Archive for February, 2014


Ten days ago I was invited to attend a three person panel discussion on the global issues of bioethics.  I sent a RSVP confirming that I would attend both a pre-session reception and the session.  I then wrote down the time and place in my calendar.  I sent a RSVP confirming that I would attend both a pre-session reception and the session.  I then wrote down the time and place in my calendar.

I did not know much about bioethics so I did a bit of searching and seeking and ended up purchasing three books.  I then spent the next eight days reading, taking notes and reflecting.  The day of the reception and session I traveled with an intention that I would return in time for the reception and session.  Travel back to the city went well and I had two hours of ‘downtime’ before I needed to head off to the reception.  I arrived at the University early – which is my norm, to be early that is.  I found a place to park just outside of the venue’s doors.  I waited.  No one seemed to be showing up.  After about 10 minutes I entered the building.  It was dark and deserted.  I wondered around and finally came upon an office; the door was open and a light was on.  As I entered I was greeted by a professor who was preparing for a night class.  He did not know about the session but did stop and look it up on his computer.  ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘There it is.  It looks quite interesting.’  He paused, looked up at me and then said, ‘The session was last night!’  He smiled (a smile of sympathy, not sarcasm).  I thanked him and went back to my car.

I then spent the next few minutes developing a good funk.  Not only had I written down the wrong date, I had, I was sure, offended the professor who had invited me.  I was a no-show!  I was working up a good ‘I’m so mortified’ feeling.  A ‘funk and a feeling.’  I was on a roll or was it ‘I was in a role’ – a familiar one.  So I drove home, nurturing both my ‘funk and my feeling.’  I stopped to pick up a few things at a store.  After I parked I decided to call my friend, Jim.  It was now about 6:20pm.  I didn’t think he would answer; it was dinner time.  I called, he didn’t answer and I left him a message.  I offered up my ‘funk and my feelings.’  I disconnected (with cell phones we disconnect, we don’t ‘hang up’).  Within two minutes he called me – I was still sitting in my car nurturing my ‘funk and feelings.’  As soon as he began speaking I began questioning: ‘Why did I call him?’  He is the terminal optimist; he can see the pony for all of the dung (an old story about a ‘Christmas gift’).  He’s going to be upbeat and ask me ‘What can you learn from this?’ ‘What’s the lesson?’ AND ‘What is the opportunity that is now available to you?’  Hey… I was just getting into developing a wonderful ‘funk and feeling’ experience and here you go and spoil it for me.  I did my best to deflect his ‘light’ but he was resistant to supporting my ‘funk and feeling.’  ‘Why did I call you?’ I asked.  We spoke a bit more.

We disconnected and I went shopping.  Upon returning to my car I did ask: ‘Why did you call Jim?’  I could have called a number of folks who would have supported my ‘funk and feelings’ and I could have had a great time wallowing in both.  But NO…I had to call Jim.  I realized, then, that my ‘funk and feelings’ had taken a hike.  I began to think about what I might learn from this experience (in addition to the obvious) and to seek out the opportunities that are waiting for me to acknowledge.  Sitting here this morning I realize that I have learned, some, and I have identified, some, opportunities.

I must admit that I am missing my ‘funk and feelings’ – it does ‘feel so good to feel bad’ sometimes.  But, alas, I am not able to recapture them this morning.  So I guess I will continue to search and seek for what I might learn and for the opportunities that are lying about waiting for me to pick them up.

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I seek to enter into each day with an attitude of expectation.  I hold an intention that each day’s occurrences will contain a subtle message – perhaps a hidden message – that is personally addressed to me.  I seek to expect omens, opportunities to learn, blessings, grace-filled encounters and teachers or guides who will speak to my heart and soul.  I expect that today I will be offered ‘life’s instructions’ – the question is: ‘To what extent will I choose to be open to receiving them?’ 

Gentle reader, consider that the following experiences might be ‘lesson-carriers’ for you; they have been for me.
·    A person invites you to collaborate on a ‘new’ and ‘different’ project; one that will stretch you and challenge you and one that will open new pathways for you.
·    A crisis crashes in upon you and you find strengths and capacities that you did not know you possessed.  I am remembering the words of a Japanese sage: ‘You have always been strong.  Now it is time for you to learn about being weak.’
·    Any experience that reminds you of what really matters.
·    A chance meeting with a person that sparks a dormant flame into a radiant torch; a torch that you will pass on to others.
·    A daunting challenge is imposed upon you.  I am remembering the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s imprisonment during WWII; it called him to minister to others who were imprisoned.
·    You are a witness to an event that knocks you from ‘your horse’ and you are transformed when it comes to what you choose for your life.
·    One of the world’s sufferings cries out to you and you choose to respond.
·    Family gatherings.  I have found that spending a few hours with my brothers and sisters reminds me of how far I still need to travel and reminds me of the virtues I need to develop more fully.

