Sunday, December 19, 2010

Let There Be Light!

My paraphrase of Deuteronomy 30:11-14 reads, Surely, what is asked of us is not too hard for us, nor is it too far away. The light is not in heaven, that we should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may see it and walk in it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that we should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that it might illumine our way?’ No, the light is very near to us; it is in our heart and soul that we might be the light we long for.

The hitch is that we don’t want to be the light we long for. We want to talk about the light as though we are 2,000 years away from it. When Moses came down from the mountain the people requested that he veil his face because he radiated the light of God and it was too much for them to look at. We want distance between us and the light. Yet, at the same time, we speak longingly of the light, and burn advent candles, and talk of epiphany as though we would like nothing better than to be visited by the light, but. We don’t want to have anything to do with the light.

The Gospel readings put us in our place. They start out comfortably enough, with the light being far off, “in the beginning,” when “the life was the light of all people,” as though we might see it from a distance and be comforted in the darkness, knowing we are not alone. We like it even better when John has Jesus say, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” But Matthew does us no favors. He quotes Jesus as slamming us against the wall with, “YOU are the light of the world,” and “Let YOUR light shine before others that they see (how you are living) and glorify (the Source of light by bringing forth their own light)!”

The light, remember, is the life that was in the beginning and lives in us waiting to come to life through us as we get out of the way and let our light shine, and live the life that is life, that is the life that waits to be lived. We are the light we seek but generate darkness by living lives that reflect our idea of how life ought to be, and we do not easily set our idea for our life aside in order to live the life that is truly our life to live. We are afraid that life will not be what we want it to be, even though it will be more than we can ask, or seek, or imagine. We are afraid.

Mary Oliver highlights our dilemma in her poem “Lightning.” (In the thunder storm) it was hard to tell fear from excitement; how sensual the lightning’s poured stroke! and still, what a fire and a risk! As always the body wants to hide, wants to flow toward it—strives to balance while fear shouts, excitement shouts, back and forth—each bolt a burning river tearing like escape through the dark field of the other.

The light that is the life of all people terrifies us and thrills us with its possibilities. We work out a compromise and talk about the light as though it lived in Jesus but not in us. We can be safe that way in the lives we construct for ourselves. We comfort ourselves with talk of 2,000 year old light and douse the flame that flickers faintly within us all, erecting mercury-vapor lamps to hold back the darkness we also fear—creating little islands of artificial light by living inauthentic lives in the service of plastic and superficiality, while life dies unlived within.

Rumi calls us out: “Darkness is your cradle…” “To thee light by darkness is made known…” The darkness that brings forth our light is not-knowing what to do and waiting there in that dark place, trusting the spark of realization, of awareness, of light—trusting the epiphany of perception and understanding—to guide us in the way of life that we might offer what is ours to give to the moment as it unfolds, to the situation as it arises. This is letting our light so shine before others that they see how we are living and glorify the Source of light by bringing forth their own light.

Of course, we are afraid, and seek to disappear our fear by making up rules to live by so that we don’t have to wonder what to do and run the risk of making mistakes, of being wrong. But “darkness is our cradle,” and we have to trust ourselves. We have to trust the light that lives within, the life that stirs within, and wait, listening, looking, for what needs to be said, for what needs to be done, in responding appropriately and offering what is called for out of the gifts we have to give to each moment of our living.

The moment is the adventure. We must not shrink back, afraid, resorting to the same old same old tried and true formulas for living that are the purview of the dead and dying. The light that is the life of all people is the creative source of ingenuity and genius that splits the darkness like a thunderbolt and shines like the sun bursting forth in the night to draw all people to the brightness of its rising to send them forth into their own lives to live there in bold new ways that light up the world. Amen! May it be so with us all!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Credo, Part VI

The Doctrine of the Two Ways—the Right Way and the Wrong Way—has been the central religious view in the Near East and the West for thousands of years, and is a popular religious outlook today. Nay! It goes beyond being popular! It is the predominant religious outlook today. We are seeped in the Doctrine of the Two Ways. We believe deeply that the way we believe (and think and do) is the Right Way to believe (and think and do) and that all other ways of believing (and thinking and doing) are the Wrong Way to believe (and think and do).

It gets worse. We believe that if we believe Right Beliefs we will go to heaven when we die, and that if we believe Wrong Beliefs we will go “as straight to hell as a Martin to its gourd” (You have to have lived in the rural south for a while to understand the metaphor and know that the Martin in question is a Purple Martin and its gourd is a dried gourd that has had a hole cut in it and is hanging with a dozen or so other gourds for nesting places for Purple Martins). The idea of heaven as a reward for Right Belief and hell as a punishment for Wrong Belief is the fundamental religious curse that people carry with them for life and with which they infect all who come their way.

Because we cannot risk being wrong and going to hell, we cannot question what we have received as Right Belief, and have to believe what has been believed unquestioned through the ages. In so doing, we create a hell on earth populated by the walking dead, empty-eyed and soulless, talking of Eternal Life as compensation for the life they are not living and never have lived, thanks to the Doctrine of the Two Ways.

Darkness and Light, Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, Truth and Error, the Way of Life and the Way of Death, etc. are set out before us, and the wise among us choose well and the foolish, or evil, among us choose poorly. Believers are urged to pray, therefore, that they will choose well in order to be ushered into the Kingdom of Goodness and Light with the accolade: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

There is, of course, a different way of looking at things—if you dare!

Good, at some point, goes over into evil. Evil, at some point, goes over into good. Not only that, but from some point of view, good IS evil and evil IS good (Floods, for example, that destroy homes and lives and livelihoods also fertilize the land to produce the crops that feed the people. Are floods good or evil? Both!). And, as the old saying goes, “There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us, it doesn’t behoove any of us to talk about the rest of us.” Absolute Good and Absolute Evil are theoretical concepts without precedent in the lived experience of human beings. Given the truth of the relative nature of the options comprising the Two Ways, we can’t long avoid the realization that it is not as simple as we have been led to believe.

Think not of living a morally pure and upright life and deserving heaven when we die. Think instead of living aligned with the Way and living the life that is our destiny, our life to live—of being properly engaged with inner and outer reality and offering what is needed out of what is ours to give to each situation as it unfolds. It is not a matter of matching our behavior up to some ancient standard or code but of responding appropriately to the moment in each moment of our lives, doing what is needed there never mind what our parents or preachers declare ought to be done.

