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Yesterday I had the opportunity to have connection, conversation and coffee with my daughter, Rebecca. Rebecca is the Senior Event Planner (my title for her role) at the Alexander Hotel here in Indianapolis (check it out on-line, it is a wonderful hotel – for many reasons). She had had a challenging week with a client that she had ‘inherited’ – the client had asked that the person they were working with be ‘replaced’.

Rebecca loves her work and one of her many strengths, and gifts, is her ability to connect with folks and ‘partner with them’ (her words) and work with them so they have an experience that more than satisfies their needs. She has a gift of healing strained and broken relationships with clients and she has partnered with a diverse number of ‘team’ members and together they have co-created a high performing team. Did I mention that she loves her team members, her clients and her work?

For me, Rebecca is a living testimony to the counsel I received from a mentor more than 40 years ago: What you do should be worthy of your attention and dignity, and affirm and demonstrate the respect you have for yourself. I have learned, and Rebecca has learned, that if you love what you do, then you will do it beautifully. The deeper, more light-filled side of your soul will help you bring the light of love to what you do, to how you serve. What you do, rooted in love, will be creative and transforming. Because Rebecca is who she is, the client experienced the person, Rebecca, and the professional. They worked together to create and a broken relationship was transformed into a partnership.

Here is a ‘Blessing’ written by John O’Donohue; I find it fitting for today.

A Blessing

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the
secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and
renewal to those who work with you and to those who see
and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment,
inspiration, and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your
new day with dreams, possibilities, and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered, and protected.
May your soul calm, console, and renew you.

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Nosce te ipsum = Know Thyself. –The Oracle

Good morning Gentle Reader.

How often do you approach life as a problem to be solved?  How often do you find yourself seeking ‘solutions’?  How often do you approach life as a paradox to be embraced?  As fully human beings, when we are at our best we are living paradoxes to be embraced; we are not problems to be solved.

One of the ways we seek to solve a ‘life-problem’ is via renunciation.  The alcoholic renounces alcohol.  The celibate renounces sex.  The Lenten Faster renounces candy for forty days.  Now consider this Gentle Reader: When you renounce somethings you are actually providing it more staying power.  What???  Talk about counter-intuitive.

Years ago I was a thought-partner to the owner of a company.  He was a wonderful man, a good leader, a caring owner, and an avowed atheist.  As we were developing our relationship he told me that he was raised to be a ‘good Christian’ and that when he was 16 his dog became quite ill.  He prayed to God and prayed to God and prayed to God to heal his dog.  God did not.  His dog died. He renounced God. He embraced being an atheist.  Now, he was in his mid-forties and the owner of this company.  When we met he always wanted to talk about God – no matter how hard he tried he could not get God out of his mind.

Consider Gentle Reader that when you renounces something you, paradoxically – or is it ironically – become tethered to it.  You weave it into the very fabric of your life, of your soul.

For thousands of years the great mystics of all faith and humanist traditions have counseled us ‘to embrace’ (some refer to this as ‘to receive’), not renounce, our demons.  There is a wonderful story that helps me with this concept.  I will share the short version with you.

The fully human being returned home – a log cabin in the woods – s/he had been away for some time.  When s/he opened the door and crossed the threshold s/he saw that the cabin was full of terrifying demons.  S/He looked at them and said, ‘Welcome to my home.’  Immediately 50% of the demons disappeared.  The remaining demons, however were more terrifying than the ones who had disappeared.

The human went to the stove and boiled some water.  S/He then took out some tea bags and said to the demons, ‘Sit with me and have some tea.’ Immediately 50% of the remaining demons disappeared.  Then the fully human took down a lyre and sang a song of joy and all but one demon disappeared.  This was the most terrifying of all the demons.

The demon approached the human.  The human smiled and embraced the demon.  The demon disappeared.

Part of the challenge of all of this lies, as it usually does, with our ‘identity.’  It is crucial to understand that the power comes from our having ‘become’ what we want to renounce.  ‘Being an Alcoholic’ defines us – I saw this ‘being’ in my younger brother.  Who of us wants to, or is willing to, give up his/her identity?

As with many challenges, a major goal is first to seek to understand.  Once we understand – or understand more fully – then we can begin to identify whether our challenge is a problem to be solved, a paradox to be lived into, a polarity to be engaged, or a dilemma to be resolved.  Consider that ‘identity challenges’ are almost always ‘paradoxes to be lived into.’

