Living With Intention
“Matter has to matter before it means anything”. This is an obscure quote from a professor I had more than thirty years ago. That quote has stayed with me all these years because it represents the difference between living from the heart and living from the head. For me the heart is the seat of the soul. The soul knows nothing but love. The head is where the ego resides and reacts out of fear. The heart knows the essence of who we really are. The head has forgotten who we are, and out of fear tries to figure out who we are supposed to be. The heart seeks to expand its presence. The head seeks to control its environment. Control is a knee-jerk reaction to fear.
Let me share about my story to give meaning to the concepts above. I was raised a “cradle” Catholic. I was exposed to many of the church’s rituals and “rites of passage”; but they were meaningless to me. As a child I was in awe of the cathedrals, the smells, the songs, the throngs of people. But most of it was meaningless, because it was all done in Latin and made no sense to me. As I entered catechism, the rites of passage were explained as a necessity for acceptance into heaven. We were told as children we were born into “original sin”; and therefore needed forgiveness and obedience to the church to earn our way to heaven. Needless to say, my response to these rituals was fear based. God was represented as an angry God who judged us for our sins and would cast us into the fires of hell if we disobeyed the rule of the Church. My relationship with God was one of fear, shame and eventually resignation; because no matter how hard I tried I could never be or do enough to redeem my sins.
The fear, shame and resignation, was most pronounced in my early adolescence when the nuns in our Catholic school harped on the shame and sin of sexual touch, curiosity, or exploration as a sin against God. I was in the middle of my pubescent adolescent sexual explosion. The crowning blow came when my eighth grade teacher told us if we did not choose the right vocation we would likely not get to heaven. Then she took me to the seminary three times in my eighth grade year. In my simple pubescent mind my only choices were girls or god. I knew what she thought my vocation was. So I did what any natural pubescent boy would do; I chose girls. I lived for years in the fear of condemnation and shame that I had abandoned my calling for my sexual urges. My outside response was a big “screw you” to the church and I stopped attending church. While I appeared aloof on the outside; inside I lived in a constant state of shame and fear of abandonment.
I lived a life from my adolescence to my adulthood that appeared to be successful. I was a wounded Vietnam veteran, had a Master’s degree from an esteemed Jesuit university, was married and had a budding career as a counselor. However, soon the wheels would come off of my apparent success. My marriage collapsed, I became depressed, quit my job, sold my belongings and traveled with my best friend, who was also depressed, and moved to the mountains of Colorado.
It was there that my life took a completely different direction. My friend was suicidal; and I knew that I wanted to live. I was reading Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ book; Death the Final Stage of Growth. It was there I learned about the grief process. In weighing my options, I decided to return home. From the deepest despair, and my friends questioning life I “knew” that I wanted to live.
Ironically I returned home hoping for my family to receive me with open arms; and I was disappointed because they had not changed, I had. In questioning what I wanted to do, I decided to walk back to the church that I had abandoned so many years ago. I met with a gay seminarian who was very enthusiastic about my return. I learned that while I was away that the church had gone through a radical transformation since the Second Vatican Counsel, and that the rituals and rites of passage had dramatically changed. The mass was in English. The Alter was moved to face the people. Confession was not a bear my soul in a dark closet and hope for forgiveness; but rather, a discernment process in partnership with a priest.
I was fortunate because my parish priest was one of the progressive individuals who encouraged change in the church. Other pastors and parishes were steeped in the old traditions. My fortunes were further enhanced when they valued my expertise with youth and invited me to become the Youth Minister in the parish I had abandoned so many years ago.
During my four year tenure as youth minister I was asked by the parish priest to expand my ministry to the people of the church. Because I was divorced he asked me to explore services to the divorced and separated in the parish. I was also encouraged to pursue a Doctor of Ministries degree offered through the Arch diocese of Seattle. I was honored. In my application and interview process, I was acknowledged as being more priestly then some of the guys who wore a collars.
It was in my doctoral program, in a class on Parables, that I first heard the quote above; “Matter has to matter before it means anything.” The instructor helped me understand that my journey was not unlike that of the Prodigal Son. When I understood the connection the parables suddenly took on new meaning. I was a living example of one who had been lost and returned home to the open arms of the church.
On another level, I had reluctantly agreed to attend a weekend based off of marriage encounter; but focused on the grief and reconciliation of the divorced separated or widowed Catholic. I went fully expecting to take notes to bring back a program to support the divorced, widowed and separated parish faithful. Instead what I experienced would change my life forever. As the team directed people to share their personals stories of loss, grief, guilt and shame; I felt a welling in my heart of the tears I had put away for years. My head wanted to disconnect from my feelings; but, in the vulnerability and honesty of the participants who shared their stories, my heart came alive and tears streamed down my face. I was no longer above or better than; I was a part of a community of wounded individuals who had the courage to share their grief. I understood now the meaning of compassion as passion-with.
Toward the end of the weekend, we had the rite of reconciliation and a party. I had never felt so free and open to love. I felt connected to these complete strangers because we had connected from the heart. There was great healing in that first weekend and subsequently many-many more weekends to follow. On the last day of the retreat we celebrated a mass. Suddenly, because of the communities vulnerability, compassion and sharing, the rituals of the mass took on new meaning. We all sang the songs with a joy I had never experienced in church. The “kiss of peace” took forever because of our open heartedness and so many meaningful hugs. The rituals of the mass took on new meaning because we lived the death and resurrection of the Christ through the process of the weekend.
