There are days I just can’t even. I’ve had a list of things – important things! – on my desk for two days that I need to get to before tomorrow night. I only just started them this afternoon. Nothing that took the place of doing my list was unimportant. A call to the Emergency Room, emails, calls, requests for prayer and counseling – all important. Even this blog is important and it still takes a back seat to the other more immediate priorities.
I know full well that one must prioritize and then be hardnosed about sticking to real priorities. I could stand a bit more discipline in that area. At the same time, people are more important than writing reports or even this blog. I value people and helping them to the best of my ability. I’d say it’s one of my primary values, so the list will sit until I get to it. Yes, I know all of this. And yet, that list keeps sitting there, looking at me, saying these things must be done.
I don’t think I’m alone in needing to prioritize or let lists just sit there being mad at me. I don’t think that putting people over writing is wrong, not in my case (your mileage may vary). I am here to remind you and myself that everything that actually needs to get done eventually gets done. Spirit can take a large chunk of this list (and the second mental list that I never write down) and handle it all for me. I have the ultimate Divine Honey-do list here. So, help me out folks. How do you shush the list of urgent stuff in order to stay focused on what’s really important according to your values? How do you remember what your real values are in the face of others who want something else from you?
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!
Today we broke down the Christmas tree and put everything back for another year. It took an hour and a half, much less time that it took to decorate. There’s no creativity in taking decorations down, unless you count fitting the tree back in the box. It’s a little sad and a bit of relief at the same time. It’s a relief because the holidays are such a busy time of year and I tend to be intensely conscious of the Christ in that time. And that’s why it’s sad, too.
As I put away all the decorations, the temptation is to go back to business as usual. All those lovely ideas about peace on earth and the light overcoming the darkness get tucked between the pages of my schedule book. The same meetings that crowded my schedule in 2017 crowd it in 2018. For some reason, this is season for transitions, so there are a lot of folks passing, some folks making major changes in jobs or homes, and of course, lots of people wanting help raising their consciousness. This is when gyms are the busiest, whether they are physical or spiritual gyms.
This is when I remember one of my favorite Christmas poems, by Howard Thurman.
I am a gifting person. For those of you familiar with the love languages, you will know that gifts are how I like to express love and how I recognize it when it’s offered. So Christmas shopping is one of my favorite winter activities. It’s an excuse to shop, which I don’t like to do for myself, and I get to think of all the people I love as I try to find a meaningful gift for them.
This year I got a surprise gift. A Center that I have been helping out sent me a tithe check. Now, it’s not the amount on the check that matters. It’s not like I could pay off my house with this money. It is a lovely way of telling me that the work I do means something. It helps someone. Of course I knew this, and I’ve been told this, many times. I am very appreciated at my own Center. The thing is, I’m a gift-er, so this acknowledgement came in a form that my heart recognizes and receives.
Riding that wave of joy, I found myself listing all the gifts in my life. Some folks call this counting one’s blessings. I got a rush from really appreciating having been born in this country, having a car that is reliable and working in a place that surrounds me with beautiful people and gives me meaningful work to do. I didn’t even get to the people who make my life a joy. That would be a very long list. And yes, I know that counting blessings is a time honored spiritual practice. I know that “count your blessings” is getting trite and might even have become code for “stop complaining about your first world problems.” Still, when done with an honest gratitude for what it, it’s a powerful practice. That’s how a practice becomes time-honored — cuz it works.
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.
One of the first “prosperity tools” that I learned was to create a vacuum. Want new clothes? Empty out your closet. Pass on those things that you don’t use. Create physical space as a means of creating space in consciousness for your good to come in. I think almost every prosperity class I’ve ever taken has had that exercise in there somewhere, if not right at the front. At few months ago, I realized that I think of giving things away as something rich people do. I don’t need to hoard stuff I’m not using, because I can always get another if I need it. So I feel rich every time I take a load of good stuff to a thrift store.
Here’s another thing that I was reminded also works. Need car repairs? Make the appointment and then tell God you need the money by that date. Create the need and then let the Divine do the heavy lifting. When that feels easy, step out for something you want but don’t need. I was offered the chance to do some traveling with friends. Buying the trip would benefit a charity I believe in and check off a point on my bucket list. It was a great deal. Do you see how I’m making an argument for something I want, as if I need a rational explanation for taking a leap of faith? I have a tendency to need to feel responsible with my money, so doing these luxurious things requires a real leap of faith for me. My faith that there is lots of good in the Universe and I can have mine is what I’m working on here. Of course, within days of saying yes to the trip, it was paid for by unexpected income. An apartment that I own was rented out, so there’s more income that I wasn’t sure about.
There is not much of a rational explanation for creating a vacuum when you are already experiencing need. It might seem irresponsible or stupid. But the thing it, it works. It’s worked every time. When I did it worried that this one time it wouldn’t work, it’s worked. When I asked for wants rather than needs, it’s worked. When I call it tithing, it works. When other people do it, it works. Give it a shot – and share how it worked for you.
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 never liked working in groups in school. I wanted to be in charge of earning my own grades. I didn’t want some other person, who was obviously never going to be as smart as me, messing up my GPA. Yes, I’m talking about elementary school. I had issues.
Most days now, I’m an adult. I recognize the Oneness of all beings and I get that life on this planet is a group project. We sink or swim together. There’s a thing called the Bodhisattva vow that says that souls are innumerable and the Bodhisattva vows to row them all to the distant shore. I don’t vow to row anyone else to shore, but I’ll take an oar and help. If we’re all just walking each other home, as Ram Das says, then I’ll walk next to anyone. I don’t think I do the Universe any favors by thinking I need to carry someone else. After all, that other person is just as much a part of God as I am, right?
Having said that, I’m discovering the joy of working together with other folks who are walking home at the same rate as I am. Yesterday, a group of us went outside after service and weeded the labyrinth. With so many working on the project it went pretty fast and it gave me time to catch up with folks I usually don’t get to have conversation with on Sunday. I also just got back from a gathering of ministers in North Carolina. It’s a beautiful place and the Center there in Asheville is impressive at a lot of levels. My ministry only started being successful once I recognized the power of the group consciousness. I started enjoying ministry when I realized that part of my job was to do lunch with colleagues and share the joys and challenges with them. Those connections make my career possible.
So today I’m up for the group project this teaching Universe has assigned. Today I work with and walk with anyone who sincerely wants to create a world that works for everyone.
My brother called to tell me about his son and their football team. They have this coach – Coach Vito – who just sounds really impressive. All the local teams came together for something called Jamboree, where they play short games and spend a full day on the field. No score is kept in the entire league (my nephew is still six) so it’s really about learning to play the game.
However, Coach called the whole team over at the next practice and asked how everyone thought they’d done. I picture them remembering that they had fun, so it must have been good. The team members talked about their successes and how it all went. They decided that based on their playing, they had done well.
And then Coach gave feedback. He said there was one thing he saw their team (and their town’s teams) do that he didn’t see from anyone else. What he noticed is that their team helped other people up if they fell. They have been taught that no matter what team another player is on, if they see someone go down, they are to give that person a hand up. Coach complemented the kids and said that was exactly the kind of people they should be.
Now, this team may or may not face the right direction. They may or may not bring the ball with them when they run for the touchdown. But by all the gods and goddesses of autumn, they are learning to play the real Game.