Holding Space


 

 

 

 

By Neal Lemery

 

These are not gentle times. And, having a mean streak seems almost a requirement these days, as we navigate social media and the cultural and political climate.

Our culture, and so many commentators and “leaders”, are so quick to make judgement, to express opinions, and eagerly offer criticism and condemnation of others’ points of view.  Political, social, and artistic criticism now is so often unkind, harsh, even vicious to the point of hostility and intolerance.

It is an easy train to climb aboard, and my snarky and off-handed comments are often a computer click away from getting out into the world, showing up on the social media “news feeds” that have become the path by which most of us engage with others. Be quick, spontaneous, “get it out there”, and move on to something else.  The popular term, “click bait” comes to mind as having a meaning larger than how we define the term. Is being polite too time consuming, too unfashionable? It seems easier just to fire off a salvo, and “let it fly”.

We’ve come a long way from the days when social commentary and personal expression in public came after laboring over a sheet of linen paper with a quill pen, and a pot of ink.  A letter to the editor not only took time to compose and hand write, but also required an envelope, a stamp, and a trip to the post office. Public expression took time and effort, and hopefully a lot of thought in the process.

I am realizing I’ve been conditioned to be the Pavlovian dog, to respond to stimuli in an expected, routine “in a New York minute” way, simply becoming a product of this age of advertising, manipulation, and conditioning.

But what if I was, instead, calm, supportive, caring, and expressed unconditional compassion and love? Perhaps just being present, in a kind way, should be my response to others in conflict and crisis. Can I just suspend judgement and criticism? Maybe not feeding my ego with my unappreciated and intrusive opinions when simply being there for someone, and exuding gentle support and kindness would be much more appreciated and needed in the situation.

            “You walk along with them without judgment, sharing their journey to an unknown destination. Yet you’re completely willing to end up wherever they need to go. You give your heart, let go of control, and offer unconditional support.”

    —Lynn Hauka  —Coach

In life, we have numerous job titles and duties, and often, those are multiple roles, calling upon our experiences and our ability to navigate the complexities and subtleties of modern life. Being the son, the father, the uncle, the spouse, the friend, the mentor, the teacher, the confidante is a role more appropriate by just quietly being there for someone.  Unwanted and often uninformed advice often taints the situation, and shame, guilt, and a sense of failure soon follows.

Holding space “…means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.”

—Heather Plett

 

What the situation really often calls for is compassion and unconditional love, a holding of sacred space to just “let it be”. That may not be what our culture seems to expect, yet it is a revolutionary and culture-changing response.

For me, I need to take a breath, and let it out slowly, taking my time to plan my response, and to put myself in the most effective position of the supporting, compassionate friend and listening post that the person in need is really needing to have around when the crisis is at hand.

We don’t have to rush in, armed with our snap judgements and fire hose responses, issuing our breathless bulletins on social media, or even feeding the local gossip mill.  Time is on our side, and is an ally for the managers of crisis and personal angst. Time will tell if I need to voice an opinion, or give some wise counsel, and if I do, then the wait will be worthwhile, and the Universe will give me that guidance.  And, I can frame the most appropriate, the most effective action.

Or, I can simply be there, offering support quietly, by my presence, exuding kindness and love and understanding, and offering the balm of friendship and compassion.

Silence, often, becomes the best tool, the most effective fix to the matter at hand. One kind, thoughtful, compassionate soul become an ally, rather than an unwelcome new factor, the volatile instigator of an even larger conflagration.

Simply by holding space, by being the calm in the storm, you can make a better world.

 

5/28/2019

 

One Person Making A Difference


 

 

–by Neal Lemery

 

The daily news can be overwhelming, and often paralyzes me into a state of inaction, frustration, and disappointment on how I fit in. I wonder if my life really has meaning. Nothing I can do will make a difference, part of my brain rationalizes, pushing me into idleness and despondency.

