Human beings have an intuitive capacity and knowledge
that somewhere at the center of life is something
ineffably and unalterably right...
and this "rightness" can be discovered
through creative and spiritual exploration.
14 December, 2018
As we consider the influence of words in our lives we are also called to recognize the importance of stories. Our worldview
is an on-going story. On any given day we tell ourselves (and others) story after story in an attempt to make sense of what is happening, to explain our choices, to comfort, to maintain
It’s also important to acknowledge our vulnerability, to recognize the potential for stories to lead us astray, to discourage,
You may have had occasion to re-tell a story of “what happened”, only to discover that your version of the events is not the only
version out there! Happens in families all the time. Siblings (and/or other family members) do not have the same recollection of events or may emphasize different elements of the
If you find yourself disoriented by news or circumstance you thought too hard to bear, this is the time to drill down on the
profound mysteries of life and death. Stories abound. As author and troubadour Stephen Jenkinson puts it bluntly: We live in a death-phobic society addicted to physical competence and
longevity. How are we to re-frame what it means to be competent? What constitutes a meaningful life? Surely NOT just a longer one. What about death?
I mention death phobia and addiction to longevity and activity and physical competence because they are stories.
They used to be primary stories in my own life. That is, until I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Until dear friends were diagnosed with life-altering conditions. Some have died. I fell
and broke my ankle and heel and have been unable to walk without a cane for 18 months.
Our expectations about how things are “supposed” to go are stories we tell ourselves or are told by others. It is humbling to
recognize and acknowledge how our thinking, talking and behavior can be influenced by our human attachment to stories of comfort, security and resolution of everything uncertain. I was accustomed to
being comfortable. Capable. Uncertainty could be resolved, for the most part. Culture-influenced stories may be inspiring…or troubling.
In the face of thwarted expectations: diagnosis, accident or the unexpected shift in circumstance, the stories behind our
(former) expectations are exposed, rendered null and void in an instant. Some of the stories I was devoted to were of no help at all in a jam. In fact, some of them became instruments of fear… and
Now what? What stories work in this here and now?
This Essential Question: WHAT’S YOUR STORY? What stories do you consider instructive? Which stories no longer
serve? What do your stories make possible? How are they limiting?
Jesus put some challenging storylines out there. Follow me. The wealthy have a difficult time making spiritual
progress. Forgiveness is offered to all. Do not start a church in my name. There is life after death. Power is not what you think.
His example was challenging as well: he included women among his disciples. He sat down to dinner with those considered
sinners. He spoke truth to hypocritical authority.
Here’s a story: Make America Great Again. MAKE? AMERICA? GREAT? AGAIN? It doesn’t matter what else this
President does as long as he builds a wall?
As a student of resilience I remain compelled by the example of those who have (re)turned to their faith, who trust their
experience of the Divine in times of struggle and despair. We cannot know how strong our spiritual foundation is until our lives have been shaken to the core by loss, diagnosis,
calamity. “Feel good spirituality light” will not get us through the dark nights of despair when we find our lives changed forever. This will happen to all of us. Stories of
despair are out there...and are tempting.
As a member of more than one club some prefer not to join (the less abled, the diagnosed), I know grief and fear are
challenging. Time to tap into stubbornness if you happen to be so gifted. If not, learn to be stubborn. These are NOT my stories: my life is over, there is nothing to live for. I
REFUSE the enticement of negativity: I can’t walk my dog. I can’t pick up my baby granddaughter. I can’t run around with my older granddaughter. I can’t walk through the
woods. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
I’ve written about the power of example before. If life as you knew it has been radically altered, there are others who
have walked this path before us, with courage and grace and faith. Michael Bischoff writes about the healing power of stories. Diagnosed with glioblastoma (terminal brain cancer), he set out to
pursue stories as a source of healing. He learned there is a meaningful difference between HEALING and CURE. He met with folks from the Health Story Collaborative based in Boston.
You can read his short piece in the Pendle Hill Pamphlet series (email@example.com)
In times of trouble we need to tap into timeless, enduring stories that inspire faith, compassion and gratitude. Find
them. Tell them. Listen to them. What difference might a new (old) story make in your life?
19 November, 2018
I have not been writing for awhile. At a time when words have been repeatedly rendered “fake”, it’s not that I have been rendered wordless. Rather I am ever more dedicated to
being careful with the words I use to address what is happening, how I take in what others say...and write.
We landed back home in Massachusetts on the day the pipe bomb mailings were discovered. Throughout the cross-country flight from San Francisco the news was relentless...and words were
flying. This question as sub-text: had the person(s) responsible for the mailings been influenced (incited to violence) by words spoken repeatedly by the President? Yes, as it turned out.
I still need wheelchair assistance in most airports to reach Baggage Claim, given my testy ankle. A cheerful woman with an engaging smile offered assistance. By now I am used to people I
have never met telling me about themselves. She was Muslim from Algeria, had been in the US (legally, she pointed out) for 15 years and had “finally” divorced her husband because the laws here
allowed her to “escape his cruelty” (legally). I felt compelled to apologize to her. “I am sorry about the behavior of the President, what he says about people he calls
immigrants. After all, almost every American has ancestors who came from another country.” She acknowledged that wearing the hijab (as she did that evening) has been more difficult after
Trump’s election. Her sons have been subjected to “hard words and actions” at their school.
She remained undaunted. “If I have learned anything in the last two years, it is that my faith has never been stronger or more important.
Thanks be to God for God’s presence and for reminding me that people are only human and do not have the final say. That’s what gets us through this.”
I have lost track of the number of people I have spoken to over the years who have referenced their faith in a Divine Presence with various names (or no name). Important to note: they are
NOT referring to memorized dogma (“I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior”) as a guarantee they will be “saved” (and others will not). Rather they speak of their actual experience of Divine
Presence...as reassurance ...and accountability.
She continued. “We have been given directions about how to behave and treat other people...all the religions basically agree. A few give us a bad name, but they are the minority.”
Yes. I continue to wonder how pastors in so-called Christian pulpits around the country endorse the actions and words of political leadership that separate families and promote separatism,
bigotry, oppression and violence in an age when we are called to global tolerance, cooperation and interdependence. Foundational Biblical teachings. Jewish settlers perpetuate violence,
as do Muslim extremists. The Buddhists are not exempt.
I return to her mention of accountability. In an increasingly secular society human beings are tempted (even encouraged) to act with no regard for the consequences of their behavior,
accountable only to privileged notions of comfort and security. Contrast this with the Native American view: what will be the consequence of our actions Seven Generations from now?
