Imprints on a Day – November 18, 2015

On the Reading Table

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

 

Ambient Noise

NPR’s Morning Edition

The space heater

 

Contemplation

In the November 18 entry in Mark Nepo’s powerful The Book of Awakening, he offers this instruction:

     Center yourself and bring to mind a time you felt the need to be accepted.

And upon doing that, my response was “every day of my life!”  It brought to mind how much of our energy is devoted to seeking and finding acceptance, belonging, being-wanted-ness.  More for some of us than others, of course.  But no matter…there it is, integral to our experience of life.  The magic lies in finding that acceptance and belonging for our whole selves, not just the parts of us we believe are appropriate for public display, or most desirable for this person or that, or that best support our vision of self, however accurate or healthy that vision may be.

Isn’t that authenticity?  The release from expectations of perfection and an embracing of our whole selves?   It’s my goal…and my struggle…and my goal.

 

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Rules, Side Effects, and the Human Will

At 63, my father had an abundance of silver hair that he was very proud of. He also had cancer. Awaiting the start of chemo, he was very worried about his beautiful hair falling out; the specter of his naked head on public view was unsettling for him. We sat together near the window in his hospital room, warmed by the muted light of an early fall afternoon.  He asked me if I thought it would be acceptable for him to wear a beret indoors once his hair fell out. He was unsure and insecure, fretting so much over a “correct” way to hide his exposed scalp, but his concern was more than vanity. And the seemingly easy solution of simply wearing a hat all the time presented a new challenge.

A dapper Southern gentleman, that Southern style presented a dilemma for him, since it was a faux pas of significant note for a man to wear a hat indoors. He felt strongly about this; a judge, on any number of occasions he had stopped legal proceedings to bark at some unsuspecting male to “approach the bench,” at which time Daddy explained the perils of wearing a hat indoors in his courtroom. (The offending headgear was either removed from the head of its owner or the owner left the courtroom.)

So when Dad asked me about wearing a beret, I answered that frankly, considering the circumstances, I felt like he could make his own damn rules. It was a simple answer, but inside I was staggered. He put on such a brave front – “all I need is a fighting chance” – but that day I saw a man different from the father I knew.

That man could bring over-exuberant behavior to a screeching halt with a single no-nonsense glance. That man never backed down from any critic; he successfully weathered a vicious professional crucifixion. But this man felt powerless to cope with an ultimately inconsequential aspect of his illness. This man, unlike the young lawyer who defiantly wore a black armband to protest the death penalty, was worried that someone might not approve if he wore a beret to cover his chemotherapy-scourged head!

I understand that when life has become devastatingly overwhelming, we sometimes focus on a smaller, more manageable issue as a coping mechanism. But still…if his vulnerability made me reel, what must it have been doing to him?

I leaned down, hugged him, mussed his hair and gave him a kiss. Close to his ear, I told him softly that everything would be all right. We stayed where we were for a while, my fingers absently twining through his hair as I looked out the window at the pines standing straight and strong and he stared down the long, empty hospital corridor.

As it turned out, Daddy was one of those people whose hair does not fall out after chemo. His hair remained planted firmly in his head, just the way he liked it. His doctor said something about the side effects of chemo not being as bad as they’d once been. Maybe so.

But maybe not. The human will can pack a punch. I can see my dad’s will being enough to keep his hair in place.

I wish it had been enough to keep him alive.

Through a Glass Darkly

“For now we see through a glass, darkly…”

1 Corinthians 13:12

 

A year ago, I bought a new SUV.  After a few months, I noticed a plaguing problem:  No matter how much I cleaned the windshield, it seemed to be covered by a persistent, dull film.  While a little annoying, it wasn’t too much of an issue other than when the bright sun or oncoming headlights caught it directly.  And then it was a huge problem, with the combined haze and light creating a great glare that momentarily blinded me.

I repeatedly tried to clean the windshield.  I drove the vehicle through the heavy-duty carwash.  I used the gas station soapy wash and foam/squeegee tool, meticulously dragging it in very neat rows across the dirty surface.  I used my wipers and windshield fluid constantly.  I had marginal success with each, but the view through the glass always remained hazy and frustrating.

Last month, I took a long road trip in pursuit of a time of retreat and reflection.  Having been in a time of deep questioning, as I left my driveway, I breathed a fervent prayer seeking clarity during my week away.

A few hours into the trip, I noticed a small spot on my windshield, just exactly at eye level, and it appeared to be on the inside.  I touched my finger to my tongue and reached to the glass to wipe it away.  And when I did, I removed more than the small blot that had caught my notice.  Everywhere I had touched with my finger was suddenly crystal clear.  I licked my finger again and tried the same scrubbing motion a few inches away.  Same result…perfectly clear and a marked difference between the two areas I’d just touched and the rest of the windshield.

The haze had been on the inside of the windshield the entire time.  All my efforts to clean externally had been for naught.  I had never even considered that the murkiness that was preventing my ability to see clearly might be an interior issue!  No matter how much effort I’d put toward solving what I believed to be an exterior issue, it was useless.  Because my problem had been on the inside all along.

I burst into laughter!  I had asked for clarity, and I had received it.  The lesson was so apparent and so important.  How often do I think a problem or difficulty has only an external cause or an external solution?  How often do I find that the answer lies within, not without?  Is it not so true that rather than blaming outside circumstances or other people, rather than attempting to clean anyone else’s outside, the place I must start and the one I must always examine is myself?  Haven’t I experienced time and again that it is a change in my internal perspective, not a change in outward circumstance, that brings resolution or peace or answers?

And how sobering to consider the countless times that light has been given to me, but my internal cloudiness caused me to be blinded rather than made to see.

My windshield is clean now.  And I’m committed to remembering that real wisdom always knows to clean the inside first.

 

Long-haired Woman, Scene 1

Long-haired Woman

I used to dream of a long-haired woman

Who offered me words of wisdom and comfort.

Then one day I realized

I could stop cutting my hair.

Karen Horneffer-Ginter

 

I’ve been unable to turn away from this poem. The first several times I read it, I viewed it from the perspective of self-limiting beliefs. And then in the midst of yet another reading, the lens shifted to reveal another view: that of the wisdom and comfort that always lives within us, unaltered by occurrence or circumstance, however hidden or inaccessible that wisdom and comfort may seem. I decided to approach this simple, yet profound, piece of verse with two posts rather than one. This is the first.

 

Self-limiting beliefs. We all grapple with them.  None of us are invulnerable, although some of us seem more or less susceptible to these little bombs of inadequacy. But, as Karen Horneffer-Ginter’s gently stark lines reflect, we have the power to set down the scissors and cease hacking at our own hair.

When we are confronted with these often cruel and punishing beliefs, it can be shocking to meet some of the ugly misconceptions we’ve held deep inside. But this same disconcerting awareness can also bring deep recognition and help us understand some behaviors and emotions with a new clarity.

We may feel incredibly deficient, ill-equipped, or unable to be whom and what we need to be in many situations. Perhaps we don’t believe that we are enough…whether that’s loving, wise, smart, good, gentle, strong, inspired, disciplined, committed, brave, attractive, tolerable, likable, or lovable enough. (One of the problems with “not enough” is its uncanny ability to seem true no matter to which attribute it’s been attached.)

Our struggle might be with life or the world or our sense of the divine. Why has this sorrow or that heartbreak happened when we try so hard? Why have we gone through an unfair and undeserved crisis? Why are the things we long for most deeply seemingly out of reach or denied to us? How can we learn not to fear emotional intimacy or life or God?

I was first introduced to this poem when it was read aloud by Wayne Muller as he led a Sabbath retreat at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. At the last line – “I could stop cutting my own hair” – the sharp intake of breath that traveled among the retreat participants was testimony enough of a common human affliction.

What must we do when these hidden places finally receive some light? I believe the answer is trust. We must trust the source – whether that be ourselves, God, our spiritual practice, life itself, or whatever beautiful, bursting combination of forces might be at work – that birthed the insight to also bring forth the healing that renders powerless these limiting beliefs and perceptions.

And surely we must trust and embrace our inherent wholeness. If we are whole, then we are enough. Something that is whole cannot be any of the painful, deficient accusations we throw at it. And we are whole. Intrinsically, perfectly, made of beautiful-white-hot-love, whole. Think about that for a moment. Whole. Each of us is fully and completely whole. And there aren’t many limitations to wholeness.

My prayer this day is that we lay aside our shears and stop limiting ourselves, quit cutting ourselves off from our wholeness and the lives we’re meant to live.

May our growing hair cover us with its grace and warmth.

Powerful Beyond Measure

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.

Marianne Williamson

“…powerful beyond measure…”

Do we even begin to understand that power? Or perhaps most crucially, do we accept that power? I have come to the both sad and freeing realization recently that I have run from, hidden from, and feared my personal power. God, how I have feared that power. And that has had a profound impact upon my life.

Why do we flee so from being the powerful, luminous beings we are meant to be? A multitude of reasons, of course, and there is no single one that holds true for each of us. Our collective flight is borne of individual experience, however universal many of those experiences may be. And often, we find ourselves in cultures or systems that not only do not support discovery and expression of self and personal empowerment, they actively work against it.

Still, for however I may have known that dynamic in my life, I find myself confronted with the uncomfortable reality that my power has been more threatening to me than it has been to anyone else. Threatening to my need to fit in, be accepted, be loved, get along, not create difficulties in relationships that already balance on the most sensitive of fulcrums.

Every year seems to bring a fuller understanding, experience, and function within my personal power, within my Light. Great changes in my life have occurred as a result, and I’ve every expectation that more change is yet to come. Some changes have been or may be destabilizing, but all outcomes lead to life and growth, and I have peace in that knowledge.

Embracing this power, my natural tendency is to feel softly impatient to see what my life might look like three months or a year or three years from now. I’m always so anxious to get on with the journey. But also in embracing this power, I am challenging and reminding myself to live in this moment, this now, this today. This day and where I am in it is enough for this day.