Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Character’ Category

“To realize a person’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation… And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Melchizedek, the King of Salem, from the novel, The Alchemist

 

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”—Matthew 6:21

 

I recently finished rereading a book that has become a much loved favorite since introduced to it several years ago.

Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist is described as “a magical fable about following your dream.” A journey story—it involves adventure, danger, and romance. Traveling to exotic new lands, and finding treasure. And it’s also about knowing and living one’s destiny… Big stuff.

So with a new year upon us, I’m guessing some of you, like me, have thought about what you might like to do this year. Maybe it’s to break a bad habit. Or maybe it’s to take up a good one. But whether it’s simple changes or radical overhaul, you’ve likely given some thought to who you want to be.

I was introduced to the magic of this story in a season of my life when I was looking to find my own destiny. In November of ’02 a guy at REI in Colorado Springs learned I was about to take a year’s sabbatical backpacking around the world. He enthusiastically asked me if I’d ever read The Alchemist, then scrawled the title on a piece of paper for me to remember before we parted ways. “Huh,” I thought, as I tucked it away.

A few months later, I was enjoying a meal at my accommodation on Fraser Island, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. A Dutch woman and I were sharing something of our stories with each other: she, of how at great cost had broken out of the traditions and expectations of the world she was born into in order to find who she was, and me, with some degree of resonance, undertaking my present journey. Somewhere in the conversation, she asked me if I’d ever read The Alchemist.

“Huh. There goes that name again,” recalling the conversation in November.

Not long afterwards in June 2003, finding myself about to take off on a journey within a journey—a 12 hour long ride into Cambodia—I stepped into the Shaman Bookstore in Bangkok to pick up some decent reading for the trip, and found a copy of Coehlo’s classic tale.

It was a case of “Follow the omens”—a phrase used often in the book as its main character, Santiago, is presented with a series of circumstances that aren’t easy to write off as mere happenstance. And with each unfolding moment, as Santiago’s curiosity is piqued—sometimes with great satisfaction, and other times with fear or much annoyance—he is continually invited into a series of events and choices that offer to change his life forever.

Traditionally, alchemy was an art devoted to finding ways to transform common substances into things of great value, such as turning lead into gold. All of us can relate to wanting a treasure of some sort, whether something we work diligently for, or that which we hope to stumble upon one day. Some may seem modest, and others larger than life, even quite noble. But invariably, many if not most of these experiences seem to come down to our getting caught up in finding treasure in some object, fantasy, or experience external to ourselves.

There may not be anything necessarily wrong with some of these pursuits. But what we often don’t realize is the gold that lies within us, as the dross in our lives has a way of making the common seem nothing special. It’s worth noting that alchemists were not given to some fly-by-night scheme for quick riches; they were moreover committed to a process—for life.

Likewise, everyone has a destiny—one which doesn’t always come by way of the spectacular episode—but is more often lived into via a moment-by-moment process, as soulmaking is the work of a lifetime.

So what are your dreams for 2011? And what do they really say about who you are and who you’re called to be? Maybe some of these desires are not worthy of who you really are and need to be laid aside for now, whereas some which you or others may have written off as silly may speak most truthfully to who you are.

So as you give thought to what you may like to see in 2011, a good place to start may be to ask yourself what your true desires are, and then paying attention to the omens in your life.

Like my dad says, “No one ever said it was going to be easy.” But the next step in your path is always there when you are ready to heed your omens.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

A Brief Meditation

I will find myself here…

When I write.

 

To write is to live.

For me, to live is to write.

 

It may not always be literal construction of words.

Writing is moreover a courageous act of being—

Of entering into the world to express oneself anew.

Daring to risk disclosure.

Challenging of norms and status quo.

And the risk to be wrong now and again.

Very wrong, even foolish.

 

But it is still an act of love, one that despite words ill or good,

is profitable to writer and reader alike,

and to that ongoing reciprocal relationship.

And to the continual remaking of this Self—

Writer as Reader of Self as much as

Writer of Self—as Self shows up.

 

Becoming.

That is the call.

Others say it far better. More deeply. Truly.

But it’s the same—All things are one—

And this is my Holy Task.

Read Full Post »

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.”

– Ecclesiastes

This week, a new chapter has begun for me as I started a new job.

Now in this economy, this is certainly good news for anyone. But it’s much more than this for me.

