I am reminded again that relationships with God and others take practice.
When I was a child and took music lessons my parents would constantly prod me to practice. Any musician or athlete knows that it takes lots of practice, sometimes tedious practice to develop any sense of ease and freedom in playing. Being a musician I know this and only wish that I had spent more time in practice! We may initially resent our parents or others who lovingly prod and push us to be the best that we can be. In retrospect we may find that they have given us a great gift!
I know it takes lots of practice to develop a talent, but why is it that I think my relationship with God and others should just come automatically? Those skilled at relationships take time working at them. How often do I take the time to resolve an issue in a relationship? Sometimes we just go on, never really talking through or resolving the issue. In terms of our relationship with God, it also takes practice. They don’t call it “spiritual practice,” or “practicing faith” for nothing! But sometimes I get so tired of practicing – taking the time to meditate and pray whether alone or with others. It seems like such a waste of time. There’s so much else to be done!
It is only in daily practice that I gain any skill, depth and freedom as a musician or an athlete and it takes daily practice to gain that same skill, depth and freedom in loving relationships, whether with people or with God. What practices do I have in place that develop my relationship with God and others?
As the holiday season looms close in the future with it’s many and varied gatherings, family blessings and problems, running here and there, the glory and exhaustion of it all, perhaps now would be a good time to take a bit of stock, a time to pause and talk about what it all means, instead of getting swept up aimlessly in the malestrom.
If you have a partner, perhaps now is a good time to look toward the holidays and talk about them. What do they mean? How do you wish to celebrate them? What implications do your plans have on those in need? What might you want to do TOTALLY different this year? What will you need to do to stay focused?
One Christmas I celebrated a few years back initially did not seem like one of the best. I was sick on Christmas Eve. My partner’s sister had recently had a baby. We were to go to his family to eat and celebrate together on Christmas day, but my partner was worried about the fact that I had been sick the day before and didn’t want to risk the baby getting sick. We decided, sadly, that it was best that he go to his family alone. So I was left to spend the greater portion of Christmas day alone that year.
But you know what? It’s one Christmas that I remember vividly. I ended up driving to a retreat center in the area, out in the country. There was absolutely no one around. I went into the chapel. No one was there. The sounds, sights, music and prayer celebrating the coming of the Light of the night before and that morning were gone. I sat there a long time in silence, all alone and I prayed. As time went on I began to think of others that were alone on this day and gradually I began to feel a mystical oneness with them and with my partner celebrating with his family. And in my aloneness I felt I was not alone. Paradoxically in that solitude I felt a closeness to my partner and to others that I had not felt in a long time.
Sometimes the holidays might not turn out as we would like, or as we had planned. But they can be a celebration nonetheless and a moment when Light Itself enters the fabric of our being and we realize we are never alone.
This morning after prayer and meditation, I read a section of Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now. At a coffee shop recently a friend of mine saw me reading that book and said: “Are you STILL reading that book? Haven’t you finished it yet?” What I’ve been doing though is just reading a little bit everyday, kind of like a daily meditation. This morning I continued reading his section on relationships and how to deal with stress or conflict.
For any of you who are partnered, I highly recommend this read. Any of us who are alive and breathing have relationships, whether they be partners, family, co-workers or friends. Conflicts are inevitable. Tolle gives some great direction on how to deal with those situations when someone starts getting on your nerves. He speaks of getting outside the ego, and approaching the person from a place of inner “presence.” When we have our judging ego out of the way, we can peacefully point out things to our partners, friends or co-workers. By doing so we remove judgment and emotionally charged response. Of course, if the other person isn’t present and is in their ego, they will probably get hurt and react in some way. It’s important for us not to get our ego back in the picture by reacting in turn. But if they are awake, they will be able to simply listen. Conversely, when someone points something out to us in a non-judgmental way, we will simply be able to listen without judging or reacting.
Some great advise, I think, for living and loving well. I’ve got a ways to go in getting my ego out of the way. But this is a great tool to have and to practice, instead of allowing emotional reaction to run amuck!
OK, I really don’t NEED a boyfriend (Although if there are any good guys out there, drop me a line! :-)). I woke up this morning and looked over at the other side of the bed, the empty side, and I immediately found myself thinking that I was missing something, and that if I just had “him” (whoever “he” might be) laying next to me and walking through life with me, then life would be good! Gratefully, I quickly “woke up” and realized that I was beginning to feel badly due to some perceived lack, when the reality is, life is good right now in this moment!
