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Archive for February, 2022

SEARCHING FOR ‘MEANING,’ PART I

Recently we had some nasty weather – rain, sleet, ice-rain – and so I decided not to go out.  I spent some time exploring my book shelves in order to discern which books were calling to me.  I kept returning to one book shelf; there was a book calling to me but I was not able to clearly identify its voice.  I had gathered up a stack of books and so I took these to my chair and added them to the ten books that already had a permanent home nearby.  As I began to settle in I decided to return to the book shelf that I was still drawn to.  As I looked more closely at each shelf I noticed a small book that was wedged between two larger volumes; I could barely see it.  I reached for it and pulled out Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search for Meaning.’  I have had this particular book for fifty-eight years; it is well read and well worn. I cannot begin to put into words the impact that Frankl’s story has had on my life.  It was about this time of the year in 1964; I was searching for meaning in my life and my therapist gifted me with this little book.

As I sat once again with Frankl’s words I decided to share some of his story with you, Gentle Reader.  You might be familiar with his story, I have found that many folks have some sense of his story. 

When he was thirty-seven years old, Viktor Frankl embarked upon a three year odyssey.  Unlike Odysseus, Frankl’s odyssey took him into a living nightmare-world full of human cruelty, torture, starvation and privation; with death came relief.  His journey began with a train ride. He was one of eighty crammed into a coach car; this car was one of many traveling from Vienna, Austria northeast and it was noted that more than 1500 folks were ‘passengers’ on this train.  The train traveled at high speed for several days. Then early one morning, as the sun began to emerge over the horizon, the train slowed.  They were approaching a station.  As the train slowly came to a stop next to a platform the passengers in the coach saw a sign announcing their destination: ‘Auschwitz.’

Frankl recalled seeing rows and rows of gallows with corpses hanging from them, he noted: “I was horrified, but this was just as well, because step by step, we had to become accustomed to a terrible and immense horror.”

Frankl was thirty-seven and the year was 1942.  The killing ground he entered was one of many that murdered more than six million of his fellow Jews.  He would be one of the few – and I mean ‘few’ – who would survive.  His body, mind and spirit suffered in ways that words cannot fully capture.  He and his sister were the only members of his nuclear and extended family that survived the holocaust.

Viktor Frankl survived and he did more than that.  He endured his ordeal and was also strengthened by a belief in our human capacity to search for and find meaning and purpose in life in spite of the greatest suffering.  How could he, residing in this living nightmare, find a life worth preserving?  How could he find ‘Meaning’?

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RENEWAL

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

In 2012 my good Singaporean friends, Wong Yim Harn and Wu Mi Yin presented us with, in the words of Parker J. Palmer – [A] lovely collection of affirmations, images and questions.  These affirmations, images and questions are contained in Tending Our Gardens [Reflections to nourish our growth and renewal]

This morning Gentle Reader I am going to share with you Yim Harn and Mi Yin’s 3rd Renewal Reflection.

Antidote to Speed: Our culture is addicted to speed, to multi-tasking, and to distraction.  In our daily life, we have been brainwashed to think that we need speed.  We reward those who work fast.  We are expected to multi-task.  We are hesitant to ask for time to think deeper and come up with better ideas.

We have been seduced by modern technology and new media to believe that we need to be connected to others 24/7.  Ironically, this connectivity means that we have become less accessible to the people who are actually present with us.  We are so busy with phone calls, text messages or other social media that we are not fully present ourselves – at meetings, at the dinner table, and even on public roads.  We pay a high price for all this need for speed and technological connectivity: we may experience increased anxiety and stress from accelerated deadlines, disconnection from ourselves and from our loved ones, discontentment and even illness.

Renewal is an invitation for us to take a step back to reconnect with ourselves, and to connect to what truly matters.  It invites us to ask powerful questions of ourselves.  Renewal is an antidote to speed, slowing us down and setting us free to choose to pursue what we deeply care about.