And if we are wrong about what needs to be done? Shake it off! Get up! Get ready! Get back in the game! The next moment is on the way! The beauty of The Doctrine of More Than Two Ways is that getting it wrong is just a step on the way to getting it right. The meandering of the river is no threat to the sea. The roots of tomorrow’s Right are grounded in yesterday’s Wrong. Learn from your mistakes. Learn from your successes. Learn from everything. Living is the lesson and life is the teacher. We have a lifetime in which to learn what being alive is all about. Wake up! Pay attention! Be alert! Take a chance and another one after that! There is life to be lived! We are not dead yet and we must not live as though we are! Do not die before you are dead! Live with all that is within you for as long as life is possible no mater what! Amen! May it be so!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

My Credo, Part V

Here is the formula: “There is the way things are. And there is the way things also are. And that’s the way things are.” This is symbolized neatly in the yin/yang of Taoism (Or Zen—Buddhism mingled with Taoism to become Zen, and I don’t know the historical moment yin/yang came into being). Yin is the way things are. Yang is the way things also are. And the circle containing them is the way things are. Reality, you might say, is one in its duality, in its polarity.

William Blake puts it beautifully: “Without Contraries, is no progression” (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell). This means our work is “working it out.” We are always and forever “working it out.” We are always and forever needing to counter-balance, to compensate, to counteract our excesses and deficiencies. We go too far in one direction and have to be reeled in, called back, by the forces contained in the opposite direction. This is “finding the center” or “walking the straight and narrow.” We live on the boundary between yin and yang. We have to be “rounded out” by the opposition in order to “square ourselves with” that which is true and that which is also true. We find our way forward in a conversation with “the Contraries” within and without. We must be careful to not allow the opposites to cancel each other out, but to open each other, and ourselves, up to worlds, to possibilities, we could not imagine or enter on our own.

This opening is enabled by conversation with the opposites, among the opposites, between the opposites. Conversation enlarges, deepens, transforms, unites. Conversation is the way to the Way, individually and collectively. The kind of community that is required for living properly aligned with Inner and Outer Reality, centered, in synch, and on the Path, is a community of opposites, of polarities, where all persons take each other seriously, treat each other with the deepest respect, honor each other’s perspective, and allow conversation with one another to expand, deepen, and enlarge one’s own sense of how things are and what needs to be done in response. In this kind of community there is no one way of seeing, thinking, believing and doing. There is no sense of “our way” being the Right Way and “their way” being the Wrong Way. The right kind of community is not “one big happy family” in firm agreement about what to think, feel, believe and do. It is one that values contrary views and finds the way to the Way by taking all pertinent perspectives into account and allowing them to inform and guide the development of each participant in the community, but in the end, each participant is responsible for determining and doing what she, what he, thinks needs to be done in each situation as it arises.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

DVD Announcement

This DVD is a collection of 265 photos with music from two Greensboro musicians, Betsy Bevan (piano) and Will Ridenour (Kora, or African Harp), and audio reflections from me on photography and life. Sells for $25 through PayPal at my web site: www.jimdollarphotography.com under "Numinous Landscape DVD" in the menu.

My Credo, Part IV

Mind? Self? Soul/Psyche? These terms represent the interface between the Spiritual Realm and the material universe. They are our pathway for tuning into spiritual reality and translating that reality into physical existence. Self, with a capital “S,” is synonymous with Christ to my way of thinking. In saying “Jesus was the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One),” we are saying Jesus was “a chip off the old block,” so to speak, that he was the visible expression of Divine grace, mercy, peace—evidence of the purposeful Mystery of existence—within the confines of tangible reality, and that he exhibited the right way of doing things in the physical universe. We do the same things when we become the Self we are called to be. The Self is the Christ, spiritual reality becoming apparent through us within the time and place of our living. Spiritual reality, you might say, is “born” through us into the world of physical existence. We all are the Mother of God.

When we live aligned with the Self we are called to be, we are “on the beam,” “on track,” “on course,” “on the Path,” in synch with “the purposeful Mystery of existence.” Then, we are one with the Way, and exhibit the truth at the heart of things within the context and circumstances of our life. Of course, this is not easy. It is very tricky because we not only have to be aligned with the Way, but we also have to take into account How Things Are And Also Are on every level of existence.

All the worlds come together in us. We have to be reconciled with, we have to “square up to,” the requirements of life in the world AND the requirements of life at the heart of things. We have to come to terms with the terms and conditions of life in the world of physical reality AND we have to come to terms with our own emotional and psychological reality AND we have to be aligned with, live in sync with, what has always been called “the Way of God,” which is also the Way that is uniquely our Way, the Way with our name on it—our destiny. We have to accommodate ourselves to both Inner and Outer Reality—to physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual reality. This is where things get interesting and become meaningful. This is what we live for, whether we know it or not.

There are no formulas, or recipe, or rules, or laws governing how we are to strike the necessary balance, how we are to integrate all of the contradictory forces at work within and without. So, we have to pay attention, be alert, awake, and aware. We engage and express the purposeful Mystery of existence in each moment as we work to do what is needed in the situation as it arises. We cannot plan this out beforehand. We live into the Mystery. We live the Mystery, as we assist in the coming forth, in the emergence, of what is called for in each moment. The work to do this brings us to life and is LIFE in the deepest, richest, sense of the word. May we all live so fully and so well!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

My Credo, Part III

Did someone say “destiny”? No? Thank goodness! That would have been too much of a coincidence. I was just thinking about destiny. Destiny is not the same as fate. Our fate consists of the givens present in our life situation—the time and place of our living, our genetic make-up, who our parents were, what is available for us to work with, “how things are with us.” Our fate is also what becomes of us, what happens to us—what we are left with—if we reject, deny, or ignore our destiny. We either embrace and serve our destiny, or we succumb to our fate. There is no third option.

Our destiny is what/who we are called to become within the time and place, the context and circumstances, of our living. Destiny is what we do with our fate, what we construct with the materials that are available for us to work with, who we show ourselves to be through the process of living our life. We are called to a particular destiny in exhibiting the gifts that are, the genius that is, uniquely ours within the circumstances of life, which are generally the same for a large number of our contemporaries, though our destinies are quite different.

You can think of destiny as “God’s will for our lives,” or “the way of God for us.” When we live aligned with “the Way of God,” we are also aligned with “the Way” that exists for us individually, personally, and live to bring ourselves forth as we bring what has always been thought of as God forth into the world of normal, concrete, apparent reality.

Here’s the problem: Our heart's true desire is to be one with its destiny but. We have eyes for other things. The work of maturity is connecting with our heart. This is dying to our idea of what is important and aligning ourselves with heart’s idea, with soul’s idea, of what is important. “Thy will, not mine, be done!” “Those who would be my disciple must pick up their cross daily and follow me.” Our cross is the difference between our soul’s idea of what is important and our idea of what is important.

The heart knows its true joy/love, its destiny, and it is our place to align ourselves with the drift of heart/soul toward its sense of where it belongs and what it needs to be about. This is going with the flow in the deepest, truest sense of the term. And in that undertaking, Jesus is the "first born of all creation," leading the way with his “come follow me!”

