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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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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Why Spirituality?

Why do we pursue a spiritual path? What is the spiritual impulse that fuels our seeking? What are we trying to achieve?

Spirituality is personal. It touches everyone differently according to their understanding, nature and season, so we each engage these questions in our own way. Let me offer my response with the following possibilities.

I want guidance in walking this impossible human life, a paradox both extravagantly abundant, delicious and fulfilling, and supremely challenging, grievous and painful.

I want to grow. I know there is a vast potential beyond my current boundaries that wants to emerge. I want to discover and express the core of who I am.

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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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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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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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Wise Words – There Is No Other Way Like Yours

“Do not compare, do not measure. No other way is like yours. All other ways deceive and tempt you. You must fulfill the way that is in you.”

Carl Jung

Every transmitter has a fingerprint, a set of characteristics in its signal that mark it as unique. This is true for every radio, antennae, and cell phone, for every satellite in space. Each has its own distinct signature, reaching out across the distance, not duplicated anywhere in the world.

And aren’t we like that too, each a collage of qualities, strengths, gifts, imperfections, and quirks, each emitting our individual signal? This collage acts like an antenna that transmits the unique voice of who we are. It’s gratifying to work from our authentic self; we all know how our heart soars when we do what we are wired to do.

The signal starts out strong and clear when we are young, when we don’t know any other way to be. But over time, a lot happens that interferes with our original signal. It gets covered with different messages about who we are:  the expectations from parents and teachers, or the field we pursued because we are good at it, not because we loved it, or the misguided advice we got that we couldn’t sing or weren’t good at math.

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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 – Intuition: The Mystery That Reason Cannot Grasp

Jonas Salk – “Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next.”

Henri Poincare – “It is through science that we prove, but through intuition that we discover.

Stephen Hawking – “There is no prescribed route to follow to arrive at a new idea. You have to make the intuitive leap.”

Albert Einstein – “There is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance.”

These titans of science all echo the same sentiment that intuition is the driving force behind scientific discovery, not the rational thinking mind. Intuition is the creative spark that arrives before logic and without reason.

Wait a minute. Is science a creative art? I thought science worked with rigorous methods and objective facts to remove speculation and human bias. Intuition sounds more like the spooky feelings of superstition.

These towering giants say no.

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