We are in dire need of recognizing our accountability. The magnitude (and consequence) of mis-teachings put forth in every institution of our society is staggering. An important first
step is to call them out when we notice them. Here is one spoken by an Episcopal priest from the pulpit: “Thank God for the events of Holy Week. Otherwise we’d all still be
Jewish.” Another I have mentioned previously: former Attorney General Jeff Sessions using scripture to justify the President’s policy of separating families. The state of Florida
once passed a law requiring social studies teachers to teach the superiority of the United States ...as a fact.
What are our children being taught about women, minorities, gay, lesbian transgendered human beings that disregards their fundamental humanity? About immigrants? The issues we face are
complex and challenging. We need thoughtful discourse, not inflammatory diatribes.
I respect serendipity and her sidekick synchronicity: mysterious intervention or bequest at the time of need. Last night our niece Jan’s husband Mark dropped by for a visit with a gift
bag. The last was a book; I ALWAYS pay attention when an unexpected book comes my way. This was Dan Rather’s What Unites Us. The author had me with the epigraph:
"The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults."
Alexis de Tocqueville
The book is already wise, deliberate, thought-provoking… and accountable. An opportunity for discussion in troubled times.
2 October, 2018
On the day before Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee, I went with a friend to visit an
artist in her studio. Shishi Shirley McGann showed us around her space in a building reclaimed by other practicing creatives to work and showcase their work. She laughingly told us: “Even when people
told me years ago to get a real job, that this stuff won’t sell, I’ll never make any money doing my art, I just kept doing it. I have to do this work.”
On the walls were acrylic paintings, fabric art, weavings, mosaics. Shishi makes jewelry, does leatherwork, knits and crochets. She is a
skilled multimedia artist; several pieces were museum quality. She laughed again: “I am too busy to do the business part of this. Maybe I need a manager! The business part is not what I
What she does is stay true to her life purpose. She honors her calling. On any one day she is working in an art journal, stitching
fabric, assembling a brilliant woven tapestry on leather, making earrings. Yes, she needs to make room for more of her work. This was obvious: she can’t – she won’t – stop working, no matter how much
room she doesn’t have, no matter what is taking place in the world outside her studio. On our way home, we talked about her commitment. We had been in the presence of a woman who had made the
effort to identify her purpose…and stay true. A radical act, particularly in troubled times.
Watching Dr. Ford the next day, the tears came, more than once. Those of us who have experienced trauma and/or worked with trauma
survivors recognize the unmistakable truth of her account. Traumatized individuals may forget certain details but when they are “ 100% certain” about a face, sounds (the door locking, the music
turned up louder, the laughter), Brett Kavanagh’s hand over her mouth, there is no doubt. She was cooperative, never combative. She was earnest in her request for outside investigation to help
clarify time and place. Her example of courage (grace under pressure), heartened thousands of men and women who struggle with trauma and its aftermath to this day.
Brett Kavanaugh also had an unparalleled opportunity. This radical act: to display integrity. He might have said: “I have done
things I regret. While I may not recall events in the same way as Dr. Ford, I have no reason to criticize her. I have made a sincere attempt to learn from mistakes and become a better
Ahhh, but this is not what we heard, not what we saw. Instead we witnessed the temper tantrum of a privileged white boy–now–man outraged
that “this woman” might stand in the way of his career. We witnessed other privileged white man also raise their voices, a familiar tactic, to impose their will, no matter what she says or
does. One of them lied under oath. It was NOT Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. One of them revealed an unsettling temperament. NOT Dr. Ford. What she did: give voice to radical
In these troubled times, it may seem radical indeed to seek the truth, to see what needs to be seen, to hear what needs to be heard, and
not be immobilized by despair. How might you and I stay true to our calling despite the naysayers? What do we see or do when injustice, intolerance or oppression need to be called out? How might each
of us take responsibility and commit to learning, speak truth at home, in the workplace, in the broader world?
The ultimate radical act may be to have faith in a Sacred Source that inevitably humbles the arrogant and greedy and uplifts those who
remain dedicated to peace, compassion and tolerance. Radical, indeed, to keep to the Resilience Path, to offer that example to the world.
17 September, 2018
As I write, the aftermath of Hurricane Florence threatens the lives and livelihood of thousands of people on
the east coast. Ruptured gas mains in Lawrence, No. Andover and Andover (north of Boston) resulted in fires out of control, thousands evacuated from their homes and a citywide blackout. I
return to three terms I used last week. Mindfulness. Sensitivity. Attention. As well as the adjectives: mature, grounded, keen. I take the time to consider the words we (and others)
There is an important correspondence among these terms. I admit to some hesitation in using the word “mindfulness” last
week. Mindfulness is now trending, which leaves the term vulnerable to varied, sometimes contradictory, interpretation...and application. The term came into widespread usage from the yoga
tradition which has, itself, become trendy. Perhaps you will find it meaningful to consider intention, how the term “mindful” is used, when you encounter it.
It is important to note that “maturity” and “immaturity” are measures of development, not judgmental terms. Actions deemed
mature take the long view, an expanded perspective not distracted by self-absorption. Mature mindfulness is a sustained attitude that takes into consideration the influence at work in words,
thoughts, or situations as well as the consequence of acting or speaking from that influence... beyond the personal. Most importantly in times of challenge. Synonyms: sensible, heedful, alert,
For example, mature mindfulness recognizes the science of climate change, acknowledges how human behavior is implicated in
climate change and suggests strategies to remedy the situation. Mature mindfulness attends to environmental scientists who leave no doubt about the factors that have influenced the acceleration
in extreme weather...and the consequence for generations to come. Mature mindfulness acknowledges lessons learned and those that still need to be learned. Mature mindfulness is
By contrast, the reckless misrepresentation of “success” in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico put forth by
President Trump is just one alarming example of immaturity, the consequence of which may adversely affect the welfare of millions of people. Just as disregard for the science of climate change
will. The President’s relentless focus on how HE is perceived is immature.
These synonyms for sensitivity: consideration, empathy, responsiveness, discernment. “Grounded” sensitivity is sensitivity
road-tested by way of challenging experience (aka The Resilience Path).
“Keen” attention suggests the capacity to discriminate, to distinguish truth from falsehood, to identify what may be
helpful, what needs to be learned, to be done. Additionally, keen attention calls out irresponsibility, immaturity, influences that distract from the truth of the matter. Keen attention keeps
intention front and center.
Maturity acknowledges challenge, unmet or thwarted expectations, failure
and loss. Mature mindfulness, strengthened by grounded sensitivity and keen attention not only calls out distracting influence that tempts me to negativity and pessimism. Liberated from self-absorbed
thinking, mature mindfulness also enables me to recognize the help I need… and accept help when I need it.
This is not my first rodeo with hardship. What helps? A compelling
question. Need? According to whom? Which story? Which influence? What I think I need may not be the whole story.
A catastrophic situation calls on all of us to be mindful, sensitive, attentive. Mature, grounded, keen.
