Seeing Systems

When you start to see that your organisational dramas (see this recent post) repeat themselves in organisation after organisation you can also start to see that your difficulties are often not so much personal as they are systemic.

Another way to say this is that what you might think is the problem with Dave or Jill or Aggrey or Sue (or with yourself) is often being brought about by the wider system in which everyone is participating and not simply by the person themselves.

We are not used to looking in this way.

We blame Jill, who is in a senior position, for being aloof, distant, and unresponsive to our needs. But all the while Jill is experiencing her own position as overwhelming – caught between her personal accountability for the organisation and all the problems others keep on bringing her.

We blame Aggrey, who is in a middle position, for being unable to respond to our reasonable requests for information or support or action. But in order to respond to you he needs the cooperation and response of others. All the while his experience is that of being pulled in opposite directions by the demands of his bosses and the demands of the people on his team.

We blame Dave, who is a team member, for complaining that he is under-resourced, while missing that Dave is experiencing the vulnerability and uncertainty that comes from others deciding what work he will do, or even if he will have any work at all.

Jill, Aggrey and Dave are experiencing the archetypal difficulties that come with being in a hierarchically ‘top’, ‘middle’ or  ‘bottom’ position. And we judge them, mistakenly, with archetypal and personal judgements, which misunderstand their situation.

We come to believe that for anything to happen they must change and that until they do we must wait and put up with it. While we wait for them to change, or demand that they change, we reserve the right to complain. We don’t see the particular difficulty their positions bring, and we don’t see that our very complaints are part of the problem.

Our complaints assume the difficulties we experience at their hands are personal, and that the solutions to them are personal too (which is to say that Jill, Aggrey and Dave simply need to get their act together, buckle up, and do what we need of them). But much of what we’re experiencing – and much of what Jill, Aggrey and Dave are experiencing -is systemic, which is to say it’s being brought about by all of us. Until we see that, we’re trapped in a cycle of judgement and blame which asks the impossible of our colleagues.

The first step required to get out of this drama is compassion – which includes finding out what the world is really like for those whom we find troublesome.

The second step is seeing that we keep these systemic difficulties going through the stories we tell about others, and that there are many alternatives to the stories that are most familiar to us.

When we find and act upon stories that account for people’s actions more accurately than our usual blame and judgement stories, many possibilities for connection, responsiveness and partnership open to us.

For a wonderful, articulate and very practical exploration of all this, I can’t recommend Barry Oshry’s book Seeing Systems highly enough.


Dramas

Dramas – the stories you spin into being, which although perhaps painful and frustrating and fearful, place you right in the centre of the action.

Dramas – all your stories of how people are not paying you due attention, seeing you in the way you want to be seen; all the ways you are left out, overlooked, your needs and wishes unnoticed and unmet; all the ways in which others are conspiring against you or, at least, taking care only of themselves; how the world seems organised to particularly frustrate your personal hopes, your longings.

Dramas – perhaps unsurprisingly – are a powerful way of generating some sense of self-esteem in the midst of a world that’s confusing, contradictory, and chaotic; a world far beyond our understanding which does not obviously attend to our particular needs and wishes as quickly or as completely as we would wish.

Once we start to see that our dramas are not the way the world ‘is’ but a purposeful activity on our part to make ourselves feel better, or to get seen, or to manipulate others to get our needs met, perhaps we can begin to loosen our grip on them a little.

Because by placing ourselves in the centre of the world, our dramas seriously reduce our capacity to respond to the needs and longings of others. And in this way our collective commitment to keeping our dramas going brings about exactly the self-centred world we fear is excluding us in the first place.

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Difficult times

firerain

We seem to live in uniquely difficult times.

We face multiple, simultaneous, almost intractable difficulties. The widening inequality of our societies. Economic uncertainty, and the undoing of many of the assumptions upon which we have built our economy. The effect we’re having on our climate. Billions living in slums. The rise of violent religious and political fundamentalism and populism. An uncertain energy future. Rapid population growth.

