Wednesday, April 16, 2014

When Good People Do Bad Things, And. . . .

I admit it: at moments, I can be a little bit of a contrarian. Even when I agree with something, part of me often silently mutters, "Yeah. . . but what about. . . . " Some of this is just what mind does- it wonders, questions, and puzzles over things for fun. And some of it is that I am fascinated by how a truth that helped me in one moment is sometimes not so helpful in another.

You've probably seen a piece floating around the internet titled "Anyway." Apparently it is based on eight of the ten "Paradoxical Commandments" written by Kent M Keith in 1968.( version I've shared below is the shorter one that Mother Teresa had up on the wall of her children's home in Calcutta. 

When I'm in a snarly mood (usually because I'm over-tired) and feeling like an imaginary deal whereby I was promised some kind of reward for doing the right thing has been thwarted, this piece is very helpful. It reminds me that behaving well is something I would really like to do for my own sake.

But, at other times- times when by grace I am more centred and less confused- I long for something a little more affirming of the human potential for goodness and sanity. 

So I wrote a piece in response to the "Anyway" version of "The Paradoxical Commandments," not as a criticism or a rebuttal, but perhaps as a companion piece. Grateful for the creative stirring the original offered, I don't think one replaces the other. People are at times unreasonable, self-centred, unkind, dishonest etc. And. . . people can also be reasonable, generous, kind, honest etc. 

Some of the time we need to be reminded that what matters most needs to be done without promise of reward for its own sake. And, at times, we are able to truly see the best in ourselves and others.

"Anyway" (as presented by Mother Teresa, based on "The Paradoxical Commandments" by Kent M. Keith)

People are often unreasonable and self-centred.
Forgive them anyway. 
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway. 
If you are honest, people may cheat you.
Be honest anyway. 
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. 
Be happy anyway. 
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. 
Do good anyway. 
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. 
It was never between you and them anyway. 

"And. . . ." by Oriah

People are reasonable and generous.
May we give them every opportunity to show us this.
If we are kind, people will most likely trust us.
May we hold that trust as sacred.
If we are honest, people will do their best to treat us fairly.
May we support their efforts to do so with appreciation and presence.
When we find happiness, others will be drawn to us.
May we share our happiness when it arises, 
and lean into each other's happiness when ours is hard to find.
The good we do ripples out in unseen ways.
May we trust this without knowing precisely how this shapes the world.
May we give the world our best.
It is enough.
In the beginning, the end and all points in between, it is always about us and the Mystery.
May we know ourselves and every other as a manifestation of the Light of the Divine.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Faithful To The Beauty You Are

What would it look like if we simply decided to stop whatever we are doing and wait until the impulse to move came from a deep awareness of sacred presence within and around us and then followed wherever it led? 

When I think of this happening in the world I imagine a work-weary woman in a busy office suddenly pausing at her desk, doing nothing for a moment, and then getting up and quietly walking out the door, leaving her computer running and her co-workers baffled. 

I imagine a man sitting in his living room dozing in front the TV as he does every night after dinner, suddenly turning his head as if to catch the echo of some sound coming to him from a great distance and after listening for a minute, getting up and without bothering to turn off the TV, walking outside and continuing in the direction of the setting sun.          
Oh I know what you’re thinking: How will the woman pay her bills without her job? What about that man’s responsibilities to his family? But you’re leaping to conclusions about what will happen next. 

Maybe the woman finds another way to provide for herself and her family that does not rob her soul of the joy she longs for everyday. Maybe she finds she does not need as much, or maybe she returns tomorrow and finds a different way to be in that office.

Maybe the man, waking up from his habitual patterns and walking toward that which calls him, really sees his family for the first time and can offer them something more than the tired absence of daily routines divorced from the meaning at the center of his life.
I am not suggesting that listening to the call will necessarily require that you leave your job, or turn off your TV, although I admit I think I could launch a pretty good argument for the latter. One person may be able to be faithful to the beauty of their awareness of their essential nature, to the ecstasy of touching the Beloved daily and still work in an office, while another may need to leave. 

The hard part is that we cannot predict what the call will require, how that sacred stillness at the center of all that is might inspire us to move if we have the courage to simply sit with it and follow the impulse to move when it comes.

Excerpt from The Call by Oriah Mountain Dreamer (c) 2003 Published by HarperONE, San Francisco. All rights reserved. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Setting Our Lives On Fire

Last week I rediscovered a whole bunch of poems that I'd once memorized. I have not forgotten a word of this one, and have been reciting it quietly all week. I suppose it says a great deal about me, that this poem is one of my favourites. (Read it out loud if you can.)

The Message by Rabindranath Tagore

I see a light but no fire.
Is this what my life is to be like?
Better to head for the grave.

A messenger comes, the grief-courier, and the
message is that the woman you love is in her house
alone, and wants you to come while it is still night.

Clouds unbroken, rain all night, all night.
I don't understand these wild impulses-
what is happening to me?