I have to work hard to countermand that kind of thinking, which is ineffective and against all of my values and spirituality.  I bring value to the world. Everyone does. Creating change and spreading love is the essence of my purpose on this planet.  Yet, the negativity and depressive energy seems to be persistent and ever-present.

Others, with great wisdom, take on this feeling, this social attitude that often seems pervasive.  They turn it around and urge us to be proactive, to initiate change by engaging with others.  And, often that work is not a shout out to the entire world, but quiet, thoughtful work, one on one, giving an individual some attention and direction.

Oprah’s new book, The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose, is a delightful and inspiring collection of quotes and short essays on empowering yourself to change your attitude and the world.

“When you know, teach. When you get, give.” – Maya Angelou.

We are all teachers and givers. That is what we are here for, the purpose of life. As a child, I found great joy in life in simply being with others.  The greatest satisfactions came with experiences with others.  Sharing, giving, teaching, it is all the same, moving us towards our purpose, our life force of one’s love to others. I often get side-tracked, and forget that profound lesson I learned as a child.

When we give, when we teach, when we share of ourselves to others, that spreads out into the world, like a pebble tossed into a pond.  The good from that rebounds back to us, often in ways we may not recognize or even be aware.  And, often that echoing is seen many years later, our initial altruistic act nearly forgotten.

The time frame for that fits no pre-conceived schedule or expectation. Often, I sense that “return on investment” as a surprise, a new, unexpected gift back to me.

At other times, my investment seems like a poor choice. The recipient of my attention, my nurturance and loving, acts out with meanness, anger, and multiple acts of self and social destruction and violence. I see numerous acts of narcissistic rage and self-harm, a desire to “win at all cost”.

The addictions of this world, be it drugs, violence, selfishness, or other toxins, often can seem to be the winners on the battlefields people create to try to make it through our lives.  I can’t change the world by having bigger, more deadly weapons in my arsenal.  Such escalation only increases the casualty lists and leaves the world poorer, more broken. Hatred is a no-win answer for any problem. And, it turns me into a nasty, vitriolic shell of my true self.

“There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem.” – Eldridge Cleaver.

If I am patient, and understanding, and willing to step to the side and let the storms of rage and loathing pass by, the inherent goodness can still be found in the ashes of the outcomes of frustration and acting out.  In those moments, there is often a “sweet moment” of opportunity.

I try to turn it around, and rather than fling my own spears and shoot my own arrows of hostility and rage, I get in touch with my own gentle side, and respond with compassion, patience, and reaching out to them.

Such an approach is not without its challenges. But, I’m stubborn and persistent in my own path of being an instrument of change.

A few words of kindness, a smile, a warm and welcoming handshake can be disarming.  If the recipient of my outreach responds with a look of need or even acknowledgement of my message, then the communication has begun, and the path of their day of anger and rage has been changed.

Just listening, with compassion, is a revolutionary act.

People do change. It is often a small change, but it IS a change, an alteration, a glimpse of an alternative on how one should feel, how the day can be navigated in a different way, even in developing a vision on living an intentional, purposeful life based upon love.

Perhaps in those small acts, I am a rebel, a revolutionary, going in a direction that isn’t what is expected of me, or the place in this world other people perceive I should occupy.

“You reap what you sow.”

I can be the good farmer, the good steward of my own heart and its bounty.  If I take care of my own little corner of the world, and let my garden grow, then I can later share my harvest with the world.

When I reach out to someone and suspend judgement and bias, if I give of myself and my life force, then I’m being genuine, real, and open.  That person I’m in touch with gets the real me, a person striving to be an honest, straight-forward bit of love and care, with all of my own imperfections and challenges.

Like all of us, I’m a work in progress.

That gift of me can help fill an empty spot, ease a pain, help heal a wound, even start a conversation.

“Someone cares” can also be a very powerful, world-changing message, a key ingredient in letting another person move closer to their true potential, and find an easier path to their own peacefulness and gentleness.

We all need to heal.  There are more than enough wounds in life that need to heal, to ease the pain in our hearts, to feel that we truly belong to our community, that our own life matters and has purpose.

