Part 2 - If You Don't Lean In to Effective Energy Management, You Won't Make It: The Second Way to Move From Slavery to Freedom

Last week's blog post described the hamster wheel kind of life that so many people find themselves caught up in.  It's the vicious cycle that can't seem to stop.  So we live in exhaustion, discouragement, lack of energy and inspiration, and a sense of being victims to our schedules and environments.  A terrible and unhealthy way to live! The good news is that there are two ways to strategically move beyond this painful cycle.  Last week's blog described the first strategy:  get clear on your identity and what your identity is based upon.  Click here to read that post!

I'm illustrating both strategies with the ancient story of the Jews' experience of slavery in Egypt under a cruel Pharaoh and his slave masters.  Here is the second significant strategy.

Strategy # 2:  Get Clear About the Difference Between Energy vs. Time

The Jews were giving most of their time to the Pharaoh via the slave masters.  They were forced to produce bricks, at the risk of death should they stop.  They were in a losing battle if time were the only resource available to them.

But every seventh day, they did something counter-intuitive.  They stopped.  They rested.  It was called Sabbath.  So what?

The way Sabbath was structured for them was that this was a very intentional time to remember their true identity.  they were not primarily slaves to a human taskmaster.  They were children of Yahweh, the God who had called them and claimed them--who had chosen them, not because of how "cool" they were, not because of how good they performed or how much they produced, but simply because God chose them to belong to the God of the universe.

Their identity was based upon a stable truth:

"We are chosen, valuable human beings simply for being.  We are called for a special purpose.  We are not slaves.  We are free.  And we're moving in our history toward the ultimate liberation of living in perfect congruence with our given freedom.  Our task masters can take away our time.  But they cannot take away our mindset, our identity, our humanness.  We control that.  And we choose freedom, even while we're having to work painfully for cruel masters!"

Develop Reinforcing Rituals & Practices

So every seven days, on the Sabbath, they remembered, they realigned their mental picture, they stepped into that reality.  How? By engaging in practices and celebrations and rituals that reinforced the truth about themselves, that re-energized their sagging souls and aching bodies.

The power of this kind of regular ritual and practice is that the emphasis is not on time as much as it is on energy.

Time is a finite resource.  We only have 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

So if we based our experience on managing our time, no matter how important that is, we are in a losing battle.

But energy is renewable.  When we learn to manage it, steward it effectively, we can not only sustain our capacity we can increase our capacity.

Engaging in Energy Boosters

So my client and I began a conversation that he described as the most important thing he's done.  We identified rituals and practices he could engage in that would renew his energy.  He creatively conceived of "mini-sabbaths" into which he could step and feel a boost, remember his true self, pay attention to his soul, renew his energy.

Energy boosters.  Even if it was taking out his "dusty" harmonica and playing it for 10 minutes.  Even if it was catching up on his New Yorker magazine for 10 minutes, reading what he enjoyed.  Even if it meant going to the bar every week to enjoy Trivia night with his friends.  Energy boosters.

When we neglect positive energy boosters in our lives, when we disregard positive rituals and practices that remind ourselves of who we really are, we degenerate into nothing more than "slaves to a task master" of our never-ending work or the demanding expectations of others in our lives.  We give up control.  And then we slip into a victim mindset.  It's a losing battle, every single time!

Make Your List Now

So make a list right now.  What are activities you can schedule regularly (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly) that give you positive energy when you do them?  If you can actually schedule them into your calendar, then you won't have to waste brain energy by always having to think through when you want to do them.

If you don't do that, I guarantee you your busy schedule will trump your rituals & energy boosters every time.  Put them into your calendar so that they simply come regularly without serious planning and forethought so all your energy can be used in actually engaging and being present when that time comes.

You'll find yourself moving steadily from a "slave" mentality to a liberation mentality.  You'll be in control again; you'll reclaim sovereignty over your time and energy and life.  That's a far better way to live!

Developing A Faith That Works, 2: What Is Fidelity?

[Please SHARE this blog with people who might be interested!  Hit the button on the right to subscribe or to share the post] The word "faith," especially to Westernized Christians, has come to be seen as a primarily notional experience - having to do with what you think about God.  It tends to mean holding a certain set of "beliefs," believing a set of statements to be true, whether cast as biblical teachings or doctrines or dogma.  Your faith is judged by how much you believe and how accurate your beliefs are.  If you possess this "right" kind of faith, you're called a "believer."

