The Hokey Pokey and the Meaning of Life

A couple weeks ago, I saw a bumper sticker that said “What if the hokey pokey is what it’s all about?”  In the week that followed, I found myself actually dancing the hokey-pokey (something I hadn’t done in at least a decade) not once, but twice.  Naturally, the synchronicity was irresistible, and this post is the result.

For the uninitiated among you, the hokey-pokey is a silly song that has various versions in the English speaking world. It’s been around as long as I can remember, and is a mainstay of children’s parties. It’s simple, doesn’t require much coordination and mostly involves putting various body parts into the group circle (put your right hand in…) and then shaking said body part.  Like I said, silly.

The bumper sticker question at first glance looks like a joke. And it is, on one level.  But dig a bit, and you find something else entirely.  The question of “what it’s all about” is really an existential one. What is it all about? What is the meaning of life? Religion of various sorts posits an answer, usually along the line of serving God in some way by helping others. Another answer is to work on our karma, but that often ends up in the same ‘help others’ place.

Now, helping others is a fine thing, but if we are all here to simply help others (and those others, presumably, to help us)  by God’s decree, what is the meaning of that?? Spiritual growth? Learning some sort of cosmic lesson? Fair enough.  Go with that if it works for you.

For those of us without a magic deity to guide our path, the question of what it’s all about is a bit more open.   I’m all for helping others. Don’t get me wrong. But that alone isn’t enough to truly answer the question, at least not for me.  Some say that life has no meaning. In the big cosmic scheme of things, I’d probably have to agree. We are tiny beings on one little planet spinning around in universe of billions of galaxies filled with trillions of stars and planets.  What I do or don’t do doesn’t change the course of this grand unfolding of existence.

To me, part of the picture is that we get to create our own meaning. We get to decide what is meaningful for ourselves, and live our lives with that understanding. This is the ongoing work of a lifetime. Amazingly, the goofy hokey-pokey can actually give us a few nuggets of meaning, if we are willing to consider it.

We all stand in a circle to dance. We dance alone but yet with others. We follow the pattern of the dance all together, putting in our right hand, our left foot, our head, etc… along with others. But we “shake it all about” in our own unique way. Sometimes we are “in,” sometimes “out.”  We turn ourselves around. We laugh. We make fools of ourselves.

Here we all are in the circle of life. We live in our own unique individual reality, but yet we are not alone. We share our lives with others. We follow the pattern of the dance (birth, childhood, adolescence, career, family, elder-hood, death) all together, but we “shake it all about” as we live our unique life.  Sometimes we are “in” (the group, the crowd, the job, the club). Sometimes we are “out” (lonely, struggling, depressed, ill).  With every twist of our personal plot, we turn ourselves around to new possibilities.  We laugh.  We make fools of ourselves, but if we are wise fools, we don’t take it too seriously.  It’s actually rather Zen.  It’s all about being fully present to whatever we are experiencing.

Is that ALL that it’s about?  Nope. But I think it’s a piece of the ongoing puzzle, and for now, that’s enough.

So, get busy. Figure it out for yourself. Learn. Grow. Help others. Explore. Breathe. Sing.

And dance the hokey-pokey.

 

Rebecca dances the hokey-pokey while trying not to trip over her own feet. She writes from her home in northwest Pennsylvania, USA. She is the author of “The Sustainable Soul: Eco-Spiritual Reflections and Practices.” She is at work on a proposal for her second book. 

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Living with Uncertainty

As of this writing, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 has yet to be found.  It seems astonishing to us that in these days of dashboard GPS systems and Google street view that anything as big as an airplane should possibly get lost.  How can this be??  Haven’t we mapped the whole world down to the square inch?  Aren’t we in control?

My heart sincerely goes out to the families of the missing.  It is unimaginable to me to try to fathom the depth of their suffering as they process the latest news (or lack of news).  I wish them healing and peace.

