Rest for your souls…


Stand at the crossroads and look; ask about the ancient paths, “Which one is the good way?”   Take it, and you will find rest for your souls…

~~Jeremiah 6:16


I snapped this picture when we had just hiked over Skull Bridge, at the Continental Divide Trail (CDT)  near Abiquiu, New Mexico.  The Trail head is just over that bridge and heads south into the Rio Chamas Wilderness area, a gorgeous place no matter what time of year.  I wrote about this trip recently in a post titled Smile at Fear;  if you are interested, you can read that entry from the Blessings Blog here.

It’s funny to me how small the world seems when I sit at my desk and type, when I can instantly communicate with someone in Nashville or Australia, when I can click a few buttons and pretty much anything I want is at my fingertips.  But the world takes on whole new dimensions when you are actually out in it.  I am often filled with wonder and a deep sense of unease that it is easier to speak with someone hundreds of miles away via text  than it is to walk across the street to talk to a neighbor.   I have a house full of things  my grandmother’s generation was told would save time and make life easier and I suppose in some ways they do.  But time for what?  More work?  TV?   Stress?  Family and friends?  What do we do with this supposed extra time and ease we were granted?  We live in a world moving so fast that when something takes mere seconds I say it is moving slowly. But that’s when I’m inside, dealing with the non-human, unnatural world.   Traipsing around on a trail that literally runs from Mexico to Canada makes the whole thing suddenly come into a more realistic perspective.

One of the reasons I love hiking is that the planet truly takes on a whole new dimension when you are walking through it– deserts and woods are not like other places.   For one thing, they are just huge, but more than that they are full of wonder and scenery, challenge and  solitude, hope and a sense that we are not alone.  Interestingly, when I get away from all the stuff that is supposed to save me time, I have all the time in the world.  When I get way from the hustle of the millions of people on the planet, the less alone I feel.  Wilderness trails  offer  a chance to reconnect to myself and in doing so I reconnect to my God as well. I love the water, but put me on a trail anywhere, especially in the mountains or the woods, and  I have found my bliss.  A path simply takes you from one civilized place to another, but a trail…Ah, a trail takes you from what we like to call civilization into the unknown.   I believe the further we travel into the unknown, the more we travel the path the ancients knew led to the Heart.  By doing so, we allow the soul to take the ancient paths which lead to peace and rest.  I think of Augustine’s line,

My soul is restless, O God, until it finds rest in You…

There is something so comforting about knowing that just as this area on the CDT was traveled for centuries before Europeans “discovered” America, so too has the Path of Life has been journeyed for generations before me.  The Prophet Jeremiah wrote those words about ancient paths  sometime around 600 B.C.E.  We really haven’t changed that much in all of the years we’ve roamed this planet…we’ve always been restless, we’ve always sought rest for our weary souls.  Leaders and subjects come and go, tides ebb and flow, children are born and someday die in old age, relationships are complicated and endure, money is made and lost and on and on.  Cravings have always been with us, as has emotional pain and bliss, but time marches on and the search for meaning transcends generations.  This has always been the nature of humans and  I assume this will continue on long after I am gone from this body.  Our technology has changed, but deep down we all want the same things we’ve always wanted…health, love, safety, joy, freedom from suffering, the chance to live and love and enjoy those with whom we live and love.  These are the ancient paths we all walk, and while the details may change, the human story is pretty much the same over time.

The ancient paths are the ones I think we all long for in our depths…we all long to connect to ourselves and loved ones, to something greater than ourselves and to all Life can offer.   Tillich said the word “solitude” reflects the joy of being alone, while the word “lonely” reflects the pain of being alone.  We all need to have time alone to walk the path, to feel the pain and the joy of that “alone-ness” at times.  And while it is comforting to know others have gone before me and I am never alone, the truth is that it is still my path to walk and the choice is mine to walk it.  Growth is optional and not everyone chooses it, but that is also an ancient path.   Buddha said, “You cannot travel the path until you become the path itself,”  and I realize more and more how true that is.   As they say in Zen, the obstacle is the path, and we can only truly travel that path with an open heart.  What fascinates me is that we all have teachers and endless opportunities to open to the path, but we can only apply the lessons within if we choose to do so with an open heart and mind.  So we all travel the path, but our choices can lead to a path of heartache or one of joy.  As usual, discernment is the key.

