One of the quotes I come back to repeatedly in my own journey are the words of Iyanla Vanzant who taught me to give thanks for those who get on my last nerve. Each of them in their own way is helping me to learn something about myself. So often, when we find someone difficult to deal with, we focus our energy on how difficult they are.
One of the things I have come to realize is that it often times it is those people who are here to teach me a lesson. Sometimes they are challenging me to look at when in my life I have been that way. As much as I would like to say I have never been a pain in someone’s life, I am sure I have and will be, albeit intentionally or not. Being able to look at what it is I find so difficult helps me to see how I have done something in my own life. When I work on my own forgiveness for ever having been difficult to interact with, I come to realize the person I am interacting with now is not quite as difficult as I had originally imagined. Read More
So often we think about teachers as people, sometimes experiences, even animals. However, sometimes our teachers can be films. It is one of the reasons that several times I have offered a film and spirituality group. It is amazing the spiritual lessons we can learn from a film. Sometimes what we learn is from the storyline, sometimes it is the setting, sometimes the lighting, sometimes the music, sometimes a character.
When I offered this group it was interesting to be sitting in a room full of people who had all just watched the same film, but we all walked away with different things or characters that spoke to us. It is like going to a restaurant and everybody eats the same meal, but different people like different things about it. What you see and take from it is for you and I see and take from it is for me. Read More
Recently in Why the Chicken Crossed the Road, I was reading this story about a student who wanted to be taught the Iron Shirt Exercises. There are a series of exercises used to allow the body’s natural energy to support its structural strength. Dean Sluyter wrote, "There's a story in Chinese martial-arts tradition about a young man who begs a great Kung-fu master to teach him the Iron Shirt exercises, an esoteric system reputed to make the muscles and organs so strong that they are impervious to blows. The master at first refuses, but finally sets him a kung (a formidable challenge). Pointing to a thick tree, he says, "Pull up that tree and bring it to me; then I'll teach you Iron Shirt." After months of futile tugging, the student notices that he can get better leverage if he keeps his back straight. With further experimentation he finds the optimal way to plant his feet. He works on, incrementally adjusting the way he hugs the tree, the way he breathes, the way he visualizes the task. After four years the tree starts to give. Finally he uproots it and lays it at the master's feet, demanding, 'Now teach me Iron Shirt!' 'Now I don't have to,' the master replies. 'You've just learned it.' "
There are lessons we learn in life which we learn quickly. There are also lessons that cannot be learned quickly, they are lessons like learning to pull up this tree, that are learned over the long haul. One of the lessons I have learned in life is that there is always more to a job then is written in the job description. The job description can tell you what you are supposed to be doing, but what you actually wind up doing is far more complex then that. I have been working as an adjunct professor for 20 years now and my job description is simple. I teach the two classes assigned to me each semester and offer office hours to my students where they can access me. Read More
Years ago I remember reading or hearing Iyanla Vanzant say we should give thanks for those who get on our last nerve as they have saved us hours of therapy and thousands of dollars in copays. That is not the exact quote, but the point I took from it is that those we find the most difficult to deal with often times have invaluable lessons to teach us.
This month, I am reading Mark I Rosen’s book, Thank You for Being Such a Pain. In it he provides strategies for allowing difficult people to be teachers. He tells a story that reminded me of Vanzant’s advice. He wrote:
"There is a story about the mystical teacher Gurdjieff and one of his disciples. The disciple, who lived in the ashram, was strongly disliked by the other disciples for a variety of reasons. When he left, Gurdjieff actually tracked him down and paid him to return, telling the rest of the disciples that the ostracized man was one of their most important teachers.” Read More
This past month I have come to realize that when I make room for silence in my life, I am creating a room of my own. It is the simplest addition to my home that I can create. There is no building permit needed, no contractors, no designers. All I need to do is sit, be still, and be. In doing so, I create a room which is my ashram. It is my place to just be in communion with the one I call the Ultimate Consciousness. I do not need anything here. I do not need candles, or pillows, or cushions, or furniture. I just need to be still and be in the presence of the Divine.
