I’ve had a couple of rough weeks. Free floating anxiety. Restless sleep. Self doubt. It was as if my psyche developed little cracks and all of that seeped in. I didn’t immediately recognize that I was in distress. Then, this morning, I was awake at 4:00am, swimming in worry and anxiety that wasn’t attached to anything real: would I lose my wallet in the airport when I travel next week? Is my book any good? Am I any good? Such moments of suffering are wake up calls. There’s no outside solace to heal one’s heart; I have to begin at the core. What do I need? What do I want? How can I help myself?
From time to time, we all feel like imposters in the world. We stumble and fall into a hole of despair and then wonder how we got there. Visiting the wounds of childhood past doesn’t seem to provide anything but an excuse. Finding ways to psychologically and spiritually hug myself, does. A lifetime of dealing with depression and anxiety has taught me that if I get too angry or too afraid of too many things, I’m bound to fall.
All love must begin with the act of self-love. That’s easy to state and more difficult to do. What does it mean to love your self? I know that I’m not alone in wondering this. Here are some steps toward self-love that I used this morning. May they be helpful to others. Self-love is like going to the gym. The best results come from continued and consistent practice.
Step One: Meditation
is a practice that can relax, comfort and soothe the beast of anxiety. It seems surprising that such a practice can be
so easily forgotten in the face of emails, texts, social media, deadlines, and
the seduction of creating self-importance through our digital life. Liberation lies in deliberate breath,
deliberate mindfulness, deliberate letting go and surrendering into the
vastness and awe of the miracle that we are.
Step Two: Tears. Holding back the tears of life creates anxiety and strife. Right now, our world seems likes its come off the rails. In witnessing the fallout from gun violence, the suffering of children, the divisions that have turned into an “us and them” mentality, then surely there are tears waiting to be set free. I cried this morning. I cried for our country. I cried for myself. I cried for the people I know who are facing struggles. The act of tears, softened my heart and brought me home to myself a little bit. The list of too angry and too afraid began to dissolve.
Step Three: I’m a
sixty-seven year old woman and one might think that all things from childhood have
certainly been worked out and healed forever by now. But the wisdom of age has
taught me that the wounds of childhood inform throughout one’s life. They are part of our spiritual and
psychological work. This morning, I
closed my eyes and remembered the child I’d been. In my imagination, I got down on one knee so
that I could meet her face to face, and then I wrapped my arms around her and
said, “You are so precious to me. I love you so much.” More tears and a sweet feeling of release
begins to set me free.
Step Four: Listing the things I’m grateful for. I
take a walk every day. My dog and I went
up to the park and along the way, I counted the things that I’m grateful for:
legs strong enough to carry me a couple of miles, neighbors that wave hello and
call out greetings, a belly that’s full, and cooling temperatures that made
today’s walk in the middle of Texas very pleasant. Practicing gratitude helps me to shift my
mind-set and ease the torments of self-doubt.
Step Five: Give this reclaimed love away. Wave back at the neighbors. Call out my own greetings of good
morning. Silently bless the gaggle of
teenagers waiting for the school bus — they’re our future. They deserve my
goodwill. Plan to cook a special
breakfast for my husband.
Step Six: Bow my head and say thank you. Thank you for
my life. Thank you for this day. Thank
you for jogging my memory and helping me make it to the toolbox, thus bringing
relief and a way home. Thank you.
In a perfect world, I would wake up every day and practice all of this. However, I’ve come to see that the imperfection of slipping into the darkness is the invitation and the opportunity to re-engage with my heart. The imperfection and errors that come with being human is the path to humility, appreciation and thankfulness. Today was a reminder to stay the course even though I know that I will stumble and fall again. My heart is all about practice and imperfection. This is the work of living out this idea of love.