It’s understandable in such times that we should feel afraid. That in the face of all of this difficulty we should get caught up in protecting ourselves, before anyone else. That we sooth ourselves and numb ourselves with glowing screens, with our busyness. That we distract ourselves from the buzzing, whirling sensations in our bodies and emotions that try to show us that something is wrong. That we amass whatever we can for ourselves as we try to cling on. That we wait until we feel better before we step forward and make the contribution we’re here to make.

But as we do this, as we pretend we’re fine while all the while feeling very afraid, we forget that the world has always been this way. Human life has always been perilous. We have always been faced by crises and by threats to our very existence. We have, most probably, always told ourselves that our own times are particularly troubled ones.

Seeing this opens up two new paths.

The first is that we stop adding to our very real difficulties with our stories about the uniqueness of our troubles. Those stories make us mute, frozen, self-obsessed. When we know that we human beings have, for millennia, found ways of responding creatively and with great resourcefulness to what life brought us, we can begin to trust our own faculties more. We can begin to turn towards one another and the world again, and ask ourselves what’s needed, and what we can do.

The second is that we remember that it’s right in the middle of difficulty, when we are most uncertain, that our most noble and life-giving qualities can emerge. When there’s trouble and we find ourselves turning towards our neighbours, towards people we hardly know, towards community, and towards the society in which we live, we remember that compassion, care for others and being in relationship are powerfully life-giving and meaningful activities.

Which way we turn – towards defensive self-centredness or towards relationship and compassion – is not just a matter of choice but a matter of ongoing practice. In other words, we live lives in which through our actions we cultivate one path or another.

Let’s not wait until we feel safe and settled before we start to cultivate the second path, one that can bring great meaning – and great healing – to ourselves and those around us.

Photo Credit: “Stròlic Furlàn” – Davide Gabino via Compfight cc

The Abyss of Defunctness

Here’s Episode 51 of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch future episodes live and join in the lively comment conversation on this episode. You can also watch previous episodes there, and on our YouTube channel.

Our conversation opens with a piece written by Lizzie, reproduced below, which launches us into a conversation about openness, shame, and the nothingness we often find when we make contact with ourselves. We consider that such ‘nothingness’ is another way of talking about the ground of all being from which we come and to which we return, and the life-giving and healing possibilities that come when we’re open about the aspect of ourselves with others. Along the way we talk about the importance of being met and seen, with simple welcome, by others, the gifts of community, and how the lives so many of us live keep us away from such straightforward and life-giving possibilities.

Here’s our source for this week, written by Lizzie specially for this project.

The Abyss of Defunctness. And the joy of one another.

There’s nothing here, nothing to hold me.

And maybe this, right here, is where all of life comes from. The nothingness that you can’t even begin to account for and yet we’re all running around trying to fill ourselves up with stuff, or food, or experiences, or money, or speed, or status so that we don’t have to feel what I’m feeling now.

What I am feeling I will call ‘The Abyss of Defunctness’. Like I’m not worth a thing. Like I truly am nothing. Like all my strategies for living have failed. All the ways I have tried to make things work are just a collection of thin and useless, failed and flawed efforts to have things turn out in ways I think they should.

And in this nothingness I have you. My fellow traveller, my friend, my sister, my brother.

There are real beings right here as I feel this; joining me in the abyss as I dare to bare this truth to another who is settled, open and kind – I glimpse the possibility that even in this state I am OK. Because you are here and you didn’t run away.

If we join with another when we or they are in The Abyss, The Foresaken (or so it feels) Place – the fruits of relatedness are borne.

In the loving, accepting gaze of another (who is not trying to fix or change the situation) – the parts that we’ve rejected become welcomed. The opinions of ourselves that hold hurt and shame are held warmly, gently in an open heart, body and mind. The unacceptable becomes part of the conversation.

How do we face ourselves in all our glorious opposites, our brokenness, our wounds, our joys, our hurts, our truth? Maybe this kind of loving, accepting connection is the answer.