On the Resilience Path there are kind, decent, skillful people who can and
will help…if I am paying attention, not distracted.
The antidote to self-absorption when things seem bleak? Offer your
own challenging experience as an example of resilience, courage, patience, faith, trust. A positive example of grit and determination is encouraging. Lives are uplifted by the efforts of one
person at a time.
Take the measure of your thoughts. Are they influenced by fear and anger... or trust and hope? Pay attention to those whose faith
and hope are not shaken, even by catastrophe. Take the time to get to know them. I have. Now I pay it forward.
7 September, 2018
The Resilience Path is a radical path. Those of us who set out on this way are not after endless comfort, some illusory
guarantee of certainty. This is a countercultural approach. Rather, we have come to recognize that discomfort is an inevitable aspect of being human. How might we become
“comfortable with uncertainty”? This phrase is borrowed from the work of Pema Chodron. I have learned to distinguish the difference between discomfort and suffering from Buddhist writers.
She is one I recommend.
This definition of happiness from Br. David Steindl-Rast (in the Christian tradition) stopped me in my tracks: joy that does not
depend on situation. I have heard joy defined as peace of mind.
In her journals the artist Anne Truitt suggests this re-framed intention: when we are challenged, uncomfortable, what if we do not
settle for the alleviation of pain but seek also the encouragement of aspiration? This word is here intended to suggest hope, the desire to realize potential. Some ask: how is it possible to be
at peace, content…hopeful…with eyes wide open despite the predicament in which we find ourselves?
Check in with intention. If you are serious about getting to the heart of what matters, you may need some practice with discomfort.
We are living in uncomfortable times. Another Buddhist question: what happens to my discomfort if I don’t mind it?
How might you develop opportunities to bear with the discomfort and uncertainty in your life?
What influences encourage a proactive intention? Laura Swan (as referenced by Fr. Richard Rohr) identifies proactive practices in the
word apatheia, “a mature mindfulness, a
grounded sensitivity, and a keen attention to one’s inner world as well as to the world in which one has journeyed.” How do you understand these words and phrases in your experience
(particularly mature, grounded, and keen)?
Make no mistake: there are also influences that seek to discourage us from this path, to distract us from seeing, hearing and knowing
what we need to know. These influences must be reckoned with, called out.
Suffering has much to do with our relationship to our thoughts. Neuroscience may claim that our thoughts originate in the human
brain. However, in the grand scheme of things to which the spiritual traditions bear witness, this is not all there is to the story of thinking. Who, after all, would be able to bear the
brunt of being responsible for every thought that presents itself? That would be a set-up for mental illness.
Here’s an eyes-wide-open meditative practice. Step 1: as each thought arises, identify the influence: encouraging, strengthening of
proactive intention? Or distracting, discouraging?
Step 2: do not consent to distraction, discouragement. Say this out loud or in silence…as often as necessary. Reaffirm your
intention. Take some time to reflect on words and phrases that resonate. Journal, draw, sing, dance your way to clarified intention. Stay on the path. Others draw hope from your
29 August, 2018
I have been away from my blog for many months. The rehab process following my ankle/heel fracture has turned into another sojourn along the Resilience
Path. I have not been able to walk without crutches at first and now a cane for 15 months. There is nothing quite like an accident to focus attention on what matters… from an altered
It is time to get back to work. The President of the United States has ordered children to be taken from their parents. The Attorney General quotes scripture to
defend this action. The President has been named a co-conspirator by his own attorney who pleaded guilty to multiple crimes. The climate is changing despite claims that science is a myth. There
Another granddaughter has been born into our family. When my grandchildren come of age I want to have something credible to say when they ask:
What were you doing during that time of so much trouble?
Here is some of what I previously included on that list: walking 3-4 miles every day (rain, snow, high heat and humidity, year round), daily yoga
practice, yoga classes, going to the gym, riding my bicycle, being “out and about.” Meditation. Journaling. Mowing the lawn, raking leaves, shoveling snow, gardening, swimming, cooking,
housework, playing with my granddaughter. Dependable health. Travel. In other words: being vigorous, active. More than a little proud of all that doing, doing, doing.
As Stephen Jenkinson so aptly puts it: addiction to competence. How North American.
THE FALL. Humbling. That list mostly nullified. What matters THEN? When all that doing is not possible, what about well-being? When you have lost a loved
one? When your child becomes addicted? When you lose your home? When an injury or diagnosis stops you in your tracks? Perhaps someone you care about has veered off course, and you choose… or
feel compelled… to keep company.
I set out to find out. Of course “setting out” when I could not walk was an unfamiliar way of going about things. I sensed this much: there was more to
Where does this intention come from? What factors influence our intention? I have been inspired by the example of others. I have known or heard about
people crushed by life challenges who rise, nevertheless. They persist, one day at a time. What is the source of their strength? Their courage?
I set out to find out. Their stories will be here.
The Resilience Path becomes a way of life that offers experience to learn by, to engage the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable, the unimaginable. The destination?
Getting to the heart of the matter. What is happening? How did I come to be here now, in this moment? What do I need? To learn? How will I manage? My
well-being seems in jeopardy. What constitutes the help I need? I learn who my friends and family are.
The Resilience Path is not usually a chosen route. Many would rather not go there. This path will influence how I am in the world, how I see and hear what is
happening. Rather, I find myself in a life-altering predicament, an initiation I did not expect.
For some the Resilience Path may be a personal course correction. All navigation systems include provisions for making corrections should a
vessel be “off course.” What does this mean in a human life? A Zen saying is relevant: “One accident is worth 10,000 meditations.” I have learned this to be true.
The heart of the matter: what matters to our well-being is not limited to what you and I think is important. What we think is important may be
limiting, part of the problem.
I join with others who have a sincere commitment to get to the heart of the matter of being human. Challenges abound. While setting out on
this path may not be my choice, I can choose to return having learned something about what truly matters.
The Resilience Path may be likened to a labyrinth, that convoluted yet cultivated route to the still center. The return route is necessarily
different. There is no guarantee I only go this way once. An orientation toward resilience as a spiritual path is marked by focused intention: to learn, to understand, to teach others, to
guide. The spiritual traditions agree that initiatory experience is necessary to reach maturity. Guides are necessary. This is not travel in search of answers. The question “why”
may be irrelevant, even distracting. This is a journey to learn more about how we are influenced.
I set out to find out. I invite you to join me.
Email or message me with your questions and/or suggested topics.
When something is amiss, in times of crisis and transition, when what we have been doing is not working, it becomes meaningful to question the prevailing worldview. Many have the strong
sense that there must be “something more.” Some feel fragmented and experience a loss of confidence in their own capacity for healing and balance, the capacity I have come to understand as
Such questioning (both personal and professional) led me to identify teachings and experiences that empower in-born natural healing capabilities, some of which evolve from traditions that
continue to emphasize a co-creative approach and persist in honoring the interplay of mind, body and spirit. Some of this may sound familiar. However, the process I have experienced is more penetrating and demanding than I expected...even as it is enduring.
