Friday, December 28, 2018

Unbidden

It’s Christmas morning. I am alone. Well not exactly, the three wise men are here. The Magi are my only decorations. With them, I see the sunlight, and am embraced by the silence. The morning casts a spell, and I fall into a reverie. I find myself thinking about the many gifts I have received over the course of this lifetime. Gifts, I didn’t even know were coming, and sometimes, didn’t even recognize until much later. They all came unbidden.

I could easily say the best gifts are unexpected ones. Life is full of them. This morning I’m noticing.  Gratitude is toothless, until it recognizes the great flow that keeps coming towards us. It is amazing! A friend was describing watching the growth of his infant grandson, he observed this child learning to reach for something. Each movement revealed possibilities, which eventually led the child to be able to touch what it desired. The Life coursing through that child organized itself into action and eventual mastery.
Fulfillment, like desire, is a gift that comes naturally. Life is like that, it keeps delivering.

Strangely, while sitting here, all alone, I am able to grasp perhaps the greatest gifts of all — the things, sometimes they are only feelings, that alter the course of my life. All of them have been unexpected miracles. Some have been wrapped in grief and pain. I didn’t want those gifts. They came all the same. Twisting me all around, giving me a perspective I wouldn’t have sought out. I’ve seen some light, and it isn’t always fun. But, it is always educative. I’m better able to reach now.

The unbidden has been my benefactor and my bane. Life wouldn’t be life without the surprises, that show me how off balance I am. What flows toward me is always more than I can handle, and it introduces me to myself. Talk about a gift! I am not just what I imagine.

Neither are you. If I’m willing to know it, like I am today, then I am confronted by another surprising gift. Loneliness has its benefits. The view can be breathtaking. Unbidden, a vision can come. All of a sudden, a lonely reverie can turn into an important moment, a surprise recognition. Life, we know, works in strange ways. Unbidden, Mystery walks in the door, invisible but palpable — light afoot, with heavy consequence.

Everything changes, and nothing changes. I am alone as ever, and I am full of an emptiness I can’t understand, or command. And, its spilling everywhere. Unbidden, my life is being swept into the unimaginable. 

The gifts I have received have altered me, they have overwhelmed me, short circuiting some of my dreams, and made me recall others. Unbidden, comes the recognition that I am being cared for, that the Universe is doing a job on me, and that something greater than the Christmas Spirit is goosing me on. I sit and marvel, and wonder, how could I do anything else, and then I do. Unbidden.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Like Music and Dance

I’ve been engaged in the effort to overcome a pattern of arrogance that has haunted me, and undermined most of what I have valued throughout my life. The learning process, has been hard, humiliating, discouraging, and extremely educative. In some strange way, the darkness has shined a light on a surprising awareness. The obvious is not always so obvious. At least not to the arrogant.

I was able to make sense of a family pattern of protective inflation that I’d inherited. I thought I was better than everyone, because that had been the traditional way of dealing with the threat of inferior feelings in my family for centuries. I was a good son of the Goff family. I was arrogant, proud, and subtle with my dishonesty. In other words, I hid well. That is good, in public, external ways — but not so good in personal intimate terms. Arrogance is a bad seedbed for loving.

As you can imagine, it has been very deflating to see this. Grief and regret accompany me, like the angels that haunted Scrooge. They accompany me, and remind me of the graveyard.

All of this sadness has had a purpose. It is sensitizing me. The water of culture, that I have been swimming in, is becoming more visible and nuanced. For instance, I can now see how my tendency toward arrogance (which first grew out of my family’s sense of inferiority) lent itself well to a cultural reliance on authority. I went from secretly feeling inferior, like I didn’t belong, to being trained as a professional helper. I became a valued commodity, a knowledge pro, someone who could be looked to for guidance. This is a great place for an arrogant one to hide. There is nothing so disguising as being socially sanctioned.

The training even convinced me, that if I knew something, I must be valuable. I went from a wrong sense of inferiority to an equally wrong sense of inflated rightness. I was a valued cultural caricature of expertise — the embodiment of the reliance on knowing that infects our times. I was so well hidden that I hardly knew myself. I came to believe that by being transplanted into a valued member of society. I had overcome the family uncertainty.