As a result, this concept of faith as primarily an intellectual exercise has turned faith almost exclusively into a matter of the head, too often with disastrous results by heartless, nonloving "believers."

But significantly, that was not the central meaning and usage of the word "faith" in the history of human religion (including early Christianity).  As Karen Armstrong, in her powerful book The Case For God, states, "Religion was not primarily something that people thought but something they did ... Religion [from its very inception in human history] was always a practical discipline that teaches us to discover new capacities of mind and heart."

It was a way of being and living, not simply a way of thinking.  The stories and sacred scriptures of every religion emphasized the journey of heart and spirit in learning the sacred art of self-forgetfulness and compassion.  As a result, religions developed powerful rituals and practices that, if followed and wholeheartedly engaged in, would enable adherents to step "outside" their egos and experience the Sacred and Divine, empowering them to live more compassionately and unselfishly toward others.

For example, as Armstrong points out, the early Chinese Daoists (over 300 years before Jesus and the early Christian followers) saw religion as a "knack" primarily acquired by constant practice.  They, like the earlier Buddha and even Confucius, refused to spend lots of time speculating about the many metaphysical conundrums concerning the divine (as Buddha once said to a follower who constantly pestered with those kind of questions:  "You are like a man who has been shot with a poisoned arrow and refuses medical treatment until you have discovered the name of your assailant and what village he came from.  You would die before you got this perfectly useless information!").

Zhuangzi (c. 370-311 BCE), one of the most important figures in the spiritual history of China, explained that it was no good trying to analyze religious teachings logically.  He then cited the carpenter Bian:  "When I work on a wheel, if I hit too softly, pleasant as this is, it doesn't make for a good wheel.  If I hit it furiously, I get tired and the thing doesn't work!  So not too soft, not too vigorous.  I grasp it in my hand and hold it in my heart.  I cannot express this by word of mouth, I just know it."

Like the Chinese hunchback who trapped cicadas in the forest with a sticky pole and never missed a single one.  He had so perfected his powers of concentration that he lost himself in the task, and his hands seemed to move by themselves.  He had no idea how he did it exactly, but he knew only that he had acquired the knack after months of practice.  This "self-forgetfulness," Zhuangzi explained, was a "stepping outside" the prism of ego and experience of the sacred.  (from Armstrong, The Case For God, pp. xii-xiii, 23.)

No wonder Jesus, centuries later, reiterated this paradigm of spirituality and religious experience when he called his followers to "take up your cross and follow me."  He's not simply talking about believing in your head the right doctrines and the core truths.  He's talking about a "way" of living.  Referring to his own experience as the example for his followers, he said, "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who is willing to give up his life in this world will keep it forever." John 12:24-25

Genuine faith is not just about your head, it's about your heart, it's about your journey, it's about life transformation that comes from self-forgetfulness and an experience with God the Sacred and the Divine.

SO IN THIS SERIES, we're taking a look at the four words that are translated as "faith."  We're unpacking each word and exploring what it means and what the differing nuances suggest about developing a faith that works in real life, a faith that transforms life, a faith that defines ourselves and produces a rich and deeper experience of both God and Life.  It's a return to the core of what religion was always meant to facilitate but has too often lost along the way:  a transformation of the heart.  In my last blog, we explored the 1st word for faith, “fiducia,” from which we get our English word "fiduciary" (a person in whom we place our trust to protect our finances and estate).  So “trust," is the central definition, which in the realm of faith then conveys a profound kind of relaxed, solid, worry-free confidence in God as a power that can be trusted and relied upon to have our best interests in mind.

Today's word for faith is "fidelitas," which is the Latin word for "fidelity."  It literally means loyalty, faithfulness – originally referring to a vassal's loyalty to his Lord; a steadfast and devoted attachment that is not easily turned aside; constancy, steadfastness.  Faith as fidelity means loyalty, allegiance, the commitment of the self at its deepest level, the commitment of the “heart” to the experience of God not simply to statements about God.  A radical centering in God from your heart and soul not just your mind.  So what does that look like in real life terms?

There are two metaphors that the sacred scriptures use in describing our faith relationship with God that I'll unpack in my next blog post.  These metaphors describe what "fidelity" is NOT and so help to increase our understanding of what genuine faith as fidelity and loyalty is.  Stay tuned!