The rest of us all over the globe  just want to know.  It’s as if we’re watching a movie, and are all just sort of waiting around for the surprise twist that will tie up all the loose ends of the story and bring things to a conclusion that helps us understand all that has gone before.  Because there has to be an ending, right?? Maybe not a happy one, but still an ending where we figure it all out, right?

But what if there isn’t.

As the days tick down on the battery life for the flight data recorder (black box), the chances of just not knowing steadily increase. For the families, this is  of course tragic and incredibly painful. For the rest of us, the television gawkers and interested onlookers, it just doesn’t feel right.

We are so used to having massive amounts of granular data at our fingertips that we have lost touch with the ability to just accept not knowing.  Just a couple generations ago, it wasn’t uncommon for a loved one to immigrate to another part of the world and never be heard from again.  With only snail-mail post for information, it was easy to completely lose track of a family member.  If such a one met a tragic end in an accident, and no one thought to send a letter back to the old country, the family might never know.  Imagine the mothers of centuries past whose sons went off to war, never to be heard from again. Imagine daughters married off in arranged matches, gone. Or worse, slaves sold away from family and dear friends. Gone. Today’s global connectivity is unprecedented in human history.  Before that, not knowing was the norm. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pleasant. But it was the experience of countless millions over the centuries.

It is unsettling not to know.  All that massive data at our fingertips gives us an illusion of control.  We have tamed the beast. We are in charge!  To know is to feel some measure of psychological control, even if the actual event is completely out of our control.  Although we might not like to admit it, in reality there is an awful lot we will never know, and the feeling of being in charge is an illusion.

Not every question has an answer.

Not every mystery will be solved.

A wise soul said that if you can’t find the answers, love the questions.  While we might not ever be able to “love” the question of what happened to Flight 370, we (the gawking public) can sit for a while with the mystery and just let it be what it is. We can consider the unknowns of our own lives without trying to fill in any blanks.  The lacunae in our understanding will always be there, resisting our attempts to fill them with fluff and GPS coordinates.  We can learn to accept the difficult gifts of not knowing.

 

Rebecca Hecking writes from her home in northwest Pennsylvania. She is working on the proposal for her second book.  

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For now…

For now,  this blog will be on hiatus.  Off to dreamland.   In the luminous, fertile void.  In the liminal space where creativity happens.

You get the idea.

I’ve been feeling like it’s time to take a break for a while. From here at least.  Not sure how long it will be.  It may be a month. It may be a year. I have no idea.  But I do know the muse is calling me to different places for now.

I wish you love and light, peace and joy.

Namaste.

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Requiem with Joy

I lost a dear friend this week.  Jenny was a very young 73, and died after struggling with cancer for the past few years.  She was quite a character, and was a sister in spirit.  Remembering her and considering her life, I realized just how much she taught me.  In her memory, I offer a few life lessons gleaned from her.

Don’t let the world define you.  By the standards of the world, Jenny was not terribly “successful.”  She didn’t have a large house, or a large bank account or even a “real job” with a corner office and a fat paycheck. She sometimes struggled to pay the bills.  But she was one of the most creative people I have ever known, and managed to find joy in whatever life threw at her.  Even her cancer was a great adventure.

Follow many blisses.  ”Follow your bliss,” Joseph Campbell advised us. And it was good advice. But the implication was that it was singular, and finding that ONE special thing was the journey and the goal.  Jenny taught me that there is no one magic thing- no one source of all-consuming happiness.  In the 13 years that I knew her, she made her living by catering, baking, sewing, quilting, and running a folk art shop. She was also an ordained minister (Presbyterian, I think…)  and performed weddings, funerals and christenings on the side.  Every one of these was a bliss.

Never stop learning.  In the back of her art shop was Jenny’s library. Shelf after shelf of books on everything from gardening to literature to theology.  The evening when I first met her, a bunch of us were gathered for spaghetti in the back of the shop. The conversation somehow took a literary turn, and Jenny promptly ran to her shelves, grabbed a book, and recited Lewis Carroll’s nonsense-poem “Jabberwocky” with mock dignity, and with a lot of laughter.  She knew literature. And nature. And scripture. But she never knew enough to be smug or complacent in her own quest to understand the world.

