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Good morning Gentle Reader.  I have been reflecting upon all that continues to contribute to our dis-ease and growing un-civility.  The shroud of illusion that we have covered ourselves in has been torn away and our better angels have fled and have been replaced by our darkest angels.  As  William Stafford noted: The darkness around us is deep. 

Early this morning a question emerged into my consciousness: ‘What’s it all about?’  I held this question for a few hours and then I began to discern a response.  What emerged into my consciousness were these words: September 1, 1939.  This is the title of one of W.H. Auden’s most powerful poems.  In his poem, Auden captures for me ‘What It’s All About…’  Here is Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939.

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
‘I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,’
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

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A real conversation always contains an invitation to reveal one’s self. –David Whyte

Consider that in any two person conversation there are at least four voices present.  There are two verbal voices and there are two internal voices.  Where there is alignment between the verbal and the internal voices then there is congruence.

There are times when each of us verbalizes only a part of what is voiced internally.  Frequently, the listener picks up signals that the internal voice has not been verbalized; these signals are sent to the listener via non-verbal cues.  Sometimes the listener will reflect these non-verbal cues back to the speaker and the speaker will either confirm or disconfirm what has been reflected back to him/her.  My sense, however, is that most listeners do not reflect the non-verbal signals back to the speaker; the resulting incongruence is taken as ‘the norm’ for conversations.

In conversations that we call ‘conflictual conversations’ the two participants generally make a mistake by trying to get at irrelevant matters – e.g., ‘Who is right?’ or ‘Why are you doing this?’  Consider that the following might be more helpful: ‘Why do we see things differently?’ or ‘Why do we choose different responses?’  These tend to reframe the conversation from ‘blame’ toward ‘seeking to understand’ and from ‘winning’ to ‘discerning understanding and perhaps discerning common ground.’

Consider that two types of knowledge might also be helpful:

INTRAPERSONAL knowledge helps us consider why we think, feel and act as we do.

INTERPERSONAL knowledge helps us, via empathy and respect, to consider the other’s perspective, experience, and position.

‘Why do I see the world differently from how you see the world?’  Well, I have different information and/or a different interpretation of the same information that we both have.  My interpretation is rooted in my life experiences, my outlook, my current disposition, my life-disposition, my deep assumptions, my core values [and how I interpret them], my guiding life-principles, my prejudices, my stereotypes, my biases, etc.  I also think that for the most part my conclusions also reflect my ‘self-interest’ – i.e. I ‘lead’ with my-self as the focus, not the other as my focus.

When engaged in a searching conversation, I do better when I move from certainty to curiosity, from surety to doubt, from being rigid to being flexible and when I stop arguing about ‘who is right,’ and when I stop needing to assign ‘blame,’ and when I start to seek to understand and embrace ‘your story.’

To get real diversity of thought, you need to find the people who genuinely hold different views and invite them into a conversation. –Adam Grant

Prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time to be alone with Him who loves us. –Saint Teresa of Avila

Good morning Gentle Reader.

For me, the first condition of Private Prayer is to recognize that solitude is essential and therefore, I must discipline myself in order to make it a priority in my daily life.

There is a ‘cost’ to embracing this spiritual discipline.  Conversation with God, via Private Prayer, is a necessity, not a luxury.  Fifty-seven years ago Private Prayer became something different for me.  It was no longer what happened as I prepared for sleep; it was also different from the terror-stricken appeals I sent to God [although I continue to engage in both].  I also learned that, like all searching conversations, a searching conversation with God required time – not ten minutes but sixty minutes.

It is not news to anyone who has attempted to engage in this type of Private Prayer that the simple act of setting aside a ‘sacred time’ each day for Private Prayer is, for many, a daunting challenge.  We are, in our Culture, a busy-body people; we are addicted to action and speed and noise and distraction; our ability to ‘attend to’ is measured in seconds not even in minutes.  We love swimming in the shallows and strive to avoid the depths; swimming in the depths requires discipline, time, commitment, and never-ending preparation.

To put it another way: Rather than take the time to keep a ‘written journal’ we have resorted to capturing the depth of our life in 140 characters – bytes rather than full meals.

Some of my Private Prayer is spoken – a conversation with God.  For me there is something firm and tangible and attention-holding as I engage in a prayer-conversation with God.  Hearing my own words spoken is akin to renewing a vow – it recommits me.  As I speak I image God walking with me.  God listens.  Then God speaks – I don’t always hear what God says but I find comfort knowing that God speaks to me.

