Circling Out of the Dark

26 05 2016

“Dispiritedness and disappointment are the real perils of life, not some sudden illness or cataclysmic millennium doomsday.” – Lance Armstrong

The spiritual geniuses of the ages and of the everyday simply don’t let despair have the last word, nor do they close their eyes to its pictures or deny the enormity of its facts. They say, “Yes, and …,” and they wake up the next day, and the day after that, to live accordingly.”  — Krista Tippett

 

Whether we are spiritual geniuses or not, we cannot let despair (dispiritedness, disappointment) have the last word, even when we feel like we’ve hit it hard; even when we feel as shattered as if we crashed into a brick wall going ninety miles an hour.

I know this is true – but like many important truths, it is taking me a lifetime to understand.

Harry Chapin, the singer-storyteller, wrote “All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown/The moon rolls through the nighttime, till the daybreak comes around/All my life’s a circle and I can tell you why/The season’s spinnin’ round again the years keep rollin’ by/It seems like I’ve been here before, I can’t remember when/But I got this funny feelin’ that I’ll be back once again…”

I think his image of life as a circle of experiences that keep coming around is an excellent one. I visualize it in varying ways:

     

What each of these images have in common is that they keep circling back. Whether this process plays in an endless loop (like the infinity symbol), keeps circling ever inward toward more precise understanding (like the nautilus), or keeps ascending toward higher levels of experience (like the upward spiral), is a matter of discernment. For today, it is enough for me to remember that repetition is part of the learning process.

Sometimes, I think I should know things already. Things like: my thoughts impact my mood; what others say or think about me is only their perspective, not holy truth; I should never eat two breakfast burritos when one will suffice. And I DO know these things. I just don’t always remember to act in accordance with what I know. The resulting consequence is that I get the opportunity to relearn the basics, each time with added nuances of realization and/or understanding.

I know, that sounds like an awfully positive spin on the “d-words” (dispirited, disappointed, despairing) when the experience of any one of them feels pretty crappy. If I’ve allowed myself to dwell in one or more for any length of time, it gets harder to climb back up into the sunlight of positude. Recently, for example, I became aware of just how dispirited and low I have felt for a while. It had set in and taken hold for so long, I had forgotten that it was not just the natural way people feel. Then I started noticing how often my thoughts flowed along these lines: “My life sucks!” “Why can’t just one thing, one little thing, go right?” “This can’t be what I went through all that for!” Every day, not only were those thoughts there, but so were the clouds of depression and, even, despair.

Then I remembered that I know how to address this: I can change my thinking.  As soon as I started consciously changing my thoughts, things began to change. My whole life hasn’t been dramatically recreated, but it feels a whole lot better. Turns out, re-learning what I already knew feels like a gift. Like sunshine after months of clouds. Like true friendship after long, lonely days. Like meeting my future self and discovering that she’s pretty wise, if she let’s herself be! Today won’t be perfect, and neither will tomorrow. But both days will feel a lot better than any two random days last month, because I will be thinking “I’ve got this.”

And so it is when we circle back around. The everyday spiritual genius hiding within each of us can finally say, “Yes, and…”; can finally allow our inner resources (as opposed to our feared deficits or perceived brokenness) to choose our way forward. Suddenly, we’re circling out of that “D”arkness, into the light of a new day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Rainbow Cow

19 05 2016

“The rainbow you see is different than the rainbow visible to all other observers, because an entirely different set of drops refracts and reflects the light in alignment for each observer’s eyes. The falling drops are only in position to perform this function for that very moment when they pass through that single ray of light. They continue to fall away, and other drops pass in place to refract and reflect light again. Falling rain suspends the rainbow in the sky for the short time that the relationship of sun, rain, and observer are aligned for the transformation to happen and thus for this creative phenomenon to exist.  –Kyna Leski The Storm of Creativity

There are days when the whole world feels gray and close. Days when there seems to be precious little breathing space, and sunshine feels like a distant memory (even if it shone only yesterday). It was on one such day that, discouraged and disheartened, I stopped by a friend’s house for a glass of wine and a little companionship. When I arrived, sitting on the island in her kitchen was a coloring book page which had been carefully removed from the book. The pre-printed picture was the outline of a happy cow standing in a flower-strewn meadow. The cow had been colored, painstakingly, with thin-line markers in a rainbow pattern (heavy on green and orange sections).

