“I didn’t get anything accomplished today.” How often have you spoken those words or heard them spoken by someone else? Most of us seem to be conditioned to accomplish things and we feel guilty if this isn’t happening. This is a good thing in many ways because it means that a lot does get accomplished by us humans. But there are times when we may just like to sit and do nothing. I am actually getting to be quite good at it. One of my favourite activities is to gaze out the window at the trees and watch the birds flying by or the squirrels jumping from branch to branch. But after a little while I start to feel a nudge that I should do something. I try to resist this feeling but eventually It overcomes me and I get up to attend to a chore. I put the dishes away or do the laundry or my exercises, anything to silence the voice that is saying “You are so lazy. Stop your loafing and do something, anything.”
Does any of this sound familiar? Do you enjoy your do nothing times only when you’ve earned them through hard work? Or do you love being active all the time and wonder what I’m talking about? Whether you are fans or fugitives of the work ethic, you may be wondering what value there is in doing nothing and why I am being an advocate for it.
I see it as partly a correction of a busyness trend in our culture. Always keep busy. It doesn’t much matter what you are busy at. Just don’t be idle. Idleness was once considered to be an invitation to the devil. I went on the internet and found dozens of quotes denouncing it as a sin. Nevertheless, many great thinkers spoke well of it. Oscar Wilde said “Idleness is the most exquisite thing a university can teach its students.” Really! Isn’t exquisite a little off the top in praising it? Soren Kierkegaard said “Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is really the only true good.”
What did these authors mean by these enigmatic statements? Could they mean that our soul blossoms in our idle moments when we are not thinking, planning, worrying and getting stressed out with so much to do? That sounds quite exquisite to me, to take a break from doing and just be.
But isn’t there an idleness that is just plain lazy and has no redeeming qualities? Yes, I don’t think good always comes out of it. But I don’t see idleness as being inherently evil either. I would not want to pass judgment on what is good or bad. Sometimes one can lead to the other. Sometimes a person does nothing because they don’t know what to do or they lack the confidence to take action. More often people do nothing because they need to rest from too much activity. Sometimes it can be the prelude to creativity. Maybe we could look at it as being like the spaces between musical notes, without which the music would sound like a cacophony.
I am not suggesting we abolish doing things. Our world would be a poor place without those who get good things done. I am pleading for a balance between the two. But sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. Is surfing the web on your phone or other device considered doing something or nothing? What about switching channels on the tv all day? Or what about when we are depressed and stay in bed all day?
None of this is what I mean by the gentle art of doing nothing. I do consider it an art that most of us have never been schooled in. This may sound ludicrous but I believe we can be trained in it. Nature could be one of our teachers, as could music, art and poetry. But we also need human teachers as role models. Children are naturals at it. If we interviewed these teachers as to what it is they teach, they might say “Nothing,” But how will the students know if they have passed the course," we ask? “They won’t” is the answer. “It isn’t possible to fail the course.” At this point the interview ends abruptly as the futility of more questions becomes obvious.
I like to compare doing nothing as one wing of the bird and doing something as the other. The bird can’t fly with one wing. Both are necessary. In our human journey, the two wings can be called doing and being. Both are essential for a fulfilling life.
I quote from Pablo Neruda’s poem “Being quiet” which made quite an impact on me.
“If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves.”
The word “sadness” jumped out at me. Have I avoided truly understanding myself by jumping on the treadmill of activity? Yes, I certainly did in the past but now old age has slowed me down so that treadmill riding no longer has any appeal even if it were physically possible. The question I am left with from the poem is: Why do we (or I) go to such lengths to avoid understanding ourselves? Are we missing out on the ultimate prize in life? How do Neruda’s words speak to you?
