Nov 12, 2013 - Uncategorized    1 Comment

Live webcast with Jim Conlon

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Dear Pope Francis,

If you’re free at 3 p.m. Pacific time on Monday, November 22, I suggest tuning in for this live webcast with Jim Conlon. Jim is the Director of the Sophia Center at Holy Names University, where I did my M.A. in Culture and Spirituality. He is also the author of a number of books, including, most recently, Sacred Butterflies: Poems, Prayers and Practices

The webcast is titled “On the Threshold of Beauty” and explore how to re-imagine the world through beauty to re-enchant our lives and reclaim our joy.

Sounds like an amazing topic. Hope you’ll tune in. You can register here.

Your friend,

Kevin

 

 

My Year in California — Radio interview

Dear Pope Francis,

My friend Ingrid Hart was interviewed yesterday on a syndicated radio show (scroll down the page to the “Year in Ca author” segment and click the “download” or “stream” button)about her book My Year in California . I’ve written about this book before. I’m so pleased for my friend Ingrid. She worked so hard on this project, and it is a wonderful read. I suggest you pick it up. The photographs, alone, are simply breathtaking.

Hope you don’t mind the sharing I’ve done the past couple of days of others’ work. I just think that highlighting the work of others is such a great way to showcase different pathways to the Divine.

Your friend,

Kevin

Oct 29, 2013 - Uncategorized    2 Comments

How the talents of others remind us of beauty

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Photo by Cathy O’Connor.

Dear Pope Francis,

I’m a word guy. That’s my gift to the world. I can package up vowels and consonants to express my own point of view, and maybe give insights to others.

Give me a paintbrush, though, and you’ll get a lovely impressionistic smear of colour. Pretty, possibly. Evocative, maybe not.

This is why I rely on the talents of others to remind me of beauty in its many forms.

My friend Cathy O’Connor, for example, is an amazing photographer. She takes all kinds of pictures, focusing on the beauty of nature. Her bird photos are especially wonderful.

Today, she posted the above photo to Twitter and I was immediately awestruck. It looks like she was standing on the International Space Station, not Earth, when she took it. Those craters are so vivid and crisp.

I asked Cathy if I could post this to my blog and she said yes. She doesn’t have a website — yet — but I’ll update this post when she does.

She’s also about to open an art gallery to showcase the works of others, and I think that’s such a perfect thing for her to do.

We always need reminders of what’s beautiful in the world, and how others see that beauty.

Your friend,

Kevin

Oct 23, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Bishop Bling

A simple daisy

A simple daisy. (Photo credit: http://morguefile.com/creative/anitapeppers)

Dear Pope Francis —

I jumped up and down and did a skyward fist-pump in your honor when I read that you’d suspended Tebartz-van Elst (also known as “Bishop Bling) for his egregious excesses.

For too long, many in the Church hierarchy have lived in opulence, while claiming to be representatives of Jesus on Earth. I’m so happy you are addressing this. The money spent by Bishop Bling could have done so much more good had it been directed towards the poor and vulnerable of his diocese. I hope there is some way to reclaim what was spent and put it into the hands of those that truly need it.

Your friend,

Kevin

Oct 16, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

New song from the Maccabeats

Dear Pope Francis,

I really like the Maccabeats. They’re a Jewish a cappella group made up of students from Yeshiva University in New York. They have a new song out. They usually sing in English — or mostly in English — but this one is all in Hebrew. I don’t speak Hebrew, but still liked the video.

Here’s a link if it doesn’t play for you.

It’s a bit early for Hanukkah, but this is one of my favorite Maccabeats videos:

Your friend,

Kevin

The Gratitude Squirrel!

Dear Pope Francis,

I started off today a bit grumbly, feeling a bit sorry for myself, and generally kind of miserable. It was Monday morning. My weekend, as usual, didn’t seem nearly long enough. I was back at work.

As I downed coffee to try and kick-start my energy, I was poking around Google when I discovered this:

The Gratitude Squirrel

 

The photo accompanied this article.

I laughed. So hard I snorted coffee out my nose. It was just what I needed to cause a shift in my day.

I’ve decided to call this little guy the Gratitude Squirrel. I think he’ll be a bit of totem for me from now on, especially on grumpy days.

Your friend,

Kevin

 

Oct 11, 2013 - Uncategorized    No Comments

Bill Plotkin’s Wild Mind

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Dear Pope Francis,

I wrote yesterday about my experience at a retreat given by Bill Plotkin. This poem that I posted awhile ago also sprung from that weekend.

Bill Plotkin came back into my life just recently when I was sent his latest book for review. It’s called Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche. To be honest, it languished on my nightstand for awhile. I just never seemed to get around to reading it.

On my recent trip, however, I had plenty of time to read, and so I took it along. I’m glad I did. It was great to encounter Bill Plotkin again; he has so may amazing insights.

