Horse

May 29, 2018

 

The horse is an archetypal symbol which will always
find ways to stir up deep and moving ancestral memories
in every human being.

~ Paul Mellon, American philanthropist and an owner/breeder of thoroughbred racehorses. 

The year 2006 was my third Ireland tour and my third post-tour pilgrimage to Inis Mor. It’s the largest of the three tiny Aran Islands hovering off the West Coast of Ireland. I encountered a horse there that would reawaken in me an ancient memory of who and what I am. A woman of power, strength and dignity.

Each evening during my solo retreat I took myself on a walk down a narrow, rocky path to watch the sunset. I wanted to witness the ocean swallow up the sun, imagining what my ancient ancestors thought of this daily event. My seat for the sunset show was atop a very old and rickety stone wall. I recall my senses being startled by the many shades of grey in the sky and water, the many shades of green in the lush grasses, and the many sounds of birds heralding the end of yet another day’s work. Sensing that I was not alone, I looked down and to my right. My eyes spied a beautiful grey horse standing proud, almost regal like, revealing an innate sense of power. Never one to pass up a mystery, I hopped off my perch and walked the winding downhill road until I was at the gate to the horse’s small pasture.

What a fine horse this was! Full grown yet retaining a sense of youthful playfulness. Its body was dappled shades of grey, and its mane a sturdy steel color. Its eyes were dual portals to a reality I did not fully recognize but found compelling. I was intent on gazing into the horse’s eyes and was amused by the dilemma of which eye to look into since they were so wide apart. “Ah ha, look between the eyes,” a mystery voice whispered. There I discovered a beautiful white starburst pattern. It is into that “third eye” that I gazed.

An unpleasant childhood experience with a horse triggered a wee bit of fear in me. Then I recalled spending a day with a trainer who taught me how to approach a horse—directly, from the front, so that the horse would know my good intentions. There we stood that May evening, face to face, gazing deeply into each other’s souls.

I spoke softly to this horse in human words, letting it know I came with good and pure intentions. Who are you? What are you doing here? What do you ask of me? I’m not sure who was asking the questions, the horse or me.

This first visit was casual, kind of like a first date. But when I said goodbye and started to walk away, the horse followed me along the fence line. I sensed the horse did not want me to leave. I promised to return the next day, which I did right after breakfast.

The horse was munching on the luscious grass when it noticed me. The grey beauty sprang into action. It was like having a long-lost friend greet me at the airport. I spoke softly again, standing directly in front of the horse. This time I put my hand out and slowly raised it to eye level. It was a moment of awkward trust, for both of us. Would I hurt the horse, or would it hurt me? Slowly I touched the magnificent white starburst on the horse’s third eye.

The moment of contact was like lightening, a precise bolt that illuminated a deep recognition. I didn’t know the history of this horse, its name, or even its sex. But I knew I was attracted to it on many levels—body, mind and spirit. It felt a bit like sensing a past life with another human, one that was erotic, sensual and profound. Was this horse my lover in a past life? This was too much to grasp, so I said a quick goodbye and left.

Later that day I came for another visit. This time the horse sauntered up to the gate and put its massive head over the top. I read it as an invitation to come closer. I reached out and touched the magnificent face. With each gentle caress I again felt that sense of deep longing and recognition. I stepped back a bit, still looking deeply into the horse’s face, and asked aloud— Who you are? What are you doing here? What do you ask of me?

Suddenly the horse stepped back, bowed its head, and pawed at the earth with its left front leg. I was stunned by this and had no idea how to comprehend the answer to my questions. So, again, I said goodbye and walked away. This time the horse did not follow me, but instead stood very still. When I had traversed the hairpin turn in the road, I looked down and saw something that both intrigued and embarrassed me. Here was the horse in a stance that demonstrated it was male, now in a state of full arousal. Horse owners sometimes refer to the stallion’s erection as a ”fifth leg.” It’s that obvious. My five-legged friend stood there in all his glory, now oblivious to my presence. I turned a few shades of red as I looked around to see if anyone else saw this. It’s a small island, with few people. I didn’t want to be a source of gossip.

