Archive for the ‘relationships’ Category

Synchronicity

June 29, 2007

On Thursday night I was just leaving the back flat behind George Fox House. I’d been hanging out with Joe and Kate before my friend Tim, who I was staying with, picked me up. Tim called to say he was waiting out the front, so I got my suitcase, hugged Joe goodbye and went up the path.

As I passed the front door of George Fox House, John, one of the Resident Friends, was saying goodbye to a guest. “Hi” I said “I’m not staying this time”. “Are you getting a taxi?” John said. “No” I replied, “my friend’s giving me a ride”. “Where are you going?” said his guest. “Island Bay” I said. “Well, that’s exactly where I need to go” she replied. John then introduced us. “Oh” Marianne laughed. “We’ve just been emailing, I’m Louis and Pearl’s mum”.

We’d emailed just a few days before as her kids were coming to Junior Young Friends camp.  On the way to Island Bay we chatted about her kids, other JYFs and the upcoming camp. She asked me about my work, and it turned out she was going to Island Bay to stay with a school friend who just happened to be a client of mine, who I’d run a workshop with a couple of weeks before!

Sometimes random encounters like that make me think that it’s just too convenient to be coincidence.  I’m so resistant to the idea of fate, or an intentional God though, that I find this tricky. It’s easy just to say “it’s a small world”, and not think about it any more. I’ve had lots of seemingly ‘random’ encounters with other Quakers at GFH, which happen actually just because it’s a hub for traveling Friends.

Maybe it’s just one of the things about living in New Zealand, the degrees of separation are so low that those kind of ‘chance connections’ are fairly common. I can’t help feeling though, that sometimes synchronicity like that is a part of the wider beauty and harmony of the universe. I know that when I’m calm, focused, and in the flow, that sort of thing happens more often. Everything meshes and life becomes a smooth dance of joyous interaction with people and with the world.

To me this goes past fate vs determinism. It’s not a question of free will versus a supernatural being that has a plan for one’s life. It’s a deeper truth beyond that paradox, that when one is at peace, open, and present, the fact that everything is connected, that all is one, becomes more apparent. There is no intention, and no chance, only the flowing tides of a harmonious reality.

Linguistic Accommodation

June 3, 2007

In May each year the number of people staying at our place each month (bednights in George Fox House terms) drops off. Most traveling YFs have gone back home, generally to their northern hemisphere summers.

Each year we get to meet new people, and get to know them pretty well. There’s something about inviting people into your home, feeding them, having them there when you get up in the morning and get back home from work at night. Depending on their inclinations they play games with the kids, read them stories, put new software on our computers, help in the garden or the kitchen, watch youtube and DVDs with us. They become part of the family for a few nights, or a week or two. Often they’ll go traveling round the South Island then come back for a few nights before they fly out. We miss them while they’re gone, and welcome them home when they’re back.

I like the notion from the early days of Quakers, when if a Friend was traveling in the Ministry, and requested to stay, you had to let them. I travel a lot for business, and I feel totally comfortable asking Friends if I can stay with them. I encourage traveling YFs that we meet at Summer Gathering and other places to stay with us when they’re in town. Somehow, on some universal scales it feels like this is ‘balancing the books’. I hope those that stay with us will feel more inclined to welcome other people into their homes sometime in the future.

The only thing that really makes me in any way glad when people leave, is my tendency towards ‘linguistic accommodation’. This is a term that explains the natural human capability of adapting one’s speech to those around them. It’s the way accents work. It’s the way that ‘speaking the lingo’ allows one to be accepted within a community. Mum came out from England when she was 11. She had hardly a trace of an English accent, except when she was on the phone with her mother, when it came out quite strongly. I notice my speech changing the more I’m around people with other accents. When Carrie and Matt were here, I found myself developing an American accent, and using more Americanisms. It was unconscious and unintentional, and I felt a bit self conscious about it once I noticed. I guess though, that if you open your homes and your hearts to people, you become a little more like them. Something of them rubs off on you, and to me that’s not such a bad thing. The more we’re willing to share of ourselves with each other, the greater chance we have for peace.

Where do we go from here (part two)

April 22, 2007

In Meeting for Worship on the last day of YF Camp the above title of a song from the musical “Once More With Feeling” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer kept going through my head. I was thinking about everyone leaving from camp, how people were going south to Dunedin, north to Kaitaia, and to many places in between. How some were going to Australia, New Orleans, and even one on a train journey across China and Russia to the UK.

These people who I’d spent five very full days with, people who I love dearly and had gotten even closer to, were scattering to the four winds. Some I won’t see again in person for two years or more. It got me thinking about what separates us, and what connects us.

On a purely physical level spending 5 days together means that we’ve shared the very atoms of our bodies. Atoms of oxygen, carbon and hydrogen pass from one person to another through breathing, water vapor from sweat and the sloughing of dead skin. 98% of the atoms in our bodies are replaced each year. After 5 days we are, in some small way, made of parts of each other. Some of the atoms that were once in my body, Alex is now carrying across China.

