Thursday, July 23, 2009

Surprising Teachers

Never underestimate the potential to learn from anyone and everyone who crosses your path. One particular teacher arrived for me, moving slowly, on two canes. The canes were holding up a body that had known so much life. I saw him there, attentive and sharp, and knew that there was a story to be told. Only after his death, did I truly know the extent of his courage.

Teachers come in all shapes and sizes, and you have to be ready to be surprised if you want to learn from brilliance. There were some Sundays I rushed past this man with his canes. I had places to be. If I had stopped long enough, I would have discovered that the canes masked a life of athleticism and joy. What else am I missing? What other inspirations are passing me by?

Early this year, the Washington Post conducted an experiment. They arranged for one of the best violinists in the world, Joshua Bell, to play a 3.5 million dollar violin in the subway during rush hour. Two days earlier, Bell played to a full theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

He played anonymously in the subway for 45 minutes. In that time, only six people stopped to listen and he collected a total of $32. At the end, no one applauded. He simply packed up and left. The only person who really paid attention was a three year old boy who was quickly hurried on by his mother.

A verse in the Bible that has always intrigued me says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

Who are the angels in your life that inspire and teach you? Do you always recognize them straightaway? Do you pause long enough to appreciate brilliance when you aren’t expecting it?

If we hurry past one of the best musicians in the world without paying attention, what else are we missing? If you expect all your teachers to be standing by a white board with a book and marker in hand, you might miss the ordinary brilliance that surrounds you every day.

Learn from children to be happy for no particular reason. Learn from pets to immerse yourself in life with playful abandon. Learn from veterans to throw yourself into service of others without fully knowing the cost. Learn from the dying to let go and from those in recovery to hang on. Learn from nameless janitors and men with canes. Be inspired by underground musicians and people with stories of courage

Keep paying attention to all of them, lest you miss entertaining angels in disguise.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Affirming Humanity

I only cleaned the pool butt naked one time. That’s all it took to learn the lesson. I was home alone. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. All was calm and peaceful as I moved around the edge of the pool with skimming pole in hand. I was so taken with my garden paradise, lost in the tranquility of it all, that I didn’t hear the pool guy arrive. He had unexpectedly come to fix the filter, and either my hearing is suspect or else he is a very quiet man. I didn’t know he was there until I turned around and we found ourselves cheek to cheek (so to speak). I carefully lowered my pole and toweled up. Paradise was lost, and there was no Eve to blame for this one.

The poor guy was professional enough to keep his gaze high and act as if this happened everyday in pools all around Grand Haven. We did share a light joke about it, laughing about the hypothetical headlines in tomorrow’s newspaper. Many people have only ever seen me in a business suit. Shorts and crocs are enough of a shock for some people - without going to naked extremes.

Do you remember seeing your school teacher for the first time out of school? It was almost unthinkable for me to come to the realization that my teacher had a life, a family of her own, went to shops, etc. It is certainly surprising for some people to see me with my family or having a drink in a bar.

What are your expectations of spiritual teachers? Do you expect them to exist on some higher plane, exuding patience and virtue? How do you feel about their exposed limitations and insecurities?

My hope is to offer spiritual teachings that grow out of my own experience of life, and when helpful, to share the naked truth about my own vulnerability. I have high ideals and a massive vision. My vision demands a personality and presence that is sometimes larger than I am ready to believe I can offer. But I am driven forward and demand that of myself because this is the point of my teaching. Abundance is discovered in self discovery.

I believe that all people can dwell in divine abundance. I believe that deep down in places you can barely remember, you are destined to live in divine abundance. At the same time, like me, you might be a restless person who experiences self doubt and anxiety. The abundance that I speak of is not an escape from insecurity, but an acceptance that insecurity is breeding some other truth in you if you can stay awake, stay open, listen, learn, and grow.

I want to inspire deeper humanity. I want to remind you that your vulnerability is just as sacred as your perfection. As Leonard Cohen said, “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

You don’t have to let too much light in, nor let it all in at once - especially when the pool guy stops by. Let SOME light in, trust those around you with your humanity, and be trustworthy with the humanity of others. You can offer no greater gift. As Maya Angelou said so wisely, “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.”

This is the spirit of the Daily Affirmations. Each affirmation offers a way to create meaning in the experiences of your life, to heal the cracks by shining light and love on them. They offer a way to practice being human, first in the safety of your own mind (or by reading them to your best friend, as I know one dog owner does each morning), and then in the world where it can be so hard to stay grounded. The affirmations bring you greater ease with who and where you are, while opening the door to a deeper peace.

A key component of spiritual growth is authenticity. An interesting translation of the Hebrew name for God is “I will be what tomorrow demands.” Celebrate the joy of being you in this moment. It’s not where you will be tomorrow, but it is perfect for today. As you find the joy of acceptance, the you that you are becoming will unfold effortlessly like a rising sun.