The Return of the Wayward Corporate Refugee

From the back garden you will be able to see the wild wood.
The deep well you walk past leads to Winter’s realm;
there is another land at the bottom of it.
If you turn around here,
you can walk back, safely;
you will lose no face. I will think no less of you.

(Welcome wisdom… BlissChick offered this Neil Gaiman poem, “Instructions,” today)

I have been away.

Digging for a new sense of purpose...
Digging for a new sense of purpose...

I have been on a journey. Not far, just a journey that took me from the once-upon-a-time a church organ that is my beloved writing desk to the more public realm of the kitchen table.

The work I was doing was pulling me from my shell (often against the will I insisted on trampling upon) and was asking me to consider pulling open some other people’s shells as well.

With the belief (or was it an excuse?) that getting involved with a multilevel marketing company that offers a great product endorsed by Deepak Chopra was going to propel me along the path to being a healer, I gave the last month to this new project. The economic pinch we’re feeling made it seem like an even more acceptable idea. Unsure what was healthy skepticism and what was irrelevant fear,

I plunged in.

But now, as I look at empty slots on the blog calendar and barely remember the names of beloved characters from my neglected novel and realize I really owe Grandpa an email, I wonder if it was worth it and I wonder how to proceed.

It is only just past Imbolc (Brigid’s Day I barely gave myself time to recognize) and I find I have slipped out of 2009’s intended alignment already. Or rather, I was forcing myself into a new alignment that was so far off my present course that it seemed like so much chaos. I was aligning with my need to help save up for impending school taxes. I was aligning with the dreams that my teachers in my healing school had decided would light their own paths. I was aligning with my hope that skepticism was unnecessary baggage and that some corporate promises were fueled by something more than deception and greed.

Finding contentment with where I am
...finding contentment with where I am

I didn’t use this space to describe my brief journey with Zrii, and I have little desire to use it to describe what is probably going to involve walking away or at least drastically altering my relationship with the whole affair. It’s been a tremendous learning opportunity, and I have been plunged into some lessons I didn’t think I was ready to absorb. It all came on the heels of other personal shifts that I thought would take a long time to sort through. I assumed the universe would give me the luxury to focus on one bend in the road at a time, but here I am, once again trying to understand: I am not in control.

So, I believe that I return from this little sojourn with new wisdom, something risked and something gained. I opened arms wide enough to risk humiliation, and so I learn some humility. And so I return to my own path, one that has no logo and no endorsement, one that is shrouded in no illusions but the ones I cannot yet leave behind.

Remember your name.
Do not lose hope — what you seek will be found.
Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have
helped to help you in their turn.
Trust dreams.
Trust your heart, and trust your story.

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“I stand here today humbled by the task before us”

inaugurationkeyholeHumility.

I had never considered the virtue of humility, the necessity magic that is conjured by being humble, until I began working with Caroline Myss’s book about Teresa of Avila’s theology, Entering the Castle.

Raised in the 80s age of self esteem – you can do anything, sky’s the limit, everyone is an individual snowflake worthy of accolades and advancement – humility was never considered a noteworthy skill. Who had time to learn what humility was when there were so many dreams to be chased and so much self promotion to be done ? The only way to get into college and then get a good job and be any sort of success at all was to learn young and learn well: you need to constantly remind the world that you are unique and worthy.

Slowly, the recognition that humility is in fact a virtue, not just the fall back plan for quiet kids who’ll never win the best prizes, has started to color my life. If you know me in the flesh, I’ll let you be the judge of whether that approach is really working… At least I can tell you I am thinking about it!

Humility has come to mind all week because I am still struck by the very first line of Barack Obama’s inaugural address: “I stand here today humbled by the task before us.”

Part of our new president’s mystique is his quiet confidence, his even demeanor and delivery, his deep belief in himself that allows him to move from this place of humility. We can all pray that this quality endures in him so that he can open his heart and mind to other perspectives and continue to work with the common good as his ultimate goal.

It is becoming more and more clear that humbleness not just an attitude for monks and scullery maids. Taking humility beyond an interior dialog with the soul and watching its practical application on the stage of presidential politics makes this spiritual work make a new sort of sense.

Like I said, humility never meant much to me until a couple of years ago when I picked up Myss’s book. I am left to wonder how many other brilliant words and ideas like that still circle around me, as yet ignored and unacknowledged. I know I cannot get hung up on all of the visions that have not yet revealed themselves to me – that is a sure way to madness, looking desperately for the next moment of enlightenment. It just inspires me once again: this journey through life offers so much promise, such evolution of the mind and soul, so many opportunities to look at this adventure of living afresh.