Relax into your boundaries.  Good boundaries are essential for peace within oneself and with the rest of the world.  Knowing the difference between my problem and not my problem, or my responsibility  and  not my responsibility can mean the difference between being a nervous and stressed control freak, and being at ease in the world.  Jenny could be outspoken, but she didn’t push herself or her thoughts on the world. She didn’t especially need the validation of others.  She knew her own truth.  She rested in it.

Savor small pleasures.  A walk in the woods.  A cup of hot tea. Stargazing. Creating just for the fun of creating.  Jenny owned a few acres of wilderness land where several of us retreated over several summers in the early 2000′s.  Part of the fun was her outhouse. It wasn’t the usual stinky box. It was a throne, right out in a clearing surrounded by pine trees.  Sky above. In Jenny’s opinion, a good scenic view was essential for the task at hand.

Choose joy.  Jenny’s life wasn’t always happy, but it was always filled with joy.  Joy is deeper than surface happiness based on stuff and fluff. Joy is like oxygen for the soul. Even in the face of her own death, she saw beauty in the world around her. She lived. She loved. Right up to the end. She embodied joy.

 

Rebecca Hecking is savoring memories this week from her cold and snowy home in northwest Pennsylvania.

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Happy New-ish Year: Exploring Resolutions, Themes, and the Journey Ahead

Happy New-ish Year!!  Hey, it’s still January, right? And I’m still mulling over my resolutions. I have a love-hate relationship with the whole idea of new year’s resolutions.  On the one hand, I like the idea of a fresh start, sort of a reset button for life.  We could all use one of those now and then.  On the other hand, I don’t fancy the impossible expectations, the self-imposed unhealthy pressure, and the inevitable sense of failure that follows in the wake of realizing you’re not Superman.

So how can we keep the positives and ditch the negatives?  First off, we can toss the idea that as of one magical date (in this case, January 1) that we will suddenly become entirely different people, with different (of course, better) habits and none of the issues that followed us for the previous 12 months.  It’s just not realistic. In fact, it’s self-sabotage.

Secondly, let’s get rid of the notion that we must do it all at the same time.  We may want to make changes in our health, relationships, finances, education, and spirituality. That’s an awful lot to chew on at once.  Thirdly, we must acknowledge that we will inevitably at some point fall short of our highest hopes.  Allowing for our own imperfection can actually be freeing.  Just a nod to ourselves that we know we aren’t perfect allows space for us to move forward, instead of becoming paralyzed with an all or nothing mindset.

Okay, now what? Say you want to become healthier, save more money and take up a spiritual practice like meditation.   So, you make yourself a list:  exercise 5 days a week, stop eating red meat, no snacking on junk food,  stop wasting money, get a new job or a raise,  wake up at 5 a.m. for an hour of sitting zazen each and every day followed in the evening with another hour of yoga….

Ugh. I get tired just looking at that list! It’s impossible.  And yet, many people start out on January 1 with just such a list, and a couple weeks later (about now) are either exhausted or depressed.

I’ve been working with the idea of exploring themes instead of a hard-line to-do list. Let’s look at that list again…  if the goals for 2014 are healthier, save more money, and spirituality that’s great.  But we’ve got all of 2014 to explore these. Not just January.

I might decide to make January’s theme  healthy snacking.  It supports the goal of health, but is specific enough to be manageable, and not overwhelming.  I can decide to explore the idea of healthier snacking for the whole month.  How can I ditch the junk and incorporate new ideas?  Allowing the whole month gives time and space to try various ideas (new recipes or new habits) and at the end of the month I can decide what works and what doesn’t, and adjusting accordingly.

In February, I might decide to continue the health theme by focusing on better sleep habits,  trying things like short naps, changing bedtimes, etc… Or  I might decide to focus on a completely different part of my original goals, maybe financial this time.  I could spend February researching ethical investing.