I am enjoying simply sitting in my alcove looking out at the window and seeing the snow floating down and touching the trees, softly clinging and whitening them. As I absorb the beauty of the trees, I feel I have something to learn from them. For so long I have sought truths outside of myself in books, online lectures and courses given by people a lot smarter than myself. I have gained a great deal from all this knowledge but it seems to never stop. I keep striving for more of this elusive enlightenment from others. It seems like it is now time for me to seek this sacred knowledge within myself. The trees are my very wise teachers. They teach by their silence. When I get no answers from them to my urgent questions, I can either go within for the answers or go back to the old familiar way of looking outside myself. I will probably do a combination of both but my hope is that my inner guidance will lead the way to the outside resources that I need.
Society has taught us that our value comes from doing good things, from helping others and from actively working to combat injustice. I absolutely endorse this teaching but there is another forgotten truth that is trying to emerge - the truth of being. Today our planet is suffering from its neglect. Just as the trees, plants, animals and birds have value just from being themselves, we too can embrace our unique and authentic being. If we did this I believe the world would be a more compassionate and companionable place. Why? Because our being is part of Divine Being. We are not separate from creation and as we realize who we truly are, we can no longer do harm to the earth or any of its beings because we are one with all that is.
When I say all this, I acknowledge and honour the wise avatars like Jesus, Buddha and modern mystics like Matthew Fox, Eckhardt Tolle and Mirabai Starr. Most of what I am saying comes from them and other wise people. I don’t claim originality. I have heard it from others but I am now coming to realize this amazing truth for myself that the Divine resides in me and in all of you. It is already here ready to blossom. The seed has already been planted. All we have to do is nourish it and allow it to grow.
These ideas are subversive. If we all started to love and embrace our being, it would strike a deadly blow to consumer capitalism. Instead of seeking satisfaction in accumulating more stuff and becoming richer, we could each find our richness in being who we are. As we become aware of our divine roots and our inter-connectedness with all other beings, we could live our lives more in co-operation with others rather than in competition. This has seldom been tried in human history except by certain indigenous cultures. We can learn from indigenous people how to do this. Competition at the expense of others has clearly not worked. It has produced wars, climate change, poverty and a host of other abuses. It is time to correct this imbalance individually and collectively. It is time for each one of us to be who we were created to be and to let our doing flow from our authentic being.
What I am saying sounds radical even to my ears. It frightens me a little because it is unknown and therefore scary. Yet it is becoming increasingly clear to me that our present world crisis is challenging us to uncover wisdom through looking more deeply within ourselves. This also means letting go of many of our old ideas that have been passed down and conditioned our lives. They no longer speak the truth.
I urge you not to accept what I am saying as true but try it out for yourselves. Try trusting your heart more than your head. You could start with spending more quiet time in nature or being creative in your own way. If you do decide to explore your being-ness, just enjoy it, letting go of concern about future outcome. You don’t have to save the planet. Let the planet save you. 🌏🌈⛅️🕸🦋
I gave up my car recently. Is that cause for joy or sadness? I would say both. It is certainly sad to give up a car that you’ve had for 12 years that has taken you to so many places. Cars are often icons of freedom. They symbolize the ability to get up and go somewhere whenever you want. So it was hard to give up my little blue Honda even though I am 90 and the car was sitting in the parking lot most of the time, un-driven. But there was always the possibility that I could get in my car and go somewhere. Of course this was an illusion but we do hang on to our illusions, don’t we? A high repair bill shocked me into breaking through this illusion and facing the reality that it was time to pass it on to someone else. I decided to give the car to my two teenage granddaughters age 16 and 18. I feel very good about that, knowing the car is going to a good home and they can make good use of it. The girls were blown away with surprise and excitement when they heard the news.
I have written before about letting go in my previous blogs. It is what we do when we are old. It is always difficult at first and yet once it is underway, there is often an inner feeling of freedom and ease. I feel a sense of relief at not having the responsibility and expense of the car. Old age is a time of dependence in a culture which values independence. I have always thought of myself as very independent and have been trying for some time to remain that way. Yet as I feel my body declining I realize that independence is not what it is cracked up to be and dependence is not such a bad thing after all, as long as it doesn’t all fall on one caregiver, in my case my wonderful daughter. It takes more planning ahead to arrange for a driver when you have to go out. I am also starting to think about what I will need help with if I want to stay in my home. These are all things that I dreaded at one time but now I am actually in the midst of considering them. You might say that I am presiding over the decline of my own body.
