Tag Archives: Questions

Crying Over Spilt Rilke

I’m thankful for the Adam Lauver sharing his thoughts on this Rilke letter and the rest of the collection which I own, but have still not finished. Maybe this is the encouragement I’ve been needing ūüôā I’ve reblogged his post here for anyone else who is interested in a little encouragement today. It’s not an answer to your questions, it’s a new metaphor for your life.

During my first year of college, I struggled a good bit. On the outside, I was effortless: taking upper-level seminars, making friends with the president. But on the inside, I was asking big, fundamental questions about myself and about life. And I was, for the first time, on my own. During this time (as with much of my life since then) I began to reach out for life preservers‚ÄĒlittle bits that I could cling to for hope and assurance in the “goodness” of the future.

One such bit of wisdom was “Letter 4” from Ranier Maria Rilka written to a young poet. The interim chaplain at the time emailed the piece to me and I will never forget reading it one night while “studying” in the library. I read the words “Live the questions now” and my eyes began to open to a new perspective on life and a new peace I had never previously comprehended. Rilke continues, “Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.‚ÄĚ

The Narratician

‚ÄúYou are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.‚ÄĚ ‚Äď Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

I recently came across a used copy of Letters to a Young Poet, which I’ve been meaning to read for a long time now. As I was leafing through it in the book store, I noticed that there was…

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7 – 3 – 1: My Journey Through the Enneagram

¬†“One of the great dangers of transformational work is that the ego attempts to sidestep deep psychological work by leaping into the transcendent too soon. This is because the ego always fancies itself much¬†more ‘advanced’ than it actually is.”
 

The quote above has become one of the defining quotes of my year. To me, it means it’s not enough to talk about practices for healthy life, you have to be willing to submit yourself to a process. You actually have to do the work.

This idea comes from a book about a system of personality types that has, in some ways, become my current practice of self-knowledge and discovery. For those of you who may be worried, it’s more psychological work than spiritual practice. The Enneagram has in no way usurped my Christian faith, but, to the contrary, has led me to a deeper understanding of my personal brand of depravity (in other words, how I personally¬†manifest brokenness) and given me a vocabulary for understanding myself and my behavior. Also, when I talk about the Enneagram, it is through the lens of one book,¬†The Wisdom of the Enneagram. To my knowledge, it’s the most thorough one of its kind.

I almost can’t imagine my life before the Enneagram, the book, and the quote.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Enneagram, it is a vastly complex system for understanding different personalities. Unlike the Myers-Briggs and others, it does not prescribe static labels or obscure beaver-otter-retriever metaphors. It contains nine personality types¬†that have somewhat recently been placed on the ancient nine-point symbol of the Enneagram.

Beyond the nine main types, each type has “wing” personality types of the immediate numbers (e.g. “9 with a 1 or 8 wing”) which does not define their dominant motivators, but is still highly influential in their way of life. Furthermore, each personality type assumes the negative or positive qualities of another personality type when the person is unhealthy or healthy respectively. Thus, a domineering eight becomes more helpful like a two when healthy and more controlling and secretive like a five when unhealthy. So there are nine types, 18 sub-types, and the ability to “catch” you at any stage of development along the way to maturity.

Now, take a deep breath.

When I first learned about the Enneagram I was surrounded by two good friends who also happen to identify as¬†sevens. That’s me! I thought, as one friend read the description of the “busy, fun-loving” personality type I so longed to embody. This seemed to explain why I was always distracting myself by looking for cool articles about my passions, stop motion videos and infographics on the internet and sharing them with my friends. I’m just a scattered seven, afraid of my past and searching for newer, more exciting experiences to assuage my pain.

But then people were like, hold up. I sort of¬†act like my friends that are sevens in social settings, but there are some aspects of my life that don’t match up: My car is organized and vacuumed, I have a LinkedIn, and I talk about adventures way more than I actually¬†go¬†on them. And then it all made sense, you’re a three! With a two wing! You’re “the charmer,” always looking for another way to help someone and improve your image. And at the time this seemed to really fit.

As I started to look at my life, I became painfully aware of the fact that I have spent countless hours crafting an image for myself whether on social network sites, through this blog and in my personal relationships with others. I hated myself because I began to perceive all my pursuits (my hobbies and jobs) as mere image maintenance for my troubled ego. I started beating myself up for caring so much about what other people thought about me and this made me care even more about what other people thought than I had before. All about image and success? I wondered to myself if all my work were just to create a name and a desirable image as the three is prone to do.

Then all the sudden I had this realization: Work? Beating myself up? Passions? None of these tendencies fit either of the two personalities that I had previously considered for myself. Sevens are way too carefree to think that what they’re doing is work (“life’s an adventure!”) and threes are too busy fitting in and receiving awards (of the traditional sort) to really beat themselves up for failing to meet personal standards. Besides, if my desire were to have a good image, I wouldn’t type blog posts longer than 1400 words!

