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What to Do When Perseverance Fails


What to Do When Perseverance Fails

Dear Ones –

For those of you who are new here, this missive is my weekly love letter, Reflections, that I send out to let folks know what I’m up to, what I’m thinking, what I think is important at the moment, the state of my rose garden, and various and sundry other things.

Second, please don’t forget, dear ones, that “Relinquish and Reclaim,” my sixth annual retreat, is THIS Saturday. If you want to come, please register, or if you have ANY questions or concerns, please let me know, simply by replying to this email. These questions may concern content, price, behavioral expectations, the structure of calls…really anything at all.

Today is a day to be reminded of a nuance of (imagine me singing) one of my favorite things!

The other day, as I was praying and reflecting with one of our comrades from the book, Celtic Spirit, by Celtic scholar and mystic, Caitlin Matthews, I came across a reflection on what she called, “Perseverance.” The title immediately caught my attention, as perseverance has things in common with persistence. And those of who you’ve been around the block with me know that I BEAT THE DRUM of persistent gentleness and gentle persistence all the time.

What caught my eye and captured my attention was Matthews’s point about when perseverance can fail, or when you need to take another tactic other than the one you’re currently using. She says, “When is perseverance not enough? When we have tried to the limits of our ability, when we have tried all avenues of pursuit, when there is no more help to be sought, it is reasonable to consider whether this project is the right one or being approached in the right way.” (the Celtic Spirit, p. 41)

Here is a whole new angle on the gentle in “gentle persistence.”

Sometimes, loves, gentle persistence has taken you as far as even it can go. Sometimes wisdom and compassion dictate a new perspective altogether.

Sometimes, sometimes it’s just not the right time to do what you’re trying to do. Sometimes it’s just not the right diagnosis. Sometimes it’s just not the right approach.

Sometimes you just cannot do it, no matter how much you want to.

Sometimes, what you’ve learned through your persistence, your perseverance, are the invaluable lessons of what hasn’t worked, or even what can feel like failure. But learning what isn’t working can help you choose a new path, one that is more likely to get your arrow to the target.

The other thing that is super helpful in getting that arrow going in the right direction to begin with – and this one is part of both gentleness and persistence – is spiritual practice. Dailiness. The structure that is such a struggle for so many of us to put into place, but which nourishes our souls and makes our lives easier ever when we “aren’t looking.” A daily examination of consciousness – what have you done today? How do you feel about it? What needs forgiveness (toward yourself or others)? What deserves celebration? A set of daily prayers like the Rosary, Sufi chanting, or other repeated, trance-inducing prayers, depending on your tradition. Meeting with a friend to share spiritual companionship or seeing a spiritual director once a month to talk about what is happening beneath the surface of your life.

All these things can help make your persistence gentler – and more effective. Both! My favorite answer! Both!

So persevere. Persist. Remember the t-shirts about Elizabeth Warren, quoting the Republican leadership: Nevertheless, she persisted. Yes. But when the time comes, as Mary Oliver says, let it go. Whether it’s the whole project. The relationship. The methods that you’re using to work through something.

Sometimes – often, even – the answer is not to work harder, but to work differently. That is common wisdom by now, but something I still thing bears mentioning.

Be gentle.

Be persistent.

Give yourself the benefit of the doubt in these strange and stressful times.

And forgive yourself for everything every day. Even if it needs to change. Even if you need to make amends. Let self-compassion be the foundation of all you do.

This is my last Reflections for the year! Oh my! (I just realized it.)

If I don’t see you at , know that you have my blessings, and that those of us in attendance will bless you and whatever observances you make this year as the northern hemisphere slants away from the sun and we move into the close and holy darkness.

I love you.


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