Archive for June, 2020

You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible. –Anton Chekhov

During these past ten days or so, among other things, I have been reflecting upon and thinking about trust.  I invite you, Gentle Reader, to reflect with me about this vital concept, trust.  I invite you to search with me.  I invite you to consider that trust is the tap root that feeds, nurtures and sustains a moral-ethical life. 

At first blush it seems that we can only develop trust in people that we know.  There is, of course ‘truth’ in this idea.  There is also an ‘AND.’ AND trust’s more powerful benefits are nurtured into life when we put our trust in strangers

For me, ‘trusting strangers’ means accepting them into my moral community.  In many ways strangers look different from us – their skin color might be different, their accents might be different, their ideologies might be different, their religions might be different, their non-verbal signals might be different, their word choices might be different (my list could go on and I invite you to add to it). 

Consider, however, that as interdependent human beings we share many values and we share many of the same life experiences.  Actually, it is not quite so risky when it comes to placing our faith in the stranger.  Our common tap root moral-ethical values enhance our ability to not only cooperate with strangers; our common tap root moral-ethical values enhance our ability to embrace them and invite them into our community. 

Trust, of course, is not the only pathway to community and cooperation, nevertheless relationships and agreements rooted in trust will be more lasting.  For example, when I trust the other I expect that the other is rooted in trust, good faith, and joins with me in keeping our word – in keeping our promises.  History teaches us that we fare better if we presume that the other, the stranger, is trust-worthy and if we also demonstrate to the other, the stranger, that we are trust-worthy.

We also know that we humans reach out in positive, healthy ways to the other, to the stranger, if we believe that we do, indeed, have a shared humanity and that our ‘fate’ is directly linked to the fate of the other.  When we are rooted in trust – and when we believe that the other is also rooted in trust – we feel the other’s pain when they experience injustice, when they are minimized, when they are marginalized, when they are not cared for.  This feeling is often called ‘empathy’ – we actually feel the pain.  In addition to being empathetic we find ways of ‘acting’ so that the other’s pain is diminished if not extinguished. 

Now as far as I know, presuming that strangers are trust-worthy cannot be based on evidence.  I know good folks who believe that one must prove his/her trust-worthiness first.  I currently believe that we must lead with trust and assume that the other, the stranger, is trust-worthy.  Now is everyone trust-worthy – NO.  Even those we know quite well might not, in certain circumstances, demonstrate being untrust-worthy.  My experience is that if I lead with being trust-worthy and act as if the other is also trust-worthy then ‘trust-worthy’ is almost always affirmed. 

‘Trust’ in the other, in the stranger, is rooted in a fundamental moral-ethical assumption: that the other shares my fundamental moral-ethical values.  This does not mean that they agree with me politically or religiously.  We do, however, share common moral-ethical values that enable us – if we act rooted in those values – to trust one another; to, in fact, lead with trust.  [to be continued…] 

Few things can help an individual more than to let him know that you trust him. –Booker T. Washington

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And I asked my soul/What have you done with the garden entrusted to you? –Antonio Machado

Antonio Machado was, for many, Spain’s greatest poet.  In one of my favorite Machado poems he employs a garden metaphor and one of my favorite metaphors is the garden metaphor. 

The paradox is that I am both the garden and the gardener when it comes to who I am – the ‘garden’ I have been entrusted with.  I am both a sower of seeds and a container of all of the seeds that are possible.  The questions are: Which seeds will I sow?  Which seeds that reside within me will I choose to nurture into life in the garden that is Richard?  As we know, the tiniest seeds grow into towering redwoods, sky-grabbing sequoias, giant blue whales, spreading mustard shrubs and fully human beings. 

Seeds also come to us as ideas, or hints, or intuitive niggles or soft whispers.  We can easily miss these seeds especially when we are distracted by the past or when we are too focused on the future.  We do not know when these seeds might make their appearance and so it helps if we live in the ‘now’ and if while living in the ‘now’ we are not asleep but are awake and aware while holding an attitude of discernment.  

As we know, some seeds fall on rock, some on sand, some on wasteland and some on fertile soil.  Even when seeds fall on the fertile soil of the garden that is Richard, it is up to the gardener Richard to make sure that the garden is receptive, that it is tilled, that the weeds are under control, that it receives sufficient nutrients, that it is blessed with the water of life and that it is watched over with love, compassion, care and forgiveness. 

Seeds that are nurtured into life add new growth to the garden; they sustain the garden.  Some seeds, depending upon the season, lay dormant and wait patiently to be called forth.  Then there are the seeds that, if nurtured into life, will begin to choke the life out of the garden or will turn the garden from being a garden that brings light to one that brings darkness; the sacred becomes the profane.  Because the gardener is imperfect, so the garden, too, will be imperfect.  This means that the gardener must be vigilant and at the same time must be committed to the garden’s health. 

