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Archive for June, 2021

Gentle reader, if you have been spending time with my blog entries you already know that I love paradoxes.  I also love good. . .no. . .great humor.  Some of the humor I enjoy the most combines paradox and humor.  So on this cloudy, rainy, humid and nearly hot day I have decided to share with you, gentle reader, some of my favorite quotations that are paradoxes and that I also find to be of good-to-great humor.  So without further ado:

My college roommate, Ken, once told me that he had to learn that he was unique but not different.  Margaret Mead captured this quite well when she wrote: ‘Always remember that you are absolutely unique. . .just like everyone else.’

This is a twist on another famous quote [perhaps you will recall it when you read the following]: ‘There are some ideas that are so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe them.’ –George Orwell

This is one that my son, Nathan, lived by when he was young – he followed it faithfully.  ‘When all else fails, read the instructions.’ –Agnes Allen

This is one that I have, at times during my life, enjoyed living out.  ‘It’s easier to suffer in silence if you are sure someone is watching.’  [noted by the most quoted person in history – Anonymous]

During my adult years I have enjoyed reading in a variety of disciplines; some of which were un-understandable to me.  This quote from the physicist Niels Bohr continues to comfort me. ‘If you aren’t confused by Quantum Physics, then you haven’t really understood it.’ 

I’ve had the privilege of visiting seven different countries and almost many of our fifty states; the following quote is universal, it seems: ‘Too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.’  –George Burns

The following reminds me that it is not always possible to know true from false. ‘There is a terrible lot of lies going about the world, and the worst of it is that half of them are true.’ –Winston Churchill

The following quote succinctly captures what a therapist told me fifty years ago. ‘I told the psychiatrist I was overtired, anxiety-ridden, compulsively active, constantly depressed, with recurring fits of paranoia.  Turns out I’m normal.’ –Jules Feiffer

The following supports pessimists. ‘If there is a 50-50 chance that something can go wrong, then nine times out of ten it will.’ –Paul Harvey

This one is for the ethicist residing within [I am not sure of the author]: ‘Everything is relative, of that I’m sure.’

I will conclude today’s posting with a wonderful quote regarding leadership: ‘To lead the people, walk behind them.’ –Lao Tzu

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DOORS & CHOICES. . .

If the doors of my heart ever close, I am as good as dead. –Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver reminds me that I have choice.  I choose to close the doors of my heart and I choose to open them.  Both have consequences.  When I close my heart’s door I might as well be dead.  When I choose to open the door of my heart I do more than simply extend a smile of recognition or offer a nod of welcome to all who seek to cross the threshold of my heart’s door.  By welcoming others – the person or the transcendent – into my heart I open myself to grow and change in unexpected ways, perhaps in mysterious ways.  I risk being transformed. 

The pattern of this transformational process is akin to the physical movement of passing through a doorway.  First, I discern that a door exists in front of me, then I move toward the door – sometimes with confidence, sometimes with a bit of dread or just with hesitancy.  If the door is closed then I must open it.  Sometimes the door is locked and I will need a special key in order to open the door.  Sometimes the door can only be opened from the inside and so I must knock and wait patiently for the door to be opened.  As the door is opened and I prepare to step forward I move across the threshold, the middle of the doorway.  For a brief moment I have choice – I can continue to step across the threshold or I can retreat; either way I choose to move the door will close behind me (as the Quakers so elegantly put it, ‘Way opens and way closes.’). 

I imagine that this same type of movement happens internally when life situations – events or moments – invite me to become more fully who I am called to be in my world.  My choices, my decisions, determine whether I will cross the threshold and enter into a space of growth or whether I will turn away and cling to the person I am at the time (you might recall, gentle reader, that in Afghani the verb ‘to cling’ is the same as the verb ‘to die).  I know if I choose to cross the threshold that more than a shift or a change will occur; I know that a transformation will take place. 

As I sit here this morning reflecting on my life and my spiritual journey, I remember the innumerable times when I chose to turn away from, or I just flatly missed, the opportunities that waited for me on the other side of a door.  At times I was so self-preoccupied that I even missed that there was a door there at all.  At other times I remember stopping in front of a door full of apprehension; I was aware that if I choose to open the door and cross the threshold I would have to let go of something or I would have to die to something in order to enter the space beyond the door and so once again I chose to cling to what I had, to who I was, and so I turned and walked away. 

I can still experience the depth of relief and sadness I felt when I chose to do so.  I can even remember using a great deal of energy as I held the door shut as it was being opened from the other side.  I remember other times when I lingered on the threshold weighing my options.  I also recall being tossed over the threshold by ‘circumstances’ beyond my control – by life’s events.  Sometimes I was nudged over the threshold by a mentor or I was called forth by the ‘being’ on the other side. 

