Browsing the archives for the Love with Abandonment category

Dad, Welcome As You Are!

Robert V. Taylor with his brother Paul and their Dad, Donald

This first appeared in TheAdvocate.com June 14, 2013

I was shocked when my Dad reached over to cradle my head and kiss me. It was a rare moment of emotional intimacy from a man who was not raised to express his emotions. His tender action followed by the words “I love you” was a gift that I still treasure three decades later.  Even though he is not alive, I listen to the stories I tell of my father and the new appreciation those stories reveal with the passage of time.

My Dad would be 84 if he was alive today, yet he continues to live in my heart and consciousness. He grew up in an era in which being a man meant that expressions of emotion were a “girl thing.” That was the work of tender, nurturing and gentle women.  Or so the theory went.

His mother, whom I adored, was a model of emotional frigidity married to a man who was more adept at expression emotions. It was an odd paradigm handed down to my dad on how to be a man. Adding to these murky waters was the rigid and oppressive climate of South Africa. Growing up in that country I assumed that manhood came with those proscribing conditions even though I yearned for something more.

After moving to New York in 1980 as a young adult I was stunned on my first Christmas to see my host kissing his sons and them responding with kisses in return. I’d never seen such a display before and felt at once uncomfortable and curious. This state of unsettlement kept occurring as I watched fathers and sons acting as if such displays of affection were normal. I wanted to be that kind of a man. I assumed that I could be, but not with my dad. At least not until the day of the kiss.

Two years after arriving in New York my parents came to visit me knowing that I could not return home because of my refusal to serve in the South African military. On the day of his return home my Dad stood awkwardly at the gate at JFK waiting to board his flight. In a surprising move he leaned in very close to me and said, “I don’t know when we’ll be together again.” There were tears in our eyes. And then he kissed me and cradled my head as he said, “I love you.” I assured him of the same.

It was a defining moment.  Perhaps the “girl thing” assumption about how my dad had been raised was not entirely true? Or was it an oppressive façade he had learned to live with for so many decades? And then the repeated boarding calls meant it was time for him to go. In my state of stunned shock and delight I felt the tears rolling down my face as he turned to wave.

Perhaps my Dad and I could forge some of that intimacy that I had discovered among American sons and fathers? But there was the physical barrier of being on two different continents. In the decade that followed, we only saw each other on two other visits he made to America. In the era before email, texting or social media my Dad was not much of a letter-writer preferring to leave that to my mother.

I was in a time of my life discovering that our individual stories are more than just a series of funny, embarrassing, cute or unexpected events.  I was learning that our individual stories reveal truth and wisdom in their familiarity.  Well, perhaps not as much wisdom in my twenties or thirties as I thought!  Beneath the familiar plot line of a particular story, the story points to the arc about our place in life that is larger than our own self.

So I turned to the stories of my life with my Dad in South Africa. I found willing listeners in some of my new American friends who like me were physically separated from their fathers because of their job or studies. I was beginning to discover that I can tell the same story line in different decades of my life but by paying attention to the story it presents new insights in each new season of my life.

When I was a young kid my Dad and I would take the train to the end of the line in Cape Town to a place called Simon’s Town. We’d carry our packed lunches and fishing gear and go clambering over rocks to find just the right spot to fish. At the end of these outings I’d express my exuberance about the day spent fishing with Dad. I was bragging about it!

In my teenager years I’d still go fishing with my Dad, although less often. I’d tell the same basic story line albeit with a much “cooler” adolescent level of enthusiasm. In those telling’s of the story I was much more aware of my refusal to ever kill a fish. And so my Dad would help me return the fish to the ocean or he would kill it while I looked away.

In telling the same story in my twenties, I would be aware that more than just being with my dad, the story revealed a kindness and non-judgmental love. He never demeaned or ridiculed me about my aversion to the kill. There was no name calling me as the dreaded “sissy” I thought I must have been.

In my late thirties and forties the story line offered new insight into my dad and our relationship. I understood that our fishing excursions were his way of expressing that he wanted to be present to and with me. He was doing what we all do, working with the tools he had available to him. And he did a great job at it.

In my fifties I tell that story and wonder what it must have felt like for my Dad to live with the assumed normalcy that expressing emotion and affection were not the way to be. I wonder what conversation we would have about that if he were alive to do so. I suspect he’d engage willingly.

The year that Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 was the year I was able to go back to visit South Africa and my family. They quickly became yearly visits in which I noticed a new tenderness about him reminding me of that unexpected kiss at JFK.