I can make a difference.  I am valued for what I do, who I am, and what I can contribute to others.

“Give to this world what you want to receive from the world, because that is what you will receive.”  –Gary Zukov

 

4/23/2019

 

 

A Day of Kindness


 

–by Neal Lemery

 

I had a big dose of soul medicine and human kindness last week.  The experience restored my faith in humanity and the power of unconditional love. I saw my community at its best.

A friend invited me to Homeless Connect, a community effort to provide basic needs to those among us who find themselves without shelter and other necessities.

The weather was bitter. Cold winds blew and temperatures were in the 20s at night. It wasn’t so rough that the local warming shelter would be open, but it was still promising to be a miserable night.

My task was to be the greeter and the poll taker as folks left.

“Did you get what you needed?” and “What could we do better?”

I met a steady stream of people, people of all ages and circumstances.  I didn’t know their stories, and that kind of personal information was thankfully unwanted.   We simply welcomed everyone who showed up and took care of basic needs. The red tape of bureaucracy was nowhere to be found. We did keep track of how many people came, as those without shelter are nearly invisible in our culture.

I saw a lot of smiles. Their pets were cared for, vaccinated, and fed. They had a hot meal and haircuts, were tended by health care providers, and connected with services by nearly every social service agency in town. They could pick up clean, warm clothes, blankets, sleeping bags, shoes, coats, tarps, and tents.

They made connections, not just with people and agencies who could offer a helping hand, but also with each other.

I saw connections made and strengthened with friends, family, an abundance of job prospects and housing tips. There was a spirit of fellowship and camaraderie filling the church gym where we had all gathered.

People were helping people, giving a helping hand, a ride, ideas and where to get help for a particular problem, connecting with others who cared.  There was dignity and love.

It was an afternoon of suspended judgement and the absence of loudly voiced opinions and political rhetoric, blaming and stereotyping.  Instead, it was a time of getting the right size of winter coat, a sleeping bag, a bag of food for someone’s dog, a haircut, a hot meal, and a tip on a decent, safe place to pitch a tent.

Everyone helped everyone else.  No one left without something to help them take better care of themselves, make their lives a little easier, and a feeling that they were an important part of the community.

Community.  That was the unpublished message of the day.  People had generously donated the food, clothing, bedding, pet care, medical care, and an afternoon of services to reach out to and help their fellow community members.

There were great conversations, interactions on problem solving and connecting people to each other, sharing resources and knowledge, being human and acting with kindness and compassion.  There was respect.

The sun moved lower and the cold wind off the mountains pushed deeper through my coat, reminding me that night was coming.  The people I was talking with were slowly drifting away, off to spend this night sleeping on the ground, with maybe only a tarp, a tent, and a sleeping bag to ward off the frosty air, and the loneliness of yet another night without permanent shelter.

I struggled to relate, to comprehend their lives.

I knew that I had a warm home to return to when my volunteer shift came to an end. There would be family to greet me, a hot meal on the stove, a comfortable chair, a good book, a warm, clean bed, and a bathroom with hot water and clean towels. I would not have to move on when the sun came up, putting all of my possessions into a plastic garbage bag, and maybe a backpack, and wondering where my next meal was coming from.

Also at home would be my assumptions about life, about meeting a person’s basic needs and how people live in our community.

I assume a lot, yet I’m complacent, ignorant about how so many people in our community live, what they don’t have, and what they can expect in the days to come. I find myself too often acting blind to the dilemma of such need in a society where some are wealthy, and there is an abundance of necessities, yet out of reach of so many.

For that afternoon at least, there was compassion, service, charity, and a common fellowship of people helping each other, of making lives more comfortable, more bearable. Another cold winter’s night was coming, and dedicated community members had made a small effort to help ease people’s circumstances, maybe helping them step forward into better times.

