In the book The Big Leap, there is a concept called the Level of Genius. It’s actually one of four levels and the first two don’t matter as much for our purposes here. The third is Excellence and the fourth is Genius. And they can mess me up sometimes.
The level of Excellence is all the stuff you’re good at. You might be really good at it. I was an excellent administrative clerk back in the day. The lawyers loved me because I got things done for them. I got a steady paycheck and had health insurance that was really awesome. When I said I was going into full time ministry, my mom asked why I couldn’t stay where I was and do ministry on the weekends. That’s the problem with the gap between Excellence and Genius. Often, no one wants us to make that leap.
My Genius, I thought, was in speaking and inspiring folks. It might be in teaching and counseling too. I made the leap and did just fine. Unlike most, I didn’t have to take a pay cut and I have health insurance (not as great, but still health insurance). I love my work. It’s grown me. I’ve had to face fears, make big public mistakes and grow from them and let Spirit carry me when I had no idea what I was doing or even why I was doing it.
I have recently discovered another issue I have with the Level of Genius. Over time, it becomes more specific. At least, that’s my theory. I’ve discovered that there are aspects of ministry I’m good at, but aren’t as challenging as they used to be. I find other areas of ministry that are about an inch beyond my comfort zone and I’ve had to face the idea that perhaps my Level of Genius is out there on my growing edge. I know rationally that I’ve survived growth before. I know in my heart that I’ll always be carried by Spirit to a space beyond where I could go on my own steam. I’m not quite ready to make another Big Leap, but it’s coming up. I can see the cliff from here.
So if you see me muttering to myself, adjusting my cape and looking a little green around the gills, you know what’s up. Catch you on the other side!
Every year, I celebrate Thanksgiving by hosting a potluck at our Center. We’ve had as many as 60 people, although the average is closer to 45. I buy ham and turkey and everyone brings their favorite food. This way everyone gets their favorites, made the “right” way, and we all get to hang out in a party atmosphere for the day. I’ve learned a few things along the way. First of all, I won’t try to do all the cooking myself. I do one turkey and one ham. The rest goes home with someone to be cooked and they get the bones for soup. I don’t try to do the cooking at home. The Center kitchen has two ovens and if I cook stuff there, the building smells yummy. I’ve learned that the following day is a great time to make “leftovers”, which really means our family Thanksgiving foods without any stress over presentation.
I used to think I had to do it all myself. I used to think it had to look a certain way. One of the greatest benefits of growing up is that I realized that I get to define what’s right for me and I’m not responsible for meeting other people’s expectations. What is true for the holiday is true for spirituality. I don’t need to do everything the way my mother or grandmothers did it. I don’t care about presentation for the turkey and I don’t need my spiritual practice to meet anyone else’s approval. It’s worth getting up a little early to do it my way and the end result is that I get fed and I’m happy. Sometimes, letting go of doing it “the right way” is what allows for doing it the most effective way.
I’ve just started listening to Brenè Brown’s new book about belonging. She refers to this as an increasingly divisive and divided world. She cites the current political and social chaos as part of the issue, but also talks about how it feels unsafe to say who you are and what you believe in. Everything in me wants to argue with her about whether this world is really all that divided. Yes, it’s what’s in the news these days. Who can be surprised by that? We are wired to focus on what’s wrong so that we don’t get eaten by T. Rexes and so we pay lots of attention to those voices who Rawr loudly and point their tiny talons at the “problem” people.
Before the internet gave the megaphone to a small group of malcontents, those unhappy people were mostly ignored. Downside; minorities could be ignored and abuse continued. Upside; terrorists didn’t get their egos stroked. In truth, nothing has changed except that we are more conscious of the things going on around the world than we’ve ever been. With so many different voices speaking up, it’s bound to create some chaos.
Out of chaos comes a new creation. Yes, things look grim these days. The news has not been about how many puppies were born safely yesterday. Nor has it been about how many lives were NOT lost because we can treat depression more effectively, because there’s a push towards greater acceptance of minorities and less acceptance of racism and even that the number of truly poor people in the world is dropping drastically. Did you know that peace is breaking out all over in record numbers? Seriously, google it. Just because we are now more aware of the problems in the world doesn’t mean that there are more problems in the world. It means we are waking up. We are, more and more of us, “woke”. We are learning that what isn’t pretty can still be beautiful.