When we leave each other, our relationships developed and enhanced over five days, what else has changed? We have a new set of memories of each other. We have shared experiences, stories, catch phrases and jokes that only make sense to those there. At the level of mind, what is a person, but their collected memories and experiences, the patterns that reality has imprinted on their brains? When we know other people what is it that we know? We have a complex picture in our mind of the ‘pattern’ of that person. Humans are uniquely able to hold a model of the way another person thinks. That’s what enables us to have empathy. We can figuratively try to see things through another person’s eyes. It’s by no means a perfect copy, but the better we know someone, the more we understand them, the more accurate that ‘pattern’ is. So if our minds are patterns of experiences, and we can hold an albeit imperfect model of another person’s mind within our own, then again, when we leave other people we, in some strange sense, have a part of their mind within ours.

At the level of spirit, what is it that connects us? What is enhanced by spending time together, in worship, in laughter and in the simple acts of love and friendship? To me, it’s very hard to describe. There’s a sense of abiding connection that feels like it goes deeper than just the memory of those people. I don’t have the esoteric theology to explain it in objective terms like I can the science of the physical world, or the knowing of the psychological world. I know that there are some friends of mine that I get a strong sense of them a few moments before the phone rings and it is they on the other end. A number of eastern spiritual thinkers talk about the ‘ground of being’, of spirit as a single source which we are all connected to, and that at the level of spirit we are not distinct, but are always together in unity.

Orson Scott Card, in the Ender’s Game series describes the fictional concept of ‘philotes‘, very basic indivisible building blocs of matter and energy. When philotes combine to make durable structures, protons, neutrons, atoms, molecules, organisms, planets, etc., they “twine up”. Each philote connects itself to the rest of the universe along a single ray, a one-dimensional line that connects it to all other philotes in its nearest immediate structure. As individual people develop in relationship with each other, their philotes ‘twine’ together across space and time. There is of course no scientific basis for this fictional theory, but it none the less appeals to me. That in some sense we perhaps become more spiritually entwined with each other.

The words of the song from Buffy go:

Where do we go from here?
Why is the path unclear?
When we know home is near
Understand
We’ll go hand in hand
But we’ll walk alone in fear
Tell me
Where do we go from here?

I think it’s wrong. We might sometimes feel that we walk alone in fear, but physically, mentally, and perhaps spiritually we have become part of each other. We are connected, and because of that we are never alone. Wherever we go from here, in some way, we go together.

Branches

July 5, 2006

So, I’ve been told that lots of my ministry uses trees as a metaphor. I’ll post on why one day soon. For now, here’s another one.

Last weekend we met another branch of the family. My great grandfather’s first marriage had broken up, so after he remarried he had another son, who until now we had never met.

Myself, my sister, father and mother in law had lunch with Brian, his wife, daughter and grandson. From the minute we met them there was an instant connection. We talked non stop with each other for about four hours. It was fascinating to explore the similarities in our values and personality traits.

One of the reasons we connected so quickly was, I think because we have a lot in common. Brian just laughed and agreed wholeheartedly for example when I said that our family only has two speeds, fast and off.

The other reason we connected is perhaps because we intended to look for that which we had in common, that which we shared. We could have focused on that which was different, or on why the family had branched all those years ago, but we didn’t.

Given that 99.9% of human DNA is identical, given that we are all people, with hopes and desires, fear and failings, do we not all have lots in common? And if we looked for this when we met new people (or spent time with people we already knew), wouldn’t our chances of connecting be greater? Perhaps this is something like walking cheerfully over the earth looking for that of god in every person.

Even if it isn’t, this notion of expectant, faithful intention seems important. Seek and you shall find I guess. If we expect and intend to find something in common, we will.

Adult eyes

April 28, 2006

We spent last weekend at the Quaker settlement in Wanganui.  It was the first time I'd been there in 18 years.  The last time I was there was at a JYF camp when I was 15.  When we drove up, I expected to recognise the place immediately, to be flooded with memories.  It wasn't like that at all.  The driveway had been asphalted, and the trees were much larger.

As I walked around the settlement it still wasn't familiar.  There were a few moments, the smell in one of the rooms was identical and took me right back.  I walked into the room where we'd slept at JYF camp, and realised I was standing exactly where I'd had my first significant kiss.  Overall though, the settlement just wasn't as familiar as I'd expected.

I started thinking that maybe it wasn't the settlement that had changed, but me.  I was looking at it through adult eyes.  Looking at it with all the layers of experience eighteen years brings. As I started engaging in the camp, and getting to know old and new friends I started seeing the camp through other eyes.  Introducing my children to the place, and seeing the experiences they were having, making friends with young teenagers, and young parents for whom it was their first Quaker camp.

One of the things I love about Friends is the opportunity to have direct relationships with people of all ages.  I don't interact with a child as someone's son or daughter, or an older person as someone's parent.  Often it's not until I've established relationships that I figure out who's is related to who. These direct relationships seem to let me get closer to truly connecting and seeing the world through the other's eyes. 

So this time the settlement was created anew for me, and seen from many perspectives.  I wouldn't call it home, but it does have a place in my heart.