Wise Words – Reclaiming Our Public, Private and Secret Lives

“Everyone has three lives: the public, the private and the secret.”

Gabriel García Márquez


We all have a sense of who we are as a person, even as a young child. It’s true that we grow and change, but we still feel that we know who the “me” is that is growing and changing. In fundamental ways, I am still that six-year-old, that ten-year-old, that fourteen-year-old boy from years ago; all of them feel like the same “me,” looking out at the world and experiencing the events of my life.

As we grow, we learn a lot of rules about how to be, what is acceptable and what is not. Some are basic rules of fairness and kindness, and some are the local customs and manners of our family and communities. This process teaches us how to present a version of ourselves to the world. This is our public life.

Our public life serves us well. It provides self-esteem, gives us some power to influence how people see us, and perhaps most importantly, creates a place of protection. Our public persona is a shield we can place in front of our most vulnerable spots. Many people over-identify with the image they have constructed for their public life. They hold their armor tightly and let few people in. Maintaining this shield takes a lot of emotional and mental energy, and it can become exhausting and ultimately lonely.

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Wise Words – Ritual as Doorway to the Divine

“A ritual is the enactment of a myth. By participating in the ritual, you are participating in the myth. And since myth is a projection of the depth wisdom of the psyche, you are being put in accord with that wisdom. Your consciousness is being reminded of the wisdom of your own life.”

Joseph Campbell


I pull open the heavy doors, walk into Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin, and stare at the receding rows of arches high above me. From tall windows, the fading sun throws a soft yellow light on the massive stone ceiling. I am here for Evensong, sung tonight by the Cathedral Girls’ Choir. I take a seat.

I love spending time in ancient places of ceremony and worship, where the walls have listened for centuries to chanting and singing, where people have worn the stone floors smooth, coming together to find peace, solace, and connection. The sacred presence of generations has soaked this place, and I feel it can soak me too if I let it.

Sitting in the vast volume of the nave, surrounded by grandeur, I’m surprised that I feel small and large at the same time. One by one, the internal gears that keep my mind spinning start to slow down and a sense of calm contentment unfolds.

The choir begins, quiet harmonies rising into the evening, piercingly clear in the stillness. Reverent, resonant, lifting a soft beauty into the air, touching something in each of us that wants to be lifted up, wants to join in that beauty. My boundaries loosen. I am immersed, absorbed, connected across time, welcomed into stillness.

A young girl, she can’t be more than ten or twelve, has a solo line that floats above the rest. She effortlessly holds a long, high note, then sounds one even higher that splits me. My insides melt and tears well up. I close my eyes. If I let go completely, I would start to weep.

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Writing to Remember the Things I Mostly Forget

Writing a weekly blog on spiritual growth is fascinating. It has become a consistent morning practice for me. I usually start with pen and paper and ask, “what wants to be written today?”  I love the delicious glide of writing with a fountain pen, watching words flow onto the paper in dark ink. I move to the keyboard once the shape of an idea begins to fill out.

Honest writing is hard work. It’s like throwing a vase on a potter’s wheel, except you don’t know when you start that you’re making a vase, so you do a lot of starting over. The drafting, editing, and re-drafting process forms a playground where I continually discover more about this spiritual road we’re all walking.

I write to clarify my thinking, to retrieve bits of myself that have scattered about, to find some ideas worth sharing with others. But perhaps the main reason I write is because I want to remember the things I mostly forget.

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Entering the State of Presence Through Beauty

Light and air are different in Ireland. Shifting clouds and the low angle of the sun against the landscape create an atmosphere filled with magic. On a drive through the far west, Linda and I break over a rise and are caught by a spectacular view where light, air and rugged coast join together to amaze. We stop, wordless, to watch.

The sun’s shallow light illuminates a fog above the whitecaps. As each wave hits the rocks, it throws out a spray that mingles with the mist. For a moment, all the parts cohere. Light and air become one thing moving over the water, absorbing the black rocks and green fields. The light emanates from everywhere with no discernable source. The air breathes, exhaling wet and heavy with each breaking wave. 

I am lost in the scene. I feel expanded, lighter, more real, remembering my place in a larger scheme. Taking in this impossible moment, this extravagant beauty, I am changed.

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Wise Words – Enjoy the Practice

“Still, if you don’t enjoy fishing when you don’t catch a fish, you shouldn’t be a fisherman.”

Andrew Greig


The quote above comes from Andrew Greig’s lovely book about fishing, friendship and poetry, At the Loch of the Green Corrie. Its sentiment applies equally to spiritual practice.

Why do we practice, anyway? What is it we want, what do we hope to gain? I think there are always two aims, and that is what Grieg is pointing to.