I should probably start by saying that Plotkin’s books can be challenging reads, and this is particularly true with Wild Mind. Plotkin has a background in psychology, and his books are filled with terms such as ego, self, mind, etc… It can be a little daunting, but I never let it dissuade me. I just plunge on ahead, confident I’ll get what I need from the book regardless. It landed in my lap for some reason, after all.

In Wild Mind, Plotkin calls for a re-visioning of the primarily Western approach to psychology. He writes that psychology, like many things in the Western world, has become mechanistic, almost soulless. If I’m reading him correctly, he feels psychology has been reduced to analyzing people as if they were machines — highlighting defects, applying fixes, and generally getting the whole rattletrap back on the road as soon as possible. He also writes about psychology’s tendency to pathologize and focus on what’s gone wrong in a person, rather than what’s going right. This, he says, keeps people from finding what is their “original wholeness.”

He writes:

“And the key to reclaiming our original wholeness is not merely to suppress psychological symptoms, recover from addictions and trauma, manage stress, or refurbish dysfunctional relationships, but rather to fully flesh out our multifaceted, wild psyches, committing ourselves to the largest story we’re capable of living, serving something bigger than ourselves.”

I know that’s a mouthful (and possibly a run-on), but what I think Plotkin is getting at is psychology has spent so much time focusing on what’s gone haywire in people, that it forgets there’s a whole person attached to that particular condition, addiction or ailment. And, much of that person might be doing just fine.

Now, I don’t think Plotkin is saying that we shouldn’t be diagnosing and treating people with mental illness. It’s important, and not enough attention, in my mind, is being paid to helping those among us who are struggling with some form of mental illness. But, what I think Plotkin is getting at is there’s more to someone than their diagnosis of depression, addiction, bi-polar disorder, or whatever, and what’s going right should be just as much a focus as what’s gone a bit off.

Another of Plotkin’s insights that I particularly liked was that it’s impossible to separate psychological problems from the culture, society and environment in which a person lives And, that we’re all equally responsible for creating a supportive culture that does not foster the development of mental illness.

He writes:

“…our psychological health relies profoundly on the health of the world in which we are embedded…”

And, also:

“Behavioral patterns that some might perceive as psychological disorders are often understandable and natural reactions to a disordered world.”

I don’t think he’s saying that mental illness is not caused by biochemical imbalances and other factors. What he is saying, I think, is that it doesn’t help people who are pre-disposed to depression or anxiety that we happen to live in an era where fear and intimidation are used to make us do everything from take our shoes off in airport security lines to douse our homes — and ourselves — in antiseptics to fend off germs. By seeing mental illness holistically, he argues, we would place more emphasis on our duty to create a social fabric that does not trigger mental illness in those who are predisposed.

This is all a bit dense, as I mentioned, and I may not have it entirely right. But, what I really like about Plotkin is the fact that he doesn’t divorce mental illness from the culture we live in; he sees them in a symbiotic relationship. A sick and wounded culture leads to sick and wounded people. For people who are hoping for change, like me, and wanting to do a very small part, this is powerful stuff.

I have heard you echo some of these concepts in your comments, Pope Francis. It’s one of the reasons I keep following you. I think there’s a lot of Bill Plotkin in you — and vice versa.

What do you think, Pope Francis (and others who may be reading this…), about Plotkin’s ideas?

Your friend,

Kevin

(The link to Plotkin’s book is an affiliate link to Amazon and if you buy it through that link I’ll get a bit of money — to buy more books!)

Oct 10, 2013 - Kind of Random, Resources    1 Comment

Letting my loyal soldier rest

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Dear Pope Francis,

During my Masters program at  Sophia, I did some boundary-pushing things. I drummed and chanted with Afia Walking Tree. I practiced tai chi. I danced in a library courtyard. I read something I’d just written with Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows looking on (along with about 80 or so complete strangers).

But I think the most challenging thing I did at Sophia was during a weekend with Bill Plotkin. During our Saturday morning session, Plotkin talked about the need to fall in love with the world. He said that only by coming to love the world can you start to find your soul. Plotkin has a slightly different definition for soul than what some might be used to. For him, soul is an individual’s ultimate place in the world, their offering to the rest of creation. We’re all called to find our soul, says Plotkin, and that journey always involves a descent.

Before the descent, says Plotkin, we go through other initial stages. There’s the Wanderer, for example, where we go out into the world, searching for who we are. Part of that search, if I understood Plotkin correctly, involves coming to love the world.

In the spirit of that, Plotkin gave us an exercise: we were to go outside and allow ourselves to be led to any non-human part of creation. Then, we were to praise that non-human part of creation, as if we were speaking to a person. We were to do this out loud, emphatically and authentically. With a warning about watching for ticks and other natural hazards, Plotkin set us loose.

When I heard this, I looked around at the rest of the room. To my eye, everyone seemed not only fine with this, but absolutely ecstatic. Me? Not so much.

I’m so not doing this, I said to myself. Seriously? Go talk to a rock? Praise a rock? Did I actually pay for this?

