A Pilgrim’s Journey – Final Reflections

October 31, 2009

The Pilgrim BraceletAtum suggested that we each buy a bracelet. It should be a symbol of moments that deeply touch you, moments that add to the depth of the soul. He recounted a beautiful myth from the Zoroastrian tradition of an encounter with the soul after death. The soul observes “I was beautiful but you made me more beautiful.” This then was the role of the bracelet, to help recall moments of soul and heart connections. I chose mine with care; I did not want too many beads; I wanted each bead to remind me of a specific event. I found one with precisely ten beads and a cross of St. Francis in the middle that conveniently looks like my first initial.

DejectionThe first bead represents my encounter with a statue of St. Francis that stands outside the basilica where he was buried. He is on horseback having just returned from war. He looks despondent, dejected and defeated. It is the low point of his life. Yet behind him is the magnificent church that bears his name, a promise of all that emerged from this moment where he could see no hope. What a wonderful archetypal image! All of us have moments in our lives like that. At the time it is hard to comprehend that the moment of despair can be the start of something magnificent to come.

The second bead represents the experience of kneeling at the same cross where the young Francesco prayed the exquisite prayer for guidance “Give me right faith, firm hope, perfect charity, and profound humility with wisdom and perception O Lord so that I may do what is truly your holy will.” In response he heard the words “Restore my church.”  My insight was less radical “Shine your light” but it has become a wonderful focus for me to discover what it means.

GudrunMy third bead is for my friend Gudrun. Just after I had been judging the simplicity and ease of my task as not serious or hard enough, she approached me and said: ‘I just have to tell you what a shining light you are.”  It was a moment of amazing synchronicity and inspired me to renewed exploration of what shining my light could mean.

The fourth bead is for St. Chiara and her courage as a young woman who defied convention, her family and the town’s leading citizens by refusing to approach the Bishop in the church of St Ruffino. She knew she was going to follow Francis and felt it would be an act of betrayal. I sat in the same church, tears wetting my cheek both sharing and reliving her experience as the myth breaker in her family, a role I had also assumed in mine.

SonjaThe fifth bead is for my dear friend and fellow pilgrim Sonja who turned a remarkable time into one that was truly unforgettable. She is blonde, beautiful and spiritual with an amazingly inquiring mind. I was instantly drawn to her and despite my best intentions or perhaps because of them, we shared a deepening relationship. She opened my heart in a sweet, innocent yet endearing way. She became my Chiara, brightening my journey.

The sixth bead is for the simple church at San Damiano that St Francis rebuilt and became the home of Chiara’s order. Here we encountered the sweet energy of father Rodriguez who shared the passion he felt to be a Franciscan brother.

Meditating FrancisThe seventh bead is for the wonderful statue of St Francis meditating above the striking view into the Umbrian valley below and overlooking the Basilica built over the simple house where he died. This is the view that inspired him to write the Canticle of Creatures, “Be praised my Lord in all your creatures, especially for Brother Sun…”

The eighth bead is for moment we stood high above Assisi in the location where Francesco used to come and meditate in a cave. Atum suggested we name the people who had been the stepping-stones that may have brought each of us to this place. This stimulated an amazing reflection of the people and events, which had resulted in an atheist who ran an advertising agency twenty years earlier now treading in the footsteps of St. Francis.

Pilgrims in AssisiThe ninth bead was for the wonderful group of fellow pilgrims who shared the journey during the week in Assisi and who sang and chanted so beautifully “Oh Christ for ever living in my breath. Oh Christ forever living in my heart.

And finally the last bead is for the final morning as I walked down to San Damiano for one last visit with a heavy heart, which was immediately lightened when I bumped unexpectedly into Sonja and her lovely mother Olga who had the same idea. I have appreciated my journey with this bracelet identifying ten moments of the pilgrimage that forever will live in my heart and soul.

For more on the Pilgrim’s Journey go to www.hangin.wordpress.com

Conscious Decision-making

October 30, 2009

I think everyone intends to be conscious about the decisions they make yet Carl Jung observed “the greatest decisions of human life have as a rule more to do with instincts and other unconscious factors than with well meaning reasonableness.” So what does it mean to bring consciousness to a decision? I suggest that we need to explore each decision from the perspective of our logic and thinking process, then we need to look at what emotions and feelings are engaged. Finally we need to review the fears that often underlie a difficult decision. By ensuring all the factors are brought into the light we will become more conscious about the decision we are making. Major decisions frequently contain fears around both choices. For example people facing chemotherapy usually fear side effects if they proceed and fear of shortening their life if they don’t. If we bury the feelings and the fears then we may find ourselves wake in the middle of the night with the cold sweats second guessing our choice.

The DecisionClarity model provides a process for the orderly review of the primary factors in a decision but then goes on to facilitate a process where we try to access our own deepest knowing to break through the confusion we may be feeling. Psychologist and Spiritual Teacher Jean Houston observed, “You are more than we think you are”. It is this deeper wiser self that we need to address to access our own inner wisdom. The DecisionClarity model helps you to learn ways to access this “more” by providing a series of tools to facilitate your intuitive senses and identify the decision that is consistent with your highest good.