I became a team member, a national trainer and eventually a board member and board president. My affiliation with Beginning Experience lasted over 25 years. I had lived the experience of; “When two or more are gathered in my name, I am there among you.”
Compassion is love actualized. Jesus was the master who brought love to the planet. His ministry was not to be worshiped; but, to teach all to live life with intention and love. “Love one another as I have loved you.” He also said; “I have given to you all that my father has given to me, so that my joy may be your joy, and your joy may be complete.” Continuing he said: “If you do these things, you will do things even greater than me.” The message was clear; “be Compassionate as your father in heaven is compassionate.”
So what does compassion have to do with intention? Everything!
In the early years of my life, I lived in fear of never being enough; being exposed as a sinner; and waiting to be found out and abandoned or rejected. As a survival strategy I adapted to what I thought others wanted to be enough. Everything I did was based in fear. I was very intelligent, so I could put on a great image of confidence, success, or caring. But all of it was a lie; because I felt disconnected, empty and flawed inside. As a result, I was always waiting to be exposed as the fraud I believed myself to be. I excelled at many skills and rituals, but felt disconnected from all of them. I was a chameleon who could adapt my personality to whatever my family, community, job girlfriends wanted me to be. Inside I felt anxious, depressed and anticipated rejection or failure. I had no spirituality, no self-esteem, and no vision of who I was to be.
Deep inside there was a spark of self-esteem that believed I was a lover of life, a lover of humanity and a worthwhile and valuable human being. But the light of my soul was buried beneath my fear and all the adaptive strategies I had learned to survive.
My journey began in Colorado when facing my depression and suicidal episodes of my friend; a voice within me said “no” to depression and “yes” to life. Since that time my life has been guided by a series of awakenings where individuals and groups of individuals invited me to open my heart and follow the path of my hearts-desire.
Was there resistance? Absolutely! Whenever an opportunity arose to become vulnerable, my ego wanted to resist and distract myself with all kinds of excuses, defense mechanisms and distracting behaviors. In the beginning, following my heart was a painful task of breaking through my denial, admitting my dishonesty with self and others; confronting my addictions, opening myself to feel the pain of my Vietnam experience, my divorce and the shame I felt from my church.
As I surrendered to the depths of my grief and anger, I was surrounded by people of great wisdom and compassion. They challenged my arrogance and ego. They created safe and sacred spaces to support me in my grief and anger. And, most importantly, they challenged me to live my life with intention and integrity.
As my heart awakened I began to discover a deep commitment to life, to love, and God. However, I was not steeped in the Catholic Church. While I believed in many of the rituals, I rejected the shame based concept of original sin. I began an adventure to discover who I was in relationship to God.
I studied and experienced many different religious and spiritual philosophies. I explored Native American traditions, the Higher Power of the 12 steps and 12 traditions, Channeling; Buddhism, Hinduism, and many more. My conclusion was that at the root of them all was love.
At one point I was turned on to the author, Neil Donald Walsh, and his series of channeled books titled: “Conversations with God”. The profound insight I gained from these readings was that God was within. This insight changed everything for me and brought so many intuitions that I have always felt into truth.
In these readings he (the God of his conversations) said, “if you don’t go within, you go without.” That made so much sense to me because I had spent most of my life seeking approval outside of myself. I believed I was separated and not a part of the Divine Essence. Suddenly, hope sprang eternal in my heart. He would talk about the heart as the gateway to our “higher self”. He talked about the language of the heart as: Intuition, inspiration, insight, intention, integrity, and intelligence.
I was now being challenged to be response-able for my life. To be responsible for my life meant letting go of my victim consciousness and taking charge of my life. Taking charge of my life meant living intentionally.
Intentional living means to me I am accountable and responsible for my life choices. As one teacher once said to me, decide in each moment if the choices I am making enhance my well-being, or diminish my well-being. No more excuses! It was up to me to decide the quality of my life, my body’s life, my friends, my community, my beliefs, my concept of God, and my commitment to life.
Meister Eckhardt, a fourteenth century theologian, once said: “I pray God to rid me of God”. His purpose was to let go of the human images or interpretations of God. I am more in alignment with the concept that life, love and God are interchangeable concepts. Life implies energy. Love implies sensitivity. God implies consciousness. Therefore, to me, Life is the compassionate energy of the Divine Consciousness expanding throughout the universe.
If you believe we are made in the likeness and image of God, then you are called to become the incarnate presence of the compassionate energy of the Divine Consciousness on earth. We are called to create heaven on earth.
Intentional living is the bridge between human consciousness and Divine consciousness. To live with clear intention is to practice, compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness and humility. This is the path to peace on earth.
When I choose to live in my heart, every moment matters and has new meaning. NAMASTE
I am the owner/counselor of Horan Counseling Services for 24 years. I work with my wife Sandra. I have also owner/director/ counselor at Passages Professional Counseling Services for more than six years. I also worked in a drug and alcohol treatment center, was a Youth Minister at St. Frances Cabrini Parish, and a counselor at Catholic Community Services. I have a Doctor of Ministries degree from the Jesuit School of theology in Berkeley, CA., A Master’s Degree in Counseling from Gonzaga University, and a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from Seattle University. I taught counseling at Pierce College in Lakewood, WA. And I am a Vietnam veteran.
You can contact Vince through email at firstname.lastname@example.org and find his book Boy Soldier at Amazon
Written for Walking With Intention. If you’d like to be a part of the challenge, find more info here: Walking With Intention. But first, leave a comment and let Vince know how you feel about what he said and then head over to Compassion Zone and check out what he’s got going on over there.
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