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The Tao of Christ

Cover for "The Tao of Christ"

 

 

 

Come to me, everyone who toils and has been burdened, and I will rest you. Pick up my yoke [and put it] onto yourselves! because humble I am and lowly in [my] heart! and you will find rest in your souls [or being]. For my yoke is merciful and my burden is light.

-The Gospel According to Matthew ch.11 v.28-30 Translated by John Squires

CONTENTS

Preface

1. The Present misery: The Christ pictures the current situation as one of work and heavy burdens

Toil

The New Religion of Work (social)

The New Religion of Work (personal)

The Faith in Suffering

EXERCISE

Are you working too hard?

A Heavy Burden

Shoulds and Goals

EXERCISE

Are you carrying too much?

2. A Better Life: The way the Christ offers is one of easy discipline and light burdens

The Merciful Yoke

Your Preferences

EXERCISE

Living easily

The Light Burden

The 70% rule

The 80/20 Rule: priorities and effectiveness

Playing

10/10/10

The Name of the Game

Changing the World

EXERCISE

Doing Lightly

3. The Christ’s way is humble and lowly

Receptivity

EXERCISES

Your preferences, strengths, interests and limitations

– allows appreciation

EXERCISE

What do you appreciate?

Respect for wholeness

EXERCISE

Receptivity and bringing change

– against bullying (even when it is called ‘leadership’)

EXERCISE

Do you try to force yourself or others to do things?

Health is a kind of self forgetfulness

EXERCISE

When have you become absorbed in something and ‘forgotten yourself’?

Willing to learn

EXERCISE

What have you enjoyed learning?

Willing to help

EXERCISE

When has helping gone well or badly for you?

Generosity: or fairness beyond justice

EXERCISE

How would you like to give generously?

Hospitality

EXERCISE

When have you felt truly welcomed?

4. The Outcome: Rest

We need more of it

Self-acceptance not earned merit

The organismic vision – the differences of the parts contribute to the whole

EXERCISE: Resting

Preface

An explanation of why I’m using the word “Tao”.

It comes from the Chinese and means ‘way’. It is often used metaphorically – for instance, there is a religion called ‘Taoism’ and it isn’t about streets.

One of the terms for the early followers of the Christ was followers of ‘the way’. I think it is a nice match.

Talking about the ‘Tao’ or the ‘way’ emphasises the doing, the ‘how’ of life. I want to focus on the ‘how’ of the following of the Christ (too often people focus on thinking and I want to focus on the doing).

My hope was that by using a Chinese word that I could make the familiar a bit less familiar – I think our familiarity with the Christ can get in the way of appreciating the radical nature of the Christ’s message.

1. The Present Misery

The Christ Pictures

The Current Situation

As One Of

Toil

And Heavy Burdens

Toil

Does your life feel like hard work? It shouldn’t, life flows naturally; we didn’t earn it and we don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to do anything to justify being here – that was the result of your parent’s decisions and you didn’t talk them into making the decision.

Life has a tendency to grow. It is our job to provide the right conditions for life to do its thing. With the right conditions flourishing occurs. And this isn’t effortful.

In our world we seem to be good at setting up situations where no one wins. There are many lose-lose scenarios. Some people have too little paid employment, others so much they don’t have enough time with those they love. Few people love their paid employment, not many are happy with how they look.

We spend our lives striving to live up to other’s ideals and our own. We usually live a life of effort and toil.

The New Religion of Work (social)

The new religion of work is the offspring of of Mammon (neo-liberalism) and the Protestant work ethic (except that in Australia it is shared by the Catholics too!). The Australian Treasurer recently divided people into lifters and leaners. The lifters being those who worked.

It has been ‘forgotten’ that we work to live, we don’t live to work.

The wealthy can sincerely believe that their moral behaviour and hard work has got them where they are. Forgetting that there are lazy and immoral wealthy people; as well as hard working and honest poor people. In the new religion of work the poor and disabled are simply to be disregarded (or punished).

Work legitimates what is done in its name. People regard their hard work as earning their income (however high). Those who work hard are regarded as deserving. And it doesn’t matter what the work is. When it is done in the name of work it is good. It doesn’t matter that it may be selling poisons, promoting industries that trash the planet, or making the lives of the poor more difficult: as long as people work hard at it – then it is good!

And to question this is blasphemy. The Australian government recently announced that young people should be in schooling or working (“earning or learning”) if they expected any support from the government. This did not attract widespread condemnation – which shows how deeply the religion of work has penetrated (it is assumed that learning is unpleasant and hard work – and schooling does its best to prove this true!).

This resentment fuelled bitterness is at the heart of current political ‘morality’.

Wouldn’t it be nice if work delivered on its promises! Like the other idols, the promise of work is false. Housing affordability is falling in Australia – it doesn’t matter how hard you work; the price of housing is rising faster than wages. It hasn’t delivered a life of contentment, the Joneses are still to be kept up with. And (expensive) leisure doesn’t nourish us deeply either. Work is a god who has failed – and the suggested cure? More work of course. Work harder (or, in more enlightened versions, “smarter”: just don’t question that work is good!).

Our culture is split into self-indulgence and self-punishment. And we all suffer the consequences of this pathetic stupidity.

The tao of the Christ is quite other than this unkindness.

The New Religion of Work (Personal)

We are relentlessly pressured by our culture to work.

And we pressure ourselves too. To be better than we are – ideally to be perfect.

And so we are always discontent – we could have done more; and if we couldn’t then we should get stronger or better so that we could have done more.