The unexamined life is not worth living. –Socrates

 

It’s ‘in here,’ not ‘out there.’ –Robert K.Greenleaf

After 50+ years of searching and seeking I have come to one conclusion: Life is a mystery to be lived!  Life is not a problem to be solved.  The mystery.  Consider this: there is no explanation I can give that would explain away all the sufferings and evil and torture and destruction and hunger and dis-ease in the world.

‘Life is a mystery!’  My thinking, my mind, cannot make sense out of it.  Life – think: Reality – is not a problem.  If there is a problem then I am the problem.  All of the great faith and humanistic traditions tell us this: ‘I – the person – am the problem!’  I don’t like to embrace this idea – I know few folks who do.

The great faith and humanistic traditions counsel us, over and over and over, to act rooted in love.  Do not act rooted in ‘negative’ feelings.  As I sit here this morning I am holding two questions (and I invite you, Gentle Reader, to also hold them): How often do I act rooted in anger, guilt, spite, fear, rage, hate and envy?  Before I choose to act – or react – how often do I pause and reflect in order to ensure that I am awake, aware, intentional and purpose-full and that I am aware of ‘who I am’ and how this ‘who’ impacts my choice of action or reaction? 

The great mystic, Meister Eckhart, tells us, ‘It is not by your actions that you will be saved, but by your being.  It is not by what you do, but by what you are that you will be judged.’  I hold the following image: I am standing in front of St. Peter (or God) after I die and the question I hear is not the one I expect to hear; the question I hear is: ‘Were you the best Richard you could become?’  Being precedes Doing!

St. Paul adds to this with: ‘If I give my body to be burned and all my goods to feed the poor and have not love…’  It is not my actions, it is my being that counts.

How much energy do we put into changing others while neglecting to change ourselves?  For Christians, Jesus was clear as to who he was sent to comfort – not the righteous but the sinners.  Paradoxically, the righteous become the sinners and the sinners become the ones healed; the last shall become first.

I have learned that I ‘see’ people and things not as they are, but as I am.  This is true, it seems, for all of us.  This is why when two of us look at the same person we often see two different people and we have two different reactions to the person as a result (listen to how people view the refugee or immigrant, for example).  We see people not as they are, but as we are [psychologists call this projection].

In 1972 I had a mentor who looked at me and said: ‘All is good!’  Talk about being disturbed.  How often have I said in my life: ‘If only________ would change then I would be fine?’  How often have I said, ‘You made me feel____?’  Why do I continue to give this power to make me feel a certain way to the other(s)?  I have experienced that when I am able to be different the other will, miracle of miracles, become different – and I will perceive the other as different as well.  Someone who was ‘rage-full’ now seems ‘frightened’ and ‘vulnerable.’

How much time do I spend blaming the other(s) or society or ‘my lot in life’?

A mentor provided me, many years ago, with four steps.  He was clear: ‘Repeat these thousands of times’ (this, in itself was off-putting).  Here are the four steps: (1) identify the negative feelings in you – name each one; (2) understand and accept that these feelings are ‘in you’ – they are not in the world (think: external reality); (3) do not embrace them as essential to the ‘I’ that is you – feelings come and go; (4) understand that when you change then everything will change.

Become the change you want to see in the world. –Gandhi

The Kentucky Derby was run last weekend.  If our lives were governed by the philosophy of this horse race, the first three of us would finish in the money and the rest of us would be losers.

I am now remembering a story; I witnessed this more than thirty years ago – I can still see it clearly in my mind’s eye.  A group of 6-7 year olds were going to participate in a race.  I forget how far they were to run, but it was more of a long dash; perhaps an eighth of a mile at most.  About ¾ of the way through the race one child, who was not in the lead, stumbled and fell down.

The others, all of the others, stopped. They ran back to the child who had fallen.  They gathered around the child, helped the child up and then formed a chain and as all were laughing they crossed the finish line together.  They were very purpose-full as they strove to ensure that they crossed the line together. Some parents and others in attendance celebrated with them; some parents were incensed that their child had not taken advantage of the situation and ‘WON’ the race.  I felt the joy of the celebration and the pain of the parents’ shaming.

For years I have been reflecting upon the difference between ‘competition’ – a few winners and many losers – and high achievement – measuring one’s self against one’s best efforts and helping others do the same.  Think about this, Gentle Reader: True super stars in sports do this regularly; in fact they believe that in order to perform at a high level their opponents must also do so and they actually help them improve.