These experiences might reveal to us a larger plan or they might well help ‘undo’ plans already in place.  These experiences can be subtle, like soft breezes brushing our faces during twilight, or they can be like sudden lightning strikes and thunder clashes that say ‘pay attention’ and ‘wake up’ and ‘be aware.’  These experiences can call to us and invite us or they can ‘command’ us to take action, ‘now’.  I am reminded of an experience I had that culminated in my noticing the following written in the dirt on the back of the trailer of a long-haul truck: ‘Jesus is calling you! Pay Attention!’ 

Pay Attention!  Indeed…

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Each day there are times, planned and spontaneous, when I stop, step-back and reflect.  I have no goal, other than to reflect.  Sometimes I take notes as stuff emerges into my consciousness.  Sometimes questions emerge and sometimes I engage them and sometimes I just ‘hold them.’  What ‘triggers’ a ‘spontaneous’ reflection?  Sometimes it is an experience, sometimes it is a passage I am reading, sometimes it is a poem or a line in a poem, sometimes it is a quotation.  I have found that, for me, it is crucial that I remain open to the possibility that a ‘seed’ for reflection will be offered to me at any time.  I have choice, of course, and so I also seek to be intentional and purposeful as to which ‘seeds’ I will sow, and nurture into a reflective experience.

As I was preparing for my posting this morning I found some quotations that might well provide me a reflective seed or two.  As I sat with these I decided to share some of them with you, gentle reader.  One or more of these might give you pause.  One or more of these might also be reflective seeds for you.  One or more of these might move you to pause for reflection.  One or two might remind you of quotations that speak to you or you might be moved to seek out a variety of quotations and seek within them a ‘reflective seed.’  So, without further ado, here are a few quotes to note:

We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves. – Galileo

And so, wandering off the beaten path of life I opened the door and found the sage, sitting quietly, smiling at me. –Dan Millman

Be humble for you are made of earth.  Be noble for you are made of stars. –Serbian Proverb

Some think it’s holding on that makes one strong; sometimes, it’s letting go. –Richard W Smith

I am not bound to win I am bound to be true.  I am not bound to succeed but I am bound to live up to what light I have. –Abraham Lincoln

If the doors of my heart ever close, I am as good as dead. –Mary Oliver

That I feed the hungry, forgive an insult, or love my enemy – these are great virtues.  But what if I should discover that the poorest of the beggars and most impudent of offenders are all within me, and that I stand in need of the alms of my own kindness; that I myself am the enemy who must be loved – what then? –C.G. Jung

We want to know what are we?  How did we get to be what we are? Where did we come from?  How did we come from there?  Who did we leave behind/  Where was it that we left them behind and what are they doing over where we used to be? –Malcolm X

Somewhere along the line of development, we discover what we really are and then we make our real decision for which we are responsible…the influence you have is through your own life and what you become yourself. –Eleanor Roosevelt
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. –Annie Dillard

The rain cloud of adversity is spreading over their heads.  Calamity is showing itself…From left and right is coming the cry; ‘Who were you yesterday, and what have you become today!  Just now you were awake, and now you have gone to sleep! –Hali (Muslim poet, 1879)

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Gentle reader, please see my 18 February, 2014 posting for the introduction and context for what follows.

Given this brief foray into Thich Nhat Hanh’s statement it seems clear to me why so little dialogue actually occurs – and conversely – why dialogue is so powerful when this essential quality is present. [As a reminder here is the statement: ‘This quality is essential for dialogue. When participants are willing to learn from each other.’]

For dialogue to bear fruit I must live, deeply, my own story and speak clearly my own voice, and, at the same time, I must listen deeply, receptively and intensely to others’ stories and I must risk calling forth and honoring their voices [the ‘honoring’ is more challenging to me than the ‘calling forth’ – although, given who the participants are both can be daunting challenges for me].

