River Water

The archetypical Master in Anthony DeMello’s books once said, “All I did was sit on the riverbank handing out river water.” In other words, all he did is point out the plainly obvious. But sometimes we need someone to point us to it. That’s the teacher I like, the teacher that hands me river water to drink, not koolaid.

I have a sense that I can trust a teacher when I get that “river water” feeling about what she teaches. I get the feeling that, even though the thoughts are new to me, they are drawn from some fundamental stream of obvious wisdom. Something that, if I had just opened my eyes, I could have discovered — or I had already known — by myself. Had I not been looking for something fancier. Or a shortcut.

I got that river water feeling upon reading the mystics, particularly of the Christian faith. Apologetics left me unimpressed. Theology was just mental gymnastics to me. It was mysticism that was my doorway back to a faith that I shed as a child.

I got that river water feeling when I first started learing about foresight and futures. Sure the ideas were new to me, but they seemed to draw from things that were obvious, things I already somehow knew. I just needed the paradigm shift to see them. So I pursued my masters’ degree in Studies of the Future.

I got that river water feeling when I encountered Lean and Six Sigma. I had that feeling that I had seen all this stuff before. Indeed, all the tools and techniques are established engineering techniques, but in a new presentation. So I pursued Black Belt training.

And my latest river water feeling comes from taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. Most of that stuff he teaches is so obvious that I almost feel ashamed for not already knowing and practicing it. It is simple to understand and very hard to do, because the answers to my financial life are not sexy or exciting, but quotidian and dull. Like River Water.

Learning to Stay

Last night, I found myself in one of those negative spirals with my kids that was sucking me down. If you’re a parent, maybe you know it — you observe yourself yelling, knowing full well that it is a really ineffective way to communicate, but you cannot stop yourself because of your mounting exasperation, which is made worse by the fact that your kids are not responding to your ineffective communication…

It’s precisely the kind of situation that would usually make me contemplate fantasies of escape of some kind, usually unproductive fantasies. Indulgent, self-absorbed fantasies. Poison. But somehow I stayed in it and worked through it.

At some point in the spiral my mind said, “Stop Cody, THINK. Breathe. What is the next right step?”

I sent one upstairs. I’d talk to him later. Engage the younger two. Divide the situation into manageable pieces. Give up on some of what I was trying to achieve. And focus on compassion. Especially for my foolheaded self.

I credit my ability to not run screaming to Grace alone. To the gift of years of practice. I have just enough experience in Grace to Stay when it’s Hard. Not enough, mind you, to avoid such frustrating spirals in the first place, but sufficient for that moment. To Stay and not escape into some poisonous thought.

Post mortem in prayer, I realize that my practice could use some brush up. There are spiritual exercises I can do, like those of St. Ignatius, to prepare my mind for Grace in the midst of exasperation. One of my favorites is Lojong Practice. The slogans come from a different culture, but with a little translation, translate well to my own tradition.

It is what we practice that arises to our minds when we are tested. Being a cerebral type, I have always disdained learning by rote memorization. But some skills need to be automatic, and automatic skills come from practice. Learning to Stay instead of escape, for me, comes from cultivating thoughts that will help me derail my spirals. Like these Lojong Slogans…

“Understand Your Attachments, Your Aversions, and Your Indifference, and Love Them All.”
“When Practicing Unconditional Acceptance, Start With Yourself.”
“When Everything Goes Wrong, Treat Disaster as a way to Wake Up.”
“Always Meditate on Whatever You Resent.”
“Accept Good and Bad Fortune With an Equal Mind.”
“Solve All Problems by Accepting the Bad Energy and Sending out the Good.”

I hope I can bring these thoughts to mind at the beginning of my next spiral.

Staying Home

If Wendell Berry, one of my favorite poets, had a magazine, Orion Magazine might be it. This article from Orion caught my eye in SciTech DailyThe Most Radical Thing You Can Do Is Stay Home.

I am one of those priveledged of the world who must, to an alien visitor watching from afar, seem like ants in an anthill, scurrying from place to place in endless activity. (Shades of Dave Matthews?). That’s how I feel sometimes, trapped in obligatory mobility.

I know how much I like staying home for an evening on one of those rare nights when no commitments call us away. And my current life goal is to do what I do — knowledge management, strategy, futures, teaching, consulting — without having to travel endlessly. My ultimate career goal is to get paid to be Me at Home.

Staying Home “means getting out of the limbo of nowheres that transnational corporate products and their natural habitats—malls, chains, airports, asphalt wastelands—occupy.” That hits it on the head for me. Business travel is pleasant enough, but soulless in a very crucial way. A limbo of nowheres describes exactly how I feel when I travel. When work rips me out of my context and I feel unhinged, drifting, aimless. I am disconnected from the rhythms of my life, beyond the reach of teh gravity that holds me down to the grounding love of my family and community.

Part of the solution to that is learning to be still and quiet wherever I am, to realize my connection to all places and people. But there is, at this stage in my life, no comfort more fundamentally satisfying than Staying Home.