All of you who are younger and able-bodied may not want to think about a time when you have to depend on others for the routine aspects of living. I know that I certainly didn’t want to go there a few years ago. And yet I am learning that once you accept the reality of your new situation it becomes so much easier. I imagine it is somewhat like shedding an old skin that is no longer necessary. I feel a greater lightness of being since there are not as many things I have to do or even want to do. Yes, I miss not being able to move about as freely but I also have less desire to do many of the things that I used to do, such as travelling, shopping and going to social activities. From a soul perspective I am learning a lot about how to receive from others. I am also learning that as a receive I am also a giver. It is not a one way street. It is about Inter-dependence.
I am more content to be at home now and to see the beautiful trees and small wildlife from my window. This is very freeing. The internet also provides many hours of fascinating lectures and courses. I love reading and am grateful that my eyes allow me to continue reading on my kindle. I spend more time alone but I also enjoy visits from friends and family and I belong to a small women’s circle. This may sound like a very small world to some people but it is enough for me. The enough-ness comes about from accepting that this is the way it is. I know of a lady in a nursing home that put it this way. “I am content with the small orbit of my life.” I can so relate to those words.
Most people are reluctant to mention this but I remind myself daily of the certainty that I will be leaving this body some time in the not so distant future. What is unknown is when it will be. It could be years, months or even days. Who knows? Holding this knowledge in my mind and heart helps me appreciate the wonder and beauty of this amazing world we live in. I don’t take this life for granted anymore. I feel so blessed to be alive. Hallelujah!
I am going through an interesting process right now and so are many other people that I know. I am being guided into new territories. Just as I thought I was winding down into a quiet boredom waiting for death, the universe has decided to give me a nudge or two. I have decided to take an online course by Mirabai Starr, a well-loved mystic, writer, teacher, philosopher, scholar and many other things. I am drawn to this course because Mirabai believes that we are all everyday mystics – we just have to realize it and claim it. Really? I always thought that a mystic was a very rare breed of person, way too elevated for the likes of me. It turns out that I was wrong according to Mirabai. A mystic is far more common than I realized. It seems that we are all mystics in our deepest hearts.
Come to think about it, I know many mystics. I know them by their kindness and by their joy and peaceful energy. But they also make mistakes and often live messy lives. They could be you. Just being who you are, doing whatever you are doing. But you would probably not identify yourself with that label, which sounds a bit elevated. Mystics are humble people. Although I vowed I would not take another course, I couldn’t resist this one which is called “Divine Meltdown.” I must be the Shift Network’s best customer.
This week I also started learning Qi Gong, an Eastern method of movement which is a little like Tai Chi. It is very slow and meditative and is known to be very healing. Because I have arthritis and lead a sedentary life, I felt it was just what I needed. I have a very gifted teacher, Christa Royal, who radiates joy and peace. She also teaches yoga and does Reiki and Reflexology. She came to my home, for which I was grateful. After one session of seated Qi Gong followed by some Reflexology and Reiki, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was in a state of deep relaxation and I felt more alive than I had felt for a long time.
Why am I doing all this? Well, I sense that there is something more to life and to all of us than appears on the surface. I believe that everyone has this divine spark in them, no matter their circumstances. I have a longing to draw closer to this something more that hides inside of me. I catch glimpses of her from time to time but she is flighty and elusive. As soon as I sink into this energy of divine love, something comes along to distract me – usually something mundane like getting a meal, making a telephone call or needing to take a nap. Yet Mirabai says that it is in our very ordinary, everyday, messy lives that we can awaken to our divine birthright. The trick is to stay present and to spend even a little time each day in stillness. I trust this teacher and so I’m going along with what she says. I don’t know where it will lead me but it should be interesting.