Eight years ago this month, I walked away from the stability of a job and way of life that while good in many ways, in other ways had also become tired and stale, and badly in need of some renovation. Now for some, such talk may sound the onset of a midlife crisis. But in this case, rather than running from something, I felt I was running to something—a chance to get my life back. And the previous year had made clear to me I was to do so by leaving behind all that I knew for a season of rest and soul recovery off the grid.

So selling all my furniture, I moved out of the nice home I owned then in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and embarked on what would be a one-year traveling sabbatical around the world.

The day I left November snows were blowing, the kind that were readying the high country for the beginning of ski season in just over a week. Two days later, I awoke in my hotel room to the sounds and smells of paradise, on an island deep in the heart of the South Pacific. And so a new journey had begun.

Just like the experience of my sabbatical was for me, we all have a need for rest. But I’m talking about more than mere vacation, or taking time to relax on the weekend. No; what I’m thinking of has more to do with the idea of a season or space in our lives that is spacious and abundant. Where everything seems to fit together in such a way that deep inside you know things are as they were meant to be. Everything is as it needs to be. And you hope that it never ends.

It finds its expression in the old Hebrew word shalom. Yet, as much as we were made for something like this, and need it, it seems to be the case that it is not something that we can easily arrange for, but rather something that we are brought into now and again—as life also has a way of doling out times and seasons that seem to care not whether a sense of shalom is part of the equation.

My year brought forth shalom in ways that have changed me forever. Looking back, it’s almost hard to believe sometimes. Not just the things that I was doing and what I was experiencing during this year. But the way in which it came together, as there is story upon story of one door after another opening to make this thing happen, and much of it without trying very hard.

And then there have been the seven years since, which have largely been anything but this. Very difficult in many ways, where conversely to the time leading up to and during my sabbatical, there is a lot that did not come together as I would have hoped, even when making what I thought were the next right steps. By and large, it has been a season spent outside of shalom.

In saying this, I don’t want to say that these last few years have been without meaning or significance. Far from it. For one thing, during the sabbatical, I realized that I am an artist, and I have remained committed to living out of that ethos, even if not always so well, in the time since, putting my values into action.

And just as light and hope came to restore me during a golden season, periods of darkness in the time since have helped to refine what began in that journey. I bring two snapshots from this interim period which capture this.

From a blog entry, November 2006:

I tell myself often as I’m about to arise from my bed, when finally disrupting those few moments of waking pensiveness leading up to that choice, “Get back on your horse and ride, B.” I say this to myself in a spirit of compassion, because many days I feel that the cost to living in a way that seeks to connect my inner life to my outer life seems too much to bear. Lives lived as journeys are often cases of love in a dangerous time, or life on the run, much in the way that the fugitive David fled from the murderous Saul in the years that would eventually open to a triumphal entry into Jerusalem as king. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58, NIV).

The only thing that keeps me going some days is a defiant choice to be creative—even if in small ways—to honor my inner architecture… And when I do this, I get a temporary resuscitation of heart. “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matthew 11:12, NIV). This is no mission for pew-sitters or preaching-to-the-choir types. It is the call to be a “living sacrifice,” not according “to the pattern of this world,” but in a true “spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12: 1-2, NIV). The dangerous life of a pilgrim radical.

From a July 2009 journal entry:

I am different. Feel different. Changed. Defiant—but not some punk-ass sniveling cause. More like “furious indifference”—released unto my true strength—even if I soon slip back into some sort of amnesia. A strength that curiously enough—it seems I had to go to hell and back before I found it, knocking on death’s door, alone in a big cold city where I knew few people… But more curiously still, it is the place that God found me—and I found myself—through “the darkness that introduces a man to himself.” Alone but not lonely… And grateful.

* * *

I intentionally stepped away for a season. I followed this by a return to grad school, exiting right as this recession we’ve been weathering began. So much of what I’ve wanted to do has not been possible for more than short doses, if at all, due to the fact that like many, I have found my wings clipped. And my recession began well before this, because face it, almost everyone’s living tight when they’re in school.

So fast forward to the present. After a long, long period of undulating unemployment or underemployment, and then precious few promising opportunities coming my way, just over three weeks ago, I simultaneously had four promising job opportunities come my way, and all of them connected to core passions and long-term vision. And as I begin one of those positions this week, I’m a bit floored to see how things are beginning to come together again, not just for the needed provision of the job itself, but how I see it setting me up for success in other areas.

