Love: A Participation Essay

In a recent visit with a dear friend, I shared my desire to offer something extra to those I’ve coached through the years. My friend asked me why I was considering this. After a few moments of stumbling around logical answers, I heard myself saying, I love them.

Because of the love I have for the individuals I coach, I want to continue to be available for them along their journey deeper into, and with, Trueness. The deep context of this work I do has driven me further into my own Trueness. Or is it better said that going deeper into my own Trueness has driven me further with this work? Whichever, I am recognizing a need to share, more often and ever more deeply, the abundance available through becoming aware of one’s rhythm; a life-giving cadence given since the beginning. 

This I know from my experience, if an individual acts from Trueness−living her or his own rhythm−then this person is acting from a unique brand of love. I teach rhythm to the individuals I coach as a way to teach love−love for your work and love in your work−and how such love is profitable, not a business strategy but a way of living Trueness, embracing the rhythm of you.

The True Self
Jim is both a technical expert in his field and a caring and present leader for those he leads, influences, and serves. People depend on him for clarity as they work together in creating a steady approach to accomplish common goals and tell a common story. As he leads them, here’s what they know for certain; he is committed to each one of them, attending to need and strengthening each person as she/he gives to and serves others in the work done.

Trueness is a word I use to encapsulate all I do within this work which has called me out. Trueness is also a way to summarize the expression, who you really are. What is the true self?  Sorry, but I’m not writing this to answer the question. As opposed to answering, it may be that we have to live this question individually. And living the question may be a life-long task.

Jim is driven by a commitment to process in a way that is both efficient and effective: efficient being about the work, and effective being about the people. In the present with his own unique experiences, how they’ve shaped him, and how he knows experience shapes others, he told me that happiness is something he understands better now. Yes, this reflects a level of maturity, but it also displays a depth of connection with his Trueness.

I write these essays not as an expert who has it all figured out. Quite the contrary. I write to actually attempt to grasp things; not grasp and hold on, but to hold things for a bit so I can then let go into the flow of reality. I turned sixty-four on my last birthday. I thought I’d have all this thoroughly figured out by now. I was wrong.

Only those who are totally secure in their love
can live thus fully the present moment.
Thomas H. Green

Love Itself
I am neither qualified nor ready to write about this topic. Yet, I write about love consistently these days. But love itself, what does this mean? I want to become love itself. But what does this look like? At some inevitable juncture it has to look like who I really am. If we are made from love, then we are made of love. So why don’t we act like this is so all the time?

As I was thinking on how to describe what love itself might look like, Jim came to mind. In a recent conversation, I shared a basic principle about leadership and one’s growth and development as a leader. I had not thought about this principle in a long time: Whatever you desire to do for others, you must be able to do for yourself. Jim was referred to me because his boss understands this principle and wanted to give Jim the time and space to give to himself, selflessly. The time Jim is giving to himself, for his growth and development, is energy given for those he leads, influences, and serves. The strength of Jim’s voice is that of presence with another. And his time for himself is not selfish, but again, selfless; making himself better for others.

I met Jim when I was facilitating a leadership experience at his organization. During the lunch break he and I had some time one-on-one. I personally experienced his ability to be present with another. So when his boss mentioned he would like to consider Jim for my coaching program, I pushed forward at the chance to work with this individual and his brand of love.

To love, in all one says and does, is a privilege. It is a privilege because of what it brings to the one who loves. Allow me to make this personal, going from one to I. I love, do love, can love, only because I was first loved; from the beginning. There is great benefit and wonderful blessing in growing older; as long as I do not just get older but actually do grow older−grow in love, always!

The Flow Constant 

Love in the work,
work in the love,
and love works on me.

A quiet morning
and warm Spring rain
reminding of the obligation
to encourage true self,
allowing peace and quiet
at the center;
calmly pushing away
each unnecessary judgment.

This is love.
Quiet. Solid.
Steady and grounded in this Trueness,
it is a sure stand and steady walk;
it is this grace
given by love
of which we are part.

To place into words,
to define my Trueness,
what words might suffice?
Likely done already, this task
of defining self true,
work done in the very work
that called me out.

Yes, but maybe this work
only opens the door of consciousness.
So then, what does it look like
walking through, now enjoying
the deeper quiet, peace,
and love?

