STOP RUNNING

Now, everyone that knows me knows that I’m obsessed with running…a little too obsessed is what friends and family members have hinted at over the years.  I have run almost everyday for 30 years.  Like the postman, through rain, sleet, and winter’s snow, I am out there. 

Partly it’s simply a well ingrained habit, like brushing my teeth each morning and evening. Part of it is because I have a passion for food combined with a weakness of the will and running has, for the most part, allowed me to keep my “girlish” figure to some extent.

On those days when I’m feeling exhausted and blown out, when I have to push myself to “just do it”, I most often return with a renewed sense of energy…a clearer energy.         

Lastly, lacing up those Asics and taking to the streets has become a ritual akin to meditation for me.  When I’m stressed, the rhythm of my breath and the sound of my sneakers hitting the pavement begins to take my frenetic energy down a notch.  It’s  a time to think and to not think…both realities of meditative practice.  My runs are usually between 4 and 5 miles, and occasionally, I will spent two miles or so simply repeating to myself the mantra, “one, two, one, two”.  I return to my work feeling calm with the added occasional bonus of gleaning some insight on a problem that has been bedeviling me for a while.

That all sounds good, right?  This is all reasonable and healthy…right? (bad knees notwithstanding). 

But there is a fly in the ointment that only the sweetest, daffiest little lady that walks her dog by me every day for many years can see.  She often smiles wisely at me as I am running by her as fast as I can. I say, “Good morning Shirley, can’t talk now, gotta run” and she kindly replies, “What are you running from today, Katherine?” 

What are you running from today, Katherine?  Good question.  There has been a sense of urgency that I have felt for much of my life. What a shock when this urgency was unmasked as a terrible illusion.  When feelings, situations, or reality APPEAR too hard to face, when being in my body is more than a little uncomfortable, this is when I need to stop running. The only thing that will allow for spiritual transformation is letting all of it…all those monsters real and imagined… just BE.  To sit still, to allow painful emotions, or happy memories for that matter, to wash over me like waves, while I sit like the mountain, like a Redwood, like the Buddha.  Ahh, that is where peace resides.

Mark Nepo, in The Book of Awakening, speaks to our instinctive flight or fight responses, ” The doorway to your next step of growth is always behind the urgency of now.  Now more than ever, when all feels urgent,  you must cut the strings to all events.  Now more than ever, when the weights seemed tied to your wrists, you must not run or flail.  Now more than ever, when each decision feels like the end, you must believe that each question is a beginning.” He continues, “In this way, pray to have your True Self inch through your turmoil.”

I have been taking this advice for a time now. I’m not sure if it’s made the way any easier (perhaps not in the short run, no pun intended). However, I’m sticking to the practice as someone put it, “as it my hair were on fire”.  Again and again, renewed courage and expanding compassion bubble up from that invisible place where my soul resides.

Of course, in accepting my own human frailties, there are many moments when I don’t take the time to dip that proverbial bucket down deep enough in order to access that well where ease and wisdom exist eternally.  Again and again, I need to be reminded to go back to the well, to tap it.  It is a well that never “runs” dry.

I’d like to close with a quote for the day (haven’t done that for a while!):

“All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.”  – Blaise Pascal

(Amen Blaise)

BE WITH THOSE WHO HELP YOUR BEING

I was sent this poem written by the Sufi poet, Rumi, sometime ago and it continues to inspire me on many different levels:

“Be with those who help your being.  Don’t sit with indifferent people; whose breath comes cold out of their mouths.  Not these visible forms, your work is deeper.

A chunk of dirt thrown in the air breaks to pieces.  If you don’t try to fly, and so break yourself apart, you will be broken open by death, when it’s too late for all you could become.

Leaves get yellow.  The tree puts out fresh roots and makes them green.  Why are you so content with a love that turns you yellow?”

This poem has become a daily invitation and a challenge to me,  to bravely face all of my preconceived notions of who I am or who I thought I was and what my purpose is.  It reminds me that in this moment, and then in that one, I have to commit to the truth of the hard work and courage that goes along with being that person who is not content with “a love that turns you yellow.” 

It involves becoming a person ready and receptive to the fearless and  dangerous and REAL love that coaxes, prods, and pushes your being towards the flight God intended for you from your moment of creation.

Let yourself be thrown up in the air like a chunk of dirt breaking into tiny pieces?  Wow, this is a radical letting go of the Self that sounds like Bungee jumping to me.  Intellectually, I know that living without a safety net reaps rewards that the majority of folks will never taste…yet still, there is that  jump…

For much of my life, while I have outwardly appeared bold and brazen, my choices reflected a need for security, a tendency to complacency, and a holding on so tightly…I’m surprised I didn’t instantaneously combust!  Being broken open was not on MY agenda…emphasis on the word my.  

But life broke me open anyway (against my will) and what a ride! When you surrender and allow yourself to be broken open, people serendipitously appear who connect with you on a deeper level and bearing such gifts as love and wisdom and compassion that you wondered where all of these souls had been hiding.  They benefit from your person, your gifts, and your love too.  Nature mirrors this vibrancy of living in the light, of moving towards the light, the way a tree strains and grows towards the sun.

