Purposeful Wanderings - Bradford L Glass July 2022
I am a traveler on a sacred journey through this one shining day. I keep what’s true in front of me. I won’t get lost that way.” – Richard Wagamese, in Embers
Through the eyes of an outside observer, our society must appear to have lost its way. As we growingly inhabit a world of blame and judgment (where everyone thinks they are right), it may well be that the willful ignorance of judgment itself is becoming our most serious pandemic. Yes, evolution “wired” us with a bias toward the negative, and a bias toward certainty. Both helped us survive when tigers threatened everyday life. But today, our thoughts are our biggest threat. (The unconscious doesn’t know the difference between “tiger” and “thought.”) Lost in the perception of danger, we unknowingly create a real danger – not using the conscious mind when we need it the most. Worse, we believe we are thinking consciously, so we have no framework for choosing differently.
Nevertheless, each of us needs to find our own way through this mess – holding hope for, and creating, saner tomorrows. But how? Fighting is futile. Joining is foolhardy. Denying is illusion. Pretending is … pretending.. Perhaps stopping a bit and stepping back may offer a fresh perspective.
From this broader vantage point, we see how our opinions, fears and challenges live inside a larger frame … a sea of humanity, living “together” within an ecosystem, on a “pale blue dot” of a planet, in an unremarkable galaxy, in an incomprehensibly vast universe. Despite the beauty and potential here, we can’t even see any of this while lost defending our petty concerns. We also can’t see how flimsy our defense is, rooted as it is in the fear-based illusion that we need to (and can) control our world … a ‘defense’ that’s held together more by the crushing weight of its roof than by the strength of its foundation. What we also cannot see is how this awkward combination – being gripped by the unconscious mind yet swearing we’re completely conscious – has caused the struggle we now blame on others and “just can’t seem to fight off.” Seems we’d be better off finding ways to live in this world than finding ways to control it. Simply stated, we’ll never find what’s possible if we fixate only on what’s wrong.
What if? What if … we could suspend our fears and judgments for long enough … to become aware enough … to see clearly enough … that the image painted above about our life on this earth could touch our hearts, our souls, even our thinking minds? Just what if? Let’s go “big.” What if we chose to fall in love with life’s mystery?
It’s easy to dismiss such ideas as pure fantasy. Life … the universe … human consciousness. All are too complex for us to understand. Yet as we unconsciously fixate on the fear this uncertainty generates, we miss altogether the potential it generates. While we can rarely choose what happens to us, we’re 100% free to choose how we respond to what happens – will it be with our thoughts, hearts, fears, judgments, creativity or wisdom? What if we did make the choice to fall in love with life’s mystery? Sure, it would take conscious awareness … to keep the fear-based unconscious from snaring us in the name of keeping us safe. It would take conscious awareness … to step back from life’s circumstances so as to gain a more objective perspective. It would take conscious awareness … to greet life’s dilemmas and uncertainties with critical thinking rather than judgment or “pretend knowing.” It would take conscious awareness … to unite the rational energy of our minds with the emotional energy of our hearts, thereby creating meaning, life’s natural motivator. It would take conscious awareness … to learn to trust the power of our heart. But wait: every one of these capacities is available to us in each moment. Together, they’d allow us to embrace the unknown, reclaim our creative genius, and find home in the mystery of it all. Only our lack of awareness keeps us from doing so.
In The Art of Pilgrimage, Phil Cousineau defines pilgrimage as “a journey with challenge and purpose, created by finding the sacred along the way, so as to reconfirm the presence behind life’s mysteries, with the aim of growing wisdom.” To me, this sounds a like a great way to approach all of life, not just “special events.” Conscious or not, most of us long for connection with the sacredness of life’s mystery. What if we could find the extraordinary in each ordinary moment? It’s right before our eyes, waiting for our discovery. The price of admission: awareness.
Exercise: Neither your journey nor mine may offer the intrigue or acclaim of the journeys of Odysseus, Gandhi, Thoreau, Mother Teresa, or even Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Yet each of us is here to live what’s deepest, most unique and meaningful inside. Those we hold in high regard for their journeys weren’t smarter, richer or luckier than you or me; they consciously maintained clarity and commitment for what mattered most to them. Here’s an exercise (adapted from The Art of Pilgrimage) that can open you to life’s mystery. Try it out at least once a week:
Walk where you can be alone with your thoughts.
Ask what mystery is being guarded by your deepest longing. Will you take the time to find out? Where does your curiosity lead you now? “Uncover what you long for and discover who you are.”
Envision the journey – so you can “remember the future” in each moment. Curiosity, attention, wonder. Plan, yes, but leave room for serendipity; how else will the gods find you?
Write what you learn. Say a prayer, read a quote, write a thought during your quiet time, as a way to guide your day. Tell your story. In doing this, you re-find your true self each day.
Life Lessons from Nature: I’ve always loved nature. She … offered me quiet refuge through a rigid, controlled childhood … was my favorite study topic in school … helped me find unity in often-disparate places and cultures I experienced in my travels … formed the object of my love and work as a nature photographer … became the focus of a mid-life degree program, and a subsequent 20-year-long avocation of leading nature tours to some of the world’s more remote and magnificent places … and now creates a backdrop for my work as a coach, by offering an archetypal model of “a life that works.” Nature has been a companion and teacher throughout my life; she has quietly listened to my greatest challenges and has consistently offered the answers I needed most.
For me, loving the world has taught me to see the world – its beauty, goodness, unity, creative potential, connectedness, and yes, the hope that lives inside us all. By making a conscious choice to “fall in love with the world all over again” … each day, I live with reverence and gratitude – for my life, for others, for our collective hopes and dreams. Because of this, I know why I’m here; I trust myself; and I’m open to new learning. I’m no longer a victim of life’s circumstances, because I know I’m part of even bigger circumstances. (Yet never do I push others to love nature. Nature offered me a path … to find me, to help me make sense of my world, to find my home in a world determined to deny me that. The path to your perspective is inside you.)
Book(s) of the month: In Love with the Mystery, by Ann Mortifee. Years ago, a client gave me this as a special gift. I hear it’s difficult to find, but if you do/can, its pages offer beautiful, evocative words that can help guide you to embracing life’s mystery. And (easier to find), The Art of Pilgrimage, by Phil Cousineau. I re-read it before every trip I take. It has helped me immeasurably, not just to fully experience travels, but as a way to consciously frame my entire life journey. If you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.