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Archive for July, 2012

ON WAKING UP. . .

To be alive means to be awake; for most of us it means ‘waking up.’  Too many of us, even though we are not aware of it, are asleep.  We’re born asleep, we live each day asleep, we marry while we are asleep, we raise children while we are asleep and we die in our sleep – we pass through this life without ever waking up.  Because we live sleeping-lives we never grasp the wonder and the mystery of life; of being fully human – of being awake and aware NOW.

The great mystics – not matter their faith tradition or their philosophical tradition – are unanimous regarding one thing: all is well, all is well.  Even though everything is a mess, all is well.  A concerting paradox, indeed.  Sadly, because we are mostly asleep we never get to see that all is well.  Because we are mostly asleep our dreams become nightmares – all is not well, in fact life is a struggle, a conflict, a war, and we are doomed.  To paraphrase one English author: life is short and brutish.  WAKE UP!  I say to myself – sometimes I say it many times a day.  Sometimes I have to ask myself: Richard, do you really want to wake up?  Sometimes I reply, Yes I do.  And sometimes I know better than to believe myself.  During my sleep I move toward feeling sorry for myself – I just want to be taken care of.  I just want my life to be simple.  I just want relief from my anxieties.  I remember when I was 22, many years ago now, a therapist reflected to me that I really didn’t want to ‘be cured;’ I wanted relief.  Being cured is painful – just ask any side of cured-ham – it requires a transformation and a ‘dying to’ and a ‘letting go of’ and a ‘taking on.’  Being awake does not bring comfort – being awake brings disturbance.

I continue to find that waking up is uncomfortable; I would rather ‘stay in bed and remain asleep.’  Waking up doesn’t occur just one time – we are masters when it comes to sleeping and so waking up is something that we must do over and over and over.  Some people have asked me to help them wake up – my reply is that it is not my job to wake you up [I have enough challenge when it comes to waking myself up].  Actually, it’s really none of my business if others wake up; their life is their business.  I might be able to offer some questions that if lived into might be a guide for one who is seeking to wake up; if you profit from them fine – if you don’t that is fine also for it’s your choice [just like it is my choice].  So, today, once again, I am challenged with whether to wake up or remain asleep – sleep sounds so inviting right now; let me close my eyes for a bit and think about it.

 

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WHO ARE YOU, REALLY?

Too often, we live and die thinking and acting as if the self we believe we are is our true, self.  Here is a story that might help we who are ‘true-self’ searchers and seekers.

A farmer was walking in the woods and he found an eagle’s egg lying on the ground.  It was still warm so he hurried home and put the egg under a hen that was sitting on her eggs.  The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them. 

 All his life the eagle did what the chickens did for he thought he was a chicken.  He scratched the earth for worms and insects.  He tried, rather vainly I might add, to cluck and cackle.  He would thrash his big wings and in doing so he could fly a few feet.

 Years and years passed and the eagle grew very old.  One day he happened to look skyward – being a chicken he did not look skyward very often – and he saw a majestic bird soaring effortlessly above.  He was enthralled – the bird seemed quite familiar for some reason.  One of the eagle’s sisters noticed him looking skyward.  He turned to her and asked her if she knew what kind of bird that was.  His sister told him that that majestic bird was the king of all birds, it was a golden eagle – the sky was its kingdom.  She then reminded him that they were chickens and the land was their place – not the sky.  He turned away and pecked quietly at the ground; he was after all a chicken — this he knew. 

 So the great golden eagle lived and died a chicken for that was what he believed he was.

 So here I sit, once again, asking myself – is the self I believe I am truly my true self?  Am I really a chicken simply because others tell me, over and over again, that I am a chicken?

