Conversations in my Head

What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort . . . than being able from time to time to stop that chatter …

Telling Secrets – Frederick Buechner

I didn’t have to read this a few mornings ago to know it is true.  Since I am living with many “what if” kind of things — maybe that is always true– the conversations seem more pervasive.  Most of the time they are not about the worst thing or even the best things, the conversations are more about if she says, I’ll say  or maybe …

What is telling about the conversations for me is that they are all about me; what I will say, how I will handle …, how I will answer…, I have or even I will.  I am the one in charge even though I don’t want to think that is true.

What would it be like to pay attention to what I am doing in the moment that includes the presence of God within me and surrounding me?

What would it be like to let things be?

Just Keep Walking

I looked north…a beacon to me.  I looked south, to where I’d been… and considered my options.  There was only one, I knew.  There was always only one.

To keep walking.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed

Usually I don’t go see movies after I read the book.  It is always a disappointment.  But this time, I had no intention of reading the book. Well, at first.

I have always been interested in Appalachia.  The Appalachian Trail represents unrealistic imagining; the beauty and rigor, the will to keep going, leaving your “real life” behind with a clear vision of the trail before you. I hadn’t ever heard of the PCT- a trail from Mexico to Canada through the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountain ranges.

Wild, the movie, is adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of her walk.  Reece Witherspoon played Cheryl and of course the movie sensationalized a few events, but the steadiness of transformation permeated the pages.

I decided to check out an electronic copy of the book from my local library only to find I was 9th on the “hold” list.  With no sense of urgency, I’ve patiently waited.

In the meantime, another movie, A Walk in the Woods… the same tactic, different trail.  Mitch and I went to see the movie with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.  The movie was entertaining and so I decided to read the book about the men’s walk on the Appalachian trail.  While this movie, in my humble opinion, was a departure from the book, the movie personas stayed with me while I read.  “I just walked…I was a walker again…” iterated that reassuring theme.  Just keep walking.

Both books, (I’ve read 91% of Wild), have been great evening companions.  Just keep walking.  I am at a sort of crossroads in my life again.  Just keep walking.  I’ve been asking questions with no answers. Don’t be afraid. Just keep walking.  Mmmm… Just keep walking?

Reimagining the Questions

What if I changed the questions?  Changed even a word or two?

In the course I teach, young people wrote six word memoirs inspired by Hemingway’s six word story:  “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”  An insightful young man’s work had at least one word bracketed in each of his attempts.  When I asked why the parentheses he replied, “Because I could change that word and it would have a different meaning.”

So, I’ve been pondering some big questions and decided to try this tactic myself.  Instead of my earlier question, What do I need to let go of, what if the question was What do I need to hold lightly?

For me right now that might mean I don’t have to let go of applying or considering another job in academia but I need to hold that possibility more loosely. For most of my life my professional job has defined me. That is a notion that I must let go of; so how does “holding my professional self” more loosely make that more possible?

Letting go of just that part– the part that I am defined by a job– that would be holding my profession more lightly.  Living that for me would mean not feeling such an urgency about getting things done or getting things right. It means living in a more casual relationship with accomplishment; to surrender the product in the service of the joy of engagement in work that evokes a sense of community and greater good.

When I hold things more loosely there is room for other people, ideas, possibilities, and newness to seep in.  I like the idea of seeping in.  I imagine the new that mingles in with what is already there to slowly transform into something else.

Seeping happens naturally, sort of by gravity, you know how a liquid like that juice from the over ripe tomato on the kitchen counter trickles toward the milk I spilled when filling my cereal bowl.   The  molecules of one substance have some kind of wild attraction for another substance and they don’t stay their separate selves in the process.

So I’m going to hold on for a bit longer, but very loosely.  And, pay attention to what  seeps in.

Welcome

Rearranging the future, really cleaning things out, getting rid of “stuff” I no longer need; these are acts of renewal.  Not just physical acts, this kind of work requires  courageous visioning and many ideations of letting go.  

Last summer I came upon this poem by Sufi mystic Rumi.

The Guest House  

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning, a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

The part that most stands out to me today is the idea that I do entertain visitors and often I am more troubled than welcoming.  What would it look like to be grateful for whoever comes?

I’ve had plenty of times in my life when I am grateful…in hindsight.

When I first learned that the elementary school where I was teaching was being restructured, I thought this was a great opportunity for me to do something new.  I eagerly applied for the “design team” that would work together to create a new way of doing school.  I mean a design team?  That name in itself was pretty revolutionary in the world of public school, especially in our neighborhood.

