Friday, September 7, 2012

...the roots of civility

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, 
or exactly where it is all going. 
What you need to do is recognize the possibilities and challenges 
offered by the present moment, 
and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.   
Thomas Merton

Several years ago a friend struggled with a difficult situation. He spoke to his mentor, described his dilemma, and waited for a “how to” moment. Instead the old man looked at the younger one and asked, “Just what part of the Serenity Prayer don’t you understand?” Silence. The mentor continued. “Everything fits somewhere in those three parts. Are you struggling with 'the serenity to accept things you can't change'? Or perhaps 'the courage to change the things you can’? Maybe 'the wisdom to know the difference’? Figure this out and you’ll find the answer." 

"Figure this out," he said. Easier said than done. Where to begin? Discernment is difficult, especially when my mind is scattered. I’ve found that a good place to start is in the here and now. Sara Hacala addresses living in the present moment in this excerpt from her book Saving Civility:

Before we can connect with others, we have to be able to connect with ourselves, and we can only accomplish that by living fully in the present, not the past or the future. When we live in the past, we are often hanging on to anger, resentment, or sadness that colors our current outlook. The Buddhist parable below sheds some wisdom: 
Two monks were traveling together down a muddy road. Along the way they encountered a lovely young woman dressed in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the road without soiling her garments. The first monk obliging lifted her up, carried her across the mud, and then continued on his journey. Unable to speak for hours, but no longer able to restrain himself, the second monk finally asked the first, "Why did you pick up that young woman when you know that we are forbidden to touch females?" The first monk replied, "I left the girl back there hours ago, but you are still carrying her."
Whatever our past memories, we have choices. The better choice is to nurture those that bring joy and peace. Rather than deny the painful past, I recommend a single sentence I read many years ago: "When a dark memory knocks at the door, acknowledge it but don't invite it in to spend the afternoon."

The future, AKA "The Great Unknown", is a mine-field as well. Hacala writes, "When we spend our time living in the future, we may be anxious and fearful about what may never happen at all. Or we're so busy with over-scheduled agendas that we allow the clock to rule our lives, causing us to miss out on what is happening here and now. Either way, we shortchange ourselves, and those in our circle, because we are too busy to stop, smell the roses, and connect with one another."

A re-telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan describes the two travelers who rode past the injured man without stopping and then tells of the third who stopped to help this man from the wrong political party/wrong race/wrong culture/wrong-in-so-very-many-ways. At the end of his modern version, the writer asks his readers a question: "Just what jackass are you riding today that keeps you from connecting with your brothers and sisters?"

Dismount. Encounter the present. Breathe. Meditate. Take in the world around. Be quiet. Ms. Hacala says, "If you want to be close to and connect with others, be WITH THEM, here and now, not lost in your thoughts, judgments, or agenda. While we have memories of the past, the present moment is what is real, because the future hasn't happened yet."

Civility...let it begin with me.


BrightSoul said...

I will read Sarah's book. I have been connecting with people lately more than ever and have found a wealth of wonder at the people God created and how we CAN help each other.

Just allowing someone else lead the conversation is a good exercise. Not being afraid of Silence...that's a big one for me! I love our Rector when he puts things like that out to think about after his sermon is done. Makes Sunday more thoughtful.

I am thankful for your Blog...often it spurs me to read a little more and think...

GretchenJoanna said...

Yes, this kind of civility, of LOVE, is hard, because of just what you describe, our thoughts and judgments and worries that keep us from really being with the people we are with. Lord, have mercy!