Sometimes it feels like God is taking me on a crazy roller coaster ride. I don’t have any control and so all I can do is surrender and enjoy the ride. This may sound rather magical and woo woo – like something I made up. Well maybe it is coming from my imagination. But God gave us this capacity to imagine greater possibilities. I find I am seeing the world differently, with a fresh sense of wonder. This is truly wonder-full. When I look at trees and flowers and squirrels, they sparkle with life. People too.
But then the divine Ferris wheel stops or slows down and I see the world through a more sober lens. I see the terrible climate crisis we are in, the polarities in our politics and other institutions, the wars and senseless violence in our society, the racism, sexism, other isms – the list could go on. But I am also hopeful. If each of us can raise our consciousness to a higher level, we can influence the collective. I don’t know how this will happen but I trust that God knows. It feels a little like seeing the world through dark glasses and then taking them off. I prefer seeing the world as bright and beautiful, which it is, even when we are making a mess out of it. It’s just that it is often hard to see beyond the chaos.
I had my first class last night and it surpassed my highest expectations. Mirabai was poetic, down to earth, authentic and loving. She prayed, lit a candle, read some poems, led us in guided meditations and took some questions. Later we broke into groups with other students. That was truly amazing and reassuring, hearing where other people are at. I left with a sense of excitement for the possibilities we all have to make a difference in the world mostly by being who we truly are and doing what we truly love. I say Hallelujah to that.I
I have just turned 90 and I have been wondering where my life is going from now, what is left of it. Whenever I take an online course or watch a video on YouTube, I am told that if I follow their advice my life will be transformed and I will have success and abundance beyond my wildest dreams. This no longer seems to apply to me. I already have all the abundance I need. I am in the stage of letting go of a lot of my conditioning rather than expanding into new horizons. What more is there? As I go within to a quiet place of inward reflection, I sense that the letting go from now on will be more radical. What do I mean by that? Well, I seem to be in the process of letting go of any need to be different or better than what I am now. This is very liberating. It is not that I think that I am so perfect. Far from it, I am very imperfect but I accept my imperfections. I even revel in them. I have spent a lifetime trying to improve myself and I am now giving that up. What a relief!
I am aware that my imperfections seem to be growing with alarming rapidity as I grow older, at least in the physical realm. I am very slow and awkward and not very steady on my feet. At one time this frustrated me no end but now I am coming to accept it. Society is generally not very tolerant of slowness as life moves very quickly in our modern world. Still, when people see my white hair they are usually very tolerant and also helpful. As an old person, I live in a different world. I stay home most of the time. When I do go out, people call that an outing. To be quite honest, I often find my innings more enjoyable than my outings. At least they take much less energy. I am not as good at small talk in a group as I used to be, partly because I can’t hear as well and partly because I don’t participate in the same activities as my younger friends and acquaintances. However, I am a good listener one to one, partly because I don’t have a lot to say myself but also because I am really interested in other people’s lives.
But the big letting go is of the values and activities that most people think are important and I once thought so too. I am no longer excited by shopping and acquiring a lot of stuff. I am now trying to get rid of a lot of my stuff. If I knew how hard that would be I would never have bought it all in the first place. Next on the list is being successful in the eyes of the world. Highly over-rated. Then there’s trying to please other people. That’s a little tougher to shed after almost 90 years of conditioning but I am getting better at it. I try to make a clear distinction between trying to please others as an automatic reaction and kindness. Kindness is essential in making the world a better place and I try to cultivate kindness in myself.
Actually being old can be a wonderful time of life as you get closer to just being yourself. When you’re older, it is harder to pretend. I find that it is easier to laugh at my peccadilloes and I love acting silly. I am lucky to have a few people I can do that with. I don’t get as upset as I used to about small things like breaking plates...well, not as often. And if I do get upset, then I don’t get as upset about getting upset. How far back can we go with this?
