Saturday, October 30, 2021

Celebrating Life's Lessons

By now, I am sure that many of us have participated in a virtual meeting or an online gathering.  Zoom, What's App, MS Teams, FreeConferenceCall and FaceTime became household names when the pandemic began almost two years ago:  people needed ways to physically distance and yet stay connected.  Remote work and online learning suddenly became the norm as we were inserted into  "Brady Bunch" grids on our computer monitors.

I wonder, though:

  • Was life any different than before the pandemic?
  • Weren't we already skilled at boxing people in and keeping others at a distance?

How do you stay connected?
(Photo credit:  Brady Bunch, Wikipedia)

I was reflecting on these questions after participating in a friend's 80th birthday celebration this past week.  His wife had arranged a Zoom session where we could gather to share stories, participate in a trivia contest about Jim's life, and offer well wishes to our friend, loved one, and colleague.

Jim served at my church when I was in school.  Over the years he would guide me as a mentor and spiritual director.  We have stayed in touch through Christmas cards, emails, and virtual reunions.  Isn't it amazing when we have people in our lives who watch out, listen to, and challenge us?

What have you learned from others?
(Photo credit:  What Happens When Young
and Old Connect, Greater Good Magazine

Celebration of Life, for me, has occurred when I begin to recognize the different boxes I have created... for self-protection; safe-keeping of treasures; or to define and limit myself and others.  A box is still a box whether I store memories or create expectations.

What I have learned from Jim and others is the importance of: (1) recognizing the human tendency to understand life by defining and labeling; and (2) letting go of these restrictions we place on life.

In other words, celebrating life is the act of being in the present and accepting the person who is before us:  the person I am right now and the gift I encounter in you.

When do you celebrate life's lessons?
(Photo credit:  Young Helping the Elderly)

As we walk together, it is the reciprocal actions of giving and receiving, guiding and learning, offering and accepting that allows us to acknowledge the gifts of Self and Other.  Knowing that I don't have to be perfect releases me from one boxed-image of myself.  Understanding that I don't have all the answers opens another box.  Hearing, appreciating, and accepting truths you have learned frees me from a binary framework of Right-Wrong, Yes-No, and Truth-Untruth.

Jim described us as Pilgrim People: journeying together -- sometimes leading, sometimes following, and sometimes carrying one another.  Whether physically distanced and remotely connected or being in the same room, the invitation is to reach out, open the boxes that surround us, and celebrate the gifts we discover.

What do you celebrate today?  What lessons have you learned and are willing to share?

Happy 80th Birthday, Jim!  And Happy 6th Anniversary of this blog!

Larry Gardepie

(click on link for website)

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Caution Eroding

Walking along the cliffs and tide pools of the Cabrillo National Monument I was taken by the beauty of the rugged coastline.  The rhythm of the waves rolling towards and crashing against the cliffs was mesmerizing.

Signs along the way explained how rain and runoff created layers of sediment on the ocean floor.  Over millennia the sediment hardened to rock and seismic activity thrust the ocean-layered floor above waterline to create this fragile coast.  The waves carved out what is seen today.

Layers of build-up over the years eroded away to create the beauty of this day.

What are you seeing or experiencing today?
(Photo: California shoreline, Cabrillo National Monument)

As I continued to watch the waves break against the shoreline, I realized that the action of carving away continues with each undulation.  What I saw or experienced a moment ago is not the same as it is now.  Each wave brings change:  change unknown in the previous moment.  The first image is but a memory:  the second image is different and beautiful in its own way.  I needed to let go of what I have seen (past) and focus on what is changing (now).

In other words, how will the next wave create or alter what I am seeing?

Can I let go of the past
to see what is happening now?

As I read the information signs and watched the continuing revelation of God's creative touch, I pulled back from the apparent beauty and noticed other signs, pylons, and barriers that warned of the unstable nature of the shoreline as the water undercut the cliffs' base.

It was interesting -- and a little disheartening -- watching people ignore the warning signs and walk beyond the barriers: wanting to sit on the cliff's edge; needing to take a selfie against the dangerous backdrop; walking along the fragile surface that had evident cracks where rock would eventually tumble into the ocean.