When God rains, He pours.

There’s just something sweet about a taste of redemption and freedom that is made all the more so in proportion to the struggle and suffering we experience on the road to get there.

Shalom, Y’all.

The Best Scene from One of the Greatest Films Ever

Read Full Post »

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” — Philo of Alexandria

It appeared I was in for a rough landing as I arrived into the new weekend last Friday morning. Not feeling so well, I almost canned my trip to the gym. But while a release of endorphins in a yoga class set me in a better frame than before arriving, it would not last.

Back home, I knew I must have some sort of stomach bug. So I found myself doing the best thing I could do: I rested. Sinking into the sanctuary of my mattress, I spent most of the day there, occasionally falling into slumber, all the while watched over by a playful, gentle spirit inhabiting the body of a calico cat named “Fiji,” and periodically getting up to take nourishment with my new diet of chicken noodle soup, toast, and Gatorade.

It was a space for grace.

Illness is the body’s call for us to surrender, and allow it to work its own recovery as we rest. I remember how the surprise of this hit me when over five years ago I suddenly found myself hit with pneumonia. While this illness was no picnic, paradoxically, lying in my hospital bed at that time, I found myself experiencing a rest and peace that I had not had in months.

And following a day of rest Friday, the next day I arose in a better place.

Logging into Facebook, I was surprised by the drop-in live chat by a newly added friend. It was someone I’d not spoken to in years, that is, until a few weeks earlier when he sent a friend request. But my last memories of this person were not so fond. Casual friends for several years, we’d enjoyed some really good moments together in the company of a larger social circle when we both lived in another city and state.

And then recently reunited a few years ago under new circumstances, it was not long afterward when in a time of need my friend invited me to speak with him about possible employment leads for which he was well-connected. We had an initial exploratory discussion which went well, and I left with a sense of renewed hope as he invited me to continue the conversation.

But it never happened. While calling and emailing multiple times, all attempts to connect went unacknowledged. I felt feelings of dismissal, like I’d been played the fool. And some measure of self contempt for having hoped. While clearly, these were deeper issues that went much further back than this experience—and served to trigger such feelings—regardless, I had no problem justifying my anger in this situation. And I invested some energy in what I might say (none of it pretty) were we to cross paths again, as my original expectations had been upended. That was then.

But flash forward more than four years. And now this. What to do? Go off?

Accept or decline friend request?

Or take it, fake it, and act like nothing had happened?

Or run, and risk stirring up an old pot anyway?

Or use those rehearsed but now tired old lines which seemed a bit out of place?

Ugh. I hate such quandaries—even more when I risk seeing something of the prison I’ve put myself in by accepting them as my only options.

Forgiveness, with no exceptions, ensures peace.

What’s that?

Accept; don’t expect.

Oh yeah. The words of a former teacher were coming back to me. And then another line:

Don’t react. Respond.

Not easy to hear, but they brought badly needed perspective. And I realized that I had a choice, when after several weeks of doing nothing, I shot out a message to my friend from long ago. Having prayed about it beforehand, I felt that it was legitimate to respond with some super brief acknowledgement of my previous anger, but only if in doing so I was ready to risk opening the door to relationship again, and not trying to make it an issue and then disappear.

And now a few days following my message, he was contacting me.

I don’t want to discount the sting of the earlier offense, nor minimize what I’d done with it in the time since. But I’m glad I listened to a different voice of wisdom the day I responded to the friend request. As it turned out, years earlier when I’d tried reconnecting, my friend’s world was crumbling around him in that season of his life, of necessity diverting his energies with issues which had nothing to do with me. And he has been in a long journey of recovery since. Of course, how could I have known this? I didn’t. Humbled, my heart began to move out of darkness into light as over the next hour I was invited into my friend’s story.

The Scriptures counsel us to “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8). How often I have failed at this. But I am grateful for the act of faith that led to my having an alternative experience bearing much fruit that I would have missed had I acted on my initial feelings. All I can say is—thank you, God.

And a day that started well ended well, too, as stories of redemption continued into the evening.

