The Welcoming Prayer

Sadness, loneliness, depression — feelings most of us don’t welcome.

Speakers like Tony Robbins and Sharon Pope as well as a growing number of Psychologists say that suppressing or avoiding feelings is not good for us. This includes suppression of negative emotions. Experiments show that suppression of emotions leads to increased sympathetic activation of the cardiovascular system and worse memory for social information such as names or facts about individuals seen on slides 1.

There are also authoritative references that link cancer to a “type C personality.” Type C personalities are known for their tendency to “suppress wants, needs and desires.” 2. The implication being, I suppose, that suppressing these things somehow increases the risk of cancer.

The logic goes that feelings that are not acknowledged continue to arise until we pay attention to them.

“If you ignore an emotion, it will get stronger.”

All feelings carry information for us and therefore none are really negative, according to Karla McLaren. Sadness tells us we experienced a loss. Jealousy that we need better alignment with a source of love. Anger that we need to restate our voice or set a boundary. And so on. When we push them away, we reinforce a belief that ignorance is bliss, a truism that only applies to subjects we don’t need to know about.

I have discovered from my own tendency to ignore unpleasant emotions, that  ignorance is the mildest form on a spectrum of illusions about “what is.” At the extreme end are delusions I only wish were true. I like them better than what is actually going on. Denying what is and clinging to a fantasy, however, is dangerous to my mental health. But so is stark realism. Some optimism and a positive outlook can motivate me to change situations in my life that initially seem insurmountable, but never the less are not; and a dream that is “not yet” true can inspire me to improve the world, not just for myself, but for others.

But I always found it difficult to figure out when to follow a dream, and when to face reality. Two years ago I discovered the Welcoming Prayer.

WelcomingPrayer600I began using this prayer daily to start my meditation time. I found it difficult at first, especially when trying to welcome things into my life that I perceived as truly awful. I was welcoming loneliness, sadness, fear, and anxiety. I was welcoming sickness, pain, loss, and hardship. It seemed outrageous to welcome nasty people, unfair circumstances, and painful conditions when what I really wanted was them all to go away. I wanted freedom from them all. So then I let go of the desire for freedom!

It felt crazy to let go of my desire for survival too. What if that meant I didn’t survive? “What if” indeed.

I discovered that the key is to focus on those desires that are causing me suffering. Worried about loosing my job? Welcome anxiety, let go of the desire for self sufficiency. Sad about a relationship that didn’t work out? Welcome loneliness, let go of the desire for affection and love.

The crazy thing is, it works!

When I embrace whatever I am pushing away and let go of the underlying desire, I really do open to the the love and action of God within. Even when I am doubting the existence of God. Sun Through Spirea

This prayer sends a strong message to the subconscious that I will not be driven by desire. It is a mindful transfer of motivation from biology and fear, to what practitioners call the “true self.”

The True Self

The true self is understood by different people to be different things. But whatever the true self is, they all agree that surrendering the things you desire most — puts you in contact with it.

The true self is your authentic self, your imago dei, that part of you that is connected to God [or higher wiser part of yourself if you don’t believe in God]. Once you’re in right alignment with that, you can decide what you are going to do in the outer world from a place of calm acceptance. Sometimes you might choose to fight, achieve, compete, or strive for something important. Other times you might choose to acquiesce.

The important effect is that now the choice is not made from desperation or grasping. It is made from a sense of thoughtfulness and reflection.

And I find this state very similar to that dearest interest of mine, sabi. When desire has been disengaged the poetic vision can unfold. This kind of poetic vision is it’s own reward, but it also opens the mind to the layers in any experience. Paradox, irony, pathos, all become richer and more interesting. This is a mellow and tempered state, full of richness and value.

So, it seems, the Welcoming Prayer is a practice that can foster connection to the True Self; and being so connected allows most of us to more easily enter the state of being that is, or is very similar to, sabi.

