3P Random Reflections Blog
A passage from "Barking to the Choir" written by Father Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries...
- - - When I taught at Loyola High School in Los Angeles in the late ’70s, after Sunday morning mass I’d grab a cup of coffee
and sit in the living room on the second floor and read the LA Times. Peace, quiet, and feliz; it didn’t get better than that. One Sunday, I was sitting with my friend and Jesuit brother, Al Naucke. Both of us had our coffee and were silently turning the pages of the paper when the doorbell started to ring repeatedly. Initially, Al and I hid behind our papers, waiting it out. The doorbell rarely rang, but when it did, it was almost always some homeless person.
Finally, Al, the way better man, quietly put down the paper. There was no annoyed sighing (though who would blame him?). Some ten minutes later he returned, sat down, took a sip of coffee, and resumed his reading. After a few beats I asked, without lowering
the paper, “Well?” “Well what?” Al replied, not lowering his paper either. “Who was it?” From behind the sports section he said, “Jesus, in his least recognizable form.” - - -
I laughed out loud!
I love this story....
...It reminds me of the OKness of our humanity... that even a Jesuit, who's life is dedicated to the service of love and care for "the least of us", still
needs some time to relax and be human instead of super-human
...It reminds me that divinity can be found anywhere, whenever I just have the eyes to see it
...It reminds me that when I'm in a state of irritation or
judgment of "other", that I always have the potential to remember the "beautiful" in the human being who is the subject of my ire
...It reminds me that despite "knowing" at some level the miraculous in all life, my personal ego is still
allowed plenty of moments to be beautifully, irritably, and judgmentally, oblivious to it
...It reminds me of the humanity and humility and humour and hilarity in the messiness of all of it
The next time I get all
irritated and judgy, I wonder if I'll give myself a break, and I wonder if I'll relax and truly see and feel all of the incredible beauty, right in this moment, right in front of me, in whatever form it appears? And if I don't, I wonder if I'll be just as
OK with the incredible beauty of that too?
I used to get cramps in my legs starting when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I remember once waking up in the middle of the night screaming because the calf muscles in both of my legs were stuck in cramps and I couldn't do anything to stop the pain.
I got some relief after my Mom, woken up by my screaming, quickly rushed upstairs, soaked some towels in hot water and wrapped them around my legs.
Having felt what "cramps" were, I knew what was happening whenever I got them in my legs
or feet, or any other part of my body.
When I was 11 years old, I began feeling some discomfort in my abdomen. It didnt feel like what I knew to be a cramp. To me, it felt like I had an uncomfortable urge or pressure to go to the bathroom,
but which couldn't be relieved. I remember one time during a family get-together at our house, leaving to go upstairs, and sort of crouching into a ball and rocking back and forth to distract my mind from the nagging discomfort.
this happened on and off over several months, my Mom took me to the family doctor who listened to the description of my discomfort and prescribed Metamucil. I took some every day. The discomfort continued to appear and disappear.
more than a year and a half into this discomfort, one day I noticed a large hard lump one one side of my abdomen. When I went back to the family doctor, he did an exam, and then had me rushed immediately to the hospital. For almost two years, the nagging discomfort
had been the cramps from my menstrual cycle.
I had unknowingly been born with a defect that blocked the flow of blood that my body was attempting to shed each month, so that all it could do was accumulate until it was big and hard enough
to be detectable.
Because my discomfort never felt like cramps to me, I never used the word "cramps", and my doctor was not intuitive enough in the moment of that initial examination to consider anything other than the specific words I
was using to describe my pain, along with his own interpretation of them.
It's not like the clues weren't there... a young girl soon to be a teenager, speaking about abdominal discomfort that comes every once in a while... he just didn't
see the clues for what they were.
Unfortunately, he diagnosed me by listening to his immediate intellect and not by getting more curious... not getting a little quieter in his mind, and not listening beyond the limited thoughts and words
we were sharing, leading to other questions that may have revealed more. That event, and the doctor's response, rippled out into various health issues throughout my life.
That miscommunication or misunderstanding... one person attempting
to explain a feeling and another person trying to understand it by listening through the filter of what they think they already know, is the source of all manner of chaos in our human existence, including all the challenges we are experiencing today.
We've all forgotten how to listen.
We hear or see anything, and our human system instantaneously compares it to everything we already know and believe. Circumstances happen and our mind immediately goes through its hidden personal vaults
of experience, knowledge, memory, and belief to make sense out of it, so that we can check off the "I got it" box, give it a diagnosis, and move on.
And without each of us realizing the difference in feeling (often subtle, sometimes not
so subtle), between the constrictive tension of our intellect and the spacious clarity of deeper wisdom, we live in a world of limitation and insecurity instead of a world of possibility and wonder... we respond to the habitual and urgent and loud voices of
a self-protective ego, instead of the relaxed and calm whispers of an open and intuitive heart.
