Sunday 25 July 2021

Altruism, Selfishness and Self Love

Last Sunday during a conversation with a couple after worship, Megan and Geoff, I admitted to my personal Kryptonite, my weakness, my false God if you like. It is what others think of me. I have this need to be seen as a good man and that at times it gets me into trouble. That said there are worse things to be. Such as not caring a jot what others think of you. “I don’t care” must be the loneliest phrase in the English language. I suspect that hell must be a state of indifference to not care about others, to live without any thought or consideration of others. This is essentially what it means to be selfish, to think of only your own thoughts and needs, to act without any thought or consideration of others. To not care what people think of you. You matter, how you are perceived matters, matter really matters. We are all living breathing, animated matter.

Ever since the first lockdown I have attended a regular zoom group, exploring certain aspects of spiritual development. It is the only one of several that I used to attend, that I still do. Other than, of course, the ones I lead myself. Last Sunday we got into a conversation about selfishness and altruism. One friend, who spends a lot of her life giving of herself to others, said that there were some selfish aspects to the things that she does. I questioned her on this, because I don’t think that it is true. So I asked her to elaborate, to explain, what she means by selfish elements, which she did. I then asked her if she could explain how the fact that she enjoys giving of her time to others and gets a sense of well-being and freedom from what she does, how that means it is selfish. Again she explained. After listening I suggested that what she was not being selfish at all. I asked her if she did this purely for her own benefit and without any thought or consideration for others? Which of course she does not. I thus suggested that what she was doing was not in any way shape or form selfish. The conversation developed as we spoke of how we see ourselves, each other and the rest of humanity. How often, even secular folk have a “Calvinistic” view of human nature; how often do we hear folk described as selfish to the core, suggesting that there is something wrong with our humanity, that there is “something rotten in our timbers”. Such feelings cause folk to feel guilty about doing things that give them a sense of pleasure and well-being. I made the point that it is vital that we take care of such human needs, including what gives us pleasure, so that we can be of love and service to others, to offer our gifts to life. If we didn’t then someone else would have to do so and in fact if anything was selfish it would be this. It was a great conversation, as they often are. We felt good as we logged off. We had been of service to one another and we had all gained from the conversation as I am sure others will do too as we engage with them. There is nothing in any way selfish in this, just because we all gained from the conversation. We all gave of ourselves and the sum of the individual parts must have multiplied on and on into infinity and beyond. This is the strange mathematics of giving, where the commodity is actually multiplied by subtraction. Yes I know it doesn’t make common sense, but then we are dealing in uncommon sense and there isn’t enough of this in the world.

That afternoon I had another interesting conversation with another friend, affectionately known as “Aussie Steve”. He is Australian and is called Steve, hence the name. He spends a lot of his time in Israel where all his children are and some time in England, his wife is English. Sue and myself had stayed with them when we visited Israel. He had invited me there to speak at an event. What an experience, I gained so much more from the visit. I had given of myself and had gained so much in return. It wasn’t an absolutely altruistic trip, but then there was no sense of selfishness involved either.

Steve was going back to Israel the next day and wanted to talk through a few things with me. We are going to stay in zoom contact over the next few months. After we had talked about the matter, we had met to discuss we then found ourselves wandering down all kinds of other avenues. Obviously, the state that the world is in came up and people’s response to things. We talked about freedom, but we also spoke of responsibility. The measures in place to help contain Covid and the current relaxations in this country. The vaccine roll out and people’s objections to it and all kinds of things. I quoted Victor Frankl to him. I did not quite do so entirely accurately, but I did capture the essence of the following quotation.

“Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”

We spoke of freedom and responsibility. How you can’t authentically have one without the other. How to truly live with freedom and responsibility for our own actions but also understand that we have a shared responsibility for the society in which we live, that we are communal creatures and that this is the essence of true religion, something that can get lost in some modern spiritual thinking. Well in truth it is one of the negative aspects that date back to the enlightenment era.

I recently came across a “Meme” on facebook depicting two single fish. One was swimming in a great ocean and the other a tiny bowl. The image was an attempt to illustrate the difference between “Spirituality” and “Religion”. The image suggested that the fish in the bowl is restricted by the confines of its environment, “religion”, where as the fish in the ocean had limitless expansion, “spirituality”. I get the critique and have sympathy with it. That said if truth be told neither image appeals to me. The fish in the ocean is swimming alone, and this can often be the problem with what passes for modern spirituality. The truth is that no one swims alone, we swim in the vast ocean of life and whatever your spiritual beliefs and practices you cannot live them alone, besides which they are too limited and limiting if they are not shared with others in the vast ocean of life. You can have free religion, which is not confined and is in fact open to new things, these come to us as we interact with other fish in the vast ocean of existence. No one is an island. Surely always wanting to swim alone is another way of limiting life and experiences. It is ok for a while, perhaps even necessary at times, but long term it is just another way of avoiding life.

