Serenity and Forgiveness

Serenity and Forgiveness

Serenity and Forgiveness 

 Some of the readers of this column are currently reading our Living Compass Lent booklet, "Practicing Forgiveness with All Your Heart, Soul, Strength, and Mind," as well as participating in our Facebook discussion group based on the booklet. This week we all have been reflecting on and discussing practicing forgiveness within our families. Many people have commented about how challenging it can be to practice forgiveness and to seek reconciliation with people, sometimes even in their own families, who seem to have no remorse or even no idea of how hurtful their behavior has been.

The Serenity Prayer has come up often in our discussion because it serves as the perfect reminder for us to both have the courage to seek forgiveness and reconciliation when possible, and to also accept that sometimes this will not be possible-at least for the time being. In case you are not familiar with the opening lines of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr, they are:

"God grant me the serenity 
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference."

I recently became aware of a modern day adaptation of this famous prayer, written by a Jesuit priest and popular author by the name of James Martin (he currently has close to 600,000 followers on Facebook). I'll close this week's column by sharing it with you in hopes that it may serve as a reminder for us to stay humble as we seek to practice forgiveness and work towards reconciliation within our families, and our other close relationships. 

"God, grant me the serenity

to accept the people I cannot change,

which is pretty much everyone,

since I'm clearly not you, God.

At least not the last time I checked.

And while you're at it, God,

please give me the courage

to change what I need to change about myself,

which is frankly a lot, since, once again,

I'm not you, which means I'm not perfect.

It's better for me to focus on changing myself

than to worry about changing other people,

who, as you'll no doubt remember me saying,

I can't change anyway.

Finally, give me the wisdom to just shut up

whenever I think that I'm clearly smarter

than everyone else in the room,

that no one knows what they're talking about except me,

or that I alone have all the answers.

Basically, God,

grant me the wisdom

to remember that I'm

not you."


(James Martin, S.J.)

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Let it Come. Let it Go. Let it Flow.

Let it Come. Let it Go. Let it Flow.

Let it Come. Let it Go. Let it Flow.

I have enjoyed watching many of the NCAA college basketball tournament games (both men's and women's) this past week, and on several occasions, I heard the announcer refer to a player who was on a hot shooting streak as being "in the zone." This meant that their shooting seemed effortless, and that just about any shot they took ended up, one way or another, going in the basket. During these moments their play seemed effortless, and their energy seemed like it was contagious as it spread to the other four players on their team as well.

    Being "in the zone" has also been described as experiencing "flow." Flow is the effortless experience people feel when they are fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus so that their thoughts and emotions are fulling channeled and aligned with the task at hand. I believe that one of the greatest draws to watching sports, and any live performance for that matter is that spectators are hoping to see an athlete, a musician, or an actor or actress perform in a state of flow. There are few things more inspiring than witnessing someone in such a state. 

    The only thing better than watching someone in a state of flow is to experience that state ourselves. Flow is not just for athletes and other performers; it is an experience that we too can have in our relationships, our work, and our daily lives. There is a certain mystical, spiritual quality to flow because it is not something that a person can make happen. The term flow is used because there is a sense that a person experiencing flow is part of a force or energy larger than themselves as if they are being carried by the flow of a river or a current of air. They feel like they are in the flow of something beyond themselves. 

    Flow is in large part an unexpected gift because it is impossible to create flow whenever we feel like it. It is possible though to maximize our chances of experiencing it by focussing on the following traits or habits. 

  • Living or being entirely in the present moment, not rehashing the past, or worrying about the future. 

  • Living from a place of "soul" rather than ego. 

  • Detaching from the outcome of what we are doing.

  • Not forcing or trying to control an outcome. 

  • Fostering a lack of self-consciousness, and not taking ourselves too seriously.

  • Maintaining a sense of humor. 

  • Living from the "inside out," rather than the "outside in"-focusing on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation.

  • Silencing our inner judge, our inner critic. 