At long last, after about eight months of wrestling with this whole Enneagram idea, I found a personality type that describes me so well it hurts: I am a one.

My girlfriend (also, almost definitely a one) and I laughed our way through the entire section on this type, its tendencies, and our own stories from the past. We would read the first sentence of a paragraph, have an entire conversation, then realize that our conversation was almost identical to the rest of the paragraph we were on. The one is the personality that is essentially trying to prove its worth, its reason for existing. One’s are also impatient, think they know the right way things should be done, and, when healthy, champion reform throughout society.

Who would have guessed it? Probably all of my friends, family, and acquaintances. It’s so obvious now looking back on my time in college. If I wasn’t ranting about the administration I was organizing to get sidewalks built or developing plans for the student composting system. Always. Always. Always looking at what could be fixed/changed rather than what was going well. I also realized that I was sometimes so perfectionistic in my work that if I couldn’t do it perfectly, I would give up and do it poorly last minute.¬†Then, I would beat myself up for not living up to my expectations of myself and fall into an emotional tailspin (ones move to fours under stress) and feel like I had lost myself entirely.

Conversely, some of the most difficult moments of growth in my life continue to be the times when I realize I am impatient with someone else’s way of doing things. I also realize now that my personality is to feel self-righteous and to orient myself¬†away from other people in an attempt to feel personally just and good. That is, after all, what my personality is striving to be: good. But since no human can reach their personal standards of perfection, as I gradually mature I find more value in other people’s standards and processes while also transitioning from¬†judgement to discernment. Rather than rely on a good-bad dichotomy to deceive my guilty ego, I develop more internal self-confidence and open myself up to more external disorder. I learn to embrace the grey of life.

Why have I put myself through this process? Because the Enneagram has forced me to examine my behaviors, thoughts and instincts in way that I would have never done otherwise. Furthermore, what I have learned has also been supported by other books I’m reading, most specifically¬†Integrity by Henry Cloud and¬†The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard. One of Cloud’s quotes in particular seemed to encapsulate this realization:

“This process is called assimilation and accommodation. Which means someone has graduated past childhood levels of information processing and can adapt to reality and make external reality their own. I will repeat that for emphasis: it is the ability to make external reality one’s own reality.”
 

This sort of maturity does not come easily. We all have delusions, but it is knowing our delusions that will allow us to operate in the complex world effectively and honestly. Also, it is only “deep psychological work” that will force us to remember the parts of our lives that we desire to forget (our weakness and shortcoming) and¬†integrate these into our more realistic and honest identity.

Thanks for making it to the end! You deserve a prize. And that prize should be a copy of the Enneagram book … and friends to share the journey.

As always, and most definitely, more to come.

Opening quote: Don Riso and Russ Hudson. The Wisdom of the Enneagram, 10.
Second quote: Dallas Willard. Integrity, 135.
 

Haunted Houses

Yesterday, I published a post titled, “The Memories That Haunt the Mind,” and today all I can think about is “haunted houses.” I see now that in many ways we are vessels of the past, old houses carrying memories of ghosts into the future. We are haunted houses.

I know this is a bit of a stretch, but I am, after all, a spatial thinker. It usually helps me to understand concepts if I can map them out in three dimensions. So when I encounter descriptions of places, I often read them as metaphors for life. Perhaps that is even the foundational process of this blog, but I digress. This morning as I read through Isaiah 64, I was struck by the language of lament for lost places. Babylon has invaded and destroyed all that was loved in Jerusalem and her people are mourning the loss. Verses 10 and 11 read,

“Your holy cities have become a wilderness; Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins.”
 

I feel in these verses such a nostalgia for places as they once were: the idealized past. This nostalgia also points to the attitude of the refuge struggling to find meaning in a foreign land. Of course, there is certainly the desperation of a prophet in exile: crying out to a God to which he has committed his life’s work. But most of all, as I moved through this passage, I sensed the sadness and defeat of desecration. At the time, the Jewish people believed that God actually dwelled in these places that were endowed with a holy purpose. The tabernacle and later the temple in Jerusalem. This place was everything. Losing the city and the temple was likely more devastating than anyone could have imagined.

I was most profoundly struck by one phrase:

Our holy and beautiful house.”

Just stop for a moment and think about the attitude of these words. “There was once a perfect place,” they seem to say, “and we have lost it.”

Then my mind began to wander through some old thoughts about Christianity. I began to think about how the death and resurrection of Christ was supposed to have replaced the need for physical places of worship. When Jesus died on the cross, it is said that the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom. The centralized era of this faith had come to an end.

