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Sunday, July 24, 2011, 10:29 PM
Yesterday, I was heartsick over the recent attack in Norway. Of course, my own grief can't compare with that of the victim's loved ones. But I awoke this morning to find the sadness had ceded to a kind of malaise, a dim view on the fate of our world. It was even more depressing to see that the Norway tragedy was no longer catching headlines already. That's how quickly contemporary human interest shifts in a world where life has become far too expendable.
I know that this reaction of hopelessness, and the lack of motivation for change that it engenders, is exactly why hate succeeds in delivering quick and lasting results. But getting my own self out of a funk wasn't inspiring enough to make me go dance in the sunshine.
My own inspirational therapy was to respond to the sadness expressed by others. I read other people's responses to the news here on Beliefnet, on FaceBook, and saw the pictures of the families mourning in Oslo. I couldn't physically embrace those families, but I could write messages to the people I knew or who had expressed resignation and despair.
It wasn't until I sat down to write my post that I realized how my own mood had lightened as the day progressed in connection with what I wrote to encourage others.
What did I write?
Just as hate seems unstoppable, so is love.
P.S. I just found this incredibly appropriate quote from Beliefnet on my FaceBook:
Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying,"I will try again tomorrow."
- Mary Anne Radmacher
Saturday, July 23, 2011, 10:47 PM
I sat down tonight to write a completely different post about examining our concepts of hope. Since I've been out of town for the last day and a half, I decided to first catch up with a peek at The New York Times online edition. I was already aware that Amy Winehouse had passed away. If you aren't familiar with her, you should listen to her music before reading about her life. She is an example of great potential led astray by drugs and depression.
But what I found in the headlines was horrifying, far beyond this one loss. I literally feel sick to my stomach and gagged when I felt the pressure increasing around my throat as I read more.
"Christian Extremist Charged in Norway" was the headline. "Manifesto Shows Plan of Attack and Fear of Islam" was the title of a related article. At least 92 innocents killed. A person calmly stalked and killed teenagers trapped on an island.
And the saddest part is that LABELS were what motivated this killing spree and LABELS are how it is being reported by the news. Individuals were reduced to generalizations. Fear and hatred and hopes of annihilation are winning even after the suspect was identified. Because the world is still going to see a white male Christian who targeted a camp whose primary clientele were the children of Norway's politically liberal elites. And this is fact.
But the larger sadness is that as long as the world (far too many of us) continues to see everyone beyond their own "tribe" as other, there will continue to be such destruction. If the news had reported that one human planned and methodically executed his plan to kill his fellow humans for the purpose of ridding the world of the ideas in those humans' brains...well, doesn't that sound absurd?
Yet, when it is a war...we applaud our governing bodies for their noble motives, which are invariably to save these humans...by killing those humans. Why is this more absurd (pathetic, mad, insane, criminal) on a small scale than on the national scale? Could it be because we know the individual is bound to fail but the larger nation may succeed? That sends a chill of horror down my spine.
I had planned to write about "hope." Reading about the damage that hate can produce, I am challenged to reconsider "hope." We encourage one another to not "lose hope," but this man's hope was to protect one type of life experience by killing another life experience. He had a hope. Has a hope. And his hope is my worst nightmare.
I don't think I will answer this challenge tonight, or tomorrow night. But, if I set my hope against the hope of people like him, and refuse to use the same methods, maybe my hope will stand a chance...and that might be the closest thing to a personal definition of "faith" that I've ever identified.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011, 10:42 PM
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst, defined his theory of synchronicity as the “simultaneous occurrence of two [or more] meaningful but not causally connected events.” I added “[or more]”, which has sometimes been true in my experience. Synchronicity can, also according to Jung, “appear as meaningful parallels to the momentary subjective state.”
Basically, synchronicity is the word for this phenomenon: we begin to think about something, and then the world around us, seemingly supernaturally, offers up things that we can’t help but connect to the thing on our minds. Jung’s beliefs bordered on the supernatural, especially with his ideas of the collective unconscious, but many people can identify with this experience.
I have experienced synchronicity many, many times in my life. Most recently, with undertaking a whole new life path, I’ve found links in a synchronicity chain, seemingly supporting my decisions.
