Archive for October, 2020


It’s what we know already that often prevents us from learning. –Claude Bernard

I became consciously and intentionally interested in ‘self-transformation’ during my eighteen months in a monastery (September, 1962-December, 1963).  During this intense experience I began to learn and understand that the basis for any approach to self-transformation is an ever-increasing awareness of reality and the shedding of illusions (this endeavor is indeed a life-long endeavor).  I began to learn the power of illusions.  Illusions contaminate even the most wonder-full sounding teaching and the end product is poison. 

I am not referring to potential and actual errors in the teaching.  For example the Buddha’s teachings are not contaminated because one does not believe in some of them.  Nor, for example, is the bible’s text contaminated because it does not fit with science’s view about the length we humans have inhabited the earth. 

On the other hand, there are intrinsic untruths and deceptions that do, indeed, contaminate teaching and learning.  For example, when a modern-day prophet declares that great results can be achieved without effort or that craving fame and power and wealth can go together with ego-less-ness or that methods of mass suggestion are compatible with freedom and independence.

Today, more than ever before in human history, to be naïve and easily deceived is impermissible when we experience that prevailing untruths lead us down a road to catastrophe.  These untruths cause one to become blind – blind to real dangers and real destructive possibilities.  We forget, or do not understand nor accept that as human beings we are living paradoxes of good and evil (or if you like, virtue and vice or light and darkness – these tend to ‘soften’ the truth that we are paradoxes of ‘good and evil’ – remember, we cannot stand too much awareness).

For some, the river of denial is a safe haven.  The faith of these folks is not strong enough to believe in the unlimited possibilities of the human race without shutting their eyes to the ugliness and viciousness of individuals and groups.  Sadly, as long as they do so, their attempts to achieve an optimism of well-being must fail; sadly, any intense disappointment will convince them that they were wrong or will drive them into a deep depression – if not despair – because they do not know then what or who to believe. 

Faith in life, in others, indeed, in one’s self must be rooted in the garden of reality.  We, each of us, must develop and engage our capacity to see evil where it is, to see destructiveness, and selfishness (think: ego-centrism) when they are obvious (think: the many attack adds rolling over us these days like a tsunami) but more importantly when they are clothed in subtle disguises and rampant rationalizations (think: attack adds again).

Indeed, faith, hope and love must be woven together with a passion for seeing reality in all of its nakedness so that the observer might well label this weaving together as ‘cynicism.’  Well, actually, it is cynical if we mean by it the refusal to be taken in by the sweet and plausible lies that cover so much of what we are exposed to. 

This type of ‘cynicism’ is not what we think of when we accuse another of being cynical.  This type of ‘cynicism’ is rooted in being uncompromisingly critical – this requires us to develop our critical thinking skills.  This type of cynicism is rooted in a refusal to play the game of ‘deception.’  Because we humans have not developed our critical thinking skills we are – over and over and over again – easily deceived.  We have not learned from history nor from our own experience.

The mystic Meister Eckhart reminds us that ‘he does not deceive but he is also not deceived.’  Indeed, neither Eckhart, nor the Buddha, nor the Prophets, nor Jesus, nor Muhammad, nor Spinoza were ‘softies’ (now there is an understatement).  On the contrary, they were hardheaded realists and most of them were persecuted and maligned not because they preached virtue but because they spoke truth – especially truth to power.  They knew the emperor and the emperor’s followers were, indeed, naked.  They also knew that the truth does indeed set us free – and, it can also lead to the killing of the truth-tellers and truth-reminders. 

It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey.  The mind that is not baffled is not employed. –Wendell Berry

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Often, the meditation I practice is not transcendental.  I am not able to experience ‘above the world’ when I meditate.  I tend to focus on more ‘down-to-earth’ concerns.  I am too often whelmed over by external noise (think: distractions, busyness, speed, etc.) and by internal noise (often, I am the noise). 

I am also one of hundreds of millions of folks who seeks to find inner and outer silence, solitude and peace-fullness; to escape from the external and internal noise.  Recently, I have been thinking a great deal about this type of escaping from the noise into silence, solitude and inner peace-fullness via ‘Meditation.’ 

Today, Gentle Reader I will invite you to join me as I briefly explore depleting noise and nurturing silence, solitude and inner peace-fullness.  I will focus on one practice/discipline that Wayne Oates calls ‘Down-to-Earth Centering.’

