The quote in the picture (attached) is a great lesson, one I learned again today.
Following a meeting, I was rushing to another appointment but had to stop and speak with someone. I was present bodily with the person but wasn’t present emotionally or mentally. I could feel the hurry welling up inside and my attention was elsewhere. As a result, the conversation I had wasn’t fruitful and I am sure I came across as flustered. I’ve since let the person know it was my mistake, apologized and confessed I should’ve been more mindful, present, in the moment, not on my way somewhere else.
It’s so easy to be moving on to the next thing. We love marking items off our lists. It makes us feel productive and successful when truthfully if we aren’t careful, we find ourselves failing at one of the most important reason for existence; relationships.
The difference between misery and happiness is attention. An important lesson not just to read but to practice.
This morning our organization had a Father/Child reading event at the local library. It was a good time, a great turnout and we were able to meet dads we’ve never met before and some we hadn’t seen in a while.
We try to make these events as entertaining as possible with crafts, a puppet show, brunch items and more. The entire focus of the event is to stress the importance of fathers reading to their children. We talk about why this is important for the child and the parents and give the dads some alternative ideas to reading a book that also helps build a child’s’ vocabulary.
My favorite part of the event, however, isn’t the puppets or craft time but when the dads and kids go pick out a book and read it together. It’s the image of the child sitting next to the dad or in his lap and he’s whispering in their ear any words they may not know, need help enunciating, or pointing out interesting items in the pictures on the page.
For me, it is the picture of how God wants to treat his children. Life is difficult and demanding. There’s always something to do and the busyness of this world keeps us spinning. Wisdom tells us that silence, simplicity, humility and obedience are our ways of crawling into our Father’s laps, sliding up next to him, feeling him wrap an arm around us and whisper in our ears, our spirits, letting us know that though the story of our lives can be complicated and convoluted, he’s present and close as the tale of our existence unfolds.
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.
Have a Seat –
I had a follow-up visit to the dentist today for an evaluation from my oral surgery back in July. I don’t like the dentist. The combination of claustrophobia and a severe anxiety disorder mean it can be quite the ordeal. The dentist I have, however, is aware of my mental health issues and is good at making me feel as comfortable as possible. The procedure took about an hour, was mostly painless and not nearly as difficult as the July visit.
I got home from my appointment and went straight to sleep. Dentist’s visit have an impact on me and the meds I take to ease my claustrophobia and anxiety can relax me but also make me very tired. I woke up and thought about my two visits. One was hard, difficult, incredibly painful and took me a few weeks to get over. The second one was much easier to get over. Same room, different results, and reactions.
Wisdom teaches us that life isn’t about holding on to parts of the past which traumatize us but being able to let them go and nurture inward peace instead. Even when we “return to the scene of the crime” or encounter one who has injured us grievously we should let the present experience be, not allowing what has happened the past to poison the present.
This morning my Daily Office Reading had two sections dealing with focus. One was from the Old Testament, one from the New;
“When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3 The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.” 4 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho. 5 The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.” 6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on. 7 Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground. 9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied. 10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.” 11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two. 13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.” Book of Second Kings, Chapter 2
“Then the disciples gathered around Jesus and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 1
As I reflected upon these texts I thought about what we keep our eyes trained on also determines what slips by us as we watch other things. Knowing where not to look is just as important as knowing on what and where to keep our focus. Elisha was waiting, anticipating, looking for something predicted and present to happen. The disciples were staring at what once was and had now passed. To keep ourselves facing forward, living in trust that our purpose and passion are before us, never behind, we make sure what we’re looking for is worth seeing.
Last night we had our Spring 2016 certificate ceremony for our incarcerated fathers’ class; Inside Out Dad. For the last session I give them their certificates and we talk about what we’ve learned over the last 3 months. One of the key points I focus on is self-awareness. It is the realization that most, if not all, our problems and challenges start with us. I tell the men; “Self-awareness is like looking in a mirror and truly seeing ourselves. We are able to recognize the good, bad, positive, negative, things we do well and things which need improvement.” I remind them to move beyond blaming others for our present conditions, accept responsibility for what we’ve done and should have done, and take an honest look at who we are and what we’ve become. “Only when we truly know ourselves can we be and do better.”
It’s a wisdom lesson for us all, a discipline which takes a lifetime to learn and practice, and one we can’t start soon enough.
Last night I took the dogs out for their last opportunity to do some business for the day. I was about to release them when a shadow caught my eye, then another. I grabbed both dog’s leashes and strained to see what was running through the yard. I couldn’t quite tell but it was either stray dogs or coyotes. I kept the dogs close to me to be on the safe side. This morning, when I let the dogs out again, our Siberian Husky began chasing scents all over the area where the other animals had been. He was so preoccupied with tracking the shadow’s trail he forgot to do what needed to be done.