On Saturday night, I had the privilege of helping out with a fundraiser event for a most worthy organization here in Orlando called Samaritan Village—for women caught in cycles of addiction and prostitution. It was born out of one woman, Rhonda Stapleton’s, vision to offer a safe transitional space for women coming out of jail or off the streets, as in her work she found they often had nowhere else to go except back to cycles of violence, death, and shame they’d been living in. She wanted to offer a refuge that would help them to unlearn old patterns, which takes time. And moreover, not just to help leave behind an old life, but to offer a chance at learning a new one.

The catering was top-notch. But the best feasting took place as some of the women of Samaritan’s Village shared stories of changed lives, bringing the face of a vision and organization to life. At close, you could feel an energy in the room palpably greater than before.

It was another space for grace.


Read Full Post »

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

– Hebrews 11:1

The other night I received a call from an old friend whom I’d not talked with in a couple of years. Over the course of the next hour, we played cross country catch up on the intervening period since our paths last crossed.

Then Josh, my friend, asked me a question that caught me off guard: “Are you still doing anything with film?”

Two summers ago, not long before the last time we’d spoken, I’d flown out to Los Angeles to study for a few weeks under a modestly successful filmmaker there who was offering takers the chance to make their own short films while soaking up an industry insider’s perspective, and for dirt cheap. People from all walks of life showed up: some already working in the industry; others wanting to break in; some already enrolled in good film schools; and even one socially active senior who wanted to raise awareness on a neglected population living within his community by making a documentary.

The philosophy of our instructor: “Just do it.” Start making film, as nowadays you shouldn’t have to go to an expensive film school in order to enter the industry and do good work.

A few years earlier, I couldn’t have imagined such a wild lark. And even when going, the idea of the LA Dream Factory was not all that appealing to me. On paper, as a recent graduate from a counseling program, it almost didn’t make sense. Yet having time in my schedule as I was unemployed, and offered an invitation that spoke to something deep inside, I headed to LA.

But to my friend’s question—with the brief exception of beginning a screenplay turned novel last year—I answered with a quiet “No.” That that part of my life is on the shelf for now.

On one hand, it wasn’t easy to hear Josh’s words because they elicited an ache. An ache underscored by feeling called to live a certain way over the last eight-plus years which for the most part has been hard and had relatively few outward signs of success, where there have been many brick walls, disappointments, distractions, and temptations while seeking to honor this sense of call.

But this isn’t a story about film; it’s a story about desire. And being invited into my story by a friend who knows me—who sees me, and gets me—was a great kindness. Though recognizing my difficulty, Josh was glad that I have not deadened myself to desire. That I still live with it.

As I put it to him, I’m at a place in my life where there are certain things that I have no other possible way to reckon them now but by faith. They just seem too impossible, and out of reach. Foolish.

To live by faith is to live with the ache of desire. It is the calling to live as an artist—seeing into being those things which do not yet exist, carried by what William Blake called a “firm persuasion.”

When drawn into territory where there are no clear road maps, can you be a fool? Will you be a fool?

I’ve often been tempted to be too practical for my own good, and at some of the worst possible times. But due to the apparent foolishness I’ve succumbed to in recent years, why begin now?

Read Full Post »

I think sometimes of how way back in my story I used to perceive myself and the world around me. I probably could have used the word “innocent.” There may be a degree to which it was true.  But in hindsight, as well as how I look at my now, much of what I formerly thought would be better described with the word “naiveté.”

Way back in the Story of our Beginnings, we were offered perfect life and freedom—and had it—basically, everything that we dream about now. But given this opportunity, we ultimately chose a way of control via knowledge and its presumed power over fear, uncertainty, and the future; rather than living in the now—with everything we needed to do so.

This return to innocence—either by longing for it or some brief taste of it—is the theme of countless songs and poems. I’m not against it, per se; and in the right context, would encourage it. Where I take issue is more with the ways in which we go about it. Which often means an attempt to recover things as though they were before the loss of innocence, as though the loss never happened.

No one is innocent anymore. You can order your life to live with a greater sense of freedom, and with the eyes of a child, but it is not first innocence. To attempt it, as though the wounds and licks you take in this life mean nothing, as thought those hard-won etches in your face that tell a story mean nothing—is denial, and a continuation of naiveté. And the casualties will not only be your true self, but those nearest to you, too.

In Life 2.0, we are called to a second innocence of sorts. But it is an innocence that comes via open eyes. Second Innocence is not First Innocence. And it’s not really innocence, strictly speaking.

