When my father was in his prime as an English professor, I was young. We talked often about his work, my school, music, art, literature. All kinds of things. We talked and talked, often much later at night than was probably wise.
One of the things he talked about was bringing people alive.
He talked about how what he saw in most people’s eyes was a kind of death. A sleepless, down-dragging death. Students who were studying what their parents had demanded, rather than what interested them. Colleagues who hated their jobs and found teaching a chore. Other people doing work that crushed them, even though other people could be doing the same work and yet have a light in their eyes.
It was that light in the eyes that my father wanted to foster. He wanted to wake people up, he said sometimes. More often, though, he would say, “I want to help make people more alive.”
One of his students, and a dear friend of mine, said he believed it could not be done. That if people were inclined to the slow death of work and relationships and identities that did not fulfill them, then there was no saving them. He did allow, however, that my father—and other teachers like him—could at the very least take students on field trips to the Land of Life.
It seems to me that these field trips—and some students took his classes semester after semester—may have been like kindness: Good teaching is a blessing that can bear the fruits of blessing. Who knows the effects that such blessing has on one’s life?
For that matter, who knows what effects anything has on one’s life until after the fact, sometimes long after the fact.
Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what brings you more alive and do that. Because what the world needs is more people who are alive.”
It’s the same principle, no? One coming from a white college professor and the other coming from a Black preacher, church founder, and writer. And not only the same principle, but nearly the same words.
What does it mean to be more alive?
For me, it means several things:
It means blessing. It means both being a blessing and acknowledging the blessings I receive when I see them.
Blessing—from the same root as “wound”—is something I can offer the world in an attempt to bring myself and others more alive. It is the gift of myself, bringing myself and others more alive. More vital. More awake and aware of what gives hope and love.
Paying attention to blessings is related, but slightly different.
It means acknowledging the goodness of life that we may not otherwise see. I have begun a blessing list, inspired by Briana Saussy’s daily blessings.
I realized they slowed me down. They connected me with my musing thoughts as I combed through my hair. They encouraged me not to rake the comb through my hair, top to bottom, but to patiently start at the bottom, combing out the bottom snags first and then moving up.
Which then, of course, makes me think, how do life’s more metaphorical snags operate?
Very often, they offer quick, unavoidable lessons. For example, Julie and I decided to drive from Bellingham home to Portland, through the Olympic National Forest. We went on a ferry, we drove through the gorgeous rainforest of Washington state, we saw the ocean.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand, there were snags.
One was that we vastly underestimated the time it would take to make this trip. (Yes, we had GPS, but somehow we just didn’t…I don’t know…5 hours took 12. Yes, 12.) Second was that we had not packed supplies. Not enough water. No snacks. And we didn’t know what little towns we’d go through and where to pick up food.
So by the time we got to a town where there might be something reasonable to eat, we were seriously “hangry,” crying and miserable. Like two toddlers, only big toddlers allowed to drive a car!
We had just decided to have an adventure!
And I love that about us; I love that we will just decide, hey, let’s take the pretty way home!
However, lesson: Go to a grocery store and get supplies before venturing on on adventures in the future.
And I think often snags offer lessons. What not to do. How to prepare for the future. How to take a different route now. How to slow down. How to allow ourselves the time to muse and ponder.
What is blessing you today that doesn’t feel like blessing? What is life giving you that you
can receive rather than react to? Where is the sweetness of berries among the thorns?
Today, I have been offered the blessing of snags, thanks to my teacher Briana Saussy. We’ll see what else comes up!
Paying attention to what comes up in your life is the spiritual gift of awareness, the root of discernment. If you’d like more thoughts, more contemplations and musings, more meditations and study, go ahead and sign up for my love letter, Reflections. It comes once a week—you can read them when you feel like it. And at the same time, you’ll receive FREE access to my new self-study course on the fine art of making good decisions—discernment—which is easily worth $150, were I to sell it.
Give Reflections a try. If you don’t find it valuable, you can always unsubscribe, right?
Maybe it’s a blessing your life has been waiting for?
Thanks so much to Briana Saussy for her work. I am looking forward to take a course from her this year, called Spinning Gold. (If you check it out, please note the last day for registration is August 18, nine days from now.) I’m sure more of my reflections on her powerful, magical teachings will creep inexorably into my work. At least, I hope so!