After being just like my doctor throughout my own life... spending a great deal of time unknowingly listening to my intellect, and in my profession
as a corporate trainer, even spending many years teaching various courses on how to listen, it came as a surprise to discover that listening wasn't at all something that needed to be learned, but was something perhaps more to be unlearned... something that
was always available to me, and to everyone, in any moment of pure presence, just for the somehow letting go of the incessant and habitual focus on the thoughts in our mind, and being open to something new that we don't yet know.
words, I spent the first few years of my life listening easily to the flow of wisdom, as we all naturally do. I then spent the next 35 years listening frequently to my accumulated and ever growing intellect. The next 10 years or so after that, I was taught
and then taught others, techniques on "how to listen". And then for the last 7 years or so, I've been unlearning it all to get back to where I began... realizing the ability to lean toward a place of not knowing... a place where curiosity and wonder appears,
where the feeling of tension falls away, where connection happens, and where "life is" extraordinarily ordinary and wise.
Over my lifetime, I've proactively and enthusiastically collected a deep well of what I affectionately refer to as
"my personal crazy" (everything I think I know, much of which I haven't even consciously realized yet). And so now I'm unlearning, guided by a growing awareness of the difference between weight and constriction versus lightness and clarity, and learning to
take my cues from there.
I wonder if during this time of extraordinary and collective global change, and the disruption of many of our usual and habitual behaviours, if and how others are unlearning to listen too?
Two men are raised by an abusive and alcoholic father. One becomes very successful. The other becomes an alcoholic. When the one is asked for the reason for his success, he says, "Well, wouldn't you be like this if you had a father like that?" When
the other one is asked for the reason for his alcoholism, he says, "Well, wouldn't you be like this if you had a father like that?
I don't know where I first heard this story, but it occasionally occurs to me to share it.
I can never know what anyone will get from the story, but for me, it illustrates the incredibly powerful and random nature of thought, and how it unknowingly-to-us, defines our personal reality, our sense of who we are, our ideas of what we can, cannot,
should, or should not do, and all of our ideas of right and wrong.
Thousands of personally unique thoughts get served up to each of us, every day... an incomprehensible streaming energy of nonstop thought flowing through our mind, with
our human system somehow giving significance to some thoughts as if they are real and true, and somehow dismissing others.
For my clients who are really hard on themselves (as most of us often are in various ways), this story helps me
point them to the innocence of each person's life path... how our thoughts about life and ourselves, somehow become invisibly ingrained as beliefs in each of our minds, until (if and when) we gain insight (deeper than our intellect) about any of our hidden
beliefs and/or their arbitrary and limiting nature.
I'll also sometimes point out that the son being "driven to success" is in some ways, no better or worse than the son being "driven to alcohol". Both habits of action can come with many
consequences, and both habits of action can in many moments, come from a common source... experiencing feelings of discomfort and then coping with the distraction-drug of striving for success, or the numbing-drug of alcohol... or perhaps even both.
The list of options and habits that we humans use to distract, numb, and avoid our thoughts and feelings is endless... and we have all tried many of them.
In this story, the successful son, in his nagging moments of discomfort, somehow
learned to find temporary relief in his busyness, his control, his perfectionism, his "always the next thing" striving to obtain or achieve. The alcoholic son, in his nagging moments of discomfort, somehow learned to find temporary relief in alcohol.
Both were doing what seemed to allow them to feel better. Both of them felt genuinely justified in their behaviours. Both of them were seeing their situation through the filters of their own ingrained beliefs... a random mix of complex ideas somehow pulled
out of their life's history of thought, about themselves, about their past, and about life as they think it is now.
At some point, the successful son could potentially discover that all of his success has never completely stopped his feelings
of discomfort, and in some ways has made some of his feelings worse. At some point, the alcoholic son could potentially discover that his drinking has never completely stopped his feelings of discomfort, and in some ways has made some of his feelings worse.
And perhaps, in a moment of despair of realizing the inability to permanently rid themselves of their feelings of discomfort, they somehow give up their coping, they somehow drop their habitual resistance to the discomfort, and they somehow
allow the space to realize something new about life...
...Perhaps realizing their own innocence in just doing the best they could to manage the thinking/feeling that they were given, and they had somehow learned to believe and follow.
...Perhaps realizing some sense of the limited and arbitrary nature of any thought or feeling, that doesn't always need to be held onto so tightly, or taken so seriously.
...Perhaps realizing some sense that feelings aren't
ever wholly and directly tied to singular circumstances, but instead are born of an infinitely complex web of time and thought and attention.
...Perhaps realizing the inevitable and naturally recurring appearance of feelings of discomfort
throughout every human being's life, and that those feelings could be experienced without the need to figure them out or resist or avoid or overcome.
...Perhaps realizing the deeper nature of themselves as human beings, as always being
enough, exactly as they are in each passing moment.
