Monthly Archives: April 2014

Let’s Just Walk Today

Himalayas New YorkerDo you remember a moment when you made a major life decision or chose to acquiesce to a loved one’s wishes and then said, “Oh. Shit. This is what that means”?

Maybe it was moving in together, or getting married, or having kids, or your husband saying he felt called to be an Episcopal priest.

I had that moment recently (again) after Jed said, “I’d like to walk the Camino de Santiago, and I want you to come with me.” “I’d love to,” I replied.

As this adventure has become less theoretical and more real, I’ve been freaking out more and more.

Then I think, “Come on. You’re a coach. Coach yourself.” So yesterday I did.

First a little background: The Camino de Santiago’s most-traveled route, the one popularized in The Way, is 500 miles of well-trodden path that begins in St. Jean Pied de Port in the far south of France, crosses the Pyrenees and most of the northern part of Spain, and ends in Santiago de Compostela. It’s not wilderness. The Camino passes through several cities including Pamplona, Burgos, and Leon. Along The Way there are many small towns full of shops and bars and cafes and hotels catering to the more than 150,000 people who make this trek annually, and have for a thousand years.

The freaking out part, for me, is that we plan to take five weeks to walk these 500 miles, which works out to about 15 miles per day. We’ll take a few rest days, so the average goes up to around 17 miles per day. That’s fewer miles than some walk in a day, and more miles than others.

Yesterday, when I felt the freak-out, I got quiet and listened to what my mind was saying. Here’s what I heard:

  • I don’t want to do this.
  • It’s not safe to do this.
  • I shouldn’t have to do this.
  • I don’t know how to do this.
  • I don’t know what’s going to happen.

That’s when it clicked.

I think my life needs to be predictable, that I need to feel in control, and that I must always look and feel competent. I know these things about myself.

The Camino will challenge these beliefs so much.

My husband included this video in his adult forum on the Camino yesterday. About half way in these four words appeared: “Let’s Just Walk Today.” And I got it. I understood then that The Way through this experience for me is Let’s Just Walk Today.

The Camino is already providing.

Let’s: I walk in community. I walk with the love of my life, with the prayers and support of family and friends and people I’ve never met, and with fellow pilgrims.
Just Walk: Take the next step. Trust the Camino. Simplify. Lighten up. Let go.
Today: Breathe in all this awesomeness with appreciation and gratitude.

Peregrinos say that the Camino changes their life, usually in ways they did not expect. I walk to grow in trust, flexibility, and acceptance. I am grateful for your prayers, support, and gifts. I invite you to accompany me. I’ll let you know what happens along The Way.

Wayfinding on the Camino

This way, Pilgrim.

Extreme Cavers and Desire

Cave

Bill Stone is an extreme caver. To say caving is his passion is to vastly understate his dedication. Bill Stone spends weeks at a time in the bowels of the Earth following twists and turns in complete darkness, exploring the world’s deepest caves. (See the April 21, 2014 New Yorker for more.)

I do not understand Bill Stone’s passion for caves, and his level of commitment and clarity stuns me.

Like many of us, I learned to look outside myself for direction, and to largely ignore my wants and desires unless they happened to align with those of the authority figures in my life. If we learn as children that following our hearts will lead to conflict with those we love and look up to, stuffing our desires seems like the better choice. And that deeply-ingrained habit remains into adulthood.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?), our heart’s desires don’t just quietly slink away and leave us in peace. Suppressed desires inevitably bubble up as painful feelings and destructive behaviors like depression, addiction, meanness, illness, judgments, and envy.

Because denial of desires leads to such suffering, life coaching focuses on identifying and owning what we want.

There is also a growing consensus among progressive Christian writers such as Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk and contemplative teacher, that desires are a gift of God and a call from God, and that they come pre-installed.

Our vocation is to make our dreams come true. Our desires and passions and dreams and visions are God calling us to grow up, to evolve, to trust and explore.

I struggle to believe this. My mistrust of my desires runs very deep. And I’m slowly finding the courage to be honest and reverent about what I want, and to take steps to get it.

Maybe you know what you want and you’re dedicated to getting it. Yay you! I am happy for you (and maybe a teensy bit envious), and invite you to share your successes!

(However, if you, like me, could use a little guidance, I’m hosting a “Desires, Visions, and Goals” workshop in Medford on Thursday, April 24. Here’s a taste of what we’ll do:)

Identify desires by asking questions such as “What things and experiences do I truly want? How do I imagine I will feel when I get this thing or experience?

Identify what Martha Beck calls Wildly Improbable Goals. WIGs are really big creations or experiences that excite and scare us equally. (I prefer WAG: Wild Audacious Goal.)

Begin taking action to fulfill desires and Wild Audacious Goals by getting clear on what we want and what we have already, and identifying steps to bridge the gap.

The New Yorker article about Stone’s latest expedition says “[h]e has an engineer’s methodical mind and an explorer’s heroic self-image. He’s pragmatic about details and romantic about goals.”

Stone harnesses the power of both sides of his brain: the left-brain linear planner and the right-brain visionary seeker. We can learn to do the same. We must be about the business of creating in the world what we see in our minds and yearn for in our hearts if we are to truly be who we are created to be.

The world needs us.

