Remember comedienne Lily Tomlin's famous line? “The trouble with being in the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” Does your life ever feel like that these days?
This week I was pointed to an online article called "What Happened To Downtime? The Extinction Of Deep Thinking And Sacred Space." The author is Scott Belsky, CEO of Behance and author of the national bestselling book Making Ideas Happen. He's speaking a very prophetic word to our contemporary culture. Dangers of Living in a Digital Age
Living in a digital-age where we are connected 24/7 through our technologies, the experience of interruption-free space is almost nonexistent. Even airlines these days are beginning to offer mobile and digital connectivity on flights, that last bastion of forced, no-guilt relaxation opportunity.
But this constant plugged-in existence is doing great damage to our souls and imaginations.
"Despite the incredible power and potential of sacred spaces, they are quickly becoming extinct. We are depriving ourselves of every opportunity for disconnection. And our imaginations suffer the consequences."
Creating Creative Pauses
What this means is that we have to be especially intentional about carving out what Belsky calls "the creative pause"--learning to savor downtime which is one of the most effective ways to enhance our imagination for life. We have to be willing to shape times when we unplug and disconnect in order to plug in and connect to to a whole different Spirit.
The ancient Jews called this sacred experience Sabbath. It was intentional, weekly sacred space carved out for the purpose of plugging in to the Divine Life in a renewed and revitalized way. It was a tool to remind them of their spiritual identity as children of God--"We are not simply consumers and producers (brickmakers for the Pharoah and rulers of worldly empires). We are children of the God of Heaven who calls us His own and gifts us with love, compassion, and goodness--not for what we do but simply for who we are."
Benefits of Uninterrupted Sacred Space
There is tremendous power in this kind of creative pause and uninterrupted sacred space. Notice the way eminent Jewish philosopher and theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel describes it:
“In the tempestuous ocean of time and toil there are islands of stillness where man may enter a harbor and reclaim his dignity. The island is the Sabbath, a day of detachment from things, instruments and practical affairs, as well as attachment to the spirit . . . The Sabbath is the exodus from tension, the liberation of man from his own muddiness, the installation of man as a sovereign in the world of time.”
Notice all the words that describe benefits from observing sabbath: reclaiming dignity, deeper attachment to the true spirit of life, exodus from tension, liberation from identity confusion, restoring a sense of sovereignty over your time instead of being a victim to time. Who among us wouldn't want these experiences?
I truly believe that one of the great spiritual practices for our contemporary culture is this intentional choice to savor downtime, to establish a creative pause, to carve out sacred space, to learn the art of sabbathing our time--to use these sacred moments to remind ourselves of our deepest core identity as interconnected human beings, sovereign children of God, loved and valued not for what we do for but for who we are.
My Wednesday Night Speaking Series
This is one of the reasons I have planned this public speaking event for Wednesday nights, right smack dab in the middle of our busy, frenetic weeks. It's an opportunity to step into a creative pause and sacred space to enhance the depth of our lives as we reconnect with the Spirit. We need regular appointments like this because we all know the powerful benefits of regularity. You don't eat a meal only once, saying to yourself that since you've just eaten and you feel full that must be enough. You eat again and again, with regularity, in order to sustain your life.
If you aren't living close enough to San Francisco to get in on these Wednesday night events but would still like to set aside a creative pause to view them, the videos will be made available soon. I'll be happy to let you know when and how to access them. Email me (email@example.com). Here's the information about the series. Check it out.
Your Intentional Choice
Let's face it: we live in a world where we're confronted with the sometimes overwhelming temptation to stay connected and plugged in to our technologies and communities 24/7. Little by little, the life in our souls is seeping out through over-stimulation and nonstop activity. We're paying a very high price.
Belsky challenges us: "Soon enough, planes, trains, subways, and, yes, showers will offer the option of staying connected. Knowing that we cannot rely on spaces that force us to unplug to survive much longer, we must be proactive in creating these spaces for ourselves. And when we have a precious opportunity to NOT be connected, we should develop the capacity to use it and protect it."
