Thanksgiving vs giving thanks

Delivering Thanksgiving meals

Sorry for participating in the Thanksgiving overkill, but I figured this was a good a time as any to write about this.

While I am a fan of giving thanks, I am not a fan of Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is another exaggerated and incongruous element of American culture. The other 364 days money and work take precedent over gratitude and even family. I know this as I consistently survey my students to see how many have real sit-down dinners with family, few do. I do not celebrate Thanksgiving, but I try to be grateful every day. An example of this might be the daily gratitude diary that I have written for years now. It is quite simple and rewarding, here is how it works. Find a blank notebook and then you write:

Monday – Three things that you are grateful from the weekend.

Tuesday – A good thing that you did or that happened to you, now or in the past.

Wednesday – Write down a resolution… and then fulfill it!!

Thursday – Letter of thanks. To anybody dead or alive, real or fiction, whatever.

Friday – Three good things from the week.

Weekend – rest

I use this as part of my evening meditation practice, and I find it extremely calming and satisfying.

Now, back to Thanksgiving. While the holiday does nothing for me, I love how quiet it is! It is the quietest day of the year! So, I can go for a run or a walk, stay home and watch a movie, cook, or write my blog.

We are blessed at work, because our kitchen staff led by Philippe from Bordeaux cooks an amazing Thanksgiving dinner for lunch a few days before the break, so I do get my share of turkey, stuffing, pies, etc. Also, this year my friend Manuel invited me on Friday to have dinner with his kids, so that was fun.

This year I celebrated Thanksgiving by delivering dinners to low income or sick people. It was organized very well by my parish, and I drove around all over Boynton Beach delivering meals. People were really grateful, which made it all worthwhile. Oh, for myself? I cooked some killer spaghetti!!

Saudade in Aramaic, multiculturalism, and meditation

About a year ago I wrote about the pros and cons of multiculturalism (you can read that blog here), it mostly dealt with the professional difficulties I have in Spain with my US professional and academic qualifications. Today I would like to explore the concept of home for multicultural folks.

One of the issues many multiculturals face is that we live far from our native home. In my case, I work in the U.S., but my family and friends are still all in Spain. This makes for a difficult concept of what to call home.

These thoughts came to mind the other day catching up on Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation (if you are not already subscribed, I could not recommend it more, click here) and he was talking about Dr. Douglas-Klotz’s Aramaic translation of The Sermon on the Mount. Douglas-Klotz explains how:

Lawile can mean “mourners” (as translated from the Greek), but in Aramaic it also carries the sense of those who long deeply for something to occur, those troubled or in emotional turmoil, or those who are weak and in want from such longing. Netbayun can mean “comforted,” but also connotes being returned from wandering, united inside by love, feeling an inner continuity, or seeing the arrival of (literally, the face of) what one longs for.

Dr. Douglas-Klotz (Richard Rohr Daily Meditation Sat. July 24, 2021)

These words led me to the Portuguese and Galego concept of Saudade and the Galego concept of Morriña, which also convey a deep longing. You see, when I am in the US I miss Spain, but after a while of being in Spain, I miss my work in the US. There it is in simple words, not much that can be done about it, although Richard Rohr does recommend this beautiful exercise:

When in emotional turmoil—or unable to clearly feel any emotion—experiment in this fashion: breathe in while feeling the word lawile (lay-wee-ley) [longing]; breathe out while feeling the word netbayun (net-bah-yoon) [loving]. Embrace all of what you feel and allow all emotions to wash through as though you were standing under a gentle waterfall. Follow this flow back to its source and find there the spring from which all emotion arises. At this source, consider what emotion has meaning for the moment, what action or nonaction is important now.

Dr. Douglas-Klotz (Richard Rohr Daily Meditation Sat. July 24, 2021)

Stuff one finds on the beach.

As my faithful readers know, my community service this year was cleaning the beach every Sunday afternoon. It was extremely rewarding to help, and at the same time to walk for an hour and to meditate while enjoying the beautiful beach and weather. A three in one: community service, meditation, and exercise.

During the Winter months, the strong winds (I guess) blew in all kinds of trash, sometimes in the course of an hour I had to empty my big bucket (you know, the 5-gallon blue buckets) up to three times! Now in the warmer months there was remarkably less trash. Anyway, that was my highly scientific (not) guess.

Fortunately, I am not the only one on beach cleaning duty, I do bump occasionally into other people cleaning up. The town also has 4 buckets available at the entrance to the beach if you want to grab one and clean up.