A lightning flash is followed by deeper melancholy.
I stumble around inside looking for the path the night
wants me to take.

Light, where is the light?
Light the fire, if you have desire!
Thunder, rushing wind, nothingness.
Black night, black stone.
Don't let your whole life go by in the dark.

Evidently the only way to find the path is to
set fire to my own life!

A great poem raises as many questions as it answers. Who is the grief-courier who comes to tell us that what we love still waits for us? Perhaps the heart that knows we have abandoned dreams central to our soul. What does it mean to set fire to our own lives? Surely Tagore is not calling for callous self-destruction, but the disintegration of what we thought we had to do, so we might embrace the life the soul came here to live.

Oriah House (c) 2014 (Pic is "Soul Mates from

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Tough Teacher

I once saw a Youtube video of an “Enlightened Teacher” who said that if we are fully in the present moment we will never feel any pain. I admit, I muttered at the screen, “Oh yeah, put your hand on the table here and let’s see what happens if I just give it a little rap with a hammer.”

Most of us understand the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is the searing agony that has ripped me out of sleep for ten nights in a row between two and six am, a silent scream from nerves in different parts of my body. It’s not new, although I admit it has been awhile since I’ve had the acute pain that is sometimes part of the chronic illness that has been part of my life for thirty years (CFS/ME/FM.) 

As with other times the particular precipitating cause is a mystery, which is both frustrating and hopeful- presumably it could end as unexpectedly as it began.

What surprises me is how- even with all these years of experience (some years being much better than others)- pain can still be a challenge. It wears me out, muddies my thinking, makes me grumpy and scares me (particularly by Day 10.)

Sometimes pain- emotional or physical- can be useful, can point us toward something that needs to be tended, healed. But after three decades my faith in the usefulness of these periods of inexplicable and acute agony has waned. When it feels as if muscles are being pulled from bones or a heated ice pick is being inserted into an eye socket, all spiritual aspirations go out the window. I just want the pain to stop. So I do the things I know sometimes help (and believe me, there really isn’t anything I have not tried- and some things do help to some degree, some of the time,) and I wait for the pain to diminish.

But the real challenge is to keep the suffering in check. Suffering is the fear-fueled-speculative-stories that pain stirs- that this will never end, that I will not be able to bear it, that I've done something "wrong" to cause this, that the pain will stop me from ever doing the things I love (like writing and studying.) These kinds of frantic mental meanderings pop up and create suffering when my guard is down and the pain is high- often just as I wake up.

This is all I really know about stopping suffering: I have to be simultaneously firm and tender with the franticness that arises if I am to cope with the pain in this moment and not drive myself over the cliff of unbearable agony. 

So I speak to myself as I would to anyone I love, whispering to the inner voice that is hypothesizing unending anguish and predicting imminent disaster: “Shhhhh. . . .breathe. You cannot know what the next hour or day will bring. Stay here, stay with your breath. What do you hear?. . . . The breath moving in and out of the body, bringing life; the children in the park; a lone robin singing spring into being. Soften around the pain. There. . . . let it be as it is. . . . do not pull away . . .Another breath. . . and another. . . . one at a time. . . each one softer. . . . . lean into the breath and the pain. . . . . let it be. . . ." 

And I pray, I call on the ancestors who love me, the powers of Love and Goodness and Healing and the divine Presence that is called God, the Sacred Mystery, the Great Mother to hold me, to help me. And I keep praying, tears streaming down my face, slowly feeling myself held by something larger, a Love that can help me bear all pain and turn away from suffering.

Pain is tough teacher. It can stir frantic suffering or teach boundless compassion. Most often I find it creates some of both. But the fact that the compassion can ease the suffering is what cracks me open to the blessing of being human, is what opens the door to an impossible gratitude that carries me to the next breath and the next. . . . 

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Learning To Love

Self-love spills over, ripples out to include others.

The same can be said for self-hatred and self-abuse or neglect. That too spills over, contaminates those around us, ripples out into the world.

I am not suggesting that we remove ourselves from life or others until we have learned self-love. It is often the world and others that teach us about love of self and others. 

It’s not a one-way linear process. Giving birth to my sons opened me to a well-spring of loving that I did not even know existed within me. Some days, when self-love feels impossible, when I don’t even know what it would look like in a given situation, I think of Brendan and Nathan and ask myself how I would offer my presence, my heart to them if they were feeling the way I am. And suddenly I know, perhaps only a little, but at least a place to start, a way to offer something that is self-loving.

And the reverse is also true. When someone – friend or stranger- is behaving badly and I barely check the impulse to judge them or say something nasty, I can pause and think about a time when I have not been at my best, have perhaps behaved badly because I am angry or frightened or feeling pressed beyond my resources. And, I consider how I hope others would respond, what kind of response might stop the spiral of my bad behaviour, and in doing so find a way to respond to the other who is having a less-than-stellar moment.

We don’t learn self-love or how to love others and the world alone in our room. Although we can send love out from solitude, we learn how to love- how to find and act on that feeling of connection and caring- in the fires of daily living in community where so much is beyond our control.

