Throw aways worth keeping

Mexican Sunflowers_1I went to Whitenight’s Farm and Greenhouse sometime back in May. The weather was warming up. I was in the mood to plant vegetables and flowers.  I  have a friendly relationship with Karen who works there. She may even own the place. I don’t know. I like her and the business alot.

My intention was to cultivate a colorful garden. I also wanted to build upon my efforts to farm and nurture Monarch Butterflies. Gardening is a healthy spiritual practice for me.  I wanted some Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia) and Milkweed plants. They are key ingredients for farming butterflies.  The farm didn’t have any as it was too early to plant them. Karen wasn’t there that day so I didn’t get to check in. The cashier was kind enough to take my contact information. She ordered the amount of plants that I wanted. I went back to the house and planted my peppers, tomatoes, and some other things.

Then, life happened. Other priorities and diversions came along and I forgot about my gardening goals.

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Photo – courtesy of Whitenight’s Farm

Someone from Whitenights probably called at some in time. I don’t usually answer calls from unknown telephone numbers. They didn’t leave a voice mail message or maybe I accidentally deleted it.  Regardless, about six weeks later, I stopped in again to ask Karen about how the monarch butterfly season was going for her. I wasn’t seeing any monarchs in my backyard.  She indicated she hadn’t seen any monarchs either.  She then inquired whether I still wanted to buy the milkweed and sunflowers I had ordered.

Crap, I had forgotten.

She wasn’t even sure that the greenhouse still had them. Karen hadn’t ordered a lot more of milkweed and Mexican Sunflowers because of the dearth of butterflies in the area. Weather and conditions south of us were preventing monarchs from making it to Pennsylvania – at least that’s what we heard.

 

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She asked someone to look for my ordered plants just in case.  They were still there – about to be thrown away and looking very parched.  I felt awful because of my poor memory. I was responsible for the plants dying. Karen told me to go ahead and take them home. “Plant them anyway and see what happens.”  I offered to buy them.  She gave them to me for free. Feeling guilty, I bought some planting soil and some other stuff.  How many flowers and vegetables wind up in compost or garbage bins because customers like me aren’t as responsible as we should be?  Nature’s unpredictability and human shortcomings don’t probably help much either. I headed home with my almost dead garden plants and a heavy heart.

I planted the Tithonia in a section of my garden were the lilies and bee balm were doing great.  I used a heavy dose of planting soil, watered the twigs, and offered a prayer of gratitude for Karen’s generosity and hope for some growth.   Maybe the flowers and the butterflies would survive despite my forgetfulness. Maybe I should just be thankful for the manner in which my tomatoes, peppers, hydrangea, and other garden plants and vegetables were thriving. Well, was I in for some surprises as spring turned to summer.

We had a very rainy summer. I traveled quite a bit; so, I was away from home. My garden was on autopilot. garden_3 I came home to this picture.

My sunflowers had flourished! There were bees and butterflies all over the place. Monarch caterpillars were crawling all over my milkweed plants elsewhere in the yard.

I understand simplistically that these plants don’t need me or my feeble expertise to grow.  They are like the mustard seeds that Jesus speaks about in a fairly famous parable. Little seeds can grow into great big plants as long as they have good exposure to sunlight, healthy soil, and enough water to drink. This is not rocket science. Some would say, me being among them, that people are doing much more to harm than good to our planetary environments.  The most recent United Nations Climate Report suggests that human beings must take unprecedented social changes if we will survive and avoid catastrophic planetary peril. It was more than 90 degrees in Norway and over 100 degrees in Japan even as the rains fell in Pennsylvania and wildfires burned uncontrollably in Europe and Oregon. “Weirdness abounds” according to Rutgers University Scientist, Jennifer Francis.

We lose or waste billions of tons of food on this planet. Americans are especially wasteful as we throw away $165 billion dollars of our (un)prepared food. (Quention Fottrell). What would we gain if we would at least compost some of this supply?  Who is going hungry as food spoils on our garbage dumps?  blog 3What I find spiritually, ethically, and theological renewing is that there are emerging efforts across the globe to confront these realities. Episcopalians have decided to make the Stewardship of Creation an important goal by funding environmental stewardship initiatives. Organizations such as Columbia University’s Earth Institute purposefully blend research in the physical and social sciences, education and practical solutions in order to assist people and nations adopt a path toward sustainability.