For example, I recently discovered that a friend from my old workplace, and a fellow seeker, is currently using Julia Cameron’s workbook, The Artist’s Way (mentioned in one of my earlier journal posts here), to structure her transition from 7:30-3:30 teaching to full-time artist. She has been very inspirational for me. Just the fact that I’m not alone and can name someone else who is taking personal risks to live a life of her choosing is important for me.
Two other important things happened that week. After panic and sleepless nights about money and debt, coupled with this new path I’m embarking on, I finally hit a wall and came to a realization. When it occurred, I actually felt my whole body, mind, and spirit settle and breathe easier. I realized that I needed to embrace the situation fully, which would require major changes, but changes that would make everything work. I re-committed myself to my budget, to not purchasing books, to not purchasing any brand new clothing, to live simply, to enjoy simple pleasures.
I also made the decision to stay where I’m at, instead of moving into campus housing this fall. It is more cost-effective for my needs, even if it does mean that I am forced to admit, yes, I’m 34 and living with my parents. This decision led to unpacking and re-arranging my bedroom for a more long-term situation. I unpacked all of my books and discovered my own copy of The Artist’s Way in the bottom of the last box.
That night, sitting in my private space with its new arrangement, I opened the book for the first time in at least five years. I found that I’d agreed to the steps of the workbook twice previously: once in 2000 and again in 2002. I added a new date: 4 July 2011. The same day that I had already set for the beginning of my own 365 Photo Project (an online creative challenge to document each day of a year with a photograph).
In the first two pages of the Introduction to the book, I found that Cameron’s description of creativity is intertwined with the concept of a creative force, a “spiritual electricity”, coming from a “Great Creator”, which she calls “God” throughout her book (although she invites the reader to use the term that most fits their beliefs). This definition of the “creative flow” is exactly what “the greening” is! (Check out my earlier journal entry on "the greening".)
This is what I had been feeling and needing to reconnect with in a more intimate and permanent way. I want to live creatively and spiritually. I agree with Cameron that the two are connected. A breath; one an inhale, the other an exhale.
Cameron peppers her book with inspirational quotes. Here are some that fit the connection of something divine with creativity:
“The primary imagination I hold to be the Living Power.” --Samuel Taylor Coleridge
“the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” --Dylan Thomas
“God must become an activity in our consciousness.” --Joel E. Goldsmith
I LOVE the concept of God as a verb. Why would God have stopped creating once he began? If our experience of the satisfaction and delight in creating is akin to what a force or entity must have experienced, then he/she/it couldn’t have stopped!
Then on page two of the first chapter, Cameron posits that you can look at it one of two ways or both: “creativity leading to spirituality or spirituality leading to creativity.” And she introduces Jung's concept of synchronicity into the mix on this page, too!
I have managed to hold onto this book for 11 years. It has taken that long for me to actually understand and pursue the creative life that it offers to anyone willing to love themselves enough. The coincidence (synchronicity, if you will) of unearthing The Artist’s Way with my state of mind following that stressful week with the day I’d already set for the beginning of another creative project left me with a refreshed sense of beginning my journey. I felt renewed and recommitted, with new tools to help me remain on my path, wherever it may take me.
Just yesterday, when my divorce hearing made the painful end of a marriage official, God balanced the day with a job offer that would fit perfectly with my school load this semester. I'm finally beginning to not only witness these moments of life's give and take, the breathing in and out, but to feel bolstered by them. If you substitute synchronicity for every interesting "coincidence" (are there any coincidences?) in your life, you can see your path in a much more inspiring and hopeful light.
Monday, July 18, 2011, 12:51 PM
In April I read an inspiring account of what Sara Frazier and a friend were doing in the South Bronx ("The Evangelical Squad." The New York Times. 22 April 2011.)
What they were doing was a small step towards a revolution based upon the teachings of Christ, as represented in the Gospels. Basically, Frazier and her friend (Jillian Roche, introduced when I researched the topic further), decided to follow the example of Shane Claiborne in his book Irresistible Revolution and make an honest effort at living their life based upon the values and examples of Jesus. For these two female New York University students, this took the form of moving to the poorest neighborhood in the country and providing meaningful neighborhood fellowship.
I decided to dig a little deeper and found two excellent short video documentaries about them.