On each visit each he enveloped me with a bear hug and kiss. This was not the way the Dad of my childhood had behaved! He was not to be pigeon-holed. As my partner and I visited we did what we often do – we held hands in the living room at my parents’ home.  On one visit my Mom pulled me aside and in a very hushed tone announced, “It really upsets your Dad to see the two of you holding hands.” Funny, but I had not noticed any lack of comfort on my Dad’s part.

A few days later Dad and I were on a walk to feed the ducks at a nearby pond and I said, “Dad, I’m sorry you’re uncomfortable with us holding hands.” Without missing a beat he said, “I’m not uncomfortable. I’m just happy for you and your love.”  There it was again, this generous, heartfelt and kind spirit.

In succeeding years I noticed a new level of emotional intimacy in my Dad’s close bond with a male friend that I could not have imagined in the previous decades of his life.  It was wonderful to watch. I felt glad and proud for him.

My parents were friendly with the couple who lived next door to them in their retirement community. Frank and my Dad began by looking out for another and performing simply niceties by delivering the mail or newspaper to one another.  As time progressed they would be found sitting on a porch together drinking beer and reminiscing about their lives or sharing their excitement for an upcoming rugby or cricket game on television.

On one visit my Dad expressed how glad he was for the choice he and my mother had made, albeit with obstinate resistance from him, to move into their retirement community. When I asked what made him happiest about the decision he said, “I wouldn’t have Frank as my friend if we weren’t here.”

Years later I sat in Frank’s living room with him and his wife drinking tea and discussing my Dad’s then recent death. Frank beamed as he said, “I miss your Dad every day. He was a true friend.” I was unprepared for the tenderness of what followed as Frank choked up with tears in his eyes and said, “You know Robert, I loved your Dad.” I received it as an elegant eulogy to my father and a blessing of the intimacy between Frank and Dad.

The quest for a more fulsome emotional relationship with Dad has come full circle. My yearning for a more authentic relationship with my father had led us to new ground.  But it wasn’t just about me. Dad had been a willing participant in his own story and search for what it meant to be a man.

I’m thankful for the journey we made together. We may not have fulfilled one another’s expectations to the fullest but we sure worked at it from a place of love, redefining our once limited perceptions of what it means to be a man. It would be nice to pull my dad in close, cradle his head, giving him a kiss and saying – “I’m not sure when we’ll see one another again. But I’m proud of you and love you Dad.”

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Reboot Your Life in 21 Days

Robert V. Taylor

This blog appeared in Huffington Post June 10, 2013 and The Mindful Word on June 7, 2013.

Rebooting your life is a gift to yourself. It reconnects you with your spirit, the wisdom and joy that lives in you and the truths that ground your choices. It is a personal anti-virus program for you to be free of what distracts, disorients and keeps you from your best and highest good.

Rebooting is most successful when you commit to creating time and space on each of the 21 days to breathe and be present to yourself. Begin with two or three minutes on the first few days. Then allow yourself a five minute breathing time on the remaining days. Find a quiet place to listen to the breath flowing though you. Be still and open to the thoughts that are present. You job is to keep listening to your breath as each thought appears.

Day 1: Your magnificence is cause for thanksgiving. Name at least one quality about you that is magnificent. Savor and appreciate it. How will you let that quality be radiant in your life today?
Day 2: Your story reveals wisdom and spiritual truth. What part of your story nags at you for attention? Choose to listen for the invitation it presents you.
Day 3: Forgiveness is a learned path to freedom. What do you need to forgive in yourself or another person? Forgiveness is a choice to be free. It releases life-giving energy to be present to today and the future.
Day 4: Love needs to be named. Stand in front of a mirror looking at yourself and speak out loud something loveable about you. Celebrate it by sharing your new appreciation with another.
Day 5: Delight affects how you participate in your own life and the world. Chose to allow yourself to be delighted by something or someone today. Tell another person about your delight.
Day 6: Detach from a toxic person. You do neither of you a favor by allowing toxicity to invade and muddle your life. Detach and entrust them to the goodness and care of the Universe. It is a life-giving gift to both of you!
Day 7: Create a new conversation. Instead of allowing old conversations and hurts to keep playing in your heart and mind, make a choice to create a new one in which you welcome positive energy.
Day 8: Playfulness is a vital to your well-being. Do something playful today that makes you smile. Notice how it affects your experience of the rest of the day’s activities.
Day 9: Frustration closes you off from yourself and others. Pay attention to what frustrates you. Letting go of it allows you to be more fully engaged with what brings you alive.
Day 10: Trust your intuition – it is part of your positioning system. Respond to an intuitive reaction or thought today.
Day 11: A teacher awaits in your greatest failures. Invite awareness of what your greatest failures teach you about your values, hopes, purpose and joy. Express gratitude for the teacher within.
Day 12: Feasting with others is soul food to your life. Experience time today with another person as a feast with each other. Unplug your technology and relish being present with another.
Day 13: Acknowledge the fears that resurface in your life. They are an invitation to move beyond them. In going to the edge of your fear you discover what centers you. In the naming of the fears their power over you is loosened.
Day 14: Awe shifts your perception of time and your place in the world. Reflect on the things, people or places that fill you with awe. How will you choose to live with an intentional openness to awe today?
Day 15: Stop clutching! When you stop clutching at what you think you know you create an open and appreciative way of living. The Universe then surprises you with new invitations to life.
Day 16: Preoccupations are best dealt with by setting them aside. Allow the beauty of those you love to interrupt your preoccupations. Express your gratitude for such love in your life.
Day 17: You are hardwired for compassion. What act of compassion will you participate in today? Notice how each such act enriches your sense of self and your connection to the lives of others.
Day 18: You are made in the imagination of the Universe. Be awake to imagination alive in you, allowing it to become a new lens for how you engage challenges, other people and yourself. Celebrate it!
Day 19: Love needs your voice and heart. Express your love to someone you love today. Tell them one of the reasons you love them. Notice how your heart space and theirs becomes more richly intertwined.
Day 20: Your goodness helps to polish the world. What will you do today to polish the world – perhaps an act of mercy, kindness, love or playful delight? The energy of your goodness is life-changing.
Day 21: Celebrate and express gratitude! For your well-being and the blessings given and received in your generosity of spirit and heart.