 

 

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CONSIDER DIALOGUE

Today the word/concept of ‘dialogue’ has taken on numerous meanings and forms.  ‘Dialogue,’ as I understand it is rooted in the work of David Bohm and it is his concept that I am going to reference today.  I had the privilege of participating in a twelve week dialogue in 1990; we met once a week for three hours for the twelve weeks.  After the twelve weeks we were introduced to the concepts that provided the framework for dialogue [first the experience, then the context for the experience].

For David Bohm, dialogue is a complex process that on the surface appears to be quite simple.  It invites us to move well beyond the concepts of debate and conversation.  As a process it explores a wide range of human experiences.  For example, during our twelve week experience we explored our values, our emotions, our prejudices, our deep assumptions, our cultural stories as we engaged one another in the moment, in the ‘here and now.’  Although we were 20 individuals [Bohm suggests a dialogue consist of between 20-40 ‘volunteer’ members who gather together on a regular basis for an extended period of time] over time we became aware of our ‘collective thought processes’ [the manner in which thought is generated and sustained at the collective level is a key aspect of Bohm’s concept of dialogue] – how we were thinking together.

Bohm’s process of dialogue is inquiry-rooted, not advocacy-rooted [as we learned, it is a challenge to function from inquiry rather than advocacy].  As such it challenges each individual and the collective to question their deeply held assumptions about what it means to be a human being.  This type of challenge requires that one be awake, aware, and ‘present’ in the moment – this really challenged me for I became aware of how much time I spent in the past, ruminating, and how much time I spent anticipating the future.

The process we used was simple.  The twenty of us gathered in a circle [we were, mostly volunteers although as we learned some had been ‘required’ to participate and this raised a number of issues for them and for those who had volunteered].  Our facilitator provided us with some initial clarification as to the nature of the process and then he became quiet and we were faced with our first challenge – how do we now proceed.  It took us some time — an hour or two – before we began to identify some initial ‘agreeable’ topics; during this initial time we experienced a variety of levels of frustration.  Once in a while the ‘facilitator’ simply reflected what he was observing – more frustration emerged as a result.  It finally dawned on us that ‘we were responsible’ for charting our own course [over time the ‘facilitator’ shifted and joined us as a member of the group].  The struggle was on – we found it difficult to move from advocacy to inquiry.  During the following several sessions we experienced the wearing thin of ‘being nice’ [our cultural conventions demanded that we ‘be polite’ and ‘nice’] – what emerged were the sub-cultures that we each had integrated; these were assumption-based and value-based and triggered some intense defending and attacking.  The topic of the session became a pathway to our assumptions; the topic was not the topic. WE became the topic no matter the topic.  Bohm’s process invites the participants to ‘notice’ what is unfolding – not to judge.  The process invites the participants to notice and affirm one’s deep assumptions – not to judge.  Over time we began to recognize the power of our assumptions – personal and collective.  Then something mysterious and magical happened; we became less defensive; we became more accepting; a natural warmth toward others began to manifest itself AND some of us actually began to let go of an assumption or two and replace them.  Others held more firmly onto their assumptions; they became more ‘sure’ of them.  We sought to ‘understand’ rather than ‘change’ the other; our ‘challenging’ was more rooted in inquiry rather than in a need for the other to change.  We became more attentive to what was happening ‘now’ – we nurtured our attention to the ‘now.’

I have learned over the years that this type of dialogue is not ‘popular’ for it requires ‘too much’ of the participants.  I have also learned that the outcomes we experienced are not guaranteed even if a group were to, in good faith, engage the process [Bohm was correct, I believe, when he concluded that the process itself was the goal and the outcome will be what it will be [this is a challenge for those who are outcome driven versus those who are process driven].  David Bohm has given us a gift and my wish is that as many as possible become open to receiving his gift.

 

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A DISCERNMENT GUIDE. . .