More often than not, when I chose to respond to the invitation to discern a door, to then approach the door, to open the door, to step across the threshold into ‘new territory’ that I experienced being filled with awe and wonder as I embraced the mystery, the unknown, that I had stepped into.  I used to think that with age all of this would be ‘easier’ for me; perhaps it is better for me that it is not for I must continue to be awake and aware, intentional and purpose-full when it comes to discerning, approaching, and choosing which doors to open and which thresholds to cross.  As I look up from typing these words I can see the top of a door just over the horizon; excuse me while I close for now and take a step.  Will I choose to step toward the door or away from it?  Ah, this is my question for today. 

My Singaporean friend, Yim Harn, took this photo of a door she found in Singapore; thank you my friend for reminding me about ‘doors.’ 

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Yesterday I guided a ‘zoom session’ for six health care professionals (physicians and clinical therapists).  I have had the privilege of serving their wellness needs for more than 60 weeks.  Like almost all those called to service (think: healthcare professionals, educators, faith-tradition ministers, parents, etc.) these folks are prone to self-sacrifice.  Now self-sacrifice, in and of itself, is ‘neutral’ – it can become nurturing and it can become depleting.  Too often, those called to serve spend more time residing on the depleting end of the spectrum. 

Yesterday afternoon I spent some time reflecting on role-models that demonstrate a balance between ‘service & self-care.’  Gentle Reader, I invite you to take some time and identify a role-model or two or three that also demonstrate, for you, living a balance between ‘service & self-care.’  What do they model and what can you adapt from their modeling and integrate into your own life so that you are more ‘life-balanced?’ 

For me, one such model is Jesus.  Jesus lived his message of love, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.  Jesus generously gave of himself.  He also sought to take care of himself.  I went to the Mark’s Gospel and quickly found a number of examples (see Mark 1:29-35).  Mark was deeply impressed with how much Jesus did and captured it in six verses.  Mark relays how Jesus served.  Mark also relays how Jesus sought to take care of himself.  After the energy-draining event: ‘In the morning, while it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.’ 

One of the ways that Jesus renewed was to go be alone – even if it was being alone, generally in prayer, for a brief time (there were, of course, days – think 40 days – when Jesus would be alone in prayer).  Renewing energy comes from intentional, focused, ‘prayer-full’ time alone (NOTE: ‘Prayer’ can be in the form of deep meditation, deep breathing, deep relaxation, recitation of ‘prayers’ or ‘mantras’ or ‘poetry,’ etc.). 

Jesus also allowed himself to be served by those who cared for him.  I am thinking of his deep friendship with Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  I can image Jesus allowing Mary to wash his feet – an act both of service and renewal. 

Jesus is also self-caring and self-compassionate when he protects himself from harm by leaving places that reject him.  Matthew tells us that Jesus ‘withdrew’ from a place that, if he had stayed, would have been physically harmful to him (Matthew 12:15).  When Jesus experiences the dread of future arrest and crucifixion, he seeks to receive support from his disciples.  He demonstrates need and being vulnerable when he asks them to be there for him during his hour of need (of course, how they responded is still another story). 

Jesus never modeled that the one serving must suffer (think: burnout, depletion, self-violence by not caring for one’s self, etc.).  Suffering, of course, will occur.  However, the suffering that we inflict upon ourselves by refusing to care for ourselves is not ‘sacred suffering’ it is, rather, ‘profane suffering.’  At the worst it is ego-centric suffering – ‘See how I suffer for those I serve!’  Me thinks that Jesus would not support this type of suffering. 

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WHAT DO WE SEE?

For now we see though a glass darkly!