Notice the choices you have made in Rebooting Your Life in 21 Days. Be aware of how more fully enlivened and alive you are. Because your life is always about more than only you choose a trusted friend or mentor to share your new insights and learning’s with. Rebooting is your spiritual and wisdom gift to yourself.

What tools have you used to reboot your life? Post your responses below or on the Huffington Post site or www.themindfulword.org

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What choices will you make?

What choices will you make to live your life fully?  How will your choices expand your heart of love and celebrate your voice?

How you choose will affect how you are a participant in your own life!

Listen to Robert talk about these questions at The Forum at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco – click here for the podcast

Robert V. Taylor, The Forum at grace cathedral April 28, 2013

Post your thoughts, questions and responses below!

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Made in the Imagination of Love

What does it mean to be made in the imagination of love?

Talk at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral available as a Podcast – click here

With friends at my San Francisco talk!

Post your thoughts, comments and reactions to the talk below

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How to end relationship dysfunction

This excerpt for A New Way to Be Human was published on Beliefnet.com February 2013 with permission of the publisher New Page Books

Risky invitations interrupt the imagined or assumed course of your life, raising the stakes right where you struggle the most. Responding to these invitations takes you beyond your comfort zone, inviting transformation and an enlarged understanding of yourself, others and the Holy. The murder of Steve Biko in 1977 presented me with a risky invitation.

“Biko’s death cannot go unanswered,” I said. “None of us want to sit back and be passive do we?” asked Maureen as she looked around the room where seven of us sat cradling mugs of tea. We all shook our heads in silent agreement. I said, “It’s why we’re here. I feel helpless and I want to do something.” We were beginning to respond to a risky invitation. I had no idea that the journey we were about to embark on would reveal so much about being spiritually and physically present.

Steve Biko was a hero to many of us. In 1977, while being held in custody he was killed by the authorities. In an attempt to crush the reactions to his death all public gatherings of more than three people had been declared to be illegal.

In his death I realized that the government’s desire to control, to dehumanize and to deny happiness to others was like a voracious demon with an insatiable appetite. As we sat with Maureen’s question one person said, “We can begin by praying.” I suggested, “What if our prayers become part of an eight day fast leading up to Biko’s funeral?” The willingness to give something up in order to be awake to new possibilities stood in contrast to the lust to deny the humanity of others that would stop at nothing to achieve its goal.

As our small group of students and faculty planned a fast built around prayer, meditation and discussion our raw emotions ranged from anger and disbelief to mourning and lamentation. “What if we took some visible action?” I then quickly added, “As much as praying let’s engage people in thinking about what is happening in our country.”

“But what about the ban on public gatherings of more than three people?” someone asked. I felt fear at the mention of this ban because I knew that contravention of it would result in harsh actions from the authorities for whom human lives were dispensable. I said, “Let’s think about a procession of mourners in which you only see one mourner at a time.” The idea electrified the group. Quickly we decided that the university’s tradition of wearing black academic gowns in the dining halls at night could become the dress code of a planned procession whose route would be through the main street of the college town.  One person at a time would travel the route wearing a black gown, carrying a wreath in their hands. So our protest march of mourning and lamentation was born as a companion to the fast.