Learning how untrue that is  —  has been one of the greatest and most humiliating boons of this re-orienting process. To some extent, some of the cultural trance has worn off. I can see that the metaphor of the journey, the endless pursuit of some sense of something to come, has prevented me from enjoying the moment. I have been so goal-oriented, that I’ve been missing out on what is going on around me. Instead of playing, I’ve been trying to prove myself in societal terms.

I have been brought by a deeply chagrining self-revelation, to an awareness, that my arrogance is part of a larger arrogance, a cultural assumption that life is really about achievement. It is the goal-less — the momentary dance —  that really carries the energy of delight, and alignment with the larger processes of life. In my family pattern of arrogance, and then later in the cultural pattern of arrogance (the reliance on knowing), I missed the boat.

Joy is in the music of the moment, the expanded now, that some elders are capable of experiencing. Joy isn’t in becoming, there isn’t any salvation project that can deliver it, it’s in being, taking the moment more fully in. In my arrogance, in my family’s misdirected attempts, in our culture’s glorification of knowledge to be gained, is an abiding failure. Life is playing through us — dancing to a music that has no goal but delightful beauty. 

Differing


“Every aspect of tragedy must be the bones 
supporting the rest of life, 
What I cling to… is the belief that difficulties are what makes it honorable and interesting to be alive.”
                                                                                  Florida Scott-Maxwell (84)
                                                                                       FromThe Measure Of My Days (published in1968)

Differing can be so problematic that it holds a lot of evolutionary potential. 

I’ve experienced, and promoted, a lot of hurt, because of confused assumptions, misunderstandings, and wrong judgements. The hurting caused by these insensitivities seems to define us as human beings. It seems that we humans don’t respond well to differences. Almost all of our wars, that have ravished us throughout our history, have to do with being different from one another. My own experience of relationship pain has been mostly about how we differ. So, I’ve come to see this as a particularly difficult and high potential phenomena for attention.

I have believed that this was an issue, that with enough attention, one outgrew. Elders seem to be particularly gifted when it comes to differing (see page 93 of The Evolving Elder). Now I see it another way. I think this is an issue that is an evolutionary driver. In other words, I don’t think it has a once and for all solution. It is something that requires one to live with tension. One can go too far, one way, towards intolerance of all differences, and the other way, towards obliviousness, and ignorance of important differences. The goal is to get comfortable enough, to be capable of holding difference long enough, to recognize them, and ferret out their true benefits.

I think about the journey that diversity and difference has set me upon. I am an average white male, born American in 1948. When I think of the distance in tolerance between me and my grandfather, a Klansman, I can’t help thinking about Star Trek. I’ve been beamed into the future. I am more accepting of differences than he could have ever been, and I’m still learning so much about how they manifest. I’m not exactly color-blind, but I’m a whole lot more comfortable with issues of race, religion, or gender. Because of my age and disabilities, the prejudices I’m most familiar with, have to do with disability prejudice, and its other form, ageism. Thanks to my relationships I’m also learning about personal differences, which manifest more as differences in awareness, reality, and beliefs.

Differing now seems to me an important and edgy enterprise. Our uniqueness, and gift to each other, depends upon it, and our sense of belonging and connection, challenges it. And each of us gets to live within the uncertainty that differing generates. Holding on to yourself, and letting go at the appropriate moments, caring for another, it’s all so complicated. There isn’t a final solution, or even a resting awareness, there is only a deep and humblingly educative engagement. Humans fall down, people get hurt, whether you do grapple with differing or not. I certainly have fallen prey to both sides of differing: hurting and hurt.

Our ancestors never got to contend with this issue much. They tended to live in enclaves of alikeness, what I now call communities of affinity. We can’t take them as models. Our well-being, culturally and personally, depends upon us learning how to embrace differences without giving up our own. The Earth, and all of its children, are depending on us to learn how to differ well.

Differing is one of the places where I have most to learn.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

I Am Not Who I Imagine

Living and learning can be really painful. Acceptance is so humbling. Everything depends upon a human’s ability to learn from his/ or her mistakes. But when such learning reveals how off one’s self-image is, then another ice shelf breaks off, and the climate grows even more uncertain. Life is full of these kinds of de-stabilizing revelations. There is no movement toward the light, that isn’t presaged by another movement into the dark.