This is definitely a word to the wise for our generation. How will you go about sabbathing your life? What intentionality will you choose to manifest to experience sacred space and downtime? Why not enjoy the profound life power in a creative pause.
My Offer To You
One of the things I do is coach people on how to develop this kind of deeply personal, meaningful spiritual path. I have a 7 Day Curriculum called "How To Breathe More Soul Into Your Life"--it's all about developing specific intentional ways to experience the benefits of daily sabbathing your week. People have found this to be very transformational in establishing regularity to the spiritual habit/practice. Over a four week process (in four customized phone calls), I help unpack this experience, provide daily assignments, and help bring support and encouraging accountability to this personalized journey.
I'm willing to give a 10% discount to my blog readers for this coaching experience which begins Monday, Nov 7. Contact me in the next 5 days (by Oct. 26) to take advantage of this discount. Email me for the details (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Inner Critic We all have one. It's that voice so often speaking inside our heads that makes judgements about us. Sometimes it takes the tone and sound of one of our parents or another adult from our growing up years--they criticized us for not measuring up, for failing, communicating clearly that we didn't have it, we couldn't make it, we blew it and we'll blow it again.
Someone recently told me about his Inner Critic's primary message: "You'll never make anything of yourself! You'll never amount to anything!" It always has the voice of his dad who has put him down his whole life and has never expressed any true belief in his abilities. He's labeled his Inner Critic, "The Chairman of the Board." This voice has always had the last word, the word of ultimate authority. And it has prevented him from living his own life in freedom, with a sense of value, and possibility.
I definitely have an Inner Critic. I got off the phone today after engaging in negotiation over a coaching contract with the CFO of an organization. I felt really strong. I was pleased with myself and the confidence with which I had presented a proposal.
And then suddenly my Inner Critic piped up and in no uncertain terms reminded me of a very small but silly comment I made in passing during the phone conversation. As I listened, the "voice" started berating me and criticizing me. I was tempted to believe it once again and discount the entire conversation along with my credibility. I saw my Inner Critic looking at me holding up the big L on its forehead...Loser! And the irony was, all evidence to the contrary.
Why Is the Inner Critic So Powerful?
Does that ever happen to you? The Inner Critic is powerful. Why? Because we have given it power. Because we've heard it for so long. Because it speaks partial truth at times so that some of what it says is believable and we tend to lump all of what it says into that partially believable part. And because whenever it speaks, it doesn't equivocate or articulate timidly. It always speaks with authority and clarity. Right?
The Essence of the Inner Critic's Message
Even Jesus battled this Inner Critic, this Shadow part that showed up in the form of the devil, the tempter. The Bible elsewhere describes this Voice as "the accuser of the people." Man, do we know this Inner Critic!
After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness desert to be alone, to confront himself, his identity, his calling. The voice of his heavenly father at his baptism was still ringing in his ears: "You are my son, the one I love; I'm so proud and pleased with you."
Then the Critic showed up. In essence It said, "So you think you're the Son of God, huh? You think you're someone special? NO way! Not unless you can turn stones into bread. You think you're someone special? NO way! Not unless you can jump off the pinnacle of the Temple and have angels break your fall. NO way! Not unless you acknowledge Me, honor me, listen to and believe everything I say. You're no different than anyone else! Good try!"
Notice the essence of this Critic's voice which echoes our Inner Critic all the time: it's calling into question our identity, our sense of value and worth, our belief in ourselves and what God is calling us to be and do. It accuses us of being Nobodies. It's connecting performance with success and identity. So if we blow it or act out or fail at times, the Chairman of our Board bellows, "See, you're nothing. I told you! You'll never amount to anything!"
Our Inner Critic always connects performance with value. So we end up only giving ourselves permission to feel good about ourselves when we perform well or are doing something "valuable" and "successful" (and usually we've bought into the ego-culture's definitions of those two terms).
I'm wrestling with this temptation from my Inner Critic a lot these days. I'm in the middle of a big transition professionally, from spending most of my time pastoring a spiritual community to spending more time being a public speaker and spiritual teacher. Others have taken leadership with the spiritual community and my wife and I are working hard developing strategic plans to begin speaking and teaching in the City and beyond. So right now, one thing has ended but the new thing has yet to begin. I'm in the "no man's land" of transition's middle zone. And I struggle with a loss of identity and the corresponding sense of current "uselessness."