The work of that which has always been called salvation, that is being aligned with that which is our true destiny, our true life, is the work of maturity, of growing up, of connecting with our heart and living, at last, aligned with our calling, and living the life that is truly our life to live. Our life's work is awakening to our heart's true joy--its love for and affiliation with its true destiny--and letting that become our life. We are here to help you do the work that is yours to do, on living the life that is yours to live. Everything here is predicated on your doing the work that is yours to do, on living the life that is yours to live. If you aren't doing that, or if you aren’t interested in doing that, you won’t likely find much here that you can relate to.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

My Credo, Part II

God? God is the purposeful Mystery of existence. Any attempt to state what the purpose is, or what the Mystery is, is to say what cannot be said. We cannot talk knowledgeably about more than we can know, and we cannot know what we cannot see, hear, smell, taste, touch, weigh, measure, count, quantify, compute, calculate, etc. We can sense the Mystery, intuit it, perceive it, but we cannot define or explain it. But, we can trust it. We can believe in it.

We can believe in the purposeful Mystery of existence and trust ourselves to it, and see what comes of it. We only have to open ourselves to the experience of our lives to see the drift, the movement, that has brought us to this moment. Our lives are moving us along. Life is movement toward something, toward some good. Our lives are moving us toward something. We cannot deny the movement of our life, the drift that our life has taken, often without our awareness, sometimes against our will, usually without our knowing assistance.

God is the purposeful Mystery at work in the movement of life toward some good. God is the highest possible good, the highest order of good, the best there is. Our values find their essence in God. God is inseparable from “the Will of God” or “the Way of God,” which is also “the Way of Life,” or simply, “the Way.” This is also called “Tao.” I believe “the Way (or Will) of God” for us is particular, individual, unique for each of us and it is generally the same for all of us. Generally, we can use such words as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, goodness, grace, mercy, peace, etc.” to describe the demeanor of someone who is in, or on, “the Way.” Particularly, the person who exhibited those general values would also be aligned with her or his own personal destiny, or way of being in the world, and would live out of a “Thy will, not mine, be done” orientation.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Four Poems

Madonna and Child

She walked past the plate glass window

next to where I sat with my friend Bill

in a booth in the worst hamburger joint on the eastern seaboard,

eating a dripping grease burger

covered with melted Velveeta cheese of all things

with fries fresh from a year in the freezer.

She was twelve months pregnant, going on thirteen.

It had to have been her first pregnancy

as young as she was

and as jauntily as she carried herself

down the walk and through the door,

wearing a red spandex top

and navy blue spandex tights,

bringing forth who and how she was

for all to see,

honor, marvel at, rejoice in, worship.

The wonder of the vision

was equal in every way

to the one that stunned the angels

who announced the Messiah’s birth.

And as redemptive.

She redeemed the day, the week, the year, my life,

all of life, forever, throughout all eternity.

And I carry her memory in my heart

to relish and adore

Mary, the mother of God,

ordering a grease burger and

making all things remarkably good

by her presence with us

in the ordinariness of our lives.

What’s It Going To Take?

Once we figure it out,

what are we going to do with it?

What’s Enlightenment going to do for us,

that’s what I’m asking.

The test is not in the knowing,

but in the doing,

in the living.

We have to look at our lives

and live them.

What’s it going to take

to enable us to do that?

What do we need

to step into our lives

every morning,

and live them

all the way back to bed at night?

Live them

the way they ought to be lived,

I’m talking.

Live them

like we mean it, I mean.

What’s it going to take

to live like we mean it?

Good Families

Good families don’t pretend to be good families

Don’t strive to do it like it’s supposed to be done,

Don’t have anything to hide,

Or don’t hide what they have to hide,

But live with everything in full view,

Available to be seen and said,

Laughed at, or yelled at, and talked about,

Brought up for review and revision,

Capable of being modified, altered, improved, changed.

Good families can be changed.

They are honest and vulnerable that way.

Bad families are fragile, brittle,

Incapable of self-assessment or self-correction,

They remain stuck, unchanging, forever.

Good Luck

There are people

who want to argue with me

about the possibility of luck.

No kidding.

“There is no such thing as luck!” they say,

when I wish them, “Good Luck!”

“It’s strictly a matter of Providence.”

When I say, “Aren’t we lucky

that God is so Providential?”

they say, “It has nothing to do with luck!”

Clearly, one of us

is missing something,

somewhere.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My Credo, Part I

Primal peoples believed the visible world was grounded upon the invisible world. So do I. I believe the spiritual world is more real than the material world, and that the spiritual realm (You could call it the Kingdom of God, but you wouldn’t know any more about it than if you called it the Spiritual Realm) exists alongside (over, under, around and through) the physical universe, and has autonomous, independent existence, as the fourth, or fifth, or however many there might be, dimension of reality. As the primal peoples would say, “It always is.” The Spiritual Realm is eternal, unending, constantly present. I can’t say much more about the Spiritual Realm, other than that it is the source of life, not in the biological sense (We can be living biologically, upright, intact, able to take nourishment with vital signs working normally without being alive at all), but in the every-other-way sense, in the deepest, fullest, richest sense. When we are connected with the Spiritual Realm, we are alive in the fullest sense of the term, and when we are connected with the things that bring us to life, we are connected with the Spiritual Realm.

Monday, October 04, 2010

A Poem About Cats

Say what you will about cats, they know what their business is. A cat is never uncertain or confused about its business. A cat knows what its business is and is always, I mean always, going about its business. I watched a cat lying under the front bumper of a car parked at the curb in Stonington, Maine. After some time had passed, it moved under the rear bumper of the car in front of the one it had been lying under. Changed scenery. The cat knew its business and was not to be deterred. Cats are like that.

Maybe it’s napping, and maybe it’s stalking a bird or a grasshopper, or waiting on dinner to come from the can to the bowl. Whatever it is, the cat knows what it is and stays centered in it, focused on it. “Big deal,” you say. “What’s a cat’s business? A cat’s business has no impact on the way the world turns!” That kind of comment works on human beings. You can shame us out of doing our business. “Photography? What does photography have to do with anything? Photography doesn’t feed the hungry, serve the poor, or establish world peace! Jesus didn’t own a camera! What do you mean taking pictures when there is real work to be done?” That would keep me from carrying a camera, but not a cat. A cat wouldn’t give you the satisfaction of acknowledging the validity of your assertions. A cat would steadfastly maintain its concentration on the business at hand.

Now hold that thought while I relate a dream reported by a member of a 12-Step program. “I dreamed I was cranking a mimeograph machine,” she said. “Turning out page after page of the same thing. I woke up enlightened. It isn’t that my judgment is bad. It’s that I’m using the wrong machine!” The irony, of course, is that using the wrong machine is bad judgment. If we exercise good judgment in the wrong way, it’s the same thing as bad judgment! It isn’t enough to have good judgment, we have to execute it in the right way, which means we have to believe in it, trust it, listen to it and let it direct our lives—even when it doesn’t appear to be working.

