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Archive for June, 2020

We can be sure that maintaining equilibrium rests within ourselves. –Francis J. Braceland

I cannot begin to count the number of times these past many years I have heard people saying that they are trying to achieve a ‘work-life’ balance.  Bookstores are rife with works that promise the reader such achievement.  There was a time when I, too, worked hard at trying to achieve a ‘work-life’ balance.  THEN, one day, as the sun was rising it dawned on me that there was no ‘work’ and no ‘life’ to balance (Balance = a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equal distribution of. .); there was only life.  And my life contained a number of dimensions that needed to work in harmony.  What then emerged for me was that my challenge was to seek ‘Integration’ not ‘Balance’ (Integration = an act of combining into an integral whole; the organization of the constituent elements into a coordinated, harmonious whole).

As I spent time seeking to understand this concept of ‘Integration’ I became aware of how divided my life was; I compartmentalized my life into discrete dimensions.  I came to name these P.I.E.S. (the Physical, the Intellectual, the Emotional and the Spiritual dimensions that comprised this being named Richard).  As odd as it sounds to me today, I did not see how deeply and powerfully interconnected these dimensions were; I lived as if they weren’t connected at all.  I thought that I could focus on or ignore one or more of them and the others would not be impacted; or if they were the impact would be slight.  How wrong I was. 

In 1971 I was blessed with a mentor, Lowell, who introduced me to ‘systems thinking’ – that the WHOLE is more than the sum of its parts and that ALL is powerfully affected by the one – by each one, by each dimension.  When I ignored one dimension the others would be affected in important, powerful and meaningful ways. 

To keep our musical metaphor, when I experienced dissonance in one dimension the other three would be affected by the dissonance.  Why, because I am a ‘whole being’ – a system.  In 1974 Lowell then introduced me to Arthur Koestler’s book, The Ghost in the Machine, which Koestler had written in 1967.  Koestler introduced me to the concept of holons.  Simply put, a ‘holon’ is a ‘whole’ and a ‘part’ at the same time.  Thus, each of the four dimensions of P.I.E.S.  is complete within itself and is also a part of a greater whole called Richard.  Richard is complete within himself and is also part of other ‘wholes’ – it is ‘wholes’ and ‘parts’ (holons) all the way up and all the way down. 

My charge is to develop these holons as fully as I am able given the time I have on this planet and my charge is also to integrate them into the whole that is Richard; to integrate them so they work in harmony – at least more often than not.  I also have learned that great music requires dissonance and ‘space’ between the notes; dissonance will occur and it needs to be embraced as part of who I am; it is also crucial that I make room for silence and then it is crucial that I hold the silence and don’t simply rush on to the next harmonious or dissonant note. 

So I have spent these past 46+ years nurturing and depleting these four dimensions, these four holons, that make up the holon Richard; I have been striving to have them work in harmony; I have been striving to integrate them so that I might live a life more of wholeness than of fragmentation.  I continue to strive to embrace the dissonance as well as the harmony and I strive to make sure that I have times of silence in between.  Searching for ‘Integration’ not ‘Balance’ continues to be my quest.     

What have you done with the garden entrusted to you? –Antonio Machado

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THERE WILL NEVER BE PEACE…

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.  Where there is hatred let me sow love. –St. Francis

Consider that there will never be peace among nations without peace among religions.  One of the walls to peace that has been built and continues to be reinforced is demonization of the other

We demonize others on all levels, from the individual to the societal and what causes me great sadness is that religions continue to do it between and among themselves.  My sense of this is that demonization is grounded in and fed by the tap root of fear.  I have experienced this myself; I have had this type of fear and as a result I have demonized the other.  Part of my fear, I came to understand, was rooted in my own lack of faith.  My faith was not deeply rooted and so when I encountered a person ‘from’ another faith tradition I was fear-full.  I was afraid that I was ‘wrong’ and I was afraid that the other would ‘see through me’ and judge me.  I was also fearful of the intensity of the other’s faith for I did not have the same intensity. 

