Non-Violence, Choosing Joy, and, Messy Mornings

I interrupted a video call with my dear friend Marcos in order to greet my family.  The boys had just come home from school.  Levi, my six-year old son, had done a great job restraining himself from opening the door to the guest room where I sat in my favorite yellow arm chair.

“I’ll be out in a minute, buddy,” I called to him.

I could see his silhouette through the opaque glass panel in the door.


“Truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

-Jesus


I slept through my 5am alarm this morning, or, maybe I never set it. I don’t really remember.

Our five-year old son Jakob came into our room just after 6am.  I used it as my cue to get out of bed as he assumed my spot, clutching the pillow as he laid down.

Walking out of the bedroom I stepped over our dog ‘Flor’ who was still snoozing.

Bathroom.  Heater.  Coffee. Shoes.  Jacket. Bags.  Treats. 

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”

-Henri Nouwen

Flor typically walks me in the morning much more than I walk her.  This was a good day in that regard though, because she took care of her business quickly, allowing us to turn back towards the apartment after just a few minutes of being outside.

It was a cold morning.  And I was happy to be back indoors.  Rising to the fifth floor of our building, I exited the elevator and opened the door to blindness.  Feeling and hearing the sound of dark silence sitting in the apartment, my eyes quickly adjusted.

Hang up keys.  Hang up leash.  Empty pockets. 

After pouring myself a cup of coffee I proceeded down the hallway to the guest room.  Flor curled up at my feet as I eased down into the yellow armchair next to the window.

I would spend the next hour and a half there, simmering in silent meditation.  Reviewing the previous day and considering what this one held in store.

The anomaly of everyone sleeping in was an extra treat today.  And emotionally I felt like I needed the time.  But as the clock rolled past 8am, it became time to begin waking folks up.

Lucas, our three-year old son, had also entered our bed at some point during the night.  I spotted his thin, playful, wispy hair, partially matted to his scalp, above the potato sack sized bulge of his curled-up body, snuggled up behind my wife Taryn.

She laid in the middle of our bed, sandwiched between the two boys.

Reaching my left arm carefully across my other son Jakob’s body, I placed my hand on top of the duvet resting on her back.

Sunlight peered through the bottom of the partially raised ‘persiana’ into the bedroom.

“Hey,” I muttered quietly, without whispering, shaking her shoulder slightly, “it’s after 8 o’clock.”

Beautifully open-eyed she sat up.  Her face expressed shock at the news of the time as she inhaled the kind of breath one does when coming up for air after being under water.

I handed her the mug of coffee I had been holding in my right-hand, offering it as a kind of consolation that all was well.

Feeling satisfied, I strolled down the hallway back to the kitchen and began to make sandwiches for the boy’s school snack.

Slowly, the once dark and still space of the apartment began to rouse with the morning noise of pattering feet, opening doors, flushing commodes and high-pitched, groggy requests.  Meanwhile, the doggy greeting service proceeded forth, as Flor scurried out of the kitchen in search of her signature hind legged balancing hugs.

Likely receiving a stiff arm from Lucas on his way to the living room, she persisted in pursuit of the onesie, pajama wearing three-year old.

Oh God…the comedy of it all, I thought to myself, spreading mayonnaise on the second of three ‘jamon’ sandwiches.  I checked my phone.  The time was 8:15, which meant we had around 30 minutes until departure for school.  This was doable.

Glimpsing Taryn in my peripheral vision near the doorway to the kitchen, I continued with the morning’s duties, focusing in my mind, on what still needed to be done for an on-time take off.

Breakfast, clothes, …

 The thoughts were interrupted by a scream.

“Yuuuuuckkk!!!!”

Again…

“Yuuuuuuckkkyyy!!!”

Taryn quickly turned out of the kitchen, moving towards the shrieks coming from the living room.

A few seconds passed.  I held the aluminum foil.  My hand suspended in the hair awaiting the report.

“What happened?” Private-eye Jakob had now approached the scene.

“Oh, Flor just threw up,” Taryn answered nonchalantly, already on the way back to the kitchen for a rag and cleaner.

Frickin’ dog. 

 Opening the cabinet below the sink, she collected the necessary cleaning items and returned to the mess.

Before she finished, another shrill bounced through the apartment.

“Flor went poo-poo!!!”

Are you fucking kidding me…?

I could feel a headache coming on.  Feeling my jaw clenching-up I searched in vain for access to more hospitable interior resources.

I tried to focus and sink into the sensation of constriction I felt pinching my brain as a first step in attempting to practice the Welcoming Prayer.

To no avail.

I had been knocked off Center and felt the disappointment rising at what seemed like sure defeat.  My thoughts were off and running around the corners of my shame basement where little Jonathan dwelled in the self-pity corner.

I don’t actually remember cleaning up the poop in the hallway.  I had been cut-off from connection to the moment and my attention was fragmented in the tumbling-dryer like upheaval of my racing negativity.

