Truth and Consolation

Everything in the first list is true.

Everything in the second list is also true.

TRUTH

  1. Life is hard.*
  2. You are not important.
  3. Your life is not about you.
  4. You are not in control.
  5. You are going to die

CONSOLATION

  1. Yes, it’s hard. It’s also joyful and magnificent. Which do you choose to focus on?
  2. Except to those who love and rely on you. Except to those whom you serve.
  3. Until you humbly discover who you really are.
  4. You never were. The sooner you let go, the sooner you will be free.
  5. When you accept this, you can stop being a hero and start being a human.

*this list (and the strong influence to write this post) comes from Adam’s Return (Crossroad Publishing, 2004) by Richard Rohr.


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#47 – Readiness

I noticed from my second story window the trees swaying in the following wind of a passing storm. Billowing clouds raced across the sky as the trees bent and shook. I walked outside to get a closer look, to listen more closely and then I decided to get some of that beautiful action on video.

I lifted my phone and hit “record” when from down the hill my neighbor revved and raced his motorcycle to the top of the street. The moment was ruined so I stopped filming. He raced back down.

I started filming again. He raced back up. And on it went, our ridiculous collaboration, until I gave up.

It seems that we each have our own methods of diversion. It seems that we each have our own ways of engaging the world at a time when what seemed easily knowable no longer does.

I decided to come back later to catch the trees in motion, but the wind had passed, and only a trace of breeze remained.

Spring is here. It’s a transitional time, a borrowed time, where nothing is permanent, nothing certain. Like always, it’s a time of exploration and emergence. It’s a time of both weeds and flowers, rain and sun. It’s a time of trees and wind and motorcycles.

It is a time in which anything can happen.


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Photo by Nita on Pexels.com

#23 – Get Closer

This is #23 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” This is another one I think is worth your time.


fullsizeoutput_20edAs valuable – as essential – as the big picture is, it is meaningless if it does not include an intimate awareness of what is happening at ground level.

A coastal hillside, monochromatic against an early spring sky, becomes a burst of purple flowers when seen at eye level.

Know where you are going. Understand your “why?” Yes, of course. And do not forget that only when each person – each blossom – is seen and valued as part of the whole will it make any difference at all that we are on the right path.


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#22 – Time Alone

This is #22 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Here’s another one you might like.


How I Go to the Woods

Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore
unsuitable.

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love
you very much.

― Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems


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#8 – Take a break

This is #8 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”


“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes,
including you.”

– Anne Lamott


If you are reading this on Sunday afternoon, I hope it’s from an easy chair or the sofa. I hope you’ve just returned from a hike, or even a walk around the neighborhood with your pup. Or maybe you just popped in from the garden for a glass of water (a cold beer?!) and took a quick peek at your phone.

I hope you are taking some time today to reconnect to activities you love and to recharge by taking some time to read for pleasure, to call a friend, to watch a great movie. You need that time. We all do.

If you struggle to slow down, you’re not alone. Dividing up a two-day weekend between activities, commitments and relaxation can be tough. The truth is that we are pretty lousy at giving ourselves permission to step away from the grind of our responsibilities.  A quick search reveals that in 2018, the US workforce allowed 768 million vacation days to go unused. Approximately 70% of employees did not use all of the time they had coming to them.

That’s both a waste and a shame especially when it’s a safe bet that you aren’t going to be sitting around in 10 years telling stories about how great it was to do more work when you could have used that time to do anything but.

For our sanity, for our health, for our families, and just for fun, we have to do better. You can start this weekend. There’s just enough time.


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Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

Your Busy Heart

Take your busy heart to the art museum and the
chamber of commerce
but take it also to the forest.
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you
were a child
is singing still.
I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four,
and the leaf is singing still.

~ from What Can I Say, by Mary Oliver ~


It may be that the best thing to do right now is to push away from the desk, walk down the hall, exit the building and take a walk.

It may be that what you discover outside could not possibly be confused with a forest. It might just be parking lots and buildings and people.

It may be that the fresh air is as close to the forest as you need to get, to refresh yourself, clear your mind, consider your questions in a new way.

We should all get to the forest as often as possible, I couldn’t agree with that any more strongly.

And, even though that may not be easy or convenient to do, we can take steps in that direction: push away from the desk, walk down the hall, exit the building and breathe in a new perspective.


alone autumn mood forest cold countryside

Photo by Gabriela Palai on Pexels.com

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Dear Darkening Ground
{Rainer Maria Rilke}

Dear darkening ground,
you’ve  endured so patiently the walls we’ve built,
perhaps you’ll give the cities one more hour

and grant the churches and cloisters two.
And those that labor-maybe you’ll let their work
grip them another five hours – or seven

before you become forest again, and
widening wilderness
in that hour of inconceivable terror
when you take back your name
from all things.

Just give me a little more time!
I want to love the things
as no one has thought to love them,
until they’re real and ripe and worthy of you.

I want only seven days – seven
on which  no one has ever written himself –
seven pages of solitude.

There will be a book that includes these pages,
and she who takes it in her hands
will sit staring at it for a long time,

until she feels that she is being held
and you are writing.


green grass

Photo by Irina Iriser on Pexels.com

Do you dare?