What the ancients knew, that we all must learn, is that the good path will only open to us as much as we can or will give ourselves to it, without judgment of ourselves or others.  In doing so, eventually we find what all the mystics tell us over and over about the path…such as, we are not punished for our anger, but we can be harmed by our anger.  We are not rewarded for our good deeds, we are rewarded by them, including the ways in which our  immunity and our cellular structure becomes stronger and more resilient as we practice compassion and joy.  The deeper we go, the more love and humility and compassion we find,  thus the more rest we find for our weary souls, which leads to more compassion and humility.   I’ve come to believe essence of true humility is knowing I am neither too much nor too little, and that I don’t have to prove myself to anyone—even me.  But that was one of the lessons of my path, I didn’t come in with that understanding at all.  Like all of us, I grew into it and hopefully will learn to walk this path with a wise  heart.

Just as Jesus said to love one’s neighbor as self, and Buddha said there is no one more deserving of your love than you, we all have to walk the path of embracing our own goodness.  We have all faced demons and struggled on the path.  We have all embraced the path or run from it, not realizing it was all still the same path.  We have all had conflicts with parents or children, friends or bosses, teachers, lovers and maybe even someone we called an enemy.  But choosing the good path leads to rest, and a rested soul is a wise soul, and wise souls usually come to understand the conflict is within, not outside of us somewhere. Thus they seek the wise path of peace.

We all walk these ancient paths, and the paths often diverge into addictions and an experience of suffering.  The path always eventually leads to the same place of Home,  but not everyone knows to ask up front, “Which one is the good one?”  But the Universe, in all of its gracious abundance,  always lights the path before us until we know to ask, until the answers become clear.  Because this too is the nature of the path, leading us from one civilized place to another, ever offering the Light yet another day.  Gautama Buddha addressed this hundreds of years ago with his own disciples, hoping to shed a light on the path for them, yet hoping they would also take responsibility for illuminating it themselves.  He said to them,

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.

But do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

So today, for all of us standing  at the crossroads and asking, ‘Which one is the good way?’   I wish you peace and clarity, and rest for your souls.

peace 🙂

The Bridge, a Story about Consequences


“To confront a person with their own shadow is to show them their own light…”

~~Carl Jung

This is a story about fear, about our choices and ultimately what we are responsible for in our lives…To what do we owe ourselves and the Other, whomever that may be?   How do we face our fears?  If you like this story and the following questions, I wrote a post on the Blessings Blog called Smiling at Fear, about how we face these choices and deal with these inevitable situations in our lives.   If you are interested, you can find that here.

I got this story some time ago from Missy Bradley, the teacher of the Heroic Journey Seminar.  If you get a chance to see her in your city, it is so well worth it!  You can find her schedule here.  This is a great story, and it a total cut and paste, nothing original here but not much I can do to improve on it, so enjoy!

The Bridge

By Edwin Friedman

There was a man who had given much thought to what he wanted from life. He had experienced many moods and trials. He had experimented with different ways of living, and he had had his share of both success and failure. At last, he began to see clearly where he wanted to go.

Diligently, he searched for the right opportunity. Sometimes he came close, only to be pushed away. Often he applied all his strength and imagination, only to find the path hopelessly blocked.  And then at last it came. But the opportunity would not wait. It would be made available only for a short time. If it were seen that he was not committed, the opportunity would not come again.

Eager to arrive, he started on his journey. With each step, he wanted to move faster; with each thought about his goal, his heart beat quicker; with each vision of what lay ahead, he found renewed vigor. Strength that had left him since his early youth returned, and desires, all kinds of desires, reawakened from their long-dormant positions.

Hurrying along, he came upon a bridge that crossed through the middle of a town. It had been built high above a river in order to protect it from the floods of spring. He started across. Then he noticed someone coming from the opposite direction. As they moved closer, it seemed as though the other were coming to greet him. He could see clearly, however, that he did not know this other, who was dressed similarly except for something tied around his waist.

When they were within hailing distance, he could see that what the other had about his waist was a rope. It was wrapped around him many times and probably, if extended, would reach a length of 30 feet.   The other began to uncurl the rope, and, just as they were coming close, the stranger said, “Pardon me, would you be so kind as to hold the end a moment?”

Surprised by this politely phrased but curious request, he agreed without a thought, reached out, and took it.

“Thank you,” said the other, who then added, “two hands now, and remember, hold tight.”

