August 14–Return Again: Illusions, Delusions and Solutions

Yesterday Nathalie Bigord sat next to me during the Service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett.  Our quick greetings and check-ins came to the same place.  It doesn’t feel good to wake up in a country where white supremacists gather to protest the removal of a Confederate Statue. It feels worse that the anti-racist protesters who were there were then devastated by one of the white supremacists driving into them with his car.

And then I found myself thinking and half saying how I wish I could find my country again.  This isn’t my country.

Except that this is my country.

This is where centuries of a white supremacist system (continually pretending that it is not) leads us.

What I have lost is an illusion.  My illusion is that largely we as Americans have lived up to the words–that all men are created equal and that their Creator has endowed them with certain inalienable rights among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We have not lived up to those words well, ever.  Women.  People of color.  Poor, uneducated people of any skin tone. They have never fully enjoyed those ideals as a matter of fact.

So, if I find myself longing to return to this country, I am longing for an illusion that I’ve been suckered into believing exists.

Take a step beyond that and insist that we actually have lived up to all those ideas–well, that’s just delusion. There’s fairly good evidence that white men with money, education and opportunity have enjoyed some or many of those ideals.  But, we currently live with an executive government which has chosen to try and dismantle all those structures which would help women, people of color, immigrants, the LGBTQ community and students enjoy some equal footing into those ideals.

We need solutions.  Policies in a vast nation like ours are a must, but before policies, we have to return to something real. Policies are just ideas which may or may not reflect reality. When ungrounded policies are enforced, they create suffering.

If we can find a way to see every other person as some relation of ours, we have a foundation from which to make plans that are solutions to this failing nation.

Heather Heyer.  Can you see her as a relation?  She is the 32 year old woman who was killed in Charlottsville on Saturday.  She was protesting the white supremacists there.  We have lost a sister who understood what a toxic poison white supremacy is in our nation. She was a white person standing up against white people who are deeply poisoned by this hatred and fear.

James Alex Fields.  Can you see him as a relation?  He is the 20 year old man who was in Charlottsville to protest with the white supremacists.  He is the one who drove his car into the crowd injuring 19 and killing Heather Heyer.  We have a young brother who is deeply poisoned by this hatred and fear. Will it entirely consume him?  How many others like him are there?

Our solutions have to be relational.  Otherwise, we will just kick this nasty, defiled can down the street for another day.

How to start?  Rev. Jan reminded me in her sermon on Sunday of a Druid prayer that I find very powerful: Today, I will look for the Goddess in all that I do and all that I see: Her face in every face, Her presence in all places, Her love surrounding me, embracing and upholding me.

No one is outside the circle of love.

Bob Patrick

Posted in Return Again | Tagged , | 1 Comment

August 8–Return Again: The Breath

I will tell you up front that there is nothing new or original in this post.  I also will say that what I offer here is one of the most powerful things that I have ever learned in spiritual practice.

To return to my breath.

My teachers in this are many, but the one who most consistently brought me to the practice of returning to my breath is Thich Nhat Hanh.  This is what I have learned from him and continue to practice.  No matter where you are, no matter what you are going through, no matter how you feel, no matter what someone has said to you or done to you, peace is as far away as your next breath.

As long as we live, there is always the next breath.  When we take the next breath with awareness (as I breathe in, I know that I am breathing in, as I breathe out, I know that I am breathing out) we allow ourselves to let go, a little bit, of whatever has just overwhelmed us and stolen peace away from us.  Even taking just one in breath and letting it out with awareness can change what it is going on inside of us.  If that thing that has stolen our peace and caused us to suffer is big, then we will want to stay with the breath:

Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.  Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out. Again, and again, and again.  Until we notice some change in the our breathing, some sort of shift in our breath itself.  And then, as we breathe, we might say to ourselves:

Breathing in deeply.  Breathing out, slowly.  Again, and again, and again.  Until we notice that something is beginning to shift, even if very slightly, in our suffering.  Perhaps we notice a slight calmness within.  And then, as we breathe, we might say to ourselves:

Breathing in, I am calm.  Breathing out, I am at ease.  Again, and again, and again.  Until we notice that we really are beginning to calm down and experience some ease in the suffering. We may feel the tension in our face, neck and shoulders shift, and then, as we breathe, we might say to ourselves:

Breathing in, I smile.  Breathing out, I release what has disturbed me. Again, and again, and again.  Until we find that we are just here, now, experiencing some peace again, no longer overwhelmed by the thing that took our peace away.  And then, as we breathe, we might say to ourselves:

Breathing in, I am in the Present Moment.  Breathing out, it is a Wonderful Moment. Again, and again, and again.

