Wise Words – By Our Love, Not By Our Thinking

By our love not by our thinking

“By our love the Sacred may be touched and held; by our thinking, never.”

The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 6

Thinking is not wrong, it just gets too much air time in our hyper-productive, over-stimulated society.

When applied to problems it is good at, its answers seem complete:  How many grams are in a cup? When is the next solar eclipse? How much weight can this bridge design hold? These are questions with definite answers, and logic is ideally suited to deliver them. This leaves the false impression that thinking is a superior pathway to understanding. 

But we humans are multi-dimensional. For all its usefulness, logic cannot reach the parts of life we hold most dear:  the waves of love we feel holding our newborn child or grandchild; the subtle smile in the eyes of our spouse or partner; intuitive bursts of creativity; an inspired refrain of Bob Dylan or Beethoven; the upswept majesty of entering a cathedral. These are sacred experiences and no logical explanation of them is complete or fulfilling. They need to be embraced by another dimension of our being.

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Cultivate a Calm and Healing Presence

I know people who can walk into a room and bring a sense of calm. Others might be nervous or upset, but these people seem to bring a peaceful presence just by showing up. 

I want to be more like them.

If I’m agitated, other people pick can up on my emotions and become agitated too. We humans tend to do that because we are socially attuned to each other’s moods. Likewise, if I can center myself, others can sense that and become more grounded.

When I’m open enough to listen deeply to someone without agenda or needing to counterpoint or defend, I create a space where they can feel heard, and they are more able to release their need for agenda or counterpoint or defense. Creating a space of deep listening brings the healing quality of connection, but it is not easy to do in stressful conversations.

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Thirty Dollars and Forty Cents

“Thirty dollars and forty cents,” the checker tells the couple. I’m third in line, and the carts are backing up behind me.

“Your debit card is declined, balance too low.” The couple is using the state system for food assistance. The woman looks at the ground and shakes her head. The man offers his card instead. We wait for the checker to reset the system. His card is rejected too. We wait for the reset again.

People are being polite, no one says anything, but I feel an impatient tension rising. I only have three items. The young man in the jean jacket in front of me has one.

A tangle of emotions forms a knot that threads back and forth in a small loop between my shoulder blades. I feel empathy for the couple who don’t have enough money to buy a meager parcel of groceries. And I have to admit, I’m irritated at the delay. And, I’m also a little ashamed that I’m irritated. But I know you can’t unfeel emotions that are present, so I stand there and try to pay attention to my knotted shoulders while I wait.

The woman starts pulling items from the bag, picking out what to return. The knot at my shoulders sinks lower like a lead weight. I take a long breath and try to soften the knot, but it sits there, prickly and heavy. I wonder if I should pull out my wallet and pay for the groceries. Would the couple be grateful or offended? I would have to squeeze past the guy in the jean jacket. Would that call more attention? What’s more important, saving embarrassment or providing food? Am I doing it to relieve my discomfort, or to hurry things along? I stand there watching, stuck.

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A Jarring Scene Shifts Me Into My Higher Self

Near my neighborhood is a three-lane frontage road that parallels the freeway, a main thoroughfare for zipping across town. I was driving there recently, speeding along to or from some nondescript errands, when the traffic slowed to a crawl.

I felt a surge of annoyance. I was on a roll, my internal settings on “go.” I didn’t want to step on the brake. I quickly scouted a lane change to keep up my speed. Then traffic stopped. My impatience bloomed. I was pissed and slammed the steering wheel.

As we approached a major cross-street, I saw the reason for the delay. In the right lane, a one-eyed sedan with a crumpled hood had been spun around, facing in the wrong direction. A police officer was talking to a woman sitting on the curb, another directing traffic past the broken glass and dislodged headlight.

There was no other car. From these momentary images, my mind tried to reconstruct the scene. A hit and run? A missed red light? I couldn’t tell from the expression of the women on the curb.

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Wise Words – Your Most Important Spiritual Task: Opening Your Heart

“If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

C.S. Lewis

A sadness comes over me as I read these words and recognize the truth of it in me. Over the years, I have learned how to protect myself by armoring my heart.  