Imagine a world where our appetite to be seen is satiated, where our wish to be witnessed is fulfilled, our hunger to be seen is met with just what we need.

On the contrary, if we’re repeatedly unseen, maybe that’s what we become. If we are repeatedly blind to one another’s goodness, others, then, become this.

We perpetuate unseen-ness. By unseen-ness I mean a presence that doesn’t know / see or feel its Self. A presence that has no idea of who or what it is because no one is here now (or was there then) to mirror back to us the bright and shining truth of our being.

Maybe the ones who welcomed us didn’t have it to show us? (Maybe we didn’t have within us as part of the welcome of the ones we once held ?)

It’s possible it wasn’t it in their eyes when they greeted us. Their bodies didn’t tell us who we were, so we didn’t get answered in our call for love. And by then we’d forgotten who we truly were – it slowly slipped away as we became more and more embroiled in this physical world.

We didn’t get received in our wish to bring love because the space in the people who welcomed us wasn’t cultivated to see or receive us. They had not received this space from those who welcomed them.

And maybe this is the game changer. The time in our own personal histories where we come together and change the story. And bring to one another what we so long for.

Maybe the ultimate act of growing up is becoming this loving space – even when we don’t know how.

I wonder about softly edging into the vulnerability of feeling like we have not got it to give. And then doing our best to bring it alive from the nothing that we find in that place that feels so empty.

From a space of emptiness, of not knowing, we begin drawing on something that feels real and we begin offering it to the soul in front of us. And we might even offer it to ourselves when we get practiced at it.

All the ways we feel wounded, deadened, deaf to the call of this particular life, lost and afraid – this togetherness makes it OK. Because togetherness means we can learn from it all, make it our path.

When someone is there with us to live this life alongside us and show us again and again, in our darkest moments, that it’s good to be alive because there is our togetherness, it shows there’s hope and purpose here.

Simply because we’re us, because we’re connected and our nature is to love. And we’re here together. And this is our path.

We’re bringing each other alive.
Together we awaken into life.
In separation, we stay asleep and our true nature remains hidden.

By Lizzie Winn

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

A lifetime’s work

Automatic:

Cliche
Saying the same thing to the same person in the same way
All the ways we use jargon or business-speak
Predictable reactions to what you’re feeling (lashing out, withdrawing, self-criticising)
Tuning out from what’s really happening
Most of our habits
Always knowing, always being sure
Excluding certain emotions
Keeping conversation within predictable, narrow bounds
Saying “I am this way”

Responsive:

Asking “What’s needed now, here?”
Tuning in to the wholeness of the situation – with mind, emotions, bodily sensation
Relaxing your need to know what to do
Letting go of feeling safe, so that what’s needed can arise
Allowing yourself to be surprised – at yourself, at others
Feeling it all
Giving up defending, clinging on, controlling what’s happening
Doing what’s called for, rather than what ‘one does’

We easily become masterful at automatic. 

And although responsive is our human heritage, for most of us mastering it takes ongoing practice because so much of what we’ve learned – at school, in work, in our families – gets in the way.

We could do well to remember that responsive – much needed in our lives – is a lifetime’s work.

Photo Credit: smilla4 via Compfight cc

Automatic or alive

Two paths available to all of us, that are an inherent part of being human.

(1) The automatic path

Our bodies and minds have an exquisite ability to learn something new and then reproduce it without our having to pay much attention to it. It’s what we rely on to get us around in the world. Navigating doors, cooking utensils, cars, speaking, phones, cities, social niceties, and paying for things would all be practically impossible were it not for this capacity. Without our automaticity we would have to learn and relearn how to interact with just about everything in the worlds we have invented.  Indeed, without our capacity to automatically respond to the vast and rich background of culture and tools in which we live, culture itself and tools themselves would be impossible.

