What we can learn from St Francis of Assisi

Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society copy

Dear soulsisters,

A few years ago I visited Italy and thankfully, Assisi. Assisi is the most adorable Italian village on top of a hill – the home of St Francis and Clare (one of the earliest followers of St Francis and founder the Order of Poor Ladies, a monastic religious order for women in the Franciscan tradition.)

Today I reread an article written by a friend, Anthony Strano, of a visit he made to Assisi. I thought I’d share….

“It is early April, early morning and the curling mist fills the valley below Assisi. The only things I hear are the birds and the bells which chirrup and chime in turn. Otherwise a silence embraces the dawn lit city. A silence that has existed, I am sure, in Assisi during the time of Francis and Clare.

As I gaze outside my room there are two tall pine trees totally occupied with Francis’ chattering sisters, to whom he once said: “little sisters, if you have now had your say, it is time that I should also be heard.” It is said after these words they became silent and listened to him. However at the moment, the birds are still chattering away obviously happy to feel the sun’s topaz light aureole their tiny heads. They glow like golden hosts as they continue to open their melodious tongues. For a moment it looks like a new painting by the great master, Giotto, who is well known in this city.

Beyond our sisters’ voices there is a vast calm, an infinite feeling of quietness. Just to be here, away from the mind’s rampant scurrying and scampering is heaven. The mind has been trained to be relentless for facts, believing that intellectual acrobatics and a plethora of facts define truth. In fact, I find the opposite. Too much thinking, too much talking, takes us very far from the truth of things, but even more so, from our inner peace. Prove, catalogue, plan classify, validate, theorize, analyze, scrutinize, judge, demonstrate, interpret ….. “STOP!” I have often screeched. How about a break?

Everyone has an opinion about everything. Now, with all these crises everywhere, an ocean of opinions on the whats, the whys, the hows, have created a flood of repetitive facts. Read any newspaper, watch any television program, browse the internet. The flood rises as everyone claims justice, blaming real or imagined culprits, and it just goes on and on, higher and higher.

It seems that in the 21st century we have precipitated ourselves into an abyss of extremes. Over informed and over opinioned, people often do not halt the consumption of information. Its healthier to find a middle way: to know when to think and when not to, when to speak and when to keep quiet, when to step in and when to step out, when to make things happen and when to allow things to happen, when to be extrovert and when to be introvert. The realities of life can be found also through a complementary silence in one’s self. When we cool down, when we can listen, when we can tune into the other, then we can speak from a space of insight, otherwise it is just a cacophony of emotive, often prejudiced ramblings.

So, I came to Assisi just to stop: to be quiet, to contemplate the flow of things. I remember Plato’s words: “I am trying to think, don’t confuse me with facts.” True reflection does need a distance from the barrage of facts!

Even great thinkers like Plato needed to take time out. Silence, the slowing down of one’s self, creates a space of quietness within, which in turn creates clarity of understanding. Silence refreshes and rejuvenates the mind, whose habitual appetite for noise, news and diversion has created an addiction to everything external. We are the creators of our stress, our crises and breakdowns because we have forgotten to stop, reflect and renew. We clearly understand the obvious need to recharge our mobiles, but what about our minds? To experience inner quietness is as important as expressing ourselves. Without recharging ourselves we cannot function. We cannot communicate with life. Actually, this inner calm gives perspective and a balanced perception to the myriad details and negative things we are daily bombarded with. Inner silence filters everything that comes to us from the outside.

Creating a space for silence is crucial for meaningful living. Taking time out to be silent is a necessity. To stop, to step back and be still gives fresh oxygen to the mind. It is like a car. We buy a car because we wish to move. To go from one place to another, but we would never buy a car that did not have a brake because no matter how far or well the car moves, it must also be able to stop. Our life is for expression and interaction, but we also have to stop from time to time and reflect on our motives, our judgements, our movements. To stop means to observe and see where the traffic in my heart and mind are going. Otherwise, habit obliterates the truth of things and my clarity and peace disappear. So Assisi was a place where I could brake and stop as I had often done on a mountain top in India.

Enjoying the tranquil hills of Umbria I could forget the clamour, clatter, push and rush of the cities I usually find myself in and experience the serenity and beauty of nature, which activated my own inner tranquility.

Francis created his spiritual gentle revolution by first getting close to nature and tuning in to her serenity and principles. He provided an alternative to a legalistic, theologically congested church which had forgotten the simplicity of its own original spirit. His experience of The Divine had reminded him of a Universal Benevolence, which he felt was reflected in the interconnectedness of life not only of humanity but also of humanity with animals, nature and her elements. It became his task to remind others of this divine love and intrinsic interconnectedness. No wonder he is regarded as the Green Saint, the patron of animals and the environment.

