Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Awakening

Two years have gone by.
But where did they go?
If not for the kiss of friendship from a true love from far away would I ever have awakened?
Sometimes that's what it takes to be released from the bone crushing juggernaut of organic depression.
I had been languishing for over a year. Not untreated, but not thriving either. Because one of the hallmarks of this lifelong illness is its cunning ability to drive one underground, away from the contacts and community one needs most.
There is an inherent sense of shame and humiliation that sets in as the pall of grey settles over one's body, a palpable weight rendering one helpless from seemingly simple tasks. It is a sense of being held captive by ghosts.
To the outsider, seeing nothing present, it must appear bewildering, even frustrating, as all attempts to motivate or assist fail.  Believe me, it is just as baffling on the inside as out, as a silent hand clamps down on one's chest, inhibiting movement, day after day.
Only something equally monumental seemed to move me:
As my compatriot called informing me she'd literally lost everything, my compassion rose to meet her and my heart swelled beyond the reaches of my depression.
As we were problem solving for her future, she challenged me about mine:
Why are you not blogging your experience?
Indeed, why not?
Mutual compassion reaches beyond the bondage of self.
Her question, her life, seized me.
For in the depths of true loss, she was seeking creative ways to move forward and I was helping her to find them.
In that moment of awareness, the Light in each of us spoke to each other and I was able to feel it once again.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Toward A More Compassionate Life

In Christine Feldman's wonderful book called simply Compassion, she tells a little story about a monk who had journeyed to Dharamsala to meet with the Dalai Lama after twenty years of imprisonment.  The Dalai Lama asked the monk, "Was there a time when you felt your life was truly in danger?"  The old monk answered, "The only times I felt deeply endangered were the moments I felt in danger of losing my compassion for my jailers."

This image comes to me frequently when I am struggling with my attempts to live a simple life of daily compassion.  I am so aware that I become my own jailer at the moments that I become unable to let go of even the smallest moments of bitterness, jealousy and anger.  I am so apt to hang on to my desire to see things go my own way even though it doesn't make a bit of difference.  It is just my attachment to habit and familiarity, and it robs me of compassion for my fellow human.

Especially in moments of my own pain or discomfort will I be most likely to cling to this pathway.  I want comfort in my little habits and even when people are coming to comfort me, I will fling them away, fail to answer a phone call or turn away a person eager to visit, because I am unable to greet them with the hospitality needed.  In doing so, I may turn away a new opportunity for growth or harmony and accept my own misery for that day.  My failure to cultivate compassion for others is also a lack of compassion for myself.

Today, in a moment of brightness and beauty, it came to me that through the cultivation of compassion for all things, I cultivate peace to the very core of my being. Each moment that I am able to let go of my attachment to anger, bitterness and frustration with others and see the non-sense of my attachment of to needing things to turn out in a particular manner, I come closer to feeling that peace. I see that the possibility of harmony and connection with another being is much more important to me than the outcome of the moment.  

I soften and loosen my bondage on the outcome on the moment.  I breathe into that moment and become more present.  Here is my brother or sister, created of the same matter as me.  What could I want except to be present with them in this moment.  Let all beings be at peace.

We disagree.  We at times, in our minds, come from very different places.  We are always of the same matter.  We are always the same beings.  We are always capable of peace.  I am always capable of peace.

I see in this moment that regardless of my brother or sister's stance, I needn't lose compassion for who they are at the very core of their being.  I see that what is most important to me is to maintain my sense of connection and compassion for them as my brother or sister, as my same self.  I am always of love.

In my spiritual life, this is the place I choose to stand.  It is the only place I have to stand. It is the place I have been called to.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Should We Stand On the Peace Testimony?



There’s a conversation going on over at QuakerQuaker.org that is important, and that led me to this question.  It’s called “A Hermeneutics of Non-Violence "http://www.quakerquaker.org/profiles/blogs/a-hermeneutics-of-non-violence?xg_source=activity).  Randy Oftedahl asks us, among other questions:  

 “Should Quakers seek to promote, to use the phrase of Adam Erickson of the Raven Foundation, ‘a hermeneutics of non-violence,’ in keeping with our Peace Testimony and historic witness, as our collective role and presence and purpose in the church of Christ in the world today?