There are scientists who are deeply creative and spiritual and deeply spiritual persons who honor the scientific method; they need not be mutually exclusive. This either-or approach has proven to be
as limiting in health care as it is in politics. Albert Einstein said: “I want to know the mind of God. The rest are details.”
By way of experience, I have awakened to the earth-shattering awareness that The Sacred is absolute. The outcome we are called to serve: unity in diversity, the recognition of whole
earth, whole cosmos… holarchy. We are inextricably linked.
I am a teacher and student of The Sacred, a guide, facilitator, mentor, and companion during this era of paradigm shift, personal and global. This is an opportune time to address what isn’t
serving the authority of our wholeness. We need to identify what we, individually and collectively, are called to do….AND DO IT.
Welcome to the path. We shall keep each other good company.
July 20, 2017
“Let me fall if I must fall.
The one I will become
Will catch me.”
The Baal Shem Tov
I have been away from my writing longer than I expected. That's the thing about expectations: reliant as they are on human preference, they are subject to change without notice,
Near the end of May my husband and I set off with friends on our long-awaited trip to Alaska. One week on land from Fairbanks to Seward, the second week at sea, the Inland Passage of
coastal cities and towns, including Juneau, the state capital, reachable only by boat or plane.
In Fairbanks the sun rose before 4 AM…and it set the next morning, at almost 1 am. 21 hours of daylight. I kept waking up that first night to see when it would get dark…and it
never did. In the winter, long hours of darkness. The Alaskans told us they adapt…sleep less in summer, more in winter. They don't indulge comparisons with other places. This is
Alaska, I heard more than once.
On the last day we were in Ketchikan, a town that has always had a place in our family lore. We got my mother her last dog, a Border Terrier named Blue, from Ketchikan. Blue had a
proud heritage with a breeder named Anita, and she had been retired to spend a number of years with my mother. Blue returned to Anita after my mother passed away, as they had agreed. I planned
to ask around and see if anyone knew of Anita, even though it had been many years.
Expectation thwarted. In the last hour of our last day in Alaska, I fell and fractured my ankle.
I was not rappelling down a glacier. I did not have a memorable encounter with a bear. Instead I stepped on an escalator (they have those in Ketchikan?) and turned around to wave at
my husband. Consequences happen outside of time.
Accident by appearance only. At the outset I recognized this predicament. Initiation experience…familiar. The Resilience Path opening before me. That…and blinding pain and the
fact that I could not walk. Really? This is happening…in Alaska?
People help. Storekeepers, medical personnel on the ship. New friends, people we don’t know. My always stoic husband. Blessings: it's not a “bad break”…no surgery. No
other injuries. There are so many ways it could have been worse. I have one day on the ship to ”elevate and ice” before the lengthy trip home from Vancouver to Boston: 3 airports, two
flights. Jet lag.
I will do this.
7 weeks later. Walking boot, still on crutches. One of the questions I don’t ask: When will I be walking 3 miles a day again?
Authentic spiritual retreats are meant to be humbling, sometimes grueling. When I am not doing various exercises 5 times a day and walking in circles around my kitchen and living room to increase
stamina, I meet with the women who come to my practice. I practice surrendering my preferences and expectations. I am witness to the light rise and fall, the ducks and geese and loons
coming and going on the lake. The heron flies by at his appointed time. The bald eagles swoop and soar.
The happenings of summer. The boats are at their moorings, neighbors are swimming and fishing off their docks. Beach towels hang out to dry on the railings. My customary plans for
this time of year (cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables from the farm stand, planting flowers, tending my herb garden, walking up the shady lane with my dog, riding my bicycle) come to naught. I
surrender. Housework and mowing the lawn. Surrender. What I cannot do: pick up my granddaughter, get down on the floor to play with her.
Walking on crutches is mindful walking meditation, every step I take. What I can do: count my blessings. Over and over again.
I am on a first name basis with optimism and the sickly cousin pessimism. The latter used to show up late at night, in the dark…or at times during the day when I let down my guard.
What I might be doing otherwise…if this had not happened. Why me? How long will this inconvenience last? Return trips to the past…what already took place and how the outcome might
have been different but for a few seconds here or there, a choice made differently. If only… The future looms indeterminate, ominous. The plans I give up: no Tedeschi Trucks concert with
my son (his Mother's Day gift). No weeklong Intensive at the Omega Institute. NO. Not happening.
The paradoxical gift of long stretches of time not interrupted by the countless preoccupations of an ordinary day: I am reading, of course. Some
hard stories of betrayal and harmful intent, others a testament to the reach of human compassion and forgiveness. They remind me of stories we were told in Alaska. In Fairbanks of Susan
Butcher, the first woman to race in the Iditarod, who raised a forsaken dog named Granite (among many others) to be a champion. After she died of cancer, her husband and children honor her work and
legacy to this day (and her story has been immortalized in a book for children I brought back for my granddaughter). In Skagway, during the gold rush to the Yukon, predatory locals and their
establishments (bars and brothels on every corner) were intent on “separating the men from as much of their money as possible.”
More inconvenient truths take shape: human history is a tale of treachery, deceit and savagery…also generosity, compassion and forgiveness. We are vulnerable to both influences, have an
extraordinary capacity to get it right…and to make mistakes. I watch the Comey hearing, the relentless unfolding of the Trump presidency.
I am drawing. I am writing poetry. I am back to my study of the Tarot. I am making the best of it. I will rise to this occasion.
I am vigilant; cousin pessimism will not gain ground here. I have more important things to do: I need to learn how to walk again.
Be here now. It’s stunning how content I am when I have no preferences. What's done is done…what hasn't yet happened hasn’t happened. Indeterminacy as blessing. I notice the
countless ways we seek to distract ourselves from the ordinary…I notice how ordinary it all is, despite our efforts to dramatize and exaggerate and embellish. I notice that much of what we
think matters does not matter at all.
I remember what a dear friend, recovering alcoholic, once told me: I am learning to live life on its own terms.
“We have passed and are passing through a period of fiery trial the end of which no one can prophecy. Who then shall answer the fires that have broken out in Europe and the world today? Be
sure it will not be the lukewarm or the half-hearted, but only those in whom there is this moral energy which has been at the back of all great endeavor. It will be fire that answers fire. Hope
centers on the soul inspired by celestial fire…The little light transfuses the world; the impossible becomes the actual; the gospel is on foot again; and truth is on the march. The horizon lifts and
promise of the morning is seen.”
(Pendle Hill is a Quaker Education and Retreat Center in Pennsylvania. I recently came across this passage on their website. This excerpt is from a lecture Hughes gave at Swarthmore
in the early 1930s.)