At his hermitage just outside Assisi I saw a bronze statue of him lying on the ground and two companion monks with their circled fingers held up to the sky measuring something. It is said that Francis loved to gaze up at the bright Polar Star and his companions were trying to measure certain aspects of that star. The earth and sky were also his companions.

Francis learned to be realistic as well as spiritual for he stated: “Start by doing what is necessary, and then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” To make the impossible possible is a sign of real spirituality, to achieve what others cannot dream of. What others may call crazy or unrealistic but is accomplished by an individual step is a kind of sanctity: an integrity of spirit.

Francis once said :

“Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.”

“Sanctify” is not just a religious term he is using, but it is his deeply felt sense of wholeness and oneness with nature and humanity and unlimited trust in The Divine. To achieve this sanctity he realised that he and his spiritual companions had to absolutely let go of selfish possessiveness and the greed of being. The respect we give to that interconnectedness of life and to life’s resources is an answer to the wars and crisis we see around us today and what he himself had experienced in medieval Italy. He was so shocked by war’s brutality and violence that he broke down and had to reposition himself, his purpose and his code of being. This breakdown is vividly represented outside the Basilica of St Francis where a statue of him on a horse captures his sense of utter desolation and disillusionment as both horse and man limp back from the war.

So, in his hermitage away from his task of rejuvenating Christianity, travelling over Italy and to countries such as Egypt, Corfu, Syria, aligning himself with the poor and sick, Francis found the time to gaze at the stars, mountains, flowers, water and trees. He also spent time talking to the animals and to his brother sun and sister moon. Giotto captures all of this in the paintings which decorate the basilica of Francis where we spent Good Thursday early morning in meditation. A small group of us, who had especially come for a two day dialogue, shared a collective silence for about one hour. Two days earlier a small group of Buddhists, nuns, yogis, Platonists, Christian meditators had actually come together to discuss the creative and healing power of contemplation as a contribution to today’s crises.

Certainly our group felt that inner silence was a crucial start for newness in thought and action. Greece came up as an example of crises and our Platonist friend from Germany perceptively stated that the crises has first started in Greece because that is the heart of western culture and all western culture, to a smaller or greater degree is suffering from the same malaise. So Greece as the parent receives the first blow of the Western collapse. He went on to say that where the crisis is, also exists the solution The roots of heritage hold the antidote to the poison.

The American co-ordinator stated that now it appears to be the time that spiritual principles need to be valued and applied for social transformation. Thought, word and understanding are necessary but also action. So thinkers do not just keep on thinking, speakers do not just keep on speaking, analysts do nut just keep on analyzing but also act. Action that can be effective when a contemplative empowering has happened individually and collectively to change the anachronistic routes of thoughts and behaviour. Without that inner transformation then the same consciousness keeps repeating the same mistakes. The wheel keeps turning in on itself and there is no exit. All innovation began and was sustained by a transformation in consciousness. To act from a space of transformative silence facilitates the application of spiritual principles into social living. Otherwise either we rehash decrepit formulas or become too complacent. As Plato said :

“The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”

imgres-3Anthony Strano moved on to play another part on this earth a few years ago.  While I knew him he shared many powerful and inspiring spiritual insights through lectures, meditation cds and his many books.  You can take a look at http://www.amazon.com/Anthony-Strano/e/B004APLCI0

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6 Moral Taste Buds That Shape Our Morality

MY MORALITY

Dear soulsister,

Have you ever wondered why everyone has a different point of view or belief about what is right and what is wrong?

Well apparently, according to moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind, there are 6 different moral taste buds that we have. In his recent blog, Steven Handel at The Emotion Machine (link below) summarises them as follows.

  1. Care/Harm

We’ve evolved to experience sympathy toward individuals who are in harm or suffering, and we are often driven to care for those in need.

  1. Fairness/Cheating

Fairness follows the simple principle “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” We build relationships on this law of reciprocity – and we usually continue to work with people who follow this rule.

  1. Loyalty/Betrayal

This is motivated by our need to belong in a group, whether it’s based on our nationality, culture, religion, politics, or whatever.

This instinct helps us to form strong relationships and see beyond ourselves as just individuals. When a group is centered around a common cause, it can accomplish a lot more than a group which is less uniform and cohesive.

  1. Authority/Subversion

This is our desire for social order and hierarchy. In certain situations, we like for people to have more authority than others – and this tends to benefit everyone, especially when this authority is based on knowledge, experience, and merit.

  1. Sanctity/Degradation

This is our instinct to keep certain things pure and sacred. Religions often find sanctity in certain objects (Cross, Star of David, the Quran) and places (church, synagogue, mosque). While governments may find sanctity in the form of flags, national monuments, historical sites, and museums.

  1. Liberty/Oppression

This is our instinct for autonomy and freedom. It’s a strong drive to overthrow bullies and tyrants who try to exercise too much authority over individuals.