On my final night on the island, more was revealed about this horse. He was not alone this time. Someone was feeding him. I soon learned that it was the owner’s cousin. He thought the horse’s name was Mayflower, which seemed way too wimpy for what I saw in him. Stud-flower would be more appropriate. That’s when I learned he was a valuable Connemara Pony, used for stud services rather than riding. The man warned me that this horse bites and proceeded to demonstrate. I said I had had a different experience. For my demonstration I slowly reached my hand to the horse’s cheek. As he stood still, I gently patted his face. There we stood—the horse, the man, and me—an odd little trio.

When I returned home from Ireland that year I sought guidance from the friend who studies horse. This was her reply:

Hi Kathleen,
How fascinating to hear of your “encounter”!  I wish I could have seen you two!!!

Here’s my insights as a student of horse nature:  You were VERY CENTERED IN YOUR OWN POWER!!!  It sounds like the horse was literally attracted to your power.  Horses love centered power in people, as then it makes them feel safe.  That is a HUGE compliment to you!!!  However, it has to be balanced with love and affection, or you’re just scary.  As you know, when personal power isn’t balanced with love, cruelty can be felt in a person’s energy.  Horses fear and hate cruelty.  Yet even more they disrespect when a person isn’t in touch with their own inner power, it’s how they pick their leaders within the herd, because they inherently know that the horse that is most in touch with his own inner power can keep the entire herd safe.  You were in that perfectly balanced place with both power and love – and as you found out, it is irresistible to the horse.  And they only bite those they perceive as being lower on the “pecking order” than they are.  Congratulations.

Would I have had the same experience had I known the horse was a biter? Would I have approached the horse differently if I’d known up front that it was male and valued for his stud services? Would I have been so bold if there were people watching?

I will be forever grateful to the beautiful Connemara pony that stirred in me ancestral memories of my innate and authentic power. In the absence of fear, I felt only love. Now, in moments of self-doubt, all I have to do is call upon my beloved horse and re-member what he saw in me, and what I saw in him. Power, strength and dignity.

Ancient Celtic Folk Song (In Gaelic)
Lyric Translation in description
This hypnotic and mysterious song tells the tale of a young girls’ encounter with the ‘each-uisge’ or water-horse.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLUY_WLMQoc

Dignity

May 14, 2018

“Remember this, that there is a proper dignity and proportion to be observed in the performance of every act of life.”
–Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor

An astonishing news story broke in the west of Ireland, March 2011. A local woman was missing from a favorite village that I had often visited. My husband and I heard the news on Clare FM Radio as we were arriving at our destination–Ballyvaughan, a tiny village in the west of Ireland, perched on the edge of Galway Bay. It was a “soft” weather day, meaning the sky was clear, the temperature mild, and the breeze gentle. We arrived to find a noisy search helicopter hovering overhead, and numerous garda (police) in yellow jackets moving around the old pier. Divers were bobbing in and out of the frigid waters. Gathered around in small circles were dozens of locals, standing with hunched shoulders and wearing somber faces. But something was missing. Suddenly it struck me. There was no evidence of the media. No satellite trucks. No cameras. No reporters asking probing questions.

Within two days we learned that a body had washed ashore in the nearby village of Fanore. That night we visited our favorite Ballyvaughan pub hoping to have our moods lifted by a traditional Irish music session. To our surprise, the there was no music. Just dozens of people whispering in a collective monotone. The barkeep apologized, adding that it would not be dignified to have music while so many are grieving.

The next day it was revealed that the body washed ashore was that of the missing woman. She was a long-time local with many relatives in the village of less than 300 people. That night, a Friday, we learned that a Ballyvaughan man had attempted suicide, and was hospitalized in a nearby town. We learned all of this from brief news reports on Clare Radio, and from rumors in the village. The garda and divers quietly left the area while funeral plans were made, and still there was a noticeable absence of media.