Following the unsettling outcome of the 2016 presidential election in the United States, these Essential Questions: How have we come to this? What are we called to do? I direct
these questions to my own personal circumstances as well. In challenging times, it’s time: to take stock, to answer fire with fire. We humans have been here before. There is
paradoxical grace in this realization. Lest we forget, our behavior unfailingly generates consequences.
When I am uncomfortable (restless, dissatisfied, unsettled), there is an opening. What does it mean to lead an examined life?
First and foremost, we recognize the significance of perspective, the necessity of the expanded view. What am I doing? What influences are at work? What do I feel called to do? What support
do I need? Who or what no longer serves my sense of urgent purpose?
Long ago (in the context of resilience) I set out to learn from those who remain genuinely centered, calm and attentive despite challenging circumstances. Balance despite turmoil was their actual
experience. How did they do this? What did they know? How did they come to know it?
When I am uncomfortable (restless, dissatisfied, unsettled), there is an opening.
What am I doing? What influences are at work in my own situation, in the larger world? What support do I need?
I seek support and practice in order to recover and strengthen inborn capabilities, to remind myself how to be “response-able” in the face of what seems to be calamity. At this moment it may seem
challenging to affirm that we exist in a larger context (human but also cosmic), that we are connected to, that is dependent on all beings. Each of us has unique capabilities; none of us is
privileged. Given the increasing prevalence of behavior and speech that promote intolerance, bigotry and hatred, it may also seem challenging to recognize that each of us has a cosmic purpose.
To that end, the ascendance of Donald Trump may be considered a spiritual teaching for our times.
If you feel called to engage the Present Moment:
Undertake this meditation on fearlessness: Respond to strident voices that perpetuate fear and insecurity with your example of compassion, generosity of heart, and a tireless affirmation of the
dignity and worth of all persons (including the speakers). Refuse to be discouraged by voices that justify exclusion and intolerance and claim aggression and violence are “necessary
evils.” Develop your capacity for faith and trust that “no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
Take the long view. The abiding messages: Love and peace endure. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
When members of our family, our friends, our neighbors, our country become unrecognizable, what are we to do?
My previous habit response was worry. For two days after the election I could not sleep. I walked around in a catatonic state in my
sweatpants, barely able to function. This felt familiar. I had, after all, summoned worrying before when challenges came along. The more you practice, the more you tend to fall back on
what you practice. Thankfully, practice can be revised.
My husband was having none of it. He did not take note of the dark circles under my eyes. When I told him it was hard to sleep because I was having
nightmares about Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell and Kellyanne Conway, that did it.
“Are you kidding me? Get over it. You have better things to do. Practice what you preach.”
HUMPH. No sympathy there. OUCH. The sting of a good point. All this worry does get boring. It is also decidedly non-productive, which is
why I learned how to do something different a long time ago. As the late Peter Gomes, former chaplain at Harvard University, was wont to say:
Get used to it. Get over it. Get on with it.
Worry, guilt, remorse, shame, embarrassment, preoccupation with the future or the past are not useful or
necessary. They cloud the glass; we need to shine our light NOW. You and I are no good to anyone shuffling around exhausted, regretful or armed with poisonous thought-weapons. We need to
pay attention, to listen and learn.
What’s a resilient person to do?
Donald Trump's campaign was divisive and deeply troubling. Winning was the sole objective, no matter what had to be said or done. It became tempting
to heap scorn on his supporters rather than listen to them. Nevertheless, dismissing human beings as "deplorable" was, finally, an unskillful intention. The scorned will not be
How have we come to this? What are we to do?
Crisis may be understood as an opportunity for transformation, a recalibration of perspective. It is unsettling but necessary to realize that the outcome
of this election is a consequence of our American worldview. The acquisition of material possessions is deemed patriotic. The wealthy are perceived as gifted, more capable and
intelligent, even favored. Material wealth is touted as the key to happiness and security. The American Way is branded as superior. Partisanship is the rule of the day, and winning the only
outcome that matters. In the most diverse country in the world, intolerance of diversity becomes the primary motivation to vote.
Where is God/dess in this? Our increasingly secular worldview scorns this question at its peril. The
outcome of this election demonstrates what happens when human beings prefer not to recognize Divine accountability. The Gospel of Wealth is impoverished. Our strictly human reasoning is
revealed as limited...and limiting. All foundational sacred wisdom teachings agree: The Divine will not be mocked, either. Spiritual teachers agree: the outcome of this election is a spiritual
lesson. No society predicated on greed and materialism has ever endured.
According to various references, the word “inauguration” is synonymous with “initiation” and usually signifies the celebration of a new beginning or fresh
start. There is little doubt that the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States signaled a change of direction, a change in the way things work, one that will play out in
every institution of American culture, from education and health care to government, public policy and business. What is unpredictable is how this change of direction will manifest as
The majority of voters did not cast their ballot for this president, and many remain deeply unsettled.
I would like to borrow several pages from President and Mrs. Obama’s play book.
In anticipation of his first celebrated inauguration in January of 2009, the President-elect suggested we honor Martin Luther King Day with a Day of Service.
All over the country people developed initiatives in which to become involved. In San Francisco, my husband and I joined a sizable group that met with volunteers who taught us how to distribute
sandwiches and drink boxes to the city’s homeless with respect and care.
For the next 5 years, as I walked all over my native city, I carried peanut butter sandwiches and juice in my backpack. I became familiar with many of the
street people, and we greeted each other warmly. I baked banana bread for one man I encountered on a daily basis; he had mentioned that his 50th birthday was upcoming. He had tears
in his eyes when he opened the package. “My Mama has been gone for 25 years; there has been no one to make me anything on my birthday.”
A practice that started on MLK Day in January of 2009 bore fruit. Despite the difference in our circumstances, we learned to communicate respectfully as
human beings, one to another. Fear and distrust gave way to generosity and compassion, humor and sharing. However small the gesture may seem in the grand troubled scheme of things, it was
When they go low we go high. Casting about for something to do on Inauguration Day that would affirm the
values I cherish, a practice I could “inaugurate” or “initiate” that would bear fruit, I came across this teaching from Br. Mark Brown of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE) in Cambridge
MA. I have included my edited excerpt below:
“One more New Year’s resolution might be this: to be open to new epiphanies, to be open
to seeing others and ourselves in fresh and perhaps even surprising new ways.
This is not easy, of course. There are powerful psychological and social forces
at work that can make this an uphill battle. We get stuck: in terms of our own self-understanding, in terms of how we see others … We drag our formative years and families of origin around with us
our entire lives. We cast other people as characters in our personal psycho-dramas. We make judgments of other people that can be very difficult to undo…
Maybe this is the clue: to “un-know” ourselves, to “un-know” our neighbor, even to
“un-know” Jesus. …This means realizing how little we do know about ourselves, how little we really know about our neighbor—even how little we know about Jesus and God. It means comprehending and
accepting the limitations of our understanding.