For me this means that I consciously choose Silence as the focus for my day’s activities; I seek opportunities during my day.  I search out Silence – it is waiting to be found and embraced.  I image myself as Silence that rests peace-fully amidst a world of external and internal noise.  I do not have to go to a monastery in order to experience this – although I did spend more than a year in a monastery 58 years ago (this is where I learned about ‘Meditation’). 

I do not have to break away from life and go to the mountain, the sea, the woods, or the desert.  I embrace the reality of where I am, in this day, in this moment.  This reality provides the scene for silence, solitude and inner peace-fullness.

I have choice. I am in the world and I choose my ‘center’ of silence rather than a center of noise.  What does this mean?  Consider these choices.  I choose to ignore idle gossip.  I turn a deaf ear to the unexamined statements folks repeat as if they were true and meaning-full.  I consciously seek to avoid hassles with myself or with the other(s).  I seek to embrace patience and set aside impatience.  I listen with undefended receptivity in order to understand rather than concentrate on what I want to say in defense or in reaction to.

QUESTIONS: Gentle Reader what do you need to ignore in order to create a center for silence, solitude and peace-fullness?  What do you need to seek and what do you need to let go of?

CONSIDER the practice and discipline of listening as one pathway to silence, solitude and peace-fullness. 

Listening in this way means that I listen both to the other and to what is emerging from within me.  I listen to you and I listen to me in order to understand.  I listen in order to seek to empathize with you and with myself.  I listen in order to discern your highest priority needs for I might be able to serve one or more of them.  I listen in order to develop more fully my capacity for patience.

Listening in this way is a paradox.  The other experiences a gift and may at the same time become frustrated because you are, indeed, listening and not ‘taking action.’  ‘Patience’ is not their middle-name.  Many of us are accustomed to getting immediate answers and become uncomfortable when they are listened to in this way.  To put it another way, they are not used to being understood.

Listening in this way enables one to discern and connect with the contending feelings, opinions, and ideas that emerge during the listening process.  Listening this way supports the desire and the process of seeking to understand the speaker’s uniqueness.  In what ways is the other uniquely ‘the other’ and not simply a reflection of someone else? 

Thomas Merton tells us that listening rooted in silence, solitude and peace-fullness helps us discover ‘God’s Image Within’ – within one’s self and within the other.  This ‘discovery’ enables one – supports one – to humanize and honor one’s self and the other.  This ‘discovery’ is a powerful antidote to the blatant dehumanizing that we engage in each day. 

Listening rooted in silence, solitude and inner peace-fullness is the road less traveled today and when we choose to travel it we do experience Frost’s conclusion that this has, indeed, made all the difference. 

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The caterpillar crosses the threshold of the chrysalis.  The draught-infested land sees on the horizon-threshold the storm forming.  The father and his young child sit in the dark on the hill huddled together in the cool night when suddenly the threshold of the horizon announces the coming of dawn’s light.  Each of these experiences illustrates the value of the threshold as a channel of change.

A threshold announces the potential for transformation.  In this place of potential, in this place of uncertainty, in this place of decision making, we are required to slow down, be patient and be aware of what is happening.  In choosing to be at a threshold we choose to yield to potential growth and change. 

In order to cross the threshold we often sense, if not directly know, that we must let go of something or we must empty our self in order to make space for the new.  We must also do our best to make sure that we have the energy and the commitment so that we can take the step — tentative or determined — that will put us over the threshold. 

Threshold times can cleanse us of false perceptions; they can also sharpen our perceptions.  These perceptions will help us see what depletes us and what nurtures us.  Threshold times are our spiritual chrysalises which provide us the times for our four life-dimensions to grow.  During these times we heal and we nurture our physical, our intellectual, our emotional and our spiritual dimensions. 

My oldest sister and I were estranged when she died suddenly.  I was thrown into darkness and grief and I remained there for many months.  I so wanted to reverse time and I wanted to be able to step back over that threshold so I could reconcile with her.  I wanted to tell her of my love for her.  I wanted to thank her for so many things.  Slowly, over many months, I began to glimpse little pieces of light and as more light penetrated my dark soul I made a decision that I would never allow myself to be estranged from the other members of my family; this was a commitment I made to myself and to my oldest sister.  In more than twenty-seven years now, I have not broken that commitment. 