"Bringing Renewal to the South Bronx" is from the Trinity Grace Church, which was also introduced in The New York Times article:
And "Beekman: From the Village to the Hood" is an earlier video created by Megan Cruz and introduces Frazier's friend, Jillian Roche:
There is also a blog, The Beekman Notes, but it hasn't been updated in over a year: beekmannotes.blogspot.com/
In Cruz's documentary two New York University professors are interviewed and voice very jaded and cynical opinions. To me, their opinions only support Sara and Jillian's choices. Their dismissals abet a status quo that perpetuates poverty and violence. Supporting government initiatives can only go so far. Then, the acts of individuals, inspired by such as these two young women, are necessary to make real change in our communities.
It doesn't matter how long the women were successful, if they're still living there in the South Bronx and working or not. The important thing is that they did what they could while they could. Building friendships, breaking down culturally reinforced barriers to bring joy, support, acceptance, and food to someone is always going to be worth what ever time it takes.
I hope to bring more individuals' examples to the forefront in this blog. As I mentioned in my last entry, it is so often the lives of others that give us the courage, inspiration, hope, and strength to act.
Saturday, July 16, 2011, 7:57 PM
Powerful inspiration can come from other people's example. The most obvious example of this is Jesus Christ, for the many Christian readers here at least. But many other individuals' lives provide glimpses of what we are capable of, as mere humans.
The names that appear most often in our elementary and middle schools are Martin Luther King, Jr., the U.S. Presidents (especially our founding fathers), Benjamin Franklin, Ruby Bridges, Jesse Owens, and Nelson Mandela. I have spent the past five years in public schools as a librarian, and although I know teachers cover many other influential historical figures, these are the names I heard the students repeat outside of their classrooms.
I didn't even know about the influences of such men as William Wilberforce, Leo Tolstoy (beyond his fiction literature, of course), or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, until the past few years. I actively sought out women role models, such as Dian Fossey (oh, how I wanted to take her place in the Virunga volcanoes around Rawanda), Jane Goodall, Mother Teresa, and Anne Frank. Then, there is Mahatma Gandhi, Joan of Arc, Virginia Woolf (a powerful inspiration for me), the Dalai Lama, Buddha, George Fox.
I am partial to writers and find more inspiration from Stephen King (he wasn't always a best-seller, and I haven't actually read many of his novels...I read about his life), Dubravka Ugresic (a Yugoslavian writer forced to flee when she refused to choose one of the warring factions in her homeland), Stephen Cope (and the real people he features in his books about Yoga and life applications), Robert Henri (1865-1929, American artist and teacher), Wayne Teasdale (a lay monk, Christian mystic, and writer), Kate Braestrup (writer and Maine State Warden Service Chaplain), and Phillip Gulley & James Mulholland (whose If Grace is True and If God is Love were gentle eye-openers for me).
My challenge for anyone seeking their own inspirational person, seeking to expose their children to a more varied pool of inspirations, or to simply learn more about the individuals who have/are shaping our world, is to read more about any of these names that are strange to you. Or do your own Googling and see if you can find more inspirational individuals to share with us! I look forward to the additions!
Thursday, July 14, 2011, 9:04 AM
As in, the eye of the beholder.
Oscar Wilde, in turns out, commented often on hope, pain, and perception:
“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.”
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Even a line about marriage is really applicable to a wider understanding of hope as a stubborn optimistic perception:
“Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.”
Oh, right, easy enough, you say (cue the rolling of the eyes). Could it be that easy? Just flip the switch on our perception from glass-half-empty to glass-half-full? Psychologists research the difference between optimists and pessimists, books probe the phenomenon of happiness, the psychoanalysis industry purges our dark sides...all to achieve hope?
By this point in my blog, my reader is getting tired of the questions outnumbering the answers. But my questions may inspire responses that I never dreamed of!
My answer to my own question is no, it is usually not that easy...but, it could be. Our environments influence our ability to make the switch in perception. Changes must be made in our lives, our approach to life must change. You can go to psychoanalysts all you want, read the happiest books, watch only the movies with happy endings, and still be stuck in pessimism, wondering why you aren’t inspired by much or more hopeful about the future (for yourself or the world). Changes must accompany the props that we are sold by popular culture. Then, as I’ve found, those changes take you further away from popular culture, especially the successfully commercialized parts.
