A message based on the gospel of Saint Mark, chapter 5.
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.
Yesterday I made a promise to my wife. Actually, it was more of a threat. I threatened to leave the hose pipe outside all winter instead of putting it up in the fall. The reason for this is no matter what I try it all seems to be one giant tangled mess when I pull it out in the spring. One of my chores on Thursday was to untangle the jumbled mess of about three hundred feet of hose pipe. First I grabbed and dragged out most of it. Then I detached the ends to make them easier to work with. After this, I pulled each pipe end going over and under the other until I finally had one section free! When I did this six or seven times all the sections were in their own place and then hooking them together again one at a time I was able to run the hose pipe to the different areas of the yard. Whew! It was a hard, difficult job but had to be done.
In my work with men, fathers, and families, the initial times we meet to set up a plan of learning and action can seem like wrestling with a jumbled mess of hose pipe. However, with time and patience slowly learning, finding and breaking down the challenges, habits, hurts, and hang-ups, we can begin to put the pieces back together again.
The River –
“Imagine yourself sitting on the bank of a river. The river is your stream of consciousness. Observe each of your thoughts coming along as if they’re saying, “Think me, think me.” Watch your feelings come by saying, “Feel me, feel me.” Acknowledge that you’re having the feeling or thought. Don’t hate it, judge it, critique it, or move against it. Simply name it: “resentment toward so and so,” “a thought about such and such.” Then place it on a boat and let it go down the river. When another thought arises—as no doubt it will—welcome it and let it go, returning to your inner watch place on the bank of the river.”
#ThomasKeating, “Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel”
One of the greatest and most difficult realizations is the truth that we are not our thoughts. We are not our actions. We are not our egos. True, each of these can reveal things about us and to the world but we are not these things.
The problem is we’ve been taught the opposite most of our lives. The famous quote; “Reap a thought, a word, an action, then a destiny,” seems right but our thoughts do not have to lead us to who we ultimately become. We can choose to go deeper, change paths, refuse to be captive to our thoughts by breaking free of them.
Idols and Illusions –
I would add to the quote attached to this post anything that’s fleeting, temporal, transitory, this that tell us lies about ourselves or others. Things like politics, money, jobs, reputations. Idols are all of these and more which fix our focus on the illusion that we are in control, we are powerful and by our wills, the world can be recreated in our image. It is this illusion that destroys our world and ourselves.
This morning part of my contemplation and meditation time included a portion of the Second Book of Kings, chapter seventeen, verse 15; “They worshipped false idols and became false.” I have read that several times today, talked about it with a friend and wrote it down in a journal. It says we become what we worship. Where our heart is, our mind, emotions, spirits, where our energies are applied is what we are and what we become.
Idols and illusions are hard to see sometimes. Breaking free from them isn’t easy. #AlbertEinstien said; “All of reality is an illusion, a persistent one, but still an illusion.”
The late Stephen Covey tells a story about a time he was speaking to a group of people in Sacramento, California:
… I was speaking on the subject of proactivity, a woman in the audience stood up in the middle of my presentation and started talking excitedly. It was a large audience, and as a number of people turned to look at her, she suddenly became aware of what she was doing, grew embarrassed and sat back down. But she seemed to find it difficult to restrain herself and started talking to the people around her. She seemed so happy.
I could hardly wait for a break to find out what had happened. When it finally came, I immediately went to her and asked if she would be willing to share her experience.
“You just can’t imagine what’s happened to me!” she exclaimed.
“I’m a full-time nurse to the most miserable, ungrateful man you can possibly imagine. Nothing I do is good enough for him. He never expresses appreciation; he hardly even acknowledges me. He constantly harps at me and finds fault with everything I do. This man has made my life miserable and I often take my frustration out on my family. The other nurses feel the same way. We almost pray for his demise.
“And for you to have the gall to stand up there and suggest that nothing can hurt me, that no one can hurt me without my consent, and that I have chosen my own emotional life of being miserable well, there was just no way I could buy into that.
