For Shouldness Sake

Many of us grew up with the notion of God and God’s religion – which was God’s complicated way of getting to us – as  being a big list of shoulds and should nots.  All of this, of course, had nothing at all to do with the intentions of Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source in the establishment of our being.  Nevertheless, I look back on a good bit of my life and realize that I could have been a lead character in a blockbuster children’s book, The Little Engine That Should.

It all started right there under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, where we learned that long long list, and the certain knowledge that we would never be good enough to stay in the garden because there was no way that we could ever possibly be all that we should be.

Should, in its very essence, is an endless chase that lasts beyond any concept of exhaustion.  Because any time we should be doing something, we are either:

  1. not doing it, which is totally unsatisfactory and fraught with guilt; or
  2. doing it because, well, we should – an External Motivator, which, chances are, leaves us perpetually falling a little short of full expectation.  Duck and run, here comes the big Unsatisfactory Rubber Stamp again.

Questions of should also lead to endless and useless discussions of how much and how often.  These questions imply giving up things in a zero sum game where, if we give what we should be giving (a tithe, for instance), we will have less of what we had.  If we do have more, it will, of course, be only because that External Source has rewarded us in some way for our good/should behavior.

Or we go to this meeting or belong to this church or that organization because we should.  Then we must attend x number of times per month or, once again, we are not measuring up for the Shouldness Judge.  Not to mention the time and energy wasted on worrying about this stuff.

And then there are the opportunities for humans to dress up like little Shouldness princes, princesses, priests and judges, casting shouldness spells on their scared and foolish but quite willing little subjects who pay exorbitant sums for the privilege of running around, all in a dither.

Ah, sweet life of our little ego creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Krishnamurti said it so well:  “You might as well put a piece of stick you have picked up in the garden on the mantelpiece and give it a flower every day.  In a month you will be worshiping it and not to put the flower in front of it will become a sin.”

True creation is the flower, friends, and it is us.  Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source the Universe – that, who, what, beyond concept and language, whether noun or verb – Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source breathed the flower and breathed us, too.  There is no should under the Tree of Life.  There is only being.  And the essence of that being is both noun and verb.  It is the will and the willing to trust, to love, to appreciate, to give and to receive, all in the in and out breath of kindness and compassion.  These are action and stillness, a complete fullness, all in one.

There is no obligation, there is only essence.  There is no bondage, only freedom.  There is no shortage, no need for hoarding, only and always enough.

The one by Galilee got it so right:  “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”  And what did we do under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?  The usual thing, of course.  The shouldness thing.

We put him on a stick on the mantel and started to worship him.

Oh my shouldness.  Oh my shouldness.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  Feel free to use this stuff, referencing the source, if you find it helpful.

Master Of The House: Teaching the Children of Our Dreams

No one really touches us but ourselves.  Yes, bad, even horrible things happen to us.  Parents may have loaded us with guilt and shame.  Others may have stolen our innocence, our confidence, our health or physical abilities.  Even our own actions create wounds that bite and tear at us relentlessly, year after year.

We are filled with anxiety, self-doubt, hatred of ourselves, hatred of others, anger and bitterness that wear us down like a weight we cannot shake or a leaky tire that never has enough air.  If we lash out, we only engage a vicious cycle, with temporary relief replaced by acidic guilt, refueling anger, stoking the fire of seemingly justified rage, releasing itself in another inappropriate and damaging outburst – all of this often triggered by even just a single action that may have happened years ago.

Ignoring these lingering emotions is also counterproductive.  If we repress them, they may resurface in unhealthy ways, triggered by incidents and people that have no relationship and no proportion to the original wound.  Or they may turn on us, causing illness – true dis-ease, eating us alive from the inside out.

Jung and others have taught us to view the characters in our dreams as aspects of ourselves, qualities hidden in our subconscious that enter the house of our dreams and tell us hidden things, things we may or may not want to see or hear.

I would say that the emotions that linger from hurt and harm, whether inflicted by others or by ourselves, are the same.  Think of them as our children, clamoring for attention in our house, demanding that we do something, perhaps never enough from their perspective, to satisfy their wants and needs; to feed them, to protect and to defend them, to shelter them, even to go out and to fight on their behalf.  They are hurt.  They are ours.  We are responsible for them.  They demand satisfaction.

If they are children, somewhere, one would hope, there is a parent.  And of course, there is.  We are the parent.  As with all our children, we can choose how to parent these emotions.  We can parent from a place stuck under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We can choose anger.  We can choose to ignore.  We can argue with them on their own level.  We can let them, in essence, parent us, as we run around madly to meet their incessant demands.

