That Which I Can Recognize But Never Name

(I recently came across this letter in a file and have decided to re-publish it here. I wrote it to friends in February 2008, about my experiences not long after the death of John O’Donohue – for whom I had  begun working just eight months earlier.  )

 

As a child, I always had a room inside myself where I could enter the presence of ‘God the Father.’  It was a holy sanctuary and it was wholly interior.  As I grew to adulthood, my interior sanctuary proved unreliable.  I would go there to ask God for help and find the room empty.  No comfort or rescue was forthcoming – regardless of the child-like certainty of my belief and prayers.

I was bewildered, but I didn’t conclude the there was not God (though I understood that this was a possibility).  I just figured that I must be knocking on the wrong door.  I assumed I’d misconceived my understanding of God.  So, in 1999, I ditched my belief system.  I just stopped – cold turkey – referencing Christian vocabulary, ritual, texts, mythos in my attempts to communicate with God.  I figured that the Divine Being (if there was one) would be interested in gathering as many devotees as possible; so, I challenged He-She-It to reveal his-her-its True Self to me; and I waited.  I also explored.  I read philosophy.  I explored physics (meta- and quantum-).  I read about the feminine face of God.  I read about Buddhism.  I read about the origins of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.  I meditated.  And I prayed – as best I could without any defined Deity – for [God] to contact me.

God was a no-show.

My yearning for God, however, became acute.  I couldn’t seem to stop praying -even though I had no “one” to pray to.  I found it amazingly frustrating to be compelled to reach out but inevitably find no contact, no comfort.

Finally, on February 15, 2008, the day before my 50th birthday, I gave up.  After reading parts of John O’Donohue‘s “Benedictus” that morning, I asked myself, “Why do I keep praying?  To whom/what am I praying when I ask for blessing?”

It was a mystery.  “Mystery,” I thought.

Then I wrote in my journal:

Is that the thing?  To not seek a concept, image, conclusion?  Is it ‘idolatry’ to construct even a mental image of God?  Maybe . . . maybe it is a way of blocking fluency with the Mystery of Whatever That Is.  By yearning for and seeking a name, have I been screening out the Mystery?

Then I promised myself in writing:

Today, I set aside all the images, all the concepts, all the constructs, and I allow the unknowableness.  From now on, I allow prayer & blessing & faith without an Image or Name for the Source or Destination of the prayers & blessings & faith.

I thought about my experiences dancing the tango — how, as follower, the woman must hold herself open, empty, receptive and responsive to the shifting of her partner’s weight.  Their dance unfolds as she interprets through her body – almost simultaneously – his body’s movements.

I wrote this prayer:

No name,
No image.
Open, empty, receptive, responsive,
May I be.

On February 17th, I was on the road, driving through the mountains on my way north towards Seattle.  As I drove through the sparkling day, with snow-clad mountains surrounding me, I began to sense the powerful presence of the mountains themselves.  I didn’t think, “These mountains are big and impressive and beautiful, (etc.)” — I just had a non-verbal, visceral relationship with the mountains.  It was an experience of ever-presence and ancient power.

As I ended my first day’s drive – approaching a friend’s farm near Portland – the sun was setting.  Its glow washed snow-covered Mt. Hood to a pale orange set against a lavender sky with the rising full moon a golden disc directly over the peak.  Vast presence.

Before I slept, I repeated to myself, “No name, no image.  Open, empty, receptive, responsive, may I be.”
Tango lessons.

 

A few days later, as I rode the ferry across Puget sound, I was aware of the wind whipping my hair, the seals spinning and undulating in the sparkling waves, the horizon ringed with mountains. Again, overwhelming, ancient, unified presence; and, suddenly, I felt like a fish that had been asking, “What is water?”  I was vibrantly aware of unity with and immersion in That Which I Can Recognize But Never Name.

For the next week, I felt immersed in this Presence.  I experienced continuous, uninterrupted, fully sensed immersion in What We Are Trying To Identify When We Say “God.”  It is so much more than the typical concepts: The Big Parent, The Guardian, The Judge, The Avenger.  It is vast and beyond form, encompassing all — form and formless.  The language of the mind is inadequate.  “It” is experienced by the soul, and the language of the soul is one of invisible images that cannot be described.  Trying to name it or have an image of it just leaves you holding a ridiculous little doll — wholly inadequate.

Rilke wrote about this:

We must not portray you in king’s robes,
you drifting mist that brought forth the morning.

Once again from the old paintboxes

we take the same gold for scepter and crown
that has disguised you through the ages.

Piously we produce our images of you
till they stand around you like a thousand walls.

And when our hearts would simply open,
our fervent hands hide you.

(Book of Hours: Love Poems to God – trans Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows)

For my part, when I pray these days, I say, “To that which I can recognize, but never name, I pray.”

Over the past weeks, the sense of immersion has faded – but is never gone completely.  I remind myself of it by consciously noticing the glow of enchantment that emanates from every flower, by stopping once in a while to listen to every sound that I am hearing in that moment, by looking out through the eyes of my body and observing it breathing and moving, by asking my mind what I mean by the word “reality”?

all my love,

Lindaa

Farm Life

I’m feeling something shifting in my understanding of my way of life. This morning as I woke, I had the familiar thoughts (and accompanying dread) about a clambering to-do- list, “OVERDUE” flashing relentlessly in my skull. Then, for unknown reasons, I suddenly shifted away from that story.

