I continue to reflect on the conflict that has brewed for many years between my head and my heart. To this end I’ve been writing about my experience of James Dickson’s Twelve Powerful Words Needed for Spiritual Fulfillment. Today I’m dealing with the fourth and fifth words Cycles and Process which have to do with the way I choose to recognize and work out the priorities of my life.
My priorities usually are task-oriented. I normally tackle these tasks as if I’m building a wall. I metaphorically dig a foundation, lay bricks one by one, and continue one step at a time until I complete the “wall”. In the process I am very intense and use up a lot of energy. But I’m finding this paradigm is no longer useful. This linear kind of working often leads to dead ends and is exhausting, though often carries its own kind of fulfillment. I end up valuing my life more by what I do than who I am and do not pay enough attention to the life cycles that invite me into a deeper experience.
What are these life cycles? They are like surfing. Surfers search for waves out by the horizon. When a juicy one approaches they mount the wave just as it crests and ride the “sweet spot” until they can ride no more. Then the wave crashes on the beach and they wait for another wave. I have found that jumping onto cycles as they roll into my life can be kind of exciting…as long as I don’t get side-tracked by linear thinking.
For most of my life I’ve shied away from cycles for two reasons. The first is that I often don’t recognize them until they’ve passed me by. The second is that they scare the wits out of me. Cycles are complex and impossible to control. They are full of variables that challenge my presuppositions. I remind myself that the whole point is not to control the wave but to ride it and be ready for the surprises it holds.
As I look back I see how my linear thinking and acting gave me an illusion of protection from the vagaries of life cycles. I went from 16 years of science and math to 8 years of philosophy and theology without missing a beat. The fact that I missed experiencing much of my adolescence and young adulthood seemed immaterial at the time. My linear thinking kept me on track intellectually, but slowly killed my heart’s receptivity. It cancelled out many opportunities for me to grow as a person. I got used to doing everything possible NOT to ride the wave.
Most of my ministry was trying to make an illusion come alive. I wanted to believe that the church after the Second Vatican Council was moving along with me in a straight line. I therefore ignored the many cycles that were coming and going in the church, believing them to be immaterial to my way of integrating faith and ministry. I didn’t’ pick up the signals, both liberal and conservative, that I ought to change my perspective. I was in denial for many years that Vatican II had been totally reinterpreted and now I was out of step with reality.
There’s no way of knowing what would have happened if my brain and heart were wired differently or if I had ridden life cycles at their crest rather than persisting in linear thinking. I suspect I would have been more spontaneous, with greater flexibility and less attachment to outcomes. I may have discovered earlier that life cycles would involve me in a different kind of process, only not as neat and tidy as building a brick wall and very often having no clear end in sight.
It’s not too late for me, or anyone, to start fresh! I’ve put down the mortar and bricks and am letting go of the least helpful aspects of linear thinking. I’m waiting for the waves to come and wash over me and will catch a few along the way and ride their crests. Now I have a perspective of expectation, of infinite possibility, rather than dead ends. And I’m kind of excited about what will happen if I let go and enjoy the view from the top of the wave. I’m actually happy that I don’t know the outcome and can’t control it.
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