Love one another as I have loved you. –God

What do we see when we look at the elderly?  Do we see the elderly as sick, despised, rejected, lonely or defeated, bitter and resigned to their fate?  Do we see the elderly clinging to a hope for somebody’s – or anybody’s – affection or even recognition of their existence?  Do we truly ‘see’ the elderly – the fully human person?  Do we look deeply into the eyes of the elderly and see the wonder of their soul and the spirit that resides within?  Do we imagine the elderly praying for the release that comes with death?  Do we see the elderly as deprived AND forgotten, in charge yesterday and outcasts today?  Do we see the elderly as wise or foolish?  Do we seek to hear and honor their stories or do we pray that they hold their tongues?  Do we see the elderly as searchers and seekers and learners or do we see them as burnt-out – the fire in their belly has been extinguished and they are filling with dense smoke and suffocating from within?  Do we believe we owe the elderly reverence – perhaps they simply want consideration, certainly they don’t want to be discarded nor forgotten?  Do we see the elderly as equals; do we seek to grant them equality?  Do we see that caring for the elderly is a privilege, not as an act of charity?  Do we remember that there is no reverence of God without reverence of the elderly?  Do we view ‘advancing in years’ as movement forward revealing pathways of possibility or as a retreat into the past?  Do we seek to tolerate the elderly or do we seek to honor the elderly?  Do we invite the elderly to bring and share their story, their voice, their wisdom and their gifts?  Do we believe the elderly can, and do, contribute to our well-being or do we wish they would capitulate and disappear?  Do we want the elderly to challenge or conform?  Do we invite the elderly to co-create or comply?  Do we invite the elderly to freely choose or to be compliant?  Do we believe that the enemy of the elderly is indifference?  Do we strive to extend care, compassion and empathy to the elderly – do we truly seek to ‘walk in their shoes’ AND do we seek to walk ‘with them’?  Do we believe Frederich Buechner when he tells us that: Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside of somebody else’s skin.  It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy for you’?  Do we seek to help the elderly understand – there is so much to understand, starting with seeking to understand one’s self as one ages?  WHO is this ‘WE’ I’ve been noting?  This ‘WE’ is the young, the adult and ‘WE’ the elderly ourselves! 

We convince by our presence. –Walt Whitman

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Good morning, Gentle Reader.  This morning I will conclude our exploration of ‘Self-Caring.’  I invite you, Gentle Reader, to continue to explore this concept and discern the ways you care for yourself and the ways you deplete yourself and the ways you allow others to deplete you. 

I concluded PART II with an exercise on ‘breathing in & breathing out.’  Our American Culture does not encourage balanced breathing.  Our Culture is rooted in constant busyness; it is addicted to speed; we are also addicted to distraction.  We suffer from what Kundera calls ‘hurry sickness.’  Our self-worth is too often rated on how busy we are.  These Cultural phenomena affect all of us and they particularly negatively impact people in the ‘service professions’ and those involved in full-time care-giving. 

These wonderful folks, who are blessings to many except themselves, tend to focus their attention and energy on ‘breathing out’ – they neglect their need to ‘breathe in’ and thus their own self-care suffers.  It seems that ‘exhaustion’ is a sign that they are caring for others; it is not perceived as a signal that they are also doing violence to themselves.  For more than 50 years now I have had the privilege of helping those who care for others find ways of caring for themselves.  I continue to be amazed at the amount of guilt they feel when they begin to embrace ‘self-caring’ in a disciplined way. 

For years I searched for an image that would represent ‘self-caring.’  In 1995 I was visiting my parents during the Christmas season.  They lived in Wisconsin.  One morning I woke up and I realized that there had been a ‘nice’ snow-fall during the night (‘Nice’ = lots of heavy snow).  My parents had a lovely closed in porch.  We loved to sit there and look out at the trees and rolling grounds; serenity in reality.  As I sat savoring my coffee my eye caught movement in a snow covered fir tree.  Then, a little beak appeared through the snow.  Then a small bird emerged and ‘fluffed’ itself up.  The bird, still covered in snow looked like a fat snowball.  I smiled and savored the sight.

A question emerged into my consciousness: How do birds care for themselves?  After returning to my home I began to read about the ways that birds care for themselves.  I learned that they must groom themselves or lose their ability to fly, to navigate, to stay afloat when on the water.  They preen their feathers so they can achieve balance while flying.  As they preen they pull out the tattered feathers in order to make room for new ones.  They also take oil from the base of their feathers and spread it onto their feathers – thus they become waterproofed.  Neat! (By the by, swimmers who swim across the English Channel also ‘oil-up’ so they, too, become water-proofed.)

Like the birds, we too must care for our ‘feathers’ – we must groom them.  We must layer our activities and put them in an order that enhances our ability to balance our lives (NOTE: The term work-life balance is a trap; it is ‘life-balance’ that we are to seek).  We need to preen our thoughts and feelings, ridding them of the feathers of self-criticism and harsh judgments.  We need to pull-out the mental models/mind-sets that hinder us from self-care.  We need to oil ourselves with self-care in order to ride the waves of life and not drown. 

Gentle Reader, I invite you into ‘Self-Caring’ beginning today.  I invite you to begin preening your ‘feathers.’ 

I leave us with a Prayer:  Breath of Life, I breathe in your love and I breathe out love – a love that nurtures myself and that nurtures the other(s). 

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