SEEING

I saw beauty and magnificence today, with a side of inspiration. As I walked through my neighborhood, I smelled grass, trees, and flowers. I felt peace, gratitude, and, most significantly, awe.  I got an energy infusion from the warm spring sun and air. I heard children laughing and windchimes playing harmonies across backyard fences. I felt God’s presence and my own. My mind slowed long enough for the rest of me to catch up.

During my walk, the usual static was replaced with the quiet certainty of knowing I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to do. I was happy without trying to be happy. I felt joy without praying to be joyful or undertaking a self-improvement checklist that promised joy upon completion.

We strive to be rational. We plan our futures. We plan to be happy tomorrow. But, happiness is only possible in what Richard Rohr calls The Naked Now. Buddhists call it the present moment and mindfulness.

We spend so much time trying to get God to love us! But, if we show up for ourselves just for this moment, we can forget trying to be perfect, productive, and accomplished long enough to let God love us and really feel it. That’s a game changer!

ALL TOGETHER NOW!

We’re locked in a war that’s making us all hostages.   We ‘re all scared. Politics has swallowed up everything else that matters, it seems, until there is no oxygen or energy left for anything else. Some may enjoy the constant combat, but most of us want things to calm down. It’s like the Talking Heads song: How on Earth Did We Get Here? We can blame the politicians, who richly deserve it, but nothing will ever change if we do that.  Politics is about pointing and blaming, to some extent. Maybe, it’s time for us to look at us? If experience is our teacher, what are we learning? What are we teaching? How much of what we’re experiencing in our political system today is about what we choose to see and the meaning we choose to give it?

  This may seem a radical statement, but I don’t think my Liberal Arts Degree was the cakewalk for stoners it was labelled to be. I’m more convinced of this every day. In many ways it’s exactly what we need today. It teaches what so many are looking for: that we’re not alone, that we’re not meant to be, and that we, in fact, never were.  Liberal Arts means a generous, extensive course curriculum. —the big picture. The more information is fragmented and aligned with our preferences, the less useful that information becomes. It provides no navigation tools for turning off the fear, the rage, the confusion we are being fed by our televisions.  But my liberal arts education taught me all I needed to know to combat all of this noise.  Here’s how:

I learned that troublesome people are often my teachers, particularly those I wish I’d never met. When I was at the University of Texas and Vanderbilt University, the schools deliberately paired Engineering students with English majors as roommates.  We thought it a sadistic exercise of power, but this simple practice was a deliberate part of our education.  We mocked each other’s chosen careers and thought the people with whom we had been paired extra- terrestrials. I, as an English major, was in “Arts and Crafts” and “Finger-painting”, and my roommate’s future vocation of Engineer was labelled “Robot” and “Gearhead.”  But when our own skills, mindsets, emotional intelligence, and aptitudes weren’t enough for an educational or life challenge, we borrowed those of our roommates and increased our arsenal for taking on the world. My engineer roommates taught me women could be tough and compete in male- dominated fields, and gave me organizational skills that made me more productive as a writer and artist and eventual lawyer.

I learned the real, comprehensive story of America and its place in the world through the study of world and American history.  I learned how a multitude of disciplines and points of view made us an indomitable whole.  I learned that America had help from other countries, particularly France, in becoming America.. I learned our American system of government, how the branches of government are designed to work, and when they don’t.  History reaffirmed our American values and explained why they were our values in the first place. It gave profiles and examples of courage, heroism, service, and sacrifice. It chronicled our mistakes and recorded them for posterity, so future generations wouldn’t repeat them. Attempts to correct these mistakes are the beginnings of policy.  In the study of history, we got to stand on the shoulders of millions who went before us and learn what their lives taught us, without having to suffer their tragedies. Our history is a gorgeous, unlikely miracle illustrating how the sum of our many parts made a whole of incalculable beauty.

Those “useless” English Literature and foreign language courses gave me the most precious thing possible:  a way to disagree with my friends, and still keep them as friends. They did this by giving me a bridge of language I could use to reach and learn about people unlike me.  Friends did not used to ask each other who they voted for before becoming friends in the first place. It made life so much easier. We had other things to talk about. We were focused on learning each other’s story and walking with them as it unfolded.

A broad- based education has served for generations to be an orientation on everything you want or need to know about America; our history and why it’s important, our heroes, and our children’s potential place in all of this.   It gave me a common story with every other American and gave me the gift of being  part of a giant family, all working together. It’s always the story that matters, that transforms and changes, not whatever technical information we may learn.

My education taught me to stay curious and dive in. That’s the magic bullet for fighting fear. I can say this from personal experience, as a naturally fearful person. For this reason alone, a broad education is worth its weight in gold.

Curiosity allows the mind to open just long enough for it to assimilate new information before fears sets in and stops us. It allowed me the space to ask the 3 questions that keep propelling me forward: What if? Why not? and Who says? I never would have gone to law school if I relied on polling to make my decision. No one thought I could do it, and that made me curious to see if I could. Even more importantly, how can I progress spiritually if I don’t wonder and question?

 Fight or Flight does not provide insight. 

  The antidotes to the terror we all can feel when we look at our world and the safety of our children in it are love, curiosity, and engagement.  The cure for our world and our politics is us—daring to live without fear and throwing ourselves into humanity and watching for what unfolds. No one mentors or transforms themselves.

