Struggle Transforms Us -Joan Chittister

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When we find ourselves immersed in struggle, we find ourselves trafficking in more than the superficial, more than the mundane. That’s why maturity has very little to do with age. That’s why wisdom has more to do with experience that it does with education. We begin to feel in ways we could never feel before the struggle began. Before a death of someone I myself have loved, someone else’s grief is a simple formality. We don’t know what to say and we don’t know why we’re saying it because we never needed to have someone say it to us. Before feeling humiliated ourselves we can never know how painful the daily paper can be to those who find themselves in it with no way to defend themselves to the great faceless and anonymous population out there that is using it to judge them. Silently, harshly, even gleefully, perhaps. Until my own reputation is at stake, I can look at another person’s shame and never have the grace to turn away.
 
After we ourselves know struggle, we begin to weigh one value against another, to choose between them and the future, rather than simply the present, as our measure. Some things, often quite common things, we come to realize—peace, security, love—are infinitely better than the great things —the money, the position, the fame—that we once wanted for ourselves. Then we begin to make different kinds of decisions.
 
We begin to see beyond the present moment to the whole scheme of things, to the very edges of the soul, to the core of what is desirable as well as what is doable. The bright young man who had worked the pit in the futures market, planned a big international career in trading, and worked hard to start his own business, changed jobs after the collapse of the World Trade Center. He stood in shock a thousand miles away as television cameras watched the building go down with dozens of his friends in it. All of them young, like he was. All of them bright, like he was. All of them on their way up, like he was. But to where? He had lost too many of his hard-driving young friends, he said later, to ignore the meaning of life any longer. He quit his job in the center of Bigtime. He went back to Smalltown, USA, to hunt with his dogs and fish the streams and buy the average family home in a small cul-de-sac in a local suburb.
Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope by Joan Chittister 
No one comes out of struggle, out of suffering, the same kind of person they were when they went in. It’s possible, of course, to come out worse than we were when we went into the throes of pain. Struggle can turn to sour in us, of course. But it is equally possible, if we choose to reflect on it, to come out stronger and wiser than we were when it began. What is not possible, however, is to stay the same.

—from Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope by Joan Chittister (Eerdmans)

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Focus on Kindness this Father’s Day

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I’VE BEEN THINKING

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the pillars of the society I want to live in. The society I want to work in. The society I want to grow old in.

Love, as I wrote last week, is the guiding principle of that society. There are several other principles as well, which I’ll get to over the next few weeks. But today, on Father’s Day, I want to focus on the concept of kindness.

Kindness, I believe, is one of the most important qualities that we can have. It’s what can lead us out of our current atmosphere, which is anything but kind.

We rarely recognize kindness as a form of strength, but it is. It takes strength to lead your life from a place of kindness — whether you are leading as a father, an elected official, a teacher, a CEO, or as someone in some other role.

Being kind starts with being kind to yourself. You know that inner voice that so often berates you and everyone around you? That voice that tells you that you’re not working hard enough? That you’re not keeping up? That says, ‘Who do you think you are’? Well, when that voice finishes berating you, it comes out of your mouth and reaches everyone around you.

So, start by changing the conversation in your own head. When you go to speak — whether it’s to your children, your colleagues, your partner, or even someone from an opposing political party — check yourself.

Is what’s coming out of your mouth kind? Are the words you are using positive, or are they critical, demeaning and cruel? Cruel words lead to cruel actions, and they leave lasting damage on a person’s psyche and emotions, especially children.

Kindness is different than niceness. Kindness requires thought, empathy, true concern for the other, and honesty. Honesty can sometimes feel uncomfortable, but necessary.
Kindness has principles. It’s not wishy-washy, bland or weak. And perhaps most importantly, when you exhibit it to another person, they can feel it. God-willing, they will want to emulate it, too.

That brings me back to men. Men are often raised to be tough, emotionless and intimidating. They are told that those traits are masculine. Kindness, like love, is often viewed as a quality of the weak. So many men think that if they are kind, that they just might get walked on, or over.

We as a society often play along with that notion. Our fear of the bully makes us laugh along as he berates his opponent with words that sting. We don’t have to look far to know the damage that all this meanness and rudeness is causing us.

The fact is, kind fathers raise strong daughters. Kind fathers raise good men.