When I was about to be ordained (several years ago now) I did an informal poll of ordained ministers about what to expect. The vast majority of the ministers I know are female, and I don’t know how much this affected their answers. However, what they answered with one voice was that I’d find my “give a damn” falling away. Not that I’d become uncaring, but that it might feel like my ability to be concerned about other people’s opinions would get dulled. I’d have a lot more confidence about what I want and how I choose to do my life. That might be a nicer way of saying it. The actual answer was pretty immediate and blunt. My middle finger would be getting a lot more exercise. In the most spiritual way possible of course.
I understand that this is a sign of aging in most women. We lose the need to please that has been trained into most of us. One of the great joys of my life is seeing that the younger generation of both men and women are, to paraphrase Wayne Dyer, “independent of the good opinions of other people.” To some folks, it might seem like the younger generation is rude or uncaring. Of course, the “younger generation” has seemed that way for decades if not centuries, so this is nothing new. However, I’m excited to see people standing in their truth, unwilling to be held hostage to the “nice” that was trained into me. The type of nice that had me doing things I didn’t want to do for reasons I didn’t agree with.
So here’s to aging. Here’s to an end to the etiquette that tells me I must sacrifice and martyr myself on the altar of “nice”. Here’s to standing as the proud Adult Children of God that we all are and respectfully declining to be nominated for the Doormat Council.
In the Buddhist tradition, it is said that suffering is caused by attachment. The truth is that all things change, so if we are addicted to a certain form (the way a relationship has always been for instance) we are going to suffer. We heal ourselves by becoming aware of these addictions or cravings and then applying compassion. We release the addiction to the form and rest in the eternal rather than the changing. The Buddha is eternal. Our own Buddha-nature is eternal. Our physical bodies and the bodies of our affairs (money, relationships, jobs) change.
The summer, we managed to grow a real, live tomato plant. It’s the first time there has been fruit from a plant I planted in this home. I have planted thyme (haven’t tried to harvest anything) and other herbs, but they generally only do okay at best. Mint, which is an invasive weed, I managed to kill. But this year there was a success. Okay, so it’s only one small tomato, but it counts.
How silly would it be to mourn the plant that is fading with the summer instead of focusing on what it has given us (about a bite of tomato each)? I’m not going to roll the planter inside my home to save the plant, because it’s way too heavy and my cats would get into it. I can celebrate what it gave me and release this form, taking with me only the awareness that it is possible in God’s universe for me to participate in growing a plant. I have discovered part of the unchanging reality of my true self, my Buddha nature. I can let go of the form now.
I was rereading a part of the Book of John this morning about when Jesus, having been walking all day, sits by the edge of a well and asks a woman for some water. Now, the woman is a Samaritan and they don’t generally interact with Jews. Add to that that in those days, women didn’t just chat with men casually. Like, ever. So when Jesus tells her to go get her husband, and she admits she has no husband, he tells her, “You’re right. You’ve had five husbands and the one you have now isn’t yours.”
Now, I heard this story originally as a folk song by Peter, Paul and Mary. The song makes it sound like the woman is, to put it lightly, loose. There’s a bit of slut-shaming in the song. As I read the story now, it occurs to me that a woman can have five husbands if she outlives four. In those days, a woman’s worth was in her marital status and her ability to have children. What if the only reason she’s around is because she didn’t die in childbirth? What if some of those husbands divorced her thinking she was barren? The story doesn’t really say why she’s been married so many times. However, if she lost all those husbands through no fault of her own, even if her society told her it was her fault, then our Samaritan sister has been through some tough times. If she’s living with a husband that isn’t hers (maybe it’s her brother or her father) then she’s probably a second-class citizen in her own home. She has no social standing.
