Archive for July, 2017

Gentle reader, this morning I am extending to you ‘An Invitation’ to stop, step-back, reflect and perhaps write about or converse with another about what emerges from within you during the reflective process.  Recently I have been reflecting upon a number of topics: change, the aging process, letting go, love, and new beginnings (to name a few of the topics).  In order to help you accept my invitation this morning I will provide you with a number of quotations.

I believe that you will find one or more of them reflectively stimulating or they might motivate you to find other quotations or passages that would help you engage in a process that I call ‘deep reflection.’  The following are listed in no particular order although you will notice some common themes.

It is not the conscious changes made in their lives by men and women – a new job, a new town, a divorce – which really shape them, like the chapter headings in a biography, but a long slow mutation of emotion, hidden, all-penetrative; [these inner changes are] something by which they are so taken up that the practical outward changes of their lives in the world, noted with surprise, scandal, or envy by others, pass almost unnoticed by themselves. –Nadine Gordimer

 Dis-eases always attack us when we are confronted by change. –R.W. Smith

 There is a time for departure, even when there’s no certain place to go. –Tennessee Williams

The Great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy, reminds us how challenging/difficult it is to ‘let go’ of our ‘truths’ or ‘conclusions,’ or ‘assumptions,’ etc.  Tolstoy writes: I know that most [people], including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.

 The whole life of the individual is nothing but the process of giving birth to himself; indeed, we should be fully born, when we die, although it is the tragic fate of most individuals to die before they are born. –Erich Fromm

 Life does not accommodate you, it shatters you. . . Every seed destroys its container or else there would be no fruition. –Florida Scott-Maxwell

 Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending. –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 When things reach maturity, they decay of themselves. –Lao Tzu

 I began to have an idea of my life, not as the slow shaping of achievement to fit my preconceived purposes, but as the gradual discovery and growth of a purpose which I did not know. –Joanna Field

 For one human being to love another: That is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. –Rainer Maria Rilke

 Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other. –Rainer Maria Rilke

 Journeys finish when the white whale is finally encountered or when the Joads get to California or when Odysseus gets back to Ithaca: That is, they finish when the goal has been reached.  And yet, it always turns out, the goal was only an external representation for some inner place, some state that the journeying person needs to attain.  In the language of ‘going somewhere,’ journeys tell us about the unnamable ‘nowhere’ that is not a place but a way of being. –William Bridges

 It seems as if the Deity dressed each soul which he sends into nature in certain virtues and powers not communicable to other men, and sending it to perform one more turn through the circle of beings, wrote “Not Transferable’ and ‘Good for This Trip Only’ on these garments. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

 It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear. . . It’s like being in between trapezes.  It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer.  There’s nothing to hold on to. –Marilyn Ferguson

 To understand things we must have been once in them and then have come out of them; so that first there must be captivity and then deliverance, illusion followed by disillusion, enthusiasm by disappointment.  He who is still under the spell and he who has never felt the spell are equally incompetent. –Amiel

 We neither get better or worse as we get older, but more like ourselves. –Robert Anthony

 We convince by our presence. –William James

 Few are guilty, but all are responsible. –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 The enemy of life is indifference. –Elie Wiesel

 Here is the world.  Beautiful and Terrible.  Things will happen.  Don’t be afraid. –Frederick Buechner

 Be patient with all that is unsolved in your heart. . .  And try to love the questions themselves.  Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is to live everything.  Live the questions. –Rainer Maria Rilke

 We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. –T.S. Eliot, ‘Four Quartets’

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Consider the importance of teaching and learning ‘conditionally.’  ‘Conditional’ learning increases the likelihood that I will be able to adjust to new or changing or ‘once-off’ situations.  ‘Integrated’ learning – think: Second-Nature – promotes, among other things, rigidity and inflexibility.  It also promotes an unintended consequence: ‘mindlessness’ rather than ‘mindfulness.’

This does not mean that ‘integrated’ learning is not necessary or that it is not helpful.  If I am driving my car it is impossible for me to think of all the minute things that I must do in order for me to even start the car.  The same holds true for almost all skills – writing, walking, riding a bike, hitting a golf ball, typing, etc.

This, alas, is the paradox.  In order to function effectively there are skills that I must learn and integrate so they become second nature to me AND I must also learn them ‘conditionally’ so that I can adjust when necessary.  A major key, then, is to avoid ‘being mindless’ and to strive ‘being mindful.’  Research continues to support the importance of ‘mindfulness’ and of ‘conditional learning’(‘conditional learning’ promotes and supports ‘mindfulness’).

When I was 12 years old I had my first golf lesson.  I had four years of private lessons.  I developed and integrated a wonderful, effective, and repeatable swing.  My teacher, Stan, was also really smart for in addition to teaching me the ‘basics’ and to practice so that I would integrate certain aspects of the swing (they became second nature to me) he also exposed me to conditions that would require my adjusting my swing in order to respond to the conditions.

