Sunday, October 25, 2009


I broke out a new book this morning to blend into the pile I use for morning meditation. I let up this week, skipped a few days, and only sat and read for a fragment of the time I was spending on the days I did sit down.

By "new" book, I mean new to the pile. The book is "Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life", by Gregg Levoy. It was first published in 1997, so it isn't new new, and I have had the thing for probably ten years. As I may have mentioned previously, nice folks are frequently giving me "spiritual" books. This one was a gift from a professor I had in an introductory writing course I took at BCAE about ten years ago. We became friends. She was a poet, and greatly enjoyed and benefited from this book.

I am sure I glanced at it a number of times over the years, as I moved from apartment to house to apartment, packing it up and thinking, "hmmm... I should read this sometime."

So today, in an effort to jump start my waning meditations, I grabbed "Callings" and a couple other books, adding them to the small stack. I have a very simple morning practice, part of which is reading a paragraph or two, or pages, from a book, and pondering. It is often referred to as contemplative meditation. I don't do well sitting in complete silence for extended periods of time. My mind is still very undisciplined and thoughts are rampant.

Much like Brennan Manning "got me" as early as the introduction in "The Ragamuffin Gospel", Levoy called my number in his introduction. I always read with a highlighter, these types of books, and I found myself reaching for it half way down the first page of the intro.

Levoy described a calling as a "centrifugal force". Rather than something coming from the cosmos, it is something inside trying to get out.

"We often tune out the longings we feel...rather than confront and act on them... we do not forget our calls, but what we fear what they might demand of us in pursuing them... Anticipating the conniption of change blocks us from acknowledging that we do know, and always have known, what our calls are... we also fear the hope that such a call evokes in us, and the Power that we know is dammed up behind the resistance."

Awareness of a call puts me in an ambivalent position. Ambivalence is sometimes seen as meaning wishy-washy, not caring which direction we float in, but in reality, it means torn between two options, almost the same as dilemma. A dilemma isn't just a problem, it's a problem with two unsatisfactory options.

When I think of people "called", many things come to mind. Most often, a calling is associated with the religious, so it tends to take on an ominous tone. If I answer a call, I have to do something BIG. Anything less than changing the world is failure. At one point, after having a spiritual awakening that saved me from an ugly death, I thought I ought to become a minister. I wasn't that far off... but all things considered, that is probably not my path. I had many ideas swirling around.

The thing is, I don't think you have to work that hard to know your calling. In your heart of hearts, there has always been something you were drawn to. Motherhood? Painting? Bowling? You felt at peace and in joy when the little stick turned blue, or you set foot in an art store, or when you picked up a tough split and filled a spare with a strike.

One has to wonder why we put so much effort into busying ourselves, distracting ourselves, launching ourselves into consumerism, obsession with things unimportant and rise and fall with the success or failure of the Red Sox, Bruins, Yankees, Patriots etc.

Many people come to mind when I think of answering a call.

The first who popped into my head is my sister Barbara. Barbara knew at a young age that she wanted to live in Europe and that she loved singing. She sang in high school and college. A few years down the road, she learned to speak French and moved to France. Not too crazy about the friendliness factor, she moved around, settling in Germany. She worked a job at a bank that was less than thrilling, but always worked toward her dream. She sang and sang and sang. Glee clubs, choruses, voice lessons. Eventually, Barb got a "job" singing in the chorus of an opera company.

Now my sister is not a religious person in the sense most of us consider religiosity, but if you kick around the classic sense of the word "religious" is a re-learning of what we've always known to be true.

Barb was born a singer, and through a series of small steps, arrived where she was always intended to be.

My niece Nat is another example of someone who responded to an inner call to sing. A mother with small children, Natalie decided to teach herself guitar, write some songs and sing them in public. When she mentioned this to me, I had had no idea she ever even thought of singing, or writing or playing guitar. In spite of intense fear of performing in public, not only did she pull it of, but she brought the house down and tears to the eyes of those who knew her. Anyone who knew her, (and even some of those who don't) could see that the songs were written on the lining of her stomach. No one else could have written them and sang them the way she had, beautiful, painful, liberating, true.

If she hadn't picked up the phone and answered in spite of her misgivings, the still small voice never would have been heard.

That's what it ussualy is, a still, small voice. Rod Serling concurred, "Thunder doesn't rent the sky and a bony finger... point at you and a great voice boom, 'YOU! You're anointed!"

Levoy continues, "most of the calls we receive and ignore are... daily calls to pay attention, to be authentic, to live by our own codes of honor. Great breakthroughs are often the ...accumulation of innumerable small steps."

So, as Levoy stated earlier, I do know, and have always known what I long to do. "We approach our deepest callings with both exhilaration and terror."

When I acknowledge that I have always lived to make people laugh, and loved to write. I like to perform in front of crowds and make them laugh. Combining these things with a deep self awareness acquired by recovering from alcoholism, and the subsequent spiritual awakening which kept me alive and opened my eyes, it would seem there was a reasonably clear direction, of not path, suggested.

It never ceases to amaze me, no matter how many times I hear differently, how persistent that voice of fear seems to be. Without fail, I will hear things like "who do you think you are to write? Do you really think anyone cares what you have to say? Rent a video. Play a game on the internet. Have a snack. This is too big a task. You probably won't finish. This has to be the best (fill in the blank) book, screenplay, article ever written, or you shouldn't bother writing anything at all.

It is sometimes very difficult to hear the still small voice among those voices, thought is always there. the voices of fear seem to dissipate as I take action- like I am now.

Even writing a blog helps me. It is not the flow of kind words and compliments from friends after I have written something. Oddly, I feel... "right" while writing and afterward. It is the before part that always kicks my ass. I find myself doing anything possible to "kill time", so that I don't have to write, or think about it, when time is the primary nonrenewable resource in the human experience.

So what can I do today? Well, it is unlikely I can write an entire book. But what I can do is bring my laptop to my dad's and write part of a chapter while we watch the Patriot's game.


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