of a curse to Gibley Dade, particularly when it was such a wonderful one. The only dream Gibley ever had was of becoming a king. He’d heard all the fairy tales, and knew it was common practice for kings and frogs to change places, and he had always thought how grand it would be for it to happen to him.

And now it had! Instantly, Gibley Dade was transformed into the handsomest king on record, any record, before or since. And Peggy disappeared with a snap and a pop and a slight wisp of smoke. Gibley was alone with himself and the glowing embers of the bush. He admired what he could about his new appearance. “This isn’t bad,” he thought.

Suddenly, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men arrived with torches, and lanterns, and bark-ing dogs. “Here he is!” they shouted. “Hooray! We’ve found King Gibley! Where have you been, Your Highness? We’ve been searching all over!”

Gibley could only shrug as they hoisted him onto his white charger and carried him away to his kingdom. They arrived at the palace to the cheers of women and the cartwheels of small children, and Gibley was ushered straight away into the banquet hall, which was overflowing with all the delicacies of the realm. “You must be famished, Your Majesty,” said Gibley’s servants, “Sit and eat!”

Gibley was a bit hungry, but the platters of meat and vegetables, the baskets of fruit and the plates of dessert didn’t interest him at all. For some reason, his eyes stayed on a fly that flew about the table.

In the days and weeks that followed, Gibley grew increasingly depressed. The demands of kinghood were more than he could bear. There were always decisions to make, and public appearances to tolerate, and people seeking audiences and favors.

The only relief he found was in the time he spent swimming in the lily pond on his country estate. He didn’t know why he preferred that to the indoor pool at the palace, but he felt more at peace with himself there, at home somehow.

But it wasn’t enough. Gibley spent his days in sorrow and despair because kingship wasn’t really what he wanted. He didn’t know what he wanted, but the kingly life wasn’t it. He pined for what he didn’t have. The sadness showed in his eyes.

Gibley’s subjects tried everything they could think of to cheer him up. They held grand parties and circuses and ice capades. They sent him to the great resorts. He went skiing, and scuba diving, and mountain climbing. He rode horses, and went fishing, and watched television. But none of it helped. Gibley didn’t feel any better.

Nothing he did eased the notion that things were not as they should be. Nothing he bought filled the hollowness within. Nothing he could think of doing, or having, or seeing, or hearing eased the emptiness in his soul, or diminished the ache for Something More that he carried with him every day.

“What do you want, Your Highness?” asked his loyal court. “Just tell us, and we will gladly bring it.”

“I don’t know what I want,” said Gibley. “I don’t know what to want. I just know this isn’t it.”

The people looked at one another with perplexed concern, and brought him everything they had. They brought him bicycles and dinner jackets; baseballs and sports cars; hula hoops and elaborate stereo systems. They worked late in their factories, hard on their technology, around the clock in their research labs. Every invention, creation and project was hailed as the salvation of the king.

But nothing worked. No matter what they gave the king, his countenance did not lift, his spirits only lowered. Then, one day there came a light knock on the palace door. The guard admitted a little girl who said, “My name is Mary Nuel, and I want to see the king.”

“I’m sorry, child,” said the guard, “but the king cannot be bothered.”

“But it’s rather important,” said the little girl. “I want to help the king.”

“Oh, I’m sure you do,” replied the guard. “The entire kingdom has been trying to help the king, to no avail. What makes you so bold as to think that you can succeed where so many others have failed?”

“What do you have to lose?” the girl asked.

“Good point,” said the guard, and he showed her to the throne room of the king.

The little girl walked up to the king’s throne. His eyes were closed, his brow was wrinkled, and his body was slumped in defeat. Gibley had tried with all his might to reason his way out of his difficulty, and now he was lost.

“Excuse me, Sir,” said the little girl, tugging on his sleeve. “I want to give you something that I think will help.”

“Nothing will help,” sighed the king. “I know. I’ve tried it all. Several times.”

“This is different,” said the little girl. “It always helps me when I feel bad. I think it’s just what you need.”

“What is it, then?” asked Gibley.

“Here,” she said, holding out her hand. “It’s my pet frog, Emma. My mamma says she is like one of the family. So I call her Emma Nuel.”

The king looked at the frog, and something stirred within. He felt the realness of times long forgotten. His eyes lit up. A smile came to his face. He didn’t know what it was, or how to begin putting it into words, but, as strange as it seems, he felt a connection with the frog—it was as though he could see himself in the frog. And he knew if he was going to be the kind of king the people deserved he had to become the frog that he was.