It was a story about, “Get there. You’re not there yet.”  This morning I thought of my day more like a farmer looks at farm chores, “Up and at ‘em. These are just the daily efforts that support my life.”

This is a story about “I’m here. This is my life.” And, somehow, even though I have lots of plans and dreams for the future, the feeling of ‘not yet’ is diminished and my ability to notice and savour what I already love in my life is awakened. . . . read more

Dancing in Every Direction

When I dance, I take steps forward, sideways, backward.  I follow a rhythm.  I coordinate my movements and rhythm to those of other dancers and the music surrounding me, and I love the creative experience.

When I work, I make a plan for moving forward.  I set a pace and resent interruptions or obstacles that require me to slow down or take sideways or backwards steps.  I want everyone else to match my rhythm and I expect the surrounding circumstances to offer only support for my intention and achievement.  I hate when things don’t go my way; I resent and resist.

The question occurs: Is this why I love to dance and hate to work? Is it just a matter of my expectations?  Is it just that I have a misguided understanding of how work should go? . . . read more

Rejeuvenating Creative Energy and Willingness

Where Did My Willingness Go?

Lately, I’ve been feeling stuck.  I can’t seem to find my willingness to do the things I’ve agreed to do.  My pending to-do tasks are piling up and deadlines are boiling into urgency.

Something needs to shake loose soon, or I’ll be the one boiling in hot water.  So, I ask myself, “Why am I stalling as soon as I turn my attention to Getting Things Done?”; “Why are there some tasks that remain stubbornly as *to-do’s* and never seem to transform into *done*?”

Am I Allergic To Some Tasks?

I notice that there are whole categories of tasks that I tend to avoid, the way I avoid food that makes my stomach hurt. This makes me curious.  Why am I avoiding those types of chores?  Is it really that they are *toxic*?  Or is there something about the way I am thinking about them that is causing the nausea?  Perhaps what stumps my productivity, my willingness to do certain things, is not what I’m being asked to do, but who I imagine I must be in order to do the thing *right*. (1)

Channeling Creative Energy

Well, I have about three weeks worth of work to do in the next 5 days; so, I’m going to try an experiment.  I am going to turn my attention to the stomach-churners and ask myself the following Questions For Re-discovering Willingness:

  • Is this my work?
    • Why is it (or not)?
    • How is it?
  • What is the vision that fuels my willingness to do this?
  • What story am I a part of when I do this?
    • Is that the story I want to inhabit?
    • Can I do this and inhabit my truth, or must I inhabit a role that is inauthentic?

These are not questions to answer.  They are questions to trigger observation and choice.

I am either going to have to meet my obligations or delegate the doing to someone who will meet them.  I must find the channel through which my creative energy will flow and support the doing or delegating; and I am fairly certain that I can only free my energy and willingness by harnessing the truth about myself in relation to the work.

Truth, in my experience, is not a conclusion one reaches; it is a question one explores – hence the energetic flow.


1.  Also, the story I am telling myself about why I am doing something needs to be carefully observed.  A false or destructive story can masquerade as imperative or healthy or wise . . . and can lead me seriously astray.  For example, I can believe that sending out a nasty-gram (hard-nosed, legally threatening letter) is going to make my client safer.  Close observation of the underlying story (that legal threats and sabre-rattling are powerful ways to force people to do what one wants) can reveal that the way I am going about ‘making things safe’ is actually more likely to trigger a destructive response (a reciprocal nasty-gram or even escalation to a lawsuit) or will foreclose an advantageous option (do damage to the relationship so that amicable, mutually beneficial resolution becomes impossible).

Discovering Agreement Is Not A Conversation About The Relationship. The Conversation Is The Relationship.

Traditionally, we start our conversations about our business deals with negotiations of “deal points.”  This leads us to assume that the deal points define our relationship.  Discovering Agreement challenges that assumption. What truly does define a relationship?  Relationship is defined by how we treat each other, by what we share (vision, mission, values, efforts, benefits), by our reasons for joining forces, and by the nature of the ongoing conversation that we have as we journey forward together.

Another common feature of traditional contract talks is that we come together and imagine ourselves as future enemies fighting projected, potential battles and deciding how the burdens of loss or misfortune will be divided amongst us in that imagined potentiality. We battle to get our ‘fair share’; and we negotiate terms to which everyone will concede.

Starting From A New Perspective

When we make a start with Discovering Agreement, our attention is directed first at the basis and nature of the relationship we are entering.  This moment of exploration, clarification, calibration, and mutual creativity is the beginning of the ongoing conversation that we are entering together in order to bring something of value and meaning to the world and to our own lives.  The first step is to come to the conversation with an alert awareness that we are not enemies and that we wish to design a relationship that will never devolve into enemy camps.  We acknowledge that when we work together towards a goal or in an endeavor, we depend on one another, on our shared goodwill and on our shared well-being.

