According to Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of The Omega Institute and author of the beautiful book, Broken Open, to be human is to be lost in the woods. Yes, I get that. None of us arrives here on earth with clear directions on how to get from point A to point B. We stumble through this forest called life dealing with confusion, loss, even catastrophe … and, not surprisingly, making mistakes, sometimes big ones. Yes, the forest is dark and dangerous. And for this very reason, it is in these woods that we just might discover character and strength we didn’t know we had.
We all know people who say their cancer or divorce or bankruptcy was the greatest gift of a lifetime—that until the body, or the heart, or the bank was broken, they didn’t know who they were, what they felt, or what really mattered to them. They say that before their descent into the darkness, they took the kindness of friends and loved ones for granted or spent way too much time feeling sorry for themselves or being afraid or resentful. But, in those dark, lost times, when they were brought to their knees … humbled by life – it was then that the hard shell of protection around their hearts cracked open. And later, as the pieces came back together, they discovered a renewed sense of purpose, an inner softness and a far greater appreciation for every day of life.
But then, we also know people who did not turn their misfortune into insight, or their grief into appreciation. Instead, they became more bitter, reactive, fearful and cynical. They shut down. They returned to their old ways. They went back to sleep. And this is so sad, because when we’re asleep … when we do not learn from life … when we cannot open to new ideas, new ways of seeing things and new ways of being … the only thing we can do is create one replay after the other. Life is … well … ground hog day. Adventure … risk … creative thought … joy … become highly unlikely.
So, here we are … in unprecedented times … one month after Resurrection … still in the midst of a scary, invisible force called Covid-19 … and we are faced with the choice … to allow it to open us up or shut us down. Gary Simmons writes in his life-changing book, I of the Storm, that nothing and no one is against us. Unity’s first principle says, There is only one presence and one power in the Universe and in our lives, God, absolute good and unconditional love. These are our life-lines.
I am fascinated and humbled by this roller coaster called life, aren’t you? I know how hard it is to stay awake in difficult times. It’s like we toggle between resistance and surrender. We sometimes dig our heels in … struggle and suffer. And sometimes, we dig deep, find our faith and grow stronger. We can be broken or broken open.
I have been both and I’ve walked with others as they engage the pain of living. I’ve seen how fiasco, failure and misfortune visit each one of us … as if they were written into the job description of being human. I’ve seen people crumble in times of trouble, lose their spirit, and never fully recover. I’ve seen others become so fiercely self-protective that they end up living a half-life, safe yet stunted. But I’ve also seen another way to deal with fearful change and painful loss. Like the mythical phoenix bird who dives into the fire and then rises from the ashes of death reborn into his most vibrant and enlightened self, some people … some great lovers of life … seem super resilient. Over and over again, they stumble and get up … get hurt and recover.
Yes, I’ve been both of these people. At times, I’ve numbed out, fought back and stubbornly resisted unwanted change. At other times, I’ve stayed awake and been transformed by it. I’ll be honest … both ways are painful, but one leads to bitterness and regret … while the other offers the gift of a lifetime. If we can find the courage to stay awake during this Covid crisis and allow ourselves to be changed at depth, great secrets will be revealed to us.
Easter is the story of a Phoenix bird named Jesus. He’s going along, doing really good work and finding satisfaction in the fact that many people are learning and growing through his teaching. He is becoming influential and his followers are becoming more independent and confident. The political and religious authorities are threatened by this … they’re losing control over the people and so they resent Jesus … they want to put him in his place. And when they can’t diminish him, they kill him.
Jesus’ experience with the “authorities” was archetypal. You know … the authorities … the situations and people you have given your power to. We all know what it’s like to face the choice of playing small to please or fit in. And we all know what it’s like to step into our power and find ourselves thrust out.
And what about those inner authorities. Governed by self-talk that constantly bombards us with fear and doubt, we make ourselves small and powerless. To confront those voices with the higher authorities of faith and courage is nothing short of heroic.
So we have surrendered our power to circumstances and people. We have allowed misguided inner authorities to sap us of our power. AND, there are still authority figures in the world today who are threatened by independent, confident, heart-centered people … who seek control through fear and intimidation … whose stock in trade is misinformation, manipulation and deceit. And you know what … we’re going to need the same kind of courage that Jesus had to stand up to these fake authorities, retain our faith and speak our truth with confidence and clarity. The stakes are higher than ever.
The great poet Mary Oliver describes our confrontation with disempowering authorities in her amazing poem, The Journey:
One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice –
though the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug at your ankles. "Help me”… mend my life!", each voice cried. Though their melancholy was terrible ... though the wind pried with its stiff fingers at the very foundations, you did not stop. You knew what you had to do, It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones. But little by little, as you left the old you behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do-- determined to save the only life you could save.
Jesus lost everything of material value … including his physical life. Millions of people around the world are now standing where he stood on that first Good Friday or where his loved ones stood on Holy Saturday. They have watched him suffer and die … they have buried his body and walked away from the tomb in tears.
But then came Resurrection, and those of us who understand its meaning in consciousness received the greatest gift imaginable. Our fear of death is confronted and overcome. Jesus is assassinated and, after a short time in the tomb, returns as a light being more powerful than ever … and finally, we GET IT that indeed, we are more than our bodies.
Even so, we are horrified by the number of people who have died from this terrible virus. So, what if we could see these deaths through the lens of Resurrection? If death were accepted as the natural next step in our evolution … the doorway into a more powerful, phase of life … would our horror and grief be comforted? If we could truly accept that this experience of human life is limited, how would we use our time? What would our priorities be?
