This week, my mind raced. Unsettled. And I know I am not alone.
You know the world has tilted slightly, when Costco is out of toilet paper.
“What do you do to stay sane?” a reader asked me. “I’m unnerved. There’s too much on my plate. And my bandwidth can’t handle it.” And I knew she was talking about more than just the coronavirus.
Whenever I get a question, I confess that my temptation is to find answers that erase anxiety.
Instead, I say, “Let me tell you two stories.”
During the Iraq War, a five-year-old boy watches the news with his father.
The boy keeps asking, “How big is this war? How did it start? What is war? Why are so many families, on the TV, so sad?”
The father tries to explain why countries go to war, why some people think wars are necessary, and other people believe that wars are wrong. But the boy keeps asking the same questions, night after night.
Finally, the father listens. And hears the real question.
He holds his son tight and says to him, “You don’t have to worry. We are safe here. Dad will keep you safe. And our family will be safe, and we will do whatever we can to help keep other families safe.”
After his Dad spoke, the boy became peaceful, because it was the reassurance his heart had been asking for.
During her three-month visit to Jerusalem, Natalie Goldberg writes about her Israeli landlady, a woman in her fifties. The woman called a repairman to fix her broken TV. It took the repairman four visits to fix the screen.
“But you knew even before he came the first time what was wrong,” Natalie told her. “He could have brought the correct tube and fixed it immediately.”
The landlady looked at her in astonishment. “Yes, but then we couldn’t have had a relationship, sat and drunk tea and discussed the progress of the repairs.” Of course, Goldberg writes, the goal was not to fix the machine but to have a relationship. To make a connection—to touch, to see, to listen, to discover, to drink from the well of the day’s gladness.
Both stories beg the question: How then do we measure? What is essential? How do we decide (honor) the things that really matter?
I like the idea of rearranging our priorities. Our ducks in a row. And it is easy to resonate with the goal part. It provides needed ballast for that fragment of our psyche that requires closure. So, we’re all in. And if it comes with an easy to follow checklist, all the better. (Which is all well and good until someone changes the list.)
But what if measuring is not even about the list?
Is it possible that we are asking the wrong questions?
So. Here’s the deal: the question is almost never the question.
And more often than not, fixing the broken TV is not the goal.
There are plenty of reasons for uncertainty and the need for both answers and connection or comfort. But I know that when my immune system is compromised, I am susceptible to any number of things that unravel and derail.
This isn’t because I have failed some test. Or am in some way inadequate. Heavens no. It’s because I’m simply not what Meister Eckhart called my “best and truest” self.
I had a great day Friday with employees of the Diocese of San Bernardino (CA), for a day of prayer, reflection and replenishment. I talked about immunity for our emotional and spiritual wellbeing. I talked about sanctuary, places where we feel grounded and get our bearings. Sanctuary as the fuel for hope, to never quit on the beauty of life and the goodness of people. Where we can bring our anger and our fear, where we quiet down and regain our true self. (A shout out to Jon Katz)
In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal? What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?”
When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know. I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment.
So. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous or aching. Tell me your heart is sad or grateful, torn or hopeful. Tell me your heart craves human touch.“Bein
g in touch with the heart tells us the quality of our existence, tells us how we recognize the truth,” Russ Hudson writes. “The heart also is the place where we know who we really are.”
I love that the father (in the story) stepped back, and asked “How can I pay attention to the heart?”
Our invitation today? To pause. To make space to be present. To pay attention to our heart. Presence is the medicine. There is power in that medicine, as we live honestly with our fears and questions, and spill care, kindness and hope.
People have told me that pain will be my teacher. They just didn’t tell me what I would learn. I can tell you this: with pain (or uncertainty or way-laid plans or fractures of the heart or broken TV sets) it is too easy to focus only on the fixing. Or the correct path. And in my urgency for resolve I can miss the spirit of life. Today, Natalie’s landlady gives my heart a jolt.
It is International Women’s Day. We raise a glass to strong, gutsy, life-giving women in our life and world. I know that I wish more of them were in charge.
March Madness begins for basketball enthusiasts.
Here in Washington State, we vote this Tuesday.
Many have reached out to me, concerned, about my travel. I did fly home on Saturday. But have no travel on the schedule for a month. Then we shall see.
I will be home, here on Vashon Island, gardening, reading, interacting with people in the eCourse, designing gardens. And washing my hands for 20 seconds.
Quote for your week.
What is honored will be cultivated. Plato
Join me: Discover the Shrines of Ireland. September 24 — October 02. Here’s the information.
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POEMS AND PRAYERS
(When I am not grounded) I believe that whatever I seek in miracles, the sacred, intervention of the divine, is not in a place
where I am now, or in a place other than this moment.
They have this in common: we don’t look at the world around us
as places where God lives. Rabbi Abraham Heschel
Just when you seem to yourself
nothing but a flimsy web
of questions, you are given
the questions of others to hold
in the emptiness of your hands,
songbird eggs that can still hatch
if you keep them warm,
butterflies opening and closing themselves
in your cupped palms, trusting you not to injure
their scintillant fur, their dust.
You are given the questions of others
as if they were answers
to all you ask. Yes, perhaps
this gift is your answer.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God,
Wellspring of all that is.
You are the sea on which we float,
You are the wind that fills our sails,
You are the storm that buffets us,
You are the calm that brings us peace.
Open our ears to hear Your word,
Open our eyes to see Your beauty,
Open our hearts to be warmed by Your love.
Free us from our lonely prisons of fear and selfishness,
And make us over, day by day, into bearers of Your peace.