We all do, I suppose. Shortly after our birth, the world began to show us it can be a hurtful place. One moment, we felt a sense of union and safety with our parents, and the next, we felt the devastating ache of absence. So, we learned to shield ourselves from painful feelings by shutting off the heart. 

These preverbal lessons embedded themselves in the first layers of our psyche. And perhaps the most painful early scar was to adopt the false belief that somehow the fault must be in us, that we are not lovable. In various ways, we all share the early tragic misconception that we are not okay as we are.

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What Is the Spiritual Response to Gaza?

The war that ignited last week in the Middle East has left me deeply distressed and confused. Distressed that heinous acts and the rageful reactions they provoke are feeding a murderous cycle; confused as I struggle to find a meaningful spiritual response.

I see the wheel of violence and revenge rolling forward, ages old, and I desperately want something to change, to make this time different, to free us from the macabre theater that will play itself out over months or years until our capacity for carnage is exhausted.

I am confronted with the bloodshed and atrocities of war and the prospects for a widening conflict destabilizing the region.

I am staggered by the devastation of cities and homes, the sickening loss of life, the oceans of grief, and the trauma that will last for generations.

I am paralyzed by the cultural and geopolitical complexities that fog our collective vision as we seek a path out of the bramble bush.

I am consumed with a desire to distinguish right from wrong, to understand what drives people to commit slaughter and to fathom a reply that does not match its depravity. I long for a clean line that separates good from evil, that labels which acts of violence are justified, even as I realize that the maelstrom of war eventually blurs and breaks those lines.

And I yearn for guidance. I cry out for answers in a landscape where answers don’t make sense.

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Reasons for Hope

Without hope, life is pretty dark. 

Hope is the faith we hold for a better future and the confidence we have in our ability to help bring it about. Hope motivates us to meet the challenges we face, even in tough and uncertain times. It’s an attitude we carry that we can make it through and make it better.

Our capacity for hope is influenced by external factors we can’t control. Given what I see in the news, it’s easy to lose hope that the world can right itself. But the most significant factors maintaining hope are internal – our ability to direct our attention to what’s going right and our faith that we can take action to create positive change.

Let me give you two examples I recently learned about that make me hopeful. 

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Wise Words – The Argument Against Foxholes

“The phrase, ‘There are no atheists in foxholes,’ is not an argument against atheism, it’s an argument against foxholes.”

James Morrow

We sometimes get distracted by the wrong spiritual questions. The flashy ones can take us away from the real inquiry.

“Do you believe in God?” is not a useful question. It leads to an exercise in rhetoric around the words “believe” and “God.” Linguistic precision is rarely the best road to spiritual insight. Too often, atheism is a reaction to a cartoon version of God, an action-figure straw man who bears little resemblance to the deeper well most serious spiritual people want to drink from.

The interesting question posed by Morrow’s quote is not, “Is there a God?” but, “Why are there foxholes?” a question that implicates us all.  

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Aikido – The Art of Peace

I had been practicing Aikido for about two years, which is a dangerous time. You know just enough to think you know what you’re doing. This was the state of my Aikido experience the morning I exited the coffee shop and saw a man harassing a woman.

I had always felt weak as a kid, humiliated by bullies. I stuffed my anger, opting for physical safety – stay small, don’t stand up for yourself, give in. As an adult, I learned Aikido to defend the frightened child still inside me.

Aikido is a martial art with outer and inner elements. Its outer form uses balance, footwork, joint locks, and your opponent’s momentum. Aikido’s inner form uses ki, the abundant life force that exists and flows through all things. 

My Aikido teacher explained that cultivating ki was the true power behind all the physical techniques of Aikido. I wondered if ki was real or just a poetic metaphor, but my sensei assured me it was real and powerful.  

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Wise Words – The Worth of Our Wounds

“God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas, but for scars.”

Elbert Hubbard

Medals make sense to me.

School and work teach us to set goals and reach them. Success, and even survival, require us to become good at procuring the things we need. I’ve spent much of my time pursuing and displaying them. It’s easy to view achievement as the primary purpose of life.

But scars? That grabs my attention. 

When I think of scars, I first think of wounds, the places we have been cut or pierced. It’s more than a bruise. A scar results when the skin rips and we bleed. 

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