Maybe this walk is faith,
and maybe hope, leading
to the flow constant
of love.

Trueness is Love
That dear friend of mine called to check on me (his love in action). We talked about where I am with offering any kind of extended program to my coaching clients. I told him how my expression of love for those I’ve coached had moved my thoughts away from predetermined outcomes and distracting expectation and toward honest expression of the heart. I decided I wasn’t building a new program, I was simply acknowledging love and allowing it to guide me ever more clearly. Confirming my messaging moved me away from generic scripting toward individualized messages of love, a fresh commitment of my love in action.

When I approach things from my own Trueness, keeping my commitment to do what is good and right for me to do (and letting that go to do its thing), and doing this from a personal voice of Love and Encouragement, good things happen. I find myself worrying less about the outcomes, because the outcomes do take care of themselves. Letting go is not about a lack of caring, but simply about not having the need to grasp at things, in a manner where holding on is damaging to self and others. Letting go, we open the space for the true self and its love from the beginning.

When you finally commit to lead, influence, and serve from the rhythm of your Trueness, you can grasp the reality that there is no priority higher than that of your love. So maybe love itself begins within. Through such love, we become the love we’ve always been. This is Trueness. This is the true self.

Letting Go

Wisdom, she smiles.
Maybe even smirks.
The things we grasp,
so not worth the energy.

Let go.
Stop reaching out
to grab onto.
Let it all flow by,
with love, push it all
into the cloud of forgetting.

Notes:

Green, Thomas H.. When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginnings. Notre Dame: Ava Maria Press, 1998.

 

 

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Home: A Participation Essay

The year before meeting my Becky, Billy Joel’s song “You’re My Home,” grabbed my attention. In particular, there was one line that has since been an integral advocate for steadiness as Becky and I have traversed the years; “Wherever we’re together/That’s my home.”

I have literally lost count of the number of times she and I have moved in our years together. This year, just as we were completing the first year in this location, an unanticipated, necessary change was brought into existence, asking us to yet again begin plans for moving. The sad reality may be that this change was not completely a surprise; but you know what is said about hindsight. Foreseen or unforeseen, it is what it is. And here we are, in the thick of ropes and riggin’, a rodeo not new to us.

At such times, it is far too easy to stubbornly continue to view with the lenses we’ve become comfortable looking through, even though they’ve been shattered by trauma, sadness, and/or disappointment. Sudden change, with its on and off, unpredictable companion of despair, can bring one hard to ground, flooding a mind with troubling assessments and doubtful questions. In such times of suffering, rushing to answer questions normal to life and living can actually disfigure original intent into the doubt and assessment that threaten to kill one’s very soul. 

Questions can be like a dear friend, if we allow them to travel with us, not needing to rush to answers. And the questions to which I refer, the ones which will serve us better by holding them for a while, do not come from outside influence. Rather, these life-giving questions come from one’s very soul.

Turning
In my younger years I played a misguided game with religion. Mostly, with hindsight focused at 20/20, I was in a solo contest of approval, attempting to be good enough. I wish such a game of superfluous merit on no one. Please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I’m not anti-religion. I am against any form of so called faith misdirected for selfish human control over another. Religion is made false when merit becomes the purpose versus love. As Richard Rohr espouses, to be true, religion will always guide us from, and point us to, love.

Love is reality.

In young adulthood, I was accepted into, and came close to attending, seminary. I was 25 years old, we had been married a bit over three years, and our daughter was 6 months old. I had just completed a successful year as a life insurance agent, achieving the Rookie-of-the-Year award, and other accolades in the territory of which I was a part. It was also the year my parents divorced after 30 years of marriage.

As if all that was not enough for my young family, I believed I was being “called” into the ministry. After being accepted by a theological seminary, we sold our first house, I quit my selling job, we packed up, gathered our baby daughter, and headed toward the seminary. In the process of all this, I had a disturbing realization it was not the right time for this decision. We made it as far as my hometown, about three hours northeast of the seminary destination. I became confused to the point of despair. We rented a place and decided to stay for a time so I could supposedly figure out the confusion.

I can still feel the pain of my bewilderment all these years later. More than anything at the time, it seems I had become caught up in the reaction of others to my original (and undeveloped) thoughts of ministry. It felt good to have others be so “proud” of me. Their communication of pride, and my vain connection to what was being said, served ego more than authenticity. When I realized the truth, the agony was great.