Whereupon, the other jumped off the bridge.

Quickly, the free-falling body hurtled the distance of the rope’s length, and from the bridge the man abruptly felt the pull. Instinctively, he held tight and was almost dragged over the side. He managed to brace himself against the edge, however, and after having caught his breath, looked down at the other dangling, close to oblivion.

“What are you trying to do?” he yelled.

“Just hold tight,” said the other.

“This is ridiculous,” the man thought and began trying to haul the other in. He could not get the leverage, however. It was as though the weight of the other person and the length of the rope had been carefully calculated in advance so that together they created a counterweight just beyond his strength to bring the other back to safety.

“Why did you do this?” the man called out.

“Remember,” said the other, “if you let go, I will be lost.”

“But I cannot pull you up,” the man cried.

“I am your responsibility,” said the other.

“Well, I did not ask for it,” the man said.

“If you let go, I am lost,” repeated the other.

He began to look around for help. But there was no one. How long would he have to wait? Why did this happen to befall him now, just as he was on the verge of true success?   He examined the  side, searching for a place to tie the rope. Some protrusion, perhaps, or maybe a hole in the boards. But the railing was unusually uniform in shape; there were no spaces between the boards. There was no way to get rid of this newfound burden, even temporarily.

“What do you want?” he asked the other hanging below.

“Just your help,” the other answered.

“How can I help? I cannot pull you in, and there is no place to tie the rope so that I can go and find someone to help me help you.”

“I know that. Just hang on; that will be enough. Tie the rope around your waist; it will be easier.”

Fearing that his arms could not hold out much longer, he tied the rope around his waist.

“Why did you do this?” he asked again. “Don’t you see what you have done? What possible purpose could you have had in mind?”

“Just remember,” said the other, “my life is in your hands.”

What should he do? “If I let go, all my life I will know that I let this other die. If I stay, I risk losing my momentum toward my own long-sought-after salvation. Either way this will haunt me  forever.”  W ith ironic humor he thought to die himself, instantly, to jump off the bridge while still  holding on. “That would teach this fool.” But he wanted to live and to live life fully. “What a choice I have to make; how shall I ever decide?”

As time went by, still no one came. The critical moment of decision was drawing near. To show his commitment to his own goals, he would have to continue on his journey now. It was already almost too late to arrive in time. But what a terrible choice to have to make.

A new thought occurred to him. While he could not pull this other up solely by his own efforts, if the other would shorten the rope from his end by curling it around his waist again and again, together they could do it. Actually, the other could do it by himself, so long as he, standing on the bridge, kept it still and steady.

“Now listen,” he shouted down. “I think I know how to save you.” And he explained his plan.

But the other wasn’t interested.

“You mean you won’t help? But I told you I cannot pull you up myself, and I don’t think I can hang on much longer either.”

“You must try,” the other shouted back in tears. “If you fail, I die.”

The point of decision arrived. What should he do? “My life or this other’s?” And then a new idea.

A revelation. So new, in fact, it seemed heretical, so alien was it to his traditional way of thinking.

“I want you to listen carefully,” he said, “because I mean what I am about to say. I will not accept the position of choice for your life, only for my own; the position of choice for your own life I hereby give back to you.”

“What do you mean?” the other asked, afraid.

“I mean, simply, it’s up to you. You decide which way this ends. I will become the counterweight.  You do the pulling and bring yourself up. I will even tug a little from here.” He began unwinding  the rope from around his waist and braced himself anew against the side.

“You cannot mean what you say,” the other shrieked. “You would not be so selfish. I am your responsibility. What could be so important that you would let someone die? Do not do this to me!”

He waited a moment. There was no change in the tension of the rope.

“I accept your choice,” he said, at last, and freed his hands.

The End.

Copyright 1990, The Guilford Press, under option to Snaproll Films

The questions that come with the clinical book with this story are:

1. How would you get the man hanging from the rope to take responsibility for himself?

2. How much responsibility does the man on the bridge have for the other?

3. Why is is so difficult to let go once we are experiencing “rope-burn?”

4. What is a higher value, self-sacrifice or achieving your own salvation?

5. Why do the needy often get most needy when others around them are functioning best?

6. Why are the dependent so often calling the shots?

7. If the man on the bridge never got away, could the man handing on to the rope be accused of murder?

8. How does this story get played out in families, schools, religious institutions, health-care delivery centers, business organizations and government?

