I was talking with a friend recently who believes in Bigfoot. My friend is intelligent, philosophical, pragmatic and practical. When I found out he was a believer in Bigfoot I was surprised. At one time he was an avid outdoorsman and through his study and interviews with other people has been convinced by Bigfoot sightings and other evidence. When we talked about it I told him I didn’t believe in Bigfoot. There simply isn’t enough proof that people have seen what they think they saw or that the “evidence” is purposefully or accidentally being misinterpreted. However, I always make this caveat with my friend. “Just because I don’t believe in Bigfoot doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
Wisdom teaches us to be careful about our beliefs. Too often we want to force our convictions on another and convince them to think like we do. The first step on the path of wisdom is the truth that we know nothing. It is the first and only place to begin and exist. Wisdom is a paradox. The more we know, learn, practice, the more we don’t know.
We live in a world full of people convinced they see reality “as is” and if you don’t see it their way you’re wrong! Religion, politics, cultures, ethnicities, separate us into groups and life becomes about “us” and “them.” Maybe, if we listened attentively, spoke softly, and held our fragile beliefs as bubbles ready to pop any time and open us up to a world we didn’t even know existed, we’d celebrate humility instead of hubris.
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Would You like to Dance? –
At a party at a friend’s house, one woman sat alone on the couch, her crutches beside her, watching the others dance. From across the room a man made his way to her, sat down, introduced himself and they made small talk. After a while, he asked; “Would you like to dance?” She pointed to her crutches and sighed; “Most people are worried my crutches will get in the way of their dancing.” He smiled and replied; “How about if I let you lead and I’ll move with you?”
This story was told to me a few weeks ago. I have been reflecting on it since I heard it. Most people are injured in some way; physically, emotionally or spiritually. We have crutches, not in a negative way, but in the sense that we need help to heal. However, too often, because of our hurts, habits, and hang-ups or the aids we use to walk this road of life we’re seen as a hindrance. People focus on how another’s imperfections will impact their lives.
What we need is someone who will let us lead or, if we’re the one helping, let the other lead us. We relinquish our desire to control, force someone to do it “our way” and by letting go we will find synergy and companionship.
Yesterday I stepped out on to our front screened in porch to let the dog have some alone time in the yard. Immediately a frantic movement caught my eye. Inside the screen porch, trapped in a corner was a Yellow Monarch Butterfly. Big, beautiful and needing to be free. I don’t know if butterflies know when they aren’t free but I knew and was determined to do something about it. I took my hands and gently tried to close my fingers around it. Several times it fluttered away but I was finally able to catch it, gently take it outside and then cautiously open my hands and watch it fly away.
I thought about my journey with mental illness and people in my life who have struggles of their own. We might not know we are trapped or at least not see a way out. We need help, assistance that doesn’t force, grab, clutch, and drag us to where someone else thinks we ought to be. We need gentleness, someone who won’t break our wings or our spirits but show us there is life, there is freedom.
Nothing is Lacking–
I was a part of a conversation this week where a group of people was giving a person advice. The advice was based on what the person had shared; a story of love and betrayal. On the wrong side of a bad choice is a terrible place to be and the person was fixated on how to either get over on the person who hurt him or get over it period. Two choices were staring him the face and he was going to choose either one or the other.
Decisions based on pain are almost always bad ones. We make these in times of stress, confusion, doubt, and loneliness. We feel as though we have lost something, had it taken away from us, and we want it back or rather life back the way it was or the way it should be.
Wisdom teaches us that suffering is the gap between how life is, reality, and how we think life ought to be. The greater the gap the more suffering. It is why learning to let go and acceptance are two of the greatest life lessons we can learn and practice. Life is rarely if ever, the way we want. Even if for a while it seems to be sooner or later it changes and we have no control over this truth. To live with open hand, to not try to grasp, force life to stay the same and allow for the inevitable change is to know and live in peace.
On Demand –
This afternoon I had a follow-up appointment at the doctor’s office. They needed to do a routine check-up and wanted a deposit. I had figured as much so I made sure not to leave my deposit at home before I left. I went to the restroom, readied the bottle and…nothing. No matter how much I concentrated there just wasn’t anything that was going to happen. After several minutes I meekly came out of the lavatory and explained the situation to the nurse. She then sent me to the staff vampire who had no such trouble sticking me with a big needle and taking my second deposit by force. I now have a cotton ball and medical tape covering a hole in my arm.
We live in an; “On Demand” world. We get and expect things instantaneously. The problem is sometimes life doesn’t work that way. We may demand expediency but delay and obstruction is what we’re given. If we decide to take what we need to wait on by force pain is often the what we receive instead of what we desire.
It does us good to wait, to not get what we want, to be told; “No!” It reminds us we aren’t all-powerful, possess full control, aren’t as able as we’d like to believe. Wisdom, and the lessons it uses in everyday life remind us who we are, who we aren’t and how to be at peace with both.
Change Myself –
The older I get the less knowledge and wisdom I think I possess. They say the beginning of wisdom and knowledge is two-fold; fearing God and knowing you know nothing. As each year passes the second part seems to get easier.
There was a time when I believed I knew much. Not just about myself but also about others. I could perceive motives both inward and outward, judge with impunity, and thought myself better and more able to live a life pleasing to God and myself than most other people. Then, I began to grow up.
The word growing brings with it a sense of serenity but growing is painful. It is bursting through old barriers, going places that are uncomfortable and unknown, daring to die in order to live, braving the challenges and elements that surround you.
With growth comes the realization you cannot force others to change. You do not have that power. You cannot stop the world from spinning out of control. You don’t have that ability. You can’t even get past your own hurts, habits, and hangups most days. You, I, am a perfect example of imperfection.
