The Quality of Friendship


“The rule of friendship,” the Buddha said, “means there should be mutual sympathy between them, each supplying what the other lacks and trying to benefit the other…” The words ring true. Friendship is not as much a matter of happenstance as we are inclined to think.
 
Perhaps one of life’s most precious lessons is that we must learn to choose our friends as well as to find them. The corollary of this insight, of course, is that we must learn not to allow ourselves simply to fall into alliances and acquaintances that come and go like starlight on the water, exciting for a while but easily forgotten. We must learn, in other words, not to make life a playground of faceless, nameless people—all of whom are useful for a while but who never really touch the soul or stretch the mind or prod the conscience.
 
On the contrary, the realization that friendship is one of the great spiritual resources of the human existence drives us beyond the superficial to the meaningful. It leads us to create relationships that count for something, rather than to simply wander from one casual social affair to another.
 
It may, in fact, be the friends we make who most accurately measure the depth of our own souls. For that we are each responsible.
 
To grow, then, requires that we provide for ourselves the kinds of relationships that demand more of us than continual immersion in the mundane. It requires us to surround ourselves with people who speak to the best part of us from the best part of themselves. It means that we must actively seek out as friends those who have something worth saying. And then we must learn to listen well to them so that they can hone our own best intuitions, challenge our least profound assumptions, point out directions that take us to another level of thought and care and determination. At times when life is most unclear, most confusing, we need … this quality of friendship. But only an awareness of our own limitations can possibly prepare us for it.

            —from Friendship of Women: The Hidden Tradition of the Bible, (Blue Bridge) by Joan Chittister

Richard Rohr Meditation: Who Am I?

True Self and False Self:
Week 1

Who Am I?
Sunday, August 6, 2017

Forgive me, if this seems too harsh, but it seems to me that much of religion has become a preoccupation with forms rather than with substance. People like Augustine of Hippo, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, and Karl Rahner tell us that the discovery of our deepest self and the discovery of God should be the same discovery. That’s why good spirituality and good psychology operate well together.

Too much of both religion and common therapy seem to be committed to making people comfortable with what many of us call our “false self.” It’s just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, which is going to sink anyway. To be rebuilt from the bottom up, you must start with the very ground of your being. The spiritual path should be about helping you learn where your true ground, your deepest truth, and your eternal life really are. Our common phrase for that is “finding your soul.”

I believe that God gives us our soul—our deepest identity, our True Self, our unique blueprint—already at our very conception. Our unique little bit of heaven is installed by the Manufacturer at its beginning! We are given a span of years to discover it, to choose it, and to live our own unique destiny to the full. The discovery of our own soul is frankly what we are here for.

Your soul is who you are in God and who God is in you. We do not “make” or “create” our souls. We only awaken them, allow them, and live out of their deepest messages. Normally, we need to unlearn a lot of false messages—given by family, religion, and culture—in order to get back to that foundational life which is “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Yes, transformation is often more about unlearning than learning, which is why the religious traditions call it “conversion” or “repentance.”

As a young friar, I remember being very confused about Jesus beginning his preaching with the word “change” (Mark 1:15, Matthew 3:2). What was I supposed to change from? I was a good Catholic, a Franciscan, soon to be a priest, and trying to keep my vows. I assumed he meant it for other “bad” people. But those roles and identities were still all “forms,” not necessarily the substance of my soul. I hope you get the point. The false self is all the more delusional the more it appears to be “good.”

Gateway to Silence:
I am love. 

References:

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), ix-xi;
Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 13, 16; and
True Self/False Self, disc 1 (Franciscan Media: 2003), CD.

Confronting the Fear of Aging

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Confronting the fear of aging

An ancient monastic story tells of the holy one who asked his disciples a question about life. “Tell me which is greater,” he said to them, “wisdom or action?” And the disciples answered, “Why, it’s action, of course. What good is wisdom without action?” But the holy one answered, “Ah, yes… but what good is action that comes from an unenlightened heart?”

