Sunday, April 25, 2010

An Analogy

Here’s an analogy for you: Let’s take Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Let’s say they are you. Both of them. Adam is the dull, boring, same old, same old you, and Eve is the vivacious, lively, looking for action you, and the two of you are stuck in the same body. When you work together, the Adam side of you tempers the Eve side of you and the Eve side of you pulls, pushes, the Adam side of you deeper into the possibilities of life, of YOUR life, the life that you are built, created, to live. Your Adam side is the contemplative, reflective, meditative side, and your Eve side is the experiential, explorative, inventive side. Both are quite necessary in making YOUR life work.

The snake and the forbidden fruit are your curiosity about, your interest in, your intrigue with ALL that life offers. You like YOUR, life, the life that is truly yours to live, but. There are all kinds of other lives out there, and you would like to try them out, just to see what it might be like. The lights and action of Gay Paree, for instance, present a compelling distraction, and what’s a little action going to hurt? So, you leave the way, turn aside from the path, follow your own idea of what life could be, and drift away from the life that is YOUR life to live. You could have been a teacher, perhaps, but business school promised more income, and your dad is a banker. You could have been a concert pianist, but architecture is art, too, and with job security. So, you drifted into a life, a world, really, that is not YOUR life. And you heard the door click shut behind you, but you didn’t think anything of it because you were taken by the sweet thing, or the handsome hunk, at your side and you were off on your great adventure together.

Well, you woke up about the time of your second divorce and remembered what you left behind, and thought that maybe there is more to it than this, and wondered how to find it. You looked around to discover that you were in a second garden. Call it Gethsemane. As you think about it, there was something in the first garden about an angel with a flaming sword guarding the way back into Eden. Symbolic talk, meaning that to get back to the beginning, you going to have to die, or feel like you are dying. Dying is what Gethsemane is all about. There is death in handing the reins of our life over to the “Thy” within. New birth, remember, is a dragon climbing out of the egg. Your new life eats your old life screaming alive. “Thy will, not mine, be done!”

Just who is the “Thy” here? Everything hangs on our getting this straight. It’s the way back to Eden, the way of death that is life, understanding what’s at stake in “Thy will, not mine, be done.” Who is in charge of our living? Where do we go for guidance and direction? How do we know, how do we decide, what to do? The tricky part of “Thy will, not mine, be done,” is that WE say what the “Thy” is saying! How do we know? You can see that there might be a bit of a conflict of interest here! How do we get ourselves out of the way to hear what the “Thy” wants done? THIS is exactly the Garden of Eden story! Adam/Eve (you), the snake/temptation (self-interest), and the “Thy.” The question is, whose side are you on? Let me make it clearer.

We stand between two worlds, physical and spiritual. We balance the demands, the needs, of two worlds. We live two lives. We have a life that the physical world gives to us and a life that the spiritual world, that our soul, gives to us. Two worlds, two lives. And we have to live both of them at the same time. Our spiritual life is not something we do with prayer and meditation or going to church. We don’t call time out and go be spiritual for a while. We have to be spiritual all the time, within the physical world. The spiritual life is the life soul insists that we live in the world, the life we are called to incarnate, bring forth, give birth to. How alert, aware, attentive are we to this life that soul is calling us to live? Our primary task is listening to psyche/soul and aligning ourselves with the life that needs to come forth through us into the world. Problem is, no one teaches us to do this.

Well, here goes: Our body is our most direct connection with psyche/soul. We have to learn to listen to our body, read its signals, know what it is saying, follow our body’s lead. Next in line, I would say, are dreams, fantasies, slips of the tongue, songs we hum absent-mindedly, and spontaneous responses to the experiences of life. Then, there is the encounter with the numinous, the white rabbits, the things that catch our eye, wink at us, stop us in our tracks, compel us to respond, or not. These experiences are all avenues into the inner world, windows into the way things are, or need to be, within. We have to be alert to, and tune into, the inner world in order to hear what the “Thy” is saying to us.

We have to become students of soul, our own soul, in order to know what we have to say to ourselves and how to live in response. Here's your homework assignment: Pick a day, or part of a day, an afternoon, THIS afternoon, perhaps, and don't know what to do. Do what you FEEL needs to be done. FEEL your way through the afternoon. FEELING what needs to be done next, now. Not thinking, FEELING! Stop thinking! FEEL! You know whether another cup of coffee is called for, or a trip to the toilet. You don't think those things, or plan them in advance. You feel them, and do what is called for in the moment of your living.

Spirituality is not about being told what to believe. It is strengthening our connection with psyche/soul through practice, practice, practice. We wouldn't think of learning to play the piano or tennis or bridge without practice. We don't learn to play the piano by listening to a lecture, or lots of lectures, about playing the piano. Practice! Practice! Practice! We don't learn to play the piano by reading a book, or lots of books, about playing the piano. Practice! Practice! Practice! We don't learn to play the piano by visiting places where pianos are played, or built. Practice! Practice! Practice! We don't learn to play the piano by watching someone play the piano, or by listening to piano concertos. Practice! Practice! Practice! We practice listening to the “Thy,” to psyche/soul, to do what needs doing! Then, we only have to find the courage to do it!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A 747 Leaves A Lot To Be Desired!

