Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Merit or Grace?

Yesterday I awoke with a panicked sense of how-will-I-ever-get-everything-done-today? coursing through my veins. The sun wasn't even up yet, and already I was fretting about all the deadlines I had in my work and the seemingly limited number of hours I had to complete everything. Editors were (and are) waiting. Family members had needs and expectations. I of course had preferences about how I wanted to spend my time.

The first thing I did when I noticed that frightening refrain in my head was to pray about it and do my best to release the unknown day into the hands of the Source who is love and light and harmony. God didn't want me to have a fretful, frightened day. God knows from the span of infinity how pointless it is to give too much sway to momentary upsets. They come and go like leaves floating on water. They are best noticed, acknowledged, and acted on if necessary--but not to be taken too seriously.

After distancing myself a little from the fear (by praying about it), I was able to get some perspective on it. I realized that that panic, for me, comes from a fear of not doing what I say I will, which comes from a fear of not doing the right thing, which comes from a fear of letting people down. As I traced each level of the thought process that produced that awful feeling, I realized at that the root of it was a belief that I had to do everything right--or else. Or else what? What happens if I don't do everything right? What happens if I mess up? What happens if life intervenes and I can't possibly live up to all the obligations I have created for myself?

That's where Grace comes in. Grace isn't about earning or deserving anything. It's not about coloring in the lines, showing up prepared at a meeting, doing or saying the right thing at the right moment.

When I am reacting in fear to the many obligations I have today, I am at some deep level believing that I must do the right things in the right way to be okay. That's a belief in merit, not a belief in grace.

Doing what I say I will do is important to me, and I try to live and work in such a way that I honor that principle in my life. But when I do it out of fear, I lose touch with the world of Grace, which I believe is where God really lives--in peace, harmony, light, and the everything's-okayness that is so conspicuously missing when I'm running through my day trying to escape an imaginary, invisible stress monster that seems always at my heels.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Letting go

I have a feeling I've written about this before--maybe more than once. But I was on the phone with a friend this morning and I found myself talking about how much of mothering--at least in this stage of mothering--is about letting go. Letting go of Kelly and Tony and Ruby as they create their own wonderful family. Letting Christopher go to explore college and be in what sounds and looks like real love perhaps for the first time in his life. Letting Cameron go up to his room after dinner every night so he can talk on the phone to the young lady who has suddenly brought a blush to his complexion.

Letting go means I have to love my own life, simply because it is my own. I loved the time my days were filled with the needs and laughter of my children. But I also love the fact that their lives are now their own--happy, vibrant, full of possibility, with their own friends, interests, talents, and more. I am quickly moving into a time when I will be much less in demand--even Cameron will be driving before I know it--and I'd better be really in love with my own life by then. I think God gives us lives not to simply give to others (a tough lesson for women like me who love caring for our families) but to also enrich, enjoy, and expand them for ourselves.

I love to write, cook, read, listen to music, learn about God and others. I'm fascinated with Jung and dreamwork; I love to garden and watch things bloom. I adore my animals--and, of course, my kids and grandbaby. I love them all, but not because I need them to fill a hole in my life or keep me from being alone with myself. I actually love alone time. I love silence. I love watching old movies. There's a lot of me that just enjoys life--whether or not I am doing something for my children or not.

If I never let go, I wouldn't be able to see, feel, and appreciate that.

Enjoy your letting go today!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Pure Experience

Years ago Christopher and I drove through a wintry landscape to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where we sat in the front row of a college auditorium and were absorbed in the experience of live jazz played by Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. It was one of those high-point experiences--live music, spontaneously created and released into the air all around us. I had one of those crystal clear thoughts that stayed with me (which, when you first look at it, may seem to make no sense): "Jazz is a perfect moment."

To me, that statement meant that the improvisation that happens--that expresses itself as music--in the jazz solos performers create--is a perfect moment of creation. The solos aren't notated or memorized--the notes, the patterns, the riffs come naturally, arising in the heart, mind, fingers, and breath of the artist and released freely, never to be repeated exactly the same way again. It's a perfect moment of creation and gift--involving those who create it and those who receive it.

In something I read by Jung over the last couple of days I happened across the phrase "pure experience." Pure experience is what happens when you can arrive in the present moment clear-minded, open, and free of the burdens of the past or the fears of the future. It seems to me that so much of the thought that fills our minds is really clutter that has to do with rehashing the past or protecting ourselves against the future. We live our lives in our heads, trying to figure out the next thing to do, understand the thing that happened in the past, or check off items on our mental to-do list so we can feel like we accomplished something at the end of the day.

Being open to "pure experience" is more than an intellectual experience. It means feeling life in your whole body--letting the music reverberate in your heart, your hands, your toes. It means welcoming your whole self--mind, body, and spirit--into the presence of life happening now.

When we can notice that we have arrived in this moment--with its cool breeze, its noisy traffic, its sunlight, its music, or its quiet--we find the simple and profound gift of pure experience, already here, waiting for us to notice.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Forgiveness: How big is your story?

Rabbi Irwin Khula is being interviewed on The Today Show right now about the forgiveness of the Amish community in Pennsylvania after the horrific tragedy of the schoolhouse shootings. The rabbi just said something amazing and beautiful. In answer to Matt Lauer's question, "Is forgiveness a religious issue?" He said, "No--I believe there's a fundamental, powerful yearning in all humans for connection. Forgiveness becomes, 'How big is your story?' If you start your story at the violence and proceed from there, you're going to find it difficult to forgive. But if you can expand your story to include all of this person's painful life, his woundedness, his illness, his family, you will be able to see how much led up to this moment.'" And then, with understanding, forgiveness is within reach.

There's a line in A Course in Miracles that has been one of my favorites for years: Seek to understand another and you cannot fail to love him. When we can expand our view, letting the story be bigger than the horrific act, our understanding brings compassion, we begin to grasp the struggle, and ultimately, we may find ourselves connecting--and then forgiving--in a profound way.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Bumping into Mystery

Last week brought one of the biggest experiences of my life. Thursday night at 8:43pm I became a grandma for the first time. Ruby arrived in the world, big, pink, and healthy. In the days leading up to her birth, I became aware of the vastness of Mystery in a way I'd never noticed it before. Birth is such an exciting and joyful event--the rebirth of hope, innocence, and newness of life. But birth isn't achieved in this world without risk--danger and pain. As a mom hoping, praying, and believing that childbirth would be a great experience for my daughter, I was keenly aware of how much was outside my control. I was aware--in a totally new way--of the huge unanswered questions about the development of life, the organization of cells, the spirit indwelling, and the relationship between being and nonbeing.

I witnessed the meeting of Ruby and mama and dada; I held her in my arms; I silent expressed my gratitude to God for knowing the way and holding us all in the midst of this Great Mystery. I'll never forget any of the moments, the faces, the sounds--or the feeling of bumping into the vast, indescribable Mystery that I can't grasp or understand but can somehow trust.