Posts Tagged With: spirituality

A Declaration of Peace

I have been reading a biography of Sitting Bull, the famous Lakota leader. Like most good books it is interfering with my official duties though only a few chapters in. It’s an enjoyable read, but one aspect is unsettling though not unexpected. The narrative is steeped in war, as was the Lakota culture of the time (and as much of my culture is still today). Truly, most human cultures are steeped in war.

Hence, war is very much on my mind today, and I haven’t even read the most recent headlines concerning the Levant. This is a strange wheel we ride. War brings death and pain and suffering. It rends hearts and bodies. We honor those who sacrifice themselves in its fire and foster aid societies for their relief. We speak of the awfulness of it and how it is to be avoided if at all possible. We even give lip service to the idea of avoiding “unnecessary casualties”.

Still, we don’t get off the wheel. We never fight the war to end all wars. Seemingly, that war can’t be fought with any weapon we can fashion outside of the human heart, and perhaps it is just too painful for most of us to fashion the weapons that could fight that war. So we have the paradox of accepting the horror of war as being less horrible than the hard work and sacrifice that would be required to end it.

Instead, we feed the fire. We rationalize that “Such is the way of the world” without due acknowledgement that this is only so because humans choose it to be so. We argue of who started what when that is really no longer even relevant. Offense has piled upon offense, vengeance upon vengeance, to the point there is more responsibility and injury to go around. Like little children on the playground merry-go-round, we kick and kick to keep the wheel spinning to the point we are sick, but we keep kicking anyway.

Well I am sick of being sick. It is possible to turn the other cheek. It might get one punched yet again. It might get one killed. But the only way to stop the war wheel from turning is for enough individuals to decide to stop feeding it and just step off. Its energy comes from human beings so human beings can starve it of that energy.

I know what is coming. “That’s easy for you to say! You don’t live in a place of conflict. You haven’t lost friends and family to a hardened enemy.” Guilty as charged. So please know I’m not judging anyone who does live in such a situation. I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do, only observe what the effect of justifying war and violence has been and suggest–as have much greater hearts and minds than my own–that there is another way. A way hard in its own right, to be sure. A road less-traveled. Still, a road none-the-less.

I will ask something of those participating in or fostering violence and war as a solution to our conflicts. Do you think this one is the one? Is this bomb or bullet or rocket or stone the one that will finally do it? That will turn the tide and bring about the actual end of violence and killing? Is it the one that will soothe the human heart of the pain and grief of losing lives and limbs and family in war? Will it actually right the wrongs? Will it bring back the dead? Because if it is not the one, then it is very likely just one more kick to keep the wheel of violence spinning on. It is very simple human mathematics. Death and destruction produce death and destruction. Vengeance produces vengeance. Like begets like. Killing enemies creates more enemies from the friends and family of the one who has been killed. Isn’t that why you justify killing? Why would the other side be any different?

It will never stop unless we stop it. So this is my declaration of peace.

This post is dedicated to those fighting in Palestine and Israel, not for Palestine and Israel, but for the shared human dignity of peace; and to those like them in places of conflict all around the world.

Categories: Miscellany, Spirit | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

We Are All Gods, Every One…

Now, before my theist friends begin formally filing charges of blasphemy and my atheist friends just roll their eyes (yes, I have atheist friends!), please hear me out.

I am not saying any one of us bundles of mental energy wrapped in dust is THE God or that you have to even believe THE God exists (though I myself do). We’ll save that discussion for a mountain hike or trout stream or over beer and pizza.

What I do mean is this–every last one of us is creative. Some of you are going “Not me…I’m about as creative as a rock.” Well first of all, how do you really “know” that rock isn’t creative? But that too is another discussion for another time. I assure you however, you ARE in fact creative. You may not be an artist or musician or poet or novelist but you are creative.

In fact you are creating right now. You are creating thoughts about this blog post or God or beer and pizza or something else. Those thoughts are jostling their way in among the myriad other thoughts dancing about your mind. Some of those thoughts will dance enthusiastically enough to really get your attention. They will grow and take on a life of their own by spawning other thoughts and captivating your focus. Most importantly, some of those thoughts will be be spawning actions (or non-actions). Those actions and non-actions will then have much to do with what happens in your life. In a most very real sense, you are creating your own life. Right now. Moment by moment, thought by thought, deed by deed.

Why not create something beautiful?

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You Need You to Shut Up Right Now

Yes you. Please shut up.

I am talking to you:

You, the Chicken Little screeching “The sky is falling!”

You, in the midst of your tirade against the evil who ever it is that you are certain is evil and is going to be the downfall of tribe, nation, or world.

You, so wed to your ideology, philosophy, theology, or maybe just the lovely sound of your own incessant chirping that you can’t see outside the walls of the nice little nesting box you have built for yourself.