On top of all that there is a bit of a treasure hunter thrill, and a fun component to what you find or might find. Here is an incomplete list of things I have found:

  • Bottle tops – this is the most popular trash on the beach ☹
  • Plastic forks and spoons – really people?
  • Bottles – mostly plastic but also glass. All sorts of bottles: drinks, shampoo, oil, you name it…
  • Bits of plastic – from tiny to huge and in all colors. You cannot even tell what they used to be a part of.
  • Flip flops – every Sunday at least one! Usually, barnacle incrusted.
  • Cigarette lighters
  • Deflated balloon
  • Hammerhead shark – dead
  • Comb – I picked it up, not because I needed it.
  • Eyeglasses – no glass and broken, but I do not need them.
  • Lure – with a massive hook I gave it to a dude fishing.
  • Dog Tag – Palm Beach.
  • Part of a propeller – someone surely missed it…
  • Etc. Etc.

Oh, and make sure you do not step on the Portuguese Man-O-War… or their deadly, long tentacles.

Meditation, the cosmic egg, and Kierkegaard

Rohr

It is difficult to pinpoint when I became interested in the intersection of spirituality, philosophy, and wellbeing. I know I was curious about these issues as a teenager, so I guess it has been a lifelong pursuit, adding ingredients into the mix as I learn and mature.

In 2012, thanks to the great Dr. Mulkern, I started reading Richard Rohr. Rohr is a Franciscan friar who has written over thirty books on religion and spirituality. I have mentioned him many times in this blog. You can subscribe to his brilliant and illuminating daily email by clicking here. A couple of years later my dear friend Paco introduced me to meditating, I have not stopped since –although I am bad at it, that is ok.

Briefly and roughly: 19th C Danish philosopher Kierkegaard (also often mentioned in these pages) proposes three stages of life: An ego driven, superficial youthful stage called the Aesthetic, the more mature ethical stage in which we worry about right and wrong, and finally the Religious, where we connect with our spiritual self. These are not supposed to be linear, although it makes sense if they are. Also, there are people who stay in one stage all their lives…

The “cosmic egg” appears in many different mythological traditions giving birth to the world, and/or the universe. Richard Rohr’s interpretation is of three eggs one inside the other, like Russian Matryoshka dolls. In his theory, the smallest egg, “My Story”, is a me centered, ego-driven narrative, which revolves around my status, my things, my Instagram followers, etc. you get the idea. The next bigger egg is “Our Story” which revolves around group mentality: my country, my religion, my football team, my race. Definitely, “Our Story” is a step up from “My Story”, but there are bigger and better things out there: “The Story” is the universal story that connects all of us, it is the transcendental stage where everything makes sense, it is the place of love, forgiveness. wisdom, listening, and understanding. It is what is. You can read his explanation here.

A couple of Rohr’s books

Interestingly, these three “eggs” or stories match Kierkegaard’s stages perfectly. The trick here is that to progress from one stage to the next the only way is through pain, through breakage, through loss and vulnerability (check out my post on vulnerability here). If you do not pay your dues, you might stay in your ego centered little universe your whole life. You have to be willing to suffer and listen to the pain to come out on the other side, wiser. This never-ending effort to transcend, to enlightenment, requires a very conscious effort which is where meditation, reading, religion, community, exercise, volunteering, even diet is important –but not the only- ingredients.

The Story is not limited to any one religion or denomination, and all healthy religions and even philosophies will be tellingit on some level. For example, forgiveness is one of the patterns that is always true. It always heals, whether you are Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, or Jewish, gay or straight, Black or white. There is no specifically Catholic or Indigenous way to feed the hungry or steward the earth. Love is love, even if the motivation and symbols might be different.

The complete cosmic egg is uniquely the work of God and healthy religion. Biblical tradition, at its best, honors and combines all three levels of story: personal journey as raw material, communal identity as school and training ground, and true transcendence as the integration and gathering place for all the parts together. We call it holiness, which is the ultimate form of wholeness.

Richard Rohr’s “Daily Meditation” 01-27-2021

Letting go of the Ego, the second half of life: Wayne Dyer and The Shift

My dear friend Felipe recommended I see The Shift and I finally had the time to see it!

It is a film by Dwane Wyer who was a motivational speaker or a Coach, really a self help guru, although marketed like a spiritual guide, since that is what sells. Although the message is strong, based on Lao Tzu, San Francis of Assisi, or Jung, he dilutes it with some of his new age, self help gibberish like the Quantum moment and things like that, which I understand as a way to explain his thinking.

To be honest, the film is not really that good: predictable, bad acting, etc. But, it is filmed in Asilomar, a wonderful location in Monterey, California, and what is really important here is not the film per se, but the message.