My room is not external, although it could happen in a physical room. It is a room within myself. It is one that only I and the Divine are allowed to enter. It is a room constructed by holy silence. It is here where I tap into a strength that prevents the noises of life from being heard. It is a space where the only things I can hear is my breathing, my feelings, and the whispers of the Sacred. It is as if I am in one of those soundproof booths and all I can hear is what I can hear, nothing more, nothing less. Read More
Last week in my personal journal, Stirring my Spiritual Waters, I wrote about The Silent Space One of the things I wrote about was how I can sit in my dining room and gaze out into the garden and soak in the silence. Yesterday, as I was sitting in my dining room and gazing out into the garden I realized that I was watching a performance, or perhaps it was a praise and worship service being led by the various inhabitants of our garden. The windows prevented me from physically hearing anything that was really going on in the garden or the sounds which things were actually making, but I could sit, watch, and hear on a different level.
One of the first things I noticed was that I had two wind chimes hanging in one of our trees in the backyard. I had remembered having someone hang one of them for me, but had no memory of this second one. This one was different and sparkled every time the sun shone on it in just the right way, it reflected a rainbow out on to the green blades of grass. Both of them moved with the wind and even though I could not hear the sounds, I could watch the chimes move and in my mind, I could hear these beautiful sounds singing to my soul. Read More
At Love & Inspiration yesterday morning, I commented about how silence is a bridge, not a barrier. Silence becomes the bridge through which we traverse the abyss to the Divine who dwells in the deepest of our internal sanctuaries. It is the noise which are the barriers, which distract us and prevent us from making spaces and places for silence.
When create spaces of silence, we create a space for us to be ourselves and to journey to the inner sanctuaries within us where the Divine dwells. Being intentional about creating space in our lives for silence, is like honoring the Sabbath. It is radical and counter-cultural. It is about us creating margins in our life where we can just sit and be. Read More
I always tell folks that it takes a long time to grow an old friend. Friendships require time. It takes time to develop the kind of intimacy with someone where you can stand with them in silence and still enjoy the company. Silence, waiting, time and respect for the other’s space are all elements of friendship.
Sometimes the greatest gift we can give someone is our silence. My days are filled with me talking to people in some way, shape, or form. So the greatest gift my wife can give me sometimes is the gift of silence. The time to just be and not have to speak. We can sit next to each other and just be. Even though we may not be speaking a word, the communication is powerful and loving. Read More
Years ago, in one of my women studies texts I read someone talking about how we learn how to glorify and imitate our oppressors. We see so much of this in everyday life. We look at behaviors, actions, and language we would never use, or so we say and then we do. I remember friends of mine who are black and gay going to look at an apartment. The landlord, also black, once seeing them said we do not rent to your kind. The your kind here was them being gay. Yet this was language that was once, and sometimes still is, to deny service to non-Euromericans. This landlord was imitating his oppressors.
This ability to do so can become a part of anyone’s life. Jae Woong Kim, in Polishing the Diamond, Enlightening the Mind, shares the following story. "Long ago, many bandits roamed the mountains, and they often captured monks. It was said that, less than three years after their capture, the monks began to commit the same crimes, crimes to which they once had been vehemently opposed. Read More
During this month of practicing acknowledging and embracing our shadows, I have been moved by so many people who have shared their stories with me and of those who have talked about how they have and are learning how to Dance with their Dragon . Recently, the following story was shared with me. about how we can use our shadows to walk in the fullness of who we are. The story in its fullness can be found on The Huffington Post, but here is what Royce Young wrote on his FB page.
The other night, before I left for New Orleans, I was watching my beautiful wife sleep peacefully on the couch.
I looked at her laying there, her belly big with our daughter kicking away, a daughter that won't live more than a few days, and it just overwhelmed me of how incredible this woman is. I'm a writer so when I'm feeling something, I tend to have to write it down. So I pulled out my phone and started writing what I was thinking. Read More
Guru Mayi, the leader of the Siddha Yoga Foundation tells this simple story which is fitting for a time when we are practicing accepting the best and worst in ourselves.
