Listening is Not Agreeing –
Late last week someone said something about me and that I didn’t agree. At first, the emotion was to respond, defend myself, dig in my heels, push back against the criticism. It wasn’t something overwhelmingly harsh but it did rub me the wrong way.
Instead of responding right away I sat with it for a bit and reflected on it. Oftentimes critiques are met with resistance. We want to defend ourselves. However, if we are too quick to jump our own defense we might miss something constructive. There’s an old wisdom saying; “Both criticism and compliments should be taken with the same weight.” Receiving compliments and praise can be easier but they have a way of pumping up our ego and sense of self. Criticisms, if held on to, can create bitterness, rivalry, and ruptured relationships.
One of the greatest disciplines of contemplative listening is found in the truth; “Listening is not agreeing.” When someone speaks to us a compliment or criticism we do not have to own it, take it inside of us, let it mingle with our minds, emotions, and spirits. We can examine it, turn it over in our minds and, if we have self-awareness, can decide if it is meant for us, to grow, to learn, to let it become a part of us. Perhaps its simply another’s opinion and through insight and stillness, we discover that we can let it go. It’s not for us.
“The mark of a wise mind is the ability to hold a thought in our heads
and not necessarily believe it to be true.” #Aristotle
One of the hardest things to do in life is to admit we are powerless. It’s not in our DNA. We are overcomers. We make a way where there isn’t a way. We will not be conquered, helpless, ineffectual, useless, defenseless, defeated.
However, there are times when we have no choice. In spite of our defiance and indomitable spirit, we must admit we cannot win, change or alter a situation.
Wisdom tells us that submission can at times be our greatest strength. It is when we are still, not struggling, we find our way to peace and contentment. There is a difference between being physically or emotionally powerless and having the ability to know the fight isn’t ours to win.
Wrestling with the Wind –
The wind has been blowing today, seemingly from all directions, ahead of a cold front which will settle into the area over the weekend. I spent part of the day raking leaves. Raking, gathering, keeping leaves in one place when the wind is determined to send them back to where you brought them from can be frustrating and defeating. The wind can’t be stopped by any force I have, nor can it be altered by anything over which I have control.
After a while I figured out if I would rake small piles, keeping the rake in place to keep the leaves from being blown away, I could eventually form a big enough pile to burn. I also discovered the raking job I was doing today wasn’t going to be close to perfect and I had to be okay with that.
This past week has been similar to my wrestling with the wind today. Many things are moving, changing, and it’s hard to pin anything down. No matter how hard I try, I do not possess the ability to keep things the same nor make them transition slower. Life’s journey has a speed all its own.
So, like the raking method, I take it in small, manageable sizes. I accept what I can that is changing and trust that each partial choice will lead to full acceptance of the inevitable transience of life in time. I’ll also allow for the truth of never being perfectly happy, blissful about change. Wisdom tells me progression not perfection is the way to peace.
Ongoing Grace –
One of the hardest acts in life is letting go of the expectation of an apology from someone who has hurt, offended us. Many times, we never receive what we are tempted to think we deserve.
Not too long ago I received a surprising apology from someone who had hurt me years ago. They asked for forgiveness and I gave it to them. However, apologies can be tricky. When someone expresses regret about an action or harmful words our ability to forgive has much to do with our place on the journey of forgiveness. Saying the words; “I forgive you.” helps but rarely completely, instantly heals the wounds.
Since the apology, there have been moments of pain when I am reminded the wounds are still healing. Times when memories are relived and the urge to fall back into negative thoughts patterns, judgmental attitudes are present. It is here, on our journey, we realize forgiveness is not a one-time act or phrase but a process, an ongoing combination of acts, words, and intent of spirit. There are seasons, moments, instances when the past impresses itself on the present. Wisdom teaches us not to ignore, resent, or seek escape but to let it be a reminder that forgiveness in an ongoing act of grace.