(2) The responsive path

We also have an exquisite ability to make sense of and respond to the particular needs of the current moment. In any given situation we can find ourselves doing or saying something we’ve never done or said before. Sometimes our creative response can be surprising, sometimes clumsy, and sometimes we find ourselves able to respond with beautiful appropriateness to what’s happening. From this comes our capacity to invent, to respond with empathy and compassion to others, and to change the course of a conversation or meeting or conflict mid-flow. Without this capacity we’d hardly be human at all. We’d be machines.

But here’s a problem. We so often call on or demand the automatic path when what’s called for is the responsive path:

We fall into habits shaped by the strong feelings that arise in our emotions and bodies.

We tell ourselves ‘I don’t like that’ (and so don’t do it).

We say ‘I am this way’ (meaning I won’t countenance being any other way).

We insist other people stay the same as we know them, and put pressure on them to remain predictable in all kinds of overt and subtle ways.

We institutionalise or systematise basic, alive human interactions in our organisations, insisting on frameworks and codes and processes and procedures so that we won’t get surprised.

We repeat ourselves again and again – saying the same things, the same jokes, the same ideas, the same cliches.

We think rules, tools, tips and techniques will save us.

We form fixed judgements of ourselves and others which we can fall back upon when we’re in difficulty.

We turn away from anything that causes us anxiety or confusion. We prefer to know rather than not know. We’re hesitant to step beyond the bounds of what’s familiar, and comfortable.

We would often rather settle into the predicability and sense of safety that our automaticity allows. Sometimes we even call this professional or businesslike.

And all the while what’s most often called for in our dealings with others, in our businesses, in our work and in our organisations is the responsive path – our capacity to respond appropriately to the particular situation and its wider context; to be unpredictable, creative, exciting, unsettling, sensitive, nuanced and, above all, alive.

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Returning To The Path

Here’s Episode 50 of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch future episodes live and join in the lively comment conversation on this episode. You can also watch previous episodes there, and on our YouTube channel.

Here’s our source for this week, from Alan Lew’s ‘This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared‘. In our conversation we talk about tantrums, what we do when life falls short of our expectations, the simplicity and difficulty of returning to intimacy with the truth of our lives, and how we can only really do this in the company of others.

Returning to the Path We’ve Abandoned

Spiritual deadness is a habit. Something in us wants to be dead – wants to escape our reality – and we’ve expressed this desire in a hundred little patterns and habits. So a physical shaking up of our stale routines might actually serve to loosen us up inside and lead the way to inner change…

But … eventually [this] stops working too, and sooner or later we have to address the inner roots of the problem of burnout and routinisation directly…

The first thing we should do when we feel we have lost all our passion is to try to find it. This involves a kind of inner turning, an expression of will, an expression of faith, the belief that this passion exists even though we neither feel it nor see it at the moment.

There is a paradigm well mapped out in the novels of Hermann Hesse, especially Siddartha. Siddartha is the story of a young monk who is lured away from a long and extremely devoted spiritual path by his lust for a beautiful woman, a lust that alters the course of his life. He becomes a businessman, totally involved in the corruption and the pleasures of ordinary life. He marries, becomes dissolute, takes up gambling and adultery, and loses his wife. His son rebels against him and finally rejects him altogether, causing him unbearable pain. Finally, broken and despairing, he becomes a recluse, a ferryman, carrying people back and forth across the river. And there on the river, the deep and abiding wisdom he sought in his youth begins to ripen in his soul, until he finally comes to the following understanding:

The world. . . is not imperfect or slowly evolving along a path to perfection. No, it is perfect at every moment. Every sin already carries grace within it, all small children are potential old men. All sucklings have death within them, all dying people – eternal life. . . . Everything is good. Everything is perfect, . . . death as well as life, sin as well as holiness, wisdom as well as folly. Everything is necessary. Everything needs only my agreement, my assent, my loving understanding, my turning toward.

The critical moment in this story is a subtle turn of mind — a moment when the hero must bring his consciousness back to the path he abandoned, back to the path he has imagined doesn’t even exist anymore.

Photo by Erik Kossakowski on Unsplash

The horizon that is visible is not the whole sky

When we take the automatic path (see this post, and this), we try to resolve our difficulties by doing more of what we’re already in the habit of doing already.