We all know plenty of people, more than our fair share for sure, who think they can do a better job with our lives than we are doing. They are quick to step forward with timely pointers, suggestions, recommendations, cures, sometimes criticisms. It is all well intended, I’m sure, and designed to get us to stop doing what we are doing and start doing what they think we ought to be doing instead.

Once, in Amory, Mississippi, Gladys Drane, I’m sorry you didn’t know her, shook my hand after the Sunday service and said, “If I give you the money, would you get a hair cut?” By then, I had played the game for a while, and, without a pause, replied, “You could give me the money.” In every congregation there have been people who knew more about how my life ought to be lived than I did. They have offered to pay for my family’s membership in the country club and my dues in Rotary or the Lions Club. They have suggested that I had no business talking to them of Marcus Borg and of not telling them everything John Calvin said.

You have had similar experiences with those dedicated to your personal improvement. Those Who Know Best (Truman Capote’s phrase) are everywhere and are determined to make us into who they want us to be. We just won’t do as we are. And, of course, we have been bruised enough at that spot for it to be a very tender place in us all. We are quite sensitive to falling short, afraid we aren’t good enough, certain we should be doing more to deserve a place in the human family, and sure that we will soon be asked to leave the room. But really now. Just take a look around.

If you put us all on a table, and slowly circled it, taking stock, adding up our assets and liabilities, you would come to the conclusion that each of us leaves a lot to be desired. There is more that we don’t do than we do. Certainly more that we don’t do well than we do well. Many, perhaps most, of us have more reason to be ashamed and sorry than to be proud and brimming with confidence. But, before you go off on yourself, or give up completely and curl into a fetal position for the rest of your natural life, consider this:

A Boeing 747 leaves a lot to be desired. Wait! Did I hear someone say, “747?” What an amazing coincidence! For right here on the Communion Table is my very own scaled down model of a 747! What do you think about that! Yep. A 747 is one of my symbols that keeps me on track and helps me stay sane by reminding me that even a Boeing 747 on its best day leaves a lot to be desired.

Think about it. You can’t comb your hair with a 747. You can’t brush your teeth with one. You can’t mow the lawn with one. You can’t plow the garden with one. You can’t dig a hole with one. You can’t play tennis with one. You can’t drive it to the grocery store, and even if you could, you would never find a place to park. You get the idea. There is more you cannot do with a 747 than you can do with one. A 747 is like us in that it does not do all things well. But, it does what it does very well. So do we. We don’t disparage a 747 for not being more like a canoe or a garden hose, why do we berate ourselves for our deficiencies?

We are ashamed of ourselves for not being more of a Renaissance Woman or Man—a Jane, or James, Bond—who knows everything and does all things well. However, if we are going to denigrate and belittle ourselves for our insufficiencies, we should add our capacity to come up with sufficient ideals to the list. We are certainly insufficient in that regard. We have the wrong ideals. A person with no weakness, no defects, no blemishes, no gaps is more robot than human being. Give me someone who stumbles around a bit and can’t find the door or the light switch! Let me BE that person! What fun would there be in doing all things well? When would you ever laugh at yourself, or cry? It’s much better to be the way we are!

We all have our deficits but. We do some things really well. The work is to let our deficits stand without interfering with what we do well. We have to find our song, our gait, our niche, our beam and do what we do well, without dissing ourselves for what we don't do well at all. We are likely to be a disappointment to someone on some level, and to some people on all levels. A 747 has more things that it doesn’t do, cannot do, than it has that it does do. So do we. Our task is to do the things we do well and let that be that, without apology, embarrassment or shame. And, if someone gives us down the river because of something we can't do, we only need to tell them a 747 couldn't do it either.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Animal Projection Exercise

Working with a symbol is like working with a dream. It keeps opening to multiple levels of meaning. Follow it wherever it leads in your imagination. Our imagination is the key. We imagine, intuit, our way into knowledge. We do not reason our way there, but reason has its place. Imaginative thinking makes, deepens, expands the connections which our unconscious implies with the symbols in our dreams. For example, in a dream, our unconscious implies, suggests, that we are a ripe tomato. Imaginative thinking discloses in what ways we are a ripe tomato. We make the connections that were, before, absurd.

In working with our symbols—and they have to be OUR symbols! No one can give us our symbols. We are seized, gripped by them. And, in working with them, we have to get the right side of our brains into the action. The logical, rational, intellectual left side needs all the help it can get. The problem is the logical, rational, intellectual left side of our brain thinks it is all it needs and believes it is King of the World. The left side of our brain can't begin to answer the important questions on its own. We have to form a sacred partnership with the other side. Here is one way to do that:

If you were an animal, what particular animal would you be? What is the first animal that comes to mind? Bring that animal clearly into focus in your mind’s eye. For the remainder of this exercise, allow yourself to become the animal. The following questions are directed to you as the animal.