A couple more bits of wisdom from that incredible speech on January 20:

inaug-speechAs we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

Beyond the Inconvenience of Changing Behavior & Changing the World

I am still preoccupied with the issue of global warming and the devastation we cause simply by being regular, average citizens of the western world, but I am ready to draw a more concrete parallel to this awakening and the overall quest for the True Self. Of course, the way we live upon this earth and the imprint that we leave upon creation is an inherently spiritual question in itself, so please forgive me if I get stuck here for a while.

In Entering the Castle Caroline Myss writes a great deal about a fear of humiliation as being the force that keeps us from embracing humility – the quiet, unselfconscious power that can open us to God. She asks her readers to go through these humiliations, from the minor interpersonal stuff that keeps us from changing our morning routine to the deep spiritual elements that affect the way we relate to the Divine. I am beginning to realize that one of the little humiliating situations that I would do anything to avoid is being derided for being too high-maintenance or difficult, for being deemed a chore to have around because I cannot just go with the flow. Of course, I fear a common element of groupthink, the tyranny of the majority that will do everything possible to keep all people at the lowest common denominator.

The food we choose to eat can expose us to a great deal of judgment and ridicule. As someone who is gluten intolerant, I have had more than enough conversations about my diet and my digestive system. Before I got serious about eliminating gluten, I was a relatively serious vegetarian, but once the menu’s meatless pasta choice became a half-remembered dream, I had to give up my anti-flesh convictions. If I planned ahead even more carefully and prepared to refuse even more offered sustenance (let us not forget the degree to which calories are the currency of friendship, love, and hospitality), I might be able to earn back my veggie stripes, but at least to this point, I have found that it is not worth the struggle.

There has been plenty of reporting dedicated to the impact our carnivorous diet has on the planet. Environment Magazine published the first story I ever read about the issue. Even that show I keep talking about, Six Degrees Could Change the World, discussed the amount of energy it takes to put a hamburger on an American plate. The issue is emerging as one that is larger than my own appetite or the annoyance of people who never know what to feed a picky eater like me (ah, those hostesses faces that have fallen to despair when I whisper weakly that soy sauce’s second ingredient is wheat!).

I bring up the issue because I recognize that one reason I do not change my diet is a little bit like my inability/refusal to see the Divine in all people and treat them accordingly. I don’t want to plague loved ones with either my wearisome food concerns or my new codes of honor. Already I am the woman who cannot eat a normal birthday cake and is forever caught up in spiritual pursuits, how can I start passing up pork chops at Sunday dinner and refuse to twist my wit in wicked directions to make friends laugh too? Of course, none of this is to say that I am either entirely virtuous (I liked the turkey and cilantro burgers my husband made for dinner last night and sometimes I am engulfed with a mean spiritedness that is entirely my own) or that I am completely ruled by others’ whims (I am a pretty strong willed person, but sometimes I abandon my principles in an often feeble attempt to be polite).

Some of the most overused words of this decade have got to be “convenient” and “inconvenient” – proof that Al Gore’s movie hit a home run into the modern cultural lexicon. It is time to stop throwing around inconvenience as just another buzz word, however, and realize the deep truth contained in the fact that we are creatures completely addicted to our convenient, disposable world. Changing our behaviors and facing the confused or hurt or laughing faces of our companions really is just a trifle when we talk about affecting the fate of the world or engendering more compassion in this world, but damn, it sure seems hard.

The Struggle with Humility

Stephan de PalyFor the better part of a year I have been working with Caroline Myss’s Entering the Castle, a refashioning of Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle. Part of me feels guilty about spending all of this time with this derivation of such a classic text, with all of its modern directions about “Soul Work” and journaling, but I have to trust my 21st century spirit and give her what she needs. Though I’ve had the original out from the library for ages (in the guise of two tragically plain looking volumes that hold 1960s translations of the saint’s complete works) I know that my chances of really reading unmediated Teresa is rather remote, while I know I will give time to the process as Myss lays it out.

Before you can come anywhere near the pyrotechnics of the soul that mark the mystic’s experience (and I use that term facetiously, knowing that a great deal of the journey to the Divine is rooted in silent communion rather than blinding visions and moments of levitation) one has to work with what Teresa calls the “reptiles.” These are the fears and hang ups and frailties that keep you from real communion with your sacred self. The reptiles are the petty shreds of the all too human preoccupations that keep us from embracing divinity.

Myss introduces humility as a necessary “quality of character” as one walks the spiritual path; understanding it builds the essential foundation as you journey upward to the turrets of the soul castle. She writes: “humility allows you to recognize an acknowledge all the positive qualities of body, mind, and spirit in another person”; “humility disarms the competitive voice”; and “humility enables you to understand another person’s motivations and to transcend any negativity.”