So, the king spent the rest of his life pondering the essence of frogness, and he worked diligently to become less kingly and more froggy.

“Frogs live close to the land,” he decided, so he moved out of the palace and into the woods. He tilled the land himself and taught the people the value of hard work, and led them to respect their relation-ship with the natural world.

“Frogs have no pretensions,” he realized. So, he gave up his royal robes and set aside his many titles. He stopped acting as though being king made him better than anyone else and lived to identify himself with his subjects and listen carefully to their concerns.

“Frogs don’t try to get ahead,” he reflected. So, he let go of his desire to solve all imaginable problems in order to relax in the pleasing splendor of the Ultimate Answer. He simply dealt with each difficulty in the moment that it arose, and let tomorrow’s problems be tomorrow’s problems.

In this way, Gibley Dade lived out his life, reflecting upon and expressing the best of his inner frogness through all of his dealings with the people of the realm. The kingdom prospered under his rule; the people grew strong during his reign; and the swamps resounded with the proud croaking of all the frogs.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

02/08/09, We cannot be whole without facing ourselves.

What’s the point? Why are we here? What are we trying to do, to get? What’s it going to do for us when we do it, have it? Good questions, don’t you think? It would help if we knew the answers. Here’s mine. Wholeness. Wholeness is the whole point. By wholeness I mean alignment of being, integrity of being, oneness of being. I mean knowing who is running the show and assisting the operation. Knowing who is in charge here and placing ourselves in that service. I mean understanding what is at stake in Jesus’ prayer, “Not my will, but thine, be done,” and intending that with our complete being. That kind of wholeness of being is the point. What’s it going to do for us when we have it? Life. It’s going to do life for us. It’s going to bring us alive in a way that glass beads and silver mirrors—or the current cultural equivalent—cannot touch. But, you are going to have to believe it to see it, to know what I’m talking about. And, you are going to have to be willing to pay the price.

The price, of course, is the surrender of your idea of how your life is to be lived. We have to leave the safety of our comfortable way with life, our structures and routines—home, if you will—and find the way in the wilderness where there are no maps and nothing is as we expect it will be. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Call it the first irony. Leaving home doesn’t necessarily mean going anywhere.

Lao Tzu says, “The master travels all day without leaving home.” And, “Even though the next country is so close that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking, they are content to die of old age without ever having gone to see it.” Jesus says, “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions.” Leaving doesn’t mean going away so much as it means seeing differently, living differently. With the same burdens we had before the shift happened. That’s the bad news about the good news. It isn’t the only bad news.

The really bad news is that we have to face ourselves—we have to see ourselves—and decide what we are going to do with ourselves, about ourselves, every day for the rest of our lives. We have to know how it is with us. It’s like this: We have to have a home in order to be able to leave home. Home is where we are given life—nurtured, nestled, brought to life. Home grounds us, centers us, focuses us, names us with an identity that serves us well and enables us to step forth with all that we need to find our way in the world—to find the way that is truly our own, and not just a worn path with the black foot-prints laid out through the long years of the far distant future. Ah, but, how many of us start out with a home like that?

But, a home like that is necessary for us to grow up around a protected core, a strong sense of who we are. We must protect the core. The core is the Soul, the Self—the inner dynamic center around which we constellate. It is the foundation upon which we build our life. The core is that which is deepest, best and truest about us. Our central identity. The essence of us. We grow out of a protected core (And home is really the self we have to leave in order to, finally, find).

If we do not have a home that supports life and protects the core, then our primary search is for a home, a place, a community, that will help us develop spiritually/psychologically to the point of being able to leave home. The problem is that without a protected core, we enter the search for the right kind of home wounded and in need of such healing that our energy is devoted to, drained by, restoring the core, and the work of aligning ourselves with the core and redeeming the world is indefinitely delayed.

To take up that work, we have to learn to heal and protect the core. We do that by consciously processing the harmful experiences. We say what happened, what its impact was, and how wrong it was, how wronged we were by it. We witness the wrong and name it specifically and clearly. We do not deny it, or gloss over it, or say anything other than the truth about it. And, we look for corroborating witnesses, those who can hear us and understand. We have to know we are not alone and we have to know the wrong that was committed against us, and we have to know it was wrong, and grant it no excuse, no defense.