Without going into all the painful details– I didn’t get the job.  Actually there were 5 positions and so my failure was quintupled.  And it felt like it was tenfold. Our school staff, students and the neighborhood community center were excluded from the planning, excitement, and promise of the “new” school.  I was very thankful then.

I’m feeling that my furniture is being metaphorically rearranged again or even emptied out. And it is never easy.  And the results are always life-giving.  And there is a new look.  I just can’t see that far ahead, yet.

Living the questions

Living the questions… the title of a video course I attended this week and also a sort of epiphany for me.  That is what Henri Nouwen’s words mean for me, now.  Living into a new way of thinking means living the questions that I wrestle with rather than just posing them.

Pondering “what do I need to let go of?” like I did last week has another side in the living of it.

The air where I live is crisper, cooler, and encouraging these days. There is just a hint in the air that the leaves are about to take on new color.  On closer examination, however, I notice other signs.  Squirrels with puffy cheeks carry fall’s bounty as they dash across the streets.  Green husks camouflage rich walnuts I step on walking through my back yard.  Leggy flowers and herbs are “going to seed” as the season for harvesting wanes.

Seeds?  That was the ah-ha moment.

In a previous post I alluded to Carrie Newcomer’s song, Leaves Don’t Drop They Just Let Go (click on this link and enjoy).  The refrain of her song:

‘Cause leaves don’t drop they just let go
And make a space for seeds to grow
And every season brings a change
A tree is what a seed contains
To die and live is life’s refrain

The other question… the one that is lived along with letting go.  What new thing is being redeemed inside of me?  What new thing will be able to grow now?

Letting go, another round

What do I need to let go of at this point in my life?

Can I let go of the things that make me feel useful and significant?

The second question is one I probably copied eight years ago, when the elementary school where I had invested a great deal of myself was closing.  That job teaching second and third graders; the incredible young people, families, neighborhood and colleagues with whom I shared community did make me feel useful and significant despite the institutional and political view of us as less than capable.

Now, with much greater educational accomplishments, I’m wondering the same thing.

One thing I know.  I could let go of the thing that makes be feel insignificant and inadequate; comparing myself to others, like I did yesterday, reliving what I intended to do and what I haven’t accomplished. However, that wasn’t the question.

Henri Nouwen and Parker Palmer are two people I perceive as having struggled with these questions and maybe answered them with a life.  In the forward to Palmer’s first book, The Promise of Paradox, Henri Nouwen wrote:

Parker has shown me how true it is that you don’t think your way into a new kind of living but live your way into a new kind of thinking.

I haven’t read this Parker Palmer book, but I have read many of his others and know much of his story of struggle.  I have read Nouwen’s The Road to Daybreak that chronicled his journey from the world of academie to his life in the Daybreak community for children and adults with physical and mental challenges.  These men lived the paradox of letting go of what seems to be of value in the world to find a new self.

I know how they answered the question with courage and uncertainty.  The thing is– I know the end of their story.

Can I let go of the things that make me feel useful and significant?

 The answer involves living with a new kind of attention.

Leaves don’t drop, they let go

Letting Go.   I read this piece by Frederick Buechner yesterday.  While it seems extravagant to just quote someone else, I need Buechner’s wisdom to tell my own story.

I quickly read this I might add; I needed to get on with my work for the day.  I did, however, feel that the words were serendipitous or synchronicity or some kind of miraculous coincidence that these were the words I just needed to ponder for the day.

WE FIND BY LOSING. We hold fast by letting go. We become something new by ceasing to be something old. This seems to be close to the heart of that mystery. I know no more now than I ever did about the far side of death as the last letting-go of all, but I begin to know that I do not need to know and that I do not need to be afraid of not knowing. God knows. That is all that matters. Out of Nothing he creates Something. Out of the End he creates the Beginning. Out of selfness we grow, by his grace, toward selflessness, and out of that final selflessness, which is the loss of self altogether, “eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man” what new marvels he will bring to pass next. All’s lost. All’s found. And if such words sound childish, so be it. Out of each old self that dies some precious essence is preserved for the new self that is born; and with in the child-self that is part of us all, there is perhaps nothing more precious than the fathomless capacity to trust.

– Frederick Buechner, Originally published in A Room Called Remember

My thoughts for the day rested on the last few words “the fathomless capacity to trust.”  But I re-read the words today and that wasn’t truly where I needed to land.  It was this part: I do not need to know and that I do not need to be afraid of not knowing.

Part of my own letting go means letting go of an “expected” unfolding of my life now. Letting go of what I thought and think is possible.  Letting go of how I see myself as valuable that is usually tied to a job or professional life.  Letting go to be faithful to what I know to do each day that may not make sense or “get me” anywhere.

Another paradox– paying too much attention to one thing obscures the one thing we need… to let go.