Sunday, August 28, 2016

Standing on the Shoulders: Heights, Paradoxes, and Humility

Whose voice do you hear when singing with others... or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or another creed... or cheering your favorite team?  Is yours the dominant voice?  Or do you hear others?

As I was singing at church today, I found that I was listening first to those around me.  I consciously tried to listen for my voice, which I eventually separated from the others.  As the song progressed, I then heard a blending of my voice with the others, and finally I could make out individual voices around me.  It took both concentration and letting go to hear my voice and the voices of othersEach voice was distinct, but at the same time they were part of the whole! 

In a similar manner, I wonder how often we recognize what others have contributed to who we have become: individuals, adding to the collective awareness.  Consider parents and grandparents, siblings and friends, teachers and mentors, work and church colleagues... so many people, known and unknown, who have influenced our lives!

Shadows of who we are and what we have become
(photo from The Brink of Chaos blog)
Standing on the Shoulders is not a new concept or thought.  In fact, there are many poems, songs, and images that remind us of how connected we are to past, present, and future.

I have come to enjoy Joyce Johnson Rouse's song, Standing on the Shoulders.  The first verse describes how I am stronger and wiser - how we are stronger and wiser - because of the longing and vision of others:

I am standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before me
I am stronger for their courage, I am wiser for their words
I am lifted by their longing for a fair and brighter future
I am grateful for their vision, for their toiling on this Earth

How many ladders do you carry to your Centre Court?
(photo from Daily Mail)
Reflecting on the heights we have reached because of others, I am also aware of one of the Dialogue tools, the Ladder of Inference.  Using a ladder as an image, we are reminded that it sits on the solid ground (the facts of an event), and is a much safer place to be than the higher rungs of the Ladder.  As we move up the Ladder -- adding familial and cultural meanings, assumptions, and beliefs based on our interpretation of that event, we move away from the solid ground.

And thus, a paradox: Standing on the Shoulders -- reaching heights because of others, and moving down the Ladder of Inference -- exploring the depths of shared reality, pulls at who we are, individually and communally, as we seek to understand the experience with collective wisdom.

Recognizing that we stand on the shoulders of others can also produce humility (Latin: humilitas = grounded, from the earth).  That is, realizing that the heights we have achieved is due in part by the work of others, grounds us - brings us down to earth.  Using the Ladder of Inference is also humbling and grounds us in the facts that we may have in commonInquiring into what another person saw, heard, felt or experienced challenges me to consider and possibly let go of the meanings I assigned to that same event.  Maybe reality encompasses all of our truths?

A friend shared the following quote with me from C. S. Lewis (Mere Christianity):  "True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less."  To me, this speaks of balance: the ability to hear my voice and the voices of others, individually and collectively.

Questions to consider this week:
  • Whose shoulders am I standing on? 
  • What achievements have I attained with the help of others?
  • Am I aware of climbing Ladders that separate me from others?
  •  In what ways this week am I invited to move away from my Centre Court and seek to consider the voices and experiences of others? 

May this week bring you security in being grounded, both in the heights you achieve with others and in the depths of individual and collective awareness!

Larry Gardepie

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Moving Beyond: Seeing Both-And

Have you noticed when you travel -- on foot; by car, train, boat, or plane -- that it is almost impossible to hold specific details and broad plans in focus at the same moment?  For instance, when flying, we can look down and see specifics in the landscape and countryside.

Have you noticed the patchwork below your plane?
But when we look at the horizon, the boundaries that we have seen seem to melt away: our attention moves beyond, to new vistas and clouds.  Looking down again, the patchwork comes back into focus.  The same is true when walking or running:  looking down to gain secure footing and yet raising our eyes and attention to the beauty surrounding us.

Can we hold the patchwork at the same time as we see the whole?
Dualistic thinking has always fascinated me!  It is as if Western thinking has narrowed our perspectives to Either-Or, Good-Bad, Right-Wrong, Cops-and-Robbers...  I am sure you can add to this list!

I wonder what would happen if we exercised our Worldview-Muscles to extend beyond, to hold more truths lightly at a single time.  As humans, do we have the capacity to see Both-And in more situations?  I believe the answer is "Yes!"

Shifting our perspective to see more detail... and beyond.
Karl Rahner, one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, understood the human person as comprised of two poles of Human Awareness:
  • Our Objective Self: our busy, every day mind that seeks out details and understanding; that focuses on categorizing, filing, and describing.
  • Our Subjective Self: our essential self that seeks out transcendent freedom; the awareness beyond, seeking out mystery and the True Self.
Each of us may experience both of these poles throughout our day in varying degrees.