The Shift talks about changing your life from the first half of life to the second half of life. This is something I have written about before, what Kierkegaard called the three stages of life: aesthetic, ethical, and religious. Dyer simplifies them to two, which skips a step, but that’s okay. The gist is to lose the ego to become a spiritual being. How? you ask, well by giving, by realizing that the world is not about you and the best way to do that is by selflessly giving what you have, but preferably your time, your knowledge, your patience, your care, in short by loving. Love is the answer.

As youths and adolescents we need a lot of ego to become independent, to become who we think we are. Once you have reached that stage the ego is useless, more of a hindrance than a help. Unfortunately most people do not lose that me, me, me until sometimes just before they die (I recently mentioned this in a post about the book The Grace in Dying). A good way to work on this is to quiet the mind, to meditate, to stop and listen. This is difficult but rewarding. Give it a try!

The film begins with this quote from Carl Jung which is basically the whole precept of the film, sorry, not sorry, for the spoiler:

“Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.” ― Carl Gustav Jung

 

 

Mind, body, and soul, meditation, exercise, and yoga and more (not in any order)

Read good books, life is too short to read trash!!

Read good books, life is too short to read trash!!

Going to church, any church will boost your soul

Going to church, any church will boost your soul

A walk in the mountains

A walk in the mountains

Last outdoor meditation of the day

Last outdoor meditation of the day

A simple cell in a monastery helps you focus

A simple cell in a monastery helps you focus

The Camino will change your life. Source: Club Renfe magazine

The Camino will change your life. Source: Club Renfe magazine

High fiving all around

High fiving all around

Practicing Yoga on the Camino, wonderful session!

Practicing Yoga on the Camino, wonderful session!

Richard Rohr's wonderful lessons

Richard Rohr’s wonderful lessons

For a few years, since 2010 to be precise, I have been actively seeking inner peace, not just talking about it with a drink in one hand and a cigar in the other, looking at the stars. It is only with breakage that one slowly lets go of the ego and matures through Kierkegaard’s three stages that we have seen before (the aesthetic, the ethic and the spiritual). I believe that all of philosophy and religion is based on understanding the existence of the ego and separating from it. We see it in the Stoics, in Jesus, Buddha, good literature, etc. etc.

With my divorce and the life changes brought about by that trauma, I started seeking solace and understanding. My knee-jerk, basically subconscious, reaction was going to church on Sunday– and have not missed a Sunday since (maybe a couple but only for reasons of force majeure). Other organic resolutions were to crank my exercise, to work with a therapist, starting with the amazing Dr. Nemser and others since, and volunteering. I started reading Scripture every night, and speaking of reading, I started seeking more profound books. Then I got hooked on Richard Rohr’s daily meditation. Then I started yoga. With time I started meditating, then came walking the pilgrimage to Santiago (I can’t wait for my fourth this Summer) eventually, back in Spain, my retreats to El Paular Monastery and starting a gratitude diary. Has it worked? All I can say is that I am happy to be on this path.

All these actions have gradually made me know myself better, which is to say my mental construct of myself: my ego. Understanding this is the first step in breaking away from that tyrant. You see, we are born ego-less, just living the moment, enjoying life. This is what Paul Tillich calls the Ground of Being, where we will return -hopefully- just before dying (if this is of interest, I recommend Kathleen Dowling Singh, The Grace in Dying). Then as we grow up we develop a strong sense of self, necessary to establish oneself as an independent being. This is one of the reasons I love teaching adolescents when this ego creation is on full blast. Once we establish ourselves we don’t really need the ego any more, but we stick with it, most of us until we die. Only through trauma, breakage, do we realize that the ego is not necessary, in which case we start to let go of it. That is where I find myself.

The church part is easy, you just go. While I do not necessarily enjoy all the dogma, I do enjoy the chance to reflect, the ceremony, the sermon if it is good and eventually the community. In fact, my church in Boston, Our Lady of Victories and here in Madrid, San Fermín de los Navarros both asked me to participate more actively by reading or being an altar helper. This tiny contribution to the community goes a long way in making one feel helpful.

I started seriously meditating in 2016. It is painful to quiet the mind –the ego- by making it sit still for twenty minutes, but eventually you manage. The trick is to be very still and focus on your breathing: feeling it, visualizing it, maybe quietly reciting a mantra to help you focus on the breathing. I use the Insight Timer app and it really helps and motivates.

