Allowing: A Participation Essay

Because of the change I spoke of in the essay Home, there’s been much reflection about where I’ve been; some of the thinking good, but far too much of the thinking made me sorrowful and sad. There were no reasons for this, it’s just what happened. Also, I’ve been spending far too much time and energy with thoughts of the future−immediate and long term−with fear in play.

I had only begun to read a lecture by Thomas Keating when I was compelled to stop and write in my personal journal. What stopped me was the question, “Where am I?” At that moment, I knew I didn’t have an easy, or quick, answer. But, where am I? Now? Here? Again, no quick answer. No words. Just yet.

It’s a darn good question though. The question is not a problem to be solved, as is so tempting to my personality preferences, and the more immediate the solution the better. At least that is what ego tells me. Any quick grab at words would only amount to a substantial flow of gibberish.

Kenosis
Who am I? This is a question I’ve held as of late; wondering if I even know in part its answer; not even knowing where to begin to answer. And now the question of Where am I? Maybe the Who question is answered by the Where question, and the contemplation that must come from this tension.

In the first weeks with these questions, I was not at all sure how to explore them. However, I believe a good start was formed on a long Sunday hike in the woods. I realized that kenosis must be allowed in, to penetrate all my thinking, and permeate all my being. As I practice this allowing, I find that the letting go that is coming in is meeting the spirit of kenosis already within−implanted since the beginning.

In the tension of these questions, I suddenly realized my contemplation was holding kenosis and letting go as if they were synonyms. Kenosis is, first and foremost, about emptying the self. Letting go is about not holding anything to a point of harm; damage done as a result of acting from the emotionally reactive false self.

“Kenosis is not the same as renunciation. Renunciation implies a subtle pushing away; kenosis is simply the willingness to let things come and go without grabbing on.” −Cynthia Bourgeault

The Last Bit
Over the years I’ve seen many different methods for getting that last bit of ketchup from the bottle. It seems even with the newer squeeze type that it is difficult to get to the last dollop. This came to me as a metaphor for the emptying of self. Just when I think there is no more to be poured out by some difficulty, a hand seems to pound the bottle. What is different however, in these my older years, is that I now know that hand as a loving one.

As I’ve determined to simply be with the Where and Who questions, I’m realizing a bit more of the meaning of allowing. It is a way of being. As I suddenly realized on that Sunday hike, it is active kenosis that keeps one from over-scripting (from over-identification) with the feelings that often flow from a simple fact. A deep dive into scripting leads to a self-created irrational message, that then, if not very careful, leads one to action that produces regret. This succession always leads one away from the true self, and this I believe is what sin is all about. It is the allowing that settles one back into Trueness.

Fact A simple occurrence; reality. It doesn’t ask for a feeling.
Feeling Normal, but too often based on misleading information: past experience, etc. (and irrational messages).
Script If feelings are not honored and attention taken back to the facts, script writing begins. It seems the script is always irrational. Here we are failing to simply honor feeling (recognition without ‘holding on’).
Action If our actions fall to the end of this succession, we are acting from a false self. However, if we are acting from the fact (reality), we are more apt to act from our Trueness. We are both thinking and acting rationally.

See Notes

So where am I? In part, and probably large part, I’m finding the answer is, present. We forget what is right in front of us when we delve improperly in the past, remembering with regret; and good memories are terribly clouded as we give over too much thought energy to future concern. And, whether with past regret or future fear, to acknowledge that you are not in control is not giving up, or giving in. If one is giving up, or in, then this is not true kenosis, or letting go.

Participation and Reality
Well into the days of journaling that ultimately created this essay, I had a day of going down the wrong side of allow. I allowed feelings, shortness, irritability, and stress in general to interrupt the allowing I’m writing about: A space of peace with what is. It’s time for me to be a full-time, mature adult−to consciously and consistently be who I am, my Trueness since the start. I am transforming to the beginning, a beautiful grace of origin, now with the grace of consciousness of where I came from; from whom I am and who I am.

“As soon as we answer honestly, we have begun the spiritual search for God, which is also the search for ourselves.” −Thomas Keating

It has been a year of accepting some realities. I suppose reality doesn’t know if its tough, easy, good, bad … it just is. If this happens, or that happens, will we be happy? I also suppose that such happiness is simply a choice. Why not choose to be happy with what is?

So, back to “Where am I?” and “Who am I?” It occurs to me that maybe consciousness of the presence of grace and graceful presence is, in reality, active contemplation. And, at this point, that actually sums up where I presently am with these two partnered questions.

Peaceful Reality

More than a few times
I have journaled, early in the morning,
about peace.

Such peace, I believe,
is the desire of my heart.
My body, my soul, my spirit,
desire the peace sung
by the wind in the tall pines;
peace painted
by the joy of a sunrise;
peace spoken
by the words of sunset
after an ordinary day.
Such is the desire
of my true self,
a home where love lives.

For home is Trueness,
and Trueness is with the source
of such peace.

See the Unfolding
This is the third part of the flow of deep awareness in the stream of life and living: Forgive everything, Everything belongs, See the Unfolding. While this level of seeing does require attention, and active, conscious looking, it occurs to me it also requires hearing.

As I listen to the happy song of this early morning wren outside our window, I know I must hear, actually know, the joy of all that exists, that is in this little bird and that is being praised by its song. So, I don’t just see the unfolding, I now participate in and with it, with this beautiful, tiny creature.

Where might the day take one
if, in the beginning of that day,
one stopped before starting
and allowed the reality of creation
to speak?
Speak it does,
but do I hear?
Teach me to listen with spirit,
to hear with soul,
and from love known,
live.

For now I will say, at least in part, that who I am truly is in the place that allowing leads me to; into the full truth of reality. Since defining allowing as ‘a space of peace with what is,’ I’ve found myself returning quite a bit to the phrase. Now I also wonder if I’ve defined my centering prayer word; Home.

Home: A space of peace with what is.

All this doesn’t define reality, but is going far in teaching me to let go−to be in the honest and trustful place of, “It is what it is.” I now realize there’s no need to put definition to reality; there is only the continual practice (and acceptance) of not creating battles based on past conditioning (unreality) or from irrational expectations. If I return Home often enough I believe I can actually learn to live here in this space of allowing.

“In this life, happiness is rooted in our basic attitude toward reality.”
−Thomas Keating

Notes:

Bourgeault, Cynthia. The Meaning of Mary Magdalene. Boulder: Shambhala Publications, 2010.

Keating, Thomas. The Human Condition. New York: Paulist Press, 1999.

Keating, Thomas. Intimacy with God. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1994.

Fact-Feeling-Script-Action is a flow based, in very summarized form, on the work of Chris Argyris (July 16, 1923 – November 16, 2013). I learned about this flow originally as Fact-Feeling-Story-Action from the facilitators at Interaction Associates, in their course entitled “Facilitative Leadership.” As ‘scripting’ carries its normal negative emphasis, and because of my subsequent involvement with the International Storytelling Center, I changed ‘story’ to ‘script’ in my work as a Leadership Coach.

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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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