We heal and protect the core by consciously bearing the pain of harmful life experiences—by saying what happened and how wrong it was that it happened, and how no one should have to deal with what we are having to deal with, and bringing the knowledge of that experience and its impact into our life, and letting ourselves not get over it and act as though nothing happened, but walk with a limp, because we have received a blow. The core cannot stand unprotected against the meanness of life. It needs us to defend its interests and take up its cause. This is the Hero’s Task, bearing consciously the blows of life, and it is one that we need a community to help us undertake. It is not ours to do alone.

Once the core is vital and dynamic, the fun begins. James Hollis says all the soul wants is an interesting life. We think the soul wants a straight arrow kind of life, a straight-laced and narrow kind of life. Our idea of the right life for the soul, and the soul’s idea of the right life for itself, are two different ideas. We think right is about moral rectitude, or peace and justice and fair play all around, equal pay, equal rights, hunky-dorey, everybody’s happy now, let’s just be nice and the world will be a better place. Boring.

The soul hates boring. The soul loves interesting. The soul loves not knowing what is going to happen next. The soul thinks the Right Life is one where we: Upset the apple carts, rock all the boats, yank the rug out from under everything, stomp the egg shells, don’t do anything the same way twice, create chaos wherever we go, create something anyway, make a mess, relish messes, love the mess, get our hands dirty, don’t know what we are doing or where we are going, live without a map, or a plan, or a schedule, live for the situations in which the rules do not apply… That’s the kind of life our soul has in mind for us. And you thought the soul was on your side. Anybody that thinks that doesn’t know the first thing about soul.

We want stability, security, predictability, sameness, constancy, certainty, dependability, death disguised as life. The soul wants life in the raw. No disguises. No costumes. No pretense. The soul wants to be alive. You see the disconnect, I’m sure. Whose side are we on is the question. To what extent are we living to be comfortable? Seeking to be comfortable? Surrounding ourselves with that which makes us comfortable? We cannot be alive and comfortable. What’s it going to be?

We cannot be alive and comfortable because life is inconvenient and inconsiderate and insistent and incessant and unrelenting. We just want to settle down and be happy. Life is goading us and urging us on. We just want to “get there.” Life won’t let us stop. We never get done living—we never get living done. We look for a groove. Life gives us upheaval. We look for smooth sailing and easy street. Life gives us chaos and says, “Here. See what you can do with this.” It’s a conflict of interests all the way. Who is in charge here? Who is running the show? We can force a life on Soul that Soul doesn’t want, and Soul picks out a nice wall to slam us into. Those who know, know who’s in charge. Those who don’t know are learning.

Soul isn’t here to serve us, we are here to serve soul. “Not my will, but thine, be done!” Until we understand the right order of things and put ourselves in the service of soul, there is hell to pay. Of course, there is hell to pay if we serve soul, so either way, there is hell to pay, but serving soul is a different kind of hell, it’s the kind where we can grin and laugh while we are going through it, or after we go through it. The path to heaven winds through the right choice of hell. The wrong choice of hell just winds around in hell. Choose the right kind of death and you come alive. Choose the wrong kind of death and you’re just dead.

It comes down to a question of faith. Who are you going to trust? Put your trust in the core, in soul, and step into your life. Every day. That’s all there is to it. We have to know, remember, be conscious, aware, that our primary work is bringing forth soul, living aligned with the core, manifesting the core—that the call is for wholeness, integrity, authenticity, genuineness, and truth—that we are called to live lives that are integrated, that are integral, with what is deepest, best, and truest about us, with the soul, the core. That is our work, knowing the core, living from the core. Living the life the core would have us live, the life that translates, incarnates, embodies, exhibits, makes concrete the core within the context and circumstances of our lives, the time and place of our living.

But this gets tricky. Because we decide what the core would have us do. Surely, even if your name isn’t Shirley, you see the problem. How do we know that what is important to us is important to soul? We pay attention, and practice, practice, practice. The first place we listen is to our bodies. Psyche is Somatic. Soul is physical—is expressed, known, felt physically. So, we talk about “gut feelings,” and taking a “gut check.” The thing we have in common with our soul is our body. Soul communes with us through our physical sensations, our feelings/senses, our emotions, our reactions to our life experience, our dreams, our slips of the tongue, our unconscious drifts toward music (humming a tune) and memories and preoccupations, our symptoms, our fears... We tune into ourselves and find Soul talking to us, calling to us, trying to get our attention.