Fathers, like mothers, often comes to their kindness in a round-about way. I know I have, and I know I wish I had come to it way earlier in my life. But, the truth is that I wasn’t raised with kindness as a guiding pillar. I was raised to be a tough, strong competitor. I was raised to make a difference in the world. I got the message — be it right or wrong — that kindness wasn’t going to help me “in the arena.”

That was a mistake because I have come to know that kindness not only helps in the arena, but it helps in every area of life.

So, on this Father’s Day, I want to shine a light on fathers who are leading from a kind space, and thus, from a strong place. I want to shine a light on men who are talking openly and honestly about their experiences as fathers, about what they learned from their own fathers, and about how they are using what they have learned to help others.

Fatherhood is, indeed, a defining role. It’s one that is being redefined by men everywhere. Today when I go out for a walk, I see men pushing baby carriages. I see them carrying diaper bags, showing up in records numbers to school functions, and showing up in equal numbers to their daughters and sons’ games.

I hear men talk about their emotional intelligence. I hear men talking about their children and how they want to be kinder, more attuned, and more involved.

My hope is that we can all exhibit more kindness towards one another because what we are exhibiting in our national discourse and in our politics is taking us down a numbing, destructive path.

Our families, our country, and our world need more kindness. Pope Francis, the father of the Catholic Church, has called for a revolution of tenderness to benefit us all. We need it.

So, on this Father’s Day, let us all celebrate the power of kindness — in men and in women. May we know that it exists within each and every one of us.

Love and kindness are among the most important and powerful pillars in a just, good and meaningful society.

My fellow Architects of Change, we can build this together.

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This Week, I’m Focused On Love by Maria Shriver

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I’VE BEEN THINKING

Lordy Moses, what a whirlwind!

As the noise of the news continues to get louder, meaner, more violent, more confusing, more divisive, and more heartbreaking, I have found myself trying to look through it all and find the cracks.

Yes, the cracks. As the famous songwriter Leonard Cohen once said, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

At this moment in time, I’m choosing to widen my gaze beyond my traditional news outlets and seek out the good— the light, the love and the truth — that is shining through. Surprisingly, I don’t have to look far because I see so many great examples of light, love and integrity everywhere I look. (Yes, I do.)

I hear songs about love. I see corporate campaigns about unity. I see concerts about oneness and marches for tolerance and understanding. I see people who are doing their best to help their communities and be of service to humanity.

Right now, I find myself trying to turn away from the grown men and women who routinely hurl insults at one another on social media and TV. I find myself turning away from those in Washington D.C. who seem to delight in the “he said-she said,” while millions of our fellow citizens are struggling. They’re struggling in unsafe neighborhoods and schools. They’re struggling to survive paycheck to paycheck. And, they’re living in fear that they will lose their health care or other vital services, like Meals on Wheels.

Sure, I watched James Comey testify on Thursday (I wasn’t going to miss that). Yes, I followed the British election results with great interest on Friday. I still listen to the news. I’m a journalist and a citizen, and I want to be informed. I just don’t want to be taken down by what I’m witnessing play out in our politics and in our national dialogue.

Instead, I’m choosing to focus on the examples of love that I see because they reinforce my belief in humanity. They inspire me to work harder, do more and focus on hope.

Now, I know that the word love gets thrown around a lot. I, myself, have struggled with it in my life. But, nonetheless, it is still my favorite four letter word!

Thank God I know what it feels like to be loved. I work hard to spread love wherever I can because I know it’s the healing and unifying connection we are all seeking. And yet, it seems to evade us so easily.

Why is that?

Why do bullying, grandstanding and power-mongering take precedent over love? Why is exhibiting love harder than exhibiting meanness? Why do so few leaders talk of love? Why do so few leaders exhibit it on the world stage for us to witness? Is it because it’s viewed as weak or soft?

Love, as my friend Elizabeth Lesser once said, is a muscular concept. It takes strength to love and to receive. It takes strength to pursue it and to put it forth as a guiding value in your life.

I don’t know about you, but I’m so over the meanness, the negativity and the gaslighting. I don’t want leaders who threaten or intimidate. I don’t want leaders without any emotional intelligence. I don’t want leaders who are too scared to even talk of love, much less lead with love. I just don’t, and I’m not afraid to say it.

The good news is that the cracks give us glimpses of the leaders among us who are leading with love, and who have the guts to say so.

So, my fellow citizens, if you have love in your heart, step up. Step out. You are what the world needs now more than ever. Love is the most powerful weapon on the planet. Imagine if we all decided to lead with it.

As Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. … Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you.”

Imagine if we all spoke from that space. Imagine if we all interacted from that space. Imagine if we all approached one another with love, light and truth.

It’s within us. We just need to let it rise to the top and lead with it. We need our leaders to lead with it.

Love. It’s our best defense, and it’s the only way all this other noise will fade to the background.

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What We Should All Be Doing This Memorial Day Weekend

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I’VE BEEN THINKING

Reflect. Remember. Rest. Recharge.

That’s what I want to do this Memorial Day weekend because I feel that everything is moving way too fast — the news, our politics, our conversations, our relationships, and our lives.

When everyone is in such a hurry, balls inevitably get dropped. Hurtful things get said. Personal and political misunderstandings occur. Crazy things happen, and no one takes the time to say, “Hey, wait a minute…”

What are we doing? What are we thinking? Where are we going? Let’s stop. Let’s rest a minute. Let’s reflect on what is happening now, and on what has happened. Let’s take a beat and gather ourselves so that we can refocus, recharge and move forward in a more unified way.

I mean this sincerely and seriously. It’s time for all of us — regardless of our age, our gender, or our political leanings — to be more conscious, more considerate, and more compassionate, not to mention less angry and less judgmental.

Now, before you scream, “How can she talk about resting when bombs are going off that are killing young children? When politicians are threatening to cut programs that for many mean the difference between life and death? When the ice caps are melting? When Washington is embroiled in a who knew what, when? When the world feels like it’s coming apart at the seams?”

Well, I would suggest that this is exactly the moment when we need to rest.

Now, resting isn’t something I grew up with. In fact, I think it’s fair to say it was scorned upon in my home. If either of my parents saw anyone resting, well let’s just say…no one would have dared to try.

But, I’ve come to realize that resting is of value. It doesn’t mean you are weak or too tired to go on. It doesn’t mean something is wrong with you or that you’re un-American (even if Americans like to think of themselves as the hardest, most competitive and most driven people on the planet).

Resting is important. It’s important for your mind, your body, and your heart. When one rests, one can recharge and refocus. One can dream. One can tap into their creative spirit and into their consciousness. One can be at one with one’s self, with one’s own divinity, and with one’s own purpose and mission.

The truth is, I’ve run through a lot of my life, only to discover that the most successful people get more done when they slow down and rest. (Author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang has some amazing insights into this in his new book. You can read an excerpt below.)

When people rest, they are kinder. They are more thoughtful, they are more focused, and they are more at peace with themselves and those around them. They are also better parents, better partners and better professionals. People who make time to rest get stuff done — and they do it without creating carnage in their wake.

So, on this Memorial Day weekend (the unofficial start of summer), I’m going to make rest part of my time off. In fact, I’m going to make it part of my summer and my life. (That is, after we come together next Sunday for Move For Minds. If you haven’t signed up yet, please join us in one of our 8 cities. Help us make a difference in the fight to save our minds!)

I’m also going to spend time this weekend remembering all of the brave military men and women who gave their lives for our country. I want to pay my respects to them and express my gratitude to the families that get left behind and who too often struggle alone to put the pieces back together (like our incredible Architect of Change of the Week Taryn Davis, a widow who has devoted her life to helping military spouses find hope and healing after loss).

I’m also going to spend time reflecting on the legacy of my uncle, President John F. Kennedy. It’s his 100 birthday tomorrow and his daughter, my cousin Caroline, has done such an amazing job helping people remember what her father stood for, what he fought for, and why his words still have such an impact today.

Caroline’s video says it all. It makes you think, “What do I stand for? What am I doing for my country? How am I giving back? How am I serving the common good?” (Complaining or railing on Twitter doesn’t count as serving the common good, by the way.)

So, before you say to yourself “I can’t rest. I don’t have time to reflect or recharge. I have too much to do…” Take it from me (someone who would have said those same words a few years ago). We are all going to end up in the same place, so what’s the rush?

Please rest. Please reflect on who and what is important to you. Please reflect on why you do what you do.

Recharge your batteries. Refocus your resolve. Remember that you are among the blessed. You are still here, so you still have a shot to make an impact with your life and benefit others. Why not take it?

Rest now. Because, trust me, we still have a lot of work to do.