That’s asking too much. We aren’t cats. We have too much at stake in our lives to allow ourselves to follow a course that doesn’t work. But, here the cat comes back into the picture. What does it mean for something to work? A cat is centered and focused on what is important to the cat. A cat would call that working. A cat is at peace with itself, at one with itself. It has no pretentions, puts on no airs, assumes no postures. A cat never tries to be a dog, or even another cat. It lives in perfect harmony with itself, with perfect integrity of being. A cat would call that working.

But we have different ideas of success. Success is money, in our book, money in the bank. Plenty of it. We don’t get paid to be who we are. We get paid to be who we are not. We do not get paid to do what we like to do. We get paid to do what we don’t like to do. The most successful people we know are the people who haven’t done anything they wanted to do all their lives long. The most successful people we know don’t have a clue about what their business is. They have been disconnected for so long from the business that is truly theirs that they think their business is what they do for a living, what they get paid to do, what no one would do if they didn’t get paid to do it. You couldn’t pay a cat to do anything that wasn’t it’s business.

No one tries to take a cat’s business away from the cat and give the cat some other business. Everyone tries to do that with us. Everybody tries to tell us what our business ought to be. We have so many people telling us what our business ought to be, or paying us to do things that aren’t our business, that we have no idea what our business is, and no idea of how to know.

A cat knows its business. We don’t know ours, or, we don’t trust ourselves to know ours. This gets us to the crux, as they say, of the matter. This is our first order of business, sorting out what our business is. What are we chasing? What are we after? What are we about with our lives? Whatever it is, is it our idea or something someone else has handed to us? We have to sit with the questions and see where they lead. No one can tell you what your business is, but if you don’t trust yourself to know what it is, you are at the mercy of everyone with a guilt trip to give away or a sales pitch to make. Who knows better than a cat what its business is? Who knows better than you what your business is? But, we don’t know. We don’t trust ourselves to know. What do we need, to know?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The work that saves the world is becoming who you are.

It is the work of the individual to save the world. We do that, we save the world, by being individuals, by being who we are, and also are, in the world. We pull this off by being true to ourselves, squared up with who we are and who we also are, squared up with our life, with the way things are, with how it is both inside and outside. The work of squaring ourselves up to how it is with us, internally and externally, is the work that brings us forth as individuals and saves the world. This is not easy.

The work of reconciliation, integration, assimilation, individuation, alignment, becoming who we are, doing what is ours to do in each situation as it arises is trumped by many things, and fear and desire are high on the list. The story of the Garden of Eden is the story of turning aside from The Way that is good for the sake of what is also good. Genesis 3:6 reads, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” What is good cancels out what is good.

The good is the enemy of the good. What is the good of the good we call good, of the good we serve? Takes meditative distance to know. To live "from the center" is to live with "meditative distance." It requires focus and concentration to be centered in this here, this now. The farther from the center we live, the greater the attraction to, and influence of, "glass beads and silver mirrors," and other things that catch our eye.

Joseph Campbell was on his college track team and later in life could not attend a track meet without becoming "uncomfortably involved" in the action. We lose the center, the meditative distance, when snared by things we care about. AA doesn't meet in bars, or across the street from bars, or around the corner from bars. There is no immunity. We are not off limits to the "pull of the forbidden fruit." Our work is always at the point of being forgotten and forsaken in favor of all that is “good and pleasing.”

And not only are we distracted by what is attractive and pleasing, but we also have more than we can handle just dealing with the day-to-day ebbs and flows of our life. We build a home in the country long before the subdivision is an idea in some developer's mind, or before the freeway appears on some Department of Transportation design table. No one saw it coming. This is how life is. Life comes out of nowhere to stun and demolish and leave us wondering how in the world we will gather ourselves and respond to THIS.

It takes meditative distance to gather ourselves and face what must be faced. To rise to the occasion. To square ourselves up with the way things are, and do what we can with what we have to work with in responding to THIS. It is not easy, but it is essential that we do the work of offering what is needed to the time and place of our living, day in and day out, for the rest of our lives.

What is being asked of us in each moment, in each situation as it arises? How are we being asked to rise to this occasion, here and now? Ah, but. The objection. The resistance. The very idea! We don't WANT to rise to this, or any, occasion! We want what we want the way we want it when we want it for as long as we want it! And what we want has nothing to do with rising to some occasion! Grr! Snarl! Stomp and Shout (and Pout)!

Our life is asking us to grow up, to square ourselves up with our life, with how it is with us within and without, and we don't want to do it. We don’t want to wake up, grow up, square up, stand up, and do what needs to be done. We want life to bend to our will, to do what we want. We want to be told how to have what we want. We do not want to be told to hand over what we want for the sake of some way that is not our way.

The world is a wasteland that waits for us to understand how things are and reconcile ourselves to it, square ourselves with it. The world is a wasteland waiting for us to hand over what we want for the sake of The Way that is not our idea of any way, much less The Way. Everyone—every thing—suffers in this standoff.

The hero's place, the hero’s role, is not to be the hero with ticker tape parades and fireworks and celebrations long into the night, but to get up each day and rise to the occasion, the occasion she, he, does not want to rise to. THAT is the heroic task. It is never more difficult than doing what is asked of us each day, living in each moment to bring forth the gifts that are ours to give, the genius that is ours to share, in ways that meet the needs of the moment in the way that only we can. But this isn’t the whole of it.

Here’s the rest of the story. The world does not want what we have to offer. That’s the way the world treats its heroes. Jesus is crucified by those he would have gathered under his wings as a hen gathers her chicks. Pay attention here. This is about you. The world does not want us to be who we are, offering what we have to give.

If we are going to become who we are (and who we also are) we have to stand apart from the collective wisdom telling us to not be who we are. But, to do that, to stand apart from the collective is to be seen as Narcissistic, self-indulgent, anti-social. Well. Will we be individuals or not? We will be accused of belonging to "the cult of individuality." Are we going to be individuals or not? The collective will pull all stops in trying to block our development as individuals. Yet, that development is the collective's only hope. Ironic. Paradoxical. And how it is. Square yourself up to it and get yourself going!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Truth as Polarity

Hermes is the messenger of the Gods in the Greek Pantheon, the master of eloquence, interpretation, translation, explanation, right seeing and saying. It is from the word “Hermes” that we get “hermeneutics,” the art of interpreting Biblical texts. I stand before you in the spirit of Hermes to interpret the texts and make plain the truth. It’s what you pay me to do. And, it’s worth noting that the Roman name of Hermes is Mercury, which is also known as Quicksilver, something that shifts, moves, changes quickly, such as the interpretation, understanding, of truth. Now it’s this, now it’s that. Look quickly if you want to see it. It is on the way to becoming something else, perhaps its opposite.

This is the nature of truth. It is not static, but dynamic, changing, shape-shifting, evolving, emerging, unfolding, becoming. And you, we, have to be as quick as it is if we would keep up and know in this moment what is trying to be known here, now. “You don’t keep new wine in old wineskins,” says Jesus, because new wine is still fermenting and will burst the old wineskins that have lost their elasticity and cannot expand to incorporate the new ways of understanding the world, life, ourselves. “It’s a new world, Golda,” says Tevya, and we have to be ready to receive well the world that is changing before our eyes. I don’t think Jesus would have said it in those words, but that’s what he said. This is his theme, the point that he makes over and over. “The way you have thought is not the way to think! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!”