Walking down the hallway I became conscious of my frozenness when confronted with a simple request by my six-year old son Levi with a look of sheer, “how dare you ask me for something at this moment?”

And although my anger was then already being projected outward, the ugly messages of meaning that were arising out of the basement of despair had public enemy number one, yours truly, in their cross-hairs.

 “When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

-Henri Nouwen

Violence always starts with an act of rejection against the self.

Yet, in passing Levi, something stronger than self-hate began to surround and clarify my shroud of doom, and I glimpsed an opening to choose.

And then a question showed up.

Who do I want to be in this situation? I thought, remembering the innocence of Levi’s face in my mind’s eye.

Welcome imperfection.  Welcome control. Welcome need.  Welcome Levi.  Welcome Jakob.  Welcome Lucas.  Welcome Taryn.  Welcome Flor.  Welcome Life. Welcome Home. 

 “Joy is what makes life worth living, but for many joy seems hard to find. They complain that their lives are sorrowful and depressing. What then brings the joy we so much desire? Are some people just lucky, while others have run out of luck? Strange as it may sound, we can choose joy. Two people can be part of the same event, but one may choose to live it quite differently than the other. One may choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise. The other may choose despair and be destroyed by it.”

-Henri Nouwen

Indeed, Henri.

Joy is a choice.


We made it to school on time that morning.  Just barely.  And the romp down our neighborhood’s sidewalks was joyously blissful.  A choice of acceptance-celebrating the privilege of living life on life’s terms.

That afternoon, emerging from the guest room, after ending my call, Levi sat in the middle of the hallway playing.

“Hey buddy!”

He looked up at me.

Striding over the doggy gate I spotted a small shiner below his left eye.

“Hi daddy,” he said, returning to the scene of his play.

Sitting down slowly if front of him I placed my chin just above my bended knee.

“What happened to your eye, buddy?”

“‘So n’ so’ kicked me,” he said, matter-of-factly, holding a tinge of woe-is-me in his voice.

“What happened?” I asked, genuinely offering curiosity and concern.

I was surprised by the ability I had to be present to the situation.

“The first principal of non-violent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating.”

-Gandhi

No blame.  Withholding judgement.  A better kind of listening.

We eventually got to the bottom of the situation, finding out Levi wasn’t just a victim in the story.

Together, along with Jakob and Taryn, we sat in the hallway in support of our son and brother. We created space to talk about a difficult situation for Levi and his schoolmate.  We modeled non-violence in our communication and became a living sign of hope, discovering a new way of being in the world-opening up space for a six-year old boy to access his own connection with a more spacious interior.  I’m reminded that it’s only in the presence of this kind of compassionate, collective, curiosity, where real choice even becomes possible.

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”

-Henri Nouwen

Epiphany, Participation, and Non-Duality

My Birthday is approaching, in a few days.  And here in Spain, the momentum of ‘las fiestas’ is still building, awaiting its crescendo on King’s Day, or, ‘El Dia de Los Reyes’-coinciding with the Feast of Epiphany.  I have a fat Cuban cigar awaiting me.  A birthday present to myself, I plan to enjoy, alone, in prayerful reflection.

A couple of years ago my in-laws generously gifted me some cash for my birthday.  I bought a pair of jeans, now patched up from wear, a denim shirt, that I’m wearing today, and, a bottle of Kentucky bourbon, though I no longer drink.

The day after Christmas our family went to an Italian all you can eat buffet.  I wore my denim shirt.

Towards the end of the meal, I sat together with my five-year old son, Jakob.  My wife, Taryn had gone to the bathroom with our other two boys.

Jakob sat kneeling on the red cushioned bench chair across the table playing with legos that Santa had brought.  His innocence spilling itself all over the table, dripping off the wonder of his blue eyes.  His messy hair, snotty shirt, sniffing nose and freckled face each playing their part to the tune.  A palpable pungency of the aroma of goodness that now makes me teary eyed recalling it.

I gawked.

It was one of the only relaxed moments during the course of the meal for me.  My ‘cortado descafeinado’ sat before me on the table.

Halfway lunging across the table to share a discovery, Jakob’s thigh hit the table sending my coffee and the moment dispersing.


As Epiphany approaches, we remember and pay homage to the Christ that was born, a Christ that is, and always has been.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” -Colossians 3:15-17

The child came, the man died, but the Christ lives on.  Jesus’ much underemphasized role as revealer of the Divine Life, is what Epiphany (as revelation) is about the wise men journeyed far to celebrate.  The Christ Mystery is indeed worth celebrating.  But this is much more about an invitation to join in on what Jesus shared with the Father, than it is about merely following the eventual Jewish Rabbi.

