Passing It On   Leave a comment

What would you teach a young person asking to apprentice with you for the wisdom, skills and insights you’ve gained in your life? And how would you go about teaching these things?

The season itself encourages me to be mindful of such things. With its focus on harvest, completion, the Ancestors, and with my own middle age upon me, it’s natural to take stock and ponder what’s most worthwhile out of all the experiences and insights a human accumulates over several decades.

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Before going any further, why not take a few minutes and write down your responses to those questions in the first paragraph above?

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What follows is one half of a possible conversation with the other person.

“Thank you for asking. You honor me by bringing these questions to me. In turn, I’ll start by asking you what you’ve learned so far. We build on what we already have discovered, so this is a good starting point. Let’s go for a walk — you choose the direction.”

“One way to begin to answer these things for yourself is to look at times in life when you are happy, or totally engrossed in whatever you are doing. What were you doing, and what did the experience feel like? No need to hurry toward an answer. We can talk again in a few days. Time for a cup of tea or coffee, right?”

“What would go on your ‘favorites’ list? You know — favorite colors, places, animals, people, activities, etc. These things can be a source of comfort, encouragement and energy when you need to recharge or rebalance. Turning to them consciously and gratefully and making them a regular part of your life can assist you greatly. And they can be keys to explore further, and develop as part of your personal toolkit for living. For instance, carving out space and time to practice them, and making a physical space where they are represented, can make a surprising difference in our experience of each day.”

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“For some people, these can become doorways to a profession or career. For others, they become rituals and practices to restore and rebalance. For still other people, they can become spiritual symbols and subjects for meditation and insight. Here on my table altar is a hawk feather I found while my wife and I were looking at property here in Vermont. It was a teaching symbol that continues to remind me to pay attention to small signs. Because way beyond random probability, they can often turn out to be big signs.”

“What kinds of things are you good at? If you don’t know or aren’t sure, start asking and paying attention. Everyone has certain latent strengths, talents and abilities. It may be that others have already helped you find some of them, or have encouraged you if you’ve started showing or practicing them, but you can find them on your own as well. They may not always be things that others value right away, but you probably practice them anyway. In fact, some of the things we can be shy about are often things we deeply value and don’t want to expose to others’ opinions or judgments, so we keep them hidden. In spite of what Western culture tells us, there are such things as good secrets. Respect your own sense of when to open up about them, and when to keep them private. Or if I’m listening to the wisdom of plants and trees, build my root system first, then flower second.”

“If you’re wondering about what we’ve been talking about so far, or if you’re thinking they don’t seem very spiritual things, you’re partly right. We often undervalue such things, or think they don’t matter, or overlook them when we’re considering ‘matters of real significance’. Yet all these things make up part of the value of each individual. Each of us has importance, and each of us has core purposes we can discover and fulfill.”

“One powerful way to grow and learn is to serve. You hear a lot about service, and about ‘selfless service’. But I’ve found that the most balanced service is one that we may enter knowing we’ll benefit along with others, but not worrying about that either way. We serve because it’s another way to be grateful for what we’ve received. But we also serve because the universe makes us curious, and service takes us places we can reach in no other way. It connects us to people and places and other beings who we can help and who can help us. Service builds relationships. It’s a form of love. Though it may sound very strange to say it, loving another person can be a form of service. That includes loving ourselves. If we think about the numbers of unhappy people in the world today, loving ourselves is truly a vital and desperately needed form of service.”

“Finding something larger than myself and connecting to it is the only lasting source of happiness and fulfillment I’ve found. We long to feel deeply that our lives matter, and that kind of connection brings meaning and purpose and a deep sense of rightness. We may connect to a craft or art or skill, and we may connect to another person or organization or movement. During my life, I’ve moved around a bit among these at various times. Some people find one way to connect and spend their entire lives with that single way. But like everything else, there’s no single ideal way for everyone, but simply the way that works best for you right now. This isn’t something to believe, though you can if you want to, but it is something to test and try out and determine its validity for yourself.”

“Extending these insights into the practice of a craft, an art, a religion or spiritual path, an organization or cause or profession, are each natural developments of the initial urge and instinct to serve and to express our talents and abilities. A god or gods may help us focus our service, or become the center of what we do. But our service may not take that particular form. Our judgments about others’ choices will always be incomplete. To know our own purposes and priorities is the task of a whole life. We can honor others’ choices and give them the freedom to choose just as they give us that same freedom. There’s a deep test: does my practice afford others the freedom to choose? And does their practice offer me that same freedom?”

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“In this world of time and space and change, there is a spiritual adage whose insight I’ve learned the hard way, repeatedly throughout my life. And it’s this: each day’s rhythm means we must re-win our spiritual freedom for that day. It’s an ongoing practice, not a single achievement. In fact, it’s the substance of our service.”

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