Posts Tagged ‘thriving’

This morning my wife corrected me, and she encouraged me to think differently. “Think less about yourself,” she said.

Perfectly fine.  She was correct. I’m too self-focused.

Yesterday on the phone my youngest daughter gave me some help by referring me to three good Ted’s talks. I listened to them and learned a lot.

Today I spent much of my day in silence. Not typical. It’s because I’m sick. It happens.

In the afternoon I sat in my backyard and listened with my eyes to the sun, then the trees and then I saw a hummingbird eat. A blur, a hard stop, a hover, a sip — gone!

I also spent some time silencing my mind. That seldom happens.

The following thoughts come to mind.

Which one speaks to you?

………..

To the watching ear the sun speaks of consistency; the trees speak of provisionality; the birds speak of dependency.

We need other’s ears to help us understand what we ourselves are saying.

We have trouble hearing because we won’t stop whispering — in our own ear.

We can hear without ears and speak without a tongue.

God gave us a powerful inner ear of empathy, and he gave us a powerful way to use it —  compassion.

The brain keeps hearing after the body stops speaking.

Silence heals the listening eye.

Nerves have loud voices; they need to shut up!

Nobody can keep a secret; what isn’t said is spoken by eyes, signed by muscles, articulated by hands.

Mindfulness has a gentle ear.

The bullseye of life — want to hit it? Don’t aim at me!

The bullseye is us! Shoot us!

“That they may all be one!” the wise one, Jesus, prayed, so there you go. He set up the goal of life, the ultimate movement and goal of history. The target is oneness!

My daughter called me this morning when I was still in bed. Her voice traveled out of the holes in the bottom of my mobile phone, hit the sheet, and bumped over my pillow to me: “How are you, dad?” — my ear said to me — from her.

What is precious in a life,  despite the fact that we have overused the word precious?

The small, microphone voice of my daughter in my ears is precious because it is her, her being connected to me, us there for each other, neither one alone.

The exact, perfect center point of all existence lies within us being together.

Exquisite — those not-doing moments, those being-moments — someone else’s existence allowed to come within ours. It has been said by a wise one, Paul “In him [God] we live and move and have our being.” Therefore, there really is no being alone! It’s impossible. Life is inside of another. All life moves within God!

My life isn’t me, or you. It’s us. Your life isn’t you, it’s us. Being is always plural. We go along together or not at all. If you could somehow get out of the divine presence and be alone, you wouldn’t exist.

I have long lived like the crux of my consciousness and my experience was me as an individual, my eyes, my actions, my choices, what makes me stand up and stand out. Silly! It was always all of us. Essential being is a pile of us. We were made to live like kittens drooped and draped and sprawled on each other sleeping and playing and eating together. Consciousness, being, life — it’s a pile of kittens; it’s a pile of presences.

I texted a friend yesterday and asked, “How are you doing?”

She texted back that she has been struggling with her sense of “worth on a deep emotional level.”

“Let’s call and talk on the phone tomorrow,” I said, “We can talk about our it.” So we arranged for the divine moment. And when we talked — bam — we came aware that we live in God for each other, two presences bonded in him with the glue of shared struggle, as it was always meant to be.

Being an individual is good. I love autonomy. My doing is good, but you’ll notice every doing hinges on being, and being requires beings, and good requires being present to each other. If I linger near you, and you listen to me, if I absorb bits of you, and you breath in what I feel, the mystery of our separated being crosses time and space and merges. It’s magic, the fusion. It’s supreme, matchless, nonpareil — when we apprehend the quintessential us and we!

It’s the “when two or more are gathered in my name I’m there.” Two creates a magnetic, drawing spiritual gathering, and three can conjure a whole community of oneness. This is the virtuosic movement of history that was always meant to be — a unified us.

Last night in the same room with my wife, I was writing, she was reading, breathing the same air. It was perfect being!

I “liked” a friend’s picture yesterday on Facebook. A “like” is a validation of existence. The social scientists say social media may raise our anxiety levels, looking for likes, addiction to likes, superficial social media likes, jarring hits of pseudo affirmation, or not, but this popular activity tells us a bit about who we are. We are ones with the need to be liked, to be known, loved, to have another person validate our being, to connect. That why 2 billion people use Facebook.

We always have and always will need each other’s validation of being in some form in order to be more aware that we are a presence.

I stopped on my walk last night to talk to a neighbor. This is better than Facebook. We did some lingering, listening, absorbing, merging. He talked about losing his wife last year, a tragic accident, how he has struggled to go on. We hugged three times before we left each other — and I wouldn’t say that before this we were close — but standing on his driveway in the dark we bonded over shared pain.