And, we can’t worry about being wrong. It all becomes clear over time for those who keep looking for clarity. We have to live toward the best we can imagine at all times and let the outcomes guide our future direction. Therein lies wholeness and life.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

01/01/09, Being alive in the time left for living...

The experience of life calls us forth—if we are open to the experience, if we experience the experi-ence, if we don’t close ourselves off from it, deny it, hide. How alive are we willing to be in the time left for living? How alive are we willing to be on terms not our own? Everything waits for our go-ahead, for our signal, for us to get on board and get with the program. The program requires us to engage the Mystery.

We have to engage the Mystery to find meaning, and we cannot live—that is, we cannot be truly alive—without meaning. Meaning is the difference between biological life, 98.6 and breathing, being up-right and intact and drinking a beer with all our vital signs in place, and being alive in the deepest, fullest, truest sense of the term. When we fall in love, for instance, our lives have meaning that they didn’t have before we fell in love. We have to fall in love with the Mystery. All of our falling in love is falling in love with the Mystery, we just think it’s the honey or the hunk that we are in love with. The honey or the hunk is what the Mystery uses to get our attention. But, we trump the Mystery and think it’s the honey or the hunk. We are the Mystery’s mystery. The Mystery is trying to wake us up, to speak to us. We have to work toward the Mystery as the Mystery works toward us. We meet in the heart of ourselves.

We work toward the Mystery, engage the Mystery, through metaphor, symbol, and image. It takes sitting with these things to see what they have to show us, to say to us. We live too fast to listen. Our lives are too noisy to see. There is no place, no time, to sit (or walk, or stand) with solitude and understand. So, we have to create a space. And listen, in order to hear. And look, in order to see. And follow our curiosity wherever it takes us.

We cannot wake up without a regular place for silence and solitude in our lives. We have to step back from the noise and speed with which life is lived and be present with the awareness that is always present with us, but lost amid the distractions and diversions of our lives. We have to be quiet and open in order to see, hear, and understand. Where do you wait for awareness to envelop you? How often do you go there? How long do you stay?

Another way to engage the Mystery is by bringing the immediacy of our present experience into the conversation. When we do that, we look into the mirror of ourselves. We cannot talk about the here-and-now without talking about our engagement with, our reaction to, the here-and-now. We cannot say anything about this moment that isn’t more about us than about the moment. When we talk about our-selves, we risk being seen. When we risk being seen, we risk seeing. It’s better to talk about the weather, or baseball, or those people over there.

We cannot collude with one another in the care and tending of denial. We have to be as awake as we can be in each moment, in every conversation. Our obligation is to see, and hear, and understand and to help each other see, hear, understand. That’s mostly what therapists do for us, and we can do as much for one another, simply by seeing, hearing, understanding each other. Those who see us (and hear us and understand us) see things in us, about us, that we don’t see ourselves. There is nothing like being seen and heard to enable, to force, us to see, hear.

So, if we hang with people who are as arrested in their development as we are in ours, and talk about other people, or the weather, or baseball, there is no movement, no stirring, no awakening. There is nothing like talking about other people to keep us from talking about ourselves and waking up. Unless we begin to talk about talking about other people. Unless we see that in talking about other people we are talking about ourselves—about the aspects of ourselves we cannot allow ourselves to see in ourselves, and so we see it, and talk about it, in those people over there. Once we begin to see, we see ourselves eve-rywhere. In seeing ourselves, we approach the Mystery.

In talking about anything, everything, we are talking about our reaction to that thing. We are talk-ing about ourselves. What does our reaction have to say about us? Our reaction to anything—to the weather, baseball, or those people over there? What’s the history of that reaction to that thing? Where does it come from? When did it begin? What was going on in our lives when that reaction was born? Why that reaction and not some other reaction instead? Everything is a mirror to those willing to see. We see ourselves everywhere we look. When we wake up, we wake up to our experience and our response to our experience, and the Mystery that is meeting us in our experience, calling us through our experience, to reconnect us with ourselves.