The demands are incessant, of course, because they are not the real needs and, therefore, can never experience satisfaction on their own terms.

Satisfaction comes when we choose to parent our emotions from a position of life under the Tree of Life.  In that place, we are an adult.  We are spirit connected.  We are in charge.  We are caring and compassionate.  We are also separate, observing and directive, guiding and nurturing toward health.

The children of our wounds are primarily hurt, anger, shame and guilt.  We will choose our responses to them depending on their true level of need.  When wounds are fresh, or reopened for any reason, we need to show compassion and comfort to our children/ourselves.  We need to sit quietly, perhaps visualizing holding ourselves as a hurt child.

When our wounds are pestering us for attention and distracting from our work, daily living or relationships, we need to expect them to be quiet for a time, assuring that we will spend the time needed with them when it is appropriate.  Their gratification can be delayed.  That is different than repression and we must, of course, take the private time that is needed for listening, reflection and healing; time that can appropriately be set aside and used for that attention and purpose.  Otherwise our emotions will find us unworthy of trust and will strengthen their assault on our attention.

When our emotions are out of control and just wrecking the house, firm boundaries are the order of the day.  The time-out chair should be used without hesitation.  The good parent is clear about acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

And, of course, when either the wounds or the behavior are more than we can manage alone as a parent, professional help is in order.  Good parents make good decisions about when to take their children for medical or counseling attention.

I have found Getting Through The Day: Strategies for Adults Hurt as Children, by Nancy J. Napier (W. W. Norton, 1993), an excellent practical resource for learning to take a healthy adult role in relation to our emotions, the children of our dreams that clamor for food and attention at the table of our heart.

The best place to deal with the fruit, the children, of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, is from our own grown up place under the Tree of Life.  It is our true home.  We can welcome our children to the table there.  We can treat them well.  We can raise them up.  They are never us.  But they are our charge until they are grown and ready to manage for themselves.

For today’s scripture, a fresh look at a well-known word from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young:

 Teach Your Children

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.

Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick’s, the one you’ll know by.

Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

And you, of tender years,
Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.

(Second verse counter-melody)

Can you hear and do you care and
Can’t you see we must be free to
Teach your children what you believe in.
Make a world that we can live in.

Teach your parents well,
Their children’s hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick’s, the one you’ll know by.

Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  All rights reserved.

The Doorway: Life Between the Creeds

  1. I don’t believe in a physical Father Almighty, though I suppose Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source (C/S/M/S) could choose to take that form in some very limited but specifically useful expression,
  2. Who fathered through the Holy Spirit an only-begotten Son of God who was physically or spiritually put together any differently than you or I.
  3. I do believe in C/S/M/S, that is the breath of life in all of us, in whom we live and move and have our being.
  4. I am much more inclined to believe in reincarnation than I am to believe in the actual resurrection of my specific physical remains (yuck!).  Or let’s say I think “I”, whatever spark of C/S/M/S “I” am, can likely be reconstituted in any way, shape, time or place Creator/Spirit/Mind/Source desires.
  5. I have a completely unfounded faith and confidence – call it a firm suspicion and longing – in/for life everlasting.

For me, as for many people I know and love, the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds just don’t cut it.  I live life between creeds.  An important disclaimer:  Growing up Mennonite, I was not raised in a creedal tradition.  We didn’t talk about it much, so I didn’t really know why.  I was aware of the creeds.  I think we read them occasionally, incidentally, accidentally.  We were just more concerned about following the teachings of Jesus about everyday life.  Looking back, I am grateful.

Liminal space, the threshold, the doorway between – spiritual directors like to talk about that as the creative place to be, the place where C/S/M/S can act for our growth.  It’s a place of wonder, of openness, but also of uncertainty and sometimes loneliness.  It is a place of leaving behind, of preparing to move forward, of not yet having arrived.  We live in liminal space and, I believe, in uniquely liminal times.

The people I connect with most don’t go to church anymore.  Or they confide, when they know they are safe, that there is nothing there for them spiritually – that they go for the sense of community, but that their spirit is hungry for something no longer found there.

I participate in two separate and independent gatherings, one called Journey and the other called, of all things, Journeys.  These groups both discuss questions of spirituality.  They are composed largely of people who grew up Christian, and who, for the most part, no longer participate in traditional church.  The average age in both groups, for whatever reason, is probably people in their early eighth decade (70’s, if you don’t want to do the math).  At 60, I am a relative youngster.  One meets in a church, sponsored and at least tolerated by a church, before the regular service.  Few of the perhaps 50 participants stay for service.

