Becoming Peacemakers

I’ve been re-cultivating the discipline of push-ups against the door frame lately. Fifteen was a challenge to start with, and now I can do thirty. I’m stronger, but it wasn’t entirely my doing.

I did stick with the activity, remembered to take time most days, persevered in pressing my weight away from the door frame until my muscles complained, endured the sense of weakness as I reached my limit. That much I could do.

But the getting stronger part is a mystery. It happens quite independently of anything I can direct. The body’s own wisdom and intelligence is knit into how we’re made.  It repairs the tiny fissures in the muscles in a way that leaves them more powerful. I invite that repair by exercising enough to stress the muscles without overstraining them. But the growing strength is the body’s own doing. That potential is built into the design of this miraculous embodied experience.

We do our work—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—in co-operation with the universe. Hopefully over time we learn to make space for the greater wisdom and power available to us. Into that space enters a transformative life force beyond anything we can put there. Trusting that process is what faith means. We aren’t alone; it’s never up to us alone.

Just before I fall asleep at night I know I’m being carried and I can let go. In fact, only if I let go can I sleep. Such a mystery, this space that opens up when I step back from thinking, planning, reviewing, worrying. In that space is an unnameable reality more real, more enduring, than all the plans and work and details that pass away. In that space is the experience of safety, wholeness, and love.

We’re part of the magnificent flow of life. We do our best to do our part, whatever that may be. Whether we’re in the calm before the storm or the storm before the calm, we’re carried by something bigger.

Making space to connect with that source of wisdom can change our perspective. As we rest from our labors, it knits us together stronger. And when we take up our tasks again, the strengthened source of wisdom within helps us offer the peacemaking presence that this world sorely needs.

 

Making Space in the Holiday Season

The vase where I keep my pens is a pleasure to use. Not only is it beautiful, it reminds me of the friend from whom it was a gift. And it keeps my pens from rolling away, or being buried under papers and books.

Vase of Pens

Yet I recently found myself finished using one of my favorite pens and placing it beside rather than in the vase, hoping it wouldn’t roll off the tabletop. The vase was jammed with writing implements I never use—pens with dried or blotchy ink that won’t improve with time—and there was no room for the one I truly cared about finding again when I needed it. It was a lot like having no pen holder at all.

It’s easy not to notice as trivial items encroach on limited space.  Because the change is gradual, it’s almost invisible. The same thing happens as our days, our conversations, our thoughts, grow cramped from holding too many unimportant things. Noticing that feeling of constriction is the first step in making a change. We need breathing room, space for something that would better serve.

I’m thinking about that welcome (and welcoming) space as the holidays draw near. I look forward to traditions that mark these days as special, set apart. Yet some years are so filled with events and obligations to wedge into the holiday calendar there’s scarcely time to simply enjoy the season.

Our lives are already full, and when we add in the seasonal celebrations it’s easy to jettison the things we need most—the chance to relax, have a conversation, take a walk, read something inspiring, make something beautiful, enjoy good music, to name a few—can be harder than ever to fit into the day.

For a variety of reasons, this holiday season will be different for my family from years past. Change is unsettling, but it also brings a sense of spaciousness. I want to be able to appreciate this particular year, this celebration, without imposing too many expectations from holidays past. Our psyches can become so crowded with old expectations we can hardly be present to what actually shows up.

Now, before the season begins, it’s a good time to consider what aspects of our celebrations we really care about, what helps us connect with something greater than ourselves, how we can best show our love, what gives this season meaning, and where in it we find beauty and light. Maybe it’s possible to let go of the pressure we put on ourselves to produce wonder and delight, and be more open to the real experience of it.

The darkness in the world weighs on all of us. We need the restoration, the healing, the renewal, that the holidays—the holy days—can bring. The best chance of experiencing those gifts is if we make room for them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeding the Dark Hole

Recently I had a lesson in paying attention, something that turns up for all of us from time to time–without too much pain, if we’re lucky.

I had taken the time to fill my thermos before leaving home, planning to have an organized, have-it-all-together kind of day. Unfortunately, I didn’t take time to be sure it was sealed.

The good news was that my laptop in the same bag was unharmed, but that was because my papers soaked up the spilled coffee. Handwritten pages bled through most of the notebooks, leaving an ever more ghostly imprint on each leaf. It was a stupid mess, made by no one but me, and there was nothing to do but pull everything out and clean it up.

