Feeling Hopeless About Our Impact

Is Everything Actually an Exercise in Futility?

It began, as it so often does, with an online conversation: after several exchanges on a controversial subject, I wrote the following: “Rest assured I have no expectation this will change your mind in any way.”

And while the person on the other end expressed remorse and "felt bad," it did not do anything to change her mind.

The next thing I knew I was in deep in contemplation.

Let’s be honest. Most of us do not ever really change our minds, our behavior, or our lives. That’s not a critique, it is simply the truth. In fact, based on ongoing research about our brains, apparently our minds are mostly made up before we even engage. We’re just looking for information or a story to justify what we already have unconsciously concluded. Barring a Road-to-Damascus experience such as Paul the Apostle’s that fundamentally disrupts our perspective, it seems we are destined to stay firmly rooted in our belief systems.

Said a friend, “I’m only as open-minded as my closed mind will permit.”

We could then say it is all an exercise in futility, though that feels rather hopeless. Or we could insist on the notion of freedom to choose, except if we look deeply into our lives we will mostly conclude that that is an illusion. (See The Way of Powerlessness by Wayne Liquorman, or Alan Watts’ The Wisdom of Insecurity if you’d like to explore it further.)

Given this, why in the world would we then make any effort to engage, or work on our own development, or even act to any seeming purpose?

Sometime in the past someone told me, “Understand that little you do will matter, but know you must do it for the sake of your soul.” This reminds me so much of the work of the Jungian Analyst, James Hollis, and his book, What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life. He would likely propose that we simply must do what we must do for it is the nature of the soul’s work, or our fate, or destiny if you prefer.

As I walked to my yoga class after these thoughts, I felt a heavy sadness in my chest: sorrow that so much we wish we could change for the better, even within ourselves, is simply beyond us. I felt grief that for unfathomable reasons, many hateful and damaging things will continue, no matter what we do. Even perhaps the things we wish to believe are useful to others or our world are (as the teacher Rhondell proclaimed), nothing but vanities of the self.

Seeing True in Action

If much is in fact futile, what then are we to do and to what end?

Perhaps we can work with our expectations, to release them. Perhaps it is then possible to also release our judgments and demands, even of ourselves and life itself.

What then would remain?

Taking pleasure in living, creating, and relating. Enjoying the experiences.

Maybe then we could simply live with surprise and delight.

 

Forgiveness is Beautiful, But

Recently, I've been traveling around the South giving workshops on Forgiveness. Because Forgiveness work is ongoing, and because not everyone lives in an area where they can easily attend one of the workshops, we've decided to share this Sunday message that preceded the workshop at Richmond Unity a few weeks ago. Enjoy!

 

From Thanksgiving to Forgiving: Workshops for the New Year

The First Forgiveness Workshop at Unity North Church in Marietta (Atlanta area).

The First Forgiveness Workshop at Unity North Church in Marietta (Atlanta area).

At the start of every new year, we have the opportunity to wipe the slate clean: mentally by addressing old habits that no longer serve us; physically by cleaning out old and unused objects that clutter our homes; and spiritually, by releasing the old anger and resentments clogging up our psyches.

It occurred to me that this process, which often begins around the holidays as we close off one year and move into the next, has a name: Thanksgiving to Forgiving. During Thanksgiving we focus on gratitude, which is a wonderful place to begin when we do forgiveness work.

Then we move into the part of the year where we spend the most amount of time with family. For many people, this can trigger all kinds of forgiveness work! For better or worse, our families gives us lots of spiritual material to work with, if we're willing of course.

And finally, the New Year occurs with all it connotes about fresh beginnings, turning over new leaves, and making the kind of changes to have a happy and productive year. Therefore it only seemed natural to give a series of workshops focusing exactly on this: engaging in the dark, tough, unsavory inner work necessary to release, unhook, and let go of grievances of any kind.

So far we have done two workshops in the Atlanta area, and one in the Richmond area. As of now we have one more scheduled for February 4 in Atlanta. Are you interested in joining us or in scheduling a workshop in your area? Contact us here and we can give you the information.

"Forgive everyone everything," said Charles Fillmore the co-founder of Unity. No doubt a tall order, but one well worth undertaking.

Healing from the Inside Out

A little context is needed for these letters that make for a somewhat long post.

These were written in my journal, more or less as you see them. It is not clear to me to whom they were addressed, who this dearest one might be, only that they are necessarily intimate. Perhaps it is God to whom I speak, or some imagined lover, or a close confidante. Regardless, the only way I was able to capture my inner experience was in letter form.

***

December 16, 2016, 2:45 am

Good morning, dearest,

I fell asleep very early last night; weariness was just too much for me. And of course, as always happens when the work of Soul is unfolding, my psyche awakened me quite early today. On the one hand, I am amused by myself, and on the other I again feel the crushing weariness. Let me see if I can explain what is so difficult.

Eighteen months ago I had an extremely vivid dream. The details are unimportant, or perhaps too private to disclose, but it foreshadowed a time in darkness during which inner work would be required of me. So for all this time I’ve been steadily attending to that inner development, what Carl Jung called shadow work.

