The Wisdom Trail

January 18, 2010

My grandmother called a person’s spiritual path in this life “traveling on the wisdom trail.” She said it was a spiral, bringing us closer to the truth at our core each pass round. What this means is that we keep coming to the same places, intersections, and struggles over and over again, only each time we’ve expanded out, collecting more wisdom. Wherever you go on a spiral, there is no escaping from yourself…There’s no way to complete a journey on the wisdom trail, since it is a spiral of learning, healing, serving, learning. ~Dawna Markova

No Enemies Within, by Dawna Markova, is a wealth of wisdom. With quotes on every page, many of which I will be using here in future, and treatment of the sacred spiral, you might guess that I would relate to this book! Markova provides a friendly, readable yet profound prescription for healing through creativity, for becoming whole by “discovering what’s right about what’s wrong.”

The author describes the landmarks in our spiritual journeys: the enemies within, living disconnected, the turning points in which we reconnect with our lost selves, opening our hearts with acceptance, and using our imaginations and intuition to recreate our lives and make use of our own resources, so that we may ultimately serve and help others in community. Sam Keen said, “The word hero needs to be reserved for the man or woman who is willing to take the solitary journey to the depths of the self, to re-own the shadow, to exorcise the ancient warrior psyche, to discover the power and authority of wholeness.”

My enemy within at the moment is the pull of numbing activities (computer games, for example) that prevent me from participating in those things that nourish me: writing, friends, and yoga among them. May I set one foot in front of another to travel the wisdom trail, the spiral of learning and growth where there is no escaping from myself, where I come ever closer to the truth at my core. May you find your truths on the wisdom trail as well.


Flowing Water

April 6, 2009

There is guidance for each of us and by lowly listening, we shall hear the right word. Certainly there is a right for you that needs no choice on your part. Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which flows into your life. Then, without effort, you are impelled to truth and to perfect contentment. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today I said to Terry that I want to be flowing water. Maybe becoming flowing water is the way to be on one’s true path. (I almost said “the first step on the path”–oh, my ingrained habit of linear thought!)

I see this process of becoming flowing water as acceptance, letting go of resistance, and dwelling–as Thoreau advises–“as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows.”

What does this mean in practical, day-to-day terms? I think it means deep listening, stillness (ironically), and shedding the illusion of control. We have control over very little in this life, and yet we behave as though the world cannot turn without our efforts.

This week, I want to hold an image of flowing water, to be as close as possible to the channel in which my life flows, and to notice how that feels.


Let Your Life Speak

March 29, 2009

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent. ~Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces….

~May Sarton, “Now I Become Myself”

Palmer reminds us that the word vocation is rooted in the Latin for “voice.” He has come to understand vocation as a gift to be received, rather than a goal to be achieved. Watching his granddaughter during the early days of her life, he could see that she had inclinations, preferences, and her own personality from birth. He says, “We are disabused of original giftedness in the first half of our lives. Then–if we are awake, aware, and able to admit our loss–we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed.”

And he says: As May Sarton reminds us, the pilgrimage toward true self will take ‘time, many years and places.’ The world needs people with the patience and the passion to make that pilgrimage not only for their own sake but also as a social and political act. The world still waits for the truth that will set us free–my truth, your truth, our truth–the truth that was seeded in the earth when each of us arrived here formed in the image of God. Cultivating that truth, I believe, is the authentic vocation of every human being.

And: Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as ‘the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.’

This small volume of essays from Palmer leads us through his choices about vocation, his depression and dark periods, and his ultimate realization that he is a teacher. He believes our shared vocation, leadership in the world of action, is an outgrowth of our inner journeys. We should support one another’s inner work by creating “communities of solitudes,” not abandoning or trying to fix each other.

More ideas from Parker J. Palmer here.


Painting Myself

February 28, 2009

Painting myself for others, I have painted my inward self with colors clearer than my original ones. I have no more made my book than my book has made me. ~Montaigne

One of my friends often cautions me about maintaining more privacy. She is amazed that I bare my soul as much as I do in this blog, and I know she believes I will end up hurt as a result. But I am finding this experiment in personal revelation both clarifying and strengthening. I believe that vulnerability is, as David Whyte has said, “the door through which we walk into self-understanding and compassion for others.”

The quest is for personal truth. I have just read the introduction to Phillip Lopate’s anthology, The Art of the Personal Essay. He tells us the essayist is fascinated by the changeableness of human personality, understands that we all start from self-deception, and uses the additive strategy: “offering incomplete shards, one mask or persona after another…If we must ‘remove the mask,’ it is only to substitute another mask. The hope is that in the end…all these personae will add up to a genuine unmasking.”

And so this blog serves as a collection of fragments describing my journey–with movement, changing personae, and contradiction. Lopate writes, “The harvesting of self-contradiction is an intrinsic part of the personal essay form…the personal essayist is not necessarily out to win the audience’s unqualified love but to present the complex portrait of a human being.”