Sitting on the deck, I watch the sun crack through the morning clouds in streaks of pink and orange. The air is cool and inviting. Wrapping my hands around a cup of tea, I breathe in the essence of a day coming alive. This is a simple pleasure that fills me with immense joy. I am thankful. It is the first day of the year that I am able to do this. Until now, it’s been too cold or wet. But this morning, the long grey winter and the unrelenting drizzle of spring have given way to warmer temperatures and sunshine. This is a day that deserves to be noted. This ritual of tea and appreciation marks the beginning. There will be days ahead where I will welcome the sunrise in this way. Fortified by a caffeinated brew and the hum of the world around me, isn’t life is good? Celebrate.
What marks the beginning of the spring and summer months for you? Please share with me in the comments.
You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life. And you will have set in motion and ancient spiritual law: the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you. ~Sarah Ban Breathnach~
Apples are ripening on the tree in the yard. The mornings are cooler. September waits behind the last of the Sweet Williams, peeking into the last of summer’s long days. I am grateful for the coming change.
I’ve pulled this morning close to me, gently placing it my heart. Take the day off. Leave space for God to work in you and through you. Set aside the worry and the angst that you carry as if they were must-have fashion accessories. Take this day to be grateful. This is what I tell myself as I sit tapping the keys on my computer, sitting on the deck and drinking tea.
Jeter, faithful lab is next to my chair. His nose and ears don’t stop moving as he takes in the day. I love that dog. He reminds me not just to be happy, but to be joyful. Grateful for you, buddy. Just saying his name aloud makes him wag.
Dean stretches out on the bed, a day away from the demands and challenges of his work, a day of which he asks nothing except a walk. “Let’s hike up Park,” he says. I am grateful for all of the hiking trails that surround our little valley. Grateful for strong legs and a good heart. Grateful that I walk so much at my age.
There is food in the fridge and in the cupboards. I’m grateful that there is no worry, no insecurity about that, knowing that people in this country, children go hungry every day. I’m grateful for our Ashland Food Bank and that we can contribute and help.
On Friday I did laundry, so my clothes are washed and clean, folded and put away. I am so grateful for clean clothes and clean towels, clean sheets.
I posted the Sarah Ban Breathnach quote on Facebook this morning and a friend from Canada shared it with her friends, translating it first into French. I am grateful for technology that this woman who is so many miles away, read something that inspired me and she was inspired too and the message got shared. What a marvel.
I’m taking a break today. My only tasks are to be grateful and to hike with my husband and my dog. Gratitude fills me. It is a practice that soothes me. It is a path that assures me that there is in this universe, an unfathomable love just waiting for us to surrender. The things that I am grateful for are too many for a list. I think I’ll just rest in the satiation of the practice. May the arms of gratitude surround you.
It is the work of women to balance the world, to know their strength and stand courageously in the light of their truth. A patriarchy without the balance of matriarchy creates an uneven playing field upon which women are subordinates rather than leaders. You don’t have to look too far to see how out of balance institutions and governments create both a physical and spiritual poverty when they do not include the voice of women.
Traveling in Belgium and learning about the Beguines, I was inspired by the this esoteric group of women who sought to remedy the corruption of the church in the 12th century by living an example of spiritual and financial independence at a time when women did not have such choices. For a short period of time, they brought about a reverence and a station for women before their ideals and actions were again muted and absorbed by church and state. So, what did they teach me? How have I changed?
I walked the same cobble stone roads that they walked. I sat in churches where they prayed. I brushed up against the places and times that informed them. I listened to lectures about them, read about them and wondered about them. What all of that ignited in me was strength, the strength of standing strong in the light of my own truth. I have dug for examples in my life and I have found that all throughout history there were women who walked before me who had the same desire to live full and equal lives. I came away from Belgium with newly found and newly reclaimed inner strength to move forward in confidence and respect for myself.
The images of old-world northern Europe delighted my senses and reminded me that the world is a big and diverse place. Still, I doubt that I will ever become a world traveler. I am more of a Hestia, the Greek goddess who found satisfaction in tending the home fires. I am so happy to be home and so happy to have made the once in a lifetime journey. I met wonderful people, taught good writing classes, learned a lot . . . and made sure I did a little shopping.