Stories like this challenge modern thought to the center of the soul. We can forget that every stage of life has both purpose and gift. For the young, the purpose is growth and the gift is possibility—the young give us hope. For the middle aged, the purpose of life lies in generativity and the gift is responsibility—the middle-aged give us direction. But to the older generation, we look beyond the stages of public action for experience and the gift of reflection. As the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, “The first forty years give us the text; the next thirty supply the commentary on it.” Or, so we tell ourselves… But, somewhere along the way, something seems to have shifted. In the world as we experience it now, the elders disappear quickly from the public stage, the middle-aged bear the burden of the system, and the young are the focus of attention. …

The fact is that there is nothing a youth-centered culture needs more than it needs its elders. If ever we are meant to have a real role in life, it is surely now. It is precisely at this stage in life that we discover that our real purpose in life is to understand it, and then to pass that wisdom on. … Youth without insights risks action without wisdom.

Elders have things to give that no other segment of society can possibly match and, in the giving of them, come to see the past newly and the future with new faith. They come to know that the future, whatever it is, is not to be feared. What elders have to give a world worshipping at the shrine of newness and energy is memory, experience, objectivity, wisdom, and vision. They know now what really matters, what life is really about—beyond body-building, money-making, and social standing. …

It is the perspective that comes with age that sees failures as the beginning of growth… and it is spiritual persons who come to appreciate the depths of life more than the cosmetics. When we learn to value experience rather than to avoid it, when we value life more than we do the approval of the social police we harbor in our heads, then we are ready to go on growing. More than that, we are ready to be the role models of the generations coming after us. By living fully and well, we can be an antidote to a society that thinks that being high is the only way to be happy.

—“Confronting the Fear of Aging,” by Joan Chittister. CareNotes, Abbey Press.

The Power of Boredom, Breaks and Creativity-Maria Shriver

Illustration by Julie Paschkis

I’VE BEEN THINKING

Let’s face it. Boredom has a bad rap.

Or, at least it had a bad rap with me for the longest time. I grew up thinking that there was almost nothing worse than being bored. So, I worked, and I worked, and I busied myself, and I did everything I could to try and stay two steps ahead of the old boredom curse.

“Nothing worse than being bored,” I’d tell myself and my children.

But lately, I’ve found myself challenging my beliefs about boredom. And, I’ve actually found myself craving it. I’ve found myself longing for some silence. Some time away. Some time to turn off and give myself the space to think, create, and daydream.

I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling. Why? Because I see too many of us running through life with no time to think. No time to reflect. No time to be creative. No time to check ourselves. No time to get to know our evolving selves. No time to ask, “Am I doing what I want to do? Am I living aligned with who I am? Or, am I living in fear? Am I just running around because I’m too afraid to slow down and take a break?”

Funny enough, as soon as I started contemplating boredom and my own desire for it, I started seeing books about its benefits everywhere. I started reading articles warning us that we lose boredom at our own peril—as individuals, and as a culture. I started reading essays written by wise people who took the time to be bored, and discovered that they learned a lot about life, love and themselves in the process.

As I was contemplating the concept of boredom this week and reading more about it, my colleagues at The Sunday Paper informed me that July is actually labeled “Anti-Boredom Month.” Really? Isn’t summer the perfect time to catch an opportunity for a break?

So, this week’s edition of The Sunday Paper is dedicated to the benefits of boredom. Today, we share insights from Architects of Change who can educate you on the value of taking a break from the norm, and how doing so will allow you to tap into your creativity and find your voice to dream.

I’m going to go out and try boredom today, and I hope you will be brave enough to join me. Take time away from the screaming and hollering of the nonstop news cycle. Put down your phone and all of those other screens that keep you so connected to other people’s voices that you can’t recognize your own. Spend some time with you.

Yes, you. Spend some time alone in the quiet. Twiddle your thumbs. Look up at the sky. Notice your surroundings. Listen for your voice. It’s there that you will find your mission. I’ve learned that the latter can only truly be accessed by allowing myself to access the quiet and the stillness that’s just within my reach.

I’m going to finally start embracing boredom so that I can see if I can tap back into my truest voice: my own. Take a moment to do this yourself, and let me know what you learn.

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These Great Dames by Maria Shriver

I’VE BEEN THINKING

Every week here at The Sunday Paper, we try to get above the noise of the week and offer positive perspectives to get you thinking, dreaming and talking about something you may not have considered before.

To that end, this issue is dedicated to awesome and inspiring Great Dames. No, not great danes. 🙂 Great DAMES. Yes, Dames.

Why?

I wanted to write about Dames this week because my mother—one helluva Dame herself—was honored at ESPN’s ESPY Awards Wednesday night for her relentless work on behalf of those with intellectual disabilities. (Great Dame Michelle Obama presented the award.)

