While touring the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus, a man noticed that only one small rope (meager in size, tied to one front leg only) was holding each elephant. There were no chains, no cages. Mature elephants could, at any time, break away from their limited shackle. However, for some reason, they did not.
The trainer explained, “When the elephants are very young and much smaller, we use this same size rope to tie them. At that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They think the rope can still hold them, so they never even try, to break free.”
So, who’s the elephant in this story?
I suppose that I am.
I know that it is easy to be stuck (or feel stuck), and not even realize the impact. And when stuck, it doesn’t take much for us to believe that we are limited (in some way immobilized or powerless).
But here’s the deal: When we live from that narrative, we are not our authentic selves. We live with what Margaret Heffernan calls “willful blindness”.
And the effects of that narrative—feeling squeezed, claustrophobic, out of control and worse, sorry for myself—will spill. As an example, my friend has a passion, but finds herself in a job she loathes. “I cry from my house to my car every day,” she says. “And all this negativity just pervades my whole life.” Yes, I know that feeling… stuck.
I like James Hollis’ invitation that we make an appointment with our own soul. To make a shift, from projection and transference to ownership. To take responsibility for one’s life (the narrative and passion) with clear headedness and unabashed willingness.
In recent Sabbath Moments, we’ve talked about the narratives that drive our choices. Remembering Plato’s reminder, “Whatever is honored will be cultivated.”
When honoring any narrative that “we are not enough”, we can be owned by shame, and scarcity becomes our reality. No wonder we live reactive, or at the mercy of our grief or our rage.
So. There is freedom from. And there is freedom to or toward.
How fortunate that this week I received an email with an enticement that I can “break free.” To personal mastery. And, of course, to financial success. And to top it off, to spiritual insight. Their seminar (a good bit more than my wallet allows), holds the key.
All those elephants needed, was a seminar. Who knew?
I am not opposed to enticements to break free. It’s just that I think that there’s more to the story.
Two missionaries who leave their compound to walk to a nearby river. As they stand watching the current, they see a dead body floating downstream. They wade into the water, retrieve the body, dig a grave, and bury it. They return to the river and see two more bodies. After burying them, they return and see four bodies. One turns to the other and says, “Maybe it would be a good idea if we went upstream.”
The irony, of course, is that we try to solve the problem (being stuck) by adding even more pressure in order to be “unstuck”. We enroll in breaking free seminars and buy unstuck apps for our mobile devises. All of this only serves to remind us of what the rope really represents; anything that keeps us, or prevents us, from being fully present and fully alive.
In other words, this is not just about the dead bodies (or whatever it is that derails us, or restrains us).
We can always find a faster way to bury the bodies. Instead of bravely ignoring what confines or limits us, we can find, in the depths of these experiences, the wholeheartedness and compassion we can share with all life. It’s the same heart of wholeheartedness and compassion that great spiritual leaders have called the divine essence. At the end of the day, that essence is not interested in whether you “made it,” but what you became, and what became of you along the way.
And the answer is not just to feel unstuck. It’s about the fundamental truth that the rope which holds us, is neither the full nor complete reality regarding our identity.
In her candid book, Hunger, Roxane Gay, talks about the narrative of limitations and scarcity using wardrobes. “I have two wardrobes. One, the clothes I wear everyday, is made up mostly of dark denim jeans, black T-shirts, and, for special occasions, dress shirts. These clothes shroud my cowardice. These are the clothes I feel safe in. This is the armor I wear to face the world, and I assure you, armor is needed. I tell myself this armor is all I need. When I wear my typical uniform, it feels like safety, like I can hide in plain sight. I become less of a target. I am taking up space, but I am doing so in an unassuming manner so I am less of a problem, less of a disturbance. This is what I tell myself. My other wardrobe, the one that dominates most of my closet, is full of the clothes I don’t have the courage to wear.”