Albeit painful, how grateful I am that I was forced along another path. As the path unfolded, I learned things in the corporate experience that became invaluable to me, to my family, and to the leaders I’ve worked with over the last seventeen years. Since consciously launching into a work that chose me, I’ve often looked back on that time. From what I now see, I continue to be grateful we didn’t make it to the seminary campus. For you see, I believe I would not have been where this work could find me had I followed through on that decision.

The ensuing years, with a treasure of experience, prepared me for now, the release into the flow of who I am in what it is I really do; what life and living was preparing me to do all along. The true diversity found in the true self of individuals has taught me things of truth that would not have been available in seminary course work, at least not in the days I would’ve attended. Since that time I’ve been on a journey deep within seeking truth in what I’ve come to know as Trueness.

Trueness is reality.
Trueness is a living paradox
of divinity and humanity,
and a creative tension
of simplicity and complexity.

Returning
Just prior to this year’s change, imploring us to open to one more transition, I’d begun to explore beyond meditation into centering prayer. As part of centering prayer’s methodology, one is taught to leverage a word; a point upon which to return when thoughts demand all the space one is attempting to open with this time of quiet. I chose Love.

When emotions had us in a spiral, I found it extremely difficult to get my spirit into the place where the word love would bring me back from the thinking. I didn’t know what to do. Along with this, the few minutes of time in the morning were not enough. I took a lot of walks in the neighborhood, and hikes along trails in our park system, as I fought back the questions formed in the boiler of disappointment and anger that this was happening.

On one of the walks, while in a particularly downhearted funk, I found myself conscious of the fact I was not breathing normally, and in some moments not at all. I intentionally corrected that by breathing as deeply as I physically could, and suddenly found a different word actually speaking to me; Home.

This transition has our move plans directing a relocation back to the state where we first met and began our life together. On the walk that day, I instantly assumed this different word was because of the talk of going “back home.” Within a few steps I knew something much deeper and greater was being spoken. Home was calling from somewhere deep inside me. Since that walk, as I sit down for centering prayer, my word home settles the mind and opens a space for love. After much openness to both home and love, as words for centering, I’ve begun to feel their confluence; that they are actually one in the same.

In the years since attaching myself to Billy Joel’s lyrical line, home became much less a place and more a territory (inner and outer) worth exploring. Becky and I have explored together within our geographical locations over the years; she is wonderful at researching our locations and planning our outings. Now, in light of current transition, I would say it is important to continue many things as we’ve always done them, and it is of great significance to consciously consider what home now means to us.

Within reason, I’m not sure if I care where we live: As long as I have my Becky, “Wherever we’re together/That’s my home.”

Notes:

Joel, Billy. You’re My Home. Album: Piano Man, 1973.

Rohr, Richard. Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I’m a great fan of David Whyte. I love this brief video about Home:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P92kymp1fxY  

Whyte, David. Poet, Author, and Speaker. davidwhyte.com – Langley, WA 98260: Copyright © 2018

Bourgeault, Cynthia. The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice. Boulder: Shambhala Publications, 2016.

The Trek Down: A Participation Essay

In the years BJ and I lived among the Appalachian Mountains, we hiked stunning trails in Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. We lovingly remember one particular trek in North Carolina’s Land of Waterfalls.

After a day of warming up on a trail along the river by the hotel, we decided to go deeper into the Pisgah National Forest and explore a bit higher. Stopping in at a park visitor center, we met a Scottish Ranger. We probably asked more questions than required, as it was delightful to hear his rhythmic responses. We outlined what we desired to do; hike a trail of medium difficulty for approximately two to three hours. He quickly responded by unfolding a park map and pointing to the trail he believed would fit our preferences. We thanked him, followed his directions, and arrived at the base of the trail. We cinched up hiking boots over hiking socks, retrieved our hiking staffs, and I pulled on the backpack loaded for our medium difficulty and distance hike.

Upward

We have hiked many beautiful trails, and the one in the Land of Waterfalls was no exception. About two hours into the hike we were still climbing, even with the realization that this was going to be a long one, we still found ourselves appreciative of trees, rhododendron, and the skillfully maintained trail; extremely steep sections made more navigable by carefully placed stones harvested from the bounty of the Mountain.