Recognizing these limits can take us a long way toward openness to new information, new
epiphanies. Letting go of what we think we know, we can “minimize” it…The information is not lost; it just doesn’t take up the whole screen anymore…(and) the screen is now free for something
To let go of what we think we know to make room for new epiphanies requires a
willingness to accept fluidity, flux, change, growth. Making room for new epiphanies requires the willingness to risk the uncertainties of growth—our own growth and the growth of others.
This is an Inauguration we can celebrate. Let us counter the strident intolerance,
bigotry and calls for hatred with our witness to the power of compassion, peace and unity. We will not be demoralized by fear-mongering. In the words of Princess Leia and shared by Meryl
Streep, “Take your broken heart and make it into art.”
We will reach out because we are strong together.
We are, after all, the majority.
The two Essential Questions remain: How have we come to this? What are we called to do?
As always, it behooves us to take stock. It can be helpful to understand the factors that contributed to the
outcome. However, it is often the tendency, particularly in psychological circles, to spend an inordinate amount of time reviewing what has already happened. Many so-called disorders are
attributed to "what happened in the past."
It has been my experience that this approach is not always helpful and is often counterproductive. While certain events
and circumstances can be deeply troubling and unsettling (one’s childhood, the outcome of presidential elections), the most meaningful spiritual task remains: Get on with it...with what we are
called to do with our lives.
It may be challenging to accept this task if we are taught that "past" events can be crippling. Nevertheless, it has also
been my personal and professional experience that when we are liberated from the notion that we are permanently determined by circumstance or events there is much we can
Rest assured we must recognize the discomfort that ensues as we struggle to understand and assimilate what has happened.
But this struggle and discomfort are not essential or permanent. We are human beings, and when we overemphasize the physical world around us, we tend to struggle.
The present moment calls for us to engage a wider perspective. This is where the spiritual wisdom traditions have a role
to play. If we pay attention to the commonalities among all of the traditions we note several revealing commonalities:
We are called to forgive, to let go of bitterness, resentment, anger and despair, all of which are far more crippling than
actual events. Properly understood, forgiveness comes from the humbling recognition that we humans make mistakes; we are vulnerable to misunderstanding and misperception. Forgiveness is
not a free pass or excuse for behavior. Each of us remains accountable.
We are called to "see" clearly, to discern the actual nature of what is playing out. The actual (not invented) truth may
be unsettling. Government officials, including our own, put forth a version of “what happened” that serves their objective. Anyone who has been to the Dallas Book Depository knows that the
Warren Commission version of the assassination of JFK could not be accurate. An inconvenient truth: Family members may not actually have our back, may actually intend harm, to sow
discord. Policy makers may not have our best interests at heart. Members of the clergy may teach us incorrectly. Uplifting education for all students may not be prioritized.
Our healthcare system may emphasize sickness, promote dependency rather than wellness.
Lastly, we are called to serve as an example of what we wish to see play out in the world. In fact, we are already and
always examples. We perceive and make manifest what we hold to be true. If that be greed and cynicism, rest assured this is what we will perceive to be the way of the world. If we
affirm the enduring power of compassion and generosity, we will understand that the bigger picture is not determined by "mere" worldly events.
Let us not spend any more time manifesting woe and despair. We must recognize the magnitude of what is transpiring even as
we recognize that strife and disintegration are necessary aspects of rebirth and renewal. Our vow going forward: we refuse to be compromised and disheartened. In fact, this is just
what those who seek to destabilize the forces of inclusion and unity hope will happen.
Discerning Eyes wide open. Human beings are capable of extreme atrocity and betrayal when they do not recognize a Will
grander than their own at work. Those who serve that grander Will do prevail, however. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. Be the
Another helpful practice in troubling times is to discern the intention behind the outward behavior...our own and that of those
we observe. What influences are at work? The familiar Essential Questions: How have we come to this? What are we called to do?
Lessons keep coming.
Fear-mongering continues unabated from the White House. Those who brandish fear as a weapon know that unhealthy fear is
crippling, lethal to right action. Here we must recognize fear of retaliation. The current administration has made it clear that "you are for us or against us.” We have already
witnessed vicious retaliation against those who do not endorse the President's narrative. There remains an ongoing ruthless attempt to punish those who call out untruths. It’s the ultimate
vicious circle, for those commissioned to lead the retaliation are themselves fearful of being the next target.
What is the antidote to fear? Community. Coming together as human beings, unified by compassion, faith, generosity
and joy. Be an encourager, not a discourager. It may feel easier to be negative in troubled times, but only if you have not yet discerned the relentless affirmative always at work. Time
for practice. You can learn to trust that the light prevails.
Our first immigrants (many of our own ancestors) came here to escape the silencing of contrary views…and we shall
We shall persist in all ways we can. Respond to fear and negativity with relentless examples of human beings from all
walks of life doing good on behalf of others. Be that example yourself. Take anger, the word "hate" off the table. Defend and protect those who need support. Reach out to help those
who are troubled or overwhelmed. Reach out for help and encouragement if that is you.
Support public education! Our democratic society depends on effective public education. Get involved in that
community. There is always room for improvement. My 40 years of experience has shown me that the teaching and learning process remains sacred. Our son and daughter-in-law carry on the legacy,
and we are proud.
Focus on the positive. This is not denial. We have a choice about where we direct our focus. We do not ignore
what is happening in front of us, but we choose to uplift rather than put down. History is full of examples of the brave who persevered despite heartbreaking hardship. If all you can
think of to say is negative or judgmental, then stay silent for the time being and pay attention.
The heart of humanity is light...and it shines on and on.
It's time for the truth to be true.
The time has come to recognize the destabilizing intention of those who promote fear: sow confusion. The more confusion
about what constitutes the truth, the greater the necessity to discern what is true.
The Truth is universal. It is never confused. It is not confusing. It is not able to be made confusing. The truth of human
nature, of humanity: peace, love, compassion and generosity. That which promotes fear, confusion, and mistrust is toxic…and, therefore, untruthful.
Deliberate misinformation and uninformed misunderstanding are toxic. The necessary reckoning is uncomfortable: institutions we
hoped or assumed reliable may be compromised by conflicting and hidden agendas, despite the presence of decent, hard-working, ethical persons. Conflict ensues by way of misinformation and
misunderstanding. The sign in front of a (so-called Christian) church in Florida: ALL MUSLIMS ARE MURDERERS.
What are we called to do?
