Sunday, July 25, 2010

Helping You With Your Life

We are here to help you live your life. The catch is that you have to be living your life. In order to help you with your life, we would have to connect you with your life and then help you live it. This is a problem because to connect you with your life, we have to, ahem, sorry, disconnect you from the life you are living, from the life you want to be living, from the life you wish you were living, from life as you have always thought life should be. We have to take all of that away from you and give you YOUR life. It’s a problem because you will not cooperate with the procedure of removing your idea of life from you and replacing it with THE LIFE THAT IS YOUR LIFE TO LIVE. Because you will mount such resistance to the very idea of taking from you your idea of how your life ought to be and giving you in its place YOUR LIFE, we have adopted a wise and fail-proof strategy. We will wait.

Unless you are incredibly hardheaded, you will not be able to long escape or deny the conclusion that you don’t know what you are doing and that you cannot create the life you wish you could live. Eventually, you will wake up at the bottom of some wall and realize that you cannot arrange things like you want them to be. This is the Transformational Conclusion. It is the threshold to the life we are called to live, built to live, designed to live, made to live. In the Bible, this life is referred to as “the Land of Promise,” and “the Kingdom of God.” It is where things are what they are fully capable of being in service to, in alignment with, in light of what we might call “True Value.” Your ideal life is who you are capable of being, what you are capable of doing, in accordance with True Value.

This is what we are here to help you do, who we are here to help you be, but. You have to help us help you. You need us. We need you. It takes all of us to live lives aligned with True Value. Individually, we have a sense of it. We all have a built in sense of direction, a sense of value, but. It takes us all to validate, affirm, question, explore, examine, what each of us thinks is the right direction and of true value. The ground of the life that is OUR LIFE is conversation that opens us to alternatives, options and possibilities we would never think to consider on our own.

At this point comes into play the genius of the Presbyterian way of doing things. There are two elements of the Presbyterian way that are invaluable in helping us with the work of finding our own way. They are: 1) The sanctity of the individual’s conscience, and 2) The foundational awareness that all of us are smarter than any one of us (And the “all of us” includes not only those of us who are present in any moment in our life, but those who have gone before us, the “saints in light,” who are with us in the writings and traditions that are commonly recognized as “wise” across all writings and all traditions).

These two points of contrast, contradiction and tension form the poles within which Presbyterians live and enable life to be lived around them. We relax the tension in favor of either pole to the detriment of us all. This means that no group can tell any individual what to do, and no individual can decide for herself, for himself, alone, apart from the consultative presence of the group, what she, or he, will do. This is the conundrum of life aligned with True Value. We have to work out the particulars of how it is done in every here-and-now of our lives. Where does the line lie between me and all of you, between each of you and all of us? Tricky. And, we have to always be engaged in the eternal process of working it out in the specific context and circumstances of our lives. That is the work that enables us to live the life that is OUR LIFE to live, the work that we are here to help you do.

The core of this work is conversation. It is talking with each other about the things that are important to us, the things that matter to us, the things that have value to us. We evaluate the values we serve by talking about them in the right kind of company. Together we examine the validity of what we think is valid. This is the communion that is the foundation of our life, the covenant that is at the heart of our life together. We come together to ask, and seek, and knock, to see, and hear and understand. And what do we seek? What do we see when we see, hear when we hear, understand when we understand? What is of True Value. What is worthy of us. And what we are asked to do, who and how we are asked to be that would exhibit, express, True Value in the here and now of our living.

All of this depends upon you living in ways that are important to you, have value to you, matter to you. You have to live in ways that you care about if you care about living in ways that are aligned with True Value. This underscores the central significance of the sanctity of the individual conscience. You have to say what is important to you if you are to have a chance of ever seeing and saying what is truly important. You start with what is important to you and change your mind over the course of your life, through your experience of being alive, so as to better align yourself with what is truly important, to live in sync with the heart of True Value. To do that, you have to be, or begin, living a life that you care about, doing things that matter, that are important, to you. You cannot fade out, cancel yourself out, and allow Those Who Know Best (Truman Capote) to direct your living, telling you what to do or what you should care about. You have to care about what you care about and let that lead you into what to care about. You have to live your life with your eyes open to what is happening and your heart open to the path with your name on it, and let that take you to the life that is truly yours to live. Amen! May it be so!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Being who we are in this here, this now

You cannot find your life, the life that is your life to live, by thinking about it. You cannot approach the task reasonably, rationally, logically, intellectually. You can’t find the path by reading books, listening to lectures, taking courses, seeking audiences with the wise masters and the swami gurus. There is only one way to The Way. You have to live your life with your eyes open to what is happening and with your heart open to The Way.