Do you ever find yourself thinking or feeling that? Ever find yourself thinking and yearning for this or that, whether it’s a boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, a house, a new apartment, new furniture, moving to a new place, being this or that kind of person, or in this or that kind of profession? “If I just had that. If I just had him. If I just lived there. If I just were a ______ (fill in the blank). If I just didn’t suffer from _________. If I just had a different job. If I just had a different partner. If I just had a day off . . .Then life would be good!” And the list goes on. Consciously or unconsciously most of us walk through our days with such thoughts running around in our heads. And as a result we stay in a perpetual state of agitation and lack of fulfillment.
We are always bombarded with messages that say just that. Listen to love songs, observe commercials, watch sitcoms and movies. The message is usually: “You lack this and you really need it. Then you’ll live happily ever after!” Look at shows like American Idol and the like. People clamor after fame and this perceived “good life.” When I get there, then life will be great! Every day we are bombarded with images of beautiful people with seemingly perfect lives, or even spiritual “gurus” who make us believe that we too could have what they have and then we would be happy! If we get to the day to day reality of these people’s lives we will find that their reality, their concerns, their struggles are much like ours. Eckhart Tolle says that whether we have seemingly “arrived” or not, the world of form will ALWAYS disappoint. If we place our happiness or our fulfillment on this person, place, thing or fame of some sort – and even if we place our spiritual fulfillment on some future happening or place we go to – we will be frustrated. The key he says is accepting what is NOW and simply living the present moment. Once we do so, we will find a peace and contentment that is true and NOT DEPENDENT on our external environment or having this or that. Then, ironically, we will fully and freely (without clinging) enjoy the people, things or places that are around us.
As I continue reflecting on keys to rising above emotional reaction, be it to the political landscape, situations in my life, at work, with friends or the like I was reminded again this morning of the difference between reaction and response.
Reaction is emotional. It is fueled by the ego which always wants to keep things stirred up and emotionally charged. It thrives on this! I find, however, that such emotionally charged reactions lead either to actions that are inappropriate and made in anger or they lead to paralysis. I get so overwhelmed by the anger, fear or whatever emotion I feel that it leads to no practical, helpful response.
Responding is about taking action that is appropriate and not emotionally charged. It is not ego driven, but comes from the essence of who we are, what Thomas Merton used to call the “True Self.” When I am able to emotionally step back from a situation I then begin to see more clearly what an appropriate action might be. This leads to constructive action on my part and gives me a sense of inner power that I am molding and shaping something, instead of complaining about it or making it worse by reacting in anger.
Try to be aware of this with your partner, your family, friends and at work. When you find yourself getting all charged up emotionally, pause. Are you reacting, or responding?
Yesterday I reflected on the fact that we all look for keys that unlock meaning for us in life and that we ourselves are a key that has the potential of unlocking good things for others. Today I would like to reflect on the importance of using the keys that we find that unlock meaning and energy in our lives.
I was speaking with a friend recently and we were talking about learning new behavior and how we literally have to reprogram ourselves, reprogram our thinking, the tapes, behaviors and habits from our past that we have assimilated. It takes work and discipline to grow beyond any of that.
When we find a key that we feel begins to unlock something within us, it’s important to use that key again and again. It’s almost like being “brain washed.” We need to continually return to the key to keep growing and moving forward. In Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 Step programs, for one who is coming in new, they recommend doing “90 meetings in 90 days.” A meeting EVERY DAY for 90 days! Seems daunting. But it comes from the collective wisdom of those who have gone before who know that we need constant help in changing our thinking and behavior. If we want results, we need to stick with it.
For those of you who have a partner, think of how you relate to your partner. Do you feel that you are growing in your relationship? Do you feel that, as a result of living in this “school of love,” that it’s a key to becoming a better person? I’m sure at first it was easy to love him or her. They had the “key” to your heart and you had the key to there’s. But as time goes on, and the feeling wears off a bit, it begins to take work to use the key, to go out of your way to do something for them. As we practice loving acts, slowly they become second nature and the very foundation of good living and loving.
Are we using the keys we’ve been given?