It all comes down to the two roommates I described in paragraph 3 of this essay. Are they fellow travelers and friends, or enemy combatants? Is life a never-ending adventure and classroom for them or a sentence only to be endured? Is the world something benign and beautiful, or is it menacing and dangerous? Are there infinite possibilities for them? Do they stay in touch? I’ve got to believe that everyone we meet is our teacher, especially those we may wish we never met, that all things and people work together for our eventual good, that our purpose is to keep learning, and that life is most definitely not over after High School.

There is a way for all of us to come home.

THE TRADE

THE TRADE

 

The inward battle—against our mind, our

wounds, and the residues of the past—is more

terrible than the outward battle.

—Swami S

 

If you don’t have 10 minutes, you don’t have a life. 

Tony Robbins

We’re in a Game of Thrones society now. We’re tethered to a remarkably short and fraying fuse, ready for combat at the slightest disrespect or perceived injury. Everything is always winner take all, and there’s a trail of bodies in our wake, because losing an argument now is cause for public shaming. We’re all so very war- weary, and it feels like we’re under an existential threat. As Father Thomas Keating said, we’re in a cultural straightjacket.

Most of us are getting progressively more desperate for less Game of Thrones and more I love Lucy in our daily lives– a little humor, a little perspective, a little lightheartedness.

I think I know how we got here.

We traded communion for connection, after

We traded wisdom for information, after

We traded eye contact for feedback, after

We traded contemplation for activity, after

We traded authenticity for truthiness, after

We traded mastering ourselves for managing our image, after

We traded understanding and community for tribal identity, after

 We traded accuracy for speed, after

We traded self- knowledge for goals.

Not coincidentally, we’re immersed in the trivia of each other’s lives to the exclusion of our own. We’re more attuned to whether others are succeeding at their goals or agree with us, than knowing what we truly want. Its a world of spiritual poverty and perceived dire scarcity, and yet we run from the fact that we’re all connected, because we’re all connected.

Everything that’s happening in the world is actually happening to us.

Charles Eisenstein

As one Hurricane Harvey survivor put it,

Everybody needs everybody.

It hurts and makes us feel even more helpless and tiny than we do already, unless we can get in there immediately and help. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma brought us together as we all jumped in and helped, donated, or both. But, other things, farther away, like the Congo make us feel somewhat impotent. What’s the point of seeing all of this suffering if we personally can’t get in there quick and do something about it? Of course, there is a point, and yet we run from it like Ebola. We voluntarily make the trades mentioned above rather than face it. It might as well be written on a tablet in Greek, locked in a cave with the Dead Sea Scrolls, because that’s how far away we want it to be.

We’re afraid we’re going to have to sit in a prayer closet in the lotus position, breathing like a lifelong Yogi, waiting for God to show us what our purpose is, and there will be only silence. Or, even worse, we’ll do it wrong, we’ll have spent the money for the prayer pillows and the God box, and somehow, we’ll piss him off. Or that in the silence in the middle of the night, after we turn off the reruns and the infomercials, we’ll realize we aren’t anywhere close to our path, or that the grief we feel will break loose in a torrent and we’ll lose ourselves in it forever.

But, it’s simple. It’s how we think of it that’s terrifying. TV taketh away, but sometimes it givith, by showing how something scary and complicated isn’t either of those things. I’m going to get us there via a TV show called The Leftovers about running away from loss and pain, individual and global, about existential crisis. But that has nothing to do with us, right?

Each character devises a story to explain his or her pain, in the hopes of minimizing it. There are clues to the greater meaning, as we and they attempt to decipher it all. Some characters even attempt to escape the suffering and ambiguity by dying.  But they can’t, and no answers ever come. Their elaborate explanations of why are false, and each is operating as an imposter because of them. Each character finally hurls themselves into what is, facing the darkness and their own imminent mortality, only to find they get to start again.

The brilliance of the show is that we go along for the ride, only to discover the clues were just red herrings, pointing to the now obvious: there’s no escape.   The situation was horrible, but they were inflicting the torture upon themselves.

The only way out is through, hurling ourselves into loss, grief, and  uncertainty, and the fact that none of us have enough time, by learning to listen to the silence, so we can hear our true natures, for how can we face the world and all of its tragedy as imposters? 

 But, its not about hours logged in the prayer closet like its punishment or atonement, its our reward. We fear, because we misunderstand what silence is and what’s required to listen. Silence is playing with the dog for 10 minutes in the back yard and noticing that he smiles, and then noticing the trees are whispering as they dance in the wind. Something magnificent is happening at this moment, and we’re here in it. Something turns and softens in us and we aren’t scared or resentful or mad as hell anymore.

Listening is simply listening in the moments when life is trying to tell us something, letting ourselves know that life is paradox, love, and loss, and letting the silence, the truth, and the tears cleanse us like rain, so we’re no longer haunted by the past. We can pay attention to what is happening now, all the wacky, crazy, tragic, comic beauty of it. Silence cleanses us of what blocks us from bravely facing the world as ourselves.

It’s that simple: it’s a trade. We escape running and distraction for embracing the loss, the pain, the grief and helplessness and letting it wake us up, yet again, to our own lives, our own heartbeats, and tears. If we do this, then even the most mundane things can become our sanctuary, sprinkled in the sacred.

Lauren

http://www.lekinzie.com

 

“A spiritual journey is a terrible thing to waste.”