Six Pillars of Wholehearted Living (Part II)

This post, the second of a two-part talk, draws from Brain Pickings post by Maria Popova.

4. Dare to take on the impossible.

Take on big jobs worth doing — jobs like the spread of love, peace, and justice. That means refusing to be seduced by our cultural obsession with being effective as measured by short-term results...if...our only measure of success is next quarter’s bottom line, we’ll end up disappointed, dropping out, and in despair.

Q: What is seductive about getting effective results in the short-term?

It always seems impossible until it is done. - Nelson Mandela

Q: What makes the spread of love big, daring, and impossible? Peace? Justice?

Our heroes take on impossible jobs and stay with them for the long haul because they live by a standard that trumps effectiveness. The name of that standard, I think, is faithfulness — faithfulness to your gifts, faithfulness to your perception of the needs of the world, and faithfulness to offering your gifts to whatever needs are within your reach.

Q: What needs are within your reach right now?

The tighter we cling to the norm of effectiveness the smaller the tasks we’ll take on, because they are the only ones that get short-term results...Care about being effective, of course, but care even more about being your calling, and to the true needs of those entrusted to your care.

Q: Do you feel a calling? Whose true needs are entrusted to your care?

You won’t get the big jobs done in your lifetime, but if at the end of the day you can say, “I was faithful,” I think you’ll be okay.

Q: What comes up when you hear you won't get the big jobs done in your lifetime?

Q: What is the role of meditation and mindfulness in daring to take on the impossible?

Faithful Forest (excerpt)

By Alberto Rios

I will wait, said wood, and it did.
Ten years, a hundred, a thousand, a million—

It did not matter. Time was not its measure,
Not its keeper, nor its master.

Wood was trees in those first days.
And when wood sang, it was leaves,

Which took flight and became birds.

It is still forest here, the forest of used-to-be.
Its trees are the trees of memory.

Their branches—so many tongues, so many hands—
They still speak a story to those who will listen.

By only looking without listening, you will not hear the trees.
You will see only hard stone and flattened landscape,

But if you’re quiet, you will hear it.

5. See your suffering.

Since suffering as well as joy comes with being human, I urge you to remember this: Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering. Sometimes we aim that violence at ourselves, as in overwork that leads to burnout or worse, or in the many forms of substance abuse...

Q: Can you recall a time when you didn't know what else to do with your suffering and took it out on yourself?

...sometimes we aim that violence at other people — racism, sexism, and homophobia often come from people trying to relieve their suffering by claiming superiority over others.

Q: Can you recall a time when you didn't know what else to do with your suffering and took it out on others, human or more-than-human?

The good news is that suffering can be transformed into something that brings life, not death. It happens every day. I’m 76 years old, I now know many people who’ve suffered the loss of the dearest person in their lives. At first they go into deep grief, certain that their lives will never again be worth living. But then they slowly awaken to the fact that not in spite of their loss, but because of it, they’ve become bigger, more compassionate people, with more capacity of heart to take in other people’s sorrows and joys. These are broken-hearted people, but their hearts have been broken open, rather than broken apart.

Q: Does this suggestion resonate with you?

So, every day, exercise your heart by taking in life’s little pains and joys — that kind of exercise will make your heart supple, the way a runner makes a muscle supple, so that when it breaks, (and it surely will,) it will break not into a fragment grenade, but into a greater capacity for love.

Q: What might "life’s little pains and joys" look like?

Q: What is the role of meditation and mindfulness in seeing your suffering?

Guest House

By Rumi (suggested by Parker Palmer)

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

  1. Never forget your mortality

If you hold a healthy awareness of your own mortality, your eyes will be opened to the grandeur and glory of life, and that will evoke all of the virtues I’ve named, as well as those I haven’t, such as hope, generosity, and gratitude. If the unexamined life is not worth living, it’s equally true that the unlived life is not worth examining.

Q: What would a "healthy awareness of mortality" be like?

Q: What is the role of meditation and mindfulness in holding that kind of awareness?

Q: Unexamined or unlived?

Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. — Frederick Buechner

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