I’ll give Richard Rohr the last word:

Your destiny and God’s desire are already written in your genes, your upbringing, and your natural gifts. It is probably the most courageous thing you will ever do to accept that you are just yourself. Only the original manufacturer can declare what the product—you—should be. Nobody else. “Even every hair of your head has been counted,” as Jesus puts it (Matthew 10:30). God chooses us into existence, and continues that choice of us every successive moment, or we would fall into non-being. We are interrelated with Essential Being, participating in the very life of God, while living out one little part of that life in our own exquisite form.

 

PDFs of workshop materials are here: Desires, Visions, Goals handouts_filled in

 

Acorns and Easter

Acorns

“How do we become that tree?”

Ash Wednesday was seven long weeks ago. Lent is almost over. Western Christians are teetering on the cusp of the Triduum (pronounced trih-joo-um), a fancy church word for The Three Days. The events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter are at the crux of our faith: Jesus dies and rises again.

I don’t know how this works. I don’t understand it at all. I doubt Jesus did either. But somehow “the human embodiment of the boundary-bursting, limit-shattering, death-defying power of God”* dies and is reborn. Jesus loves to the point of death, and beyond. And the power of his love somehow mysteriously continues to live in me.

Cynthia Borgeault’s The Wisdom Way of Knowing includes this story:

Once upon a time, in a not-so-faraway land, there was a kingdom of acorns, nestled at the foot of a grand old oak tree. Since the citizens of this kingdom were modern, fully Westernized acorns, they went about their business with purposeful energy; and since they were mid-life baby boomer acorns, they engaged in a lot of self-help courses. There were seminars called “Getting All You Can out of Your Shell.” There were woundedness and recovery groups for acorns who had been bruised in their fall from the tree. There were spas for oiling and polishing those shells and various acornopathic therapies to enhance longevity and well-being.

One day in the midst of this kingdom there suddenly appeared a knotty little stranger, apparently dropped “out of the blue” by a passing bird. He was capless and dirty, making an immediate negative impression on his fellow acorns. And crouched beneath the oak tree, he stammered out a wild tale. Pointing upward at the tree, he said, “We … are … that!”

Delusional thinking, obviously, the other acorns concluded, but one of them continued to engage him in conversation: “So tell us, how would we become that tree?” “Well,” said he, pointing downward, “it has something to do with going into the ground … and cracking open the shell.” “Insane,” they responded. “Totally morbid! Why, then we wouldn’t be acorns anymore.”

Jesus tells us over and over we must be buried. We must be broken open to become more fully who we are. The grain of wheat must die in order to yield a rich harvest. The caterpillar must completely dissolve to become a butterfly. The patterns are all around us, especially in springtime.

Unlike caterpillars, grains of wheat, and real acorns, we have a choice. We can resist the necessary dying and dissolving that is a prerequisite for new life. I don’t think I’m very good at this dying and dissolving. I resist. I cling to the old, the known, the static.

I want to stop resisting and clinging. I want to follow Jesus through these three holy days. I want to trust his promise that Love and I won’t die — that after each dying I will be reborn as a fuller truer embodiment of the real me who finds her Self in God.

I don’t understand Good Friday. I really don’t understand Easter. I don’t believe understanding matters at all. Jesus doesn’t say we must understand. He only asks us to follow — to walk our way with faith and love and kindness, dying and dissolving and being reborn on a regular basis.

*From a sermon by the Rev. Tom Murphy preached on April 6. Link here.

Coping With Uncertainty, or How to Dance with Mystery

Commitment

Uncertainty feels like this

A dear friend is in the throes of uncertainty. Her husband is being considered for a promotion that would mean a move and a drastic change in lifestyle, and the outcome is uncertain.

I’m thinking of her, and of anyone facing a scary diagnosis, the death of a parent, a child leaving home — any of the infinite number of unknowns that loom in life.

So, how to cope?

First of all, the words I use matter. I create my experience of the raw data of my life with my thoughts, and I think in words. So let’s examine the words.

“Uncertainty” is the absence of certainty. The word “uncertainty” assumes, I think, that certainty is the default. Certainty is the baseline, and any departure from certainty is aberrant and must be “coped” or “dealt” with as an adversary.

 What if I labeled the state-of-not-knowing-what-the-f***- is-going-to-happen as open-edness, or flow, or mystery? I feel easier and lighter when I use those words.

Now I can conceive of my thoughts and actions while in the state-of-waiting-to-see-what-is-going-to-happen as surfing or dancing or floating.  Aaah. More ease and light.

Surfing and dancing go much more smoothly when I’m fully present. (I have to take the surfing bit on faith since I’ve never surfed, but it’s such a good metaphor I’m using it anyway.) Floating is much more enjoyable when I simply relax into water and soak in sun. So I conclude that the best direction for dancing with mystery and surfing open-endedness is to stay radically present to the precious moments of my real life.

Top 5 strategies for connecting to the Here And Now:

1. Breathe consciously, into my fingers and toes.

2. Snorkle beauty (and humor) like a cokehead. (Thanks, Anna Kunnecke, for the phrase)

3. Move my body. Dance, walk, yoga, clean, whatever.

4. Practice gratitude. What’s one thing I am grateful for right now this very minute? What’s another? And another?

5. Pray the Serenity Prayer with intention.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Truly let go of what isn’t my business.

Lovingly attend to what is my business.

Actively seek the wisdom of my body, my faith, my family and friends.

These habits that help me stay present are especially useful when I’m in the shit and feeling frantic, during those times of looming unknowns when life could drastically change. However, they’re also useful day-to-day, moment-by-moment practices for every precious waking moment. Because certainty is always an illusion, and we’re always ultimately dancing with Mystery.