Changes are hard. It takes effort to move the flow of a river. Hope is best understood as a verb. Hope is active. Not passive. You can try hoping while sitting still, but it is much harder to get anywhere.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011, 5:52 PM
We tend to envision warm fuzzies when we hear the words hope and inspiration, not scenes of pain and suffering. But pain might be one of our best sources of inspiration and hope. Don’t misunderstand; I am not advocating pain and suffering. But it has its place. We can’t live without some degree of pain. Physiologically, pain helps us survive by telling the body to fix a problem. Spiritually, pain plays a similar role.
This first hit home for me while reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (1992). In the chapter called “Recovering a Sense of Identity,” Cameron writes about attention (essentially mindfulness) as a “way to connect and survive” (p. 53), then gives two examples from her personal life. Her grandmother suffered the instability of a gambler husband, but always managed to fill her letters to Cameron with wonderful observations of the simple things in life: flowers, birds, details of daily life that too many of us take for granted. She didn’t let her life pass her by. She defeated the pain with increased attention to life. I believe Cameron expects us to wonder if she would have been so mindful if not sparked by suffering.
The other example is her own divorce, from which she began recovery with long walks that forced her to pay attention beyond her own suffering. Again, would she have come to this revelation of mindful living if she had been pain-free? At least her recovery through attention brought her to this healthy perspective: “Pain had become something more valuable: experience” (p. 54).
We call those who overcome incredible suffering and lives of pain “inspirations” to others. The first of the Noble Truths of Buddhism is that life is suffering. Of course, suffering is many things, and much of it is survivable. We put ourselves willingly through some forms of pain and suffering in the name of hope. We hope for certain outcomes in our lives, so we sacrifice to attain those hopes. We are burned by former pain, so we are inspired to make changes.
Here is a quote from Ken Wilber, which I found in the Spring 2011 issue of Parabola magazine (originally quoted in the London Observer, 1958):
A person who is beginning to sense the suffering of life is, at the same time, beginning to awaken to deeper realities, truer realities. For suffering smashes to pieces the complacency of our normal fictions about reality, and forces us to come alive in a special sense--to see carefully, to feel deeply, to touch ourselves and our worlds in ways we have heretofore avoided.
Perhaps pain and hope cannot be equated. But can we have one without the other?
Tuesday, July 12, 2011, 2:04 PM
Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) described the vital, creative spirit of God that she envisioned as "the Greening". It is this root that connects us on this planet, as much to the birds in the air as to our ancestors, who have long become one with the soil that we tread today. This is what I'm seeking to tap into and grow with. I am a seeker. And I wish to be a contributor. I also seek others with whom I can share, discuss, discover, explore.
Reading everything I can about the experience of other seekers, including mystics, like Saint Hildegard, who value their own experiences with a greater power enough to risk sharing them publicly, has been an inspiration. I've left a safe career as a school librarian to pursue my own studies in religion, philosophy, and history. After I spend the upcoming academic year on the coursework for a Philosophy / Religion major (which will be my second B.A.), I plan to begin coursework towards a Masters in Divinity (which will also be my second masters degree). In other words, as my father notes (with a kind twinkle in his eye), I'll be an over-educated professional student with more student loans than I could ever pay off with the jobs that I would be happy taking after getting the diplomas. I respond, "Then pray for me that helping others will suddenly become a lucrative career path!"
I've just recently discovered Beliefnet.com. The first thing I saw when I clicked on Community was the "Become the Next Beliefnet Blogger" competition! I've entered and this is my first post in the category of Hope and Inspiration. The likelihood that I'll win is probably slim, but perhaps someone will read about my own hungry spiritual search and receive the positive energy I hope to put out into the world. Hope and inspiration are better as verbs than nouns. It's all about the sharing and the supporting.
"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." --Mahatma Gandhi
I wish to see respectful interfaith dialogue and open free thought, kindness and forgiveness. Now...to just find the place where I can do the most good!
Sunday, July 10, 2011, 10:07 PM
I'm very excited about beginning to explore this site! I had launched a personal blog for sharing my own thoughts on my path as a seeker and for encouraging respectful dialogue, I Seek the Greening, http://seekthegreening.blogspot.com/, but this Beliefnet Journal will take the place of that. Beliefnet is exactly what I'd hoped to create, I just hadn't found it yet!