We are always hearing, “Don’t take it personally.” Wrong advice. Take it personally. That’s the ticket to waking up and being connected with the Mystery and with ourselves. Take it personally and in-quire about it, listen to it, receive the gift it is trying to give us. We cannot treat our experience imperson-ally. We have to make the impersonal personal in order for it to transport us into the unifying whole of existence. It is the Personal Psyche that connects us with the Collective Psyche. When we take something “personally,” that is the beginning. Great! Take everything “personally,” and ask of it the pertinent ques-tions: “What is your history?” “Where do you come from?” “What is your origin?” “Why here, now?” “What is your meaning for me, your gift to me?” “In what ways can you help me move beyond where I am?” “In what ways are you pointing out to me the places I am stuck?” “Where do we go from here?” “How can you help me find the way?” “What do you have to say to me? To show me?” “What am I not see-ing, refusing to see, by seeing only my hurt feelings, the insult, the betrayal, and not inquiring as to their origin?” When we wake up, we wake up in, and to, our experience and in, and to, our response to our ex-perience. We are as close to the experience of God, to experience of the Mystery, as we are to the experi-ence of our own life.

Things happen to us for better and for worse all our lives long. And we experience them and re-spond to them in ways that result in outcomes that are better or worse. We can make a bad thing better and a good thing worse, or a good thing better and a bad thing worse, by the way we react to it. And, if we don’t have the time, or take the time, to process—to become conscious of—the thing that happened and our response to it, we become stuck to it, unconsciously, forever. And, stuck to the thing, we become stuck in our lives, and function inadequately in the world.

Some things are so bad they take a lifetime to process, to become conscious of. We have to tell the story of the bad thing happening and our response to it again and again in order to hear it, finally, our-selves. Until we can see something, we can’t do anything about it.

People who flounder, who make one bad choice, one poor judgment, after another, who reel and crash about in their lives are stuck to something that happened, maybe to everything that has ever hap-pened, to them, and flail about trying to lose it, but only pick up more things in the process, and are, if they could be seen in their unconscious reality, a big wad of unprocessed experiences waddling through experience, getting larger with each step.

And, if we gather in small groups to tut-tut about the poor unconscious souls who stumble sleep-walking through their lives, we miss the mirror they are, and do not see ourselves in the life they live out before us. “We have met the other and he, or she, is us.” We all live under the spell cast by our previous experience and our response to it. We break the spell by waking up to it. And “(waking) up is so very hard to do.”

But, that is all there is to it. And, we begin the process by waking up to ourselves and how it is with us. We don’t get there, of course, by thinking, but by imagining—not directly, but indirectly—through the medium of images, metaphors and symbols. These are the things which awaken us to the depths, open our eyes to how things are, and also are, and transport us to the Mystery of Being. Things come to life for us as we sit with the image, the metaphor, the symbol and become aware of what is opening to us just on the other side. Through the image we catch a glimpse of truth. As we move toward truth, things change.

We live with so many images, metaphors, symbols—they flash at us from everywhere, but they are shallow, trite, and give us the impression of having seen it all before. We see them, but they don’t catch our eye, don’t move us. When was the last time we were moved by anything? Our role is to be moved, stirred. If we aren’t being moved, we are dead. We have to place ourselves in the position of being moved. If we won’t do that, whom are we kidding, talking about life?

Metaphors, symbols and images are everywhere. Anything, everything, serves to connect those with eyes that see to the divine, to the Mystery, to the Holy Wonder at the heart of LIFE. Eyes that see, you see, are the catch. Here’s the rule for developing eyes that see. Notice what moves you and follow it. No-tice what catches your eye and look closer. Seeing hinges on being curious about what catches our eye. Curiosity excites the imagination, deepens inquiry, expands awareness. That’s the way of life.

The dead are not curious about anything. That’s deader than dead. That’s being dead beyond the hope of resurrection, awakening, beyond the reach of life. That’s being Quite Dead. Once we are Quite Dead, it is all over for us, and we are just waiting for the undertaker to make it official, but the date on the death certificate will be off by scores of years.

The Quite Dead have closed themselves off from the Urge to Life. The Urge to Life has to be cham-pioned, sponsored, promoted, subsidized, patronized, nurtured, cultivated, encouraged, tended. This is stewardship at its best. We have to be good stewards of the Urge to Life that comes wrapped in little baby bodies at birth. Look, though, at what we do. By the time our children are five or six, or earlier, they have lost their voice, their curiosity, and are living as extensions of the culture, well on their way to being Quite Dead.

The life that the culture is calling us to live is different from the life the Mystery is calling us to live. Whose idea of life will we serve? Whose side are we on? That’s the question that hangs in the air, waiting to be answered. Everything waits for our go-ahead, for our signal, for us to get on board and get with the program.