Through the discipline of deep looking and deep listening I become more free and more able to see the beauty and value of my own and others’ voices and stories.

Dialogue is a sharing of voices and stories; an honoring of voices and stories while holding an attitude that ‘I will be open to and potentially influenced’ by the voices and stories [I am reminded of my poem ‘CONNECTION’ as I write these words; I have added this poem to the end of this post].

Living organisms are driven by change and growth; in a dialogue all are committed to growth and change [or is it transformation – transformation = a fundamental change in character].  I need to believe that in engaging in a dialogue I will grow and change (if not transform).  I must believe that your story is good, beautiful and meaningful and contains truth as you know it [my goal is to, with your help, understand your story and your truth].  My capacity to accept you is directly related to my capacity to accept myself – like you I am a living paradox; I am light and darkness, I am virtue and vice, I am good and evil.  Do I truly believe that when I am at my healthiest, then I am truly who I am – a living paradox?  Deep reflection, in order to affirm who I am in a positive sense plus the discipline of seeing the other as a fully human being enables me to hold both my own story and to honor the other’s story.

Am I willing to learn from the ‘other(s)’ that I meet along the way today?  Who will I choose to ‘meet’ today?  Who will I choose to ‘side-step’ or ‘ignore’ today?  Today, will I be open to, if not inviting of, what appears to me to be a ‘discordant voice/story’?


When I see you,
When I invite your voice
into my life,
When I listen to and honor
your story,
When I allow my heart to be touched
by who you are,
Then a step has been taken.

When I am seen by you,
When my voice is invited
into your life,
When you listen to and honor
my story,
When your heart is touched by
who I am,
Then a step has been taken.

When these steps occur together
then there is. . .

–©Richard W Smith  November, 2007

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On 9 January, 2002, I wrote the following note in my journal.  I have edited it so I could post it in two parts rather than three.

Today I was reading from the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh and the following gave me pause.  I wrote it down and held it for most of the day and then, when I had some time, I sat down and the following emerged into my consciousness.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote: ‘This quality is essential for dialogue. When participants are willing to learn from each other.’

Simple.  Elegant.  Direct.  Challenging.  Stretching.  Implication-loaded.  Look closely at the words – ‘essential’ and ‘dialogue’ in the first sentence.  ‘Essential’ = necessary, a requirement, part of the very tap root, akin to BREATHING in order to live, or  WATER to satiate thirst.  No compromise here.  No ‘perhaps’ or ‘possibly important.’  Essential.  Without this quality dialogue will not occur.  The second word, ‘Dialogue.’  So much has been written about ‘dialogue’ so let’s keep it simple: Dialogue is a search, via conversation, and a suspension of all that will inhibit this search.  In order for a dialogue to occur this essential quality must be present: ‘Participants are willing to learn from each other.’

‘Participants’ leads us away from being passive receptors [e.g., teach me/us] to being committed activists [i.e., each will bring his/her voice and story to the dialogue].

‘…are willing to learn…’  This is more than just being open to learning; this is a commitment to learn.  ‘I WILL LEARN!’  So how do I need to be present in order to be ‘willing to learn?’  I must know myself and be open to learning more about myself in the midst of the dialogue.  I must be present with undefended receptivity.  I must believe that I actually have something to learn.  I must be a searcher and a seeker more than a teacher, more than ‘the expert.’

And finally, ‘from each other.’  This is not qualified – ‘from those I like’ or ‘from those whose positions I support.’  This is, for me, the big challenge; to learn from EACH.  As I write this phrase I can feel my gut reacting; I can hear the faint voices rising in my mind reminding me of all those that I find it difficult to honor.  I begin to constrict – physically, intellectually, emotionally and, most importantly for me, spiritually.  Constriction = not having enough space for others’ thoughts and, at worst, to ‘die’ to possibility and learning.  Constriction also prohibits me from embracing and honoring the other and the other’s story.

What causes my constrictions?  My beliefs, judgments, life experiences, prejudices, biases, values, fears, anxieties, rigidities, dogmas [surety], perceptions – in short,  my humanness.  The question, ‘What can you teach me?’ just emerged into my consciousness.  When framed from a personal position of ‘I am willing to learn’ the message is invitational; when framed from a personal position of arrogance ‘What can you possibly teach me?’ [a position I know only too well] the message is a statement couched in a question – the statement within the question = YOU HAVE NOTHING TO TEACH ME!

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