Spirituality Is About Learning the Art of Transitions

The longer I live, the more I become aware of how central to the journey of spirituality (and developing fertile depth in my life) is learning the art of transitions.  I use the word "art" intentionally - because art depicts a significant dynamic:  it's learned, it's creative, what works and is displayed as art for one person might look different for another.  In art, you may have a gift or natural talent for it, but it's still something you have to develop and work at in order to flourish. Doing transitions in life well is an art.  It's not easy.  It's messy.  It must be learned.  And it requires lots of patience!  Right?  I know all about this from personal experience.

If you've read Malcolm Gladwell's latest book "Outliers" (which is a profoundly researched book about redefining our traditional cultural perspective on success), he refers to what scientists call "the 10,000 hour" rule.  They've discovered that people (regardless of how much innate talent or giftedness they possess) who have reached the pinnacle of their respective fields all put in a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice before they reached that pinnacle.  Imagine that!  10,000 hours!

Reminds me of what my dad use to say every time he walked past me while I was practicing the piano:  "Don't forget, Greg:  Practice!  Practice!  Practice!"  Wow, as much as I hated hearing what seemed at the time an overly simplistic platitude, I realize how right he was!  To get good at anything, it takes practice!

So while I sure hope it doesn't take 10,000 hours of painful transitions until we get good at it (God save us, if it does!), the point is still true:  spirituality is about learning the art of transitions.

Horace, who is considered by many as one of the greatest of all Latin poets (whose work later influenced Shakespeare), was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of the great Roman emperor Augustus (1st Century B.C.) and a personal friend of the Caesar.  In the first book of his Epistles, Horace penned these words:

"He has half the deed done, who has Made a beginning."

A profound and insightful paradigm.  Sometimes we think that our transitions are simply three stages:  an ending, the neutral zone, and a new beginning.  But as Horace wisely reminds us, the new beginning is only "half the deed."  As William Bridges, an expert on life change and transition, points out, genuine beginnings depend upon "inner realignment," when we do the important work of aligning ourselves with not only the new external circumstances but also with our renewed identities, our new longings and desires, our emotional shifts corresponding to our external shifts.  Learning how to live with congruence where what's outside matches what's inside.  This isn't easy work and also takes time.

Here's the way Bridges describes it:

"It is unrealistic to expect someone to make a beginning like that of a sprinter coming out of the starting blocks.  Even when your outer situation is complete - you're on the new job, you're finally married, you're in your new house - the inner beginnings are still going on.  At such a time, people often say, 'I guess I'm just not used to this new situation yet,' but it would be more accurate to say that 'I'm not quite fully the new person yet - but I'm getting there.'"  (Transitions:  Making Sense of Life's Changes, p. 173)

So he suggests that during these new beginnings it is a time to be gentle with ourselves or with the other person, a time for the little supports and indulgences that make things easier.  And it's also a time to acknowledge that, as much as we long for them, new beginnings can be things that we often resist inside just as much as the loss-filled ending and the ambiguous and frustrating neutral zone were.  Cut ourselves some slack.

So surround yourself with some familiar things that conjure up good memories or warm feelings.  Don't jump into too many new things all at once so as not to short-circuit the current new beginning.  Postpone other major decisions.  Take it one step at a time.

This new beginning is a time to return "from the disengaged state and the wilderness to set about translating insight and idea into action and form."  Developing new commitments at home and work.  Re-engaging in new and strategic ways.  Re-negotiating old and new relationships.  It's doing the hard and what might seem like mundane work of getting established in the new beginning.  As the Zen saying goes, "After enlightenment, the laundry."

This is why so many spiritual and religious traditions developed practices and rituals to help them re-engage and move into the new beginnings.  They often couched their most important insights from their transitional experiences in the form of stories that could be remembered and retold again and again through rituals.

The Christian Eucharist retells and relives the story of Jesus' life and death and helps the participant re-engage in a resurrected identity.  The Jewish Passover retells and relives the Exodus story of deliverance and helps the participant re-engage in that identity of liberation.  Stories lived out through rituals and practices and symbols to empower an inner alignment with an outer reality.

Horace was right:  new beginnings are but the beginning of "a deed half done."

That's why the spiritual community I belong to here in San Francisco, Second Wind, is committed to our stories of past, present, and future.  We value entering into the great ancient and contemporary stories of faith and transition.  And in so doing, empower ourselves to live out effective new beginnings again and again.  Telling and respecting and valuing each other's stories is one of the ways we're "practicing" the art of transitions.

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