And then there’s March. And April.  And a whole year to go.  If I fall short, no matter. I’ve got the rest of the year.  Maybe I’ll do an entire goal  re-think in June.  Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll fall away from whatever I’m doing and slip back into old patterns. But that’s okay since every month I get a mini re-boot, and I realize that imperfection is part of the journey.

And the journey, of course, never really ends.   The beginning of a year or the beginning of a month are completely arbitrary constructions.  Our lives flow onward, as does time.  Realizing this, we know that there are a thousand new beginnings, a thousand fresh starts. The months and years are just markers on the way.

I invite you to do some new year’s reflection. It’s still January after all.  Don’t be afraid to hit the re-boot with a resolution or two, but consider approaching them gently and mindfully.  Themes can provide a bit of structure, but still lots of freedom and flexibility as you journey through 2014.

 

Rebecca Hecking lives in northwest Pennsylvania, USA. She is the author of The Sustainable Soul: Eco-Spiritual Reflections and Practices.  She is spending January observing her energy flow.

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Meditation on an Earthly Moment: Winter Solstice

Greetings of the longest night!  There’s a meme floating around the  internet, a red and green globe with the caption, “axial tilt is the reason for the season.” It’s cute, and fairly accurate.  Our contemporary celebrations (secular and religious)  are connected by an Ariadne’s thread of history and myth back and back again some more into the deep-time, ancient common experience of the longest night, and the subsequent return of the sun.

Thinking on this, it occurred to me that this phenomenon has been part of Earth’s rhythm from the beginning.  Although the angle of the tilt has varied over the eons, Earth itself has experienced seasons long before our species was around to call the cold time “winter,” and dance the sun back to the sky.

Before life itself, the ancient Earth convulsed rivers of magma, and breathed out oceans of steam. The moon circled the Earth. Winter and summer came and went. The dance of the seasons began.

In an ocean, in one hemisphere or the other, the first life emerged. Eventually, the sea was filled with scores of single-celled, long ago and far away distant cousins of ours. And the moon circled the Earth. Winter and summer came and went. The stars circled above in strange unrecognizable patterns, with no eyes to see them.

Eventually, some enterprising little thing figured out how to take the warmth and light of the sun and make a living from it. It was blue. It was green. It danced a new dance to the seasons rhythms, breathing out oxygen as it went on its merry way.  The moon circled the Earth. The little thing noticed the passing of winter and summer, winter and summer, winter and summer…

The continents skittered here and there, hither and yon, north and south, taking along with them a thousand thousand emergent beings, all learning the lessons of light and darkness as they went.  They learned of the coming of summer’s warmth and winter’s chill. They learned to survive. They learned to sense the changing seasons, and that the darkest night didn’t last forever.

In a cave, wrapped in furs, tending the fire, someone with eyes like yours, eyes like mine, stepped out, shivered and looked at the sky on a night like tonight and knew deep in her bones that the darkness had reached its limit. Light and life would return. She danced with those she loved, chanting loudly, calling the sun back.  The moon circled the Earth, itself spinning skewed and tilted toward the sun, now away, now back again. Winter and summer came in their turn.

Into the cottage he brought the evergreen boughs. Snow piled high upon snow, but the symbol of life reminded him that spring would come. The long nights were for dreaming. It had a name now. Winter. Always and ever, it was followed by spring.  And the moon circled the Earth as it leaned far from the sun, as far as it would go, and no further. The dance of the seasons went on and on.

So, here we are again, at the hinge of the year.  Winter isn’t what it used to be. Another record high. Another freak storm. Drought here. Wildfires there. And the smart monkeys, the brainy-upright-walking-always-talking primate, homo sapiens sapiens,  tries to figure it all out, and nervously starts to realize just who is responsible for the chaos.  But whatever the weather, the longest night begins the journey back to the light. We know it down to the minute, that millisecond moment when the shift begins, and the darkness ebbs. We know an awful lot now.  Do we know enough?

