This Branch

At our contemplative retreat last Saturday, we engaged in a practice called Visio Divina (Latin for “Divine seeing,” or a phrase I loooove, “praying with your eyes.”) We find a picture or an object or, maybe, anything at all and we focus on that object and ask the Spirit to guide our thoughts. We have spent quite a bit of time in a sister practice called Lectio Divina, where we spend time with a Scripture passage and ask for the same sort of guidance of the Spirit. This was our first time with the Visio part.

(I wasn’t sure I would be ready today, that I had lived with and processed enough, to share this, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe it should feel immediate and unfinished. Maybe that is part of the journey, and a valuable part.)

My object was a branch seen through a window of the Bridge, and here is a poem that I wrote about that branch:

This branch

is blowing,

sometimes gently, sometimes violently,

moved, led,

a dance of differing tempos.

This branch,

before the cool gray shy and behind the jarring, out-of-place power lines,

connected to the tree, (the Vine),

healthy, crisp, bright, refined, bending, swaying,

It is beautiful, an extension of the tree,

it’s very nature is, here, now, lovely.

As it is.

But a stripe from the window,

a separation,

condensation (cold meeting warm leaving unwelcome evidence of the battle on the glass) cuts through the branch, blurs, dulls, smears, makes the concrete abstract, changes perception, confuses, redefines the branch,

This branch

loses it’s essence, unrecognizable.

It could be a million other things, none as wonderful as the branch itself…

It feels good to simply leave this here and return to it next time.

Congratulations!!!

Here is a too personal story. I often need to re-focus on Rest (mostly at the gym) because it disappears so easily. The voices in my head kick up in noisy violence screaming that if I take the day off & sleep in, I will gain ALL of the weight I have lost, lose ALL of the strength I have gained, and instead of rebuilding my mind and body while I allow me to recover, I will spend today shopping for new, much larger clothes because mine have become shrink wrap overnight. Before you even say it, I know that this is ridiculous nonsense with absolutely no bearing on reality. That it is the exact opposite of reality. That it is an avalanche of lies. I know this, but old habits die very hard and I usually end up working out anyway.

These lies are also tied to other, deeper seeded untruths like “I am lazy,” “I am undisciplined,” “I have no self-control,” “I never follow through with anything,” so to prove them wrong, I end up working out to chase those demons away. However, the things I do to chase the demons actually reinforces their existence. As I work out, I perpetuate this myth and its pseudo-solutions, giving the loop the energy to continue.

Now. At this point, I can see my participation in the violence I inflict upon myself, so I begin the tearing down of my very essence, “stupid…flawed…hypocrite,” and on and on. The clouds grow thicker and the darkness gets heavier, and my thoughts twist into tornadoes until I can’t tell the difference between the truth and a lie.

At the gym last week, I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained. This happens, and is manageable, but the condition of my spirit is the thing that is alarming to me.

My friend Rick (who is awesome, and wonderfully odd) came in, walked right to me, and asked if I was ok. He referred to my wounded aura (see what I mean? Strange) and asked again.

In the outside world, when we ask, most of the time we don’t mean it, we just use all greetings as synonymous for “hello” and keep walking. Any answer is useless and an honest answer is worse: aggressively counter cultural, obstinate, rebellious.

I told him the truth. He had heard much of this battle before, but this time he brought up how this circle used to be, used to feel, used to carry on, and how much it used to steal from me. Then he said, “So I guess this is Congratulations!” with a huge smile as he shook my hand.

And he’s right. These episodes don’t last long, aren’t even constant – more like bring dunked in a swimming pool instead of drowning on the bottom. I am much quicker to say what my buddy Jason says, “That is a lie. So what’s the opposite of that?” I might hear the words “stupid” and “hypocrite” in my head, but I don’t receive them anymore, like I did years ago.

This journey of faith includes some shocking leaps and heartbreaking falls, but mostly is a long-play, where our growth is lived out in baby steps and 2 forward and 1 back. Today probably doesn’t feel vastly different from yesterday, or last week, but if you would meet the you from 10 years ago, you would hopefully roll your eyes and shake your head at all the things you wish you had known then. You might not even recognize you, your beliefs, your values, your hands or feet.

This is why we need each other, why we need Ricks in our lives, right? To call us back when we lose our way. To pull those tornadoes in our head apart, exposing the venomous deception. To congratulate us when we have mistaken our trial as failure. To ask if we’re ok and wait for an answer, even one that is true. To point out that we are New Creations, even if it takes a while to forget all of the habits we’ve held closely (as if the habits were who we were) for so long. To remind us where we are going and how remarkably far we’ve come.

