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Two nights ago I was startled awake by a loud noise from above – from the apartment above mine.  After the jolt I took a few deep breaths and as I lay there I began to think about ‘listening.’ After I awoke the next morning I, once again, began to think about ‘listening.’  So, Gentle Reader, I then decided that I would reflect a bit more about listening and then write a few words about it. 

As I was reflecting upon the concept of ‘listening’ a parable emerged into my consciousness.  A parable is, among other things, a teaching story.  The following parable is generally one known by many folks, especially Christians.  It is a parable about, among other things, listening.  So, here is the parable:

A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.  Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.  But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.  Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

The disciples approached [the teacher] and said, “Why do you speak…in parables?” …This is why I speak…in parables, because ‘theydo nothear…do not listen…

So, who is the ‘sower’?  What are the ‘seeds’ being sown?  What is the connection between ‘listening’ and the sower/sowing and the seeds?

Consider the following as ‘sowers of seeds.’  There is myself as a sower of seeds.  In this case I am also the recipient of these seeds.  

Then there are the sowers of seeds that are external to me.  These are my parent-figures, my teachers, my peers, my authority figures, etc.  There are many sowers of seeds that enter into my life as I travel along my life’s path.

For some there is a ‘spirit’ that is also a sower of seeds.  This spirit can be a spirit of virtue or a spirit of vice; a spirit for good or a spirit for evil; a spirit of light or a spirit of darkness.  For me, there is also God’s Spirit (some call this the Holy Spirit; some call this Spirit the ‘Breath of God’). 

When I am awake and aware and living in the ‘now’ it is easier for me to become aware of the many sowers of seeds that appear in my life (including myself as a sower of my own internal seeds).  When I am also intentional and purpose-full I am also open to discerning the seeds offered and I am more likely to consciously choose which seeds I allow to be sown. 

When I am ‘asleep,’ when I am not paying attention, when I am not intentional and purpose-full seeds are still offered to me and some of them I accept, sow and allow to take root.  Whether I am awake or whether I choose to be ‘asleep’ I am unconditionally response-able and responsible (this idea alone can be quite disturbing to me). 

So, given this.  What are some of the seeds that the sowers sow? 

For thousands of years we humans have been blessed with wise folks who emerge and offer us their wisdom and provide us some guidelines for living. I do believe that it is the searcher and the seeker that helps the wise person to emerge. As Lao Tzu reminded us more than a thousand years ago: ‘When the student is ready the teacher will appear.’

There is a story that is told among a number of American Indian Nations. I love how one story appears among a number of different people or nations or cultures. There is often a question that prompts the story (told by a ‘wise person’ – a Shaman). This is a ‘teaching story’ and so it is the listener who receives the story that is challenged to interpret its meaning(s) and integrate its lesson(s). I have taken this particular story and modified it to fit our current culture. Here is the question: ‘How can we work in harmony?’ With this story, the wise person’s response was cryptic and to the point – many have said that this is no story at all. It doesn’t matter. The lesson is there for the searcher and the seeker.

THE STORY: When the elders gather together in order to seek to work in harmony they follow four guidelines. When these are followed they find that they are able to work together in harmony. SHOW UP! PAY ATTENTION! FOLLOW ONLY WHAT MATTERS TO YOUR HEART! SEEK AN OUTCOME AND DON’T BE ATTACHED TO IT!

SHOW UP! = Bring all of yourself. Some folks show up physically and intellectually but do not show up emotionally or spiritually. Some folks show up spiritually but not intellectually. Some show up full of emotion and leave their intellect and spirit in their car. Some don’t show up at all – they send an email, or a text, or a tweet (a limited intellectual offering).

PAY ATTENTION! = Choose to be fully present AND to be awake and aware and intentional and purpose-full. Pay Attention to what is emerging in you within your four dimensions: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spirit(ual). Pay attention to how each of these is affecting you and how each is influencing you. Pay Attention to what is emerging from within the four dimensions of the other(s). Pay Attention to how this emerging is affecting your four dimensions. Pay Attention to what is emerging from with the collective. Pay Attention to how the collective and the individuals are being affected by what is emerging from within the collective.