Am I making old age sound attractive? Probably not, but that is not important. Being old is a little like being an extra-terrestrial. Sometimes I wonder if I belong on this planet. Yet I love the world and nature and the people on it. I have heard that it is harder to make friends when you’re older but I have made some wonderful friends recently. I love intimate conversations when you talk about things that matter - matters of the heart. I think that is the biggest change about this time of life. You live more from the heart. I think it is because you know that you have less time left and you want to make the most of it. For me love is the most important thing there is - love of family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, nature, God...even me. Expressing love is not my strong suit...at least not yet. But I’m learning quickly as I experience my vulnerability and get ready for the big Letting Go. Letting go never stops until we take our last breath. And after that...who knows? But I have let go of the need to know.
And then it happened
I became what I was looking for
An every day mystic
My own version
Messy and playful.
I guess you would say I became more myself
No need to pretend I was better than I am
I am...that is all
And it is enough
It has to be.
Why does it feel so good?
It’s like shedding a tight costume
I can breathe
I unapologetically love this new person.
This title is a bit misleading in that it is not so much that faith itself has changed but rather our understanding of it. It used to be that when someone said they had a strong faith, we immediately assumed that they belonged to a church, temple, synagogue or some other religious tradition. Now we can no longer make that assumption. Today many people have a faith without a religious affiliation. Everyone has faith in something but the important thing is what you put your faith in. Does it bring you and those around you more peace, love and joy?
I would like to share with you this prayer which is attributed to St Therese of Lisieux, a saint who died at age 24 in 1897. To me, it captures the essence of living in faith.
May today there be peace within
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith
May you use those gifts that you have received
And pass on the love that has been given to you
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.
What a joyful, inclusive and loving prayer! St. Therese wasn’t trying to push her faith on anyone but was simply inviting them to know they are a child of God. We all express our faith in different ways. Some speak of a belief in a higher power that guides their life and gives them strength in times of trouble. We don’t have a common language to describe this very real presence of spirit in our lives. I asked a friend how she would describe her faith. She replied, “Faith is knowing there is something more than we can see.” I love the simplicity and clarity of that definition which is similar to the one found in 2 Corinthians 4:18. “We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” I asked another friend what faith was to her. She felt uncomfortable with the word “faith”, which she associated with a religion that she had left behind. The word “trust” came up for her as it conveyed more of an energy coming from within rather than directed outside of herself.
I have explored a variety of spiritual modalities, through reading and the internet. What I have found is that all these different ways of faith are essentially the same from a mystical perspective. The following story describes this idea.
A teacher asked his disciples to describe their vision of God. The first one said that God was big and powerful like the vast expanse of the heavens embracing all the stars in the galaxy. The holy man said “You’re right”. The second disciple said that God was more like the tiniest spark hidden inside each person. “You’re right”, said the teacher. The third man said: “Hey just a moment. They can’t both be right.” “And you’re right too,” said the sage.
I love this story. When I first studied theology in school, I was very much like the first disciple. Now I am more like the second. We humans often get caught up in proving that we are right. I had a rather opinionated friend who used to say “I have many faults. Being wrong isn’t one of them.”
Why is faith important? Well, we are faced with the unknown every day of our lives and so we need something to get us through this chronic uncertainty. We often push the knowledge of our vulnerability aside and try to pretend that everything is going to remain the same. Yet death continues to send us reminders that our earthly life or that of our loved ones could end at any time. How do we live with this knowledge? Often we deny it. Somehow we continue to think that death is what happens to others, not us. But denial doesn’t work for very long. We need something to ground us, to sustain us and guide us, no matter what happens to us on this very challenging earth journey.
Although everyone uses different language to describe their faith, most people refer to something beyond the world of the five senses. Eckhart Tolle, in Stillness Speaks states “An intelligence greater than the human mind is at work. You cannot get any closer to that intelligence than by being aware of your own inner energy field – by feeling the aliveness, the animating presence within the body.”
