Archive for August, 2013

Today, gentle reader, I celebrate my 500th posting on this blog.  I have been searching and seeking for something wise and profound to share with you today.  What kept emerging into my consciousness was a story.  So, after some pause and reflection I have decided to set aside ‘wise’ and ‘profound’ and go for the story.  This is one of my favorite stories [as an aside: I have many favorite stories — this is the one that has kept nudging me for a few days].  Well, now, as I was about to put finger to key another story burst into my mind — I cannot remember if I have shared this story with you or not [and I am too lazy this morning to go back and check].  But it burst upon me with such force that I have decided THIS is the story I want to share with you.

THE STORY:  Many years ago there was a famous and fierce Samurai warrior who, like many Samurai was also on a search.  He wanted to know what ‘heaven’ was and what ‘hell’ was.  He searched and searched for many years.  As he traveled deep into the woods he began to hear of a wise monk who knew many things.  He decided to search out this monk.  After leaving the woods he entered the wilderness and wandered about for months and months.  Finally, he came upon a hut; he had been told in a dream that this hut housed the wise monk.  The Samurai had to bow low in order to enter the hut and as he crossed the threshold and looked up he saw the monk sitting on a mat on the dirt floor.  Two cups of hot tea were sitting in front of the monk.  The Samurai paused and then demanded: “Monk, tell me about heaven and hell.”  The monk smiled the smile of the wise and took a sip of tea.  The Samurai rose and took a menacing stance and now demanded again, that the monk tell him about heaven and hell.  The monk smiled again and quietly said that ‘You, mighty Samurai, cannot handle the news.’  Now the Samurai was not used to being spoken to in this way and so he became enraged and drew his sword and was about to strike the monk

The monk looked up and whispered: “That is hell!”

The Samurai stopped in mid-stroke.  He looked at the monk.  The realization of ‘hell’ filled him from the tips of his toes to the brim of his helmet.  He fell to his knees feeling deep sorrow and anguish.  He cried bitter tears and then after some time he spoke. “Oh, monk, you have provided me with such a gift.  I am humbled and thankful.  I have learned much in such a short time.”

The monk reached down offered the Samurai the other cup of tea; then he took up his own and brought it to his lips.  He paused, “And that is heaven!” he whispered.

The two sat in silence sipping and savoring their tea, the learning and the moment.

Thank you, gentle reader, for sitting with me for these many postings.  Thank you for allowing me to share my search with you.  You are a gift and a blessing in my life.

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For the Dagara, ‘Purpose’ begins with the individual; the sum total of all the individuals’ purposes creates the community’s purpose.  Given this, the community then takes it upon itself the responsibility of nurturing and protecting the individual.  The individual, knowing his or her purpose, then chooses to invest energy into sustaining the community.  There is reciprocity here: the community recognizes that its own spirit and vitality is deeply rooted in how the community protects, supports and nurtures each of her individual members — there is a special focus of reminding each person of his or her purpose.  The individual, knowing this — experiencing it on a daily basis — reciprocates by giving back to the community the gifts, talents, and abilities that have been called forth from him or her.

For the Dagara, the presence of a community to awaken one’s gifts, talents and abilities is necessary because in the process of being born our memories are erased as to ‘why we chose to come here.’  This ‘blindness to purpose’ is progressive.  How many of us, early in life, believe that we might ‘do something with our lives?’  The vitality and energy and enthusiasm of children are symbols of the forces that motivated them to come here; that motivated their spirits to take on physical form.  Our very socialization dampens our memory as to why we came here; eventually we forget all together.  Many indigenous cultures have developed rituals that help us repair the damage done by socialization so that we can remember our life’s purpose and embrace it more and more fully.

For all of us, especially ‘modern and post-modern man,’ the clear visibility of the ‘seen’ world clouds and blocks our perception of the ‘unseen’ world.  Discrimination of all types begins when we say that we can touch this or that; the reality of the tangible clouds and blocks our connection with the ‘reality of the intangible.’  The Dagara believe that if we are not exposed to community ritual we become more and more vulnerable to growing away from ‘Spirit’ and eventually we will die.  For the Dagara, making community ritual a part of daily life helps sustain, or rekindle, the intensity (the fire of passion) that keeps one on the path of ‘Purpose.’  I am reminded of David Whyte’s powerful poem, ‘Out On the Ocean’ where he reminds us that when our fire within is extinguished the body fills with dense smoke and we die from within.

