Saturday, May 23, 2009
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you…” (Matthew 7:7, KJV)
A long time ago, someone I no longer call Friend scornfully said to me—probably more than once—the only reason you are nice to people is so they won’t be mean to you. This was in response to my saying that I just try to follow the Golden Rule—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This ethic of reciprocity is likely the simplest and most prevalent of moral codes throughout all religions and cultures. Another way of saying it—Do not do unto others what you would not want done to you. I knew then, and I know now, that regardless of what we do, we can't predict or control the behavior of others. We can, however, in spite of anything to the contrary that life doles out, do what we know to be the right thing to do.
This old friend, who is one of the most talented people I’ve known, blessed with worldly resources, none of which he had to earn, might also be one of the most selfish people I’ve known. He was then self-absorbed, spoiled, vindictive, jealous and controlling—to name just a few of his ways—and likely is the same today at age 63. Being around him, I found myself doing everything I could to protect myself when he would go dark, dark, usually while drinking, and lash out at me over just about anything and on the most personal level. Twenty-five years of such insanity is 25 years more than anyone should tolerate—and God forbid, permit. Yet, I have to ask myself, why did I allow it? Worse, did I enable it and nurture it? How scary is that.
I’ve had two other friends—neither part of my life now—who went to the dark place on alcohol. One, another guy, was “in recovery” a couple of years ago. He wanted to be more important than he felt. The other, a female, told me the last time I saw her that she was trying to kill herself—with alcohol. She felt, for some reasons, that life was cheating her, had by her account been cheating her, and oh, did she resent her lot. To be perceived as wealthy weighed mightily on her, manifested especially when she sought to lose herself in drink. She, too, wanted to be more important than she felt.
Misery abounds for any of us who choose to ignore the goodness within us and that surrounds us. These three gifted people with whom I have walked part of my journey—people blessed with intelligence, talent, a sense of humor, a spark of generosity, who know the value of work, and yes, people who at least at some level live by the ethic of reciprocity—failed to see the abundance within them and staring them right in the face. Spare me from choosing to starve in the midst of plenty.
For me, it is important to put yet another spin on the golden rule. Do not do to yourself what you wouldn’t want another to do to you. One afternoon each week I am part of an intentional group of spiritually evolved people who bring their triumphs and failures, their highs and lows, their intentions, indeed, their very “godness”, to share with one another. I have been reading that the love we need lives within us. At least it lives within us if we allow it. As surprising as it may seem, love is not something we should be seeking anywhere outside of ourselves. The well of this elixir is ours to tap into, and it is a well that will not run dry.
This week our meditation centered on love. I am reading that in meditation one of the things we can ask is for our heart to speak to us. I am reminded of a gift that someone for whom I care deeply delivered into my hands a while back—and not without complication and consternation, regrettably, on my part. The gift—a recorded sermon titled, “All you need is love.” I am reading that for every weakness we perceive in ourselves, there is a strength that balances out that weakness. I am reading that one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and others is to love ourselves. “I release these words into the Law knowing it is already so. I release all attachment and let go. I surrender, allow and let God. And so it is.” Such closes a prayer, a blessing that comes to me each day. And so it is.
Surrender—Santa Fe, New Mexico (May 21, 2009)
R. Harold Hollis
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
To begin with, I don’t know bird sounds so much. In Texas, the noisy northern cardinals and mocking mockingbirds that dwell in my garden make up my repertoire. Here in northern New Mexico, as of this moment, I am especially clueless. With the exception of the pair of doves that call home the pine tree outside my second story balcony, a few robins that I’ve noticed this spring, and of course, Raven, I am left just to delight in relative ignorance in nameless song and in the dizzying wings of the hummingbird. For some reason, this morning my ear has caught the low thrumming of insect in chorus with the birds of our neighborhood. All of this delicacy is poised against the background of the busy highway running north and south just above the arroyo that separates the modern pueblo-like dwellings where I live from the commerce and human drama that plays out virtually 24 hours a day. As I wait to start my day, as if it isn’t already started, having brewed coffee, breathed the first cup laced with half ‘n half, I am possible. I will walk, I will climb, I will give, I will ask, and I will wait. Whatever I do, it changes everything.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
You always hurt the one you love
The one you shouldn't hurt at all
You always take the sweetest rose
And crush it till the petals fall
You always break the kindest heart
With a hasty word you can't recall
So If I broke your heart last night
It’s because I love you most of all.
(pop standard by Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher, 1944)
In the Christian tradition, many give voice to an oft-unfulfilled commitment—that we must strive to be Christ-like in our relationships. A few years ago I was reminded of this—as if for the first time—in a sermon given in our very small and struggling Episcopal mission in conservative east Texas. His imperative struck me. “We must wear Christ on our face.” One other time since then have the words spoken from the pulpit become immediately branded in my conscious. “We have chosen to worship Christ, rather than to follow him.”