Don’t Let Deal Points Define Your Relationship

The deal points are our Action Plan – important to clarify and carefully consider – but not the defining features of our relationship.  In fact, it is highly likely that we will have discovered in our conversation that the deal points are not the ultimate reason we are taking up the shared work; the deal points are created to serve the ultimate reason for our work.

Discovering Agreement does not suggest that we leave behind our “hard earned calluses of caution and prevention” when we sit down to plan a shared effort.[1] It suggests, instead, that we approach the planning as a side-by-side undertaking where we are joining forces to see if our shared energies and abilities can be harnessed to generate greater well-being for everyone involved – greater than if we did not join forces. . . . read more

Discovering Agreement vs Negotiating Terms

I’ve just read the article by J. Kim Wright (of CuttingEdgeLaw) about the value and importance of putting business agreements in writing.  I agree with Kim that one of the most valuable things you can do is put the agreements and understandings you have into writing – in words you understand and are fully comfortable with.

The ‘boilerplate’ language that many attorneys and pre-drafted document kits provide is often unintelligible – even to the experts and courts.  This inscrutability makes the documents practically worthless – or worse, harmful – because the people who agree to be bound by them may have no real idea of the potential consequences of those contracts.

. . . read more

Abiding Questions

Every Sunday morning, my dad and I use iChat to have a video-conference.  He calls it ‘having breakfast together.’  (I think of it as our “Jetson Family Moment.”)

Last Sunday, as I sipped my coffee and jiggled the headset connection, Dad said, “I’ve got to figure out what I really want to do.”

It stopped me cold.

My dad is 80 years old; and his question was exactly the question I’ve been asking myself.  In fact, only 5 minutes before the call I had written (with some desperation) in my journal, “What do I want to spend my days doing?”

Apparently, “What do I want to do with my life?” is a question that abides without ever ‘settling to sleep inside an answer.’** This thought might feel hopeless at first – but it is actually freeing if you give it the chance.

Is Planning Happiness Even Possible? . . . read more

Traveling Thoughts

I’m heading out for Colorado this week.  I’ll be driving. Road trip! I love to drive across the country and am busy planning and packing. I want to be well-prepared.

The hours of solitude are like a personal retreat for me. I take the roads less traveled whenever possible (in this case, Route 50 “The Loneliest Road in America”) and I carefully choose audio books and music to accompany me.

This trip, I’m taking David Whyte’s new 6 CD set “What To Remember When Waking” (available from David’s web site, from Sounds True, and from Audible.com, among others).  The title of the course is taken from David’s poem of the same name, from which I offer this excerpt:

What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.

What you can live
wholeheartedly
will make plans
enough . . .

. . . read more

Happiness & Possibility

Pursuit of Happiness

During the embattled years of law school, a friend and I clung together in our metaphorical fox-hole, confiding to one another all that was scary, going wrong, or likely to go wrong.  We’d spend hours (over nachos and margueritas) pep-talking one another into persevering.  Then, one day, she and I were together and I realized that I had nothing to talk about.  Just at that moment, nothing was scaring me, there was nothing to complain about – and I was at a loss.  What would I talk about?  I had nothing interesting going on.

“Nothing interesting going on.”  That thought got my ATTENTION.  Did I really believe that if there was nothing going wrong then there was nothing interesting happening? Then I began noticing that most of the conversations I heard revolved around some point of unhappiness; and if I began to talk about being happy (about things going right), the shift seemed to cause discomfort. . . . read more

What Is Important?

Workflow planners have lots of advice on time management but generally assume that you already have firm grip on your basis for setting priorities.

One of my favorite time planning systems, Steven Covey’s “First Things First,” charts tasks according to quadrants:

  1. urgent-and-important;
  2. not-urgent-but-important;
  3. urgent-but-not-important;
  4. not-urgent-and-not-important.

Very helpful; but, beyond the crying baby and the kitchen fire, I still need to figure out what is truly important.

There seems to be an assumption that we either already know or can sit down and – using logic – decide what is most important in the plethora of demands and desires that make up our lives.

Right.   Since I don’t just automatically know which tasks ought to go first, I’m supposed to DECIDE?  Everything I’m doing is important!  I can list lots of reasons each thing is important to me (including the fact that it is important to others that I do what I’ve agreed to do).

So, being a sincere and responsible adult, I sit down to figure out which things get put off decide on priorities.  I begin and here come the lists of pro’s and con’s, the calculator, the calendar, the waffling, the talks with trusted confidants, the worry about making a wrong decision or making someone unhappy with me.  And subtly, under it all, a secret struggle is engaged between what I am telling myself should be most important and my underground sense that the SHOULD trail leads away from the FUN.

To top it all off, once an order of importance is decided, my nag goes into full operation, running a critical eye down the list, second-guessing the ramifications and reminding me that things are languishing, deadlines are looming, expectations are teetering on the brink of disappointment .  .  .  blechk!

I need a way to know what is important.  I need way to set an order of priorities that my nag will sign-up for and support rather than use as a way to drain all hope of fun from my days.  . . . read more