Sunday, March 8, 2020

“Wisdom that Cries, Laughs, and Bows before Children” preached by Reverend Tom Capo on 3/8/2020

“Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson. Portia Nelson was an American popular singer, songwriter, actress, and author.
Chapter I
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.
Chapter II
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
Chapter III
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
Chapter IV
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
Chapter V
I walk down another street.

Spiritual teacher, author, and psychologist Ram Dass wrote about the process of spiritual growth, enlightenment, and gaining wisdom. He said: “I realized that people arrive at spiritual understanding through a much wider spectrum of experience than I ever anticipated.  Part of the process of awakening is recognizing that the realities we thought were absolute are only relative.  All you have to do is shift from one reality to another once, and your attachment to what you thought was real [or important] starts to collapse.  Once the seed of awakening sprouts in you, there’s no choice—there’s [really] no turning back.  Actually, we all know that reality is relative, we have known it since childhood: ‘row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.  Merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.’  Life is a dream.”
            When Aaron, my eldest son, was born, I learned very powerfully, what Ram is talking about.  My reality shifted and my attachment to what I thought was real and important started to collapse, replaced with a seed of awakening—and after that there was no turning back--how I saw myself and how I chose to act in the world changed.  A new inner filter, not an obstruction, but a new way of considering the world and my place in it snapped into place.  I began to see myself through the eyes of my son.  What I thought, who I was and wanted to be, how my behavior would impact him and his life.  I had always tried to be aware of how my behavior impacts others, but when my son was born, the practice took on more meaning, more depth. 
            Questions arose within my unsolicited, like “How would my son be affected if I used my aggression or male power to get what I want?”  How would my son be affected if I didn’t treat my wife with respect and worth?”  “How would my son be affected by my not doing the chores that needed to be done around the house?”  “How would my son be affected by my absence from his life or my not being engaged with him in his activities?”
            I recalled asking some of these same questions of myself when Martha and I were married.  This does not mean I am perfect in considering all my actions through this inner filter of how my personal choices affect others. I think I had already developed some bad habits while living with Martha in a commune before we were married.  I mean except for her we were all guys and we were not as good as we could be in cleaning up the kitchen.  Usually her tolerance for kitchen messes was much lower than ours, and we kind of all knew that if we waited long enough, she’d lose her patience and just get it done.  And there was also a noisy roach problem in the kitchen which didn’t help much either.  
It seems to me that these powerful life changes offered me the opportunity to look deeper within and to consider my actions through the filter of new insight. Births, Marriages, Deaths, moves, especially to different parts of the country or away from family, friends or support systems offer us new ways of looking at our lives.  When a major life change happens we often ask ourselves questions about how to live our lives, or how we might have to live our lives differently.
Many times these life changes, these opportunities, bring powerful emotional reactions—grief in particular.  I remember thinking about what I would not be able to do after I got married and after I had children.  My life would become more restricted; my choices would be limited. What if I wanted to just get in my car by myself on a beautiful weekend and drive to see the largest ball of string in the world; I couldn’t go without considering how it would impact my wife or my son.  I just could not do whatever I wanted after making such a commitment. 
        This is not to say that I am sad about the commitments I made.  I have been enriched by them.   Almost every year that Martha and I has been married our relationship has become more wonderful and grown deeper than the year before.  Well except for the two years from hell, otherwise known as Seminary, we hit some real roadblocks on how to be in a relationship, nurture our relationship, and raise two children.  As Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”  Learning from life changes can take time and effort and well new insight in order to move forward and go deeper within oneself and between oneself and others. 
I make it sound like life changes are like stepping into a hole in the street over and over again. I resonated with Nelson’s “Autobiography in Five Chapters” not because she stepped in the hole again and again, although goodness knows I’ve don’t plenty of that, but because she kept moving, kept learning, and gaining new insight, even if it was seemingly incremental insight, not all insights arrive as “eureka” moments.  Sometimes insights sneak up on you after repeating the same mistake in different ways over and over and over again.  And my friends, life will offer you opportunities to repeat your mistakes over and over again until insight happens.
