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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Look to the Sky

Listen to the Spirit

Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.”
Henry David Thoreau

I'm going off the grid for the rest of this week. I'll be at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC recharging my batteries. Hopefully, when I return, you will be the beneficiaries of whatever I soak up from the host of spiritual teachers there.

For now, however, I am greatly distracted by the pair of smallish hawks, perhaps newly fledged nestlings, who are working the oaks around me. I love the way the whole ecosystem wakes up when their shrill whistle screes through the air. All the small birds begin the chorus of alarm; the crows squawk and yell, squirrels run for cover, and mockingbirds dive-bomb and peck them. The hawks duck and dodge, but they do not attack back, which I find interesting. The hawks seem too focused on their goal of finding easy breakfast amid the bird and squirrel nests in these trees to bother with pesky mockingbirds. Even Liza becomes alert when she hears the ruckus. She looks at me with a question in her eyes that asks, “What's going on?” Of course, I explain.

I realize that being able to observe the lifestyle of hawks is a luxury. I'm not a scientist; hawk research is not my job. It is simply my passion. Don't ask me why. Most people resent their presence in the same way they resent the presence of coyotes in this urban neighborhood. I am heartened by the idea that wild things live here, and have adapted to life in the city. What choice do they have? Humans have encroached on every square inch of their habitat—so now they're encroaching our ours. Fair enough.

I know you're busy, but I hope you have the time to listen to the birds. Thoreau wrote in Walden, “It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” It's a good question. The greatest assets of life are not kept in banks, but in the human spirit. And that spirit is shared by all God's creatures. Listen in and be blessed. See you in a few days.

                                                                In the Spirit,

Monday, July 9, 2018


Perks of Aging

As much as I loathe this aging thing, I'm beginning to recognize that I'm now a healthier person in terms of self-worth and knowing who I am and where I fit in the world. That's been a good trade-off for the wrinkles.”
Patty Duke

I'm sure you've heard old people say, “I'm still twenty-five inside.” There is a strange paradox that happens as we grow older—our bodies age, but our minds do not, except in good ways. I often think, “Gosh, I wish I had known this at twenty; I could have saved myself a lot of pain and suffering.” But, that's just the thing, isn't it? It takes all that pain and suffering to learn what you know now. What an unfortunate truth!

I'm still surprised when I look in the mirror and see an old woman staring back at me. “Who is that?” I think. “She looks like my mother!” But when someone asks me if I would like to be thirty again, my response is always, “Yes, if I could be thirty and know what I know now.” Aging has its perks. As Patty Duke said, we become more comfortable with who we are and finally have an inkling of where we fit in the world. But it's more than that. When we are young, we are so identified with, and anguished about, our physical appearance—our weight, our skin, our white teeth. Not surprising since, at this stage, we have the challenge of making a love-match. We like to think we've risen above animal preening behavior—think peacock, here—but we haven't. We still spend far too much time and money trying to make ourselves attractive. As we age, we are forced to give up our attempts be the prettiest/handsomest person in the room, so we move a little deeper.

By middle-age, we are more concerned about relationship and connection. I don't know about you, but at this stage, I made a lifetime's worth of mistakes. I did everything wrong that I possibly could. Many of us come away from mid-life battered and disillusioned, but wiser by far. When we enter into relationship afterward, it is more authentic and less idealistic. We redefine intimacy and move it closer to the heart. Our relationships are deeper and more satisfying.

By the time we reach our sixties, assuming we have done our spiritual/psychological work, we lose our egocentric leanings, and move to a far more egalitarian, compassionate, and tolerant frame of mind. By then, we've made every possible mistake, so we're less judgmental of ourselves and others; we begin to identify with and actually appreciate our flaws. We're happier, because we live close to our soul. Wrinkles, while unattractive, are not of great concern.

The key to achieving happiness and peace of mind in old age is doing that psychological work along the way. Shifting away from blaming and shaming, and toward choices made, consequences experienced, lessons learned. This is my life, and I am responsible for my choices. It's okay to screw-up and do stupid stuff—in fact, it's absolutely expected. But the ability to take responsibility for our actions and learn from them will make us less likely to screw-up in the same way again. It's a learning process. It's life's work, and it's incredibly fulfilling. Whether you're young, or middle-aged, or old, life is a blessing every single day. Seize this moment.