Could it be that the poetic drive, specifically the poetic drive behind haiku and other forms of nature aesthetics, is a way to connect to the True Self? I am beginning to think so…


  1. Richards, J. M. , & Gross , J. J.(2000). Emotion regulation and memory : The cognitive costs of keeping one’ s cool. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 410-424. see also Gross, J. J., & Levenson , R. W. (1997) . Hiding feelings: The acute effects of inhibiting negative and positive emotion. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106, 95 – 103.

The Way of Elegance

When I was at David Thompson University Centre I took my first course in Linguistics. I discovered that the study of a word’s history, it’s parts and evolution, was strangely pleasurable and enlightening. More than any other course I took that year, it inspired me to explore the meaning wrapped up in words and language. Here are a few Japanese words that I have found helpful in uncovering this way of life I seem destined to live.

Way of Elegance
Two root Japanese words michi (way or path) and
fuga (the elegance of poetry) make up the phrase.

Fuga, refers to the elegance of poetry. The word is made up of two root words: ‘Fu’ which means the habits and manners of the common folk and ‘Ga’ which refers to the grace or gracefulness of ceremonies at court.

Ga is achieved by a poet who is experienced, recognized, and advanced in artistic studies.

English words that convey a similar quality are ‘cultured’ or ‘civilized’.

The renowned Japanese court poets tried to express ga with idealized and romanticized images. Thus ga is sometimes thought of as artistic and spiritual purity. With this in mind we might translate fuga as ‘common ways with grace’, or ‘blue-jean eloquence’ or even ‘spiritual art grounded in reality.’

In the classic literature of Japan a writer who wished to create literature that was fuga would practice furyu by retiring to nature for solitary contemplation.

Furyu literally means ‘wind and stream’ or ‘in the way of the wind and stream.’ It is a practice that gradually expands your sense of beauty, taste, and aesthetic appreciation. The poet Yosa Buson re-introduced Basho’s concept of furyu after it had fallen out of use. A master of both poetry and painting, and a leader of the haiku revival that occurred between 1765 and 1785, Buson refocused Basho’s concept in what he called ‘the principle of rizoku,’ which meant ‘transcending the ordinary.’ To achieve transcendence Buson said a poet should study classical verse, distance herself from the realms of commerce and competition, and contemplate the simple beauties of nature.

The Way of Elegance is a phrase that combines elements of Fuga and Furyu. Two root Japanese words michi (way or path) and fuga (the elegance of poetry) make up the phrase.  Think of a well educated farmer or an artist who supports herself washing floors. The Way of Elegance involves following furyu, and practicing artistic expression as a form of spiritual discipline.

Still in the stream refers to this journey on the way of elegance. “In the stream” is being immersed in flow — being Furyu. “Still” suggest unmoving persistence or patience. Patiently being in the stream doing creative things. Being in the creative “zone” to such a degree that time stops. Most people has some idea of this feeling I think.

A Definition of Sabi

In Wabi Sabi for Writers I said that sabi “was refined over the years to emphasize a state of receptivity, fostered in remote natural settings.” The legendary Japanese poet Basho was among the first to use the word and he did so to distinguish his style of poetry from others. There existed a different but similar word, aware, which described the state of being open or sensitive to things. Aware is pronounced ‘ah wah ray’ but coincidentally has a similar meaning to the English word aware, as in awareness. The English word aware, comes from the German root, which is more about wariness, than artistic sensitivity, so we can’t quite equate the two.

Buttertubs Marsh

Both sabi and aware have to do with an openness to poetic qualities in an object or place, especially when we are unhurried or alone. The emphasis is on sensitivity and emotional receptivity. Aware was part of a popular phrase, “Mono no aware” which is translated as “an awareness of the poignancy of things.” The poignancy comes, usually, from a things impermanence or transience. Howard Rheingold in his book, They Have a Word for It, writes of aware: “Would cherry blossoms be as poignantly beautiful if they bloomed all year round, or if they were as tough as walnuts?” Seeing the cherry blossom with the awareness that they are only here for a few days each year, makes them more valuable.