Should this include a willingness on the part of each one of us to examine and speak out against ALL forms of violence, in ourselves, in others, in our S/society, in our country, and in our world, whether inter-personal violence or cultural violence, whether in the form of militarism, or racism, or sexism, or classism, or economic exploitation, or religious prejudice, or any other form, whether historical by our ancestors or in ourselves today, whether blatant, or latent, or actively denied?”



This is in keeping with the questions I’ve been asking about being a non-violent entrepreneur.  Should I examine myself for the seeds of non-violence and take up a stand about it in the world today?  It’s a huge question.


In my own Meeting, and in many Meetings, I observe that what we do is take stands for the issues where we see violence, not take stands on the testimonies. There’s a big difference.  Perhaps we need to examine whether as the Religious Society of Friends our stand would have more impact if we stand together on our Testimony of Peace and stand together.  We are seeing the power of the people standing together for the rights of all people to marry.  This to me, has at least the same impact and import.


When we start with genuine compassion and honesty for ourselves, to look inward and examine the places where we fall short of a genuine unity with the peace testimony in our daily lives, we begin to approximate what it will take to reach unity as a Society and become a strong voice again for peace in our world. 


We have often become weak in our daily lives, sufficing to live by the mission of the workplace we are employed under, rather than asking, “Does this mission statement meet the testimonies I have come to believe and stand under in my religion?”  How many of us ask, “Does my investment portfolio have investments that have their roots in violence or damage to others?” Do we endeavor to teach our children the roots of violence in our everyday actions?

Do we call on others in our Meetings, and in the World, to do the same? How much do we teach, discuss and worship over the roots of our faith that form the Peace Testimony.  Do we give lip service to the thing called the Peace Testimony or do we search out and teach the Biblical and historical roots that gave rise to people testifying in the name of peace? 


As I read it, the people spoken of in John Woolman’s “Plea for the Poor, Part X” were not too far from what we view in the world now.  Woolman was cautioning the world that many were so far from the vision of Christ’s religion as to be hid from it, and these people were able to participate in war with no sense of their sin.  He goes on to caution those with property and wealth that this is contrary to universal righteousness, and he asks them to examine if they are declaring against war that they must examine their motives for holding great estates.  He calls on the poor to come forward and take the stand for peace for they are without hidden motive. 


This is a strong indictment and one that no doubt many people in our Society would react against today.  But does it have bearing on our self-examination?  Is there merit to examining the roots of our investments, our possessions and our motives and gaining self-understanding before we stand against war and violence?  In gaining self-understanding might we gain the inner strength we need to bond together as a Society and prove that there is a place for non-violent resistance?  Might we show that there is a place for economic and entrepreneurial resistance as well? 


It is my thesis that in our honest and straightforward approach to our dealings with others we have been met over the centuries with respect and reconciliation, and we of the Religious Society of Friends have a tradition that is deeply rooted in Biblical and history:  It is time for the Society of Friends to lead by standing firm on the Testimony of Peace.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What Is Non-Violent Entrepreneurship?




For us, peace is not just ending war
or violence, but nurturing the capacity of
individuals, communities, and societies to
sustain harmonious relationships based on
mutual respect and caring for the welfare of
all. We seek to reconcile enemies and serve
the needs of all sides torn by violent strife.

This simple paragraph was taken from American Friends’ Service Committee’s pamphlet on the Quaker testimonies.  It is their statement about their position on the peace testimony in their own work. I chose to reprint it here precisely because it is so simple. 

What if as a business, YOU chose to nurture the capacity of individuals, communities and society to sustain harmonious relationships based on mutual respect and caring for the welfare of all?
What would that look like?  Would there be any practices in your business that you practice right now that would be limited by your making this statement? How do you feel about that?

My guess is that for a fair amount of businesses, this is not so hard.  We are in a feel good kind of era with business these days, and harmonious relationships is what it’s all about.  So chances are I haven’t lost a whole lot of you yet.  We can do SEO (search engine optimization), keyword searches, keep our whole standard approach and move on from here, right?

Okay then…

As a business, we NOW seek to reconcile our enemies and serve the needs of all sides torn by violent strife.  How’s that striking YOU? This is what AFSC has committed to as a business, really. Do you understand what this means?  That instead of adopting the winner takes all competitive blast them away attitude, you seek to resolve differences and reconcile with enemies and then, yes, serve the needs of all sides. 

