Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
January 2018 - Volume 18, No. 1
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New Year 2018 - A Better Year? Yes, at least Some

The Pilot Light

New Years Eve Day morning - the pilot light had gone out. I found my hot water heater full of cold water. But I had other matters to attend, including a Newsletter to polish - I didn’t make any connection. And yes, I had dishes to wash, laundry to do, and needed a shower at least by evening (the latter being most important).

Besides up here we’re in a deep deep freeze of Winter weather; and my Michigan basement is a cold place. My water heater “isn’t that old” and this has never happened before with this one - much fancier and ‘electronic’.  (Truth be told, in my lifetime, I’ve relit many gas appliances, with pliers and wire and farmers matches - but it’s been a long time.)

So I grabbed a flashlight, and descended to the place of malfunction and betrayal. I stooped way down (such instructions are always at the bottom of the tank), and with a great respect for natural gas, and my elderly body, I made sure to read each of them at least three times before any actual reparative “doing”. There was, of course, the advice that “if … doesn’t work call a professional” -  on a Holiday weekend! The gods smiled, the pilot light ‘took’, the temperature knob reset, and I was both proud and relieved to again have a house with hot water. (And if it goes out again - I could relight it now in a minute and a half.)

Except… (#1) like the trust of fidelity in a marriage, once that trust has been betrayed, can trust ever again be reestablished in that pilot light? I comfort myself in the knowledge I now know how to relight it. (I wistfully mentioned to a friend I should have done a ‘test run’ when the weather was warm. Sure.)

Except… (#2) if I’m now to pay better attention to such “signs”, was this a sign of the old year going out, or a portent of the new year coming in?  Hmmm. I think the answer is somehow ‘both’.

Also, was this a small sign of something greater?

The Larger World (outside)

There are many ways of dividing (or splitting) the world. And the past couple years have provided us with some major championships in this savage sport. Flags of ‘victory’ in such times as ours are frequently raised from blood soaked ground.

I feel no need at the moment to provide a list - I’ve done so in the past, and I’m sure we each carry our own from what has passed, and what may surely continue ongoing.

Yet I feel something else as well - an “awakening” from the deeper parts, or as Jung calls “the deep self” of so many in our culture, and perhaps of the earth itself.

Hope of a Springtime

Those who live close to the land, know the rotation of the seasons. My own heritage knows that after the time of Harvest gathering, comes the Winter. On the surface, the sun is low, the days short, the weather is cold. The Earth surface freezes, and there is little reminder of life. Yet underneath, out of sight, in what is sometimes called “the dreamtime” there is transformation, life is reorganizing, cleansing itself, reformulating, waiting, with a certain hope of a “Springtime”.

This seems wired into the Nature of things, perhaps even all things, including ourselves.

Also wired into the progression (development) of the Human person - is something called “the awakening of the Soul.”  Sometimes it’s also called “Initiation”- when a person is given a higher sense of purpose, a new or renewed vitality, a courage (viz. of the heart). Words like core values, truth, honor, community, human connection, honesty, integrity, compassion become ascendant.

As well as with humans, the society and culture itself is capable of such initiatory experience.  It’s deep in the meaning of many New Years rituals.

That’s why I have hope for this new year 

It’s as if we’ve begun to say, “Oh my God, this isn’t what was supposed to happen, look at what we’ve done, this is a run-away train, how can we ever correct (stop) it!”

It began, in my view, with a deeply divisive response (predominantly racist) to the Obama presidency. Then the Trump election campaign took those divisions, and orchestrated a deeper divide and conquer strategy, by which he could step in as hero-in-chief to save the day. What went wrong was that all he knew was to divide and deal; the promised reunification (“greatness”) had no foundation in his personality or strategy. And most of those who surrounded him mirrored the same narcissistic emptiness.

The Lesson of The Three Wishes 

I’m reminded in the old stories where three wishes are granted. Usually the first wish is usually wasted by a moment of foolishness. Then the second wish is necessary to counter the recklessness of the first. The only real functional wish and hope is then the third.

In our current situation, we’ve already begun to see the folly of what we’ve chosen. We’ve already begun to enter the second wish stage, where we must suffer and begin to redeem the challenges, the ordeals, the suffering we’ve brought upon ourselves and our fellow citizens.

And underneath it all, even though we’re still in the Winter, is our true wish (hope) to build and inhabit a good society where justice, peace and mutual well-being can prevail for all peoples.  We’re now learning this cannot come from a ‘divide and conquer’ form of governing. It cannot endure a manufactured secondary citizenship for those unlike “us.” It cannot project our national and cultural “sins” upon others, thereby giving us license to “kill” them (by scapegoating).


Recent years have forcefully faced us again with the knowledge these ‘dividings’ don’t work. The Trump year(s) teach us (are teaching us) again that “Whatsoever a man sows, that also must he reap”[1]. And ancient wisdom also reminds us that when the sower is a ruler, the reaping is magnified, positively or negatively, among his or her own people.[2]

Naive trust and fidelity turn to betrayal.  Like in so many marriages.  But there’s a deep ancient secret in this difficulty.  The 13th century Persian poet Rumi has put it this way:

Not until faithfulness turns to betrayal
And betrayal turns to trust
Can any human being
Be part of the truth.[3]

We now find ourselves so distant from our deeper values. The words are often used, but we are beginning to see they are so often lies told by those in power to an increasingly cynical public. A psychological understanding tells us that in order to counter the dark side of power that seeks to rule and betray us, we also need to counter the darkness within each of ourselves.

And so this New Years 2018. The times are right. The energy is shifting.   

My pilot light went out. A small thing actually, but at the moment I needed to go down there into my own basement, into the cold, with my own small flashlight, to fix it on my own. Will it be a perfect fix? Possibly not. But I relearned if I just pay attention, it’s something I can still do myself.


Our unseen and deep values are awakening. A larger necessity is drawing forth a new courage and sense of purpose. We can do what those ‘in charge’ no longer can. They’ve lost their way. But I’m reminded that we haven’t. We still have a hunger for life, for love, for caring community, for the magic of change, even for relighting pilot lights.

Those folks in Times Square last night were in bitter bitter cold - sub-zero wind chills. Yet they pulled it off - gloriously!  And in a small way, so did I.

One by one there are now thousands of us, awakening to do the same.

There’s a lot here.  I (we) have many lessons yet to learn - perhaps now much less divided.

Welcome the New Year 2018.[4]

Pay attention


[1] The Biblical “Law of the Harvest” - Galatians 6:7-8:
“Be not dismayed. God is not mocked. For whatsoever a man sows, that also shall he reap.” This was a favorite sermon text for my preacher father.

[2] see Michael Meade Living Myth podcasts -
Podcast #7 - “The Limits of Deceit”

[3] Meade ibid - Podcast #41 - “In the Shadows of Power”

[4] And it may not have yellow hair.

Comments (1)

  • integration/wholeness

    Many of the metaphors we use all the time have to do with what we do with our hands. The betrayal of the body in illness and aging is surely a challenge to faith. But, ya gotta live somewhere, it’s the only body ya got. Taking ahold of a tool and doing something to ones world is so powerfully human! Body, mind and spirit! Being fully in the body enhances the mind and spirit.

    — Rob curtner, 1/2/2018

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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