It was above the timber line. The steady march of the forest had stopped as if some invisible barrier had been erected beyond which no trees dared move in a single file. Beyond was barrenness, sheer rocks, snow patches and strong untrammeled winds. Here and there were short tufts of evergreen bushes that had somehow managed to survive despite the severe pressures under which they had to live. They were not lush, they lacked the kind of grace of the vegetation below the timber line, but they were alive and hardy. Upon close investigation, however, it was found that these were not ordinary shrubs. The formation of the needles, etc., was identical with that of the trees further down; as a matter of fact, they looked like branches of the other trees. When one actually examined them, the astounding revelation was that they were branches. For, hugging the ground, following the shape of the terrain, were trees that could not grow upright, following the pattern of their kind. Instead, they were growing as vines grow along the ground, and what seemed to be patches of stunted shrubs were rows of branches of growing, developing trees. What must have been the torturous frustration and the stubborn battle that had finally resulted in this strange phenomenon! It is as if the tree had said, “I am destined to reach for the skies and embrace in my arms the wind, the rain, the snow and the sun, singing my song of joy to all the heavens. But this I cannot do. I have taken root beyond the timber line, and yet I do not want to die; I must not die. I shall make a careful survey of my situation and work out a method, a way of life, that will yield growth and development for me despite the contradictions under which I must eke out my days. In the end I may not look like the other trees, I may not be what all that is within me cries out to be. But I will not give up. I will use to the full every resource in me and about me to answer life with life. In so doing I shall affirm that this is the kind of universe that sustains, upon demand, the life that is in it.”

I wonder if I dare to act even as the tree acts. I wonder! I wonder! Do you?

Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press: 1999), 123-124.


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Too Many Trails

I watched a hiking documentary the other day. It’s called, “Figure It Out On the Hayduke Trail.” That led to my watching another hiking documentary, this one called “Mile, Mile and a Half.” It’s about a film-making team’s trek down the John Muir Trail. (Both are available on Amazon Prime if you are so inclined.)

But this isn’t a movie review. It’s simply an opportunity to state the realization that I had in watching these adventures unfold in two dimensions: I want, no, I need to be out there, too.

So I asked a loaded question of a small group I was working with today. I asked them, as a way to kick off our conversation, what would they be doing if they weren’t doing “this”? And by “this” I mean, “this job,” “this career,” “this pattern or path of the life they find themselves in.”

My answer: I’d be outside, on the trail, among the trees. I turn fifty years old this year and I plan to spend a whole bunch more time on the trail than I have so far. I’m a little late getting started on this aspiration and there are too many trails to walk. But I’m not too late and I don’t need to walk them all.

I just need to walk the next one. And then the one after that.

I read somewhere that’s how you get to where you want to be. That it’s how you build a life.


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Pacific Crest Trail near Mt. Eddy (California)

You do not have to be good

In memory of poet Mary Oliver, who died one year ago today, I offer a reflection I wrote in 2016 on her poem, “Wild Geese.” 

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I tacked this poem onto my bulletin board a few days ago. It’s been staring at me ever since, trying to help me understand, to see in a new way. This seems like a good day to explicate it as best I can.

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

In my reading of the poem it has three acts: permission, perspective, and invitation.

Permission

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

There are a couple of lines in this poem that stop me in my tracks, starting with the very first. If all I could have is that first line I’d be more than satisfied. I needed to hear it a long time ago. I wish I had known and believed it long before now. It’s a mantra, a meditation. It’s also the beginning of permission to simply let go of all of the “shoulds” and comparisons and the pervasive perfectionism  that prevents creative expression.

The permission in these opening lines simply says, “It’s ok to get off of your knees, once and for all, to let go of shame and guilt and ‘not enough’ and walk on timid but strengthening legs to that which is calling you forward.” It reminds me of the heart-wrenching scene in “Good Will Hunting” when Sean (Robin Williams) says to Will, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”

And just as that permission begins to settle in, I hear the poet’s invitation to unburden myself of my despair AND to be present to the despair of another. My pain is no greater than yours. Yours is no greater than mine. We are all hurting. And we must all get up and continue walking. And we must help each other do it. It’s the only way.

Perspective

Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

The world goes on. I am small. It is vast. I am important, but not nearly so much as I think. I want to be special, to be heard and understood as I’m sure I never will be. Won’t you give me more time? More attention? More care and concern? Why have you moved on? Why must we change the conversation?

Eventually, as my voice gets smaller, drowned by the gorgeous volume of a world in motion, I have to reconcile myself to the hard truth – hard, hard truth – that it doesn’t exist just for me. It is not a backdrop, an elaborate setting for my experience. It simply exists. As do I. And by existing as it does, it reminds me to keep returning to myself to learn what I must learn. And to never stop because there is no end to that discovery.

Invitation

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

If only I am willing to refuse my loneliness – that subtle device by which I convince myself that no one else will quite understand – it is all there for the taking. Gifts too beautiful to take in at a glance. I am here. You are here. The world is here, made to be free in.

On stronger legs now I stride into the world, persistent in my self-reflection, consistent in my regard for you, ready to learn all I must if I am to live into the possibility I can see just above the horizon.

That faraway place, always right here.