Tell Me Your Story

I was here, and you were here,
and together we made a world.
{David Whyte}


If you tell me your story, I will tell you mine.

From that small, open place we will take steps that help us to know one another. Through our disclosure we will build trust, and from that trust we will experience the reinforcement of connection.

I will only learn about myself, which means that I will only learn how to walk in this world, through my relationship with you.

When I resist I do so because I don’t want to be reminded of what I don’t yet know. When I resist I am bound by the seduction of the status quo, refusing to yield to the certainty of change.

When I engage I do so because you help me to remember that my initial discomfort holds the seeds of my future wisdom.

Tell me your story, and I will tell you mine.


 

 

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Some poems lodge themselves within us and at the right moment, given the smallest opening, emerge to break down the last few bricks that enclose revelation.

This is one of those poems for me. I have heard David Whyte recite it many times, always commenting on how totally un-Irish it is for an Irish poet to not only put aside talk of death but to simultaneously affirm the beautiful mystery and possibility of life. 

When the poem “showed up” for me earlier this week it came first as a passing thought, just hinting at its intention to arrive at my door. The next morning, it burst through that door as both punctuation and affirmation in the midst of a conversation about the gift of an open heart.

It felt as if the poem itself came along beside me, wrapped an arm around my shoulder and said, “Yes, David, everything is going to be all right.”

This is why I read and write poetry, because it is “language against which we have no defenses.” (David Whyte)


Everything is Going to Be All Right
{Derek Mahon}

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart;
the sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.


photo of clouds in a blue sky

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Open, Not Apart

IMG_5965Our hearts do not break apart, they break open.

It is through this opening that what we need tiptoes in, staying beyond our vision until we are ready to see.

This is difficult to explain. It must be lived…felt…to be understood.

Consider the way the fallen Redwood opens space in the canopy of the forest for saplings to receive sunlight. Consider how its decaying trunk provides nourishment for the forest floor and refuge for small creatures.

As we reel from the destruction of the fall we can also trust that what it has set in motion will be more generative than anything that might be gained from its perpetual and upright symmetry.

A healthy forest integrates both the broken and the whole, becoming more resilient as a result.

Our heart’s ecology is the same. When it breaks it does not pull us apart but equips us to open wider still.


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Humboldt Redwood State Park – November 19, 2018

The Relief and Joy of Imperfection

I pray there is at least one person before whom you can be imperfect. I have several in my life, and they are such a relief and joy to be around.

{Richard Rohr}


Here in my 50th year, when the phrase “mid-life” can no longer be used with anything close to mathematical accuracy, I am singularly proud of one accomplishment. And it is the fruits of this accomplishment, I am convinced, that will see me through the next 50 years, or however many more are mine to claim.

That accomplishment is the cultivation of a small and extraordinary group of people with whom I can be imperfect.

I consider this an accomplishment of such importance, in part, because it took so long to achieve.

For too long it was just too expensive to allow anyone to see the version of myself that was not in control, that was scared, doubtful, and overwhelmed. Others could see those things, of course, but I made sure to keep enough space between us so that any kind of reckoning could not take place. As a result, none of the vulnerability that keeps us in the mutually reinforcing orbit of healthy relationship could materialize.

Eventually, my facade of competence was destroyed, as all have to be for anything new to emerge and slowly, in that emergence, it became possible to cultivate “the gifts of imperfection.”

What that means in practice is that when I find myself, especially under stress,  defaulting to competence as a bulwark against insecurity, I am more likely to be “invited” back to the more fully human version of myself by those faithful few I am fortunate to call partner, colleagues and friends.

That invitation, issued and answered, always results in feelings of relief and joy, the kind that only exist in the realm of what is authentic and true.


 

This isn’t what I want

Again and again it seems that we attract into our lives precisely the encounter, the conversation, the article or poem, precisely the thing we are intended to wrestle with in order to shift to a new level of understanding.

I’ve heard myself say, many times, “But this isn’t what I want!”

