Better Angels In This Odd Time

Time, We seem to have more of it these days.

Actually, we have exactly the same amount. But our discretion in how we use it MAY have increased in this odd time.

My friend who is an emergency room doctor has less time. My colleague who runs a healthcare system has almost no free time, and no day off. My old friend who works with veterans and first responders and their mental health has little time for himself, constantly responding to the crisis needs of others.

For a lot of us, we have more time than normal. We can dive into that stack of books we’ve been threatening to read. We can study that subject that has fascinated us but was just outside the city limits of our attention. We can watch, or as my friend, Mark, says, binge watch television series that have eluded. Or maybe there’s that movie you missed in the theater and wondered as to what the fuss was all about. Or maybe you can conjure up, through the magic of internet, some Broadway play or Shakespearean classic to revisit. Or, there is the King of Tigers! Jesus…

Or, maybe, you will write. Or journal, even.

How is this time going for you? What are the feelings? How are you spending your time? What fears are found rising for you in the middle of the night, or early as dawn breaks? What creative ideas for possibilities have come to you in the middle of the day?

Writing those thoughts down may be helpful to catch the feelings that you are having in this unique time. I revisited my journal from 9/11 and was surprised to remember the wild and wide array of feelings. I am thankful I wrote those down, almost twenty years ago, in another time in my life. How interesting to see how I have changed, how my interests have shifted as my situation has altered. Play on words here.

So I encourage you to write them down. I would love to see them, as some of you choose to share. But the importance in journaling, particularly at the time of writing, is the non-judgement. No one will see this. No one will evaluate. It’s just for you!

To prompt your journaling, I want to make three suggestions. The first, I have already described. Just write down what’s going on with you right now. My professor, Chuck Gerkin, gave me a magic phrase that I have applied to all of my life: What’s going on?

It begins with the self, what’s going on inside of you. It may be the most difficult question for some in terms of being truly honest with your Self, not trying to hype the image of who you wish to God you were. What’s going on inside you, really? Jot it down. It does not have to be perfect. It can be a word, words, a phrase, a paragraph, a page, a story. Just write. That English teacher from tenth grade that resides in your head is on quarantine as well. No worries. Just write.

As I mentioned, I use this magic question to approach most things. My marriage. My kids, My work. The people that I work with in therapy, coaching, or spiritual direction. A congregation I am working with or a hospital I am assessing. What is going on?

Remember the Iceberg principle. Only a tenth of the iceberg is above the waterline, leaving 90% below, beneath, underwater. Remember that. It true with people, relationships, and organizations as well. Take time to dive beneath and look. And you might start with your Self. There’s lot’s to learn beneath the Persona that you present to the world. Being aware of your motivation, drivers, hopes, fears, bring you to self awareness which is the key to emotional intelligence, a factor that is critical to relationships, and leadership.

A second suggestion is one I use with the people I work with in a variety of modes. I call it Chapters of My Life. I described its origins some time ago as I was working with Jim Fowler, designing a retreat format based on the prior work of our mentor, Carlyle Marney. It started as an ice breaker exercise as we would gather, but it morphed into its beating heart as it evolved….unexpected and unintended fruit\. A typical way my life runs.

Write down 8-12 chapter titles that capture the story of your life and write down the titles. Now, the chapter title should be communicate in an image or phrase what was going on with you at that time.

When I do this exercise, I always caution people to not fall into simple, automatic images. A Methodist minister I was working with in a retreat once offered, Early Childhood, Childhood, Late Childhood. I’m looking for a little more than that. I sometimes prime the pump by giving a few of my own as an example of what I am intending. Abandoned, Yet Loved, Grace by Adoption, Sandlot, Doctor, Lawyer, Tribal Chief? gives you a bit of a hint about what might have been going on beneath the water for me.

To finish the exercise, I ask folks to give a title to their life story. Again, I am looking for an image that captures the feel of the whole narrative. For me, when I first did it, it was South of God. I’ve been unpacking that for years….still at it, obviously.

Give it a shot. The good news is, once you have your chapter titles, you now have a archeological framework that allows you to visit each chapter as you wish, Listing events, thoughts, crises, victories, learnings, and write about it, exploring beneath the water for what is there. Good stuff. Like a lot of stuff in life, the closer you get to the bone, the sweeter the meat.

Finally, the third project would be one that I think is peculiarly promising for this time is our common life. Center yourself, using whatever method you might use, but quietly reflect and recall the one person that made a difference in your life/ Allow the cast of characters that have inhabited your story to come forward and settle on one that made the biggest difference. I am certain that there is more than one, and this is not a contest, but rather an opportunity for you to PAUSE, THINK, and REFLECT.

Who emerges? What did he/she give to you that made a difference? What did they look like, sound like, smell like? How did they do what they did? What was behind, or beneath, their interest in you?

Once you have some clarity, you might journal about your thoughts and reflections. Other persons may emerge when you begin this process. Jot them down to remember, but take the time in this moment to focus on this particular person in that particular time? My hunch is it will bring a smile, as you remember what it felt like to be cared for in a unique way.

And if you’re up to it, the payoff pitch. Who are you that person for in your life right now? How are you returning the gift you were given to someone who needs that care in this moment.? It does not have to be bombastic, or cinematic. In fact, it’s generally quiet, subtle, easy. Who can you use this odd time for by being a person of care in the moment?

Let me hear from you if something juicy, close to the bone, emerges. Would love to hear the heartbeat of life. It’s the antidote to our current malaise, not a mere face mask, though those are trending. The beat of the heart of life. Now, that’s the cure. Listen.

Blessings on you in this odd time.

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