“But I kept thinking about it. I really went inside myself and began to ask, ‘Do I have the power to choose my response?’
“When I finally realized that I do have that power when I swallowed that bitter pill and realized that I had chosen to be miserable, I also realized that I could choose not to be miserable.
“At that moment I stood up. I felt as though I was being let out of San Quentin. I wanted to yell to the whole world, ‘I am free! I am let out of prison! No longer am I going to be controlled by the treatment of some person.’ ”
It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us.”
Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, tragedies, sickness, and death, but for the most part, we are a direct result of the choices we’ve made with the experiences we’ve encountered in this life.
I read a quote yesterday that I’ve been reflecting upon; “The world we see and interact with is the product of how our mind perceives the world.” We are assaulted each day by an overabundance of visual, auditory, sensory stimuli. It is hard not to be separated by what we experience. However, if our minds, emotions, and spirits are ever to be free we must train our minds to be still so we can experience the world anew and break free from what we’ve known, what we’ve thought, the life we’ve lived.
the Other –
Last night I was speaking to a group of men and we were discussing the needs men have to develop self-awareness. I told them; “Self-awareness is the ability to look into a mirror and see yourself for who you truly are, the good, the not so good, areas where you excel and places in you which need improving. The ability to know yourself is the first step in understanding what needs to be done to become the man you should be.”
Knowing, accepting and loving yourself is also the key to loving others. Unless we’ve learned to see ourselves; flaws, hang-ups, habits, hurts and love ourselves we will be incapable of truly loving others. Often times our shortcomings and failings cause us to judge ourselves more harshly than we’d ever do to others. We stew in our self-hatred and weaknesses. This corrupts us from the inside out and results in a distorted view of ourselves which bleeds over into the way we see the world and the people in it.
It is only when we accept who we are, all of who we are, and love what we like and don’t like can we be free of a soul that is bitter and barren. Released from the prison which contains our hearts we find that others, like us, are frail and broken. We recognize the same limitations and discover in each other the strength to travel the path of life together.
I was talking with a friend this week about the different masks we wear when we go different places. There’s a work mask, family mask, friend mask, public mask, and somewhere, often buried deep is our true authentic ourselves. The problem is that we become so accustomed to wearing masks we never take one off for too long or risk showing the world who we are under all the fantasy. The conversation continued and we wondered if any of the illusions we create could eventually lead us to allow others to see the genuine person.
The conversation continued and we wondered if any of the illusions we create could eventually lead us to allow others to see the genuine person. We are so accustomed to hiding the “real” us, the person we think people won’t like, that wearing masks become our default and our defense.
The question becomes how do we break free of this habit of wearing masks? Overcome the fear of our authentic selves not being good enough? How do we begin to discover who we are when concealing our true identity has been our goal for most of our life? This is the reason we are here now, the journey we are meant to travel, the discovery, not of a lifetime, but of life.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes
but in having new eyes.”
I had a conversation last week with someone about a person I used to know who got on my every last nerve almost every day. We talked about how this person, who probably had good intentions, didn’t have a way with people. In fact, there were many who repelled by his brusque personality and crude behavior. I relayed a story about a time he wanted to help but was unable because of who this person was on the inside and outside.
There were days I dreaded knowing I would encounter this man. It got to a point where this person was beginning to take up an inordinate amount of space in my mind. One day it dawned on me that I was spending too much time thinking about them and not focused on stillness of spirit. I threw on my tennis shoes, took a long walk, and hashed out in my mind all the things this person did and when I felt I had it all in a nice tight ball in the pit of my stomach, I took it out (metaphorically of course) and threw it away. I decided I would not give this one the power to make me crazy(er?) any longer. It was the freest and at ease, I had been in a long time.
We can’t and will not get along with everyone. Personalities clash, goals and visions collide, certain people and us don’t mix. This is okay as long as we treat them with respect, put some distance between us if at all possible, and never let them steal our inner peace.
