For the past several years I have been affiliated with The School for Contemplative Living in New Orleans. The following article was written by William Thiele who is the founder and director of the school. I share it with his permission. IB
“What Wisdom Lineage and tribe of beings do I belong to?”
Mark Nepo asks these questions in his recent book: Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred. He got me to thinking this morning. The following are some initial responses.
For me, the contemplative tradition of the Christian faith, sprinkled with wisdom from other traditions, is my Wisdom Lineage. This arises easily. I am drawn to wisdom higher than rational thought, deeper than my own superficial reflections on life. I am drawn to wisdom which challenges my thinking mind, which can’t really wrap itself around wisdom. I remember how Richard Rohr contrasted contemplative mind and the dualistic mind in his book The Naked Now and in his sharing while in New Orleans in 2011. My dualistic mind is always analyzing reality into parts so it can feel in control. My Wisdom Lineage arises from the contemplative mind and its spacious vision, which transcends any specific religious tradition. Yet I have been schooled primarily in how that wisdom comes through the stream of Christianity.
This contemplative mind is like the mind of God manifesting itself. Sometimes it arises within me and sometimes it comes to me through my tribe: authors I read and people I know. This Wisdom Lineage comes through people who act as a kind of mouthpiece for the Divine. They are the mystics, saints, and contemplatives in every generation who craft their lives around practicing the presence of God. Their practice tends to lead toward personal transformation and radical engagement with the world.
In thinking of my “tribe of beings,” I look at the men in my men’s group from the Mankind Project, the ecumenical people of my United Methodist church, and the ecumenical and interspiritual participants in the School for Contemplative Living groups. Some of the traits of my tribe include people who are real/honest/truth-tellers, humble, reverent, non-judgmental, welcoming, seekers of personal transformation, lovers, and engaged in serving the world.
People in my tribe are real human beings, meaning we have plenty of weaknesses and imperfections. We struggle with our humanity. Sometimes, in graced moments, we find the courage to see and say our own imperfections to others. This is our honesty at work.
We are truth-tellers who are seeking our own growth and transformation. We do not have a license to belittle another and call that just being honest. Our truth and honesty is about ourselves. We seek our growth by telling truth about ourselves.
Sometimes we even trust a Magician-energy inside us in hopes that our truth-telling will lead to our own transformation. We want to be all we can be, which means being our true selves. We also depend on each other to help us find the truth about life and ourselves, since many false beliefs can disguise themselves as truth. Truth-telling brings our darkness to light so we can coruscate: shine with the glory of God.
In really graced moments the people in my tribe also accept ourselves just as we are. This is our practice of humility. In my experience we cannot do this alone. We need each other’s compassion to find self-compassion. We need acceptance from others to experience acceptance of ourselves. This is our practice of humility: self-acceptance grounded in others’ acceptance.
The people in my tribe are non-judgmental lovers. They have visited the country of judging themselves and feeling judged by others many times. In the end this path was not life-giving. So the people in my tribe learn to recognize their judgments, and name them, without being controlled by them. In my tribe we see that all judgments come back to ourselves and point to areas we need to work on in ourselves. Judgments become a mirror.
The people in my tribe are lovers. They choose a life of love over a life of violence. The real test for the lover is about self-love. This is the basis for all love of others. And self-love is not a product we can manufacture alone. We can’t create it by just trying harder. Self-love has its origins in the Great Love. And that love is manifested through imperfect human beings, along with master lovers like dogs and cats. In my tribe we help each other find self-love through our loving acceptance of each other. Compassion is our intention and practice.
My tribe welcomes others into the community. We are inclusive. We actively seek out people who are not clones of ourselves. This means people of color, other religions, no religiousness, the LGBT community, etc. We do have boundaries in my tribe however. The one group we will usually exclude is those committed to excluding others. This is a weird paradox among us: we will not accept judgmentalism among us. Such people are simply not safe to be around. They tend to fragment community or create artificial community. Only they are not welcome in my tribe.
My tribe tends to practice reverence. They are reverent in their attitudes toward God, at least a lot of the time. They cultivate reverence in their attitudes toward other beings and the whole natural world. They are seeing the sacred all around them, in everyone they meet, and welcoming those sacred beings into their lives.
Finally, the people in my tribe actively engage in service of the world. We set our intention to find a mission and seek to live that mission in the world. We look for people to serve in accordance with our own giftedness and calling. Paradoxically, we often find that others serve/guide/teach us. My people actively engage in giving and receiving with other people in the world. Does that sound like anyone you know? If you look in the mirror, do you see that this tribe is you?
My tribe fills my life to the brim,
 Nepo, Mark, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred, (New York: Atria, 2013), 59.