This I Believe: Dick Grant (1995)

A few weeks ago, I spent time looking up at the broken off branches of an old pine tree. When the tree was young, these lower branches served the tree by reaching out to the world, taking in sunlight and CO2. As the tree grew, and new growth emerged at the top, the tree reluctantly let go of the lower branches in the storms and winds.

As I thought about that tree, I saw a metaphor for my life. The old behaviors, beliefs, methods I used in younger days served me well for their time. But as the new branches of my life were touched by the sun, I could let go of the old. I realized that I often don’t let go – I often cling to that which doesn’t serve me anymore. My struggle, in a nutshell, is discovering that from the past which I still value, which still serves me, and letting the rest go.

I want to begin by calling in the Grandfathers. This is a God-calling ritual I have participated in with men.

I call in the Grandfathers who dwell in the north, the King grandfathers, the place of my joy.
I call in the Grandfathers who dwell in the south, the Warrior grandfathers, the place of my anger.
I call in the Grandfathers who dwell in the west, the Magician grandfathers, the place of my fear.
I call in the Grandfathers who dwell in the east, the Lower grandfathers, the place of my sadness.
I call in the Grandfathers who dwell below, the place of my ancestors.
I call in the Grandfathers who dwell above, the place of spirits.
I call in the “Great Majesty”, that which is unknown and unknowable.

Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette have written about four masculine archetypes: King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, and this prayer relates to that imagery. I participated in a weekend retreat with men, and began to learn balance among these archetypes. I’d been mostly “King” in my life, seeing clearly the order needed for things to get done, seeing things in black and white, trying to be a good husband and dad. My “lover” was weak – that part of me who feels and expresses sadness, that part of me which celebrates pleasure. My “warrior” was weak; I found myself avoiding conflict, reluctant to take a stand, stuffing anger. I probably learned it’s not nice to get angry. And my “magician” was weak – that part of me that can see things from other points of view. As a trained scientist, I’d honed the tools of the scientific method to solve any of life’s problems.

As a boy, I learned to take things apart, put them together, to understand how things work. My Mom and Dad affirmed me for these skills, and I spent many happy, solitary hours buildings things of wood and playing with Erector sets. In school, I always did well with concrete things: chemistry, physics, all the left-brain sorts of skills. So this was the path I took in school, majoring in chemistry, solving technical problems. Development of social skills, art, and other right brain skills was slow, and I didn’t feel much anger, fear, sadness or other emotions.

I thought I was on the path to be gentle, loving, and happy but part of me was becoming cynical and vindictive. Surely the truth could be learned with better understanding. I continued to become skillful with tools, fixing things, building things. My spiritual path was Catholic, which offered me clear rules, security, and a cosmology which worked for me.

In my career as a chemist, I began working with small parts – making the materials which became part of the whole. Later I learned how to integrate these into something useful, the complexities of manufactured goods. It’s always been harder to deal with marketing, sales, and customers than to work in the lab. Maybe I became a chemist because that was a “higher” calling than being a cook, but I love to grow food, prepare it, and even do dishes. I like working in the lab.

At home I expected my wife to see the light and keep the house “right”, that is, my way. I’ve abdicated some of my parental responsibility to my wife; let her take the burden of dealing with the difficult questions. What schools? What spiritual path? In my roles as father, worker, husband, Christian, I felt there was something missing.

In recent years of my mid-life work, I discovered some new ideas, books, friends, and felt boxed in with the “conventional wisdom”, with the external expectations, and began a journey of exploring Native American spirituality, shamanism, men’s work, art, individual responsibility for needs.

I decided to explore what lay beyond the edges of Christianity. At Wounded Knee, on the reservation in South Dakota, I examined my prejudice and lack of compassion, and came to believe more in the Native American axiom, “We are all related” [to] the two-leggeds, four-leggeds, rocks and trees. I learned about Shamanism, and explored alternate realities in journey through my imagination.