We cannot hide from things that disrupt us and cause us suffering.  That’s no way to live. But, we can find relief from our suffering with our very next breath.

Return, again, return again, return to the home of your soul.

Bob Patrick

Posted in Return Again | Tagged | 3 Comments

August 7–Return Again: Water Ceremony

A week or so ago, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror brushing my teeth, looking at myself.  I became suddenly aware of just how angry I was.  As usual, during my morning routine before work, I had tuned in National Public Radio, and viewed a couple of items in print news.  There was the latest report on the speech given by the President at the Boy Scouts of American Jamboree, and there was news of this new Immigration bill that would only allow highly skilled English speakers into the country.  I was angry.  In fact, I was furious.  The manipulation, the elitism, the racism . . .

And then it it occurred to me that I did not want to walk out the door into the rest of the day feeling angry like this.  So, as I rinsed off my toothbrush and rinsed off my teeth with clean water, I took a deep breath and let the anger pass.

That’s what water means to me, in many respects, especially flowing water, whether in a stream or out of the faucet over my toothbrush, or over my hands or body in the shower. Flowing water reminds me that my feelings are energies that flow through me. They are not me, and they are not who I am.  They can, however, if I choose, help me move in certain directions. If I hear or see someone being mistreated, I feel anger, too, and I can choose to let that anger move me towards some sort of help or intervention.  In that case, my feeling of anger that is moving through me becomes an e-motion–something that can help propel me into movement.

I honestly believe that all feelings are this way, but that I am not so skillful (yet) in making choices about how I will work with them.  I can choose to let any particular feeling flow through me and move on.  I can choose to let any particular feeling move me out into action of some sort.  And, if I do not tune into my feelings, if I make the mistake of thinking that any particular feeling IS who I am, it will eventually propel me into actions that I may regret.

Return again, to who we are, what we are, where we are, born and reborn again.

Bob Patrick

Posted in Return Again | Tagged | Leave a comment

August 1–Return Again: The Fabric of Who We Are

I have the great joy of students across now almost 30 years who want to stay in touch with me. (I like staying in touch with them, but I always allow that to be their choice–sometimes, you just need to move on beyond schools and teachers!).  In the last few days I have had dinner with former students, traded Facebook messages with former students around birthdays, jobs, babies and relationships. I have had a private conversation with a student who is going through some major life transitions. Yesterday, a student from last year came by my room, just to say hello and tell me about his summer.  And, right now, I am witnessing my own current school community deal with the recent deaths of three students.

Every contact, every exchange is a kind of return for me–to some degree to those years and experiences I have had with students, but much more so to this image that keeps presenting itself to me–to the fabric of our lives. Hearing their stories, seeing their faces, listening to the pain and joy.  There is a tenderness that runs deep and wide through me, through us.  It’s like a single thread in woven cloth.  We rarely take time to notice the single threads without which there would be no cloth, no clothing, no sheets and blankets. But just pull one of those threads–just pull one of those threads out of the whole and you see the potential for the whole thing to fall apart.

When I return to any single thread, I witness not only the beauty, the comedy, the tragedy, the tenderness, fragility and the strength of that single thread, but I see the whole, our common life together, humanity, life on earth.  I see its beauty, its comedy, its tragedy, the tenderness that runs deep and wide through it all.

Today, we can allow ourselves to return–to a single thread of the fabric of our lives, to a single life, and allow it to show us the beauty and the power of the whole.

Bob Patrick

Posted in Return Again | Tagged | Leave a comment

July 31–All Is Welcome Here: Still Work To Do

The message of this song has come home to me in so many ways just in the last 24 hours. Yesterday at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett–so many new faces and first time visitors.

All is welcome here.

And they came with babies and toddlers who made such wonderful human life sounds in and through our community.

All is welcome here.

I attended a Racial Equity committee meeting after the services and took away strong encouragement from those there with plans for more work on the white supremacy system in our communities.

All is welcome here.

Within the last two weeks, three teenagers in my high school community have died, in car accidents, from cardiac arrest.

Is all welcome here?

The President of the United States continues to say and do things in public that cause worry, fear and suffering in our country and in many respects in the world.

Is all welcome here?