We fight ourselves – so that even if we win, we lose. And the fight drains us of energy and the joy of life. We monitor ourselves and give ourselves stars and marks in a school report we write on ourselves.

And how easy it is to reject the judge. But rejecting the harsh part of ourselves, that wants to shame the weak part of ourselves, won’t bring wholeness. Judging the judge won’t end judgement.

It is only acceptance that can end judgement (in the negative sense. It assists discernment – the positive sense of judgement.)

And this is not easy. However, with the right kind of loving and intelligent support, we can gradually empathise with both the weak and the strong, the judge and the judged. We can gradually give them both a place – or by giving them space evolve a different self that includes and transcends both.

The Faith in Suffering

I’m sure you have heard the gospel of suffering: Thou Shalt:

  • Get uncomfortable
  • Push Yourself
  • Push the Envelope
  • Go Beyond
  • because Nothing Worthwhile is Achieved Without Effort.

All of which is a lie.

  • Learning can be pleasurable.
  • Mastery, and moving toward it, can be sheer delight (why wouldn’t getting better at what you love be delightful?)
  • Lots of the most important things happen without suffering (a child growing, a couple developing a deeper relationship through doing together things they both enjoy, a team collaborating on an important task, appreciation of artworks . . .)

Stress impedes learning.

If you are panicking you aren’t doing much reflecting – though you may be thinking furiously (about how to run faster or not drown or whatever). In the face of immediate threat you don’t want to be considering the implications of the impact of the Copernican revolution on the Western views of anthropology. Nor are you likely to find it easy to come up with six viable solutions to your current dilemma (though each of these may be very valuable).

Which means that exam stress gets in the way of learning. (Exams are only useful to show what you already know – they have nothing to do with learning; still less creativity.)

Pleasure can be enriching and deepening.

  • Times of great intimacy with your beloved
  • Delight in watching a child grow
  • Being swept away by an art work
  • Our lives can be enriched by pleasure. Suffering is not required for life to be worthwhile.

Suffering usually gets in the way – it requires part of our energy and attention so that we can’t attend fully to what is going on.

The faith in suffering is a delusion. The tao of the Christ calls to those in its grip. The tao of the Christ offers rest, achieved with ease and lightness.

EXERCISE

ARE YOU WORKING TOO HARD?

1. Take a moment to sit with your thoughts and feelings about work. You may find it helpful to write in a journal.

What are your thoughts and feelings about people who work hard?

What are your thoughts and feelings about people who don’t work?

What are your thoughts and feelings when you aren’t working?

Do you have thoughts and feelings about doing things the easy way?

2. When you have an hour or so to spare do a timetable of all the things you do in a normal week.

Begin with all the things that are pretty much necessities. Eating, sleeping, dressing and so on. Then all the things you are committed to: employment, clubs, friendships, causes and so on.

Then estimate the time you would like to put in to all the things you’d like to do. All the interests you’d like to spend time on.

You will likely find the extent to which you are ‘over-committed’.

A Heavy Burden

Shoulds and Goals

We burden ourselves with shoulds and goals.

I’m of the view, much disputed by some, that ethics exist and are true and helpful. I think we should take the light and easy path to self development not the work-filled, burdensome one. This is an ethical view: a should.

What then is my problem with ‘shoulds’?

  1. They are generally just swallowed from others.

Children adapt to their situation. And so they come to accept and then be habituated to their situation – however unjust and unreasonable.

When children are told repeatedly in words (and more importantly by example) to:

  • not show their anger
  • pay no attention to their feelings
  • ignore others’ needs while meeting your own,

then they develop shoulds like:

  • showing anger is wrong – you shouldn’t show your anger
  • you should ignore your feelings – they are “only subjective” (that ‘only’ is the giveaway)
  • you should pursue your own goals and not be concerned for others – those others need to ‘take responsibility for their own lives’ (which really means accept the blame from me).

These shoulds, by the time the child has become an adult, are automatic reactions. They haven’t come from reflection on personal experience and the reality of others. They are alien intrusions, untrue to the whole experience of the person and others. (Though they will be bolstered by anecdotes and even statistics.)

  1. They generally don’t deal with the situation.

Practical difficulties are trumped by these kinds of shoulds. Blame is enough to ride roughshod over impracticalities or difficulties.

  • The unemployed should find jobs (even when there are ten times more unemployed than jobs available).
  • The depressed should just snap out of it (and it doesn’t matter that their best efforts following this kind of advice haven’t worked).

This kind of ‘morality’ isn’t interested in truth; the factual situation is trumped by the ‘should’. Blame is stronger than what is the case.

What is my problem with goals?

  1. The idea that achieving a goal is good.

It isn’t: it depends what the goal is.

In the self development blogosphere, where I hang out a lot, there is an idea that we should help people achieve whatever goal they set and what the goal is is up to them. This is just evasion of responsibility. I want a world where people thrive, and where equity and joy prevail. Goals that promote injustice and misery should not be supported.

Goals are a means not an end.

  1. Goals often aren’t very discerning about the experience of achieving them.

If we set a goal, then probably most of our time will be spent achieving it. And yet goal-setting (whether SMART or not) has little to say about this time spent achieving the goal – which is most of our experience. It has nothing to say about ease or joy; in the short term the goal cares not about the quality of our life.

The goal is achieved and it is a matter of indifference whether it was through misery or delight.

  1. Ceaseless striving

What when you have achieved a goal? Then you set the next one. Which means that you are going to be discontented most of the time. This is a pretty poor deal I think – to adopt a way of life which means you will be discontented most of the time.

The tao of the Christ is quite other than this misery. Jesus way of achieving is what we look at in the next section.