The greatest challenge is that even with professional assistance from a therapist, I cannot see the nature of the inner work that is underway. It is so clear that it is ongoing, and utterly unclear as to its nature. Strangely baffling, and yet I cannot ignore that it is occurring because it is so disruptive to my sense of self.

It seems like my Soul’s nature is somehow being realized or revealed. As I see those words, I’m immediately struck by how ridiculous it must sound.

At any rate, it has something to do with Soul-realization, or Self-realization. And for that to occur some blockage within me must be removed.

The best I can do is to use the analogy of Moses. Over and over again he had to relinquish his identity in order to become the Moses who was so remarkable.

Enough philosophizing.

I think I'm being asked to yield things that are very central to my identity. Nothing I can "do" will be able to address this. It is apparently beyond doing, and requires spiritual intervention, over which I likewise have no control.

What I do know is these eighteen months have worn me thin. Hopefully that makes me sufficiently malleable. Curiously, I'm not so much afraid of being remade. It is fear that for some inexplicable reason the remaking will not be possible because inner blocks prevent it.

This seems like it is the most challenging inner work of my thirty years of spiritual practice. And I must necessarily fail, because the remaking cannot be done by me. Somehow this is a year for failing, and in the failing, something more can be made of me.

Words seem so inadequate. I face a spiritual conundrum necessary for my refinement, and beyond my ability to articulate or solve. And still the struggle is necessary.

At the very least, for today I have just enough willingness and clarity to participate in that which I do not understand.

At this moment, there is a very sad feeling of having seen and said as much as is possible. Tears of sorrow, strangely comforting.

Love,

Ron

p.s. It occurs to me that my greatest fear is that despite all the desire and motivation, all the sustained effort, somehow this life has been a waste. This despite much evidence of a life well lived.

***

December 18, 2016, 4:20 am

Good morning,

It seems this matter of failing is stirring deep within me. My psyche simply could not allow me to sleep last night. Especially it seemed unable to ignore your question from my first letter.  “How can you think you are a failure?”

I know. It’s crazy. All the achievements in the world, success by so many human standards, and many accolades, yet still this unfilled void within me.

My long-time mentor says it is because I ask of life that which it cannot provide. I ache for some kind of validation, and look to something outside myself, and invariably it fails me. At best I am disappointed, at worst I feel crushed.

Still this endless well of self-ness compels me to try again and again and again to wrest some kind of affirmation out of life. No wonder I am exhausted.

Recently, a well-meaning older man told me I should just “Let go and let God.”

He proposed the Serenity Prayer.

 His comment made me feel so alone.

Realizing that I am powerless over who I am continues to be one of the more humbling experiences. As much as the world tells me I should be able to make myself be different by force of will and thought, the evidence actually does not support that conclusion. Everywhere I go, there I am. Until the day comes that I am somehow, miraculously made different.

Emmylou Harris says we stumble into Grace.

While that seems apt, it also seems my path is comparable to the path of Jacob and the Angel of the Lord. I must wrestle with these matters. And at some point, the Angel will smash me to the ground. And then, amazingly enough, I will be blessed as a result of the battle lost.

For many years I have been studying Joel Goldsmith, especially his masterful work, Living by Grace. It is the most dog-eared, annotated book in my entire library. Recently I stumbled across a passage that spoke to me perfectly.

Goldsmith had been struggling for years with his practice in spiritual healing. After one more bout of difficulty, he admitted: “I’m all wrong. I have been on the wrong path … Admit it, Joel! You are a failure … Nothing real has been accomplished in your life.”

With that, Joel begins to close his practice. He knows not where he is bound, but he can no longer continue. In accepting his failure, a message arises from what he labeled the “still, small voice.”

 “Never have you understood more truly. You have failed, of that there can can be no doubt. But there never was a chance for success in your experience … The more you realize that, the closer you will be to Truth.”

Says Joel in response to this revelation, “Now it was evident that my failure was in believing I had the power to succeed or fail, when all I could ever do was be an instrument for the power of the Divine.”

Apparently, failure became the foundation for what would then become a powerful healing practice.

This story is solace for me. It validates this sense of failure that is dogging my steps. And yet, even Joel’s hopeful ending feels like an attempt to psychologically avoid the inevitability of failure.

There is grief that requires my attention.

Love,

Ron

***

December 21, 2016, 8:10 am

Good morning, dear one,

How in the world can one describe grief? Especially when it seems to be impossible to attribute? Or worse, when it seems so self-indulgent?

At the same time that I feel my heart uplifting, the surest sign I know of Spirit’s presence, there is a deep ache of sorrow. Sadness intimately intertwined with the sheer joy of being alive.

I had such hopes for what might be possible in and through my life. I fear they were nothing but grandiosity. A misguided collection of optimistic desires, necessarily doomed to be unmet.

With those words, I feel a crushing weight upon me. And as I’ve been taught, I am using breath and awareness to cuddle up to the sorrow. Not because of some virtue, but because I am convinced I can no longer run from myself or this sense of failure.