To read the full article and do a test to see what ‘moral taste buds you have, and in what degrees’ visit Steve at The Emotion Machine.

 

much love,

Rebecca Signature

 

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living with purpose

take one step at a time

Editor’s Note : This article was written by the very beautiful Annemarie De Seriere – see link below.

Hi everyone,

Sometimes I receive emails from people expressing their envy (in a nice way) about us ‘living the dream’, as we have been on the road now for 3.5 years. They wonder how we manage our gypsy lifestyle and how I stay happy while living with chronic pain. Let me first say that happiness takes practice – chronic pain has a way of taking prisoners and if I allow myself to be enslaved by it, I become miserable and life gets complicated. Practicing self discipline, keeping a positive mind and having a clear focus are just 3 essential ingredients that help me manage pain and maintain a happy balance … As for living the dream – yes we certainly love it but it does take effort, tolerance, lots of planning and preparing while remaining open to change. The ‘winds’ of life can suddenly turn a different direction and stress can take over instantly, if unprepared. The paradox between freedom and discipline is therefore worthy of respect, while understanding and appreciating the law of change.

The Law of Change states that nothing must and will remain the same! Having a purpose helps me deal with pain and continual adjustments in life! And yes we travel but we are not ‘rich’ as some assume. Like everyone else, we need to earn an income to sustain ourselves and to enable us to offer free community outreach programs along the way. We keep our lifestyle simple, economical and without any trimmings, in order to live our dream. Therefore planning and preparing (while remaining flexible) is essential. Having a clear visual in my mind is helpful (to have a dream is important), but I must work for it to make it real, it’s not just going to drop in my lap. To attract success in any outcome, I must be prepared to move towards it – to continually step out of my comfort zone and stretch my self-imposed boundaries. Action-taking becomes a magnet, a discipline we must afford ourselves if we want to LIVE any dream!

What gets me up each morning are my dreams and goals, and one of them is freedom! Freedom from the dictates of others, freedom from the pull of this materialistic world, freedom from pain, sorrow and any obstacles in my own mind… Keeping this aim and objective helps me create my own success (happiness) – I never give up on my dreams, no matter how outrageous they appear to others. If we have nothing to aim for – no dreams to chase – we wander aimlessly through life … A child without a dream is an adult without purpose – we may lose nothing but we certainly don’t gain anything either. You know, it takes courage to dream, to set goals, to think outside the box and to accept our mistakes. The only time we fail is if we don’t have a go! Learning from mistakes builds resilience, bringing with it clarity and determination to get up and to keep going.

We all need meaning in our life – a reason why we do what we do – it keeps us interested. Living on the road is no different, it requires effort and a clear purpose, otherwise the dream becomes boring and we go back to our comfort zone and back to wondering what life is all about. For example, we meet many people on the road – some love what they do because they have a clear reason for doing it, and their joy is obvious. Others find it all rather tedious yet are compelled to keep going. Moving between one comfort zone to another, without purpose or appreciation, they continue to wonder why they are still unhappy … A gypsy life is not for everyone, it’s pointless to do something you don’t enjoy, so don’t live someone else’s dream, live your own!

To fulfill a dream, I must keep this aim firmly in front of me and I must take daily steps towards it, while simultaneously letting go of the outcome. Knowing I am DOing all I can to move towards it, I trust what will be will be! If it is meant to be, I will ‘pull’ this dream towards me through my deliberate actions. If not, I trust that something else more aligned with my inner truth and learning will surface and become apparent to me… Goals start with a dream and end with letting go of the destination (without losing sight of it), in order to enjoy the journey at hand … Trusting that everything happens for a reason and that every situation has benefit, I understand and accept that happiness is within me and comes with me wherever I go :)

Question: Do I live my life with purpose, while embracing and accepting change?

Consideration: If not? Why not? Why do I struggle staying on track?….

Activity: Set one small short-term goal for the month ahead (starting small makes it achievable and gives us courage to have a go). Be clear on what you are aiming for, keep it realistic and doable. Set time frame to succeed in 30 days (it’s important to set a date to give urgency to your goal, or you will procrastinate). Then DO something practical (take action) EACH SINGLE day towards making this happen, this gives your goal momentum (even 1 phone call or 10 minutes of research is a step). Don’t think ‘it’s too hard’ or ‘I can’t’, just DO it! Don’t let mistakes put you off, learn from it, shake it off and simply keep going!

Love Annemarie

Hope you enjoyed 🙂  This post was originally published in July 2014 on Annemarie’s blog Will to Wonder.  Annemarie is a mother, a life partner; a writer and self publisher; a meditation practitioner; and the founder of Resoulutions 4 Life, you can visit her at her blog by clicking willtowonder.com and at resoulutions4life.com.au

much love,

Rebecca Signature