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Archive for July, 2015

Yesterday I was paging through some of my folders. A folder dated, 2004, caught my eye for the label on the folder was ‘Call-Passion-Purpose.’ I had my first conversation about my ‘call’ when I was 16 (55 years ago). I began to explore ‘Passion’ (as in ‘What is your life’s Passion’?) when I was 20 and I was lost in the wilderness. Oddly, for me anyway, I did not begin to consciously explore ‘My Life’s Purpose’ until I was in my late 30s. It was another 19 years before I became crystal clear as to what my ‘Life’s Purpose’ is (I was much clearer about my ‘Call’ and about my ‘Passion’ years before this).

Some folks equate the three of these concepts; for me they are each unique. When they are in alignment harmony reigns and when they are disconnected or when they lack clarity then dissonance reigns. So, gentle reader, I thought I would share some of my thinking about these three powerful life-shapers. Let us continue with three brief definitions (I offer these for your consideration).

CALL = using our gifts, talents, abilities and capacities to meet a need that exists in my/the world.

PASSION = a driving energy that focus and motivates me; the fire within that nurtures and does not consume.

PURPOSE = my reason for being; ‘the reason I get up on Monday mornings.’

Given these three definitions it would seem to be helpful to one who is searching and seeking in order to understand, clarify or confirm/affirm one’s Call-Passion-Purpose that the following might be helpful.

It might be helpful for one to identify one’s gifts, talents, abilities and capacities. Some of these will be more fully developed than others. Some will lie dormant waiting to be nurtured into life. Some will need to be more fully developed. Some will have been neglected for years and have withered on the vine. This is no easy task for some. The process of discerning and naming and owing them might well last a life-time.

It might be helpful for one to reflect upon this question: ‘What motivates me?’ Consider, gentle reader, that each of us is motivated; the question is ‘Motivated to do or to be what?’ For some the Fire that is Passion burns brightly. For some the Fire is flickering and needs to be stoked and nurtured back into full flame. For some the Fire has never been recognized or named or it has never been allowed the air it needs in order to come into flame. For some the Fire has been extinguished and, as the poet David Whyte notes, the body then fills with dense smoke and we suffocate from within.

It might be helpful for one to spend some time – over time – reflecting upon the possible reasons for one’s existence. Each of us is unique. There was never one like us before and there will never be one like us after we have died. We are the one and only. How many of us go through life without understanding the ‘why’ – as in ‘Why am I here?’ ‘Why Me?’ I did not understand my Life’s Purpose until I was 53. I know folks who are older who do not understand their Purpose for Being. I am reminded of Oliver Wendell Holmes words: ‘Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.’ A sobering thought indeed.

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I concluded my last posting stating that there had emerged for me four words/concepts that help me further ‘define’ and ‘clarify’ the concept of ‘Pain.’ Here are the four words that had emerged into my consciousness: Pain, Ache, Agony, and Anguish. Gentle reader I invite you to consider the following:

PAIN = suggests a sudden sharp twinge. This is the Pain I immediately feel when my pain instantly moves from 2 to 8.5. It is like an ice pick has been driven into me at two different locations. This is the ‘Pain’ I currently cope with every 20-40 minutes and it is the ‘Pain’ I will continue to cope with for the next 10-14 days. Yet, as clear as it is this definition does not complete the picture of ‘Pain’ for me.

ACHE = this is a continuous pain – acute, chronic, or dull. For 30 years I have coped with chronic pain that has, with time, become mostly dull pain. At times something will happen and my chronic pain will spike into acute pain. This most recent Pain I am told will not become a chronic pain; I will become pain-free in a few weeks. This most recent Pain, however, is Acute and is, mostly predictable. I know that given a recurring set of circumstances that sometime within a 20-40 minute cycle my pain will quickly move from the 2 to the 8.5 range. It will then remain there for a minute or so and then it will subside and return (as it is now) to the 2 level (or below). So, overall, my pain is ‘continuous’ – the level of pain changes dramatically – and so I can say I have an ‘Aching Pain’ – at times Acute and at times Dull.

AGONY = implies a continuous, scarcely endurable pain. I am not in ‘Agony’ for my acute pain (my 8.5 pain) is not a constant. As I noted, it does appear on a regular basis but it does not linger. During my life-time I have experienced both emotional agony and spiritual agony; I have yet to experience physical or intellectual agony. Because my Pain will come to an end in a few weeks I have not even considered ‘Agony’ as a descriptor of my Pain. However, I do strive to image what my response would be if I were to experience Physical Agony. I also strive to image and feel what others who are in Physical Agony experience.