Anyhow the conversation with Steve moved on Judaism, what some might see as one of the fish in a bowl and Jesus within the tradition and what we thought he saw as his purpose, his mission as. We both agreed that essentially, he was trying to bring the faith back to the people, that somehow the laws had got lost and that at the time they seemed purely focused on God and not enough on the people. The conversation then developed into a critique of this getting lost in the Christian tradition which seemed to have been more about the laws and doctrines and the structure of the tradition and not these simple teachings, yet another limiting fish bowl.

That said at its essence the Judea Christian tradition calls folk to respond to God’s love by loving their neighbour as themelves. This does not seem limiting at all, to me it is meant to be ever expanding, it just gets lost. Also of course, if we have no love for ourselves it will be very hard, if not impossible, to love our neighbours. In fact what we end up doing is putting ourselves in our own bowls. I have learnt that people do infact love others as much as they love themselves, the problem is that they so many of us don’t love who we are. If we believe that we are selfish to the core, it will be very difficult to show love to others who we see in the same way.

The essence of the Judea-Christian tradition - in fact virtually every single tradition, spiritual or not throughout human history, although perhaps with less theistic language - is perhaps most clearly stated in the following response by Jesus to the question ‘which commandment is the first of all?’ To which he condenses centuries of Jewish teaching and prophetic witness into a few, short, enduring phrases: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.

Now even within my free and open tradition, the Unitarians, folk have often focused on the love we have for our neighbour, this sense of offering unconditional love. This is essential to spiritual living in community. It is the essence of my phrase “Come as you are, exactly as you are, but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition.” The problem is of course that sometimes we forget to focus on the true love that we feel for ourselves. Do we see decency in ourselves? If we do not, we will never truly love our neighbour. For we will love them as we love ourselves, which will not be very loving at all.

I know I can be my harshest critic. I have been at times in recent weeks. My kryptonite, to be seen as a decent person, comes from a sense, at times, that there is something wrong with me. Something I know intellectually is untrue, but at times I still feel. I am not alone in this, I know that. As I have witnessed in conversations, I have had this week. In a strange way it keeps me connected and it keeps me grounded with the people I share my life with. That said it is so vital that we all recognise that love that is at the core of our humanity.

As William Sloane Coffin so beautifully put it in “Credo”

“What a wonderful thing it would be if once and for all we could lay to rest the notion that it is a virtue to love others and a vice to love oneself. For what is vicious is not self-love but selfishness, and selfishness is more a product of self-hate, than self-love. All forms of selfishness are finally forms of insecurity, compensations, for a lack of self-love.”

These last few weeks I have needed to care for myself. Yes, I am fulfilling my duties, not just professionally but in life in general. That said I am also taking care of my own personal needs too. It is vital I do so in order to feel love and to let others love me too. This allows me to love my neighbours as I would like to. Taking care of yourself, practising self-care is not being selfish. We need to take care of ourselves for a variety of reasons. It is also being responsible too. By the way if you don’t take care of your personal needs, it means that someone else will have to and that sounds selfish to me.

I received a wonderful gift this week. In fact I have received and accepted many all week. People have been wonderful. Thank you. On Tuesday evening my appointment was cancelled, I decided instead of carrying on working I would go home and relax. I thought I’ll leave early as I don’t want to get caught up in the traffic going to Old Trafford for the cricket. As I was driving my phone rang. I obviously didn’t answer at the time. As I pulled in home it went off again. It was a friend Helen asking if I listened to the message, it was from her mum. I listened to it. She told me she had a spare ticket to the cricket that night and would I like to meet her and go with her. Her friend was unwell, and she didn’t want to go on her own. I said yes please. So, I met her, and we went together. It was a wonderful game and just what I needed, just what the doctored order. A beautiful example of allowing life to take care of me and another, there is nothing selfish in that, in fact we both gained from going together, a Yorkshire man and a Lancastrian woman.