Second Innocence is purity. Not purity so much in an innate sense like a non-self-conscious child, nor a conscious moral asceticism, either.

Rather, it’s a choice—a choice to go back into our lives, knowing what the options are, and well acquainted with darkness—yet moving in a general direction that chooses the better way. It is living in paradox. Innocence with our eyes open. Using knowledge once more—not to control—but to surrender and live.

Read Full Post »

Years ago when I worked out, I might go at it for two-plus hours—and put in zippo cardio exercise—all in the vain hopes of becoming more like one of my then idols, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Frank Zane, from bodybuilding’s Golden Age.

But not today. I like to do my business quickly and leave. There’s too much more important stuff in my life now to attend to. But if I never go, I start feeling bad, too. So this is my happy compromise.

So a few weeks ago when working out, I headed for the seated leg press sled. It’s a sort of hybrid device between free weight squats and a leg press machine. Thankfully, my club has two of these, so there’s less likelihood of having to wait for someone to finish. But it only went so far in this case, as I now explain.

I noticed there weren’t the usual number of 45 lb plates handy to load onto it. But next to my device, I noticed another leg contraption that had a ridiculous number of these plates stacked on each arm. I counted 28 in all—14 on each arm. 1260 lbs. Now usually, if I’ve seen someone using anywhere near approaching this amount (and this is the largest by far), they tend to be gargantuan dudes to fit the part with a couple of spotters to help them through potential sticking points on their reps.

There had been nobody close to neighboring equipment in several minutes, and I was quickly running out of plates to stack on mine. Then moseys up a tall older gentlemen of lean, lanky build—hardly whom I would have expected to be using this.

Already hacked with this guy for his violation of gym etiquette—leaving a machine unattended for several minutes while using up most of the available plates nearby—I fumed at him with suspicion over any attempt to actually try to press all those plates. When he went to move them, he only pushed all that weight maybe 3-4 inches, not even a quarter of the range of motion (Those of you who work out know the difference that form and range of motion can do to get the maximum effect, and how much harder a modest amount of weight can be when not cutting corners.). I was duly unimpressed.

In the weeks since when working my legs, I noticed the same thing. I want to use the leg press, but the most of the weights are taken up by an unattended machine. To make matters worse, there is a towel spread over it, clearly an attempt to say, “Taken. Don’t use.” Next to it, an unattended seated leg press had a water bottle and keys marking them, too. Well, you guessed it: my friend—“The strongest man in the world”—casually strolls in after a long absence.

I’ve since observed this guy marking off up to three devices at a time. While scowling over his faux presses, I can only guess what he’s doing with all this weight in the first place. Is he a sprinter? Maybe training those muscle fibers for that particular movement? Is he really getting any benefit from it, particularly with 5-10 minute rests between sets?

On one of these days, wanting to get in and out, I walked a distance to find weights to drag back to my device. When my friend showed up, I had apparently interrupted his flow, as he was eyeing my equipment for remaining 45’s he intended to use for his 1,000 lb+ press. I ignored him as non-discreetly as possible, walking great distances to secure more plates for my device—and hinting with my example how to do full presses with short breaks in between sets.

He did not seem to catch on.

Rather, he sheepishly offered to put some plates on my equipment when he was dropping back down on his—noticing my short supply. A few days later, he noticed he had apparently taken over my device when I stepped away for some water, as he made a modest show of wanting to set it back up for me. “Don’t try to be nice, man. That will just get in the way of my fuming at you,” I thought.

I’ve since seen this guy fraternizing with a couple other men. In truth, he may be a decent fellow. But it’s kind of hard for me to want to know him in this light. I’ve gotten so used to him being “that guy.” Do you have someone like this in your life? The one you’ve pegged as “that guy.” Or, “Oh her.”

Maybe I will come around at some point. Gosh darn it, it kind of makes me feel guilty that I may have the bigger issue here. He might even make a friend under different circumstances. I don’t want to sugarcoat the frustration of my experience with this guy. But is there an opportunity for me to get a different kind of workout here? To be stretched and challenged more than just the mental discipline practiced between me and some inanimate device? But to risk humbling myself to know another whom I took offense from, to look at someone as an opportunity rather than an obstacle—that’s a far harder workout.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: