Reflecting Back to Journey Forward

A year unlike any, must surely be handled with care. Brought out the instruments, the special scopes, the probing devices because there’s much to discern. For to slumber through this reflection will surely result in fool’s gold being mistakenly added to my treasure store.


It was a year when I judged less, but discerned more. Judging matters in courts of law, but discernment triumphs in the court of life.


Blessings came disguised, sometimes wrapped initially as losses. The closure in cinemas consigned our annual unlimited movie pass into the back of our drawers. But the hours freed up enrich us beyond expectation. We cannot buy Time, so price-less is it.


Being scammed of a minor amount turned out to be another blessing in disguise. Anger at being fooled, a disruption in inner peace, an internal seething – all never made an appearance. What joy to know that this no longer troubled me. What joy to see it as God helping someone else, with what He blessed me with. Or what He consented to have me steward.


Walks, near and far, fair weather or drizzling rain was nature’s therapy to our souls. Conversations could not but work to bond us, as we employed our hearts more. Growing in the companionship, giving and receiving the simple joy of walking together, in the presence of each other. Aren’t these ingredients for love?


Friendships deepen, friendships die. A mere handful blossom into fellowship. Giving up others un-burdens both, as growth requires different.
As the exterior distractions shrinks, the interior opens up. Wisdom is so accessible and available, not requiring one to seek and visit sages in person like of old. My birthday gift of bookshelves are rapidly filling up. Perspectives change. Hearts softened. Hands reach out.


Pain and hurts arose. But not a few are due to internal expectations. And when I examined latter closely, I realized that it was much easier to re-calibrate those expectations than to manage or bury the pain and hurts. It’s like kicking the soccer ball first, and then, putting up the goal posts after the kick. How sweet.
Oh, I have taken a step forward and two steps back. It happens. Crying over split milk doesn’t do any good. What does good is knowing the motivation/trigger for the different steps. And making sure the feet is pointed in the right direction when moving forward.


The year in reflection is not so much the changing scenery outside my cabin window as I traveled from January to December. It’s more about the changes in me. And for that, there’s only One to thank.


“What is grace?” I asked God.

And He said, “All that happens.”


Then He added, when I looked perplexed,

“Could not lovers say that every moment in their Beloved’s arms was grace?”


Existence is my arms, though I well understand how one can turn away from me, until the heart has wisdom.

(St John the Cross / Daniel Ladinsky)

Self Actualization

I recall my idealistic genes kicked in real hard during my mid-teen years, when I was 17 years old. There was a not-brief interlude when I fell head over heels in love, but these genes kept on plugging away.

That period was colored by a greater awareness of the social and global issues prevalent then, and continues in one form or another to this day. It was augmented by respected teachers who broadened one’s awareness beyond the formal school curriculum. It was sharpened by student leadership courses and late discourses with those of like mind.

In hindsight, it seemed natural, not unexpected, when those idealistic genes turned its focus to the question of one’s own potential. After all, didn’t Michael Jackson sing that change started with the “man in the mirror”?

Thus, there was quite a prolonged period during my career when I devoured self-improvement books like cereal in the morning. It was all about self mastery, uncovering and honing one’s strengths and potential, and cultivating new mindsets and habits. I found this cool label, “self-actualization” that appealed to my evolving consciousness. As I was also attempting to climb the corporate ladder, there was a healthy mix of management, leadership and organizational reading thrown into the blender. I probably accumulated more than 150 books, if not more. I never did an exact count and many were left behind as I made the trans-pacific journey Stateside.

So, how has this worked out for me? There has been no regrets. I feel strongly grounded, confident and self-assured. There’s no doubt that this internal work has positioned me for career opportunities that I was able to take advantage of. There’s also no doubt that this “self-actualization engine” will not take me where I want to go in this next phase of life. What do I mean?

Life is never a straight climb upwards. Life provides us plateaus. As the commercial goes, the “pause that refreshes.” Plateaus allow us to cast our eyes ahead in time. To discern if the anticipated (future) outcome of our current trajectory remains our desire now that we are further in our journey. To ask if success is still the aim, or if significance and legacy is the new aim. Some fortuitously perceive a ‘better’ path ahead. They become self-aware, and paradoxically, adjust that internal engine, from self-actualization to other-actualization. The “other” can be children, grand-children or even a larger community. Those of us familiar with William Shakespeare’s notable quotes will recognize this, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet“. And thus, “other-actualization” is the same as Christ’s Second Commandment.

For me, the plateau involved an awakening of my spiritual self. The new self was stirring itself. And I threw off my self-actualization totally with these Scripture from Isaiah 64:8.

But now, O Lord, you are our Father;

    we are the clay, and you are our potter;

    we are all the work of your hand.

How wonderful the thought, that all we have to do is yield, be pliant and God will wrought His goodness according to His will. I can rest in Him and cease all my striving.

Humility

Understanding the origins of this word provides additional lenses into its power. The one that resonates deeply with me, and tends to be used in church sermons, is the root word, “humus” (or earth). The earth that we walk on, the earth which grows plants and vegetables, which in turn forms the first link in the food chain for land creatures.

There’s a peace and serenity when one meets a holy person. Imagine meeting the Dalai Lama or even Mother Theresa, when she was alive. One is seemingly ‘transported’ into a different plane/dimension. The holy person’s focus is all on you. They speak at a level that touches you. We experience an authentic encounter. The holy person radiates humility by psychically / spiritually connecting to us, in accepting our own value without any pre-conceptions or judgment. We experience and know, deep down, that the other person, cares for our well being. Wow, imagine if we have that power impact on others that we meet! What a way to live.

Our humility is in-born in us as we intuitively recognize forces greater than us. For us Christians, we have God. Unfortunately, our educational system, our self-promoting culture (‘blow your own horn’) etc slowly but surely grounds down our humility core, like waves wearing down the coastline. But, as long as we recognize that humility is greater and of lasting significance than its anti-thesis, pride, we have a lifeline.

I have read several books on humility. The one that stands out for me, that speaks to me as a Christian, is ‘Humility’ by Andrew Murray. Pastor Murray lived from 1828 – 1917, and pastored in South Africa. How does Pastor Murray make his case that humility is the Christian’s key to God’s abiding, to experiencing His blessings and the favor of His Spirit?

In Phil 2:8, Christ “humbled himself, and became obedient unto death.” Christ’s humility is our salvation. His salvation is our humility.

Humility is not something we bring to God, or something He bestows. Rather, humility is simply the sense of utter nothingness, which comes when we see how truly God is ALL, and in which we make way for God to be ALL.

Humility will not come by and of itself, but it must be made the object of intense desire and prayer and faith and practice.

Absorbing and accepting this intellectually was all well and good. But how does this translate into life, when the rubber hits the road? Not surprisingly, simple virtues are extremely difficult to execute. You see, I was participating in a Church Zoom on the Parable of the Talents. I had prepared some additional insights that were atypical. There was an inner sense of pride, recall this is the antithesis of humility, that managed to hide itself from me. I ended ‘presenting’ it versus ‘sharing’ it. If I had done the latter, there would have been more “I” statements, my own challenges and struggles. Rather, in the former approach, I “showed off” my more developed spiritual insights. ARGH!

But the realization dawned on me where I had veered off the path I was striving for. This is largely due to the consistent spiritual time I had invested. It (divine prompt) came on me and readings affirmed the way/truth. I recorded in my journal, so that this self-realization becomes a self-purification as I continue my journey.

Postscript: Andrew Murray is one of my favorite spiritual authors. I have read and am reading several of his books, with a couple more on the bookcase to get around to. He wrote 240 books! I will read the handful that I need at this stage of my journey. 😊

Arzua to O Pedrouzo

May 3. Day 37. 19km. Departed 0745 hours, arrived 1310 hours.

The numbers of peregrinos on the walk today is several multiples higher than previously experienced. We ran into a high school group of 76 students with 6 teachers. We were pleasantly reminded of the exuberance of youth (where did those days go?). I got to chatting with one of the students too. They were walking the Camino to Santiago, from Sarria.

Today’s route was quite pleasant, especially through the forested trails. There were several inclines that got our hearts pumping, which I am sure, some will relish/enjoy.

Eucalyptus trees were introduced into Spain from Australia in 1865 with the intent for use in construction. If you see the picture, on the surface, this tree appears ideal, with tall tree trunks and minimal branches. Unfortunately it was unsuitable for such use, drives out local species and consumes lots of water.

Tranquil forested trail. Consider that some of these trees took 20-30 years or more to grow to the size and height that make up these forested trails. Who are those in our lives with those years who we should treasure more?

Morning sun beaming into forest – 1.

Morning sun beaming into forest – 2.