A moment together, a call, a text, a like, a love, a hand up to greet, a hand on a shoulder, a hand out to help — that is being. You and I can do nothing better with the time and space we have on this huge, distance-making planet than to be safely and warmly present to each other.

Today I saw happened to be walking by the house of an old friend in my neighborhood as he drove up. I waited for him to get out of his truck. We greeted, then chatted about the landscaping remodel of his front yard, now half finished.

I brought it up, his wife, acknowledged his wife, what had happened last year, how she was tragically killed in an accident. He talked about her, how he is working at surviving, going to groups, going on, doing the landscaping she had wanted. We hugged — three times. We were present to each other. He mentioned the need for a new hairdresser. I gave him the name of my friend who cuts hair in a shop and told him, “This guy has this awesome personality and doesn’t charge too much. You’ll love him.” Then I texted him the phone number.

After I left and returned home, he texted me.

“Thanks for stopping by and for the hair contact. Pretty much available to stop and talk anytime (if no appts or nap pending)? Great to see you.”

What is precious? Presence. Another person’s presence — that is of the highest value. Being with, being near, being proximate — this is superlative! Stopping to talk, standing within another’s magical realm — this is nonpareil! Lingering, listening, absorbing, merging with another being — it is always a mysterious encounter with a stunningly significant life form. Such moments are exquisite! Not doing, being, not doing business, but letting someone else’s state of being be our business — transcendent!

You and I can do nothing better with our time and then be present with each other.

Theology and pain — there much to process here. Let’s put aside the questions of causality for the moment and consider our own reactions to pain. Let’s take a look at our side of it.

Paul, the great spiritual thinker, the consummate church founder, the exquisite theologian himself once wrote, and he wrote in the Bible, for God sake:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.”

2 Corinthians 1:8

Everybody can be broken, including the great ones. Paul broke. The pressure was beyond his ability to bear. Paul was human. He was like the rest of us.

Pressure, physical pain, emotional pain or relational difficulty is always rough to take. It creates fear in us, sometimes it creates the fear that a time will come when we may think and feel: “I am broken and in pain beyond what I can endure. I can’t take it anymore.” We can all say or imagine saying that kind of thing if we arrive at a point where our soul is very eroded, where our spirit feels completely broken. I’ve been there several times in life. Most others too. But one of the promises of scripture is that God will save the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:17-20

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;

    he delivers them from all their troubles.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted

    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

The righteous person may have many troubles,

    but the Lord delivers him from them all;

he protects all his bones,

    not one of them will be broken.

What does that mean, “saves,” and “delivers”? It might mean many things? It could mean solutions, it could mean healing, or even mean strength to endure when there is no physical or emotional or relational healing. It might mean heaven. I would think it is case specific, but for all believers an ultimate saving and delivering will be heaven.

But what if we aren’t delivered in the here and now, at least not in the way we want? How are we to think about lasting hardship and pain? Well, we need to acknowledge that lasting pain is not necessarily ennobling. It doesn’t always get better or make everything eventually intrinsically better. Pain isn’t something we should minimize or deny the terribleness of. Paul didn’t; Paul despaired. Jesus didn’t minimize his pain. In great spiritual and psychological pain, Jesus wept.

But lately, I have noticed that my pain — at times — has clarified my mind, helping me to see what’s important, what’s not, helping me to the correct reading of others — adding empathy and understanding of their pain — and helping me to know what’s true. I have recently had opportunities to speak very truthfully and lovingly about some very complicated issues to some empowered people, and I found that they were able to accept what I said, the truth, in part because it came from a place hacked out in me by pain, a place of gentleness, tenderness and understanding of both my own pain and theirs.

In pain, we may — not always — get some clarity, some proximity to truth. Yes, suffering and broken-heartedness can sometimes leads us to the wrong conclusions, and can cause us to be angry, pessimistic or negative or inpatient or unkind, but not always. What I am learning is that sometimes pain and difficulty refines us, makes us more mature, give us a perspective, may clarify what’s of value and what’s not and may give us fresh, helpful language to talk about old experiences and ideas.

Sometimes our pain helps us take the mash of life and ferment it, distill it, and produce some good, clear, strong stuff. Pain, like a still used to make strong whiskey, may drip best things out of the bottom of heat and loss.

And when it does, we must also say that this too may be from God. This is sometimes part of God’s saving and delivering. He saves and delivers us and our neighbors not from pain, but from untruth.

Lately I’ve had to let go of some things, things in the past, and I’ve been thinking about how we do this.