The Sermon on the Mount, the text in chapters 5, 6 and 7 in the Gospel of Matthew, is Jesus’ vision of what is required to live in the physical, visible, world as envoys, representatives, of the invisible world. Note carefully that it is not warfare that Jesus envisions. The Sermon on the Mount is not the book of Revelation or the message of John the Baptist. It is diametrically opposed to both. It begins with the Beatitudes.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are the pure in heart…Blessed are the peacemakers…Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…Blessed are you all, right now, exactly as you are!” These words from the man John the Baptist predicted would come “with his winnowing fork in his hand, and clear the threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Jesus’ behavior is so not what John expected that John is reported by Luke (7:18ff) to have sent his disciples to Jesus to inquire, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” What John looked for was not to be delivered in that age, and will not be delivered in some future age. It will not be as we think it will be. This is the nature of truth, which is like quicksilver, turning, changing, becoming more than we ever imagined, something other than we would ever guess.

The nature of truth is reflected in the polarities that define existence: This is the way things are, and this is the way things also are. But which way IS it REALLY?, we ask. Both ways. At the same time. Here’s an example. You know the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus espouses the Golden Rule (which was not original with Jesus by a long stretch): “In everything, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” You think that’s clear don’t you? Well, square these two texts with the parable about the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13). Sometimes we love our neighbor as we love ourselves and sometimes we say, “Who made me your caretaker?” (cf. Luke 12:14). Sometimes, we do it this way, and sometimes, we do it that way. And, how do we know when to do what? We take our chances, don’t you know?

The polarities are evident throughout the Sermon on the Mount. After the Beatitudes, which stand in opposition to the apocalyptic expectations of Jesus’ day, Jesus says, “Don’t think I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets! I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17), then he spends the rest of the Sermon on the Mount setting aside the popular thinking about the Law and the Prophets. “You have heard it said,” he says time and again, “but I say unto you!” (For instance, “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ But I say unto you, ‘Do not resist an evildoer, but if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, and if anyone wants to sue you to take your coat, give your cloak as well, and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.’”)

All of which is to say that the truth is expanded, enlarged, deepened by that which is also true, and that we who want things spelled out and made plain have to understand the nature of truth and the task of hermeneutics, interpretation, explanation. We are dealing with quicksilver here, as slippery a substance as there is in the entire collection of substances. Truth will not be nailed down, codified, defined, locked up, walled in, roped, tied and branded. Truth is this AND that. Sometimes it’s like this, and sometimes it’s like that. “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” Which way IS it? Both ways at the same time. And we live within the polarities, between the opposites, laughing at the very idea of saying how it is really without saying how it also is really. And, if we strive for consistency and constancy and one way only-ness (the RIGHT way, of course), we only show that we don’t have a clue.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

I call these things poems

What’s Important

by Jim Dollar

Anything can sound good

to those who aren’t clear

about what’s important.

We can follow the

bright lights down

winding trails

into the deep woods

and wake up wishing

for a hypnotist

to tell us we’re a duck

and feed us corn

out of his hand

so we can be happy

a bit longer

and not have to worry

about what matters

like where we are going

and what we mean

by going there.

Whisper softly to us.

we pray.

Tell us you are God,

or know God,

or talked to God

once on the phone,

and have the latest word

about what we must do

to be pain free

and unburdened

by the weight

of our lives.

The Young Girls

by Jim Dollar

What became of them, do you think,

all those young girls

with dreams

and straight A’s on every

spelling test?

How many were divorced

with children,

diagnosed with breast cancer,

disposed to develop a taste for the

night life

with nothing to show for it

but a fat diamond

or two

and a regular place on the

society pages?

We passed each other notes

in homeroom

and walked away

to do what we could

with our lives

without appreciating the

importance

of good company,

or honoring the

innocence

we were glad to

leave behind.

Wolves

by Jim Dollar

Wolves are just what they are.

Hungry or not they do what wolves do.

You would never mistake a wolf for a milk cow, say

Or a pizza delivery person.

A pizza delivery person

Could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing,

But not a wolf.

A wolf would not parade around in sheep’s clothing,

Baaing and munching grass,

Wondering when to make its move.

Red Toenails

by Jim Dollar

I love bright red polished toenails,

and deep maroon ones.

I love it that a woman

would take the time to paint her toenails.

What could the purpose possibly be?

I love the senseless pursuit of beauty in all forms.

Don’t you?

We Know

by Jim Dollar

We act like we know

exactly what it would take.

This job,

that spouse,

that area of town,

this neighborhood,

this car,

these friends,

those clubs…

It is as though

life is a big house

in the country

and we are interior designers.

We are sure we can get it right,

finally,

with different furniture,

new paint,

this wall taken out

and a new bathroom

up stairs.

Fog

by Jim Dollar

If we are driving in heavy fog,

we acquiesce to the fog.

We do not dictate to the fog.

We do not drive like we want to,

fog or no fog.

We do not impose our will on the fog.

We do not say, “Damn the fog! Full speed ahead!”

Here’s one for you:

We are driving in heavy fog.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Lectio Divina

The sleeper in the Mandala Program offering is Lectio Divina. “Divine Reading.” “Holy Reading.” Ho-Hum. Sounds too much like Bible Study. But, read the blurb: “When Lectio Divina is practiced faithfully, it leads to a deeper knowledge of the Divine, ourselves and the world. It also helps us ‘stay on the beam.’” What more could you ask? What more do you need?

Lectio Divina is a projective device like the Animal Projection Exercise. Don’t tell me you haven’t done the Animal Projection Exercise. Where have you been? We’ve only done it about 278 times in the last seven years (We will be starting our 8th year here on November 16). We can’t track you down, bang on your door, insist that you do what’s good for you. As close as we come to that is what I’m doing here with the Lectio Divina. It is a projective device that opens you to you (If you want to check out the Animal Projection Exercise, look up the April 12, 2010 podcast or printed monologue on my blog site: http://outlandspress.blogspot.com/).

Projective devices (like dreams) are important because we cannot see ourselves directly, only indirectly, obliquely, askance, out of the corner of our eye. It’s like trying to see a particular star in the night sky. You don’t look directly at it, but off a bit to the side, and there it is. If you look at it, it’s gone. That’s you looking for yourself. Lectio Divina is a tool for looking at yourself sideways.

The folks teaching the class (Helen Wolff and Joyce McKenzie) are going to use scripture passages, not because they are magical, but because they are useful. The most useful thing about them is that they stir up stuff in us. Questions, curiosity, resistance. Resistance is great because it exposes our stuck places. We resist things that “push our buttons.” Mention the Deep South to me and I get all bristly and snarly. Resistance. You pushed one of my buttons.