I learned, again, that in our humanity, it is not difficult to act with kindness and compassion. If I suspend judgement and comparison, if I try to walk a mile in another’s shoes, then I can look at the world with greater understanding.

And, I can renew myself, and again be connected to the true purpose of our lives.

 

2/4/2019

Befriending


 

 

Kindness

Comes in so many forms, so many ways

A smile, a cup of tea,

Reaching out, giving a hand

Listening

Accepting.

 

Together

We honor ourselves and each other

Gifts to share, building community

Bonds, interactions, communion

Union, reciprocity

Strengthening, a weaving together

The whole greater than the parts.

 

Compassion

Understanding the Other, each other

By opening our own hearts

Being open, exchanging, offering

Receiving

Accepting

Enhancing

Uniting.

 

–Neal Lemery

11/29/2018

Just Listen


 

 

I almost didn’t pick up the phone. We’ve had a lot of robo-calls lately, and I’ve gotten into the habit of just letting the phone ring. If it is important, or someone I know, they’ll leave a message and I’ll call them back.

The number was familiar. It was the number that called several times in the last few days, the voice familiar, from the past when I volunteered as a mentor in a nearby youth prison. Two days ago, the voice left a distraught, heartfelt message, wanting to connect with me, and alluding that he was thinking of ending his life.

No name, no return phone number. But, my phone remembered the number and I called back, getting the receptionist at another youth prison.

I explained that the voice sounded desperate, sad, alluding to self harm.

“We have 250 youth here, and I can’t track down who may have called you,” the receptionist said. “But, I’ll transfer you to the treatment manager in our mental health cottage.”

But, without a name, I was stuck, hoping he’d call back.

This time, we connected. The voice at the other end was a staff person, telling me that “Joe” wanted to talk to me. He put me on hold, and it was a long wait.

I was hesitant to take the call. Maybe “Joe” was having second thoughts, too, now that I was on the line.

My brain was trying to remember who “Joe” was. The mists of time parted and I began to remember “Joe”. I saw him every week for about a year, until he moved on, getting released to a half way house.

The staff had asked me to see him, as he was falling behind in his school work, and didn’t seem to care. He’d act indifferent and pushed me away, not letting me get close to him. But, I stuck with it, trying to tutor him in the math class that he was failing.

It wasn’t the work, and it wasn’t the level of math. I soon realized he was brilliant, and had taken the road of not doing the work, and blowing the homework and the tests, because it was too simple, too easy. And, if he passed his math class, then he’d graduate from high school. The next step was college.

But, he was a failure, a no good, not worthy of success. I soon learned that his family had abandoned him, never visiting him in prison, or even writing a letter or talking with him on the phone.

“Worthless,” “scum”, those were the words he’d last heard from his family, the day he was arrested, probably a whole childhood of that kind of talk.

I walked around the math conundrum, trying to engage with him on a different level. I learned he loved music, playing and composing songs and rhythms. He’d taken over the keyboard in the rec room and the computer that was set up to record and put together different tracks of music the kids had recorded.

I kept asking me to show me what he’d done with the recording devices, but he kept putting me off.

“It’s not very good,” or “I’m not quite ready for you to hear what I’ve done.”

One day, he let me into that world, playing a very complex rhythm track, and a long electronic music piece that was beyond words in its complexity and beauty.

“It’s nothing,” he said, when I raved about his talent and ingenuity.

“Oh, and you tell me you’re not very good at math, when you can compose this elaborate rhythm and multi-track composition?” I said.

“Well,” he said. And just shrugged.

“It’s not a big deal.”

I wanted to get up on the table and dance!

As I was leaving, I told a staff member how talented Joe was, and so gifted in music.

“I know. He’s amazing,” the staff member said. “But he thinks it’s no big deal.”

At our next visit, he actually smiled.

“I passed my math class,” he said. “I actually got an A.”

 

Yeah, that “Joe”. How could I forget him?

What’s he doing back in prison, after all this time, I wondered.

The phone line clicked, and a soft, deep voice said hello.

