Remember the story about the stonecutter centuries ago? He was chiseling a huge piece of stone, pieces of rock flying from his pounding hammer. All the while he was whistling and humming as he worked. A passerby stopped and asked him why he could make music while doing such mundane and arduous work. He said, "I'm not just chiseling stone. I'm making a cathedral."
My wife and I recently watched the Oscar-nominated movie Flight. It's an incredibly powerful and even disturbing story about an airline pilot (played in an Oscar-worthy performance by Denzel Washington) who is forced to come face to face with his own truth--something he's been avoiding his whole life. Spoiler Alert: The powerful irony of the movie is illustrated in the final scene where he sits in his prison AA group and remarks that he's never felt this free in his whole life. There is something very liberating that comes from standing in your truth, embracing who you are, owning your strengths and weaknesses, your successes and failures, and being willing to look past your performance to the more foundational issue of core identity. Where does your true value and worth come from: the roles you play every day? The quality of your behavior every day? Or is there something more grounded and centered and fundamental?
Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) gets those two realities confused. He's clear on his performance as an airline pilot--he's one of the best in the industry and the story's crisis reveals that truth. But he has placed his identity exclusively in that role to the exclusion of admitting another truth: his alcoholism. And as long as he refuses to stand in that truth, his denial continues placing people, including himself, in painful harm's way.
Captain Whitaker doesn't experience true freedom until he finally embraces the whole truth.
So here are FOUR WAYS TO EXERCISE YOUR TRUTH MUSCLE:
Embrace the whole truth about yourself.
We all have a shadow side--that place that is trying to get heard in order to make sense of life--which often manifests itself in unhealthy, unhelpful ways.
For example, we lash out at and fight with our partners, not because we want to be jerks, but because we want to be heard, we want greater intimacy. Unfortunately, we've chosen an approach that goes counter to the very thing we're longing for and instead creates greater distance. We maintain some addictions, not because we want to imprison ourselves in unbreakable chains and create terrible chaos and pain and suffering in our lives and everyone else's, but because we're hungry for belonging, a sense of worth and value, and we desire deeper, more lasting pleasure and intimacy. Unfortunately, we've chosen an approach that goes counter to the very thing we're longing for and instead creates greater distance and suffering. We get hooked on unhealthy ways to compensate for our lack--it's quicker, sometimes easier, but far more deeply painful.
But the whole truth is also that we have a light side in us. We love others with good motives. We serve others for their own good not just ours. We develop healthy intimacy with ourselves and others. We give with unselfish compassion and caring. We choose delayed gratification at times for the right reasons, in the right places, in the right ways. We show honor and respect to people, including ourselves. We affirm and appreciate others, including ourselves.
As the great wisdom traditions describes, we are this mix of yin and yang, shadow and light, healthy and unhealthy motives, ego and soul. Both sides are a part of us which make up the whole truth. To deny one for the sake of the other is to cripple the whole.
Honor your Shadow side.
Our shadow side must be acknowledged and honored for what it contributes to us--the understanding of what is trying to be heard from deep within ourselves. My cry for intimacy, or for wanting to be seen and heard and honored, or for wanting to feel the depths of life and joy and happiness, or for wanting to feel significant is a deeply human hunger and need. We have to address these desires. To deny them is to deny our humanness and short-circuit the goal of being fully alive as God intended. Our goal is to learn how to dig deeper for the most basic ache inside ourselves and then to choose the most effective, healthy ways to satisfy it.
Genuine satisfaction can not be experienced until the deepest, most true hunger is identified.
How would you describe your shadow side? How does it manifest itself? What is your shadow saying about what's most important to you?
By being willing to embrace your shadow and listen to it, your honoring it will facilitate your experience of your whole truth.
Learn from your Hungers.
Hungers are not bad. Even Jesus affirmed and blessed hunger when he said in the Beatitudes, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." (Matthew 5:6)
Having hungers is not bad. Acknowledging them is a part of wisdom. Understanding them leads to wholeness.
The hunger that has the most satisfaction and fulfillment, says Jesus, is the hunger for what is right, true, noble, pure, just, helpful, loving, compassionate, hopeful. Hunger, which is the deepest, truest form of desire and want, is what must be honored and embraced.
So what do you learn about yourself from your hungers and desires? What values do your hungers reveal are most important to you? How do your hungers correspond to the above list of what Jesus calls the most satisfying? What is it that you really, really, really want and how does that specific truth inform you about your whole truth?
One of the powerful paradigms in the 12 Step Recovery program is the insistence on standing in your truth, the whole truth, and practicing it relentlessly. That means refusing to deny the addiction and what it means to you; refusing to live in dishonesty; agreeing to name your shadow daily. And it also means working hard to embrace the other side of your truth--learning how to feed the light side, live in it more completely and honestly, stepping into regular practices and behaviors that reinforce that part of the truth.
