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The Grace of Contradiction

This blog is dedicated to the future.

“When we express something, express ourselves as to what we stand for, not what we stand against. For example, Mother Teresa said she would not march against war; however she would march for peace. Such a simple shift.” - from the Foundation for Inspired Learning.

It’s the end of July and another month has passed, the news still heartbreaking, the energy irratic. Looking through some of my writing notes I found this undated scribble: “I’ve been plugged into a socket that isn’t my own.” An ah-ha moment on a scrap of paper (I see now how 'unplugged' I was much of last month) has been my guide for the last few weeks as I plug in to my core while monitoring how much outside noise I allow into each day.

After too many months without it, I’m including exercise and stretching into each day. I’ve committed to my writing as I’ve never done before and a looming deadline is keeping me organized. I breathe in gratitude and humor like necessary air. Spending time with family and friends grounds me, and indulging in a daily treat of dark chocolate is pure pleasure and helps me focus when I sit down to write. These practices have helped me plug back into my own energy. My particular love of the word “grace,” caught in the above photograph from our travels last month, has also been an inspiring reminder of what matters.

The ensuing awareness has brought me to my wholeness—as a practice, it's the ability to plug into thoughts and actions that reflect who I am and what I choose to support—as Mother Teresa said, to respond and act on what I believe in and value, along with being aware of situations that literally unplug me from myself, situations that can result in lots of 'internal' noise. The photo above contains the visible and invisibile whole of me—the age spots and wrinkles that speak of sixty-three years lived, the smile I’ve had since birth, traces of births and deaths, love and despair, ignorance and wisdom, illness and health—along with the small joy of shade from a straw hat on a sizzling sweaty day and the surprise of the jewelry store* sign that gifts me with one more aspect of grace.

I’m simultaneously doing my very best to stay tuned in (though not plugged in) to others, even world events—some days are better than others and I’ve found asking the question, “What will make this day the best possible day?” clears the way so that both connections and decisions not to connect are more authentic. While I admit the image of the ostrich with its head in the sand is enticing, plugged back into my own knowing shows me that now is not a time to hide. Writer and literary critic Alfred Kazin didn’t want us to hide either. He wrote in his journals:

“… a contradiction that is faced leads to true knowledge… Contradictions are on the surface, the symbols of deeper and more fertile forces that can unleash the most marvelous energy when they are embraced.”

Combined with the practice of empathy, I hear the messages within the ‘surface contradictions’ calling me to the life-long practice of holding seeming opposites that appear impenetrable at first glance, yet bring treasures and richness to our lives. The unknown future that is invisibly seeping into the edges of the photo above won’t erase the many paradoxes consciously or unconsciously navigated in my past or present—these generative opposing forces that have made me who I am will only continue to add a tempered patina to who I will be in the future.

There will always be contradiction, paradox, and opposing forces—our world was not meant to be without them. During this curiously intensified period in time, it is a fierce act of freedom to hold and carry these "fertile forces"—to consider, to wait with wonder, and be ready for the insights and realizations that will come from the holding and carrying. At the beginning of this year I applied for a temporary teaching job that required an extensive CV, letters of recommendation, and a personal letter of intent. A stressful week of recording my life’s work and self-reflection led to the application being sent out before the deadline, and the next day I received an email saying thank you, but no thank you. The holding and carrying of all I’ve done over the last twenty years (including years worth of doubts, judgments and second-guessing) burst into a deep knowing after reading the rejection note. Writing that CV turned into an invaluable knowing of myself, what I carry at my core, why I coach and write, how I reflect all of it out into the world. The job? Hunched over my computer that week I'd wanted it so much I was dreaming about it. Turns out that not being accepted for the position was surprisingly, wonderfully the best "fertile outcome" possible.

In stark contrast, to expend our energies fighting the teeming contradictions in life distorts and polarizes what is vital and life-affirming— freezing individuals, families, communities, and nations into stagnant positions of “I’m right. You’re wrong.” That position has already taken too many lives, buried too many dreams and possibilities. Have you felt it? The ebbing away of once-vibrant energy that kept you plugged into what is meaningful, and sacred?

During this personally plugged-in time I am experiencing grace as keeping my eyes and heart and brain wide-open in order to catch the ‘marvelous energy’ that comes from embracing the contrary and paradoxical. Add my innate empathy to this experience, and voilà—I am wearing my grace like a second skin. Again, the reminder that I'm talking about an ongoing practice, not perfection. That graceful second skin can get a bit scratchy and wrinkly too.

If you want to nurture and intensify this graceful energy, do not stay tuned exclusively to the amplified voices broadcast on electronic devices. Do not be lulled to sleep by the white noise of repetitive raging and empty platitudes. Wake up to your own voice and gifts in your unique way, extend your hand in kindness and support, and be extra willing to listen. Be generous by encouraging and acknowledging each step that others are taking to recognize their own grace, to land however awkwardly on their feet, to finally plug in to their core.

And always, always support what is life-affirming. Live your values and your loves. Wear and speak your grace, and don’t believe you can’t do anything in these turbulent times. As the tag line for the Yo-Yo Ma/Silk Road Project documentary “The Music of Strangers” announces: “To change the world, you have to make a little noise.”

* With many thanks to Grace Jewelry, located at 125 E Palace Street in Santa Fe, NM.

- Photo by Barry Shapiro

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Calming Practice: To Revenge with Beauty

“By trying to kill the human spirit the answer of the human spirit is to revenge with beauty.”

The above quote can be heard in the official trailer for the documentary film, “The Music of Strangers.” I hope you enjoy listening to the few minutes of beauty and the human spirit portrayed there. Better yet, see the film.

As a calming practice, listen to your favorite music when you need a break from your busy day. Dance and/or sing along, or allow the music to lull you to sleep. As the music energizes, soothes, or inspires you, feel the beauty and peace it brings to your day.


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