What a night it was. I was moved, motivated, inspired, deeply touched, and prouder than a peacock. I was proud that my mother got the recognition she deserved, and proud that she worked her whole life pushing boundaries right through and into her 80s.

I remember her telling me when she was 85 or so, “You know, Maria, there is no excuse not to work nonstop until you are at least 80.”

“At 80,” she said, “I had some issues here and there (lol, that’s an understatement, but she continued), but I didn’t give in. I just kept working. There is so much to do.”

My mother didn’t understand retirement. She didn’t understand slowing down to smell the roses. It just wasn’t her forte.

Changing the world was her forte. Her approach to life and work made me think about how many other Great Dames there are out there who are still breaking boundaries and changing perceptions about women, longevity and relevance. (Of course, there are plenty of men who are doing the same, but I’ll feature them in another issue. I have several to write about, so no worries.)

I call my mom a Dame ‘cause she wasn’t your average lady or woman. Trust me, I was very aware of this at a very early age. 

She smoked cigars. She wore pants. She hung out with men. She played football. She tried to dunk you in water polo well into her 80s. She was a first class sailor, no matter the weather. She was just a first-class competitor in every way. There wasn’t a sport she didn’t try to master. There wasn’t a man she didn’t try to beat (or a kid for that matter, this one included).

She rarely wore makeup, rarely brushed her hair, never went shopping and never, ever got a filler or a facial. But, when she walked into a room—any room—every eye was on her.

Why? Because she was an original. The real deal.

My mother was wicked smart, fun, challenging, and fearless. She was intimidating, for sure, but she was authentically herself. In today’s world, you would call her fierce. A force of nature. People often remarked that she was “a lot.”

The women in this issue of The Sunday Paper are cut from the same cloth and the same mold as my mother (although they brush their hair, wear beautiful clothes, etc.).

They are all still at it. They own the room when they walk in. They are personally inspiring to me because age doesn’t slow them down.

Which brings me back to my mother. This past weekend, I was at a friend’s wedding and got to talking to a gentleman who wanted to offer some “helpful” advice to me as to how I might improve my social life. He mentioned that I hang around my kids and their friends a lot, and speculated that that, and my work, might be intimidating to some people.

Then he said to me (or his vodka said to me…vodka usually speaks truth, in case you’re wondering): “You know, Maria, you are still very attractive (gee, thanks), you’re intellectually dynamic, but let’s be honest…you’re a lot.”

I wanted to argue with him, but then I stopped myself because I instantly thought of my mother, who everyone said was “a lot.” I also remembered a friend telling me about a wedding he went to where the mother of the bride stood up and toasted her new son-in-law, saying that her daughter was “a lot,” just like her, and that only really extraordinary men and people could handle those who were forces of nature. She then raised her glass to her new son-in-law, her own husband and to all of those secure enough to be in partnership with forces of nature.

So, this Sunday Paper is dedicated to all those who are proud enough to own that moniker, and to all those who accept that force as it is and let it rip. Just like my father let my mother roar. He knew a force of nature when he saw it, and how proud he was to be the one to celebrate it.

Just like I’m proud to celebrate all the forces of nature highlighted here, a.k.a. Architects of Change. 

So, the next time someone is brave enough to call you a force of nature, or says “you’re a lot,” remember my mother. Remember her fight on behalf of those with special needs.

Remember that everyone said those with intellectual disabilities couldn’t compete, couldn’t go to school, couldn’t hold down a job, couldn’t marry, couldn’t live at home, couldn’t speak, couldn’t dream, couldn’t be included, couldn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t…

Remember this truth. She proved everyone wrong, she did things her way, and she embraced the force within and changed the world outside.

Be a force, ‘cause that’s what it takes to change the world.
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P.S. And don’t worry if you forget to brush your hair or if you hang out a lot with your kids. Just blame it on the vodka! And, if you want to see a force of nature in action, watch the video of my mother’s ESPY award below.

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A New Beginning by Joan Chittister

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                                                                  A new beginning

Abba Poemen said of Abba Pior that every single day he made a fresh beginning.
   —from the Desert Mothers and Fathers
 
It’s July when the summer begins to wear even the most dedicated of sun lovers down. Life begins to feel sticky; nights get close; days get long and dry. Everything becomes a major effort we slow down like rusted bogs on old wheels. Time suspends. Nothing much gets done. Day follows day with not much to show for any of them. Oh, yes, monastics know all about that kind of thing. In ancient monasteries, the warning of Evagrius of Pontus to “beware the devil of the noonday sun” loomed large. Acedia they called it. Spiritual sloth. The burden of the long haul. The question in every life, of course, is how to keep on going when going on seems fruitless.
 
