Fierce, Amazing Grace
Well, I gotta tell you, writing this issue of Into the Centre has been a challenge. For some reason, I was feeling empty of ideas this morning, and tried to write anyway. I came up with a really odd little number, on dealing with the harsh realities of being human. I'll be excerpting it, as I hate wasting my writing, but essentially I gave up midday.
Before I get to what I want to say, let me tell you a few stories:
Most of you know that I have a book finished that's within an inch of coming out. I'm now projecting that we'll have copies in hand by Dar's 50th birthday, October 23rd. Nice, eh? I think so. Anyway, we're really pushing this book. I want this book to circle the globe and help people to change their lives. So, I've been studying ways to promote it. I've scoured the web for resources, and as I noted above, in my intro, I'm hoping you will do your part by pointing friends and co-workers and even people you don't like to the "Phoenix Centre Press" part of our website.
Anyway, one resource I downloaded was an e-book on Spiritual Marketing. It's geared toward people in the helping professions. I like the spin the book provides: Marketing is essential to draw clients – the only way to be of service to someone is to actually make contact with them. The e-book was written by Joe Vitale and Robert Anthony. This actually matters. Keep reading.
In the course of the marketing reading I've been doing, there came upon the screen a line about being thankful. I turned it into a poster (available here) which reads,
Thank you God for all the blessings I have
all the blessings I am
Another story: we were trying to put our pool to bed for the winter, but the water levels kept dropping. The pool guy patched a couple of leaks this past week, and Dar and I went at the pool shed and pool today. Only I wanted to vacuum the pool out and the pump wouldn't prime. I gave up in frustration. Then I tried one, last time and it worked. Persistence is a good thing, and once again proves that things always work out on the last try.
Another story, and the promised quote from the "other" Into the Centre:
I was watching PBS the other night, as I'd notice that there was a new biography of Bobby Kennedy on. RFK's run for the presidency in 1968 was my first active political campaign. I remember watching the California results – staying up late, and then hearing, "Oh my God. The senator has been shot."
Rather than get all somber on you, I will skip over how that event, and the assassination of Martin Luther King change my politics and word view. I'll simply say that the year 1968 was pivotal for me becoming me.
What caught my attention on the PBS special was the reminder of the following quote:
He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. – Aeschylus
After JFK was assassinated in 1963, Bobby was disconsolate. He spent a lot of time with Jackie Kennedy, and she suggested he start reading the writers of Greek tragedy. Bobby fell in love with Aeschylus, and memorized this quote. He used it the night Marin Luther King was killed and it's printed on a marker at his grave in Arlington.
A while back I purchased Ram Dass's new video/DVD "Fierce Grace." Following on the heels of his book "Still Here," it's a film about his life and his thinking post his 1997 stroke. He talks about his anger with his guru and with Buddha and coming home from the hospital and trashing his shrine and his room. In a sense, he was asking "Why me?"
I was reminded of this during the PBS special, where someone remembered that for days after JFK died, Bobby could be heard sobbing, "Why, God?"
The stunning, yet real answer is, "Why not me?"
The quote from Aeschylus seems to be saying that true learning and true wisdom come from suffering and despair. This flies directly in the face of our feel good nation's idea that the life of wisdom is a flat road paved in gold. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Strength of character is the result of confronting the searing heat of "fierce grace," and surviving. What is clear in the PBS video is that RFK never "got over" JFK's assassination. He used the transforming fire of his grief to gain a heart and mind and spirit of compassion. In a sense, he went from boy to adult. He used his pain to redirect his entire life.
Notice that such transformation does not necessarily guarantee a long life. What it does guarantee is a significant life.
Last story. Then I promise to pull it all together.
I got a call last week from a dear, dear friend, who also has been a client. I remember meeting her at a party, and spending several hours in a corner of the kitchen, getting to know her and admire her. Her call was to set up an appointment. In a nutshell, she said, "Wayne, I've just found out I have cancer, and as soon as I heard, I thought of you. Help!"
I saw her the next day.
