I haven’t written much over the past month or so. It certainly isn’t because I haven’t been thinking! I think and ponder all the time. People who know me well tell me I over think like that’s a real thing. I believe I think differently than most people because I see things differently than most. There are times when I feel like Kermit the Frog – sometimes it’s hard being green!
I’ve felt, deluged, swallowed up and beat up by the negativity on social media and the general media. I’ve felt I can’t express anything challenges the party line, status quo or adopted position. I dread going out in public too where the swirl of comments eventually turns to things political accompanied by a poke in my ribs and a “we’ll be better off after the election in 2020”, assuming of course the incumbent is ousted. I hate to tell them but that rarely happens. In the last 50 years, Bill Clinton defeated incumbent George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter, Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford. It could happen but it’s rare.
Dang it! There it is again! The trap politic. What I long to hear is “I’m praying to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” or “I’m sending loving kindness to our elected officials whoever they may be.”
We have problems in our country. We’ve always had them. I was reminded of the turmoil of the 1960s last week as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing in July 1969. As a grade schooler, I had little sense of zeitgeist of the 1960’s. But the documentaries about Apollo 11 gave me a perspective on the turbulent 60s and the coming of age of the Baby Boomers at that time. Most of the shows discussed the space program from the beginning with Kennedy’s speech of choosing to go to the moon by the end of the decade “not because they are easy but because they are hard”. These documentaries relived the heartbreak of the devastating fire of Apollo 1 which killed White, Chaffee and Grissom and the Apollo flights, focusing on Apollo 8 and 11.
Apollo 8 with astronauts Lovell, Borman and Anders aboard occurred December, 1968. The mission was to go to moon, take a few laps around it and come back safely to earth. We thought we were going to discover the moon when in fact we discovered the earth (not my line but a line borrowed from Frank Borman!). 1968 was a pretty crappy year. 1968 remains one of the most tumultuous single years in history, according to the History Chanel. Everything from the TET offensive in Viet Nam, to MLK’s and Bobby’ Kennedy’s assassination, student protests all over the world, the chaos at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the Olympic protests by black athletes.
As Apollo 8 circled the moon, Bill Anders snapped one of the most iconic photos ever – Earth rise. The Earth “photobombed” the moon! We saw the earth as a beautiful blue space ship in the oasis of black space in contrast to the grey lifeless moon.
In commentary of one of the documentaries I saw, Frank Borman reported they received thousands of telegrams congratulating them on their mission. On of them simply said “you saved 1968” *
What will it take to “save” 2019? It’s been a pretty bleak year – the Amazon is burning. Mass shootings. World wide immigrant crises in Europe and the USA. Antifa beating people in city streets for no apparent reason. Extremists of right and left sides of the political spectrum yelling and screaming at each other in person and on social media platforms. I heard a quote the other day that Democrat/Liberals desire a world that can never be (utopia) and Republican/Conservatives desire a world that never was (the good old days). Somewhere in the middle has to be a world where we a judged on the content of our character and not the color of our skin or our political party or religious preference. Has MLK’s dream died? Have we taken a giant step forward only to take 3 steps back?
Spiritual practice challenge: Start by learning to be kind to yourself. I’ve always liked the Buddhist meta mediation. Breathe gently, and recite inwardly the following traditional phrases directed to your own well-being. You begin with yourself because without loving yourself it is almost impossible to love others. Jesus taught this – love your neighbor as yourself.
May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be well.
May I be at peace and at ease.
May I be happy.
As you repeat these phrases, picture yourself as you are now or perhaps has a young child. You may adjust the words and images in any way you wish. Create the exact phrases that best open your heart of kindness. Repeat these phrases over and over again, letting the feelings permeate your body and mind. Practice this meditation for a number of weeks, until the sense of lovingkindness for yourself grows.
When I first started doing this, it felt awkward and contrived. Sometimes I felt irritated and angry. If this happens to you, it is important to be patient and kind toward yourself and just allow whatever arises and receive it with kindness. Do this meditation for several weeks.
When you feel you have established some stronger sense of loving kindness for yourself, you can then expand your meditation to include others. After focusing on yourself for five or ten minutes, choose a benefactor, someone in your life who has loved or truly cared for you. Picture this person and carefully recite the same phrases.
Let the image and feelings you have for your benefactor center your meditation and allow whatever arises to arise. Continue to send loving wishes, repeating the phrases gently no matter what.
If it seems easier for you to begin with sending loving kindness to a benefactor, start there. Whatever will most easily open your heart is the practice to follow.
Once you have established a strong sense of loving kindness for your self and your benefactors, expand your meditation to those who challenge us the most, those we perceive as “them” or “other”, those we may have uttered “I hate/despise/can’t stand him/her”. It could be a neighbor, a sibling, a parent, a co-worker or someone you may not know as well – the immigrant, the over zealous gun enthusiast, the mentally ill, the smelly homeless man, the braggadicious politician, or a group of people different from you in every respect – skin color, political ideology, religious belief, etc.
Breathe gently, and recite inwardly the phrases above and direct them toward the individual you see as “other”. You’ve spent weeks sending loving kindness to yourself and your benefactors. Now, send that loving kindness to the other. Love others. If anger and agitation arise, breathe gently in and out and continue repeating the phrases. Allow whatever arises to arise. This will seem really awkward and contrived. I recall do this practice toward individuals who deeply hurt me. (The process of forgiveness began for me after a substantial period of practice. It is a process and not a one time thing but that is another blog for another time.)
Can we save 2019? Can we, and more importantly, save ourselves from ourselves. Will we tear down that which divides us? When humanity landed safely on the moon and Neil Armstrong took that first step and Buzz Aldrin followed in July 1969, the feeling was that WE did it, not the American astronauts but we humans. The collective we walked on another world. What will it take for us to feel and believe we are a WE and not US and THEM?
I encourage you to take that first step toward loving kindness to yourself and others. If I can assist you in any way, please let me know.
*If you would like to visit the Apollo 8 command module, it is at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
(This blog is not intended to serve as individual spiritual direction. Spiritual direction or companioning is typically done face to face in a confidential setting. If you would like to explore one on one spiritual direction, or to experience group spiritual direction, please contact me. In the meantime, my hope is that the photos and this blog serve as a pause in your day, food for thought, or just a reminder to breathe in and breathe out all that is holy and good. The Divine Milieu is all around us. Thank you all for your prayers and support.)