EXERCISES

ARE YOU CARRYING TOO MUCH?

1.Your Ideals [You may not have an ideal. If so move on to the next exercise.]

If you were to be someone you would admire and want to copy what would you be like?

Would you look a particular way?

Would you move a particular way?

Would you be doing particular activities.

Would your experience have a particular quality?

Would you experience particular sensations and emotions?

Would you think in a particular way and about particular things?

Would you live in a particular place?

Have a sense of your ideal that is as vivid and real as possible.

If you have found an ideal then notice how you feel when you are in touch with it: is it a burden or do you feel energised?

2.Your Shoulds

By the time we are adults we usually have a longer or shorter list of shoulds about others, ourselves and the world. Write your shoulds in response to the following prompts

Men should

Women should

Parents should

Children should

You can add your own, there is a pretty endless supply apply particular situations (shoulds about greetings or meeting etc) or tasks (how you should do the housework or driving) or kinds of employment (how teachers or receptionists or cabinet ministers should do things or be). See if you can come up with at least three more things you have shoulds about.

When you look at your list of shoulds have do you respond? What are your thoughts and feelings and judgements? My guess is that at least some of them you will find burdensome.

2. A Better Life

The Way The Christ Offers

Is One Of

Easy Discipline And

Light Burdens

The Merciful Yoke

A yoke was put on an ox and had the plough attached to it. The yoke was what applied the strength of the ox to the task of ploughing. It is a picture of discipline – energy channeled into a task.

Usually When People Say “Discipline” They Mean Punishment

I have a saying that I think is readily understood, “If it’s fun you don’t need discipline”. Which makes it clear that discipline is usually thought to be no fun.

When people speak of others needing to be disciplined, it usually means doing what they don’t enjoy. Discipline is required to deal with misery or lack of enjoyment.

There can even be a ‘morality of misery’. The admirable, according to this morality, are those who force themselves to do what they don’t want to do. In this morality there is little space for joy or compassion. The motivation is conquest and the outcome is domination. Distressingly often it results in an attitude of superiority and blaming those who suffer (they should do more, try harder . . . be more disciplined!).

But this is not the yoke of the Christ.

Your Preferences

You will have an easier life if you live in accord with your preferences. The best approach I know to our preferences is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI); which lists four sets of preferences. I’ll explain what they are and then talk about how you can use these to have an easier life.

The big picture according to MBTI

We live in two worlds (the inner and outer) and have two needs in each world (to know what is going on – perception; and to decide what to do – called (unfortunately) “judgement” in the MBTI).

This gives us two worlds (inner and outer) and two processes (that we use in either world – perception and judgement.)

  • Those who prefer the inner world are called Introverts
  • Those who prefer the outer world are called Extraverts
  • Those who prefer to know what is going in their lives are called Perceivers
  • Those who prefer to decide about their lives are called Judgers

Please Note: we all live in both worlds, we all meet both needs. However we prefer (and usually find it easier) to deal with one world or one of the needs. Everyone, both introvert and extravert (pays attention to their inner world) and extravert and introvert (pays attention to their situation). Everyone needs to know what is going on (in both worlds), and needs to decide what to do (in both worlds). It is a common confusion that a person is one or the other but this is not the case. What the Myers-Briggs approach deals with is our preferences. And, it does not measure ability (you may be very good at something you don’t particularly like).

How to Live More Easily if You are an Introvert

If being by yourself is how you recharge then you are likely an introvert. If you are an introvert you will need to, give yourself time to yourself.

Especially after you have been in a situation where you have been paying attention to what is going on around you and needing to pay attention to other people.

You can guard your privacy by:

  • using cliches and politeness
  • being rude when you think it is called for
  • leaving situations that aren’t good for you
  • and minimising interruptions

How to Live More Easily if You are an Extravert

If you find it refreshing and energising to spend time with others (doing pretty much anything – just being with them) then you are likely an extravert. If you are an extravert you will need to:

Make time to connect with others

It may not need to be much time. A quick phone call or chat may be enough. Especially after times when you have needed to be on your own and you feel drained.

You can connect with others while respecting them and their time

  • You can ask if they have a set amount of time available
  • You can ask if they have a deadline or they are able to pay attention at the moment

Inviting others to work with you or just spend time with you.

How to Live More Easily if You are a Perceiver

If you like to know what is going but aren’t too concerned about what to do (things usually work out and often it doesn’t matter anyway) you are likely a perceiver. If you are a perceiver you will need to:

Take time to investigate a topic

Discuss things with others

Avoid timetables if you can

Where you can’t avoid tight deadlines try to make the time allowed generous.

Have the time to see the connections between things

Take time to appreciate this thing (whatever you are concerned with) in all its particularity and individuality.

How to Live More Easily if You are a Judger

If you find knowing what you are doing how and when to be relaxing then you are likely a judger. If you are a judger you will need to:

Where you can, set an outcome you can verify has been achieved, or a time to be finished.

If others won’t decide then decide for yourself what you will do.

Know that you can re-decide or decide to let something go (until a later date if it helps you to set a date).

EXERCISES

LIVING EASILY

It would be worth carrying a little notepad with you for a day or a week (or longer if you wish).

Take note of all the things that you find easy and enjoyable.

How do you feel about these two ways of saying the same thing: “It’s a discipline”; “This is a way to do what you want”.

Is the way you are living your life leading to more ease and joy?

Explore how to find an easier way to do something. Start with something easy and unimportant. Perhaps how you do a domestic chore. Or the way your workspace is set up (if you control this). Perhaps make something you use regularly more accessible.