You, who is certain that naysayers against your near-divine diatribes must be utterly and likely irrevocably stupid to dare have a different opinion than your own.

You, who are certain the brown people or white people or liberal people or conservative people or the rich people or the poor people or Muslim people or Christian people or secular people are the problem.

You, who are certain that whatever the problem you are not it.

WAIT! Some days that is me. I chirp and moan and whine and point fingers. I look down on difference in behavior and perspective and opinion. I open my mouth instead of my ears…and more importantly my heart.

There are problems in the world for certain–human, environmental, economic. Ignoring them isn’t helpful. Neither generally is our name-calling, finger-pointing, and pontificating. And most certainly our fear-mongering, self-obsession, and close-mindedness not only do not help us find solutions but create even more problems.

So, if all we can do is any of the above, we really do need to just shut up. But if we have something positive to contribute, a potential solution to a problem, a success to share, let’s do that. Over a beer or a glass of tea. With an awareness that whatever the negative circumstance we are dealing with, more negativity is unlikely to solve it. If we can open our mouths, then surely we can open our eyes and ears and minds and hearts as well. Yeah. Let’s do that.

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An Observation

A thought keeps making its way around my conversational and social media circles that needs a bit of attention I think. Generally it is phrased along the lines of “Just because I disagree with you (or your ‘lifestyle’) doesn’t mean I hate you.”

I agree. I disagree with many things people say and do without hating the people who say and do them. Here’s the thing though–like so many of our thoughts it should be tempered with at least a couple of balancing thoughts. The first is that sometimes disagreement DOES become an avenue of hatred, or certainly at least of despising. Any time we fixate on what someone else is doing we are walking through a dangerous door. The voice of wisdom keeps calling us back to our own thoughts and actions, the only ones we have at least a tenuous measure of control over.

The second balancing thought is this–while disagreement isn’t necessarily hate, neither are judgment and condemnation usually love; which is likely why so many voices of wisdom across the ages have warned us against them. Historically speaking, it’s truly terrifying to consider the suffering unleashed by those claiming some moral, spiritual, or intellectual high ground. Morals are like fire–they can bring us warmth and light, but if not properly contained they will burn down the house or even an entire city or forest.

So if we find ourselves thinking it’s time for some good, old-fashioned pontificating at someone about their words or walk, we need to proceed with caution. We best make sure that we recognize that love is gentle and kind and patient and puts others before ourselves and that if we fail to ring our fire with such stones instead of light and warmth we may experience only burning and destruction.

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A Word About Words

Words intrigue me. They are a paradox, weighty and weightless.

What do they mean? Common usage assigns meaning, and dictionaries crystallize it. Still–I may speak or write a word or words and mean something utterly different from what common usage or the dictionary would indicate. I may be deceitful or misunderstood. Words have a power, but the power is limited by the one using and the one receiving.

It doesn’t help that words are wiggly things–they morph over time into new meanings or fade from usage entirely and are replaced by others. They are shaped by context and tone. And while as symbols they have been a powerful tool for our species, they never quite seem to capture the reality they represent. A word is no more the thing it symbolize than a cup can be the water it carries. I “love” my wife. What does that mean? Everything and nothing. Can the word every really capture that particular reality?

In a world awash with words it would seem some caution might be in order. Speak and write with care. What is weightless to me might be crushing to you. Read and listen with care. What I receive may not be what you intended. Just because something can be said doesn’t mean it should be. These admonishments seem fairly obvious.

But there are other, less obvious hazards regarding words. Beware of deifying words. They are as imperfect as we humans that use them. We want to set them in stone. We want them to be the thing they represent. But they are not. They are images, and images easily become idols. People maim and kill, emotionally and literally, over idols.

Words also become filters of sorts. I identify myself as “this” and you as “that”. All my perceptions become colored by my “thisness” and your “thatness”. So words become walls that keep us apart from and blind to the fullness of being of those on the other side.

Yes, we must walk carefully in this world of words.

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Peace on Earth…for twenty-four hours anyway

An angelic chorus is recorded in the Gospel of Luke with having greeted the birth of Jesus singing “glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will toward men.” I sometimes wonder if they were singing of another earth. This earth has known very little of peace. I don’t have an answer for it. No one else does either. So I am just going to try live peace on my little bit of earth for one day. Twenty-four hours. What follows will be my diplomatic strategy.

–Be Quiet. Much of the strife in my world comes from  my propensity to over-appreciate the right of others to hear my obviously well-informed opinions. Though they may suffer some, others will not die from not knowing what’s on my mind for a day.

–Be still. Tranquility is as tranquility does. Modern life is a beehive and we are the busy bees (ironic, since our activities seem to be killing off the actual busy bees that pollinate our crops and share their honey). Being still tends to create a sense of peace naturally. My world calms when I do.