No one knows beforehand which way is The Way. We have talked before of the dilemma: “Is it a White Rabbit, or a Red Herring, or a Wild Goose?” We don’t know. We cannot know without giving chase. Maybe the chase takes us to the path with our name on it. Maybe it takes us away from the path with our name on it. Maybe going away from the path with our name on it is what we need to get to the path with our name on it. It takes going to know. If we find that we are on The Path, great. Then we only have to stay on The Path. If we find we are off The Path, great. Then we only have to get on The Path.

The work to get on The Path and the work to stay on The Path is the same work. It is the work of seeing, hearing, understanding and deciding in the moment of our living what must be done to be who we are here and now. Our motive is not to serve our advantage, not to gain the edge, not to improve our market share or turn a handsome profit, but to be who we are here and now. The most we can do for one another is to live our own lives—facing what must be faced and doing what must be done to be who we are here/now.

Recognizing that, we are here to help you do that. “We” (Those of us in this gathering of sojourners) are here to help “you” (individuals comprising the “we”) live your life, that is, the life that is truly yours to live—to find the path, the way, the beam, the life, with your name on it. And, in order to do what “we” are here to do, we can’t be getting in “your” way and giving you more stuff to do than is helpful and necessary.

The church as we have known it piles program stuff on top of program stuff upon its members so as, it appears to me, to justify existence and prove that it is doing something. But “doing something” is not to be confused with being helpful. The Mandala program, which you will be hearing more about in the next few weeks, is a good approach in that it is a time-limited offering and no one is expected to participate beyond her or his own personal interest level. Where education in the church is concerned, there is no graduated series of steps to mark progress in spiritual development. There are no graduate degrees in spirituality, or spiritual acumen. Yoda is always also Hans Solo, and the only difference between Yoda and Hans Solo is that Yoda knows there is an identity between them that Hans Solo does not recognize. So don’t think of the church as the place where you go to learn what you need to know. It is the place that sustains and supports and encourages you as you learn what you need to know.

Always the concern is to be helpful, and to be aware of what is helpful and what is not. How can we assist people in the living of their lives? The people we are here to help need to take the lead. Our children, for instance, will tell us what they need to be who they are if we listen to them. Here’s where you come in. You have to help us help you. We have to help the others help us. There is no programmatic substitute for doing our own work, the work of listening and looking for our own path, the work of living with integrity and authenticity. No one can do that for us.

To live with integrity and authenticity is the heroic task. To live with integrity and authenticity is to live aligned with that which is deepest, best and truest about us—to live the life that is our life to live. It is to align ourselves with who we are and live a life that serves our destiny. This is our work, the work we are here to do and the work we are here to help one another do.

In order to do it, to find the way that is our way, to find the path that is our path, to find the beam, the life with our name on it, we have to be alert to IT and to NOT IT. The catch here, of course, is that we cannot have 100% IT all of the time and we cannot allow ourselves to be saddled with 100% NOT IT very much of the time. Too many of us are living lives that are NOT IT too much of the time.

It is hard to know IT or NOT IT initially. This is the problem of whether it is a White Rabbit, a Red Herring, or a Wild Goose. We don’t know at first. We have to live with it to know if it is IT or NOT IT. Once we know NOT IT we have to find the exits. But, there is a catch here as well: Exits themselves can be IT and NOT IT. Cocaine and alcohol addiction are NOT IT exits. Suicide is NOT IT. Addiction to mind-numbing religion is NOT IT. Perhaps your mother married your father to get away from her family. Perhaps that was not a smart move, NOT IT, as they say. Exits are not always the way out they appear to be.

There is another problem with exits. Exits that are IT can appear to be NOT IT because of what they ask of us, or because we are afraid. Fear keeps us in NOT IT long past leaving. To off-set fear, we need resources and courage. Jung says, “Only boldness can deliver us from fear,” but. That doesn’t mean that we hurl ourselves into everything we fear! Being afraid of something can be QUITE IT. Boldness that delivers us into NOT IT, is not the kind of boldness we need to associate with. We have to know when to be bold and when to be afraid. We have to live with our eyes open, seeing, hearing, understanding and knowing when to do what in order to be who we are here and now.