My mom passed away a few years ago so I had to let go of my mom. My oldest daughter recently moved out of the house to a perfect place for her, so I needed to let go of her. My youngest daughter got married a year ago and so there was a new letting go of her and also an including of my new son-in-law.

It’s not that I’m not still connected to the girls anymore, or even my mom, but that I’m okay with these relationships being different. I think what helps me is to realize that everything changes over time, nothing stays the same, relationships morph with the different stages of life and that the best thing to do is to accept that, and to flow with that.

I find the need for this in other areas of my life too. This year I let go of my career; I let go of the bigger house — we sold it — I let go of being a public figure. I’ve even let go of having a normal routine because of some chronic pain.

I think that moving forward in a healthy way involves simply being realistic. We have to make friends with new realities. It isn’t like it was. It’s different. And wishing it were back to what it was tends to forget the things that we didn’t like about the way it was. Reality is reality. Not accepting changes increases pain. Flowing with what is real is the only sane and safe way to proceed.

All this relates to old conflicts, old hurts, old broken relationships too. It’s not like we just get over old relational drama, but we find different places to put it. We put it in perspective. We put it in more gentle places of non-judgment. And by doing so we heal, realize that we’re going to be okay, realize how much we have learned from our mistakes — and from the mistakes of others.

Bob Dylan is now passé; he’s part of history, but his good lines and honest truths aren’t. The “times — they are [still] a changin’.” Wise ones change with them.

There is a sense of “moving on“ for all of us, and a healthy perspective of “gettin’ on down the road.” But I’ve certainly realized that I never move on without bringing everything from the past with me. Really, it all comes along, but the thing is how do I pack it to go with us on the ride? I’m thinking I pack it, we pack it, and we repack it gently. I’m thinking that it works best if we are willing to rearrange our views of the past as needed in light of new information and new realities, and that we always need to keep learning from the past because the past is such an excellent teacher, and the past just keeps on giving; its lessons are ever-giving, like a good orange tree.

Finally, there’s so much present and future still to live, to motivate us, to invest in that this best becomes our healthy focus. Really, moving on means embracing the possibilities with in the present and future in an excited, energized, hopeful way. Letting go means engaging the present, trained by the past, but energized by the next great adventure.

I’m currently finishing my third novel. How? Why? Because I quit doing a bunch of stuff that was taking up all my time, and I’ve started doing something that’s taking up all my heart. It is something that’s always been mine to do. But to do it I had it stop doing a bunch of other things.

Moving on means not being stuck, afraid of change, overly atavistic, traditional, all status quo and old school, predictable and safe. Moving on means being adventurous, free, modern, hip, avant-garde, steezy, cool and with it.

So get over it — by getting with it!

This weekend one of my brother’s asked me an interesting question, “How do you think pain was handled in the family we grew up in?”

Fascinating!

After we threw this around for 45 minutes — my brother, his wife, my daughter, me — I can note a couple of things.

Siblings don’t grow up in the same family.

Each child has a unique experience of their family, based on the child’s own personality, based on what is going on in the family during the most vulnerable years, based on difference in how the parents relate to the children.

I had wonderful parents. They were loving, godly, present, good. But I didn’t always get what I needed when it came to processing pain. I needed more processing than I got. I needed for us to sit down and talk about the pain, the psychological pain, particularly how we experiencing it, what it was doing to us, how we felt about it. I think that I needed this because I am a very verbal processor and because I am sensitive to emotions. I am a thinker, but I am also a feeler.

When my mom got breast cancer, I was 15 or 16 years old. I remember sitting by her bed, in her bedroom, holding her hand, worrying about her — mom and I alone in a dark room. I never remember any helpful conversations about her cancer, with my dad, with her or with my brothers. My mom had a mastectomy. My dad worked, my brothers and I went to school, my mom recovered. We we’re a product of our times. We were workers, doers, not emotional processors, but even if we had wanted to talk, I would say that we didn’t even have the language we needed to talk about all this.

Only later in life did my mom tell me how emotionally painful the surgery was for her, how she felt horribly disfigured by it, how she suffered over that through the years. Only later in life did I realize how alone she was in that, and how alone I was during those years. My mom has always been a classy woman, always beautifully dressed, very conscious of her appearance, but she became a cancer survivor, a mastectomy survivor — with a hidden wound —  and her experience shaped my experience.

After finishing my undergrad, I fell in love with Linda, the woman I married, the love of my life. We started off talking, and we kept on talking. We talked, and talked and talked, about everything, always —  we still do. Talking is at the core of our relationship. We process life, it’s events, our emotions, our two daughter’s emotions with talk. Perhaps we over-process things, but talk, talk, talk — we go for the talking cure.