–Read something online I disagree with and not comment. To anyone. Especially in the “Comments” section (otherwise known as “The Pit of Despair”). Just think about what was written. Let it breathe a bit. And then go on with my life. I might just give myself a chance to grow.

–Do something nice…for someone I don’t especially like. It takes nothing to be nice to those who are nice to us. But awe and wonder arise when we give rise to our better selves and just reach out to someone we consider less-than pleasant.  Sometimes we are surprised to find they aren’t as unpleasant as we thought–sometimes our impressions are confirmed. But whatever, for one day I will act peacefully toward someone it doesn’t seem natural to do so. If there is ever to be that elusive peace on earth, it will be because enough people get tired of being enemies and decide to act otherwise.

–Smile and greet everyone I meet today. Some people will return it. Some people will ignore it. Some people will think I have a screw loose and I will see it in their eyes. But I might just cross paths with someone today who desperately needs just one person to acknowledge them in human warmth. I might make their day. Who knows? A made day could change their life.

–Avoid all 24-hour news for at least  twenty-four hours. It will be more effective if I can do so for twenty-four weeks, months or years. I’m guessing my anger level will drop by a minimum of 24%. Minimum.

That’s it. I have to keep it simple. Merry Christmas everyone. May there be peace and goodwill in your little corner of earth.

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Sometimes The Best Thing To Do…

Is nothing.

Every flood eventually abates. Every fire burns itself out.

It can be quite difficult to believe that the most productive start to a day where one is pressed for every moment is moments spent sitting quietly in meditation, doing nothing particularly at all. Or that  the best response in the face of loud and vocal opposition is silence. That battles can actually be won not so much by surrender, but by choosing a course other than fighting.

What has the prevailing philosophy of constant activity, argument, and battle accomplished us?  A mind-numbing cacophony of shouting voices growing ever louder. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. I’ll see your tit and raise you a tat. Brother against brother. A world of bombs and bullets and death-dealing drones. A world where the blind beat the blind and both are buried in a ditch. A world of “us” versus “them”. A human world consuming itself and its planetary home on an altar of consumption. In all our knowledge we never seem to learn, nor in all our progress to actually progress.

There is a time for doing, but there is also a time for not doing. There is a time for speaking, but likely even more time to keep silence. Wisdom will know the difference, but She is a stranger to many if not most of us–an illusive sprite, a legendary wisp, a figment of the imagination of industrialized society. I catch glimpses of Her flitting among the trees, or dancing at the edge of the firelight, teasing me. She whispers in the wind and I must be utterly silent  to hear, and find even more silence to comprehend. 

Quiet. Deep breaths. Listen to the rain patter on the roof!

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Let’s Talk About Money

Specifically, let’s discuss the reality that I have very little of it these days.

I cannot lie, since leaving my previous career path last summer there just isn’t as much of the green stuff to go around in my world these days. I also will not pretend that the lack of green doesn’t cause moments of occasional stress. My life is different. There is a good deal less sureness in my world. I have to think before I spend and decide exactly how to pay which bills in what order. I have to bounce things around a bit to make sure there is food in the cupboard and fuel in the heater. I have to work harder to make sure the lights stay on and the debts are paid. I really didn’t plan to be at this place at the age of fifty.

Having said all that, some truths are emerging. I’m discovering things I knew but didn’t believe. For instance, a person really can be happy with less. The list of things we need is much, much smaller than we believe. I continue to have food and shelter, my bills are being paid, and with these things I am learning  to be content. The truth is I have an unhealthy attachment to stuff, despite a lifetime of preaching against materialism. Addiction comes in many forms. Some addictions obviously bring great suffering into the world, but all of them do to some degree. Just because I can’t see the sweatshop conditions that exist to meet my wants because those conditions are around a corner of the world, doesn’t mean those conditions don’t exist or that I am not contributing to them.  So if I can make a dent in that reality, even a small one, my lack of “disposable income” not only can be but is an actual improvement in the world. In that very real sense I am better off with less.

I’m also seeing the truth of what Jesus said about  worrying. It can’t make single hair blond or black (but it can certainly make them gray or perhaps even fall out). We spend so much time living where we are not. Maybe it’s a past that cannot be changed or a future that cannot seen. Maybe it’s in the places we imagine to be the halls of power such as Washington or London or Berlin or the corporate boardrooms on Wall Street. Why is it so hard to see the irony here? When we imagine the halls of power to be in other places and the decisions of power to be in other people we create that reality in ourselves. We actually give other people control of the state of our minds and hearts.

While certainly we should speak to the things we understand to be evil in the world (firmly, carefully, with gentleness and grace), we must not make the mistake of surrendering the power of our lives to others. We do this when we invest in actual circumstance as opposed to our management of our response to it. The question is not what will or will not happen–but how will we live whatever happens? Will we live whatever happens? Many is the soul who has found more life even in death itself than others who have biologically existed into old age but never really seen anything beautiful or lovely or praiseworthy because they kept waiting on circumstance to meet their expectation–because they kept living somewhere other than where they actually were and thereby not really living at all.