My Inner Critic isn't whispering It's critique of me, It's bellowing it. Maybe I won't be able to pull off this transition to another manifestation of my Calling. Maybe we'll try and it won't work. What if no one shows up to the public events we plan? What if no one cares about what we have to say? What if I've lost whatever mojo I once had? What if we can't earn enough income to make it? What if? What if? "See, you're really amounting to nothing after all. You're not good enough. You won't make it. You're not who you think you are, you're a nobody."
So how do you attend to the Inner Critic in a way that doesn't cripple you? Here are several important strategies I've learned.
Strategies to Effectively Attending to Your Inner Critic
Honor the Voice--learn Its wisdom. This is a counter-intuitive step. The truth is, our Inner Critic speaks so loudly because It's trying to tell us something. Believe it or not, it does have some wisdom for us. Unfortunately, It often couches Its words in negative value statements. But beneath those devaluing observations, It does have a role. That role might be different for all of us. It might be trying to keep us from doing something we'd regret later, like making a fool of ourselves, or biting off something we're not ready to handle, or doing something that might not be safe. The Inner Critic speaks warnings ultimately to protect us, like oftentimes our parents tried to do. It wants to make sure we're considering all the angles before jumping into something.
I've learned that this process is not about silencing the voice as much as properly attending to it.
If we are willing to honor that Voice by assuring the Inner Critic that we will take Its warning into consideration and will not purposely try to do something dangerous or foolish, that we'll be strategic and wise in what we do, the Voice actually tends to quiet. It wants to be heard and respected. And we can listen to what we need to hear in its statements and honor those parts. And then simply not embrace or accept the negative value judgments.
Say to It, "What is the wisdom you have for me? What are the cautions I need to pay attention to? How can I assure you I won't be foolish and unwise here?" Honor and respect the voice of wisdom in It and then let go of the value judgments about identity and worth. You're not a Loser no matter what you do or what happens.
Honor THE Voice--don't play the identity game. Though my client has named his Inner Critic "Chairman of the Board," the truth is, there's only one Voice that we should give that title to. Jesus got it right. His first response to the Tempter and Accuser was, "Man should not live by bread alone but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God."
The Accuser had just challenged Jesus to prove his divine sonship by turning the desert stones into bread. Jesus refused to play that identity game. "I don't need to prove anything about who I am. I don't perform my way into an identity. I accept my identity as a state of being given to me as a gift the moment I was born. I'm choosing to listen to the words of The Chairman of the Board, the One who just reminded me at my baptism who I am by telling me, 'You are my son, the one I love; I'm so pleased with and proud of you.' That Voice is the one that counts to me when it comes to my identity, value, and ultimate worth!"
The next time your Inner Critic bellows that you're a failure, a loser, and that you need to do much better at performing and proving yourself otherwise you don't count, don't buy it. Remind yourself of the Highest Voice who assures you that you're a child of God with ultimate and eternal value no matter what! Your identity is secure, period.
Can we learn from our mistakes and foibles and even failures? Of course. We should. The Inner Critic has wisdom for us to learn from if we allow ourselves to listen. And sometimes we have to work hard to catch what It's saying "in-between the lines" of Its judgments and criticisms.
Choose to play the right game. When my Inner Critic, after my phone call, reminded me of my silly statement, I stopped for a moment, replayed that part, and ended up saying, "Good point. I was trying to be funny and light when I made that silly comment but I didn't need to. I could have left that out. It didn't add any value to the conversation and my point. Next time, I'll remember and not feel the need to throw something like that in."
But then I chose to refuse the Voice's judgement label of Loser on me and went about my work, celebrating how strong I was on the call and my hope for a profitable outcome. "I am a divine son who is called by God and loved by God and infused with eternal value and worth, no matter what happens. Thank you for that secure and solid identity! Now I'll keep moving forward, being as wise and strategic as I can, and knowing I'm the Man all along the way!" :)
Don't get caught up in your Inner Critic's identity game. Only allow the true Chairman of the Board to settle that issue for you.
