Today’s post comes from Brittian Bullock and was first posted on his blog.
A skydiver drifted over a hundred miles off course and landed in a dense forest. Strung up in the tree, tangled, and terrified that the night was fast approaching he began to yell out for help. After a few minutes, a man out for a walk chanced upon the skydiver. “Hello! I need help!” called the man in the tree. “Yes, I can see that. You’re stuck in a tree, with no way out, surrounded by a forest, and it’s getting quite dark.” The other man replied. “Of all my luck,” said the skydiver to him, “I get stuck with a clergymen as a rescuer.” Hearing this the passer by wondered aloud how the distressed man had known his occupation as a religious teacher. “Well—I just assumed you must be a clergy, as what you’ve said is equally true, and absolutely useless in helping me”
I’ve told this story to many of my friends who are professional clergy. They usually get a kick out of it—in part because they accept it a generalized truism. So much of the faith discourse, while perhaps good and even spot on, is often devoid of practical impact. It’s not only Christianity, or religion, that gets targeted by this critique—most academic or philosophic movements struggle to have real grounded applications. This is no more relevant than when it comes to the topic of being changed—of being transformed.
Many of us hope for change to happen—we know that what we’re doing simply isn’t working; we understand that something is broken and cannot continue. We wish for more meaningful or mended relationships with those around us. We struggle to live an active life, reconnected with our environment. We hope to be authentic, to represent ourselves as we are—not falsely. And we long to unite with a sense of greater meaning, a Higher Power, God, or faith. Yet in spite of these desires most such intentions fall the to the wayside, swept away under the tide of the urgent and immediate. It’s not for lack of yearning—it is the absence of grounded pragmatics. What is needed, desperately, is a technology of transformation.
Below, I’m going to be laying out practical steps towards that end. Change. Some will address seemingly mundane realties; others take on the man behind the curtain. Some may be instantly relevant to you, others you might need to stuff in your back pocket for another time. But, if you long to sense something “more” being birthed in your life—stay tuned.
Ten Steps Towards Transformation
1. Practice Gratitude. This is different than being grateful, or knowing the importance of gratitude in general. It is about finding and implementing specific tools in thankfulness. At this point, most of us know how significant gratitude is—I don’t need to convince you. Choose a practice. Carve out routine moments in your year, your week, and your day where you celebrate your own powerlessness and therefore the incredible gift that you have received, simply through the basic provisions of breath, life, relationship, sustenance, and hope. Build a calendar of these moments and discover a Lifetime of Gratitude.
2. Find a flesh and blood group of peers who you can dialog with. I prefer faith communities. Though not without their perils, they assume deeper meaning in the universe and attempt to process the challenges of living through that understanding. This lends itself to hope, and perseverance. Sometimes—especially in the storm, that is everything you need to make it through. You don’t need to agree with everything they say or think or do. You simply need them. Go out, meet your neighbors, invest at a local club, try a church or synagogue or mosque. Find fellowship with those around you.
3. Choose one thing to be consistent about, and live it. A beachhead of just one disciplined action will create a pathway in your mind, allowing you to do this more often. I can recall a time in my life in which I wanted to lose weight, but failed to have the discipline to do so. That year I chose to also wake up at 5am to meditate. I believe the act of choosing to stick with one, aided the other. In the end I lost 50 pounds, and was far more centered than when I started. It forever taught me this lesson.
4. Routinely ask yourself “Who am I?” It’s an endless rabbit hole. Am I my name? No, that is simply a word—I would be me, even without that name. Am I my job? No, at this point I’ve been through enough careers to know that this too does not define me. Am I those I am in relationship to? Perhaps…and certainly I am shaped by them. And yet, there does seem to be a consistent core that moves from relationship to relationship. Am I my ideas? To some extent, yet ive experienced enough of a fluidity to those to know that the underlying person seems to remain consistent in the face of those shifts. So no…etc…etc..etc.. You get the point. This is a powerful spiritual practice if you give yourself to it. Of course a very similar exercise is asking “Who is God?” Now there’s a terrifying question. Try coming to the end of that path.