So, I find myself with less these days but actually having more. No, “having” is not the word I’m looking for. Our lives do not consist of the abundance of the things we possess. Living is actually the word I am looking for. Embracing uncertainty, breathing deeply, finding joy even in mundane labor. Savoring my life and the people in it and the small acts of generosity I am graced to give and receive. Tasting my food and drink with mindfulness and seeing the beauty and tragedy in the world all around me every day. When I think about it like this, less really is more. But it’s not having–it’s being.

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Our Eclectic Lives

You have likely noticed my blog is a bit eclectic–a post on fitness is followed by a post waxing spiritual or philosophical which is followed by a post about the natural world or backpacking or fly fishing or whatever. The thought has crossed my mind that I would likely get more readers if I stuck to a more specified theme or developed more than one blog and built each around a particular topic. Such an approach suits the Western mind which is very adept at classifying and compartmentalizing. We have a work life and a home life and a personal life and spiritual life and on and on and on it goes. Sometimes we even consciously act to keep these aspects of life apart from one another.

But a simple truth of our living is that try as we might, our life doesn’t have neat little compartments that we walk into and out of. Life is in fact holistic–the different aspects of our lives interact with one another constantly on both conscious and subconscious levels. Work seeps over into home and vice versa. Our health affects just about everything we do and how  we view the world can have much to do with both our mental and physical health.

Additionally, everything we do as individuals happens interactively with the rest of the world as whole, including not only human culture but also our impact on the natural world in which the human culture exists and upon which it depends. Truly no one is an island, and even should we try that act itself would influence in its own way.

So my blog will stay eclectic because my life is–because our human life is and all life is. While I will no doubt emphasize certain topics due to my experience and interests, I will try to keep myself open to new ideas and experiences. No human mind can learn it all nor experience it all, at least not while wrapped in the finitude of our current existence, but it seems to me that the wider our experience here the deeper and richer it will be. And since we are here, living and breathing and learning and loving, why not engage everything with all the depth and richness we can?

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I’m Alive

Confession: I haven’t been running as often as I would have liked since the first of the year. I have a full quiver of the usual excuses…too tired, not enough time, it’s raining, it’s snowing…the usual suspects. That said, in fits and starts I have been moving forward, quite literally one step at a time.

It would help if all the enjoyable runs beginning at my house didn’t start with an uphill. A steep uphill at that. It makes perfect sense though–generally speaking the higher we rise the more beauty avails itself to us which is likely why we often seek the tops of mountains. So yesterday, having no intention of climbing to the top of the mountain, I laced up my shoes and put one foot in front of the other headed on an up grade.

All my runs seem to begin the same way–with me questioning why I do this. It can seem like “vanity and striving after the wind”. After all, no matter how well I take care of myself I am still gonna wind up at the same place (yes, I’m talking about physical mortality but trying to avoid the “D” word). Before my body begins to find a groove, running is a real grind. My body and my mind always seem to argue for a bit but I am never quite sure which one is arguing to quit and grab a bowl of chips. A beautiful thing though…my feet always seem to keep moving.

Yesterday, I did things a bit differently. I climbed the initial grade at a fast walk. As the ground began to level, I jogged a short interval, walked again, then ran a short distance at not quite a sprint. I found myself falling into a pattern of walking and running. And noticing. Not thinking but seeing, hearing, and feeling. Seeing the snowflakes falling softly. Hearing the happy and gentle rumble of the little stream that parallels the road. Noting each breath and the pressure of my feet on the ground. Feeling the life inside me expanding to every part of my body like the quickening of the cosmic life every spring.

Almost before I realized, I was at the top of  the nearly two-mile climb from my house, and it was lovely. Every breath drew in the stillness of the woods and the quiet of the lightly falling snow. Every footfall resonated life and  the sheer energy of it.  I broke my pattern of intervals and just let my body glide back down the hill toward home. I’m not sure I have ever been more fully aware in life. I saw myself connected to all things.

I’m sure you are thinking it was just the endorphins kicking in, and I agree to some extent. I love how our bodies can treat themselves to a high. But it was more than a high. It was meditative. It was engagement not just with the run, but with everything around it and required for it–body, mind, earth, air, water, and the fire at the foundation of life. And I remembered something so fundamental it almost seems primeval. I don’t really run for fitness or to look a certain way. I run because I’m alive, and running is an expression of the the primitive joy of  it all. In running, I’m not a grown-up with all the artificially cultivated responsibilities of our so-called civilization. No–in running I’m a child on a playground, a fawn in the woods, a stream tumbling down a mountain. Good things to be, every one.

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