Other Preferences:

Place yourself on the following spectra (I’ve left space for notes as you may have different preferences in different situations. These are meant to be thought starters not definitive or even accurate):

Strict timetable Chaos

Notes:

Lots of touch Minimal Touch

Notes:

Many relationships One true friend

Notes:

Fascinated by detail Excited by the big picture

Notes:

Getting out there Time to myself

Notes:

6 hours of sleep 9 hours of sleep

Notes:

Love Exercise Loathe exercise

Notes:

Love food and eating It’s fuel for the body

Notes:

The Light Burden

In our world where busyness and being stressed are status symbols it is hard to advocate doing less, refusing to do more, being just idle.

There are some moves in this direction. The popularity of minimalism for instance. And the downshifting movement – significant percentages of people voluntarily simplify their lives every year (and it has zero recognition in our media or politics). This is the way of the Christ.

The 70% rule

Martial Arts are fairly high stress. It is where people are tested to their limit. You would think that the training would involve going to your limit, pushing yourself, giving it 110%.

At least one practitioner says not. Bruce Frantzis – who has several black belts in different martial arts, and was adopted as a student by a Chinese master. Bruce recommends the “70% rule” – do 70% of your limit. Doing more than this, you are more likely to injure yourself and it gives you a margin for any problems you may have (from old injuries to just being tired).

Likewise, to achieve the training effect in aerobic exercise (i.e. the effect of the training session lasting for 2-3 days) it is good to exercise at 70% of maximum heart rate. [Which is 220 minus age. If you are 50 your maximal heart rate is 170. 70% of this is 119 beats per minute – you can call it 120. Which is 20 beats in 10 seconds. Use the pulse in your neck for ease of access.]

The 80/20 Rule

The 80/20 rule says that: 80% of your results come from 20% of your work. It was initially formulated in economics by Vilfredo Pareto. It has now been applied in many other areas.

I doubt that the figures are always 80/20 but it is worth knowing that some of what you do is far more productive than other things you do.

Another way to say it is: Work smarter, not harder. But 80/20 feels to me like it has more bite and is easier to remember.

It is a reminder to pay attention to what you are doing and to prioritise based on what you are intending to achieve.

Playing

Decision-making can be a complicated and stressful business. Timetables and lists tend to multiply. You can end up spending more time planning and then revising the plan than doing the activities. Is there an alternative?

There is, and it’s play. By which I don’t mean time wasting. But allowing for random ideas, and enjoying the process, and not being too deliberate.

One common way is to use a mind-map

Put the topic you are thinking about in the middle of a piece of paper. Then put down all the things that are relevant to it. Then you can start drawing lines to indicate connections. This can help get free of the feeling that everything has to be linear.

Another way is to have a conversation with yourself. If you find yourself drifting off topic when you do this in your head (I do), then it can help to write it down. I find writing by hand more helpful than typing for this kind of work.

10/10/10

Ask yourself: will this matter in ten minutes, ten months, ten years?

The Name of the Game

Imagine what you are doing is a game. What would it be called? What would be the rules? Why would people play it? Why do you want to play it (if you do)?

Humility and Changing the World

It is very clear that our world is in a very desperate state. We need to start doing things very differently (50 years or more ago). If there were to a recipe for stress and despair then becoming aware of this situation in detail would be it.

An Australian anti-nuclear activist, Helen Caldicott, ended up in a foetal ball in the middle of her lounge room because she became overwhelmed by the reality. She changed the way she did her activism.

What to do?

My Approach is to Build the New with the Old (or the parasite strategy).

Predicting the future in detail is well beyond me, and probably beyond you too. We don’t know which current initiatives will stand the test of time. Will China grow ever stronger or collapse because of all the investment going into empty cities? Will the US revive or collapse? Will Australia become the leader of Asia or become a backwater of Chinese corporate headquarters? Will we live off a half dozen vegetables engineered to fulfil our nutritional requirements? Will we return to a system or small scale agriculture. Will we persist with our private vehicle obsession or develop intelligent public transport? What mix of all the above and much more?

So if we don’t know the future what can we do?

We can move in the direction of a better world. (There are lots of options from the tiny to the big.)

Energy saving light-globes.

Solar panels for power.

Buying at farmer’s markets when you can afford it.

Walking and catching public transport.

Meeting with friends, just for fun or to do tasks together.

Growing your own vege’s – even in a home unit you can do this. Fresh tomatoes just taste better, and cost much less.

Doing things among your friends, in your street and suburb can make a difference. Baby minding, starting a small business venture, vege co-ops, discussion groups, sharing garden tools.

Joining groups that are doing stuff like the Transition Towns movement or various green groups.

What are the directions to move in?

Emphasise the local.

Strengthen social bonds – the only real security is relationships.

Encourage prevention. Going for a walk and chatting with your spouse (or friend or a group) will strengthen your relationship, and reduce the cost of your health care too.

In Summary: sustainability means thriving locally

Building the new within the old means living the new way as much as we can here and now. (For me the current way is not worth preserving. There is way too much misery and injustice.)

Which means that, as much as possible, we build the new in ways that are enjoyable, fun, and compassionate.

Meetings that are well facilitated

Being a servant leader if you are the leader of a group

Allocating tasks that are in harmony with people’s interests and skills

Some flexibility in scheduling

Having the time to stop and chat

This will be a long journey. It begins with the first step. And taking one step isn’t so hard.

EXERCISE

DOING LIGHTLY

You can do this with any activity that you do repeatedly (for instance walking).

