Archive for September, 2012


San Francisco has been for many years my favorite city and I have visited there often.  During a visit in the early nineties I visited a hands-on museum, the Exploratorium.  I had also been reading about ‘waves and particles’ and one of the reasons I went to this museum was to see an exhibit called the particle chamber.  The chamber was a glass box about the size of a dishwasher (the machine, not the person) in which subatomic particles were made visible, appearing as if they were dust motes caught in a beam of light (I often mistake dust motes in my apartment for subatomic particles).  These particles, however, are not dust motes that settle on things but are dust that floats through things.  I saw it and still cannot comprehend the mystery.

The particle chamber is a container for making the invisible visible.  So are the compass, microscope, telescope, television, i-pone, i-pad and computer (to name just a few things we use to help us make the invisible visible); I use many of these things and I still cannot comprehend the mystery here either.  Certain people also make the invisible visible: psychologists, scientists, and artists, for example.  So does conscious attention – being awake and aware of and open to the ‘now.’  In each of these cases the right instrument is essential, but turning it on and ‘operating it correctly’ is perhaps even more important.  By choosing to become conscious – awake and aware and open to the ‘now’ – by becoming students of our own lives we are more able to discern and respond to the invitations/calls that are constantly moving through us as those subatomic particles move through things.  What blocks us is our inattention.  If we are not conscious the invitations/calls go unnoticed.   We are diminished and our lives move toward the absurd (ab-surdus meaning to be absolutely deaf).

The theologian Paul Tillich (a person whose writings at times are also a mystery to me) once wrote that the first duty of love is to listen.  Do I sense, if not believe, that my/the world is animated by a loving presence and if I do, do I lovingly listen intently and receptively.  There are times when I don’t sense the world to be animated by a loving presence and I become like the ancient Greeks and I sense my/the world to be animated by gods who have become mean-spirited and have taken to messing with us mortals in order to relieve their own boredom; the boredom that comes with being immortal.  When this happens I listen in self-defense – I am not lovingly receptive nor am I undefended when it comes to my listening.

Anyone who has attempted to truly lovingly listen intently and receptively knows that listening is hard work.  Listening takes discipline.  In this case, the discipline of paying close attention to ourselves, to the vital signs that manifest themselves as dreams, intuitions, longings, and feedback; these vital signs help us discern which of the many invitations that wash over us are the ones we must pay attention to.  These vital signs help us understand, or begin to understand, what is true for us, when to pause and step back and reflect and when to proceed or when to stop; they help us figure out who to trust and which road to take when we are at one of life’s many crossroads.

By choosing to become conscious in this manner we, in a real sense, will the invitations to appear.  This reminds me of the great Chinese proverb: When the student is ready the teacher will appear.  Being open to life’s invitations is a tricky business for we never really know what we will be invited into.   Once we discern the invitation we then have choice as to whether and how we will respond – the invitation can be unsettling and life changing or it can be life affirming and grounding.  Invitations are to be taken in and savored before they are embraced or dismissed.  Will I make time today to be quiet and open to the invitations that are waiting for me to discern and attend to?  Let me think about this invitation.

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A number of years ago I was driving up to Canada where I was going to guide a two day session for some school principals.  As I was about to enter into Canada there was a sign, Welcome to Canada.  I remember looking down – there was nothing to indicate that I was actually in Canada.  Borders only exist in the mind; in nature there are no border lines.  There are no American or Canadian trees or rivers or flowers or birds or mountains.  Those are conventions.  AND, people are ready to die for their conventions so real do they seem to them.

I learned while in Singapore in November that Thanksgiving exists in my head; it doesn’t exist in the heads of Singaporeans.  We have our New Year’s Day and so do the Chinese – but it is not the same day, nor does the day occur within the same month.  Boundaries and certain days of celebration are all conventions; they do not exist in reality.

I am recalling the story of an old farmer whose rather large property was on the Russian-Finnish border.  One day he had to decide whether he wanted his farm to be in Russia or in Finland.  After some serious thinking he chose Finland.  He was, within a day or two, visited by some Russian officials who wanted to know why he chose Finland since he was Russian born.  He told them that he loved Mother Russia but that he chose Finland because he was tired of enduring the long, harsh Russian winters.