Our buttons are complexes, like an apartment complex, which consist of a multitude of experiences, ideas, memories which coalesce around an event, or a series of events that is/are/was/were “too hot,” or too traumatic, or too raw and ugly for us to reasonably process at the time. It was a bad time, and we survived it by not looking too closely at the badness of the times. But it remains alive for us, and we still don’t want to look at it. Well, guess what. Spiritual growth requires us to unstick the stuck places by squaring up to them, remembering them, thinking about them, working with them. I do that with you—you play the part of a community of therapists for me—by talking about the Deep South from time to time. Saying the words forces me to face the memories and feel the feelings and come to terms with the badness of the times. We do that over and over until our reactivity diminishes and disappears and that particular word is no longer a button.

So you read a scripture passage. A button is pushed. And you face up to it. What is stirred up? What memories come to life? Or, you read a scripture passage, and certain words or terms catch your attention. You pay attention to what catches your attention and wonder about it, creating a train, or a trail, of associations, and seeing where it leads you, what it brings to mind for you. In all of this, you develop an intense curiosity about your response to the text and go in your mind where your response takes you. This is woolgathering, or taking a walkabout, at its best, and it is a form of meditation, of prayer, that will, over time, lead you to you and to more than you, to more than words can say, more than meets the eye, to the experience of Transcendent Reality we call Divine, or Holy, or God.

Sounds crazy. Sounds wo-oo, wo-oo. Sounds weird. We prefer our religion to be rational, logical, reasonable, left-brained and nicely limited to what words can say and eyes can see. Well, look, listen, then. You come here whining to me about spiritual growth and development and I hand you Lectio Divina, and you say, “Don’t you have a catechism around here somewhere, or a book of doctrine? Something we can argue with, and debate, and dismiss because of its obvious defects and deficiencies? We don’t actually want spiritual growth and development, we just want a really rousing intellectual dispute to get the juices flowing.”

My goodness, I do believe it is the church of your experience that you are looking for! Strange isn’t it, how what we run from is what we seek? Well, now, THAT’S food for thought! Lectio Divina at our service! We start with our resistance to Lectio Divina as a spiritual exercise using scripture and see where it takes us, paying attention to all that stirs within us and where that takes us, and before you know it we are into spiritual growth and development whether we want to be or not.

This is the wonder of spiritual growth. EVERYTHING is a springboard to realization, awareness, enlightenment, understanding, comprehension, seeing, hearing, understanding, knowing, doing, being. Everything is a mirror reflecting us to ourselves (A mirror is the best projective device. We project ourselves onto a mirror and are reflected back by it, and see ourselves thereby). We have to stand before the mirror until we see ourselves. Whenever something stirs something within, whenever there is a response, a reaction, either Yes! or No! the rule is to Stop! Look! Listen! What stirred what? We have to listen carefully and see the signs, and read them. Where do our motives come from? Our values? What directs our actions? This is called getting to the heart of the matter, or squaring up to ourselves and how it is with us, or seeing things as they are. Once we square up to who we are and how it is with us, we can take a peek at what needs to be done and what we have that might be helpful. At that point, we are on our way!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Work of Reconciliation

If your dog vomits on your carpet, what do you do? Do you bail on your dog? Do you say, “You did it! You clean it up!”? No, you go get the clothes pin, and the rubber gloves, and the pail of water, and the paper towels and the Lysol spray, and you get to work. You don’t wait to feel like it. You don’t wait to be in the mood to do it. You don’t wait to want to. You don’t wait to like cleaning up dog vomit. You get to work. What you feel like doing doesn’t enter into the equation. What you want is irrelevant. What you like doesn’t matter. You get up and do what needs to be done.

Now, your life is like the dog throwing up on the carpet. Be clear about that, and go live your life. Your life is a big hairy dog throwing up in your car, or on you. Take a deep breath and do what needs to be done. Without wanting to or liking it. We think it is inauthentic, hypocritical, to do what we don’t want to do. We think we aren’t being true to ourselves if we do what we don’t like doing. It’s being immature, infantile, terminally juvenile to think we don’t have to do what we don’t like. Alcoholics Anonymous has a term for what is needed: “Fake it until you make it.” “Oh, we can’t fake anything,” we squall. “That’s inauthentic!” So we don’t force ourselves to do what is right, what is necessary, what is needed, what is called for, when we don’t want to. No two-year-old does either.

AA has a term for inauthenticity: “White Knuckling It.” You white knuckle-it when you pretend you don’t want the drink you crave. The difference between faking it until we make it and white-knuckling it is the difference between authenticity and hypocrisy. Faking it until we make it is meeting the situation as it arises. White-knuckling it is kidding ourselves. Faking it until we make it is offering what we have to give to what needs to be done. White-knuckling it is pretending to have what we don't have. White-knuckling it pretends to want what it doesn't want. Faking it until we make it knows it has nothing to do with what we want.

We live to serve our likes and wants instead of living to serve our life. It's the old rule of life: We cannot serve two masters. "Choose this day whom you will serve!" Will we do what we want to do or what needs to be done in each situation as it arises? When the dog throws up on the stairs, are you going to kick the dog? Why punish your life when it has needs that interfere with your wants?

Everything waits for us to reconcile ourselves to the fundamental contradiction of having to live in a world that is not the way we wish it were, that is not the way we would like for it to be, that is not the world we want to live in. We have to face squarely the distance between the world we wish were ours and the world in which we live, feel the contradiction, and live it. We can imagine a world that is better in a thousand ways than the world we live in, and we have to reconcile ourselves to living in the world we live in. We keep not wanting to live in the world we live in. This is the fundamental contradiction. We say NO to what we cannot say no to! We have no choice but to say YES to the world we live in, but we cannot bring ourselves to say yes to this world as it is! We have to reconcile ourselves with being here and now in this world just as it is. We have to grow up.

Growing up means coming to terms with the fact that things are not the way we wish they were. Our only problem is that things are not what we wish they were. If things were the way we wish they were, we would have no problems. There would be no problems. Things are not going to be what we wish they were. We have to reconcile ourselves to that truth, square ourselves up with it, and live anyway, nevertheless, even so.

We accommodate ourselves to the world by understanding, by coming to terms with: "This is the way it is and this is what we can do about it, and that’s that." But we don't WANT the world to be the way it is! We want to have what we cannot have. We want to do more about it than we can do, than can be done! This is the contradiction. Our task, the spiritual task, is to face what must be faced, square up to what must be squared up to, and make the best of it, doing what can be done here and now with what we have to work with. This is all the spiritual masters of every age have done—they have recognized that this is the way things are, and this is what can be done about it, and that's that.