Talk a walk that will last a while (and where many people aren’t around to see you).

Once you’ve settled into a steady rhythm get a good sense of how this feels (you will be comparing to it later, so wait until you have a good, clear sense of it). The begin altering the different parts of walking.

Lengthen your stride a little until you know what this feels like, then lengthen it a lot. Then make your steps quite short until you know how this feels.

Then settle back into a steady pace.

See what happens as you lift your torso a little as you step forward – so that you would look like you were bouncing.

Then settle back into a steady pace.

Then try breaking up your rhythm. Do a fast steps fast, then a few slow, rush a bit and then dawdle.

Then settle back into a steady pace.

Now compare how you are walking to how you started out. You will probably find that you are walking more easily.

To do what you do more easily it is helpful to break what you are doing into parts and then play with each part. Then put it back into the whole picture.

Anything that distracts you from the parts and the whole gets in the way. At this point any pressure or assessment is counter-productive. You need to focus on what it is that you are doing, nothing else – including what you are doing it for or how it could be useful.

In any realm of doing, that has been around for a few decades or so, there will be guides to what are the parts of the doing and often well established exercises to play with the parts. (Avoid ones that aren’t fun.) This applies across the board from sport, to arts, to crafts, to relationships, to writing philosophy essays. There are usually lots of resources around to help us live more easily.

3. Guiding Values

The Christ’s Way is

Humble And

Lowly

Our culture tends to admire those who get what they want. And doesn’t ask too often about the cost.

People sacrificing their family relationships to their ambition

Young people who give up their lives for a sport

CEO’s with astronomical salaries who sack those on far smaller salaries

These people can be regarded as heroic. Those who make these choices possible for these heroic individuals don’t get much of the credit (if any). Our culture can be callous and brutal (and brutalising).

But the way of the Christ is receptivity, concern for the whole. Shocking I know, but sometimes it is OK to play second fiddle, or not be the leader of the group you are in.

Receptivity

Our culture values assertion, initiative and making things happen, leaving things different to how you found them. Which is excellent – if you leave things better than you found them, and did it in a way that benefitted yourself and others.

And if you do want to leave things better, and benefit people along the way; it is good to know what you can do and what the situation is. That is: intelligent and worthwhile action is founded on receptivity (to yourself, others and your situation).

Receptivity to Yourself

If you are old enough to read this you have limitations, interests, strengths and preferences.

Can you live without limits? No.

Your innards would be spread across the landscape – be glad your skin limits your insides. And you would have no clue about what to do – how exactly would you begin to do everything at once?

Be glad that you are a particular person in a particular situation. Would you really want to feel all the joy and pain in the world? I don’t think you could stand it. Be glad that you are limited.

Are you stuck with your current limitations? Not at all.

How can you know this? Because of the way you have already developed: you can now do things you didn’t suspect earlier.

  • You have learnt your first language.
  • You can now negotiate quite sophisticated social rituals.
  • You can do things now you didn’t even know existed when you were one year old (or 5 or 10 or maybe even 20 – I didn’t know there was such a topic as “History of Ideas” until after I finished uni, at 30 I had no clue the blogosphere would exist).
  • When you look back on your whole life you will probably find that you have learnt about overcoming limitations in your situation and yourself.

You have particular interests.

Some things capture your attention, others you are indifferent to, others bore you rigid and there may be others that you loathe. You will be happier when you are engaged with what interests you rather than those things which don’t. This isn’t exactly a remarkable insight. To find ways that people could spend more time on those things which fascinate would perhaps lead to a social revolution though.

You have strengths.

You can easily do what requires much effort from others.

Dealing with lots of details can be torturous for me. Others find it positively pleasant. A woman I know enjoys organising rosters! (I have no idea how.)

You may find it easy to:

  • learn a language
  • play a sport
  • make a cake
  • socialise with strangers
  • explain abstract ideas;

and others will find it difficult.

It is curious, and true in my experience, that people are slow to own up to their strengths. People are generally aware of their areas of weakness but dismissive of their strengths. The thought seems to be something like: If I can do it anyone can, and so it isn’t important or worthwhile. (Which has at least two errors – that anyone can do it (usually the person will know lots of others who can’t do it – or do it so easily and/or so well); and that this reduces its worth (everyone can breathe – this doesn’t reduce either its importance or its worthwhileness)).

And you have preferences. These aren’t the same as what you were good at. My best subject in high school (in terms of getting marks) was economics. I am glad to have never had to look at another economics textbook. English literature I did fairly well at and has been a lifelong pleasure. On your preferences see the previous section under The Merciful Yoke.

EXERCISES

Limitations:

What are you frustrated by at the moment?

What do you find that you are often frustrated by?

Usually this will be some kind of limitation. You then can think about how you want to respond to this limitation.

Interests:

What grabs your attention?

(Yes, including members of your chosen gender/s.)

What do you find yourself thinking about in idle moments?Strengths:

What things do you find easy to do?

Receptivity allows appreciation

Changing the situation and appreciating the current reality are different things.

We are living a sad life if we forget to stop and ‘take time to smell the roses’. It will probably be nicer for you if you can set aside blocks of time to do this. It can also be done quickly, more about a change in attitude than having lots of time: To listen to music playing on the radio when stuck in traffic; To notice your friend’s quirky way of doing things and mentioning it might only take a minute; To appreciate the taste of the food you are eating needn’t take any extra time.

Being receptive can mean savouring the good things in your life (and for most of us, most of the time, there will be some).

Receptivity allows unfolding of a person, relationship or situation.

It can be delightful to watch a baby turn into a toddler. To watch this person learn and see the emergence of their personality. This can apply to much older people too.