Two days later the phone rang in my dorm.  “Please withdraw from this fast and protest,” my parents demanded. They had seen the photograph of me in the protest march which had appeared in several South African newspapers. “We’re scared for your safety. You know what happens to people who speak up in this country.”

As they implored me to “be quiet” I said, “What if people had spoken out against the Nazis?  What if we worked for the humanity of every person instead of rejecting, excluding or killing?” Our conversation ended tersely.

I woke up in the early hours of the morning thinking about the conversation with my parents. At seven o’clock I was in the chapel for our morning meditation time. I finally interrupted the silence and said, “Let’s attend Biko’s funeral.” No sooner had I uttered the word than I thought, “You must be crazy Robert!”

On the day of the funeral we left early on a bus that would drive us several hundred miles to the football stadium in which it would be held. Our small band of college students quickly noticed the helicopters flying overhead and the talk about police informers photographing those present. We entered a stadium filled with more than thirty thousand people.

At the end of the funeral a very short man appeared on the stadium field. He told the crowds, “God loves you. Please be God’s partners in love. If you take up violence you will become just like those who have killed Biko.” He begged the mourning crowd to find another way to end apartheid. “With violence you will lose your humanity” he said. This man of small stature with a towering message was Desmond Tutu. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Every person was straining forward so as not to miss a single word or inflection.

Back at the campus a South African curry with its intriguing blend of spices, vegetables and meat that had simmered for hours, seemed to be a fitting meal for the breaking of our fast. Over the meal we spoke about Tutu’s invitation that continued to reverberate in our conversation. One person said, “He treated everyone like an adult with a choice to make about where our hearts belong.”

In responding to being both physically and spiritually present in this time of turmoil I began to understand the pathway of responding to risky invitations.

When you clutch at the imagined certainties of your life you keep life at bay, and drain and distance yourself from your journey with the Holy. To turn back from the risky invitations of your journey is to trifle with life by willfully denying yourself the fullness of who you are meant to be.

The risky invitations are much more than a surprise disrupting your familiar patterns; they are a gift connecting you with others in new mindfulness about what it means to be fully human. Our lives are replete with refusals and acceptances. It is never too late on your journey to develop mindful openness to the risky invitations presented to you.

Read my in A New Way to Be Human available at Indie bookstores, B&N and Amazon

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Jilt Your Lover!

This blog was first published on Huffington Post, February 13, 2013

I remember the days of waiting for the Valentine card that never arrived. I had not learned the secret that loving myself unconditionally was the most attractive way to find a lover! If you live with conditional love of yourself do not obsess about waiting for a Valentine charm to arrive. Instead jilt that conditional lover who lives inside you.

My Buddhist friends remind me that the near enemy of love is conditional love.  That’s because conditional love is a transactional relationship – I will “love” you if you do what I want, demand or expect. Our lives are filled with transactional relationships that are necessary for navigating everyday work and life. Confusing these with love is toxic to your well-being and your health.

Many of us have learned to equate love with “making nice.”  So we make excuses by saying that a lover or friend “means well” or has your welfare at heart. It is a formula for frustration, anger, disappointment and becoming a bystander to your own life.

Conditional love should never be confused with the real thing. In the love compromises we make – consciously or not – it is all too easy to assume that conditional love is “normal.” You may choose to endure it but there is another choice. The lover inside of you who thinks this is normal must be jilted to make room for unconditional love.

My life coach once gave me a homework assignment that at first I thought was trite. I stood in front of a full size mirror every day and looked at myself while verbalizing out loud something magnificent, lovely, generous, kind, loving, lively, spirited or funny about myself.  At first I was terrified. It brought back memories of being teased as an adolescent for being chunky and my dislike of my self-image of being fat.

This simple exercise was far from trite! With each utterance I began to develop new empathy, compassion and love towards myself. Unless I knew what the mirror reflected back to me about the magnificent qualities of my own life I would always be looking into someone else’s mirror for love, approval and acceptance. I was moving from conditional to unconditional love.

Robert V. Taylor

As a result of this discovery I began to surround myself with those who love unconditionally. This is not the same as selecting people in our lives who will be uncritical.  Instead it is choosing a path on which the fullness of your magnificence and shadow side are acknowledged, creating new tenderness toward your own self.  When you do that you intuitively connect with those who have no desire to spend their lives living conditionally because they have also done the work that allows them to love others in their fullness.

In jilting the conditional lover inside I’ve discovered that the arc of our stories reveal wisdom and truth. The stories that shape and form us are a reminder that we are part of something much larger than ourselves. It is the consciousness that loving with abandonment is the marker of how fully alive you choose to be.