Now at home, settling into the autumn, I will begin my next novel and spend the winter months holed up in my office creating. The Beguines were creators. They made art and music and I see those things differently now. I see making art as a worshipful thing, a praising of all creation, a joy created in the heart, mind and spirit. My writing is an expression of love through creation. It’s good to be home, slightly altered and deeply grateful for where I ventured out, and also for the return.
The impervious feeling of youth is a delicious drunk of newness and firsts: first apartment, first true love, first heartbreak; the delight of garage sales and thrift shops, that furnish the backdrop upon which one begins to build a life, blissfully unaware of the baggage of childhood that follows them into independence and self-sufficiency. In my twenties, I surfed in the mornings with Bernie, napped in the afternoons and then waited cocktails at night to pay for a life style that was both joyous and fraught with uncertainty as well as longing and idealism. All that created its own kind of pain and regret. No one escapes the wrong turns, but instead we seem to spend our lifetime burrowing into the core of what ails us before we find the gifts within the inevitable ruin.
At twenty something, I swung my long, gangly legs over the precipice of the 1970’s, watching Viet Nam unwind. The grainy television images of so much human destruction were soon to be replaced by Nixon and the exposure of con and corruption that would define the word “sensational” for decades to come. And as twenty marched ahead into thirty, I realized one day how difficult it was to pay the rent, and repair the car and I had new empathy and understanding for my mother, who worked at a time when the cartoon character of a wolf chasing a nubile secretary around the desk wasn’t that far off the mark.
While the twenties, for many of us underscored a time of adventure and ideals, the thirties was of time of finding a comfortable position within the grip of unrelenting responsibility. Overtime at my work place became a way of life, a badge of proof that I was committed and in the game for the long haul. I bought my first “new” couch and read T.S. Eliot, Yeats and May Sarton for leisure. I wrote in dozens of spiral bound notebooks– an attempt to discover who I was and who I was becoming, and whether or not I had just put on the costume of adulthood without really checking out what I was wearing. Thirty gnawed the bones of idealism and free-spiritedness, replacing the hunger for those things with “want.” Want is a thorn in the foot of human condition, a lusting and longing for those things or people just out of our reach; a strange coming to grips with a shadow of greed, that if we are honest, dogs us until we wrestle it to the ground and learn to balance it with a generous heart.
When I turned 40, I had a realization that life was just a series of stories and somehow we were all connected by those stories. By then I was married, with a choice to remain childless, but with a passion for creating business and a raw and reckless spirit, still wild from my surfing days that allowed me to take the risks necessary to be an entrepreneur. And having a partner with which to play that out remains one of the great satisfactions of my journey. The time of work and creation was marked by this decade and the joke of “over the hill” was really more about the pinnacle of the hill and the overview provided from the vantage point of focus and determination.
Fifty saw the departure of my mother and though I felt beyond independent and accomplished when she left, her absence was piercing in a way I could not have anticipated. She lingers still, her hands seeming like they are mine, veined with age. I catch glimpses of her in the mirror, a face layered over my own as I brush my hair. Life is shorter than you think.
So in my sixties now, the question of age as a number and whether that means anything or not? It means everything. Age is a marker, the signs that dot the highway that tell you how far you have come. Age is a container for the experiences that push us forward and challenge us to unfold. Age is a reminder that physical strength lessens with the years and beauty fades. Whether or not we like it or want it, age is what pulls us to our knees while it knights us with the sword of humility and hard-won wisdom. What lies beyond? In my twenties, I could not sit still in the morning hours, knowing that the surf was up. Forty years later finds me on my deck, holding a cup of tea and easing into the day as I marvel at how the apples on the tree in my yard have gone from green to red and are becoming larger in the summer sun. The cycle of beginnings and endings are everywhere around me in nature. In my heart I let go of memories that are stitched with pain and discomfort. They drop like apples from the tree. I like to recall instead the touchstones of surfing and careers and a life education that was beyond divine. I revel in the partnership of a marriage, now tender and softened with grey.