We must recognize that we are influenced all the time…and how we perceive the world determines the influence we accept in our
As physical beings we are influenced by the physical and material. We can also be influenced to prioritize the material. We
can be influenced to believe that all we need to know comes to us by way of the five senses, that our bodies constitute “who” we are, that comfort and longevity are the prized
The physical is limited, not eternal. Learning that prioritizes the physical is also limited. Emphasis on the material promotes
getting and spending, privilege and authority by way of material wealth.
We are born with the capacity to be influenced by the Divine, and Divine influence is always available. When we recognize
and accept the invitation of the Divine we experience that which is enduring, eternally authoritative, not limited or defined by the physical. We come to realize peace, joy, love and trust in
eternity. We also recognize that our true self, our actual human purpose, is to do the will of the Divine, to be an instrument of peace, joy, love and compassion in the material world.
Influenced by the Divine we realize that all are privileged, that material wealth is not authoritative.
In unsettling times we need to get truthful about our purpose. The truth of being human is encouraging after all. In my
years of resilience research, I addressed the Essential Question of my life: WHY ARE WE HERE? I wanted nothing less than to understand the foundation of “human nature." Imagine my
surprise, given the overabundance of agnostic atheist influence in my upbringing! An integral aspect of human being is holy, limited only by what we accept as influence.
We can obscure our Divine purpose from ourselves. We cannot make it not true.
What will your life stand for in the days you have left? What is your example? How will your children and grandchildren,
your friends and co-workers remember your influence? Our example is influential. Do you find yourself in the presence of discouraging examples? Recognize your own example as discouraging to others? A
change of influence is corrective. Whose example engenders the qualities you want to actualize in your life? Trust this truth: you can BE that person.
The Divine prevails despite human attempts to obscure the truth. By way of experience I have come to trust that all
human beings, whether they recognize it or not, have a sacred purpose, are meant to be at peace, are generous and compassionate.
I also recognize how vulnerable we are to destabilizing influences that promote conflict, separation…and limitation. Our
president and his advisors are humbling examples. Given their emphasis on materialism, they promote distrust, conflict and deceit. In truth, they have been distracted from their holy purpose…and
their influence is distracting.
However, condemnation is not helpful. Bear witness to human vulnerability, do not engage conflict, and be an encouraging
Our holy purpose is the aspect of being human that endures. The truth of human being is clear; this is our birthright. The light
of truth dispels the darkness of fear and confusion.
We were born to be the example of truth in the world.
In the current context of relentless political conflict, in the absence of a vision that inspires our most noble human effort (peace, compassion, generosity and
service), this pressing question is gaining attention:
How are we to come together as UNITED states?
When party leaders proclaim that their primary mission is obstruction, that winning at all costs is the only objective, or that human beings are deplorable, it
becomes clear: the prevailing political system is not serving our best interests. This should come as no surprise; it is the inevitable outcome of a secular worldview.
What is happening is what we need to see. Left to our own limited devices, believing ourselves accountable only to our own limited wants and perceived
needs, our innate human capacity for love and forgiveness is obscured from our awareness. Rest assured: that capacity is never diminished. However, the intensity of self-centered
craving (and the anxiety and anger that always accompany craving) take center stage. Greed seems to be the truth of being human.
In a world that offers endless choices, there is only one choice that matters: it is time for the truth to be true.
The truth: there is a worldview that promises peace, compassion, generosity, love, and forgiveness for all persons. Unity is not an idle wish; it is a
guarantee. Inclusion of all people is the promise of wisdom traditions that have their origin long before organized religion. In fact, organized religion has had a hand in
obscuring the truth as well.
The truth of being human is our inborn capacity to rise above our physicality, to recognize that our physical being is not the whole story, no matter how
insistently it may try to get our attention. No matter what has happened, what we have done, we still have the capacity to awaken to our true nature. It is a matter of experience, not
How will I know I am making progress?
People who have awakened to their true nature are recognizable. I have paraphrased this list I recently received from a friend.
12 Symptoms of Spiritual
An increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
A frequent urge to smile.
An increasing sense of being connected with others and nature.
Frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experience.
An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
A growing conviction that worrying about the past or the future is unnecessary and nonproductive.
A loss of interest in conflict.
A refusal to interpret the actions of others.
A loss of interest in judging others.
A loss of interest in judging self.
A focus on the positive in each human being.
What would you add to the list?
The choice: trust that the truth of humanity is goodness, peace and generosity. If you are having a hard time mustering trust, ask for help…and be
patient. You may need new role models. Given the multitude of negative examples, it is tempting to believe that deceit and greed are basic human traits. Without correction and
accountability to a power greater than ourselves, it is true that we are hampered by a worldview that preaches materialism and conflict.
However, if even one person is capable of being generous, peaceful and loving no matter what, aren’t you curious about how that works? Wouldn’t you choose
to have that experience? That list of “symptoms” above? When you are awakening to the truth of your nature, those behaviors become natural, not forced. Experience will teach you
Our behavior does, indeed, serve as an example to others of what we stand for. I was a voting member of the same political party all of my adult
life. Several years ago, I chose to disengage. In my state I am “un-enrolled.” I will continue to vote. I will not be a party to division and rampant
It bears repeating: the truth of human nature is an eternal flame. Negative examples reveal the need for correction and accountability. Uplifting examples
persist…nevertheless. This is an understanding of resilience that is true.
In the spirit of encouragement, a few words about discouragement!
We all experience discomfort: physical pain, grief, fear, disappointment, loneliness, confusion…the sources of discomfort may seem endless at times. It’s tempting to add that
all-too-human caveat: “this is awful”…”this will never end” (or words to that effect). However, it is important to clarify the role our own thinking and worldview play in our suffering,
our discouragement and despair.
Despair is NOT a necessary aspect of being human; it may become a habit, however.
In these unsettling times, how might we learn to BE unsettled…BE UNCOMFORTABLE…"just" that? I am not minimizing the pain of despair. It bears repeating: if you need help, ask for it. The truth of
suffering: when we are unsettled we can choose to be open to learning if we do not close down around suffering. We will see what we expect to see; it may be time to re-align our
expectations. When we are uncomfortable, unsettled, we just may question the worldview that has been limiting us…and others.
For example, when the questionable behavior of our political leaders seems to demand relentless preoccupation, it is important to note: we are NOT required to be distracted by that behavior, no
matter how troublesome. The objective: Do not engage. Anger and despair drain the energy we need to persevere. DO: witness their example…and then we redouble our efforts to manifest the
example we need and trust to uphold the truth of being human.
It’s time for the truth to be true. Donald Trump and his cohort are in thrall to negativity that seeks to destabilize the forces of peace and compassion. Those who scorn accountability can
be reckless with words and ARE capable of inciting destruction and conflict. Greed may be a powerful motivator, but greed is always revealed to be an empty motivator.
No society motivated by greed has ever endured.