The mistake that we often make is that we equate self-care or self-love with selfishness. Now of course there are forms of self-love “Narcissism” that are selfish, but true self love is not selfish at all. The ancient Greeks named this Philautia, which they saw as the highest form of love. They believed that without it a person could not offer the other forms of love in a positive sense. Self-care, true self love is not selfish at all, for it is not about acting without any thought or consideration for others. It is quite the opposite actually for by doing so it will allow you to love your neighbour too, for you will love them as you love yourself.

We need to let go of the idea that loving ourselves truly as we, warts and all and beauty spots too is in any sense a selfish act. Please remember that a selfish person is interested only in themself wants everything for themself; can see nothing but themself. A selfish person does not love themself too much, but too little. You see the truth is that a truly selfish person is incapable of loving others because they are seemingly unable to love themselves.

To truly love yourself is to follow that greatest commandment, it is to acknowledge that love is at the root of all that we are. If we do not love ourselves, then we cannot love our neighbour.

Parker Palmer said that:

“Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.”

Taking care of ourselves, emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually is not a selfish act. In fact, I would suggest to not do so is actually more like selfishness. It is our responsibility in fact to take care of the life we have been given. Each life is unique and is there to be utilized for the purpose of all. To truly achieve this, we need to take care of ourselves and to express our joy in life. You see to be joyful, to be happy, is to express all that you are. To be all that you can be is not selfish, it is a true expression of love in all its forms.

It is what we are here for, and it inspires others to love both themselves and each other and all life that matter.

Remember you matter, you really do. Matter truly, absolutely positively, matters…

Here is a video based on the material in this "Blogspot"

Monday 19 July 2021

To Offer Solace: To Receive Comfort

I wasn’t feeling my best last Monday morning, my mood was low. I was wondering what people would think of me, having learnt of the news of Sue and mine’s separation. I had spent a good week off, with friends and family. Trying to come to terms with things and myself. My own disappointments, mainly with myself and my failings. I was also feeling a sense of disgust and despair at the world in general. I think the reports of the trouble at the football game the night before and the vile racist abuse directed towards the young men who had missed the penalties was weighing heavily on my heart. Sue and myself messaged one another. She had been taking care of her spiritual needs that morning. She suggested that I needed to buy myself some flowers or a plant. I replied that I needed to seek solace today and that it sounded like a good idea.

I set off into Altrincham, to the supermarket and then the gym. I passed two friends I often see sitting outside Café Nero. One of them owns a beautiful chocolate Labrador. She is an old girl, but a lovely one, the dog I mean. As I passed, I didn’t see the dog and I had this horrible feeling in my stomach. There were other people talking to them, one with a dog, but as I passed, I couldn’t see the Labrador. Thankfully when I returned a little later, there she was. It is funny though that I didn’t see her the first time, it said something about the state of my mind and heart.

I went through my routine at the gym. It was quiet for a Monday morning. No doubt folk were nursing headaches from the night before. I got through my routine, but barely spoke to anyone. As I left my head was still down. Oddly this actually helped me on Monday, which is a rare thing indeed. I noticed something I wouldn’t normally see. It was sign right there written into the paving stone outside what used to be Rackhams. It read “Not So Secret Garden: A garden is a delight to the eye and a solace for the soul”. With arrows pointing upwards towards a recently created artificial garden, café and large area of outside seating and play area right in the middle of Altrincham high street. It lifted my head up and my spirits too. I then began to notice all kinds of beautiful and wonderful things that brought solace to my heart and soul. It helped me reconnect and I returned to begin my work, there was much to do after a week off.

Solace was on my mind and how important it is to discover in times of trouble and struggle. We all need help at times, both visible and invisible. I had a day filled with lovely encounters and conversations. Some beautiful messages either direct or passed on to me by members of the congregations. I cannot begin to tell you how it feels to be loved so deeply. So many offering support to both myself and Sue. It touched me deeply.

We all need solace, we all need comfort and consolation in times of distress. It is wonderful to be able to receive both visible and invisible help at such times. I had spent quite a bit of last week with family and friends. It was helpful. I also spent some time offering solace to an old friend from university days who sadly is suffering with severe mental health troubles. He is currently staying in a hospital in the North West, although he lives in London. Despite the fact that he is struggling there was a strange joy in being together, catching up after all this time and rekindling an old bond and friendship. We shared many memories together, many joys and many pains.

Last week spending time with him and others brought a soothing, a comfort to my heart and soul. It is something in the deep bonding and reconnecting. That said it was painful too, seeing an old friend suffering so. Solace isn’t just about comforting as we understand it today, as a “there, there”, in its original meaning there is a sense of pleasure and joy too. As there was in the conversation with my friend, there was laughter too. Solace is about reconnecting with life once again, something I was beginning to feel all through Monday, so many gifts of reconnection came my way.

