A few weeks ago we had dinner with our friends Lon and Rebecca. Rebecca was the one who described the Labyrinth Walk at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and shared with us her take-away from it… which has stuck with me. I wanted to make sure to credit her as I attempt to completely botch her metaphor; if I discover she’s written about it, I will link to it here.
She said in Grace Cathedral there is a labyrinth. People can walk around this labyrinth with the intention of getting to the Center… which as a religious believer she identified with “God.” She noticed that as people travel the maze, sometimes they seem to be going away from the Center… away from God; when in reality, they were further along the path than she was.
Her description created some strong imagery for me, it was a powerful lesson that sometimes it can be difficult to judge where someone is at from our vantage point in the maze… Perhaps what looks to us like someone distancing themselves from the Center, from “God”, (or whatever you want the Center to be) may in fact be quite the opposite. Maybe it’s best to… judge not.
Now, of course, I currently hold no beliefs in gods or scriptures… (in case you’ve never read any of this blog before), but I still loved the metaphor. And I can still appreciate wisdom wherever it be found. I don’t care so much about the second clause in the verse above… but I’ll take the “Don’t judge” part and try to apply it in my life. I don’t know which way someone is going… I don’t know what path they are on. I don’t know their background or the details, the tens of thousands of variables or prior events that may have led them to where they are right now. Or, as I keep trying to remember, “It’s one thing to feel you are on the right path. It’s quite another to think yours is the only path.”
There is another scripture that has captured my thoughts throughout much of my life (“why does this guy talk so much about god and scriptures? Isn’t he an atheist?”) and that’s Matthew 5:48…
I like my version better. I sometimes wonder if whoever wrote these words close to 2,000 years ago had any idea the amount of potential harm he (speculative, but most likely a ‘he’) was creating. Perfectionism, scrupulosity, these are real things… serious and detrimental psychological conditions. [Of course, an irreligious, godless skeptic might simply view this and other teachings as a means of social control — convincing healthy people that they are sick is sometimes the only way to sell them a cure… ] but setting that aside, I am not arguing that individual development, goals, drive and ambition, self-improvement and betterment, that these are not good and necessary things. They are. (Like writing in a blog every leap year!) I would, however, argue that constantly comparing ourselves to an unseen human construct [from one point of view, at least] in the form of a Perfect God, can be quite damaging. Sometimes we crucify ourselves for being human… figurative self-flagellation (not to be confused with flatulence) can become a daily tear-down. Far better to just … be. I am trying to learn to just … be. Which, in one aspect, can mean forgiving myself just as often as I try to forgive others.
On this subject, there is certainly no lack of things for which I can forgive myself. The material is plentiful and seems to constantly self-replenish. But I am learning to, trying to… just… Be. Of incalculable help in this endeavor is a sweet and kind companion… patient and loving, full of charity. I am also (to use a phrase I dislike) blessed with a circle of close friends, a treasured group who I feel I can turn to in any crisis. They are partners in this thing called “life”, as we are each making our way through the maze. It has been interesting to me to observe my own instincts regarding those I have turned to for help. Those who (at least on the surface) seem to be doing pretty well in this whole “being perfect” thing, they are not those to whom I turned when facing some fairly severe problems in my life. (Because, let’s be honest, sometimes these folks can come across as judgmental. Let’s be even more honest — I often am and have been one of those folks.) Rather, there is something quite powerful about a friend who admits their flaws, cares more about people than protecting and projecting an image… to these I turned when I needed help. My gratitude for their friendship and support can never be accurately expressed or repaid. The best I can do is try to be me, therefore imperfect… I want people to know I am a flawed individual, in some ways deeply flawed, if only so any of my friends or family, should they ever need someone to turn to, someone that has no room to judge them, they can feel comfortable turning to me.
So. There it is. That’s my leap. I’m not perfect. (If there even is such a thing.) Far from it. I tend to smile a lot but each and every day is a struggle for me. I will admit I sometimes (often) envy my former religious self. It is not easy to live in reality, forced to create your own meaning. It can be a very real, very daunting, and sometimes very dark struggle… But people are people… and for some of us, we’re all we’ve got. So don’t let the sardonic sense of humor, biting sarcasm, or dark cynicism (and these are my best qualities) put you off… if you need a friend, I want to pay it forward.