That Sunday, which happened to be Mother’s Day in Ireland, we attended mass at the invitation of the local priest. Father Richard surprised everyone when he stepped down from the pulpit and moved out among the people. “We have two grieving mothers here today,” he announced. The priest was standing among the community for a reason. “Let this tragedy not divide our community. Let us come together as one extended family, with respect, honor and dignity.” He was making a huge public statement, the first to say openly that the accused was indeed the suicidal man. No media was present to scoop the story.

The dead woman’s wake would be Monday night, followed by her funeral mass on Tuesday. I asked an Irish friend why the local fellow had not been arrested. He replied, “Oh, that won’t happen until after the funeral mass. For the dignity of the family, you know.” As a typical American news junkie, and former television producer, this was stunning news to me. Delay a news story for the dignity of the family? True to my friend’s word, the suicidal man was arrested literally thirty minutes after the close of woman’s funeral mass and burial.

It was four months later when I learned that the accused was a married father of two and was held in custody under accusations of murder. Every week I continued to search on-line for updates on the case. I was continually stunned by the lack of news reporting. Stunned and humbled, because in truth why would I want to know sordid details of the case? Where is my sense of dignity?

I have been trained by our media to hunger for details of intriguing news stories. How quickly we learn intimate details of victims and perpetrators! Families, friends and neighbors will be hounded for interviews, sometimes for weeks and months, even years. The Kyron Horman disappearance comes to mind. He’s the little boy who disappeared from an Oregon elementary school in June 2010. What roll has dignity played in that unsolved tragedy? I recall the escapades around the trial of Casey Anthony, accused of murdering her precious toddler. Images and interviews, shown on CNN, sucked me in every time I passed by our television. The shocking acquittal was breaking news. Her lawyers were already shopping around her story to various news outlets. My God, where is the dignity in that? Upon returning from Ireland that spring, I learned about the unexpected death of singer Amy Winehouse. I could already anticipate the cover of People Magazine. Would the story inside be one of respect, honor and dignity? I hope I looked dignified when I purchased my copy of the magazine at the grocery store check-out line.

Meeting John O’Donohue

April 29, 2018

Just a month into my first Anam Cara Journey women’s circle, I had the opportunity to hear John O’Donohue speak at Trinity Episcopal Church in Northwest Portland. It was late October 2007. I felt giddy, like I was going to see a rock star or some other type of celebrity. I chuckled to myself when I heard John advise us not to seek gurus or dabble with self-help books. “Read the mystics,” John declared. “They had no hopes or dreams of being a published author or being on the Oprah Winfrey Show. They wrote because they had to write. They had something to say that originated in their souls.”

The following day I was among 50 or so people attending John’s all-day workshop. Never shy in the presence of greatness, I plopped myself down in the front row. I was about 15 feet away from the lectern that held his notes, and even closer to himself. We explored the various trinities in our own lives. Part of our work was to write a love letter to our heart. We were encouraged to remember the first sound we ever heard, which was the heartbeat of our mother as we formed in her womb. We were encouraged to remember the first time we saw our mother’s faces. It was all about hearts and mothers.

Right before we departed for the writing exercise, I had a moment alone with John. I said to him, “Thanks for the assignment. Today marks ‘ten years and a day’ since the death of my mother, Mary Kathleen Connolly McKern.”  His reply—“Oh Jeeeeeesus!!!”  When we returned from writing, and it was time for group sharing, I was the first to raise my hand. John nodded at me, an invitation to speak.

Trembling, and a little unsure of myself, I said, “The first heartbeat I heard was not my mother’s.” John gave me an inquisitive look, and then another nod suggesting I say more. “The first heartbeat I heard was that of my grandmother’s, as I was an egg forming inside my mother as she was forming inside of my grandmother.”