We try to deal with our overwhelm by getting busier. We think that if we can just go a bit faster we’ll soon get on top of things.

We can’t see that it’s not a question of faster but more often a question of priority, of deciding what’s important and saying no to everything else.

We try to deal with other people’s apparent lack of commitment by speaking more loudly, being more insistent, yelling. We think that if we’re just more forceful then people will do what we want.

But we can’t see that involving others is not usually a question of force but a question of enrolment – that we’d be better turning our attention to inviting a genuine relationship that supports commitment in arising.

We try to deal with our anxiety by turning away from it, numbing ourselves, only to find out that anxiety forced underground is just as painful and, in many ways, causes us much more difficulty.

We can’t see that feelings are there to be felt. That our anxiety can educate us, have us reach out for support, teach us about what’s most genuinely important for us.

In each of these cases, and in many more, we’d do well to remember Martin Buber when he tells us

“The horizon visible from one’s station is not the whole sky”

Or, in other words, the resolution to many of our difficulties is not to continue on automatic but to turn towards what we’re not currently paying attention to.

It’s to find out that what we’ve taken to be the ‘horizon’ – the way the world is, the way we are, and what we have to do – is only a part of the picture. That the resolution to our difficulties, or at least the lessening of them, is often in finding out that the world of possible relationships, explanations and actions is way bigger than we’d imagined.

This, then, is the path of responsiveness, and the path of development. 

And it’s worth working on with everything we can bring to it.

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Being witness

Many times

the biggest help you can be

is to turn a listening ear towards another

to hear everything they have to say

no matter how troubling how painful how confusing

to give up for a while

being another judge, another critic, another fixer of troubles

to be a welcome to all of it

all of it

and in your seeing and hearing embrace

find out how healing

being witness can be

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The Blue is the Light That Got Lost

On Sunday 9th September Lizzie Winn and I were live for Episode 49 of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch future episodes live and join in the lively comment conversation on this episode. You can also watch previous episodes there, and on our YouTube channel.

Our conversation opens with an exploration of the blue of the sky and of the sea, from Rebecca Solnit’s ‘Field Guide to Getting Lost’. We consider together how it’s the very incompleteness of a human being that gives us our particular kind of beauty and possibility, and the mistake we make when we try too hard to compare ourselves to others or to some perfect ideal of how and who to be. Along the way we talk about self-acceptance, making and sharing art, the importance of community, coaching as a way of bringing art to one another and the gift that human beings can be to one another when the conditions are made right by all of us.

Here’s our source for this week, from Rebecca Solnit’s ‘Field Guide to Getting Lost

Photo by Maximillian Conacher on Unsplash

What endures

Time and again, we human beings have had to find out that what we took to be most secure and most solid, was nothing of the sort.

We put down roots, build houses of bricks and mortar, make plans for ourselves. And then, perhaps, we find them swept away in a storm or flood, in a war or earthquake, in political or economic upheaval, in illness or accident, in the ever surprising turns of life.

And sometimes we realise this is how things are for long enough that we remember to turn towards the people around us, our travelling companions on this most audacious and risky of journeys, and appreciate their beauty and magnificence, their sadness and their love, and are able to just be with them for a while.

Photo Credit: Lauren Manning via Compfight cc

Learning to Nourish Ourselves

On Sunday morning 2nd September we were live for Episode 48 of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch future episodes live and join in the lively comment conversation on this episode. You can also watch previous episodes there, and on our YouTube channel.

Our conversation opens with an excerpt from Christine Caldwell’s book ‘Getting Our Bodies Back‘. We consider together how the culture most of us live in actually encourages us to take up addictive behaviour as a way of distancing ourselves from our experience (and we include in our definition of addiction here anything that we do compulsively, habitually, at odds with what is life-giving for us and which puts us to sleep), at the same time as evoking deep feelings of shame and hollowness.