ANGUISH = suggests long-continued pain plus feelings of hopelessness or despair. When I do not remain focused on the ‘now’ and when I project out two or three more weeks of this type of Pain and when in my less cope-full moments I consider this time-frame to be ‘long’ it is easy for me to experience ‘Anguish.’ At this point I am not ‘hopeless’ nor do I feel ‘despair’ – my current Pain will end (I have had ‘spiritual pain’ that has lasted more than a year and I did experience ‘Anguish’ during this time). By projecting my pain out into the ‘foreseeable future’ I am, however, more aware of what those who are in Physical Anguish are experiencing. In one sense the difference is simple: my Pain will end, theirs will not. Yet this simple insight provides me with an empathy that I did not experience before. For this I am thankful for I hope I will be more in tune with the Physical Anguish of others now that I have a sense of what Physical Anguish entails.

So there you have it, gentle reader. These three postings have helped me understand more clearly what ‘Pain by the Number’ means for me. I leave us with this thought: A prerequisite to empathy is simply paying attention to the person in pain. – Daniel Goleman

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As I sit down to put finger to key this morning I am continuing to ‘manage’ my pain. What is the ‘pain’ I am striving to ‘manage’? Well, as I noted in my last posting it is referred to by some folks as a ‘number.’ In this case, my number ranges from 2-8.5. It is easier for me to manage a pain at 2 than a pain at 8.5. Currently my 8.5 pain takes center stage every 20-40 minutes and remains there for about 5 minutes. These are the numbers. AND, The numbers don’t describe, for me, the pain.

I have been thinking about ‘Pain’ on and off for more than 30 years (the number of years I have been managing chronic pain). This recent ‘acute’ Pain has motivated me to focus once again on this concept we call ‘Pain.’ So, is there a definition, not a number that might help us begin to understand Pain? Perhaps a definition of ‘Pain’ will help. Consider the following:

Pain = physical suffering or distress; it is a distressing sensation in a particular part of the body; it involves physical and emotional suffering or torment.

Well, gentle reader, this definition begins to capture it for me. It is a beginning. I would, however, add to the ‘physical and emotional’ dimensions the ‘intellectual and spiritual dimensions’ – the four dimensions that help ‘define’ us as fully human beings. So, given this, here is my ‘revised’ definition of ‘Pain’. Pain = physical suffering or distress; it is a distressing sensation in a particular part of the body; it involves physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual suffering or torment.

‘Physically’ I seek to manage my current ‘Pain’ by breathing slowly and deeply when my pain spikes to 8.5. I do have some pills available to me but they do not help much and I seek to avoid using them if I can. ‘Emotionally’ I manage my pain by ‘self-talk’ – ‘This too shall pass!’ Also, by focusing on the ‘now’ rather than projecting out how many days of this I will have to endure I am more able to cope emotionally.

‘Intellectually’ I am not able to focus as sharply and I am not able to concentrate as intensely as I did prior to the onset of this ‘Pain’ – for example, I will read and reflect for shorter periods of time and I will break my writing up into smaller ‘bits of time.’ ‘Spiritually’ I am more aware of my own mortality and I am more aware of how this ‘Pain’ has enabled me to tap into my ‘spiritual resources’ – meditation, for example – in order to help me cope.

As I reflected on ‘Pain’ and these four dimensions I began to realize that I needed a few more ‘descriptors’ – these were not quite enough. What emerged for me was four words/concepts. So, gentle reader, next time, we will briefly explore these four words/concepts that also help me ‘describe’ what I am referring to as ‘Pain.’

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‘What’s your pain level now?’ I continued to breathe slowly and deeply. I knew the ER nurse wanted a ‘number’ not a descriptive adjective. Pain by the number – I was used to descriptors and metaphors and adjectives; I am not a ‘numbers-guy.’ I continued to breathe deeply as I sought to put a number to my pain. I opened my eyes, looked into the eyes of the nurse. Her eyes were not uncaring, they were almost warm and inviting – but not quite. No connection to me; she needed the number not the connection. I wanted to be precise (for those who know me this desire to be precise will trigger some smiles, if not laughter). I wanted to help her. I looked at her. ‘8.5’, I said.

During the past six days a number of people including health-care professionals, family members and friends have been asking me the same question: ‘What’s your pain level, now?’ When I attempt to describe it, to ‘name’ the pain not the ‘number’, these folks who care continue to respond to my descriptions and my naming with ‘O.K., but what’s the number?’ The numbers, I guess, move us from the abstract descriptors to the concrete. Yet, when I pause to reflect upon it I know that ‘8.5’ does not ‘translate’ the same for each of us.

For example, for those who have a low tolerance for pain and for those who have a high tolerance for pain the number ‘8.5’ does not elicit the same ‘caring’ response from others. I am thinking of the parent who says to the child who has fallen, scraped his knee, and is crying ‘Stop crying – that doesn’t hurt. If you don’t stop I’ll give you something to cry about!’ As a child my son, Nathan, had a high tolerance for pain; he actually ran around with a broken arm for two days before I became aware of his pain (as I recall he was eight or nine years old). Because I have lived with chronic pain for these past thirty years I have learned to increase my ‘tolerance’ for pain. For me, this current experience with pain is actually pain that is piled upon existing pain.