Guiding Reflection Questions

  • Does being addicted to speed get you what you want?
  • What do you want? [Respond to this question first]
  • In what ways does being addicted to speed deplete you – Physically, Intellectually, Emotionally and/or Spiritually?

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‘WANTS’ OR ‘NEEDS’?

I cannot remember when I first began to focus on the important difference between a ‘Need’ and a ‘Want’ – it seems like decades.  What I have learned is that no matter how powerful the ‘want’ it will almost always be compromised when faced with a ‘need.’  The following definitions might help us see why this tends to be so.   

NEED = something deemed necessary; something requisite

WANT = to wish, to crave, to demand, to desire

At times folks – myself included – have equated ‘want’ with ‘need.’  I have found that my two definitions help me discern which is truly in play in a given situation. 

More recently I have been considering ‘Needs.’  My current thinking is that we have adulterated, and continue to adulterate, the concept, ‘Needs.’  One way we do this is to use my definition of ‘want’ to define ‘need.’  When we do this we treat our ‘needs’ as holy, for some, ‘needs’ become their gods, their idols.  We spare no effort, no toil, in order to satisfy them.  We end up worshiping not just one but a whole Mount Olympus full of  ‘wants’ reframed as ‘needs.’  For some, their espoused moral and spiritual norms are actually personal ‘wishes,’ ‘cravings,’ ‘demands’ and/or ‘desires’ in disguise.  We treat them as ‘something requisite’ when they are anything but. 

Consider, Gentle Reader, that ‘need’ denotes the absence or shortage of something indispensable to the well-being a person, a relationship or a community.  Given this, the term ‘need’ is used in two ways (perhaps there are more than two, as of today I am aware of these two): one focuses on the actual lack; a lack that is ‘indispensable.’  The other focuses on the ‘awareness’ of such a lack.  My current thinking about ‘Needs’ focuses on the second way. 

Each of us human beings nurtures a diverse garden of needs; each human garden is composed of different needs – no two gardens are the same.  There might well be a minimum number of human being needs; there appears to be no maximum number for any one of us.  Some of our needs are inherent in our being human; others, for example, emerge in response to our environment, to our socialization, to our time in history, and to a specific community in which we are a member.  Some are induced by envy, or jealousy, or covetousness.  Some are adulterations of ‘wishing,’ or ‘craving,’ or ‘demanding,’ or ‘desiring’ – we call these adulterations ‘needs’ and we act as if they are ‘needs.’  We can become so good at this adulteration that we become unable to discern the difference between a ‘need’ and a ‘want’ (as I have defined them earlier).  It is easy for a ‘want’ to become a ‘demand’ and as we know when our demands are not met then we easily revert to being an angry, if not rage-full, three year old.     

Consider, Gentle Reader, that more of us die as a result of pursuing our adulterated ‘needs’ than we do as a result of disease.  What also seems to be true is that too often our pursuit of adulterated needs turns into aggression and is a major tap root of war (history continues to confirm this).  Given all of this it seems to me that there is a benefit in understanding the difference between ‘Wants’ and ‘Needs,’ and then to focus more on addressing ‘Needs.’ 

Pardon me, Gentle Reader, I must stop here as I need to go to the store for I have a need for some ice cream. 

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LONELINESS

During the past year or so I have, periodically, paused, stepped aside and thought about ‘Loneliness.’  We human beings experience several different types of loneliness.  Here are two that each of us humans experience: ‘Existential Loneliness’ and ‘Disconnected Loneliness.’ 

‘Existential Loneliness.’  No one can live my life – my life is mine to live.  No one can be born for me and no one can die for me.  There are times when we humans will experience being alone even when we are with other human beings.  There is a paradox here: By nature we humans are social beings AND we are also alone.  ‘Existential Loneliness’ is ‘natural’ and, as we know only too well, it can also be quite disturbing.

‘Disconnected Loneliness.’  When I disconnect from myself or from the other or from God then I experience a different kind of loneliness.  When the other disconnects from me (think: shuns me or ignores me for example) then I experience a different type of loneliness.  Consider that one of the greatest harms we can inflict upon another is to put the other in ‘solitary confinement.’ 

