As the final hot days of summer begin to make their way towards fall, we’re still wondering how long the chaos we’re living in is going to last.
Here’s what I see when I look down the road: A pandemic which is still wreaking havoc in our lives; racial and political unrest the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Sixties; a forecast of the worst hurricane season on record; wildfires on a scale not experienced before; and the nastiest, most complicated, and high stakes election in our country’s history.
These times we’re living through challenge every inner map we have with which to navigate the world. I say “through” because I believe that we will come out the other side of this, that we not stuck here, that this has not become a new normal for our country.
“Hope is being able to see the light despite all the darkness.”– Desmond Tutu
Recently I had a conversation on Zoom with a couple of friends about the difference between faith, trust and hope. We never came to a consensus, but it got me to thinking.
We are in a cave right now. A dark and treacherous cave.
Faith is what tells us we are in this cave for a reason even if we haven’t a clue what it is. In Hebrews, 11:1, we’re told that “faith is the conviction of things not seen.” Obviously, what’s not seen is the outcome of this mess we’re in, but spiritually and cosmically speaking, it’s also why we’re in it to begin with. Is this just the result of human beings’ careless and short-sighted choices? Is it some kind of really bad cosmic joke? Faith stirs in our soul and says, “No, it’s not that at all. Keep walking.”
Trust tells us that when, not if, we stumble and fall, there is something there to catch us, get us back on our feet and point us in the right direction. That something may be the God of our personal understanding, our spouse or partner, friends, family. It may be our inner strength, our human will, or our innate resiliency. It doesn’t matter what it is. Trust gathers itself up in our gut and says, “I’ve got your back. You aren’t alone in this cave. Keep walking.”
Hope is what tells us this cave is not a dead end, that there is a passage to an opening which leads to the other side. It’s not optimism and makes no promise of something wonderful awaiting us. It’s simpler than that. Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “Hope is being able to see the light despite all the darkness.” Even though our human eyes cannot navigate in the pitch dark, our hearts can. Hope fills our hearts and says, “Close your eyes. Now, see the light. Follow it and keep walking.”
Since the start of the pandemic, like so many of you, my emotions have been a roller coast ride. But one day earlier this week as I was reading the news on my back porch with my coffee and dog, a wave of sadness washed over me. Bigger than anything I’ve experienced in this chaos, it caught me by surprise as tears rushed to my eyes.
Doctors and nurses are drowning with no lifeboats in sight. Teachers are hanging on a cliff waiting to hear final decisions about schools reopening. Business owners go to work, wondering if today is the day someone walks in and threatens or commits violence because they’re asked to wear a mask.
Every day, I learn more about the surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths. I imagine just how many people are walking the floor with desperate worry about loved ones they can’t be with. How many are bent over double with grief from the loss of spouses, partners, parents, grandparents, siblings, friends and children?
I’ve been reading book after book on racism, and my thoughts are filled with my African American friends and people of color I don’t know and never will. How do they bear the truth of what happened to their ancestors – the beatings, rape, torture and lynchings? How do they stomach the murders of people like Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, to mention just a few from a long list.
I can’t help but compare my own life experiences to those of others I’m so conscious of right now.
So far, my family and friends have been spared the virus, but not so for over 3 million people in our country which includes over 135,000 deaths. And we know there’s more to come.
None of my ancestors were enslaved. None of my relatives were hung from a tree simply because of the color of their skin. And we know that racism still rages in this country and that more tragedies are likely to happen.
You wouldn’t know it by reading this, but I’m a hopeful person by nature. Down inside, burning low but steady under this heavy blanket of sadness, my hope survives.
This time we’re living in has brought some hard truths our way. To fully wake up means seeing it all, feeling it all, living with it all. As much as it hurts, I choose being awake, knowing what I know, with every bit of this heartbreak and every ounce of this sorrow.
Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in a world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing. – Muhammad Ali
Is changing our world impossible? I know it’s easy for us to get tired and overwhelmed and start to believe it is. We can easily feel we have no power, or certainly not enough, to make a dent much less change the way things are and have been for so long – long before anyone reading this essay was born. Long before our parents and grandparents and their grandparents were born.
Here’s what I want to remind us of when Impossible feels bigger and badder than Possible:
Ali says Impossible is “an opinion.” That’s certainly true and we are choosing to shoulder the opinion of Possible and stand in the truth of it.
He says it’s “a dare.” We, along with millions of other people in this country and across the world, are willing to take that dare and go where that dare leads us.
He describes Impossible as “potential.” Well, so is Possible. That’s the potential we’re interested in. That’s the pilot light we want to fire up in other people with our words and actions.