In my conversations with God I speak with God just as I would speak with my closest friend.  I laugh, I cry, I feel pain, I curse, I stumble over my own words, I fight distractions and I wait with expectation to hear what my friend has to offer me – his or her laughter, tears, pain, cursing, and word-stumbling.  At times no words are exchanged; we walk together wrapped in silence.  I cherish these times of walking in silence.

I conclude my Private Prayer time by emerging a phrase – a mantra if you will – that I will carry with me during the day.  During the day I will, then, stop, visualize my being with my friend – God – and I will repeat the phrase.  I will also recall and repeat the phrase when I become stressed, angry, whelmed-over, anxious, depressed or pained.  I do not write the phrase down; nor do I ‘hold on to it’ for more than a day.  The ‘letting go’ and ‘taking on’ is a crucial discipline for me (perhaps I will write about this discipline some day).

Sometimes the phrase emerges as ‘my words’ and sometimes the phrase is one that another has offered me; a line from a poem, for example.  I will not share the context for the phrase I will hold today.  However, I will, in closing, offer you, Gentle Reader, the phrase.  Today it is a line from a poem: I will not die an unlived life!

For me, it is essential to have the inner peace and serenity of prayer in order to listen to the silence of God. –Adolfo Perez Esquivel

We should in ourselves learn and perceive who we are, how and what our life is, what God is doing in us, what he will have from us and to what ends he will or will not use us. –John Tauler (A disciple of Meister Eckhart)

As I noted in previous posts, when I was 18 years old I spent a year (14 months actually) in a monastery.  One of the spiritual disciplines I developed was deep meditation, another was the spiritual discipline of prayer – public and, for me, more significantly, private prayer.

Within a few days of my being in the monastery, my spiritual director gifted me with two quotations from John Tauler.  He told me that the disciplines of deep meditation and private prayer would help me create the inner quiet and space for the whispers of my inner guide and teacher to be heard.

I came to learn and, at times to understand, that private prayer enables me to engage in active co-operation with god; prayer helps me discern what is authentic and it also helps enable me to discern what I am called to live into and out of.

Private prayer is often defined as speech with God.  I found that it did indeed begin that way.  As I immersed myself in the spiritual discipline of private prayer I experienced that it does not stop there.  I learned that private prayer is more akin to working with God.  Private prayer appears to the observer to be a passive activity.  As my spiritual director used to stay, prayer, in truth, is a rest most busy.

I learned that the first condition of the discipline and practice of private prayer is: Be Alone!  The monastery offered me many ‘places’ to be alone and the schedule also provided me, each day, a number of opportunities to be alone.  What I learned, however, that Being Alone is not easy.

Today, in our Culture, Being Alone is a daunting challenge.  Each of us is shrouded by and immersed in constant irrelevant stimuli.  The external and internal noise and distraction is an addiction.  We are also suffering from the dis-eases of hurry sickness and activity.

Being Alone has become a spiritual discipline in itself.  We, post-modern busy-bodies, have to learn to be alone.  This discipline requires that I discern a need to be alone and, for me, developing my capacity for private prayer provides me this need.

My mother modeled this for me (although I did not become fully aware of her modeling until I had been in the monastery for six months).  My mother raised six children (my father, a small town-country doctor, was gone 12-14 hours a day).  Even though my mother carried a great deal, each day, during the middle of the day, she would go to my father’s ‘den’ and seclude herself for an hour.  We knew not to interrupt her unless there was an emergency.  My older brothers and sisters told me when I was young that mother went to the den to pray.

When I was in my late thirties I asked my mother about her ‘prayer time’ and she described it as a time of soul-healing.  My mother took her hour of private prayer time every day until she was admitted to hospice (she was 90 years old).  She also told me that her role-model for going off and being alone in prayer was Jesus and Francis of Assisi.

So, Gentle Reader, the first condition of private prayer is to discern that solitude (solitude is the positive side of being alone) is imperative.

In one short hour you can learn more from the inward voice than you could learn from man in a thousand years. –John Tauler

 

 

I spent a year in a monastery; I was 18 years old.  Among other things, I learned about ‘silence’ and I also learned about ‘meditation.’  I learned that embracing silence presents us with a daunting challenge. Experiencing ‘silence’ requires us to ‘find it, embrace it, and then, sustain it.’  All of this is quite challenging and stretching – it is for me at least.  At its best, Word and Voice are rooted in deep silence.  To paraphrase Robert K. Greenleaf, when I speak how will that improve on the silence?                                       

 I have a bias.  I believe that we each need to teach ourselves to sit quietly and listen, just listen long enough to leave our butts a bit sore.  Our lives are, more and more, whelming us over with both internal and external noise/distraction and because of this when it comes time to tap into and then convey to ourselves and perhaps to others our deepest intuitions, our deepest yearnings, our deepest hungers and when our lives demand, cry out for, inner guidance we will find ourselves speechless.