I think this will be a tearful day. And with some solace, I go back to words I wrote some time ago captured in a piece called tears.

And my tears are an expression of the inexpressible. A futility I can never name. An ache too deep for words. No translation required. Perfect prayer. And I am comforted. For this, God gave me tears.

Love,

Ron

***

December 28, 2016, 5:20 am

Hello dearest,

For several days, I have been grieving. For a time, it really was a kind of floating grief with no seeming cause. A sorrowful feeling that lasted throughout each day, and to which I awoke each morning. Not really a burden, but most assuredly a presence to be experienced.

My good friend and long time pain physician, Erv Hinds, says that heartache is the greatest, unaddressed human malady. And that it brings a terrible weight. One not easily borne, and with all manner of costs. I think he is right. 

Of course, the challenge of sorrow is probably not for the realm of medicine. More likely, it is the realm of the spiritual, which makes for a different kind of healing practice.

That said, as has always been true, clarity comes when I engage my sorrows.

I am chagrined to admit, this cycle of grief seems to be the next iteration of the great letting go of my life.

Nearly thirty years ago, when my first wife abandoned me, the experience was almost fatal. That I did not kill myself remains a surprise. And with that terrible pain, I found my way into sobriety, a path that was truly my first dark night of the soul. I was not who I believed myself to be, and the problems I faced had been invisible to me. It was quite an awakening.

Seven or eight years later, as a result of my inability to truly love my second wife and my awful inability to treat my daughters with the nurturance they deserved, I was forced to reckon with my powerlessness. Not only was I not who I thought I was, I was unable to overcome myself no matter what I tried. This was one more dark night of the soul.

At the root of that work was dealing with all the conditions and expectations I placed upon others. The inability to love was nothing but the insistence on people being something other than they were. And certainly progress was made as I abandoned the idea that people could or should meet my needs and desires. It was a great, if lonely, uplift.

That gave way to a number of years of reconciling to myself. If we are to assume I somehow managed to forgive others, it has been many years of forgiving myself. Yet one more round of grief work

Now I find that the source of still further suffering has been the expectations and conditions I have placed upon life itself, and more specifically to my life. I have asked life to fulfill me. And despite countless successes and achievements, I still feel unfulfilled.

Once more I must yield. I must abandon all hope that fulfillment can come from anything outside myself. And that, dearest, is breaking me open with sorrow.

I am sixty years old now, and for those six decades I have tried over and over again to get my life to deliver the magic of wholeness and meaning. It seems so simple in some ways, and yet I feel so very foolish. How can one miss a great truth so completely?

Of course, the wounded ego screams. If there is nothing I can do that will win the day somehow, what then am I to do? Or how am I to be?

These are wrenching questions for me. I’ve always wished to make some kind of contribution, to somehow demonstrate some kind of value. Now I am seeing the impossibility of those desires.

Back to breath work, and contemplation. Where else to turn with the sorrow? There is no place outside of me that can possibly succeed.

So I turn inward once again. Out of necessity. I believe there is a solution, but I do not know the way.

Love,

Ron

***

January 7, 2017, 8:30 am

Good morning, dearest,

Finally some relief comes.

I slept for ten hours last night, falling asleep in my bed on a cold, wet night at seven o'clock after a bowl of soup. It was a heavy sleep, fueled by the cumulative exhaustion of this inner work. I had been reading recent works from Father Richard Rohr when I simply blinked out.

Then in the quiet darkness early this morning I awoke to the ringing of words from one or Rohr's recent meditations. "The false self is overwhelmed by its own unworthiness, psychological wounds, and its passing nature. Only the True Self can dare to believe ..."

Something resonated so I closed my eyes and tried to just listen. After a few minutes, I felt an urge to return once again to Joel Goldsmith. Living By Grace was on the nightstand, and it fell open to a section I have often read but apparently never fully appreciated until this hammering upon me. 

"The goal of the mystical life is for us to become beholders of God in action, where we ascribe nothing to ourselves--not even good motives. We no longer have desires. We no longer have needs because every need seems to be met before we are even aware of a need. This is called living by Grace, but you live fully by Grace only as that selfhood that has a desire, a hope, an ambition disappears. Then life is lived entirely by Grace, because It functions to its end, not yours or mine."

Then silence found me. I was aware of my surroundings, even the sense of holding the book in my hands, but I had been swept deeply into some silent reverie. It lasted for quite some time, and was seemingly without thought.

The stillness ended as I felt a deep breath overtake me. Then tears began again. My whole body began to tremble and quake. It was like a physical release, reminding me of what I've seen of animals in the wild shaking off trauma from a near death encounter with a predator.

Then my heart just burst open in a cataclysm, a rush of energy pouring outward as my whole being softened. Finally I was able to take a deep, deep breath, and to relax.

As I gaze out the window upon a world now lit by sunlight glinting off a thin glaze of ice from last night's storm, I am again in love with this path. Something within me has shifted after these many months of inner effort. It seems I have abandoned the expectation that life will fulfill me

Please let it be so.

Love,

Ron

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