Who Knows What is Bad and What is Good?

October 29, 2009

Recently I encountered a woman who had two rear end collisions in the same week. neither were her fault. The second one was more serious than the first and resulted in her having a CAT scan of her brain. This revealed the early detection of a form of malignant brain cancer. The second rear ender may end up saving her life. It reminded me of a wonderful Chinese fable about a villager who had a son who was the apple of his eye and a fine white stallion, which everyone admired. One day his horse escaped from his field and disappeared. The villagers came to him and said: “You are such an unlucky man..” The peasant responded: “Who knows what is bad and what is good?” The next day the stallion returned with a mate. The neighbours visited him again and congratulated him for his good fortune in doubling his herd. Again, he just said: : “Who knows what is bad and what is good?”  The next day his son attempted to break the wild horse when the mare kicked and broke his leg. Once more, everyone came with their condolences: “It’s terrible.” Again, he replied: : “Who knows what is bad and what is good?” A few days passed and his poor son was limping around the village with his broken leg, when the emperor’s army entered the village announcing that a war was starting and they required all the young, fit men of the village to join the army. The villager just smiled and said: “Who knows what is bad and what is good?”

Finding Meaning in Life – or Not.

October 22, 2009

In that lovely reverie between waking and sleeping I found myself pondering the differing perspectives of two people who look at life in paradoxical ways. One believes that everything in his life creates meaning; the other believes that there is no meaning to his life at all; it is a series of disconnected random events to which he is subject. Will each be equally content with his life? Who finds the greater happiness? Does it matter if one or both are totally in error in their belief? If the former lives in a world of delusion and creates meaning in his own life; is that good thing or a bad thing? Is it possible that those who look for meaning will find it but no such meaning exists for those who don’t look for it? It is at moments like this that one can disappear like Alice down the rabbit hole to wake up in Wonderland.
Of course each of us can only view the events of our life through our own eyes and as I view life through the lens that everything has the potential to be meaningful, it is not a significant step from that point to believe that within the universe there is some kind of organizing intelligence that can contribute meaningfully to our existence. At this point I can imagine the sighs of exasperation from some who leap immediately to the conclusion that this is all about God and as we all know (because Richard Dawkins tells us so) God is a delusion. However as a wise minister reminded me many years ago, we all have some form of God concept be it rationalism, money, benevolent force, punishing force, nature etc. In fact he also suggested that on occasion our God concept becomes redundant and we have to recreate it. He even considered atheism a God concept. Now there is a contradiction of terms if there ever was one. In my own life I rejected the God concept of my parents that revolved around fundamental Christianity. As a result the new one I created was atheism however after almost thirty years later I found myself exploring new God concepts that are the result of my own personal discernment. This is still a work in progress.
I find that believing in meaning helps me deal with the adversities of life in a more positive way. One fall day I was enjoying a beautiful hike in the north shore mountains of Vancouver. As I neared the end of a spectacular afternoon, I lifted my foot onto a log, slightly lost my balance as I stepped forward and landed awkwardly on my right foot. The ankle turned and I heard a loud crack and I found myself sitting in the mud. My initial surprise was immediately replaced by a deep sense that there was meaning behind this accident. However my first job was to get down the mountain. With no one around and no cel-phone I was on my own with over a kilometer to go. I managed to regain my feet and realized that I could not put weight on my right foot. Then I had another epiphany that affirmed my belief that there was order in this incident. Three years ago my ex-wife had given me a stout hiking cane but I had never used it. In fact I had left home without it and had driven off before the idea of taking it imagined its way into my mind. Fortunately I overcame the inertia that would have caused me to continue and returned for the cane. Now it became the crutch that got me off the mountain. Without it I could not have got down. It was as though my inner wisdom knew this accident was going to happen.
My belief in meaning from this experience was fueled later that evening. I was sitting on my couch reading the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying when I encountered a passage that suggested that new age spirituality had no depth “Pick a path any path” it suggested and observed that it was often better to pursue a path connected with your own cultural identity. I knew this passage was meant for me. For the last four weeks I had been resisting the entreaties of dear friend to visit a church he had found. I had been in total resistance. “I am not going to a church and that is that!” I had exclaimed. The “cosmic two by four” is a tool to help me see blockages in my life and surely the accident was just that. This proved to be a pivotal change in my life for which I have ever been grateful.
There was an interesting epitaph. The hospital could not put a cast on because the ankle was too swollen from my ordeal so I received a splint that would last a week then I would receive the cast. This proved a gift as a week later I was told I could move to an air cast (no awkward, heavy plaster of paris) and I was saved from being on crutches for five weeks.
My alter-ego perhaps may have missed an amazing moment or perhaps for him it just would have been a rather annoying accident. Carl Jung did not believe in coincidences. He defined the term for meaningful coincidences as a synchronicity. Sometimes a cigar is much more than a cigar.