August 30–Return Again: To the Present

Let go of your tears that have been a symbol of your attachment to the past. The sadness and self-pity will not wash away one tiny fragment of your past. Gently remind the wounded part of yourself that that was then and this is now. Learn from those experiences. Bless them as great teachers, and then come rushing back to the working unit of your life, now!  Dr. Wayne Dyer

I often enjoyed the insights of Wayne Dyer while he was alive, and have some of his books as well.  I also tend to think that at times he works in hyperbole.

I don’t want to rush back into the working unit of my life if some wound has caught me from the past, but I do need to return.  The return can work both ways.

If right now, I find that I am wounded and that the wound is old, I must return–to the past–to see whatever there may be there for me to let go of, grieve over (which in its best sense is an ultimate letting go of something or someone) or see differently.  Tears themselves are a letting go, are they not?  This deep feeling from the wounded past begins to move through me and often can manifest as tears, the letting go of that movement of feeling.

And then I need to return, again, to now.  Here I am now, maybe with a scar from that wound, maybe with insight, maybe with wisdom.  But I am here now, and I am able to breathe, take the next step, open to the next moment.

It seems to me that when we see the return as moving in both directions, we can, as Dyer says, bless those moments that wounded us and from which we heal, but when we return to the present we are more able to bless those moments that are unfolding–even the kind that might have wounded us in the past.

I think that’s one sign of wisdom for me–that what once might have wounded me I can now see coming and even bless it (if not dodge it!).

Bob Patrick

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August 29–Return Again: Human Dignity

Return again, return again, return to who you are . . .

I continue to have this theme of who we are arise in my daily life.  It comes in many forms, and because it does, it seems to want to surprise me in and underneath different faces.

There is the website that a friend and colleague sent to me earlier in the summer about the way that adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) actually change the human brain and
DNA.  I began pouring over the students I have taught in recent years who likely were those children, walking into my room with experiences I could not begin to imagine. Then, on Sunday, as I was driving to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett, I heard a piece of a TED Radio show highlighting the work of pediatrician, Nadine Burke Harris, who has been key in working with children who experiences large numbers of ACE’s.  Not only do these adverse childhood experiences change the brain and change DNA, but interventions by physicians, social workers, teachers and other responsive adults also change the brain and human DNA–in a healing way!

Then, one day, a young man bursts into my room, disrupting the class that I had been teaching for nearly half an hour, shouting:  hey, I’m in your class.  He had missed not only most of that class, but he had also missed the first two weeks of school. It’s easy to see others who burst upon us like that as irritating and a problem. I want to choose to see the human being and the dignity underneath the face of the one who bursts into the room.

Another student shared with me recently that he got a ticket and two points on his insurance because another driver called 911 and reported him for reckless driving.  The police officer did not witness any reckless driving. The officer wrote the ticket based on the 911 caller alone. After listening to the story, I had to ask this African American male student:  did you see the other driver.  Yes, he did.  Was the other driver white?  Yes, a white woman. And I was left wondering–did she just see the black male face and decide that he needed to be reported?  Another example of driving while black? How could this woman have seen the human being I know–not aggressive, funny, intelligent young man? If the caller had been black and the young driver white and female, would the officer have given a ticket on hearsay? How do we find ways to allow ourselves to return to human dignity?

And then, I spent over 24 hours on a FB thread trying to hold the line on what I consider to be human dignity with a religious woman who insists that government is good when it enforces her religious ideas on others.  There were moments through that on again, off again conversation when I felt like the two of us were trying to see and hear each other, but when it meant having to loosen the grip on religious doctrine, the chasm between us reappeared.  Was I too bull headed?  Why couldn’t she see the human dignity at risk if her religious positions are made law?

The more that human dignity–seeing it, hearing it, caring about it, responding to it–arises in my life, the more questions I have.  Rilke urges me to live into the questions.  Mary Oliver urges me to hear the honking of the geese overhead as a reminder.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

I want to be reminded.  I need to be reminded, especially when I run into you–that you have your place in the world, in the family of things, and that that place is, all by itself worthy of honor, respect and veneration.