As David Whyte so beautifully put in his essay on the word “Solace”

“Solace is not an evasion, nor a cure for our suffering, nor a made up state of mind. Solace is a direct seeing and participation; a celebration of the beautiful coming and going, appearance and disappearance of which we have always been a part. Solace is not meant to be an answer, but an invitation, through the door of pain and difficulty, the depth of suffering and simultaneous beauty in the world that the strategic mind by itself cannot grasp nor make sense of.”

Now some have wrongly suggested that the words “solar” and “Solace” are etymologically related, they are not. Solar comes from Solaris, meaning of the sun, from “sol” where as “solace has a completely different root, meaning comfort and consolation.

That said I know just getting up early and watching another sunrise is a beautiful source a comfort to so many, a true solace. On Monday morning a beautiful facebook memory came up, a reflection by Parker J Palmer, on another sunrise, which includes the beautiful poem “The Sun” by Mary Oliver. Mary’s work is another solace to me. Parker wrote of the poem and the sunset:

“Your few minutes with the sun this morning will mean nothing if you spend the rest of the day turning away from the world’s wonders to obsess over your ego-needs.

Do your work, yes. But remember that you're sustained by visible and invisible powers too vast and mysterious to understand. As the day goes on, look out, look up, and simply say, “Thanks."”

I spent Monday being offered this opportunity and taking it. Here is Mary’s poem:

“The Sun” by Mary Oliver

Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone--
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance--
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love--
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world--

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,

Where do we seek solace, when life is difficult? I was thinking of the young footballers who had missed the penalties last Sunday night. They were consoled by their teammates and of course their manager who himself had suffered the very same fate in 1996.

Gareth Southgate was asked what he had said to one the players, the 19 year old Saka to bring him comfort. He said “that it is my responsibility”, not the players. It is rare to see a leader truly take responsibility in our current age. Gareth is a wonderful example of leadership. That said it wasn't he who suffered the abuse, it was the players.

No doubt they will be fine, they will be supported by their colleagues and clubs and decent supporters. There are many others in life who are not as fortunate as these wealthy and generally much loved young men. People who have little or no support, where do they turn for comfort, for solace? There is much suffering around us, whether on a material, mental health and or spiritual level. I was out with friends on Saturday night and noticed some destitute folk stopping cars in the middle of the road in Rusholm, begging for money. We have a growing homelessness problem in this country and a mental health epidemic that will hit us hard in the next months, particularly amongst the young. Where and how do we offer solace? Where and how do we offer comfort to those in and around us?

To quote Isiah 40 v 1 “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.”

Comfort is another of those interesting words that does not mean exactly what we thought it meant. I had a conversation with Hugh, from Urmston about this recently following a Sunday service. He highlighted the origins of the word “comfort”. As we understand it today to offer comfort is to soothe, to offer solace. This though is not what it originally meant.

Comfort comes from the Latin word comfortare, which means “strengthen greatly.” To give comfort is to shore up the mood or physical state of someone else. It may take quite some time to shore up someone when they are lost, in a state or despair, or deep depression. It takes more than just going for a walk, taking flowers, encouraging them to find a love and connection through nature. Yes, these help, of course they do, but you cannot just lift a deep state of depression this way. The support maybe needed for quite some time. To strengthen someone greatly takes some time and effort and above all consistency.

Parker J Palmer has spoken a great deal about the various periods of depression that he has suffered throughout his life. Here is an extract from a podcast shared by “On Being” where he described the responses of friends to a particularly severe bout.

“I had folks coming to me, of course, who wanted to be helpful; and sadly, many of them weren’t. These were the people who would say, “Gosh, Parker, why are you sitting in here being depressed? It’s a beautiful day outside. Go feel the sunshine and smell the flowers.” And that, of course, leaves a depressed person even more depressed, because while you know, intellectually, that it’s sunny out and that the flowers are lovely and fragrant, you can’t really feel any of that in your body, which is dead in a sensory way. And so you’re left more depressed by this “good advice” to get out and enjoy the day…”

…He continued…

“There was this one friend who came to me, after asking permission to do so, every afternoon about 4:00, sat me down in a chair in the living room, took off my shoes and socks, and massaged my feet. He hardly ever said anything — he was a Quaker elder — and yet, out of his intuitive sense, from time to time would say a very brief word, like: “I can feel your struggle today,” or, farther down the road, “I feel that you’re a little stronger at this moment, and I’m glad for that.” But beyond that, he would say hardly anything. He would give no advice. He would simply report, from time to time, what he was intuiting about my condition. Somehow, he found the one place in my body, namely, the soles of my feet, where I could experience some sort of connection to another human being. And the act of massaging just — in a way that I really don’t have words for — kept me connected with the human race.”

