Archive for March, 2018

In May, 2016 my friend, George, sent me the photo that follows.  As I sat with the photo, savoring it.   The words from a poem by William Stafford entered into my consciousness.  I searched and found the poem.  This morning, Gentle Reader, I offer you George’s photo and Stafford’s poem.

by George-3-8-16 (2)

You Reading This, Be Ready

Starting here, what do you want to remember?

How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?


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You are veiled by your own self. –Sufi Proverb

A question I began holding – and continue to hold – more than 50 years ago: How urgent and necessary is my inner work?

One of my favorite Sufi stories helps me hold this question.  Here’s the Story:

The Mulla Nasrudin was riding on a ferry.  On the first day of a four-day journey, he met a famous scholar.  As they were enjoying the fine weather, savoring their tea, and feeling the cool spring breezes wash over them, the scholar ask the Mulla if he had read the Qur’an in Arabic.  I have not, replied the Mulla, I have never learned Arabic‘How unfortunate’, intoned the scholar (an intonation that only great scholars can offer), without a foundation in Arabic, you have missed out on the subtleties of the Holy Book.  I am afraid that you have wasted half your life.’

The following afternoon, the scholar asked the Mulla if he had heard of famous Islamic sages such as Rumi, Hafiz or Ibn Arabi.  No, the Mulla knew little about them.  ‘How incredible!’ the scholar responded.  ‘Truly you have wasted three-fourths of your life.’

During the night on the third day a fierce storm arose.  The Mulla rushed to the scholar’s cabin and shouted ‘Professor, do you know something about swimology?’  The scholar opened the door, felt the wind and the rain and replied, ‘Are you talking about swimming?’  ‘Yes! Yes!’ exclaimed the Mulla.

The scholar paused a moment and then spoke: ‘Oh, in my busy life I never had time to learn how to swim.’  The Mulla looked at the scholar with dismay; ‘How tragic!  The ferry is sinking and we have no lifeboats or life jackets.  I am so sorry to tell you that you have wasted your life!’

I bookend this story with two questions I continue to hold: ‘In what ways have I chosen to waste my life?’  ‘What is the inner work that I must choose to continue to embrace and engage in in order to avoid wasting my life?’ 

One does not become enlightened by imaging figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. –Carl Jung

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You are the traveler; you are the path; you are the destination.  Be careful never to lose the way to yourself. –Yahya Suhrawardi

How often do I miss the obvious: It is crucial to be awake, aware, intentional and purpose-full when it comes to discerning the paths I must take and the pace at which I must move.  How often do I miss the obvious: I am the traveler, I am the path and I am the destination; a paradox to be sure.  I must be care-full so I do not lose the way to myself; so I nurture myself more than deplete myself.  I must be careful so that when I lose my way/my self that I am able to find my way/my self again.

Consider that life’s external journey is easy when compared to the inner journey that we are each called to make – the inner journey that determines so much, if not all.

It is also important for me to remember that at times I will need two guides.  There is the external guide that I will encounter – and I must recognize this guide when I encounter him-her-it (an external guide can be an experience – hence an ‘it’).

There is also the internal guide that resides in each of us.  Some call this our inner teacher; some call this our conscience; some call it the voice of the Spirit or the voice of God; some call it a ‘feeling;’ some call it ‘intuition.’

I must also be committed to my journey; my commitment is not a one-off commitment but requires me to continuously commit.  When my commitment falters so do I and then I begin to lose my self and my way.

All of this makes sense to me if I believe that my primary purpose in life is to evolve into the fullness of my being – to move toward becoming the person I am called to become.  For thousands of years the great traditions have reminded us – continue to remind us – that each of us has been created for a just cause and a determined time [my thanks to the Qur’an for these two concepts].

All of my actions and acquisitions, important as they are, are secondary to my sacred and primary duty to move in the direction of realizing my just cause, determined time and sacred potential.

The great Sufi, Rumi, reminds us that if I perform and remember all, yet forget my essential purpose, then I have done nothing.  I am merely a clanging bell and a noisy symbol; at best I am a distraction for others and at worst I encourage others to ignore their essential purpose.

As a human being I have been gifted with free will.  I can choose to strive to achieve my sacred purpose.  I am, like all of us human beings are, imperfect and so I choose foolishness and I choose to behave in ways that betray and belie my sacredness.  I choose to ignore my sacred trust.  I am, again, thinking of Antonio Machado’s powerful question: What have you done with the garden entrusted to you? [Another paradoxical metaphor: I am the garden and the gardener and I have been entrusted with both.]