I read a poem that forces me to confront themes of reconciliation and mortality (Kingdom Animalia) and I resist it, minimize it, dismiss it because it is just what I need right now.

I read a book (Maybe You Should Talk to Someone) that reminds me of the powerful benefits of therapeutic conversation, the examples reflective of (because, human) my experience. I don’t want to be uncomfortably reminded of those themes, but I need to be.

I have a conversation that disrupts the smooth waters of my well-constructed ego, one that challenges my perception and forces my humility. I need that disruption. I certainly don’t want it.

This is, I think, the price of paying attention. And I would rather do so with vigilance and continue to encounter what I need to encounter than bury my head in the sand and risk no encounter at all.

“Development” or “learning” is never about arrival. It is about engaging the same themes again and again and having an incrementally better go of it the next time around.


 

Both Shattered and Made Whole

There is something extraordinary about witnessing someone’s vulnerability. To see, hear and feel another person summon the courage and the clarity to reveal themselves without artifice or ego, is raw in its truth and pure in its beauty.

A friend revealed herself in this way not long ago and I remember feeling equal parts shattered, experiencing the heartbreak of her brokenness, and then made whole again, by the way in which she owned her experience and allowed it to make her stronger.

To be trusted with this kind of expression may be the high water mark of our shared human adventure.

To be shattered and made whole, again and again. This, I think, is what it means to live.


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The Trap of Almost Knowing

I had a painful, shameful memory yesterday. I recalled a speaking engagement from some years ago that ended with my being cut-off mid-sentence by the host because I had gone over my time. There were several of us slated to speak that night which meant that our host had to manage a tight schedule. I knew the expectation – I had 12 minutes – and I failed to adhere to it.

The embarrassment I felt that night washed over me again with the memory of it: how I tried so hard to save face (how, exactly?) and make a graceful exit (impossible) in the milliseconds after seeing my host walk down the center aisle and in full voice exclaim that “we have to move on.”

As I autopsied the experience I realized that I had made an obvious and avoidable mistake in the lead-up to the event. I had failed to clarify what it was, precisely, that I was expected to address in my remarks. I had the gist of it, you see, but I also had the nagging feeling that there was another level of specificity required, the absence of which left me in improv mode rather than prepared mode. In improv mode, perhaps needless to say, time is fluid and evaporates quickly.

There is a trap of almost knowing that can get in the way of actually knowing, or so it seems to me. The misplaced confidence of my almost knowing prevented the humility of my desire to actually know from being activated and acted upon.

In other words, I acted from my head and not from my heart. I allowed “enough” information to be a substitute for the complete information, a protective cerebral response (“Of course I know what I’m doing!”) standing in for an open and inquisitive one (“I think I’ve got what you’re looking for, but could we please review it once more?”).

As a practical matter, I have carried this experience forward and am much more exhaustive in my “pre-game” conversations about expectations and outcomes.

As a human matter, I recognize the gift of this memory as a tender and instructive reminder to trust that vulnerability in the pursuit of understanding is the best kind of strength.


 

No Green Bananas

Bob, the car salesman: So, what do you think of the car?
Me, “coolly” parrying the coming hard sell: Oh, I like it a lot but I’m in no hurry. I’ve got a least another week before I have to decide.
Bob: Well, I’m not sure I do. I’m 75 years old and as I tell my wife, ‘Don’t buy any green bananas!’
We shared a big laugh and I could only shake my head. I didn’t buy a car from Bob, but I did buy the one I wanted.
Carpe diem.

 

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Father’s Song
{Gregory Orr}

Yesterday, against admonishment,
my daughter balanced on the couch back,
fell and cut her mouth.

Because I saw it happen I knew
she was not hurt, and yet
a child’s blood so red
it stops a father’s heart.

My daughter cried her tears;
I held some ice
against her lip.
That was the end of it.

Round and round: bow and kiss.
I try to teach her caution;
she tries to teach me risk.


Here is another poem for Father’s Day, both difficult and beautiful.