FOLLOW ONLY WHAT MATTERS TO YOUR HEART! = Your heart sustains you. Your heart is the tap root for courage (remember the root of ‘courage’ is contained in the Old French word ‘cuer’ which means ‘heart’). Without ‘heart- courage’ you will not bring your voice; you will not critically challenge your assumptions and help others challenge their assumptions. Your heart ‘cleans’ the blood that flows through you and that sustains and nurtures your physical dimension, your intellectual dimension (your brain), your emotional dimension (when one’s blood runs ‘hot’ one can get into trouble) and influences your spirit(ual) dimension (when one is rooted in a ‘good heart’ one’s spirit is influenced in one way and when one is rooted in an ‘evil heart’ one’s spirit is influenced in another way).  

SEEK AN OUTCOME AND DON’T BE ATTACHED TO IT! = When seeking to work in harmony with others it is crucial that together you emerge certain outcomes. It is just as important to not become attached to these outcomes – remember, ‘change is the norm’ and so you must be flexible when it comes to the outcomes you have agreed to. It is also crucial to seek to balance the individual outcomes held by each with the outcomes that emerge from within the collective. If any one person is attached to one or more of his/her outcomes then the collective will find itself in conflict.

There is much more that can be written about each of these four guidelines but this short introduction will suffice for now (this is the intention I hold).

During the past several weeks I have been thinking about ‘Self-Violence’.  One of the ways we inflict violence upon ourselves is to embrace (live into and out of) resentment.

Resentment is a popular form of self-violence. For some, it is a favorite form of self-violence. Resentment and I are old friends. He is always waiting patiently just off the center stage of my life. If I turn my head just a bit to the right I can see him standing there, full of patience and energy waiting for his cue to move to center stage and take over the play that is my life. He is not grinning; actually he looks a bit stoic. I have always found it ironic as to how much patience resentment demonstrates – I guess his patience comes with knowing that I will indeed be calling him to join me on center stage. He doesn’t seem to care ‘when’ I will call him – he is just secure in the knowledge that I will do so.

Webster is helpful when it comes to defining resentment. Resentment = a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury. I have nurtured, grown and sustained resentment in response to a judgment about another that has ‘wronged me.’ More often I have nurtured, grown and sustained resentment in response to a judgment I have made about myself. When I am awake and aware I can feel the weight of resentment crushing my spirit, my heart, and my soul. When I am honest with myself I admit that being resent-full feels really good! On the other hand, living with resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other guy to get sick. I have never known anyone but myself to become dis-eased because of my resentment.

There is an antidote: Forgiveness.For me, it is not the ‘other’ that I have to forgive – the ‘other’ probably has no sense of my being resent-full (here I am speaking of the resentment I have carried for decades). Even for folks more recently in my life who have ‘wronged me, or who have ‘insulted me’ or who have ‘injured me’ my being resent-full does not seem to harm them. As Robert K. Greenleaf reminded us, over and over again, it ‘begins in here – not out there.’

Am I willing to forgive myself for nurturing, growing and sustaining resentment? Now, as I turn my head and look at resentment standing just off center stage I can see him smiling – not a smirk, but the smile that comes with someone who knows the answer (thus far in my life anyway). Resentment is sure of himself and he is sure of me. I can hear his words: ‘I am too important in your life; you have integrated me into your very being. You are not going to cast me aside.’  

Forgiveness is not easy and self-forgiveness is perhaps the most difficult thing to embrace.

A therapist once asked me: ‘Do you believe that God forgives you?’ I responded with a hearty ‘YES!’ The therapist paused, then continued: ‘So, you believe you are greater than God! God forgives you AND you refuse to forgive yourself!’ Self-forgiveness can be, at minimum, a challenge for some (I am one of the ‘for some’). For me, regarding resentment, it means that in forgiving myself I will have to no longer call resentment to move from off-stage to center-stage. I will have to let go of the pleasure of being resent-full. For me, I will also have to let go of other feelings like self-pity and self-disparagement.

Henri Nouwen offers me some guidance when he writes: Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.

You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible. –Anton Chekhov

My life experience continues to confirm my belief that TRUST is a, if not the, crucial element in developing, nurturing and sustaining healthy relationships. So, gentle reader, I invite you to consider TRUST [what follows is my current thinking about Trust]. It is also important to remember that at our best we are imperfect human beings and that when it comes to ‘Trust’ we will too often ‘stumble the mumble’ rather than ‘walk the talk.’