Many of us don’t even recognize silence.  Silence lacks stuff – background noise, internal noise, chattering of all types.  Silence requires discipline over time.  Silence is not easy to find, nor embrace, nor experience.  I used to invite participants into ‘silence;’ many years ago I shifted and now I invite them into ‘quiet.’  For many, if not most, of us ‘relative quiet’ is the only kind of quiet known; silence is not known.  Silence seems beyond our reach.

This challenge of finding, embracing and experiencing silence is exacerbated by the fact that, as Thomas Merton noted so insightfully, our culture loves noise; we are a noisy culture; we are addicted to ‘noise’.  We do not like silence; people cannot sit in silence but for a few moments at a time [I am reminded of the searcher who went to Nepal to learn about silence and meditation; he was gone but a short time.  A close friend saw him out walking and stopped him and asked what had happened that he had left and returned in such a short period of time.  The man replied that indeed he had gone off to Nepal in search of silence but left within a day or two.  Why?  Because everywhere he went, Yak, Yak, Yak!].

It seems that we love noise and fear silence.  Why?  Consider this: Silence reveals. It reveals our deepest longings and our emptiness, if not our inner wasteland.  In silence we hear the sound of our own suffering.  This is the type of suffering that results in tears flowing.  There have been times in my life when I was afraid that if I tapped into this suffering in myself that my tears would never cease flowing.

Sitting quietly is also counter-cultural.  We love activity; we are addicted to activity, distraction and speed.  We value doing not being.  Sitting in silence requires us to embrace ‘doing nothing;’ it requires of us just to ‘be.’  Perhaps silence is, for us, a glimpse of what death is all about.  Death is our enemy, we seem to believe.  Perhaps if we are noisy enough death will not open the door to the coach and invite us in. Some ‘Perhaps’!

Silence is an antidote to language; words cannot capture nor describe the mystery, the transcendent, the wonder, the awe, nor the magical.  Silence provides us the space for these to enter into us, to surround us, to nurture us.

 Silence, indeed, is golden.

 

In honor of the 4th of July I offer our Nation’s ‘Declaration’.

The Declaration of Independence (1776)

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Massachusetts: John Hancock

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple

Massachusetts: Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New Hampshire: Matthew Thornton

 

Act as if you were happy, and that will tend to make you happy. –Dale Carnegie (1936)

In 1651 the concept of sympathy, as we understand it today, did not exist.  Hobbes, for example, claimed that if one viewed a ship on the rocks (not an uncommon sight in Merry Old England) and its passengers and crew were drowning that this scene would give one pleasure for one would delight in one’s own safety.

In the 1700s a change occurred.  Sympathy, as we understand it today, was introduced into the Culture.  The thought became: If my friends are experiencing pleasure then I will experience pleasure and if my friends are experiencing suffering I will suffer with them.

Sympathy changed Hobbesian human beings – human beings that were entirely egoistic – into communal/social human beings: I view or hear about suffering and I suffer.

Gentle Reader, you might remember that the following photo was one that helped change our view of the Vietnam War – many of us experienced the suffering as we viewed the suffering.  As a reminder, here is the photo:

ONE TIME USE ONLY (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

In our search for happiness we cannot escape pain, suffering and death.  This, of course, is a paradox.  Here are a few other paradoxes: Virtue needs Vice; Light needs Darkness; Good needs Evil and Happiness needs Suffering.

Sympathy, as I am thinking about it, is not pity (think: feeling sorry for the one suffering) it is empathy (think: I suffer because you suffer).  For many of us the power of the photograph moved us from pity to empathy, from feeling sorry for those poor people to suffering with them.  Once we crossed the empathy-threshold and suffered with ‘them’ the Vietnam War took on a very different meaning for us.

Voltaire upped the ante for us.  He noted that being empathetic (experiencing suffering with the one suffering) contained an unintended consequence: Survivor Guilt.  Anyone who has experienced this knows of what Voltaire speaks.  This type of guilt can lead one to take action – the anti-Vietnam War movement, for example – or it can dis-able.

Today, in our Country, the suffering of the little ones who are locked up in the camps on our borders are, because of sympathy and empathy, moving some to take action and is dis-abling others.

Sympathy and Empathy allow us to suffer along with the suffering.  Happiness lies dormant – waiting to be called to life.  Given this, let us return to our topic ‘Happiness.’

Happiness is nothing but everyday living seen through a veil. –Zora Neale Hurston (1939)