As I journeyed through life I encountered others who were as ‘faith-starved’ as I was and I also found others who claimed to have found ‘the truth’ in their religion; they were ‘sure.’  I discovered that they were also rooted in fear and as a result they too would resort to demonizing the other.  I had thought that a person who had a strong faith, one rooted in deep surety, would be open to others who held different faith traditions simply because they were ‘sure’ of their own faith.  What I discovered was that some of the folks that were the most demonizing were the ones who claimed to be ‘absolutely, positively sure’ of their faith.  They became like God and took on the role of judge.  I remember making a decision in 1971 after an encounter with a man of faith and surety that I did not want to become like him. 

I decided that I would seek to learn as much as I could about other faith traditions and that I would seek to understand.  I have continued to follow these guidelines of learning and understanding and I have become more tolerant and accepting and do little demonizing of other faiths and of those who embrace them.  I found that because I was searching and seeking that others would freely ‘teach me’ about their faith tradition.  I have come to find ‘good’ in all the faith traditions I have studied, experienced and learned about.  I have come to find that each person is fully human; that each person has joys and sorrows; that each person is searching and seeking; that each person ‘bleeds’ when cut. 

When I am truly open to the other I can also see the ‘Divine’ in each.  I have been deeply moved by the faith and ‘divinity’ of the Nazarene, by the faith and ‘divinity’ of the Jew, by the faith and ‘divinity’ of the Muslim, by the faith and ‘divinity’ of the Roman Catholic, by the faith and ‘divinity’ of the humanist, by the faith and ‘divinity’ of the Methodist, by the faith and ‘divinity’ of the Sikh, by the faith and ‘divinity’ of the Quaker, by the faith and ‘divinity’ of the Hindi, by the follower of Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, and Zoroaster. 

Learning about and seeking to understand does not equate, for me, with having to believe, with having to ‘convert.’  Learning about and seeking to understand does help me to humanize the other, it does help me see and experience the ‘Divine’ in the other, it does help me to be caring and compassionate, it does help me to empathize, it does help me to find and honor the ‘good’ in the other’s faith tradition.  

I am still convinced (close to being ‘sure’) that emphasizing our differences will lead to our mutual destruction and that honoring our differences while seeking to learn, understand and find common ground will enable us to co-create a world that is more caring and more just.  We are in this together and we are diverse — one way we are diverse is through our diverse faith traditions.  We do not have to be threatened by other faith traditions, nor do we have to convert them.  Our charge is to learn about them and to seek to understand them and then to honor them.  God, as always, will take care of the rest of this I am sure.   

We cannot be at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves. –Thomas Merton

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DREAMS, DREAMS, DREAMS

Dreams are the touchstones of our character. –Henry David Thoreau

Recently I have been having and remembering many dreams.  A goodly number of years ago I spent some time with a Jungian therapist as I was having dreams that were close to nightmares.  In these particular dreams I was being chased by a variety of known and unknown creatures and by a variety of people.  My therapist told me about the Senoi, a tribe found in Malaysia.  These folks attributed great importance to dreams; they gathered together each morning and shared them with one another.  When they dreamt of being chased they would assume that whatever was chasing them was wanting to help them, was an ally if you will, and was not something that wanted to do them harm.  So in their dreams they would turn and face the pursuer and ask a question: What message do you have for me?  What is so important that you needed to chase me.  This little story helped me shift and then change my attitude toward these types of dreams.

This, I was taught, was the essence of dream-work – revealing the messages that the dream is attempting to deliver.  The challenge lies in turning around and facing and then welcoming the messenger; then inquiring and then paying attention.  If there is one general rule regarding dreams where one is being chased it is: Don’t run! 