1. What kind of animal are you?

2. What is your name (the first name that comes to mind)?

3. What do you like best about being this animal?

4. What do you enjoy doing most as this animal?

5. Where do you like to spend your time?

6. What are your ambitions—what do you want for yourself?

7. What are your hopes and dreams about?

8. What are your greatest fears or concerns?

9. Upon what does your happiness depend?

10. What do you need most as this animal?

11. Where do you go to be nurtured and strengthened?

12. What motto do you live by?

13. What burdens do you carry?

14. What gift is yours to give the world?

15. What do you think of the other animals?

16. What do the other animals think of you?

17. What would you like to tell the other animals?

18. What do you think the other animals would like to tell you?

19. What strengths do you have as an animal that you could use in your life as a human being?

20. What message do you have for your human side?

As this exercise comes to a close, become yourself again and thank your animal for its presence and its place in your life. Your animal has a gift to offer you. Receive the gift from your animal, and present your animal with a gift in return. Promise your animal, if you mean to keep the promise, that you will invite her or him to visit you again in the near future. Say goodbye for now and return to this place of apparent, normal reality. What did your animal give you? What did you give your animal? Spend some time this week considering the gifts and what meaning they might have for you.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Ride The Dragon!

We cannot live if we are afraid to die. This is the message of Easter. Jesus rose from the dead long before he died. Death couldn’t touch Jesus. He lived with nothing to lose. That’s the Easter story. Jesus’ entire life was Easter. Death could not keep him from living, from being fully alive.

Jesus was not afraid of dying and could therefore live exactly as he needed to live, in saying and doing the things that needed to be said and done in the society of his day. Once you are not afraid of death, there is no reason to hold anything back, and you can live straight from the heart with perfect integrity, with your words and actions exactly aligned with that which is integral to your heart and soul. Then, Easter is every day, and you are free to live the life that needs to be lived in each moment. Not even Caesar and the Legions of Rome can take that from you. Nothing can.

This is the key to understanding Easter. You rise from the dead the moment you decide you are going to live no matter what. I believe Jesus made this very decision in the aftermath of the death of John the Baptist. Jesus did not come forth until after John died. John’s death was the resurrection event of Jesus’ life. When John died, Jesus stepped forth from the tomb, in a manner of speaking. And he lived his life from that point on as one who was not afraid to die—as one who put everything on the line all the time. He climbed on his dragon and rode it fearlessly, as we must, if we are to ride our dragon at all.

Did I say dragon? What a coincidence. Look! Here on the Communion Table is a little dragon breaking out of its egg. This is my Happy Easter Egg. It is my symbol of what Easter is about. You’ve heard of Easter Eggs. New life, new birth, resurrection. Happy Easter! Well, here’s an Easter Egg for you. This boy, or is it a girl? This Momma will eat you alive if you are not careful! If you are afraid to die, you better not come close! New life is for those who are not afraid to die. We like the idea of new birth, of new life, but when the egg hatches, a dragon steps forth. The new life eats the old life alive. What do we think?

We think of new life on our terms, all tame and domesticated, with strolls in the park and sweet rolls in the coffee shop across the street. But new life is not just any life. It is not our old life only better. It is new in every way, particularly in what it requires of us. It requires us to live straight from the heart, with perfect integrity, so that our words and our actions are exactly aligned with that which is integral to our heart and soul. That’s new life for you. The old life was never anything like that!

The new life is the life that is the dragon. Living that life is riding the dragon. It’s riding the dragon because you can’t do it if you are afraid of anything, especially dying. You can’t live if you are afraid of dying. Why die not knowing? Not knowing what we could do if we lived holding nothing back? Why hold anything back? We are saving ourselves for what, exactly? We are waiting for what? What has to happen before we have what it takes to reveal ourselves, spring forth, see who we are and what we are capable of doing with the life that needs to be lived, that needs us to live it? What are we waiting for before we jump on the dragon and ride into the rest of our lives?

In order to be alive, we must live the life that needs to be lived, that needs us to live it. We cannot be alive and live any old life, lolling around the pool, snowboarding until the boredom sets in. Only the life that needs to be lived—that needs us to live it—will do. The life that needs to be lived is the dragon! Eating alive and screaming the life we would like to live, wish we could live, want to live.

The three temptations of the Buddha under the Bodhi-tree were desire, fear, and duty. You have to hold the line and stay with what is right for you, no matter what. STAY ON THE BEAM! STAY ON THE DRAGON! The Dragon is the Beam which is the Cross. RIDE THE DRAGON! STAY ON THE BEAM! CARRY YOUR CROSS! Live the life that needs to be lived! “Leave the dead to bury the dead!”, shouts Jesus from the back of his dragon, on his way to die, living a life death could not touch.

Why die having not lived? We owe it to ourselves to incubate the egg and hatch it and see if we have what it takes to ride the dragon throughout our lives. Why die not knowing what we are made of, what we are capable of, whether we have what it takes to do what needs to be done? It’s Easter! Death cannot touch those who are not afraid of dying! Why hold anything back? Ride the dragon!