Browsing the archives for the Spirited Conversations 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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Religious Crusade Against Boy Scouts?

Robert V. Taylor

This opinion piece was first published in Huffington Post, May 31, 2013

The controversy over the Boy Scouts welcoming gay youth is being fueled by religious purveyors of judgment and condemnation. Ironically it is the Boy Scout values of compassion and respect that reflect a more generous spirit of inclusion.

I am no fan of the decision to allow gay youth to be members of Boy Scout troops while disallowing the leadership and service of adults who happen to be gay. It is a disingenuous double standard. However, the decision of the Boy Scouts looks enlightened when compared to the religious and cultural war that some religious leaders and institutions are trying to wage on scouting and gay youth.

Earnest Easley, a Southern Baptist pastor and chair of his denomination’s executive committee, is one of these warriors according to USA Today. Claiming that homosexuality is a sin and using spurious cut and paste theology to support a prejudice against LGBT people, a self-righteous crusade has been launched to sever ties between faith based groups and the Scout troops that they sponsor.

Sadly this is a re-run of old scripts in which religious texts have been used to support slavery, the denigration of women, the denial of civil rights and anti-immigrant fervor. Whatever happened to the more robust core values of love and justice?

In fairness, the warriors like Earnest Easley, do not speak for all religious institutions or leaders. Mike Schuenemeyer of the United Church of Christ is quoted in the USA Today article saying that the new Boy Scout policy will lead his organization to more actively promote sponsorship of scouting troops across the country.

The new assaults on the Boy Scouts and gay youth are at best mean-spirited and reveal a stunning lack of love and compassion. At worst they trifle with the lives of young people and their families as they struggle with questions of sexual identity.

As a young Scout I lived with the fear of anyone discovering that I was struggling with what it meant to be gay. My love of Scouting and my own worth as a human being seemed destined to be in conflict. While I survived those struggles far too many gay youth choose to commit suicide. The messages of condemnation and hatred being reinforced by religious warriors have an impact on those young people and fuel the bullying and violence directed toward them.

Data from the Pew Research Center reveals that 70 percent of Millennial’s (those between eighteen and thirty-two years old) support same-gender marriage. They reject the rationale of the battles being played out over the Boy Scouts’ policy shift.

Pew data also reveals that 25 percent of Millennial’s reject any formal religious affiliation. Among the reasons given are religion’s perceived obsession with judgmental orthodoxies and exclusion.

Those waging war on the Boy Scouts and gay youth may appeal to their own narrow base but their chosen battle is designed to reinforce the views of a significant number of young people who choose a more generous and inclusive way of life for all.

Ironically the core values of the Boy Scouts offer a more humane and spiritual approach to the storm in a teacup over gay scouts.

Those values are about compassion and respect. The Boy Scouts shine a light on being kind and considerate to others and working for the well-being of all. They emphasize showing regard for the worth of something or someone. Those core values offer respect and compassion without qualification.

I’d support those values and the decision of the Boy Scouts over the religious warriors — any day!

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Cultivate Compassion Every Day!

Mesmerized by the audience at Stanford - Robert V. Taylro with James Doty of CCAREWe are hard wired for compassion.

Aware and awake to cultivating compassion in our daily lives is a choice.

The compassion choice shifts the energy of how we experience each day.

The Universe longs for our acts and words of compassion

Watch Robert on YouTube at Stanford University sharing his insights on expanding compassion every day – Conversations on Compassion with Robert V. Taylor

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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

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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!

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“Tell me who you are” – 3 reasons to share your story

Desmond Tutu and Robert V. Taylor

This article first appeared on the opinion page of FoxNews, April 14, 2013

It was a life-shifting question from South African social rights activist and Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu inviting me to tell him about my life – “Not what you’ve done, but who you are.”

No one had ever asked me such a question before.

Most of us expect the inevitable question of “What do you do?” from strangers. When you can respond to “Tell me who you are” a dramatic shift happens in your engagement with others and your experience of life.

It was 1980 and I was in my first one-on-one meeting with Tutu. I had decided that instead of serving in the South African military — which enforced apartheid — I would go to jail. I didn’t know if I could survive prison so I went seeking Tutu’s advice.