As we go we discuss how the first step in our reclaiming our aliveness, and our capacity to nourish ourselves, is the art of paying attention to our lives, and the felt-sensation of our bodies. And, as often, we return to the power of relationship – places and people with whom we can be open about ourselves – as the path to recovering our capacity to properly nourish ourselves and one another.

Here’s our source for this week, from the introduction to Christine Caldwell’s book ‘Getting Our Bodies Back

Learning to Nourish Ourselves

Some years ago […]  on a trip to the local mall, I bought a large cookie to share with my four-year-old son. As we settled down to eat, my attention was drawn to him as he murmured contentedly, munched noisily, and consumed his half with delighted joy. I inhaled my half with obsessive greed, worrying about how fattening it was and wondering if anyone I knew was watching. The contrast in our experiences, given that it was the same cookie, shook me. I felt a stab in my heart as I realized that somewhere along the line I had lost the happy relationship with cookies that he still had. The difference between us in that moment seemed to be that he was awake and alive, while I was shut down and withdrawn.

I vowed to myself that from that moment on I would let myself eat as much sugar as I wanted, but only when I could stay “awake” and truly celebrate the experience as much as my son had. […] What I subsequently discovered was that it was almost impossible for me to do this. At the first sweet bite I would enter a state of oblivion, eat quickly and furtively, and then feel miserable. In short, I was not awake and alive, and this was not a pleasurable experience. It felt more like a driven experience, with the same familiar outcome of self-absorption and self-hatred. As I stuck with my commitment to eat sugar only when I could remain present, I occasionally stayed conscious for a few seconds at a time as I nibbled, and I began to explore this awakeness. In those brief moments, I could see the cookie; I could luxuriate in its smell and texture; I could savor the taste and truly treasure it. I was actually having a rich sensory experience, albeit a fleeting one. I was amazed to realize that I derived immense pleasure more from the act of staying awake than from the actual eating of the cookie. Sensation was wonderful! And as I continued to stay awake, I found that I didn’t really want much sugar. The experience of eating it while awake was so rich and full that a very small amount was all it took to satisfy me. […]

I found myself eating much less and enjoying it much more. A little bit of something sweet once in a while was enough to occasion great happiness. And my body told me when to stop. This in itself, this feeling that my body was choosing, making a clear yes or no statement, was quite amazing. […]

I hadn’t expected my body to wake up as a part of this process, and stumbling onto this result was astonishing. What I was discovering was the incredible power of self-regulation that is our birthright. This choosing power had been lost in the throes of the addiction. […]

The benefits of my awakeness practice have been far-reaching. When I inhabit my body, I can self-regulate; […] I can also know when things like behaviors, relationships, and thought patterns are toxic, neutral, or nourishing. I have only to tune in to myself to know, and from there I must go on to the next, even more challenging step: that of tolerating and even welcoming the joy and health that result from actually being in my body and consistently choosing nourishment.

Christine Caldwell – from Getting Our Bodies Back

Photo by Ibrahim Rifath on Unsplash

The four of you

fourpeople

When you’re talking with another person, remember that there are always more than two of you present.

At the very least there’s you, and them, and your inner-critic and their inner-critic.

Whatever the two of you are visibly up to, there’s an often hidden dynamic between the two inner-critics (who work hard to keep themselves invisible) as they jostle to keep you in line, watch out for attacks or supposed attacks from the other, spur you into defending yourself (often times when no defence is called for), have you be insistent or rigid or judging or withdrawn.

And each critic spurs the other on, inventing slights and hurts, and anticipating what’s it imagines is yet to come.

All of this is one reason why you can sometimes look back on a conversation with bemusement and confusion. ‘What on earth happened there?’ you ask yourself. ‘I thought we were only talking about this morning’s meeting, but now I feel hurt and uncertain, and so does she’.

One way to help yourself and others is to spot all of this and give name to it, at first to yourself. Learn the ways it shows up and what it gets up to when your attention is elsewhere.