   The opposite of flow is distraction and constriction, which is why we use the term "choke" when an athlete, performer, or team tightens up and performs poorly in a key situation. It is impossible to experience flow when we are distracted or when other things in our lives are out of balance. In basketball, as in life, if we find ourselves distracted or choking, it is a good time to call a time-out and regroup. Resolving distractions, and then re-centering ourselves and focussing all of our attention and energy in the "now" will maximize our chances of getting back in the flow. 

   Review the traits listed above and try putting them into practice in some concrete situations in your life. Instead of being distracted, work on being fully present in a conversation with a friend or loved one, and see if you experience a different kind of flow in the conversation. Try doing a task at work or home in an entirely focussed mindful way, and see if the task feels different to you. Try a spiritual practice of prayer, meditation, walking, deep breathing, or journaling and see if you can get a glimpse of flow. 

   In the end, flow is a gift. We cannot make it happen. We can, however, practice certain habits that put us in a mindset where we are more open to receive this gift. For you and me the result may not be sinking more three-point shots, but it may result in our experiencing increased joy and meaning in our lives and our relationships.

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Gradually, Then Suddenly

Gradually, Then Suddenly

Gradually, Then Suddenly

  It's been a long and brutal winter here in Wisconsin, and so the coming of spring is more welcome than usual! The temperatures have been warming gradually for a few weeks and then suddenly, just a few days ago, it became clear that winter had lost its grip, and spring was finally on its way. 

   Our Living Compass Wellness Initiative is hosting an online Facebook discussion group right now on Forgiveness (see the section below this column if you are interested in joining us) and this week I shared the image of winter gradually, then suddenly, losing its grip on those of us in the Midwest. I shared it as a metaphor for how the process of forgiveness often works. The process of forgiving, whether of our ourselves or others is similar in that at first it happens oh so gradually, even imperceptibly, that we don't even notice our change of heart. Then, just when it seems like there is not much progress being made, suddenly our inability to forgive loses its grip, and we find that we are suddenly feeling more loving toward ourselves or others.  

   All of this reminds me of a line from an Ernest Hemingway novel, one that also serves as the basis for a core principle found in the book, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. In Hemingway's, The Sun Also Rises, a character is asked how he happened to go bankrupt. He answers simply, "Gradually, and then suddenly." Susan Scott takes Hemingway's idea and expands it to matters other than one's financial stability, stating, "Our work, our relationships, and, in fact, our very lives succeed or fail, gradually then suddenly, one conversation at a time." 

   In our Facebook discussion group, I asked if people could think of other metaphors, in addition to the coming of spring, that capture this idea that change and growth happen gradually, then suddenly. The group shared several that warrant repeating: learning to play a musical instrument, learning to hold a yoga pose, learning to speak a new language, losing weight, a person recovering from grief, and a child first learning to walk. All of these are changes that often surprise us as they seem to have just crept up on us when in reality they have been building for some time.

   These metaphors contain wisdom that I, for one, need to remember because I often want or expect change to happen quickly. I doubt I'm alone in the fact that when I am working on a making a change, I don't start out thinking, "I'm looking for a slow, gradual, almost imperceptible change here," and yet that is precisely how the change process works. Watching the snow slowly melt and the world gradually changing from white and grey to a fantastic variety of colors is a beautiful reminder of that.

   Is there a change you are working on in your life? Is it perhaps related to forgiveness? Or some other focus of growth or letting go--be it spiritual, vocational, physical, relational, or emotional? As the season slowly, gradually changes around us, may we remember the wisdom that change always takes longer than we want or expect, and that change always happens gradually, long before it happens suddenly.

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Be A Blessing

Be A Blessing

Be A Blessing

 Do you have a favorite Irish blessing, one that perhaps comes to mind as St. Patrick's Day approaches?

If so, I would love to hear from you. You can respond to this email, or you can respond on our Living Compass Facebook page where this column also appears each week.  Click here for our Facebook page.

Here are several of my favorite Irish blessings:

  • "May the hinges of our friendship never grow rusty."

  • "May you live as long as you want, and may you never want as long as you live."

