Category Archives: Inspiration

The Sacred Moment

We live in a challenging time, a time when many are suffering, confused, disappointed, and for those facing life-threatening circumstances, broken.

I, like many of you, worry about how to help, both myself and others. How to find solid ground. How to do something of benefit.

Today, I listened to a podcast that offered a way to think about both the slight and the horrible challenges we face. Jonathan Fields, of GoodLife Project, interviewed Julie Piatt, the plant-based chef, healer, wife, mother, and artist who has created a remarkable health movement with her husband and co-authored  The Plantpower Way.

The interview is wide-ranging, but one point she makes pertains to my opening question about how to help myself absorb and address productively the challenges facing us on so many fronts—political, social, personal, psychological.  She says,

“If you’re really blessed, you’ll be given a sacred moment, a moment when you are on your knees, facing a problem you can’t solve with positive thinking. You have no choice but to be in it fully and face the discomfort and pain.   When this happens, you become very clear. These moments chisel you into a servant; you understand you are not in control of any of this. You must submit your life. These are huge gifts for the soul.”

One has to be thoughtful about when it’s appropriate to suggest that a bad experience is a “gift.” And yet, many wisdom traditions teach that every experience is a gift, for they are here  not to make us happy, but to wake us up;  not to make us comfortable, but to nudge us in a different direction; not to lead to smugness, but to encourage compassion. Our challenges are uniquely designed to guide us toward who we are meant to be, and thus toward how we are able to serve.

As I struggle daily with what I see happening in our world, I urge myself to avoid judging or critiquing the distasteful and disturbing events, and try to see them from a larger point of view. See them as a battle between two world views, one struggling to survive, another yearning to be born. I strive to face what these challenging times show me about my own habits of mind, my own limiting assumptions, my own eagerness to blame “the other” instead of evolve my self.

In the interview, Julie Piatt asks three questions of us:

What am I doing?
Why am I doing it?
Is it aligned with my highest intentions?

Through these questions, she says, we might find our authentic expression toward a life challenge. The sacred moment, she says, is the way we gain the fortitude it takes to give voice to our authentic self.

This way of approaching a sacred moment takes a sturdiness of heart many of us do not yet have. It takes a kind of faith, and ultimately a kind of hope, that something good and new is trying to emerge through us—that something good and new will emerge through us, if we let it.

If the only thing I can do today is sit quietly and hold the pain of the sacred moment we collectively face, that might be a good start. I sit in the discomfort of what we have become—and dedicate myself to becoming what we can be.  I pray for sturdiness of heart.

30 Hydrogen Bombs

CloudCult-44There is good news all around us. Let’s focus on some of it.

Craig Minowa is a singer/songwriter whose poetic lyrics, heartbreaking melodies, and raspy voice combine to deliver good news of the human heart. In an interview with On Being’s Krista Tippett, Minowa says his latest album is called The Seeker because “that’s what we’re here to do. I don’t know what we’ll find, but it’s really not about an individual. It’s sort of a story for humanity as a whole. And I feel like that we’re on that crust, that era, as a people, that we have the potential to wake up to a new age. We have the responsibility to wake up to a new age. There isn’t any room for pessimism anymore. Time is limited. And so yeah, it’s all on the table with this one, as far as lyrics go, of trying to wake myself and anybody around me up to the fact of ‘Hey, let’s go be good people and do a good job.’”

I have been listening to his music all weekend. Blending personal pain, theology, biology, and evolution of the earth, Minowa’s songs are so “good,” so sincere, so filled with hope and commitment to being fully human. I urge you to listen to this interview and the beautiful segments of his music it contains. You may not like his style, but surely you will be moved by his beautiful seeking for truth.

And finally, there is just so much raw hope in his music and in what he says in this interview. I am using the Greek word eudaimonia a lot these days in my workshops. It means living in a state in which you are fulfilling your highest potential. And so much of my teaching is about just that—finding strategies, pathways, and habits of mind that will lead to eudaimonia.

And while Minowa doesn’t use the word eudaimonia, that’s exactly what he’s talking about at the end of the interview when he says,

“But now we’re here, and we are incredibly advanced organisms who are not grasping our potential. And we have to be courageous about laying down our insecurities and our fears, in order to get to the point that we can really embrace that energy in us.

There was a fact that I read — all of physical matter, as we know, is made of energy, and all physical matter can be converted back into energy, and it takes a tremendous amount of energy to make the smallest particle of matter. And so in the average human body, there’s 7×10 to the 18th power joules of energy, and that translates into 30 hydrogen bombs. Just this physical body right here, the energy in it, is equivalent to 30 hydrogen bombs. And that’s my only guarantee. I don’t know about tomorrow, but I have right now, and I’ve got this power. What am I going to do with it?”

Good question for all of us, right?

What are you going to do with all that energy you have pent up inside you? What will you create? Who will you touch? What can you offer? Don’t say you don’t know how. You’ve got 30 hydrogen bombs worth of energy to help you do what only you can do.

Step into your eudaimonia.

Composing a Life

2017-Mary-Catherine-Bateson-lead-nocolormanageAuthor, linguist, and anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson is interviewed this week by Krista Tippett on the OnBeing podcast. Bateson’s book Composing a Life profoundly influenced me and my teaching of memoir writing in the 1990’s. Now, retired from teaching at George Mason University, she continues to inspire readers with what she calls a life of “active wisdom.”

This is such a lovely interview, giving us insight into her amazing upbringing as the daughter of anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, and her consistent dedication to the life of the mind, and especially to considering what it means to “compose” a life. She sees life as an “improvisatory art.” But still, she suggests, a life lived well is a deliberate act, one that does not operate in default mode, but rather searches for the conditions of living and the habits of mind that allow one to flourish.

She says, “In a stable society, composing a life is somewhat like throwing a pot or building a house in a traditional form: the materials are known, the hands move along familiar tasks, the fit of the completed whole in common life is understood.”

And a bit later in the interview she says, “I like to think of men and women as artists of their own lives, working with what comes to hand through accident or talent to compose and recompose a pattern in time that expresses who they are and what they believe in, making meaning even as they are studying and working and raising children, creating and recreating themselves.”

Creating and recreating themselves. This was a thrilling thing to hear early on a Monday morning in August—an idea I have grappled with for many years; an idea that is the raison d’être of LifeArt Studio. We are all artists of our own lives. How then can we create and recreate our best selves, moment by moment? Each day we get the opportunity to live the hours well, to choose experiences wisely, to offer beneficence where we can—to pursue the good, the true, and the beautiful as we compose our own artful living.

And this week, as I experienced a milestone birthday, I am particularly inspired by Bateson’s notion of “active wisdom,” a term that honors the experience, knowledge, and legacy of people moving into what she very graciously calls “later adulthood.” Bateson, true to the legacy of her own iconic parents, urges us to think of later adulthood as a time of “harvesting a life of learning and thinking and observing.”

And so, to my fellow baby-boomers, I send out best wishes for your own unique forms of composing and harvesting your life. May you go into your “later adulthood” with wisdom, insight, contentment, and gratitude for the amazing life you continue to create.

As someone famous once said, “Rock on!”