I watched him dart to and fro and thought how sometimes we are like my crazy dog. We chase after shadows of the unknown, things that scare us or bring confusion and doubt. We allow these distractions to take our focus away from the present and from our purpose.
Don’t dwell in the past or be obsessed with the future. Live in the now.
“A young monk asked his Father Abbott how to find contentment and stillness in a world where things are always changing, where nothing is permanent and nothing remains the same. ‘When loss and grief are inherent in our very coming in to existence, how can there be any happiness?’
That elder monk, looking compassionately at his brother held up a glass which he had been drinking from said: ‘You see this goblet? For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it. I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably. Sometimes even the sun reflects in its beautiful patterns. If I should tap it. it has a lovely ring to it.’
‘But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters I say; ‘Of course!’ I understand that this glass is already broken. Every moment with it is precious, every moment is just as it is, and nothing need be otherwise. When we recognize that like this glass, our body, our life, is already broken, that indeed we are already dead, each moment becomes precious and we are open to fully appreciating the unbroken now, this present moment.’
‘When we understand that our loved ones are already dead. our children, our mates, our friends. how precious they become. Fear cannot rule us, uncertainty of the future, the unknown does not have power over us, estrangement cannot put doubt within. When you live your life as though you’re already dead, life takes on new meaning. Each moment becomes a whole lifetime. A universe unto itself.'”
One of the greatest lessons of wisdom is the truth and eventual acceptance that life is in constant transition and passes quickly. From the moment we are born every breath is one closer to our last. Every day, hour, moment brings us to our final resting place. The great struggle is in our intellect, emotions and souls to learn to live joyfully in the knowledge of the passing of our temporal existence.
Too often loss, instability, death are seen as causes to worry, be anxious, fearful and hopeless. Instead, they can be a reminder to appreciate the blessing of each moment as a unique, never to come again, miracle. To love extravagantly while the opportunity exists. To mindfully experience every “now” before it changes to a fading memory and hold loosely a future which is not guaranteed.
I stuck my foot in my mouth yesterday, not just the toes but the arch, all the way up to the heel!
It all started so innocently. I spotted someone I hadn’t seen in a while and stopped to speak with them for a few moments. Truth be known I was running late for an appointment and my mind was on where I needed to be not where I was and who I was talking with presently. I was only giving cursory attention to this one who is going through an incredibly difficult time.
After a few pleasantries I made a comment about a change this individual was making to a room. When the reason was given as to why, I missed the “key phrase” which, if I had been mindful of the person and the present, I would have understood what was and was NOT being said. I then could have steered the conversation in another, more pleasant direction.
However, it sailed right over my head and I then made another comment which, in most situations would’ve been benign, but was painful in the current setting. Immediately, after it had left my big mouth, I realized what this person was saying and not saying, why they were doing what they were doing, and wished I could do the whole thing over.
There is a spiritual discipline called contemplative listening. At the core of this practice is the instruction to be fully engaged with ear, mind, heart and spirit, open to fully receive the other person. It is the belief that every moment is holy and to only be partially available is to cheapen and risk missing a divine encounter.
Sometimes lessons are indeed learned the hard way.
I spent most of the morning trimming the verge. Last year, while on sabbatical, I did a lot of hedging while working as a landscaper/lawn jockey. The trimmer I use is a simple electric powered one. The trick to using one that runs on electricity is to make sure not to cut the extension cord with the trimmer. A lesson, I’m embarrassed to say, took me several cut cords to learn. After some trial and many errors what worked best for me was to keep the cord wrapped around my waist and behind me. This way I knew it wasn’t in the wrong place waiting to be cut in half stopping me from doing what needed to be done.
As I worked today I thought about the many bushes and trees I shaped and how, once I figured out how to keep the cord behind me, I then could keep my focus on the trimming not what powered the trimmer. I also reflected on the truth of how what’s behind us powers our present. Who we are, our life’s purpose, the way we think, act and live has much to do with what’s in our past. The good and bad, positive and negative, power our motivation, ignite our passions and stoke our prejudices.
The more aware we are of how what’s behind us impacts what’s ahead of us the more able we are to make sure our lives can be what they need to be and do what needs to be done.
My coffee pot is designed in such a way that most days it leaks from around the pour spout and onto the kitchen counter. This tends to happen when I’m in a hurry and trying to rush out the door in the morning. The result is a mess.
The secret to not getting coffee everywhere is taking my time, pressing the pot against the cup and pouring slowly. What’s interesting is that when I pour too fast, spill the Java, find a paper towel and clean up the mess, I actually lose time than if I would’ve simply slowed down.
Life is this way. We rush, hurry, dart to and fro from the different appointments which clutter our calendars. Sooner or later we realize that life isn’t made to be lived at such a frenetic pace. We can only fill our days with so many things before our lives become a big mess.
Life is best lived as a slow pour, slowing down, savoring and enjoying the present moment. After all these are what life is made of.