So much goes in and at some point it’s satisfying to see what can come out. Shared knowledge and competing theories bombard our worldly brains daily. All of it is diluted and agitated as is clothing in a washing machine. Some bleed and forever ruin others. Some become dull with each repetition of the wash cycle. Perhaps the real value goes unnoticed as the tainted water drains away from each load. The spin cycle borders on violent – all supporting the intention of keeping things clean, odor and stain free. What if we’ve been scammed into believing half truths about the meaning of beautiful or even clean? What if there is beauty along with shadow in all of us and but we have never been taught how to see it all clearly and how to appreciate it.
Drawn to the Paradox Playground, it’s appropriate to feel both excitement and dread. Will the lessons there hurt too much? What if the fear slams eyes shut and ears fold into themselves? Will it then be dark and completely silent making it impossible for anything of value to break free of the logjam? Or will stepping away from the limitations of human senses open the way towards the complete truth? Will there be relief from the relentless stream of incongruent thoughts and feelings? Will it be lonely there or the opposite?
There’s only one way to find out. We need to go and find out. We’ll be gentle.
Family can be the place of unconditional love and acceptance. The connections between family members are straightforward. This one is the parent and this one is the child. This one is the sibling and this one is the cousin. In the cleanliness of a tidy genealogy chart everyone knows the importance of their spot on their chart. Without filling their charted position , others below them wouldn’t exist. This alone gives some a sense of purpose. It can give meaning to lives.
Family can also be a place of disastrous devastation since our sense of worth is determined by the treatment we receive from adults as infants. No need to list the many ways children are harmed by family. There is only a need to note that it happens.
Paradox of family. It’s not either or. It is what it is. It is all of being. It is the Primary Paradox Playground since it is the first place where what feels good and what hurts must be held at the same time. Paradox’s Potential arrives here first. There are always a wide range of apparent choices when it comes time to react: shame, compassion, revenge, healing, kindness, rage, resentment, guilt, love, victimhood, and empowerment. These choices aren’t either or. Typically it’s a turbulent and jostling journey in and out of every choice and every role. The pile of chips in the rage pile may overtake the pile of chips in the empowerment pile. But maybe that rage can be redirected onto itself and the entire pile tossed into its own funeral pyre leaving primarily healing, kindness and compassion. We all experience all of it and then, if we are open to learning, we can end up farther down the path and into the light. No one is immune from the struggle of paradox.
Hey! Wait! Let’s not let our visit to the Paradox Playground turn into a carnival-like whack-a-mole blame game. Instead, hold out both of your hands palms up. If we can see and feel that we each hold what appear to be opposing truths within ourselves and that we juggle those constantly, maybe we can have more compassion for ourselves and others. Let’s see…
Almost all of us have a mixed up, paradoxical attitude about change. Sometimes we think that change isn’t possible. How many times have you heard, “That’s just the way I am.”? We might feel stuck doing things the way we have always done them. Then, aren’t we also often hoping for change with each sometimes insatiable desire for new things, new experiences, and new opportunities? We can find ourselves sometimes hoping for change and fearing it at the same time. We want to believe that change is possible because that means that our lives can be better. But, we can also resist change, even change for the better because of comfort with the familiar.
Are your hands still held out with palms up? Put desire for change in one hand and resistance to change in the other and then juggle! You got it!
Even our most preciously held values are toys in the Paradox Playground. I’ll use myself as an example but I’m guessing that if you look honestly and closely enough you’ll be able find plenty examples in your own life. Some years ago, I became disillusioned with a group that taught the importance of treating all people with respect and dignity. My disillusionment stemmed from observing some of the group leaders only being comfortable with people of a certain social status. It became clear to me to that many weren’t walking their talk. Filled with disappointment, I left the group for about a decade. Eventually I returned for short visits but it took several years of wrestling with my disillusionment with some of the privileged people there before I could see the paradox I had created within myself. I was judging them for judging others. I was doing to them exactly what I was upset with them for doing to others. Oh drat! Good old self-righteousness blinded me to my own paradoxical conundrum.
Hands out with palms up please… Put your values in one hand and put your self-righteousness in the other and juggle away. You don’t think you’ve ever done anything like this before? Maybe you haven’t yet found a way to remove the blinders. That’s ok. Someday, hopefully they will drop away.
Shall we poke around the Paradox Playground just a little more? Sure, why not!
How about this time we just deal with you and you? It simplifies things when fewer people are involved, right? Have you ever felt a need to stay calm and be relaxed? It seems that it shouldn’t be so hard to just relax. But, have you also noticed that the harder you try to relax, the more tense you get? Straining to find serenity doesn’t make any sense but that’s often exactly what we do.
Hands out with palms up please. You know what to do by now. Juggle away!
