Saturday, January 23, 2010

Who Am I?

There is no absolute point of view from which real and ideal can be finally separated and labeled. - T.S.Eliot

I've never been fond of labeling when it comes to human beings - for many reasons. It's limiting, for one. It can be condemning, for another. But, what about when someone attempts to label you with something positive?
Most of us would like to accept the positive labels. It is in those situations that we feel our gracious actions are being noticed and acknowledged. We might even feel rewarded by it. If we have lately been especially aware of our shadow side, it might give us hope that we are just being hard on ourselves and that people don't see the shadow which we know is there. If people were used to seeing the shadow, it might mean that a change has been noticed and forgiveness is at hand. Whatever the case, positive labels are rarely rejected.

I was recently offered a heartwarming label, one that would definitely be how I would like to be seen. The friend who offered it took it farther and asked if I saw myself as he described. The question kind of took me aback. I couldn't bring myself to say yes. All the therapy books and speakers who have addressed self-esteem were screaming in my head! I simply replied, "Only God can say. I do my best and hope it is good."

As far as limitations go, if I were to be limited by a label, it would be a happy circumstance to be packaged up in [COMPASSIONATE] or [LOVING] or one of many other spiritual identities.

Alas, but it can only be my actions which are labeled, not me. I believe we are everything, all the "bad" and all the "good." It's what we choose to show the world that counts; it's what we choose to bring out into the open that inspires how we are thought of and how we think about ourselves. It's what we choose to develop that makes a difference in the world.


I wrote earlier about the experience I had with past life regression. It caused me to want to know more about the concept of reincarnation. I read a good deal about it and I used what I read to come to my own conclusion. What I came to understand from that study, and the perspective that I work from in my life now, is that the task I am faced with here in the material world is to get myself closer to God than I was the last time I was between incarnations - the goal being to get close enough that I don't have to be born here again. My actions while I am here, those characteristics which inspire labels, are what make a difference in how much progress I make.

I know there is a lot of talk and writing about how we are God, and God is Love, and we are Love. I believe that, too. The whole thing, the whole system, is about helping us to discover that truth and know it innately.

I had a French teacher in college back in the late 1970's who was the first person I heard use the term, "metaphysical." Oh, I adored him and every word that came out of his mouth was magic, so I began to seek clarity on everything he mentioned. He spoke of "knowing" in a way that caused me to tax my infantile teenage brain. He said, "Ancient man knew things because he just knew them. He knew the cycle and pattern of the stars because it was a part of his awareness. Unlike us. We know most things because we are told."

Perhaps God wants us to "just know." That's why we have to come here and have those experiences which will help us to truly know what God is, what Love is.


I think T.S. Eliot is right in saying there is "no point of view" that can separate real from ideal - at least no human or philosophical point of view. We can only work from our ideals and hold fast to them and trust that they are serving us well.

And if, in a moment of being human, we apply a label to someone or ourselves, let it be an ideal label - even if the label doesn't come from true "knowing." People seem to attempt to live up to those labels deliberately or haphazardly applied to them.

Labels for people, in my humble opinion, should always have a potential response of, "Thank You," even if only God can really know the truth.

Thank you, JX.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Magic of Empathy

Love someone who doesn't deserve it. – Unknown

When I saw that quote I wondered, how can we judge if someone doesn't deserve to be loved? Wouldn't that be kind of cruel - to make the decision that another human being doesn't deserve love? Seems to me like that decision would be the foundation for war and violence and all sorts of nasty things.
But, still, it made me think about something that happened many years ago.

There was a period of time in my life when I was a homemaker. I had a small child and I was fortunate enough to be able to choose to stay home with her. That bit of good fortune didn't come with a lavish lifestyle. My husband had a decent job that paid the bills, but we lived paycheck to paycheck. I was thrifty and skilled at making things, however, which helped us to live better than we might have otherwise. It especially helped at Christmas, because I made most of our gifts.

One year, it was 1989 to be precise, my teenage niece wanted a hard to come by tapestry vest for Christmas and I decided to make her one. I knew of a warehouse type store in a remote part of the Pocono Mountains that sold upholstery material, ends and pieces from factories, and I managed to find just what I needed. Everything else, the pattern, the silk, the buttons and buckle, I found in town. I was already working against the calendar because I had been so busy making presents and cards for other people. I wasn't sure I would have the vest made in time to mail it to Florida for Christmas. It was a complicated piece of clothing and would take great skill.

After a few nights of working on it when my daughter was in bed, I started to run into trouble. Things wouldn't line up right. I knew I could only sew and pick out the stitches so many times before the fabric was ruined. I was devastated because I wanted so badly to give this gift to my niece and make her happy. I was up late trying to solve the mystery of how to get the lining and vest to match when breaking news came over the television.

The United States had sent troops to Panama to find and apprehend Manuel Noriega, a man despised and feared for his ruthless dealings and total disregard for life. There was a lot of controversy over the invasion and somehow Noriega had escaped capture. They suspected he might be hiding in an embassy of the Catholic Church. I was listening to all this on CNN, working on the vest, thinking about all the terrible things I had heard about this man, and suddenly I felt pity for him. I was kind of shocked at myself, really. This was a person whom, by all popular standards, deserved no pity from anyone. I guess it was the idea of someone hiding in a religious facility that got me. I had read about other people who had asked for refuge in a church, but mostly it seemed like something for stories.