It starts within each of us. Your story and mine each contain elements of wonder, shame, regret, joy and more. Many of us have learned to compartmentalize these elements resulting in living with a half-script about ourselves. When you embrace the many elements of your story into one integrated narrative several things happen. You develop compassion toward yourself. You identify those in your story who have been wisdom, truth and love bearers. You develop gratitude for the love in which you hold your story. When you embrace your story, it complements what the mirror exercise reveals.

This is crucial to your ability to jilt the conditional lover who desperately tries to avoid eviction from your heart and head spaces. In owning and claiming your story you cease to search for the “dream lover” who will fulfill your needs. You are no longer a conditional person willing to accept the crumbs of conditional love as “normalcy.”  Your energy and being start to radiate the unconditional love that grounds who you are.

In this new consciousness of loving with abandonment you no longer hope for that Valentine card that never arrives. Instead Valentine’s Day is everyday – it is the energy that draws you to the lover who loves unconditionally as you do.  It is a way of being fully alive. A way of loving love!

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Have you had your holy surprise today?

Robert V. Taylor

This piece was first published on Fox.com February 10, 2013

A holy surprise will grab your attention. Holy surprises are the events and people which interrupt the expected plans of your day. When you live with awareness of them your own humanity is enriched and expanded. Will you choose to allow them to punctuate your day with their invitation to playful delight about life?

For many people the work week, a job, family dynamics, a marriage or their own self-image is something to be endured.  They have become so practiced at “survival” that the endurance seems normal when in fact it is life and spirit sapping.  It serves no one for this to be your “reality.”

Instead, these four tips for choosing to be present to holy surprises invite you to a more enlivened experience of life.

1. Live beyond the “If only” half-script of your life.

I frequently hear people suggest that “If Only” a particular circumstance were different then they would be ready to embrace the yearnings of their lives. This only cedes your life to fear. It results in you becoming a bystander to your own being and purpose.

Holy surprises are the events and people which interrupt the expected plans of your day. When you live with awareness of them your own humanity is enriched and expanded.

It is on the edge of my fears that I am open to even small steps that become a pathway to transformed living. I once allowed my fear of failure to keep me from writing. I thought that if it was not excellent enough it would disappoint those around me and the institution I served. Too many of us allow others to keep us from our script.

A half-script is a gatekeeper to life. When we view events or people that rattle our complacency or awaken our fear of ourselves as a holy surprise we discover that they are an invitation to make choices to live into our own script. Our choice to respond to the surprise invites others to do the same and experience a life of richer engagement and delight.

2. Cultivate imagination each day

My maternal grandmother was born in Nazareth in the Holy Land. When I was young she would tell me Bible stories with graphic descriptions of the landscape and characters. They were tremendous!

Decades later I realized that her Bible stories often bore little resemblance to the book she was referencing. Her imagination engaged me and the kernels of wisdom and truth of the stories remade in her imagination seemed radiant.

Somewhere between the age of 6 and 8 many children are told to stop being “so silly” in exercising their imagination. In the creation stories of many religious traditions we learn that humanity is made in the image a Creator. But what if you think of yourself as being made, not in the image of, but the imagination of the ever-creating, ever-expanding Universe?

The closest word to “human” in Hebrew or the Latin homo is Adam which derives from the Hebrew root word for “imagination.” To be human is to participate in limitless imagination! Cultivating imagination allows us to experience the holy surprises that interrupt our days with new eyes.  Instead of disbelief, fear or resistance, we greet them as possibilities engaging our imaginative self.

3. Expect life to engage you with unexpected people.

Our own story is not a personal treasure for only ourselves and those within the circle of comfortable friends. When we can hold the diverse elements of our story together – including wonder, shame, regret and joy – there is a seamlessness about who we are that reveals wisdom and truth in the arc of our story. The result is a new and heightened compassion for yourself and others.

When you share your story with others you experience curiosity about their story. It becomes a common, sacred meeting ground with unexpected people who are not in the usual orbit of your life. Real differences may still exist with unexpected people on this expanded field of life but it is marked by anxiety making room for delight.

The professional and business groups I work with yearn to know how a story can be used to engage more authentically with colleagues and clients. Whether it is in your professional or personal life, the holy surprise of engaging with unexpected others through story allows suspicion to give way to insights previously unimagined. Oneness with humanity is no longer a theory but a delight.

4. Choose to bring new life to others and yourself.

When you engage in acts of generosity or self-giving your happiness index increases. Instead of being overwhelmed by seemingly inextricable problems in the world or your community be open to a holy surprise inviting you to respond with a simple action.

Walking on a Florida beach I was surprised by a bevy of volunteers marking off sites on the beach with stakes and tape. They were protecting the loggerhead turtles’ nesting ground in the sand. One volunteer told me he was inspired to do this work after learning that only one of every one thousand eggs laid results in a surviving turtle. I marveled at his simple yet joyous response in becoming a midwife to the turtles.