Now, we believe that the human body itself is indwelled by the spirit of the Lord. ¬†In I Corinthians 6:19-20 it states,¬†“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? ¬†You are not your own; you were bought at a price. ¬†Therefore honor God with your body.” Additionally, Matthew 19:20 reads, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.‚ÄĚ Thus, we collectively constitute the holy places of worship in this decentralized era of the Christian faith. Forget the buildings, we are the church.

And then it hit me: everything in this passage in Isaiah can be read as a description of people’s lives on earth. I am the temple. Human civilization is the city. We are the “holy and beautiful house.” And we have been defiled. Created with a purpose, we have been invaded and torn down.

We have lost our dignity, hope, joy, confidence, heritage, tradition. Foundations have cracked. Collectively, we are Zion: struggling, wandering people far from each other, far from home.

And I immediately began to embrace this idea of desecration in myself, my family, my friends, my students, my community, my country. Every day I see people engaging the weight of life. They fight, they embrace, they give up. Every day.¬†We may not fully comprehend our personal shame. Perhaps we don’t think that we were created for any sort of higher purpose. Perhaps we don’t think we have been desecrated. But as I continue to engage the darker side of life I see that we have a deep need to¬†be restored to each other.

We need to painfully return and embrace ourselves: chaos and all.

We need to walk the halls of this haunted house, to run our hands over dusty railings, to notice what has been broken, and perhaps to even find that our fears were unfounded. Haunted houses, after all, are just houses with a stigma. But as the stigma pervades, the house deteriorates. The structure fulfills the prophecy of the stigma … and the cycle continues.

So my thought for today is this: Seek restoration or you may begin to believe the lies that you have been told about yourself. Your life may then follow the lies and become their conclusion. Restoration is not a quick process¬†‚ÄĒ¬†it may take a lifetime¬†‚ÄĒ but I feel that it is the only proper response. As Dallas Willard writes in The Spirit of the Disciplines,¬†“The very substance of our bodies is shaped by our actions, as well as by grace, into pathways of good and evil.” The spiritual disciplines, Willard would say, are the daily habits which continually align our lives to our purpose.

I don’t have answers (see the Rilke quote at the end of my previous post for my opinion on answers), but as I continue to engage my questions, I continue to find that we often have more need for healing than we desire to admit. I am a prime example of this.

At this point, I am thankful for where I am in the context of where I could be. Now, I continue to hope and pray for continual restoration in myself and in others.

That is all.

The Memories that Haunt the Mind

In church on Sunday we sang a song titled, “We Cannot Measure How You Heal.” I’ll be honest, usually when I sing in church I don’t have a clue what I’m singing about, but as I sang through this hymn I was struck by it’s message. After we finished singing, I wrote down the following excerpt:

“But present too is love which tends the hurt we never hoped to find,
the private agonies inside, the memories that haunt the mind.
So some have come who need Your help and some have come to make amends,
as hands present in the touch of friends.
Lord, let Your Spirit meet us here to mend the body, mind, and soul, 
to disentangle peace from pain,¬†and make Your broken people whole.”
 

Most days I don’t like to think that I’ve picked up some baggage over the course of my short life. I don’t have the sort of personality that likes to revisit old pain, but every once in a while I have no choice. When I least expect it, the past asserts itself on my present and clouds my vision of the future. We aren’t always aware of this pain, but we all carry with us “the memories that haunt the mind.”

These memories often hold us back because they remind us of our weakest, most vulnerable moments. They remind us of times when we felt unloved. They remind us of when we failed. In these memories there is a lie that we will never amount to any more than that little boy or that little girl. I hate lies, but I especially hate the lies that trap us with small dreams. In the same way that the hymn speaks to the hurt of our past, I have been thinking a lot about the fears of our future. Like memories of the past, these can paralyze us and steer us away from our calling. So the other day I came up with my own metaphor for life somewhat following in the legacy of Rilke’s Letter To a Young Poet #4:

Chaos and despair. The flower has fallen from your brown, curly hair. But look up to the field of new days the Lord has given you. Pick each one with joy and vigor knowing that it too will fall. When it dies it will become the earth that composes the future.¬†But don’t simply examine the earth! You cannot possibly know how it will direct the color and shape of the future. Simply know that each day the flower is restored and replaced.
 
In the same way, don’t look past it to the other flowers in the field. They are like specks of color on a painting: limited representations of reality. A closer look doesn’t tell you any more than what you already knew: this day too will come. And when it does,¬†as if sprouted from the canvas itself, that day will desire your attention and affection.¬†But that day is not today.
 
Today, as is true in the case of a painting, you must take a step back and begin to simply appreciate what you cannot understand. The future for what it is.
 

So that’s my thought for today: what you can’t understand should not dictate your outlook. Rather, let what is true guide you and let yourself breathe in the space you have been given. Today. As Rilke writes,

“Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
 

Amen.