If you know the value of every article of merchandise but don’t know the value of your own soul, it’s all foolishness. –Rumi

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…look upon the human face; see clearly within laughter, the essence of ultimate truth. –Rumi

If you are not already ‘in the know’ – I love stories.  I especially love teaching stories.  Some of the most thought-provoking and humorous are the Sufi teaching stories featuring the Mulla, Nasrudin.  If you do not know much, if anything about Sufis one thing to note is that they laugh a lot.  Over the centuries, from this sustained laughter has emerged the mythical Mulla, Nasrudin.

The Mulla is the village jester and sage rolled into one.  He has no formal education.  His wisdom appears to emanate from a source beyond book learning.  The most popular image of the Mulla is the picture of him riding backward on a donkey.

The Mulla is followed by his students.  He rides looking backwards so he can connect with his students.  Although he is their ‘leader and teacher’ he sees himself as their servant and guide. The Mulla is timeless and placeless – look for the Mulla.  The Mulla is still roaming about waiting to be ‘found.’

Today’s story is one of my favorites.  Look for the ‘life metaphors’ – I will give you a hint.  When the story opens we find the Mulla tending his garden.  The ‘garden’ is the ‘garden’ that we image when we hear the word.  The ‘garden’ is also the Mulla himself.  Each of us has been entrusted with the ‘garden of self.’  The great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado asks us: What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?

TODAY’S STORY:  A traveler approached the Mulla, who was tending his garden, and asked in which direction he should walk to reach a certain town.  The Mulla pointed the way, and when the man asked how long it would take him to reach his destination, the Mulla stared at him and resumed his gardening.  The man asked again, but again the Mulla ignored him.  Cursing the Mulla, the man started to walk.  After a little while, the Mulla, who had been intently watching the man walk away, shouted out, “Three Hours!”  The man stopped, turned, took a few steps back towards the Mulla and in angry tones that would have run off a rampaging bull asked why he had not told him this earlier.  The Mulla smiled the smile of the wise [An Aside: Why are the Wise always smiling?].  The Mulla replied: First I had to see how fast you walk!

Now, Gentle Reader,that is ‘Being Intentional.’ 

 What is this precious love and laughter budding in our hearts?  Listen…It is the glorious sound of a soul waking up! –Hafiz

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Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. –John F. Kennedy

This morning Gentle Reader, I invite you to consider two more critical thinking processes.  As in PART I, I will offer you a number of questions to consider that will help you engage the process.  And I also invite you to become aware of additional questions that might arise from within you and to make note of them and spend time reflecting upon them.

PROCESS #3: Assumption recognition and analysis.  This process involves emerging, naming and analyzing our assumptions – particularly our deep tacit assumptions for these are the most powerful assumptions we hold and they reside in our subconscious.  Our assumptions determine how we interpret and respond to the context and situation.

  • What have I-You-We ‘taken for granted’ in response to the context and the situation? What do we ‘assume’ to be ‘true’?
  • What beliefs, stereotypes, prejudices, core values and core guiding life-principles have I-You-We integrated that support My-Your-Our assumptions – especially those that support My-Your-Our deep tacit assumptions?
  • Which of My-Your-Our assumptions have contributed to the situation and context?
  • What are My-Your-Our rationales-Justifications that support My-Your-Our assumptions?
  • How might I-You-We determine if an assumption ‘we’ hold is ‘correct-true-valid’?

PROCESS #4: Reflective Skepticism-Deciding what actions to take.  This critical thinking approach involves questioning, analyzing, and reflecting on My-Your-Our rationales for decisions.

  • What rationales do I-You-We have for ‘this’ decision?
  • What aspects of the context-situation require the most careful attention? Why these?
  • Why is it (or was it) crucial for Me-You-Us to intervene?
  • Why ‘intervene’ now? (This is an especially crucial question if the situation has been ongoing for some time.)
  • If I-You-We are going to take a number of ‘steps’ what is the first step, second step, etc. that I-You-We will take? Why this order?
  • I-You-We are imperfect so ‘priorities’ will be missed. What are the priorities that I-You-We might miss (or what are the ones already missed)?
  • Once an action has been taken then: What was done? Why was ‘this’ done?  Did I-You-We get what we wanted from the action taken?  What did I-You-We want?
  • What are 2-3 alternatives that I-You-We might take? Or, if action has been taken: What are 2-3 alternatives that I-You-We might have taken but did not take?  Why did I-You-We choose not to take them?

He who asks a question might be a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question is a fool forever. –Chinese Proverb


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Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence. –Abigail Adams

There are a number of critical thinking processes, for our consideration, gentle reader, I am going to offer us two of them this morning; I will offer two more in PART II.