This was my internal dialogue as I walked towards the door. To be honest, I dragged my feet a bit, both mentally and physically. I just could not fathom doing this. And, what if someone saw me?

But as I crossed the threshold of the door, I steadied myself. I was here to experience new things, wasn’t I? I was here to figure out new ways of seeing the world, seeing myself. If one of those ways involved losing touch with reality for 20 minutes and talking to rocks, fine. I’d give it a try. But nobody should expect me to enjoy it.

I emerged from the building onto a balcony of sorts that overlooks the rest of the Holy Names University campus, which is perched on the side of the Oakland Hills. And, right away, I was hit by gust of wind that brought me up short. I stopped, turned my face into the breeze, and inhaled.

I’ve always loved wind. I need moving air around me. When we shared a car, my sister used to always complain about being buffeted by the fan when she started it up. I always left the fan on full blast, with all the vents pointing at me. Still do, in my own car. When I fly, the fresh air vent is always cranked up full. The worst part of any flight for me is when the pilot shuts everything down, including ventilation, for a few brief moments when the plane pushes back from the gate. The wait for air to flow again always seems interminable.

Plotkin had said to let ourselves be guided to a non-human part of creation. I wasn’t just guided to mine; it smacked me in the face. A gentle smack, but a smack nonetheless. So, I faced into the wind and gave it praise and thanks.

And I didn’t feel the least bit goofy while I did it. It felt, pardon the pun, natural.

After awhile the wind let me go and roam, and I praised a few more non-human entities: a tree, the ground, grass, a Bird of Paradise. Then, as our time was coming to an end, I went back and praised the wind.

In addition to teaching me about the knowledge that can come by engaging in a conversation with creation, Plotkin’s exercise brought up something about myself as well. The main reason that I really didn’t want to do his exercise at first was not because I thought it wouldn’t be useful. No, I was worried about being seen doing it. I was worried about sticking out and looking odd. The fact that there would be about 30 other people doing the same thing all around me didn’t matter. I would stick out. I would look funny. I would be exposed.

In his book Soulcraft, Plotkin talks about some of the barriers to finding your soul. One of them he calls the Loyal Soldier. This is a part of our psychological make-up that was formed to protect us. He likens it to those Japanese soldiers from WWII who hid in dense forests and emerged, decades later, thinking the war was still on and ready to take up arms to defend their country. The Japanese did a smart thing with these men, says Plotkin. They welcomed them home, thanked them for their service, and told them they could now rest as the fighting was done. Handled this way, the soldiers were much more willing to accept that the world had changed while they were in hiding.

The psychological Loyal Soldier, says Plotkin, defends us against perceived threats. It leaps up, shield in hand, to provide mental protection. This is all well and good when we’re growing up and might need a little sheltering to get through the trials of youth. The problem, says Plotkin, is that the Loyal Soldier will remain on alert long after it should have retired to a quiet life with a little garden. What this means is we continue to view experiences for growth, that will prepare us to transition to another stage of life, as battles to be fought rather than opportunities to learn.

In my case, my Loyal Soldier is particularly attuned to situations in which I’m going to be exposed. I was teased a lot as a kid. I was smart. I was overweight. My Loyal Soldier got good at protecting me from this, and, he did his job well. I survived. But, in adulthood, his leaping to my defense gets a bit problematic. He sees every situation where I’m likely to look a little odd or provoke any kind of ridicule — even if it’s only from inside my head — as a call to action. He rises in his rusty mail, pulls his sword from its cobwebbed scabbard, and rushes in.

In Soulcraft, Plotkin offers a way of gently retiring your Loyal Soldier. You praise them. You thank them for their service. And then you point out that the threat has passed, the war was won long ago, and, really, wouldn’t a life of leisure be more inviting right now? Maybe the Loyal Soldier should take up stamp collecting or take that bus trip through Europe (skipping the battlefields and military graveyards, perhaps)? I’m giving my own spin to Plotkin here, but you get the idea. Slowly, the Loyal Soldier will catch on and realize peace as broken out and leave you to carry on.

So, since our weekend with Bill Plotkin, this has been one of my tasks. I’ve kept an eye on my Loyal Soldier, listening for the clank of armour that signals he’s about to intervene on my behalf. I assess the situation and give him the all clear. Sometimes he still springs into action, but it’s easier for me to back him off as time goes by. Hopefully I’ll soon be able to encourage him to move into that seaside cottage I’ve bought for him.

What about you, Pope Francis? What’s getting in the way of your being able to live out what you were put into this universe to do (other than the Curia)? What’s your own Loyal Soldier doing? What conversations can you have with him or her to convince them the war is over and they can be at peace?

Your friend,

Kevin

(Photo credit: ppdigitalLicense)

(Note: If you buy a book via a link in my blog post, I get a little bit of money from Amazon. Full disclosure. But, it helps with little things like hosting, etc…)

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