9. Could both men be the same person? If so, how?

10. If someone came up to you and said, “Hold the end or I’ll jump,” what would you do?

Food for thought.

Have a great weekend.  peace 🙂

You May Say I’m a Dreamer, But I’m Not The Only One…


Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you also refuse to hate him… ~~Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by Love alone is healed.  This is an ancient and eternal law…  ~~The Dhammapada


Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor… ~~Anne Lamott

There has been a great deal of recent media attention about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his famous  “I Have a Dream” speech.  I absolutely do not want to politicize this blog, but I would like to talk about the background of non-violent resistance and the spirituality of the choices we make to non-violently engage aggression or oppression, in ourselves and with others.

Dr. King based a lot of his approach to non-violent civil disobedience on Quaker philosophy and Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of Ahimsa, which means non-violence in every aspect.   Ahimsa is the philosophy of total non-violence.  It refers not only to physical violence, but all violence– all cruelty, all unkind words, thoughts, values and behaviors toward self and others.  Teachers and committed practitioners of non-violence emphasize that peace begins within, with disciplined and mindful practices of prayer and meditation.  True peace involves cultivating skillfulness in these areas.  We cannot be peaceful toward others if we hold self-hatred in our hearts.  To love one’s neighbor as oneself means we must practice peace and self-love first; not in an indulgent, mindless way, but with true mindfulness and balance.   We must truly practice non-violence within first in order to extend that to our fellows.  We must be kind and gentle with ourselves first if we are to ever be consistently kind and gentle with others.  (I wrote a lot about these practices in recent blog entries, if you are interested in learning more about these practices just scroll down to the previous posts).

Gandhi struggled  with what to name this movement of active resistance and eventually coined a term he called Satyagraha.   Satya means truth, the equivalent of love, and both are attributes of the soul.  Agraha is firmness or insistence.  Satyagraha is therefore translated as Soul Force.  Gandhi wrote, “Satyagraha is the vindication of truth not by infliction of suffering upon an opponent, but on one’s self.  The opponent must be weaned by patience and sympathy…” Weaned, not crushed or in anyway violated or retaliated against.  A true adherent of Ahimsa shows the patient love of a mother to endure pain for the greater good of the birth of a beloved child.   Soul Force assumes peace is possible and returns good for evil until the evildoer grows weary of the evil itself.

Some of the great Gandhi thoughts on this philosophy and his beliefs can be summed up in these quotes…

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall — think of it, ALWAYS. …Non-violence is the article of faith…It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business… Hatred can be overcome only by love…

At one time,  Gandhi had considered himself an atheist but explored many religions and philosophies.  He was deeply influenced by the Sermon on the Mount and some of the Buddhist scriptures, but eventually returned to Hinduism, the religion of his youth.   He was trained as a lawyer but nearly went broke because he was so afraid of speaking up in court or in public that he gave all of his cases away to other attorneys. Interestingly, the peaceful man known as a Mahatma, literally translated as “Great Soul,” described himself as at one time being very aggressive.  His wake up call came one night when he and his wife were fighting and he became physically forceful with her, grabbing her wrist and trying to throw her out of the house.  Her tears stunned him into silence and he vowed from that moment to cultivate an inner discipline and peace which eventually led to his commitment to non-violence.

The civil rights violations of his fellow man and the violence he personally endured because of the color of his skin sparked his non-violent action and led to a world wide movement. Gandhi based his non-violent resistance on the Bhagavad Gita and the Sermon on the Mount, citing their influences repeatedly.  Martin Luther King Jr. based his non-violent civil rights movement on Gandhi’s ideas and methods after a trip to India, the Baptist minister bringing the message of spiritually based social justice full circle around the world.  In his  “I Have a Dream Speech,” Dr. King said,

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with Soul Force…

Buddhism, Hinduism, the Christian Gospels and the Religions of the Book all teach peace at their core.  Gandhi understood this and thus his  ideas and practices were based on the Hindu scriptures from the Gita and from the Sermon on the Mount.  Dr. King and many others have followed those examples throughout the ages.  With that in mind, a few thoughts on the Sermon on the Mount…

Matthew 5: 38-42

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.  But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles….”

