Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
December 2022 - Volume 22, No. 12
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Staying Oriented

Times and Seasons

Many years ago I came upon this brief bit of Irish wisdom from an anonymous source.
Five things a wise person should know: the day of the solar month, the age of the moon, the tides of the sea, the day of the week, the calendar of holy days.
This sacred and temporal wisdom that kept the knower and the community in harmony with the laws of nature. And it has stayed with me for many years now.

Another saying, closer to my professional self:
Orientation in time and space is the epitome of mental health.

When I’ve been in a hospital, either as a patient or a visitor, I’ve noticed there’s always a whiteboard within the vision of the patient, on which is written the day, the date, and first name of the attending nurse.  I myself found this very helpful as a patient - an ongoing connection with the larger world.

Most of us wear a wristwatch, or in older days a pocket-watch. Now the face of my cellphone gives me the time, day and date, sometimes even the temperature outside. Only after that I can check my world of messages and news

In earlier days, when I’d drive, or even as a passenger, I’d carry a map. Now I have a  GPS which shows me exactly where I am on a map at any given moment.

Prisoners, who have no calendar, will scratch out one on their cell wall.

Falling in Love with the Moon

Many years ago now, there was a difficult time in my life when I would walk the dog every night after dark. The first major direction was a straight line street out of town, probably a half mile or so directly South. During those months I was able to follow the moon again and again through the power of it’s many phases. It became a fast friend, leading me in and out walking through it’s own nocturnal nocturnal perambulations. I don’t remember the dog’s name, but I can recall each of those moon phases.

Even now, when I sleep I face West - under a skylight. And when the sugar maple is bare of its leaves, every once in awhile, in an early hour of the morning, the silvery moon will shine on my face, and awaken me. A comforting old friend.

And yet

These days it seems more difficult to stay oriented. At this moment, the first major holiday has run it’s course. Thanksgiving is just behind us, and Christmas is (so soon) right around the corner. I have to double-check my calendar when I schedule clients. I may more easily make scheduling errors, my clients’ lifestyles are more erratic, inconsistent.

Of course, it may be that I’m aging. I think I do a good job organising my cellphone calendar to manage my affairs and client schedules.

Covid overflow

I suspect in many ways it’s Covid. It has (and still is) interrupted us at numerous levels. Much of our standard orientating (life) has been interrupted. Politically there’s still so much disavowal and discord. There is still so much death. There are so many cracks in the foundation. We don’t know what to trust. And just trying to figure things out takes more energy.

We’ve lost the differentiation between not enough and too much.

‘Cracks in the foundation’ lead (often slowly) to a revamping of building codes. But we’re in a time when people are ‘tired of being told what to do’. So the chaos continues.

Back in my professional training, one byword was that “confusion is the doorway to a new reality.”  And I’d add, “and the old one often didn’t work that well anyway.”

So, when in doubt, double-check yourself, be willing to change when necessary, and stay oriented to that which keeps the world in balance.

The patterns and words of our worship

I’ve recently discovered that at the end of people’s worship, no matter in what tradition, there’s usually a sense of “Now I know who I am.” The worship has oriented me - ratified meaning in my life.

One of my favorites, in an old Christian Protestant tradition, is the “Words of

Commission” that come just before the final Blessing:

Go into the world in peace
Hold fast to that which is good
Render to no one evil for evil
Strengthen the faint-hearted
Support the weak
Help the afflicted
Honor all human-kind
Love and serve the Lord
Rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit

With that I am sent out, oriented, knowing more fully who I am, and what I am to do.

And the moon continues in its wisdom of stability in ever changing.

Pay attention.

Comments (1)

  • The “Words of Commission” made me think of Dad

    — Alice, 12/10/2022

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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