‘Pain’ is experienced in all four of the dimensions that help define us as human beings. We have Physical Pain, we have Intellectual Pain, we have Emotional Pain and we have Spirit(ual) Pain. For example, my spiritual dimension is the most significant. If I am in good health spiritually it is easier for me to maintain my physical, intellectual and emotional health. I know a person whose physical dimension is the tap root that sustains the others. Yet, the pain I have been experiencing these past days – the ‘8.5’ physical pain – is powerfully affecting all four dimensions (this is the first time I have had the intellectual energy and inclination to put finger to key and write a blog entry).

I have some other ideas about ‘Pain’ and so we will continue with our exploration of ‘Pain…By the Numbers’ next time.

As I sit here this morning, I am leaning toward agreeing with St. Augustine that The greatest evil is physical pain.

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‘God Bless You.’ ‘Godspeed.’ ‘God-Be-With-You.’ Historically these are three of the most common ‘God’ sayings. For many, the first is a blessing we offer in response to another person’s sneezing. The second is often a blessing offered to the person(s) who are leaving our home or for the person(s) who are about to depart on a journey. The third is offered to the person(s) who are suffering, or are in pain, or are dis-eased. This saying is rooted in a belief that God is a compassionate God.

How might we know if God is a compassionate God? For Christians the answer is affirmative: God is a compassionate God. The Christian’s affirmation lies in the reality of Jesus the Christ’s compassion; God’s compassion became ‘real’ and ‘visible’ to us; the word ‘compassion’ was made ‘flesh’ in Jesus the Christ.

Jesus told us to ‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.’ He was also ‘compassion in flesh.’ Jesus’ response to the ignorant, the hungry, the marginalized, the ‘lost,’ the blind, the lepers, the widows, the ‘unclean’ and the dis-eased was a compassionate response. For Christians, Jesus’ compassion affirmed that God is a compassionate God.

I have learned – am continuing to learn – that I have to be awake and aware and pay close attention to Jesus, his words, and his actions if I am going to begin to understand the mystery of God’s Compassion. I can misunderstand (I have indeed misunderstood) the miracle stories about Jesus as told in the gospels. When I simply reflect upon the miracles – the blind see, the lame walk, the dead rise, the dis-eased are healed – I can quickly become the voice of the cynic: ‘What about all those folks who were not healed – what about them? What happened to them? What was their response to the reality that they were not chosen as the ones to be healed?’ In a sense, it seems the cured actually added to the pain of those not cured.

On my good days when I find myself moving into the cynics’ stance I can grab myself by the collar and jerk myself awake. I can then remind myself that what is important is NOT the cure of the dis-eased; what is important IS the deep compassion that moved Jesus the Christ to act as He did.

There is an expression in the Gospels that helps me; Gospel scholars tell me that this expression appears only twelve times. It is used only in reference to Jesus the Christ or God the Father. This expression is: ‘to be moved with compassion.’ The scholars tell us that this powerful movement comes from the ‘gut’ (the Greek word is translated as ‘entrails’). The ‘gut’ is where our most powerful feelings reside. Jesus is moved so powerfully that He feels it in his guts; I have had this feeling and I don’t think I am alone when it comes to a deep ‘gut feeling.’ To say the least, a ‘gut feeling’ is not a superficial feeling that one can easily ignore – nor could Jesus.

The wonderful spiritual author, Henri Nouwen wrote: ‘When Jesus was moved to compassion, the source of all life trembled, the ground of all love burst open, and the abyss of God’s immense, inexhaustible, and unfathomable tenderness revealed itself.’

Jesus’ compassion was rooted in the deep gut-empathy He felt: He felt lost with the lost; he felt the hunger of the hungry; he felt the dis-ease of the dis-eased. Jesus chose to suffer as they suffered. He modeled for us what it means to ‘be compassionate.’ For us, the words ‘God-Be-With-You’ can also be manifested in the ways each of us choose to feel compassion in our guts. Then, we each have choice as to how we will put ‘flesh to words’ as we decide how we will demonstrate ‘being compassionate.’ Gentle reader: ‘God-Be-With-You.’

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For the past few days I have been reflecting upon a question: ‘When have I received genuine comfort and consolation?’ I did not experience these when another taught me how to think or act. I did not experience these when another gave me advice about ‘taking care of myself.’ I did not experience it when I was in the wilderness and another offered me words of reassurance or hope.

Paradoxically, I received genuine comfort and consolation – especially during the times I was in the wilderness or when my soul was residing in the dark night or when I was deeply depressed and life seemed not worth living – when another simply sat with me. There were no words, there was no behavior, there was no ‘doing’ that the other offered – he/she simply sat with me. His/her presence was the caring. Being present with and to me – this was the gift of the one who cares.