It is pretty clear who were the people that helped Parker through this dark time in his life. The ones who offered him solace, who gave him true comfort. Of course, this last eighteen months it has become even harder to offer such comfort due to the conditions we have had to live through in order to try and contain the virus. How though do we offer comfort to one another as we move on through life? Well, we have to become ever more creative.

We have been haven’t we and we continue to do so. Why because we are resilient, and love wins out. There are gifts, there is solace, there is comfort all around us. We can offer it to one another or at least remind one another where to find it. I got my flowers as suggested, although they were not bought from a supermarket or picked from a garden. They were sent to me by an old dear friend who sent a clip of himself playing “Sunflowers” by Paul Weller. Just what the doctor ordered. They brought solace, they brought comfort, just when I needed them most. Thank God my senses were alive enough to receive them.

I’m going to end with these words of blessing by John O’Donohue “For Suffering”

May you be blessed in the holy names of those
Who, without you knowing it,
Help to carry and lighten your pain.

May you know serenity
When you are called
To enter the house of suffering.

May a window of light always surprise you.

May you be granted the wisdom
To avoid false resistance;
When suffering knocks on the door of your life,
May you glimpse its eventual gifts.

May you be able to receive the fruits of suffering.

May memory bless and protect you
With the hard-earned light of past travail;
To remind you that you have survived before
And though the darkness now is deep,
You will soon see the approaching light.

May the grace of time heal your wounds.

May you know that though the storm might rage,
Not a hair of your head will be harmed.

by John O’Donohue

Please click here to watch a video recording of the materila found in this blog

Sunday 4 July 2021

Know Yourself: Become What You Are


A while ago I was listening to a talk on identity, how our upbringing shapes who we are, good or bad. It wasn’t the most gripping I have ever heard but about halfway through I heard something that was rather wonderful, which I hope is true, but have been unable to verify. Apparently, there is a tradition amongst some of the Bantu of Southern Africa, where people sneak into the rooms of their children at night, as they sleep, and whisper in their ears, 'Become what you are.'

“Become what you are.” I thought to myself how wonderful it must be to have that song singing in your soul as you grew and developed. It got me thinking about who or what I am? Who or what I have been and who or what I might yet become? Throughout our lives we never stop becoming or maybe un-becoming. I try not to be too un-becoming these days.

It got me thinking about who are we, what are we? What shapes us? Is it our environment? Our ancestry? Our culture? How do we become who or what we are? Is there someone or something whispering in all our ears “Become what you are.”

No doubt our upbringings have an influence. We learn how to be social animals by copying the elders in our lives. Our early lives are like a great big game of follow my leader. Do you remember playing it when you were a child? In many ways our whole culture is based upon this, that to be successful we have to look and be a certain way. Just think about the whole advertising industry that is driven by this sense of dissatisfaction because we are not living up to what we’re supposed to be. This is supposedly a good thing, that by seeing what is wrong with us we will somehow become better. We are visually bombarded and our ears are blasted by this ideal of what we ought to be. All of us follow to some degree or another, even if we are not consciously aware of doing so. If only someone or something was whispering in our ears, as we slept at night “Become what you are.” Never mind who you are. Perhaps some of things we follow are not truly who or what we are. Sometimes to stop following unhelpful patterns takes all the courage we can muster.

“Become what you are.”

To “become what you are, requires us to know what we are. For centuries philosophers having been telling us to “Know Thyself”. Socrates learned the motto from the ancient oracle at Delphi. Of course it is suggested that for the ancient Greeks to “Know Thyself” is to know that you are mortal, you are not a God. The greatest danger for the ancient Greeks, was of “Hubris”; the danger that of believing that you are a God, immortal and to forget that you are a mortal human.

Meanwhile in China, the sage Lao Tze said that "He who knows others is wise, but he who knows himself is enlightened." Rabbi Zusya told his followers that on the Day of Judgment, he expected the following inquiry. not "Why were you not like Moses?" but rather, "Why were you not more like Zusya?" In the Gospel of Thomas one of the sayings of Jesus was "When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty ...."

Yes it is vital for us to know ourselves.

