This morning, driving to a Father/Child reading event I was rounding a curve when out of nowhere came a big white dog, barking and headed straight for the truck. I didn’t have much time to react when at the last second it decided to turn back. My heart went into my stomach and as I looked in the rearview mirror the dog made its way back to the bush it was hiding behind to wait for its next victim. It was frightening to have this huge canine all of a sudden appear on what should have been an easy drive to a county library.
After my heart and stomach settled I thought about the dog and the fright it gave me. The fear had subsided and I wondered where its owner was, why the dog was allowed to play this dangerous game when, in a collision, the vehicle almost always wins?
I don’t like being afraid. Fear is unsettling and I’d prefer to live life without it. However, I admit that life can be a lot like the, almost, run in with the dog today. We navigate the road of life the best we know how hoping to reach our destination. When, out of nowhere, something happens which makes us afraid. It may be a brush with death, a lingering sickness, a mental health issue, a financial crisis, a danger or challenge to friends and family. In these moments we become afraid. Our goal is no longer reaching our destination but getting through each next moment. Everything slows down and our attention becomes solely on the fear.
In one sense it’s helpful our vision is singularly focused. It helps us concentrate on what’s in our way and how to avoid it or fight it. However, if we are not careful the thing which makes us afraid becomes the only thing we see and our vision to all the beauty and wonder of life is obscured. Balancing being fearful and mindful is tricky but is the only way we make sure we don’t spend our lives afraid to live.
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.
“One must be chaste, sober and merciful.
Exalt mercy above judgment,
that one may obtain mercy.
Love the brothers and sisters.
In administering correction
one should act prudently and not go to excess,
lest in seeking too eagerly to scrape off the rust
one breaks the vessel.
Keep one’s own frailty ever before their eyes
and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken.”
Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 64
No Earthly Good –
I believe this is such a beautiful description of leadership. I have no idea how many times I’ve read this section of the Rule of Saint Benedict (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_Saint_Benedict) over the years that I’ve been a Benedictine Oblate, (http://www.osb.org/obl/intro.html) but each time it speaks to me in the deepest of places.
I think it stirs my spirit today because of the leadership changes we will soon have in our nation. No matter which side of the political landscape you occupy, it’s hard to make an argument that our President-Elect personifies the above description, or is a Christlike model.
This worries me. It worries me because of what it emboldens in others. Too often, harsh, rash, unbalanced leadership doesn’t cause people to reflect but to react. If you’re for a more “strong, forceful, expect respect, my way or the highway” type of leading and now witness that it can take you to the most powerful position on the planet you might be tempted to adopt the; “might equals right” attitude you are witnessing. If you’re on the other side you may take a forceful, coercive stance to object and resist.
I worry about my brothers and sisters who are so politically minded they aren’t much Kingdom good. They don’t, can’t see Jesus in our new leadership and don’t seem to be looking very hard.
So, I worry, reminded that the Master says; “Do not worry.” Though our Teacher does not personify worldly power his Kingdom will never pass away.
I’ve never been an optimist. I’m not sure what, in my childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood happened to make me look on the dark side of things but I do. Psychiatrists say that people with depression and anxiety have different way of seeing and thinking. One of the ways we differ is expecting the worst out of most situations. This feeds anxiety which also leaves us open for a depressive episode. Black and white thinking, feeling guilty for everything that goes wrong, all or nothing thinking are other ways our minds try to make sense of the world around us.
It is difficult but learning not to automatically accept my view of reality is a lesson I am learning and trying to put into practice. Examining our way of thinking and seeing the world is also a wisdom discipline. We each have biases, paradigms, views of life that have been shaped by where, when and how we were raised and what we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. Our environments, cultures, religious preferences, and more result in a worldview which few people seldom question. We assume the way we see the world, life, is how it should be and when it fails to meet our expectations and preferences we tend to judge the people, institutions, whoever and whatever refuses to submit to our viewpoints.
No longer being prisoners to our way of thinking can be one of the hardest places to escape from but it can lead us to a freedom few will ever know.
If humanity made a 2016 resolution to quit being rude and allow niceness and kindness to rule they must’ve changed their mind.
My first stop this morning was taking my push mower to get it serviced. The person behind the counter acted like I was asking him to fix it personally and came up with several excuses as why he couldn’t fulfill the extended warranty. Finally, he relented and I was worn out with the hassle. My next stop was to buy a kerosene heater and a cashier refused to answer a question I had about the product. I figured out the answer myself. My last stop was to buy kerosene and the line inside to prepay was long. When another cashier opened up a woman cut in front of me without any hesitation. “Oy!” I was thankful when I pulled into the driveway to be greeted by the smile of my beautiful bride.