I embrace the years, each decade a lamp unto the soul, lighting the way into becoming human. The striving for some sense of self-honesty and awareness, for a sensuous breeze in which to throw back my head and close my eyes as life takes me; this has made the journey purposeful. To paraphrase Mr. Yeats: “I am an old woman with a dry mouth, waiting for the rain.”
My friend Susan returned from retreat and showed me the rosary that she had made; read to me the prayers that she had written and prayed. It ignited in me a deep inspiration and realization that I might make a rosary too.
Rosaries were a part of my childhood. My grandmother Julia sat on her knees in the garden praying the rosary, nimble fingers rolling each bead, her lips formed in silent recitation of the prayers she knew by heart. She sat this way on the ground, snap peas filling the lap of her apron, a basket of freshly picked vegetables on the ground next to her. This and other images filled me:
Old women in the musty smelling church, their heads wrapped in babushkas, rosaries dangling from gnarled fingers, faces tilted toward the altar as they pray each bead in earnest.
Little girls in white dresses and heavy wool coats, fighting the cold as they hold rosaries and Sunday Missals on the day of their first communion.
In my childhood, rosaries were serious sacred. Objects filled with intent. Talisman of comfort and surrender.
This idea of making a rosary and creating its prayers spoke to my heart, which continues to grow a wider and broader theological brush stroke than the rigors of school girl prayers. I trust that the Divine guides me to dig into my being and find my own unique way to converse and praise.
One morning shortly after Susan had shared her rosary with me, I was sitting in meditation when the spark of inspiration burst into flame. Approaching my 62nd birthday, what I needed to mark this passage was a crone’s rosary. I hold the term crone in the original form in which it was intended–that of a crown, the crowning of the wise, old woman. I want to be her. I want to appreciate the overview that age and experience affords you. I aspire to the wisdom and wonder that lives in me and asks that I honor it.
In my vision, I saw the stem of the rosary with the symbol of the mother of the universe. The five beads on the stem would represent “gratitude,” because gratitude is the fullness that I desire to live and is the doorway to all of my prayers.
The first ten beads would represent “reclamation,” reclamation being the theme of this decade of my sixties–a time to reclaim and reframe what is broken and cherish it still.
“Transformation” would be the second ten prayers, as so much of my crone is about gathering and sorting, understanding a life that is still unfolding, and much more willingly so, in transformation.
The third set of prayers represents “intuition.” Having spent a good deal of life not trusting my gut, giving in to people and events that didn’t always serve me– now is a time for this crone to honor her intuition. Trusting the intuition of making the rosary and trusting my own direct connection with all of creation is cause to celebrate.
The final ten beads are prayers of alchemy. What that means to me is that I have been changed by Grace. Alchemy represents an integration of the transformations of life, and at this stage I am starting to see all of it as gold.
The prayer of gratitude separates each section of prayers.
My first pass at writing my prayers, while descriptive and sweet, proved cumbersome. It took a few times praying the prayers to find the appropriate rhythm and edits. And it may be that as time moves on, the prayers will change again. I see faith is a living, breathing, fluid thing, intimate to the one who carries it.
So, this is how the Crone’s Rosary came to be. On my birthday, I sat with Susan in her beautiful crafts room where she has created a vibration of praise through creativity, and she and I read the prayers aloud for each section of the rosary as I strung together the beads that I had gathered. It was a perfect way to mark my 62nd year. The morning after, I prayed my Crone’s Rosary for the first time, celebrating spirit, inspiration and creativity.
THE CRONE’S ROSARY
Holy Mother of the Universe
Wisdom of the cosmos,
I sing my heart in praise of all Creation
We are One.
