Entering into a partnership with life

Here’s a double-bill of ‘Turning Towards Life‘ conversations about entering fully into life, without holding back.

In ‘Life While You Wait‘ Lizzie and I explore what it might be to enter into the vast mystery of life with an attitude of welcome. What happens, we wonder, when we meet ‘what is’ with an open heart, and when we drop our demands that life somehow bend itself exactly to our will? Along the way we consider the ways in which life is an ongoing invitation to improvise, and how we might relate to the circumstances that come our way as an opportunity to participate rather than as a justification for our resentment or flight.

And in ‘Let Us Begin the Journey Home‘ we return to a poem by Rumi that calls to these confusing and complex times. We explore together what can happen as we soften ourselves so that life, in its bigger sense, can reach us. What are the possibilities, we wonder, in seeing that we each take to be ‘me’ or ‘us’ or ‘life’ is always something of a misunderstanding? And if we open to a more expansive story that frees us, at least somewhat, from our grasping and our aloneness?

Perhaps, we find, there’s a way that we can find ourselves deep in the midst of the sacred ordinariness of life, ready to contribute and participate without being so convinced of our smallness, separateness or fear. We recorded this conversation the midst of week of great political uncertainty here in the UK as a way of finding and remembering, together, how much more than this is always present, even though we so easily forget.

Photo by Pawel Tadejko on Unsplash

On Being a Path-Maker

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We human beings are both path-makers and path-followers. Both are important, but it’s our innate capacity to follow paths that makes possible so much of what we are able to do, and gives it its character.

Notice this in your own home. How the door handle draws you to open the door, how the kitchen table is an invitation to sit, how the half-full fridge calls you to open its doors and find something to eat. Notice how a library is a place you find yourself hushed and reverential, how you push and shove to take up your place on a crowded train even though you would do this nowhere else, how you rise in unison to shout at a football game, how the words on the page guide you through the speech you are giving even when you’re not concentrating closely on them, how you quicken your step in a darkened alley, how you find yourself having driven for hours on a busy motorway without remembering what actions and choice any of the minutes entailed.

Our capacity to follow the paths laid out for us is no deficiency. That the paths support us in the background, and that we do not have to think about them, is what frees us for so much of what is creative and inventive in human life – including our capacity to design entirely new paths for ourselves and others.

To be human, then, is always in a large part to find ourselves shaped by what we find ourselves in the midst of.

It is all of this that exposes the limits of our individualistic understanding of ourselves and others – an understanding we use to make sense of so much of what happens in our lives. For when we are sure that it is the individual who is the source of all actions and behaviour, we are blind to the paths that we find ourselves in the midst of, and the possibility that we might lay out other paths as a way of supporting ourselves. And we tend to over-emphasise the role of individual will-power as a way to resolve things or change things.

And as long as we concentrate only on getting ourselves to change, or to muster up more ‘will’, we miss the opportunity to work together to change or lay out the new paths which could help us.

Indeed, working to change the paths that lend themselves to whatever difficulty we wish to address may be the most important work we can do. And this always includes our developing – together – the skills and qualities that support us in being purposeful path-makers in the first place.

Photo by Felipe Santana on Unsplash

Waiting to Know

Waiting until you know for sure what’s going to happen – where people are involved – means waiting for ever.

With machines, it’s easy. With sufficient understanding of mechanics you can often predict exactly what’s going to happen. Cause and effect, straightforward to establish.

But human situations are nothing like that, even though we pretend to ourselves that they might be.

Take a meeting, for example.

Should you speak up about what’s on your mind? Now? Later? What effect will it have on your colleagues? On the decision to be made?

You cannot know for sure.

Whatever insight you have about the situation can only ever be partial. You can’t know what’s going on for others. You can’t know what they are thinking of saying. And you can’t know – even if you know them well – how they will respond to your speaking.

You have to act knowing that you’re speaking into an unknowable situation. And that speaking up will, in all likelihood, change something, at the very least for you.

But staying quiet is an act too, changing things no less than speaking up. So you have no choice but to be an actor, whatever you do, and however much you pretend it is not the case.

We get ourselves into trouble when we forget all of this. We imagine that we can only act when we are able to predict the outcomes of our actions. Or we blame and judge ourselves and others when things don’t turn out the way we expected.

And all the while we’re holding back our contribution, our insight, our knowledge, our creativity, our unique perspective because we’ve set ourselves standards of understanding that were never – could never be – reached.

Photo Credit: fliegender via Compfight cc

 

The Abandoned Parts of Ourselves

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Dear readers. New writing is in the works!

Meanwhile, the Turning Towards Life project continues to dive deep into big questions of human living. If you haven’t joined us yet, I invite you to explore this week’s conversations and the growing archive on the links below. Over the past 74 weeks we’ve explored some fascinating topics that can contribute to a more full engagement with the joys and difficulties of being a person.

Last week, in ‘The Seven of Pentacles‘, we talked about seeing through the stories we have about life that have us either be too small (and which have us give up) or too big (when we demand that the world goes just our way); what it is to see that most of life doesn’t unfold in a ’cause and effect’ way; patience; participation in life as a way of meeting life; and ‘living as if you liked yourself’ – finding our goodness in the midst of everything that happens.

This week, in ‘The Abandoned Parts of Ourselves‘, we talk about adult development, about the loyalties to particular ways of doing things that we enter into during childhood, and about what it is to find ourselves free – to a greater or lesser extent – to pursue what is increasingly ‘ours’ to do in the world. Along the way we grapple with the many kinds of orthodoxy that shape us throughout life – family, religious, societal – and explore together how we might turn our loyalties to them into a bigger kind of loyalty which takes in life itself. We end with a consideration of the support and community that can help us find a life that feels true and real and which can joyfully welcome the parts of us that our loyalties – up until now – have had us turn away from.