It’s Monday, not Sunday (again), and this week’s ‘He Says, She Says…‘ post is going to be mostly a ‘He Says’, but as always Marcia gets the last word. It’s a day late mostly because I’ve been avoiding writing it, but one can only put off such things for so long!
Before I get started I should mention that I rarely know what I’m going to write before I begin, so I’m not entirely sure where this post is going to end up. Added to that, my mind tends to ping-pong from one thought to the next, often building bridges out of the most ephemeral connections. Because of that, and because of the topic and the possibilities that someone might misunderstand what I’m trying to say, I thought I’d begin with one of my favourite quotes (author unknown):
“I know you think you understand what I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard was not what I meant.”
So. How’s that for a build up? The title for this post is ‘Only’, and it comes from something a former boss told me about thirty years ago. I was working on contract for the federal government at the time and my boss worked for the head of the department. It was generally acknowledged that this person (the department head) was one of the most knowledgeable people in his field anywhere in the world, and when he went to conferences and things it was often understood but not openly admitted that he was ‘only’ a technician, not a Ph.D. Some thirty years later I’ve done fisheries and wildlife biology work in half a dozen provinces, worked for the federal government, the provincial government, private consulting firms and myself, been head of committees and attended international conferences, and I’m ‘only’ a technician too.
But see, this is where the possibility for misunderstanding comes in, because I don’t want to write about my former boss or his boss, or about biology at all, and I’m certainly not on a rant about accreditation. What I wanted to write about is our sense of who we are, how we see ourselves, who we’ve been, who we are becoming, and how this intertwined sense of value that we see in ourselves and others often comes from the ‘résumé’ we carry around with us. After all, I have my own.
So, let’s leave biology behind for a moment and shift to spirituality because our ‘He Says, She Says…’ posts most often have a spiritual bent. I was looking through an e-mail the other day for an upcoming spiritual conference, and every speaker listed for the conference had their own list of qualifications and experiences. It got me thinking about mine, such as they are:
“Mike Nelson Pedde was raised in the Catholic tradition until he was about twelve years old. By then a burgeoning interest in science combined with a long list of questions that seemed to have no answers beyond ‘have faith’ combined to lead him away from religion completely for a period of three years. Still, the many questions continued to accumulate within him and he set off on his own spiritual journey. In the four decades since then, Mike has traveled far and wide in his search for spiritual understanding, both physically and metaphorically.
Having been blessed with some wonderful teachers (many of them human) along the way, he has delved into disciplines ranging from a study of many different religions including Wicca, Paganism, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, ‘New Age’ philosophies and several others, parapsychology, metaphysics, quantum physics, work with crystals, channeling, healing touch, meditation, dream work, astral travel, shamanic journeying and Native Spiritual Ways of Being, to name a few. He has been trained to both participate in and conduct sacred ceremonies from several traditions and gone on to teach others in these sacred Ways. In his day to day life he lives with one foot in the physical and one foot in the metaphysical, often crossing over from one realm to the other…”
And so on. Impressive, huh? I read stuff like this and I think, “So what?” It tells you a very little bit about where I’ve been and what I’ve done to satisfy my own curiosity and to seek to find answers to the many questions I’ve had. It tells you perhaps that I’ve had a more diverse background than some and a less diverse background than others and that for the most part I prefer to follow my own trail. What it doesn’t tell you is who I am at the core of my being. It doesn’t speak to you of my essence, of the joys and triumphs and struggles and failures I’ve met. It doesn’t tell if you if I’m loving or hateful, kind or cruel, giving or one given to finding advantage. It doesn’t tell you what understandings I’ve gained only to surrender later on, or the many paths I began that led back on themselves. It doesn’t tell you that so far I’ve discovered that while there are a large number of spiritual ‘Ways’, in essence they all speak to that same thing – different verses of the same song. In short it tells you nothing about ‘me’. Still, when we look for a ‘teacher’, when we attend a conference or a talk and specifically when we seek to attach ‘value’ to someone, we look first to their ‘qualifications’, their ‘experience’, their ‘résumé’. I’m reminded of this poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer:
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain! I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”
It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.”
copyright © 1999 by Oriah Mountain Dreamer
NB: this poem became the basis for her book ‘The Invitation‘. Well worth reading.
So, where does this leave us? Well, what I would suggest is that you remember two things. First, we each have one thing that no one else has ever had or will ever have – our story. No one else will ever have your memories, your history, your dreams, ideas, ideals or desires. That makes you unique. If you look up unique in the dictionary it means ‘one of a kind – no basis for comparison’. There is only and will always be only one ‘you’. That makes you special. Honour your own value, for you are priceless. And second, the next time you hear someone say, “I’ve been doing this for ___ years…” ask them: “That’s great, but who are you right now? What have you learned today?” Listen to their answer. Everyone has something of value to share (even the flowers and the wind).
P.S. I met one of my long-time friends and teachers for the first time at a Native gathering on Canada’s east coast. One day the two of us were sitting on a blanket and talking when a young woman who knew my teacher came over to join us. As she sat down she introduced herself and asked me, “What’s your name?” Somewhat cockily I answered, “I’ve been given several names… which one would you like?” My teacher looked over at me with those laser beam eyes of hers, then turned back to the woman and replied drily, “He ANNOUNCES himself.” It was an important lesson in humility, and to this day I sign personal letters and e-mails as simply ‘Me’.