As a Christian, I am struggling with so much of what I’ve learned over these many decades, so much about exclusion and hollow presumption. As a Christian, I know I am not alone in this struggle. There was a time when I would have felt far more guilt for questioning the only faith tradition I’ve known. Maybe it’s age and where I am on my journey. No doubt—where I am physically and the expansiveness available to me in this place—is having its wonderful way with me. The best news of all for me right now is discovering that which binds us all, regardless of our walk—abiding in faith, or not. This feels good. I feel very alive and full of possibility.
My east Texas, foot-washing, primitive Baptist daddy wouldn’t cotton to—that’s a regional expression mostly associated with the south, meaning “to take to”—my developing pan-religious sensibilities. To him, I would be trucking with the Devil, and even though he wouldn’t understand me, he would still love me. Loving kindness was at the very core of this generous man. Isn’t that the message inherent in all the paths we walk?
In practical terms, I am reminding myself each day of the importance of treating others like I want to be treated. I don’t have a history of going out of my way to mistreat anyone—especially someone I don’t really know. We seem to reserve that kind of destructive nonsense for the people we claim to love. I like being reminded each time I stand in line at the grocery store, or walk into the utility company office to pay my bill, or talk once, twice removed to someone on the phone who has the power to make my life a little easier vis a vis my cable television or internet service that I have the power to make someone’s day by simply showing that I am grateful for their help. I’ve been hearing a lot about gratitude lately. Someone said that to be grateful opens our hearts. How good that feels. And so it is.
Simply Grateful—Santa Fe New Mexico (May 14, 2009)
R. Harold Hollis
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
“Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go, and it will be done for you just as you have believed.’ And his servant was healed that very hour.” (Matthew 8:13)
I hadn’t realized that the story of the little pessimist and the little optimist was so familiar. Now I’ve discovered that it was one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite yarns—barnyard story it’s called by some. Say, “There must be a pony in there somewhere,” and lots of people know what you’re talking about. The moral of this tale is clear.
Christmas came for the two young brothers. Under the tree gifts abundant were placed for the little pessimist. After tearing through the pile, he asked with signature disappointment, “Is this all”? Then the brother was taken to the backyard for his gift. In the corner of the yard was a mound of horse manure. The boy jumped up and down with glee, leading the father to say, “I don’t understand. We’ve given you a pile of horse manure for Christmas, and you are delighted. Why?” The boy replies enthusiastically, “There must be a pony in there somewhere.” So how is it that some people see the glass half empty and others see it half full? We’re often asked to count our blessings, as if we don’t remember to do so on our own. A well-placed nudge here and there has merit, for sure.
Recently, I’ve started participating in a group that meets weekly for an hour and half. During this time our processes include a little meditation, visioning, and setting our intentions. I’ll be the first to say that had someone told me a couple of years ago I would be giving even moderately serious effort to self help, I would have said, “Not really.” About 18 months ago the landlady from whom I rented for the first four months here in Santa Fe gave me a copy of “The Secret” on CD. I’d never heard of it, but then I discovered that its law of attraction precepts are fairly well known, with historical roots in the New Thought movement of the late 19th century. I guess I wasn’t amazed to discover that lots of people are making serious money from teaching others to ask, believe, and receive. “Woo-woo,” many say about all this new age stuff.
Woo-woo, well, I don’t know. What I do know is that I look forward to our Thursday early evening sessions. It’s simple. We meet, and we go around the circle letting each other know what’s going on for us. We meditate for a few minutes, breathing to empty ourselves of that which stands in the way of awareness and possibility. We end with setting our intentions. All of this is so new to me that I honestly don’t understand it well enough to explain it. Someone has described the process as training ourselves to hear, feel, see and catch God’s plan for us. The plan already exists, and our challenge is to open ourselves so that it can be realized. As we move around the circle in the final activity of our weekly meeting, we are each invited to talk for about a minute—in the present tense as if it is already realized—about where we want to be in our lives, where we indeed intend to be, soon. We might already have one foot in the door of this intended place.
The intentions are real. Maybe the place is one of resolution with a sister facing serious health challenges. Maybe the place is a more satisfying professional life. Maybe the place is allowing oneself to embrace an intimate relationship. Maybe the place is growing out of behaviors that have long crippled any one of us, proving that the old dog absolutely can learn new tricks.
A friend who joined me for dinner at my place last night gave me a gift as he was leaving. We had been talking about business, friends and lovers, relationships woven, sometimes torn, mendable, resilient. He honored my hopes. He breathed life onto the fire of my efforts to be in relationship. I am ever the one trying to figure out things, although I’ve been advised, “Harold, you don’t have to understand everything,” when I try so hard to get at the root of the whys of conflict and find a solution. I want to be understood, not misunderstood, and I want to understand. Ah, but then there’s this matter of accepting. The notion that I can create my own destiny mystifies and intrigues me. Woo-woo, blessings, yards of manure—what do they all have in common? If it’s really so simple as asking, trusting in the goodness of one’s intent, embracing and giving thanks, then what are we waiting for?