Running from one NOT IT to another is NOT IT, though we may pass through a string of NOT IT's on the way to IT, and IT is never 100% for long. IT generally always involves trade-offs—we give up this to get that—making IT appear to be NOT IT. Other times, we see IT so clearly that we will give up anything to have IT. If living in the mountains or the west, for instance, is IT, living there will off-set what we give up to live there.

So we have to practice knowing IT and NOT IT. Make lists. What's on your IT list? Your NOT IT list? You spend most of your time doing things on which list? Live so as to increase the amount of time you spend with things on your IT list. The NOT IT stuff will consume you if you don't draw lines.

Who helps you with IT? Who opposes, resists, prevents your drift toward IT? Who is on your side? With you? Against you? Whose side are YOU on? The catch here is that your own deep purpose is not YOUR purpose at all. Your purpose is to loll around the pool or maybe drive to the beach. Enter the problem. IT, that which is truly IT, is too often NOT IT for you. IT asks hard things of you. You don't cooperate with YOU. To live with integrity, we have to reconcile ourselves to our deeper SELF and cooperate with purposes that are not consciously created.

We have to cooperate with ends that are our true ends even though they aren't appealing to us at all. The beam is the beam whether we like it or not. How often do we resist, oppose, refuse that which is calling our name? “Not me, send Aaron!” we say. “Anywhere but Nineveh!” we say. “Let this cup pass from me!” we say. Whose side are we on? How do we get to be on OUR side? How do we align ourselves with the deep drift of our psyche, soul? Who is charting our path on the sea? The work of aligning ourselves with our SELF is the work of spiritual development, the work of life. Individuation, Jung called it. It is the work we are here to do and to help each other do.

This work is the hero’s task. The hero’s task is to live linked with the self we are called to be, aligned with our destiny. It is to be who we are, to do what is ours to do, and to live the life that is ours to live, here and now. This is why we are here—here in the sense of being alive in this world, and here in the sense of being gathered in this space with these people. This is the covenant that is the ground of our lives, to take up this work, this work of being who we are here and now. It is the work of seeing, hearing, understanding and deciding in the moment of our living what must be done to be who we are here and now and do it. It is the work of helping one another do this work.

A covenant is a binding agreement. The covenant that we make here in this place called “Covenant” is the covenant we make with ourselves and one another to do right by ourselves and one another. We covenant to be who we are, to live out our life as our life needs to be lived out, and to assist each other in doing that work. We covenant with ourselves and one another to be the right kind of company, offering the right kind of help in the right kind of way. We covenant with ourselves and one another to live in ways that are good for ourselves and for one another, to be who, and to do what, our life—the life that is truly our life to live—is asking us to do in each here and now. Together we work to be who we are individually, becoming who we are built to be, for the true good of all. Amen! May it be so!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Doing What Is Asked Of Us

Everything comes down to and flows from doing the things our life asks us to do. When the baby needs to be fed, we feed the baby. When the baby’s diaper needs to be changed, we change the baby’s diaper. We don’t shortchange the baby. We care for the baby even when we don’t feel like it, when we aren’t in the mood for it, when we don’t want to. No parent worthy of the title ever told his or her new born, “Come back when you’re 25.”

We do the thing that needs doing. Jim McKenzie has said that the things we dread doing, put off, find excuses not to do (like mowing the lawn and unclogging the drain and preparing our income tax) take no more than a few hours at most to do. You would think we had been sentenced to ten years at hard labor the way we carry on about the things we don’t want to do but must be done.

I said last week, and liked the line so much I’m going to use it again this week, that we have within us what it takes to rise to every occasion, yet we are afraid we cannot rise to any occasion. We don’t want to rise to any occasion. We want to be left alone. We want life to ply us with blessings and leave us alone.

The single most important requirement for spiritual development is doing what our life asks us to do while being true to ourselves. It starts with the way we treat our children. Our children come into the world with all they need to be who they are. We don’t have to tell them anything about how to be who they are. We have a lot to tell them about how to square themselves up with the world while being who they are. But, in order to tell them what they need to know about that, we need to know what we are talking about. We need to be able to square ourselves up with the world while being who we are! But, we want to be able to get what we want from the world and for the world to leave us alone.