I wiped the cover of my computer and set out the waterlogged paper to dry. I used a paper towel to soak up the liquid remaining in the bottom, all the while appreciating the excellent design decision to make the lining black.

But as I dried the interior I felt something beneath the lining—actually several somethings crowded together under there. I checked the inside pocket and sure enough, found a hole. It was an opening in the bottom corner, hardly noticeable but plenty big enough for a pen to work through. I made the opening a little bigger until I could get my fingers around a pen that had fallen behind the lining, then another one, and another. Suddenly I knew why a whole package of my Pilot fine-point gels had disappeared.

 

 

But there was more—a bottle of lotion from the Hampton Inn, a package of Kleenex, two tubes of lip balm, and a card from Laudanum Printing that I kept as a reminder to check their Etsy site. There were several paper clips, Riccola cough drops, plus a Hall’s, a couple of Dove dark chocolates, a Luna bar, a shoe shine mitt from the Inter-Continental in Seoul, and a sealed bag of Bigelow’s English Teatime.

All these important items I had squirreled away, thinking they might be necessary, only to have them disappear into a black hole in my bag. Who knows how long I hauled this stuff around, completely inaccessible but crowding my space and weighing me down. If these things were so important, how could they disappear without my noticing?

I can’t help wondering what other long-forgotten necessities are crowding my life, or what else I’m lugging around in my metaphorical baggage. What’s really essential, right now? What would happen if I could pay attention, fix the hole, and stop feeding the bag?

Clearing Space

A couple of days ago I noticed some interesting shadows in the evening light. The setting sun cast images of swaying trees and silhouettes of dancing leaves into the house. The most picturesque shadows were on the kitchen wall, below a board full of mementos. I set it up years ago to display children’s art work, but in more recent years it has held newspaper clippings, photos, and memorabilia from their activities. I wanted to get a picture of the light and shadow on the wall, but once I had my camera I realized there was too much clutter in the frame. Posters, newsprint, and a handkerchief hanging from the bottom of the board interfered with getting a good shot, so I quickly removed them before the light changed. I ended up with something kind of interesting:

I’ve been meaning to dismantle that board for over a year. Its role has passed. I’m still proud of my young adult children and their accomplishments, but it’s not about displays. The newspaper is yellowed, the medals are dusty, and the whole thing has been there, unchanged, for so long that no one even sees it any more. But the job I had been putting off—what do I do with all that stuff when I take it down, anyway?—is now underway.

It’s not an insurmountable job to remove the miscellany and open up the wall space, but it does mark the end of an era. Actually, the era has already ended and I’m just now catching up. The board was a simple and effective treatment for an abundance of artwork: a piece of matboard with clothespins glued to it, held on the wall with thumbtacks. It’s still in good shape. If you live nearby and need a way to display your children’s creativity, I’ll be happy to give it to you.

It feels odd to get rid of something that’s been part of the furniture for so many years. On the other hand, it will open up a lot of wall space. There’s something exhilarating about clearing out the old and making room for the new. I’ll enjoy the open space.

I wonder what will go there next.

Opening and Closing Rituals

With the closing ceremony of the Olympics complete, we’re now released from the 2010 games. We take the stories with us, but it’s time to move on.  A closing ritual helps us go forward when something good is over. The games are declared closed, but the ceremony also points toward the next host city, and the gathering four years distant.

The pair of opening and closing ceremonies marks a container for the experience, elevating the events they frame. We need a moment at the beginning to say, “Let the games begin.” It helps us see the undertaking as part of something larger. We need closure at the end, a way to hold together the diverse events in a unified experience, making them part of us before we let them go.

Our lives hold many small rituals for beginnings and endings: lighting the Christmas tree, the last night of vacation, baseball’s opening pitch, a minister’s benediction, housewarmings, graduations, groundbreakings, memorials. We set those times apart because we know they’re important. At the same time, we are reminded they’re important because we set them apart.

Even our simple routines at the day’s opening and closing matter. These rituals reassure us as we gather strength in the morning. In the evening, looking back on our efforts for better or worse, they help us put the day to rest. Sunrise and sunset, though they rarely delineate our waking and sleeping, nonetheless offer a relevant ceremony. They form a vessel that contains our lives—a day—to lift up for a blessing, or healing, in grief or gratitude.

A day has meaning. It’s what a life is made of. So I’m considering ways to mark the day’s opening and closing with a small, sustainable, and meaningful ritual.

Does it work to make one up or does it need to evolve naturally? How does a ritual become meaningful?