Saturday, 11 February 2017

Life on the Mobius Strip: It's all about Relationship


Please watch the clip above before reading on...

It seems I'm not mad after all. I cannot draw a perfect circle.

Now I know that this test may not hold up in court, but I think it’s revealing. Not that I think it is one’s ability to draw perfect circle that is actually the true test of madness, the true test is to actually try. I think the true test of madness is to actually keep on trying to draw the perfect circle, or to even think that such a thing is possible.

The circle is never perfect, in fact I’m pretty sure that the circle will remain forever incomplete. I think it’s better that way…

One of the great plagues of humanity is perfectionism, seeking perfection both within ourselves and others. How many times, I wonder, have I rejected either myself, others, or life itself, because it did not offer perfection? How many times have I noticed others doing the same? It is a lot easier to see in others by the way than in myself.

Nothing in life is perfect, it is always imperfect. I am pretty much convinced that this is how it ought to be.

Now imperfection is one of those interesting words that doesn’t mean exactly what it always meant. When today we say that something is imperfect we are usually making a judgement about this something suggesting that there is something wrong with it. In so doing we are making an error. Imperfection comes from the Latin “imperfectus” which actually meant incomplete.

So when we say that we are imperfect, that others are imperfect, that life itself is imperfect we are correct, in the sense that nothing is ever complete.

The mistake we have made is that in saying that someone or something is imperfect we have suggested that they or it is somehow wrong, when in fact we couldn’t be more wrong. Imperfection itself is what makes life what it is, it is the fuel and energy of life as it is through imperfection that the energy to create relationship is fuelled.

Imperfection, incompleteness is the energy of life.

This brings to mind this rather lovely poem by Harold Kushner “Jigsaw”:

There must have been a time when you entered a room and met someone and after a while you understood that unknown to either of you there was a reason you had met. You had changed the other and he had changed you. By some word or deed or just by your presence the errand had been completed. Then perhaps you were a little bewildered or humbled and grateful. And it was over.

Each lifetime is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
For some there are more pieces.
For others the puzzle is more difficult to assemble.

Some seem to be born with a nearly completed puzzle.
And so it goes.
Souls going this way and that.
Trying to assemble the myriad parts.

But know this. No one has within themselves
All the pieces to their puzzle.
Like before the days when they used to seal
jigsaw puzzles in cellophane. Insuring that
All the pieces were there.

Everyone carries with them at least one and probably
Many pieces to someone else's puzzle.
Sometimes they know it.
Sometimes they don't.

And when you present your piece
Which is worthless to you,
To another, whether you know it or not,
Whether they know it or not,
You are a messenger from the Most High


I love the way Kushner explains why we are incomplete. That it is through our incompleteness that we draw closer together. This is so true, we are relational beings. We do not live in separation and we do not live separate lives. We are constantly seeking unity, to be yoked beyond ourselves. The word “Yoga” actually means to join, to unite. It seems to me that all the great spiritual traditions, eastern and western, are in their own way pointing to this. That the spiritual life cannot exist in isolation. That in actual fact to live spiritually is to live in relation. That there is a yearning within us all to find that missing piece. In so attempting to do so, by the way, we enable others to do the same. In so doing we find ourselves and bring to life our true selves in the world in which we live and breathe and share our being.

When we come together in love, we create the love we have all be searching for.

This brings to mind a book I read just weeks before I began my ministry. It has been one of the most important books in shaping my approach to ministry, which of course literally means to serve. The title of the book is "Radical Hospitality: Benedict's Way of Love": By Father Daniel Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt. This is from the Chapter "Hospitality begins inside." (pg 33-34)

They wrote

" We are caught up in what is probably the most immature attempt at spirituality humanity has ever seen. It is tragically and poignantly adolescent, with the deep emotion and angst that goes with adolescence. It is a spirituality that seeks improvement for life - a better me, a better relationship - but it does not seek God and it does not move us towards others. It just keeps us running on the treadmill of our little egocentric worlds.

We are accustomed to easy answers. Hospitality is not an easy answer. It requires that we take a chance and we change. It requires us to grow. The moment we engage with another person everything gets messy. Our time becomes not quite our own; we can count on others interrupting us. We become subject to a whole hoard of emotional dangers.

Because hospitality always involves giving something of ourselves to others, it is a spiritual practice. Spirituality is about relationship. When you and I become confused about the meaning of spirituality, remembering that spirituality is about relationship will bring us back to the basics. Relationships."

...Spirituality is about relationships...

One of my great frustrations with a lot of modern “so called spirituality” is that it does not seem to be about relationships at all. It seems to be all about the self, almost about protecting the self, from the so called “messiness” of living. It seems to have become almost narcissistic in its nature. Maybe that’s why it can seem so appealing. The truth is of course that all we ever achieve in blocking ourselves off from the messiness, from circling our spiritual wagons, is increase the loneliness and the emptiness.

The spiritual life is about relationship. We need to be in what I have often heard called right relationship, with ourselves, with others and with whatever it is we connects all of life, what is often called the Divine, to live spiritually alive.

I can usually get a good measure as to where I am at spiritually by simply checking where I am at relationally with myself, with others and with God, they are all interconnected and inter related.

Now all this brings to mind the YouTube clip that began this "blogspot". by Parker J Palmer on “The Mobius Strip”.

Here is a little written reflection by Palmer followed by my own attempt to explain what he describes so well.

“Life on the Mobius Strip” by Parker J Palmer

Here’s a brief meditation on life on the Mobius strip, a curious concept to be sure, but no more curious than life itself!

The curious object pictured is a Möbius strip.