May God’s breath reclaim and reframe my broken pieces
Holding them in healing
To be given again
From the womb of this sacred heart
Rebirthed in acceptance and peace
I am at peace
As transformation unfolds
Petal by petal, a gentle infinity
Embracing this story, this path, this life
In the eternal embrace of God’s Love
I am born again in the light of this sacred dance
Giving thanks for the waters of intuition
For the Divine gift, asking to be felt
In the holy expression of creativity
Embracing suffering and compassion
Dark and light
I give thanks for vision
The hand of Grace stirs all creation
May I be awake, authentic and true
Arising in the light of an open heart
Illuminating the path I walk
Giving way to wisdom
Giving way to praise
For me, turning sixty marked the threshold of old age. I will be 62 this year, so now I am really in the thick of it! It does not mean that I have gone gently into that good night, but it does mean that the physical, psychological and spiritual changes of this particular passage are no less exciting or daunting than the changes of my twenties. I recall the young woman who I once was– full of edge and humor, pathos and pain standing on the precipice of life and daring herself to fly.
These past months have brought about a whirlwind of change and resolve and there are days that I marvel at how life continues to build upon itself regardless of years and days that I feel I should just lay down and take a nap until it all passes. My husband and I retired from our business late last summer–thirty-seven years worth of work that came down to some boxes for storage and a few tearful goodbyes. Then we started a consulting business that allowed us to work from home with less hours and far less stress. It provides some purpose, a context into which we build daily hikes with the dog and meals that are now served with leisurely conversation.
And at this strange new threshold that leads into the last chapter we dreamed a new dream. We recently bought a home in a small town in the northwest that will undoubtedly provide a greener moister climate, a larger garden, and a deck from which to watch the world.
I have friends that rail against this age and approach it with fear and even a little anger. You can fight it all you want, but we all march toward death everyday. Since that’s what is true, why not live and embrace every event to the fullest? I like being in my sixties. I will probably like being in my seventies. For once I have some real perspective from which to view a life richly textured–a life that knows the joy of celebration and a life that also knows how to suffer so that suffering can teach and even inspire.
These next months will be more packing and unpacking, a stream of logistical tasks that moves us from Colorado to the great northwest. I picture myself sitting on the deck of my new home, wrapping my hands around a mug of hot tea, watching with wonder as the early morning light creeps across the yard. I see myself sitting at my desk tapping away on the computer recalling or creating stories. And time and time again I see myself holding onto the hand of my husband, my friend, my partner as we look up into the dark sky on a summer night, counting stars and knowing that at the end of this chapter, we will return to the star dust from which we were born.
The massive roll-top was a beast of a desk. Purchased his first year in practice, it represented what he was becoming: a teacher, a doctor, a man with vision and a heart full of idealism. It had stood out at The Antique Guild, the place where a generation of us longed for things worn and aged from a different time, history and story that could be traced in the grain of old oak and an imagining of where it had come from.
When the top was rolled up, twelve small drawers outlined the top of the desk, dropping down into other small compartments and shelving, but leaving a large surface for writing, for books, for charts and manuals that became part of his life. File drawers were stuffed with notes and articles about nutrition and biochemistry. The whole thing was chaotic and scattered, but he knew where everything was and I knew better than to ever touch anything or try to move things around. In the evening he rolled down the top and covered the whole mess as if tucking in a child for sleep. And on the workday mornings, he opened and awakened it, shuffled the papers and articles, sat with his patients, one elbow resting upon a surface that bore witness to his work and its unfolding.
It came to life before anyone had a personal computer that required space for a tower or a printer or a screen; before desks would contain those carefully placed holes for cords and phone lines. All of that came later, as the desk grew impractical for keeping up with a technology that had no respect or reverence for it’s fine lines or history. Still, the desk moved with us from office to office, the largest piece of furniture in his room, the marking and symbol of a man who created life on his terms in his unique way, without worry or concern for pleasing those around him, but instead exercised a fidelity to raw authenticity. Like the desk, larger than anything in the room, my husband, the “him” of this ode is in many ways larger than life when it comes to how he did his 37-year career.
Somewhere in August we made the decision that it was time to move on to the next chapter of our lives. Consulting work came easily to him. He had become the grey beard in the room who had something to teach those youngsters about bio-chemically based nutrition. Life now offered work from an office at home that has a different desk, one built for computer screens and printers. The tailored attire of his career would bend to a pair of sweat pants and a soft, cotton t-shirt. Here came the gentle ending to a long story, a good story. . .and the ending to the good desk, a glorious beast of a desk that dominated his office for 37 years. As the new chapter began to reveal itself, the desk was let go.