Relationships evolve depending on the people in them and the circumstances that effect them. To want to determine the exact shape of a relationship is more likely to inhibit or destroy it than help it. We can be surprised by what emerges (rituals, shared ways of doing things, particular ways of communicating), and to fight it, or want the relationship to go back to how it was, probably won’t help.

A spirit of welcome and hospitality (which means receptivity to others) is more likely to lead to the flourishing of ourselves and our relationships than trying to determine exact outcomes or rigid prescriptions of how things should be.

When we enter a new situation we probably have some good ideas of how it will go. But there will likely also be an element of ‘we’ll see how things go’. The surprise may be pleasant or unpleasant – but whichever it is, trying to block it out probably won’t help.

EXERCISE

What do you appreciate?

What are the things in your life that you appreciate.

People

Particular places

Activities

Access to resources or particular kinds of resources

Respect for wholeness

Humble and lowly means not rushing in and making changes. It means wanting to know how something works before trying to change it. This applies to whatever is being investigated or dealt with – from the inanimate to the living to the human to the organisational.

Whatever we are dealing with has its own shape and sets of relationships (though we may find our initial ideas about what this thing was and what the relationships are mistaken – in this case we refine or replace our understanding of what we are dealing with).

Investigating

Doing anything affects stuff around us. So it is worth making as little disturbance as possible. And having a sense of what the disturbance is that we are making.

When we are investigating something new this is harder: we don’t know what we don’t know. As knowledge of what we are investigating grows we have many more resources to draw on – procedures, tools, records of knowledge, other people to talk to.

Intervening

It is wise to adopt a small steps strategy. Be clear what you want to do. Establish how you will know. Check what is happening against what you intended (you may get a surprise that opens up unsuspected possibilities, you may find things going well for known or unknown reasons, you may get an unpleasant surprise too). Edward de Bono’s “Plus, Minus, Interesting” is a simple frame for assessment.

If you proceed in small steps you won’t have to invest many resources in remedying a big stuff up.

When you have a good understanding you can scale quickly. Starting with small steps can be much quicker and more efficient.

EXERCISE

Receptivity and bringing change

Think of a situation you would like to see changed.

Put down or indicate briefly everything you know about it.

Is there more you need to know before you take the first step. If not . . .

What is the first step?

How will you know if you want to take the second step?

Against Bullying (even when it is called ‘leadership’)

Respect for people means no bullying. It means people having influence over how their lives are structured – so that their situation contributes to their growth rather than to stress, misery and illness.

And our society is founded on bullying to some extent. From work hours to schooling; for much of our lives it is true that “I didn’t get a vote about this”. Whenever you hear, “It’s for your/their own good” you can be sure that some degree of bullying is involved.

There are various processes for avoiding bullying others.

At the policy level there are ‘citizen juries’ and ‘consultative democracy’ and such things. (A group of stakeholders or representative sample are assembled and briefed and devise the best outcome. There is now decades of experience with this way of doing things.)

Consensus is a form of decision making that avoids the ‘tyranny of the majority’. It is, in my understanding, different to unanimity – consensus is people ‘agreeing with the decision’ or ‘giving their consent’ to it.

Consensus works best with things that people care about. Because anyone can block consensus, if someone doesn’t care then they can stuff up the process for no good reason. So there needs to be some way for the group to exclude those who don’t care about the group and its purpose.

Consensus works best when it is confined to policy. And there needs to be the time and space to consider what the implementing of the policy will mean for those giving their consent to it. Having everyone involved in every decision rapidly leads to consensus becoming annoying and often dysfunctional as well.

EXERCISE

Do you try to force yourself or others to do things?

Think of a situation that you want to change. (The same as in the last exercise or a different one.)

Envisage changing this situation. Does the vision include forcing yourself or others to change? If so are there others ways to make the change happen?

Health is a kind of self forgetfulness

When you are happy and healthy you are usually relaxed: you aren’t paying close attention to what is going on in yourself or around you. This is usually a nice place to be. (If you are in a dangerous situation then it could be a bad place to be – but for most of us most of the time we are safe.)

Someone who is continually concerned for their health or closely watching what is going on around them isn’t altogether healthy – even if they are in good shape physically. That is: being healthy in an wholistic sense has a lot of self-forgetfulness about it. When we are healthy we aren’t continually monitoring either our vital signs or the world around us.

There is a sense of receptivity when we are glad to be alive. This is different to the feeling of having achieved something. Neither is bad, both can be good; but they are different. And I want to draw attention to the receptive part – because in our world of goals and striving I think it can get lost. And focusing only on achievement can lead to pride and feeling better than (oneself or others) – which is the opposite of what Jesus offers.

To be humble and lowly means being glad of what we have. To be continually wanting more is a recipe for perpetual misery (Jesus is quite counter to our culture’s commands to always be striving and dissatisfied). I want to make it clear that this only applies once the basic needs for flourishing are covered. And the research bears Jesus out – once basic needs are met then money doesn’t make much difference and the difference it makes is fairly transient. (There is one reliable way to use money to make yourself feel better – give it away.)

EXERCISE

When was the last time you become absorbed in something and ‘forgot yourself’?

To extend this exercise. List the last five or more times you ‘forgot yourself’ and look for common themes and characteristics.

Willing to Learn

Humans are born with few instincts. We learn most of what we do as adults – from language and the codes of politeness in our culture to things as simple as walking. We are very much the learning species. And, so far as we can tell, use symbols far more than any other species. So far as we know no other species (ape or chimp, whale or dolphin) engages in discussions equivalent to our arguments about the rules or logic or the meaning of an artwork.