Now, the interesting part of that session was this: she came in the door with an agenda. She described that she was acting weepy and sad and mad, and she knew she should be doing something: meditating, praying, visualizing. She opined that she did not have time to fall apart.
I suggested that she had time for nothing else.
You see, she too is in a helping and healing profession; she runs international medical relief. She laughed and said this was what she is doing now that she's retired. As long as I've known her, she's been caring for those around her, hands on. Now, she's caring for the world.
And the only one she doesn't look after is herself. In a sense, her body is now giving her the chance. As I talked about listening to her body and doing what she needs to do, slowing down and truly hearing, she sighed, smiled and settled into herself. She has a boundless opportunity to discover the depths of herself, from a thing superficially called cancer. As she was leaving, she said, Wayne, you know what? I'm not cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year. (It's today in Canada.) We're going out!" Imagine. Cancer diagnosis, surgery next Monday, and she was going to cook dinner.
So, do you see where I'm going with all of this? As Aeschylus writes, learning and wisdom are the result not of an easy, worry free life, but rather who we are and who we become as we confront obstacles, sad-ness, tragedy and even death. As I have written, "Any moron can have a good life when nothing is going wrong."
RFK is one of my heroes (it's a short list, and maybe an Into the Centre column or two.) His brother's death was the fire that forged him, straightened him and gave him his edge. A Wayne-Zen-ism: Crisis is the fire that forges the katana. He lost his glow of privilege and gained his soul. The poor and disenfranchised became "his people."
Some may need a battle metaphor to deal with cancer or illness. I like the idea of hearing and learning from the voice of illness. It's a waste of time to try to decide if we "give" ourselves illnesses and make ourselves sick. That's a head trip. The better question is: what can I learn from this experience I am so intimately a part of? Ram Dass made this leap after his stroke. Rather than continue to blame his dear, departed guru, he now says, "My guru stroked me." "I needed to learn, and the lesson is fierce (as opposed to cheap) grace."
Our job is not to avoid difficulties, nor to create them. Our job is to persist until we die. If we don't show up, the "pump won't prime."
And back to Joe Vitale. Just after I downloaded the e-book and signed up for his newsletter, he sent one saying his ex-wife, his best friend, had suddenly died. He was heart-sad and heading for the funeral.
I had decided to scrap Into the Centre. I sat at the computer, and the e-mail dinged. I had an e-mail from Joe. I reproduce it here, with his permission. And you'll see, I think, another way of saying what we always say: Life is a Blessing and needs to be lived, fully, richly, deeply, and with gratitude.
Bless you all, this Thanksgiving Day.
The Only Thing You Can Count On
by Dr. Joe Vitale
We just got in from a trip to Houston, where we attended the Memorial Service for my ex-wife and best friend of 27 years, Marian.
It stormed the entire three hour drive there. The city was flooding, the sky dark, the clouds dumping their rain, the streets crowded and dangerous. Yet a few dozen people weathered the storm and attended the service.
Some people I hadn't seen in 15 years. Some I've known for 30 years. Some I never met before, and only knew through stories Marian told me. It was a warm, loving, intimate group, all with one thing in common: their love for Marian.
David, Marian's best friend over the last few years, stood and read parts from Marian's unpublished and unfinished autobiography. He wanted to show that this loving woman had gone through hell as a child, yet somehow learned to love unconditionally.
Stories about Marian's mean grandmother, and cold father, reminded me of why Marian wanted to commit suicide as a young woman in Oregon. Fortunately, she didn't, and she enjoyed over thirty more years of life's sunshine.
I didn't plan to speak at the service. After four days of emotional misery, bawling my eyes out in private, missing my beloved of almost three decades, I didn't think I could stand, let alone speak.
But I surprised myself. I got up, went to the podium, and fumbled to say the following:
"David left out one thing," I began. "He forgot to tell you the title of Marian's life story. She called it 'It's All Good.'"
I went on to say that even through the pain she had suffered -- her unhappy childhood, her near fatal car-accident two years previously, the molestation by her therapist, her struggles with self-esteem and more – she always looked for the good.