So here I am again in this moment, palms open, with the way of Jesus Christ, the path of the Buddha, the latest bestselling self-help book of Eckhart Tolle; loosening by bits that hard scab of self-will that seems to be resistant to removal, yet ripped off it must be as it blocks true joy.  Expanding my love beyond the border of friends and family, to include those difficult to love, those who have caused great hurt, the stranger, the plants and animals…

There are bright green shoots sprouting in my soul, fragile with promise and vulnerable to much, anticipating and percolating under the fertile food of the spirit.  It is a waiting time, much like the buds in winter.  It can be dark and scary at times, like it is at the roots of all things. Yet actively waiting is anything but indifferent and lucky for me there is still heat coming from my mouth.

CONFESSION…THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT

I don’t know if you heard the news  today.  The Vatican has released an I-tunes application called Confession, for $1.99; it has been billed as “the perfect aid for every penitent”.  It lets you pick a commandment and list all your sins, keeping a running tally to bring into the confession booth with you.  Why couldn’t I have thought of that?

If you can’t find your particular transgression on the sin scroll,  no worries.  You are able to add you own specific misdeed, customize your very own naughty list.  In fact, the app walks the user through the sacrament of reconciliation (the more recent title for the sacrament of confession).

You can examine your conscience based on personalized factors such as age, sex, or marital status. 

It’s actually quite brilliant.  In an age when the number of Catholics that actually go to confession on a regular basis has been steadily declining, this may very well be the fresh air that blows the cob webs out of the confessional.

While the Roman Catholic Church has been unapologetically slow in moving into other areas of mainstream modernity (women as religious leaders, married clergy, birth control, to name a few), it has decidedly embraced the toys of  technology and blessed the good works of social networking.

In 2007, the Vatican launched its own YouTube channel.  Two years later, it created a Facebook application that lets users send virtual postcards featuring the pontiff. 

Pope Benedict XVI, in his World Communications Address on Jan. 24th, said it was not a sin to use social networking sites, “I invite young people above all to make good use of their presence in the digital world.”    While the pope sanctioned these new tools for salvation, he added, “It is important to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.” 

Words of wisdom to be sure.  

Yet, with information flying at us, all clamoring for our attention, “Confession” is designed to keep the user mindful of one’s individual and personal Catholic faith journey.  For instance, for reviewing the 1st Commandment, “I am the Lord thy God, thou shall have no other Gods before me”, you are given a check list that includes these questions, “Do I not give God time every day in prayer?”, “Do I not seek to love Him with  my whole heart?”, “Have I been involved with superstitious practices or have I been involved with the occult?”, and “Do I not seek to surrender myself to God’s Word as taught by the Church?”       

As a sinner myself, I know my own too human tendency to let myself off the hook, to not only forgive my trespasses, but simply just forget ’em. Perhaps daily prompts on an I-phone could get us one step closer to holiness?  Personally, I’m all for ways for us to engage in our faith journeys more fully and daily…and it these ways are fun and include colorful graphics, all the better.

And one more plus, it was  made in the US of A (Indiana to be exact…America’s heartland).  Gotta love it.

YES WE CAN TOO

Tonight, sitting snowbound in front of the TV, I watched the persistent and passionate protest of the Egyptian people.  One woman held up a sign which read “Yes We Can Too.” It caught me off guard.  Not too long ago, the slogan “Yes We Can” helped to elect the first African-American president of the United States.  For a short and wonderful time, the world applauded and was reminded of the promise that was once pervasive, that here was a land of opportunity where anything was possible.  With a decade of unpopular and devastating choices in the global arena over the last decade and a recently unleashed financial crisis, we had chosen idealism and hope.  Yet fear and impatience, and the politics of blame quickly snuffed out the change that many of us had voted for.  Or has it?

There is no way to underestimate the bravery, determination, and passion of the Egyptian people over the last week. When I read that protester’s sign, I was reminded of recently read quote of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.”  It demonstrated to me that an authentic message of hope that has real substance and that resonates with the deeper part of our universal human nature, may be temporarily extinguished in one area, only to reignite in another. Egyptians too are campaigning for change and while not looking for any help (or interference) by us, can be encouraged by the power of these words.

It is my prayer that the citizens of Egypt will realize a free and democratic system for themselves and their children.  They have suffered too long under an ineffective and unjust regime that favors the few and provides little or no opportunities for the majority.    

Ironically too, the social networking mechanism that has helped win elections, is also fueling the movements in Egypt and Tunisia. I hope not only their ongoing commitments reminds us of how blessed we are to have the freedom and liberty of free speech and assembly.  Equally important, it shows the Western world that Muslims too are seeking a better life for themselves and their families, to put bread on the table, and have a voice in their government.  It is a much-needed counterpoint to the daily sound bytes of Islamic terrorists and radicals. 

May it be a peaceful transformation and be a shining example to other nations still ignoring the will of the people.