As an example, let’s look at one common practice, meditation. When I meditate, I have a primary aim, which is to have an experience. I want to feel something different, or enter a different state of being, or occupy a different sense of self than my normal day-to-day experience. Sometimes I have these experiences and sometimes I don’t.

But I have another aim as well, which is to train my mind. I want to become ever more conscious of the things that arise in awareness and hold them with tenderness. This mind training can happen every time, whether I have the experience I want or not. 

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Wise Words – When Will You Begin?

“And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?”

Rumi


That opening, “And you?” grabs me. It is a direct address, delivered as if I am in mid-conversation with someone who knows me well. It is a provocation, a call to travel to a place that is both familiar and never fully known, straight into my authentic self. Rumi implies I’ve been avoiding something, hesitating at the door.

I want to answer, “But I’ve already begun. I began a long time ago.”

In my mind, I hear an immediate reply, “That was before. This is a new day. How will you begin now?”

That’s always the real question, isn’t it – how do we begin now? We need a practice that supports the long journey into ourselves, yet we have to keep the spiritual adventure fresh and alive. A practice done by rote becomes empty.

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Wise Words – The Bravery of Bilbo Baggins

“It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterward were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit


When I read The Hobbit as a teenager, this passage pulled me up short. I stopped and read it several times. I felt a bolt of truth run down my spine.  

In the scene, Bilbo Baggins crawls through a dark tunnel under the mountain just outside the lair of a terrible dragon. He can feel the monster’s heat filling the tunnel and hears its breath gurgling like a boiling cauldron. He is paralyzed with fear and almost turns back. But at that moment, he finds a courage inside himself he did not know he had and decides to move forward.

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The Divine Human Journey

I think of myself as a spiritual person, but I have many moments when I’m gripped by anger, resentment, irritation or shutdown. Why does this keep happening? Don’t these episodes hold me back from making spiritual progress?

Well, maybe those episodes are the point. Those moments are not to be avoided or suppressed, they are the fertile ground of our growth. Maybe it works like this.

Let’s say the purpose of the human journey is to bring Divine Light into the world of form. We come into the world as sparks of the Divine, fully immersed, wholly connected, with no sense of a separate self. We don’t even know we’re Sacred, we just sense life as pure being.

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Where Do the Self and the Sacred Meet?

I am fascinated by the thin space where my separate self meets the Sacred. I need the Sacred to do my work in the world, and the Sacred needs me to do its work in the world. We are the universal and the individual, acting in concert.

What is the Sacred? 

It’s hard to define with words, but let’s call it the field of Loving Awareness in which we reside. It is here now, always available, radiating its presence. It is witness to all the events we experience in life, the tragic, joyful and mundane.  

It is present in our suffering:  it comforts dying soldiers everywhere (Ukrainian and Russian, Allied and Axis, Confederate and Union); it inhabits cancer wards and nursing homes, hospice rooms and homeless shelters; it is present when our hearts are breaking and our souls are grieving; when we feel abandoned, lost or betrayed.

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Wise Words – The Only Choice You Have Is to Begin

“The only choice you have is to begin. The only place to start is where you are.”

Seth Godin


Looking through one of my prior journals, I came across this bold statement, a quote from Seth Godin, that struck me enough to write it down. Reading it again causes the same stunning note to ring inside me, speaking directly to my spiritual life.

The first part of the quote is provocative. Is to begin really the only choice? Couldn’t I just as easily choose not to begin, maybe just sit this one out? But no sooner do those words float across my mind than I feel a resounding “No!” coming from my bones. To refuse to begin, to stand at the threshold and reject the invitation, is unthinkable.

And so I take the leap. I make the choice to begin. Begin what? Whatever is before me at this stage of the journey, today and each day forward. The choice

to spend the morning writing,

to sit on this cushion,

to stop and marvel at the colors of the sky,

to open the iron gate that shields my heart,

to feel the buried things I’ve tried so hard to forget,

to start the painful process of forgiving that one person,

to connect to my soul,

to move forward toward whatever is next for me. It is this that I begin.

But how can I begin if I don’t know how it will end, whether it’s too big, too grand, too much, too far? That’s the second part of the quote – the only place to start is where you are. It turns the overwhelm into something simple. The choice to begin doesn’t rest on the promise of an ending. Like everyone who begins, I choose to start not knowing where it goes.

For anything worthwhile, the choice to begin can’t contain the forecast of its full completion because the walking changes both the person walking and the road traveled. To choose something less is playing in your own backyard.

So I choose to begin regardless, starting here, because this is where I happened to be standing when I heard the call.

Photo by Carolina Pimenta on Unsplash