                                                           In the Spirit,

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Inmost Parts

Soul Talk

You are not the person who exists in the glare of the spotlight but the one residing in the deepest hidden recesses of your heart.”
John Pavlovitz

Carl Jung dubbed the part of us residing in the spotlight the “persona.” We can think of it as our public self—the one we are usually identified with. When someone asks us to tell them about ourselves, this is usually where we go. I'm a woman/man, followed by a string of descriptors of what we do in the world—teacher, architect, doctor, social worker, etc. I'm a mother/father of three, I belong to such and such church, and so on. This is a simple and obvious way of describing ourselves to strangers and social acquaintances. However, far too many of us stop here. We never get beyond the persona.

It's kind of like identifying with our skin—our surface layer. The skin is very important—the body's largest organ—and our face in particular is what we think of when we self identify. But besides the skin, there's a lot going on to make us who we are. We have lungs, heart, intestines, pancreas, kidneys; we have a brain and a circulatory system. There are a million processes going on at any given time inside our bodies, inside our cells, inside our nervous systems. We don't identify with them unless they get sick—then we might think of ourselves according to a diagnosis—heart patient, cancer patient, etc.

But there's another us. It is the collective of all these parts—it is the wholeness of our body/mind. We hold within it all the thoughts and feelings, all the secret motivations and judgments, all our deepest desires. It's okay not to share these all the time. That would be too much information for most casual acquaintances. But it's critically important that we, ourselves, know them. That we are well versed in our inmost parts. That we don't really believe that we are simply what we do. Because, in that deepest recess lives the soul—our true Self. To fail to be related to our soul is to be as empty as someone who is only made of skin. To be unable, or unwilling, to communicate from and with our soul is to be a shell of a human being. To be made “in the image of God” means to live in and through the soul. It is the difference between swimming in the ocean and wading in a creek.

If you feel like there is something more, something calling you, that something is your very own soul. It's calling you to be fully human. It has always been there waiting for the rest of you to show up. Give it a listen today.

                                                        In the Spirit,

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Frame the Journey

Human Spirit

Frame the spiritual journey as a stark good-vs-evil battle of waring sides long enough and you'll eventually see the Church and those around you in the same way too. You'll begin to filter the world through the lens of conflict. Everything becomes a threat to the family; everyone becomes a potential enemy. Fear becomes the engine that drives the whole thing. When this happens, your default response to people who are different or who challenge you can turn from compassion to contempt. You become less like God, and more like the Godfather...”
John Pavlovitz (A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic and Hopeful Spiritual Community)

The spiritual journey is not a battlefield; not even close. We have weaponized religion to hide what is actually fear of the stranger. We have bought into that fear as a means of justifying what is, in reality, racism, xenophobia and misogyny. People of other races and religions are not our enemies unless we make them so. Agnostics and atheists are not the enemy either. Our fear and its offspring, contempt, have been allowed to turn us against one another. It's time for this to stop.

No true religion teaches cruelty. Certainly, Jesus did not condone any of these divisive practices. To use the Christian religion as a weapon to punish and condemn others is simply wrong on every level. If we want to follow Jesus, we must lay down our arms and open up our hearts and become part of a brotherhood and sisterhood of compassionate people. Anything else is a false religion.

There is a big messy world out there in need of people to embrace it with compassion. It's time to leave an-eye-for-an-eye mentality behind, and replace it with a-hand-to-a-hand worldview. We have it in us—for instance, how many of us are glued to the story of the Thai children trapped in a cave? The whole world is praying for those boys and for the Navy Seals and others who are trying to get them out. We know how to do this—how to reach out and help one another regardless of creed or color or nationality. This is what the human spirit is supposed to be. The more we make our frame compassion, the less cruelty there will be in the world.

                                                             In the Spirit,

Friday, July 6, 2018

Open Your Eyes

Listen Hard

Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.”
Anne Sexton

This is a time of intense listening. I went to my gym to walk yesterday because it's so hot right now that walking outside is dangerous. What registered with me as I traipsed around the track, was how many people at the gym were wearing headphones or ear-buds, or were glued to the television screens that line the walls. So, for the rest of the day, I conducted a one-woman survey: what percentage of people that I saw on the street or wherever I went were either reading something on their phones, talking through an earphone to a disembodied person, or were otherwise plugged into media? It was way more than half. Maybe it's because I am old, but it seems like we've forgotten how to be alone with our thoughts.