One of my core personality principles that I commonly lose sight of is that everyone and everything is ultimately connected.  I have a deep longing for some idealistic future even as I overlook the beauty of this present moment.  Wholeness already exists. Paying attention to the joy I experience by going to Whitenights and planting flowers will help me to avoid becoming anxious or fascinating upon an unrealistic future.

Dr David Daniels astutely says that those of us who desire transformative change for ourselves, our gardens, and this island Earth our home must identify where we feel violated, angry, or afraid. How do these negative emotions shape and harm our future and our present? It is only then by confronting what is really going on that we can choose to act differently, and become someone who is born anew.

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Read Dr. David Daniels article about saving the planet through self-inquiry and personal growth.

In my own experience, I may look at myself as being ashamed of throwing away the flowers and letting them die at the nursery and along my life’s pilgrimage. Instead, I may choose to receive the gift of these dying flowers and plant them to see how they will grow and beautify my life and the lives of the people around me.

Developing daily rituals such as enjoying the beauty of the garden I’ve participated in growing, valuing the relationships I have in this moment, and continuing realistic, inspiration advocacy for the causes I love. These changes will have immediate as well as long term benefits . This pilgrimage invites a sustainable, beautiful path.

I’m going to purchase some mums from Whitenights today.

Blessings along The Way, Jim

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The Circle Way – A Participant’s Reflections of The Circle Way’s Purpose and Practice upon his Pilgrimage

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Whidbey Institute Labyrinth – Photo by Sharon Frank Wichman

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

(Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī – as reframed by Tenneson Woolf )

“The circle way is a practice of reestablishing social partnerships and creating a world in which the best of collaboration informs and inspires the best of hierarchical leadership. … The ancient ways of circle are waiting for us to remember and activate a true experience of collaboration.” (Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, 2010, p. 11)

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Photo by Amanda Fenton – see more of her photos on Flickr

 

I attended The Circle Way Practicum on Whidbey Island WA from Aug. 15 – Aug. 20, 2018. The learning group was comprised of 22 practitioners and 2 highly skilled hosts Amanda Fenton and Tenneson Woolf. The group was very diverse. Attendees traveled to this circle from a vast array of cultural, generational, professional, and geographical contexts and disciplines. I was amazed at the quality of each participant’s authenticity and competencies – as people and as community members.

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Visit Aldermarsh – when you need to retreat and re-nourish your community.

The event happened at Aldermarsh – a beautiful sustainable environmental retreat center. Whidbey Island is a paradoxical setting. The island is home to a military naval air station on its northern shore as well as to natural sanctuaries such as Earth Sanctuary, Whidbey Institute, and Aldermarsh.  It is in this puzzlingly holy space (fields to use Rumi’s terms) where The Circle Way groups have gathered over the years. These groups  will continue flourishing, despite and because of such contradictions. It is only in such cauldrons that true alchemy occurs.

My beloved friend, Gil Stafford is someone I’ve sat in many circles with over the years. He writes:

We must identify what’s hiding in the shadows of our community & then we must accept some responsibility for our work on these denials and repressions. Second, we have to look into our own shadow. What do we have in our personal DNA that feeds into this corporate shadow? Third, we must ask ourselves how we are going to work on our own stuff in a way that will positively affect the collective? In other words, how do we share our inner world with the outer world in ways that are not “all about me,” but instead for the collective health.” (Stafford, Changing the World Without Words, Peregrini June, 27, 2018)

Circles become cauldrons when the paradoxical forces in the shared space beckon participants to come out from behind themselves and enter in the center of the circle’s shared learning and wellness.

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The Gong at the Marsh House offers beautiful reminders of The Spirit’s Presence throughout the Day

A typical day began, for me at 5:30 in the morning for mediation and preparation. Attendees communed for breakfast at 8 am. The Circle met for morning, afternoon, and evening sessions, with some time off for reflection and relaxation on one evening and one afternoon. Formal sessions usually ended before 9 pm. The exception to this rule was an especially emotional and bonding “Story Council” on Saturday evening. Small groups often gathered for reflective and refreshing conversations after the evening session. I was normally asleep by 11:00 pm.

It was without a doubt one of the most transformational experiences of my life as an Episcopal priest.