My kids aren’t perfect. They too didn’t get everything they needed from the family my wife and I created. Looking back, even with our penchant toward processing, some things in the family didn’t get adequately processed. At times, we simply didn’t know what the girls were feeling, or thinking or what they needed.

I love the family I grew up in. My parents are beautiful people. They absolutely did the best they could.  I love the family I created for myself. We too did the best we could. I come from good stock. Throughout my extended family, we have handled pain well enough to stay together, to have successful lives, to avoid addiction, to avoid separation. But I would say this, from my own, limited, needy perspective.

People need to talk.

More than we even know.

Talking helps.

Listening helps.

Talking and listening — this helps relieve pain.

We should all keep looking down, and up and out, and observing fastidiously the world we live in. We should see what is there, not what we want to be there or think is there.

Dealing in reality is so much better than dealing in comfortable fictions, fables, want-to-be resurrances, imagined interpretations, what we hope is true.

Reality, life as it is is fun, and you can learn a lot from it.

I just finished a biography of William Smith 1769-1839), the father of modern geology. What a hoot! The guy was high on what was low, the rocks, fossils and strata that were below his feet in Industrialized England.

Coal and canals to carry it gave him a life work, and it granted him access to the geological underworld and he went down into the digs and mines with gusto and figured it out.

Here is what he came up with, in his own words.

Fossil Shells had long been known amongst the curious, collected with care, and preserved in their cabinets, along with other rarities of nature, without any apparent use. That to which I have applied them is new, and my attention was first drawn to them, by a previous discovery of regularity in the direction and dip of the various Strata in the hills around Bath; for it was the nice distinction which those similar rocks required, which led me to the discovery of organic remains peculiar to each Stratum.”

This was the finding that became known as Smith’s Principle of Faunal Succession. Today it appears in geology textbooks the world over. The fossils and the layers they appear in give us a chronology for the millions of years it took for earth to come to it’s present geological state.

At the time, Christians were stuck with Archbishop  Ussher’s theory that the earth began in 4004 BC and was only about 6,000 years old. That was wrong. The Bible never said that. The Bible never gave us a chronology  for creation’s timeline. It told us that God did it; it didn’t tell how. And yet, believe it or not, there are still a few Christians who hold on to the idea that the earth is 6,000 years. There are tons of evidence, layers and layers of evidence to the contrary. All the evidence is to the contrary. God took a long time to make the universe and the earth. And afterwards, he didn’t create the appearance of age, (why would he traffic in smoke and mirrors) and it was aged.

I see this long, changing process of geology as giving God even more glory than a short and quick, wam and slam and bam creation. I could go on about this, but I won’t, because I just want to point out that there is a simple lesson here and it is very scriptural. “Consider the ant.”  

In other words, open  your eyes. See what is. Don’t get stuck in old mind-sets that don’t make sense, that lack common sense, that don’t jive with reality. Use you eyes, observe nature,  be the wisdom sage scholar the Bible recommends you be, commited  to truth, to empiricism, to observation and to reality — the best you can — and attempt to unbiasedly understand what you see.

Amen!

Upward!

I’ve seen it in the rainforest north of Juneau, where the fluffy moss puffs up like thick cat fur on the rotting logs, growing toward the sun, and I’ve seen it in Sequoia where the dark, thick redwoods just keep flinging their massive trunks upward. I love how the great ancient forests all leap upwards.

A raft of our greatest artists noted this — Van Gogh, Burchfield, Carr, Chagall.

In my office, a Van Gogh — one of his Olive trees — churns, surges and tendrils up above my desk. Likewise, the Northern symbolist Charles Burchfield paid attention to such movement with his cathedral forests, where all the branches and leaves coil and curl skyward in church-window like arches — the energy of up, the vibrating sky, as in  September Wind and Rain. Chagall took this tack too, and his donkeys, his angels, his lovers all leave the ground to float and drift in the sky, or wherever, as in Over the Town or I and The Village

Emily Carr, the Canadian arboreal savant saw it too. I like how with Emily her sacred trees are all rushing upward, for instance her Among the Firs and Sombreness Sunlight.

Carr respects the trees; her’s twirl and whorl and shout and shoot to the sky. She graces them with dark rich blues and greens — yellows and oranges and whites peaking through them — black trunk and limb pushing heavenward through fire.

I love how Emily’s paint, her broad brush strokes move up, the sweeping branches, the upsweeping skies, except for this — those gorgeous lateral slashes of paint and wind rushing through her trees. Burchfield did this too in Oncoming Spring.

This is the motion of life. Life is heliotropic — with the occasional slash —  it is ascendant, for me it is praise.