The gratitude diary works like this:

  • Monday: write three good things that happened over the weekend.
  • Tuesday: Write about a good moment in your life.
  • Wednesday: Set a task and accomplish it!
  • Thursday: Write a letter (in your diary, or you can send it) to someone you are grateful for.
  • Friday: Write three good things that happened during the week.
  • Saturday and Sunday are off.

About the life changing experience that is the Camino de Santiago I have already waxed poetic many other times on this blog, so scroll down to read it!!

The Yoga bit is really enriching. As opposed to the US where Yoga is basically a workout, my teacher in Madrid, embraces it as it should be: a way of life, a philosophy. So there are lots of breathing exercises and meditation, and in between some movement ashanas. When a class is not available I use the Down Dog app on my phone

Last weekend I again managed to escape to El Paular Monastery to spend four days with the Benedictine monks. This is as simple a life as you will ever live. Praying five times a day, walking in the mountains, eating in silence, working in the monastery, meditating. If you get a chance to do a retreat, do not hesitate, the silence is worth it!!

In conclusion, yes, I am in the search for spirituality. Many folks say we they are in spiritual journeys, the truth is more that they are spiritual beings in human journeys.

 

 

More lessons from The Camino

Last year I wrote some notes and advice for pilgrims. Here are some more picked up from round II:

Take care of your whole body, not just your feet. Last year I was hyper focused on my feet, to the point where I disregarded the rest of my body. This year I paid much more attention:

  1. Yoga: I tried to do yoga most evenings. I looked for a patch of grass and then free styled or used the Down Dog app on my phone. In Herrerias I even found a yoga class taught by Esther, a wonderful Dutch girl. It was in a clearing in some trees with a stream running by. It was by far the best yoga lesson I have ever had!! The stretching is wonderful and resets the body.
  2. Ice baths or equivalent: I was lucky to find ice-cold rivers and streams to dip in after my walks. This is critical to bring down whole body inflammation after all day hiking. I found this deeply restorative as well as refreshing. In worse case, a cold shower will also help bring down any possible inflammation.
  3. Liquids, liquids, liquids (preferably not alcoholic). I did not do a bad job on this last year, but this year I made sure to crank it up! Make sure that you keep a solid supply of water, especially if doing the Camino in the summer. I had a stretch one afternoon where I could not find an albergue, it was very hot and I was tempted to not fill my bottle. I’m glad I did, as it took a while to get to the next water source.

Besides your body, listen to your soul. The early morning hours are usually quiet and mostly without people. This is a perfect time to meditate. I use an old rosary to help me match my breath with my pace and a mantra. One morning I managed a solid 45 minutes, a record of conscious meditation for me. It was one of the most cleansing and spiritual experiences I have ever had.

But the best lesson to share is to start walking.

Richard Rohr

Over the years I have mentioned Richard Rohr in different posts, at different lengths, but I had never dedicated a full post to him and his teachings, vamos!

I was introduced to Richard Rohr’s daily emails in 2012 by my therapist in Chapel Hill. I was immediately hooked on his wisdom and totally identified with his belief that we are all part of the same universe, we are made of the same material as plants and rocks and stardust therefore we are one with the universe. This overarching thought then breaks down into various themes such as the importance of the third element in the Trinity as Dark Matter braiding everything together. Or the importance of less is more, of cleansing, minimalism, or self emptying – Kenosis in ancient Greek.

Rohr’s daily email is a refreshing spiritual cleanse, a daily reboot button, a wake up call, a metaphysical slap on the face, and I love it. While more spiritual than religious, Rohr is solidly based on scripture and specially the mystics like Teresa of Avila or Juan de la Cruz. What he presents is a deep understanding of God and love in it’s simple, purest form, devoid of politics, dogmas, or centuries of misunderstanding.

The goal is simple: eliminate the ego. The path is somewhat harder: it requires self examination, meditation, living in the now, the present, realizing that we do not need stuff, power, etc. I could go on and on about Richard Rohr, the impact he has had on my life, but it might be better if I leave you with a quote. One could almost take any from his texts as they are all filled with awesome wisdom, but for now this:

I am convinced that “the sin of the world” (John 1:29) is ignorant killing, and as we see today, we are destroying the world through our ignorance. We need to recognize our own personal and structural violence. The death instinct always comes from people who are unconscious, unaware, and indeed do not know what they are doing. Now we can hear Jesus on the cross and know why he said, “Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34). When we love, we do know what we are doing! Love, if it is actually love, is always a highly conscious act. We do evil when we slip into unconsciousness.

I am writing this only a few days before Christmas, so consider this my message of hope and love to you. For my present you can sign up to for Rohr’s free Daily Meditation. Enjoy.

Richard Rohr

One of Rohr’s many books