But whatever we know, whatever we do, whatever our fate, the dance of the seasons will go on. Back and forth the planet bounces. Winter and summer. Light and darkness.  Light and darkness.  It’s comforting, this annual rhythm. Trace the thread back in your imagination. Follow it to the beginning, then spin it out into the abyss of the  future. Earth will keep dancing for a very long time to come.

I wish you deep dreams on this longest night.

 

Rebecca Hecking lights a candle to call back the sun in the northern hemisphere on the longest night.  She writes and dreams from her home in northwest Pennsylvania, USA.

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Lighting the Candle: Coping with the Tragedies We Cannot Change

This past week saw the one year anniversary of the tragic Newtown Connecticut school shootings.  For the most part, the media respected the town’s wish for privacy. Even so, all over the U.S. this week, people lit candles, said prayers, and stood in silence together. I’m not sure if the families of Newtown were comforted at all by the fact that so many people did these things. Maybe they were. Maybe not.

So why do we do them?

I was thinking this week about how we are constantly bombarded with news of human suffering, near and far. What happened in Newtown stands out as a uniquely American sort of tragedy, but there are plenty to choose from globally: floods and wars and droughts and diseases and famines in some far corner of the world brought to our TV or computer screen.  Simultaneously. Constantly. We are also called to remember victims of disease X (usually in disease X awareness month).  And wounded veterans (regardless of the politics of war). And victims of _____ (fill in the blank).

And in response, we feel we must do SOMETHING. So we do. Sometimes we send stuff. Well intentioned stuff, but sometimes stuff of questionable value. In the weeks after the Newtown shootings, over 60,000 teddy bears showed up out of the blue. One cannot ignore 60,000 teddy bears. Somebody had to sort them out, and pass them along to (hopefully) someone who would actually want them.  Sometimes we send donations of money. Sometimes we become politically active.  Fine, fine, fine.  Good things may result from our action, and I don’t want to ignore that fact.

But we do other things too. We light candles. We wear ribbons. We stand in silence for a moment.  None of these things make a bit of difference to the victims of whatever awful thing we are trying to remember. “Raising awareness” via magnets on our cars, wearing certain colors  and the like doesn’t accomplish much in the way of actual progress toward relieving suffering.

So why do we do these things?

I think we do them for ourselves. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing in the end. We need some way to deal with that media-overload flood that washes over our psyche every day. Previous generations didn’t have dozens of tragedies played out in front of their eyes on a daily basis.  They weren’t bombarded with images of grieving strangers thousands of miles from us, who bring a lump to our throat and a tear to our eye, but who we ultimately cannot help in any personal way.  We are left with the lump and the tear, and somehow have to live with the knowledge of the tragedy.

Gathering together, saying the prayer, pausing in silence, lighting the candle… in all these things we acknowledge to ourselves the gravity of what has happened. We allow ourselves to bear witness without becoming desensitized to the suffering of others.  Lighting the candle or wearing the ribbon may not help the victims of tragedy X, or their families, but it does help. It helps us hold on to our humanity. Our compassion. It keeps our hearts from turning to stone in the face of the overwhelming barrage we are subjected to every day.

When the next tragedy strikes (as it always will), do the right thing. Write the check. Send the letter. Help with the _______ collection (but make it a useful one).  Call the congressperson. Protest the injustice. Yes. Do these things.  But, don’t forget to pause in the moment of silence, or light the candle… also do these things.  The world needs compassionate, loving, open-hearted people.  Especially now.

 

Rebecca Hecking lights candles of remembrance in northwest Pennsylvania, USA.

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Life Transitions (aka the snowstorm and the pumpkin)

Sometime either tonight or tomorrow, we are due for some snow. The massive cold front that has wreaked havoc on the western U.S. is moving east. When it finally hits, the garden will transform from a muddy mess into a winter wonderland.  But this transformation is an illusion. Underneath all that pretty snow, the muddy mess remains. The real transformation is a deeper, slower, and more hidden process It doesn’t happen overnight, and it isn’t nearly as sparkly-shiny.

