Richard Rohr, a Franciscan who writes of spirituality, wrote about St. Catharine of Siena, a church mystic. She pictured the spiritual life as a large tree--the trunk of the tree is love, the core is patience, the roots are self-knowledge and the branches are discernment. "In other words, says Catharine, love does not happen without patience, self-knowledge, and discernment." Father Rohr goes on to say that "Today we have little encouragement toward honest self-knowledge or training in spiritual discernment from our churches. We prefer the seeming clarity of black-and-white laws. By nature, most of us are not very patient. All of which means love is not going to be very common." (Richard Rohr, Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, pp. 184-185.)
Then a favorite poet sent this verse today:
under the trees
"it had been a lifetime for others --
and now she wanted to know herself.
sitting under the trees,
she asked herself how she was feeling
and she began to really listen."
(terri st. cloud, Bone Sigh Arts)
Knowing self . . . loving self . . . having patience with self . . . discerning truth about self in relation to others and the world . . . kind of foreign concepts to most of us. It is preferable to rely on the old "tried and true" or "black-and-white" laws or truisms. Deny self . . . others need to come first . . . too much knowledge is not a good thing . . . and on and on it goes.
And yet the Golden Rule tells us that we are to love others as we love ourselves. Seems to me we can't truly love others until we learn how to love ourselves. And loving self is far more than just an attitude or pithy saying, it flows from knowing self, having patience with our foibles and humanity and accepting who and what we are. It requires listening to our inner voice--connecting with our gut and finding the time to really KNOW. Truly knowing and loving self is a vital prerequisite to truly knowing and loving another. But so often we get this backwards, preferring to spend more time getting acquainted with another than truly knowing ourselves.
Like Maggie in the Runaway Bride we acquire a long string of failed or broken relationships because we spend so much time trying to convince others in our lives that we are exactly what they want and need. We focus on the other to the exclusion of ourselves and then are shocked when our relationships fail to live up to our expectations or hopes.
So today, I'm going to kick my shoes off, spread a blanket under the shade of my tree of self-knowledge and just listen. I'm going to ask myself deep questions such as "Who am I?" "What do I really want to do with my life?" "What dreams have I lost somewhere along the way? "What do I value and believe?" "Who do I want to be when I grow up?" And . . . I'm going to listen, really listen to my own heart. And I am going to offer patience, compassion and love to my fractured and broken but incredibly beautiful and worthy self.