Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Words to Live By

If you read my previous post, you will know how enamored I am of Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache books, including her most recent one, The Long Way Home. Good fiction is not just about a plot that carries you along or characters who interest you or a setting that makes you want to buy a ticket or get in your car. Good fiction also imparts wisdom; words and ideas that make you think and even examine your own way of living. With each succeeding book in the mystery series by Penny there seems to be more food for thought, more reason to pause and reflect. 

In this first week of September, which always feels like a new beginning to me, as perhaps it does for you, I offer you some words of wisdom from Penny's books, and invite you to reflect on their meaning for your life. 

Chief Inspector Gamache recites the following four statements to all his new agents as a pathway to wisdom. 

                 I don't know.
                 I was wrong.

                I'm sorry.

                I need help. 

Try saying these statements aloud. How do you feel as you hear yourself saying them? Is one harder to say than another? When was the last time you said and truly meant one of these statements and what happened when you did? 

Think about your life right now.  Is there someone in your life who needs to hear one of these statements from you? Is there a situation in your life that could change in a positive way if one of these statements was sincerely and genuinely expressed? Who is waiting for the next step from you? 

Think about a time when someone has looked you in the eyes and said one of those statements or written a letter saying, "I was wrong," or "I am sorry." How did that feel? Even if the words didn't wipe a slate clean or make whatever was damaged, repaired, did you feel some measure of healing? At least an intention of healing? 

One thing each of these statements has in common is the first word: "I." It is not enough to say "sorry," especially when the hurt is deep or the offense is serious--even if you don't know what the big deal is. What needs to be said and known is "I am sorry." Even though the statement begins with "I" and might seem to glorify the ego, the opposite seems more the case. When we say "I was wrong," for example, we become "freed from the imprisonments that keep us in exile from the true heart of another." (The Rebirthing of God, Christianity's Struggle for New Beginnings by John Philip Newell, p. 55) These statements can be representative of "dying to the way in which our ego, both individual and collective, tries stubbornly to be in charge, rather than faithfully letting go to the Self who is within all selves." (p. 113) 

Our six year old grandson Peter often says, easily and casually, when you ask him a question, "I have no idea." Not knowing is not a source of embarrassment to him nor does he worry we might think he is weak or stupid. He simply doesn't know, and he doesn't try to fake knowing. He admits it, and we move on. I hope he will retain that ability to be so open, but life seems to teach us to cover up, to hide behind a facade of false self-assurance. Sometimes we don't even know what we don't know. I have no idea! 

Inspector Ganache's words of wisdom remind me of four other statements to live by:

            Please forgive me.

            I forgive you.

            Thank you.

             I love you.

Ira Byock, M.D., an authority in palliative and end-of-life care, offers these statements in his book The Four Things That Matter Most, A Book About Living. These are words, Byock maintains, that can mend and nurture our relationships and our inner lives and help us get through the unpredictability of daily life. 

Four statements. Eleven words. 

An Aside: At the book talk where Louise Penny spoke recently, she said that along with her husband saying, "I love you," the most important words he ever said to her was when she was struggling with the decision to quit her job and begin writing full-time. He said, "I support you." 

Just imagine if we each integrated Gamache's and/or Byock's words of wisdom into our daily lives as our spiritual practice or our rule for life. As we maneuver through the rough spots, the times when we feel out of control or too in control, imagine those words sitting lightly within always available when needed. Just imagine what could happen if we set aside our ego and met one another heart to heart.

An Invitation
What has your experience been with any of these statements? Is there a time you wish you had made one or more of these statements or when you wish someone had expressed them to you? What can you do about it now? I would love to know. 

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