It’s written in a bit of a self-helpy way, but all of these things seem really quite wonderful and I can certainly get excited about the positive outcomes engendered by embracing humility and shifting the way I relate to others. At the same time, I do not think I had ever thought about the concept of humility before I picked up this book; it certainly was never a quality I strove for. What does one think of besides kids who grew up in tiny houses (humble beginnings) and someone forced to eat their words (humble pie)? I, like so many others, was raised to be an achiever; you have to sell your skills and make sure that all of your accomplishments were recognized and applauded. Putting others first all of the time is a good way to be labeled one of the “nice” girls in class, but it is not how you get to be known as interesting or clever.

I have an awful lot invested in being considered interesting and clever, so the realization that my wittiest lines so often come at the expense of others has been a vicious reptile to wrestle with. It is this resistance to letting go of what I tend to see as hallmarks of my personality (rather than banal cruelties) that has kept me in this first mansion for months, knowing that I must go back and peel away endless layers of resistant false self. So many corners of my being are shocked to learn that the goal is recognize myself to be a humble servant of God.

That really is the ultimate goal: to figure out how to act humbly on this earth with all that you meet so that you are prepared to approach to Divine with devotion unencumbered by the petty mandates of the ego. At this point I am willing to declare it a worthy enterprise, but it doesn’t seemto be a quality that contemporary living has prepared me for. I have some more work to do so that I can fight the belief that I will need to wear a sign that declares “I’m not being shy/dull/retiring, I’m being HUMBLE!”

And so I close another entry, wondering whether I am transgressing the humility code as I hope that people find my words intriguing enough to have reach the end…

Pacing the Earth With Humility and Grace

“In order to obtain the astonishing and unifying image of the whole earth whirling in the darkness of space, humans, it would seem, have had to relinquish something just as valuable – the humility and grace that comes from being fully a part of this whirling world.”

– David Abram, Spell of the Sensuous

Apollo 17 Crew, NASA

In his remarkable book, Abram looks at the way written language (and all of the technology that resulted in perfecting that particular form of magic) has altered our relationship with nature. We are almost completely wrapped up in the power of our own minds to the degree that we no longer recognize that living on this planet is to coexist in an infinite partnership. He describes the ability of people of oral cultures to live in harmony with the land and every entity; he makes it clear that we “moderns” have alienated ourselves almost completely from such a symbiotic dance.

I wanted to celebrate the chirp of every cricket right along with him and know what it would be like to see the earth not as an inanimate setting upon which I enact the drama of my life, but to recognize the landscape as a main character. I was able to lose myself in the text. At the same time, the unforgettable element that reverberates through this work is that such a well-crafted narrative can only exist thanks to the innovations that have pulled us away from this original sensibility. And though his story is captivating, I think I would be looking for a little more excitement than the local moss and soaring birds might be able to offer after a little while. He offers a very brief solution to this separation from nature, and that is to return to a localized culture that truly focuses on what is immediately outside your back door rather than on the global vision that entrances us now. I am not sure that his answer is immediately practicable or even attractive, but I gained much simply from Abram’s description of an idealized unity of humans and their environment.

I chose the quote above both because it creates a startling perspective on the consequences of “progress” and because Abram employs the terms “humility” and “grace.” During this period of soul searching I am trying to take a break from my current dilemma that revolves around asking “what’s next?” to move further within to ask “where am I now?” Caroline Myss’s Entering the Castle has been my guide, and in working with this book I have encountered these two words that I have thrown around before but certainly did not fully understand. These words are an interesting choice for Abram because one thing I missed in his book was any direct discussion of God. That is not a failing of this book necessarily – the natural world is the mightiest manifestation of the divine and it is easy to read into this text the sense that removing ourselves from nature is also to separate ourselves from the most beautiful and immediate expressions of the sacred. It is just something that I noticed was absent since so much of what I am reading these days is so overtly laced with “God talk.”

But what does it mean to live with humility and grace? This question is enough to fill endless entries, but it is one that I must begin to pose. At this moment I would consider grace to be the ability to walk through my day knowing that I am a channel of divine energy, conscious of the unity of all creation and of my own powerful place in that continuum. Humility is a concept I am just beginning to get my head around – to understand on a personal level that it is not about fading into the woodwork and sacrificing my personality in an effort to be blandly and angelically good. It is about settling into my truest self so that I am secure enough and grounded enough not to need to be first, not to demand constant attention and praise, not driven to denigrate others in order to improve my own position. It is about honesty and authenticity.

Both of these terms apply so perfectly to the way in which we must be bound to behave on this planet. To act with grace is to recognize our position in this web of life both by refusing to exploit it and by making positive contributions that better this world. And to move from a place of humility is to give up the idea that we are supreme creatures entitled to trample every other species and resource in a mad dash to have more and more and more. It is to recognize our own impermanence and look upon this planet with respect rather than as another foe to be conquered, another force to be controlled.