Living with Open Hands — a conclusion for now…

Posted on January 25, 2014

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For the ten years that I have been writing / blogging, there has been a real evolution / revolution of thought within. So throughout the book, you will see dates on each of the blog posts. This can serve to give context as to where I was at that point in this journey.

One of the most revolutionary shifts came when I realized that there really is no spiritual journey. What I have seen as a journey, if there is one, is like one inch long and 1000 miles deep. What does that mean? That is exactly what I wondered for quite a long time even though I knew there was truth in that statement.

Our spiritual journeys do not consist in any destination out there somewhere.

Rather than a destination, it is an awakening.

Rather than getting there, it is learning to “See”.

Rather than a promised land, it is peace and presence.

It is a deepening of understanding of what is.

And mostly, it is remembering what we already know.

There is no place to get to unless it is this very moment.

There is no God to seek unless it is realizing the divine within.

There is no spiritual guidance except to wait, listening for that still small voice within.

There is no spiritual journey because you are already (t)here; along with everything you will ever need.

You are exactly where you are meant to be.what-lies-behind-us-and-what-lies-before

“They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.
They will mount up with wings like eagles.
They will run and not be weary.
They will walk and not faint.” (Is. 40)

When the strength is already there, then the journey is no longer the “chasing after the wind” for fulfillment. When the fulfillment is already there, then the journey becomes the mission, the purpose… life itself. When life becomes the journey and we rest in the fulfillment and strength we already have, then it is no longer about finding and seeking. It is about being, about living each moment to the fullest extent, it allows us to become like children; playful as we go, responding in wonder, loving the mystery.

Being asked by the Pharisees when God’s Kingdom would come, he answered them, “God’s Kingdom doesn’t come with observation; neither will they say, ‘Look, here!’ or, ‘Look, there!’ for behold, God’s Kingdom is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)

So why does such upheaval happen to good people? Why does it NOT happen to all good people? Such questions I cannot answer for you or anyone except for myself.

Why was this evolution / revolution necessary for me? I’m glad you asked. As long as my life was on a course that allowed me to continue to worship the gods of our age, comfort, security, and certainty, I could continue on the path I had been on all along; singing praises to this American trinity on Sundays while setting priorities according to these gods in my career, personal, and family life. But when the facade of comfort, security, and certainty was blown up by the earthquake of my life (the Dark Night of my Soul) that left nothing unturned, it was then that it all unraveled. I realized that what I sought in what I called my spiritual journey was all a human construct, a human sense-making mental story that allowed me to trick myself into believing that there is permanence in the temporal. I had built my house on the sand and when the storm came…

What is this sand upon which I had built? I simply did what I was taught to do. “Do what you are told, boy. Fit in.” So I built my life on that which was temporary; my image of God (which ended up being the gods of our culture), family (people cannot be permanent), and career (obviously simply the whim of economic structures and fitting into the machine). When my tsunami hit in the spring of 2008, all of these things were uprooted. Even my mental health, which I presumed to be stable, ended up diving into depression. So all of the things that our cultural conditioning teaches us to depend on was gone. What then?

It has taken me these eight years to see that those answers are not out there somewhere. Those answers, meant for me, will not come to the holy man. Those answers, based on my specific life’s design, are not written in a book somewhere. I had lost my footing. In order to survive, something had to change. And change it did…

I stopped clinging to what I wanted to believe, to what I had been told, and began to listen.Image

I began to hear. I began to see.

I found that we can only hear that for which we are listening.

I found that we can only see that for which we are looking.

There was no destination to get to. It was not about accomplishing or “doing”. It is all about “being”. Fully present in each moment. All we have is this present moment. There is nothing else. The past is gone. The future can’t be touched. In some ways, I felt that I had been hoodwinked by cultural conditioning. The consumer society, industrial complex of life had been manufacturing me to “fit in”, to do what I’m told, to go shopping, to spend and waste and spend and waste, with no thought for tomorrow. I had lost my soul.

One of the greatest things that happened to me during this time is that I climbed up on a path alongside people that I was working with (that happened to have disabilities) and they became my teachers as we learned together what a meaningful life was all about. To sum up some of that learning, “A meaningful life is identifying one’s gifts and using them in a context where they are accepted and appreciated.” This is community, a place to BE-LONG. A place to “BE”… to BE for a LONG time. A place where BEING mattered much more than DOING.