Speaking of love.  I learned a hard lesson: love isn’t attraction.  ‘I love you more than I love anyone else’ usually meant ‘I am more attracted to you than to anyone else.’  You fit better into my mind’s conception of ‘love’ than anyone else.  In this sense, ‘love is blind’ or rather ‘attraction is blind’ – I remember thinking, what does he see in her,’ after meeting a friend’s new spouse.  Why can some couples stay together for sixty years and others not make it through year two?  Love endures all things and love is patient, so I am told.  A year or so before my father died my son, Nathan, and I were visiting my parents (they had been married 64 years at that time).  Nathan and my mother were in the kitchen; he was helping her cook and my dad and I were sitting on the nearby porch.  At one point my mother told Nathan that she really admired his grandfather.  My father, who was hard of hearing but refused to admit it (so was my mother and she also refused to admit it – and this made for some great miscommunication) looked up from the checker board (he and I were playing checkers) and said: What did you say?  My mother replied: I said that I have always admired you.  My dad blinked and replied: I’m tired of you too!  After a pause, we all laughed.

Love isn’t dependence but is interdependence.  I have been one of two empty people depending on each other; two incomplete persons propping one another up – then one moves and both fall down.  I remember feeling empty and lonely and then rushing to fill myself up with another person.  I have sought to fill my emptiness and loneliness with people, with things, with distractions, with work, with food. . .ah, their name is legion.  At times, I am able to accept my inner life as part of what it means to be a human being; accepting reality as I encounter it has, paradoxically, helped me accept myself and has also helped me accept others as they are.  Perhaps this is also a form of loving – accepting self and others as we are not just tolerating or enduring self and others.

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The great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, asks: What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?  A few days ago I received a wonderful book in the mail, Tending Our Gardens.  This book is a direct response to Machado’s question and it is also a by-product of the two authors, Wong Yim Harn and Wu Mi Yin, ten plus year renewal journey.  I have the privilege of being their friend and colleague.  When we began our renewal project in Singapore twelve years ago Yim Harn and Mi Yin were two of the first to commit to joining us for the journey.  I want to honor Yim Harn and Mi Yin today by quoting from their book.  The authors write: There are 31 topics in all, one for each day of the month. . .we recommend that you savor each. . .

So, gentle reader, I offer you the topic of INTENTION to savor [it is topic #9 in their book]:

Having some awareness [Topic #8 is ‘Awareness’] of how we are taking care or not taking care of ourselves is the first step in our renewal journey.  We need to then define an intention as to how we want to take better care of ourselves.  Intention is the quality of consciousness we bring to an action.  It is not just wishing about something but it is determining to create it, to bring it about.

 Often it is not the lack of awareness but the lack of intentionality that keeps us from making choices to take better care of ourselves.  We know in the head that we need to take better care of ourselves, but we lack the intentionality to do so.  Many of us have expressed the need to take a break from our hectic routines but often we feel we cannot afford to do so.  So we simply choose to carry on as before.  It is this lack of intentionality that prevents us from making a choice that is congruent with our need for renewal.

 What is the first thing you think of when you get up in the morning?  Consider that time of day as an opportunity for you to set an intention to care for yourself.

 1.    What intentional choices are you making to take better care of yourself today?

2.    What is keeping you from carrying out your intention(s)?

 So, gentle reader, you now have the opportunity to savor what Yim Harn and Mi Yin have to offer us.  Parker J. Palmer wrote about this book, Tending Our Gardens is the book we need to remind us to cultivate a rich inner life in which our work in the world must be grounded if it is to bear good fruit. 

Here is a photo of the cover of the book, if you would like to learn more about this little gem you can email me: searcherseeker@yahoo.com   

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It was one of my more grandiose moments (historically, I have had more than a legion of these).  My mentor, R.T. (when we met he told me that in the South R.T. was a real name) looked at me with the intensity that signaled a question of some note was coming my way: So you want to change the world? [I told you it was a moment of grandiosity]  He looked at me, paused and asked: How about beginning with your self first? 

The truth?  I would rather try and change the world.  However, I did begin to learn that day that one way I could begin to change myself was through self-observation, reflection and then seeking to understand.  The challenge for me – and it continues to be so – is to engage this process without judgment (without self or other judgment).  I have learned that when I judge I cannot understand.  For example, when I find myself saying that he is a jerk any understanding of the person has ceased; judgment trumps understanding.  I have slapped a label on the person and when I do so I have already categorized the person [it does not matter, by the by, if the label is positive or negative; this I have also learned].

