Deliver us from Evil, Part II

Read Part I of this entry.

Wright’s book included a substantial discussion of forgiveness, and he made several interesting points. I’ve noted that there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the concept of forgiveness, and that it’s often mis-understood, first and foremost, because forgiving is often equated with forgetting: “Forgive and forget.” But they are not the same thing.

Second, it’s simplistic to think about forgiving someone as “letting them off the hook,” or to see forgiveness as something that only benefits the alleged perpetrator. And, Wright further points out that forgiveness does not equate to tolerance, inclusivity, or indifference. “Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we don’t take evil seriously after all; it means that we do.”

Wright favors the concept of “restorative justice”. A bringing together of the offender and the victim, their families and friends, and the larger community, to determine a way forward. Forgiveness is, at its core, is about freeing both parties. Forgiveness “releases not only the person who is being forgiven but the person who is doing the forgiving.” Moreover, “forgiveness can mean not only that I release you from the threat of my anger and its consequences, but also that I avoid having the rest of my life consumed with anger, bitterness and resentment.”

Forgiveness, while it’s not about forgetting what happened, is a striving to act as if it didn’t happen. It is a way of repairing the relationship.

As an extension of this idea, Wright says that forgiveness is not about clearing an “emotional overdraft.” He adds, “If you try to love someone simply in order to be loved in return, what you are offering isn’t love, and what you get back won’t be love either.”

And finally, he points out that love is not a feeling, as so many of us mistakenly believe. It’s a choice, a call to action. “What ‘love’ means first and foremost is taking thought for someone, taking care of them, looking ahead in advance for their needs, in the way that you would take careful thought about, and plan wisely for, your own life.”

I think what Wright is trying to point out is that love and forgiveness are linked. Perhaps it is because in making the choice to love, we open our hearts and thus pave the way for forgiveness.

Easier said than done. But well worth the effort.

Deliver us from Evil

I just finished reading Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright. It was both more and less than I expected. While a relatively short book (less than 200 pages) surely cannot hope to tackle the topic of evil in its entirety, it did present some ideas and definitions which I think merit further discussion and reflection.

Wright’s basic point about evil is that many of us no longer believe in evil at all. If we do, it often exists as this vague, nebulous force that we pretty much ignore until it shows up right in front of us – at which point, we are surprised, and then react in a ways that are immature and dangerous; thus Wright cautions us against what he calls “unthinking moralism.”

While it’s easy to think of evil in the manner of a personified, cartoonishly distorted force operating in opposition to goodness, Wright’s basic definition of evil invites us to think about it differently, and with less of a dualistic mindset. It is, rather, the absence of something, a rung missing halfway down the ladder in the dark. “Evil is the moral and spiritual equivalent of a black hole.”

I wonder then if the absence of a working conscience, or a strong inner compass qualifies as evil under this definition. Perhaps then selfishness (selfish thinking and acting), as a manifestation of the lack of love, also qualifies.

It has long been my assertion that there’s very little malevolent evil in the world. But that most evil is the result of people’s inner confusion and lack of clarity about their own values and thoughtless action as the extension of it. Perhaps this is just another way of saying something very similar to what N.T. Wright has said, in terms of the definition of evil. The challenge, then, may be to know ourselves, to act on what we know, and further, to do so while maintaining an awareness of how our actions impact others.

More on this topic in part II.

On Letting Go, Part III

How do we know when to let go, and when to hold on?

Sometimes when presented with a challenging person or situation in our lives, it can be difficult to determine what constitutes right action.

If what we’re facing is unlike anything we’ve experienced before, can we evaluate it on the merits of our previous experiences? If we do so, we run the risk of devaluing it, or of evaluating it based on a set of outdated criteria.

When something, or someone, so different from our previous experiences comes into our lives, it’s an opportunity for learning about our ingrained beliefs, habits, and patterns. And an opportunity to reflect upon whether or not these are serving us. Sometimes they are, and other times they are not.

That’s the funny thing about identity. We construct it over time, and we can deconstruct it as well. But if we throw out everything we know to be true every time someone comes along with a new idea, we run the risk of losing ourselves entirely.

On the other hand, if we are so concerned with building castles within ourselves that we cannot allow anything new to come in, we are closing ourselves off to growing, to experiencing our lives – and ourselves – more fully.