Gardens produce a variety of life – plants, flowers, vegetables, fruit, and weeds that choke and drain the life from the garden and the gardener.  The garden has an essence that never changes; what does change and what might appear to transform the garden, are the varieties of plants, flowers, fruits, vegetables and weeds that are nurtured into life. 

Another miracle of gardens is that each plant, flower, vegetable, fruit and weed also contains more seeds.  These seeds are spread by the gardener and by the winds, or the birds, or the bees that visit the garden.  For the most part, these visitors and spreaders of seeds do not care whether the seeds are sacred or profane, whether they contain light or darkness these beings dispassionately spread all of the seeds that have been nurtured into life by the gardener.  The gardener has choice and each day the gardener chooses. 

There has never been a great mystic or prophet that has not asked that the garden they have been entrusted with be exchanged for a different garden; it also seems that there probably hasn’t been a human being that has not at some time – if not many times – asked the same thing.  Consider that what makes us ‘great’ as human beings is that we are able to choose to accept the garden that we have been entrusted with; and luckily for us, most of us have and do so choose. 

Finally – well perhaps not really ‘finally’ – each garden is truly unique.  There will never, ever, not ever be another like Richard or like you, Gentle Reader.  When I pause and ponder this I am whelmed over by the immensity of the gift, the garden that has been entrusted to me.  And also, what whelms me is that I have choice – it is my response-ability, no other gardener can truly tend my garden; oh, they can stop by and help and I am so thankful when they do; but in the end – or is it the beginning – it is my garden, the garden I have been entrusted to tend.  So this morning I pause and I take time to reflect upon Machado’s question:

What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?     

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Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. –Parker J. Palmer

Consider that we live in illusions.  Illusions feel good; they give us a jolt.  It seems as if I seek more ‘kicks’ than happiness.  When I am honest with myself I admit that I really like, kicks, jolts, and thrills.  Now with these come anxiety.  What?  I become anxious because I might lose the kick, the jolt, the thrill – actually, I do lose them; they too pass away.  What’s left over for me is a type of hangover, a being off balance, a type of depression; a feeling/experience of being boxed in, trapped with no way out. 

I was provided the ‘secret,’ the way out, when I was 21; a spiritual guide gifted me with it.  Some get it in a few minutes, some in a few months, some in a few years; it took me a good 25 years to really get it and I still struggle with it today (as I have said in previous postings, knowledge doesn’t change anything.)  Some go through life and never get it; they die without getting it.

So what is the way out?  What is ‘it?’  What I continue to find so fascinating is that I expected the way out to come from my own faith tradition but what was offered to me by my spiritual guide came from another faith tradition (this experience was also the impetus for me to begin to see the good in all faith traditions – a gift I am thankful for each day).  So here it is – short and simple: The world is full of sorrow and suffering.  The root of sorrow and suffering is attachment and desire.  Sorrow and suffering are uprooted by dropping attachment and desire. 

That’s it – simple, clear.  The challenge, of course is: How does one do this? 

Now a question arose in me: Does the letting go of attachments mean ‘detachment from. . . ?  No.  For example, one uses the material world and one enjoys the material world BUT one doesn’t make one’s happiness depend upon the material world.  I have found that the times I am actually able to live like this that I experience more ‘happiness,’ more inner peace and more contentment.  Why?  For one reason I do not experience the anxiety that comes with attachment.  If I am anxious while holding on to something I am not able to enjoy it or savor it or relish it; I am more fearful of losing it (loss will occur for all things shall pass).  I am thinking of withdrawal from ‘possessiveness,’ from ‘anxiety,’ from ‘the futility of hanging on.’ 

One of the reasons that it took me 25 years to ‘get it’ was that I held another illusion: once I had it I would no longer experience depression (for me, for others it might well be something else).  

Then when I was in my late 40s another spiritual guide told me the following story: There once was a Zen Master who was said to have achieved enlightenment.  One day a man approached him and told him that he had been searching to find him for years.  He asked the Master, “Master, what did you get from enlightenment?”  The Master looked at the man and smiled that wise smile, gently held the man in his loving gaze and finally replied: “Well, I’ll tell you.  Before enlightenment I used to be depressed.  After I achieved enlightenment, I continued to be depressed.”  WHAT? 

Well his depression didn’t change; his attitude toward his depression changed.  He did not say, as I often have said and at times still catch myself saying today: “I cannot be happy until my depression goes away.”  What I have learned and what I experience on my ‘good days’ is that even when I experience depression I can also experience serenity and calm and peace.  I am not fighting it (fighting myself, actually), I am not upset because I am depressed.  I embrace it and bring it close to my heart and soul and I experience a calmness for which there are no words. 

Perhaps, gentle reader, you will find something in this posting that will help you on your journey; perhaps you won’t.  In either case, no worries.  In either case, this too shall pass.    

Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self. –Parker J. Palmer

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