I’ve come to acknowledge the dark. I’m in it now, confronted by my own ignorance and arrogance. I played out a game, a narrative of specialness, that has turned out to be another indication that I don’t know myself. I’m not who I imagine myself to be. 

I once took pride in having learned a lot by surviving an unbelievable ordeal. But, now I see how inflated that is, the truth is that Life spared me, and I don’t know why. But, I didn’t let that bit of ignorance stop me. Instead I assumed I knew something. I separated myself, with that wrong-headed assumption. That is always a mistake. But, it was one I was eager to make, to try to offset the nakedness, the sheer vulnerable exposure of being human. So eager, so blind, so utterly lost. I now know something about how much hurt I inflicted. 

I am so deeply ashamed of myself. I have broken my own heart. I am not who I imagined. And yet, I’m still alive. Life is not done teaching me. Can I open this broken piece of heart tissue, and offer it up again, knowing I am not who I imagine? Can I risk creating so much heartache and pain, in myself and others, to become someone again? I don’t really know. All I know now, is that I am not who I imagined myself to be.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

You Are Not Who I Imagine

Old age is full of life-long realizations, by that, I mean discoveries that lead one to a greater truth than one used to believe. One of those has come to me recently. I’m still integrating it. I’m feeling some mixture of shame and delighted satisfaction. You see, realizing my life-long insensitivity reduces me in my own eyes, but having this awareness at all, especially now, grows my sense that I am still learning, still using the tools Mystery granted me. Becoming more through becoming less is a rigorous path, reserved, I believe, for we who are aged. Chagrin is a badge of courage.

It is that way for me, as I begin to come to grips with seeing the extent to which I have made up some of the most important people in my life. I missed their essential uniqueness, in my hurry to know them. Unbeknownst to me, I was busy making them up for my sake. I let my childhood unfinished business, my adulthood power needs, my unconscious striving, my sense of the Mystery, create my perception. I only saw what I wanted to see. 

I don’t know about you, but when I look at my relationship patterns, I see a lot of mistaken identity. I did a weird kind of makeover on those I supposedly loved. I couldn’t help myself. I forgive my immature, desperate self. I just wish I had been a little more developed.

Theoretically, I am now. At least I can see that I loved so poorly, with such good but lame intentions. I have had the tendency to make up the ones I let get close to me. They all held something for me, something I think my well-being depended upon. I imagined them, missed their essential nature, and then got angry with them, when my projections and blind desire ultimately fell apart. Reality prevailed. I learned — and became more — through suffering with my own limitations, and through mistreating those closest to me.

All of that behavior is a source of grief, but it is good grief, because it pushes me towards seeing others, and myself, anew. Lately, I can see a new, I hope better, relationship awareness settling in. I find myself saying things like “You are not mine, and I am not yours,” indicating some awareness that others exist for their own purposes, and not for my sake. This seems like such a basic decency; a form of respect I wish I’d always been capable of. 

It’s too bad I was never had the psychological distance (maturity) to perceive the other as “the other,” as someone having an existence, a fate, of their own. I might actually be capable of a relationship now.

This is all a result of a life-long inability — a stubbornness actually — an unwillingness to perceive, and accept, reality as it is. I had a host of preferences that got in the way. Life isn’t what I have imagined either. 

Thank goodness, I got to this realization. It has been one of the favors of growing old. I’ve gotten to see, what my responsibility has been, for my many deluded failures. I still have a chance of loving better. 

Now I have a hunger for life, and I won’t accept all the pseudo-realities I once did. This is such an improvement. I chuckle wearily at the lifetime of painful mistakes it has taken for me to become wise to my own folly. I’ve come the bitter way to a better life, one I have more reason to believe I’m not just imagining. For all of that I’m thankful.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Where the Light Gets In


“There is a crack in everything.”
                                                                Leonard Cohen

There are some places in life, that are compelling because of their importance and difficulty. 

Some things hurt us so much, at the same time, that they are lifting us beyond ourselves. 

At one moment Life can make me so tender and so hateful. It has been fairly said, “you can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them.” No matter what your stripe is, or in whose hands you put your heart, the crack that is relationship is going to work one over, break and open the heart, and ultimately let some light in. This bit of reflection honors the frustrating truth that being twisted around by the heart— and where it takes you — is part of Nature’s gift to us.