The vest continued to frustrate me as I worked it and reworked it. All the while I listened to the reporters and anchormen talking about the rumor, trying to confirm it without success. I thought about that man hiding, full of fear, finally humbled, and something came over me. I got down on my knees and I prayed for him. I prayed for God to have mercy on him and help him to have a change of heart so no one else would be hurt. Then I went back to my sewing project.

From the moment I picked up the vest and started back to work, things began to change. It was like some enchantment had been woven over my hands and everything began to come together perfectly. It was quick work after that. If it had been that easy from the start, I might have opted to make one for myself. But, I knew it wasn't my skill that made it come together. I knew it was that tiny, minuscule act of love for another human being, just because he was a human being and for no other reason, that the vest project had in the end become an easy task. The magic of that love and empathy had come back to me instantly.

I think I remember that my niece didn't get her vest until after Christmas. I'm told she loved it anyway and wore it with pride. I know it stayed in her closet many years, even after it was out of style and too small.

Funny how that quote by an unknown person could make me remember that odd experience. But, I do understand how some people might be thought undeserving of love or even sympathy. I think, however, since the quote's author is unknown, I shall take the liberty of adding to it.

Love someone who by opinion doesn't deserve it and know that your love is not wasted.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Finding Reason

Life is a puzzle.
I say that at the risk of sounding cliché. I don't mean to say it's a puzzlement, or that it is puzzling, even though those are probably true enough statements to make. I mean that life is truly a puzzle - to work on, to decipher, to advance in progress. The goal is not even somewhere at an end. The object is just to keep advancing, always moving, always seeing the clues and following them. I suppose one could say that the goal is enlightenment, but that would imply that no advancement would be required at some point. I know for myself, if I were to wake up one morning and say, "I am enlightened and I have reached my goal," something crazy would happen just to make sure.

So, how do you figure it out?
I'm not willing to attempt to claim myself as an expert on that matter. Oh, no. I would even venture to say that figuring it out is as individual as your left thumbprint, as the iris in your right eye, as your personality. The only thing I can really say is that you must attempt, as best you can, to be aware. Whatever it takes to help you become aware will help you figure out your puzzle.

For me, I am always looking for the reasons for things. Reasons, in my life have sometimes been layered, complex, and interdependent. Sometimes, it has seemed as though I made a wrong turn in life, but while trekking down that wrong path there is an opportunity to do something that helps somebody and/or helps me to get back on the right path. Sometimes I know that I have been on the right path, because of how life once flowed, and it has suddenly gone on too long, become rocky, and I know there is a turn someplace ahead but I don't know when or where or how. It can run me crazy if I think about it too much!

That's where being unattached and living without expectation comes in. If I was working my way through a maze, I couldn't say, "Up ahead there will be a right turn and it will take me to the edge." Unless, of course I was psychic or had been there before. I can say, however, that I wish to go to the edge and then work my way through until eventually I get there. And, even then, there could be more surprises.

That's all very abstract. How about an example?
I took a job in a grocery store bakery in a rural section of the northeastern U.S. during a transition period in my life. It was an odd place to be working, being a young southern girl with a bachelor's degree in English. I saw the ad taped to the front door of the grocery right when I was asking what on earth I would do. I needed money, I knew it was temporary, and it was very convenient. When the time that I spent working there seemed to go on longer than I thought it should, I started to ask, "Why am I still here?" I knew I was meant to get the job at first, but I assumed it wouldn't go on so long, that the other objectives I had set for myself would be coming into view very soon. It was not the easiest thing to do, living day to day without expectation, with so much impatience churning around inside of me. I won't pretend I was good at it.
I had developed a habit, however, of awakening every day asking, "What extraordinary things will happen today?" Because of the volatile nature of my life at that time, I had taken to looking at it as though I were reading a novel, and each day was another page turner. It was that attitude that kept me going, kept me looking forward without despair.
Within the workplace environment there were a few problems, most of which were caused by one employee who sought power over others. I became embroiled, unwillingly, within the drama and intrigue caused by this person because I could not bear to see people being hurt. There was an elderly lady working there, a woman of incredible spiritual fortitude, who chose to work there to pay for the debt she had incurred bailing irresponsible family members out of trouble. She was a military widow, and should have been well-to-do were it not for those who drained her resources. I began to protect her, and others, from the wrath of the power seeking person. In return, I incurred the wrath as well. I kept asking, "Why am I here? Why? Why? Why?" Not to be pitiful or anything. I just knew, because of past experiences in my life, that when things seemingly dragged on for me, that there was a reason.
In the end, the power seeking person left for a different job. The goals they had for their personal power in that situation were abandoned. Order was restored. I knew, without a doubt, that my involvement had helped to progress things to where they were meant to be for the other people involved.
There were still other hurdles outside of work, some of them huge, during that transition period. When I finally moved on there were several situations that had been altered for people who seemingly needed my help. It was almost like the universe was saying, "If you want out of this fine mess you've gotten yourself into with that silly ego of yours, you'll have to do some good deeds. And don't be thinking you get to choose what they are, either!"

I guess until the day that my body becomes a dried up chrysalis, as Elizabeth Kubler Ross might describe it, and my spirit emerges like a butterfly in another form not of this material world, I will be solving this unsolvable puzzle that is my life. I'll just keep asking, "What next?" and the answer will come sooner or later. A fork in the path will appear and I'll try to choose the right one, try to feel which way the wind is pushing me to go, and hopefully do some good along the way.
It's that doing of something good that makes it all worthwhile.