What are the practices you've developed that reinforce and solidify your experience of your truth? Do you have daily mantras and inspirational readings that reinforce your truth? Do you pray and meditate on it? Do you finds creative ways to serve and give to others from a place of unselfish compassion? Do you engage in self affirmations about who you really are, your true identity as a deeply loved and fully accepted human being by God?
In the end, as Jesus once observed, it is only the truth that sets us free. Captain Whip Whitaker experienced that in a very dramatic way. You and I can experience it in our own ways. The nature of truth is that when it is honestly embraced, it is the most truly liberating and empowering experience on earth.
I have to admit I don't especially enjoy the unknown, uncertainty. I'd rather have a clear picture of where I am and where I'm going. My strengths of vision and strategy tend to compel me to always want to be moving toward clarity and purpose. Looking through blurred lenses doesn't appeal to me. In fact, when I wore eye glasses, I was always cleaning the lenses as the day progressed (kind of like I do with my iPhone). I just happen to like to see things clearly. I'd prefer not being in dark zones where I can't see very well. And then I read the following profound statement from the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield. It challenged me and immediately brought to mind some powerful scriptures that reinforce this truth.
"It is the basic principle of spiritual life that we learn the deepest things in unknown territory. Often it is when we feel most confused inwardly and are in the midst of our greatest difficulties that something new will open. We awaken most easily to the mystery of life through our weakest side. The areas of our greatest strength, where we are the most competent and clearest, tend to keep us away from the mystery."
Jesus and Seeds
Jesus used seed planting as a spiritual metaphor. And when you unpack it, the similarities of what Kornfield is suggesting are striking. The seed is planted under ground--it lives in the deep dark place of the unknown--seemingly entombed in a coffin of nothingness and insignificance and apparent defeat. And right there, in this dark zone, is the essence of life. The seed has within it the entire and ultimate fulfillment of life. And in time the seed begins to sprout--new life emerges--and the plant pushes through the dark dirt out of the unseen into the seen and vibrant life above ground. As Jesus said, unless the seed falls into the ground and "dies," it remains alone, unseen, unfruitful. (Matthew 13)
Life comes into being in the unknown territory where we are in what appears to be great difficulties and confusions, operating in our weakest side, in what feels often like defeat and despair. But that's when we encounter the Mystery.
Creation and the Void
In fact, that is the Hebrew picture of the creation story that sets up the earthly paradigm of how God operates. "And the earth was empty, a formless void and mass cloaked in darkness." (Genesis 1:2) Do you ever feel like that's your life--a void, devoid of meaning and purpose and expectant shape--where you wonder where in the world God is?
But as this story of origins continues, it's in this dark nothingness that the Divine Wind (the Spirit/Breath of God) is blowing as it is "hovering over [the void's] surface. Then God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light." (Genesis 1:2-3) And God continues to breathe words into this void so that even in the nothingness--this unknown territory--life is present. And because of the Sacred Wind, life emerges, takes shape, is formed into the most amazing realities.
God hovers in the middle of the dark, formless voids in our lives, too. If we can become still enough, and with courage peer into our dark places, we will encounter that hovering Spirit--we will feel the very breath of God blowing Presence and Life there. We will encounter the Mystery in our unknown territory.
No wonder the Hebrew poet said, "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10) As it turns out, according to the poem's context, this intentional stilling of one's self occurs in the midst of terrible upheaval, trouble, and dismay. The poet is reminding us that even in this "darkness" and void, "The LORD Almighty is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress." (Psalm 46:7, 11)
We encounter God in the middle of what we so often feel are circumstances devoid of the divine presence. No matter how unknown your territory might seem, God is still there.
Paul says, "When I am weak, then I am strong. So now I boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me ... Because this Jesus told me, 'My grace is sufficient for you. My power works best in your weakness.'" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
In our weaknesses, in our difficulties, in the unknown territory that makes us feel out of control, over our heads, unable to navigate well, even feeling like failures--that's when we encounter the power of God that produces life. If, as Paul quotes here, God's power works best in our weaknesses, than why are we so quick to get rid of them? Why do we tend to run from them or even sweep them under the rug?
Encountering God in the Dark Zones
Maybe we shouldn't run so quickly from our weaknesses and difficulties. Maybe we should learn to stay put in those painful places. Not because we need to love pain and hardship. But because we can encounter the Divine there. We can experience a side of ourselves that God chooses to show up in even when we're trying to deny it. God brings grace to our places of greatest need. Strength doesn't need grace. Need needs grace. Weakness needs grace. Uncertainty needs grace. Anxiousness and lack of clarity need grace.