It is human to learn.

And this rapidly leads to the learned being admirable. Which can lead the learned to wanting to maintain their position; which can have unfortunate consequences (for themselves and others who rely on their knowledge).

And their isn’t really a way to ensure this doesn’t happen. Those who know a lot will generally be rewarded in the domain they know a lot about. Which is a pleasant experience.

There are some things to do to minimise the likelihood of the learned becoming close-minded.

In the education in the particular domain, emphasise learning rather than correct answers.

Get the group to call people on bullying (it usually relies on the silence or encouragement of those around, bullies are rarely isolated individuals).

Give rewards for helping and explaining and teaching others, not for giving correct answers.

Humbly and lowly means being willing to learn about what is going on around us and about ourselves too.

Learning about ourselves can be quite confronting.

We can be surprised by what we hear ourselves saying, sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way. And we can be surprised by what we find ourselves doing too – sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way.

What I’m drawn to and repelled by says something about me as well as the thing.

EXERCISE

What have you enjoyed learning?

It can be anything, an: art, craft, sport, language, academic subject, spiritual discipline.

What did it feel like to enjoy learning? Were there particular things that contributed to your enjoyment?

[It may be helpful to contrast with things that you hated learning or found very difficult or impossible to learn.]

Willing to help

Humility and service means being willing to help. To do what needs to be done, even if quite tawdry and requiring little skill. Stuff that anyone can do.

The Problem of Rescuing

One of the simplest and most helpful way of understanding relationships is Stephen Karpman’s adaptation of drama theory – the drama triangle (often known as Karpman’s Triangle). Each point is a role that can be played: Persecutor, Victim, Rescuer.

Each role requires the other two. In the helping professions the focus naturally goes to the Rescuer role and how to avoid playing it (because it needs people to stay victims; which isn’t meant to be the outcome of helping). In politics the focus would go to the Persecutor.

How to avoid getting stuck being a rescuer?

Here are some ideas that you may find useful:

  • Pay attention to any feelings of anger and resentment that come up for you. You may find that the person you are helping is not treating you with respect.
  • Is the person doing well? Some people won’t ‘get well’. Some people have limitations (from birth or from bad experiences) that are unlikely to go away without a miracle. These people are just as entitled to care (if not more so) as the rest of us. And at some stages of a long healing process people will feel that they just want to lie around and enjoy doing nothing.
  • Here’s a radical view of mine: Sometimes it is just fine to do things for others that they can do for themselves. Small acts of kindness are valuable and usually will be what people can do for themselves. These make life more pleasant.
  • Do you identify with the role? This means knowing that you are a person doing things for others because you want to. If you feel that you wouldn’t know what to do if you weren’t offering care, then this is a warning sign.
  • Focus on the Winners Triangle. At each point of the Winners Triangle are Assertiveness, Vulnerability and Caring. These are personal qualities rather than roles that can be played.

EXERCISE

When has helping gone well or badly for you?

Describe in a few sentences a time where helping went well for you. Then describe in a few sentences when helping went badly for you.

Generosity: or fairness beyond justice

A sense of human dignity (human rights) is essential and irreplaceable. It is wrong that people can be ‘collateral damage’ in war. It is wrong that people can die of malnutrition when so many are suffering from eating too much.

The problem with human rights is that it can’t deliberate between rights. I have a right to health. But what if my getting health treatment (not particularly severe type 2 diabetes) interferes with others getting treatment for far more life limiting conditions – say night blindness. Everyone has the same right to health. But there is no way to compare one person’s right to another’s. The claim in total. This has very real implications for which diseases get researched (it will usually be those from which wealthy (in world terms Western and European) people suffer).

And the rights are individual. Each persons rights are the same as every other persons. Which is as it should be. And neglects our social nature. Individual action can have social consequences. The situation we are in affects the resources and limitations that we experience for and to our flourishing.

Justice, founded on human rights, seeks to give to each their due. Sometimes this is appropriate punishment. Sometimes restoration or recompense. Sometimes a fine proportionate to the infraction.

Justice is better than injustice. And generosity is beyond justice. It is possible for a proud master to dispense justice flawlessly – it is unlikely they will be generous. Those who are humble and lowly are able to be generous. They will create a kinder world for all.

Generosity can’t be compelled – it comes from the heart or it is only compliance. It respects human rights and justice and does more.

EXERCISE

How would you like to give generously?

It may be giving of anything. Giving money is important. It is also important to give our time, work and attention.

Hospitality

If I was to put ‘humble and lowly’ as one word it would be ‘hospitality’. Welcoming the other person into your life. Perhaps without knowing them at all. With all of their strengths and weaknesses, quirks and foibles. Simply as who they are and without expecting them to be anyone else. It is profoundly respectful and receptive, and can only be offered when we are strong enough. If you have experienced genuine welcome you won’t soon forget it.

Hospitality is a free and friendly space, it is not vacant space. And creating a free and friendly space can take work – work establishing boundaries, rules and procedures – even agendas. Sometimes it can happen spontaneously, but in my experience usually doesn’t.

Hospitality can mean rules about:

respecting other people’s space and contributions

voicing disagreements

how agreements and disagreements are voiced

promptness

noise levels

tidiness

and many others.

So much of our society (especially our politics) is about rejection and exclusion. And the way of the Christ is quite other than it. So much of our society (especially our politics) is about superiority and winning, and the way of the Christ is other than this.