So how do we deal with all these internal and external paradoxes? We don’t need to whack-a-mole or juggle them. Once we see them, we can own them. What if there really is something that comes off in the wash after we have isolated our personally owned paradoxes. We have dirty clothes in one hand and clean clothes in the other. On the surface it seems that when we put the dirty, soiled clothes in the washing machine and end up with clothing that seems presentable, that’s good but the paradox remains. Without acknowledging the paradox we find that the constant need to juggle and agitate things in life is incessantly and uncomfortably nipping at our heels. What if holding the paradox in each hand without juggling and without agitating was an option? What if by doing that we found value in what normally is sloughed off and is usually ignored like the washing machine water?
The gift is the awareness of the many paradoxes that we hold. If we bring awareness and acceptance to these many paradoxes, then calm has a lot better chance of arriving naturally. Holding each truth with honesty frees us to calming experience peace without agitation
Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques
Sonnez les matines. Sonnez les matines.
Ding ding dong. Ding ding dong.
Breath rising and falling. Blades of the fan slowly journeying round and round in search of a destination. Eyes and ears wide open ready for the next repetition. Lulled and soothed by the familiar words, the same inflections. Comforted with the expectation that the bells will ring and all will be fine. Frere Jacques almost missed the moment of his commitment but the bells still rang. And rang. And rang. Swaying to the reliable sound of the bells felt delicious. Full body bell ringing. Familiar sounds like arms wrapped around sadness, loneliness and bewilderment. Frere Jacques to the rescue!
I’m new to racquetball. The first time I ever played was 6 weeks ago. But I love it. Today while I was playing I was totally in the novice racquetball zone.
Life lessons were streaming through my mind as I hit the ball against those lovely blank walls. You can read these tidbits as if they only apply to racquetball if you’d like, but in my mind they were synonymous with major life lessons.
1. You don’t have to know all the rules to get the goodies from playing.
2. If you hit the ball really hard, it might feel fantastic but it flies back at you really hard and this makes the next shot nearly impossible to make.
3. It is better to play by yourself at least until you feel confident that you can have a certain amount of control of your hits. Then, only play with someone else if you feel like it.
4. Sometimes it’s good to miss because then you can get a minute to breathe before it’s time to hit the next ball coming at you!
5. If you hit the ball too high, it bounces back way too high to hit.
6. If the ball comes back too low on the floor, it’s best to just pick it up and start again.
7. If you keep playing, you’ll get better and better and better.
8. You don’t have to compete to have fun.
9. If you practice focusing on what you’re doing, you’ll hit better and you’ll hone your concentration skills at the same time.
10. If you hit the ball with medium force, it’s easier to return and easier to control.
11. Sometimes it feels GREAT to just smash the ball has hard as you can and it doesn’t really matter what happens next.
12. Just because you can hit a blue ball against a blank wall over and over and over is a good enough reason to do it.
13. You don’t have to chase the balls that you’re pretty sure you’re going to miss because after they hit on the back wall, they usually eventually bounce near you.
This morning I decided that I wanted to start and end my day with a statement of intention. I wanted to take one of my specific goals and incorporate something into my day to increase my awareness and focus on that goal. As do most people, I have several goals. After some reflection I chose the statement, “My gentleness rests on my strength.”
For the past few years I’ve been working diligently on my physical strength. At the same time, I’ve devoted more and more time to developing myself spiritually. I want to put some awareness to integrating those efforts.
As I have enjoyed watching my body transform into that of an athlete, it has become more and more clear that the stronger I feel in one area the more my confidence and strength grows in other areas.
This awareness causes me to reflect on a eureka moment from decades ago. I used to love fire walking. A group would get together monthly to enjoy some singing and other fun bonding activities. The evening would start with the building of a bonfire. Towards the end of the evening there were embers left in the fire pit. These were raked out so they were spread evenly on the ground. Then one by one people would walk or run barefoot through the embers. No, no one ever got burnt. Honestly, there’s no magic to fire walking. It’s just physics. It’s possible to walk on hot embers and it really doesn’t hurt. It’s scary the first time but soon becomes exhilarating. I have very fond memories of running again and again through the coals. We’d end the evening in a circle listening to each other share feelings about the experience. Over and over people said, “If I can walk on fire, I can do anything.” EUREKA! That was one of the special experiences that taught me that I can accomplish difficult things. I can walk on fire. I can be a very physically strong 65 year old. I can feel confident and comfortable working with incarcerated people. I can live through extreme emotional trauma and still really like who I am. I can travel to a distant, unknown culture and create a successful business with the people there. I can create a holistic healing business and help people find their way to wellness. I’ve done those things because I chose to tap into my strength.
Now I know that I can apply my strength to my spiritual goals. I want to more consistently bring and spread love and kindness in my day to day life through gentleness. I want to be able to stay calm and grounded when around people whose values clash with my own. I want to bring comfort to ease human suffering. I want to have compassion for people who suffer. If I can walk on fire, I can do these things.