And she is willing to see the possibility that this strange man, who she probably shouldn’t be talking to, might be on to something. Maybe he sounds arrogant to her. Maybe he looks ridiculous (remember he’s just a stranger who’s been walking in the desert all day). I can relate to her. I’ve been to lots of retreats and workshops that promised me “living water” in the form of five simple principles or one great secret or a dozen rules. I have all the books. I’ve done lots of hours of studying. Heck, I have two master’s degrees and the student loans to prove it. I look at the time and money and wonder what the heck I was thinking! I still feel, sometimes, like that unwanted, unloved Samaritan who is just trying to find her place in the world.
If your Buddha-nature spoke up right now and promised you living water, promised you peace and joy, would you have the strength to try one more time? Would you be willing to try someone who seems like an unlikely guru? I went to lots of professionals and certificated teachers before I found the ones who told me my teacher is my own heart. Trusting that unlikely teacher has made all the difference.
I needed a few days to think and pray before responding to the events in Charlottesville. For me, the deeper message seems to come down to two things.
First, I have been a bigot. I’m not talking about participating in the subtle forms of racism that are part of American culture in the 21st Century. I don’t mean the white privilege that permeates my life – that I got well-educated, that I was raised in the upper middle class, that I can walk into a store and not be bothered, that cops are nice to me. I’m aware of the modern day slavery that is our prison industry, but it probably won’t affect me or my family because we are white. What I’m talking about is a period in my life where I was ignorant enough and blind enough to say things that now make me cringe. I know I was offending folks because they tried to rein me in. What they were unaware of is how much pain I was in. The irony of working in a crisis center while suicidal is not lost on me now, but at the time, I was so busy trying to survive, there wasn’t much brain power left to be aware of anything else. That is no excuse, but it was part of the situation at the time. Still, I said and did things that were mean and insensitive. I wonder how painful the lives of the neo-Nazis are to make them act so hatefully. I wonder how scared those white supremacists are that they no longer have cognitive function to see how self-destructive they are. Did you know that when you are really angry or scared, your higher mental function shuts down? We have evidence of that happening in Charlottesville.
Secondly, this neo-Nazi, alt-right, white supremacy thing isn’t new in our country. I remember being warned about it in high school back in the early ‘80’s. It seems to me to be a virus we keep thinking we have beaten, only to find it popping up again because we stopped actively vaccinating against it. Did you know that fleas and ground hogs have been found carrying the actual plague here in Northern Arizona? Seems unreal, right? It’s as real as the plague seen openly in Charlottesville in the past weeks. And yes, it is killing people. It has been killing people all along, although we have ignored it. Vaccination against this plague means awareness, admission of bigotry and having conversations about the subtle and not-so-subtle forms of racism and fear that govern our lives today. For me, it means supporting affirmative action, asking my friends of in minorities how I can use my privilege on their behalf, and refusing to laugh at or make bigoted jokes.
How are you going to vaccinate yourself? Are you willing to look in the mirror and find your own inner bigot? I can tell you from experience, it’s not fun. It’s not pretty. It’s horrifying and painful. And I’d rather do that than explain to the next generation why I hid in my safe house in the midst of this plague.
A lot of people are in fear this morning as we face the consequences of the presidential election. A lot of people are very happy, too. If you are in the first group, I urge you to go to prayer. If you can’t get to a place of love on your own, if your grief is not ready for that, please make a point of calling a practitioner (contact information is at www.cslprescott.org). There is support available to you. And if there was ever a time to engage in spiritual practice, this is it.
As members of the Centers for Spiritual Living, we as a community need to remember a few things. Our primary principle is Oneness. Other important values include diversity and inclusivity. I believe that as Religious Scientists it is our calling to support our friends and neighbors who are of color, who are of other faiths and who are of the LGBTQ community. That support might be a phone call. It might be speaking up when we hear racist, homophobic or misogynistic talk. It might mean staying in constant prayer to know what is really ours to do. When we affiliated with the Centers for Spiritual Living, we agreed to practice the principles and espouse the values of the Centers. These are just a few.