Many things are highly prized precisely because they don’t last very long … flowers, pets, spring, vacations, youth, sunsets. Accepting that death is natural and inevitable, we just might stop measuring value in terms of longevity. How old was your dad when he died? How many years were they married? How long did he work for the company? She looks good for her age. He sure is strong for an old guy.
Being what is euphemistically called a senior citizen, I find that my life is far more useful, exciting and enjoyable when I stop counting things like wrinkles, sags and pounds … or worrying about blood pressure and cholesterol numbers or whether I’ve gotten enough sleep or exercise or vegetables today … or whether my energy and money will last as long as my body does. I say … it’s time for a senior revolution! Haven’t we earned the right to give up counting everything, including how many days, weeks, months or years we might have left … and get on with living free, being generous and having fun! Let the young people do the running around and the worrying and the counting if they have to. What the world needs from us seniors is our wisdom, love, perspective and hard-won sense of humor.
I’m calling it The Senior Liberation Movement. Everyone is invited to join. The only requirements for membership are the willingness to give up fear of aging and death, stop measuring value by the numbers and the desire to live wholeheartedly in the moment. If you are interested, e-mail or text me. I’ll help you gather a circle of like-minded folks to learn and grow and play with. I’m thinking we call these small groups Freedom Circles!
In these circles, we’ll probably begin by talking about our personal experience of sheltering in place. In a way, we, ourselves have been in a tomb. We’ve been in between worlds … waiting, wondering, restless. But has our tomb been a cold, dark place of death … or has it been a warm, light-filled incubator where something new has been nurtured? During this shut-down, time has passed more gently and gradually, we have slowed down. Many of us have been blessed with time to reflect.
What does Spirit want me to know about this experience? How has my perspective changed? What long-denied feelings and fears have come up? What really matters to me? Who do I really love? And … what’s next … what dreams have I put on hold?
We all know the decision Jesus made in the tomb. Like the Phoenix Bird, he shed the past … all of it … accomplishments and disappointments … triumph and loss … even death itself … so that he could return to life more powerful than ever. Is this the possibility for transformation that is available to each of us in a very personal way right now? Once we emerge from our tombs, will we go back to sleep … back to business as usual … or reach for something greater?
Perhaps it depends on how we’ve been using the experience of isolation. Finding ways to keep ourselves distracted so we’re not overwhelmed? Understandable. Or digging deep for the courage to feel it all … the fear, grief, doubt, anger, powerlessness, confusion.
Probably most of us have been doing a combination of both. But, if you’re like me, it’s been in moments of reflection and deep feeling that windows of insight and wisdom have opened up. This is the journey Mary Oliver has written about. The challenge we face now is the patience to stay put as long as it takes for lasting transformation to occur? Until …
little by little, as you leave the old you behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there is a new voice which you slowly recognize as your own, that keeps you company
as you stride deeper and deeper into the world
determined to do the only thing you could do-- determined to save the only life you could save.
The tomb is a scary place … it’s pitch black and the very air is uncertainty. But it is a very, very powerful place … a naked and intimate place … where illusions are stripped away and we meet ourselves in absolute authenticity. Here, conditions are perfect for making life-changing, gut-level, self-altering decisions.
Will we follow that Phoenix-Bird Jesus up and out into the sunlight? This decision is as big as decisions get. For we have been around the block. We know that life out is not perfect. We know that there is more pain and loss ahead. But we also know we have the capacity to create joy for ourselves and others … and we know that our presence makes a difference.
Having been in the bowels of darkness and risen again, we now embody the greatest of all secrets … that we are not alone … that there is both within us and all around us an unseen power so benevolent and so incredibly beautiful that we are no longer at the mercy of unworthy, misguided authorities.
We are unshakeable and unstoppable. The life we have lived is over. No longer driven by fear of anyone … or regret for the past or worry about the future – no longer compelled by craving for stuff or approval, we are, at last, free to do what we do for one reason only … for love. Because in the end, love is all that matters. Love is our legacy.
So, what will your rebirth look like? Who will you be when you emerge from your tomb? Personally, I am looking forward to taking one breathless step after the other, grounded in guidance and confidence and faith … not worried about the metrics as Marines call them, right Paul … not measuring anything … just showing up with as much wisdom and authenticity as I can … having only one intention … to use whatever gifts I have to be a blessing.
I don’t know exactly what this will look like, but there is one thing I know for sure … I don’t want to go back to sleep …and forget what I’ve learned these last two months. I want to be more awake, more alive than ever before. And when I do leave this planet, I want to go in peace, knowing I’ve done my best. This is good enough for me. How about you?
So now, I invite you to relax, mind and body. Close your eyes if you wish. Take a few deep breaths. (Pause)
Imagine you are breathing through your heart as you listen to the wisdom of the great Sufi poet Rumi:
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. This door is round and open. Don’t go back to sleep.
Let’s just sit for a moment in the silence. Awake. Alert. Listening. Breathe. Silence.
We have been through personal crucifixion … we have sat alone in the tomb. And now, Resurrection has happened and we have been changed. We stand on the threshold of a new life. Are you are up for it? If so, I invite you to join me in a heartfelt affirmation as we prepare to leave this place this morning. Imagine we are raising glasses for a toast. Together, we cry out in full voice. Le Chaim … TO LIFE! And so it is. AMEN