On our penultimate day, what has been our Camino experience? Our Camino experience unfolded over three stages.

1. Emptying Out & Pouring In of Inner Peace.

Solitude. Quiet. Stillness. Serenity. Calmness.

Being dis-connected for many hours every day for weeks has a therapeutic effect on one’s mind and soul. The world has continued on without skipping a beat. Our minds are slowly but surely being drained of worldly concerns and issues that we have no control over. Using social media to update others of our journey kept ‘social media’ in its proper servant place. These and the same daily routine, help create an emptying out of our thoughts, of our hearts from trivial and superficial concerns. We become more detached from the external during the Camino (some peregrinos go to the extent of not bringing a smartphone).

We begin to focus inwards. On our lives, our hurts, our pains, our joys. We slowly see our own imperfections and warts. We slowly see the hurts and pains don’t really matter. We learn to forgive ourselves and accept who and where we are. And we forgive others, even from decades-old events that we no longer recall with any clarity (or certainty). There is a un-burdening. An un-winding. There is a lightness. And slowly but surely, Inner Peace flows in.

Inner Peace of the mind as we let go of the past. Only the present and future matters henceforth.

Inner Peace of the heart as we let go of expectations of others and how they should respond. Only how we want to feel and act now and in the future matters henceforth.

2. Relationships, relationships, relationships.

As Inner Peace reigns, we come to realize that relationships is the crux and heart of our lives.

Relationship with our own selves. Being our own best friends. Knowing how to be a Purer Version (or Best Version).

Relationship with our loved ones. Choosing to express love vs satisfying our Ego. Tilting the scales of our focus, efforts and time to the former at the expense of the latter. Both of us struggle with the Ego, as we perceive that we are not being listened to with full attention, with empathy, and so on. This will be a work in progress until we learn to fully let go and accept without any expectations or perceptions. Expectations/perceptions is what potentially hurts the inter-personal exchanges

Relationship with our God. For us, this ultimately is the bedrock that all other relationships rest and build upon. We discuss the Spiritual within the Secular and our faith has been mutually strengthened.

3. Life with Meaning

In my first Camino, I desired to discern the purpose of my life from God. In this Camino, I have started to get glimpses and insights. I use the label, the meaning of life. It’s no longer checking off a bucket list that will satisfy my soul. The right purpose gives meaning to one’s life. It’s right when it resonates deep inside.

Thus, we begin. Living purposefully. The days of unconscious drifting is a luxury we cannot afford as the prime years of our lives are trickling away like the sand in an hour glass.

Tomorrow as we walk, we will figure out how to stay on course.

Forgiveness

I had touched on this topic before. But after reading Jacques Philip’s “The Eight Doors of the Kingdom” Chapter 5, there’s greater insight.

Forgiveness sets us Free! Not forgiving keeps us trapped in the Past. Does anyone truly want to be “chained” to (unpleasant) events of long ago?

The author shared a story of meeting a wife who had been betrayed by her husband. He had cheated on her, damaging the bond of marital intimacy. Despite her suffering and pain, she knew she had to forgive her husband. She told the author, “I’ve read all the books on forgiveness but I’m just not getting there.”

The author identified the issues. Not forgiving her husband offered two great advantages/benefits.

Extracts from book:

‘First, she was the victim, the innocent saint, and he was the sinner. To forgive would require a lot of humility on her part. It would mean giving up her position of superiority and placing herself on the same level with him: both of them poor sinners, he sinning against her and she with her own faults, perhaps less obvious but just as real as his, yet remaining together, each of them embracing the other with his and her limitations.

Second, she had difficulty renouncing her authority over her husband that his wrongdoing gave her. As matters stood, she felt justified in reproaching him, keeping an eye on him, and exercising a hold on him. Forgiveness would mean renouncing all that control and power. But although painful, in the end it is a source of peace and happiness, a way of freedom.’

End of extracts.

The wife, when counseled on this, was able to forgive and forge a renewed relationship with her husband!

What a gift to be able to internalize all the above. Jacques used a memorable phrase, ‘Getting out of the tit-for-tat mentality’. Applying the logic of reciprocity of exchange to every human interaction is a recipe for disharmony. Don’t keep an inventory of mental chits, of IOUs that one expects or demands of others, be it for (perceived) wrongs/injustices done, or services not reciprocated. Practice free giving, free loving.

This is one of those topics that should be required high school reading and discussion. Society will reap a tremendous harvest.