The Grandmothers who have spoken to me in my night dreams for thirty years say, “Intimacy heals.” That’s what love is about- a willingness to intimately be with ourselves or the other, hearts open, feeling the joy or the anguish.

Intimacy- and in turn healing- of course flourishes where there are clear, healthy boundaries. Knowing that I can distinguish between what are my choices and what are yours, is what allows me to love, to be present with my heart open without fear of disappearing or interfering with your autonomy.

And healing happens. We’re built for it, made at a cellular/ energetic/ molecular level in the image of a sacred and creative life-force that always turns its face toward growth and healing, even in the moment before death (and on some level, even in the moments after as all that dies composts and nourishes new life.)

As to what else happens after death- I do not know, but I feel a strange and abiding peace and more than a little excitement about where the adventure will take us next. 

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Being Okay

I was recently on the phone with a friend who had just had a helpful but disturbing insight into her own less-than-life-enhancing patterns with others. Often the information we need to heal are insights that highlight a place where we have habitually gone unconscious. Doing the work to bring things to consciousness so we can deepen our participation in life can sometimes feel like a process where things get worse before they get better.

The revelation understandably made this person feel emotional. I could hear the tears in her voice. As we started to end the call, pulled to other commitments of the day, I asked her, "Are you okay?"

She hesitated for a moment, and than answered in a less than confident tone, "Yes . . . yes, I'm. . . okay."

I replied, "It's okay to feel emotional. Emotional doesn't mean you're not okay."

She laughed and confirmed. "Right. I can be emotional and be okay."

I've been reflecting on this conversation since it happened, realizing how often when we ask another if they are okay, we are (probably unconsciously) asking them to pull away, if only a little, from emotions that are uncomfortable for either or both of us to be with. And when we reassure another we are okay, we often cut off the feeling of the moment, suck up our tears and our shakiness and respond in a strong, clear voice we pull from some corner of our being, "Yes, I am okay."

What if we learned to say- to ourselves as much as to others- I am angry. . . or hurt. . . . or afraid. . . or sad. . . . and yes, I am okay.

What if we expanded our notion of okay to include having uncomfortable or difficult feelings that others can see or hear.

What if being okay really did just mean- I am a human being doing the best I can with what is arising right now, and I will continue. And that truly is, okay.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Moving On

Woke up this morning thinking of an old friend.

Marie Claire was born in Paris shortly after WWII. She and her mother lived in abject poverty. She never knew her father. Marie Claire's mother told her many times that she had not wanted her, had tried unsuccessfully to abort her. In some ways this knowledge haunted Marie Claire and shaped a great deal of her life. 

Marie Claire and I were born on the same day, a decade apart. At the age I am now, she died of cancer. When I went to see her in the hospital she told me, “Here I am having to go through this alone as I have done with everything.”

I didn’t know what to say. In fact, Marie Claire had a loving husband she’d been with for decades- a chef who ran his own restaurant and brought her tasty meals daily during her stay in the hospital- and two grown daughters who came to see her regularly while caring for young children themselves. And I was there.

But the truth was, Marie Claire always felt as if she was scrambling to survive, was unsupported and on her own. That’s the experience she lived. When I’d gently point out that the reality of her life did not match this assumption she would cringe and agree, but I knew it changed nothing.

And it wasn’t only that Marie Claire was unable to receive from those around her. She also could not give to herself. She had a small successful skin-care business and dreamed of creating a healing spa for women, a place where spirit was tended even as the body was pampered. She told me once that she had the money to fulfil her dream, but she couldn’t do it- was afraid to spend the money, sure that it was too late or too early or not the right economic climate or the right place. . . . Honestly, I don’t think she ever really considered acting on her vision. In her own mind, she was still the unwanted daughter, the girl living on the street, barely surviving.

I remember once sitting with Marie Claire and feeling my own frustration at her inability to receive and enjoy the life she now had. I wanted to tell her to “let the past go,” to “move on.” I didn’t- because I knew these words don’t free someone from the past and can stir deep shame- and that never helps.

And, I knew something else: where we want to say, “Move past this!” to another, we are speaking from our inability to be with the other where they are. (And yes, sometimes we may need to take a break so we don’t start saying unhelpful things.)

And. . . . where we are feeling judgemental and frustrated about another’s failure to “move on,” we may well be feeling stuck ourselves, identified with or limited by something that has happened in our past and frustrated by our own inability to “let it go.”

We are wanting someone else to do something that we have not found a way to do.

Maybe we want them to show us it can be done.

So, as I woke up this morning filled with memories about Marie Claire I wondered: Where am I feeling caught in the past? Where am I missing the opportunity to lay down a burden and walk on with more freedom? Where am I refusing healing, afraid to be free, not allowing myself to receive fully what is offered to me now?  

And I offer a prayer for my old friend, grateful for what is stirred by remembering her, wishing her spirit deep peace and freedom.

Oriah House (c) 2014