Unforced

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I want to deconstruct what this phrase “the unforced rhythms of grace” means.

The word “unforced” gives me room to breathe. It implies shaking off the shackles of compulsion, of expectations, the straitjacket of what is demanded of me, chiefly by my own high standards.

It allows me space for self-examination, a pause in which I can consider fully what remains when effort and striving are gone.

The Cambridge dictionary defines “unforced : as

1. Done as a result of your own decision, rather than being forced by someone else.

2. Happening or done without any effort.

As one who has exerted tremendous effort just to keep going, I am mystified by the thought of things happening without my effort. If my life can be remade “as a result of [my] own decision” what will that look like? And, seeing as the busy, striving for success life was also apparently made by my own decision, who is the me that made those choices and who is the me who now wants to allow life to unfold through grace? What is free will? How much of what I did was in response to expectations, of what society deems to constitute a successful life, particularly for women who grew up in the “Having it all” generation?

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Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living”.

How much of my life has been unexamined? How much of this did I consciously choose for myself?

Rilke said

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now 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.”

That sounds as good a definition of “unforced” as any.

 

The breaths between the words

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Edited : The original name of this blog was The-Unforced-Rhythms-of-Grace.

When I was thinking of setting up my blog, I read a few online articles for beginning bloggers.

Almost universally, the advice given when choosing a blog name was to avoid hyphens between words.

I have deliberately chosen to ignore this advice!

In order to heal, I recognise that I have to slow down. I have to acknowledge that I can no longer live my life trying to be all things to all people. I am having to come to terms with the possibility that my teaching career is over.

I am having to learn to breathe. To sit with uncomfortable feelings and racing thoughts, with fears about the future and my terror of letting go.

This is symbolised by the hyphens between the words in the name of this blog.

Each hyphen is an invitation to take a breath, an invitation to stop, an acceptance of what will come when it wants to come and what will go when it is time to go.

It is a reminder to exhale.

A pointer to a new way of living

A dropping down into stillness.

A surrender to grace.

The  –  unforced  –  rhythms  –  of  –  grace

Just breathing, in and out, between each word brings peace and calm. I need that now. I hope you understand.

 

 

 

Love after love

 

sandheart

 

 

  Love After Love
  The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

 

Tears fall as I read this poem. I have lost myself. I yearn for “the stranger who was myself. I wonder how I got here. I have been on a spiritual path for more than 20 years, I have read thousands of books on spirituality, been baptized as an adult believer, learned from Tibetan Buddhist masters, studied yoga and meditation, gone on retreats, spent my life searching, searching, searching.

I have accumulated knowledge from external sources. But now, as I face an ongoing crisis in my health, as I watch accomplishments disappear, the realization hits me, I do not KNOW anything. I have ignored the voice of my body, of my soul, of my heart, preferring the wisdom of others to the voice of my own soul. My life energy is draining from me; I have quite literally given my power away. My life has been reduced to the four walls of my house and I know that the restoration of my physical health is inextricably linked to being willing to finally be still, to listen to and follow the guidance of my own soul. My mind is stuffed with the good advice of a hundred self-help gurus, but still, here I am, unable to pray, meditate or stretch my way out of the mess I find myself in.

Somewhere along the way, along the shining path to spiritual fulfilment I got lost. Somewhere in the process of trying to be good, the essential goodness inherent in all of us has been covered up. The still small voice of internal wisdom has been silenced, drowned out by other people’s voices, other people’s plans, other people’s wisdom.

There is a dawning realization that the answers can never be found outside myself, in any external source, teacher or book. Of course, these can be useful pointers, but my tendency has been to look for gurus and to slavishly follow their advice.  Tell me what to do and I will be a perfect student, existing to please the teacher. This is a painful realization and I do not know another way to be. The answers lie within me, only I can excavate what is truly right for me. This realisation has come only when I reached the end of my ability to strive, when I admit that I have burned out from too much seeking, too much trying, when my body quite literally collapsed with exhaustion and my mind burned out from its incessant search for peace, when my spirit felt dry and parched, when there is no-one to ask, when none of my usual strategies are working.

Now, as Walcott says “The time will come.”  The time will come when the soul steps out of the shadows and asks to be heard. Asks me to see what is really here, what is seeking to be born in me. Invites me to take a deep dive into what remains among the debris of the life I built, to let go into what is calling me, what is asking to be seen.

Now is the time to let go of all my striving. To turn inward, to listen to my own soul and to bring what she has been trying to tell me, first in a whisper, now in a shout. To finally embody her wisdom.

This is the clarion call to return to Love. This is none other than Love calling for my own attention, to return my focus to attending to my own needs as they arise in this moment.
Yet, the impulse persists; I seem hardwired to look outside myself for some other to save me, soothe me, love me. What I am beginning to intuit is that my feelings of loneliness, of not-enoughness, my need for recognition, validation, acceptance and love is Love’s call to return to myself.

 

Rumi said

“Love said to me
There is nothing that is not me
Be silent.”
I want to see if indeed there is nothing else but Love. I want to look deeply into my life and into the world and ask “What is it I need to learn here, how is THIS pointing me back to Love?”

The one thing I know for sure is that I no longer want to follow anyone else’s plan/guru/spiritual path. I want to listen to the voices of those that have travelled this path before me, but I want to test it all in the crucible of my own life. I don’t want second-hand theories, I want to open my heart to Love. I want to live from my soul. I want to “love again the stranger who was yourself”.  I want to give back “your heart to itself”. I want to “feast on your life”.

 I have no idea how to do this.

I suspect though it will be learned through grace, or not at all.

 

The beginning of the journey

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A while ago I came across this quote :

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I was astonished to see that this was a translation of Matthew 11:28-30 from The Message.  I was more familiar with the version that talked about taking a yoke upon you, which, frankly didn’t seem like much of a rest!

But those words “the unforced rhythms of grace” stuck in my mind.

A little background: I have ME/CFS and am currently off sick from my job as a teacher, after having been 90% recovered for 10 years. I am the typical Type A personality who tried to push through and keep going with sheer strength of will and failed.

I have been thinking of blogging for some time but my Type A brain said “Wait till you are better, then you can teach people how to recover”. Perfect illustration of Type A teacher thinking!

But, I know, in my gut, my heart, my soul that this phrase “learn the unforced rhythms of grace” holds the key to my recovery.

So this blog is going to be about the journey to find out what that means for me. As a non-churchgoer but someone with a keen interest in spirituality, this may mean something very different from the original text.

This is what I know for sure, however. The fast pace of the world is causing many people to burnout and to question how they are living.

There must be another way.

I hope you will join me as I attempt to find out. I am ready to learn.