Oftentimes, our culture  works predominantly in the Objective pole.  Some of us may even feel more comfortable in this pole as we navigate the world: narrowing down and defining our perceptions of another person; focusing on historical events to define the reality that seems so clear to us.

Karl Rahner has reminded us, though, that we also have a Subjective pole that searches for more.  This is the realm of Self- and Collective-awareness, those choices that go beyond how we define or limit.

Experiencing Both-And (Nasa photo: Earth and Moon)
In Rahner's words:  "How often I have found that we grow to maturity not by doing what we like, but by doing what we should.  How true it is that not every 'should' is a compulsion, and not every 'like' is a High Morality and True Freedom." 

The challenge I hear through both Rahner and Dialogue is to embrace both the Subjective and Objective poles.  That is, to notice the pole we are most comfortable, that gives us secure footing, and move beyond, seeking out the pole that raises our attention to a beauty beyond what we have been experiencing or imagining.

Our focus this week may be contained in a quote from Henri de Lubac:   "Habit and routine have an unbelievable power to waste and destroy."

Questions we may want to consider:
  • Which pole makes me feel more comfortable?
  • How might I seek out and exercise the other pole this week?
  • In what ways may I move into a Both-And relationship, allowing both the Objective and Subjective poles to complement and enliven who I am?
  • What possibilities do we envision?  What options do we choose? 

May habit and routine not waste or destroy this newborn week!

Larry Gardepie

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Reduced to check boxes? But, I am so much more!

Recently, I was filling out an online form for the government.  Each question and my answer were important for the requested service.  I noticed, though, that the more information I supplied, I internally was resisting being reduced to mere check boxes or data!  As a person, I am so much more than what was being asked: there is more to the story of who I am!
Do you feel reduced to a series of check-boxes?
As I reflected on this experience, I wondered about the times when I have assumed or made conclusions about another person: "This is who she is" and "Well, what do you expect from him?"  Similar to an online form, I wonder when I limit people by the specific questions I ask?  Do I reduce other people to less than who they are by listening only for the story I want to hear or understand?

It is as if we have placed each other into well-labeled containers, extracting only the single  definition or one story that pertains to our filters and the way we want to order our lives.

Intricate patterns reveal the depth of who we are
The depth of Who-I-Am and Who-You-Are can only be revealed by continual discovery and revelation.  As we ask more questions of ourselves and others, we Go Deeper into the reality of the Simple Complexity that is incarnate in us.  The designs of our lives and the effects on others ripples out and criss-crosses into patterns unimagined.

We may encounter places that are distant with fences to protect
As we ask questions and wait, ever-listening with reverence, we may find places that are too sensitive or painful to reveal... for now.  It may be that we have erected barriers that protect or keep out people, fears and memories.  Patience, honesty, and holding each other in reverence is important during these times.

For now, we may feel safe behind these barriers.  But there may be a better way!  Dialogue invites us to remove obstacles of misunderstanding, histories of limiting, and cultures of intolerance.  As we remove the barbed comments and move toward curiosity, a new freedom emerges from the shared vulnerability that strengthens us... together.

We may discover places that are sacred: I have worth and value
As we move away from check boxes and containers that constrain or restrain us, we will begin to encounter the Sacredness of the True Person.  These rendezvous points move us beyond the old filters and enlighten us to new possibilities.

This week -- as we wake up to loved ones, complete our tasks, attend meetings, have meals with colleagues and friends -- let us consider the following questions:
  • Who am I, and what do I choose to reveal this day?
  • When I encounter an emotion that blocks a self-revelation, can I hold that moment with reverence:  naming the emotion; seeking out the barrier; and holding this moment lightly?
  •  What do I expect or anticipate from another person, in word and action?  How can I lay these definitions aside and see the mystery that is revealed?
  • In what ways can I listen more deeply to Self and Other, anticipating that a gift will be unwrapped in our presence? 

Blessings for week filled with wonderful moments of Mystery!

Larry Gardepie

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Vacation Dialogue: What Memories are We Saving?

I hadn't noticed until the other day how often I clicked on the computer's Save icon while working, writing this blog, or developing a presentation.  I wondered why?  Later that same day the program I was using unexpectedly shut down and I lost a software screenshot I had been creating for my work team.  I lost the entire document!  All of that work gone!

