Thursday, October 22, 2015

Step into the cathedral of your life

Thanks Sheila Hamilton for hosting me on KINK FM!  So fun to get to talk about my book and about the role of community in our spiritual lives.  Here's an excerpt from the conclusion that listeners might enjoy.  Thanks again for having me Sheila.  Can't wait til you're in Palo Alto on December 4th!

For the first time in human history, marriage is truly a choice, not a social expectation, not an economic exchange, a choice. 

The past decade has seen the lowest marriage rates in the history of the United States. By and large, fewer couples are getting married and they are joining together later in life. According to the US census the number of un-married, cohabiting households in the US has increased more than ten times since 1960. Advancements in women’s participation in the workforce and the emergence of same-sex lifetime partnerships, underscore the fact that marriage, for the first time ever, is not a required social or financial arrangement between unequal partners, but instead an optional fork in the road of life that can be chosen by a pair of equal peers.

For couples like you, who choose marriage, the decision to marry, however, often feels less rational than the notion of choice implies. There is a sense that this pairing is inevitable, or that something irrefutable is drawing the couple along. One or both of the partners might have the experience of hearing the small still voice that whispers over and over again, “this is so right, this is the person, this is the time, this is it.” There can be the feeling that something bigger is afoot than what you two, as individuals, have planned for yourselves.

All these senses, these emotional sparks, are signs that individuals have entered the realm of their own spirituality, their own sense of meaning. A choice made in this context is not so much a choice as a calling, an enactment of deeply held sacred values. Considered alongside the changing external social dynamics, it is fair to say that in the course of just a few generations marriage has shifted from being a social requirement to a spiritual calling. 

Meanwhile, as the choice to marry becomes more spiritual in nature, the fastest growing religion in the US is, simply put, not having one. We are coming of age in families that have lost touch or are losing touch with the rituals and rhythms that traditional religions held together for us. The reasons for leaving traditional religion are legitimate, but we are losing more than the restraint that accompanied outdated systems. The thing we are losing is hard to put a finger on, but we can feel it. We drift from day today, always on, always connected, and yet having the sense of dislocation or of missing out on meaning. We know in our core there is something inexpressibly sacred about our lives, but we often find ourselves separate from the wisdom that tells us how to make regular contact with it.

However, contact with the sacred, because it is a part of our human nature, is inevitable. Thomas Moore says, “Our culture is in need of theological reflection that does not advocate a particular tradition, but tends to the soul’s need for spiritual direction.” And without effort at all, we find ourselves in the way of spiritual direction from time to time.

We feel into it at the edge of the sea, at the top of a mountain, in the loamy, pine-scented grove of thousand-year-old redwood trees. We touch it when we count the ten little fingers and ten little toes of a newborn baby. We smell it on the edge of the morning, when the dew is still fresh and the air is cold and wet. And, in a good wedding ceremony, we hear it in the hush of the invocation, in the cadence of the vows, and in the celebration of the final announcement of the couple.

Your wedding ceremony, if you have grown up without a religious tradition in your family, may very well be the first time you experience the sacred in a social context. And I hope it will not be the last. There is currently a proliferation of science and literature that will support you in seeking the sacred in your own individual life by establishing some kind of spiritual practice. Perhaps you will try yoga, or meditation, or journal writing because of something you’ve read or seen in the news. However, there is very little that is currently being written about the importance of community in our spiritual and psychological fulfillment. 

I hope the direct experience of your ceremony will be proof enough for you that community and a set of shared common values are essential elements in a well-lived life. Each of life’s milestones represents an opportunity to bring people together and celebrate our common journey. They are each, in their own way, an invitation to step into the cathedral of your life, to appreciate the sacred as it appears in a particular moment, to celebrate, to weave a life of deep meaning, and to align your community around shared values. My hope is that your wedding will light you up in such a way that you resolve to mark the arrival of new life, the seasonal changes, and the inevitable losses you will face in the context of community. I encourage you to act boldly in designing or requesting the rites of passage you, yourself need. 