Eckhart speaks a lot about presence as the divine force that animates and guides our lives and we can only become aware of this presence in the present moment, since that is all we have - the past and the future are not real. He points out how our thinking leads us away from living a peaceful life. Sometimes we think life and other people, should go according to our expectations. But life isn’t like that. It never unfolds the way we think it should and so often we get upset.
I used to think that faith was about improving my life (and that of my loved ones) in the external world. I thought faith could improve my health, my relationships and bring me more success in my work. It can certainly do all those things but I now believe it goes so much deeper than that. I find that surrender to what is, brings more peace and contentment. Again I quote Eckhart.
When you say “yes” to the “isness” of life, when you accept this moment as it is, you can feel a sense of spaciousness within you that is deeply peaceful…Acceptance of the unacceptable is the greatest source of grace in this world.
I was brought up to believe that God was separate from us. I now believe that we are all part of a divine, collective intelligence which includes all beings - animals, insects, plants, trees, oceans, rivers and the earth. If we truly believed in our hearts that we are all one divine consciousness, then we could not devastate the rainforests, pollute our waters and kill off other species and humans for our own greed. I am convinced that God rests in the essence of each and every one of us. This knowing can bring us joy, peace and love. But sometimes we need to, in St Therese’s words, “let this presence settle into your bones and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.”
I have just tried to describe something that is un-describable. Faith in ultimate being is not about words but if I were to pick one word to describe it, that word would be Mystery. Maybe we just need to surrender to and embrace the wonder of this Mystery and become comfortable with not knowing.
I am an old woman
That’s quite an age, I would say
I am what they call frail elderly
What does that mean exactly?
Well, I am wobbly on my feet
I have aches and pains in most places
Sometimes I can’t even straighten up.
Sometimes I drop things
and can't open jars
I go to the bathroom often
Occasionally I don’t make it
But pads help.
Depressing, you might say
But I would say
No, not at all.
You see, that is not really me
It is just a costume
That disguises who I truly am.
Then, who am I?
I’m getting closer to answering that
How? By a strange route
It turns out that my pain has been my greatest gift
Although I resist it and curse it
Especially at night in my frequent trips to the bathroom
I pour out my rage and grief and fear.
But still it assaults my body
And I learn that it is not only the pain I am angry at
It goes deeper than that
It has been with me a long time
I rage in silence
Just like my mother
I never wanted to be like her
But I’ve discovered I am more like her
Than I would like to admit.
But you know something
When you face your demons
They are not all that bad
I don’t mind being like her
She is tender and fierce
And angry and critical
But I’m learning something from swimming
In these murky turbulent waters
I’m learning that I love my mother
And I forgive her for her anger and criticism and judgment
And I love and accept all these warts in myself
I needed them at one time
They are not needed anymore
But still they cling
Like burrs on a dog’s coat
They are part of the armour of my wounded inner child
I remove them gently and lovingly.
It may sound weird
But I am spending time with my inner child
Singing with her
Reading children’s books
And listening to her complaints
Crying with her
Laughing with her
Loving her tenderly.
So is there light at the end of this dark tunnel
Absolutely there is
I can’t be sure but I think
I am in the middle of a transformation
It is the death of all that was
So that the new me can emerge
It is happening each day as I preside
Over the decline of my body
A body that doesn’t walk, stand and get up
The way it used to
Each day I grieve its passing and then let go.
So I will introduce you to the new me
Though I am only just getting acquainted with her myself
She is a lot like the old me
Except she laughs more, sings more and cries more
She is less critical of herself and others
When things don’t go so well
She may curse first but then she smiles
And says I choose love
When she judges herself or others
She says I choose peace.
I am in wilderness territory right now
As death looms closer, I realize how blessed I am
I am blessed by my family and friends
And by life itself
I don’t know how all this will turn out
I know I can’t do this alone
So I surrender all my fears to the Divine Beloved
My mantra these days is
My soul magnifies the Lord.