“Don’t cling to me.  It’s better that I go and send the Helper.  I would rather you live my life as your truest experience than merely imitate mine-a transfer of my essence, and yes it will cost me everything, as love always does.  The only purely exemplary part of my life then, is my willingness to say, ‘yes,’ summed up in the words “not my will, but thine be done.”  The God-in-you will know what to do when the time comes.  Surrender to that.”    


There are a few necessary and important dualisms in the spiritual life I thought, rubbing the stain stick on my denim shirt, after returning home from lunch.  The coffee stain, well set in.

This wasn’t the first stain I had worked on with this shirt.  The color had faded, from its original light blue to an almost iridescent bend of whites, blues and browns from its regular wearing and washing.  I knelt down on one knee in front of the washing machine, working the stain out, while the kids squealed and romped in the living room.  Taryn stood in front of the sink to my left, washing dishes.

I felt a headache coming on as I grasped, trying to make something out of the thought.

Though, I’ve been reflecting on it a bit since:

Non-dual consciousness is the fruit of the relentless invitation to begin by making a dualistic choice-itself a grace.  Control or trust, fear or love, isolate or connect, cling or let go.  It is in making the choice, repeatedly, that we begin to access and see from the whole.  And on the other side of that choice, the thing we chose against, or rather, over, paradoxically manifests itself in a different form-control of a different kind, an awe-filled trembling at the Mystery of God, a contented inner quietude, the feeling of being grasped.  All gifts we could never commandeer through the forced-ness of willpower.

This is the invitation at the heart of Jesus’ relationship with the Father. A knowing from the inside of Oneness, where things like trust, mutuality, connection and freedom just are-much more an energy field than a thing we produce.  In fact, one we often stumble into, as IT has already chosen Us.

This is the meaning of Epiphany-revelation of the Divine Reality being here and now.  God says ‘yes’ to the concreteness of the messiness of human reality as God’s playing field.

And we join in through participation, more than imitation, in saying ‘yes’ back-always starting with a choice, which, by its nature, must be dualistic at some level.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other,” says Jesus, “You cannot serve both God and money.”

So…

“Why not become unified or identified with God so that we manifest God in every action, and in this way, give God a chance to find out what it is like to be a human being. That seems to be the project. But it is only half the project. The bigger half is the effort God has been making since the beginning of time to convince us that he loves us. We are pretty shy about that.” writes Trappist monk, Thomas Keating.


Last night Jakob and I hung laundry.  My denim shirt had been soaking in the bidet for a few days, and was in the load we were pulling out of the washer.

As we began this work, standing on the back balcony where our laundry rack hangs, Jakob uttered, “I love you Daddy.”

“I love you too, Jakob,”

We continued hanging clothes on the line.  Jakob, the socks, me, the rest.

I pulled out my shirt. I felt the heaviness of it, the lined threaded texture, along with a strong presence, resting in, and pulsating through my heart.

“I really like being here with you Jakob,” I said, aware, that I don’t express myself enough in moments of joy.

“I really like being here with you too,” he replied.

After finishing up with the laundry, we put on our jackets to head out.  Jakob had been motivated to help as we were going to have special time together, just he and I.

On the way home after hanging out, Jakob and I spotted a partially cloud-covered full-moon.  It looked ominous.

I pointed at it.  Reminded in the act of our role as finger pointers.

“This was never about me.  It was about my Father, says the Son.  This was never about you, in getting something “out of life.” It was about Me and My Life being spread abundantly.  It’s about living my life-more like being me and meeting Jonathan, or, meeting me in yourself and allowing my life its fullest expression in the shape of you.  Capiche?” 

And so, we remember, and then forget…stumbling, dabbling and tripping into the Divine Life Stream that rolls on, and on, and ON…hopefully discovering in our experience that IT has chosen Us as worthy and privileged participants.

“You have to experience duality for a long time until you see it’s not there.  Don’t consider dualistic prayer on a lower level.  The lower is higher.  There are no levels.  At any moment, you can break through to the underlying unity which is God’s gift to us in Christ.  In the end, Praise praises.  Thanksgiving gives thanks.  Jesus prays.  Openness is all,” says, Thomas Merton.

So we stay open, say ‘yes,’ choose trust, let go, join in and discover the dance extending itself to us as, in and through our life.  IT is not elsewhere.

In the spirit of Epiphany, won’t you join in celebrating as a contemplative, allowing Divine Love to meet you in the concreteness of your messy, yummy humanity!

Keating writes on the subject, “To be a contemplative is to be willing to be loved concretely in every detail of life and on every level of human life, body, soul, and spirit. If you are merely thinking of receiving the Eucharist as a ritual, go home. That’s not what it is. It may start with that, but the Eucharist is primarily about the interpenetration of spirits—all that we are into all that God is, and all that God is into all that we are, including every detail of our life, every concern, joy, and suffering. In other words, we’ve got a life companion of infinite capabilities all lined up in our favor and ready to go.”

So let it be.