As my friend poured me a generous helping of cabernet, I picked up the colored page and said, “Wow! Someone has been busy!”

At that moment, my friend’s five-year-old daughter Kate walked into the room, intent on some mission of her own. As she passed me she said, “I drew that for you,” and continued through the room and out the door on the other side.

“Thank you, peanut,” I called to her retreating back.

The rainbow cow picture now hangs on my refrigerator, and I thought of it immediately as I read the passage (quoted above) from Kyna Leski’s book on creativity. First, it struck me that every rainbow exists as a function of a particular observer being in that particular place at that particular moment. Leski asserts that this means every rainbow we observe is different from the same rainbow seen by someone else. I had thought that Kate’s rainbow cow was a little strange because of the preponderance of green and orange, but now I wonder if it might not be a reflection of Kate’s observational experience. Or it may be that, in translating her experience through her own artistic vision, a rainbow come alive in cowhide would naturally seem to be shaded in such a way. In any case, the one thing I am certain of is that only Kate would have produced this particular rainbow cow. We all know what rainbows look like, yet every one of us would express that collective understanding differently, due to our own alignment.

As I thought more about the passage from Leski’s book, I cast my mind back to the night Kate gave me the cow drawing. I remember sipping my wine and chatting about the day. Kate and her little sister, Anne, periodically interrupted the adult conversation with giggles or tears; there were hugs and tickles. Within me a change took place: I began to view the gray, sunless day through new eyes. From this new perspective, the hours appeared less uniform in their gray-ness. There had been bright spots and hopeful signs, which I had missed or dismissed before. I realized that a shift in perspective could completely change my view, and in turn could completely shift my experience. More importantly, I saw that such a shift was entirely within my own power. Take a step in any direction (including a mental step or shift) and it is possible to have a clearer, brighter, or simply different, view of things.

Leski goes on to say “the relationship of sun, rain, and observer are aligned for the transformation to happen”. In the margins of my book I wrote, “relationship makes transformation possible”. Certainly, on the night I received Kate’s rainbow cow drawing, relationship offered me that possibility – the opportunity to create a new mind-set as I looked at my day from a different angle. Being with people I loved, held in their positive regard and hospitality, I was able to feel myself renewed and the day/my world view transformed toward the positive. How many times in my life has it been true that relationship has made transformation possible? There are countless examples, from small ones (transforming a momentary mood from gray to sunny) to significant and memorable ones (transforming an unengaged life into a vibrantly engaged one).

In light of these ruminations, glancing at my refrigerator has become an opportunity to check in with myself. First, I remember that I am loved – and usually even the grayest of clouds lightens with that thought. Second, Kate’s rainbow cow reminds me that, not only is my vision of the world unique to me, but it is within my power to shift that unique vision when it isn’t serving me well. Third, it reminds me that relationship (with earth, others, Creator) makes transformation possible. This last may be most important of all if it serves as an impetus to allow my energies to flow both outward and inward. That exchange of energy is where transformation becomes possible. That exchange of energy is how rainbows, and rainbow cows, are made.





Forgiving The Past

12 05 2016

Last weekend, I went to a bar to hear a phenomenal blues musician named Dylan Doyle. As it happens, I went to college with Dylan’s father, so the event became a mini-reunion of college friends. I hadn’t seen any of these friends for thirty years, a fact that once would have filled me with dread.

For much of my life, I carried a memory of the past that was highly selective and very tenacious. It included all of my embarrassing moments, the times I behaved badly, the ways I hurt people, and every instance in which I completely misread the situation. Sure I remembered the good times, but those memories focused on the other people involved – I was clear about who they seemed to be and completely uncertain of who I had been. This lopsided habit of memory led me to avoid reunions with high school or college friends because I was always tongue-tied in the face of the strong possibility that I had been insensitive, lacking in self-awareness, and immature “back in the day”.

Then, a few years ago I had a realization: of course I was insensitive, lacking in self-awareness and immature. Duh – late adolescence is known for these qualities. After a whole career spent working with college students I finally thought to apply what I knew about them to myself at that age: college students can be wonderful and energetic, on fire with hope and promise AND they can be arrogant jerks. All rolled up in one fresh-faced human package. Furthermore, it occurred to me that my college friends had their less-than-attractive moments as well. I had been forgiving of these, or overlooked them, or had been so self-focused I’d missed them altogether. The end result being that I had loved them anyway. And perhaps (I could finally accept) they had loved imperfect me as well.