I sat in the hallway of what was once our office building when they came to get it. We had tried to sell it, only to realize that the young people in this brave new world needed and wanted the strategically placed holes for cords; the place for screens and printers; a surface that was sleek and modern. They craved Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn not the story or history as told in old oak grains in what was becoming an antique and a relic of a dated past. Significance changes with each generation, and the desk had served its purpose well. We donated it to the Hospice Thrift Store.
Two men came in on a Wednesday morning and unscrewed the top and the sides and wheeled it past me in three different pieces to what I hoped would be a new and fitting home. I wished that it would wind up with someone who would appreciate it and who would run their hands across the grain and wonder what stories the massive beast held in its still beating heart.
We grow old. Our precious things lose meaning but our purpose remains: a place to study, a place to write or to read, some corner we create to carry out these small actions of our life that grow us and hold the potential to become big when talents are shared. The old desk went down the elevator and into the truck in three pieces and I could not hold back the tenderness of a few tears for what is the closing of the curtain on a chapter well lived for both the glorious beast of a desk and a man who continues to courageously do life on his own unique terms.
Somewhere, lost in the obligations and responsibilities of day-to-day life, buried under the rubble of forgotten things, a bright orb of thought shines in the darkness. It is here that I begin again, picking up the pen to tell a story:
A lifetime of work behind me, for the moment—I find myself “retired,” not even sure that I have any infinity at all with that word. To retire is to go to one’s room, shut the door and lie down. I am not ready for that. At the same time, I am not ready to take on the world with some great expertise and experience, but rather find a gentler middle ground that affords me mornings of tea and reading, hours of writing practice, walks among cottonwoods and a sense of gentle purpose that still allows for a contribution to the world in which I live.
Like a high school girl biting her nails in the guidance counselor’s office, I do not know what I want to do. All the while, I receive offers to consult on this or that, to plan and produce and to create a little something that flows into a checking account. I do not think that I am ready to give that up and yet there is a satisfied weariness in me that compels me to a greater quiet.
I have spent the last several weeks unwinding a clinical practice for my husband who doctored patients for 37 years. I worked with him for 24 of those years. The goodbyes were emotional and I ran around feeling like I had to take care of everyone. It left me tired and numb. A whirlwind of activity including a yearly retreat that I organized for 250 people topped it off and now, for the first time in the span of things, I am at my keyboard, my symbolic pen, trying to put my thoughts in an order that makes sense and brings me comfort.
It all seemed to go by so fast, schooling, friendships, marriage, work, the things that define you until you can get to the core of something else, something greater that doesn’t need a label. I imagine my life a film, and what I desire now is a slow and interesting fade and not a sudden stop.
This morning I sat on the deck with my tea, as I often do, gazing at the fading stars and a bright half-moon. Hoping for a deep stillness, I was interrupted by a Labrador retriever who lives to have the tennis ball thrown. In his persistent and unrelenting manner, there was no peace, only the sound of the ball being dropped, panting and a blond dog jumping up and down as I acquiesced to the inevitable. Similarly with the state of things in my life now, a hope for quiet and a joyful disturbance that keeps saying “not quite yet.” I suppose I should say “stay tuned. . .”
Each year I plan a retreat for my community. This year I am bringing Dr. James Finley to Boulder, CO on September 20, 21 and 22, 2013 to lead a retreat on Meister Eckhart and Letting Go. This is an interview that I conducted with Dr. Finley a couple of weeks ago. To learn more about the retreat and how to attend, please visit: http://www.finleyretreat.com
A Dialogue With Dr. James Finley About Letting Go
With Stephanie Raffelock
“Letting Go” is a phrase employed by psychologists and theologians alike that inspires and encourages us to loosen our psychic grip, if you will, on outcomes and desired resolves. But how exactly, beyond lip service, does one actually “let go?” And what does letting go mean in terms of our spiritual unfolding?
I sat down recently with retreat leader and psychologist Dr. James Finley to explore these and other questions about what it means to let go and how that particular process might inform in our daily journey into prayer and contemplation.
When we talk about letting go in spiritual sense, are we talking about a kind of surrender into something greater? Would you please distinguish between letting go and surrender?
The starting place for me is to accept the fact that it takes a committed effort to reach any kind of wholeness or fulfillment. For example, as it applies to love: Two people meet and fall in love and they have high hopes that over a lifetime together they are going to grow in love together, but for that to really work, they have to be doing love’s work. That is to say, the desire must be bolstered by a lifetime of effort.
The same thing applies when a couple decides to have children. It takes a lifetime of fidelity to challenges that good parenting requires. So too with committing ourselves to one of the healing professions, or to going through our own healing process. So too with poetry and the arts—all the fundamental modalities of a fulfilled life require an ongoing effort.
Yet, what happens as we commit ourselves to these transformative processes is that we come to points at which we reach the end of our own resources. We experience our limitations in being unable, by sheer brute force of our own efforts, to achieve our noble goals.
It is at such times that we are tempted to panic or get discouraged. Then we discover the way forward lies in learning to let go of imagining that we can force our way through to the goal we seek. As we relax into the situation, we begin to realize that the way forward lies in learning to let go of our own abilities as having the final say in what is possible, so that resources within us and beyond us can come rolling through, bringing us, in all sorts of unexpected ways, to the wholeness and fulfillment we seek.
The need for effort remains. But the effort is infused with a quality of an ongoing letting go that allows graced possibilities to flow through our limitations and shortcoming, leaving us grateful and amazed. Such is the disciplined effort of the mature lover, the parent, the poet, the healer. The way forward lies in leaning into what needs to be done in an ongoing stance of letting go that renders us supple and responsive to what needs to appear, what needs to happen next.
Shortcomings, both real and imagined, when deeply seen and accepted, are an important part of the transformative process of learning to let go. If we do not let go of the need to be perfect, our need to be perfect will get in our way. Likewise, if we do not let go of our fear of failing, our fear of failing will get in the way. But as we learn to let go of the need to be perfect and the fear of failure, the intimate, earthy stuff of being a vulnerable, loving human being begins to shine through. In an ongoing process of learning to let go we bear witness to the great truth that the master limps. The mastery of life is intermingled with the ongoing weaknesses and limitations that gives life its rich and many layered texture and meaning.
This blending of ongoing effort merged with an ongoing interior stance of letting go, gives insight into the nature of spiritual practices. Lovers cannot make the moments of oceanic oneness happen, but together they can engage in the acts that embody a mutual letting go that offers the least resistance to being overtaken, yet one more time, by the gift of oceanic oneness.
The poet cannot force the poem out onto the paper. But the poet can assume the inner stance of letting go that offers the least resistance to the gift of poetry welling up and out onto the paper. The one committed to healing reaches points at which he or she cannot make healing happen. But the one committed to healing can assume the inner stance of letting go that offers the least resistance to the graced event of healing.
The spiritual life seems to evolve out of moments in which we fleetingly glimpse a mystery, without which our life will be forever incomplete.
This awareness is followed by the realization that I, by my own powers , cannot force my way through into mystery of the fulfillment I long for. Nor can I coax the mystery to take me to itself. What I can do is learn to let go of the illusion that my inabilities have the final say in what is possible for me. What I can do is let go of the control I think I have over the life I think I am living. What I can do is get vulnerable in the messy, intimate process of letting go, so that what I am powerless to achieve can grant itself to me in my very powerlessness to achieve it. That is what makes the awakening event to be an “amazing grace.” Who would have guessed it? The mystery that is always beyond me is always giving itself to me in my ongoing stance of letting go of my ability to reach it on my own terms.
Much as we humans may try, somehow superstitions can and do creep into our faith. Would you talk a little bit about letting go of superstition and immersing in spiritual letting go?