There is a Pony, There is a Pony—Santa Fe New Mexico (May 12, 2009)
R. Harold Hollis
Monday, May 11, 2009
Sometimes I wish I could say, “I’m there.” But as the saying goes, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Although each day I better understand and accept that life is a process, I still get impatient with myself. I pray about it, as I watch myself struggle. Recently, I was reminded by a friend, “Harold, you’re hard on yourself,” and then she added, “and this makes you hard on others.” Of course, the good news is that I don’t have a corner on the market. Most of us are rowing the same boat, and when you think about it, the company can be comforting.
As much as anything for which I give thanks, I am blessed to be living in a place where consciousness seems to be the norm—at least in the circles where I travel. I have the privilege of knowing a handful of people who remind me every day that my need to grow, and hopefully change, is a good thing. My dear mother’s take on my penchant for change was that I get bored with the familiar, and then dissatisfaction is not far behind. In a sense, that would have it be mostly about the pursuit, which isn’t necessarily bad. In the past, I allowed myself to feel a little guilty about not only looking to new horizons but indeed being drawn, being dazzled by them.
Thankfully, I realize that it’s okay. It’s how I’m wired.
I’m learning to give myself permission—permission to be restless, to sometimes say “no,” which is painfully hard for someone who is a born people pleaser, permission to be a little selfish now and then. That begs the question of what is selfish, although we have been socialized to recognize selfishness in its various stripes and spots. As tough as it is, I’m crawling toward taking baby steps on challenges everywhere I look.
I’m learning to remind myself to be a little easier on both myself and on others. “Take the best and leave the rest,” a friend here says. The literature is ripe, ripe with advice that for our own sanity and happiness we must accept others without trying to change them. How many relationships fail because at least one of the parties needs to change the other. The good news about all the advice we get and give is that we’re really talking to ourselves, hoping that by saying it aloud we will finally get through to ourselves.
The light is dawning for me, although at times only a flicker. For the first time in my life—at least as I see it—I am partner worthy. I’ve had intimate, relatively sustained relationships in the past, but they all played second chair to my birth family. No, let me be more honest. They were hamstrung by my sense of duty to my late mother. Many years ago, an old friend told my partner at the time, “If you think you will be more important than Harold’s family, think again”—or whatever he said. I wasn’t present for the conversation. It’s all up to me now to make myself available. I can’t lay that responsibility on anyone else’s shoulders. Just as I finally accepted that I couldn’t make my mother happy, I know equally that I am not responsible for anyone else’s happiness. Equally, whatever bliss I can know lives inside me. Realizing that I have something really wonderful to offer another man—that I can be a part of something so full of possibility, so challenging, so completing—well, I’m humbled by this rediscovery in my 65th year. Finally, he’s not just around the corner, as I’ve sensed for so long. I’m putting up—not shutting up—embracing him in the now, right here. And so it is.
It’s How I’m Wired—Santa Fe New Mexico (May 7, 2009)
R. Harold Hollis
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.
It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain.
We are the walking wounded. In truth, I can speak only for myself, and frankly, I can’t remember a day in a long, long while that I haven’t felt the weeping of my wounds. Yet I am reminded time and again that the balm that heals comes through our relationships with one another. We are nurtured and diminished by these connections.
As I watched “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” yesterday, I was struck especially by one scene where the main character details the circumstances that led to his beloved being struck by an automobile. If, if, if, we insist. How many lives were changed forever in all of the ifs that came into play on the tragic day of September 11, 2001. If I could do it over again, we say. If only I had known. If only I had cared a little more.
This morning, as I revisited the events of last night, a neighbor in drunken despair who for some reason chose me as the object of his cry for help, a cry that neither he nor I recognized in the heat of our exchange, I realized that I felt violated. A profound sadness planted itself squarely on my soul. As he insisted last night that he would be heard, I resisted equally the strength of his frustration and anger. As we struggled aloud with one another, I lost sight of the man who had called me an angel, not so long ago. With the coming of light today, a palpable darkness stole my strength. I wanted only to sit, quietly, and to mourn, but I knew that something was expected of me. “You have to move through this. Don’t let him rob you…” a friend advised. “God bless you…” his mother pleaded when she called late in the morning to apologize for her son’s behavior. It wasn’t the first apology, and I suppose it won’t be the last. I know that I have to reach out, in
strength, to this man. I know that I must forgive.
The Walking Wounded—Santa Fe New Mexico (May 5, 2009)
R. Harold Hollis