How can I begin to understand what I disapprove of or, for that matter, what I admiringly approve of?  How can I hold the space of no judgment, no commentary, no attitude?  By observing, reflecting, studying, watching without the desire to change what is.  THIS IS SO DIFFICULT FOR ME.  I remember reflecting this back to R.T. who looked at me and said, Yes, it is difficult – but it is not too difficult!  I also have learned that when I desire to change what is into what I think it should be I am no longer open to understanding.  My friend George is, among other things, a bee-keeper.  He observes the bees; he seeks to understand them so he can support them.  He does not try to change them.

An interesting thing happened to me when I stopped trying to change my son and instead sought to understand him and to help him explore his potential – he began to develop in ways that I never thought were possible for him; in letting go of my desire to change him I came to understand him and he was then free to choose his own path.  One of my vices, part of my dark-side – controlling others gave way to one of my virtues, part of my light-side – caring without controlling.

What I had to learn – and what I need to continue to develop – called/calls for a disciplined mind.  A disciplined mind is not a controlled mind; it is more like the discipline that an artist or an athlete needs in order to develop their gifts and talents.  I must continue to be awake and aware and I must continue to practice [note: practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent – so be careful as to what you choose to practice] – this requires discipline.  The more I understand myself the more I have an opportunity to understand the other.  Understanding begins with me, in here, not with you, out there.  A few hundred years ago Socrates reminded us that an unaware life is not worth living.  And perhaps an aware life without discipline is also not worth living.   It helps me to remember what Gandhi said: Your life is your message! 

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I am sitting here this afternoon thinking, reflecting, noodling.  It seems to me that the greatest challenge of our time is to understand ‘evil’ and to recognize that evil is not merely an absence of good.  Evil is a fundamental part of two realities: the human and the spiritual.  I am not sure how evil came about, nor am I sure what evil is, precisely; I am sure that it needs our undivided attention.  It does seem to me that three important things have occurred that have powerfully affected, if not enhanced, evil in our world: the evolution of human consciousness, the awareness of good and the awareness of evil.  The more we became conscious of ourselves the more we became aware of good and evil.  Here’s a question: How do we overcome evil without another form of evil taking its place? [Look at, for example, how we used torture to combat terrorism or look at how we use war to combat evil or look at how we use capital punishment to combat capital crimes]

Evil is a world-wide phenomenon.  It is also an ancient phenomenon; a phenomenon that the Greek philosopher Heraclitus held up to us.  He said that ‘evil’ is the tendency of life to go over into its opposites.  Today, it seems that evil has us entrapped as never before; it seems that this is a result of a diminishing of our consciousness; we are more often asleep than awake.  When we are awake and aware we become disturbed by what we see, hear, feel and experience and because we don’t like to be disturbed we find ways to ‘go to sleep;’ we find ways to diminish our consciousness.

Ever since the Renaissance, the evolution of the Western spirit has tended to be extroverted.  After a long medieval age of introspection (spirit and soul searching), it has tended to go over into its opposite – to be more and more focused on the outer world – to be focused on matter, substance and material things and to be more and more indifferent, if not hostile to, the/our inner world.  Our tendency has been to equate consciousness more and more with reason, to regard consciousness as merely a kind of rationalism and to ‘see’ consciousness in terms of the physical – the brain, or neurons or synapses.  Consciousness is so much more than this; it is more than I can comprehend or explain.

It does seem that with this contraction of consciousness the power of and the intensity of evil has increased.  It would be helpful to remember an old French proverb that says that human beings tend to become that which they oppose [we oppose terrorism and yet we use terror when we interrogate the terrorist].  In our desire to oppose evil, many of us are running amok, murdering one another in the belief that it is not they but their neighbors who are evil.

Evil is part of who we are.  To ‘kill’ evil is to kill ourselves.  We are living paradoxes; we are good and evil.  Perhaps an antidote is not to separate good and evil – and then to kill off evil – but to become aware of and accepting that we are both good and evil, virtue and vice, light and darkness.  The antidote is ‘wholeness.’  Our challenge is to embrace all of ourselves; to live a life of wholeness.  Wholeness enables us to consciously choose the good, or the light or the virtue; wholeness provides us ‘choice’ and enables us to be truly response-able.

Wholeness enables us to love – to love the other as a paradox of good and evil; to love ourselves as a paradox of good and evil.  Love is another antidote to evil.  I am remembering the often quoted words of Paul: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  . . .if I have all faith. . .but have not love, I am nothing. . . Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. . . .faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love. 

Wholeness – accepting that I-You-We are living paradoxes – enables me to be response-able and obligates me to choose [e.g. good or evil, virtue or vice, light or darkness] and when combined with Love ensures that I am more likely to choose the good or the virtue or the light.

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