Starting today I will begin and end every day with these words: MY GENTLENESS RESTS ON MY STRENGTH.
Since this song set the tone for the fire walking event and because they are so meaningful to me, I want to share the lyrics to below.
How could anyone ever tell you
You were anything less than beautiful
How could anyone ever tell you
You were less than whole?
How could anyone fail to notice
That your loving is a miracle
How deeply you’re connected to my soul.
Last year we started a fitness support group at our church. Many people welcomed the idea and talked about their desire to become more fit. Still, many people found it difficult to maintain the motivation to participate regularly. That’s not a new challenge for a fitness group and we wanted to see if we could find solutions that would be helpful. Since being connected to our church community, I thought that it might helpful if people could see the connection between fitness and their spiritual goals. But, honestly, the words to explain that connection didn’t come to me right away.
Since then my broader study of yoga has helped. Previously I knew that yoga was a specific spiritual practice in itself. Now, it’s a little clearer to me that any fitness program is or can become a spiritual practice.
The key to this understanding came from Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s book
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Hey everyone! It’s time to paaaarrrty!
Wait. Let’s back up. It’s time to plan a party. A peace party! But why and how?
Bloggers for Peace is a group of bloggers committed to promoting peace through monthly peace postings. This month’s challenge is to plan a party that will “ripple peace to the world.” That’s a tall order, especially for a person who doesn’t excel at planning even regular parties! Never fear.
Together we can do this!
In order to create our peace party, let’s identify some of the attributes that would make this party a peace party. Peace typically involves groups of people but each individual must be personally committed to peace for it to work. Sometimes it is hardest to achieve peace between groups that have conflicting perspectives or perceived conflicting goals. So, our peace party would need to invite groups of people and ideally they would be diverse groups of people. And, all these people would need to feel heard, respected and secure. The atmosphere could be one of jubilation or of serenity. The mood would depend on the needs of the individuals and the groups involved. Again, the nature of this party would need to reflect the needs of many people. It seems like we need to invite many and encourage everyone to personalize it to suit them.
Let’s all use our imaginations to create our global peace party. We’ll set a specific day and a specific time for our peace party. When the party starts everyone will be encouraged to close their eyes and create the ideal peace party in their imagination.
The location for the party could be at home, in nature, or at some new or exotic location. A small intimate group of friends could be invited or millions or only oneself. There could be decorations that reflect peace. Maybe there are peace signs, mountains of colorful flowers, pictures of happy faces, or nature scenes. Each person would hear music that sets the tone for them. And they would see the entertainment that they feel best reflects a peace celebration. Maybe there could be speeches or games or dancing or simply sitting in silent meditation. All options are available to all people. Maybe everyone around the globe would take a specific peace action at the exact same moment. Finally, everyone would be asked to experience the manifestation of peace as joy, smiles and happiness.
I asked a few friends to send some brief notes with their peace party ideas. Here is what they sent.
Terri – I’d hold it in a Japanese garden with Ammachi from India. Music would be American Indian flute, artwork would decorate the party perhaps Georgia O’Keefe (I like big flowers). There would be speeches by David Helfgott (pianist…’Shine’ the movie), people with disfigurements and disabilities from violent offenses committed to them would be seen living full forgiving lives such as the woman who is a child Meglele survivor from Aushwitchz who has forgiven. Food would be from all over the world, but any animal products would have been killed ritually (no pigs or cows to respect the religions). Cat Stevens is cool.
Anna – I would have the party in Switzerland because that country managed to remain neutral during 2 world wars. It has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world and, of course, chocolate would be the featured food. Gandhi, the Dali Lama, former President and Mrs. Carter would be invited. There would be a time for peaceful meditation as well as a time for great conversation.
Deb – I would begin in Downtown Detroit, with a Pied Piper like parade of people singing and coming out to join the parade. Then we would end in space to turn into a community garden. Together! I chose Detroit because Detroit just declared bankruptcy. There are so many abandoned buildings, homes, etc., that parts of the city are being reclaimed by nature — parks are growing into fields of grasses. And there are community gardens being created and tended by community organizers. Saw it all on Anthony Bordain’s show, Parts Unknown, on CNN. They need a Pied Piper! When Cuba was suffering so under the embargo in the 60’s and 70’s they began a national slogan, Si se puede or Yes we Can!
Sarah – Peace ah freedom. I hear messages all the time that we need to have guns and war to have peace. Peace. I am reading an astronaut’s guide to life on earth by the former commander of the ISS Chris Hadfield. He says it is always so busy but every chance he got he would look at our planet. He took tons of pictures of our planet. I think I would want the party on the ISS. There is no gravity so they had flying races and played with water bubbles so cool and so utterly disarming and peaceful. Peace to look out the window and see ‘our world.’
Nancy – I just heard on public radio that there is less war going on now in the world than in recorded history. Peace is winning, one person at a time.
Now I invite you to imagine an event that would ripple peace to the world. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below.