The ruler of a prosperous kingdom sends for one of his messengers. When he arrives the King tells him to go out and find the worst thing in the entire world, and bring it back within a few days. The messenger departs, and returns days later, empty-handed. Puzzled, the King asks, 'What have you discovered? I don't see anything.' The messenger says, 'Right here, Your Majesty,' and sticks out his tongue. Bewildered, the King asks the young man to explain. The messenger says, 'My tongue is the worst thing in the world. My tongue can do many horrible things. My tongue speaks evil and tells lies. I can overindulge with my tongue which leaves me feeling tired and sick, and I can say things that hurt other people. My tongue is the worst thing in the world.' Pleased, the King then commands the messenger to go out and find him the best thing in the entire world. Read More
Growing up I was always told to respect my elders. I have a deeper understanding of those now that some people consider me an elder. Elders, in many cultures, are considered the libraries of knowledge and life experience. They possess essential resources for the survival of the family, and in some cultures for the entire village. They help to anchor the family in the traditions of their family and culture. The elders are in most cultures the most revered because they are the ones who preserve and nurture. It is, in any cultures, a role which one yearns to achieve. While we do not always respect our elders in our culture, perhaps this is something we can learn from cultures around the world who have a different understanding of respecting one’s elders
In African cultures, for example, the elder is as important to the community as the newborn. They are both viewed as being equal in proximity to the world of the ancestors. One has just come and one is preparing to ascend and return. They compliment and honor each other. The youth are viewed as a physical stability and strength drawn from the ancestors. They are both respected because they know in their own ways they are connected through their recognition of worlds other than our own. Read More
Have you ever had one of those days where you struggle to find anything precious or valuable about yourself, never mind anyone else? We all have those days where we lie to ourselves for whatever reason. Someone asked me if I ever wrote when I was not happy. I said no. So maybe today I needed to write during a time when I need to be intentional about practicing reverence. It is one of those days where I need to be intentional about remembering that my value as a human being is greater than any function I perform, or any title bestowed on me, or how much or how little I have in my account. What makes me valuable is my ability to see the Divine in me. As a friend of mine once told me, when people ask you who you are, just say I am. If the Divine is the great I am and the Divine is in me then I am also I am.
It is not what we do that makes us valuable, it is our attitude about life and the way we view the world. It is about seeing the presence of the Divine in everything and remembering that blessings come in ways that surpass our understanding. It is the ability to see the sacred in every human being, every object, and every situation. When we seek out the sacred in every situation and every moment, we are practicing reverence. Reverence then shapes our reality and the way we interpret every aspect of our life. It is what allows us to see the spiritual value in all of life. When we look at all things, great and small, with reverence we see the sacred in everything from turning on the water faucet to flushing the toilet to giving someone a hug. Read More
I remember years ago being told the story of a male school teacher who had back surgery over the summer and began the school year wearing a solid plastic cast around the upper part of his body. It fit under his shirt and was not noticeable at all. On the first day of school, he found himself assigned to the toughest students in the school. Walking confidently into the rowdy classroom, he opened the window as wide as possible and then busied himself with desk work. When a strong breeze made his tie flap, he took the desk stapler, in full view of the students, and stapled the tie to his chest. Needless to say, he had no disciple problems that year. I can imagine being one of his student and sitting in awe of him. That sense enables one to practice reverence because it changes the way we see someone.