I suspect that if we were to work with this song as a theme for spiritual growth for a very long time, we would find it to intermittently challenge and encourage us. Ultimately, I hear the message. It is a call to surrender. To surrender our guard. To surrender our fears. To surrender our anger and retaliations. To surrender our ignorance. To surrender our protestations against things that we do not want and allow that all is welcome there, as Rumi says:

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

I confess that most of the time, I am not there. I have not grown enough nor am I broken enough before the mystery of life to allow that all is welcome here when the “all” includes things that I don’t understand or that I fear. In that very place, I have common ground and common experience with those in this country who find my embrace of certain progressive ideas as something that they don’t understand, something they are afraid of.

I have heard many people express how fragile they feel–how very near breaking they feel–before various events in our world from the social and political to the very personal. I feel that way myself at times. I think the last 31 days of reflection on this song and its message is that if I feel like I’m going to break, I can allow that to happen before the Mystery of Life and trust that the next wave of Life’s Mystery will emerge to carry me on.

I think that’s what I’m learning when I contemplate that All is welcome here.

Bob Patrick

Posted in All is Welcome Here | Tagged | Leave a comment

July 28 – All is Welcome Here: the Gateless Gate

Gates are potential openings in walls and fences, but until they are open they are barriers themselves.  Frequently they are locked and to enter we must have the combination or key.  We all have our walls and fences that surround us that we believe we need to protect ourselves.  In particular these are places we are wounded, places where we feel shame or guilt, places we encounter our animal natures and even our strengths and talents!  We may fear more than anything opening the gate to these places.

The month’s theme song implies that “becoming drunk on love” is the key that unlocks the gate.  By being “altered” by love and compassion, we bypass the sympathetic nervous system’s flight/fight/freeze responses.  We are then able to befriend our “dark” places and become more whole.

There are many ways to approach The Gateless Gate becoming drunk on love.  Many have used arts such as dance, song, poetry, visual creations and drama to do so.  Some religious practices such as devotions and heart centered meditations produce this kind of intoxication as well.

Here is an example of a method that I have used.  When my daughter was about four years old I was pushing a wheelbarrow doing gardening chores while she was outside with me.  She had a baby stroller which I realized she began using as a wheelbarrow herself!  She had a look of delirious intent on her face as she went about her joyful but serious play.  I was suddenly filled with overwhelming tenderness and love for this delightful being, this magical child!  I knew then as I know now that nothing could ever cause me not to love her.  This is drunkeness of love that changes everything!  She, like all of us in our growth and interactions, developed a shadow.  But I could forgive her anything, and feel compassion for any loss or hurt she ever experienced, because of the altered mind that my vision and experience of her created.

When I begin to be unkind to myself, need to confront some insensitive or unconscious behavior, become too critical of myself, or am overwhelmed with guilt and shame, I remember what I felt for my child and begin to look at myself in the same light and turn these tender feelings my way.  I too am a wondrous being at my core.  Just as I would comfort her when she did something of her shadow nature, I am no different and need to love that very part of myself.  This turns the key that opens the Gateless Gate!  I can take the leap and release my fate, reviving the magical being within me!  And as Buddha said, I am awake!  I become aware of gratitude for the gift of my life!  This intoxication is actually the state of being awakened and welcoming all our experience!!

I use other feelings, experiences and images in the same way.  I imagine the Goddess placing her arms around me or a friend comforting me or sometimes just being in a beautiful and loving space like my garden.  I suggest experimenting to find what works best.  I also use this method to stir up my compassion for someone else, or in blessing them or praying for them!  I find doing this as a practice on a regular basis makes it available to me when I need it most.

So let us not hesitate to do this work with ourselves and others!  This can give us the energy to work for justice for the Planet and all of it’s beings!  All is welcome here!

Daniel Bailey

Posted in All is Welcome Here | 2 Comments

July 27–All Is Welcome Here: We’re Okay

I have had the occasion this past year to be in conversation with some younger (than I) adults, and it’s only dawning on me now that there is a pattern in those conversations. Sometimes, they are about teaching and working with students.  Sometimes they are about parenting.  Sometimes they are about the struggles of the spiritual path as we live and navigate in the world as it is right now.

The pattern that I notice is that if I’m paying attention (important condition!) I have the wonderful opportunity to listen to the concerns, the worries, the fears, the frustrations of the other, and then reflect with them about those kinds of experiences. My stories.  Their stories.  Our stories.