He also taught me that ‘one swing’ did not work for all.  Today, 61 years later, I still have the large muscle memory of that initial golf swing (I can still ‘see’ it in my mind’s eye).  What I no longer have is the physical ability to swing the way I did when I was young and limber and physically more powerful.  Thanks to Stan and his ‘conditional learning’ I have been able to make adjustments as I have aged.

I am remembering reading about an experiment that was done many years ago with a high school physics class.  At the beginning of the year the class was randomly divided into two groups.  Both groups saw the same video tape of a physics lesson (two separate rooms, the same tape).  The first group was handed written instructions.  At the end of the viewing they would be provided a short questionnaire in which they would be asked to apply the concepts shown in the video.

The second group was provided the same information AND was also provided additional information.  The additional information: ‘The video presents only one of several outlooks on physics, which may or may not be helpful to you.  Please feel free to use any additional methods you want to assist you in solving the problems.’

When tested on the information both groups tested about the same.  HOWEVER, when it came to problem solving the students in the second group demonstrated a much greater problem solving capability.  Now it is important to note that nothing in either video or in the instructions forbade using previous knowledge and experience to help solve the problems, ONLY the students given the ‘mindful instructions’ did so.  In addition, the students who were not given the ‘mindful instructions’ were the only ones to complain about the material (an add-on that the researchers did not expect).

‘Conditional information’ – ‘this could be…’ as contrasted with ‘this is…’ — allows for alternatives.  The ‘conditional information’ that my golf pro, Stan, gave me enabled me to adjust to the ‘conditions.’  I had to integrate the ‘basics’ and I had to at the same time learn to adjust to the ‘conditions.’

If we are going to be able to cope with changing conditions then we must, in addition to learning and integrating the basics, learn ‘conditionally.’  This is the ‘Both-And Paradox’ of learning.


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The great golf, short-game, guru, Dave Pelz was looking at a student when he uttered these words: Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent!  These words came to me yesterday as I was watching Jordan Spieth struggle for 13 holes and then ‘wake up’ and become the Jordan Spieth that folks expected to see.  Jordan’s thousands of hours of practice did not help him.  What helped him was his mental strength.

Serious golfers know that the ‘game of golf’ is played ‘between one’s ears;’ golf is 99% mental.  There are, literally, hundreds of professional golfers who have – and continue to – put in thousands of hours of practice.  They have developed and continue to hone the physical skills they need.  Nevertheless, few of these hundreds (men and women) win regular tour events and fewer still win even one major tournament during their careers.  It is not the physical skill that hinders them, it is their ‘mental’ capacity that does so.

Then there are the thousands of golfers who have practiced and practiced and have ‘perfected’ imperfections in their swings.  I am one of these thousands.  Once we humans have integrated a skill so that it becomes ‘second nature’ to us we experience how daunting a challenge it is to ‘unlearn’ and ‘learn’ a new skill.  Ask any golfer who has integrated a ‘bad habit’ into his/her swing and they will affirm this.

Consider this example that many folks who live in the ‘winter states’ in the United States know well.  When we are learning to drive a car we strive to integrate a number of ‘practices’ so they become second-nature to us.  One of these is: ‘Always use your turn signal as you prepare to make a turn or as you prepare to switch lanes.’  I have found that even when I am the only one on the road (as far as I can ‘see’) I will automatically use my turn signal.  I drive on automatic – I am, in a real sense, not awake and aware; I am not fully present.

A major key is to be awake and aware, to be fully present, to think and choose a response rather than to be on automatic pilot and simply react rooted in what we have integrated.  For example, if I am driving and the roads are icy I must not react automatically and always use my turn signals.  WHAT?

At times, it is more important for me to turn on my flashing caution lights in order to provide a signal to those following that something is amiss.  The flashing caution lights provide a different stimulus to those following and they are more likely to ‘wake up’ from being on ‘automatic’ and pay attention.

Traveling in foreign lands helped make me become aware of my ‘walking rigidities.’  In some Asian countries it is ‘proper’ to walk on the left (in the United States we walk on the right).  I remember being rudely awakened when I found myself ‘walking into people’ for I was not walking on the ‘correct’ side of the sidewalk even though I was walking on the ‘right side.’

One more example for today.  I first traveled to Singapore in 2001.  My first two days there were ‘rest’ days (recovering from jet-lag).  On my first day I took a taxi to the ‘Bird Park’.  As we were driving along I asked the driver: ‘How large is the Chinese population?’  The driver quickly responded: ‘Seventy-six percent of Singapore is Chinese.’  We had been traveling about 15 minutes at this time and I had experienced this man’s great sense of humor so I asked: ‘Are you sure it’s not 77% or 75%?’  He laughed.

There was a pause and he then said: ‘The government provides us these numbers so we can answer the visitor’s questions.’  It did not matter how many births, deaths, emigrations, or immigrations were occurring (the birth-rate was actually down, which is one reason I asked the question) the ‘true’ information was provided by the government.

How many of us have been taught to take in ‘official’ information – as though it is true irrespective of new or changing contexts?  As a ‘student’ growing up in the 1950s I took in information provided by teachers-adults as ‘true’.  Few of us questioned or challenged the ‘true.’  Thankfully, the 1960s helped wake me – and others – up and we began questioning.

