The Rhythm of Life

“And when the sound of all the declarations of our sincerest
intentions has died away on the wind,
dance with me in the infinite pause before the next great inhale
of the breath that is breathing us all into being,
not filling the emptiness from the outside or from within”

 ~  Oriah Mountain Dreamer – The Dance  ~

Jewish people from around the globe have been celebrating my most favourite Jewish holiday, which began on Sunday evening and comes to an end tonight.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New year.  It is not only known as the ‘head of the year’ but it is also a day of remembrance; a holiday that commemorates the creation of the universe, by God – “we are to remember who we are by remembering that the Lord is our King, and to crown the Creator as such”.

It marks the beginning of the ‘10 Days of Awe’ and it calls believers to an awakening to judgment, because it is a period of prayer, self-examination and repentance which culminates on the fast day of Yom Kippur.

According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah, the destiny of the righteous are written in the Book of Life and the destiny of the wicked are written in the Book of Death.  However, most people will not be inscribed in either book, but have ten days – until Yom Kippur – to repent before sealing their fate, because then everyone’s names will be sealed in either of the books.  And thus, the blessing or greeting over this time is, “L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu” – “may your name be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life”.

For me, the richness and beauty of this period, isn’t because of conventional ‘fire and brimstone’ thought, but rather, because it encourages Jewish folk to participate in the process of forgiveness.  It is a time where we forgive others, whilst also seeking out forgiveness of self and forgiveness from others too.  It allows people to come into contact with the gifts of mercy, compassion and ultimately forgiveness, along with the reminder that it is a process.  Forgiveness is an ongoing process.

It is a holiday that teaches us that forgiveness is a choice, and that it is a choice that we need to make for our own sakes, lest we be forever frozen in a particular event or wrong.  And that, through forgiveness and allowing ourselves to move on, we give ourselves the opportunity to live and celebrate life to the full without being held back by the shackles of resentment and vindictiveness.

In this blog’s ‘About’ page, I talk about how I believe that life is a dance.  I also believe that this dance comes with a prescribed sheet of music –  there is a specific beat to life that follows us wherever we go.  Consider when you breathe, your lungs fill with oxygen but there comes a point where you need to exhale.  The same can be said about your heart.  It fills with blood before pumping it throughout your body.

It is also demonstrated by nature.  I love taking long walks on the beach for this very reason, because for me, the shore is the epitome of what I like to refer to as ‘impoverished spirituality’.  The shore lies open and in wait of gifts that the ocean will lay at its feet.  It demands nothing, accepts everything, but it also has the ability to let go when the time or the need arises.

For me, the rhythm of life is the same as the rhythm of forgiveness (and perhaps there is a message that lies in this?) – it is one of acceptance and letting go.

“I accept everything that you bring to me.  I accept that you have wronged me.  I accept that I am in this horrible situation.  And now that I have accepted it, I let it go.  I am not going to get worked up over it.  I am not going to allow myself to be a victim.  I am not going to hold onto something so tightly that it will be crushed inside of my hands.  I am not going to allow myself to be a doormat.  What I will do is to accept that this has taken place.  I will appreciate this experience and attempt to learn from it, but I will then let it go, find a way to move forward and allow myself to evolve and transcend my current state of be-ing.”

As Rosh Hashanah draws to a close, and I embark upon my own inner journey towards trying to identify experiences and people that are still in need of my forgiveness, my wish for all of us is,   “L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu.”   Indeed, may our names be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.  May our ability to forgive, allow us to dance freely to the dance of life so that who we are and the lives that we are living, may be made complete in this now…and the next…and the next!

Happy New Here (and now)!

“Every person from your past lives as a shadow in your mind.
Good or bad, they’ve helped you write the story of your life
and shaped the person you are today”

~ Unknown ~

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What Do You Say?

“Remember what you are and let this knowing
take you home to the Beloved with every breath.
Hold tenderly who you are and let a deeper knowing
colour the shape of your humanness”

~  Oriah Mountain Dreamer – The Call  ~

I hurt my colleague’s feelings on Friday.  It wasn’t intentional, although I must admit that I am not beating myself up over it.  It has however led to another moment of introspection.

I am loathe to talk about (I am going to call her) Sue at length, because she reads my blog from time to time, and I know that talking about her on here will most probably throw more salt on the wound.  But at the same time, there was something of value that I was reminded of,  and I would like to share it with you.

Our company attended an awards luncheon and Sue was seated beside me at the table.  I can’t remember what brought it on, but our conversation eventually led to this:

Sue:  “David, do you think that I am beautiful?”

Me:  “What do you say?  Do you think that you are beautiful?”

Hurt flashed across her eyes like lightning flashes across the sky – swift but intense, while illuminating everything in its path.  She paused and responded timidly, “I am beautiful, David.”  I could swear that I detected a hint of shame in her voice.

I then made the conscious decision to allow her to sit with what had taken place, so I ensured that our discussion died sudden death by changing the subject.

Now, before you decide to throw a Ming vase at me or call me, ‘Dracula’s Aunty,’ let me explain why I handled things in the way that I did.