Superstition is magical thinking that we buy into. A closer look reveals that it is not really trustworthy. In the light of the wisdom traditions, we can single out four superstitions we sometimes buy into: the first is the superstition that the ego can, by its own abilities, reach ultimate peace and fulfillment in love, in creativity or any foundational aspect of life. The opposite superstition is that my inability to achieve the noble goal condemns me to never reaching it. The third superstition is that some power will achieve the noble goal for me if I perform the right ritual or believe the right thing. And the fourth superstition is that anything other than whole-hearted effort accompanied by an ongoing stance of letting go is going to bring me to the wholeness and fulfillment I seek.
Someone said to me once, “Just surrender into God’s love.” And while their direction sounded poetic and beautiful, I didn’t really understand what such an action really meant. What is meant by surrendering into God’s love?
Someone comes into therapy, distraught and traumatized. If I say, “ Just surrender to God’s love,” I am disrespecting the painful place in which they find themselves. I must first acknowledge the reality of their suffering, let them know that I am so sorry this is happening to them and then sit with them in the intimacy of such suffering. Within the space of compassionate empathy, I may say, “I get the feeling that this suffering is not the only thing going on here. I get the feeling that this suffering does not have the final say in who you are. If it did, it would have annihilated you. Therefore, there must be something in you that is not reducible to this tragedy.” The point being that the notion of surrendering to God’s love in the midst of suffering becomes a real and helpful goal in the context of an intimate acceptance of suffering, infused with an intimate sense of God being somehow present in the suffering as kind of promise or hope that is somehow already present in some obscure manner that is not easy to explain. A lot of healing flows from two people sitting together in this intimate and obscure path to wholeness.
I know that recently you have been doing some work with The Twelve Steps of AA and the process of letting go. Surely there is a letting go process in the healing of addiction. Please tell me a little about that.
What I have been exploring is that each of the twelve steps of Alcoholics anonymous is a pathway to “mystical sobriety,” that brings a person to a liberation from the tyranny of suffering in the midst of suffering. Each of the twelve steps can be explored as a path leading to mystical sobriety that brings a person to freedom from the tyranny of death in the midst of death. The art of letting go lies at the heart of this path to mystical sobriety.
It’s easy to keep “letting go” as an ideal in your head, but is there a concrete process that you would share with your readers that each of us can take to begin the letting go/surrender process?
There are three guidelines in the wisdom traditions that can help us in the ongoing, daily process of letting go. The first guideline is to find your practice and practice it. That means to find that act, that person, that community, which, when you give yourself over to it with your whole heart it unravels your petty pre occupation with your self-absorbed self and in doing so sets you free to be who deep down you really are and are called to be. Your practice might be sitting silent and still in meditation. It might be gardening, or taking long slow walks to no place in particular. Or your practice might be reading or writing poetry, painting or some other creative activity. Or your practice might be being vulnerable and open with the person in whose presence you are taken to the deeper place. As Eido Roshi, put it, “if you are faithful to your practice, your practice will be faithful to you.” Little by little, practice becomes habituated into your day. Little by little, your life becomes practice.
The second guideline is to find your teaching and follow it. By this is meant to find those words that access your heart and elicit a deep “yes, this is true.” These words name me. They reveal to me who I deep down really am and long to be. These teaching may be found in the scriptures, or the words of a poet, or someone whose presence and teachings offers guidance and encouragement in your life. Little by little your daily life becomes your teacher.
And the third guideline is to find your community and enter it. Your community is found in a person in whose presence you know you are not alone on the path of letting go. Your community may be the presence of a teacher or mentor, a spouse or fellow traveler on the spiritual path. Your community might be found in a group that gathers for meditation or prayer that offers support and guidance on the spiritual path. Eventually, you discover everyone you meet, that all your fellow human beings are your community.
In the spirit of these teachings, James Finley will be in Boulder, CO September 20, 21 and 22, 2013 leading a retreat on Meister Eckhart and Letting Go. To learn more about the retreat and how to attend, please visit: http://www.finleyretreat.com