Discovering who you truly are is found in many of the great stories, fairy tales and fables. Just think of the ugly duckling that becomes a beautiful swan. The begger who is actually a prince, the rejected step sister who is the one who wins the princes heart. You see discovering who you truly are is like uncovering an unsuspected treasure something you didn't know you had that bestows value and meaning on the rest of life, and which you possessed all along. The great stories describe going out on adventures that always lead the journier to return home with treasure to share. You see the treasure was always there deep within all along, the secret is to uncover the treasure. These are not painless journeys. To truly know ourselves can seem like the hardest journey of them all. That said it is not just knowing ourselves, we have to live our authentic lives, not only for ourselves but for the good of society as a whole. To live our finite lives, as a part of the infinite whole.

“Become what you are”

What though if being who we are is unacceptable? In the past gay people were considered unacceptable. Even when it was no longer illegal, it was still difficult for many people to come to terms with who they were, due to fear of rejection. This has led to a great deal of pain for so many over the years. Gender identity is the next frontier. Can we as a society accept people as they are and thus allow them to accept who they are themselves. Hiding any aspect of our humanity is always destructive. As the worship leader of the communities I serve when I say come as you are, exactly as you are, I mean it, I really do, although I do add, “but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition”, I mean that too. I hope everyone who comes to the communities I serve feels accepted, wanted, needed and loved as they are, exactly as they. This is true love, perfect love, love without condition.

It is important to feel that we are accepted in order to truly accept others.

To know yourself is a vital aspect of the spiritual life. Why some may ask? Well because the more that we know ourselves and just as importantly are able to accept ourselves, then the easier it will be to see the truth about life and to accept one another. Conversely, the less we know ourselves and are able to accept who we truly are the more distorted our perceptions of life and others will be and the less likely we will be to accept one another.

As I stated earlier, this is not merely a concern of the new age, but the ancient sages too. There is great wisdom in Lao Tze saying “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.” Self-knowledge takes us beyond mere information into that elusive thing called wisdom, wisdom that can never be attained, no matter how intelligent we may be, if we remain ignorant about ourselves.

Jesus was touching on a similar theme to Lao Tze when he said, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” Only by becoming aware of and dealing with our own shortcomings, he was saying, will we be able to see clearly enough to be helpful to others. In other words: know yourself.

To know yourself is to accept yourself warts and all and beauty spots too.

When we become aware of the “log” in our own eye we won’t make the mistake of going around trying to “fix” other people. Rather, we will relate to them with the compassion that comes from having faced our own struggles honestly, without such compassion healing can never happen.

Hence the line, I like to say “but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition.”

Knowing ourselves also opens the door to our freedom. When we are ignorant of the belief systems, assumptions and behavioral patterns that are operating within us, we remain in captivity to them, unable to make wise decisions for ourselves, unable to overcome the self-limitations that may have been instilled in us, unable to recognize when we are being manipulated by those who may consciously or unconsciously seek to activate our fear and prejudice for their own purposes.

The more we come to know ourselves the more we will be able to invite healing and transformation into our lives, to embody compassion, to face our challenges as opportunities for growth, and to experience life as a meaningful adventure.

By the way it’s never too late. Actually I suspect that it’s probably only later in  life that we finally get to know ourselves. A wonderful example of this can be found in the following poem “Now I become myself” by May Sarton


“Now I Become Myself” by May Sarton

Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
"Hurry, you will be dead before—"
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

To know thyself, to be who  and what we truly are, who we were born to be, is no easy task. Sarton wrote this poem when she was 83 years old. It would seem that it took her a long time to truly know herself and become who she really was.

It is no easy task to know yourself to be who and what we truly are, to live openly, to live whole and holy lives. To “find our path of authentic service in the world.” You see we learn by following others from the day we are born. We learn to be like those others we are surrounded by, who made us who we are, rather than becoming who we truly are. It takes a long time to let go of the stabilisers of others and become wholly ourselves. For May Sarton it only really began after the death of her parents during middle age, actually about the age I am now. 

This is the key of course. This is what it means to live holy lives. This is how we become a holy, an authentic presence in the world. This is how we serve the world by our presence, and you know what it is never too late. It can begin right here right now. May Sarton was 83 years old when she wrote “Now I become myself”. Maybe, we only truly become our true selves at the end of our physical being. That said we need to begin somewhere and the only place to begin is right here right now. Right here, right now is the only place we can not only know ourselves, but truly be ourselves and to offer our unique gift to life.

Can it be so?

Let us make it so.

Below is a video devotion based on the material in this "blogspot"