Basho taught his students that sabi was the color of a poem and gave examples of people who showed pluck or stamina. What makes sabi different from aware is that it includes a deliberate acceptance of things as they are. This deliberate acceptance makes sabi more than awareness, more than sensitivity. For sensitive souls, poets, song writers, artists, etc. sabi is more “spiritual” for lack of a better word. A person might experience aware when she sits in misery contemplating a fallen soldier, too young to have savored the freedom for which he gave his life. She is wracked with the pathos of the scene. Her sister, adopting a sabi mind, sees the same scene and feels the same pathos but moves it towards an aha moment.

Aware is the “ah” or “oh” of sorrow, and sabi is the ‘ah” or “oh” of insight.

For an excellent discussion of sabi in the work of Basho, see: Sabi, Nature, and the Relationship by Riley B. Irwin

Literature, Xbox, and the Graphene Jesus

Jesus, Socrates, the Buddha, Lao Tsu, and some other notable paradigm shifters were not writers. In fact, a great many of the spiritual leaders of the axial age, and the religious and philosophical movements that followed it, talked lots but wrote little.

Some argue that this is because once written down, a meaningful statement loses the warm human connection that lungs and throats and lips bring to language. Dialogue flows between people and to write down a dialogue is to bring eternal winter to the river of words, freezing it for all time. Once written down, stories solidify, teachings harden, and other people, those horrid crowds of ‘readers’ (shudder) turn the stories and teachings into doctrine and dogma. Hardened arteries, stiff joints, crystallized bones, inflexible neck, the whole body of religious and philosophical literature grows old, the eyes growing dim, and eventually, life goes out of it. Writing leads to death.

Ok, point taken.

On the other hand writing creates an artefact. Book clubs get together to talk about books;  religious groups get together to talk about great teachings recorded in holy writ; and academics read other academics to build up a body of accepted wisdom.

As much as I love those old text-shy sages, we know about them and their teachings by way of some poor, usually nameless, student who thought to himself, “I’m going to write that down.” He was a little thick maybe, but agile enough to know a good thing when he heard it.  Smart enough have learned his letters. The equivalent of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. On the cutting edge of technology.  A code writer.

Writing was a way to remember what was important, to refer to it later, or just to remind everyone of something lovely, because it touched something inside even when the voice of the sage was silenced. But a written statement is  incomplete. It has to be, it can not contain the subtleties and complexities of full body communication, but first and foremost it is an artefact. An artefact of a person, a mind, a culture, a world view. Wrapped up in the loops and straight lines of text there are patterns that sparky human brains recognize, decipher into language, and kindle ideas with. Like a forest of neatly stacked fire wood, books and writings rest on shelves waiting for human consciousness to covert them into knowing, understanding, a raging fire of comprehension.

At university you are forced to read books you ordinarily would never touch with a ten foot pole. Great classics, they are called. For some people they are grating classics. For me, at 20 or 22 I didn’t want to hear that the world was one large piece of excrement and all we could do about it was hold our nose. And that’s what I heard from a lot of the literature that was foisted on me.  I remember in particular feeling physical revulsion reading the Great Gatsby which others found to lift their spirits. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz was another thundering affront on my values and taste. Sure it was accurate and pathetic, but so what? The main character, Duddy, is so despicably un-likable why would I want to get to know him? Everyone I have talked to who has read the book agrees that they felt icky after reading it, like a sticky oil spill had fouled their soul. My advice about most of these works of literature is stop reading them if they are depressing, stressing, or flooding you with negative feelings. Pitch them across the table and out an open window. Good riddance.

The depressing quality of many of the classic works from the 19th and 20th century has to do with the loss of faith. Not just loss of faith in God, though that is a big one. When the comforting stories of God redeeming and transforming human kind are toppled from their position of authority, empty souls who are savaged by the realization of “what is” often end up running into the darkness wide-eyed and horrified. And they tell their story, they share their stark view, they communicate the dark pessimism of life without hope.They don’t know it is just an important stage in development and there is more beyond.