That's why, if you look at the symbol of the Yin and Yang (in Chinese Taoism), which represents the polarities of life that exist together and come and go in cycles, within each side is a small circle of the opposite. A piece of darkness always exists in light, and a piece of light always exists in darkness--you cannot have one without the other--or another way of saying it is, you can find one while in the other. At night you still have the stars in the sky. During the day, you still have shadows. And in the transitions between those cycles, both exist in varying degrees. So in Taoist philosophy, you needn't be afraid of or run from the other. You learn to embrace the whole cycle and rhythm of life as bringing necessary transformation and depth.
"My power is made perfect in your weakness," Jesus told Paul. "And the Spirit of God was hovering over the dark, formless void," describes the creation story. God lives even in the darkest voids of our lives.
So maybe we shouldn't be so quick to try escaping from our dark places lest we miss out on the profound, life producing, strong and empowering presence of divine grace. God operates in a very counter-intuitive way: it's in the dark zones God is breathing life and we inhale that Life and we are brought to greater life.
[If you like these posts, feel free to share them with others - click on the share button to the right. If you would like to receive each new blog post as an automatic email, please subscribe at the right.] I read an article last week by Stacy Corrigan, a personal and corporate financial health coach, referring to a highly significant spiritual and scientific law of life. Quantum physics has proven that the core building block for all material things, as we know them, is energy. In the scientific world energy is equivalent to light. And then she gave this illustration: "When two beams of light join together they become much more intense than two individual beams. We know this to be true when we look at a satellite image of the earth at night from space. The cities that have many beams of light close together show up more readily on the image than the cities where the same number of light beams are spread far apart. The energy becomes greater the more there is in close proximity to like energy."
Remember, she says, all material things drill down to being just energy. So everything you contribute to life - your specific acts of kindness, caring and compassion; your money; material things like food for those in need; etc. - is also energy. Which means that the more you send out, the more powerful the energy becomes, and the greater opportunity it has to team up with similar energy so that it can grow and flow, contributing to what she calls the "boomerang effect" - what you send out comes back to you multiplied.
This quantum physics concept has a fascinating parallel with some deep spiritual realities. Notice a few sacred scriptures:
“Whatever a person sows, that is what he will reap.” (Galatians 6:7) In other words, the energy that a person puts out through whatever kind of actions, behaviors, or projected thoughts will return in kind. Computereze says, "garbage in, garbage out." We become what we give out because it returns to us and ultimately transforms us into what we're projecting. Kind of the negative version of the boomerang effect.
Here's the way another text articulates this reality: “A farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.” (2 Corinthians 9:6) Fascinating that even in the agricultural arena the principle is true - and in this saying, the emphasis is on quantity of output determining the quantity of input. Generosity produces generosity. Scarcity produces scarcity.
The context of this last text is intriguing. The author (Paul) is talking to Christian believers in one part of the Middle East, appealing to them to give money to the believers in another part of the region that has gone through a devastating famine. He's trying to raise both consciousness and funding to help with this specific emergency need on behalf of hurting, suffering people.
So he is basically articulating the boomerang effect to motivate their giving by suggesting that their generous giving will come back to them in equally generous ways. Here's how he describes this:
"You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure … God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, 'They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.' For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. As a result of your generous service to them, they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you." 2 Corinthians 9:7-13.
Notice the powerful energy that circles around – it goes out (as believers in one region give generously to the needy in another region), combines with other energy (the divine energy of generosity that comes to each person making their giving possible in the first place), and then returns in greater form (as the helped believers return kindness through their prayers and support of those who gave) – and it keeps spiraling around, back and forth, around and around, increasing in energy and impact. The boomerang effect.
I'm convicted about how easy it is to live life with a perspective of scarcity - I don't have enough myself to live very well, so how can I be expected to give generously to others! But as this spiritual principle (and scientific reality) states, my attitude of scarcity only produces more scarcity. And here's where it is all so counter-intuitive - but the more I give, the more I receive. Generosity produces generosity. When energy is combined with more energy (like the city lights seen from orbiting satellites shows), the combination creates even more energy. So when we choose to work with others who also give and share generously, our combined energy creates even more impact. And what returns to us in the form of positive energy is even more powerful and transforming.
This is why giving to and sharing with others is such a profound spiritual experience. Here's how one author puts it: “Those who gladly share with others feel themselves bathed by a constant inner stream of happiness. Sharing is the doorway through which the soul escapes the prison of self-preoccupation. It is one of the clearest paths to God.” (Swami Kriyananda)
What a powerful boomerang effect - as I let go of my preoccupation with self and protecting my ego and hoarding my possessions to have control over my life, and give generously to others, I am actually drawn closer to God - my soul connects with God's soul - and I am liberated in transforming ways. In fact, I become truer to my truest Self - I'm acting out who I really am - a loving and compassionate child of God. And this choice to live in alignment with my true Self results in a life of greater confidence, security, and increased generosity. Generosity produces generosity by connecting me to the heart of God which is pure love and selfless giving to others.
