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:

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.