We have to rein in our wants run amok, our emotional reactions bouncing off the walls, and get what we need to clean up the dog's vomit. But. The work of reconciliation cannot be forced upon us. We will not have it! We want the secret to turning the world into what we want it to be, so we throw ourselves after The Prayer of Jabez and The Law of Attraction and hope soon to receive the world as we wish it to be all wrapped up and delivered to our door. And until that happy day, we will compensate ourselves with wealth, prosperity and privilege. Wealth, prosperity, and privilege are our hedge against the awful realities we don't want to face and deal with. We say: “Ignore the dog! Pay someone else to clean up the vomit!” Paying someone else to clean up the vomit is our idea of changing the world to suit ourselves, our way of not growing up.

Bad religion is also our way of not growing up. Being spiritual is what we do to get the Big Guy on our side, gaining the advantage, having an edge, getting a leg up. God becomes our ace in the hole, and religion becomes a gimmick, a good luck charm, warding off evil and guaranteeing our way in the world. We will not grow up, face what must be faced, and do what needs to be done.

Yet, we avoid the true spiritual task—growing up, facing what must be faced, reconciling ourselves to the way things are, and doing what is ours to do—at our own expense. When we refuse the spiritual task of growing up, we remain eternally immature, and the culture we create to care for us is a curse upon all. We only have to open our eyes and look around to see that it is so.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Don't Lose Heart!

It matters how you live your life! Don’t lose heart! That’s the first rule of life. The problem is that heart is the easiest thing to lose, and the hardest thing to find. Our role in your life is to help you find heart and not lose it. There is a catch here. You have to help us help you.

Rumi says it well: “If you are not here with us in good faith, you are doing terrible damage.” The worst damage is to yourself. Good faith is essential. You have to live your life in good faith. It is the primary requirement for life that truly is life. You have to keep faith with yourself. In order to be here with us in good faith and in order to keep faith with yourself, your heart has to be in it. You have to care about what you are doing. It has to have value for you. The way to heart is the way of heart. If your heart isn’t in finding what has heart for you, we can’t help you. The search for heart cannot be some idle pastime until something better comes along. It can’t be some lark, some stroll in the park. You can’t be just hanging out with us for a while and be helped. If you are not here with us in good faith, we can’t help you. If you don’t care about you, about the life that is yours to live, we can’t help you.

We cannot do your caring for you. If you don’t care about you to the point of doing whatever it takes to ground yourself in what has heart for you and live out of your heart in all that you do, we can’t do much for you. It comes down to the fundamental realization: You are up to you. It is all up to you.

This is a turning point in our understanding of how life works. We save ourselves. We have, of course, heard all our lives that Christ saves us by dying in our place and appeasing God the Father Almighty who is bent on sending us to everlasting hell because of our sins that have offended him greatly. I’m changing that. I’m saying that you can say Christ saves us, but he saves us by dying in the service of what was truly important and thereby demonstrating to us that the way of salvation is a sacrificial death to all that we thought was important in order that we might live on the basis of what we are coming to understand is truly important. Sin, in my view, is being wrong about what is important. Life is being right about what is important. The progress of the spiritual journey is moving from being wrong about what is important to being right about what is important. And we do not hand over easily what we thought was important. It is like death.

No one can decide what is important to us for us. No one can tell us what is important and make it so. No one can live our life for us. At some point, we have to wake up in our lives just as they are, likely at the bottom of some wall, in some gutter, with some failed hope, or dream, or expectation, and, for some reason beyond our capacity to understand or explain—call it grace—we look ourselves in the eye, stand on our own feet, square ourselves up to how it is with us, and commit ourselves to living what remains of our life as well as anyone living, or dead, or yet to be born could live what remains of our life. At that point, we decide that it matters how we live our life and put our heart into living what remains of our life as well as our life can be lived. It is at that point that we can help you.

We help you with encouragement, understanding, compassionate presence, and by reminding you of the grounding belief, conviction, that it matters how we live our lives, and of the sacrifices that are necessary in order to live that life. Life is sacrificial. We have to make the sacrifices required to reconcile ourselves with, to square ourselves up to, the way things are, how it is with us, what we have to work with, what our choices, options, possibilities, restrictions and limits are. We have to make the sacrifices necessary to square ourselves up with how it is.

Necessary sacrifice always has to do with handing over how we wish things were, with how we would like things to be. We have to hand over, sacrifice, how we wish and want things to be, the life we wish were ours, in the service of the life that is actually our life to live. This is the spiritual task. It is called growing up. In making the necessary sacrifices, we grow up. Growing up consists of three things, lightening up, listening up, and squaring up.

Lightening up means letting go of the things that are killing us to hold on to. Listening up means listening to all that is being said to us by the events and circumstances, our physical symptoms, and the people in our lives. Squaring up means coming to terms with the life that has been our life up to this point, with the tools, the resources, the options, choices, and possibilities that are ours to work with, and with the life that may yet be ours to live from this point on. We start over again with the grounding belief that it matters how we live our lives.

It is ironic that we lose heart at the bottom of some wall, in some gutter, where our dreams have been disappointed, our plans have been laid waste, our hopes and expectations have been dashed, and nothing remains of the world we wished would be our world. And, yet, we also find heart at the bottom of that same wall, in that same gutter, when we square ourselves up to how things are, stand on our feet, embrace the life that is yet our life to live and live it, committing ourselves to the life that can yet be, no matter how far it is from the life we wish could be, anyway, nevertheless, even so!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Collaborating with Psyche

We collaborate with soul/psyche to produce the life that is truly our life to live, to realize our destiny within the context of our living that fate has dealt us. It is a partnership all the way. The path is one of negotiation and compromise, and neither side, neither world—conscious and unconscious, physical and spiritual, soma and psyche, external and internal—can dismiss the other side, world, or insist on running the show to the exclusion or submission of the other side, world. We all drive the boat together on its path through the sea, which means that conversation and cooperation are essential components of our life together.

How do we converse, cooperate, with the internal, invisible, spiritual, world? Have you ever heard of prayer, perhaps? The foundational characteristic of prayer is openness. We are open to what needs to be said, to what we have to say. How is it with you right now? To be open to how it is with you, to be receptive, to be aware, accepting, attentive—to realize how it is with you to the point of being able to spell it out, to articulate it from the depths—is one aspect of prayer. And where does this happen in our experience? In the therapist’s office, not in church. In church you get formulas. You get clich├ęs. You get exactly what you got last week, and the week before. You get “every head bowed and every eye closed.” You don’t get honesty, authenticity, genuineness, realness. Nobody says how it is when they pray in church. If you seek a place to be open to the core, you don’t go to church. That’s something that has to change. We are working to change it.