The way of the Christ is service. And this is a positive ethic, it is not the same as ‘anything goes’ or ‘everyone is allowed to do their own thing’. (sometimes with the rider that ‘so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else’.). The path of trying to one-up others is not the way of the Christ.

EXERCISE

When have you felt truly welcomed?

Describe in a paragraph or two a time when you felt truly welcomed. If you don’t have one you can try imagining what it would be like.

  1. The Outcome:

Rest

We need more of it

People are stressed. And there should be less of it.

And often enough when something isn’t working we try harder at it. So to make life more enjoyable it is common to recommend getting uncomfortable (“out of your comfort zone”), pushing the envelope . . . i.e. getting more stressed.

If only this were simply wrong. I think it is wrong in a complicated way. It does take energy to break a bad habit, and this does feel uncomfortable. So if trying hard and feeling uncomfortable get us to a good place, then doing them more should lead to more good. Except it doesn’t. Because it confuses the means to an end with the end. Hard work, discipline, discomfort aren’t good of themselves – they are good if they help us get to a worthwhile place – which the Christ describes as “rest”.

Self-acceptance – not earned merit

And how counter-cultural this is. The only thing that justifies resting in our culture is money. If you are wealthy you can lie around all day – the rest of us have to work.

Work doesn’t justify people. Even if we did live in a meritocracy the Christ’s way is one of generosity and mutuality, not one of ‘disinterested adjudication’ and ‘just desserts’.

When Our Thoughts and Feelings Disturb Our Rest

Pretending they don’t exist or aren’t important usually doesn’t work. You can usually exhaust yourself in the effort – and the thoughts and feelings are still there.

What to do?

If your feelings are too intense for you or you can’t control your thoughts then you may need a distraction for a time. An action movie? A hard run or very quick walk (if you are in good health)? Talking to someone? Going somewhere where you can shout as loud as you like? Breaking something that doesn’t matter? If this has been going on for a while it may be worth talking to health care provider.

Then you need to pay attention.

What is it that you are feeling or thinking. If you aren’t sure you can start by noticing where you are tight in your body. Which muscles are contracted. Then tighten the muscle a very little bit more and then relax it a little. As you do this what is going on will usually occur to you.

If your reaction seems extreme to you there are two possibilities:

  1. Something from your past has been ‘hooked’. If so you will feel young again – like a person aged 5 or 8 or 10 or 15 or whatever, rather than the age you are now.
  2. You are underestimating the importance of what happened to you. You may be more comfortable speaking up for people other than yourself, you may think that if this happened to someone else then it would be OK for them to have an intense reaction, but it isn’t OK for you to.

If you have a chemical imbalance drugs may be a useful support (especially to get through a crisis). In my view drugs are one of God’s good gifts that may save your life. Like all God’s good gifts they are to be used wisely.

The organismic vision – the differences of the parts contribute to the whole.

Every living thing is composed of parts that contribute to the functioning and health of the whole. And the health of the whole relies on the differences of these parts – it is essential to our physical health that our heart works like a heart and not like a liver.

And groups are composed of people with different talents and skills.

  • Analysis
  • Sensitivity to individuals
  • Suggesting possibilities
  • Monitoring how the group is functioning
  • Injecting some fun

Are there people or groups where you feel you can rest? Simply be yourself, where you are: not being judged but welcomed? What can you do to promote these kinds of groups?

  • Accept yourself
  • Listen to others
  • Express appreciation for others gifts and contributions
  • Do what you can to influence others to do the same. (Perhaps raise how group members are treated or what the ‘rules’ should be. (You will probably be able to do this to different extents in different groups.) Just feeling relaxed and in your body and listening to others can have a positive effect.)

The Tao of the Christ: Rest

The Christ wishes rest for you – for all of you.

Not more judgements but self-acceptance

Working easily in accord with who you are, not pushed around by others’ shoulds.

Doing within your limits, not deluded by grandiosity into taking on more than you can do.

A life of generosity and hospitality. Where we all contribute our gifts and individuality.

This is the tao of the Christ.

EXERCISE

Resting

Lie down on your back. Put a pillow under your knees if it isn’t entirely comfortable for them to be flat on the floor. Make sure that you are warm enough – put stuff on the floor or ground and over the top of you if need be.

Notice that your body adjusts and makes little movements to get more comfortable.

Notice the rise and fall of your belly and chest.

Notice any tight spots in your muscles. There will likely be a few. (For me it is usually my neck and shoulders. It may be anywhere for you.)

Feel that the floor is supporting you. Notice perhaps how your back gets slightly bigger and slightly smaller as you breathe in and out.

Notice if thoughts and feelings come up, and how this affects your body.

Notice if there is anything that stops you resting or whether you are relaxed. (Make a note of it; it may be something you want to deal with.)

FURTHER READING

STEPHEN GUISE – MINI-HABITS

Great stuff on setting goals that are stupid-simple to achieve

HENRI NOUWEN – REACHING OUT

part 2 on the movement from hostility to hospitality

DAN PINK – DRIVE

our motivation is more than more pleasure and less pain

LES ROBINSON – CHANGEOLOGY

on how to do social change

EDGAR SCHIEN – HUMBLE INQUIRY

business – and the difference that listening rather than telling makes

SLOTE – FROM ENLIGHTENMENT TO RECEPTIVITY

philosophy – changing the picture we have of ourselves.

All are currently, August 2015, available on Amazon and the Nile (for Australians)

You are very welcome to reach me to with any thoughts comments and reactions you have on my Facebook page (Evan Hadkins) or by email: livingauthentically [at symbol] gmail [dot symbol] com. Looking forward to hearing from you, Evan.