For many of us, it is a challenge for us to simply be present to another. We want to help. We want to do something. We want to be useful. It seems that we believe that ‘to be present’ means that we must be ‘useful.’ Recently a fellow I know was in the hospital. I asked a friend of his to go with me to visit him. The person declined; he said ‘Why should I visit_____? I can’t do anything for him. I won’t know what to say. What use will I be to him?’

How often do we forget – or is it that we deny – that simply being with another who is in pain, suffering, discomfort, or dis-ease we actually offer comfort or consolation. How often do we find that simply being with another is difficult? Being with another is difficult because we have difficulty just ‘being’ – we are a culture that idolizes ‘doing.’ Just ‘being’ has little, if any, value for us who are ‘doers.’

In addition, if I am simply ‘present’ with you I might well experience your pain, your suffering, your anxiety, your loneliness, your helplessness – I will experience your vulnerability. These feelings are disconcerting for us ‘doing’ folks. We do not like to experience another’s weaknesses or another’s powerlessness (of course this is what being empathetic entails – to experience what the other is experiencing). We do not want to ‘get caught up’ in the other’s uncertainty or in the other’s lack of ‘control’ or in the other’s helplessness.

Paradoxically, if I choose to simply be present to the other and if I choose to be empathetic (that is, to feel and experience as the other does) then I do offer comfort and consolation and frequently the other will acknowledge that indeed ‘When you were with me I was comforted.’

When we offer comfort and consolation by being with, by staying with the other during those times we often become closer to the other and the other becomes closer to us (our motivation is not to become ‘closer’ but to be with the other during this time of illness, mental anguish, or spiritual desolation). By being present we announce that we are willing to walk into the desert, the darkness, the dis-ease or the wilderness with the other. This ‘walking with’ is an act of caring that is beyond measure.

When have I experienced ‘the one who cares?’ When have I chosen to be ‘the one who cares?’

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Gentle reader, I refer you to Part I for the context and the Parable. I concluded Part I with a question: ‘What are some of the seeds that the sowers sow?’

The seeds that I internally sow are the seeds from the internal plants that I have already grown to fruition. These seeds are provided to me via my internal voices – the voices of my inner life-guide, the voices of my inner teacher, the voices of my inner ‘angel’ and of my inner ‘demon,’ the voices of my inner parent and inner child, the voices of my conscience, etc.

Other seeds are provided to me by the voices and behaviors of those whom I meet as I travel along my life’s path. My parents, my teachers, my siblings, my friends, folks I consider to be authority figures in my life, folks I admire and seek to emulate, etc.

Still other seeds are sown by God’s Spirit – for some this is the Holy Spirit, for others it is the animating spirit that permeates and sustains all life. The voice of the Spirit comes to me in whispers, a soft breeze if you will. I have to be open to hearing this soft whispering voice.

All of these voices are sowing seeds. They fall onto the ground that I have prepared. Some of my internal ground is uncultivated, it is full of rocks which hinder the seeds from taking root. Some of the ground was at one time prepared but I have ignored it for years and so it is dry and hard – this ground does have a few cracks in it and so some of the seeds do fall into the cracks and struggle to take root; they lack the nurturing they need and so they soon die.

Some of the seeds fall upon ground that I have cultivated and for a time I nurtured; however I have not been attending to this ground for some time and weeds have taken root there. The seeds that fall onto this ground find enough nurturance and sustenance in order to take root and begin to grow. However, their roots are not strong enough to fend off the stronger weeds who have deep tap roots. Eventually the weeds strangle the new roots.

Then some of the seeds fall upon the ground that I have cultivated, ground I continue to cultivate and watch over. These seeds are able to grow and deep tap roots emerge. Eventually, strong plants emerge and they carry the seeds that I then re-plant internally and that I then sow in my world.

There are many seed-voices that come to me. I have to choose which of these seed-voices to listen to. Which of them to embrace and integrate. I am the rocks, I am the dry, arid and cracked soil, I am the weeds, and I am the healthy soil. I prepare or choose not to prepare my inner landscape so that the many seed-voices that come to me find a place to grow or because I have not prepared the soil they are not nurtured into life.

A paradox is that I will cultivate my inner landscape so that both ‘good seeds’ and ‘evil seeds’ will take root, so that seeds of virtue and seeds of vice will take root, and so that seeds of light and seeds of darkness will take root. Some ‘good seeds’ will fall on the rocks and some ‘evil seeds’ will fall on well-cultivated land and take root.

As the gardener of my own garden, as the sower of many of my own seeds, I am unconditionally response-able and responsible for all of the seeds that are offered to me. I choose which seed-voices to listen to, which to heed, which to integrate into the garden that is myself. I am also response-able and responsible as to which seeds I choose to pass on to others.

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