Gentle reader, if you have been following my blog for some time you know that I love questions.  I believe that we think differently when we reflect upon certain questions in order to ‘seek to understand’ than when we ‘seek to take action.’  For each process I will be offering us a number of questions to ‘consider’ – to reflect upon in order to ‘understand’ and to ‘take action.’ These are not the only questions that we might consider; others might emerge into your consciousness.  I invite you to note them and to spend time reflecting upon them.

PROCESS #1: Being contextually aware and, given the context, choosing what to observe and consider.  This includes an awareness of what is emerging/occurring in the context of the situation, including values, cultural issues, and environmental influences.

  • What was/is going on in this situation/context that may influence the outcome?
  • What factors contributed/contribute to behaviors taken/being considered?
  • What else was/is happening simultaneously that affected/may affect me/us in this situation?
  • What emotional responses influenced/might influence how I/we reacted/react in this situation?
  • What information is missing? What information might be missing?
  • How might I/We go about obtaining the missing information?
  • What about this situation have I/We seen before? What is different/dissimilar?
  • What’s important and what’s not important in this situation? How do I/We determine both?

PROCESS #2: Exploring and Imagining Alternatives.  This involves thinking about and imaging additional ways of looking at the situation, not just the first things that emerge into my/our consciousness. This also involves exploring as many alternatives as I/We can think of for the given situation.

  • What is one possible explanation for [insert: what is happening]?
  • What are additional explanations for what is happening?
  • What is one thing I/We could do given this situation?
  • What are two more possibilities/other alternatives?
  • What else would I/We want to know in this situation?
  • Are there others who might be able to help me/us develop more alternatives?
  • Of the possible actions I/We are considering, which one or two appear to be the most reasonable/rational? Why are the others I/We have discarded not as reasonable/rational?
  • Are there additional resources that I/We might/could/should mobilize?

[Critical thinking is crucial] because an educated electorate is a powerful electorate. Because an informed citizenry is the greatest defender of freedom. Because an enlightened government is a democratizing government. –Kofi Annan

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During these past 54 years I have experienced three deep depressions.  The first occurred when I was 20, the second when I was 31 and the third when I was 60.  I have also had a number of ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ experiences.  For me, deep depressions are emotional experiences and dark nights are spiritual experiences.  There are similarities yet they are not the same….not by a long shot.

During both my deep depressions and during my dark night experiences I have been blessed with guides, psychologists/psychiatrists and spiritual directors/guides.  I have also been blessed during these times with one or two friends who I trusted enough to walk with me as I roamed the deep dark woods or walked in the wilderness or in the desert.

The ‘professional’ who guided me during my deep depression when I was 31 was a ‘Jungian.’  With his help I experienced the power of my dreams.

When I was 31 I was ‘lost.’  I was struggling with the questions: ‘Whose life am I leading?’  ‘Who am I?’  ‘Why am I here?’ ‘Where am I going?’  ‘What choice do I have in determining where I am going?’ 

I ‘held’ these questions and practiced the discipline of capturing my dreams in writing.  As I was developing the discipline of ‘dream interpretation’ I would share my dream with my therapist and he would guide me through an interpretation.  As I developed the ability to interpret my dreams I would ‘interpret’ them before I met with my therapist.  When we met I would then share my interpretation with him.

There were during this time 2-3 dreams that were ‘break-through’ dreams for me.  Here is one of them.

THE DREAM:  I was an adult riding in a car.  I was sitting in the back sit.  My mother was driving the car.  I asked her where we were going.  She replied that we were going on a journey.  In the dream I closed my eyes.  When I opened them I found myself sitting in the front seat of the car.  My mother was still driving the car.  All of a sudden my mother pulled over to the side of the road.  She stopped the car.  Left the keys on the dashboard.  She got out of the car.  Turned to me.  She smiled.  She walked away.  I was terrified.  I had no idea where I was.  I had no idea where I was going?  The sun was just coming up, rising behind me.  I found myself sitting behind the steering wheel.  I looked at the keys.  I picked them up.  I started the car.  I decided that turning around and going back would not be helpful – although it was an inviting idea.  I pulled back onto the road.  With the sun rising behind me, I drove off into the shadows.

Gentle reader, I am not going to ‘interpret’ this dream for you.  What I invite you to do, however, is to recall a time in your life when you had a ‘break-through’ experience.  An experience so powerful that you are the person you are today as one result of that experience.

As I continue to travel down my life’s road today the sun continues to rise behind me and I continue to drive into the shadows.

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