Each of these types of loneliness offers me a gift.  The gift is ‘solitude.’  I have a number of ‘role models’ that help me transform these two types of loneliness into ‘solitude.’  The great spiritual and philosophic mystics are role models for me.  I am now thinking of Jesus as one of these role models.

Jesus would purposefully go off to be alone; to be in ‘solitude.’  His disciples were frequently put off by Jesus’ desire/need to be alone.  They did not seem to ‘get it’ (how many of those who espouse to be followers of Jesus today ‘get it’).  Jesus taught by example – How often do I follow Jesus’ example? 

Jesus and all of the prophets before him and after him embraced the loneliness that came with their being rejected (at minimum being misunderstood) – rejections that revealed both types of loneliness AND rejections that revealed a threshold to ‘solitude.’ 

When we experience these types of loneliness we might also become aware of internal, disquieting noise (think: we become aware of our resentments, our guilt, our anger, our self-pity, our blaming).  This awareness does not bring comfort or solace – it brings disturbance.  AND yet, if we pay attention to these depleting energies other thresholds will reveal themselves to us.  The Quakers remind us of ‘Ways Opening’.  Consider the ‘Way’ to compassion, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, love (of self and of the other).  These two types of loneliness are, in this sense, gifts and blessings.  How often do I interpret one or both of these as gifts and blessings rather than as ‘burdens,’ if not ‘curses’? 

As I sit here, putting fingers to keys, I am aware of these two types of loneliness that help define who I am.  Even now I am presented with an opportunity – I can choose to embrace the loneliness that depletes me or I can choose to embrace the loneliness that nurtures me.  I pause…  I choose…    

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This morning, Gentle Reader, we will conclude our brief exploration of the three major taproots that nurture and sustain ‘Character.’  Thus far we have briefly explored Knowledge/Knowing and Affect; this morning we will briefly explore Behavior

In our culture one of our favorite phrases is ‘This is the Bottom Line!’  Regarding our ‘Character,’ consider that the ‘bottom line’ is Moral Behavior.  I am prefacing ‘behavior’ with the adjective ‘moral’ because I assume (one assumption I own) that a person of ‘Character’ is also a person seeking to be a ‘Moral Person.’ 

It seems to me that Behavior is influenced by three taproots: will, competence, and habit. 

Will enables us to mobilize and focus our moral energy.  It engenders us with the courage and strength to move beyond our ego-centric interest and fears.  It motivates us to enact Moral Behavior; the behavior that our head and heart tells us that moral beings choose to enact. 

Competence directly refers to the skills, talents, abilities, and capacities – the range of behaviors – a moral being needs in order to ‘be moral.’  Consider that a person of moral ‘Character’ is well served by listening a certain way, by seeking to understand [self and the other(s)], by being empathetic, and to care for (to serve) those in need.  A person of moral ‘Character’ models the ‘good’ and seeks to help the other(s) develop the capacities needed in order to also choose and enact Moral Behavior

Habit helps.  Aristotle reminded us a few years ago that the combination of what we think and what we choose to enact, over-time, promotes the development of a habit.  Once integrated the habit helps define who we are.  Practice is, therefore, crucial when it comes to habit development.  But we must be careful for ‘practice does not make perfect’ – ‘practice makes permanent!’  Habit is crucial for we do not have the luxury of stopping to consider our every moral action.  Habit enables us to appropriately react when we do not have the time to appropriately respond (firefighters, police officers, and military folks know the difference and importance of both and their training helps them prepare to appropriately respond and appropriately react and to know when to do one or the other). 

And so, gentle reader, we are charged with – and at times challenged with – developing our Will, Competence and Habit so that we might then develop the habits that enable us to choose Moral Behavior

This concludes our brief exploration of the three major taproots – Knowledge/Knowing, Affect, & Behavior – that nurture and sustain our ‘Character.’  If this, or some of this, speaks to you gentle reader I invite you to take more time exploring these taproots – perhaps to embrace them and develop your capacity to live into and out of them. 

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