For me, also, the power of a threshold resounds in the resurrection story — from the darkness of the tomb Christ came forth transformed.  I-You-We are also given throughout our lives the gift of the ‘tomb’ and we can choose to remain in the darkness or we can choose to use the time of darkness to foster our transformation so that we can move across the threshold into the light. The hope for me is that as long as I am alive I can choose to embrace the threshold times of my life in such a way that I will emerge changed, if not transformed. 

As I was editing this entry I remembered the counsel of the wise: ‘Be Not Afraid!’  An apt mantra when facing the challenge of stepping over certain thresholds.    

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I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. –Thoreau

This morning, Gentle Reader, I will finish responding to our guiding question: What are some practices/disciplines that might support and nurture ‘Solitude’?  In PART V, I briefly explored the practice/discipline of ‘Standing Apart.’  Let us continue.

Back Off.  In our Culture we are addicted to busyness, distraction, noise, speed, short-term gains, and immediate gratification (these are but a few of the many that we are addicted to).  These are the waves that we daily ride.  We ignore diving into the deep currents of solitude.  We are, of course, living paradoxes.  We are existentially alone and we seek to avoid experiencing this reality by embracing our addictions which, in the end, only heighten our awareness of being alone. 

In order to cross the threshold into solitude we must Back Off from our addictions.  We cannot reside in both at the same time.  One of the gifts of Covid-19 is that for many of us it has forced a version of solitude upon us.  But we are very clever beings.  We have found ways of embracing our addictions even with the gift of solitude that Covid-19 provides us. 

It takes practice and discipline to Back Off

Well, that’s enough.  I have to get busy and attend to the next practice/discipline.

Be Aware – Embrace – Enter – Engage.  As I typed these words the image of Moses and the ‘Burning Bush’ emerged into my consciousness.  Moses was in the wilderness tending his sheep.  He had already stood apart and he had backed off.  Still he had to become aware, in this case, of the ‘Burning Bush.’  Then he had to embrace the reality, enter into the space occupied by the ‘Burning Bush’ and engage what emerged from the ‘Burning Bush’ – in this case, The Voice of God!

Well, Gentle Reader, you might be replying that any of us would have done as Moses did.  I invite us to reflect upon the words of the poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  She writes: Earth’s crammed with heaven/And every common bush afire with God/But only he who sees, takes off his shoes/The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries/And daub their faces unaware. 

Each of us has to freely choose to enter into the wilderness that is the home of solitude.  Once we enter into the wilderness we must practice the discipline of being awake and aware.  We must discern and perceive (two more disciplines to practice).  We must then embrace, enter and engage.  We are not able to embrace this process while we are riding the waves of our addictions. 

Among other things, our addictions provide us with a safe prison.  We are both the prisoner and the prison (just as we are both the garden and the gardener); we hold the key that unlocks the cell/prison.  This leads us to our fourth practice/discipline.

Break Out & Escape.  First, of course, we must become aware of our bondage; we must become aware of our prison/cell.  As we know, this type of awareness does not bring comfort or solace but disturbance.  One prison is the prison of addiction.  Another is the prison of routine. 

When we Break Out & Escape we are not embraced by others.  Often they are dismayed by our breaking out and escaping – ‘How could you do such a thing?’  ‘How could you do this to me/us?’ Sadly, the escaped prisoner then experiences being rejected by others – sometimes by the most significant people in the escaped prisoner’s life. 

When Moses escaped from his ‘Egyptian Identity’ his adopted-kin, the Pharaoh sought to kill Moses.  Moses fled to the wilderness.  ‘How could Moses do this to us?’   I love to play golf.  In the mid-80s I was a member of a group of 12 that played a lot of golf together.  One day I announced to the group that I was no longer going to drink with them – either during our round or after we finished.  I would join them after our round but I would not drink (alcohol).  The reaction was so intense that within a few weeks I found that I could not continue to be a member of the twelve.  One of them asked me: ‘How could you do this to us?’ 

Wayne E. Oates reminds us that ‘the response to life is serenity in the face of noise.’  Serenity lives in the wilderness called Solitude.  In order to enter into this wilderness, and thus experience serenity, I have found that it is helpful for me to embrace and engage these four practices/disciplines: Standing Apart, Back Off, Be Aware-Embrace-Enter-Engage & Break Out-Escape.