I asked one of my professors one time what the point was of writing constantly about the dark underbelly of life. Why did not the curriculum contain some light-hearted stories along with the heavy dirges of wounded existentialists? Shakespeare wrote tragedy and comedy, I argued, and his stories had beauty as well as pathos. My professor’s answer was that stories filled with conflict, pain, betrayal, and scandal, appeal to a larger segment of educated readers, that sunny is not serious, and in the academic world, serious is everything. A serious work of art opens the mind, the emotions, the soul, to the vast reality of life with all its warts. Especially warts.

One might say that serious art opens us to warts. Faithless death and warts, that’s what little classics are made of.

Readers lay down books for a variety of reasons, and that is a big danger when you have something to communicate. Jesus and Socrates and the others somehow, miraculously, didn’t worry about this. Or didn’t let on if they did. They didn’t pull punches, they were shocking and inflammatory and in your face, but in a way that challenges us to be better, to rise from our stupor. The philosophical gadfly who bites us out of complacency does so for a higher purpose.  So why not write that down? I say that the answer, contrary to the purist notion of unsullied oral communication, is that writing was not the main form of communication in their day. The majority of people were not literate. So they communicated in a way that reached the largest population. For Jesus, that was traveling around and speaking to everyone he met about the commonwealth of God, For Socrates it was going to the markets and asking everyone he met questions about their assumptions.

Movies, television, and electronic games are the new popular media. Sure people still listen over the fence to wise neighbours; still attend church to hear a sermon, still read books. But those forms of communication are miniscule compared to the great electronic pipelines into the hearts and minds of people today.

Yet there are still millions of writers. When I contemplate all the writerly minds working like particle colliders only with participles instead of particles, I start to feel desperate. All those words flowing out of all those minds and I will never be able to read even a small percentage of them. And in that huge avalanche of ideas and observations and stories and theses and metaphors and metalevels of meaning, do we have anything that matches Socrates? Jesus?

That is an important question.

You see I read slowly. I don’t have time to wade through excess pontification, I reserve that time for making pontifications of my own. So when I read I look for certain things. I want non-fiction to be clear, crafted, and concrete. I want metaphor, anecdotes, illustrations, and similes. Don’t give me those massive pillows of puffy nothing words. I can spew out plenty of that myself. Look, I’ll show you, “the logical derivatives of a careful examination of evidence-based theories on the diversity of structural elements in emerging post-modern realism includes but is not limited to the standard philosophical parodies of journey themes juxtaposed to the relativistic ethos that consumes written texts composed by those struggling to appropriate a context rich perceptual scheme in the light of their own ego consuming nihilism.” Hah, so there.

The second related question that keeps niggling at me these days is who will be the next gigantic paradigm shifter. And a corollary question is what will be the next medium into which that shift will be communicated. As much as I love the written word, I believe the medium the graphene Jesus will use, will be electronic gaming, or the generation of interactive media consumption that will grow out of it.

Unlike books which have always suffered from the progression to “classics” and dogma, electronic games are both constantly evolving technically, and moment by moment interactive. I’m interested in knowing if games will become cultural artifacts, or maybe will develop into a new form of literature in which participation re-emerges as the norm in philosophy and meaning making, or even become a whole new thing entirely.

At the moment gaming is merely an exciting form of entertainment, providing mastery and flow in a carefully controlled way. The business people of the game world back games for the main purpose of making money. As do publishers of books. Most of the games of today are like mass market novels. Entertaining, enjoyable, but not particularly poetic or mind expanding. But good for you even so, according to Jane McGonigal.

Playing up to 20 hours a week, says Ms McGonigal, improves our ability to make and achieve goals, be more likely to help people in real life, and have a sense of control. Playing more than 20 hours a week is when the troubles begin.