You see, in the midst of what took place, lies a woman suffering from low self esteem, and she truly is suffering because of the way that she allows herself to be a doormat to everyone.  She has led a very sheltered life and found herself being flung out into the real world overnight, which I believe is part of why she relies so heavily on the affirmation on others.  I can relate with all of this because I see a lot of myself and where I used to be, in her.

I refuse to demean her by petting her on the head.  Over and above this, my choice not to affirm her beauty on Friday came from a place of, “don’t give me your power!”  She has been with our company for a month and a half, so why should my opinion be of any consequence to her?  It is ultimately her right (and responsibility) to define herself and determine that she is a beautiful human being.  And I certainly have no need to take that right away from her.

What saddens me about that experience is not so much that I had hurt her, but that there was no conviction in her voice when she said that she is a beautiful person.

It raises the questions:

Why are we willing to place more value on the opinion of others than on our own, most especially when it comes to things concerning ourselves?  Why are we so afraid (and possibly ashamed) of admitting that we believe that we are beautiful people?  Could it be that we don’t know who we are, so we allow others to define who we are for us?

“Never let someone’s opinion become your reality.
Never sacrifice who you are, or who you aspire to be,
because someone else has a problem with it.
Love who you are inside and out, and keep pushing forward.
No one else has the power to make you feel small unless you give them that power.
You are the only one who can create your dreams and happiness”

~  Marc Chernoff  ~

Read Second-Hand Books

“It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away”

 ~  Oriah Mountain Dreamer – The Invitation  ~

There is the adage, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover,’  which I try to ascribe to.  Sometimes the stories have been good, some have been bad and others have been profound.  One of the most profound stories that I have ever come into contact with, lies with three beggars, who passed my way about a decade ago.  Two of them were male and one was female, and little did I realise that my decision to give them something to eat would lead to me being the recipient of something far greater instead.

Our exchange in conversation led to them sharing about themselves and their life journeys.  The striking thing was that they didn’t have a “woe is me” and a “woe is my life” approach.  Granted, they started off by sharing about how one of the men had been attacked on the previous night, and that it had resulted with him being kicked in the groin.  I remember the woman encouraging him to show me and I responded by frantically trying to dissuade him from doing so.  I did not need to look at “the boys,” especially on the sidewalk in front of passersby!  Could you imagine?!  Fortunately, he respected my wishes.

It turned out that one of the men (the one that had been attacked on the previous evening) was in a relationship with the woman.  They became friends with the second man at some point, which culminated with their decision to take him under their wing and allow him to be a part of their ‘family’.  Their story was contrary to how one would envisage such a story to be.  More than anything else, theirs was a tale that spoke about appreciation, loyalty and it especially spoke about love.

The woman (at this point I am going to call her Grace, a name befitting her spirit) was enraptured by being presented with two listening ears.  The more that she spoke, the more that her inner beauty broke through her veil of leathery skin, frazzled hair and stench.  She bore an elegance and charm that was captivating.  I hung on her every word to the point of not realising that I had seated myself on the edge of the sidewalk.

She could have told me that her man (I will call him John) was a failure.  But Grace didn’t.  She could have spoken about how life had dealt her with a flimsy set of cards, but she didn’t.  She could have wallowed in self pity, but she didn’t.  What Grace did talk about was her pride and appreciation of John.  She shared about how he tried to protect and care for her.  Grace spoke about how, much as she had nothing, she had everything that truly mattered to her.  She expressed her gratitude for his companionship and love for her.  She was happy and excited from being given the opportunity to share about her relationship with John, but what warmed my heart the most, was that it was more than obvious that in spite of being in a depressing and difficult environment, Grace didn’t just love John deeply but she was also deeply in love with him.

It was as if Grace stooped down, plunged her hands deeply into the bowels of her truth and drew out an unpolished diamond.  She held it out for me to survey and bear witness to, and then right before my eyes, her words of hope (being held against a backdrop of a life of hopelessness) set about polishing this gem until it shone brilliantly and had irradiated her spirit.

Grace continues to humble me.

I am compelled to give the adage that I had opened with, an entirely new spin:  “Take the time to read second-hand books.”

Let me point out that by saying, “second-hand,” in no way represents value, but rather it represents life experience.  Grace teaches me that a tatty cover means nothing more than that the book has endured a lot, which indicates that the contents could possibly bear great worth, much beauty and many lessons.

Going through life is big people stuff.  Sometimes you’re just out there in the jungle with a machete and nothing else, not even bug spray.  There are scary noises of things waiting to eat you after nightfall, and all that you can do is to learn whatever survival skills you can, lest your lingering costs you.  The harshness of life may tarnish our covers and make us second-hand books, but we can still decide to hold onto our stories and ensure that they unfold in line with our inner truths.

We all have stories to tell and I believe that the biggest gift that one human being can offer another is to say, “I see you –  will you share your story with me?”