Congratulations, indeed.

More On The Path To Release

I might call this The Tension of Trying to Know What To Release.

What I have been being taught for the last 44 years and that I am beginning to actually learn is that I (or you or Barack Obama or Donald Trump or Tony Robbins or anybody) has practically zero real influence on anyone else. You might think you see something that is not, um, let’s use the parlance of the day and say: “living my best life,” and want something different, better for me.

Now, let’s for a minute say that you’re right. Let’s put aside all of the ways we try to fix or fit each other into the boxes that make us comfortable without a clue as to what might be good or healthy or desirable for the other, ok? You’re right, the thing you see IS in fact causing me to not live my best life. Now what? In all likelihood, I don’t care. Not even a little.

Nearly without exception, we gravitate to the people and ideas with which we agree. This is why Fox News, MSNBC, Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher exist and have such wide audiences. Not a soul on the right watches Maher and no leftist would be caught dead listening to Limbaugh. The things that make the deepest impressions are those that we already believe shared in a fresh manner, with clever words and phrases.

People will do what people will do. I will change only if and when I am good and ready to change, or when God stops me on the road to Damascus and transforms me. We don’t change each other. Then why we do this dance of buying the delusion that we can “speak into” another’s life? Of course it’s pride, like everything else, but whose?

Is it yours, for thinking it is your place to point me down the right path? For thinking you know the right path? Isn’t that arrogant and more than a little self-righteous?

Or is it mine, for not listening to what may be wisdom? For not being open to new (often opposing and wildly uncomfortable) ideas and concepts? For protecting my current paradigm against all foreign attack?

Both. So now what?

First and foremost, I guess we focus on becoming the kind of people who listen to the externals, sifting the wisdom from the agenda-driven narcissism, and evaluating it honestly. And we release the rest. We don’t just throw Sgt. Pepper’s in the garbage because it doesn’t sound like Help! We look for the truth and adopt it. We aren’t really supposed to dig deep ruts to plant our feet and stay the same forever. We shed the constricting old skins, instead wearing coverings of perpetual growth.

But as far as getting our observations, advice or best intentions all over anyone else? As far as asking them to focus on that same growth? We probably release that.

But isn’t it natural and, yes, loving to want lives of peace and joy for others? What if your experience might be valuable? What if you have a heart that beats for others and you are well aware that the biggest blind spot is our own mirror? What if you simply want to help?

I don’t know. This is the “tension” of the title. On a cynical day, I’d say nobody cares what you think. On an optimistic day – which I believe is accurate – that mantra changes to almost nobody cares what you think. If we are becoming the people who listen and grow, how else would we be exposed to fresh new perspectives that change our own? Maybe we have to try, at some point. But what about all of the relationship wreckage that will surely litter our lives?

What about that??? Is it worth it?

See? Tension. We are asked to hold most things with 2 hands, rarely is anything purely black and white, no matter how much we want them to be. No matter how much we want a guidebook that will enter data and receive the correct answer.

Sometimes sure, it is worth it. Others, no way. And sometimes the yes and no are for precisely the same reason: because the relationship is that important.

Maybe this is why my lesson on Release is taking soooooooo long.

Unknown

Last week, I wrote a post from inside the process. This is only noteworthy because it so rarely happens. We have gotten accustomed to stories with an arc; beginning, middle, and end. A story without an end leaves us in varying degrees of discomfort. Where are we? What is happening? And most importantly, will everything be ok?

I got several messages asking these questions, looking for resolution, from people I love very much and who love me back. My sister (The Best Sister In The World) sent the first, on her lunch break, then hearing that I was in fact better than ok, she was able to return to work. People are just wonderful.

But I think we’ve been mislead somewhere along the way, and it was last week that started me down this path. Because I was so happy and full, if a little confused and unsure in the middle of this swirl of information trying to find cohesion, it was strange that those I love so dearly would be concerned. The path is dangerous, but nothing worthwhile ever comes without it, so maybe our ideas of good & bad, desirable and un-, should be re-arranged. Maybe the things that make us uncomfortable should be welcomed with a bit more hospitality, because the ‘us’ that we will become is so valuable. Maybe the uncertainty of the journey is the catalyst for the stretching that will leave us transformed. Maybe we should, as this brilliant fitness guy I follow online (Aadam Ali, Physiqonomics) says, “embrace the suck.”

Sure, we don’t want to, but the only way is through.