Trust = a tap root that feeds healthy relationships [P.O.T. = Personal, One-to-One, Team – ‘Team’ is any organized group of three or more folks]

Trust Defined: trust is one’s willingness to act rooted in integrity and to be vulnerable to another based on the confidence that the other is benevolent, honest, open, reliable, and competent

Integrity = commitment to moral and ethical principles; one is rooted in the soundness of his/her moral character. The goal is to consistently act rooted in integrity at all times.

Vulnerable = transparency, risk-taking, & openness. The root is from the Latin, vulnus, which means ‘to carry the wound gracefully.’ Part of being vulnerable also includes taking a position that you will act as if the other person is acting out of good faith. Vulnerable also means that we commit to being BOTH ‘trust-builders’ and ‘trust-repairers.’ ‘Trust-repairing’ requires that we offer and accept forgiveness, we offer and accept reconciliation and we offer and accept healing.

Benevolence = the confidence that one’s well-being or something one cares about will be protected and not harmed by the trusted party [one’s good name, for example]. Trust rests on the assurance that one can count on the good will of another to act in one’s best interest, that the other will not exploit one’s vulnerability even when the opportunity is available.

Honesty = honesty concerns a person’s character, their integrity and authenticity. Trust means that one can expect that the word or promise of another individual, whether verbal or written, can be relied upon. Trust implies that statements made were truthful and conformed to ‘what really happened,’ at least from that person’s perspective, and that commitments made about future actions will be kept. Without the confidence that a person’s words can be relied upon, trust is unlikely to develop. At times leaders, for example, have to ‘bite their tongue’ in the face of criticism from others who do not have all of the relevant information (a good leader will make decisions for the common good, given the information at hand, with the belief that the majority of the led would make the same decision given the same information). By-The-By, one can act with integrity and ‘lie’ at the same time.  WHAT!!!  Yup, true.  Think about it.  

Let us begin with a definition: Alert = being fully awake and attentive; having an attitude of vigilance and readiness. The ancient wisdom figures and all faith, humanistic and philosophic traditions share a common theme: Life is about being alert on all levels. We are charged with choosing to be alert to the ‘spirit’s’ promptings (this ‘spirit’ might be the spirit of God or it might be the spirit of our inner guide/teacher, or it might be the spirit of a wisdom figures words – to name a few of the possibilities). The spirit comes to us through tradition, scripture, community, meditation, prayer, music, art, the natural world, our intellect, our imagination, mentors, teachers, guides, family, friends, and our dreams (the list seems endless).

It takes a great amount of ‘being alert’ in order for me to sort through the complex, and at times misleading, movements of my heart and mind (for example, my prejudices, judgments, stereotypes, biases, and adulterations). To complicate my ability to be alert, I also have to discern my destructive images (say, of God), my false notions (about the other), my dis-eased motivations, my inability to heal old wounds (or my ability to keep them open and festering), and my desire (or is it need) to hang onto the judgments of childhood that still guide my life-decisions.

The Oracle of Delphi advises us to ‘know thyself.’ I must be alert if I am going to begin to know myself. Socrates reminds us that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living.’ In order for me to examine my life I must be alert. The prayer of St. Francis states quite clearly: …grant that I may not seek to be understood as to understand. In order to seek to understand I must be alert and I must be intentional and purpose-full in my seeking.

What are some ways we hinder ourselves from ‘Being Alert’? Anthony de Mello notes that we too often go through life asleep and that we are called to ‘wake up’ (de Mello’s book ‘Awareness’ has been one of my ‘spirits’ for many years – Be Care-Full, Gentle Reader, you might choose to wake up if you read it). So one way we hinder ourselves from ‘Being Alert’ is to be asleep. We also keep ourselves from ‘Being Alert’ by being distracted (my sense is most of us have our favorite ways of being distracted), or by being busy (we are a society addicted to busyness), or by being in a hurry (we suffer from ‘hurry sickness’) or by being addicted (there are many addictions available to us and each of us has our ‘favorites’) or by being ‘self-absorbed’. There are other ways, but these will suffice for now.

‘Being Alert’ does not necessarily bring comfort or solace or peace. We might well become disturbed by what we come to see or understand (about ourselves, for example). In what ways might our being alert, and hence disturbed, motivate us – to health or to dis-ease?

As I close this morning I am thinking of another of my ‘spirit’ mentors, Aristotle. He offers us the following: The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.