Wisdom and knowledge. They are as different as night and day but compliment each other when embraced and allowed to exist mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact, please you.”
Earlier this week I watched a powerful documentary on people being released from prison. It was a story of two men who were sentenced under California’s outdated and recently reformed Three Strikes Law. Simply stated the law demanded that any criminal who was arrested and found guilty three times received a harsh prison sentence often 25 years to life. After almost 20 years of being in place, the penal system and the citizens of California realized it wasn’t effective, led to overpopulation in the jails, severely impacted people of color, and left a trail of broken families in its wake.
The documentary follows two of the thousands of men who have been released for petty, non-violent crimes, after serving decades in jail. The transition for both of them was difficult, however, one was able to get back on his feet stay clean and sober, get married and be promoted in his job. The other man, who had a strong family and church structure, struggled mightily. Old demons such as drugs and mental health issues kept him unbalanced and unable to find his groove the way the first man did. At the end of the documentary both men were still out and making their way the best they could.
As I watched the film I couldn’t help but feel for both of these men. I work with men who are incarcerated and addicted. Addiction is a powerful force for evil and destruction. Incarceration can also be a doorway to a life of crime and recidivism but I’ve also seen men who learn how to make different choices so as not to end up in the same predicament.
Men who do three things greatly reduce their chance of going back to jail or getting back into their addiction. The first is having a positive home environment that might not necessarily be with their biological family. The second is a full-time job, a chance to do something and receive. The third might be most important and that is living a life around positive people, folks who will pull you up not drag you down. These three things, which most of us take for granted, will help men stay balanced, sure-footed, and on the path to a new life.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over you will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm, he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
In Line –
This afternoon, on my way into town, I was in a line of traffic. About three cars in front of me a young man, hand out the window, smoking a cigarette, and in a hurry. He was “riding the bumper” of the car in front of him in spite of their being numerous cars in front of the object of his fury. I watched him and wondered; “Why? Why are you being an aggressive, desperate driver, when there are more cars in your way? Are you going to tailgate every car until you get in front of them all?” I knew the answer was probably; “yes if he could.”
I reflected on this man and the way our focus of life can be out of whack. When we go through a challenge, a difficult situation, we focus our intensity on the object in front of us. We blame it for our lack of peace and purpose. We think; “If I could just get this off my to-do list, remove that problem, rid myself of this habit, break off or begin this relationship, everything would get better.” The truth, however, is more poignant. If we do not have peace before we run into a challenge, overcoming it will not bring us peace. If there is no stillness inside prior to a relationship there will be none afterward. New job, friends, home, whatever, cannot bring us the sense of calm and wisdom we desire if we don’t acquire them deep inside by searching for them now.
“The only peace and wisdom you find at the top of the mountain you are climbing are what you bring with you” -Wisdom Proverb
In the Deep –
I listened to a police officer tell an interesting story today. She and her partner had been called to a house where a married couple was fighting. They knocked on the door, entered the residence and found the man and woman arguing in the kitchen. The two people were screaming at each other so loud the officers could not get a word in even though they were speaking at a high volume. Finally, in an act of desperation, the gentleman officer grabbed a loaf of bread, went to the fridge and retrieved some mayonnaise and meat and sat down at the kitchen table and began making himself a sandwich. After a few moments the couple noticed what the policeman was doing and stopped arguing and stared at him, incredulous at what he was doing. Taking a bite, he said after chewing; “I’m just going to eat this sandwich until you two are ready to listen.” Silence filled the room, except for the officer’s stomach digesting his snack, everyone else sat down and began to talk.
I reflected on life and all the voices which fill our minds, spirits, emotions and lives everyday. If we aren’t careful we can find ourselves all consumed by the noise. On social media, TV, radio, printed media people express their opinion and fight with those who don’t agree. Others add their perspective to whoever may be in ear shot, trying to persuade them to embrace their positions on everything from politics to sports to global issues of terrorism and finance. It can be hard, if not impossible, at times to find a place of silence and stability.
Though it may seem counter-intuitive stillness is at times and action. It is a purposeful removal of ourselves from all the distractions of the world, which scream for our attention, and enter into a space where we can rest and remember wisdom, truth, doesn’t force itself upon us but rather whispers in the deepest recesses of our souls.
dandelion, sitting on a hill
rooted, grounded, in place, until
a mighty force arose and lifted
carried your essence far from home
floating in all directions at once
never letting you settle
dropping and raising
bouncing between stillness and gales
yet in the chaos, swirling turmoil
your beauty decorated the wind
the gift of recognized breezes
making that which could not be seen
now traced over meadows, fields, hills and valley
where you take root again is unknown
until then your untamed spirit
alights upon my shoulder for a glimpse
of what it means to be unleashed
The last month, as I have recovered from being sick, I haven’t had enough energy to take the trash to the dump. It’s something I knew needed to be done but not something high on my priority list to do. This weekend I finally felt well enough to begin to gather up the bags and later loaded them into the truck and made the trip. When I arrived at the dump I knew it was going to take a while because even though there are only two of us living in our house we tend to generate a lot of refuse. I began unloading it, trying to avoid getting wet from the rain which had recently fallen on the bags. A gentleman walked up to my truck and began unloading my garbage with me. I was pleasantly surprised and said; “Thank you sir!” “No problem.” he replied back. After we finished I thanked him again, he waved and I drove away with a heart full of gratitude for the smaller blessings of life.
Since this encounter I’ve also reflected on our ability to help others with the trash they carry with them on the journey of life. We do not have the power to force them to throw it away but when they are willing to get rid of it we can certainly help them unload their burden.