Writing this blog is making me, even as I am making it.


From the Archives: September

August 31, 2008

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.  ~William Wordsworth

September begins tomorrow. Now that this blog is a year old (and then some), I have decided to honor the first day of each month (or in this case, the day before the first day of the month) by bringing back a few posts from the previous year. Here are some from last September.

Expanding Time
Time expands when we are present in the moment.

Economic Equality
With our presidential election looming, consider the concept of raising all boats.

Letting Go
I’m convinced this is one of the keys to happiness.

Discourse
How can we heal our fractured society by coming together?

Happy Labor Day Holiday, everyone!


No Regrets

July 20, 2008

Make it a rule of life never to regret and never look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can’t build on it; it is good only for wallowing in. ~Katherine Mansfield

Amen, Ms. Mansfield! I wish I had a nickel for every time I have wallowed in regret. It is tempting to think one’s sins or shortcomings are somehow more numerous or egregious than others’, that we are special in some way. Some of mine are sins of omission, some commission, but in the end, we all have them. While confession may be good for the soul, there are some I still can’t confess to even my closest friends, and I think the better route is to forgive myself and let go of the past, to stop wasting energy on embarrassment and regret.

After all, it was I who in the spring of 2004 wrote the lines, “I unfold my failures like old clothes/hug them to me, then let go,/watch them sail away on the wind.” I find that writing is so often prophetic, that it gets at truths long before I can understand them fully. Which is one reason this blog is so important to me: Even if I am not living my professions here, they are pointing in the direction I want to go, helping establish and explore my intentions. For example, way back in a January post I wrote, “More and more of being here now, and less and less of dwelling on past mistakes or future possibilities, is liberating and exhilirating.” Life is a spiral.

Have you found freedom from regret? What helps you to forgive yourself for your transgressions?


Conformity

June 2, 2008

We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves, in order to be like other people.  ~Arthur Schopenhauer

My mother used to tell a story she found amusing. It was about coming to fetch me from school in the first grade. I was standing in front of the class when she arrived, pretending not to know my colors. I don’t remember this event, but this is one of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard.

For I had been happily reading at least since age 5, had known my colors for far longer, and was academically way ahead of most of my first-grade class when I began school. But I had been admonished so strongly not to “show off,” to be like others so I would be liked, that I had hidden my abilities in the quest for acceptance.

It was many years before I was aware of my conditioning, and many more before I could move beyond it. Even still, I find myself thinking, “How will this look to others?” when I decide on a course of action. This is actually a skill that has served me well in career and political situations, but I have had to come to an understanding about the limits on its value. And I have suffered from applying it in situations where it is not needed.

I think this explains why authenticity is so very important to me now. I cannot bear to pretend any longer that I am something I am not. I actually think age is helpful in this regard, as we who are in public service approach retirement and can be whoever we are. How do you deal with this dilemma, in a political world?


Faults-Image

May 18, 2008

Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more. ~Mark Twain

While most believe it is desirable to present one’s best self to the world, I have always held that authenticity is more important than image. This has resulted in increasing discomfort for me over the years, working as I do (as most of us do) in a political environment. It seems that we have become a nation of image-makers, and that we have learned to value image above truth.

What has happened to the climate in which one could acknowledge (indeed, would be encouraged to acknowledge) faults, be forgiven for being human, and be allowed to model self-respecting honesty? Now we want to throw her (or him) off the island. This is hardly developmental progress!

Do you experience this tension between vulnerability and truth-telling? How do you handle it?


Closer to Truth

March 2, 2008

I see myself changing through the reflections in outer manifestation as I myself draw ever closer to the truth of who I am. ~Sarah Susanka

I’ve always held onto a little skepticism toward the idea of synchronicity as new-age types define it, but something drew me to The Not So Big Life Web site today. There, Susanka discusses the work of Eckhart Tolle, of whom I wrote in several previous posts: The Art Spirit, Now, Grace, and Ego.

 I had never heard of Tolle until I quite randomly stumbled on the audiobook, The Power of Now. But millions of people know his name today, because Oprah has recently selected his new book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, for the book club, and will offer her “first worldwide interactive class” on this book beginning March 3.

This afternoon I read The Courage to Write, by Ralph Keyes. It definitely deserves a place in my list of favorites, and (just as I thought about Tolle) I can’t believe I didn’t already know it. I was struck by a continuation of the theme of drawing closer to the truth. Keyes says, “Our best writing results from a partnership of the conscious and the unconscious.” He quotes Saul Bellow: “I think a writer is on track when the door of his native and deeper intuitions is open. You write a sentence that doesn’t come from that source and you can’t build around it–it makes the page seem somehow false.”