I had a similar experience when I was teaching. Those who know me, know that I love SPICY foods; the spicier the better. On the first day of the semester, a colleague of mine came into my classroom shortly before class was going to begin. She had picked up a bottle of habanero hot sauce from Mexico. I so wanted to smell it, or at least taste it, but I could not get the bottle opened. I asked if someone could help me and one of the toughest guys in the class, who wanted to show off his muscles, said he would help me if I would drink it. He had no clue who he was talking to. So he opened the bottle and I took several sips, enough to make him walk away saying “I ain’t messing with you Dr J.” From that point forward everyone treated me with the utmost respect. Read More
Years ago, I was challenged to read a book I was not quite ready for by John Shelby Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile. In it he reflects on his quest for a new way of living his faith, which for him meant that he lived his Christianity in exile from the traditional church. He wrote,
The only thing I know to do in this moment of Christian history is to enter this exile, to feel its anxiety and discomfort, but to continue to be a believer. That is now my self-definition. I am a believer who increasingly lives in exile from the traditional way in which Christianity has heretofore been proclaimed. 'A believer in exile' is a new status in religious circles, but I am convinced that countless numbers of people who either still inhabit religious institutions or who once did will resonate with that designation."
Sometimes our quest is for a space in which we can believe what we believe without having to conform to the doctrines of a religion or movement. I can remember when I engaged on that quest. It is, in part, what led to the creation of Inspiritual. I began to realize there were others who were believers in a diversity of faith traditions who, like Spong, felt as if they were believers in exile. Read More
So often, when I hear people talk about going on a quest, they talk about going to remote places or off into the wilderness. However, one can stay in one’s own backyard or neighborhood and engage on a time of questing. Although I am no longer able to “walk” the labyrinth, I do finger labyrinths and find other ways of engaging in “walking” time with the Divine.
For many walking the labyrinth is a time of prayer. With each step one takes on the labyrinth one is both walking with and towards a deeper relationship with their Higher Power. Just as there is no one place to go to engage in a quest, there is no one way to walk the labyrinth. Some people I know have a prayer they speak softly or silently as they walk the path. Others have walked with a question and allowing each step to open themselves up to hearing the answer to their question or some sort of insight into the direction they should be going. There is no right way to walk the labyrinth and there is no right way to experience it. We are never the same person twice, so even when though you may walk the same labyrinth every week, that experience will never be the same as you are not the same. Read More
A friend of mine just started a business involving pearls and she had to delay the start of her party because her pearls had not come in yet. Talking with her about it made me think about a story I read once in a book called Perfume of the Desert by Andrew Harvey and Eryk Hanut. The story is a short but simple one which is a great reminder of the transformative power of questing.
"Shibli sought out Junayd as a teacher and said to him, 'Many people have informed me that you are a supreme expert on the pearls of awakening and divine wisdom. Either give me one of these pearls or sell one to me.'
"Junayd smiled. 'If I sell you one, you won't be able to pay the price; if I give you one, coming by it so easily will drive you to undervalue it. Do like me; dive headfirst into the Sea. If you wait patiently, you will obtain your Pearl.' "
Questing is about the journey. It requires intentionality, patience, and commitment to waiting on the pearl which is ours. I have found their story to be so true. I have valued the lessons I have learned on my journey when I have worked to discover them myself, then when they were just handed to me. Read More
It seems like no matter where I turn this month in my study of play, I am led back to the Hindu notion of the play of God. Even when I am studying Ignation spirituality and play, I find reference to the Hindi concept of “leela.” One of the things I have come to appreciate about Iganation spirituality is that is about proceeding in a path which involves reflection, discernment, and self-awareness. It is about an inner transformation and journey which radiates externally. It is not necessarily associated with a specific religious school of thought.
It is through this study that I was introduced to Anthony de Mello, who once wrote: Read More
Recently someone asked me why I had chosen to spend an entire month focusing on the spiritual practice of play. Why is it that play is not seen as spiritual? Play is powerful in that it enhances our free spiritedness. It also counter balances predictability and seriousness. One can be spiritual and free spirited at the same time. There are times to be serious, but they are times to be playful and kick back and enjoy life. Laughter and play can actually help people with their spiritual journeys and their ability to learn. Several of the spiritual teachers who I admire have lured me in with their humor.
For example, the Dalai Lama was once asked what he wanted for his birthday. He said nothing. On his birthday, his friends gave him this ornately decorated box. He opened it and smiled and said thank you. You gave me exactly what I wanted. The box was empty. They had given him nothing. That story, was both serious and humorous. It made me laugh and think all at the same time. Read More