In November 2008 I was struggling with ‘what’s next.’  These past several months I have, once again, been struggling to discern ‘what’s next.’  As I was paging through one of my journals I came across the following that I had written in 2008.  I had labeled this entry as ‘A Discernment Guide.’  As I sit with these guidelines this morning I again find them to be helpful and so I offer them to you, gentle reader, as you might also find some of them to be useful as you step along your life’s journey.  Here is what I wrote in 2008:

Richard, pay attention:

  • BE STILL AND LISTEN — Take some time (perhaps 2-3 days) and become still, silent and listen
  • TRUST — that ways will open (and ways will close); prepare yourself to be open to the ways that will show themselves to you and prepare yourself to let go of ways that close to you
  •  BE STILL AND LISTEN – Become quiet, sit in silence, be still and listen for the whispers that may guide you
  • SEARCH AND SEEK — What are the needs that exist in your world that your gifts, talents, presence, and ‘being’ can serve?
  •  BE STILL AND LISTEN – Again, become quiet, sit in silence, be still and listen for the whispers that may guide you
  • ENGAGE IN SEARCHING CONVERSATIONS – Seek out those who care about you and seek out those you care about and search together without a destination in mind
  • TRUST — what you are discerning — the information AND your intuition
  • TRUST — the universe and God — you are here to help serve the needs of your world; no one else can offer what you offer for you are truly unique and you are needed
  • BE STILL AND LISTEN – Search and Seek; what you need will emerge so pay attention
  • CHOOSE AND ACT — do not give in to anxiety; your opportunity to choose and act may not occur for many months and be ready for you may discern a way open sooner rather than later
  • CARE FOR YOUR P.I.E.S. – Take care of your four dimensions: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, and Spiritual
  • BE STILL AND LISTEN – Be Still. . . Listen. . .

 

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TRUE SELF. . .

In ancient Greece ‘philosophy’ was a way of life, it was not an intellectual exercise.  One quest that philosophers embraced was the quest for self-realization or self-awareness in the sense of coming to know one’s ‘true Self.’  This quest involved developing and living into and out of certain spiritual exercises.  The ‘self’ is liberated from its state of alienation; a state it was immersed into by self’s worries, passions and desires.  The ‘self’ liberated is no longer simply an egoistic, passionate self; one becomes a ‘moral’ person, a ‘true self,’ open to ‘reason’ and open to participating in universal thought – to seek and attain ‘wisdom.’  ‘Wisdom’ is a state of complete liberation from one’s passions and leads to ‘clearness of mind and soul’ as well as knowledge of self and knowledge of the world.  This implies ‘perfection’ and it is an ideal to be pursued with the realization that a mere mortal will never achieve this perfect state of wisdom.  Wisdom was an ideal after which the philosopher strives without the hope of ever attaining to it.  Under the best circumstances, the only state accessible to man (and for the Greeks it was indeed for ‘man’ – the male citizen) is philo-sophia: the love of, or progress toward wisdom.  Hence, the spiritual exercises must be taken up again and again – a life-long journey with renewed commitment and effort.  The philosophical life is a conversion, a total transformation of one’s vision, life-style and behavior.  The philosophical life was counter-cultural and many philosophers were not well received by those ‘in charge’ (ask Socrates about this).

One of the great Greek Philosophers, Plotinus (205-270 CE) provides us an example.  Engaging in the spiritual exercises is like sculpting.  For the ancients, sculpture was an art which ‘took away,’ as opposed to painting, an art which ‘added on.’  The statue pre-existed in the marble block, and it was enough to take away what was superfluous in order to have the ‘true image’ emerge.  So the philosopher’s task was to chip away all that hides the true self; the true self, in essence, is there to be uncovered by the sculptor – a paradox: the philosopher was both the sculptor and the piece of marble to be sculpted.

A conception that was common to the major philosophical schools: people are unhappy because they are the slave of their passions – their passions cover their true self.  They are, in other words, unhappy because they desire things they may not be able to obtain, since they are exterior, alien and superfluous to them.  Happiness, for the philosopher, is the uncovering of the essential – that which is our ‘true self’ which waits to be uncovered and embraced.

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