Impossible, he says, is “temporary.” It’s those dark times when we feel doubt and even despair creeping in. Everyone who fights for equality and justice experiences those times. But they pass if we don’t buy into them and when we move ourselves into action. When these dark days pass, the light returns and we come back to the Possible that is permanent, that is Now.
Last and most importantly, Ali tells us that Impossible is nothing. Nothing! That’s what I want to shout from a rooftop. IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING! When we feel it, when we think it, it is just that – a feeling, a thought.
To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.
What goes beyond thought and feeling is the Possibility we bring to this struggle to eradicate racism once and for all. It’s the Possibility that, not just through our attitudes and beliefs, but through our actions, hearts and minds can change and that someday, people everywhere will awaken and see the non-negotiable right for equality, justice and freedom for everyone.
Here is a list of books which many people are finding helpful these days. We hope you will find it useful in your own journey as an ally in the struggle against systemic racism. (They are not listed in any particular order.)
Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to be White by Daniel Hill
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin Diangelo
It is a grit-filled grace that enables us to make difficult decisions in the face of a sometimes desperate reality, choices that either spring us forward in the evolutionary process or threaten to do us in as a species.
–Judy Cannato, Radical Amazement, p. 64
Cannato’s use of the term “grit-filled” to describe grace captured me. It’s not just the blessing of grace that is holding us up in this desperate time but also determination and firmness of mind and spirit. This grit is embedded in the grace we’re receiving right now just like affection and warmth is embedded in those hugs and handshakes we can’t receive.
No one knows for sure how long this virus will last. We’re all making difficult choices about how to keep ourselves and others safe. Our most critical far reaching choice, however, may be how we are going to respond as a collective when this is over.
This virus is creating the most global suffering of any kind I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime. You too, perhaps. Not that I believe the virus was “sent to” us by whatever might do that kind of sending, but I do wonder what it means for us whose future, some would argue, hangs in the balance.
Great suffering seems to be the catalyst that creates a path of transformation within individuals and for societies as a whole. All civilizations undergo major shifts that move them along in their evolutionary process. Surely this virus is not for naught. Surely, there is a huge shift underway for us.
We will eventually get through this. Exhausted and traumatized, no doubt, but we will come through this darkness and out the other side.
It is said that the Chinese symbol for crisis is composed of two characters, meaning danger and opportunity. I believe that new opportunities for us to live differently in every way will present themselves when this danger has passed.
I pray that these opportunities are so profound and obvious that we can’t possibly miss them. I pray that we are so awakened to the “grit-filled grace” that got us through this experience, that the only response we can give when these opportunities arrive is a “Yes” so powerful that it will be heard around the world and into the heavens.
I’ll tell you what all the fuss is about. It’s about this being a fabulous tool for understanding ourselves and others. It’s about this being a great map for exploring the desires, fears and core motivations which make us tick. And it’s about this being a way of awakening to our highest selves, seeing others through a lens of acceptance and compassion, and even experiencing the world as a place where we all belong.
That’s a tall order, eh? Well, I’m here to tell you, the Enneagram delivers everything it promises.
I’ve been studying and using the Enneagram in my own life since 2000, and I am still discovering new avenues for observing myself. Through the Enneagram, I’ve learned to spot those behaviors which take me down some old familiar rabbit holes. Yet, because the Enneagram helps me understand the natural human attachments which drive me, I’ve developed quite a bit of compassion for myself.
Now when I see myself doing those things I do, instead of asking, “What in the world is wrong with me?” I am much more inclined to say, “Well, there I go again being me!” It’s such an easier and gentler way to live.
When something brings us this much understanding of ourselves, it’s bound to spill over into our relationships. Better than anything I’ve ever encountered, the Enneagram helps me really get that everyone is operating out of the same kind of personality stew (including the good stuff along with the pesky) that I am. It’s just that their stew is as particular to them as mine is to me.
Seeing where we get stuck within ourselves is just the beginning. The Enneagram offers a map for moving beyond these patterns. It points the way towards real personal and spiritual growth by guiding us towards that essence we were when we came into the world but have forgotten about. It shows us what gift we each bring to the human family and how we can awaken it within ourselves and express it in the world with awareness, yet still through our own unique personality. We grow but stay the same. We don’t have to give up being who we are in order to awaken to who we are! Pretty cool, huh?
Although I’ve been teaching the Enneagram for years now, I still consider myself a student. I continue to read, consult with other Enneagram teachers, and attend training events to broaden my knowledge base, sharpen my teaching methods and learn new ways to engage with it to navigate my life.