 And the difference is not always easy to discern.

Sometimes (actually more often than not) there are no easy answers. Through remaining in a space of watchful awareness, and cultivating a heart of compassion for everyone involved in a situation, we can ease the discomfort that is often so much a part of being in the midst of not knowing. When the turmoil within us subsides, we may discover a space of calm, quiet, and peace which holds the answers we seek.

Echoes from the Past, Part II

At the end of part I of this entry, I said that really easy things are rarely worth doing anyway. But, let’s take that a step further. Does it then follow that all difficult things are worth doing, just to prove a point? Should I dedicate my life to proving that oil and water can mix?

But seriously. It seems to me that it’s important to discern which difficult things are worth committing our very best to, and which ones go against the grain of who we really are, and what we really want our lives to stand for, lest we become a modern-day Sisyphus.

And beyond that, it’s also worth reflecting on why certain tasks may be difficult. If we are, for example, invited to confront our biggest fears, or called to heal old wounds in the process, we are faced with a great challenge, and an even greater opportunity for growth.

On the other hand, if we are motivated primarily by the desire to prove a point, we might simply have uncovered another variation of triumphantly declaring our own right-ness, with the added bonus of grueling experience.

Right action outwardly is meaningless if it lacks the heart as a foundation. Compassion, both for ourselves and for others, is an integral part of choosing and acting in ways consistent with our true calling. If we let our choices – and our actions- be motivated by love, we may surprise ourselves.

A New Year, A New You?

“So, any new year’s resolutions?” The cashier at the grocery store asked me today. I laughed, “No one ever keeps those anyway.”

If you happen to be someone who has made, and kept, a new year’s resolution, then I want to hear from you! You might just be the first – at the very least, you’ll be the first person I know who’s done it.

The problem with resolutions is that most of us are thinking too big.

That’s right, too big.

And while it’s good to dream big, the practical reality is that big changes don’t often take root in our lives the way we might like them to. Or the way that we hope they will.

So, I’m not against resolutions. Not at all. But, if you’re making one, I encourage you to think small. Here’s why…

It may be a new year, but you are still you. You have the same job, the same schedule, and the same habits you had last year.

So, for example, if you want to get in shape this year, rather than planning to hit the gym every morning at 5:30 and completely overhaul your diet, try keeping it real. Start with a couple of small changes that you can manage and feel good about. (For example, you might stop drinking soda and start walking thirty minutes a day, three times a week.) Create a foundation of new, healthy habits, and then build on that success.

It takes time for new habits to take root, and it’s also important to celebrate small victories along the way. Utilizing a reward system when you reach important milestones can help you stay motivated.

The play’s the thing…

All the world’s a stage,/ And all the men and women merely players:/ They have their exits and their entrances;/ And one man in his time plays many parts. – Shakespeare

There’s a belief common in spiritual practice that all the people who play important roles in our lives, from our parents, to our friends, to those who hurt us the most, signed up for their roles to teach us something that we came here to learn. And that those who love us the most are the ones who hurt us the most, because in being hurt we have the biggest opportunities to learn and grow.

And, when we exit, we will meet all of them again as their authentic selves, not in the role they played on the stage of our lives.

As a dear friend reminded me recently, we are all acting out plays that were written a long time ago. He was referring to our behavior patterns and thought patterns, which can become ingrained at an early age.

Except we forget that it’s a play. We get invested. We think it’s real. This is like believing the funhouse mirror shows us the real picture.

If our lives are pure fiction, what stories are we telling and re-telling? More to the point, what stories are we buying? And what stories are we re-living?

The challenge is to see the play for what it is. To recognize the players in our own mythology. The heroes. And the villains.

And the bigger challenge? To re-write the story and change the ending. To become the heroes of our own lives. To rescue ourselves instead of looking for someone else to do the heavy lifting.

We shall not cease from exploration/and the end of all our exploring/ will be to arrive where we started/and know the place for the first time. – T.S. Eliot

Living Well, Part II

Lately I’ve been having a surprising number of conversations that go something like this…

-Are you married?


-Do you have children?


-Oh. I’m sorry.

Usually the person asking the questions is a relative stranger, and the conversation ends with some sort of awkward pause during which I’m not sure what to say.

