It feels slightly strange to be celebrating this feast on my own. When I say, on my own, I mean without an Ignatian community. For the last twelve years I have participated in Ignatian celebrations of one form or another with a group of people who practice Ignatian spirituality.
It hadn’t quite occurred to me that this year, as I have the wonderful pleasure of being on sabbatical in Massachusetts, my community is a little far away!
Nonetheless, I choose to mark this day, as I have come to do for the five years – writing notes to the two or three people who have been most influential in my life in the preceding year.
It is wonderful to take the time to savour the contribution of those few. Obviously, it is not an exhaustive list, I keep it to fewer than five. I find the practice useful. It reminds me of the deep connection that I have to a few people. It always leaves me feeling grateful and feeling loved. And I think it is important to express my thanks to those who have taken such care of me during this past year.
In a way, I think Ignatian spirituality saved me – it is through Ignatian spirituality and the various spiritual directions connections that I have made over the years, that I really learnt how to connect with my interior being and with others. So I am grateful too, for the Ignatius and his wisdom which still echoes 500 years later.
It is one thing to look down at one’s life from a new perspective, it is quite another to walk the path into the possible future.
This idea is not mine wholly. It is a half remembered quote, so poorly remembered that even google can’t help me out. The image is of standing on a ridge looking out over the valley of peace or forgiveness, juxtaposed with the challenge of actually walking into that future.
The last few months have been incredibly useful to me. I have come to see myself from a new perspective. A single concept has seeded the crystal which has unlocked my understanding of much of what drives me.
It is a powerful force which has operated below the surface of my consciousness for so much of my life. Seeing it, casts a new light on unconscious presumptions which I never thought to question. It is tremendously liberating.
And yet, the liberation is only theoretical for the moment. I need to make a new path into my future. I need to examine the motivations in the choices I make. The liberation is useful, but ultimately empty until I begin to incorporate the insight into my daily reality.
My sister and I were chatting about grief this morning. (As one does over an early morning cup of coffee – at least in my family it is not an unusual setting for such conversations).
It got me thinking about the experience of dealing with emotional pain. It is never pleasant. And many of us avoid emotional pain at all costs. We use numbing behavior of all kinds – binge watching TV shows, over eating; drinking; obsessively exercising and, sometimes, even choose relationships which distract us. We can avoid in ways which appear to be ‘moving on’. And yet, time and again the issue raises its head again.
For the last couple of years I have actively tried to steer into the pain, not to wallow in it, but simply to risk allowing myself to feel it. On each occasion, or at least the bigs ones, I have been afraid that I would drown in the pain. But it never happens. In fact, it passes through much more easily than I anticipated. Not that the process is easy, but that it has been far less turbulent, far less disorienting, and far less scary that I feared it might be. And the process is far less draining than the avoidance is.
When we fail to brave the pain head on it does become our whole story. We cannot help but operate out of it, even as we try to avoid it. But when we take a deep breath and allow it to pass through us, we can close the chapter and genuinely move on.
The avoidance, in the end, is far more costly, far more all consuming, and far more toxic than the engagement will ever be. So why, oh why, do we fight it so hard?
I am not celebrating Mandela Day today.
Mandela Day began as a concept with the celebration of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday. The basic idea being that Mandela spent 67 years trying to make the world a better place, so we should spend 67 minutes trying to do the same.
Nelson Mandela was one of the great people of our time. I remain in awe of his capacity to forgive. If we all emulated his example just a fraction our world would truly be a better place.
But Mandela Day falls on 18 July and the thing is that 18 July has been a significant day in our family for far longer than the Mandela Day. 18 July is also my dad’s birthday.
I could write the story which tells of the way he, as a judge, had the courage to stand up to a government which had little interest in justice, morality or truth. But perhaps the greater story is that of a man who moved country and reestablished himself at the age of 65.
Thirteen years later my dad has a new legacy. He has made a significant contribution and he continues to work effectively and productively.
My parents created a new life for themselves. There is little talk of what might have been or of the pain that was. There is simply an embracing of what is today.