Another aspect of openness is respect for that which opens to us. We are not alone. This is the fundamental spiritual proposition. If we are all alone, what’s the point of being here? We are here to address spiritual reality and our physical relationship to it, with it. The visible world is grounded on the invisible world. That’s the central premise of spiritual development. If you take that away, what is there to develop? If the world that can be seen, and touched, tasted, smelled, dissected, labeled, weighed, measured, fenced in and sold off is the only world, what are we doing here? If there is no invisible world, we are wasting our time talking about spirituality. If the physical world is the only world, there is no spirituality. There are only chemicals and brain cells. No invisible world. No spiritual reality. And I have nothing for you, but. If there is more to life, to our lives, than meets the eye—and if intuition and creativity and whatever is at work in what we experience as grace, providence and synchronicity reflects a connection with that “more”—then we might present ourselves to the reality of the invisible world, prayerfully open to that which opens to us.

The posture, the attitude, the orientation of openness—to that which is within us, how it is with us, and to that which is beyond us, which is more than we can ask, or think, or imagine—is the key to conversation and cooperation with the invisible world. In order to see more than meets the eye, we have to look beyond what meets the eye, and be comfortable with the postulate that the physical world is not the only world. In order to see, hear and understand, we have to look, listen, ask, seek, and knock—and wait to see, and hear, what happens and where that leads.

In order to collaborate with the soul/psyche and cooperate with the invisible world in the life that is our joint life to live, in the destiny that is our joint work to realize and fulfill within the context and circumstances that define our living, we have to take up the practice of engaging the mystery of the invisible world with imagination and openness. “Practice” means regular and recurring. We sit. We articulate how it is with us as deeply and as clearly as we are capable of perceiving how it is with us. And we listen, look, for what might be heard, seen.

Here is where imagination comes to play. What spontaneous images, scenes appear to you? Take note of them, become interested in them. This is where prayer as I am proposing it differs from Buddhist or Transcendental Meditation. In meditation you are taught to dismiss the images that appear and return to your mantra as an “image clearing device.” In prayer as I propose it, you follow the image. You engage the image in dialogue. You say something on the order of, “What are you doing here, now? Why you? Why now? What do you have to say to me, to show me? What do you have to teach me, tell me, about what I’m doing or what I need to be doing?” Interview the image. See where the image leads you. Become curious, inquisitive, imaginative. Explore what the image brings to mind. This is engaging the invisible world and being open to what it might have to say to you.

Of course, this flies in the face of everything the world of normal, apparent, left-brained, rational, logical reality stands for, but. Are you going to open yourself to the possibility of the reality of the invisible, spiritual world? The world that is the ground, the source, of art and music, creativity, intuition, grace, providence, synchronicity? Are you going to experiment with your life as the proving ground of the reality of the invisible world? Are you going to start with the proposition that there is more to living than meets the eye, that there is a particular life with our name on it, a character that is ours to develop, a destiny that is ours to fulfill, which comes to us from beyond us, from beyond our rational, logical ability to make up and make real? Are you going to get to work seeing if there is anything to what I’ve been talking to you about for the last seven years? What do you have to lose?

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Quest is for Our Life

The spiritual quest is the search for that which brings us to life, for the ground of our life, our existence, for that which is meaningful to us. We spend our lives looking for life. Life lies all about us and we are not alive, not vibrantly alive, not enthusiastically alive, not involved in our life, not invested in our lives. We are hanging out. Going through the motions, without much in the way of a reason to get out of bed, without any sense of why we are here.

What are we here for? That’s the quest. We aren’t looking for our assignment, for some obligation that is laid upon us by someone else. We are looking for what brings us to life, and is life. We are here to be alive, yet, to be alive our lives have to revolve around something. What draws us toward it, into it, and serves as the source and goal of our lives? That’s the search that fuels the journey. And, every journey begins, of course, where we are.

We begin with what we care about. We care about the wrong things of course, but the wrong things can lead us to the right things if we let them, if we care about the wrong things in the right way: with our eyes open. We have to care about what we care about and see where that takes us. Nascar, baseball, fishing, photography… It doesn’t matter. The problem with what we care about is not what we care about, but that we don’t care about it deeply enough, and we don’t care about it with awareness. CARE about what you care about! Get into it! See where it leads!

It will lead you to something else to care about. Care about it! Who knows why we care about what we care about. It is enough to know what we care about and to care about it, to see what happens. Carl Jung suggests that we not limit our understanding of libido to sexual energy but think of it as the energy of life, as enthusiasm for some aspect of life, and follow that energy where it goes. This experience with life energy, with being moved by something, to something, was called the Holy Spirit by previous ages. We have to become aware of the energy of life, noticing those places, ideas, people, events that are charged with energy for us, that we care about.

We are to move toward those things, those people, that attract us, that are charged with energy for us, spending time with them, incorporating them into our life. But here, as in all spiritual matters, things are not what they appear to be, and we cannot take even life energy at face value. We have to always get to the heart of the matter, looking past the surface to what else is there.

We have to decide how to read and how to direct life energy. Energy for sailing may have nothing to do with buying a sail boat or taking lessons. What is the charged idea of sailing, for example, asking of us? We have to sit with it imaginatively to know. Imagination and curiosity and patience are essential tools in the work of soul, of finding and doing the work, the life, that is ours to do, to live.

Our holy obligation is to care about what we care about for as long as we care about it and then care about something else. We will always care about some things, but not all things. People are always trying to talk us out of what we care about and into what they care about. We are here to care about what we care about, to follow our enthusiasm for some aspects of life throughout our lives, as it evolves, shifts, transforms and leads us a merry chase. No matter what they say.

What do you do that you care about that nobody notices, knows, or cares if you do or not? What do you care about that nobody wants you to do or care about? If you have never had a life to call your own, never done a thing you wanted to do just because you wanted to do it, what are you waiting for? How much of your life do you live because other people expect it of you? How much of it do you live no matter what anyone thinks? Whose permission do you need to do the things you do, to live the life you live? Whose disapproval do you fear? Whose life are you living? Who is guiding your ship on its path on the sea? If you are not at the helm, who is?

We don't have to worry about destinations and outcomes and what we are going to do with our lives. We only need to know the right road when we see it and walk it. The right road will take us where we need to be. We can trust ourselves to the rightness of the right road, knowing no more than that. We know the road is right the way we know anything is right. A cup of coffee, a walk in the woods, watching the sun rise and set... You wouldn’t trust anyone else to choose your deserts for you, why think anyone else will know the right road for you? You know what is right for you and what is wrong, what is life for you and what is death, and whether the road you are on is IT.

We aren't here to get anything out of it, to gain the advantage, to have our way. We are here to find the right road, the beam, to stay on the right track. We know the right road, the right track, the beam when we see it but. We can be led astray by 10,000 self-serving things. The rule is always: Stay on the beam! The "force" is the power of the beam, the right track, road, path. In it, on it, we have all we need. Off it, we are lost and on our own. We want to live the way we want to live AND have the "force" be with us, paving our way, smoothing our path. Our way is not THE way, our path is not THE path. We don't want to do what our life requires. We want splendor, privilege, smooth and easy. We have to be on THE way, THE path! And, the quickest way to THE way is walking the path we are on with our eyes open to what is happening and our hearts open to what is calling our name.