I learned that if I was courageous enough to turn, face my pursuer, welcome my pursuer, inquire and pay attention then the message would indeed be delivered (now, one of the important steps is to discern the meaning of the message – sometimes this is no easy task).  As my therapist noted Richard, you’ve got to be willing to boogie with the boogeyman! 

There is a temple in Singapore (if you want to visit some wonderful temples go to Singapore and Malaysia) that I visited with a friend.  The inscription carved above the entrance (written in a number of languages) is translated into English as: I have come as a messenger of joy unto thee – why dost thou grieve?  After my friend translated this message she then informed me that these are the words of ‘death incarnate’ – talk about the really big boogeyman!  

Not all dreams are ‘chase’ dreams; but there is, as the old saying goes, Gold in them thar hills no matter the nature of the dream.  It does take some courage to pay attention to your dreams; the same nerve it takes to examine a firecracker that has not gone off.  To put it another way, engaging dreams are like stepping onto the slippery slope.  A part of us doesn’t want to remember them because of the messages they bear, because of the things they reveal, because of the directions they might point us in, because of the admonitions they may lay on us.  The truth might well set us free but there is a real possibility that we will be scared out of our socks first. 

On the other hand – there is always another hand isn’t there – if we simply pay attention to our dreams; if we grant them ‘mystery,’ then often a pathway is revealed to us [as the Quakers say, Way Opens].  The more I pay attention to my dreams the more I recall them. 

Dreams are sacred.  I attempt to treat every dream with reverence because I don’t know what paths might be opening to me.  I pay the most attention to those dreams that are recurring or to dream themes that are recurring.  These are also the dreams that are most disturbing and hence are the ones that I ‘run from’ – which is why they recur.  Duh! 

I have also learned that dreams respond to direct requests.  I invite them by inviting them.  I ask a question and hold an intention that my dream messenger will respond.  I generally do this requesting as I am dropping off to sleep or when I awake during the night.  I have also learned that it is important to keep a pad and pen available so I can write down the dream that is then offered to me.  I have learned that it is o.k. to ask specific questions, to ask for direction, to ask for clues and to ask for clarification.  When I have the courage I ask for the clarification of a recent dream.  The first question is addressed to myself, Richard, do you really want to know?  The second question is the one asking for clarification.  I also know that it is important for me to write the dream down as soon as I wake; once my eyes open, my mind clears itself of the dream.   

Gentle Reader, I leave you with an Aboriginal Australian saying: ‘Happy Dream-Time.   

Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy. –Sigmund Freud

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A FAVORITE SAYING. . .

One of my mother’s favorite sayings was ‘Be Humble!’  [Her other favorite saying that she offered when we were either lying to her or exaggerating was: ‘Don’t talk like a sausage!’  But we will save this one for another day]. 

‘Be Humble!’  When she took the time to clarify what she meant the following would be stated: ‘Don’t blow your own horn!’  I took this to mean ‘don’t be arrogant.’  She, on occasion, would follow this up with ‘Let others blow the horn for you!’  My parents seldom ‘blew the horn’ regarding we children when other adults were present; they did not want us to become pride-full.  I grew up ‘humble’ and took great ‘pride’ in doing so (talk about a paradox).  ‘Being Humble’ also meant that I was to be deferential and show submissive respect to my elders.  ‘Being Humble’ also meant that I was to be unpretentious (i.e. to be modest in dress and behavior – this was another paradox for me as my mother dressed us quite well and others noticed).  I was in my late 20s when I began to affirm and ‘own’ my accomplishments; I still blush when another will ‘praise me’ in public – sometimes I will blush even when it is done in private. 

When I was in my early 30s I had an awakening; I was invited to submit a chapter for a book.  When the book was published I received a number of ‘free’ copies.  I sent one to my mother.  When I visited my parents a few months later I noticed the book sitting on the coffee table in the family room.  My mother didn’t say anything.  Later on I was sitting on the porch with my father and he told me that my book was placed on the coffee table the day it arrived and that mother would tell people about my chapter (which she had read and re-read).  There was something in my facial expression that then prompted my father to add that if we (me and my siblings) had paid attention we would have noticed that she always acknowledged our successes.  I must have looked incredulous for he followed with ‘Think about it!’  So I did.  And he was right (my father was more right than not when he spoke; he was a man of very few words).