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Learn more about Basic Guidelines for calling together and hosting a Circle Way Meeting

My initial purpose was to learn more about The Circle Ways tools and techniques. How might I incorporate them and use them in my ministerial and consultative practices? What I have crossed the threshold with is something much, much greater. I have instead gained a cohort (circle) of beloved peers and friends. And, I now possess a much deeper insight into types of questions, reflections, and conversations holding holy room for creating true communities. The Circle Way creates immense capacity for motivating transformation in communities such as mine, Christ Memorial Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. I’m now home with a pallet of activating questions to share with my neighbors and peers.

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Photo by Amanda Fenton – see more of her photos on Flickr

The birthing point of The Circle Way practice roots itself the reality that human beings have gathered in circles for hundreds of centuries. A circle is one archetype for understanding basic human motivations as well as our shared collective unconscious. We come to meet with one another in circles because we cannot exist without one another. (Neill, 2018)

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Vox’s Dylan Scott writes that Brett’s Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US Supreme Court is “most divisive, contentious Supreme Court nominee in a generation.” What if…. the Senate was to place the purpose of a healthy nation at the center of its debate, rather than partisanship and power.

We live presently in a time and contexts when and where most people and organizations have lost their understanding of  communicating in circles. Instead, especially when under stress or contending with confusion, we choose to debate/argue/deliberate with one another in dyads, triangles, or squares. These choices are typically reactive than responsive. Such conversations frequently lack shared purpose, concurrence toward addressing and acting upon a common need, and desire to maintain healthy relationships with one’s self and one’s neighbors – friendly or otherwise. What works and why The Circle Way is core to my practice is that the process beckons us and human beings to cross thresholds of assumptions and difference much like a participant must cross to and from the threshold of Whidbey Island and enter its paradoxes.

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Photo by Jeremy Nash

 

I appreciate the way that The Circle Way process invokes some of my tradition’s core tenets. What we share at the center of our conversations yokes us into deeper communion. The center of such offerings is an altar of sorts. What we share of ourselves at the altar is sacred, vulnerable. Who we are on boundaries of the circle we are participating in invites us into deeper covenant with God and one another. There is spiritual synergy that happens in such space that is transformational while provoking shared purpose and flourishing. (The Circle Way, 2018).

Tenneson reminded me yesterday that the essence of our work, play, and being with one another lives most graciously in the context of friendships.  Early Christians would describe such friendships as “agape“. Circles create such agape when the people around the center share wholehearted opportunities to be close to one another while being ourselves, in our own bodies, and souls. In this Spirit,

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James Tissot’s – The Last Supper: Judas Dipping his Hand in the Dish

I now re-envision that Jesus’ Last Supper and The Church’s First Communion did not occur at a long rectangular table. Rather the disciples sat with Jesus around a common table with their fears, loves, hopes, and doubts embodied in the shared sacramental bread and wine. Such communion opens us up to betrayal and sacrifice. Letting go in order to live anew is unquestionably more likely when we don’t have barriers between us. Such meetings and the conversations that happen there may be, as the First Communion was, life-changing for everyone in the room and beyond the community’s walls too.

I invite your prayers, ideas and participation as to where we may begin and continue this transformative work. Would you join in a Circle with me?

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On Whidbey Island’s shoreline – Photo by Tenneson Woolf

 

Flourishing – Bread of Life

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Tiny Leaf Photo by Luke Porter on Unsplash – Check out Luke’s great photos on his Unsplash page.

It’s been awhile.  Blogging routinely challenges me.  Creativity is one of my Character Strengths. Self-regulation isn’t.  I know that I ought to blog routinely – once or twice a week.  Then I would build a healthy habit of writing creatively.  And, as Lisa Laskow and Robert Kegan suggest in their book, Immunity to Change, I have to really, really desire to write regularly if I am going to change.  Simply telling myself that I should is not nearly enough to overcome my internal resistance and external forces for changing my life in such a way.  I’m not ready, at least on this task, to self-transform my mind. I’m not energized enough to commit myself to working my way through an Immunity to Change Map. That’s not to say that I’m not spending a great deal of time to transform myself. I’ve decided to drift away from being adaptive though.  I’m working on flourishing instead.

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What does it mean to flourish? As a person … start your discovery and develop a plan here.