This definitely captured John’s interest, as he leaned closer to me, inviting me to speak even more. More confident now, I continued, “Today I discovered a Sacred Trinity of feminine heart beats. I am Kathleen Marie, my mother was Mary Kathleen, and her mother was Katherine Mae.” John, eyes rolling and body quivering, exclaimed “Oh Sweet Jeeeeesus!” This time, without John’s permission, I continued. “I did not have children, so I wonder what will become of this Trinity when I pass. I pose that as a question to ponder, not one to be answered, just yet.” John shifted his gaze and then his papers, and suddenly leaned on the lectern as his Irish eyes penetrated my soul.

He asked, “Are you a writer?” I nodded and said, “Yes.” He nodded back in agreement. Then he addressed the whole group saying, “Someday we’ll read her writings and think—we heard Kathleen first today, at Trinity Church in Portland, Oregon!!!”  He then thanked me profusely for my sharing and encouraged me to keep writing.

I sat down and began to weep from a place of tenderness in my heart and a knowing in my soul. It was like coming home to my true self. The next comment came from a woman in the back. She said into the hand microphone, “Kathleen, I was one of your students in a class that changed my life. Your heartbeat continues to touch the hearts of many.” I stood up and recognized her as an older woman from a world religions class I taught the previous year at a local community college.  She continued to speak glowingly about my work in the world. A little bit embarrassed, and with some angst about taking up too much time, all I could do was give her a little Buddhist kind of bow, which she gave back. John then chimed in. “Oh Jeeeesus, when the bowing starts you know something important is happening!!!”

Ireland

April 8, 2018

“Take time to see the quiet miracles that seek no attention” ~ John O’Donohue

As I prepare to depart for Ireland, my 14th tour with an added 4 solo pilgrimages, all since 1998, I am often asked, “What compels you to return to Ireland so frequently?” The answer it that Ireland is the land of my soul and an integral part of my ancestry. Something comes alive in me there that I can’t quite name. I remember hearing the late John O’Donohue say something like, “Ireland has a way of getting’ into ye.” Old Erin sure does!

I’ve also discovered that those who travel with me to Ireland on tours (for people who would never go on a tour), something comes alive in them as well. An elderly woman comes to mind, walking into the remnants of an ancient cathedral and suddenly bursting into tears. Later she was able to express that she had a sudden and profound memory around the loss of a child, many years before. I wonder how many Irish women mourned their children in that same cathedral?

I remember a middle-aged man taking his 80year old mother on a tour. I did not know until the last day of the tour that she had one leg, and it didn’t stop her. She turned 80 during the tour and we threw her a wee surprise party. Same with a girl who turned 13 while on a tour. Makes me wonder how many Irish people immigrated to the U.S., never again celebrating a birthday with loved ones.

Then there was a woman in search of a crow feather. To her surprise it arrived in the form of a crow carcass, long dead, feathers still intact. The eye contact we made in that moment is still with me. It is her story to tell, not mine. Because of her, I relish receiving crow/raven feathers while I’m journeying about.

Another woman found herself one day in a constant flow of unexplained tears. This while we were roaming about the wild and romantic Connemara region, one of the hardest hit areas of the potato feminine. Was she feeling the feelings of families torn apart by hunger and death?

One woman who has traveled with me to Ireland 3 times found herself leaving the group for a bit to tend to a health need. In the one hour away from us, she encountered one of the premiere Irish scholars. They enjoyed a lively conversation. Mischief was afoot!

My own first call to Ireland was because of my mother’s only regret before she died in 1997. “I never did get to Ireland,” she said with a sigh. I told her I would go for her one day. There I was, on the one-year anniversary of her death, stepping into the ritual site at Newgrange. My world changed. It continues to change with every journey to Ireland.

I am a guide, not a scholar or teacher. I deliver people to sites and invite them to have their own experience. The land and landscapes of Ireland, and her people and critters, are our true guides. It will be so again this year with my 14 travelers. I will likely post daily photos on Facebook and write a follow up upon my return. If you are so inclined, we welcome your prayers for safe, timely and joyful travels to, around, and home from Ireland.