I then redoubled my efforts and clicked on Save more often until it became a habitThe answer to the earlier question:  I saved because I was afraid of losing something.

Later that week I saved one time too many: I meant to select the Save As option so that I could save a duplicate, revising that new document for the next screenshot.  I was so programmed to save that I overwrote the original document with the new changes.  All of the previous work was lost!

Has this happened to you?  Can you relate?

Have you noticed how often you Save?
Over the past several weeks, I have been sharing Vacation Dialogue blogs using many of the photos taken - Saved - from my recent travels.  These images have helped me to recall various Dialogue Moments, lessons that I am still pondering.

It's been almost two months since I returned from vacation, and as I now go through 2,300 photos I am like Norman B. Thayer in On Golden Pond.  While looking at an old family photo of himself, his wife, and his daughter, Norman says, "Who the hell is that?"

With my vacation photos, I find myself asking:  What was this building or statue?  Where was it taken?  Why was it important to immortalize this scene?

Shout out if you can admit saying, "Who the hell are these people?"  I admit it!

A canal scene somewhere in Belgium: perfect light and reflection
Consider how often we automatically save and revisit actions and events from throughout the dayMany scenes can be consciously called forth from our mental filing system; other memories can be triggered unconsciously,  sometimes at a moment's notice.

Olivia, a Dialogue colleague, and I were talking through this Save Phenomena.  It seems that humans are hard-wired to automatically store information, images, and  impressions.    What a wonderful brain we have!  It has helped us as a species to survive: in times of danger we can identify, sort through, recall previous situations where harm was in our way, and respond quickly.

I wonder, though, if we understand that over time we have changed and adapted? That is, do we accept that we have become different people than the ones who saved those earlier memories?  Are those stories we recall entirely accurate or helpful to the People-We-Have-Become?  Yes, we can replay them and reinforce the message we tell ourselves, but is the memory we saved an accurate account of what happened or who we are now?  Maybe we are looking at a reflection of what we want to remember.

Are our memories locked in and unchanging?
 (Iron Gate - Bruges, Belgium)
Many times I think I am an infallible recorder of the facts.  After all, I may act as if what I saw and heard is the one and only account.  Have you ever thought that of yourself - that you have the correct insight or interpretation or recall?  Let's look at a few examples of where fact and reality may not coincide. 
  • Some die-hard aficionados of the 1960's TV series, Dragnet, would often attribute Joe Friday as saying 'Just the facts, ma'am."  But TV historians have shown that this phrase came from a parody of the show:  Joe never actually said this in an episode. 
  • When working on a scheduling project several years ago, I was introduced to the primary image formats (GIF, JPG, PNG, and TIFF).  What I learned is that some formats are better for larger images, some are better for colors and quality, and some are better for charts and diagrams.  These formats are not equal.  In fact, some photos will lose quality and color when continually edited and saved.
  • Coming across a shattered glass pane in Amsterdam, I saw a distorted view of an iconic building along the waterfront.  I could have stayed behind the damaged pane and taken away an inaccurate impression of this building.  Instead, I needed to move beyond the glass wall and see the actual building.
Maybe with photos - and memories - we need to be aware of what we see and hear, move beyond the distorted image that we have saved, and inquire into the glimpses of what others are seeing, hearing, and saving.

Shattered and distorted Image (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

I wonder if our self-image would improve if we realized that every time we recall an event the memory actually changes?  Think about the process of opening that stored memory, reliving it as a new and different person, impressing upon it new thoughts and lessons of who we are, and re-saving the edited memory.  The memory, the facts, and even us have changed.  A shattering thought!

King Albert World War I Memorial - from the base, looking up
(West Flanders, Belgium)
And one last reflection:  the columns that support our memorials begin to look distorted and changed when observed from a different angle.  Maybe there is freedom in discovery when we seek other perspectives! 

This week let us consider and be thankful for:
  • Our phenomenal capacity to save and store memories about who we were;
  • The relationships we experience that connect who we are today with who we were yesterday;
  • An awareness that stories shared from individual perspectives create common-unity; and,
  • The ability to save, shatter, and change allows us to remember who those people are that we had forgotten, those people we are now, and the people we are becoming!

An invitation this week of healing: may we be mindful of our Saved Memory and be ready to discover our Shared Future.

Larry Gardepie