“Is this Neal?” the voice asked. The hesitancy in his voice tugged at my heart.

He said he was amazed I remembered him, that I was willing to talk with him, that I was even listening to him, that he was worthy of my time.

“Joe” had taught me an important lesson. Sometimes, good things happen when you just wait, just enjoy the silence in a conversation, and let that quiet connectedness be the conversation. Just showing up, caring, and listening, can affect fundamental change in someone’s life.

Now, years later, I listened again. His story came tumbling out. There were successes, achievements. And there were disappointments, fears, times of perceived failures and disasters. There came a time when it was all too much, too much goodness going on, and so he pulled the plug, sabotaging himself, and choosing to run away.

The old family voices of being worthless and a scum echoed around his mind. There were prophecies to fulfill, and expectations to satisfy.

There was loneliness, too. He’d had no visitors, no one to call, no one to care.

“Except you,” he said. “Thanks for talking to me.”

I didn’t say much at first, just listened a lot to this sad story, feeling him open up on the phone and share his feelings.

I responded, offering words of encouragement, hope, and concern.

I told him he was smart, creative, a nice guy. I told him I cared about him, that he was like a son to me, that he was important to me, a good part of my life.

He got quiet, and I could detect a sniffle or two, and a few sobs.

I’d come to see him, if that’s what he wanted. Oh, he did. He’d talk to his counselor and see if we could set that up.

“I don’t know if they let people here have visitors,” he said. “It’s the mental ward, you see, and I don’t know if they’d let you come.”

I told him I thought they would, if it would help him out, help him move through this rough patch in his life, help him transition to a better place, and get on with his life.

We exchanged addresses, and I gave him my cell phone number.

I promised to write to him the next day, and he said he’d write to me. We’d get together, and work on a plan for him to move on. We’d stay in touch.”

“Three years was too long, you know,” he said.

I laughed. “Yeah, I know.”

He laughed too, then, and I heard him smile finally.

I remembered his smile, the one he gave me when he played his music for me, that one special afternoon years ago, just before he aced his math class.

“Well, I’ve got to go,” he said quietly. “My phone time is up.”

“OK,” I said. It was great to talk to you. I hope you feel better. I hope you want to live.”

“Yeah, I do,” he said. “I really do. Thanks for talking to me.”

“Call again soon.”

“I will.”

I looked at the clock. Twenty minutes had passed since I’d decided to answer the call. Twenty minutes of sad stories, and sniffling, and some words of encouragement. Twenty minutes of showing up in each other’s life again, and both of us finding the good in that, each filling our hearts with that connection once again.

We all have twenty minutes a day to give to someone, to listen, to hear their story, to make a connection. We all can care about someone for twenty minutes.

That might make a big difference. It might save a life.

 

–Neal Lemery 10/17/2017

Grieving


 

 

 

They come into my life and then, too early, they are gone. And I mourn and grieve, cry and moan. I am angry at my loss, my pain, the void in my life as their sudden absence is a bleeding, infected wound that never quite seems to heal.

Grief dances its macabre and bittersweet retinue of every emotion, taking fiendish joy in ambushing me when I least expect it, when I am least able to cope with the pain.

Yet, deep down, I still carry their light and their love, and sense their their soul, still resounding with me, still an integral part of my life.

Why? What was so special about that person that I am so profoundly affected by their passing? What was it about them that reached me, touched my heart, and brought them so close to me, such an essential part of my life, my own story? What is the lesson to be learned?

I just read that plants emit light frequencies in a part of the light spectrum that is invisible to our eyes, yet photography is now able to record those images, those vibrations, and reveal another dimension of the profound beauty and intricacies of these living beings.

Is it that much of a stretch in thinking that people also emit vibrations and frequencies of light that is invisible to our eyes, yet sensed in a much deeper level by us, on a different, yet intuitive, level.

“You are special. You bring something into my life that is beautiful, meaningful for me.”

Attraction.