The Risk –
There’s a bumblebee stuck on a screen of our front porch. It’s the porch we’ve been building for several months now and have almost everything completed but the doors. There will be double sliding doors leading to the front door of the house and a side door leading to the front of the house. These missing doors leave large gaps to fly to freedom, yet for some reason, for several days, the little-winged insect stays put.
The problem is we’re hoping to finish up the porch quickly so we can enjoy it these spring and summer months. When the doors go up the bee goes out, forced to face the world full of birds, bug zappers, and countless other dangers.
When I see him I think of the invisible barriers that we all place upon our lives. Most of us like the idea of a smaller world. A place where we aren’t in too much danger, there’s shelter from storms, protection from so many things which we can’t control.
However, to truly live, we must venture beyond our comfort zones and self-constructed barriers. There’s no guarantee we will be safe nor comfortable but freedom is worth the risk.
Release & Purify –
They weren’t there a few days ago but today, when I and the dog went outside, the storm door pushed them aside. Brown, dead, Oak tree leaves are everywhere. Each blast of wind or short breeze seems to shake more loose. Sitting, you can watch them fall, seemingly endlessly, piling up in corners, next to the fence, in flower pots and against the house. What to do? Find the rake, gather them in a pile, set them ablaze.
Last week I wrote about letting go of things and how the fall season is a great metaphor for living a life where we don’t hold on to things (https://thewannabesaint.com/2016/10/18/falling/). Not grasping the fragile things of life is certainly the way of wisdom but so is getting rid of those fallen things which now lay at our feet. Being truly free is ridding ourselves of those trinkets which, if allowed, will still grasp hold of our lives and souls. To be pure, clean, unburdened by the world’s worthless toys, takes an act of release and purification.
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
Awesome video! I watched in awe as the operator gently picked up the stuck deer with the giant scooper and placed it where it could move again.
As it played I thought about times in my life when I was stuck. Seasons when I couldn’t move, find my way, get loose of the muck and mire which held me, trapped me, threatened my life. I also reflected on those who came to my rescue. Folks with great skill, compassion, love and commitment who helped me when I couldn’t help myself.
Life’s path leads us to strange and uncomfortable places. There will be experiences and events which pull us in, hold us fast, wear us out and leave us stuck. Struggling, fighting to free ourselves may only leave us immobile and unable to journey forward. Having mentors, counselors, advisers, people who love and care enough to not leave us stranded can be one of our greatest treasures.
He hovered about as the other men left the classroom. I didn’t know what to expect, I never do when it comes to the incarcerated dads I am privileged to work with but who also keep me on my toes. He was tall, skinny, long grayish brown hair, missing most of his teeth and spoke softly. It was the first class of the spring semester and after everyone had left he came forward. He is soft-spoken with lines and wrinkles of a life filled with heartache and wrong decisions engraved on his face. I leaned forward as he struggled to tell me his secret; he couldn’t read. My heart sank.
Reading is such a vital part of our program and everyday life. There are homework assignments and times during class we read to ourselves and together. Not being able to read certainly presented another challenge for a man who has faced, and lost, his share of them including a drug addiction. I asked if there was another resident in the jail he could ask to help him and he shook his head; “No.” I breathed in silently and thought about the courage it must’ve taken to admit his weakness. “Then we’ll meet after each class and go over the lesson. Let’s start today.” We made our way over to a couple of chairs, sat down and began to review.
After we were done, driving away from the jail, I reflected on the different ways we can be imprisoned. It’s not just about concrete walls, bars, thick glass and heavy metal doors. Prisons can be addictions, basic education skills we’ve somehow missed, mental illnesses, bad attitudes, negative environments. Too often we take for granted so many blessings. The gifts we’ve received, the talents we’ve been given, the good, are not for hoarding but for sharing, multiplying and helping others find freedom.
pulling on that chain not wanting to listen chasing after boys mama's in the front yard begging for attention you're running in circles sights and sounds the road of life beckons stifling your lover's plea resenting the restraining tugging at those fetters one day you're gonna break free the road can be dangerous for one so easily injured but shoulders aren't strong enough to hold impulses won't be shackled you keep pulling on that chain running in circles --- bdl