And we want to be spiritual, or say we do. My position on the matter is that we don’t want to be spiritual at all. We want a buffer between ourselves and the world. If the world won’t go away, we will. We will withdraw, shrink back, disengage. Spirituality is a great way of escaping the dreads and dreariness of life. We even call them “spiritual retreats.” We get to claim the highest of motives in checking out of our lives. Who could fault us for seeking spiritual enlightenment? Well, here’s an enlightening thought for you: The only value of spiritual development is in its enabling us to do what our life is asking us to do while being true to ourselves, and doing what we must do to be who we are. The only value of being spiritual is finding there the wherewithal to engage our lives—to step into our lives and live them exactly as they need to be lived, changing the baby’s diaper and helping our children and one another, square themselves up with their lives while being true to themselves, while being who they are.

This is the spiritual task, being who we are in the world as it is. This requires us to live in the tension between the life we live “in the world” in order to make a living and pay the bills and do what is being asked of us to meet the requirements of life “in the world,” while living the life that is truly our life to live, the life that exhibits and expresses who we are in the deepest, truest sense of the term. There are two lives to be lived here, the life with our name on it, our destiny, and the life the world requires of us, our fate. We live within the constraints of our fate, the givens and demands of physical reality, as we serve our destiny, becoming and expressing who and how we are as spiritual beings.

This is all there is to being spiritual—doing what our lives ask of us while being true to ourselves, while being who we are. Spirituality provides us with the inner resources to do what the external world asks of us, requires of us, demands of us. Without a vibrant spiritual foundation we have to make it through life on the strength of our own willpower alone. We are left with talking ourselves into doing what ought to be done, with “gutting it out,” with “suffering through.” This is the moral equivalent of AA’s “white-knuckling it,” and it gets us about as far.

We cannot will ourselves through life. This is were spirituality comes into play. Spirituality is the ground of life in the world, of our ability to do what our life asks of us. Here’s how it works. We have within all we need to rise to every occasion AND we don’t want to rise to any occasion. Both the ability and the resistance are spiritual realities. We consciously align ourselves with one while giving full credence to the validity of the other’s position. Of course we don’t want to rise to any occasion! Why would we? What’s in it for us? What are we going to get out of it? There is nothing there that would be better than lolling around the pool sipping something cold, or just lying in the shade and letting the world turn. Of course it is unfair and not right that we should have to change the baby! Who changes us?

Here we get to the heart of the matter of our resistance to doing what life asks of us. It is the infantile refusal to grow up. Yet the opposite infantile motive is also at work in us. We want to be independent and self-reliant. We want to live our own life. We don’t want anyone “changing us”! All of this is spiritually true. We are brim full of mixed motives. Ambivalence is our primary characteristic. We feel very strongly both ways about every important thing.

This “collision of contraries” is a fundamental experience of every conscious being and has always been projected outside of us as a cosmic conflict between good and evil, light and darkness, God and Satan. It is easier for us to conceive and describe the “out there” than the “in here,” but we are actually talking about the “in here” as though it is “out there.” The conflict is within, and we don’t know what to do about it.

What we do about it is step into it and say firmly what we are going to do while validating the opposing point of view. And, we find the strength for this in the inner allies and guides who gather to assist us in the work of becoming who we are. Now, these inner allies and guides are not at our disposal and will not help us live any old life. They assist us in the expression of, the living of, the life that is truly our life to live. We have to be “on the beam,” “on track,” “on the right path,” to avail ourselves of our inner resources, guidance and help. But, the wonder is that as we take up the challenge to become who we are within the constraints and givens of life “in the world,” we discover that we are not alone in this work. The work is to become who we are by doing what our lives are asking of us, while living to express what is deepest, truest and best about us, bringing the spiritual qualities, character, and aspects of ourselves to life in the physical world of normal, apparent, reality. Amen! May it be so!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Adjusting to Reality