Speaking of wardrobes, Paul talks about our authentic self, using the same metaphor in his Letter to the Colossians. “So; chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength and discipline. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”
Notice this; we are not mandated to design or create or even assemble the wardrobe.
We are encouraged to inhabit the wardrobe we’ve been given, freeing us to be true to what is in our DNA.
But worth it, as I embrace the imperfect, brave, scared, creative, messy, loving, compassionate, wholehearted me.
This week July 4th, the holiday when, every year, our dogs plead, “Could you please keep the noise down?”
Savor your summer days… say no to the small rope, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you, raise a glass to wholeheartedness and compassion, and spill your light.
Quote for your week…
Man discovers his own wealth when God comes to ask gifts of him. Rabindranath Tagore
Notes… Groups use Sabbath Moment for study or discussion. Reflection questions and exercises are available for group and personal use. Let me know if you want to be on the list to receive. Please pass the word.
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July 15 – August 5 — Soul Gardening
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Misc. in the mailbag…
–You (Terry) and Anne Lamont are my two very favorite authors. Judi
–Terry. I’ve enjoyed the Sabbath Moments that you have shared. Realistically, I need to take a Sabbath Moment from the computer and from all the meditations that I receive. Keep sharing your wisdom with others and thank you for your ministry. Deb
–Hi Terry! SM is such a gift for me, and I savor the thoughts and words you share with us. It brings me peace, and Christian love and yes, it is my sanctuary. I am thankful that you are there to share your spiritual thoughts and feelings and wisdom with us. Thank you, Terry for being there, and for understanding. Wishing you God’s blessings, Arla
–This last week I spent on Vashon. I thought of you as I went on the garden tour. What amazing properties we saw. Blessings on your ministry via email SM the best. I admire your ability to write these weekly wonderful thoughts. They always speak to me. Alice
–Dear Terry, I would like to receive the reflection questions and exercises available for group and personal use. I facilitate a small Women’s Spirituality Group at our parish, and a friend in our group recommended Sabbath Moment to me. I am a new subscriber to Sabbath Moment and I love it. Thank you, Lynn
–Hi Terry, I would love to have the reflection questions each week. I am involved with the Ignatian Spirituality Project, which offers retreats for men & women in recovery from addiction. One of the exercises on the retreat is called “Healing of Memories”. I have used the woman with the hemorrhage & the bent over woman for this. I love your take on this story of the man by the pool. I have to admit, since I’m on the retreats with the women, I tend to use stories where Jesus healed a woman. Thank you so much for SM. I look forward to it each Monday. Blessings, Anne
–Hi Terry, I wanted to share this with you in case you don’t already know about Dewitt Jones (National Geographic photographer)–his mission/vision/perspective align quite well with yours! His weekly “Celebrate What’s Right With the World” photos have been a welcome start to my week for many years and arrive in my inbox at the time as your Sabbath Moment. A great pairing! Cheryl
POEMS AND PRAYERS
I embrace emerging experience. I participate in discovery.
I am a butterfly. I am not a butterfly collector.
I want the experience of the butterfly.
After awhile you learn the subtle difference
between holding a hand and chaining a soul.
And you learn that love doesn’t mean security,
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises.
And you begin to accept your defeats with you head up and your eyes open.
With the grace of maturity, not the grief of a child.
And you learn to build all your roads on
Today because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
After awhile you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure…
That you really are strong
And that you really do have worth.
And you learn and learn and learn ….
With every goodbye you learn.
Veronica A. Shoffstall
when the struggles of life hem me in on every side,
open me to the freedom of your presence
that can help me see beyond every restriction, every limit that binds me.
O God, give me the wisdom to see the subtle ways people can be enslaved and the courage to speak for those who have no voice.
I ask this for the sake of your love.
O God, when we wake to yet another day of wonder and joy in the beauty of your creation,
give us the heart to keep our needs simple, our desires soft, our wills pliable,
so that we never participate in the exploitation of the earth, which is the work of your hands.