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In 2010 Bruce Ackerman delivered two lectures at Princeton University.  Here is the link where you can find and download for free his (and hundreds of other) lectures (Ackerman’s two lectures are contained in one pdf. file):  The Tanner Lectures on Human Values: www.tannerlectures.utah.edu  Click on ‘Lecture Library’.  Bruce Ackerman’s essay is the first one listed: ‘The Decline and Fall of the American Republic.’  The essay contains the two lectures delivered at Princeton University on April 7-8, 2010.

This morning, gentle reader, I have decided to quote at length from Ackerman’s first lecture.  I invite you to reflectively read not only what I offer this morning, I invite you to reflectively read his two lectures.  Reflective Reading requires one to not simply accept what the author offers nor does it mean that one will immediately reject what the author offers.  Reflective Reading requires one to hold an attitude of openness and an attitude of searching-seeking and learning.

The following is an excerpt from Ackerman’s first lecture: An Extremist Presidency.  Ackerman writes:

I have been trying to shake Americans out of their complacent assumption that the past is prologue and that we will continue to keep the presidency under constitutional control.  My point, quite simply, is that the presidency of the twenty-first century is a vastly different institution from its predecessors.  Instead of supposing that the founders told us (almost) all we need to know, we should recognize that the modern system generates three distinctive dangers.

 The first is extremism, which I have been defining in terms of a president’s distance from the median voter: do his positions approximate those held by mainstream Americans, or do they track the left or right wing?  If the latter, the president counts as an extremist, regardless of the content of these positions.  Call this structural extremism, because it does not depend on claiming that left- or right-wingers are substantively wrong in their critique of mainstream values.  Indeed, it is easy to think of cases in which the ‘extremists’ of one generation have launched a morally compelling critique that ultimately transforms the status quo. 

 But in America, it is not enough to be right.  Before you can impose your views on the polity, you have to convince your fellow citizens that you are right.  That is what democracy is all about.  So an extremist presidency is problematic even when the extremists are right.  It is an even bigger problem when an extremist president is wrong – and this will be an all-too-common case.  Right or wrong, an extremist president may well provoke a constitutional crisis to break through institutional road-blocks as he leads the American people to the promised land of Glory.  The modern primary system makes this extremist scenario an all-too-real possibility.

 It also promotes a second great danger: a politics of unreason.  Once presidents have relied on their media gurus to sound-bite their way to the White House, they are naturally predisposed to believe in their near magical powers.  Even when a moderate wins the White House, media manipulation will be an entrenched part of twenty-first century politics.  It makes sense, then, to treat the politics of unreason as a distinctive evil that is analytically independent of the danger posed by extremism…

 Once again, gentle reader, I invite you to download Ackerman’s two lectures and take time to read them reflectively.

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This morning, gentle reader, we will conclude our brief exploration of a few of the conditions that might help us engage the Discipline of Discernment.

Humility.  ‘Humility’ and ‘humus’ have the same root; the root means ‘ground’ or ‘earth.’  Humility is rooted/grounded in self-knowledge.  A humble person is a person who is ‘down to earth.’  Humility is a tap root for Discernment – ‘be humble in heart’ Jesus instructs us.  If I am humble I will seek to accept the uniqueness of my experience AND the limited nature of my knowledge.

Perseverance. I have found that it is essential for me to set aside ‘sacred time’ and enter into solitude so that I am more likely to be receptive to God’s presence.  Proverbs reminds me that: ‘Those who seek me diligently find me.’  For me, ‘seeking’ means creating an internal and external sacred space so that I might ‘Discern’ and listen to the soft whisper of God’s Spirit.  I have learned (mostly learned) that ‘Perseverance’ is a requirement for me.

Patience.  The Psalmist reminds me to ‘Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently…’  On the other hand, being patient can also be a hindrance.  Thus, a paradox exists: Be Patient AND Keep Moving.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer helps me when he writes: ‘But everything has its time, and the main thing is that we keep step with God, and do not keep pressing on a few steps ahead – nor keep dawdling a step behind.’

Perspective.  I have also (mostly) learned not to make an idol of Discernment.  The Quaker, Jan Wood, wrote: ‘Release your discernment from your ego and expectations.  Flow as a stream that is useful to those who can take form it and is in no way diminished by those who can’t.’   She continues: ‘Be true to what is inside.  Put weight on it.  Live by it.  Hold it with sufficient tentativeness to be open…and with sufficient tenacity to live it out until moved differently.’

These ‘Conditions’ can be helpful.  On the other hand, there are also ‘Impediments’ that hinder or block my ability-capacity for Discernment.  Here are a few of my ‘favorite’ Impediments.




Desire for Security.

Desire for Surety-Certainty.


I continue to find that if when I am able to place my life in God’s hands that God will then help me Discern my ‘Call.’  The question then: ‘How will I choose to respond to what I have discerned?’

‘…you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul.’ [Deut. 4:29]


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