You see, I went down a pretty dark depression hole back around the end of May. I don’t remember what the precipitating event was. I don’t need a reason sometimes. I just get a shovel and start digging. Sometime around the middle of June, I came up for air long enough to read about Dr. Laurie Santos’ Science of Well-Being Course at Yale.  Professor Santos’ class is the most popular course ever at Yale. I was intrigued; so, I did a little research.  Love of learning is another one of my Character Strengths. That’s a good thing for me and you to know.  Do you know what yours are?

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Check out Professor Santos’ brief introduction to her Science of Well Being Course.

I discovered that I could sign up for the class at coursea.  And, it’s free!  (unless you want a certificate of completion of some other form of proof of continuing education).  One of the first assignments is to evaluate your character strengths and present level of happiness. Yes, there’s actual homework and it is worth doing! It is a Yale course after all.  This initiative along with the idea that I really, really wanted to go to Spain with my spouse and best friends in 2020 prompted me to get off of my ass and rejoin Planet Fitness. We intend to spend 14-17 days as pilgrims on the Camino De Santiago. $22.00 bucks a month for the PF Black Card is not going to break my bank. The HydroMassage Chair is awesome for my lower back and meditative practices. My feet, knees, back, shoulders, brain, and soul will all thank me when indeed we venture out for a Buen Camino some months from now. As my anam cara , Gil Stafford, writes in his book – Wisdom Walking – Pilgrimage as a Way of Life – a pilgrim begins her or his pilgrimage long before she or he sets a physical foot on the path. And a pilgrim must walk all of the miles – known and unknown – spiritually, mystically, intellectually, and physically when they indeed do choose to complete their Immunity to Change Map and consume God’s Bread of Life. (more on that in a few paragraphs).

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Martin Seligman is a founder of the Positive Psychology Movement. Flourish is an awesome book!

All in all, I chose, about six weeks ago, that I really, really wanted to let go of some aspects of my old self for a newer – more free version of me. This is not the first or last time that I have made such a decision. I’ve quit lots of time. Self-regulation is not one of my strengths. Creativity and sense of purpose are. So, I’m using what I desire to be good for dealing with my growth edges. Each time I learn a little bit more about myself. I followed Professor Santos’ directions and downloaded the ReWi app.   I’ve used religiously the application. It really is helpful to track progress in 7 different categories: goals, sleep, exercise, connections, gratitude, kindness, and savoring.  The act of documenting and writing something down is scientifically and faithfully important. I’m checking on my levels of PERMA throughout each week. I doubt that Dr. Seligman would use these words but I will. This self-improvement endeavor has more deeply reacquainted me with eating the Bread of Life that is necessary for eternal life. His book, Flourish is re-connecting me with my faith in God and belief in the God-given character strengths that I uniquely have and that I believe everyone possesses.

Let me explain those last two statements.

bread-of-lifeJesus, in the 6th Chapter of the Gospel of John, differentiates between bread that sustains human beings on a daily basis in contrast to the Bread of Life that God gives offering life to the World. (kosmos) Jesus adds that he is “The bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6: 35) . There is nothing in this passage about getting a free pass to paradise.  There is plenty in this passage suggesting that Jesus’ Way is The Way toward becoming fully human.  Sacramental living is living as Jesus lived – sharing himself through the healing of the people around him.  He savored God’s Grace while coincidentally giving thanks and contributing his divinely inspired and miraculous gifts with others. He rebuked selfishness even as he broke bread with thousands of people. That’s all very biblical and it is also very practical.

Consider this comparison.  The VIA Institute on Character states that their goal is to “fill the world with greater virtue – more wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence.”    Now, I don’t know that anyone at the institute is a self-professed Christian. Some of Seligman’s research suggests that religious practice in and of itself is not predictive of authentic happiness. On the other hand, identification and application of character strengths – especially when dedicated toward improving the well-being of other people and creation assuredly correlates with increased levels of joy and well-being.  That sounds a whole lot like Jesus Christ’s Gospel message to me.  ” I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” (John 10:10)

Character Strength Word InfographicCreativity is one of my greatest character strengths. I didn’t ask for it.  It is a gift from God. If writing is one unique way for me to express my original thoughts and ideas – so be it.  I’m guessing that I’ll have to use this and some of my other strengths to build up my prudence, humility, and self-regulation.  Perhaps this blog will become a more regular weekly exercise for me to accomplish – along with getting to Planet Fitness.