I like it best when they shut off the motor.

It is quiet and you can hear them breathing — a deep, low, misty exhale, coming from voluminous spaces within.

I especially like how their dorsal fin, that tall black triangle, comes out of the water first, then the slick, wet backs, the rolling to the side, a fin flopping, the salty water mounding on the surface in front, the smooth wave surging behind them, flukes showing as they submerge again.

The water in the Salish Sea was smooth and glassy that afternoon. We motored occasionally to keep up with the whales, a Canadian vessel opposite us, running in tandem with us, two other small boats, all of us keeping a respectful distance, all of us with the Orcas at center focus.

One of the juveniles rolled on its back near our boat, fins up and flapping — playful perhaps — then it slurped below the surface again.

For a few moments that sunny warm fall afternoon we were with them in the Haro Striaght of the Salish Sea — not with them as in we-were-in the pod — but with them as in living on the same planet, as in traveling together, as in not harming each other, as in being delighted with seeing them, as in appreciating them, as in respecting them.

I wish for more of this, this kind of podding-up with the creation, this sort of fluking-down, flipping-up, surging-on-together and especially the calm, quiet sitting with each other. And I like what it wasn’t, speciesism, killing, eating; and yes, perhaps it was a bit of exploitation, but not overly.

I like a large scoop of awe, a fair amount of reverence, a special blend of camaraderie — the kind that allows everybody to keep floating along calmly, the kind that keeps us all back just the right distance from each other’s teeth.

It’s interesting what we make of the living creatures that inhabit the planet with us, the finches, alligator lizards, the daddy longlegs, pandas, whales, each other. As I sit in my condo on San Juan Island on a rainy day, here in the great American Northwest, I find myself looking at jumping Orcas on a colored whale watching tour brochure.

What? This is what it has come to for us and the whale, chasing them around in motor boats?

Consider the great Megaptera — the hump backed whales of the oceans with their forty ton bodies and fifteen foot wing-fins, those lumpy, bumpy, barnacled behemoths who swim through the sea filtering their food and who occasionally hurtle themselves from the waters in great, beautiful bulking arcs.

They are great ones; they are the mighty ones among us.

But instead of honoring the whale’s place, we have instead spotted, hunted, chased, killed, captured, specced and displayed them so that we can gawk over them, put them in marine parks, post them on Facebook and brag back home. Yesterday at the Whale Museum I saw a harpoon tip. It had the distinct look look of the history of cruelty to me.

Even today, we think of whales as being among a kind of ecotouristic cast of natural entertainers — something like Yosemite park deer, Yellowstone buffalo or San Diego zoo elephants. To us the whales are a vacation business, a natural road show, at best a science project. To many of us they have become merely logo, post card, poster or cute emoji on our phones.

But the whales are much more than that. Whales are not nature’s burlesque show for vacationers, the world’s lab experiment for scientists. The Megaptera are our mysticetes — the great ones who live by filtering the small ones. They are the gentle kings of the sea, wave-masters of wide waters, a society, fellow creature, communicants, like us — just different. They breathe air through lungs, are warm-blooded, give birth to young who drink milk, they have hair, they communicate with each other.

Consider the Odontoceti, the gorgeous black and white whales with shiny skin. They are best known to us for their infamous teeth and for stories of their killing prowess. We think of what we have seen of them on YouTube videos, killing their trainers, hunting down Tiger sharks or dragging flopping sea lions off the beach.

But perhaps here too we mistake them. Whales don’t have egos, hatreds or evil intentions. They never kill themselves, or wage massive wars — none of the animals do — like we do. They mainly seek food and shelter and companionship.

I want a different relationship with the creatures than perhaps I’ve had. I want to better preserve their dignity, to not harass them, to enjoy them, to nurture them. Yes, there is a food chain; and yes, there is sometimes the need for protection from each other, but yes there is yet the potential for more respect.

The other day one of the therapists in my office asked me to remove a daddy longlegs from the corner. A widespread myth holds that daddy longlegs, also known as granddaddy longlegs or harvestmen, are the most venomous spiders in the world. It has been rumored that we are only safe from their bite because their fangs are too small and weak to break through our skin. Both these things have been proven to be false.

As for the grandaddy we found in our office, I carefully caught it in a paper cup and released it unharmed into our flower garden. For just a moment, I was the great bulking, powerful creature being gentle with the small, fragile vulnerable creature. I liked myself like that, on common ground with the spider, not caught in fear and myth, inhabiting the same planet, crossing paths, both hoping for safety, in contact for a moment, not harming each other, then going our separate ways.