Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.
Tell the truth without blame or judgement.
Don’t be attached to the outcome.
I had been invited to take part in a family-other-than-my-own’s “difficult conversation.” I didn’t know many people in the family; nor did they know me. One family member said she’d tried once before to broach the subjects we were meeting to tackle. After some tension, all sides, either consciously or unintentionally, let the issues go.
The family member I was talking with asked me, “How do you expect our talk will go today?” I responded, “Either way, I’m glad we’re trying, even if it turns out uncomfortable or unsuccessful. I think it’s the right thing to do.”
That’s when she added, “I keep as my motto something I learned from the anthropologist Angles Arrien.” She then quoted the four commitments I listed above. I had heard of Arrien’s four-fold way before, but facing the conversation that was ahead of us, I was really struck by its power.
Arrien believes that the rate of change in modern life has led to fragmentation. She points out that people need continuity… socially supported or shared “stability points” and rituals by which to find an equilibrium and fashion meaning in a dynamic world. Earlier, indigenous cultures offered more integration and societal support through and for change.
Cross-cultural research shows how shamanic traditions have consistently accessed four archetypal patterns to maintain connections to mythic structures that support creative expression, health and adaptation to change. Paraphrasing Arrien, ‘in science-based cultures like ours where we are alienated from our mythological roots’ (and even the natural world around us, I– Michael– might add!), ‘renewal involves reconnecting to where all the personal and cultural myths are forged in the human psyche.
Arrien prescribes a decidedly eastern approach to spirituality. But — it occurs to me — one could also just go to church. Our spiritual tradition, perhaps with a bit of “redeeming,” counsels quite the same thing:
Show up: trust in God enables us to be unflinchingly present to all of our life and to everyone. The blessings, but also the difficulties, disappointments and challenges. Each of us is to be a model of faithful living wherein we are present to the moment, to ourselves, to our neighbors and to God. There’s an attractiveness to such a life, such as we see in “the saints.” Showing up also involves being articulate, being able to talk and explain your life to others… Luther’s “Here I stand.” This is the task of being a strong leader– not dominating others so much as helping to empower others by your presence.
Pay attention to what has heart and meaning: Christian faith is about wholeness, holiness, healing. Christians believe the power of love is the most potent healing force available. That power is practiced in real life in recognition, acceptance, acknowledgement, validation and gratitude. We practice and extend healing love ritually each Sunday morning and at other times– through singing and movement, storytelling and silence. Quite literally, listening for heart and meaning is how we return to the children we were born to be — reawakening wonder, hope and awe within ourselves and the world is what redemption is all about. This the calling of each of us to be a healer.
Tell the truth without blame and judgement …because it will set us free in a number of different ways. Authenticity, integrity and non-judgmentalness enable us to see, then to act. They enable us to be ourselves without separating from others who see differently. Each of us is unique and irreplaceable: each one has a ministry that only s/he can bring to the world. We are to be ourselves, and a blessing to all others by expressing and realizing the truth as we have been given to know it. This is how we are visionaries.
Don’t be attached to the outcome: Perhaps it’s my own defensiveness as a parent, but I always liked Edwin Friedman’s promise that the children who do best are the ones whose success their parents have the least investment in. Or as Bruno Bettelheim said, benevolent negligence is less harmful than being undifferentiated, enmeshed, over-involved. Why is this so? Because there’s something about life that involves doing your best and then trusting the results to the universe and time and whatever benevolence is ultimately out there. There’s grace in malleability and fluidity, and letting go… And such is how we are all called to be teachers.
See you in church this week for Reformation Sunday (when we celebrate our tradition, and practice its connection and integration),
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