In Jesus' story, once the Critic-Accuser-Tempter crossed this line by demanding worship (an act of bowing to something as ultimate authority) , Jesus did a major push back and rebuked It by saying, "Get behind me! Be gone!" He refused to play the identity game. He refused to give the highest status to It. Only God is the Chairman of the Board who always pronounces value and worth and acknowledges inherent goodness.
So honor the wisdom of the Inner Critic and learn what you need to learn from It. But don't mix Its messages up with your identity. Don't get sucked into that game. When it comes to identity, choose to play the right game: listen to and honor the Voice of God who has the most authoritative handle on your identity as a loved and pleasing child of God, forever and period! Beyond that it's all logistics and strategy.
[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.] Do you ever struggle with the challenge of trying to balance all the different commitments in your life like work, family, personal development, spirituality? You perhaps want to pay equal attention to every area but then feel frustrated and sometimes guilty that you simply don't have the time or energy to do it all good enough?
In an article in the latest Inc. magazine, Nancy Rosenzweig, a serial entrepreneur and CEO and the mother of two small children shared a profound insight. That fact that she also devotes significant time to volunteer work has sometimes caused tension at home. In responding to criticism about the potential of neglecting the most important things in her life by simply being too busy, she paraphrased the poet David Whyte and said, "The antidote to buyness is not rest but rather 'wholeheartedness.'" She says that her community commitments, for example, don't deplete her - they energize her. "Nurturing ourselves by doing things we're passionate about in turn allows us to 'wholeheartedly' nurture others - including our families and our companies."
It does raise the significant spiritual question, How are you replenishing your body, mind, heart, and spirit? Is there anything you're involved in that you're engaging in "wholeheartedly?" Are you paying attention to what really energizes you, to what taps into your deep passion? Or are you simply going through all the right motions in all the areas of your life, giving whatever you have to give to all of them, but your heart and soul are not being utilized or plumbed or stimulated? You're working really hard (lots of activity) but you still don't feel like you're getting anywhere? You're dissatisfied deep inside? Are you simply busy, working diligently and with great effort, trying to be successful in everything, but experiencing a slow burn leading to a slow death inside? You're losing track of who you really are?
David Whyte, in an excerpt from "Crossing the Unknown Sea," describes this reality with the words, "Your exhaustion is a form of inner fermentation. You are beginning, ever so slowly to rot on the vine."
What a tragic picture. The grape is designed to grow on the vine, to mature to the point of being able to be harvested and ultimately turned into something that brings great joy and satisfaction to others. But if it is left too long on the vine, it experiences a slow rotting from the inside out. And ends up being discarded.
The word courage in English comes from the old French word cuer, heart. You must do something heartfelt, reminds David Whyte, and you must do it soon. Which begs the question, what are you doing in your life that is truly heartfelt? What are you doing that speaks both to and from your deepest soul, expressing your inner longings and desires and God-given passion? To do that takes courage - a movement in the heart to bold action and risk. That's why so few people truly possess courage. It's sometimes easier to simply maintain the status quo and not rock the boat and try to please everyone. But that kind of heartless living ultimately leads to a busyness that little by little destroys the soul and ends up useless to blessing others. It's not easy living with courage.
This clumsy living that moves lumbering as if in ropes through what is not done, reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.
And to die, which is the letting go of the ground we stand on and cling to every day, is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down into the water, which receives him gaily and which flows joyfully under and after him, wave after wave, while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm, is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown, more like a king, further and further on. (Rainer Maria Wilke, "The Swan")
In commenting on this poem, applying it to a friend who comes to see him, Whyte says, "You are like Rilke's Swan in his awkward waddling across the ground; the swan doesn't cure his awkwardness by beating himself on the back, by moving faster, or by trying to organize himself better. He does it by moving toward the elemental water where he belongs. It is the simple contact with the water that gives him grace and presence. You only have to touch the elemental waters in your own life, and it will transform everything. But you have to let yourself down into those waters from the ground on which you stand, and that can be hard. Particularly if you think you might drown."