Many Blessings,
Kathleen, Daughter of Mary Kathleen Connolly McKern

Thinking

“We are dying from overthinking. We are slowly killing ourselves by thinking about everything. Think. Think. Think. You can never trust the human mind anyway. It’s a death trap.” –Anthony Hopkins

Over-thinking seems to be the way of life for many of us. Imagine my introduction at a 12-step meeting for Over Thinkers Anonymous. “I’m Kathleen, I’m an over thinker.” Those in the room welcome me, knowing that we are at the mercy of our thoughts. You can almost hear the estimated 1 to 10 million neurons firing in the brain—in one brain—as thoughts begin to form words. Imagine what’s firing in the brains around you. Suddenly, the well-intentioned meeting turns into a noisy riot of thoughts, but the room is eerily silent.

National Science Foundation, 2005, “The average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before and about 80% are negative.”

When I was in ministry studies I created an exercise to help me hear and address the negative voices in my head. I had recently been diagnosed with an undetermined type of arthritis. The painful inflammation would roam from joint to joint. With each flare up would come a new voice of fear. For the exercise, I wrote down on several notecards a variety of real thoughts I was having at the time. Here are a few of the negative/limiting thoughts.

Arthritis will make you disabled.
Your hands and feet will become gnarly.
You won’t be able to work.
You’ll go bankrupt.
Constant pain is your destiny.
Arthritis isn’t sexy, so you’re not sexy.
No one will help you.
You’ll fade away and die alone.

Reviewing this list, made some 30 years ago, still brings a wee punch to my gut and a tear to my eye. I was thinking and re-thinking and over-thinking those thoughts, over and over and over again. My life wouldn’t change until I changed that stinkin’ thinkin’.

After writing the limiting thoughts on note cards, I passed them out to my fellow ministry students. They gathered in a circle around me, prepared to speak the words aloud so I could hear them. Standing in the center, my task was to listen. To hear, coming from outside of me, what had been churning in my thinking brain. The individuals, one at a time, read aloud my thoughts.

For the first round I asked them to speak neutrally, as if stating a fact.
My thoughts: Oh, so that’s what it sounds like. I can feel it dragging me down.

For the second round I invited them to color their words with tones of judgment and shaming.
My thoughts: Ouch! These people are being mean to me. Why would they do that? I’m a good person.

For the third round I asked the readers to get louder and louder. I asked the speakers to read over each other, creating a symphonic cacophony of gloom and doom. Even anger.
My thoughts: Okay already, I hear you. Stop it. This hurts.

As the readers’ voices became over-powering, I forced myself to turn around in the center and look at every person. They got louder until they heard me shout, “STOP!!!” The immediate silence we deafening, but I could hear my own heart beating.

Slowly, I went from person to person, looking them directly in the eye. I told them the Truth about me. The readers were to listen and not give me back the note card until they really believed me.

I am whole, healthy & complete.
My hands and feet work perfectly.
I can ask for help.
I am prosperous beyond measure.
Pain, you can visit, but not stay.
My sexiness is more than my aching joints.
I have a wonderful support system.
I am alive. I am awake. I am the holy one, forever and ever.

I have since done this exercise with a few of my mentoring clients. In essence we are addressing the voice of the archetypal Saboteur. It rules our thinking, if we allow it. My advice is to invite in those voices. To hear them and then put them in their proper places. When they re-emerge, I now have the tools to address it in the moment. I even have a song I sing when I first become aware of a limiting thought. “Hey, old thought, I got along without you before I met you, gonna get along without you know.”