Meekness

This event occurred 3 days ago on April 17. It took a couple of days of reflection which aligned with some spiritual reading.

Consider the following. You are an experienced driver and have relocated temporarily to a new country for career reasons. You need to re-certify and re-test your driving skills. The authorities in the new country have an oral test as part of their certification process.

The scenario is that you are driving at the legal speed limit along a two lane country road. As you crest the top of the hill, and descend down the road, you spot two bicyclists riding side by side, occupying the entire lane you are in, as they cycle in the direction you are driving towards. The cyclists are clearly not following the laws in how they are riding. They are about 700 meters ahead of you.

The tester asks – What would you do as the driver? By the way, the roads are wet and there’s a slight drizzle/rain at this moment.

Let’s switch roles in this scenario. You are now a hiker walking alongside this country road. You can clearly see a possible bad situation developing.

You observe the driver of the vehicle does not slow down at all, as the brake lights are not illuminated. And never will be. In fact, the driver maintains the vehicle speed and comes up behind the cyclist. The driver horns loudly, the cyclists are startled and quickly get into single file to the side of the road. The driver overtakes, but does NOT move fully into mythe other lane despite there being no on-coming traffic.

As a Christian, as any normal person, it’s very difficult not to be judgmental about the driver in this scenario.

There were many options. The driver could have alerted the cyclists by horning way in advance. The driver could have slowed down. The driver could have driven fully on the other lane when over taking.

Perhaps the driver was very annoyed at the cyclists for not adhering to the laws of the road. Perhaps the irritation was compounded by some emotional disturbance earlier that’s totally un-related. Perhaps the driver wanted to convey a lesson in road rules and safety.

Perhaps………

I am reading Jacques Philip’s “The Eight Doors of the Kingdom”. It’s about the Beatitudes. In particular, the third Beatitude says, “Blessed are the Meek for they shall inherit the Earth”.

Jacques highlighted that Psalm 37 invites us not to let the wrong doing, the injustices, the evil, etc. invade and infest our hearts with impurities – resentment, anger, condemnation, etc. – else, we too become accomplices of that we detest.

How does this relate to the driving scenario?

Consider the driver as a lost or mis-guided soul, who on current trajectory, may also be hurting those closest to him/her. The rush to judge a person’s character (vs a one-off action or behavior) is now replaced by Compassion, if we seek to cultivate Meekness.

Meekness does not imply one does not stand up against wrong doing, injustice, evil, etc. Rather, stand up but guard one’s heart.

Meekness is Kindness, Tenderness and Benevolence.

Closing the distance

April 17, 2019. Wednesday of Holy Week.

This Lenten reflection was actually Tuesday’s but we read it today.

Most are familiar with Saint Peter’s three times denial of knowing Jesus, when latter was apprehended by the Sanhedrin. Three different persons pointed out that Peter was one of Jesus’ followers and disciples, and on all three occasions, Peter denied it. On the third denial, the cock crowed and Jesus turned and looked at Peter.

How often do I choose to follow at a distance? How often do I choose to follow when it’s convenient and there’s no personal risk or hardship?

Yet, when Jesus turned and looked at Peter, it wasn’t with accusatory eyes, but with love and forgiveness. Jesus closed the distance.

How great and unfathomable is the love and mercy of our Lord.

Being in someone’s shoes

April 17, 2019.

Following occurred to me during our Camino Frances. I decided the category for this post will be different as I want to touch on this topic in somewhat depth.

Most of us who drive have a destination in mind when we are driving. Getting to said destination is the objective. If we own vehicles, we may opt for a more premium vehicle, so that it is a more comfortable drive with various auto-cruise and safety features, so that we arrive safely and in a relaxed state. If we are driving on country roads, we will likely pay attention to the road conditions a bit more.

As a Camino pilgrim, there were a handful of occasions when we had to walk many km along country roads. If you have experienced this, you know how different the slip stream and noise is from vehicles traveling past at 30 mph to 50 mph. There’s a reason why speed limits in American school zones are 20 mph.

I had seen a vehicle which I estimated was probably traveling at about 40-45 mph along this country road. It did not even brake nor slow down when passing fellow pilgrims walking ahead of us.

That driver was so cocooned in his/her vehicle that he/she was totally de-sensitized to the effects being felt by walking pedestrians by the speed of their vehicle.

Are we sometimes cocooned in our jobs, in our positional status, in our wealth class, in our educational superiority, etc that we don’t really sense how others around us are being affected? Or even care?