No wonder the word courage means "heart." Much of what we do in life (and God knows we are all extremely busy doing much) has nothing or little to do with our true powers, our truest sense of self, our God-given purpose to which we feel empowered to devote our whole heart. We often relegate those issues to impracticality ("that's just not the way life is; we can't afford that luxury!"). We judge people who try to live their heartfelt passions as neglecting real life, shirking responsibilities, trying to live in a fantasy world, or having a midlife crisis. So we end up going through life like a swan that refuses to enter the water and simply waddles around on dry ground - awkward, expending unnecessary effort, and worst of all, not living out its true purpose.
But when the swan chooses to step into the water the whole picture changes. We use the swan as one of the ultimate symbols of gracefulness, coining the phrase, "as graceful as a swan." It's a picture of inspiring beauty when a swan behaves like a swan.
What are you and I robbing the world of when we don't have the courage to live the way we were designed by God to live - a life of wholehearted purpose? What are we robbing ourselves of? We all need something to which we can give our full powers. And only we individually know what that is. Our heart, our deepest soul will tell us if we stop long enough to listen to the swan song.
[Please SHARE this blog with people who might be interested! Invite them to subscribe and receive every new post via email – hit the button on the right to subscribe.] There's a Zen story about an old zen master who was dying. All of the monks gathered - in a kind of restrained eagerness - around the deathbed, hoping to be chosen as the next teacher.
The master asked slowly, "Where is the gardener?"
"The gardener," the monks wondered aloud. "He is just a simple man who tends plants, and he is not even ordained."
"Yes," the master replied. "But he is the only one awake. He will be the next teacher."
Apparently there's something about working in and being present to the natural world that produces a kind of "awakeness" toward Life. The famous painter Vincent Van Gogh expressed this same reality: "All nature seems to speak ... As for me, I cannot understand why everybody does not see it or feel it; nature or God does it for everyone who has eyes and ears and a heart to understand." (The Complete Letters, 248, I, 495)
There's something spiritually stimulating about being in nature and allowing it to speak to your heart and mind and soul. There's something powerful about getting close enough to creation to hear its song and listen to its rhymes. Every major religion in the world recognizes the spirituality of nature and provides various ways to become more "awake" to the voice of the Sacred that speaks from the world all around us. It's pretty amazing what we begin to notice when we're being more mindful and aware of everything we see, hear, and feel.
I was sitting in the waiting section of the oil change garage off of the busy Van Ness Ave. in San Francisco last week. My chair was close to the garage entrance so I could see the street. I was thinking about the upcoming spiritual retreat we were taking with my Second Wind spiritual community, the retreat theme this year being on the spirituality of nature. My initial response to what I saw and felt in the midst of my very urban environment was to heave a sigh of relief knowing that it wasn't much longer until I was going to finally be out of the city into "real" nature where I could hear God's voice and feel closer to the Spirit of life. But then, as I looked outside the huge garage door and saw the cars driving past, hearing the traffic sounds, I was suddenly struck by a significant reality: I was surrounded by "nature" right there in the middle of my huge city. It wasn't just the green trees on the median of this busy boulevard, or the birds I saw flying overhead. The heart and soul of nature was also evident in the awe-inspiring creative spirit that went into the design and construction of today's modern vehicles - the intricate, micro "creation" of computer chips and boards running the cars and trucks, the impressive design of the engines propelling vehicles toward their destination, the guys changing the oil in my car, running back and forth, using their appendages skillfully to service my amazingly constructed automobile (even though I kind of hate my old car these days and wish I could get a nicer new one). Even the sounds that we so much associate with "anti-nature" (car horns, exhaust pipes from loud buses and trucks, traffic, construction sites, loud voices) are in fact the sounds of life, all of which involve the divine spirit of creativity, artistry, invention, passion, desire for the best in life). And when that perspective hit me, I became aware of "nature" in the middle of my city in new ways that led to a deeper appreciation of God's Spirit all around me. I had a very meaningful spiritual epiphany right there on busy Van Ness Avenue - I encountered the God of life in the sanctuary of Jiffy Lube!