That is a legacy worth celebrating, and a model worth emulating.
I am not celebrating Mandela day today, because today I choose to honour a man who has had a far greater impact on my life.
Last Thursday I enjoyed a cup of coffee with an old friend. When I say ‘friend’, she is one of those people who I feel I have got to know better in the years since we have lived on different continents than we ever knew each before. i enjoyed reading her blog when she kept one, and I know she dips into mine occasionally. A shared interest in living authentically and a shared call to spiritual direction has meant that we have fundamentals in common. And so, the conversation we shared on Thursday was probably at a different level to any we have had before.
In the conversation she indicated that she had noticed a physical change in me that was indicative of an interior shift (my words, not hers! She was far more eloquent!) I have one other close friend who can read my physical being with similar accuracy. In that conversation I suddenly realized that that capacity to read another’s demeanor is a real gift, and one I do not have.
I am a reasonably sensitive person and I do pick up the sense of where people are and their level of comfort, and I know that my skill is probably more refined than many people. But this gift which is shared by these two friends of mine is in a whole other ballpark. It is an order of magnitude different.
I suspect neither of them have noticed what a rare gift they carry. As with most people who have a true gift of this nature, they probably cannot imagine what it is to live without it. I can refine my own skill, and practice it, but I will never view people as they do.
It is a great reminder that there are just different gifts in the world. For me, the challenge is to identify and to celebrate my own giftedness. To be grateful for the complex blend of gifts I have been given. And to remember that other people simply don’t see the world in quite the same way that I do!
I have just spent a marvelous five days with an old friend. We met at a seminar on the training of spiritual directors. She had just left the place where I was participating in a training course to become the director of another centre. We had a conversation that weekend which certainly changed my life, and I suspect hers too, but far less dramatically.
In the years that have past since that conversation we both marvel slightly at the fact that the conversation happened at all. Several people had told both of us we should meet the other – inevitable really – we were the only two under the age of fifty, we were both lay in a predominantly religious environment. But what lies far deeper beneath either of those is a real passion for spirituality and it is this, combined with being pragmatic realists amongst a majority of intuitive types which has cemented our friendship.
As we have fallen back into familiar conversations which have new flavours, I am surprised by how quickly my mind begins to travel to those spaces even when the conversation had paused. When I am out walking on my own, I find my mind preoccupied with those familiar tracks, searching for possible solutions and potential opportunities.
It isn’t hard, or arduous to let my mind wonder down those pathways. It feels like a breath of fresh air.
It isn’t that I want her life, or indeed, regret the choice I made to walk away from a life which could have looked very similar. Rather it is feels like mental equivalent of putting on a pair of old comfy jeans which fit just right. I wouldn’t choose to wear them every day, but it has been great fun to walk around in them one more time.
I don’t make friends easily. I can hang out with people who share my interests. I can make small talk over a glass of wine (although it has only been in recent years that I have come to recognize that I can actually do that reasonably well). But making real friends doesn’t come easily or quickly.
Those who I call true friends number in the single digits that is to say people I would call in the middle of the night (I probably never will call any if them, but I know I could!). And then there are just two or possibly three friends who I know I can ask for any kind of help and they will say yes first and consider the consequences later. One of those friends is someone I met just over twelve years ago.
I have been blessed this week to be able to reconnect with her. We live a continent apart and neither of us is particularly good at communicating long distance. But somehow the passage of time just isn’t significant. The essential things that drew us into friendship remain, and we share habits of relaxation which mean that a holiday together just means more conversation, and a few more adventures, but for neither of us is it more stressful than time spent alone. A very big deal for two strong introverts!
As we have slipped easily into companionship, I find myself marveling at the gift of such a friendship. We have never lived in the same city, technically we have never lived in the same country although England and Scotland seem less like individual countries than states (my African heritage, coupled with extended stays in the USA may have biased my perspective significantly – no disrespect to my Scottish ancestors!). Our lives intersected significantly for four years, and yet eight years later we can still find common ground. It is a great blessing, something to be treasured.