...Perhaps directly experiencing a profound feeling of peace and contentment that they realize has always already been there, found in the complete absence of all their ideas and beliefs
Who knows if or when either son may realize something new and profound about life for themselves, but how helpful it is to know that one of the functions of being human is our infinite potential for new insight in any moment,
offering the possibility of a bit more grace in navigating life, despite whatever circumstances arise, and despite however our thinking/feeling defines them.
Sydney Banks offers his words of wisdom in this regard... "If the only thing
that people learned, was not to be afraid of their experience, that alone would change the world."
She falls in and out of drug use, she’s sold herself for money, but I fell in love with her. I found out that after an entire life on the streets, she KNOWS the streets, and so she goes around keeping an eye on the vulnerable in the community
and helping them out in various ways.
He killed two people, served time in prison, has an incredibly intense and scary vibe, but I fell in love with him. He plays the guitar and dreams of having his own band one day.
She used to put a cue ball in a sock to swing at people to get whatever they had that she wanted, but I fell in love with her. She could be a stand-up comedian and has a laugh that dares anyone NOT to join in.
His clothes are rarely clean, his hair is never combed, his skin is covered with bumps, but I fell in love with him. He is so gentle and so kind and so compassionate, and sooooooo incredibly beautiful.
She has an ego well beyond most,
she is always dressed to the nines, she shows only pictures of herself and her accomplishments, and she finds ways to always make everything about her in some way, but I fell in love with her. She lets down her guard every once in a while so I can get a tiny
peek of the extraordinarily ordinary beauty that’s already inside.
He rarely makes much sense when he speaks, his stories are hard to pay attention to, he kind of has a scary stalker vibe about him, but I fell in love with him. He
managed to learn how to navigate his struggles well enough to be able to move out on his own, with some community support. He’s hoping he can do some hunting and fishing like his father taught him when he was a kid.
I fall in love
all the time now. It wasn’t like that before.
In my past, I didn’t know that ANYONE and EVERYONE could be loved. I thought that love was something that happens between people because they get along, or because they see traits
in each other that they admire, or because they’re tied by a family bond, or because they behave in lovable ways.
In my past, I thought that love was something of chance and circumstance.
I had no idea, that
love had NOTHING to do with any other person or trait or behaviour or chance or circumstance. I had no idea that love beyond imagination was available in any moment I somehow allowed it.
I don’t always fall in love with everyone.
For whatever reason, the many heavy bricks I’ve collected throughout my life have created some walls that block my view from seeing what’s really true… what came into my view by chance a few years ago, and what I now KNOW is always there.
But oh how lovely it is whenever the next brick somehow falls down, and oh how lovely to know that love is always there, whether I happen to experience it in any moment or not.
One of the beloved regular visitors to the hangout at the homeless shelter is a quiet, gentle man who is always full of thoughtful questions, but who is also always willing to look toward the unpredictable, incomprehensible, and intrinsically interconnected
nature of life.
We often get to a conversation about all the things that had to happen for me to appear at the shelter, for him to see the sign for the hangout and make the decision to stop in, and for both of us to be sitting together
in the room we are in right now, with its walls and ceiling and floor and door and window and pipes and wiring and vents and light and heat and air and paint and furniture and decorations and books... and even everything else within the building and city in
which we and this room are contained... EACH tiny component of it ALL having had a mostly unknown and mostly untraceable and incomprehensibly complex journey to get from a raw resource to the form and place it is in right now.
the chances of any of it and all of it? And how does all this inherent chaos, and dominoed history, and interconnection of the infinite threads in the web of life, somehow manage to work?
As I was reflecting on this today, it made me think
of a child's line of questioning...
How does that balloon stay in the air?
It's full of helium.
What is helium?
It's a gas that is lighter than air.
Where do they get the helium to put in the balloon?
of some gases that are found underground.
How did it get underground?
I'm not sure... it's a geological thing that happened over millions or billions of years.
We eventually lose our patience with the
endless line of questioning, while being completely oblivious to the deep profundity that the child is seeing and pointing to... right in front of our very eyes.
As the questions are asked, we think we are the teacher, but we are completely
missing the lesson that is being taught to us...
"Hey you! Open your eyes! SEE and REALIZE the incomprehensible miracle of everything around you! All the things that just work and happen even though you have no real understanding of the
depth of why or how!... Each infinitesimal speck of life that somehow comes together in a cooperative form to HOLD YOU as you navigate throughout each changing moment of your entire life from long before your birth to long after your death... much more like
you are the bouyant flotsam and jetsam flowing along the currents of life, rather than the silly and innocent delusion that you are the sole captain of your ship, requiring no cooperation from anyone or anything."
Yes, our human form is
"doing stuff"... but... any and every single ability to "do", requires a mostly-invisible-to-us cooperative network of life both outside and inside.
Gaining any sense of the expansive significance of this in any way in any moment is "the
gift of understanding", and something worth reflecting on from time to time. I forget all of this quite often, but with every next realization of the truth of it, I feel a sigh of relief, and I rest in wonder and gratitude.