And then, over time, bring the existence of the critic and all its manifestations into conversation. This takes courage and openness. But bringing the inner critic out of its hiding place allows it to be seen and talked about, and responded to, and lessens its power to manipulate behind the scenes.

Your inner world is always making itself known in the outer world, whether you like it or not, and it’s true for everyone else too. The more you can give name to, and the more you can bring it forward from its otherwise invisible background, the more chance you’ll have of working with it in service of you and everyone around you.

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The Silent Work of Loving

Here’s ‘The Silent Work of Loving’, Episode 47 of Turning Towards Life, a weekly live 30 minute conversation hosted by thirdspace coaching in which Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn dive deep into big questions of human living.

You can join our members-only facebook group here to watch future episodes live and join in the lively comment conversation on this episode. You can also watch previous episodes there, and on our YouTube channel.

In this conversation we consider together how the act of loving what we’re in the midst of, and who is around us, can be the first step to a more expansive and inclusive orientation to life. And that this itself has the possibility of relieving difficulty and bringing a necessary lightness to our endeavours. Along the way we consider the gifts of frustration and disappointment, explore how love is not so much a feeling but an intentional practice, and explore the merits of washing dishes and crochet as a path – like any practice – to the kind of intimacy with life that we need in order to face our biggest challenges with grace, courage, creativity and patience.

Here’s our source for this week, by Eileen Caddy, from ‘Opening Doors Within‘.

“You have a tremendous work to do. It is the silent work of creating more love in the world. It is like the yeast in a lump of dough which does its work very quietly and without any fuss, and yet without it the bread would be a solid lump. Therefore love those souls you are with, love what you are doing, love your environment, and love those souls who are your seeming enemies. There is far more grace in loving the seemingly unlovable than in simply loving those souls who love you. Feel the need for love in every soul, and allow yourself to become a channel for love’s sake, so will the heaviness in the world be lightened, for love brings an element of lightness where there was heaviness and darkness. Love starts in each individual, so look within your own heart and draw it forth. Give of it freely and with real joy.”

Eileen Caddy

Photo by Nick Casale on Unsplash

Both sides

In the ancient Jewish tradition, people are thought of as having two primary orientations to the world – an inclination towards good (yetzer hatov) and an inclination towards evil (yetzer harah).

The inclination towards good draws us out of ourselves towards what is most compassionate and most principled. And the inclination towards evil draws us towards our most self-centred interests, from which we care only for ourselves and not for others or the world.

Surely, in this way of thinking, the inclination towards good is itself good and should be cultivated, and the inclination towards evil is bad and should be extinguished? No, say the rabbis, they are both good, and both necessary.

How can this be?

With only the inclination to good we risk spending all our time basking in the wonder and awe of life. Many possibilities for action are denied to us, because they cannot be known to have positive outcomes. The inclination to good, on its own, is noble but paralysed, unable to decide what to do when uncertain about consequences, when the world in all its complexity and unknowability becomes apparent.

And so we need the inclination to evil also. Given free rein, it dooms us to a life of self-centredness, of action purely for our own gain. But without it, say the rabbis, nobody would create anything. We would not build houses, bring children into the world, nor do the difficult and creative work of shaping the world around us. The inclination to evil, with its indignation and rage and cunning and huge creativity is what brings us into purposeful action.

Denying either side leads to trouble. It takes both inclinations in a constant dynamic tension to have us act in the most human, and most humane ways.

And this is the foundational task facing each of us if we want to act with integrity in the world: we must find a way of knowing ourselves fully so that we leave nothing of ourselves out. We have to stop denying and pushing away the parts of ourselves that we don’t understand, or don’t like so much. We have to take our fear and confusion as seriously as our hope and our joy. We have to stop pretending to have it all together.

Integrity is exactly that – integrating all of it. When we bring our hope and our fear, our nobility and selfishness, our love and our disdain, our serious adulthood and playful childishness, our light and our darkness, each informs and shapes the other in a constant dance of opposites. And this is what brings us into creative and purposeful and appropriate action in the complexity of the world.

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