5. Read poetry. Buy a book of poetry and read it, daily, aloud. This is one of the most transformative acts you can engage in for your soul. The process of poetics short circuits the detailed monologues we have running at any given time in our heads. In destitute times we need poetry to hint at the traces of fugitive gods and hidden realities. Try reading Rilke, Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda, The Psalms, William Blake, Hafiz, or Rumi. These will keep you busy for a while.
6. Pay attention. Start with keeping a journal. Even a few simple notes to remind yourself of what happened, what was meaningful, what you felt, what was said, and how you connected the dots. This process continues into a moment by moment mental note taking—noticing what is happening. Becoming aware is the process of dropping the unhelpful “programming” we assume is us, but really is simply something that has been downloaded to our systems. By seeing ourselves and our lives through a compassionate, non-judgmental space, we allow for the opportunity to live joyfully and free.
7. Discover prayer. By prayer I mean contact with God–with the originating Source and ultimate End of the universe. This comes in many forms, but it is always intentional. Whether it is meditation, contemplation, verbal, or any other strain of prayer, they are all a conscious act of the will. There are some who will say that we should simply exist with the idea of God’s presence surrounding us—rather than strive to have contact. I don’t disagree that God is the very fabric of the universe. God does not simply exist, God is existence. And yet—a dinner guest present at my table will have been ignored if I fail to directly engage them. God is no different in this aspect. We can ignore the reality of God’s presence. All forms of prayer are a type of narrowing of focus (some are more effective than others) in order to make contact with that reality. It will, quite simply, shift your vantage point.
8. Savor everything. Live. Drink your coffee; don’t gulp it. Taste the wine for its own sake. Spend the next two hours making an exquisite meal—it doesn’t have to be expensive, only care-full. Fail to stifle the laugh that bubbles up from your gut to your throat. Laugh loudly whenever appropriate (and sometimes when not). Cry openly. Be where you are in each instance you are there. In part this means, to those of us who glance routinely at our phones, silencing, turning off, or taking a fast from technology from time to time. Allow nothing to distract you from attending to the sacred of this present moment.
9. Make it a priority to (re)connect with those who love you. There is nothing so transformative as being in relationship with people who will truly care for you and whom you can care for. Mostly we judge the relationships that we are willing to spend time investing in by how good they feel at the time. This is a poor way to judge growth. Allow some degree of history to direct your course. For many of us, our family have been there once—invite them to be again. Dear friends we’ve held and perhaps lost along the way also can be re-engaged. It is a choice, permission given, to permit others to attend to our lives. There are perils—yet the promise is great also. Commit to those who will speak truly and lovingly, give yourself unreservedly to those relationships and see how they transform you.
10. Love. To receive love is to have given love. Love begins with kindness, a choice. Take out your neighbors garbage. Mow their lawn. Invite them over for dinner. Kiss your spouse when you wake up in the morning. Change a dirty diaper. Hire a maid as a surprise, or clean the house yourself. Choose to respond with empathy when you have none. Say the hard word when it matters and you must. Take your children out on dates. Surprise your parents with a visit. Come home early from work. If someone notices something of yours they think is special or amazing or of note, give it to them. Listen to the stories of others. Ask questions about someone else’ life. And of course, though often missed, have compassion on yourself. All love of God and neighbor flows from a love of self.
A final note to leaders. There’s nothing so deadening as leaders who make sweeping recommendations yet experience little of these realities themselves. Did you hear the story of the great fisherman who retired from his nets in order to teach others how to fish? He starved. If you are not engaging in intentional and transformative practices consider beginning today. Those you care for and work with will be better for it, but moreover your true self will grow.
In the end, not all paths lead to transformation. There is a main stream carrying us towards the ocean of union with the Divine. Along that stream there are detours, eddy’s, whirlpools, swamps, back drifts, and marshes. It’s possible to end up there. This is why in the end the main thing is always the main thing. The experience of God isn’t only the end, it is also the means to the goal. There is nothing quite so indescribable as the ultimate intention, the transformative method, and the divine purpose you and I were meant for….oneness with Reality itself.