Falling Down Dream Steps

A big dream is a great leap from wherever you are now.  If you try to clear that gap in one terrific long jump, chances are you’re going to take a big pratfall.

I want to write a book; a great leap from where I am now.  A few weeks ago I read Stephen King’s On Writing, and decided to give up something that was working for me, namely this blog, in order to work on something that is at least two quantum leaps from where I am now, i.e., writing a novel.

So instead of writing a good 300 words a day, I had one day where I wrote 1000 words, and lots of days of nothing.  My confidence went from about a six out of ten to zero.

I tend to bite off more than I can chew.  Instead of eating the elephant one bite at a time, I make like a python and try to eat the whole thing at once.  When it doesn’t work I don’t change my strategy, I look for another elephant.

That at least has been my modus operandi for the first half of my life.  It hasn’t worked.

So I’m back to what was working for me: write one coherent 250 word essay each working day.  And on top of that, I’m now going to add this “dream step:” write 250 words of dialogue each day.  Once I can consistently achieve both, I’ll take another dream step.

The python strategy is for comics books, where Peter Parker can get bitten by an atomic spider and turn into Spiderman.  Michael Phelps didn’t get bit by a spider, or struck by lightning.  He just followed a careful plan of small wins that eventually led to 22 Olympic medals.

Dream steps are the stairway to heaven.

Listening to Bagger Vance

Bagger Vance spoke to me last night.  I’m just not sure what he said.

I’ve been looking for my “authentic swing” all my life.  I’ve felt broken inside without any memory of being fixed; with scars from a battle never fought; playing on a field littered with skills unmastered.

What does Bagger have to say to the likes of me?  Does God visit the camps of losers, cowards, and incompetents?

I have to believe in a god of second chances.  I have to believe that even if I lay down and slept for a thousand years he’d give me the chance to walk that quadrillion kilometers to heaven.

So maybe Bagger would say to me that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.  And though I’ve slept for fifty years, God’s been waiting patiently for me to awake, to take up my bed and walk.

See the field…what is my field of action?  The things I care about: family, community, writing, and models.

A man’s grip on his club is like his grip on the world…what is my grip on the club?  My discipline, my practice is my grip on the world; where my spirit, mind, and body come to grips with life.

What’s my battle, my game waged against the titans of golf?  I take my place in the arena with the other gladiators; to dare to be measured against the likes Jones and Hagen, or be gutted on the floor of the coliseum to the delight of those who sit in the stands.

Identifying with Work

The strangest thing happens when I identify with my work: I can’t do it.  As soon as I start thinking, “I am a writer,” I lose the power to write.

If that’s who I am, then nothing’s ever good enough.  “That’s not me.  I can do better than that.”  I can’t stop revising.  I can’t even get past the title.

I’m not a writer.  I just write.  The power to write comes from writing; as long as I keep the words flowing onto the page, I know it’s going to be OK.

As soon as we identify with our work we lose sight of the work, and start thinking of how we’re perceived by our audience.  Not who our audience is, but who we are in the eyes of our audience.  We may need to know who our audience is if we want them to understand our work, but we can’t think about whom we are as perceived by them.

We’ll never get naked up there on the stage with all the eyes of the world watching us.  But if that’s where our work takes us, then that’s where we need to go.

For our work to be genuine we need to be vulnerable.

That’s what the sports world means when they talk about having amnesia.  The ones that have it are focused on the next pitch, the next pass, the next catch; they are focused on the work, and not on themselves in the eyes of the arena.

Practicing the Presence of God

For in him we live, and move, and have our being; (Acts 17:28, KJV)

Several years ago I was turned onto a beautiful book by a friend from church, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, a monk of the 17th century.  Since then I have tried to make a practice of being aware of God’s presence.

God is inescapable, and his presence is always Here and Now, regardless of where we are or what state we’re in: If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou are there (Ps 139:8, KJV).

In the Bible the Hebrew word ruah means both breath and spirit, as when God, “… formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.” (Ge 2:7, New Living Translation)

So it is natural for me to associate God with my breath, and whenever I want I can come into God’s presence merely by observing my breath and knowing that God is in it, and in me.

Another way to come into God’s presence and into his joy is through praise, “…but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;” (Eph 5:18-20, KJV)

This “giving thanks always for all things unto God” is so powerful and so simple a way to come into God’s presence; and it is not just the big things but the little things especially we can take notice of and be grateful for.  Read the poem Pied Beauty by Gerald Manley Hopkins.  I think this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote those verses in Ephesians.