If we ourselves have been subject to this ‘slip stream/noise’ by those ‘above’ us in life, does that increase our empathy for others?

Life can be all about me. Or it can mean much more.

Selective Listening?

Today’s Lenten meditation makes it easy for all Christians to forgive. Will we listen?

“The three stages of forgiveness. I don’t deny what the person did, or pretend it wasn’t wrong. But …

1. Instead of identifying the person totally with whatever they did to hurt me, I begin to see them as a person like me – imperfect, but still someone God LOVES.

2. I give up my ‘right’ to get even. Vengeful thoughts don’t make the other person suffer. They hurt me. So, I just plain rinse my mind of those kinds of thoughts.

3. I stand next to the LORD and together WITH HIM, look at the other person. For sure, Jesus wants good things to happen to them. So, with the Lord’s help (and some struggle), I begin to look at the other person the way the Lord does.

Take 10 seconds to think of someone you find hard to forgive.”

I love Step 3. It can be applied to many of life’s events. Standing next to Jesus, asking what He would do, and following.

On Ash Wednesday, my Parish held a 24 hours Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I had signed up for 2 hours on Tuesday, from Wednesday midnight to Thursday 2am. As this was the first time I was participating in this, I searched the Internet and found much useful resources. In a standard one hour, it was suggested that 15 mins be allocated to Adoration/Praise, Self-Examination, Intentions & Supplication. In addition, just being with Jesus and stilling oneself to listen.

This experience enriched me tremendously. And as I left, a lady was praying with her baby in the cradle. One can only be humbled, witnessing such faith. And hopefully, be motivated.

I reached home and went to bed. And I had a fitful sleep. Not because of dreams per se, but I woke up shivering in between the sleep periods. Could it because of the slight snow falls overnight even though the thermostat remained at the same settings for months? Could it be that I had noticed two cars parked in the spots where the Parish had reserved for the homeless (they were using the Parish parking lots overnight for safe parking). Should I attribute the shivering to the cold, the subconscious or to God ‘speaking’ to me?

It’s good that I love mystery novels, growing up on Agatha Christie’s. There’s much listening and discernment ahead.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a season where Christians pray, fast and give alms. Ash on the forehead helps us “Remember that you are dust and to dust, you shall return.”

I was struck by a meditation this morning, to imagine that this Lenten journey is as if I was going up to the space station. I have a mission to perform during my time in the space station. The range of daily activities are limited (no retail therapy, no mindless screen watching). The choice of nutrition is limited, and thus, appetites do not roam large and free. There is plenty of distraction-free time for contemplation and prayer, for the inner self, the spirit and soul. The view from the space station is spectacular. One cannot help but ponder on one’s life/purpose in the broad sweep of the beauty and majesty of God’s creation.

Let me pause and re-read what I just wrote. Corralling one’s appetite is a good thing, health-wise and discipline-wise. Fasting also helps one empathize with the hungry. Which of the two is more needed in my current Lenten journey?

Distraction-free time. What a novel concept. When children play, that’s distraction-free time. Their entire focus, energy and attention is in their play. Drinking coffee while driving or walking is fairly common among Americans. The French culture is such that people sit and drink their coffee. They will converse with their companions or people-watch as they sip their coffee. Which would be a more intrinsically rewarding experience? With this realization, it was easy to decide to disconnect totally from Social Media during Lent. The immediate benefits are time saved, freedom and inner peace to channel one’s thoughts and focus. Not to be distracted by Social Media chatter that can linger past their expiry dates in one’s mind. In addition, to really be present in the moment at hand.

Right now, for me, praying and spiritual reading go hand in hand. It’s like the Yin and Yang. The spiritual reading lends new spiritual insights, which in turn, leads to prayers that supplement those memorized. To illustrate, I recently completed Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God. Since Bro Lawrence took 4 years to achieve this state of presence, I will probably have to learn to crawl and just cultivate a discipline of conversing with God multiple times and throughout the day. And seeking more of His Presence.

Everyone’s Lenten journey and focus will be different and unique to said individual’s need. It’s easy to regard this year’s Lenten journey in isolation, but it’s really connected to a string of previous Lenten journeys. Thus, the sacrifices may be the same if one continues to struggle in that area. On the other hand, the Lenten focus may be progressively building on what was achieved and experienced in previous years.

There is no success or failure with a Lenten journey. It’s a journey.