When I graduated from the University, as best I can remember, I think I expected the trail of life ahead would be a relative steady, upward climb. For a time, it was. I know individuals who have climbed their path with such straight, conscious focus, or so that’s how I perceived their ascent. But for me, there were a lot of side-paths, diversions where I was maybe trying to “find myself” (one of those phrases once spoken often by those in my generation).

On my upward trek in life and living, I wish I had been so present and conscious of the beauty surrounding me all along. Even in the lack of due-diligent presence, I’ve still found myself tremendously blessed by the relationships made and maintained along the way.

I’m here to tell you, in spite of the diversions, that the trek upward went way too fast; a speed that breaks my heart. As Parker J. Palmer asks, “Is my heart broken apart or broken open?” I pray continually that it is open. 

The Trust View (At the Summit)

For so long it seems, I looked expectantly forward to getting to the top of the hill, to be filled with experience and wisdom, proud of what was back down that climb of life and living. Certainly I breached the crest with experience, and yes, a certain cache of wisdom, but there wasn’t time to peer back without the temptation to walk back the same way, something that in loving reality was not possible for me.

Certainly I was free to make the choice of which way to descend. Or was I? I’m not sure going back the way one came is necessarily the best way to go home. Or maybe it’s just that trying to go back the same way is not possible due to our own false expectations. Expectations tied to anything other than our own Trueness cause us to want a reality that once was, or anything but what it is in the moment. If we are actually paying attention once at the summit of something, we see the way up with new eyes, and clearly see other possibilities from there. It is such presence at the peak that I call “The Trust View.” It is a place you go, real or metaphorically, to know the balance of all experience.

Our hiking in the Appalachian Mountains taught me something of great value: When you get to the Summit, stop and look. When we reached the top that day, we were enthralled by the beauty of the heights. We could look back down to where we had parked, buildings barely identifiable, and cars looking like frozen ants. To stop and rest in such a view, observation and participation meet and swirl together, creating the joy of experience, a holding together of what has been and what is about to be. At such summit we pause and consciously open to all that can be seen. Without words we find encouragement for the poetry of the journey to continue.

The trust view is a metaphor to balance ascent and descent.

Downward

“Over the hill,” another term once frequently spoken in my generation’s younger years. It was often heard as, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” In general, I didn’t say or think such, or maybe my reality was the challenge of trusting anyone between age thirty and sixty-five.

Growing up, I was fortunate to spend a lot of quality time with grandparents. Even though they are long gone from this earth, their influence stays with me as I continue on the trail of life and living. The gift of time with them was made possible by two parents over thirty. Well anyway, I’m now over the hill according to those old standards, and quite so as I’m almost at that sixty-five limit. But what does this mean?

I’m not certain what all it means, but one thing I know, that it is important to walk steadily with a good hiking staff. In the reality of walking a mountain path, the hiking staff is a smart option for support and security over the hill, allowing other body members to absorb the pounding of the steps downward. Metaphorically, the trek down the hill of life and living requires that I  remain consistently conscious of, and dedicated to, the support I need to steady the walk.

There’s the need and requirement to focus one’s steps down the path on the other side of the hill. I stumbled plenty on the hike upward. While usually recovering my steps quickly, I also had times in a divot dug deeper by self-pity, but I eventually came out of each one of these times and kept walking. Sometimes my steps resumed as I smiled and looked forward with joy. And sometimes I walked on with a tear stained face.

Going Home

It was more than five hours before we saw the base of that trail again in the Land of Waterfalls. Along the descent, probably still an hour to the base, a young couple passed on their way up; they had obviously begun their hike from the other end. As we greeted each other, the woman said, “We’re almost to the top, right?” Without breaking careful downward stride I said, “Whatever you need to tell yourself.” Behind us we heard, “Oh no!”

Once the shock of the distance ahead wore off, I hope that young couple continued on the trail, stopped at the summit, and like us can look back on the day as a beautiful experience. I hope, as they have navigated life and living since that day, that they can see the stones so carefully placed where they needed to be, that their steps will be as carefully placed as they head down, and that they will each see the bounty of the mountain all along the way.

–J. Brunson

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