It is precisely here where Abba Poemen and Abba Pior, two of the early desert’s most sought after spiritual guides, emerge again. As they did in ages past, their lives and wisdom which seem so other than ours, comes to help us find our way through a life now filled with dread and debacle on every side. The Abbas know that life is what comes from within us, not from what clings to the cloaks of our heart, demanding our attention and draining our resources.

Into this climate of spiritual ennui, of dulling sensitivities, boredom takes over. And it is boredom that smothers the soul. Bored, we lose sight of the beautiful in our midst. Bored, we overlook the world’s call for our attention. Bored, we ourselves become lethargic, out of touch, and uncaring about the needs of others.
 
So, what is the cure for such shrinkage of the soul? Abba Poeman is clear. We must forever remember, each and every day of our life, to make a new beginning. It is this beginner’s mind—the stage of perpetual alertness—that keeps us in tune with the songs of the rest of the world.
 
The call from the Desert Monastics is a totally different one than the call to irresponsibility like In God's Holy Light by Joan Chittisterthe one we ourselves are toying with at present. It is a call to begin again, every day of our lives, to complete the work on earth that the Creator has begun for us to finish. Life is a community enterprise. What we do not do for the other, will not be done for us.
 
Every day, like Abba Poeman, we must begin to see again our role in the creation of the world, in the development of the human race, and in the preservation of the planet.

   —from A Monastery Almanac by Joan Chittister (Benetvision) and In God’s Holy Light by Joan Chittister (Franciscan Media)

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It’s Time To Rethink What We Know by Maria Shriver

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I’VE BEEN THINKING

It’s time. Time to rethink everything.

How do I know that? Call it a woman’s intuition. Call it my gut. All I know is that I feel it deep in my soul.

I’m not saying this just because we have a president who’s been entangled in controversy with Russia since day one (and who finally met with Putin on Friday). Or, because we have a president who uses the power of his office to tweet videos of himself body-slamming a news network. (I mean, really? I know people think it’s funny. I know it gets lots of views. But there’s nothing presidential, dignified or classy about it.)

I say that it’s time to rethink everything because the fact is, there are just too many areas of our public and personal life that are in need of reconsideration.

It’s time to rethink our two-party political system because it’s just furthering our divide. No one from either party can hear the other. They are both at fault. We can do better. We can be more creative. (I like California’s open primary system. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.)

It’s time to also rethink our relationship with social media and our relationship with views, likes, retweets, mentions and followers. I know social media is capable of doing good things. I know it connects people to each other and to the larger world and its causes. But, so much of it is filled with rage and hurtful comments. Each of us can do our part to make sure we are not part of this. Our life’s purpose can’t be racking up hundreds or thousands of likes.

Summer is also a great time to rethink how we are working, how we are learning, how we are consuming our food, our energy, and our time. It’s a great time to rethink our lives and how we are living.

Thank God there are some evolved, enlightened, thoughtful and smart Architects of Change doing just that on our behalf. They are sharing their thoughts with us in today’s Sunday Paper. I hope their thinking will get you thinking, because it’s time that we do.

The fact is, whatever you thought “was” … is now up for renewed thinking. Our health care system. Our pension system. Our infrastructure. Our prison system. Our political election process. You name it.

This is the time for each of us to ask ourselves: What do I think? What better idea do I have? What kind of work life do I want? What examples do I want to set for our children? What image do I want to put out into the world?

The rest of the world is rethinking the United States’ role, voice and standing in the world right now. That’s why it’s a good time for us to rethink our own roles and our own voices in this country.

Are we passive bystanders who watch videos while laughing? Do we know more about Rob Kardashian than we do about our state reps? Are we part of the problem, or are we offering up solutions to help us move forward in a more unified and united way?

I asked one of my sons the other night, “If you could change one thing about our country right now, what would it be?” He said, “Our politics. If we could change the way we talk to one another, work with one another, and listen to one another, then everything else would follow.”

I agree.