Irish Wit

March 17, 2017

“I’m an atheist and I thank God for it.”
George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright  

One Sunday afternoon, while on holiday in Ireland, I enjoyed a chat with an Irish fisherman. After some idle conversation, he began weaving a story, fondly recalling the image of his childhood priest, Father Joe. “Oh, he was a funny, that one, a real performer. We kids couldn’t wait to go to mass to see what outrageous thing Father Joe would do or say. I’ll never forget one Sunday when it was time for the offering. Father Joe came down from the holy altar and stood at the front pew looking at a sea of faces, mostly women and children. He was really looking at us. No one was invisible.”

This is how the story goes. Father Joe spoke with authority when he said, “Look at all you good people. You’re here, on holy ground, on the Lord’s Day. God loves you!” He then ordered the passing of the offering baskets among the pews.

While altar boys took over, Father Joe called out to the men standing at the back of the church, most of whom were husbands of the women in the pews. Now he spoke a little louder: “Now, to you good men in the back of the church. You, too, are standing on holy ground, on the Lord’s Day. God loves you just as much!” He made sure an offering basket passed through the hands of the standing men.

But Father Joe didn’t stop there. He looked again at those in the pews, primarily the women alone. He said “To the misses here, whose husbands are not standing in the back of the church, I believe I saw your good men in their cars outside waiting to give you a lift home. Now, they’re not in the church, but they are parked on holy ground, on the Lord’s Day. God loves them too!” Then he asked that an offering basket be passed from car to car.

And still Father Joe’s inspiration continued: “Now, I suspect there are people in cars waiting at the other end of the bridge. They are close to holy ground, and aware of the Lord’s Day. God loves them, too. But for those fecken’ bastards at the pub, well, there’s no hope for them at all. Thanks be to God. Let us pray for their evil ways.”

Causeway

March 1, 2017

“The law is a causeway upon which so long as he/she keeps to it,
a citizen may walk safely.” Robert Bolt

 

One of my teachers in Ireland often speaks of the “causeway.” In times gone by, the approach from the road to a bridge was often land that was marshy and muddy. This is in sharp contrast to modern roads and bridges, which usually deliver us from dry pavement directly to the bridge and beyond. The old causeways must have been difficult to negotiate. Picture yourself on a definite path, with a bridge ahead in clear focus. You know you will cross that bridge and travel on to your destination, but first you must figure out how to move through the causeway mud.

It is my belief that many spiritual seekers get caught in the causeway. It can throw us off balance, creating the illusion that we are stuck. This sometimes forces us to retreat back to safe ground, sometimes even paralyzing us. With a clear picture in mind, that the bridge ahead will deliver you to your desired destination. What will it take for you to move through the causeway?

One time, in a dream, I found myself trying to get from dry land to a house filled with friends from my earlier days in theatre. The mud was wet and thick, and the area it covered would require a bit of planning. I was not wearing proper shoes for such an endeavor. Suddenly, one of my former actor friends came out of the house and beckoned me over. I shouted, “I’m afraid I’ll get stuck in the mud!” He told me to move through it quickly, as that would be easier. I started to follow his advice. Very quickly I felt the mud begin to cover my feet. I stopped and looked down. The mud was now up to my knees. I was stuck. My friend called out, “You’d better not stop, because it’s not mud you’re stuck in. It’s poop!” With that, I picked up my feet, swiftly disengaged from the poopy mud and landed gracefully on the other side.

Do you see the metaphor? When I’m stuck in the causeway, it’s because of my own choosing. We are not meant to linger there. We are meant to push forward, sometimes with the help of an anam cara. Are you willing to call upon a soul friend for support? Someone to remind you that you are indeed on your right and true path? A trusted friend that will, like in my dream, call to you and say, “It’s not mud, it’s poop!”

Self-Care is the Foundation for Surviving Grief

January 16, 2018

“Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean me first, it means me too.”
― L.R. Knost, Author, Speaker

Self-Care is the Foundation for Surviving Grief

by Georgena Eggleston, M.A.