God’s presence is all around us; all we need to do is take notice to walk with him.

Therapy as Practice

Yes I have a therapist; and fortunately so, because therapy has made my life a whole lot better, and made me a whole lot easier to live with.

But therapy is a practice?

What is practice anyway?  It’s a means to mastering some skill.  The skill I work on in therapy is self-awareness, and relating to others.

Therapy is my practice dojo for learning trust, vulnerability, and honesty.  Part of what makes therapy work is that you’re paying this person to keep your secrets, and if they don’t they can lose their license.  This enables you to look into the dark places of your soul, admit to yourself and your therapist they’re there, and begin to understand why.

Everything that walks in the light casts a shadow.  The only way to avoid casting a shadow is to walk in darkness.  Our shadow selves come from trying to find ways to cope with the world.  They are the part of ourselves we’d like to hide from the world, the part we are ashamed of, and the part we want to deny exists.

Embracing the shadow is embracing ourselves; it means accepting who we are.  Deny our shadow and deny our own self-acceptance.  Grace comes from that acceptance, and can lead not only to our own acceptance, but accepting our spouse, our children, our parents, and so on.  It’s a profoundly healing experience.

That’s a hard path to walk alone.  A good therapist can help us find that path to trust, vulnerability, and to honesty; a path that leads into our own darkness; but there is light and wholeness on the other side.

Practicing Sex

I believe that practicing sex is less about technique and equipment than it is about learning to be vulnerable, intimate, and tender with the one you love.

It’s paying attention to the little things, like taking the opportunity to give a nice long hug, or gently rubbing your loved one’s back, or giving a quiet touch as you walk by.  These touches make us feel valued and loved.

It’s about taking the time and effort to be romantic: giving a gift unlooked for, making a special dinner, or planning an adventure to some place or event you’ve never been before.

It’s about savoring your lovemaking with long lingering kisses, passionate embraces, and lots of gentle touching or massage.

Maybe the hardest thing about practicing sex is talking about what you want, or what you’re afraid of, or what you don’t like.  Something as simple as initiating sex, or refusing it, can make us feel extremely vulnerable.

You know it’s time to talk if you feel some resentment about your sex life.  Where does the resentment come from?  What is it you want that you’re not getting, or don’t want that you are?  How can you express that to the one you love in a way that is respectful and not resentful? 

These conversations are usually pretty difficult.  I need to find a way to get some distance from my emotions.  I may begin by writing a letter, and getting down on paper what I’m feeling.  Obviously I’m already feeling some resentment, so I want that letter to sit for at least a day before I edit it.  Then I’ll read it again and try to reword it in a way that is less resentful, more respectful, and uses language that I think my wife can hear. 

What you don’t want to do is provoke the same resentment in your loved one that you’re already feeling yourself.  That’s a recipe for an emotional conflagration, and maybe long term damage to your relationship.

Once I’m happy with the letter, I’ll give it to her and ask her if we can talk about it after she’s read it.  When we begin to talk, I try to breathe through the conversation, be aware of our emotional pressure, and back off if it gets too high.  But I keep trying to find a way to talk about it until we can come to a mutually satisfactory conclusion.

The Dilettante’s Dilemma

I am, without doubt, a dilettante.  I would prefer to be a polymath, but have thus far lacked the determination and resolve necessary to attain mastery.

My life has been very circular as a result of this nature.  I find myself picking up and laying down the same tools over and over again to learn the skill required to master them.

I plow for a season and begin to plant, but then grow frustrated when the seeds I’ve planted don’t seem to grow.  Then I neglect my furrows and let them run wild with weeds while I go looking in the mountains to see what’s growing there.

On the other hand I’ve made peace with myself in this regard.  I accept that I am interested in many things, and won’t be content to focus on one.

Now I find that once again I’ve lost patience with my labors, and doubt whether this blog will ever generate an income, let alone a living.  My fear drives me to consider plying other wares such as modeling or building social capital or hiring me out as a temp.

But even without an income, I like the fruit this blog is bearing.  It forces me to synthesize my thoughts, to wrestle my demons onto at least one page of written text on a regular basis; and to expose them to public approbation or ridicule.

Nor do I need to give up those other fields.  I may not be able to plow them as hard as I could if I focused on one.  But an ecology needs many different plants and animals to be systemically healthy – and so do I.