Living with our "eyes" more open wherever we find ourselves, suggest the spiritual sages of all time, produces a deeper experience of life and an increased connection with God. Nature is where life is; and life is everywhere. I do realize, in addition, that being in environments that are more silent and quiet and environmentally natural is extremely conducive to spiritual depth and connection, as well. But it's amazing how often even when we're in those settings we simply don't see or hear the Sacred Spirit of life very deeply - we're too busy "doing" instead of simply "being" attentive. Intentional mindfulness helps make the connection.
The Hebrew poets in Scripture manifested this intentionality with nature so profoundly in describing their experience of God. Their poetic similes and metaphors were filled with an environmental awareness that opened their hearts to the Divine Creator. One pointed to the other. God was both in His creation and the Master of Creation. Looking at one was like looking at the other. They facilitated experience, one with the other. Notice this example:
"O my soul, bless God! God, my God, how great you are! beautifully, gloriously robed, Dressed up in sunshine, and all heaven stretched out for your tent. You built your palace on the ocean deeps, made a chariot out of clouds and took off on wind-wings. You commandeered winds as messengers, appointed fire and flame as ambassadors. You set earth on a firm foundation so that nothing can shake it, ever ... What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations ... The glory of God-let it last forever! Let God enjoy his creation!" (Psalm 104)
There is a profound spirituality associated with nature that is accessed by developing a greater mindfulness or awakeness or awareness of what you're seeing and experiencing. That's why, at Second Wind, we value the natural world and desire to enjoy it, honor it, respect it, care for it, and share it often. And we also value the city we live in as a place where God's breath blows and moves and stirs up life, too. As urban dwellers, we're learning to feel the divine breath energize us and bring us to life in the middle of our urban "forests," where the voice of God sings to our souls the music of life.
This last weekend, on our Second Wind retreat, our closing "ceremony" was to write a collective psalm of praise to God, each one of us writing two lines describing our personal experience of the weekend, and then putting them all together into one song. After taking a few minutes to compose our two lines, we stood in a circle and read our lines in one complete collective psalm. I'm telling you, it was a profound experience for me as I listened to the richly diverse and meaningful ways everyone had encountered God and experienced the depth of life through the retreat time, described in some wonderfully poetic tones. Our intentional experiences of heightened awareness and awakeness, including times for reflection upon and observation of those experiences, revealed a significant spiritual epiphany for all of us. The power of keeping our eyes, ears, hearts, spirits, and bodies open to Life!
As Van Gogh once said, "Oh! My dear comrades, let us crazy ones have delight in our eyesight in spite of everything - yes, let's!"
Okay, I admit it - I'm drawn to cities ... always have been! I was born and raised through my teenage years in Tokyo, at that the time the world's largest city. Ever since then, whenever I go anywhere, I always want to get to the downtown of any city. Among many things, I especially love the skyline of huge, tall skyscrapers. I love driving home to San Francisco across the Bay Bridge and seeing the massive skyline of downtown getting closer and closer, and then suddenly being right in the middle of it all, feeling awe, inspiration, wonder and excitement that I live here. Is this weird? I think I know why I love this, though. Read on.
My interest obviously got piqued when I read about the world's tallest skyscraper officially opening way over in Dubai last month to a spectacular fireworks, laser, and water extravaganza choreographed to music.
The characteristics are quite impressive: The Dubai Tower's 160-stories reach 2,716 feet. It's so tall that it's visible from 60 miles away, reports say, and the temperature drops 6 degrees from base to peak. Winds at the top can reach 90 miles an hour. The highest floor offers views of Iran. Its elevators will travel the world's longest distance, operating a speeds of up to 22 mph. Its nightclub on the 143rd floor is the world's highest; above it, on floor 158, the world's highest mosque.