I then told everyone what happened to me on the way to the service, an event that Marian would have loved.
"I was riding here when I got a phone call from James Caan, the famous actor," I said.
I explained that I have a client who knows Caan. So the call wasn't entirely unexpected.
My mobile phone rang and I heard the famous voice said,
"Joe, this is Jimmy Caan."
"Oh my g---"
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Well, ah, I'm going to a funeral."
"I lost my ex and best friend," I said.
"My condolences but I'm glad it was your ex," he said, stressing the word 'ex', not knowing, of course, how Marian and I remained close even after we legally separated.
There was an awkward silence.
I was on the phone with a celebrity, a man now 64 years old, still vibrant with life, starring in a weekly TV show called "Casino." I wanted more. I thought maybe he could offer something wise to help ease my pain. So far I had found no magic bullets, magic pills, magic words, books, or anything else to ease the grief.
"Do you have any advice for me?" I asked.
"Advice!?" he asked, surprised. "You don't want any advice from me. I've got a lot of ex wives, and some of them I wish would trade places with your ex."
I laughed out loud.
I told everyone at the service about this event and they laughed, too.
And suddenly I realized that a miracle had taken place.
"Marian said it's all good," I told the people at the service. "She loved movies and loved The Godfather. The fact that I spoke with James Caan today, on the day of her service, would have made her smile that contagious huge beaming smile of hers. Marian knew the secret of the universe before me and most anyone else."
I broke into tears and said, "It's been four days of pure hell, with my missing her in the most painful ways, but on some level, in some way that I don't yet understand, this is all good."
That was all last night. The service is over. Marian is gone.
What I dislike about death is that it is so final. There are no PSs. No follow-ups. No chance to say hello, goodbye, I'm sorry, or I love you, or anything else. None. Zip. Zero. Game over. Plug pulled. The end.
Oh, you can play mind games and have conversations in your head with the deceased, but the person -- the flesh and blood person who you knew and loved and could touch and hold -- is *gone.*
My advice to you, and to me, is to live now. Be sure your affairs are in order -- have a legal will, make peace with family and friends every day -- and look for the good in every moment. It may not be easy, at first. But you can do it.
For example, a friend called me the other day, to see how I was handling the loss. We spoke for a while. He shared his own feelings of sadness. He told me, "It's real easy to fall into negative thinking."
I agreed. But I thought about it and realized I *wasn't* falling into negative thinking. I'm grieving. I'm sad. I'm at times barely able to function. But I'm not thinking negative. Along the way in my life with Marian, I learned that "It's all good." Even the grieving. Even death.
When we drove back home from Houston today, traffic suddenly stopped. We didn't know what happened. Then we saw a helicopter, and knew someone was badly hurt and being carried to a hospital. As traffic moved again,we were able to see that a terrible wreck had taken place.
Moments before it, the drivers were talking, laughing, maybe planning their evening. Now they're hurt, and possibly dead.
You never know what moment is our last one.
I suggest you live now.
I suggest when opportunities come your way, grab them.
I suggest you do more smiling, hugging, sharing, crying, laughing, risking, and forgiving.
I suggest you monitor your thoughts, notice the negative ones, and consciously replace them with positive ones.
Yes, I know it can be difficult, at first. I've learned from the Mental Toughness Institute's program that I'm in that your thoughts can be elevated. You can rise above negative thinking. You simply have to retrain your brain. You have the power to do it. You just might need some support to make it your new habit.
Well, Marian pointed the way.
She said, "It's all good."
This is the one and only moment of your life.
It's the only moment you can count on.
THIS is IT.
And it's good.
Dr. Joe Vitale is author of way too many books to list here, including the #1 best-selling book "Spiritual Marketing," the best-selling e-book "Hypnotic Writing," and the best-selling Nightingale-Conant audio program, "The Power of Outrageous Marketing." His main website is at http://www.MrFire.com .
© 2004 Joe Vitale. All rights reserved. Feel free to forward this in its entirety to anyone you wish.