Take parenting for instance.  I remember how my sons when they were around 3 and 4 would not obey me when I tried to correct them.  This came to a head when we were grocery shopping and they refused to stay by my side in the store. I felt I had no control over their behavior. Now, they weren’t damaging anything in the store or bothering anyone in the store, other than me.  People on the outside of our family dynamic probably saw two moderately well-behaved children without a parent by their side. This is so embarrassing to tell you.  I was the one who looked out of control.  I tried telling them what to do, yelling at them, threatening them with no deserts or early bedtime, and probably a hundred other bad parenting choices to get them to obey me.  It wasn’t until I ignored them, did my grocery shopping, and prepared to leave that they suddenly began to follow my directives.  After this situation, we had a long talk about their behavior and mine in that situation.  And you know what, they showed empathy and understanding and so did I.  After that situation, we had fewer, not none, situations where I felt their behavior was out of my control.  We all became a little wiser after that experience. 
        Zen Buddhist Haemin Sunim (in “The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down”) wrote: “If I had to summarize the entirety of an enlightened person’s life in a few words, it would be complete acceptance of what is.  As we accept what is, our minds are relaxed and composed while the world changes rapidly around us.”  This is how I would summarize how I finally managed to negotiate, or get through, so many of life’s many delightfully enriching opportunities for growth, insight, and wisdom, acceptance of what is.  Acceptance is really a spiritual discipline. 
When my father was in hospice, during the final days before his death, my family and I were all grieving, each in our own way.  It was hard facing the fact that he was going to die.  I mean we really knew it would happen eventually.  I had flown down to be by his side because the doctors had told us his death would be soon and I wanted to be there.  Now, my father had been near death a few times and recovered, but this time was different.  He had stopped eating or drinking anything days before and was now unconscious lying in a bed in a rehabilitation center when I arrived.  One of us, my mother, my brothers, our wives, someone was always by his side.  Sometimes we read or watched TV.  Some of us talked to him. While there are a number of studies that have reported that after regaining consciousness some patients said they heard and understood various conversations that took place while they were unconscious.  These studies have conflicting results, but I have come to believe people who are unconscious can hear us or perhaps feel our presence when we talk to them.  So we, each member of my family, took turns talking to my father.  This went on for about a week with no change in his condition.  While my grief was acute, I also realized my brothers were having difficulty letting him go, and I wondered if my father was experiencing that and trying to hold on.  Whether that was quantifiable or not, it is what was on my heart.  I also was beginning to feel pressure, mostly from myself, to get back to the church I was serving in Iowa.  I called the airline and made a reservation to return.  Before I left, I spent some time alone with my father.  I told him I loved him and that the family would be okay when he left.  I said my goodbye to him and told him I was leaving to go back to Iowa.  I squeezed his hand, kissed him on the forehead and left.  Martha and I headed to the airport.  When we were checking our bags in, we received a call.  My father just died.  I have often wondered if my acceptance of his death and telling him we would be okay and saying goodbye had had any impact on his letting go.  It is a piece of wisdom, true for me, that I hold in my heart and have passed on to others who are in the same situation.  It is a piece of pastoral care and wisdom that calls forth tears in me, whomever I offer it to, whenever I offer it.
Insight or inner intelligence, born of a divine spark and/or from experience, understanding, and acceptance, needs an open heart and perhaps access to the soul itself.  Wisdom is the outward manifestation of an inward insight.  Insight is a filter that I pass my thoughts through before acting, encompassing my mind, heart, and my soul.  I can’t say I always use this filter because life is busy and complicated and my attention is often fractured across way too many things that are going on, but I do make every effect to do so consciously and intentionally.
Gaining insight and acting with wisdom sets us upon a pathless path,where the journey leads us to the deepest truth within us.  Each experience, each insight shreds a layer of our mind or ego like taking layers off an onion until we come closer and closer to our essence (from Ram Dass), or some of us might say closer and closer to that divine spark within us all.  As we get closer, we are more likely to practice reflecting on our decisions and actions through this essence or divine spark.
            What are the filters that you pass your thoughts through before you act?  Are they grounded in experience, understanding, acceptance, your essence, or a divine spark?  What about big decisions, particularly after large life changes or difficult life experiences?  How conscious or intentional is that process of using your inner vision?  Do you rely on your inner essence or connection to a divine spark as a component of understanding life, the universe, and everything?  Is your wisdom something you could share with others here? Would you?  Does your wisdom bring tears, laughter?  Does it bow before children? 

No comments:

Post a Comment