Our unending and primary task is adapting, adjusting, ourselves to reality. Life comes at us constantly, requiring response. Nothing is more important to our spiritual development than our willingness to meet life as it comes to us and deal as well as we possibly can with what each day delivers. It is the practical matter of day-to-day life in the world that leads us in the search for spiritual substance, meaning and purpose. Such is the essence of Jesus’ statement to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

“Born of water” is reference to the amniotic fluid of physical birth. Physical birth is necessary for spiritual birth. Physical reality is what spiritual reality uses to get our attention, to summons us to the critical matter of finding the spiritual wherewithal to bring ourselves to life in this world. Carl Jung said, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” There you are. There is no waking up without the shock of a reality that is contrary to our wants and wishes. The physical word shakes us awake. Then there is a chance that we will turn toward the spiritual foundation of life for our sustenance and strength and direction. Of course, we might choose to numb ourselves with a thousand addictions into the blissful stupor of everlasting sleep, but spiritual reality’s only hope is the painful jolt of the world’s “NO!”

The spiritual quest, journey, path begins with questions we have to ask and cannot answer—questions brought on by an encounter with some contradiction, or denial, of our happy way in the world. The world has a way of not going the way we want it to go, of forcing us to wake up, and grow up, against our will. This is the role of physical reality in our lives. It requires us to do what it takes to accommodate ourselves to that which is often troublesome, inconvenient, unenjoyable and not what we want to do. The question is will we do it.

It is our refusal to grow up and do what the situation requires of us, what reality demands, that leads to shrinking back from life, to “dying” in place. Every shrinking back is a form of death, a dying, a refusal to meet the challenge of life. We must step forward and engage our life in order to be fully alive! Joseph Campbell says, “It took the Cyclops to bring out the hero in Ulysses.” We don't know what we are made of until reality comes calling, and we have to deal with road blocks and detours to our idea of happily ever after.

Another way of thinking about reality is “the pain of life.” One of the tenants of Buddhism is “Life is suffering.” We must bear the pain of living and adjust ourselves to what is being asked of us, to what has to be done. Adjustment and accommodation are hidden, that is, unconscious, strengths we don't use because we don't want to adjust, we don’t want to accommodate! We want to live on our terms. We don't want life dictating the terms, handing out the conditions. We don't want to grow up.

We have to come to terms with our own inner resistance to coming to terms with life, our own refusal to grow up, acknowledge the extent to which we are blocking ourselves, and recognize how it is with us in order to take up the task of becoming who we need to be from the ground up. It is essential that we understand the dialectic at the heart of things. There is conflict, opposition, dichotomy, contradiction everywhere we look.

The basic incongruity is between the physical and the spiritual. This is often couched in divine and human terms, opposites at the basic level of awareness. The resolution, reconciliation, synthesis occurs when we look deeper into the opposition to the point of seeing that physical IS spiritual, spiritual IS physical, divine IS human, human IS divine. How this is so cannot be explained or defined or articulated, but that it is so can be sensed in a dew drop on a day lily or a white cloud in a clear blue sky. The numinous winks at us in a baby’s cry or a cat’s low purr. And then it is gone and we are stuck with only a wet diaper or a hungry pet. Perceptual shifts like these lead to the easy conclusion that reality is an optical illusion. Now it is one way, now another, but always both, yet never at the same time.

Contradiction and inconsistency are koans of every day life pulling us into the work of spiritual realization and growth. The cross is a beautiful metaphor for "the human condition." We are always at the cross(roads), choosing to stay or go, or caught between Thy will and mine being done. We have the capacity to arise to any occasion and we are afraid of every occasion. We want to regress to our mother’s arms and we want to progress by leaving home and finding our way in the world. The ground of life is conflict and opposition. Here, conscious awareness is the great mediator, reconciling the conflict that is everywhere Out There, that is everywhere In Here, that churns forever between the Out There and the In Here.

We consciously bring forth reconciliation, synthesis, integration and alignment by honoring the opposites and being with them in ways that allow us to see the one in the other. We see finally that “all of our dichotomies are false dichotomies,” and that all is one, though we cannot just clutch that as a talisman or repeat it as a happy mantra. We have to do the work of looking until we see, of listening until we hear, of asking, seeking, and knocking until we understand. Until we recognize the spiritual in the physical, the divine in the human, the wonder in it all, and making, in light of the deepest truth we are capable of realizing, a decision about what needs to be done here and now, and doing it. Amen, may it be so!