The surprise is often presented by an opportunity. A grandson noticed his 84-year-old grandmother’s delight in surfing the Internet and using Facebook to keep up on her large family. He knew that her old computer could not be used for watching the videos posted of her great grandchildren. He decided to buy her an iPad. The grandmother relishes the new tool she has for connection and learning.

Will you allow these four tools for embracing holy surprises to grab your attention each day? Your own well-being will be expanded by the playful delight you discover.
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Loving Abandonment

Robert V. Taylor

This article first appeared in Watkins’ Body, Mind, Spirit (UK) Spring 2013 issue

If there is to be a day of reckoning the only question to be answered is, “Did you love with abandonment?” Living life awake to that question is where we discover a new way to be human.

The disengagement and helplessness that so many people choose makes them bystanders to their own lives and the world. It does not have to be so. Instead, it is possible to choose a new way to be and discover that the world desperately needs your voice, story, imagination and delight as much as you do. It is an invitation to a spirituality of being fully alive.

The Holy or sacred is infinitely more expansive and generous than the often narrow confines of any one religion. I admire those who are spiritual but not religious for engaging in life-changing practices of love and compassion that religion often only tips its hat to. I experience awe in observing the way in which the seven pathways of A New Way to Be Human find expression in those who mindfully live lives of generous compassion and profound inter-connection with others.

So what are some of the stepping stones to anchor your life in loving with abandonment?

In my first one-on-one meeting with Desmond Tutu in 1980 I asked for his advice on how to survive imprisonment for refusing to serve in the South African military that enforced apartheid. I was unprepared for his question, “Tell me about your life Robert – not what you’ve done, but who you are.” It transformed how I think about and experience life.

In the story I told Tutu we discovered an unexpected connection and through it a sacred meeting ground that revealed not our difference, but our shared transformation decades apart. With that he organized for me to leave South Africa immediately and head to New York City.

“Tell me who you are” is an invitation to know your story with all of its many elements – joy, shame, wonder and regret. Appreciating and integrating each of these elements we develop tenderness and compassion toward ourselves and therefore toward others. It opens up a life of curiosity, attentive listening and delight in the connecting stories that surprise and remind us of our oneness. In the arc of your story ancient wisdom and the Holy are revealed. If that is true for you, how can you resist discovering those truths in others?

All too often we live behind an enclosure in which we allow others – perhaps family, religion or culture – to squelch our voice and keep us from being participants in expanding divinity. Claiming and celebrating your voice often takes you to the edge of your life where you discover the center.

Claiming and celebrating your voice often takes you to the edge of your life where you discover the center.

Your journey to the edges is what disturbs others as they try to clutch on to life as they know it. Their bad advice is not offered because they are bad people but because your journey to a more generous, expansive life disturbs them. In suggesting “should, would and could’s” about your life they attempt to enclose you from the journey in which generous love, compassion and courage are revealed in claiming your voice.

This is important because grounded in your story and voice you enter into oneness between yourself, the Holy and the Universe. There you discover that you are made in the imagination of the ever-expanding, ever-creating Universe. Cultivating and celebrating imagination alive in you invites you to be an active participant in the enterprise of loving with abandonment.

A New Way to Be Human, Career Press

The Universe yearns for your imagination to be fully alive acknowledging the sacred within you and becoming a midwife to the expansion of divinity. The old way of being seduces you into believing that your voice, actions and imagination do not matter. The new way to be says that your every contribution is of inestimable worth to the ecosystem of life.

The criticism of spirituality is that it is often obsessive about self-realization with little accountability or connection to the human family or Creation. Self-worth is only as worthy as the ability to place extraordinary value on the lives and worth of all. The new way to be assumes that we do not and cannot live in isolation from the human family and Creation. It is in the very circumstances, cruelties and joys of daily life that we are invited to imagine the world not as it is, but as it might be.

When I seek my own well-being and happiness I intuitively want those same things for others. When that grounds my way of being every word, action and choice that I am awake to becomes part of polishing the world. Imagination, love, compassion and well-being are part of a circle that cannot exist without you, me or any other sentient being. In loving with abandonment the luminosity of our oneness is revealed.

On this journey the risky invitations that upset the imagined course of our lives or the hairpin curves which disturb our journey are invitations to go to the edge of our fears. The doubts that our fears reveal are grand birth-givers of new consciousness. The disillusionments we fear reveal unexpected blessings.

