Friday, October 9, 2015
As we look around at the modern world, we are encouraged to “do this,” “love that,” “be more” and “expect all our dreams to come true.” But once we have them, we no longer appreciate them as much as we did when they were simply desires. Life always looks ‘greener on the other side of the fence’, and our current realities never match up to them. How do we get out of this cycle? How can we take our desires captive, before they do this to us, and we experience an unexpected and inevitable calamity? The answer is, move.
This does not mean that we change vocations, associations or relations. But, as priest, professor and writer Henri Nouwen writes, we must listen to our call. "You are called to live out of a new place, beyond your emotions, passions, and feelings. As long as you live amid [them], you will continue to experience loneliness, jealousy, anger, resentment, and even rage, because those are the most obvious responses" when we desire what we see, just beyond the fence.
The idea of living ‘from’ a new place, while physically living ‘in’ our present place is an extreme challenge that is avoided by many. But those who attempt to make this move realize that heeding its call is exactly what is needed. Then we realize that moving was the best decision we could have ever made.
What does it mean to you to live out of a new place?
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Several years ago, it was popular for Evangelical Christians to ask the question “What would Jesus do?” by wearing W.W.J.D. bracelets. Though I no longer take part in this fad, questions like these are always good to ask.
I don’t do this because I constantly need to know what Jesus would do in a situation, this act sounds too frantic to me, but because I want to differentiate myself from the current situation. As I have talked about elsewhere, self-differentiation is the ability to emotionally remove oneself from a troubling situation, and view it from an alternate perspective. Then, when we have “the ability to separate feelings and thoughts” we see that the problems in front of us become smaller and smaller.
Organizational Skills Training (OST) is a way for students with ADHD to do this. Its objective is to teach children how to acquire “skills that can be linked to easily recognizable situations [that] are directly relevant to children’s daily functioning at school and home.” Then through a series of small steps, kids learn to manage school more effectively.
Whatever questions confuse us, whether they are about education, our faith, or something different entirely, making the challenges smaller and smaller until they are obsolete is the goal.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Meaning “good judgment” and “good taste,” clinical pastoral counsellor Mike Nichols defines discernment as a process of “giving conscious attention to what we think and feel in relation to particular choices we are making.”
In Richard Adams’ classic Watership Down, Hazel the Chief Rabbit shows how discernment enables him to be a leader with good sense. After hearing of a dispute that needed attention, he calmly asks for information.
“Hello,” said Hazel, “What’s happened? Where are the others?”
“Over there,” Blackberry anxiously answered, “There’s been a fearful fight. Bigwig told Hawkbit and Speedwell that he’d scratch them to pieces if they didn’t obey him. And when Hawkbit wanted to know who was chief rabbit, Bigwig bit him.”
Blackberry, Hawkbit and Speedwell are undifferentiated rabbits. Their anxiety is troubling their thinking and confusing their decision-making. Bigwig, whom they thought might be the self-differentiated leader they needed, was not acting like it.
To make a wise decision, Nichols says we must “read the facts and pay attention to our feelings because our immediate experience contains elements of both. Paying “attention to these processes enables us to recognize and choose what is better rather than what is less good.” 
Hazel draws the situation to a differentiated conclusion: “There was no need biting Hawkbit... Now Bigwig’s put their back’s up, and they’ll think they’ve got to go on because he makes them. I want them to go on because they can see it’s the only thing to do.”
Hazel’s slow, methodical and thoughtful manner resulted in the best and clearest conclusion.
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Anxiety can be thought of as “distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune,” and experiencing it makes us human. Though we cannot minimize these feelings, we can lessen how we transfer them to others. Rabbi, psychotherapist and author Edwin Friedman says that a well-differentiated person has “clarity about his or her own life goals, and therefore is less likely to become lost in the anxious emotional processes swirling about.” This person “can be separate while still remaining connected, and therefore can maintain a modifying, non-anxious and sometimes challenging presence.”
As a regular user of public transit, I was not surprised to hear that city bus drivers have stressful jobs. But I have realized that they are a non-anxious presence on our streets. Though their minds may be racing, they must be calm on the outside, able to transfer people from one place to another, be willing to chat, answer questions patiently, and solve problems with a smile. Therefore, though prohibiting their surrounding situations from impacting their emotions and actions is exceedingly difficult, it is a requirement.
Are you a “non anxious presence” who experiences the highs and lows of life without adding stress to the situation? If so, you are rare and the world desperately needs you.