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Reflections on a Whirlwind Week by Maria Shriver

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I’VE BEEN THINKING
Have you ever had one of those weeks where no matter how hard you try to stay upbeat, cheery and positive, you just can’t?

Of course you have. That’s what this past week felt like for me, too.

This was one of those weeks where the news unfolded so rapidly that it was hard to keep up. It was hard to stop shaking your head; hard to not complain; hard to actually believe what was happening. It was hard to know exactly what to do.

I spoke to folks who were glued to the news and social media. They were dissecting it in real time trying to figure out what it all meant. Meanwhile, others I spoke to said they just couldn’t bear any of it and turned away.

In the world we live in today, it can be hard sometimes to see a clear path ahead. Few things feel certain anymore. These are confusing times, for sure.

It’s hard to know what to think when everything seems to be changing more rapidly than it takes to form a new thought. That’s why during times like these, I try and spend time away from the noise so that I can properly formulate my own thoughts.

I reach out to those whom I respect — people who I feel can offer perspective and who can remind me that we’ve been here before. (Tom Brokaw is one example. You can read his thoughts below.) I also read and/or listen to others whose words and thoughts lift me up and focus my mind on the positive. That’s not being naive. It’s simply acknowledging that there are issues unfolding around us and that we can choose how we respond.

I’ve lived through tumultuous times before. Assassinations. The turbulent ‘60s. Vietnam. Watergate. A president’s resignation. Iran Contra. 9/11…the list goes on.

I’ve learned that the will of the people trumps the mightiest of power players. I’ve also learned that unraveling takes time. So does clarity.

Give yourself permission to step away. Breathe. Ask yourself: “What do I think?” Turn to those with wisdom who have seen it all and who have lived to tell it. Stay attuned to the news, but don’t allow yourself to become consumed by it, either.

Know that this will not be resolved today or tomorrow, but it will be resolved.

So, find your resolve. Focus on what good you can do in your own life, or for your country that so desperately needs it. Our nation needs what we have to offer. It needs for us to turn down the volume, calm the “he said, she said,” and look forward to a future that’s more united than divided. I think we can all agree that we deserve a future that’s brighter than darker, more compassionate than critical, and more honest than what we have today.

I’m focused on moving us forward and uniting us. Will you join me?

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DO NOT GIVE UP Read Sister’s Joan’s reflection on the 4th step of humility.

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Do not give up

“O snail, climb Mount Fuji, But slowly, slowly…” the haiku master and lay Buddhist priest Issa writes. Some might call that a Japanese version of the fourth step of humility (Endure the Pain of Development and Do Not Give Up). Psychiatry might call it recognition of the place of patience in life. The monastic might see it as a call to the virtue of endurance. But if endurance is such a universal part of life, what is the human question that drives it? 

The haiku, in its short, sharp way makes three points:

In the first place, there are great, important things to do in life however small, however frail we feel, however stacked the odds are against us. 

And yet, at the same time, there is more to life than speed. What’s the use of speed? The mountain is not going to go anywhere as we climb it. Conditions may well change as we go and demand a revision of both our plans and our schedule. 

Finally, of course, the difficulties involved in the project must be confronted head-on, but it’s unlikely that they can be resolved immediately. After all, a mountain is a mountain with everything that has to say about what can be learned as we climb and everything that will need to be endured as we go. 

Obviously, what is needed for the long haul is not heedlessness or a series of senseless attempts as we get more and more tired, more and more frustrated, more and more stressed. What is needed is patience. 

It takes patience to come to know God. We must give ourselves a lifetime to do it. 

It takes patience to appreciate every stage of the climb—the hard beginning, the lofty but unreal schedule, and, most of all, the wearying repetition of the process. We must be willing to immerse ourselves in each of them. 

It takes patience to overcome the impulse to frustration, the kind that comes from demanding from ourselves instantaneous results. Frustration ruins the journey by pushing on blindly, past the joy of the goals met and the sense of achievement in the understandings gained, and the comfort of security that comes from forming friendships along the way, and joy of reaching one plateau after another. By allowing frustration to cloud our vision, we miss the scenes and views, the flora and fauna on the way. 

The snail’s journey is clearly, like the fourth step of humility, a call to live life with a quiet mind. The climb toward humility points to the effect of frustration on the spiritual life and the spirit of patience it will take to succeed.

 —from The Radical Spirit:12 Ways to Live a Free and Authentic Life by Joan Chittister (Convergent)