I was a 22-year-old privileged white kid in the presence of a 49-year-old internationally known human rights activist who was an iconic figure to me. I was honored to be in his presence and my nervousness quickly gave way to being floored by his unexpected question.

As I told him about the physical pain that had transformed my life during two spinal surgeries as a teenager I wondered why I was intuitively telling him these details. I spoke about the loneliness and fears while hospitalized for six weeks at a time.

I related how a book I read and re-read in the hospital by Trevor Huddleston had upended my life.

Huddleston described the vibrant multi-ethnic, multi-cultural community he had served outside of Johannesburg that had been bulldozed by the apartheid government because of those defining qualities.

I described Huddleston’s book as my first conscious awakening to the realities of my own country and an invitation to be involved in the anti-apartheid movement.

When I told Tutu that Huddleston had been like a visitor to me in the hospital he burst out laughing!

Desmond Tutu & Robert V. Taylor speaking at Los Angeles County Museum of Art

I wondered what I had said to evoke such a reaction.

After settling down Tutu told me of the loneliness and fears he had experienced as a teenager hospitalized with tuberculosis. Then he said, “Trevor Huddleston was my priest. He used to visit and read stories to me.”

In that moment I realized how profound Tutu’s simple question was. “Tell me who you are” is an invitation to discover who we are in oneness with others revealed through unexpected connecting stories. It is why the question matters for the sake of our well-being and that of the world.

On the surface anyone might have assumed that there not much of a common thread to our lives. Yet his question revealed shared transformation, decades apart.

On this new common ground he said that there would be a time for young men like me to go to jail for refusing to serve but that time was not now. He arranged for me to leave the country and within ten days I was on a flight to New York City.

So how do you respond to the question of “Tell me who you are” and what does it mean for your life?

Own the fullness of your story! When we are mindfully aware of the arc of our story it becomes an invitation to see the many threads woven together. Instead of banishing the painful or fearful experiences to a closet, choose a trusted guide or mentor to be authentic with.

Tell your stories in a safe environment and listen to yourself with expectancy about what they reveal or point to. Your own courage will become a mirror to loving yourself.

The fear, loneliness and physical boundaries of the spinal surgeries could have handicapped my view of myself.  I could have chosen to live with anger, resentment or pity.

Instead it offered me the gift of compassion and empathy towards others. Instead of youthful invincibility my awareness of the frailty of human life became an invitation to live life fully in every moment.

Most of us prefer the joyous, happy and wonderful experiences of our journey. Yet it is usually the challenging parts of our story that shed new light on how we choose to live with gratitude and delight.

When you own the fullness of your story, the superficiality of “tell me what you do,” becomes a poor substitute for “tell me who you are” that reveals your richly textured life egging you on to live fully alive.

Listen with curiosity. Like the ever-expanding Universe, the arc of your story reveals new insights and wisdom in each new season of your life.

Instead of living with regret, shame or embarrassment about some part of your story those defining experiences invite you to develop new tenderness and compassion toward yourself.

That combination of attentiveness and self-love takes you beyond self-absorption to a life that is enlivened by curiosity. You intuitively become engaged with others because you want to know what their story reveals. Like the unexpected connecting story that Tutu and I shared, you discover surprising connection with others. Like mine, your life is changed by those encounters.

Cultivate Awe. Studies reveal that our capacity for awe expands our sense of fulfillment, meaning and satisfaction. When I experience awe in nature, music or a soaring architectural space I am awake to being part of the grandeur of life beyond any confines of my story.  Similarly, I am awed by the stories of those who know who they are.

Lives of courage and love filled with simple and seemingly small actions of hope leave me breathless!

If I’m tempted to view my life as a series of obligations or something whose course is set, the stories of those who know who they are pull me back from that life-draining path.

Instead my awe finds expression in gratitude for the abundant generosity their lives point to. Awe becomes a pathway of celebrating our oneness.

In owning the fullness of your story with the companions of curiosity and awe your life is seen through a new lense. Instead of what you do, the knowledge of who you are transforms what it means to be human and fully alive.

How will you choose?

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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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