 Relationship has always been a love/hate part of my life. I haven’t done it well. I have created more hurt than I really care to look at. But, despite the debacles, and now I’m certain because of them, I’ve been grown. Each time I dared to open my heart, for the right or wrong reasons (and there have been plenty of them), I have had delivered to me more insight, pain, wonder and humility than I could handle. The bees made sweet honey (hopefully) out of my many failures.

I could go on in this vein for some time. I am a typical white male, educated by my own insensitivities, socialized by certain assumptions and violence —that made me a bad candidate for the very thing that redeemed me — the love of others. I am amongst the many walking wounded, the lost and lonely refugees of a continuous conflict between differing hearts. I’ve been touched by love too, more now in my later years, and have at last come to see that the miracle has been cracked all along.

I don’t know about you, but I have always assumed that if I could find the right person, or circumstance, I could find relationship contentment. I guess I thought Mystery comes in some preconceived package. It doesn’t. But, I haven’t really given up that notion. I fail, repeatedly, in a gloriously human way. It is one of the things I’m actually quite good at.

Anyway, I’ve come the bitter way to a better understanding. The relationship darkness that haunts me, even to this day, exposes me to more light than I can stand. Good relationships guarantee that I am brought to my kneesand thrust right up against my limitations. I can’t live with them, and can’t live without them. No wonder I’m ambivalent at times.

The light comes in anyway. It doesn’t always feel good.  Sometimes it illuminates a seething mess, but always it brings some tender awareness, a forgiveness that is coated in redeeming humiliation. I’ve done it again –broken something precious. And participated in a birth, of light, of heart, of sweet and terrible illumination.  The light gets in through the cracks in my/our hearts.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Difficulties


“Every aspect of tragedy must be the bones 
supporting the rest of life, 
What I cling to…is the belief that difficulties are what makes it honorable and interesting to be alive.”
                                                                                  Florida Scott-Maxwell (84)
                                                                                       FromThe Measure Of My Days (published in1968)

“Hold to what is difficult”— Rainer Marie Rilke

It was the words of Rilke, “Hold to what is difficult,” that jumped off the page, and started an avalanche in my being. There was some kind of mysterious cascading sensation that made me buy that book, in that unknown bookstore, on that day. I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment presaged my luck.

At the time, I knew I was taken by Rilke’s words, I thought of them primarily as good advice from someone far smarter than I. Little did I know that those words were prophetic, referring to my coming life, and the most incredible form of grace that comes into all of our human lives.

I am rendered almost speechless by the elegant democracy of hardship. It enters even the most successful person’s life, there is no privilege that is capable of forestalling tragedy, suffering and difficulty. All of us are in that particular crucible. It is the difficult degree of challenge that brings out the incredible humanity that is available within us.

I’m not just tooting my own disabled horn here. Life seems to have devised a devilishly effective means for evoking our potential. It starts with what appears tragic, and calls for the response that turns pain and insecurity into Creation. There is a kind of alchemy here that goes way beyond human intention to something mysterious, dark, and grossly compelling. What hurts and overwhelms is what teaches and creates best. My soul didn’t see that coming, or perhaps it did, the avalanche started somewhere.

Now I consider myself “Lucky” not because I no longer am in the hands of difficulty, but because difficulty seems to have a permanent grip on me. Being disabled is horribly edifying. Weirdly, perhaps dementedly (I am 70 after all), I now consider the “good life” to be the one hardship has wrought. Wisdom doesn’t come with long life, I now think, it comes with a blessedly difficult one. 

Nothing seems to sensitize us as well as genuinely difficult initiatory ordeals. These are the painfully dubious experiences no shaman can evoke, and no workshop, or lifelong practice can prepare us for. It is the natural hardship of existence, the difficulty of being truly human, that draws out of each of us our true character. One cannot fake pleasure and equanimity in the face of the natural workings of hardship and difficulty. Grace is wickedly accurate.

You don’t have to go looking for difficulty. There is no practice for becoming. Life handles it. Spiritual aspirations don’t provide immunity. One cannot hope lightening will fall on your head.  Difficulty comes in its own way, uniquely suitable for each of us. 

Then we have only our response.  The world smiles when hardship makes us the strangely receptive beings we can be.