Toolbox

Have you ever noticed how we rate many of our capacities as “good” or “bad?”

Take sensitivity, for example. A sensitive heart, open to others, to nature, to art, is a huge asset for beautiful living. Yet at times that very sensitivity gets in our way. Then we may conclude that we are “too empathic” or “too reactive” or some such similar judgment.

I prefer a different way of thinking about personal capacities.

What if we think of all our talents and capacities as a tool box full of useful possibilities? Then the practical question is, when can I use this particular ability and when would it be better not to use it? There is no self-judgment here, no attempt to push away something I may have learned, but only an effort to make everything I see within myself into a useful, helpful capacity.

If I apply this to our sensitivity example, it means that I can fully open my sensitivities to love, to beauty, to joy and to all the ways we humans express these capacities. On the other hand, if someone is dragging at my energy or saying something I’d rather not hear, I can set aside my sensitivity for the time being and turn to some other capacity.

The other day, someone was complaining about how quickly he gets angry and he was angry with himself over it. When I suggested the toolbox, he got it right away. He soon could see that anger is, at its root, intense energy. So if he’s observant, he can choose how to use that energy. He can fling it at someone, but he might also use it to fuel his creativity. Then he doesn’t have to condemn himself, or try to discard his intensity. He gets to choose how to use them. And he can honor himself for that capacity.

Does using our capacities as a toolbox take practice? Yes, it does. And attention to ourselves as well. It’s worth the effort, because it brings more peacefulness into daily living. We condemn ourselves less, we honor ourselves more. We do less of what we don’t want to do, but more of what we respect. And we enrich our ability to respond appropriately and zestfully to people and to life itself.

(I’ll be on vacation next week so don’t expect a blog then!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judgment

The other day a group of us were talking about judgment—how one shouldn’t do it, how we all do it, how we feel guilty when we judge—and then judge ourselves for doing it. It’s an on-going issue for many of us, so here are a few thoughts. If any of you have ideas about it, please do share them!

First, I think of judgment as an attitude of condemnation, in whatever degree the negative feelings come. When I see something and instantly feel that the person who did it is wrong, that feeling is problematic.

It’s not a bad thing to see what another person is doing that may be harmful in some way. But to see it needn’t mean to condemn the person. A dear friend, when someone complained about someone else, used to say, “Isn’t she adorable!” It gave me pause more than once. My friend had come to understand that undesirable behaviors are often just a young soul trying to learn to walk. Do we condemn babies for being awkward or inefficient for trying to learn? No, we see them as “adorable.” Then compassion becomes possible.

Another attitude that has helped me has been to assume from the beginning that everyone is doing the best they can, given what they’ve experienced and what they understand or accept. This assumption gives me the chance to try to understand them, and from understanding, love can grow.

Why are we warned against judging? Well, it can create lousy human relationships, but I suspect the deeper reason is this: judging closes my own heart. If my heart closes more easily than it opens, then the depths of love and joy are less likely to show up. And if the divine aspect of life is loving, then I shut myself off from what is most desirable.

I think we’ve often been taught that it’s “immoral” to judge, that a non-judgmental attitude is a required virtue. Maybe, but it helps me more to think of “don’t judge,” as simply practical advice for opening more and more to love, to the Divine. The heart cannot be open part of the time and closed tight shut at another time. So if we long for a loving heart, we can begin to practice opening rather than judging. And yes, it is a practice!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What next?

The story is told about St. Francis: he and one of the brothers were weeding the garden. The brother was getting impatient, wondering if he should be somewhere else. He asked Francis, “What if you knew you were going to die in your sleep tonight? What would you do right now? Run to the chapel?”

Francis straightened up from his hoeing for a moment of thought. “Well, Brother, I would continue hoeing.”

It’s old advice and familiar, at least intellectually. Be where you are. Do what you’re doing. Be wholehearted. For myself, and I dare to think for most of us, this is at best a practice. For moments, I can touch what this clarity might feel like. Still, when I touch it, there is joy.

To be at one with oneself, to be calmly, gratefully present to the moment and the chosen activity—how can we be like that?

I’m still on the way, so I can’t offer a step-by-step program, but only pieces that seem helpful to me. Each bit is itself an aim, a practice, not yet a state of being.

One piece seems to be: choose carefully what you want to do next. If you have too many options and can’t make a clear decision, you will feel scattered. If you feel pushed into something by someone else, and you’re resisting it, you will feel scattered.

Another is: it isn’t always about liking what you’re doing. It is sometimes a necessity or an unavoidable requirement. I’ve sometimes wished I could ask Francis if he liked weeding. I suspect he would find the question irrelevant. He had chosen it, he stayed present to the task, and therein he found presence to the Divine.

Which, I think, is the point. To let wholeheartedness in the moment expand to awareness of the Larger, the All, the One.

When I’m “in” that awareness, I’m home. So of course in the face of death or any other event, there would be nothing else wanted, nothing else to do. Sitting here at my quiet desk, I can almost feel that. Now to transfer it to a consistency while other things are going on. That is for practice—and likely also for Grace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daily, Daily

“Life is so…daily!” my client said, in a tone of complaint.

“What do you mean?

“Well, we sleep, we wake up, we eat, we do stuff, eat, sleep. Over and over.”

It wasn’t the way I would have described living, but he was bored. I guess that’s why it felt foreign. I’ve had my share of pain and fear, but not boredom.

He had a point:  life is repetitive and largely predictable in its broadest outline. Some things we actually do within every 24 hour period. Reflecting, though, I had to ask, what is the the alternative? Irregularity. Would that be better? Never to know when, or if, night would come? To be uncertain about food or whether we would become hungry? To experience no repetition in those activities by which we earn? And learn? Not to know if or when we’d be ready for rest? Being uncertain about whether the sun would rise?

I prefer to think of life’s dailiness as a rhythm. Rhythm has a repetitive beat, but along with that comes infinite variety, myriad styles and melodies, evoking every imaginable feeling, giving impetus and beauty to our being.

Rhythm brings a certain steadiness of movement, a repetition of the framework of the music, a pulse that is in our bodies as well as in the moon and the changes of seasons. It’s a matter of focus, isn’t it? Where are we putting our attention? On the repetition and sometimes sameness of things, or on the dancing melodies that enter and leave our lives in endless variations?

Fortunately, we needn’t choose. We can enjoy both. Sometimes sameness is profoundly restful, and I need it. Sometimes surprise is the most delightful. I need that too.

As my client and I talked further, he came to realize that it wasn’t the repetition that disturbed him, it was his own attitude toward it. Our work together then became a seeking of ways to support an inner change of focus and a willingness to enjoy life as it is given, and to change it when it is not offering us contentment.

Daily life? Indeed. But Maya Angelou had it right, too: “This is a wonderful day. I’ve never seen this one before.”