This is not to say that you should go out of your way to create fake routines or exotic pageants that arise out of nowhere. Many times a simple toast or an intimate gathering to say out loud what a transition means to you is all that is required. More important than the pageantry is the vulnerability you are willing to share with your community. And sometimes, pageantry is exactly what’s called for at a particular moment. Either way when life touches you deeply and you allow others to be with you in that moment, magic happens. You create a feeling of belonging for yourself and for others that empowers you to step into your life with more grace and authenticity. You open yourself up to the possibility that your life is full of light and meaning.

In my view, our collective survival on the planet depends on compassion and the shared belief that all lives here on earth are worthy of respect. How better to grow our understanding of the spirit in all life, than to begin to recognize it in our own? When we take time to appreciate our lives, to allow every cell to wake up to the bittersweet beauty of our short time here, we sense a transcendent quality to our experience that is both tender and unbreakable.  There is a durable softness to the human experience that binds us together. Ceremonies are important in our lives because they are a kind of frame that help us experience and claim this aspect of what it means to be human.

My hope for you is that your wedding ceremony transports you into your new life as a couple with joy and ease, and that it instills in you the great spirit of celebration that lives in all of us.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

In Praise of Karaoke

Hi all, I have been missing you and missing posting lately.  And today I just have one thing on my mind, Karaoke.

If you haven't done Karaoke, and you are one of the people who sit on your urge to join in, but over and over just don't, please do it.  Just find a way to get yourself to do it.

For all my life I sat on the Karaoke sidelines, watching others have the fun.  Yearning to try, but red in the face with that shy shame feeling that haunts those of us who look at other people's singing and dancing with a strange combination of longing and embarrassment, I sat and sat.  And about three years ago, I decided that I would stand up. That someday I would do Karaoke.

Time passed.  I did not do it.  And I did not do it.  And then finally this summer I did.  I had to fly out of state and sing with safe people, but I finally did it.

Between channeling my inner Pat Benatar in We Belong Together, or convincing Graham to join me in a dramatic Don't You Want Me Human League duet (remember that one?!) I learned that I need more of whatever it is that happens in Karaoke in my life. 

It's hard to pin down exactly, but it has to do with music and the way music hits me in my body.  Whether I'm dancing or singing, songs land in my chest and make their way through me, somehow they bypass a part of my brain that desperately needs to be taken off line.  When a song really takes me, it can feel like I'm all body and soul, my thinking brain gets sidelined.  And I so need that.

I was reminded of Karaoke this weekend, when my friend Laurel and I went to see Elizabeth Gilbert talk about her new book Big Magic.  She was speaking in an auditorium that held a few hundred people.  At the end of the reading, she told an interesting story.

"At one of my last readings, a woman asked me, 'When you are not writing, what do you do for yourself?  You write so much you must do something else for yourself' and I thought about it for a minute and realized that the other thing I did for myself was Karaoke."

I was floored.

"It started out that a few of us got together on a Wednesday night to do Karaoke.  We loved it so much we went again.  And now it's a thing.  On Wednesday night I do Karaoke now.  I just do."

After this story, she explained that because she was on such an ambitious book tour, she was not signing books, but instead, asked us if we would be up for singing with her.  

"If you don't go to church, chances are that you are not singing.  And that is a sad thing.  We must be the first humans in all of humanity to go long stretches without singing."

The audience was clearly game.  She had us look up Take Me Home Country Road by John Denver on our phones and then we were off, singing all together.  It was that simple.  

As I sang the song I'd learned on a hundred road trips in the back seat of my mother's car, there were tears in my eyes, the kinds that are the river of your life calling you, asking you to do your very best to go all in.  And you are shy and embarrassed and maybe terrible singer, but you do it in any way.  You allow yourself to disappear into the crowd, to let loose and let the song be in charge.  And the music rises, past your ears above your head, filling the room up to the very rafters.  Its hum is thick and deep and it lifts you along, and you are not alone, for one singing minute you are a part of it.  No longer watching or listening or trying to decide, you are a part of the flow, a note in the song, a tiny speck carried along in the current.

Singing does this for me.  I want more of it in my life and want it for you too.  Karaoke, of all unholy things, strangely can help.