Archive for December, 2012


One of the energies that we seem to be most curious about is the energy we call ‘passion.’  People search for it and are fearful of losing it once they have found it.  In a sense passion is whatever we pursue for its own sake.  Once we are enwrapped in its throes we tend to forget that time has passed or that certain aspects of our lives need attending to.  Some believe that ‘passion’ is what we would embrace and live into and out of if we weren’t worried about consequences, about money, about making anybody happy (but ourselves).  Some would be willing to sell their soul for it in order to have just a few more years to experience it.  The poet Anne Sexton captured the sense of it when she wrote that ‘when I’m writing, I know I’m doing the thing I was born to do.’  Passion is what matters most to us.

‘There’s a sudden knock at your door,’ writes Deena Metzger in her wonderful book, Writing for Your Life.  ‘A trusted friend enters to warn you that the Dream Police will arrive in twenty minutes.  Everything, everything in your life that you have not written down will evaporate upon their arrival.  You have only twenty minutes to preserve what is most precious in your life, what has formed you, what sustains you, what is essential, what you cannot live without.’

‘Whatever you forget will disappear.  Everything, to be saved, must be named, in its particularity.  Not trees, but oak.  Not animals, but wolf.  Not people, but Alicia.  As in reality, what has no name, no specificity, vanishes.’

Whatever passions you can specify, know that there are also passions within those passions that constitute their emotional cores, which is what you’re really after, the needs your passions satisfy, what you want them to bring to you.  Your passion may be painting, parenting, solving mysteries, making people laugh, solitude, social action, or a certain town, city or country, but within it are ‘metapassions’: the need we have for freedom, creative fulfillment, security, belonging, influence, compassion, empathy and love.

Our passions call us to follow not just the sculpting, or the writing, or the fixing but also the need for expression; we must express our passion, it seems.  I have a passion for meditation and in expressing my passion I am also seeking serenity – inner peace.  I once met a woman in Singapore who took photos of Buddha representations as she was trying to learn about compassion.  Many years ago I met a man who had a passion for the Netherlands – the country of his ancestors.  His passion led him to explore how own lifelong feelings of rootlessness, his constant wanderings as he was searching for something to ground him – the irony was that he lived in the Netherlands.

What are the passions in your life that are so powerful that you must engage them at all costs?  What is the line between being passionate and being obsessive?  What are you searching for at this time in your life – AND – must you engage the search no matter what? 

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The great Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius spent a number of years reflecting and writing in his journal.  He wrote in order to remind himself about what he considered to be important for his own well-being as a Stoic, as a human being, and as an Emperor.  His journal has been read and savored by thousands and thousands of folks for hundreds and hundreds of years.  Today I will be offering us a number of shorter passages from section 7 of his Meditations.  Marcus writes:

When studying mankind, it is necessary to examine earthly mattes as if from above, looking down upon herds, armies, farms, unions and separations, births and deaths, the noisy courtrooms and deserted places, foreign peoples of all kinds, celebrations, mournings, marketplaces – all as a great mixture and a harmonious order that is made from opposites. 

 Do not look around you to what guides others but look straight at this: Where is Nature leading you?  By this I mean both the nature of the Whole which acts upon you, and your own nature which requires action by you.  But everyone must do what is in accordance with their constitution for the sake of the rational part, just as in every other case the lower exist for the sake of the higher.  But rational beings have been made for the sake of each other. 

 Whatever should happen to you, love that alone, for it has been spun for you by the Fates themselves.  Could anything be more fitting?

 Turn your attention within, for the foundation of all that is good lies within, and it is always ready to pour forth, if you continually delve in.

 See that you never feel toward the inhumane what they feel toward humankind.

 Fulfillment of one’s character is the attainment of this: to live each day as if it were the last; to be neither agitated nor numb; and never to act with pretense.

 It is ridiculous to renounce the wickedness of others, which is impossible, rather than renounce one’s own wickedness, which is possible. 