How do we respond to
the warning signs in our lives?
(Can you see the warning pylons at the cliff's edge?)

How easy it is to ignore the warning signs that sediment and erosion creates in our lives:  the lies that unfold; the truths untold; the fragile natures of our relationships when we no longer trust.  Do we ignore the layers of buildup over the years?  Are we afraid to acknowledge that the sediment in our lives needs to be removed?

What causes us to not pay attention to the warning signs in our lives:

  • Misunderstanding what another person says... and not asking questions?
  • Seeing looks of frustration or anger... and not checking in?
  • Mistrusting other people's intentions or motives... and not caring?

Walking along the cliffs of my life, I oftentimes am taken in by moments that attract or distract me.  I don't always pull back and notice the barriers or signs that alert me to other views.

I am wondering:  What do you focus on?  How do you respond to warnings?  Is there a way to balance misunderstandings and mistrust with a wider view of truth and beauty?

Larry Gardepie

(click on link for website)

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Sun and Rain: Seeking Balance in Life

Walking through Rossio Square in central Lisbon (Portugal) several years ago, I noticed the sun playing off water spraying from a nearby fountain.  The warmth of the sun was tempered by the cooling mist.  A pleasant encounter on this hot and dry day.

I was struck by the Beauty of Balance:  one element offsetting another; not trying to dominate; both coexisting in a radiant display of sunlight on sparklets of water.

Where is there balance in your life?
(Photo:  Rossio Square, Lisbon, Portugal)

If you think about sun and rain, we need both... in a delicate balance.  Too much sun without enough rain will create desert or drought conditions.  Too much rain without enough sun can cause flooding, swamps, and mildew.  When water and sunlight is Out-of-Balance, destruction can occur.

I wonder if being in balance or out-of-balance describes the ability to stay in relationship?  What then can we say about the balance or imbalance in our lives?

What storms overwhelm you?
(Photo:  tropical storm over Panama City, Panama)

Our divided world debates about climate change - whether it is happening or not.  We differ about life and choice.  COVID has opened new fissures about vaccinations and masks:  what is the best way to achieve immunity from an external virus.

I wonder about the virus that compromises our relationships... when we cannot listen to differing opinions.  It seems that we are no longer curious about understanding the facts of a situation.  Rather, we seek to dominate or destroy what is in oppositions to our tightly-held beliefs and conclusions.

How can this new day be different?
(Photo:  sunrise over Pacific Ocean)

For me, the beauty of balance is the desire to stay in relationship.  We may not always agree... but can we keep talking?  Can we replace judgment with curiosity:

  • I wonder what you think about...
  • I see it this way.  How do you see it?  What is your experience?
  • Help me understand how you reached that conclusion.

We cannot ask these questions if we are not in relationship.  We cannot notice a climate of change unless we are open to seeing the change in others... and ourselves.

Rain must give way to sun to create the balance that nature needs; sun must allow rain to feed the new growth that occurs when sun and rain work together; and rainbows -- covenants against destruction -- occur only when sun and rain appear together.

What relationships are important to you?  How do you stay in balance with those you care about?

Larry Gardepie

(click on link for website)

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Illuminating Our Darkness

A friend and I were testing our comfort levels with our first extended trip since the pandemic began.  We talked through the risks; how we would stay observant; and ways we would check in and stay vigilant.  We wondered what our reactions would be when encountering people who might not be physically distancing or wearing masks.  Vaccinations and masks were required on this trip, but was that enough to keep us safe?

Stepping out on this first trip seemed so surreal compared to the months of limited encounters and the ever-changing landscape of what was known and unknown about this virus.  The familiarity of previous trips and pre-planning mixed with the unfamiliarity of exposing ourselves to the unexplored was unsettling at first, but it was nice to have a trusted friend to walk through this situation.

Isn't that actually what life is:  walking with trusted companions on this journey?