The skyscraper is not only a testament to engineering and architectural genius but also to a bold and courageously counter-intuitive vision that gave birth to the original idea. Phil Anderson, managing director of Economic Indicator Services, an economic forecasting service based in London, blogged recently about the beginning of this modern phenomenon:
"Bradford Lee Gilbert designed and built the very first so-called skyscraper in 1887 as a way of tackling a client's unusually shaped six-and-a-half meter plot on Broadway in New York. The solution was to build an iron bridge truss, but stand it on end so that the real structure of the building started several stories above the curb - producing the best design to maximize occupancy and rentals.
New York's press ridiculed the idea. Fellow architects pronounced the building unsafe. Building experts said it would blow over in the wind, if it ever got off the ground. New Yorkers themselves were aghast at the notion of a building that would tower above their side-walk to a height of 160 feet. A fellow engineer and friend begged Gilbert to abandon the idea, pointing out that if the building really did fall over, his legal bill would ruin him. Lawyers confirmed this.
But Gilbert knew better, arguing that the building's structure, with wind bracings from top to bottom, meant that the harder the wind blew, the safer it would actually become. To put the matter to rest Gilbert requested the top two floors of the new building for his offices. And the rest, of course, is history."
I'm always in awe of people who have a vision to do something that is often ridiculed or thought impossible, a vision that is counter-intuitive to conventional wisdom, a vision that takes boldness and courage to live out. When those visionaries refuse to give up, when they build their dreams based upon their best research and understanding and end up producing something transformational, the world is left a little bit better for it. Little did Lee Gilbert know the global legacy he was leaving because of his act of courage and vision!
One of the things I love doing is walking into San Francisco's downtown financial district, right into the middle of that urban forest of monolithic, giant trees. I crane my neck and allow my eyes to follow the path straight up to the top of the skyscrapers. Especially when those tall glass-encased structures, glimmering in the sunlight, stand against a dark blue sky, the feelings I get every time are a mixture of awe, wonder, and hope. There's an instant elevating of my inner spirit and passion for life. Almost a sense of transcendence ... in the midst of the hubbub of activity and life all around me.
Interestingly enough, ancient cathedrals were designed to evoke similar emotions - the human spirit was being led to look up toward the divine as a person's eyes followed the upward lines toward the tops of the spires and high, vast ceilings. A place where the divine and human meet.
That's the way I feel when I'm in the middle of our urban glass "cathedrals" in downtown. I realize that I'm in direct contact with the amazing human spirit of creativity and vision and skill that put these buildings first on paper and then on the streets. It's awe inspiring to me when I think of everything that went into making these dreams reality. All of this helps explain why I love being right in the middle of big city downtowns.
Skyscrapers are by design symbols of the willingness to break normal limits, their peaks pointing to the limitless sky of possibility. Their existence stands as monuments to courage and boldness in the face of ridicule and doubt. In some ways, they're our urban cathedrals for the elevation of the human spirit toward the divine life of creativity and possibility.
I want to challenge myself and all of us urban dwellers to embrace skyscrapers this year as one of our symbols of hope and courage. As we each forge into new territory, I want to live a life of possibility, I want to keep dreaming and planning and working to help make the world a better place. I want to create sanctuaries of hope, where people's inner spirits are elevated and drawn to transcendence, where bigger dreams are dreamed, and profound transformations take place, even when others might ridicule or doubt. And I want to be a part of a community that helps others embrace their highest possibilities, too.
Hey, here's a great idea: maybe we should all take a trip over to Dubai to soak up some of Brad Gilbert's inspirational legacy. If you book me a ticket, I'll fly over there with you! Or just as good for me, come on over to San Francisco and we'll take my favorite walking tour through downtown together ... and see what happens to our spirits.
There's a profound dynamic to sailing that goes beyond the scale of the boat, the engineering, the rigging, all the equipment that helps the boat go fast and stable, that goes beyond even the condition of the water and even the crew. It is in fact, ironically enough, that which cannot be seen. And without it, there would be no sailing. Figured out what it is? Exactly. Wind. It's the whole force behind sailing. You can't see it. You can only feel it and notice its impact. And believe me, it's quite a force to be reckoned with. I've at times cursed it and hailed it (depending of course how well I'm doing leveraging it). And I've been deathly afraid of it (when my boat appeared to be "going down" in the storm). All of these responses to something you can't even see - but obviously acknowledge is there.