The boomerang effect - it works both ways. So which boomerang do you want circling back to you? Which harvest do you want to reap?
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Don't you just love seeing rainbows? There's something both ethereal and inspiring about them. People get so excited when they see one in the sky, telling whomever's around, "Look! There's a rainbow! Over there, over there! See it?" And everyone strains their necks to get a glimpse of those spectacular colors in the sky. It's almost as though seeing a rainbow brings some kind of unique gift to the observer (kind of like the proverbial treasure at the end of the rainbow). And if you're really lucky, you might see a double rainbow sometime - double the luck or blessing. Rainbows have been centrally portrayed in art, literature, music, and sacred scriptures for millenniums. For example, in John Everett Millais' 1856 oil painting he titled, "The Blind Girl," he used the rainbow - one of the beauties of nature that the blind girl cannot experience - to underline the pathos of her condition. Notice how she sits there, totally incapable of seeing this double wonder of nature that the little girl in her lap is craning her neck to see and enjoy. A rainbow is so powerfully evocative of life and hope, if you can't see one, you've missed a profound human experience.
In most religious cultures, the rainbow is a symbol of the divine presence, the bow of God, the brilliant light display of glory around God's throne. So the rainbow evoked a kind of deep spiritual fervor and hope for a divinely blessed life.
And here's where this beautiful symbol and metaphor takes on expanded meaning. Experts tell us that there are 7 basic colors to the light spectrum we see in the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. But in reality, as they point out, there are infinitely many wavelengths between 380 and 740 nanometers - the visible spectrum of light. That doesn't even count the different tints and shades obtained by mixing in white, black, etc. So, in truth, there is an infinite number of colors, if you look at it that way.
"The actual estimate for how many different colors the human eye can distinguish varies between one and ten million, depending on the reference which you consult. However, the perception of color varies from one person to another, so there can be no single number that is true for everyone. The number of different colors that you, as an individual, can distinguish also varies dramatically according to the conditions; it drops to zero in low light conditions, in which only the rod cells of the retina can function, as the cone cells of the retina are required for color vision." (Paula E. Burch, Ph.D.)
In other words, the whole color experience and reality of the light spectrum is about diversity, differences, innumerable options and shades and perceptions. No one person sees it the same way. And there's infinite variety in what can be seen.
So here's what we have with the rainbow: a powerful universal symbol of Hope, of the divine presence and blessing, and of the amazingly rich diversity in the human experience. Amazing, isn't it? That which has always been a symbol for God is also a picture of infinite diversity.
Like sometimes happens when we end up missing the opportunity to see a rainbow because we're perhaps looking somewhere else or distracted by something else or simply not looking for one, could it be that we too often miss experiencing a profound divine blessing because we don't appreciate the rich diversity of life? We don't see God in the midst of life's variety and infinite spectrum of life because we've boxed God inside boundaries that are in fact too limiting to the infinite God of life - boundaries of belief, boundaries of faith, boundaries of the way we think people should be like. We allow ourselves to have such narrow expectations of ourselves, others, life, and even God and end up shrinking our souls a bit more and more as time goes by. If spirituality involves the experience of the Sacred and Divine in all of life, then our spirituality is diminished by refusing to let God encounter us in the midst of the rich diversity and variety and differences inherent in the fabric of life all around us. To experience diversity is to experience God.
So why would any one of us think we had the conclusive picture of reality and life? Why would any one of us think that there's only one way to look at God, or there's any one religion or organization that speaks exclusively for God, or there's only a few ways to be human, or there's only one perspective on an issue, or that some people are better than others? It's too much of a tendency for me to put people in boxes or to place my expectations on others, thinking they need to be more like me. It's too easy for me to sometimes feel threatened by someone else's views or contributions or life, thinking that if they get away with their perspective, I'm diminished in some way - rather than embracing the truth that all of us are strengthened and deepened if we each are given the freedom and encouragement to be ourselves. The very nature of life, as the rainbow so beautifully portrays, is the beauty and divinity of diversity.
No wonder William Wordsmith's 1802 poem "My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold the Rainbow" begins:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!…
I love the passion for life he portrays. He feels his heart "leaping up" when he sees the rainbow - he willingly enters into the joy of life, allowing himself to be ushered into the chambers of awe, wonder, mystery, and Spirit. It's so valuable for him to experience this divine reality of life through the rainbow that if he can't have it, he would just as soon die. Why go through life just trying to make it to death safely? That's not living. That's being dead already, even though the heart might be pumping and beating. Wordsworth's reality is that life leaps for joy when it sees the rainbow - the depth and richness of life happen in the midst of variety and diversity and difference.
I want a deep and more joyful life, don't you? So maybe we should open up the box more to include more, to appreciate and value more, to be aware of more, to experience more. Maybe we should let God be more. And then watch ourselves be surprised by the God of the rainbow!