For some reason, unknown to me until recently, I felt compelled to write in what I now call a Language of Peace. Down deep, I knew that in order for me to “be right” I had to make others wrong. I knew that this is driven by ego and a form of inequality and domination that I later came to understand as being forms of violence and oppression. Therefore, in order to live with open hands, I would need to find new ways to relating to others. Parker Palmer uses this rule in his Circles of Trust, “No fixing, no saving, no advising, and no setting each other straight.” There is a gentleness in this approach that is very sensitive to even the most subtle forms of violence… sensitive to telling others what to think and believe. This would violate my own identity and integrity since this is the root of why my whole life had been turned on its head. I could not become the very thing that hoodwinked me… and buried me!

So, what has been the response to this approach? I’m glad you asked. I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church and went to a fundamentalist college. I was taught to tell others what to think, what to believe, where to go, and where they are going if they don’t conform to my tiny understanding of the world. Judgement was seething in me, because “I know”, because “I’m right”, because in order for me to be right, “you are wrong!!!” You have to be wrong. Because if YOU are NOT wrong, then I am NOT right. Heaven forbid!!!

Imagine my shock, pleasure, honor, and humility when I was asked to lead a discussion on meaning and purpose in a Sunday morning group of atheists, agnostics, and humanists, called Cafe Inquiry. I was asked BECAUSE of the manner in which I used a Language of Peace in my writing. I have been seeking meaning in the human struggle that goes beyond beliefs and differences to core of existence. What a great and deep affirmation of this urge to write with nonviolent communication.

So often we say we believe certain things.

We say we believe in peace and then act with aggression and violence.

We say we believe in unconditional love and then only accept those that think and act like us.

We say “do not judge” and then spend our lives judging.

What would happen if Christians started believing the Bible in such a way that it transforms their lives to align with those same beliefs? This same question can be asked of any group of people. We all know, down deep, what is true and right. And yet we have forgotten what we already know. Let us love not only with words and talk, but in action and in truth unconditonally. (1 John 3:18)

In some ways, I felt more authenticity among that group than I do among many religious groups. Isn’t honesty one of those things that are foundational to authenticity and integrity? I connected deeply around those same very human issues and questions that I have been struggling with. I was welcomed to come back anytime. People were interested in having coffee and conversation about things that matter. And I did have coffee this past week with a man from Cafe Inquiry that also showed up at silent worship with the Quakers a few weeks ago. (Update: three years later, we are still having coffee and conversation about things that matter) People do not want to be fixed or saved or advised or set straight. We all simply want to be seen and to be heard.

Something else that has pleasantly and progressively shocked me over time is that my blog, Living with Open Hands, has been visited by over 34,000 people from over 140 countries (update: 53,500 people from 150 countries); different cultures, beliefs, values, life-styles, religions, all connecting at a deeper human level. That heart connection goes beyond all differences and it is truly unconditional. It breaks my heart that western culture (including most of Christendom) has completely lost the concept of unconditional love.

One lady sent me a message on facebook that she had stumbled on a link to my blog on facebook. She said that she was reading my blog and crying on the city bus on her way to work; because she no longer felt all alone. She is a Muslim  living in Indonesia and has become a dear friend. Someday I will meet her face to face for coffee or tea and conversation about things that matter.

Another lady I hadn’t seen in 30 years found my blog. She had gone to high school with me and was the best friend of my sister at that time. She said that it is so refreshing to read something that is so open to people and learning from differences. She has no one to talk to about her beliefs and questions and doubts. Her and her teenage daughter have been meeting with me for coffee for over two years (update: three years later we are still meeting for conversation). She lives about an hour away. She is also the one that told me that as I was evolving in my beliefs, I was sounding more and more like a Quaker. Heck I didn’t know that they worshiped in silence or that they still existed.

There are many other stories about deep connection around things that matter, especially with those that feel they are falling through the cracks, just like I had felt so overwhemingly when I began writing. Our societies are killing themselves through isolation and loneliness. It is time to step down from our high horses and remember who we are:

a people that do not have the capacity to really understand everything;Image

a people that fear mystery but need to embrace mystery and wonder to be real;

a people that are connected with each other at a very deep level;

a people that need each other to survive;

a people that, at the deepest level, want to be seen for who they are.

The internet and social networking has been a powerful tool for me to connect with others but my enduring drive is to take these deep connections from virtual to organic, from digital to face to face. Coffee and conversation, my favorite hobby. Contact me.  (ronalddirvine@gmail.com)

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
~ Marcel Proust

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” ~ T. S. Eliot

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