These realizations have led me to reconsider my habit of holding on to the past the way an abusive school teacher once held a paddle – always ready to use it “instructively”. I can’t change the past: who I was or how I behaved at any given moment remains what it was. But there is limited learning that comes from beating myself up with that moment – whether twenty years or twenty minutes ago. Now I try to learn what I can from daily reflection, then let go. Forgiving the past – which is really forgiving myself for my past – allows me greater freedom to act in my life today; I am more open and adventurous, less fearful.

As a result, I’ve been able to enjoy a number of reunions in recent years. Mostly, they’ve been lovely. Some have been one time get-togethers, others have led to rekindled, active friendships. I’ve noticed that the ones that haven’t gone as well have included a component of holding on to the past – one or both of us have failed to reach a place of forgiveness, or we are yearning for something that the other represented to us in the past. These troubled reunions have cemented my belief in the importance of forgiving the past – and have served as a map to the spots in my own heart where there is resistance to it.

Which brings me back to last weekend. What fun it was to gather with these old friends! I rediscovered what attracted me to them all those years ago: they are smart and funny, thoughtful and talented, easy to be with. Once we forgive the past, reunions don’t have to be about the past, they can be focused on the present. I was able to enjoy the moment we were having – basking in the amazing musicianship of Dylan Doyle and the unencumbered pleasure of good company.

 

 

 

 





Changing Climates

5 05 2016

“The world has been abnormal for so long that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to live in a peaceful and reasonable climate. If there is to be any peace or reason, we have to create it in our own hearts and homes.” —Madeleine L’Engle, A Swiftly Tilting Planet

I don’t remember when I first read A Swiftly Tilting Planet. As with so many of the books that have stayed with me, what I can remember is the feeling of my mind expanding as I flew through the pages. So much happens in the story line that I wouldn’t attempt a synopsis of the book here. However, in the story the world is on the brink of nuclear annihilation. In this tense and terrifying moment, Meg (our heroine) learns that everything is connected. Everything is connected. Therefore, it matters what she does – even if it is something so seemingly insignificant as what she allows to live within her own heart.

I copied down the quote, above, and have kept it easily to hand for many years. It is said by Meg’s father to remind his family that, in the fateful hour in which they find themselves, they each have something to contribute to the good. I have used the quote, over the years, to remind myself that creating peace and reason in my own heart is crucial to finding it in the world beyond me.

Peaceful and reasonable. These are qualities I strive for, values (peace and reason) I hold deeply. But we humans don’t start there – we get there through intention and effort. And not by overvaluing our intellectual selves at the expense of our emotional selves. We have emotions; we feel things deeply because if we did not, we would always maintain the status quo. Growth – whether on a personal or global scale – only happens with the emotional impetus to change.

However, if we operate only at the feeling stage, we spend our energies expressing but not creating. Don’t misunderstand me: expression of our emotions is a powerful thing – and when we’re coming to terms with hurtful experiences or attempting to find/use our voices despite repression, suppression, or oppression it is an absolutely necessary thing.

And then what?

I’ve watched the news throughout this political season with interest and horror. All my life, I’ve believed many of the things Bernie Sanders stands for, and found abhorrent most of what Donald Trump espouses. But as I see shouting matches devolving into violence and entrenchment, I am reminded that we are living in an abnormal climate. How am I, one person, supposed to have an effect on that?

And then I remember that I do and I can have an effect on it – because everything is connected. Madeleine L’Engle was the first to introduce me to quantum theory, but she certainly wasn’t the last. In college theology courses, I studied Teilhard de Chardin and first learned about the concept of the noosphere. And in recent decades, science has been proving, with break-through after break-through, that what I think and feel does, indeed, have an impact that reaches far beyond my own self.

With that in mind, you will not see me throwing my hands up in an act of surrender. You will not hear me declaring that I give up – or that if things don’t go the way I want them to I will wash my hands of responsibility and leave it for others to take the blame. But neither will you see me engaging in shouting or shoving matches. My most intense struggles will be internal – attempting to quiet my agitation long enough to experience a peaceful heart and a reasonable mind. Whenever I can reach that place internally, I will do my best to project it outward. Because of all the things I think I know, the one I believe with every fiber of my being is that everything is connected. EveryONE is connected.