Bob Patrick

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August 21–Return Again: Born Again

The phrase “to be born again” holds a lot of religious power for some folks.  It’s an English translation of a line in John’s gospel (written in Greek) which is probably better translated “to be born from above.”  In the context of John’s gospel, it’s a call to examine your life in the larger scheme of things and open yourself to God’s vision of things..

What it has come to mean is having an emotionally charged religious experience during which you “accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior” (a phrase, by the way, that does not appear anywhere in the biblical witness) so that when you die you are promised eternal life in paradise.

And it seems to me that this more recent, very capitalist interpretation misses the point entirely.  Why call it a capitalist interpretation?  Seeing one’s primary relationship to the Divine as a means of securing your place in heaven, in so many words, is about buying property and making sure your spot is reserved. It’s “the deal of the century” and if you stick with me, I can get you in on it, too.  Sad to say, those who don’t get in on the deal will all go to hell.  They won’t get to live in the good neighborhood forever.  So sad.

You don’t have to scratch the surface of this outlook on faith and religion to see the parallels that individualism has painted over the gospel message.

The fact is, none of us has any real knowledge of what happens beyond this life.  What we do know is that we are alive, today.  We know that today we are living this one life.  We know that today we have choices to make, and choices always have outcomes.  We know that today we will do things, say things, hear things, choose to read things that will deepen our attitudes for or against the other human beings in our world.

If we wake up today to a new day of life, we have been given our return, again.  We have, if we open our eyes today, been born again into another sunrise, another set of relationships, another series of opportunities for practicing trust, practicing compassion, practicing asking really good and deep questions about life and our engagement with it.

At some point, each of us will arrive at that moment when we draw our last breath.  Then, we will know if there is anything else beyond this life to know.  Here’s how my faith as Unitarian Universalist helps me with that.  I trust that the Divine connects all things into One, and I trust that nothing and no one is lost in that process.  I trust in the eternal and boundless compassion of the Divine, and I am convinced more every day that if I cannot at least try to live into God’s love today that I probably wouldn’t make good use of eternity. I often wonder:  what if I arrived at the end of my life and discovered that this life is all that there is.  Could I take that last breath and smile knowing that I’d done fairly well with my days here? Because, as I said above, if I get to that moment and find that there is more beyond this life–I trust.  I trust that all will be well with my soul.

This is our return.  Today we are born again.  If being born again means anything, it’s about what we do with today.

Bob Patrick

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August 17 – Return Again: Coming Home

“Coming home” won’t always be a pleasant experience immediately, and I didn’t anticipate that truth happening to me.  My feelings when I touched down back in Atlanta, after almost ten months of calling another city and other people “home,” were complicated and intense.  I was afraid and sad – plus guilty for feeling such things.  Why couldn’t I be excited to be coming home?  Shouldn’t it feel safe, warm, and inviting?

I felt like I’d left the safety of the home I’d created for myself back in Newcastle.  When I walked off the plane, I felt like I’d walked into an unfamiliar space – a space that was no longer mine and mine alone.  That lack of “feeling at home” amplified my homesickness for the place I had created all by myself, just for myself.

My partner’s mother messaged me when I got home, and said, “it must be really weird having your heart in two different places.”  And she was more than right.  I am longing to return to the other half of my heart, with the other people whose homes I wish to continue to be a part of.  I expect that longing will drag me back there, but not before I find my happiness in Georgia again.

Coming home isn’t always happy.  It might be angry, sad, lonely, excited, lost, and scared before it can ever make it back around to being “happy.”  And that is okay.  Home is home because it opens its arms to those feelings, and holds you while you feel them.  With patience, love, and warmth, home helps you heal.  Home gives hope that the happiness you expected to feel when you get off the plane, will come in time.  And until then, home will be there for you, every step of the way.

~ Jo Benshoof

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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