Balance

March 2, 2008

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. ~Stephen Covey

In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth and the soul requires inward restfulness to attain its full height. ~Mahatma Gandhi

Without great solitude no serious work is possible. ~Pablo Picasso 

I have recently submitted requests for vacation days several months in advance. In May I will travel with friends to a state park for a few days R&R; in June, I plan to see Iris DeMent in concert; and I have scheduled several Mondays off to extend my weekends. The Mondays in particular will allow me space and time for silence, solitude and creativity.

For too long, my paid work has been a priority that crowded out others. While I love my work, I have to consciously attend to relationships, home, solitude and rest in order to maintain balance. How do you achieve balance in your life among the many demands you face and roles you play?


Presidential Politics

January 4, 2008

To be impartial is to have taken sides already with the status quo.  ~Desmond Tutu

It does not require many words to speak the truth.  ~Chief Joseph, Nez Perce

Well, here it is upon us, the season of polls and caucuses, speeches and posturing, promises and attacks. As Ronnie Shakes said, “I was going to buy The Power of Positive Thinking, and then I thought, ‘What good would that do?'” (sounds like a Steven Wright joke to me!) I really am fighting cynicism, but still don’t have the heart to tune in for all the media coverage.

Gandhi said, “In matters of conscience, the law of majority has no place.” Neither does the electoral college. And there are so many matters of conscience facing our country. I am far from impartial, but neither am I captivated (as are some political junkies I know) by the finer points of every argument, poll, platform, or candidate (celebrity?) bio presented by the media. In recent years I’ve shed my guilt at not knowing all those details, because our system is such a juggernaut, and the brush strokes on the political landscape are so broad. Ultimately, I know that I will vote for whichever Democratic candidate ends up on the ballot, and continue to hope for the best.

I just love the words Dick Scobie used on the occasion of his retirement from the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee: “I hope I can keep reaching for a world in which those seeking justice will find it; for a world in which children wake up to days of promise and laughter; for a world in which old people will be respected and go to bed warm and secure; for a world in which young people will find love and work and there’ll be no need for guns, or police, or prisons; for a world of dancing and music where all manner of diversity is a cause for celebration; for a world without need for the tools and cruelty of war; and where the green pastures, the air and the water are kept clean.”

May it be so.


Mystery

November 3, 2007

Until we can accept the fact that life itself is founded in mystery, we shall learn nothing.  ~Henry Miller

When we are not sure, we are alive.  ~Graham Greene

Dear Lord, let me seek the truth, but spare me the company of those who have found it.  ~Anonymous

I know nothing, still I cannot help singing.  ~A. R. Ammons

Openness and curiosity are characteristics I want to cultivate. My friend Claudia gave me a beautiful book called Keeping a Nature Journal, by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. The authors suggest that, once an object is identified for sketching, the journalist try writing down at least one question about the object. Examples they give: “How did it get there? Where does it go in winter? Can it also be found in other habitats?” What a great way to exercise one’s curiosity!

As for openness, I am pained when I remember times I couldn’t bring myself to show ignorance and therefore failed to learn a lesson that was available to me. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we could recover that two-year-old’s propensity for incessant questioning: “What is that? Why? Why? Why?”


Discourse

September 3, 2007

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.  ~Rumi

How polarized the human family seems to me. Where are the places we can come together to talk as living, loving beings, transcending the IDEAS of wrong and right? Public libraries could be one of those places; liberal religious communities could be another. Privately, meditation helps us connect with all that is, to sense our place in the interdependent web of all existence. And I am convinced it is only this awareness that will save the world. If  we know the world is us, we are less likely to participate in harmful practices.

Is it enough to radiate peace as individuals, or must we work toward peace with others? How do we best create or discover fields in which to meet?


Measurement

August 17, 2007

Not everything that can be counted, counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. ~Albert Einstein

What is now considered education, it seems to me, is teaching to a test, and test scores are the most important measure of the success of the educational system.  I’m all for using outcomes to measure the success of programs, as long as we remember that for many programs, it’s next to impossible to really understand their impact by measuring.  Who can say what reading great literature really does for a person?  Yet we know it is of value.

Is the liberal education really dead in our modern world of job training disguised as school?  As T. S. Eliot put it, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”–which reminds me of another of my favorite quotes: “Remember, Information is not knowledge; Knowledge is not wisdom; Wisdom is not truth; Truth is not beauty; Beauty is not love; Love is not music; Music is the best.” ~Frank Zappa


Lies

August 15, 2007

If we were consciously aware of what we really know about ourselves and others, we could not go on living as we do, accepting so many lies. ~Erich Fromm, from To Have or To Be?

There are so many things we are unaware of, and must be, to live in the world.  If I consciously attended to the news about our president’s war, deeply felt the planet’s anguish, held those in distress close to my heart, how could I happily eat the carrot salad I had for dinner, or drive 75 miles one way to work?  I am drawn to expanding my heart and practicing compassion, and at the same time terrified of letting in what hurts.