It is not uncommon for professional golfers to help one another.  Larry Bird used to help Magic Johnson ‘find his stroke’ and Magic did the same for Larry – there is a great story about this but I will save it for another time.  Walt Disney helped the Marriott brothers develop their theme parks for this opened the way for Disney to bring his big dream to reality – Disney needed them to succeed so he could do this.

Does it matter?  You bet it does (keeping our horse-race metaphor).  When winning becomes the ‘end game’ then, paradoxically, so does mediocrity.  If I can’t win, why try?  Each of us is given gifts, talents, and abilities that we are called to develop and use in response to needs that exist in our world.  To ignore these, to not develop them, is to spit in the face of the creator.  To suppress them in others is tyranny.

I am called to love my self and to love my neighbor as myself; if I don’t love my self I am not able to love my neighbor – then we both end up losers no matter what type of race we find ourselves in.

In closing I invite you, Gentle Reader, to consider this: Competition is rooted in a scarcity model.  High Achievement is rooted in an abundance model.  Larry and Magic believed this and so did Walt Disney.  How about you, Gentle Reader, what do you believe in: scarcity or abundance?

 

Good morning Gentle Reader.

As always, Gentle Reader, my goal is to write in order to understand what is emerging within me; my goal is not to convince you nor convert you nor coerce you.  I invite you to consider (think about, reflect upon, explore), along with me, what I have to offer.  Given the topic I will begin writing about this morning it is crucial that you, Gentle Reader, understand this.  So, given this, let us continue.

It seems to me that today we human beings are more anxiety-fearful than ever before.  We have many responses to our increased anxiety-fear.  One response that is surfacing in societies/countries in our global community is that in order to defuse our anxiety-fear people are more open to embracing the ‘strong man’ – the dictator-‘savior.’

We are, in fact, willing to give up our freedom in order to experience less anxiety-fear.  In our country, for example, we elected a president who, by all indicators, would love to be our dictator-for-life AND we have a vociferous minority who would, I believe, support such a move away from democracy.

There is another way we can surrender our freedom here in our country.  We can embrace and more fully live into the two powerful inorganic metaphors that we have integrated into our Culture.  The first, and oldest, inorganic metaphor is the industrial/mechanical metaphor.  In this metaphor we are cogs in the great machine or, if you will, the great watch.  The second, and at this time, the more powerful-impactful inorganic metaphor is the banking metaphor.  People are assets, commodities and resources to be used, cashed in, traded, and maximized for a ROI.

Consider: Freedom, rooted in Democracy, requires an organic metaphor.  Only human beings have choice – and therefore, freedom.  The more dehumanized we become the less choice we will have and, therefore, the less freedom we will have.

Our Culture and many organizations have sought to create a hybrid-human.  Part automaton and part human – a cyborg.  The illusion is that we have ‘freedom’ and the reality is: try to use it and see what happens.  Our mantra seems to be: All are free & some are freer than others!

Simply put: We, in our Culture, have come to be anxious about and have come to fear freedom.  I can hear it when people I know and care about say things like: I am not going to vote; my vote does not matter. I am not going to write my elected officials for my voice does not matter.  I am not going to be upset with our president who supports white supremacists because he wants to build a wall to keep out the undesirables.  ‘Character’ no longer counts – what counts is strength and we have, some believe, elected a strong man. 

Do not get me wrong.  We have plenty to be anxious and fearful about.  We also know that anxiety-fear is best coped with via a supportive community consisting of diverse voices; a community rooted in interdependence, trust, caring, and compassion; a community that balances ‘Justice’ & ‘Mercy’.  A community that is broadly and deeply civil.  Freedom requires this.

Consider that we are taking a step that is so significant that we might not be able to step-back once we have taken it.  The step is not a huge step for us in our Culture – too many small steps have already been taken.  The step: We move from being anxious-fear-full to becoming our anxiety and to becoming our fear.  Once these become our identity we know how difficult it is to give up one’s identity.

There is a dark-side to Gandhi’s counsel and I leave us this morning with his counsel.

Become the change you want to see in the world!

Do I-You-We want to become our anxiety and our fear?  History teaches us that we humans can become both – and the consequences are devastating for all.

Nothing is more pathetic than the person who goes around and around…and strives to understand the workings of his neighbor’s mind, without perceiving that he need only look to the divine spirit within himself, and care for it sincerely. –‘Meditations’, 2.12

Good morning Gentle Reader.