These pathways are not revealed or entered into in one moment of nirvana or in elegant order.  They’re experienced like the path to the center of a labyrinth whose surprising curves invite us to pay attention to where the center will be discovered. If that center is love, we are invited to know what grounds our heart. Your own story reveals the many places and people who illuminate your heart center. It offers a choice between detaching from the hubris and noise of life-draining energy and choosing the life-giving energy of those people and places that ground your heart and make it your home.

Your own story reveals the many places and people who illuminate your heart center. It offers a choice between detaching from the hubris and noise of life-draining energy and choosing the life-giving energy of those people and places that ground your heart and make it your home.

Each of these pathways is illuminated by cultivating a spirituality of delight, wonder and playfulness.  It is vital to your well-being and that of others. Lucy, my chocolate Labrador, is a constant companion reminding me to take time from my work to enter her exuberant joy in a walk or playing fetch.

Although I relish preparing meals for friends, strangers and family it is in the ordinariness of everyday encounters that I feast most often. Each day I invite myself to be present to the delight and wonder of a simple feast experienced in being present to another person over tea or coffee or in conversation with the salesperson in the grocery store.  In moments of feasting, playfulness or awe I am reminded that the holy surprises of delight are as much fuel for my journey as the more obvious transformative moments of my journey.

The new way to be human is a path of spiritual generosity and loving abandonment discovered by living in the now of each day, receiving it as a gift. My doubts and fears may still be real but they are companions of truth inviting me to stop clutching at life and enter into it. It is a journey in which being fully alive is embraced and welcomed with the abandonment of loving oneness.

Robert V. Taylor is a speaker, teacher and author. His book A New Way to Be Human: 7 Spiritual Pathways to Becoming Fully Alive has been endorsed by Deepak Chopra, Desmond Tutu and Bernie Siegel. He is Chair of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation in New York City. Robert lives in Seattle and on a farm in rural Eastern Washington State.

 

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Freedom to Marry – the Moral & Spiritual Arc of Inclusion?

This blog first appeared in  Huffington Post September 19, 2012 and the Seattle Gay News September 21, 2012

I came to the USA in search of freedom and in admiration of a country whose foreign policy in 1980 was viewed through the lens of advancing human rights. When voters in Washington State approve Referendum 74 this November giving lesbian and gay couples the freedom to marry, the moral and spiritual arc of the Universe will once again bend towards inclusion. New light will be shed on what human rights and freedom.

My husband and I have a vantage point of living both in Seattle and on a farm in rural Eastern Washington. Three years ago when we made that decision many Seattle friends worried what it would be like for us to be in what they labeled “Redneck country.” Surely, they said, it would be difficult to live outside the progressive liberal bubble of Seattle.

Yes there are differences between these two parts of the State. But our Eastern WA circle of acquaintances which includes farmers, cowboys and ropers as well as people in the wine industry, never makes us question our full inclusion as a couple.

Some whom we know will be voting for the Romney-Ryan ticket and to approve the referendum that will permit the legislation allowing same gender couples to marry to become the law of the State. While I cannot understand how someone can vote for a Presidential ticket so adamantly opposed to LGBT people as they vote to approve R-74, I have come to appreciate a factor that is at work for such people. In their eyes R-74 is about upholding the intrinsic values of freedom. For many of those, freedom to marry is colored by the loving relationships of gay and lesbian couples they personally know.

The latest tracking polls reveal that there is a statistical dead heat among voters in Eastern WA about approving or rejecting this November’s ballot initiative. To many in the Seattle area this is staggeringly good news about a part of the State that they had written off with dismissive labels.

Some religious leaders, including the notoriously homophobic Ken Hutcherson of Antioch Baptist Church in Kirkland WA, are promising to launch a new petition drive to overturn the law if the voters approve referendum 74. The organization Preserve Marriage Washington is actively recruiting conservative pastors with advice on how churches can avoid an IRS audit for financially supporting the defeat of the initiative.

Joining these groups, the State’s Roman Catholic Bishops opine that approval of freedom to marry is an assault on religious liberty. This, in spite of the fact that the legislation in question makes explicit exemptions for religious organizations retaining the existing conscience clause to choose whom to marry or not. In defiance of Seattle’s Archbishop, his own Cathedral and two parishes have refused to distribute materials from the Archdiocese urging rejection of the referendum.

I think of the couples whose unions I have blessed since the 1990’s and their joy in having their love and partnership receive a sacred blessing. I suspect most of them yearn for the day in which a second-class status gives way to the freedom to choose marriage. They, like my spouse and I, have no desire to deprive or infringe on the freedom of others when we know too well the costs of the journey to freedom.

Tiers of freedom in which some are relegated to a lesser status is no freedom at all. Alongside the great movements to end slavery, extend the vote to women and the successful struggle over Civil Rights, freedom to marry expands what it means to be part of the human family.