In my backyard is the vegetable garden. Consisting of several raised beds that are home to my tomatoes and peppers every summer, they are mostly empty of growing things now (except for one last brave kale plant which may end up the subject of another blog entry).

In one of them sits our Halloween jack-o-lantern pumpkin. Or rather…what used to be our Halloween jack-o-lantern pumpkin.  Right now it’s more like a slimy, icky orange-ish half-frozen blob.  It’s on the way to becoming part of the soil in which next year’s tomatoes will grow.  But it’s not soil yet. And it’s not really a pumpkin anymore either. It is in the in-between place.

It is becoming part of the soil. It is un-becoming its former pumpkin self.  And it’s not particularly pretty.

People in transition can be like my rotting pumpkin. Undergoing a transformative, life-changing experience isn’t always a pretty thing either. We aren’t what we used to be. We aren’t yet what we will become. We are in-between, in that time-out-of-time liminal place where powerful changes take place. The changes we are experiencing might spill over into the lives of those around us as we lash out in frustration or despair. We may instead cocoon within ourselves, withdrawing from the world, not wanting to expose our rotting-pumpkin selves to harsh criticism from those who don’t understand.

I’ve gone through a few rotting-pumpkin transitions in my life. Un-becoming what you were, and becoming something else is not an easy process.  You might be in the middle of such a time right now. If you are, know that you are not alone. Know that the Earth is journeying right along with you.

Next year, the soil underneath where the pumpkin sat will be especially fertile and rich. Something wonderful will grow there.  The possibilities are endless.

Superficial changes (new hairstyle! new car!) can be like the pending snowfall: all sparkle and no substance.  They might be visible to the casual observer, but underneath, nothing has really changed.

Life gives us both. Sparkling  blizzard changes that fade in the heat of the sun, and deeper rotting pumpkin changes that transform our lives forever.   Our task is to sort it all out, not confuse the two, and accept the gifts that come from both.

Blessings.

Rebecca Hecking keeps her mittens dry and her snow boots near the back door in her home in northwest Pennsylvania, USA.  She is the author of The Sustainable Soul: Eco-Spiritual Reflections and Practices. 

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Some Thoughts for Thanksgiving

Here in the U.S.,  Thanksgiving is nearly upon us.  Part gluttonous feast, part family ritual (where all dysfunction is simultaneously ignored and on full display), and becoming more commercial by the year, it is easy to feel ambivalent about the day.

Other countries have festivals of thanks, but few (with the possible exception of Canada’s) have the cultural baggage that we in the U.S. have. The holiday is steeped in the sugar-coated myth of joyful Natives and benign Pilgrims.  Heavy baggage indeed.  Knowing how the story played out over the centuries, it is tempting to dismiss the whole thing in a fit of self-righteous guilt.

But I can’t quite bring myself to do that. A holiday focused on gratitude and thankfulness demands more of me than that. So, I consider gratitude and thankfulness. To whom am I thankful? And for what?  Lacking a magic, gift-bestowing, must-be-placated, old man in the sky deity and all his religious implications, I am left with focusing my thankfulness on the people who touch my life, and life itself.  I am left with gratitude for all that is good in the world and my personal existence.

So, I rattle off my list… first comes the predictable: I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for this food. I am thankful for my country, my home, my computer, modern medicine,  my friends, my church, hot coffee, warm slippers and puppies.

But then, when I dig a little deeper into my list, I find uncomfortable paradoxes and dissonant implications.   I am thankful for this food, but mindful that those who harvest it  often suffer discrimination and poverty.  I am thankful for my country, but painfully aware of its faults and shortcomings. I am thankful for my computer and the technology that enables me to connect with friends around the world, but I know that its manufacture comes with a legacy of polluting the Earth.  Even puppies can be problematic if I think too much! (too many homeless strays)

Now what? Okay. So I learn must learn to live with life’s contradictions. I must make my peace with the messiness of my existence within an impossibly complex global web of society.  This, of course, is not done in a day. Or a decade.