Let’s look at how this is a wise business strategy. 
Instead of destroying business competitors and leaving them in the wake, one strives to keep business people as partners and customers, and to resolve differences wherever possible so that there is not the same kind of competition that makes enemies or strife.  Does this mean there won’t be strife?  Probably not.  It just means committing to not be a party to it and doing whatever is possible to resolve conflicts wherever possible…good Quaker business practice.

Friends, this is Slow Business. 
It takes dealing with businesses on a person to person level.  It does not involve ignoring modern business practices but it also does not mean ignoring time-tested practices for the new. Non-violence is not new business either.  People like to be dealt with gently.  They like to be treated kindly. These practices are the things that are forgotten when we begin to push for the sale.

Begin to think of whether in your heart, you are a Non-Violent Entrepreneur.

Monday, February 3, 2014

IN THE WAKE OF ANOTHER LIFE SNUFFED OUT TOO SOON


I’m filled with grief over the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman, or rather what his loss represents in this generation of beautiful souls who, like so many in my own generation of the 1970s, seem hell-bent on taking themselves out too soon, barely discovering their own genius and putting it to use for their people.
I am reading Christine Feldman's book Compassion and in it today I found the quote

"Each moment you bolt from the reality or even the anticipation of the painful, you are building yet another fence that makes your world just a little smaller.  You are telling yourself that your demons and the demons you meet in others are mightier than the vastness of your heart."

Later,



"You can take your meditation, your willingness to be still, into your life.  You can learn to pause in the moments when you are prone to flee, to soften in the moments when you feel your heart hardening with resistance and blame. Cultivating tolerance is like opening the door to your heart."

Well, you know!  I wish I could teach this lesson to so many who are so fearful and so lost.  I wish to say to them, just breathe, and now breathe again and again, it will pass, this feeling you are feeling. Let us into your heart!  This quote was so helpful to me in dealing with Philip Seymour Hoffman's death and what it represented to me about how many people are fleeing life and living their lives daily on life's terms. It resonated to me about my friend who daily copes, or resists coping, with anxiety and depression and who is barely clinging to life. Not all who cope with crack or heroin or oxycodone are rich and famous. Most are you or me, living a too fast-paced life for their DNA and wondering how to get off the merry-go-round but thinking all their friends are doing so much better than themselves.

Clue 1:  They are not living better than you, and if they are it is due to a solitary thing:  THE QUALITY OF THEIR SPIRITUAL LIFE.

What is this thing we call a “spiritual life?”  It is not, as the Christian Right is wont to say, a life born again into the blood of the lamb.  Oh no.  It is perhaps that for some people, but it is oh so much more and so much less than that.  It does not have to be any of that if you do not want it to be.  

Clue 2:  Spiritual Life does have to have some of the elements that hopefully born again people find in that life, but that are found through many spiritual paths and hopefully found most through open observation of self and others:

·         COMPASSION for one’s self and others
·        TOLERANCE
·        PATIENCE
·        EQUANIMITY
The capacity to feel these things lies within your heart and the heart opens to the exploration of each of these with the power of observation and meditation.

Clue 3:  The more you try to escape life, the more inevitably it traps you.  You can’t escape so the sooner you turn and face your demons the more likely you are to avoid the inevitable demise of people like your friends who have passed or Philip Seymour Hoffman.

This is sobering.  Whenever I am faced with a sudden death of a genius spirit like Philip’s or my friend Alison’s (she was shot by an ex-lover while living a ‘passionate life on the edge’, another amazing genius taken from us at an early age), I am filled with grief from some depth I forgot I had.  I know so many people like this in the rooms of the twelve step programs.  They are brilliant stars, yet they keep dancing so close to the flame, one wonders when they will snuff out.
No amount of talk can reel these comets in.  They hover near safety then spark off to some other danger.  Those of us on a path of more spiritual direction pray for their souls, yet we have witnessed all too often what happens when they rumble too near a meteor or a black hole.  We’re used to celebrating their memorials, crying the tears, saying, “There but for the Grace of God, go I…”

Peace lies only within.  A higher power is of one’s own making – this is true.  We have limitless spiritual and non-spiritual traditions that others may draw on, yet what of those who choose to draw on none?  We must always go within and face our own demons, yet some I fear will always find their demons too scarey.   
I want to tell them that the demon is only wearing a mask.