Liminal space is restless, like the times after a revolution and before the formation of a new nation.  These times lack definition and structure.  They are creative and risky, uncertain.  Traditional community is gone.  There is something within us, like the Israelites in the period of the judges, that at least subliminally (interesting, the derivation of that word) wants a king, and probably a creed.

It is 2013.  The world was supposed to end last year, just like it was supposed to end so many times before on so many calendars.  Perhaps it did.  Perhaps something truly tipped and the grip and bands of twenty centuries of Christianity (not Jesus, folks, but Christianity), broke, lost hold.  The bands did not disappear.  They did not dissolve in a flash, but they finally rusted through.  And the staves of the barrel are loosening.  The old wine is seeping and even running down the sides.

There is sadness, grief and pain in that loss.  It’s the music that hits me hardest.  So much incredible beauty, longing and hope, but with words that are hard to mouth and to articulate as we stand in this present doorway.  One day, and even now, I hope it can be sung with affirmation, as metaphor that, like all good metaphor, touches deep aspects of our human and spiritual condition, not as hard dogmatic reality.  I will not let the music go, or much of the scripture for that matter – language of healing and hope, full of C/S/M/S, beauty beyond beauty.

And there is hope and light in the doorway.  I can’t, even if I want, rush through it.  And the truth is I don’t want to.  Younger people will move past, and they should.  They will find their new creed and community.  And I might, too, in time.  But for now, I am at peace in the doorway, in this liminal space.  Both feet are perhaps on the threshold.  I am no longer in the past.  But neither have I moved on into some hard fast future.

I trust a bright tomorrow.  I trust the spirit of today.  I am grateful.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  All rights reserved.

Redemption

Redemption is the follow-on act to forgiveness in the transformative process that moves us from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to the Tree of Life.   It is the action that makes our human experience useful for a life of spiritual growth and compassionate service.

Recall, again, that we are journeying from attachment and revulsion, to detachment from the controlling power of both our desires and also the burdens and pains of our human experience.  Detachment, in this context, is not disengagement from life.  Rather, it is a choice about control.  We detach by deciding that neither our desires nor our fears will have authority over who and how we are.  That authority comes from a different place and will be the topic for another week.

For the person engaged fully in this journey between the trees, forgiveness – relinquishing control – and redemption – accepting back as useful – are the paired constant tasks of life.  They are no more nor less than breathing in and breathing out.

Remember our experiential list from last week:

  • Desires that we chase, never to complete satisfaction
  • Fears and discomforts that we avoid
  • Wrongs that we inflict on others
  • Wounds and injustices that we receive

Forgiveness is the act of letting go of these things, of stepping off the merry-go-round, of no longer chasing our tail in our mad dash around the trunk of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Redemption is when all these things we have chased or run from, and now release, come back to us as useful tools for life.  Notice that I say tools.  We do not have to use them.  We do not have to go back to them.  Some we may choose never to touch again in any way.  Some traumas are too deep and the healing too long and painful to be picked up and put into active use as personal tools for the healing of others.  And I would never imply some kind of cosmic purpose dictated by the learnings from a horrible accident, for instance.

But at the very least, redemption is an action of sufficient personal healing to make it possible to move forward in life.  Perhaps, in fact, it is that very act of moving forward once we have been able to forgive and relinquish:

  • When I have let go of my attachment to a desire, I may choose to experience that pleasure when it is available if I know that it will not harm me or another, no longer controlled by my attachment to it. Or I may know that the possibility of reattachment holds too much risk for me.  In that case, I might choose to live my life without touching that experience again, while neither despising nor praising it.  I have experienced forgiveness.  I move on through redemption.
  • When we have let go of a fear we have long carried, we may simply move forward without it.  Or perhaps we will be comfortable enough with what we have learned that we can, in turn, help others on the path to name and to release similar fears.  Redemption is the move forward.  Redemption is also the new tool we have in service of others if we choose to use it.
  • When we have been able to give and to receive forgiveness for things we have done or for wounds we have received, redemption makes it possible for us to remind ourselves, with humility, when we might become critical or judgmental of others.  Or it may help us to empathize, to hear and to participate in the healing of another who has experienced a wound similar to our own.  In either case, it clears the path for us to move more freely and openly toward the Tree of Life, where all people experience and share healing.

Redemption touches and heals memory.  It does not take memory away, but it can make memory our teacher.  Redemption is our constant companion, if we are listening for it on the path, conversing with us, drawing wisdom and understanding from our experience.  If we allow it, redemption opens the ear of our hearts so that we can hear others with compassion.  It is the gift we become for each other on our journey to the Tree of Life.

© Two Trees in the Garden.  All rights reserved.