Home

What if the only reason for this journey of life was to learn to love, cherish and adore yourself no matter what was happening in your life? Could Self-Care be the door to open and begin to explore learning to love, cherish and adore your precious self, your grieving self? Could Self-Care be your life-line to surviving grief? What if a simple phrase could remind you throughout the day to care for yourself? Remember choice is our birthright. How often do you choose healthy foods, exercise and get deep, long sleep? Hopefully regularly. Each of these choices is sound self-care, the foundation through grief and mourning. I know from first-hand experience.

A Simple Sentence
I had the luxury of creating a private practice as a speech-language pathologist. My sons were young so they were my first priority. Then in the few afternoons or time on Saturday morning when they were watching cartoons, I would serve my clients.

I was concerned that I was ‘doing enough’ and ‘being enough’ as my practice grew. One morning during my Spiritual Practice after I had gotten done speaking to God through prayer, I began to listen for guidance. I heard ‘Teach them this is ‘My I Love you.’” So as I baked cookies I served them to the boys with the phrase “This is my I Love You.” They not only eagerly reached for the cookies, their smiles and deep eye contact affirmed they “got it”.

Ironing their t-shirts I would silently say “This is my ‘I Love you.’” as I was folding them. Driving the boys in the car to a soccer game I would listen to what they were saying and pretty soon I began to hear them say ‘This is my I love you’ to me or to each other.

In the Midst of Grief I Chose to Remember…
After my son, Reed, passed I had very little energy in my early Raw Grief state. My body was shot. I felt as though I had been flattened like a reed in the wind. My mind was a blur. Trying to do the simple tasks of making the bed and cooking breakfast each morning were overwhelming, especially as I was simultaneously rewinding the night of Reed’s death over and over in my mind. So stopping in the midst of my deep sadness to rest with a nap I would remind myself “This is my I love you.” As the confusion cleared from my brain and I moved into the Fragi

Conflict

January 30, 2018

 

“You cannot fix a problem in the world unless you’ve already resolved the underlying conflict within yourself.”  ― Oscar Auliq-Ice, author, musician, businessman

“Oh, how I hate conflict,” I once complained to my husband. His reply, “Are you kidding me? You thrive on conflict.” We were both sort of right and both sort of wrong. What I hate is the physical discomfort that usually accompanies conflict. What I love is the possibilities that can surface during times of conflict. The key is to move beyond right and wrong, with resolution as the goal and the desired outcome for the highest good of all. Here’s an example.

Many years ago I was a member of a women’s gym where I worked out and took classes. The monthly dues of $25 were automatically paid through my credit card. I needed an extended leave for travel and physical ailments, so my credit card was put on hold for three months.

Three months went by and I forgot about it. For whatever reason, my husband paid my credit card bill for a few months. When my credit card statement was back in my in-box to pay, I noticed I had been charged the monthly fee at the gym, and had been while he was paying my bill. I was out a total of $100. That seemed outrageous to me. So, with a calm and hopeful attitude, I phoned the gym. My hope was that they would apologize and reimburse me since I no longer wished to be at that gym. That’s not what happened.

The staff member at the gym was adamant that I indeed owed that $100, per the agreement that I would let them know after the three month respite if I wished to continue or not. “I forgot” got me nowhere, as did saying someone else paid my credit part bill for a few months after the hold. I could feel the heat rising in my body. I could hear the irritation in her voice. We were both hell bent on being right.

Before everything blew up, I felt a sudden calmness come over me. I remembered the words from a workshop I had taken years earlier: Am I committed to being right, or am I committed to resolution? Somehow I managed to say, “I’m wondering how we might resolve this in a way that we’ll both feel good about it when we hang up.” In that moment I had the gym woman in the palm of my hand, because my hand is connected to my arms and my heart. My mind wanted a fight. My heart wanted peace. My body wanted the discomfort to pass.

“How about this,” she said. “We’ll reimburse you half and call it even.” That sounded to me like a great resolution. “Thank you,” I said. “Now let’s both get on with having a great day.” She agreed.