Yesterday an old song that I hadn’t thought of for years popped into my head. It was “Ah sweet mystery of Life” from the 1935 movie, “Naughty Marietta” with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. I remember seeing it as a child but can’t tell you much about it. Here is an excerpt from the song.
Ah sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found thee.
Ah I know at last the secret of it all.
All the longing, seeking, striving, waiting, yearning…
For tis love and love alone that can repay
This song was written about two people who were in love but the words could also suggest a more transcendent love. It speaks of yearning, seeking, striving and finding. For much of my life, I yearned and sought for love, mostly outside myself. Now as I approach the end of my life, I hope that I am a little closer to finding the secret of it all. I do find it a mystery – what life is all about and why I am here. But I am pretty sure of one thing and that is the simple truth that love is the most important thing in life. I believe it is why we are here, to learn to love God and all beings, human and non-human.
When I was young, I was very romantic and hoped for a perfect love. Life soon shattered these illusions. I then tried to practice love through service to others in my social work profession and in ministry. This never seemed enough because I think unconsciously I was seeking God’s love through good deeds. I now believe that each one of us is loved deeply and extravagantly by God just for being who we are and not for anything we have done or not done to deserve it. How utterly astounding is that!
Most of us love our family and close friends and this is important, as it teaches us a lot about how to love. But what about loving our enemies as Jesus taught us - those who are different from us, unlovable or even violent. Yesterday I listened to an interview with Father Gregory Boyle, who started Homeboy Industries in L.A., a rehabilitation centre for gang members. These hardened former gang members were offered services such as employment, training, education and tattoo removal. But the most important thing they were offered was love. One recovered gang member recently released from prison put it this way. “All my life I have been watched. But until I came to Homeboy, I was never seen.” These tough guys and girls were cherished, accepted and loved for who they truly were beyond their façade of tattoos and violence. When we see the other and are seen for who we truly are, something beautiful emerges. Sadly it doesn’t happen often enough because our eyes have scales of conditioning that prevent us from seeing the beauty of other beings.
Why do we find it so hard to love our “enemies” or the people who are very different from us? Pogo, Walt Kelly’s funny animal comic strip character, had a surprising answer to this question. “We have met the enemy and he is us.” This is a very profound truth. So often we reject in others the things we don’t want to see in ourselves. I have discovered a rather alarming truth and that is that I am more like my mother in ways that I don’t want to be. She had a tendency to be angry, critical and judgmental. Me too. I have been learning to face and accept these unacceptable qualities in myself. If we are to love others, I think we have to start with loving ourselves just the way we are, even the things that are not so nice. Surprisingly, as I accept and love myself including these negative qualities, I find myself feeling more loving toward others and myself.
I am coming to realize that these negative qualities that I don’t like in myself are coming from my own wounded inner child. All of us have been wounded to some degree by life in the form of parents, teachers, other authority figures or our peers. We can heal from these wounds if we learn to love ourselves without conditions. Most spiritual teachers and sages teach that it is not what happens to us that is the problem but what we think about what happens. My experience bears this out. The anger and hurt I feel comes from my inner child and was her armour against what she felt was criticism. Sometimes a good question to ask this little, inner kid is “how can I best love you?” Usually the answer I get is “just love me the way I am.” Through a process of mindfulness meditation and self-inquiry, I have become more aware of what I am telling myself about my experiences. I don’t criticize myself for feeling this way – that would only add another layer of criticism. It is somewhat like cleansing my body from toxins. This process takes persistence because if I don’t stay aware, those unhappy thoughts can return and taint my perception.
This would be an overwhelming task except that we don’t have to do it alone. In fact, we can’t do it alone. I constantly ask for divine guidance on how to handle these difficult feelings – questions such as “why do I feel this way? What can I do about it?” The only thing that makes all of this possible is that our true nature is love. We often forget this and need to remember that we are each an aspect of God and we have our unique part to play in bringing light and love to the world. This may sound naïve since if we look around, there is lots of negativity and anger in the world. Yet if we look past the outward appearance of others, including ourselves, we can see into our true essence which is love. I find it difficult not to react angrily when I meet anger. What helps me is to start with the assumption that most people are doing the best they can, given their life circumstances. We can never really know what another person is dealing with and so how can we possibly judge them? I have learned from these little experiments of mine that love is not just a feeling. It is a choice. I have to keep reminding myself to choose love.