This morning I will conclude my short series on Marcus and his ‘Meditations.’ Like Marcus and you, Gentle Reader, I am first and foremost a human being, and it is my essence as a human being that contains the potential (and Marcus tells us the duty) to cultivate my capacity to step back from myself and become conscious of my self – to become conscious of my response-ability and responsibility to remember who I am: both a fully human being living here ‘now,’ in this circumstance, and as a full human being I have within my self a conscious particle of divinity. Marcus reminds us, over and over, that we are truly made in God’s image (not bad for a Roman pagan).

As always, Gentle Reader, there is more.

Throughout his ‘Meditations’, while Marcus is striving to communicate his struggle not to attach himself to his emotional judgments, he speaks of his fundamental wish to open himself to the ‘Mind of the Whole,’ – you, Gentle Reader, and I would probably use the term ‘Reason.

Marcus is not speaking of a mere concept.  He is speaking of a spiritual force that has material effects upon his thinking, his feeling, and his daily actions.  To be a bit more precise, Marcus is speaking of his struggle to open himself to an identity – a self within himself – that has the capacity and duty/obligation to obey and transmit the ‘Mind of the Whole’ into the bones, flesh and muscles of his own body.

We, the readers, can discern Marcus’ need and his certainty that it is not only possible but necessary – indeed, that it is the most necessary work that a human being can undertake, for it is through such contact with the principle of ‘Mind’ within oneself that each of us is provided the true capacity to live fully and vibrantly the life that has been given to us AND to act with mercy and justice toward one’s fellow man.

For me, it is in this silent, inner waiting and listening that I reveal to my self the power and message of Marcus’ ‘Meditations.’  For a fleeting moment, I become a new, more fully human, being.  Marcus’ ‘Meditations’ provide me a ‘taste’ of my own potential as a fully human being.  For me, this is still another secret of Marcus and his ‘Meditations.’

I leave us with a note that Marcus wrote to himself one morning.  Here is Marcus writing to Marcus:

But if, when you have come to the end…you honor only your guiding part and the divine that is within you, and you do not fear ceasing to live so much as you fear never having begun to live in accordance with Nature – then you will be a man who is worthy of the Cosmos that created you; and you will cease to live like a stranger in your own land. . . . – ‘Meditations,’ 12.1

 

Good morning Gentle Reader.  As I noted in PART III, there is more to be discerned.

Let us look deeper.  I invite us to consider that there is a secret that lives within the secret.

It seems clear to me that as he is writing, Marcus is, for the most part, intensely and care-fully observing his own thoughts and impulses – a process that is, at minimum, challenging for us humans to do and at maximum is daunting and often off-putting.

Thus, the secret within the secret lies in the fact that such self-expression of the inner search at the same time awakens and guides the attention of the reader to his or her own thoughts and impulses.

You, Gentle Reader, and I are not simply given ideas which he then imbeds into his formed opinions and rational thinking.  The action of many of Marcus’ meditations is far more serious than that and, I might add, far more interesting, intriguing and spiritually practical (remember that philosophy was a way of being in the world, it was not a theory to be studied).

Marcus is our guide.  He guides us through his inner work.  He shows us what it means to stop, step-back and reflect within ourselves; he shows us what it is like to develop a relationship with his inner self (some call it ‘spirit’ and some call it our ‘inner teacher’ and some call it our ‘inner guide’ – we all have access to this inner guide, the question is to what extent, if ever, we invite our inner guide’s voice into our lives and heed our guide’s counsel).

For me, this reveals the greater power of Marcus’ ‘Meditations.’  Marcus tells us and shows us and reminds us that no matter what befalls us, no matter what life deals us, no matter what temptations or sufferings we encounter, no matter how shaken we are or how bored we are or torn by impossible demands and choices, no matter what is happening to us in the life we are living – or avoiding – it is always possible for us to stop, step-back within ourselves and discover (or re-discover) a powerful relationship with our inner guide (by the by, Gentle Reader, our inner guide is thought-full, emotion-full and sensation-full).

No one can take this from us; it is what helps us be and become a fully human being.  We can give it up – how often we do this is something for each of us to discern.  Viktor Frankl in his powerful book, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ reminds us that no one – not even the most evil concentration camp experiences – can take this from us.  Marcus and Viktor – two extremes and yet both were able to find, nurture and heed his inner guide.  AND you, Gentle Reader, and I are provided the opportunity to benefit from their searching and seeking and learning.

AND, Gentle Reader, there is still more. . .