For us, individually, making ritual a part of our daily life will help us sustain or rekindle the ‘fire’ that lights our life’s path of purpose.  This type of ritual will create/sustain a certain type of energy that will enable one to become awake and aware, intentional and purpose-full so that one can be sustained or one can be ‘healed’ — such sustaining and/or healing can also lead to ‘transformation.’  Simply by being a human being one is, by nature, an authority when it comes to creating ritual.  Of course, ritual-creation might lead one into the Darkness as well as into the Light.  Ritual, as we well know, can also lead the community into Darkness as well as into the Light (see Germany, 1936, for example).

Consider that one of the great barriers to remembering our ‘life’s purpose’ is our lack of ‘self-trust.’  If I don’t trust myself to be involved in transforming that which needs to be changed, then I will end up waiting for someone else to come along and do the work for me — this I know to be true for this I have done.  As I type these words I am also realizing that I am currently waiting for someone to come along and do the work for me.

Ritual, communally designed, helps each of us remember our life’s purpose and this remembering sustains both the individual and the community.  The community exists, in great part, to safeguard the life-purpose of each person.  The community continues to support and call forth the gifts, talents and abilities of the person so that the person can serve the needs of the community and the broader world that the community is connected to.  Healing and connection come when each person remembers his or her ‘identity’ and ‘purpose’ and when he and she reconnects with the Spirit within and with the Spirit that contains all Spirit.

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The poet William Stafford gave us a powerful poem, ‘A Ritual to Read to Each Other.’  Stafford writes:

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
   a pattern that others made my prevail in
     the world and following the wrong god
       home we may miss our star.

Each of us is called to be ‘the person’ we are meant to be and each of us is also called to discern ‘our life’s purpose.’  For thousands of years we humans have been searching to understand both and we have been seeking ways to live into and out of both.  Today, gentle reader, I offer us one way to consider.  It is rooted in the Dagara people of West Africa.  The Dagara trace their origins to the region once known as the Gold Coast, now called Ghana.  The Dagara look to the Spirit World for the one who will assist the person in fulfilling his or her life’s purpose.  This spirit is akin to the People of the Book’s guardian angel.  For the Humanist it might be called ‘entheos’ — the life spirit that guides us and sustains us.  The Dagara called it ‘Siura.’  The Dagra also look to the physical world, the community of people, for help in remembering our purpose.  ‘Purpose’ is not assigned to the person by the community; ‘Purpose’ is something the person has framed and articulated PRIOR to coming into the community. This purpose is known to the community even before the person’s birth [I really like this idea].  How is this so?

The Dagara’s community is relatively small [we, in the West, have certainly lost this way of being together — many folks don’t even know the name of their next door neighbor].  When it is learned that a woman is pregnant people gather together and ask: ‘Why is this person being sent to us at this time?’  ‘What gifts will this person bring that our community needs?’  Shamans meet with the woman, hypnotize her and then contact the life force behind the fetus and invite it to speak through the mother.  The Shamans then speak with the fetus and ask it why it is coming into the world and what its mission [aka ‘purpose’] is to be.  The fetus then responds in a way that suggests that the individual-to-be had discerned a need in the world that they could address and that they presented this need to the Elders in the Spirit World.  Once the council of Elders approves the proposal the individual is given permission to be born into a physical body.  In this way the community welcoming the infant has some idea of that person’s life-purpose and the community also sees its responsibility to help the person remember and live into and out of his or her chosen life’s purpose.

Sometimes this ritual is not available.  This does not stop the community from helping the person discern his or her life’s purpose.  The community has an obligation to note and name what the individual is ‘naturally’ drawn to.  What triggers excitement and passion in the young person?  What gifts and talents emerge as a result?  How can the community help the person more fully develop their gifts and talents?  What are the needs that exist within the community that the person can address with his or her gifts and talents?  This process is a ‘calling forth’ process — it is truly an ‘educational’ process (from the root, ‘educare’ — to call forth).

During your life, your Siura (guardian angel, life-sustaining spirit) is with you and is trying to work with you as closely as possible so that you will remember your life’s purpose and so that you will walk the path that you have chosen.  Your Siura speaks to you through your dreams, your inspirations and your instincts (your ‘first nature,’ if you will).  [TO BE CONTINUED]

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Recently as I was reading I came upon a reference to ‘The Ages of Man.’ I then went on a search.  I discovered that many traditions refer to an age of man.  I spent some time with a number of them and yesterday I decided to share one of them with you, gentle reader.  I found the following intriguing and familiar and , so, perhaps you , gentle reader, will also find one or more of them to be intriguing and perhaps familiar.  The Greek poet Hesiod [700 B.C.] wrote about what he called ‘The Five Ages of Man’ in his poem the ‘Works and Days.’

