Tag Archives: detachment

Why Our Stories Matter

IMG_5348Matthew Fox, in his autobiography, Confessions: the making of a post-denominational priest, included this quote by Ellie Wiesel, “Whoever survives a test, whatever it may be, must tell the story.” I thank the heavens that Matt took this piece of advice to heart.

Matt and his stories have been instrumental in my professional and personal development over the past twenty years. If the Universe offer us clues where to find needed treasure, it has been far from subtle in urging me to pay attention to this brave and extremely brilliant being. I went to college in Madison, Wisconsin (Matt’s childhood home), was born on December 15th (the day he was famously silenced for a year by Opus Dei), and, although I went to Catholic high school, I was baptized Episcopalian (Matt’s past and current religious affiliation). The clues continue, and I am glad for the consistent nudging!

I want to recommend Matt’s story held in Confessions as we navigate how to fight for what is compassionate and right in these difficult times. Three key approaches in Matt’s life sing truth with me. First, I love his wicked sense of humor! He teaches me how to detach through not taking ourselves or greater tragedies too seriously. Detachment is a core cross-cultural skill for living well. Angeles Arrien described detachment as “caring deeply from an objective place.” Matt cares deeply and has suffered great loss, as you will read in his autobiography. When I first met him in 1998 it was clear how much he loved his Dominican brothers and was adjusting to being recently defrocked for his progressive views on the environment and feminism. The sense of loss was evident, and Matt had me hooked when he said something to the effect, “Five hundred years ago when you were branded as a heretic you were burned at the stake, now,” he added, “your books just sell better.” In his first speech after the year of silence, Matt began, “As I was saying fourteen months ago.… when I was so rudely interrupted …” Humor creates the space we need to survive and to be brave. As Mahatma Gandhi shared in his autobiography, “ If I had no sense of humor, I should long ago have committed suicide.”

Second, I wish to follow Matt’s constant search for wisdom through communing with saints past and present. He reached out to Thomas Merton in his early spiritual formation, searched out the best ritualists across the spiritual traditions including Malidoma Somé and Starhawk, and sought guidance from Fr. Bede Griffiths, Buck Ghosthorse, Joanna Macy, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalom and MC Richards. This is a purposeful list I add here if you wish to learn more about environmental or justice-based activism. His work is based in the writings of Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Aquinas to name just a few. Matt is a seeker of the larger whole. How can we all keep asking for more knowledge, ferreting out the greater truth and learning from the wise ones?

Last, I admire Matthew Fox’s courage to be a prophet. He has been willing over the past fifty years to speak truth to power structures that may not want to hear it. As you will read in Confessions, Matt seeks justice and equality for all and is willing to keep sharing this truth, regardless of the consequences. He tried compromise and working within the system as well and reminds me that this approach has its place, but truth is transcendent. We all deserve to be treated equally regardless of our gender, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic class or ethic group. This truth cannot be watered down, or shouldn’t be ever hidden, and this often terrifies existing power structures. Matt is willing to stand up and in his standing, we are braver and know where to place our feet.

Thank you Matt for sharing your story and wisdom. Happy birthday and may all your days be blessed.

Open to magic

I’m sitting in the JFK airport with a 5 hour layover, waiting for a flight to Madrid. You wouldn’t find me complaining if you sat down next to me. I have been waiting expectantly for this opportunity for almost a year. I plan to meet my middle son there and trek across northern Spain for over two weeks. I feel so darn lucky to have made it to this spot.

The wait has given me time to contemplate my expectations for this very anticipated journey. I am tickled to see my son again after 8 months. I am giggly about getting to be outdoors non-stop, and yet I know that my excitement is full of attachment to specific outcomes.

We can plan, we can anticipate, but when the time comes for a big event — be it a trip, a board meeting or a company merger — being open to the outcome is the prescribed cross-cultural tenet. From Hinduism comes the advice to be focused on what you are doing, not the fruits you are trying to derive. Harrison Owen, founder of Open Space Technology and researcher on detachment proposes that, “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.”

Example of the day — I somehow got upgraded to first class on the way here. Talk about attachment to the outcome!! I visualized great food, comfy chair and lots of space to spread out. I did get all those, but also I received the interesting surprise that the flight attendant radiated a not very pleasant odor. I think it was moldy shoes…or it reminded me of the smell that came when a gaggle of teenaged soccer players would remove their cleats in the mini van during days gone by. Regardless, it helped to breathe in and out of my mouth whenever the server would drop by.

The practice of detachment calls us to be open to whatever comes and watch for the mysterious unfolding of life just as it is, not how we might have visualized it.  This is the differentiator between joy and suffering in my life.  I like to remember Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron’s advice when life is coming at us unexpectedly. When what arrives is fun and interesting (that upgrade) she recommends we repeat to ourselves, “Pleasant.” And if it is uncomfortable or bothersome (overwhelming smell), we can say instead, “Unpleasant.” With this approach we remember to stay with the game and not miss the next act as we cling to the good or recoil from the bad.

And they don’t call it a “practice” for nothing…it’s something I continue to work on and forget more than I’d like! Yet, when I do remember, or are reminded by wise souls who stay calm and happy regardless of what pleasant or unpleasant surprises arrive at their door, detachment is like a reset button.

As we started our descent, the flight attendant went from seat to seat kindly thanking each customer for the opportunity to serve. When he came to my seatmate and me, both female, he took our hands and kissed them. “Very dear” I thought and wondered what other surprises await.