Being kind, nice, peaceful, in a world seemingly intent on being anything but, can be difficult. In these trying times we must remind ourselves we do not base our emotions, words and actions on what others do but on who we desire to be.
Yesterday, on my way back to Columbia, TN from Bedford county, I passed a cable laying company and noticed a large empty wooden spool. I pulled into the business’ parking lot, walked in and asked if they would sell, or even better, give it to me. The owner was willing to part with it at no cost and helped me load it into the back of my truck. There were already some other building materials in the bed so we positioned it on top and I tied it down. However, because of the other materials the tailgate was lowered and the spool couldn’t be turned sideways. I am fairly confident in making a knot that’ll stay secure but I kept a close eye on the big wooden spool all the way home. There were two fears; one that it would roll out the back and into another vehicle, two that it would roll forward and break out my back window. Slowly navigating the back hills to my home I held my breath on every incline and decline, turn and stop. Finally, I pulled into the driveway and exhaled! “Whew!” I gathered my work things from the crew cab and started to go inside. I walked around the truck and to my surprise and amusement I spied the chrome metal toolbox that’s attached to the bed of the truck just below the back window. I’ve owned my vehicle for almost a year and a half and have used this toolbox many times but today completely forgot it was there. The back window was never in danger of being broken because this forgotten protector would’ve stopped it from getting that close.
My worry was that my knot, my ability, my attempt to keep myself and others from pain and loss wasn’t enough. I was so concerned and focused on this obstacle of potential destruction I never considered there was something else stronger, sturdier, in place to keep me from harm. Looking through my rear-view mirror I only saw the spool, never the toolbox.
It was a needed reminder that our focus determines our state of mind, emotions and overall well being. When our vision is obscured because of forgetfulness or refusal to look at other things our minds, bodies and spirits are tied in knots, our energy strapped, living itself becomes a labor. However, when we remember our protector, even though unseen, is keeping us safe we are able to let go and trust even in the most anxious and stress filled circumstances.
Our little ol’ farm house needs a fan in the bathroom. Actually the entire bathroom needs remodeling but we can only do so many projects at a time and spend so much money.
When one of us gets a shower the compact room fills with steam and the mirrors become so fogged it’s impossible to see your reflection, much less shave, comb hair, or do other “getting ready” activities.
During the summer we got into the habit of putting a fan in the hall outside of the room and blowing cool air in. It worked well but with fall approaching the nights are getting cooler and so is the house. As a result, even with the fan, the mirrors fog more quickly and are more difficult to keep clear.
After getting dressed this morning I sat on the couch waiting for the Mrs. to finish. I began thinking about foggy mirrors and how life often reflects back to us what we think, believe, our preferences and prejudices. We see what we want, or have been conditioned, to see.
Then, we go through, experience, an unexpected event or perhaps encounter a person that distorts our worldview, challenges our perceptions, makes us question many of the foundations our existence is built upon.
At first we may resist, defend, hold tightly to our paradigms of the way the world is or how we think it should be. Wisdom, however, tells us not to be afraid to deeply examine our convictions, our vision and understanding of what surrounds us, what is beyond us and what is within us.
Oftentimes we discover it’s not the reflection which needs to be made clear but the eyes of our mind and spirit.
They’re popping up everywhere! Like spring time weeds or blossoms depending upon your point of view. Presidential candidates are declaring their intentions to capture your vote and the white house in 2018.
As a middle aged man I remember a time when I passionately picked a side, slapped on a bumper sticker and did my best to persuade other folks to the join cause… that was a long time ago. Almost three decades later after countless scandals, lies and promises unfulfilled, anger and venom spewing from both sides I’m convinced politics, in its current state, can’t fix our troubled and deeply divided nation. I wish I had an answer. I do not.
Maybe a wise, humble, woman or man of conviction and vision will step forward. For the sake of the nation and the world, I hope so.
Trying to get a bonfire started isn’t easy when you have wet leaves from a heavy rain storm earlier in the week infesting your burn pile. This morning, however, I was determined to burn some debris whatever it took! After several matches and some dry leaves and sticks on top I finally got the flames flickering. The problem was that not long after the fire would begin to blaze a breeze or patch of damp leaves would reduce the flames to mostly smoke.