So where does this leave me for Thanksgiving Day?? What can I ponder as I roast my local, free-range bird?  I think I’ll go just a little bit Buddhist while I slice down the straight-from-the-can cranberry sauce that my nearly grown-up kids still love.

Flipping the candied yams in the pan, may I be at peace. May my family be at peace. May all those who have had a hand in bringing this food to my table (from illegal immigrant farm workers to truck drivers to grocery cashiers) be at peace.  May all beings be at peace.

Baking the pies, may I be content and filled with bliss. May my family be content and filled with bliss. May all those who have had a hand in bringing this food to my table be content and filled with bliss. May all beings be content and filled with bliss.

Stirring the stuffing, may I be mindful and surrounded by love…

 

Thanksgiving?  Stuffed with history and myth, basted with family drama, sugar-coated with platitudes, but also seasoned with thoughtfulness, it is what we make of it.

Just like everything else.

 

Rebecca Hecking writes from her home in northwest Pennsylvania, USA. No matter how many times she cooks the big meal, she still remains suspicious of giblets. 

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Got Baggage?

“Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I’ve seen this quote a lot recently. Some attribute it to Plato, although that is likely incorrect. No matter. It seems to strike a chord with many, and this is a good sign.  In the narcissistic world of the internet, where we take photos of our lunch and tweet them to the masses, it is good to be reminded that it’s not all about us.  It’s good to be drawn out of our own drama.

I’ve been  re-reading James Hollis’ insightful book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really, Grow Up.  He’s a Jungian analyst, and one of his main points is for each of us to realize that we carry with us a lot of baggage from the past. Whether we like it or not, the family/religion/social system we grew up with is still with us throughout our lives, silently exerting its influence no matter how we might attempt to extricate ourselves from it.  Some of our baggage is hidden  even from our consciousness.  We act from it, but are not aware of its presence in our psyche.  It is invisible.

Part of what Hollis proposes as necessary to really “grow up” is to acknowledge this burden of our own history, bring to consciousness what we can, and realize that it will be with us always, and to grow inwardly from that knowledge.

Given this, I’d like to offer an addendum to my opening quote. Be gentle. Everyone you meet is carrying an invisible burden.

Not only do we need to bring to light the burden of our own history, we need to broaden out, and acknowledge the burden that others carry as well, and learn to be gentle with ourselves and each other in the face of that realization.  Each of us carries the baggage of generations. Each of us does battle with hidden ghosts. Each of us is wounded.  Each of us suffers.

From here, we need to broaden out yet again.  A nation, a culture, a people… all carry invisible burdens.  All carry the baggage of our collective human experience.  Be gentle. Be gentle.  Each of us has hidden places where the burden of humanity adds some weight to our own personal baggage.   Each of us has a share of this load. For some, it is buried deep down in the bottom of our psychic suitcase, invisible.  For others, it is closer to the surface.

On a good day, a day when I’m feeling particularly spiritual and enlightenment seems likely, I can see this. I have a namaste moment with all humanity, and those who cross my path.  The hidden burden I carry bows to the hidden burden that you carry.  Humanity nods back. Or not.  Sometimes, namaste is met with growls and bared teeth (aha! your baggage is showing).

On bad days, I am the one growling and snarling, unaware that my own baggage is on display for all who care to gawk.

But that is our nature. That is what it means to be human, to as Hollis puts it, “sleep in history’s unmade bed.”  So, be gentle. Be gentle. Be kind. Be kind. To ourselves. To each other. To the wider world.  Our burdens will still be with us, but perhaps they will feel a bit lighter.

 

Rebecca Hecking greets you with namaste from northwest Pennsylvania, USA. She is the author of The Sustainable Soul: Eco-Spiritual Reflections and Practices from Skinner House Books.

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