There's an intriguing spiritual dimension to this reality. And of all people to acknowledge it is Christopher Hitchens, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, most known for his self-proclaimed role as one of the New Atheists called to debunk the world of religion and religious thought, as most recently revealed in his manifesto book God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. His primary sparring partners tend to be religious conservatives and apologists for fundamentalism.
In a recent interview with a liberal Christian minister he made some surprising philosophical and spiritual observations of sharing a mutual appreciation for "the transcendent" and "the numinous" (which literally means, "surpassing comprehension or understanding; mysterious; filled with or characterized by a sense of a supernatural presence: a numinous place; Spiritually elevated; sublime"): terms that Hitchens himself introduced into the conversation, not vice versa.
When asked about this, he commented:
"It's innate in us to be overawed by certain moments, say, at evening on a mountaintop or sunset on the boundaries of the ocean. Or, in my case, looking through the Hubble telescope at those extraordinary pictures. We have a sense of awe and wonder at something beyond ourselves, and so we should, because our own lives are very transient and insignificant. That's the numinous, and there's enough wonder in the natural world without any resort to the supernatural being required."
And then he surprisingly took it one step further. "Everybody has had the experience at some point when they feel that there's more to life than just matter." More to life than just what you can see?
This is quite a profound observation from a person who has refused to embrace acceptance of anything supernatural. More to life than just matter? Is Hitchens really saying what he seems to be saying here, that "the numinous" refers to the sense that there's something more to our existence than just the material world?
The ancient Hebrews (in Jewish scripture) had no problem acknowledging this reality. In fact, to them, the scriptures never talked about "spiritual life." Spirituality was NOT simply one of several aspects of life. All of life was Sacred, God-breathed, infused with divine wonder and awe. So they talked about only life. As my friend Samir Selmanovic points out (in his book It's Really All About God), "the Hebrews loved both God and life. Obeying God meant being fully human, with every fiber of one's being alive. One could not experience one without the other...To tune in to human life is to tune in to God. Existence itself is a sacred place."
There's more to life than just matter. There's a Spirit to all life. So embracing life deeply and passionately is a highly spiritual practice. And historically (among spiritual traditions), this practice has been called "worship." Living life with a sense that life is sacred, intentionally giving value to life and the Giver of life, embracing the awe and wonder that there is More than simply our existence, that there is a Life Force that flows all around us and in us and through us. Worship is the spiritual practice of embracing God and showing value to the Divine life.
There's more to life than just matter - worship - embracing "the transcendent" and the "numinous" - giving honor to Life. Renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens acknowledges this reality (in his own way). I definitely concur.
In the spiritual community in San Francisco I'm a part of, Second Wind's "W" core value (in our core values acronymn S.E.C.O.N.D. W.I.N.D.) stands for "W.orship." It's a desire to value living life with a sense of the divine, learning the art of living all of life as sacred, embracing the worldview (as Einstein pointed out) that the Universe is in fact "friendly," that God is the ultimate Force of love and compassion and goodness. So we're trying to find meaningful and intentional ways to live out this value and important paradigm. We think this value will empower us to love extravagantly and serve unselfishly to make this world a better place.
And in the end, isn't there something centering and grounding to sense that there is more to life than just matter? That, as my friends in AA are so wise to regularly affirm, there's a Higher Power beyond myself, greater than myself, that nourishes and sustains and empowers my life toward greater self responsibility leading to wholeness and transformation?
When it comes to sailing, I can tell you that the most effective sailors are those that not only acknowledge the wind but learn how to live with it well, who embrace it and honor it and respect it - who learn the art of leaning into it.
What would it look like in tangible terms for you to embrace this core value, to affirm that there is more to life than matter and what you can see? How would it impact your daily existence, your relationships, your concerns, your hopes and dreams? What are specific ways you tend to show deeper value for Life, to carve out space to acknowledge and pay attention and affirm the Sacred in life? When is the last time you actually thought about there being a Power greater than yourself and expressed respect and honor for It?