Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #61:

“Unless one can enjoy himself fishing with the fly, even when his efforts are unrewarded, he loses much real pleasure. More than half the intense enjoyment of fly-fishing is derived from the beautiful surroundings, the satisfaction felt from being in the open air, the new lease of life secured thereby, and the many, many pleasant recollections of all one has seen, heard and done.”

                                                                                                 Charles F. Orvis, 1886~

A married couple friends of ours once told us a story of when they were driving through a National park out in the Northwest. While the husband was driving in the park, the wife was reading aloud from a manual she brought along that explained where to possibly see moose in the park. She was reading to her husband the recommendations as to what they should do and not do to improve their chances of a moose sighting. As she read, her husband suddenly interrupted her, and said,                                                                                                                               “Put the book down and just look out the window!”                                                                                                                Standing alongside their now stopped car was a moose convention of approximately 15 to 20 moose grazing along the edge of the road and that were now watching them.

It’s not the amount of fish you catch. Once again it’s not even about fish… or in this case, moose, or about whatever we happen to think we may be doing or trying to do. No number of wins, no amount of squirreled away money, or no amount of great stuff we manage to cram into our houses or garages, or storage units will ever matter.

Some people seem to operate as if the slogan, “in the end, the one who dies with the most stuff, wins,” as if this were true. It isn’t. I’ve heard the antithesis of such thinking expressed this way: “The road to heaven is heaven.” As the featured quote states it all has to do with being there, enjoying the beauty and bliss that comes with the experience at hand.

When I was a young Air Force serviceman I had a roommate who wrote a poem I still remember, or at least a good bit of it. The point of the poem has stayed with me all this time. He called his poem, “John Smith Abstract Cool.” The gist of the poem was that when we are in the moment – in the presence of some awesome and stunning experience – my friend stated that this was you being with John Smith Abstract Cool.

And when we are in that experience time vanishes. We are captured by sheer delight. Our heart opens and we feel fully alive. Such experiences happen, and we either stay with the experience – this moment of bliss – or, we pull our self out of it by either getting distracted or by thinking about the experience.

When we distract our self or start thinking about the experience we take ourselves out of it, even if for a few seconds. Perhaps we start to think or say, ‘how awesome this moment is’ – how really cool this experience is! – And then the moment is gone; it disappears. It vanishes! We are, as my poet friend states, no longer with John Smith Abstract Cool because we got out of our heart and into our head. Thinking about a heart experience is not being in the heart experience.

It is difficult to find words, or at least adequate words, to express experiences of the heart. Some would call these times metaphysical. I think of them as phenomenological. Whenever we do try to express them we fall very short. The whole point of or definition of a phenomena is that it cannot be explained; it just is. We just know that we are in one.

In the New Testament story Jesus tells Martha that her sister Mary has chosen the better part. Martha has gone about busily making a meal and doing a sundry of things to better serve Jesus, while her sister Mary stayed close by Jesus trying to absorb everything she could about this great man. Mary sits at the Lord’s feet listening to what he is saying while trying to understand. It’s not that being a good and gracious host isn’t important but Jesus tells Mary,                                                                                                                                                                                                                          “Martha has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”                                                                     Mary would undoubtedly be unable to explain what she was drawn into by this prophet, but on some deep level she knows greatness is abounding, and so Mary is captivated into perhaps a sort of hypnotic spell.

We humans waste our valuable time and we end up losing our taste and appreciation for leisure and rest. We are always on the go and have become human doings! As a result we miss seeing our way back to that place within our hearts where we can accept our very life as pure gift. Whenever one lives contemplatively, the heart is able to be attuned to the more balanced rhythms of life that usually we seldom take note of, let alone join.

Recovering this balanced life only comes when we make room for what is deep within us. Slowing down facilitates this possibility. In the midst of slowing down appreciation for our life gets seen for what is really is: time to love and serve God and neighbor. This is our true identity. It is our purpose: To love God and neighbor.  This includes loving our true selves, as well. This is a consistently fragile enterprise and we continually fail at it even with our best intentions.

The Zen master Susuki-roshi said: “If your mind is empty, it is open to everything.” If we listen with a silent mind as much as possible, and we get ourselves away from the clamoring of our preconceived ideas, the possibility for the truth that has always been abounding within us gets to flow freely and expand. By slowing down we can become illuminated. We facilitate what has been invisible to be visible. With an empty mind and open heart this truth that we are created to love God and our neighbors begins to break open so that the meaning of life and death become increasingly and startlingly clear.

As systemic racism becomes more and more confronted in powerful ways today we must ask, who are my neighbors? The answer is simple: Everyone. Everyone is an immigrant. And everyone is at home and a native of this global society. We are all expressions of God’s divinity. When astronauts see for the first time Planet Earth from outer space they are known to become overwhelmed. This state is known as the “overview effect.” They are awed struck by the tiny size of Earth in the cosmos, and they do not see borders or ways that distinguish one country from another. Just one planet. One people. They are changed forever. Each one of us is here with a purpose: To grow in our capacity to love, and to somehow make this world a little bit better than it was before we got here.

About 4 million years ago all hominid species lived in East Africa. In other words, our ancient human ancestors ALL came from Africa. They went about banded into groups of a few thousand hunter-gatherers. Most of these groups moved out and spread into every corner of the planet.

These various bands of our ancestors acquired skills, technology and talents in order to survive within differing environments – across the Sahara on foot, surviving frigid ice ages, and sailing to remote Pacific islands. There are many theories about these migrations, but what we do know for sure is we all originally started from East Africa. There is only one race: The human race.

It is more than ironic that anyone today would harbor racist ideas and attitudes. It is ignorance and immaturity beyond reckoning. We began as dark skin Afrikaners. As our ancestors took different routes and ended up in either northern or southern locations where over centuries they evolved with various adaptations – skin color was simply one of these adaptations – in order to cope with a greater or lesser degree of sun.

Humankind has evolved in so many ways. We have advanced with all sorts of technologies. But psychologically we are still very stuck. Still so un-evolved. I contend we mustn’t get too negative with either our past or even our present but persistent failings, while at the same time be unwilling to remain there. We can do better; we must.  

This means we cannot stay where we have been. We need to grow up. To love maturely requires we come to realize our true selves – our authentic selves. It is helpful to also know that our God has compassion and only loves. Our God comes from the stance that “all who are poor deserve mercy.”  Let us wake up, and in doing so, strive do better…much better.