If we are always plugged in, how can we assess for ourselves how we feel and think about something. If all our information is coming in from without, is there still a me in here processing that information, and am I in touch enough with my gut and my heart to decide for myself how to think and feel? In other words, how many of us are simply parroting what we've heard? How many of us stop to think it through? To feel it through? I wonder.

Right now, I am sitting on my porch and just outside the screen, a red-headed woodpecker is making his way up the side of an oak tree. He stops and pecks at the bark, sometimes finding a bug to eat, then he hops a couple of paces and pecks again. My point is that if I am always plugged into media, I will miss this fabulous bird, and miss the thrill it gives me to see his brilliant red head whacking at bark, and the magical way he can hop vertically up the tree. There's a world out here—I don't want to miss it because I'm scanning shoes on Amazon, or memes on Facebook, or reading the most recent scandal out of Washington. I want to live as me—thinking and feeling for myself and not having social media shape me like a lump of clay.

There's a great line in one of Anne Sexton's poems that says, “Live or die, but don't poison everything.” It think living is better—living in the real world, as your real self. So, “put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.”

                                                             In the Spirit,

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Peace of Mind

Transforming Anger

For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Perhaps too much is written and spoken about anger these days. There are many reasons to feel it, for sure, and from this vantage point, the human world seems to be seething with it. The Taoists recommend that we respond to everything that comes our way with the same spirit; whether it's “good” or “bad” news, and not let it upset our equilibrium. I wonder whether that is even possible. I also wonder whether there is a way to recognize all the reasons for anger without being so stirred up all the time, and adding to the hostile energy we are currently captive to. Certainly, meditation and prayer help, but I'm searching for something to transform anger into action while still maintaining peace of mind.

There is a time for righteous anger, and as we can see from the news every night, people are plenty worked up about injustice and hatefulness. Everyday it seems to multiply. But anger too often turns to violence, which defeats any righteous purpose. I remember the face of Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights era. His words carried the outrage of his cause, but they also carried his deep desire for peace. His face, at least as I saw it, never betrayed him, and he trained his demonstrators in how to resist without showing anger or resorting to violence. It may have been eating him up inside, but he was a great enough container.

The best I can do is to stay centered and grounded. To find peace where I can, and to recognize it when the fury begins to build inside. It helps me to spend as much time in nature as possible. Sitting on the porch this morning, watching the breeze sway the trees, and listening to the crows yakking back and forth is calming to me. Looking down the hill, I see the magenta cloud of a crepe myrtle in full bloom. Beauty is always life giving. I urge you to find the people and places that give you life, and hold them close. The more peace we can generate within, the more we will see without. In the words of Emerson: "What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you."

                                                        In the Spirit,

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy Independence Day

A Perfect Union

Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.”
Thurgood Marshall

Happy Fourth of July—Independence Day, 2018. There is much right now that I am not proud of about America, but there is more that I am. One thing the world should know is that the American people are, for the most part, compassionate and generous folks. There is, in every country, a spectrum of beliefs, customs, and ideologies. We are no different; we are just as subject to fear and prejudice, tribalism and nationalism as any other country. We are now engaged in a civil war of words and accusations hurled at one another on the streets, in the halls of government, and on social media. I am glad to see protest and I honestly believe—being an optimist and all—that this current period has allowed us to get an up-close and personal look at our shadow side, our dark heart, so that we can be more realistic about who we are and what we're up to.

Mark Twain wrote, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” When we were crippled by the Great Depression, we elected a man to the Presidency who was literally crippled by polio. Now, when we need to take a look at our cruel and unjust practices, our institutionalized racism, we have elected a man who mirrors that for us. Now, we can't ignore it; we can't pretend it doesn't exist. It's in our faces every single day. And, that's not a bad thing—it's the way it will be resolved. The process is painful. Like debriding a burn, we have to scrape off the scab daily until we get to healthy tissue. We're long overdue for healing, and we will no doubt have a scar.

I love this country, but I'm not blind to its faults. I do not condemn it, but I want it to become what it perceives itself to be—the land of the free, and the home of the brave—for ALL its people, regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation, as all our non-discrimination policies state. There is great soul here because of that openness and diversity. Great soul, and great energy. We have a creative and innovative spirit. We have concern for and, at the same time, disregard for the rest of the world. We don't connect the dots between our casual behavior and the impact it has on our planet. And, we don't do that because it's inconvenient to live resourcefully and we are environmentally lazy. We have to do better, and we can do better. When we stop fighting each other, and pull together instead, we can work toward “a more perfect union” for all of God's children.

                                                               In the Spirit,