If you take your index finger and trace what seems to be the outside surface, you suddenly find yourself on what seems to be the inside surface. Continue along what seems to be the inside surface, and you suddenly find yourself on what seems to be the outside surface.

I need to keep saying “what seems to be” because the Möbius strip has only one side! What look like its inner and outer surfaces flow into each other seamlessly, co-creating the whole. The first time I saw a Möbius strip, I thought, “Amazing! That’s exactly how life works!”

Whatever is inside of us continually flows outward, helping to form or deform the world — depending on what we send out. Whatever is outside us continually flows inward, helping to form or deform us — depending on how we take it in. Bit by bit, we and our world are endlessly re-made in this eternal inner-outer exchange.

Much depends on what we choose to put into the world from within ourselves — and much depends on how we handle what the world sends back to us. As Thomas Merton said:

 “We don’t have to adjust to the world. We can adjust the world.”

Here’s the question I’ve been asking myself ever since I understood that we live our lives on the Möbius strip:

 “How can I make more life-giving choices about what to put into the world and how to deal with what the world sends back — choices that might bring new life to me, to others, and to the world we share?

I came across the wonderful Youtube clip on "The Mobius Strip" the other day, my journey to it was another beautiful example of synchronicity. The type that often leaves me smiling for days. Palmer suggests that “The Mobius Strip” is a useful metaphor for our inner and outer lives. How these are interrelated and how we are affected and how we affect the world in which we live. He claims that the onstage life is how we appear in the world, how we impact on the world, what he describes as the ego questions. While the backstage life is more about intuition and instinct and value and faith. These are those deeper aspects of ourselves, what is called soul, that greater reality that makes who we truly are. He claims that we are born in wholeness. That there is no separation between our inner and outer lives but as time goes by and we become increasingly influenced by the external world we lose touch with our souls and disappear into our roles. He suggest that as we grow up into the world we realise that it is not safe to be our backstage selves in the onstage world, that we somehow have to hide who we truly are and we begin to build a wall of separation. This he says becomes painful due to the disconnect between the inner and the outer life. Due to this, for so many, often the spiritual seekers, there is the desire to bring our lives into the classic shape of the circle. Which he says means I want what is important to me internally to be the values by which my external life which surrounds revolves. Thus bringing a sense of unity to my life. Thus my external life becomes authentic as I become centred.

Palmer acknowledges that this "centering" is a step forward and I personally see that this is where so much modern spirituality takes us, the kind that frustrates me. The problem with it is in the circle itself, it’s a kind of circling of the wagons, a wall of separation a kind of spiritual “gated community”, a walled garden of myself, that nothing and no one can touch. Yes we create our own sanctuary that no one can enter, unless of course they agree with us. Those who do not share our core beliefs and principles are excluded, thus avoiding the messiness and trouble of such relationships. This circle he suggests is just another kind of wall of separation and protection and does not in the end solve the real problem that we all suffer from, it feeds the sense of separation and does not truly allow for a deep spiritual intimacy that we all crave, it does not bring about true wholeness true relationship with ourselves, with others and with God.

Palmer suggests that there is another way, an alternative, which allows us to be both authentic and open. It is achieved by reshaping into the “Mobius Strip” which has the feature of being continuous and unbroken. By simply tracing your finger around what appears to be the outside of the surface you soon find yourself on what appears to be the inside of the surface.As you continue round you soon find yourself on what appears to be the outer part of the strip. He says that it only appears this way because one of the key features of the “Mobius strip” is that there is no inner and outer the two seem to co-create each other. That this is how life is. That whatever is inside us mergers with what is outside and vice versa and both influence each other and in that exchange, interaction, coming together we co-create what we call reality.

This Palmer says leads to one question that ultimately we have to ask “As I travel this Mobius strip between my onstage life and my backstage life, constantly co-creating, how can I become so aware of that exchange that co-creative transaction, moment by moment, that I can increasingly make choices about it that are life giving rather than death dealing?”

For Palmer this is the question that links the inner life with the outer life. It is this that brings that sense of connection of oneness and brings us closer together. It is this that brings the pieces of the jigsaw together and begins to bring about completeness maybe one day, that yokes all life together, that is Yoga. In so doing we return to the wholeness, the natural state, in which we were born. Or perhaps to put it more religiously we return to paradise, we return to the natural state, the original goodness and blessing into which we were born. We find completeness. We create the Kingdom of God, the Kin-dom of Love, right here right now.

So to answer Palmer’s question “How do we make choices that are life giving rather than death dealing?”

Well it really does depend on what we put into the world and what we take in too, to paraphrase Thomas Merton. It is about how we relate to one another, to life and to our inner selves. It’s about relationships. It’s about not trying to draw that perfect circle because that can soon become a wall, a barrier, that cuts us off from everything, unless we agree 100% with it or them 100% of the time, in which case we will find ourselves completely alone.

It’s about becoming the imperfectionist. It’s about learning to dance on the Mobius strip.

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with a little meditation written by my imperfect inspiration Forrest Church. This is “The imperfectionsit”

"The reason I’ve been able to produce so much is that I’m not a perfectionist – I’m an imperfectionist. I’m confident that everything I say can be improved upon by others, and that’s my great strength, because I know that it won’t be improved upon by others unless I take the first step. When we only do things which please us, or don’t frighten us, after a while fewer and fewer things please us. Over time, our circle of options diminishes until we are prisoners in gardens of our own making. The more decisions you make in your life, the more times you act, the more certain it is that you will be wrong. To be fulfilled we need to recognize, all of us, that the world doesn’t owe us a living – rather we owe the world a living. And in the brief time that is given us, we must somehow learn to give ourselves away."

So take the first step. Become the imperfectionist. Learn to dance on “The Mobius Strip”



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