I experienced a wonderful “men’s work” weekend through “New Warriors”, where I got in touch with my dark side, my shadow, and began to experience more sadness, fear, and joy, and believe it was OK. I also made some good friendships with men.

From these explorations I’ve come to define some beliefs:

  • I believe in living in the moment – now is the most important time, not when I die, not the past when I was younger, stronger, better looking, but now, with you, this moment. I believe that creation continues with each of us daily, moment by moment – that God is revealed to each of us not only through the wisdom literature, but personally in our work, in our meditation, as we be still and hear the spirit.
  • I believe in friendship in which I can lay my cards on the table. In preparing this talk, I’m seeing clearly it’s easier and safer to declare what I don’t believe. As I tell what I do believe, I’m asking you to confront me with the contradictions between my beliefs and my actions.
  • I believe in immortality, which for me means the collective memories and history of loved ones after they’ve died, so there is a strong “presence” of the “soul” of the individual. I cherish the memory of the love, strength, cookies, and time I spent with my Irish grandmother, Gracie, and for me that is the more important meaning of immortality.
  • I believe in sin, but sins are not the quantitative list I used to count and report in my bi-weekly confession. My greatest sins are against other person and I need redemption by confession to that person, the one whom I hurt.
  • I believe in ritual – things we do out of habit or intention – which calm us, help us feel connected, explain our origins and our purpose.
  • I believe in God, manifested in countless ways, but not as a patriarch, not just as a man, but sometimes as a man. Sometimes as ancestors, sometimes as all that is created, sometimes in your eyes I see the divine.
  • I believe in prayer – I have a hard time with “worship” and “prayer”. I’ve felt humbled to be in God’s presence with others who believe in “Great Mystery”, but I’ve felt silly trying to pray or lead a prayerful ritual with others who don’t.
  • I believe in personal responsibility for life, spirituality, gratification, fulfillment; I won’t rely on “the system” or outside myself.
  • I believe in the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, and other ancient wisdom balanced with the teachings of my soul as learned from meditation, journeying, dreaming.

Another of my current favorite books is Mindfulness and Meaningful Work. I’ve

always been proud of skillfully doing many things at once, accomplishing a lot, but perhaps being mindful of little. Now I want to pay attention to each thing, to awaken my sense and spirit to breathing, walking, eating a tangerine. During the time you eat a tangerine, eating a tangerine is the most important thing in your life. As for meaningful work, I strive towards that work which delights me. Just the right balance of creativity, people, and hands-on work, doing something which sanctifies the planet and our people. How can I reconcile that dream with my day-to-day job? M.C. Richards names the challenge for me. “To live as the person he is in society as it is. He finds a way to be a poet and a citizen. He finds a way to be himself and also the son of his parents. He finds a way to connect what lies within himself and what lies without. He has taken his devils in.”

I want to accept myself, to love myself first, to believe I am my own source of truth and happiness, and that in meditation and other journeys to listening. I can hear the voice of God. As I continue to discover my mission in the world, I want to go beyond being cynical about what I don’t believe, to go beyond figuring out what I do believe, and transform that into action in the world – at home, work, at WBUUC, and in the world.

My spiritual path has diverged from my family’s and I need to accept that fact and immerse myself here in some way, I don’t know what. I want more connections here – more spiritual discussions. I need to go deeper in conversations with: What do you stand for? What do you struggle with? Show me your wounds, your shadow. I dearly love our meditation group here in which I get nourished in this way. I intend to share more of myself with my kids, telling that what I believe, developing more family rituals.

I want to take the hero’s journey, the courageous path – the one which is more fulfilling, more honest, with more integrity. So often in a conversation with someone I find myself afraid to say what I really know, feel, or think, but later I formulate just the right response, but never deliver it. I’ve honed some classic introvert behaviors to a fine state. I want to be a hero, a shaman, a healer – to help others face their struggles, to interpret life through art, to learn kindness.

I feel courage in telling you about my journey. I’m grateful to be here.