This weighty (ESSENTIAL) question from the writer and poet bell hooks:
“Forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing, and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity and believe in their capacity to be
What are we called to do? Seek sources of encouragement. For example, I am always encouraged by the work of my dear friend, colleague and mentor, Nadia Colburn. Check out her
website: nadiacolburn.com In poetry seminars lead by Nadia, I learned to be ever more respectful of words, to be ever more mindful of their unpredictable impact. I was particularly
inspired by her latest blog post about how books have sustained her throughout her life. Nadia also offers spiritual writing workshops. Nadia is an encourager!!
Who or what encourages you? What do you hear or read or witness that reminds you of the true power of creativity, compassion, generosity and peace? The work of my graduate students in
Expressive Therapies at Lesley University also comes to mind. Every day they are encouraging patients and clients to recover and heal by way of art, music, dance, movement, drama and
writing. Look for them!
Share your examples with each other. Be the example we need.
What do we want to come of this? What is this for?
In a time of nerve gas attacks and bombing, how do we live as people of peace? When partisan rancor and hate speech are normalized by those in positions
of public trust, when our leaders emphasize our differences rather than our shared humanity, how do we come together to serve the common good?
Please note that I am putting forth these questions in the context of my world view, as we all do. My worldview recognizes and affirms the interdependence
of all beings and the planet. Having spent much of my life seeking to understand the purpose of being human, I have come to know that we are all here to love and to establish peace, compassion
and generosity…the truth of being human. Any purpose other than that is no way to be human.
It’s important to recognize how we do NOT want to live.
I assume the necessity to speak out, to stand up, to be an example, to walk the talk.
My worldview encourages me to encourage, NEVERTHELESS.
It has become vitally important to be clear about how a world view develops, how we are influenced by our worldview, as well as how we may be influenced to
modify or change our worldview. Our worldview influences our “take” on circumstances, what we choose to emphasize or focus on and what we tend to minimize or deny.
A compelling truth about perception: We see (and hear) what we expect to see and hear.
The extent to which the POTUS relies on isolated tactics of aggression and fear-mongering reveals his worldview as narrowly focused, oriented toward material
gain, immediate gratification, winning at all cost, with little concern for those currently in harm’s way or the generations to come. This worldview does not recognize interdependence but rather
posits secular individualism. Other human beings and planetary resources are valued only if perceived useful.
It is time for the truth to be true. We witness elected leaders here and abroad distracted by greed and egomania. How do we rise to this
In precarious times we are called to engage a wider perspective and realize that we have resources (and reason) for encouragement and human solidarity, no
matter what disheartening political maneuvering takes place, here and around the world.
For example, we bring “radical acceptance”, explained by Cynthia Cannon as “optimum function, coping with the deep grief (fear, frustration) we all live with.”
This is yet another take on resilience. Acceptance of our circumstances is not passivity. Rather, it is full recognition, eyes wide open, of our human vulnerability as well as our
strength. It is the recognition that we are each sorely tested in our lives, enduring grief and pain and fear, even as we are still capable of awakening to the joy of our holy purpose. It is a
radical letting go of our attachment to our opinions, our interpretations, our judgments, and our preferences. Radical acceptance is founded on the experience that we humans are not, after all,
in charge. Given what we are witnessing on a daily basis, this awareness comes as a blessing.
We need to educate ourselves, gain access to perspectives from others around the world. Check out The Charter for Compassion website.
The truth: our well-being does NOT depend on the weather or the season, the state of our 401-K, who is president or who has just been maneuvered onto the
Supreme Court. Try THAT worldview on for size! Bring forth your gifts, stand in your power, be an encourager. Get clear about what you stand for…and persist.
How has it come to this? What are we meant to learn?
The apparent suicide of a celebrity, in this case former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez, raises questions and brings to light a number of unsettling
issues. If we are committed to compassion, generosity of heart, and peace, it behooves us to engage these questions and issues reflectively. Knee-jerk responses (He couldn’t take the heat, He
got what he deserved, He had everything and threw it all away) are prevalent, but they do not serve a far-sighted vision of a redeemed world.
In my doctoral work on resilience I encountered individuals who seemed outwardly cheerful, composed and competent even as I came to know they were struggling
with anxiety, depression, lack of self-confidence, shame and despair. Researcher Ann Masten’s question from her work with adolescents (2001) became pivotal as I sought to understand what to
make of this phenomenon. What kind of internal distress do resilient youth suffer in contrast to their external competence?
My follow-up question: what is the consequence of sustaining this kind of charade?
A humbling truth: we see what we expect to see. We can be fooled, taken in by appearances, the appearance of things.
What have we lost in his death? On the occasion of every death, we will never have the chance to know what might have been. Aaron Hernandez could have become a
teacher with an affirmative message, a positive role model. He could have come to experience personal redemption. Courageous family members of those who were killed have come forward to
note they have gained nothing by his death.
Much will be made of John 3:16 written in red ink. We will never know how Hernandez understood this passage. It is important to note that current
scholarship is bringing additional clarity to Biblical translation so as to decipher Jesus’ teaching: Eternal life is God-given. “Who” we are is not limited to our physical being. It is
not enough to believe; follow my example. Do not kill. There is nothing anyone does that is not forgiven. Opportunity for repentance (to go beyond the frame of reference you have) is
crucial. LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.
A sign in front of a church on S. Carrolton Ave in New Orleans: Do not put a comma where God has put a period.
We never have the whole story. We do not know everything there is to know about another human being. As the writer Graham Greene wrote many years
ago in The Heart of the Matter (his novel about Sierra Leone), “If we knew all the facts, we would forgive anything that has been done” (paraphrased).
This ageless question remains: How might we develop a proactive frame of reference for incarceration instead of a system oriented to punishment and
retribution? We offer forgiveness in the context of personal responsibility, making amends, and repentance. Forgiveness is not an excuse for behavior, not a free pass. The sense of shame
coupled with despair is particularly lethal. To purposely set up circumstances in which a person is more vulnerable to despair (solitary confinement, life sentence without rehabilitative
counseling) is a form of torture.
Hernandez’ celebrity afforded him acclaimed lawyers and incessant media coverage. However, when all is said and done, fame and fortune do not last, do not
matter after all, are clearly not as meaningful as we are lead to believe. The truth of the matter: there are those who do not have the accrued benefits of celebrity, are struggling with as
much or more than he did, and they are rising to the occasion of their lives.
Taking responsibility for our actions and intention is uncomfortable work, albeit necessary if we are to develop as humane beings. Resilience can be
taught; it can be learned. We need to know more about how this comes about. What might we learn that would benefit young people who are struggling with crisis in their lives just as he did so
that the outcome might be different?
How might Aaron Hernandez have turned this series of tragic events into a contribution to humanity? Was he given that opportunity?