I think about the conflict in our country and wonder if we can apply the same reasoning. Am I committed to being right, or am I committed to resolution. When I’m confronted by someone with politics different from mine, and if I choose to engage with them, am I doing so to prove me right and make them wrong, or am I committed to resolution. Here’s an example.

During the presidential conventions two summers ago, I had a conversation with a relative who sees himself as a patriot—in what I would call the extreme. He could not talk about President Obama without fuming. The hate was palpable. In the past I would have argued until we were both blue in the face. But this time was different. I really wanted to hear what he had to say about Obama. “He was not born in the U.S., he wants Islamic Sharia Law, and he just fired 60 cabinet members and generals and replaced them with Muslims.” He spewed this out in one long breath. After a brief pause, I looked at him with a soft expression on my face, and said, “I don’t believe that.”

The difference? In the past I would have said “I don’t believe YOU.” Those are fighting words for us! This time I took it out of the personal and replied impersonally. He suggested I look it up, which I did when I got home. He was totally wrong. (I won’t even address the birther and sharia law stuff.) What I learned was, that Obama only replaced one cabinet member with a Muslim. It was tempting to phone this man and do what we did as kids when one was right and the other wrong. “Nee ner, nee ner, neeee ner.”

The late John O’Donohue has a beautiful blessing titled, “For Love in a Time of Conflict.” Here is the closing passage:

Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Towards the gateway to spring.

So I ask you, my anam cara, when in conflict are you committed to being right, or committed to resolution?

Stuff I Learned in 2017

December 31, 2017

 

Before I put up my new 2018 calendar, and before I say goodbye to 2017, I pause to reflect on stuff I learned in the past year. The high lights and the low lights. Here are a few morsels from my life. I’d love to hear some of yours.

Blessings,
Kathleen

 

In 2017 I learned that…
…sitting is considered the “new smoking.” Bad for us, but some of us do it anyway. My sitting too much (wallowing in the wake of the November 2016 election) proved to be the root cause of months of lower back, hip and sciatic pain, and hundreds of out-of-pocket dollars in seeking help.

In 2018 I intend to…
Continue the specific exercises, while returning to the swimming pool for water aerobics and returning to the senior center for yoga. And to stop blaming others for my discomforts, whether physical, mental or spiritual.

In 2017 I learned that…
Even healthy minded and deeply spiritual people can get cancer and die. Even fun and robust people can drop dead of a heart attack. Even people with dire predictions of longevity can out-smart the doctors.
In 2018 I intend to…
Embrace my aliveness while fanning the flame of aliveness in others.

In 2017 I learned that…
…saying “I’m sorry” never goes out of style. Sometimes that’s all it takes to mend a wee crack in a friendship that could have led to an impassible chasm.

In 2018 I vow to…
…before speaking my “truth” to another, I first reflect on my part in the perceived dis-connect. Am I committed to being right, or committed to peaceful resolution?

In 2017 I learned that…
…I was carrying judgment about Christians traveling the Baptist path. While feeling over joyed in finding a new church home in McMinnville—First Baptist Church—I learned that there are many, many kinds of Baptists. FBC happens to be the liberal wing. My atonement was humbling.

In 2018 I vow to…
…examine my other hidden or veiled judgments and prejudices, take action when needed, and strive to practice what I preach—That we are all one, and that we are all in this together.

In 2017 I learned that…
…there are good, intelligent and kind-hearted people who voted for our current president. Just as there are many good, intelligent and kind-hearted people who voted for the candidate of my choice.

In 2018 I vow to…
…contribute my voice, talent, skills and money to political candidates I respect and admire, and to causes that enhance the gift of being an American citizen.

In 2017 I learned that…
…the same number on the bathroom scale looks different depending on whether I’m moving above that number or below it.

In 2018 I vow to…
Treat my body as the sacred temple that it is. Or, as I’m fond of saying, to tend to my body as if it were a loaner vehicle.

We really are one, and we really are all in this together.