Apparently I’ve reached an age where to be single is unquestionably indicative of some sort of personal failing (at best) or a massive character flaw.

And being childless (or child-free, as I prefer to think of it)? In a word, pitiable.

It surprises and saddens me a little to learn that so many people consider a woman’s fulfillment to be so singularly tied to marriage and children. This goes back to a topic I discussed earlier this year in Scare-City and the Single Life: The Future is Now.

On the whole, it seems to me that people who are married are not necessarily any happier than those who are single. Perversely, it seems that many married people live vicariously through their single friends, and those who are single long to find “the one.” It’s funny because most marriages nowadays end in divorce. So, is finding “the one” more of a fairy tale now than ever?

Maybe the real theme here is that a great many people are not satisfied with the here and now. They spend much time longing for the future, or the past.

I think living well has a lot to do with being satisfied with the here and now, rather than saying “I’ll be happy when….” This isn’t to say we shouldn’t have goals, plans, and hopes for the future. But if those get in the way of living fully today, or if we feel that life can’t start until we have the perfect partner or the perfect family, then we may be denying ourselves the joys of the journey.

Each stage of life has its unique pleasures. When we allow ourselves to experience those fully, we are truly living well.

Living Well

People often say to me, “You seem so calm, all the time. You really must have no stress in your life.” I must admit, I’m terribly flattered…and also surprised.

It’s a lovely compliment which no doubt speaks to how much I’ve learned over the years about stress management and time management.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I have not been, historically, a calm person. But I think it was the fact that I so often found myself riddled with worries and anxiety that led me to the practices that have helped me become the person I am today.

If you add to that the fact that I surround myself with positive and supportive people, I think it goes a long way toward explaining what other people perceive as a calm, stress-free life.

The changes in my life didn’t happen overnight. But as I began to make better decisions for myself, I began to experience much more peace and satisfaction in my life. And these became the foundation, the basis of a question I would ask myself, kind of a barometer for making choices: What brings me more peace and a greater sense of satisfaction in my overall life and circumstances?

It’s worth mentioning here that one definition of stress is not experiencing challenging situations in one’s life, but rather it is wanting things to be different than they are. That is what often leads to frustration and emotional turmoil.

Even if we define stress as a challenging situation or life event, the ways that we perceive that event and then respond to it are largely learned. And they can be re-learned.

It goes back to what we hold on to, and what we choose to let go of. Every day, we have the opportunity to make choices that will bring greater peace into our lives, or leave us greater ensnared in chaos and emotional drama.

How we structure our value system, and how we live those values, will largely determine not only our overall direction in life, but also whether we truly are able to live well.

On Letting Go, Part II

(See part one of this entry.)

Let’s face it: Change can be hard. But sometimes, we make it harder than it needs to be by holding on. Whether we’re holding on to a person, a job, a house, or other situation in our lives, by investing in maintaining what is, we are refusing to allow what will be to take shape. For example, by holding on to a relationship that doesn’t work, we deny ourselves the opportunity to meet the right partner.

Often the motivation to maintain the status quo in a circumstance in our lives stems from the fear that, if we let what we have go, we will have nothing. We will lose.

But in order to grow, we must first create a space, an opening, for something more, something or someone who will be a better fit. And in that space is an opportunity for healing, for clarity, and for intentionality in manifesting the next experience.

Recommended reading: Letting Go of Attachment, From A to Zen

How we see things…Part II

“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” – Anais Nin

Many of us are attached to the idea that the reality we see is objective. But objectivity is difficult to come by. Our prior experiences, preconceptions, projections, and (often faulty) beliefs alter what we see.

Think of a funhouse mirror. Get the picture?

Now, this isn’t necessarily a problem unless we fail to realize it. In other words, if we become so invested in what we see in the mirror that we believe it’s real.

One of my favorite teachers, Swami Bodhananda, says that if we look in the mirror and see a fractured image we are only “lost” if we believe that we are actually fractured or distorted. It’s only the image that’s distorted. And the image isn’t who we are.

To take this a step further, consider, Who (or what) are we? Are we merely a collection of our thoughts and experiences? Are we our emotions? Our words and deeds? If identity is a construct, from what elements do we build it? And if we dismantle it, what do we have left?