  • "May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may you be held in the palm of God's hand."

  • "May good luck be with you wherever you go, and your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow."

  • "May your days be many, and your troubles be few, may all God's blessings descend upon you, may peace be within you. May your heart be strong, and may you find what you're seeking wherever you roam."

  • "May you have the hindsight to know where you've been, the foresight to know where you're going, and the insight to know when you're going too far."

  • "May you have enough happiness to keep you sweet, enough trials to keep you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human, enough hope to keep you happy, enough failure to keep you humble, enough success to keep you eager, enough friends to give you comfort, enough faith and courage in yourself to banish sadness, enough wealth to meet your needs and one thing more; enough determination to make each day a more wonderful day than the one before."

  • "With God's sunlight shining on you, May your heart glow with warmth, like a turf fire that welcomes friends and strangers alike. May the light of God shine from your eyes, like a candle in the window, welcoming the weary traveler."

I am delighted to share these blessings with you, and perhaps you will share some of these, or some of your own, with others this week. The last one reminds me that there is something, though, that is even more meaningful than sharing a blessing with others, and that is being a blessing to others. I was reminded of that a few weeks ago when a friend did me a huge favor that was a tremendous help to me. In response to his support, I said to my friend, "You are such a blessing in my life!" My friend responded, "That is the nicest thing someone could say to me!"  

We all know a weary traveler or two right now in our lives that could use a blessing. How might you either share a blessing with them, or better yet, how might you be a blessing to them, and like the Irish saying, "Be like a candle in the window, welcoming the weary traveler."

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Living An Examined Life

Living An Examined Life

 Living An Examined Life

 During my freshman year of college, I took an introductory class in philosophy as an elective and was so inspired by what I learned that I ended up making philosophy my undergraduate major. To this day, I remember the exact words my professor said that caught my attention and that still speak to me now. They were the well-known words of Socrates, "The unexamined life is not worth living."  

    To positively restate the ancient Greek philosopher's words, taking the time to examine our lives is what makes our lives fulfilling and worth living. I whole-heartedly agree with this sentiment and believe this wisdom applies not only to individuals, but to couples, families, and organizations as well. A commitment to regular self-examination is a cornerstone of health and wellness in all aspects of life. 

   The benefit of taking time for self-examination is acknowledged by all of the world religions as well. Every faith tradition has days and seasons that invite followers to focus on self-examination and committing to living a renewed life. The season of Lent, which for Christians started this week, is just such a season of self-examination and renewal. Just as an annual check-up with the doctor is good for one's physical health, Lent provides an annual check-up for one's emotional and spiritual well-being.

   Lent is often thought of as a time to give something up, a practice which is derived from a long-standing tradition of fasting during Lent.  When a person takes on the practice of fasting or giving something up, it is not done in order to experience pain or deprivation, but rather to practice the discipline of delaying gratification, which is an essential factor in all dimensions of wellness.  Fasting helps to heighten the awareness of the nature of one's real hunger, helping to clarify one's need or hunger for spiritual, emotional, and relational wellness. 

  An approach to fasting that many people are now adopting, as they expand the idea of fasting to include more than avoiding certain kinds of food or drink, can be seen in this list of possible things from which one can fast. 

Fast from hurting words, and say kind words.

Fast from sadness, and be filled with gratitude.

Fast from anger, and be filled with patience.

Fast from pessimism, and be filled with hope.

Fast from complaints, and contemplate simplicity.

Fast from pressures, and be prayerful.

Fast from bitterness, and fill your hearts with joy.

Fast from selfishness, and be compassionate to others.

Fast from grudges, and be reconciled.

Fast from words, and be silent so you can listen.

   Here is a simple exercise any of us can do to put into practice Socrate's wisdom of the importance of self-examination. Reread the list above slowly and take a moment to examine how you are doing with each of the recommendations. Is there one "fast" that speaks to you, one that "has your name on it" as something that needs your attention right now? 

   The observance of Lent, along with many other forms of regular self-reflection, are reminders that the examined life is well worth living. 

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