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WAKE UP!  My life – your life – is resplendent with wake-up calls.  These certain types of wake-up calls alert me to the moments that reveal a different or deeper dimension of who I am and of who I am called to become.  I cannot hear, much less respond to, these calls if I am not vigilant.  I must be attentive to what lies ‘in here’ and to what lies ‘out there.’  This type of attention requires deep listening.  Paying this type of attention is challenging for me (and perhaps for you, gentle reader) as each hour of each day (or is it each moment of each hour) I am being whelmed over by the tsunami called ‘distraction.’  The poet Ted Kooser once wrote that, What seems like a simple discipline turns out to be quite difficult because, by habit, most of us go through our lives without paying much attention to anything.’ 

My inability to be vigilant and attentive is, I believe, both a cultural problem (that affects many of us) and a post-modern human trait (our fore-fathers and mothers had to be vigilant and attentive or they would become lunch for some beast).  The great thinkers and mystics have admonished us in many ways for not be vigilant and attentive (to listen deeply).  The great wisdom and spiritual traditions have all encouraged us to be vigilant and attentive (to listen deeply) and have chided us for not doing so.

I know all to well that illness, depression, certain traits of my personality, and certain responsibilities contribute to my lack of being diligent and attentive (I assume, gentle reader that you, too, have your own list of ‘distractors’).  Oh I know, being busy in itself is not a terrible thing AND it becomes a stumbling block to my ability to be diligent and attentive and responsive more than I admit.  Because I am so easily distracted I must consciously attend to being awake and aware each day so I might be more diligent, attentive (deep listening) and responsive.  I cannot live my life and expect that I will be diligent, attentive and responsive; I cannot take these for granted – this I have painfully learned.  I must be disciplined – I must choose to be awake and aware – I must choose to be diligent, attentive and responsive.  For me, this means that I must commit time each day to being so disciplined.  My wholistic development requires me to be disciplined or I will miss the transformational opportunities that are hidden within my daily experiences.

Basil Hume (an English cleric) suggests that we take deliberate pauses of quiet each day in order to help us develop our capacity to be diligent and attentive (he believed that this time is essential to our health); he writes: Each of us needs an opportunity to be alone, and silent, to find space in the day or in the week, just to reflect and to listen to the voice that speaks from deep within us.  Our search is our response to that which searches for us; too many of us are too busy to even hear the call of the one searching for us.

So, as I sit here this morning I ask: Today, what will most distract me and hinder me from being diligent and attentive and responsive to the voice from within and from the voice(s) without that are calling me to be the person I am meant to be? 

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I often feel divided within myself and I also feel divided against myself.  The first expresses for me the living paradox that I am; that we all are as human beings.  As a fully human being I am called to embrace the whole of who I am – the light and the darkness, if you will.  When I experience the second, I find myself doing violence to myself.  These two experiences are also manifested globally.  It seems that for our global community the second seems to occur so often that we experience it as the ‘norm’ – this is the way the world is.  The second is manifested by families being torn asunder, by countries emphasizing their differences – and not honoring them; by ‘Red’ states and ‘Blue’ states demonizing one another, by the rich becoming more and more fearful of the poor (and vice versa) and by people who proclaim ‘peace’ using violence in order to obtain it (and then being stunned when they receive violence in return).

Gene Knudson Hoffman [1919-2010] founded the Compassionate Listening initiative [‘We must listen to both sides of any conflict before we take action.’]; she was also a long standing member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  She was a Quaker and a peace activist.  She believed that as humans we have become experts at ‘enemy making’ – the inability of people and groups of people to ‘manage’ the differences between them.

‘My mother used to take me to all kinds of different churches while I was growing up,’ she wrote, ‘and she told me there was truth in all of them, and it was up to me to find it.’  What she found as she traveled the world listening was that there was no one truth – what there was were stories.  ‘If each side can listen to the stories of the other, the suffering of the other, the history of the other, reconciliation is made much easier.’  The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote that if we could read the secret history of our enemies ‘we should find, in each person’s life, sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostilities.’ 