The Works and Days is a poem of some 800 verses.  This poem is perhaps best known for its two mythological causes for the toil and pain that define the human condition: the story of Prometheus and Pandora, and the so-called Myth of Five Ages.  What follows is a brief summary of Hesiod’s Five Ages of Man.

·    Golden Age – The Golden Age is the only age that falls within the rule of Cronus [Cronus is the father of Zeus].  Humans were said to live among the gods, and freely mingled with them. Peace and harmony prevailed during this age. Humans did not have to work to feed themselves, for the earth provided food in abundance. They lived to a very old age but with a youthful appearance and eventually died peacefully. Their spirits live on as “guardians”. Plato recounts the golden race of men who came first. He describes these men as daemons upon the earth; they are beneficent, preventing ills, and guardians of mortals.
·    Silver Age – The Silver Age and every age that follows fall within the rule of Cronus’ successor and son, Zeus. Zeus created  humans out of the ash tree. Men in the Silver age lived for one hundred years under the dominion of their mothers. They lived only a short time as grown adults, and spent that time in strife with one another. During this Age men refused to worship the gods and Zeus destroyed them for their impiety. After death, humans of this age became “blessed spirits” of the underworld.
·    Bronze Age – Men of the Bronze Age were hardened and tough, as war was their purpose and passion. Their arms and tools forged of bronze. The men of this Age were undone by their own violent ways and left no named spirits; instead, they dwell in the “dank house of Hades”. This Age came to an end when Zeus became fed up with their hubris and drowned them in a flood; only one man and one woman were spared so that ‘man’ would not be totally destroyed.
·    Heroic Age – The Heroic Age is the one age that does not correspond with any metal. It is also the only age that improves upon the age it follows. These humans were created from the bones of the earth (stones) through the actions of Deucalion and Pyrrha [the man and woman who survived the flood].  In this period men lived with noble demigods and heroes. It was the heroes of this Age who fought at Thebes and Troy. This race of humans died and went to Elysium.
·    Iron Age – Hesiod finds himself in the Iron Age. During this age humans live an existence of toil and misery. Children dishonor their parents, brother fights with brother and the social contract between guest and host is forgotten. During this age might makes right, and bad men use lies to be thought good. At the height of this age, humans no longer feel shame or indignation at wrongdoing; “there will be no help against evil.”

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It was the summer of 1792.  It was near the end of Washington’s first term as President.  The young Union was being torn by the English-incited Indians in the North and by the Spanish-incited Indians in the South.  Internally, divisions were tearing at the Union’s heart and soul.

Jefferson, the Secretary of State, was on holiday.  Washington sent him an urgent missive and the excerpt from this letter is, it seems to me, appropriate for us today.  Washington wrote:

How unfortunate, and how much it is to be regretted then, that whilst we are encompassed on all sides with avowed enemies and insidious friends, that internal dissensions should be harrowing and tearing our vitals.  The last, to me, is the most serious, the most alarming, and the most afflicting of the two.  And without more charity for the opinions and acts of one another in governmental matters; or some infallible criterion by which the truth of speculative opinions, before they have undergone the test of experience, are to be forejudged than has yet fallen to the lot of fallibility, I believe it will be difficult, if not impracticable, to manage the reins of government or to keep the parts of it together.  For, if instead of laying our shoulders to the machine after measures are decided on, one pulls this way and another that, before the utility of the thing is fairly tried, it must inevitably, be torn asunder.  And ,in my opinion, the fairest prospect of happiness and prosperity that ever was presented to man will be lost, perhaps forever!

My earnest wish and my fondest hope therefore is that, instead of wounding suspicions and irritable charges, there may be liberal allowances, mutual forbearances, and temporizing yieldings on all sides.   Under the exercise of these, matters will go on smoothly and, if possible, more prosperously.  Without them, everything must rub; the wheels of government will clog, our enemies will triumph, and, by throwing their weight into the disaffected scale, may accomplish the ruin of the goodly fabric we have been erecting.

Then he wrote that differences of political opinion are as unavoidable as, to a certain point, they may, perhaps, be necessary.  Yet subjects should be discussed with good temper and without impugning motives.  Regret borders on chagrin when we find that men of abilities, zealous patriots, have the same general objects in view and the same upright intentions could not exercise charity towards one another.  When matters get to such lengths, the natural inference is that both sides have strained the cords beyond their bearing, and that a middle course would be found the best, until experience shall have decided on the right way.

. . .I cannot prevail on myself to believe that these measures are as yet the deliberate acts of a determined party.

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