So I will try to hew a triune path through the wilderness of my desires: of blogging, modeling, and building social capital.  Three I hope will lead to mastery, and blessings to those along my way.

How to Read Scripture

I think the most important thing to remember about reading scripture is to read it.  You can’t read scripture if you don’t read it.

With that in mind, and knowing how busy everyone is these days, choose to read something you are interested in, or enjoy reading.  Don’t start with Leviticus or Summa Theologica (the latter is great for insomnia), especially if you struggle to find time to read in the first place.

When you find a section of text that speaks to you, highlight it, and perhaps even make a note to yourself why you underlined it.

If you read something that just rocks your world, then write it down.  Memorize it.  Write about it.  Discuss it with those you trust and can be vulnerable with.

Set a reasonable goal for yourself: not so little that its accomplishment is trivial, and not so much that it becomes a burden.  Be gentle with yourself, but at the same time remember what you’re reading and why: these are the ideas you build your life with.

Maybe you’re beyond all this and are rolling your eyes at the lack of scholarship I’m advocating.  After all, there are folks out there who do word studies, syntopical research, comparative research, etc.

All those things are great.  I think generally speaking the deeper and more engaged you are in any activity, the greater will be the rewards you reap.

Just remember why you started your research.  Don’t let all that analysis make you deaf to the voice that spoke to your heart in the first place.

If you spend all your days dissecting corpses, it can be hard to remember they were once human beings.

What Is Scripture?

What is scripture?  Is it the Word of God?  Written text divinely inspired by God?  Or is it the written compilation of religious traditions of peoples from around the world?

What is scripture to you?  Do you read scripture?

Shortly after graduating from college, I read Mortimer Adler’s book, How to Read a Book.  That book inspired me, not only to read the Great Books of the Western World, but of the eastern world as well and the various religious texts in particular.  I figured if they were profound enough to inspire the religions themselves and millions of people as well, then they probably have something to say to me too.

They did, and still do.

I believe scripture is that body of written work on which you build your life.  It is the “first principles” of your life, the axioms and assumptions which underlie your thoughts, words, and deeds.

Scripture may be a religious text like the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita.  It may be some work of philosophy like Plato or Aristotle.  Maybe even a work of fiction like The Lord of the Rings.  For a time I read that book, or parts of it, nearly every year.

Perhaps you disagree with me.  In fact you may feel offended by the generic nature of my definition.  But I think even an atheist will want and need a written embodiment of what she believes to be true: the fundamental axioms or principles on which she bases her actions; or a vision for what life can or should be.

And let’s face it, there are certain texts that have acquired a sacred patina even though they are secular in nature: the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States of America to name only a few.

People and scripture are the bricks and mortar we build our life’s meaning with.  Without one or the other, it’s hard to build a lasting foundation.  That being the case, what are you reading?  What are you mixing your mortar with?  How do those words become the cathedral of your mind?  How do you turn that scripture into meaningful action?

Practicing Contentment

He who knows enough is enough will always have enough – Lao Tzu.

How do you know when enough is enough?

Jesus said something that bothered me for years:

25 Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Mark 4:25, NIV)

I’ve chewed that verse like a cow chews cud.  It just didn’t seem fair to me.

I grew up a glass half empty person.  It was as if I had negative vision: I could only see what wasn’t there.  And not just possessions; accomplishments, skills, physical attributes… the list was unending.  I saw what was lacking in my life, and everywhere I looked I came up short.

Whoever doesn’t have, even what they have will be taken from them.  It’s unpleasant to be around a person with negative vision.  They aren’t thankful for anything, and complain about everything.  They are jealous.  They are insecure.  They are easily offended, because the whole world is an insult to them.

I should know, for that man was me.

Here’s what that verse has come to mean to me: we all have something to be grateful for.  The issue isn’t possession, but recognition.  We’ve all been blessed with life.  And if we’re alive, then we have air to breathe, water to drink, and food to eat.  Give thanks.

We’ve all been blessed with some interest, some activity we like to do.  Enjoy it.  Practice it.  And give thanks.

We all know people who are better than us in those things we’re interested in or like to do.  Admire them.  Get to know them.  Learn from them.  And give thanks.

Whoever has will be given more: this is the path to true wealth.  Before long you not only discover how blessed you are, but that you are a blessing too.