I was struggling with words and judgment because not everything I see, hear, and experience is for public display. Before I write or speak about anything or anyone, I have to discern if it is personal and/or the person would not appreciate seeing his or her name on a website or Sunday morning. That’s not always easy. As you have probably figured out, I think everything should be out in the open, where the light can reach it. We have these stories of defeat or celebration, with everything in between, for each other to glean from, to find hope or belonging or acceptance or encouragement. We find that we are not alone, and that’s probably what we’re all looking for anyway, right? Even more than we want to know why, we want someone’s hand to hold in the unknown.

BUT I might not be in the majority in this, and other’s stories are not mine to tell.

Last week was the last week of basketball for my boys and that brings with it a full, heavy load of contrasting emotions. There are things I’d like to protect them from (teenaged boys can be awfully frightened, insecure animals and act out of those fears in inhuman fashion) and behaviors I’d like to shield them from, but there are also vital lessons that are learned there, about themselves and their teammates. They find courage and the will to do the hard things that are so rewarding, as well as pride in themselves and their hard work.

Now. I do this work for lots of reasons and sometimes, like today, I find the reason mid-stream.

I had trouble last week making sense of all of this chaos…because there was no end. My boys are still working their way through it as well, we don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Will the locker-room nastiness and fake boyhood posturing jade them or will they rebel against a culture of comparison and competition, where we tear each other down in a misguided attempt to build ourselves up? Who knows???? I want to text them from the end and ask if they are ok, if everything turned out for the best, just like my friends did with me, but there is no end here. Maybe there’s never an end, here. Maybe it’s just all the journey, different steps on the path, different heights on the mountain, with slips and falls and leaps and bounds.

Maybe we just keep taking steps, embracing the suck, eyes wide open for the beauty in the midst, remembering (and reminding each other) to trust that this story was never ours to begin with – it’s God’s, and He is still with us, has never abandoned us – and holding each other’s hands in the unknown.

Blocked

I’m not sure there will be a post this week… I mean, outside of this detailed mess explaining why there won’t be a post this week.

This isn’t because there isn’t anything to write about. Quite the opposite, actually; There’s so much and most of it hasn’t been processed in my own head. I’ve spent more time than I could tell you starting and starting over and starting over again and again. If it were an old movie, there would be a wastecan in the corner overflowing with crumpled papers thrown across the room to illustrate frustration and defeat.

I’m not too frustrated and not at all defeated, though. This is all part of the experience, and one I kind of like. Sure, it’s cool to post and to see who reads or watches and if you liked it or if you didn’t, if it forced questions and examination, sparked a train of thought to move through previously untouched areas. The birth of our work, when it’s finished and available for…whatever it will be…is fun and exciting. When I wrote my book, I loved holding it, sharing it with you and giving it space to breathe.

But that wasn’t the best part. The best part was the planning, outlining, thinking, meditating, agonizing; the best part was actually writing. The best part was the creation itself.

If our only joy is in the product… Well, the product is only such a small part of the work. And then what? What if no one “likes” our posts? What if no one reads them? What if I still have boxes of books left over? If I write and no one is there to read it, what was the point at all? What is success? How much is enough? Does everyone have to think it’s awesome (and the obvious implication is that then everyone thinks I am awesome) or be moved or have some sort of reaction? If we give a gift and there’s no “thank you” or acknowledgment at all, then what? Is the gift wasted? Meaningless?

It’s like an iceberg – the product is only the very tippy top. The hours and hours and sweat and tears and heartache are the rest.

If you coach a team, there’s all of the many hours of practice, building relationships with while teaching the players. The games are such a small part, they can seem almost irrelevant. Yet it’s too often the only tool we use to evaluate a season.

I have lots to say and no idea how to say it. This chaos will separate, crystallize, (it always does), and come to you in the next several weeks. For today, I’m sitting in it, watching it swirl and listening to the clanging noise that signifies something valuable.

I’m just not sure what it is yet.

But there is the truth that is in this room, standing by the window begging to be noticed. It’s the chaos, asking us to engage, inviting us to wrestle and stretch the boundaries of who and what we are, that is the purpose. If we miss the moments of the journey, focusing only on the product, we’ve completely missed the lesson. Our output will be largely superficial and hollow, never having been lived in or allowed to transform us. We trade the process for the end, and when we do that, the end is never going to be enough (there are never enough likes or shares or views or zeroes on a paycheck), we are never going to be enough, the noise will never stop and we will never rest.

I was 100% wrong earlier, the birth isn’t the finished product, it’s us, it’s our lives, and it’s a really big deal that we not miss them.