Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Something there is that doesn't love a wall....
I have been gifted recently with opportunities to think about life, what life is about and for, and what I in particular am here to do with my "one wild and precious life."
This past year a good, good friend died too young, a close family member became quite ill, another is aging physically and emotionally, and yet another is suffering grief over an ailing child.
I say I have been "gifted" because I am close enough to witness the beauty and the suffering of these loved ones. As I sat and talked with my friend in her last days, something changed for me, in me. As I hold my family close, I feel the wildness and preciousness of the moment and how little control I have over anything.
We have so little time, maybe even less time than we think.
Against this backdrop is my work in the world, supporting, coaching, and teaching people in conflict. Some want to figure out how to tear down the walls that separate them from connection, others prefer to keep the walls up. Some have skills and aren't using them. Anger is easier to deal with than hurt and loss of connection.
Death As An Ally
The concept of death as an ally is not new. Over the centuries, various spiritual and religious practices have noted that recognizing our mortality is a key to appreciating life. Googling the phrase produces 280,000,000 hits.
In his books about the Yaqui warrior Don Juan Matus, Carlos Castaneda describes death as a wise presence just over our left shoulder. An ever present advisor, our ally reminds us that things could change at any moment. Live now. Be here now. Love now. Talk now. Listen and reconcile. What if tomorrow is not a given?
But, as Robert Frost writes...
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'
. . .
What walls am I building? And, maybe I should also ask:
'Why do they make good neighbors?' . . .
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out....
Yes, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall." Yet we are so good at bulding them.
What Can A Person Do?
Often I feel helpless to do anything meaningful to make things better for my loved ones and for the world.
But the helplessness isn't helpful, to me or to my loved ones. So instead, I ask: "What can I do?" The answer, for me, is that I can be present and listen and love. I can do those things. And that's a lot.
What about you? In the difficult moments, in the middle of the conversation, can you catch yourself? Can you shift from telling to tuning in? Can you listen to your heart? Can you give the gift of presence, aka love?
I end with an excerpt from my book, Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict. I wrote these words 16 years ago -- obviously a theme in my work and my life.
Let's keep asking what we are walling in and walling out.
Don't wait. Today is precious.
Conflict too often provides the bricks and mortar for walls that keep out the world and those we love. Constructed of fear, judgment, defensiveness, and misunderstanding, our walls are meant to keep us safe and maintain the rightness of our opinions.
The problem is that walls work two ways. Our carefully assembled grudges, justifications, and attitudes are, at the same time, barriers to what we desire most--connection to our wisdom, to our humanity, and to the source of universal intelligence that supports us all.
Our real safety lies in connection, but because we are more practiced at building walls, we create a prison for ourselves, keeping out the very things we hoped the walls would enclose.
What walls have you constructed that no longer serve a useful purpose? Do reactive habits keep you from finding a new path? In what ways are you resisting connection? What is conflict and how can you safely change yourself in order to change your situation?
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.’
Could it be love?
*"Mending Wall" by Robert Frost.
**"The Summer Day" by Mary Oliver