The law of attraction teaches us that we attract to ourselves the emotions, the feelings, the vibrations that we need. And when we open ourselves to those feelings, the presence of what we crave, then we become more complete, and more able to live the life that we deeply desire. We come closer to fulfilling our true purpose in this life.

And when a special person leaves us, there is a void, an emptiness, a loss. Yet there is also the knowing, deep down, of what they have brought to us in our all too brief time together. That memory serves us well, teaching us what we had needed and desired, to be a better, more complete person.

In that loss, that death, there are lessons to be learned, lessons on what we have needed and taken in, and grown from. When the class is over, only then do we fully appreciate the lessons learned, the experience gained, the real benefit of being present for the lesson, the experience.

At the end of a particular journey, the end of that special time when a special friend has come into my life and walked with me, only then do I first realize what I have experienced, what we had set out to learn, and how I needed to grow. I look back, and only then see from where I have come, how far I have traveled, and the name of the road I am on.

These dear ones who have passed on, the ones whose light I have needed along my own journey, have taught me great lessons, and deeply impacted my life. I find that when they are gone, only then do I start to fully realize the gifts they have given me, the lessons they have taught me, and the special places they have held in my life. Only then do I fully appreciate them, and find some sense of completeness and understanding of their presence in my life.

Somehow, their teaching to me is not complete until they are gone. Only then do I learn all the lessons they have been teaching me.

Only then is the full spectrum of the light they have shared revealed to me.

Only then can grief lead me to the understanding I have been led to eventually discover.

 

 

–Neal Lemery 6/16/2017

Taking Care


 

 

“Take care.” It’s a popular thing to say, as friends part, or end a phone call.

There’s a great need now to take care in our culture. I’m seeing a lot of pain, a lot of anxiety, a lot of doubt and uncertainty as to who we are as a nation and a culture. There’s a lot of doubt, of losing a sense of purpose.

When I watch the evening news, or peruse the headlines in the paper, I find myself emotionally wringing my hands, or throwing them up in anger. I’m close to my boiling point.

“What can I do about it?” I wonder. How can I take care?

Not much, I’ve concluded. But I can make a difference where I live.

I can take care in my community. And, it is something I can do, rather than sit on the couch, tap my foot, and bemoan to my wife about how things could be different. Talking back to the TV doesn’t seem to do anything.

A few weeks ago, a friend suddenly lost his son. It was a great tragedy, but what could I do? I still don’t know what I can do, but I did reach out to him. I went to his house and just sat with him, letting him talk, letting us sit there in silence. He was not alone, and I just listened. I went with him to the funeral home, and prayed with him, holding him as he cried.

At the funeral, I spoke the words he wanted said. I welcomed people, listened to them, and held them close. We cried and we grieved, and my friend was not alone.

A friend should not grieve alone, and there was a community of grief, holding my friend close. And, maybe that’s all that we can do, grieving together, taking care of each other, in that awful journey of grief and shock and bewilderment.

“I don’t know how to do this,” my friend said.

“None of us do,” I replied. “But we take care of ourselves and each other.”

“That’s all we can do.”

Another friend had a heart attack, and I sent my prayers, a few words of comfort, a message of “take care”. And, he is, and I am.

Another friend needed to talk, to get a worry off their chest, and let it out. So, I listened, and loved them, and listened some more. As we parted, we said those words, “take care”, and we will and we did.

I cared for a public space this morning, a small garden in a parking lot, often busy with people on a mission, with business to take care of, the never ending errands of life. I pruned, weeded, planted new plants, and added some fertilizer just before the next spring shower poured down. Most visitors won’t notice it, but some will. And, this summer, as the plants grow and bloom, and the empty spaces fill in, there will be some beauty to be enjoyed, a quiet respite on a busy day. That garden will “take care” of someone in need of that quiet moment.

What I did wasn’t much and it won’t make the evening news, but in other ways it was a lot. I made a small difference in one corner of the world.

I “took care” and, in this crazy world, that makes a difference.

 

–Neal Lemery

4/14/2017