When in darkness, do you see any light?
(Photo:  lighted barriers shining on water, San Diego Bay)

This reflection followed me throughout the 10 days we were away:  the swirl of familiar and unfamiliar, the explored and unexplored, the known and the unknown.  I wondered... when in my life had I settled for the comfort of having The Answer, always knowing what was Right, and listening only for what I Want to Hear?

When we returned home from this journey, a magnificent storm welcomed us:  thunder and lightning and moments of heavy rainfall.  Power beyond imagination flashed through the sky, followed by the loud acclamation of Nearness and much-needed rain to quench a drought-stricken landscape.

Before the next storm, where is your focus?
(Photo:  sunset before thunder storm, San Diego)

Is Normal the goal we really want to reach -- such that we can no longer see other possibilities in our darkest moments?  Is that the question we must consider at this uncertain time in our lives?  Rather than only seeing and feeling the darkness of this pandemic -- focusing on the familiar we have lost; arguing over masks and vaccines; defining our opinions through lenses of freedom and control -- what would it be like to have a trusted friend to talk about the darkness and challenge us to see the light hidden in any moment?

As a new day dawns, does the light touch you?
(Photo: San Diego sunrise)

Waking up early one morning, we experienced a beautifully, clear sunrise across the entrance to the San Diego Bay.  The early morning light extended a reflected arm out to us, embracing us with beauty, and shining on the anchored boats in the outer harbor.  The outstretched beacon touched each of the ships individually and in their own time.

That is the way it is with us as well:

  • Am I willing today to be in dialogue with another person?
  • Can I share the darkness of my fears, concerns, and unknown answers?
  • Is there a way -- together -- to walk and explore the uncharted or unanchored regions of our lives?
  • Can we release the normal and be able to see new light and possibilities... answers that emerge from our shared journey together?

May the light of relationships disrupt the darkness of isolation.  May loud peals awaken us to the energy of change.  May we be blessed with friends who understand the dry times in our lives... drenching us with trusted waters of understanding and safety.


Larry Gardepie

(click on link for website)

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Stepping Stones to Understanding

Working with a local non-profit, I have been asked to develop a process to address the systemic changes and restructuring they are experiencing.  The CEO mentioned several times that he wanted Stepping Stones to show what might be done at various stages of their reorganization.  Familiar with my dialogue studies of the past seven years, I am aware that any change brings about low awareness.

Just think about changes you have experienced.  There were probably periods of uncertainty and  doubt.  There may have been times when people blamed others.  Not understanding what was happening, We begin to talk about They... the Others causing the problems or asking us to change.  We may have become reactive, mistrusted other people's motives, and became self-absorbed.

What is the first step we could have taken?

What steps do you take to understand change?

The first step for me is Noticing: the act of perceiving, becoming aware, and paying attention.

Noticing creates a Pause that allows questions to surface about the calm or turbulent moments in my life:

  • What am I afraid of in this moment?
  • Am I open to learning something new about myself and others?
  • Am I willing to listen in order to understand?
  • Who has information that needs to be shared?

How do you stay focused when journeying
between calm and turbulent times in your life?

It seems that Willingness is a key step for me: the inclination or readiness to  do something.  Noticing-Pausing-Willingness are tied together, beginning a journey across the divide that separates me from others.
If you've ever crossed a river using the stones scattered across its surface, you sometimes slip or fall into the river.  You learn that some steps are wobbly and need to be approached with caution; other stones are more stable and are easier to use.  Our stepping stones to understanding are similar: as we become more aware, we notice which steps we don't feel comfortable with -- possibly because we haven't practiced that skill or the situation is new to us.
The next steps we need to take?

How might you cross the waters
that divide?

When I am uncomfortable with my skill set, I have learned two other steps:  naming the fact that I Need Help and Asking for Help.  These are two very vulnerable and humbling steps!  By recognizing that I Don't Have All the Answers (another step), I find myself more open to Listening and Learning.
The project I am working on for the non-profit CEO, defining the stepping stones to change, seems similar to the stepping stones of understanding:

Open to Listening and Learning
I Don't Have All the Answers
Asking for Help
I Need Help

What steps help you to understand?

Larry Gardepie

(click on link for website)