Friday, February 26, 2010

Quiet, please - expansion in progress

It's not a quiet world out there. The television shouts; our electronic babysitters incessantly nag with calls, emails, texts and tweets; traffic whizzes by, and in the midst of all this cacophony we expect - and are expected by others - to multitask as if there was an entire committee living in our heads (yet most of us know, to our sorrow, how well things get done by committee). But that's just the way the world is these days, right?

Well, I don't know. Seems to me there is some choice about how we experience the world, a choice that's independent of being able to control rush hour and modern technology and what your boss expects you to deliver before five o'clock. Because there's a world inside us, too, devoid of committees, traffic, electronics, the constant pressure to Get Things Done. You can visit there for a month of internal vacation in a split second of "outside time." And it's an expansive world that gets bigger every time you visit. The ticket to that world can be purchased with two things: quiet, and its daughter, connection.

WHAT? Didn't I just say it wasn't a quiet world out there? Yes (I never promised not to contradict myself). "Quiet" doesn't mean everybody else has to shut up. It means YOU have to. For one second, one minute, one hour or whatever span you choose (or that chooses you), you can opt out of focusing on all the things you've been trained to think are important. Really. The world isn't going to end if all you are doing for the next few moments is breathing. In fact, it's probably beneficial to the planet if that's all you do from time to time.

Since this quiet is generated through you and not outside you, it comes in different flavors. You might get quiet in the middle of that booming traffic, or in a grove of trees by a pond. You might even get quiet while you are singing or dancing, or riding a bicycle. By taking a deep breath. By smiling at a child, praying, meditating, looking at a candle flame or across a mountain valley at Douglas firs roaring in the wind. There are a zillion possible paths that can lead you to that place where you set aside - for a moment, anyway - your high-functioning, complex and very self-important brain/ego. The point is that the quiet I'm talking about is an internal stance, an opportunity you give yourself to let everything else fall away other than this huge, amazing miracle of simply BEING A LIFE.

I'll reveal one of my triggers for internal quiet because it's deliciously silly, it came to me unbidden, and it perfectly illustrates the process I just mentioned. Five mornings a week I walk, usually at the local mall because it's safer than my sidewalk-less neighborhood, and dry any time of the year. I'm not thrilled at sharing my early-morning space with chattering people and glaring retail signs. But. On every early-morning circuit around the mall I pass a day spa that has a big, beautiful boulder sitting outside the closed doors, a gorgeous yellow-orangeish stone with purple patches and dark veins running through it. One morning, for no particular reason except perhaps the wish to touch an object not created by humans looking to market something,  I reached out and lightly brushed the surface of the rock on my way past it. I think I may have even whispered to the rock, "Good morning." BOOM! - A sense of transcendent peace permeated me. Go figure. Now, every time I walk by that rock I brush my hand over it in gratitude and greeting. And every time I touch it I am unaccountably blessed with a moment, sometimes more, of inner, complete quiet. My life expands at the same time my ego steps out for a cup of coffee.

Is this daily caress of a rock merely a superstitious ritual, a meaningless gesture? Perhaps, on one level. So is - on one level - crossing oneself, or visiting your grandmother's grave, or always staying in the same cabin at that funky little riverside resort you've gone to since you were a kid. Yet, on another level, even the most rational human has to admit that these rituals do something for us, or to us. Whether the effect is psychological, spiritual, emotional - choose your preference - they quiet us. And in that quiet we find...well, I've gone on long enough and I'll talk about connection on the next post. Time to get quiet.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Why am I here?

Many people find a measure of comfort in the belief that life has intrinsic meaning, that there is a "plan" for each of us. That's understandable. After all, if we're not here for some identifiable reason, then we must be here for no reason, right? And from that premise it follows that if there is no reason for our existence, there can be no purpose to our lives, either.

Faulty logic, I think. That view dumps us into a tight crevasse between conventional religious belief and conventional non-belief: it's all God the Interventionist or it's all random chance. Neither of those explanations ever entirely satisfied me, so some years ago I began exploring this idea: What if the purpose of our existence - through whatever means that purpose arises - is to MAKE meaning? It's one of the things we humans seem to do best. We're makers and shapers, not just with our hands but with our minds and hearts. We take random, everyday events and order them by the calendar, by seasons, by stages of life, by astrological sign, by who we happened to meet on the street corner this morning - and in that ordering we create mileposts. Significance. Relationships. Art. Memories. The story of our lives. The feeling of belonging to something vast and beautiful.

One of the ways we make meaning is through ritual (or ceremony, if you will). When we welcome a child into the world through ceremony, we symbolically give the child to Life and claim the baby's vital importance to her family and to the earth. Who knows what gifts that new human creature will bring to her world? When a wedding takes place, we celebrate the magic of bringing together into one family, through love, a group of people who were once strangers to one another. We have voluntarily extended our notion of who we are obligated to care about. When we gather for a funeral or remembrance ceremony, we not only ease our loss through being in community, but we ritually usher the loved one who has died into the new status of "ancestor." He or she has become part of a family story that reaches back countless generations, into a history lost to us. All of these rituals tie us to each other, to our home the earth and to its creatures, to the long life of the universe and, for some, to a spirit they know as "God" (or any of a thousand sacred names).

So why am I here? Because I love the making of meaning through ritual: the peace and pause it brings into our busy lives, the stories it generates, the unguarded laughter and tears that spring from what it opens up in us. I love the possibilities of joy. I love guiding people to the mirror, to face their own creativity and make their own meaning. I love stories - telling them and hearing them - and I want you to share yours with me.

Why are YOU here?