You’ve heard the expression that the map is not the territory (if you haven’t, then you have now). Well, the territory is us. Who we are is really what we’re all searching for. This thing called us is a territory filled with smooth paved roads, bumpy curvy ones and sudden dead ends; mountain vistas and misty valleys; light-filled meadows and dark patches of woods; places we love and those we wish we didn’t even know about.
When you decide to travel into this territory of yourself, I suggest you take along a good flashlight, a compass and a map. The flashlight is your commitment to being more aware and accepting and loving of yourself and others. The compass is your own north star leading you home to that essence which is waiting for you. And the map…well, there are lots of maps which can take us home to ourselves. The one I recommend is the one I’ve been following all these years – the Enneagram. It never goes out of date, it never gets boring, and it never steers me wrong.
To learn more about my Enneagram offerings, click here: https://www.spaceforconsciousliving.com/the-enneagram/
A FREE Community Dialogue facilitated by the Faculty of The School: Marilyn Wolf, Linda Brown, Harriet Bullock and Ellen Simon
“Conversations are the way human beings think together.”
~Debby Irving, Waking Up White
As we move through this campaign season filled with anxiety and approach the most high stakes elections in our life time, how are we staying anchored? What are we doing to maintain hope and faith? How are we keeping ourselves grounded and calm?
This is what we want to discuss with you, and we hope you will invite a friend and join us.
A Zoom link will be sent to participants the day before the event
This event is FREE but we do ask that you register.
Email us at TheSchool.SCL@gmail.com
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Part of my lifelong calling and current work is as a teacher. One of the ways I really love to do this is lead groups to explore and discuss books. To find the right book, first I see where my current questions are leading me and then make the assumption that other searching souls are being led in the same direction. Then I look around at the books I’ve read or want to read and see which of those will shed light on my concerns and make the assumption that they will shed light on the concerns of the other searching souls. (Lots of assuming, I know.) Then I spread all these books out on the floor, get down on my knees, dangle a crystal over them until it is spinning wildly, and then I know that’s my book. Okay, that last part is not true. But I do pull a few books out and set them on my desk so I can see them in passing. I thumb through them, read or re-read parts, put them aside, ignore them, pick them up again, set them back down, and then (I swear this part is true), one day I just know which book to use. It’s like the cover is a little brighter and the words of the title a bit clearer than the others. This method has yet to fail me.
About five or six years ago, I read The Mystic Heart by the late monk Wayne Teasdale. I knew I wanted to offer it, but it just wasn’t time. I didn’t have a firm enough grasp on his proposition. So I’ve been using other wonderful books which I think really matter for the spiritual journey. Earlier this year, and as a direct result of the election, I led two studies of books which tie spirituality together with how to survive these chaotic and scary times. They are The Powers That Be by Walter Wink and Active Hope by Joanna Macy, both of which I highly recommend. Then I let the summer go by, led two workshops on the Enneagram and another on cultivating our relationship with the Divine all while incubating the question of which book to go with next.
And then one day in late August, The Mystic Heart leapt off my desk, shouting “Pick me, pick me! It’s time!”
Teasdale’s premise is that if our venerated religious institutions want to play their part in moving human consciousness to the next level so we can stand a chance of surviving, they better get over themselves. They better come to grips with the fact that at their core, they’re not all that different. They’re all trying to answer the same questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? And where am I going? These are questions which have captivated humankind long before institutional religion developed. They are questions of soul and spirit, not doctrine and dogma.
The answers to these questions can be found in the great perennial spiritual wisdom which runs like a river through the world’s religions. Each religious tributary certainly has its own direction, and that’s just fine. Teasdale nor those who inspired him are saying these have to be relinquished. What Teasdale IS saying is that the time has come for our religions to go beyond tolerance and even acceptance. To truly serve us at this critical moment in our history, our religions must find that place from which they all spring, that place where all directions to the Divine begin and end, a place Teasdale calls the “interspiritual.”
Teasdale tells us that without giving up their own particular form, our world religions must discover the mystic heart of “interspirituality” which beats in all of them. This heart reveals these core truths: We are all one, we come from the same place, we’re here to discover our true essential divine nature, and we’re headed back to the same place from which we came.
By embracing these fundamental truths, the religions of the world can come together, not to just tolerate and even accept one another, but to embrace one another like brothers and sisters separated at birth. While celebrating their individuality, these religious siblings can rejoice in their common spiritual parentage. In this blended family of “interspirituality,” the religions of the world truly can work together towards the common goals of human service grounded in a collective ethic, a shared global commitment to economic and social justice, recognition of our oneness as human beings, and the evolution of our glorious world into its next stage of higher consciousness.