So, here’s to our leaders rethinking the animosity they have towards one another. Here’s to those who seek common ground. Here’s to those who speak of solutions instead of pointing fingers. (See Mark Zuckerberg’s idea below, or the idea that two of his fellow Silicon Valley billionaires have to remake the Democratic Party. Their ideas may not be perfect, but at least they are igniting conversation.)

So this summer, think of yourself as a founding mother or a founding father. Think of yourself as a big thinker. If not you, then who?

Think about where we could be in 2025. Our National Alzheimer’s plan has a goal of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s and other related dementias by that year. What other diseases can we wipe out by then? What else can be different by then?

Steve Jobs had a vision for a computer in the pocket. It took him years to get there, but he had a vision. What’s our collective vision? What’s yours as an individual?

What does 2025 look like to you? Think about it.

Here’s to those who have the courage to step back and rethink what is, in favor of what can be.

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The Focus is Acceptance

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I’VE BEEN THINKING

I read a news story this week that saddened me, but unfortunately, it didn’t really surprise me.

It was about how our country has never been more polarized. The article also reported that those who label themselves as Democrat or Republican focus more on what they hate about the other, than on what is positive about their respective affiliations.

Wow!

That kind of negativity, anger, division and divisiveness is what led me to become an Independent a few years ago. I wanted out of that closed mindset. Out of the angry back and forth. Out of seeing the “other” as the enemy.

That choice led me to instead focus my thoughts on what I was for, not against. It led me to search my soul and shift my focus onto the pillars that I believe in and the values that I admire (compassion, empathy, collaboration, consciousness, care, kindness, and love being just a few).

It also allowed me to surround myself with people whose aspirations are positive, forward-thinking and unifying. I’ve moved away from people who complain non-stop and toward those who espouse positive views of others and who challenge themselves to come up with solutions to make our country stronger.

Today, I consciously choose to be in conversation with others who are asking us all to be kinder, less judgmental, more open-minded, and more accepting (individuals like my friends Brian Grazer and Glennon Doyle Melton, who share their voices exclusively with you today).

The truth is, we can all be less judgmental and more accepting. We can do better at accepting our differences and accepting those who may not look like us or think like us, but who are still good, kind, loving and able people. (Our Architect of Change of the Week Gordon Hartman is one individual who is helping lead us in this direction.)

Over the years, I have worked in unison with Democrats and Republicans. I have met good men and women in both parties who are united in the belief that we can be more socially compassionate, environmentally conscious, fiscally responsible and be accepting of our shared humanity.

Let’s be real: labels divide us and lead us to assumptions about the other. Assumptions lead to judgments, which in turn make it harder to accept what is. Accepting what is requires presence and focus.

Now, let me be honest. Acceptance has been somewhat challenging for me because I’m one of those people who in the past just assumed that if I worked hard enough at something, I could get it to work like I imagined. How arrogant of me.

But then a friend said to me, “You know, Maria, there is your business, there’s the other person’s business, and then there is God’s business.  Whenever you are in someone else’s business—God included—you are in the wrong business.”

Bam!

Letting go of other people’s business and accepting what is has turned out to be a huge relief for me. It’s also given me more time! I’ve also learned that just because we accept something as it is, it doesn’t mean we have to let go of our hope or our aspirations for ourselves.

There are quite a few things in my own life that I don’t like (I’m not going to tell you), but I accept them as they are today. But, I’m also focused on aspiring to do better and I’m hopeful about what’s to come. I’m hopeful not just about my own life, but the life of our country. (Yes, I really am!)

I accept that we are divided. I accept that the two-party system is divisive. I accept that the mainstream media and other media can and must do better. But, I don’t believe we have to stay as-is.

Imagine if we all became Independents. Imagine if we all dropped the assumptions about the “other.” Imagine if we got out of minding other people’s business and used all that mental energy to focus on how we can be kinder, more loving, more compassionate, and more inclusive.

Imagine if we used our mental energy to focus on conversations that brought us together (thank you, Janet Mock), and focused on issues that we could agree on.

Imagine the world that way, and then start building it—conversation by conversation, idea by idea, thought by thought, issue by issue. Maybe start by thinking about the idea of shared national service. It would give us all a common experience and a common commitment to something larger than ourselves, like our country.

In any event, that’s what I’m thinking of doing this summer because I refuse to accept that “what is” is the best we can do. Acceptance and aspiration can lead us out of what is and into a more accepting and unified nation.

 

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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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