Tis the answer, tis the end of all of living
For tis love alone that rules for aye.
I wonder what it would take for love to rule the world. Perhaps each person practicing love in their own way.
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” This quote from Alexander Pope suggests the universality of hope in the human heart, no matter the circumstances. In other words as long as have hope, we can keep going. I am reminded of a folk tale about my favourite mythological character, Nasrudin, also known as the holy fool or trickster.
One night a neighbour noticed Nasrudin outside under the street lamp brushing through the dust. “Have you lost something, my friend?” He asked. Nasrudin explained that he had lost his key and asked the neighbour to help him find it.
After many minutes of searching and turning up nothing, the neighbour asked him, “Are you sure you lost the key here?”
“No, I lost it inside the house” Nasrudin answered.
“Then why are you looking for it here?”
“Well, there is more light out here, of course,” Nasrudin replied.
Nasrudin sure sounds foolish in this story, doesn’t he? Why would anyone look for their key where they knew it could not be found? Well, don’t we all do that in a way? We think that the key to our happiness (pun intended) lies out there, in the familiar, external world, not within the mystery of our own human heart.
I have been thinking a lot about hope recently. For most of us, hope is tied to a positive outcome. Sometimes hope becomes wishful thinking and when this happens, it loses its power. When we undergo a crisis in our lives, such as the death of someone we love, a critical illness or the loss of a job, our hope is that things will get better in the future. But what if they don’t? Where is our hope then? Do we give up in despair or is there another kind of unconditional hope?
It’s only after a lot of looking for answers outside ourselves and coming up empty that we may finally decide to look within for our hope. Like Nasrudin, it is easier to look for solutions to our problems in the known places, rather than the unknown. Going within and exploring our divine soul may seem like undertaking a wilderness journey. It is an unknown, mysterious place with no signs to guide us. Most of us like to stick to known, familiar territory where we feel safer. This may work well enough until we hit a crisis in our lives. Then we may need to look deeper into our being.
I will give you an example from my own life. I have had chronic arthritis for many years, bringing with it much pain and discomfort. I have tried pretty well every solution I can find “out there” – chiropractors, physio-therapists, doctors, pain clinics, pain pills, supplements and a variety of healing modalities and practitioners. I tried one thing after another hoping for improvement. None of these have brought substantial or permanent change. Recently I came to the realization that my condition probably would not change very much. I will still continue to do everything I can to improve my health but at the same time I am learning to accept my body the way it is right now. In surrendering to this reality, I discovered within myself a different kind of hope.
I turn to the poet, Emily Dickinson to describe this indescribable hope.
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all. And sweetest in the Gale is heard and sore must be the storm that could abash the little bird that kept so many warm”
I love that Emily depicts hope as a bird, which to me symbolizes freedom. It also has feathers which are very light. Having this kind of hope brings a lightness to my quest. It also never stops singing its song no matter what storm is raging on the outside.
I can only access this hope when I am residing in the present moment. If I focus on the past (the way things used to be) or on future decline or improvement, I don’t hear the song of hope. I am learning not to identify so much with the pain but to witness it. This doesn’t chase away the pain but it keeps it at a distance - it becomes less a tyrant and more of a severe teacher. I feel that this has become my soul’s curriculum for this stage in my life. I am learning to embrace the mystery of who I am as a divine being living in a human body. In doing this I can’t help embracing the divinity of all beings and of life itself in all its beautiful and terrible manifestations. If this sounds like Nasrudin on a fool’s errand, looking for his key in the light, then so be it. I admit to even enjoying my foolishness.