Never Alone –
Yesterday I wrote an anxious post about going to the dentist (https://thewannabesaint.com/2016/07/20/an-anxious-word/). Everything turned out okay. The procedure went fine. I explained to the doctor when I met him a few months ago about my claustrophobia and anxiety disorder. He was more than understanding and went out of his way to make sure I was comfortable. He even allowed Beth to come in to the room stand by my side when I was struggling to stay in the chair during the most painful and invasive part of the surgery. When Beth and I arrived home I crawled in the bed and have slept most of the last two days.
In between my drug induced naps I’ve thought about Beth and the dentist giving me all of the support I needed while going through this traumatic event. They both asked me often; “If I was doing okay? Did I need to take break? Was I okay to continue?” They knew it was my hardship to endure but they made sure I knew I was never alone.
Often times people we love and care for experience dangerous and debilitating seasons and moments. Our first desire is to take their pain away, battle their demons for them. However, most times we don’t have the ability to suffer in their place. What we can do is be there, for as long as they need, find out what we can to help and do it. Above all, by our presence and prayers let them know they are never alone.
This morning someone asked me if; “a leader with a strong personality is a good or bad thing?” I reflected for a few moments on the leaders I have served under. Surprisingly there haven’t been too many who’ve had strong personalities. As I whittled my way through the last I thought of two who fit the description. Interestingly enough one had the opposite personality of the other.
The first was gregarious, affable and larger than life in his expressions of love and support for friend and stranger. He was the type who would come unexpectedly into my office, plop down in a chair, talk for a while and then decide we needed to go to breakfast, no matter the time of day. He wasn’t in competition with his staff, allowed others to shine and didn’t keep a scorecard.
The other wasn’t at all like the former. His personality was certainly large but in a way that kept others in fear of their job or at least being aware their job’s future was in his hands. I do not doubt his love for other people but his leadership style could be overbearing and constraining. There was one way, his, one voice, also his. He believed his vision for where the organization was to go was the right one and took umbrage to anyone who challenged this belief. For those who were comfortable with his style, and their place in the food chain, things were pretty smooth. For those who struggled under the weight of his personality it could be difficult and debilitating.
As the conversation with my friend continued I spoke about both leaders, their style of leading and managing and their grandiose personas. “For those with over-sized personalities, whose job it is to guide staffs, peoples and organizations, not taking oneself too seriously is a good trait to possess. Humility, a servant’s heart and a willingness for others to succeed, to surpass and outgrow your ability to lead are also rare and valuable gifts. Leadership isn’t about sitting, guarding the big chair, but helping others find big chairs of their own to sit in.”
“(We were) …created to have true glory in God. . . This true glory was lost by pride. To recover it we must practice humility. “The surest salvation, the remedy of his ills, and the restoration of his original state is the practice of humility AND NOT PRETENDING THAT HE MAY LAY CLAIM TO ANY GLORY THROUGH HIS OWN EFFORTS BUT SEEKING IT FROM GOD. . . . pride consists not in seeking glory but in seeking it in and by ourselves. Humility seeks glory where it is to be found, in and by and for God. In so seeking, we have his glory in ourselves. We truly possess it. The other way, we have nothing but illusion, and when the illusion is taken away, despair. The right way recognizes that all is a gift, all is in dependence on God’s will.” #ThomasMerton , Notes on the Rule, p. 162
Why is humility so difficult to master? Pride so easily? We judge, label, categorize and quantify people, experiences, life. We hastily choose sides, political parties, agendas. We inform anyone who will listen, and often those who we think should listen, of our likes, dislikes, what we think is right and wrong with the world.
Before we know it we have drawn a circle around ourselves, built walls with our definitions, and embrace a myopic worldview with an ever shrinking mind and shriveled spirit.
The ability to encounter life, each other, every moment with acceptance and gratitude, seeing all as gift is humility. Control, categorizing, creating our own little world is pride.
May we let go and let life/each other be today without notions of how it/they should be.
blessings of light and peace,