The pattern includes a really powerful thing.  Simultaneously, these sharings allow me the huge benefit of reflecting back on experiences that perhaps I have not visited in a long time (frequently, I am the older one!) and discover that I see them with new eyes now–AND, these sharings allow the other person to say out loud what they have silently been carrying around as a burden. That burden has a pattern, too.  The burden is something like:  am I okay?  Is there something wrong with me?  Is this the way it’s supposed to go?

Very often these kinds of conversations end with:  “thank you for letting me tell you my story.  I feel like I might be okay now.”  And then, from me:  “thank you for letting me listen to your story and tell you mine.  This just confirms for me that–yes, we are okay. We have been through some similar and some different things.  We lived!  We are okay. These kinds of human sharing are what I point to now in life and say–look at that.  That is what grace is.  This is shear, marvelous, tender gift. Gratitude can be the only response.

I’ve long noticed in myself the deep need to know that I am okay.  I’m pretty sure that this is some sort of deep human need.  Depending on when we grew up, how we were raised and all of the various influences on us, we had some support for affirming that we were okay, but most likely not nearly enough. Parents can only take their children so far in the “look, this is how you do this thing” part of living. As adults, we continue to need to know how to navigate new experiences. We still need to know that as we do so, we are okay. That’s been true for me.  That’s been true for the people whose stories I am privileged to witness.

The sharing of stories and sincere listening is one powerful act of affirming that all is welcome here.  When someone listens to my story and affirms that it is real–I feel my soul relax.  I begin to think that I’m going to be okay.  All is welcome here.

Bob Patrick

Posted in All is Welcome Here | Tagged , | 1 Comment

July 24–All Is Welcome Here: Even the Troubles

I’ve spent a long time now observing what happens to many of us when a life event takes us to some edge of human experience that is too troubling to allow into our lives.

When I was a very young minister serving a congregation in which two babies died within one year of each other (and while our firstborn was only a toddler), I watched and listened as people in the community, were driven to one of those edges (the edge call death, and bad things happening to babies). They panicked and began trying with words to make the trouble go away–the trouble of making sense of babies that die. And so they spoke.
“God chooses the prettiest flower in the garden to pick.” “It’s all going to work out for the best.” “This was God’s will.”

Words no parent who just lost a baby would find consoling.

There are others examples. Right now, on any issue of racial injustice, white people are apt to say something like “well, I just don’t see color.” Or, “all people are the same to me.” Or, “I don’t care what color you are, black, white, purple or striped . . . “
No one suffering racial injustice finds these things consoling or helpful, and they don’t make racial injustice or white supremacy, go away.
With some recent suicides of famous people in the news lately, it has happened in a more public way what happens in smaller pockets of human relations every day. Suicide is very troubling to anyone that comes close to it, even from a bit of a distance. And the comments begin. “Suicide is so selfish.” “If he/she had just waited one more day.” “How could she/he do that to their children?” “He/she may have had troubles, but now they are in hell.”

No one who has ever lost a love to suicide finds any of that consoling or helpful. Those saying them are trying to make the trouble go away.

It’s easy to dismiss these kinds of comments as coming from heartless individuals, from ignorant people, from the misguided or the misdirected.  Any one of those determinations might be true, but it seems to me that at the heart of it all are the truly scary, dark places that life can take us for which we have nothing but our own heart’s terror–unless we try and say something to avoid that terror with almost anything that feels familiar.

When we start talking to avoid our own terror, two harmful things happen simultaneously: 1) we add excruciating pain to the lives of those who are already suffering; and 2) we lose our next opportunity to transform in our own lives.

The transformation can come as simply as this: STOP.  SAY NOTHING. And welcome the terrorizing thing in.  Let it in.  Talk to it.  “Tragic death, I don’t understand you.  White supremacy, I am at a loss to know what to say to you.  Suicide, you leave me with no meaning.  Really horrible, scary thing, I see you.  I allow you into the room.  You are welcome here–as much as you trouble me–because maybe you are the messenger.”

Since we say those other really awful things for our own benefit, these words of acceptance and openness need only be said to ourselves, maybe while standing in front of a mirror.  “I don’t like you, Trouble.  I want you to leave me alone, but here you are at my door.  Come in.  All is welcome here.”

Bob Patrick

Posted in All is Welcome Here | Tagged | 4 Comments

July 13–All Is Welcome Here: The Real You

His name was Clyde.  He stood a good head and a half taller than me, an African American man probably about the same age as me. We had agreed to be conversation partners at a meeting held by the ACLU for the Gwinnett community and the Gwinnett County Police Department.  This, we would learn, was the first of many meetings that the ACLU had agreed to facilitate for building better relations between the communities of Gwinnett county and its police department.