I have reflected on this experience on many occasions and I continue to walk away with new lessons that I have learned.  I have written two poems with this encounter in mind. The first was written about a year after I had crossed paths with Grace, and it was published in the United Kingdom in an anthology of poetry, about a year thereafter.  The second was written about three years afterwards and it came from the perspective of, “What if I had treated them as if they were beneath me, or attempted to brush them aside?”  Because it truly would have been a huge loss on my part.  I have decided to share the second of the two with you.

LIFE TOURIST

You come into my life
like a tourist
eagerly searching for scenes
to capture
through the camera
of your ignorance.

My misfortune
displayed for all to see
under the magnifying glass
of advice and self importance.

My dignity and worth
treated like a commodity to be bought –
you haggle over the price of my life
in search of a trophy
to boast about to your friends….

…at my expense!

You walk away
in search of something new.
I remain
frozen by disbelief.

I held out my hands to welcome you,
but you filled them with coins
and scalded my pride.

RE-Connection

“I have sent you my invitation,
the note inscribed on the palm of my hand by the fire of living.
Don’t jump up and shout, “Yes, this is what I want!  Let’s do it!”
Just stand up quietly and dance with me”

 ~  Oriah Mountain Dreamer – The Dance  ~

I had hoped to spend some time with you sooner, but I was unfortunately unable to do so. I woke up on Monday morning and was greeted by an eventful and demanding week, which included me celebrating RE-Birth Day – and what a wonderful day it was!

I am sure that you remember me sharing previously about the approach that I have towards my birthday, which is why I now look at it as RE-Birth Day: A day of RE-Newal, Re-Demption and RE- Investment. However, based on this last experience, I would like to add one more element to the list: RE-Connection. Indeed, it was a day of RE-Connection!

My time of quiet and pause had allowed for me to bring myself to a place where I was able to RE-Connect with myself; to be in touch with the man that I am…and the man that I strive to be. At this point, let me say that my time of introspection has reminded me that the man that I am striving to be, is the same as the man that I essentially am. You didn’t see that coming, did you? Allow me to take you down memory lane in order for me to explain.

During my time in seminary, I was once given an assignment that required that I talk about my interpretation of the concept of ’original sin’. Within the realm of Catholic doctrine (and possibly other Christian religious institutions) lies the teaching about Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, which (as Catholicism teaches) has resulted in the belief that all of us are born with original sin – hence the need for babies to be baptized. With my spirituality and my concept of the Divine being what it is, I tend to have a lot of unconventional thought concerning such teachings.

I do not believe in the traditional concepts of heaven and hell, and I won’t even go into the hymn “Amazing Grace,” because it makes the hair at the back of my neck stand on end. That hymn seriously riles me up! There have been times when loved ones have laughed at me during a service while this hymn was being sung, because of my refusal to sing it and because of the expression on my face. They would oftentimes look at me questioningly for not singing and I would respond by whispering out loud, “I am NOT a wretch!!!!”

Well, I am not!

In my assignment, I spoke about how I believe that original sin is the cause of most self confidence issues, and especially the cause of psychological disorders. And there is nothing mystical or spiritual about this either. The Bible tells us that Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s instruction by eating the forbidden fruit, and that their disobedience led to them trying to hide away from “Him” afterwards. I do not believe that it was out of guilt or shame. I do, however, believe that it was out of fear. I also believe that this story is an expression of a reality that abides within each and every one of us, from the time that we take our first breath until the moment that we take our last.

We are afraid.  And the most fundamental truth about this reality, in my opinion, is that we are afraid of ourselves.

I believe that we are more powerful than we give ourselves credit for. With it comes responsibility, which is scary. But even scarier than this, is our fear of failure. “What if my impression about myself is wrong?” “What if I make a fool of myself?” And even scarier, “What if I am right? “What if it leads to there being even more demands and expectations being placed upon my shoulders?!”

I believe that these fears and internal messages then lead to us feeling disempowered. And in order for us to then have some level of feeling empowered and of being in control, the ego then steps in and tells us that we are right. We aren’t good enough. We won’t measure up. We will only be a disappointment. And we are more than happy to accept and reinforce these internal messages because they let us off the hook. The bad thing is that these messages are carried down from generation to generation, until we find ourselves living in the kind of world that we are in today; a psychologically ill and hurting society where we don’t really value and respect each other as much as we ought to, any more.

In the preface to her book ‘The Dance’, Oriah Mountain Dreamer asks a very pertinent question:

“What if the question is not why am I so infrequently the person I really want to be,
but why do I so infrequently want to be the person I really am?”

Perhaps becoming who and what I truly am happens, not through striving and possibly even pretending to be what I perceive a better me looks like, but by be-ing and allowing myself to drift into who I already am in my sacred core – a gentle, compassionate, merciful, forgiving, loving and lovable being.

As I continue my journey through this life and head towards my next RE-Birth Day, I remind and embrace the following truths about who I believe I essentially am:

I believe that I am a child of light and of love.
I believe that I am a sacred, gifted and unrepeatable gift to the world.

But, above all else:

I just AM, and that is enough!

 …and so are YOU!

What truths do you hold onto about yourself?  Have you celebrated these truths today?

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.

What you’ll discover will be wonderful.

What you’ll discover is yourself”

~  Alan Alda  ~