Don’t be afraid of the solitude that comes with raising your standards. –Ebonee Davis

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In solitude the mind gains strength and learns to lean upon itself. –Laurence Sterne

Good morning, Gentle Reader.  So given PARTS I-1V: What are some practices/disciplines that might support and nurture ‘Solitude’? 

There are many practices/disciplines that might support and nurture ‘Solitude,’ this morning I will begin to share four of mine.  I will focus on one this morning and the others next time.

Standing Apart.  I have found, by experience and reflection, that in order for me to embrace and engage this practice/discipline that I must acknowledge and ‘own’ that I am residing in the land of fatigue, poor perspective, errors of judgment and/or confusion.  I image myself residing in this land and take a few deep breaths and then image myself stepping out of this land into another land (this ‘other’ land is one that I have imaged for many years). 

As I step out of this land I will center on embracing silence – quieting and escaping from the internal and external noises that are contributing to my dis-ease.  One way I help myself embrace and engage in this practice/discipline is that I literally ‘step aside’ – I move to a different place and I assume a different posture.  This enables me to more fully ‘stand apart.’  [AN ASIDE: There are a number of excellent books that help us develop our capacity, practice and discipline of ‘imagining’ many years ago I found the book, ‘The Inner Game of Golf’ to be quite helpful]. 

As I stand apart I act as if I am simply a non-judgmental observer of all that is depleting ‘Richard.’  As a non-judgmental observer I then begin to offer ‘considerations’ to ‘Richard.’  Each ‘consideration’ is one that ‘Richard’ can actually control (we can only change what we can control).  I then image ‘Richard’ choosing one or two ‘considerations’ – embracing and enacting them (I learned that I am not able to embrace more than one or two considerations at a time). 

I then take more, slow, deep breaths while continuing to image myself standing apart.  As I breathe slowly and deeply I then remind myself of the major life- metaphor(s) that I have sought to embrace and integrate and live out of.  [A QUESTION: Gentle Reader, what is the major life-metaphor that you have embraced and integrated?  We each have done so and we live our lives as if these metaphors are ‘real’.]

For many years my major life-metaphor was: ‘Life is a Struggle!’  This powerful life-metaphor continues to stand patiently off-stage waiting for his cue to once again take center-stage in the drama of life called ‘Richard.’  Forty years ago I began to experiment (you might recall, Gentle Reader, that I like to experiment before I commit) with a number of life-metaphors.  Here are a few of them: ‘Life is an Adventure.’  ‘Life is a Challenge’  ‘Life is a Garden.’  ‘Life is a Journey.’  I have sought to embrace and integrate two of these: ‘Life is a Garden’ and ‘Life is a Journey.’ 

We can help identify our life-metaphor(s) by reflecting upon the words we use and the questions we muse (especially the life-questions).  Years ago a poem entered into my consciousness that captures this for me.  Here is the poem, ‘Metaphors’.

The Metaphors I use – PLUS – the Words I infuse – PLUS – the Questions I muse –DETERMINE – the Paths I choose. 

I can – and do – choose the Metaphor(s) I live by. 

As I continue to breathe slowly and deeply I enter one of my life-metaphors – usually my ‘Life is a Garden’ metaphor.  Here are some questions I hold: In order to embrace solitude.  What are the seeds I need to sow or have sown that will or have nurtured the plant of ‘Solitude’?  What are the weeds I need to plow under that choke the plant of ‘Solitude’?  How do I need to tend the garden that is ‘Richard’ in order to nurture more fully the plant of ‘Solitude’?  Who are the others that might help me tend this garden of ‘Richard’ so that the plant of ‘Solitude’ flourishes?’ 

There are, of course, many additional questions I might frame.  I have found that the questions I frame are crucial to my being able to ‘Stand Apart.’ 

‘Standing Apart’ is truly a practice/discipline – a life-long journey, a life-garden that requires the attention of the Gardener.  I am reminded of the great Spanish poet, Machado’s daunting question: ‘What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?’ 

When from our better selves we have too long been parted by the hurrying world, and droop. Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired, how gracious, how benign is solitude. – William Wordsworth

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