At first I tried relighting it but to no avail. I thought about getting some gasoline but then I heard the crackling of a small flame and decided to wait and see what would happen. It wasn’t quick but eventually the smoke subsided and the fire roared. I stoked it, added kindling and a few more dry limbs and “voila!” a bonfire! Patience is easier to teach than practice.
While I’ve watched the fire today I’ve reflected on how life can also drench us with chaos, confusion, change and transition. Our spirits, emotions, passions and vision can be reduced to mostly smoke from the downpour of life’s unpredictability. We may wonder if our internal fire is smothered or smoldering. Our first response might be to try harder, do better, force the flames. Many times though if we’ll wait, pause, trust, we will burn again.
A mighty storm front moved through our area last night, snapping a few big limbs and uprooting a few small trees in our area as it passed. Fortunately we were spared any real damage save a couple of lawn chairs blown off the porch, some empty flower pots scattered in the yard and a big limb laying beside our driveway this morning.
I didn’t realize storms were in the forecast until my wife informed me after she arrived home from work. I quickly finished mowing the front yard and coming into the house I noticed the Mrs.’ car needed to be moved. She had parked it under a large tree to unload some flowers she had bought. I considered leaving it overnight but thought, with the heavy winds and rain coming, it might be best to park it elsewhere. It was a good decision. This morning, where the car had been, was a large branch broken off during the storm. Whew!
Too often storms, without warning, come crashing into our lives, leaving damage and destruction in their path. Today I am thankful not just for the warning but also the ability to think and plan ahead.
It happened the week of my birthday. I had a headache and needed to take some meds. When I grabbed a pill bottle I seemed to bring it up closer to my eyes than ever before to read it. Uhoh! The thought struck me, one day, maybe soon, I will need …gasp…bi-focals! So I headed to the eye doctor to get checked out. It had been a while so the following week my wife and I visited a place called “Total Vision” (the perfect name for a contemplative!)
After checking in we looked at glass frames and waited for the doctor to call my name. Have you ever noticed that when you are waiting for your name to be called when it finally happens you feel like you have won the lottery? You jump up and walk with your nose a little higher in the air? Almost as if to look down upon those unfortunate ones who are still waiting?
We followed the assistant to a machine where I was instructed to place my head like so, rest my chin here and relax. I did what I was told and the machine blew air into my eye! I am sure the lady told me this was going to happen but I wasn’t paying attention. Following this I had to sit in another chair at a different machine and look at a kaleidoscope that focuses and un-focuses. This wasn’t too bad and was like being on an “acid trip” without the acid, I guess.I was then led to another chair and was told the doctor would call me when he was ready.
My name was called, I jumped up and went into the examination room. Eye exams are strange events. You sit in a chair, they turn off the lights, lower another weird contraption in front of your eyes and the doctor asks “can read this?” My first thought is always “not without my glasses. My eyesight is so bad I can’t even read the big E at the top of the chart without my specs! Doesn’t he have my file in front of him?”
After realizing just how impaired my sight is the doctor adjusts the lenses and repeats “is this better or worse? Number 1 or number 2?” At first all this does is remind me I should’ve gone to the bathroom before I sat in the chair but with a little patience and experience the examiner begins to help me see more clearly. The exam doesn’t take long but this time the doc seemed to go faster than usual. Rather abruptly the examination ended and he said “your right eye needs an adjustment but not your left.” I said “OK,” thanked him, picked out my frames and left.
A week later I had my new glasses and almost immediately I noticed that my eyesight on the right was crisp but my left was still blurry. Figuring it would take a few days to adjust I waited. Several days later and still no change, I was concerned. Going back I inquired with the receptionist if someone could see me and described the problem. He asked for my glasses and checked to see if the prescription and alignment was correct. They were good to go but I wasn’t leaving before the optometrist gave me another look.
After waiting, again, I was called back, again, eyeball blowing, again, pretty colors, again, more waiting, and the doctor called me back…yes, again. I informed him of what was happening, looked through the lens machine, answered the chart questions and he took his time. He not only used the machine but also handheld lenses. When it was over he said “I think we need to increase your prescription in your left eye as well.” I thanked him again, ordered a new lens and now everything is just peachy.
I wonder if I do that sometimes? Someone comes to me for clarity, wisdom, guidance and I just rush them through, hurry them up? Maybe someone doesn’t even want advice just to be listened to?
What if we took our time with everyone we met? What if we didn’t see them as an obstacle, an appointment, a to-do item, but rather was fully present for them in that moment? If we did that for each other maybe we would all see a little more clearly.
light and wisdom,