The radiant promise of freedom and human rights that drew me to the United States in 1980 will become brighter when the voters of Washington State affirm that freedom affirms the freedom to marry. It will be a celebration of the moral and spiritual arc that always bends toward inclusion!

I invite you to post your comments below!

 

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Born again or born anew?

Robert V. Taylor

Published in the Washington Post, August 27, 2012

This is the story of a fundamentalist Christian, turned decidedly … unfundamentalist.

For a long time, the “certainties” of religious texts were a cornerstone of my life. But my entry points to organized religion couldn’t be more different: On the one hand, I was involved in the Charismatic Movement, with its emphasis on salvation and ecstatic experiences of religion. On the other, being a South African in the 1970s, there were my anti-apartheid activist friends, who rooted their faith in a God of inclusive love and justice. These two powerful forces would ultimately compete for my attention, and the choice would be one of living with a guarded heart, or a heart of compassion.

But I didn’t make that choice until a conversation with my maternal grandmother, Masha. (Also known as Granny – well, to me anyway.) On my return visits home to Cape Town from college, our chats always circled back to the question of whether in heaven she would see my grandfather and her first-born child, who had died in infancy. I responded with: “Only if they are born again.”

It was a cruel pronouncement. One in which I presumed to be judge and guardian of truth.

My answer was born out of the story of Nicodemus, who approached Jesus eager for answers in his search for truth. I had memorized the incorrect translation of the answer Nicodemus received, to be “born again.” Words that have been the rallying cry for religious executioners of the human spirit. Not surprisingly, Granny would cry at my certainty, seeing as how I just pronounced eternal separation from those she loved.

Inside, I was struggling too. In the homophobia that was part of the apartheid oppressiveness, I couldn’t tell Granny about my struggle with my sexuality as a gay man, or the harsh judgments that I believed were the consequences of being gay. The shroud of fear about my own truth lived alongside my belief that apartheid had to be overturned.

The irony is that the apartheid system was enforced with a dubious theology, claiming that scripture justified its violent attempts at dehumanizing people based on race. I was gladly claiming my voice of opposition to proof texts used to propel an ideology of exclusion, death and judgment based on race. I believed that the proof text justifications of apartheid were spurious at best, and an affront to spiritual notions of love, mercy, justice and kindness.

And yet? A small part of me hung onto that dubious theology. You can understand the problematic contradiction this set up.

But at the funeral of the black South African leader Steve Biko in 1977, I received a life-altering challenge. Desmond Tutu invited the mourners to be partners in the enterprise of love for all. Not simply straight people. Or white people. Or those “born again” (whatever that meant). All.

Desmond M. Tutu & Robert V. Taylor, Los Angeles May 2012

I began understanding intuitively that the texts of judgment and exclusion that marred the human spirit were not the only path. As I scoured the texts of my own Christian tradition with Tutu’s ever-present invitation, the insistent urging to a love that trumped all other questions was striking. Christian mystics like Julian of Norwich and Hildegard of Bingen reinforced that revelation.

Soon, I discovered mystics of the Jewish tradition too, along with their Sufi counterparts. They all pointed to a spirituality of generous love and joy that stood in stark contrast to the dour joyless judgment of text abuse that I had hurled at Granny. I began a lifelong discovery to a place beyond religion, and rather to a field of spiritual aliveness: one that invited me into the happiness that the Buddhist tradition pointed to, as well as the peace that Jesus spoke of from his Hebrew grounding.

In a transformative moment of grace, I discovered that the proof text about being “born again” was correctly translated as “born anew.” The landscape of my spirituality and life were radically shifted by the correct translation, and I suspect it might be for others as well. Nicodemus was not sent away to be damned, but to discover transformative love in the reality of his life story and the world around him.

Now, I had to face the truth that the text with which I had condemned myself and others was a tool for reinforcing religious control by those who presumed to be mediators of the sacred. The discovery of the correct translation beckoned me to replace damnation with a generous hearted and compassionate way of being in the complex muddle and joy of being human.

And what was the first thing I did? Apologize to Granny, of course.

When I stopped clutching to those proof texts of long ago, we embraced and cried together. And then, as if to reinforce the truth of those sacred texts of love and acceptance, she held me and said, “I love you, Robert.”

The battles of orthodoxy to control and mediate who is included or excluded continue to be played out in many religions – we still see it all the time today, and I have no doubt we’ll see it in this upcoming presidential election. But the invitation to the spiritual quest of unconditional love is arrestingly different. There is a joyfulness revealed in its expressions of mercy, justice and kindness. I’ll choose the grace of an unguarded heart of compassion any day.

Your comments and responses are invited! Please post below

 

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