These verses are taken from the Sermon on the Mount, a sermon in which Jesus addressed an oppressed people.  Many consider the Sermon on the Mount to be the key address on Christian non-violence.  It’s important to note that the people hearing this sermon were not rich and powerful;  they were the poor, oppressed and downtrodden subjects of an occupying military force, as well as people oppressed by their own religious authorities.  They were tired; they were in need of a Voice which told them they were loved and worthy, a Voice to speak of a deeper truth of Love, a Voice which reminded them, “You are the Light of the World.”   They were abused by the rich and powerful every day.  What Jesus is advocating in this passage is about social justice, but in a manner which emphasizes non-violent active resistance to a violent system.

The phrase, “do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also,” refers to the custom of the day and meant more to them then than it means to us now. A better translation of this from the Greek  is “do not meet  violence with violence.” This is not instruction to passively accept brutality or injustice, it is instead encouraging a courageous stand which exposes the violence.   During that time, the master or slave-owner had the right to strike the subject or slave on the right cheek—but only the right cheek, with the back of the right hand.  To strike the left cheek would indicate a loss of temper or control and bring shame upon the one doing the hitting.  But since it is impossible to strike the left cheek with the back of the right hand, what Jesus is advocating here is exposing the violence, but doing so non-violently.

The next instruction, “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well…” refers to the time in which they lived and more customs of the day. At that time, the wealthy and those in power abused their authority by suing the poor and oppressed who literally had nothing but the clothes on their back.  The court would then say the person had to forfeit their tunic, leaving them essentially standing in their underwear in court.  What Jesus is saying is that if they want to try to humiliate you through abuse of power, to again resist non-violently and expose the violence.  Be empowered but do so through your own sense of internal power, of knowing  you are valuable and worthy as a child of God, but do not resist the evil of abuse with more violence.  So if they want to strip you of all you have—fine.  Counter with stripping down in court and exposing it all, literally.  But do so from a position of non-violent empowerment, not angry retaliation.

The next line, “if someone forces you to go a mile, go two miles...” is part of an expression we use all the time without understanding its context.  The Romans were an occupying force of that time and under the law a Roman soldier could force a person, usually an oppressed subject, to carry his pack one mile.  While this might not sound like a big deal, it was abuse of power with serious consequences.  The poor laborers of that time worked each day for their money and bought food for their families each night with their earnings.  So to force a man to carry a heavy pack a mile meant he would then have to turn around and walk back to town, ensuring he would miss a day of work; this meant he and his family would therefore go hungry that night.  Going the extra mile was again a way to expose the violence of the oppressor and be empowered in doing so, but again to choose to expose the injustice and violence through non-violent means.

There is much more to the Sermon on the Mount, as well as to the philosophy of non-violence called ahmisa.  I will cover some of that in a future post, but for now, if you have never watched the full I Have a Dream speech, you can do so in the video below.  It’s about 17 minutes long, so give yourself the time to really sit with it, and maybe ponder a few questions….

As we head into Labor Day, what are you really working for and toward?  Does it feed your soul?  Is it congruent with your values?  Is your behavior in alignment with what you say is important to you and what you want to model for your children?  As the Prophet Isaiah asks, “Why do you spend money for what is not bread  and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance…”

With that in mind…What are your dreams?  Are you willing to work toward them without force, using methods of non-violence, starting with yourself?  Are you ever forceful or violent toward yourself or others? Do you practice self-hatred or self-oppression which leads to aggressive behavior with yourself and others?  Will you go the extra mile for yourself as a means of empowerment, but not force?  Will you turn the other cheek with that voice inside that may be the oppressor and gently wean it from the harshness with which you speak to yourself?  Are you violent and aggressive with yourself while you smile and pretend life is good, do you act as if all is well when you are enduring great pain inside?   Does life have to be forced and perfect, or can you strive for an excellent peace? Can you cultivate inner peace and share that with others?

Are there ideals or values you hold so dear you would die for them but not kill for them?  Can you have a dream, vision or value so important to you that you give up everything in order to work toward it, but do so peacefully, allowing yourself to be transformed in the process?

What are your dreams today?  What keeps you from your peace?

What are you willing to do to take responsibility for your dreams and your peace?  Are you willing to use your own Soul Force to cultivate peace and non-violence within, to live your own dreams?   If you have these dreams, but haven’t opened yourself to them, why?  And if not now, then when?

We may be dreamers, but we are not the only ones…

Have a great holiday weekend.

peace 🙂

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