I highly recommend Jane McGonigal’s interview on CBC radio from earlier this week. It is more detailed than her TED Talk. The whole interview is enlightening, and I recommend anyone who is sceptical take the time to hear what she says.  The full interview is here:

Jane says that any game is an “unnecessary obstacle that we volunteer to tackle. It is hard and challenging and we are self motivated to put our best effort into achieving the goal of the game, and that is what really separates it from real life. We get to choose what game we want to play, and then bring our best effort to it.”

Reading and writing function in this way for me, so I guess I could say that the literary world is my game. I also like to imagine a time when the palette of creation for even a lowly newb like me will include the ability to create a book as a game, to create a work of literature in moving pixels and consumer interaction. E-book publishers and writers are now dreaming publicly of the possibilities. Just imagine entering into your own created world to experience your creation.  It would have to be as natural as learning to talk, no more difficult than learning to write. Without this ease of use (i.e. a two to 5 year learning curve), the media will remain under the thumb of corporate kingpins. Maybe some arthouse-small-literary game manufacturers will develop to market masterpieces?As  electronic gaming widens it’s demographic, I think we will see it.

If you go with the odds, the next Socrates or the next Jesus will probably be born in India or China, or one of the mega-cities like Jakarta or Seoul – the re-invention of a new kind of city-state dawning not too far in the future. He or she will have grown up playing video games, will have something to say, will have the drive and expertise and opportunity and the glowing incandescent mind the world need for answers we are only starting to ask.

He or she may not even be a he or she, it may be a graphene and memristor driven life-form smarter than a human brain with more than 10 trillion connections in it’s digital brain.

Summary of 38 Conversations from the Advent of Evolutionary Christianity

In the beginning God was a deep current of tightly folded language. God the code – acorn of infinity.

Then God in God’s non-existence retracted; emptied words from a moment of coherence and something other than God filled the opening. Continues filling. Unravels to this day. We sense the syntax; a structure like logic, but clearer. A clarity only math can approximate. It is distance and movement and paradox; a long gush of death spilling fresh elements and levels of complexity. God being born. Suns birthed in water-soaked nursery clouds and gassy nova deaths full of candle flames. Finally, on earth, humans, several steps up from the goo, look around and see. It’s all really there. The universe comprehending itself in 1400 grams of fatty neurons. Within the convoluted folds, 100 trillion connections*.  Brain as mirror for emergence. Understanding in a transient species. Reality awake.

In the dark, on a cold December evening, I study the sky; feel the emptiness within me, the God hole, odd echo of the lingo before existence. Tongues of the God void pierce me.  Seem to pierce all of existence. Divinity is humble, humble unto death. God the post-natural. A stubborn passivity; the release of all intention. El becomes Un. Stepping back and stepping back and stepping back again. No hands, devoid of grasping, all arrows point towards a self-moving existence. The only constant in the universe: everything changes.

God is silent as writing, curls of cipher on a dancers dress. Within the beyond the universe started. Out of absence came presence. Even the great voids between stars crammed with space. Wrapped in that original wave – everything, even the future. From the future God calls, a paradoxical echo from the deep past. Story drawn forward to some unknown attraction. Data points spill onto a curve we call memory.

One species we know of can transcend and include. Made of mystics and scientists and taxi drivers. And sociopaths and pedophiles. Through Jesus and Buddha and Stalin and Hitler. Evolution is the result of millions of fits and misfits. Even sin and evil now our brothers. Tribes and corporations and mountain monasteries – all imperfect leaves on the Larger Self. The next species, perhaps the one we create, will transform theology to biography.

At the end of time The tree of Reality will fruit. That tree now increasing, layer upon layer of pure information, our essence remembered down to growth rings. The universe will eventually only be a memory in the Trunk’s brain stem; and something we can not taste yet, way out there on the tip of God’s tongue.

*100 Trillion Connections: New Efforts Probe and Map the Brain’s Detailed Architecture By Carl Zimmer, Scientific American, December 29, 2010