If I-you-we can hold paradox, Gene believed, we can hold tremendous energy within us and be a force for mediation in our lives; perhaps in the world.  Equanimity is an ability that naturally mitigates against tyranny – beginning from within us and then moving outward.  By embracing the paradox of who we are we actually belong to one another in the world; our paradox is one of our common grounds.   I know that one of the toughest challenges for me (and perhaps you, gentle reader) is admitting that ‘good and evil’ reside within me; they don’t always co-exist but they do reside together.  I am courageous and cowardly; I seek to know myself and I seek to deny who I am: I want to be awake and aware and I want to go to sleep and be left alone.

This is hard work; demanding work; exhausting work – the work it takes for me to stretch myself, to open my heart and soul wide enough, to encompass BOTH sides of my paradoxical self; to understand that two powerfully contrary stories do coexist within me.  This also means that I have to engage another inner paradox: hope and despair.  The violence I do to myself and the violence that is running amok in my world lead me to despair.  The love I have for others (and at times for myself) and the love others have for me and the love I also see being expressed in the world lead me to hope.  When I listen to my own stories I find more reasons to embrace my own self as a living paradox and when I listen to another’s story I also find that I am more able to embrace him/her as a living paradox – as a fully human being.

Here’s a photo of Gene Knudson Hoffman:

Gene Knudsen Hoffman-Peace Activist-Quaker

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There is a story that resides in a number of cultures (I always find this to be one of life’s wonderful mysteries).  No matter the culture the story contains similar features; for our purposes I will keep the story ‘generic.’

There once was a man who began to have a recurring dream.  The dream told the man that there was in a distant land a treasure waiting for him.  Day after day, week after week, month after month (he was a slow learner you see) he had this same dream.  Finally, partly out of exasperation and partly out of a growing desire to actually find the treasure, the man sold all he had (for some reason this selling of all one has is a requirement for many such stories) and set out upon his journey.  The journey took years – we all knew this would be required didn’t we – and the man had many adventures and some scaries along the way.  As he traveled the man was encouraged by the recurring dream; he needed this encouragement for there were many times he wanted to turn back.  Finally, the man comes to the place where the treasure is supposed to reside.  He enters a cave and there sits a wise woman (makes sense to me).  She says she has been waiting for the man for years.  The man inquires as to where the treasure is hidden.  The wise woman smiles kindly and knowingly and tells the man that she has been having a dream for years that HIS treasure is behind a door in his house.  YIKES…. The man turns around, hurries back to where his journey began, goes to where he used to live begs the owner to let him into a certain room and there, indeed, was a door that he had never seen before.  He opened the door and there was his treasure.

Life’s journey must be made if one is to find one’s treasure.  Although the journey – is this irony or what – takes us full circle, it is necessary if one is to find one’s treasure.  There are experiences and teachings and learnings that one must be open to and embrace if one is to find the treasure that was there all along (bummer).

Each step offers us an opportunity to grow and develop our P.I.E.S. [our Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, and Spiritual dimensions).  Each step actually opens pathways that lead us deeper into ourselves – the way leads in rather than out.  The treasure lies hidden behind a door that we do not know we possess and won’t learn about unless we take the journey (another bummer).  The ancient sage, Silvanus (150AD) encouraged this type of journey:  Knock upon yourself an open door, and walk upon yourself as on a straight road.  For if you walk on that path, you cannot go astray; and when you knock on that door, what you open for yourself shall open.

 Each of us is a traveler of the heart.  As we walk the road of our life we come to unknown and unsought doors revealing further truth about our ‘authentic’ self.  We know these doors because they are unfamiliar to us – these are the doors that lead us to certain teachings about ourselves; doors that guide us toward wisdom.  Behind these doors information waits for us; information that will help us with our own transformation (our own maturing process if you will).

Our life experiences often divert us and so we begin to question the validity of our search (our call, if you will).  The very doors that we deem to be ‘false doors’ are actually necessary for us for they are a source (potential?) of growth for us.  Our life itself is a living parable (a parable is a teaching story).  If we live the parable we will have an opportunity to come upon the door(s) that contain our treasures (they may, however, not be the treasures we desire – they will be the treasures we need, however).  As I travel today, what are the doors that I will encounter?  Which ones will I open?  Which ones will I walk by?  Which ones will I turn away from?  Excuse me, I just bumped into a door – now what?

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