I also began to seek to understand what ‘being humble’ really meant.  To me it meant that I should ‘humiliate’ myself by lowering my self, by not ‘bragging’ and certainly by not blowing my own horn.  ‘Humility’ comes from the Latin word humilis which means ‘low or slight.’  I also discovered that ‘Humility’ comes from the Indo-European word humis which means ‘ground.’  This second root was liberating for me. 

What if a person who is ‘humble’ is a person who is grounded and centered?  Could a humble person simply be one that sees and relates to all others as ‘equals’?  Could a humble person freely acknowledge and affirm his gifts and talents and abilities AND also recognize and affirm the gifts and talents and abilities of others?  Maybe, just maybe, humility is about fully expressing one’s self by serving others so they grow.  Maybe being humble is more like putting your lamp on the lamp stand – just putting it there much like my mother put the book on her coffee table.  Maybe being humble is being openly thankful for one’s gifts and talents and abilities while using these to care for self and others.  Maybe being humble has to do with living a life of integrity.  Maybe ‘being humble,’ like most of life, involves living into and out of a paradox called ‘humility.’    

I am curious, gentle reader, what the words Be Humble! engender in you; what is called forth from within your head, heart and soul when you read these words: ‘Be Humble!’    

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THE JOURNEY OF SURRENDER. . .

The People of the Book – Jews, Christians, Muslims – are called by God to step into a journey.  This is The Journey of Surrender.  God declares for each of the three People of the Book that true religion in the sight of God is self-surrender to God.  To surrender to God is to be free from being a slave of/to one’s ego. 

Surrender is a life-long discipline.  It is a discipline of deep listening followed by grace-full acting – allowing the Divine and not one’s ego to be the Center.  Surrender enables the soul to respond to God’s ‘Will.’  A mantra of Surrender is: Thy Will, Not My Will, Be Done!  Surrender is not ‘resignation’ – ‘resignation’ is the pathway to hopelessness and despair.  Surrender involves a deep honoring of one’s true self.  Rumi captures this for me: When you have set in the west, then your light will rise from the east.

There is a trap, a seduction that we can spring upon ourselves.  We become trapped when we begin to believe that we can surrender by saying, O God, I surrender to You!’  Surrender involves work.  We have work to do on ourselves and without the work surrender becomes meaning-less.  What is the work?  The work varies for each of us and yet there is work common to all of us.  This common work is the work of awareness, integration, and seeking [seeking to see God in each person, for example; this single ‘seeking’ will take most of us a life-time or two]. 

The work is not about destroying the ego – it is not a martyrdom.  Our ego must be transformed [for Christians, think of St. Paul and his transformation] from Darkness to Light – a Light that each of us is called to bring to our world.  Each of us is here to bring our Light – no one else can bring our Light

The Prophet Muhammad said: Die before you die!  Die to your ego before you physically die.  The first and most important jihad in Islam is the war we are to wage with our own soul/ego – the holy war.  Who is winning the war today? 

Surrender requires a life-time of self-vigilance, self-discipline, and spiritual-practice.  The first step is to recognize the yearning of our soul – this yearning involves a yearning to Surrender our ‘Will’ to God’s ‘Will.’  I experience this as a spiritual ‘ache’ – even a ‘wound’ that needs to be healed.  When one embraces the ‘ache’ and the Journey of Surrender then one becomes a seeker.

God says: Between Me and you there are no veils, but between you and Me there are seventy thousand veils.  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us that God is searching for us – we are the ones hiding behind our many veils.  Do I really want God to find me? 

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