And this is not the end of the world. It might be the end of the world we knew, or the end of our perception of the world we thought we lived in. However, I will point out that Ernest Holmes began defining this philosophy in the midst of World War I, and continued teaching it through the Great Depression and World War II. This is a great time to prove the principles. This is a time for which this philosophy was created. If we let go of it now, we prove that we never really knew Truth. It’s time to practice what we have studied, create that world that works for everyone and see the Christ in each other. Our calling is no less than this.
Well, today we come to the end of the 2016 Presidential election process. Some are heaving a sigh of relief. Some are still worried about what happens starting November 9th. And some have long since given up hoping for a government that we can respect. I hope, at least, you’re not one of the last group.
This philosophy teaches Oneness. That means, in part, that the government we elect is an accurate reflection of who we are in consciousness as a nation. And what do we do when we’ve created something we don’t like? We learn from it and change the thinking that created it.
So today, I’m offering you a new ballot. It has nothing to do with political parties, agendas or personality. You get to vote for joy or fear. You have a choice between victimhood and active participation in your life. You have a choice between poverty of all kinds or abundance in every area of your life. You vote. And your vote in consciousness gets added to the election. You can’t abstain on this one. You can’t refuse to go to the polls. If you exist, you are voting just by how you are in the world and in your head.
Here’s the good news. If you have trained your consciousness, if you have spent some time discovering your own thinking and learning how to stay positive, then you are not only a super-delegate, you are an executive member of the electoral college. A trained consciousness is always more powerful than an untrained one.
Today, I vote for less victimhood in my own experience and I do that by participating in creating that experience. Today I vote for joy. I vote for an abundance of money, friends, love, and good times. I vote for clarity around my own vision of life and what I actually want to do and be. And I vote for you to join me on this journey.
Party takes on a whole new meaning here, doesn’t it?
God likes to make sure I have the lesson by giving me a practical application of the things I write about. So soon after I published the last post, I had an experience. I had been invited to see the Rocky Horror Show, which is something I’ve wanted to do since high school. I’ve seen the movie a couple times, but both times was either talking to other people or by myself and so not really all that into it. So we went to the show. I was gifted with a ticket, for which I was very grateful. I let them put the V on my forehead with bright red lipstick. I greeted several members of the congregation (you know who you are!) and laughed and had a great time during the first half. I talked to the producer during the intermission and was dared to wear the V to service then next morning. I was all in on that one – what harm could it do? Plus the producer said he’d make a donation if I did it.
Then the second half started. It begins with a scene in which Frank-N-Furter crawls into bed with first Janet and then Brad. Now, I know this is meant to be a comedy. I know the original show came out in 1975. I know the transvestite Doctor is a character that is meant to be over-the-top sexualized. But during that scene, I got triggered. The scene (in my mind) exposes the rape culture that we live in. Even though both characters protest, even though Janet indicates she’s expecting her fiancé rather than this stranger, the Doctor engages continues the sexual assault.
Maybe it’s because I’ve worked with children who have a history of sexual assault that doesn’t look like the stranger-offering-candy story. Maybe it’s because of the latest political scandal that exposes a candidate’s attitude towards women as sexual objects. Maybe it’s just because I’m me and have the training and experience that I have, but that scene triggered me to the point that I had trouble paying attention to the rest of the show. I considered leaving but didn’t want to be rude. That in and of itself is part of the cultural attitude that American women deal with and participate in – not speaking up because it might be seen as rude.
As I said in my last post, my opinion is not really the point. The point is my consciousness and what I am able to learn from my experiences. So I didn’t wear the V on Sunday. I didn’t refer to the experience on Sunday because I was still trying to get my balance back. I don’t think less of the others who were there, or who participated in the show, in any way. I just realize that this show is not something I’ll ever need to go to again, and that I can share my reasons if asked.
And at the same time, I can ask that others consider what we might need to change in our behavior and thinking in order to create a world where sexual assault is the rare occurrence rather than the experience of most of the women I know. The statistics say that one in five American women will suffer from attempted or completed rape. Those are just the cases that go reported. Those are just the cases that include actual rape as opposed to catcalling, groping, threatening and all the other stuff that happens. I’m willing to give up certain forms of entertainment in order to let those experiences disappear from our culture.
As always, feel free to comment and share your own experience.