We were asked to spend 1 minute describing to our conversation partner something about which we are passionate.  Clyde said that he was passionate about being seen. He then told me about a cultural competency meeting he had gone to at an Atlanta area university.  He went into the building and entered the elevator. Before the door closed, a white woman approached the elevator and saw him. She became very dramatic about not wanting to get on the elevator.  He was disturbed by that, but not nearly so much as when he walked into the conference room and saw that the same woman was there to attend the meeting on cultural competency as well.  At one of the breaks, he approached the woman and said that it was nice to see her again.  She was polite and asked if they knew each other.  He said: well, I was the man on the elevator this morning that you didn’t want to get into.  He said that she became embarrassed and apologized to him.

He wants to be seen.  For who he is.  As a real person.

Later in the meeting at the ACLU conference room, Clyde and I talked some more.  He said that he felt like I did see him.  That was good to know.  I hoped that was true about me, but the other truth about me is that at times in my life I have acted like the woman at the elevator, dodging People of Color out of some fear that had been instilled in me about “those people.”

Clyde told me that when he encounters people, he finds that they either show up as their true selves or as “the representative.”  I asked him about that.  The “representative” is what we put forward as the proxy for our true selves–masks, fronts, pretend or even “best” faces–almost always out of some fear or attempt to be what we think others want us to be. These are not our true selves.  These are our “representatives.”

This was a deeply helpful insight.  As I enter into any situation or conversation with other human beings, am I being my true self or am I showing up as my representative?  Clyde taught me another lesson.  He said that when he encounters a representative, he just thinks in his head:  Okay, this is your representative.  Maybe in a day or a week or a month you will show me who you really are.  A very good guide for me, this man, Clyde.

Bob Patrick

Posted in All is Welcome Here | Tagged , | 1 Comment

July 12–All Is Welcome Here: Doing Our Work

Jennifer Garrison, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett, and I had a conversation after the service this past Sunday, and then she followed up sharing her reflections.  These are the kinds of interior journeys that become our work in a welcoming community.  Jennifer writes about the impact that words like “white supremacy” have on her:

When I think of “white supremacy,” I think of klansmen in their white robes terrorizing the South. I think of neo-nazis raising their arms, saluting a person and ideals that shake me at the core of my being. The voices of those in my family (past and present) who engage in racial rhetoric are not as extreme as those examples, but the idea of “white people” being somehow better in the way we live versus “others” is equally as stunning and disturbing to me. I still hear their voices whenever I am in social settings. I have no need to judge: the jury is already in my head.

To find the struggle created by the white supremacy system in one’s own soul is disturbing. Jennifer describes that struggle and some of the ways it was delivered to her:

I wonder how many people have this judge and jury in their head, from people in their life who do not share the open-mindedness that Unitarian Universalists work toward every day. I try so hard to differentiate my voice and soul from those voices of loved ones who have been so hateful and misinformed about people outside our “white” circle. I share half my DNA with a man who talks down my neighbor, who is Asian, because he owns a landscaping business and kindly cuts my grass for free. “He’s joined the Mexicans, eh?” Wow, you can’t get any closer to direct racism than that. Dad moved out of Atlanta because of the traffic, and the Mexicans. I call it like I see it. The most painful part if this is that I still love him. I have the same quirky sense of humor as he does, but I don’t add race into it.

Many of us have and continue to struggle with the very words that we use around these issues, words needed to communicate but often which come with a double edged-sword. Jennifer shares a powerful moment of realization that she had:

I have had additional thoughts about what “white privilege” means in contrast to “affluence.” I have never related to the idea of “white privilege” because I did not think that I had experienced that myself. I have never known money. After church, I started thinking that the “privilege” I was referring to is actually “affluence.” Affluence by definition has a lot to do with economic power, flexibility and influence. This can be seen in all races, as well as the lack of it. That’s closer to the idea I had in my head with “white privilege.” I realize now that the “white privilege” I do enjoy is that to look at me, most people would see me as friendly, someone not to be afraid of. I have seen folks afraid of the “opposite” race. I have also seen people of all colors come together for the greater good. Let’s keep the conversation going, so that one day we will all get there.

Doing our own work, on our individual selves as well as a community is very much a part of what it means to welcome it all into our community.

Bob Patrick

Posted in All is Welcome Here | Tagged , | 2 Comments