Getting Through The Day”
A personal and spiritual approach to daily living
The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.
Ever since learning about how Thoreau cared about the quality of each day, it has been a reoccurring guiding theme for me- one that I often revisit as a part of my assessment of goals, values, and ideals to hold, and to try to carry into each day.
When I or when anyone engages in self- scutiny, trying to appraise and evaluate directions, motives, and goals there is an ongoing need to avoid harsh judgment, and the willingness to be compassionate and conciliatory towards the direction one seeks, or tries to master. Since accepting the ministry as my primary vocation, this issue has called to me and confronted me acutely- I have searched continually for a vital, involved approaches that allow for a more comprehensive outlook, and an ongoing opportunity to express my decisions, choices, and responses in a positive, affirmative, theological and ethical ways.
Yet, the larger sense of ministry that claims me now asks me to heed the ever-present call to reach for and to try to find my sense of God, grace, benevolence, and blessings that can be found in each person and all the circumstances that inhabit my world.
It is an unending challenge, and yet accepting that unending reality does not make it hopeless, it always provides me with a “growing edge,” and it is an ever-present ideal to reach for, and to accept that if even if it cannot be reached, I am still better off for trying to attain it. For me, there is a particular joy when I can assist others in finding more of whatever is worthwhile, whatever is holy, healing, inspiring, and beautiful in themselves or in their lives.
One way of remembering my essential task is to ask myself some pointed questions that serve to check and direct my responses, my motives, and results. I have to ask myself: “Where is God or what good is there to be found in this attitude, action, thought or feeling? Am I putting the greater good first, or am I being selfish? Not that I always remember to ask these questions, but most often, these questions retain a relevance and a heartfelt resonance that can direct my words and steps. My lifelong task is to learn how to use various holy or spiritual ideas and ethical principles and try to apply them diligently to every facet of my life.
A helpful way of reminding me what daily life is all about is to remember
P A G L — Peace, Assurance, Gratitude and Love.
These ideals were given to me over 25 years ago at the start of my ministry by an unlikely mentor. They were given to me by friends who had studies with a New York psychiatrist named Thomas Hora. Dr. Hora, a European, is a classically trained therapist who created a system of counseling based on walking through psychiatry… Instead, he offered his patients relevant philosophical and spiritually timeless attitudes and outlooks from the world religions in insightful ways that served healing and wholeness.
He called his system, ”Existential Meta-Psychiatry,” to show that it was based in ideas and ideals that went beyond the diagnostic medical model, and that its emphasis on present truth incorporates symbolic metaphors. He advised that the best thing we can do is avoid futile questions such as : Why? Or Why Me? In that way, one’s practice and one’s world view can become a more philosophical and mythological one- ones based on placing oneself in parables, stories, dreams, that regard the whole person and one’s interior life.
Dr. Hora is among a long list of alternative thinkers, healers, and physicians that have crossed my life’s path and left their deep impressions on me. The psychiatrists have been Vicktor Frankel, John Lilly, Richard Moss; Brugh Joy, Stanislov Grof, and Jerry May- all brave explorers who left traditional approaches for a more inclusive, cross cultural view of mental health, emotional balance, creativity, and each proposed new strategies for wellness that drew from diverse sources. When I add Carl Jung, Rollo May, and Abraham Maslow to the list of just the mental health related teachers, and, for now, leaving out the list of theologians, mystics, shamans, gurus and social reformers… You can easily see that my outlook on life has taken some interesting twists and turns away from the cultural norm for most ministers and priests, and particularly away from the acceptance of religion and medicine as being somehow separate and aloof- They have taught me the value of myth and metaphor, how our personal stories and beliefs we have about ourselves affect our health; They also emphasized that learning about oneself, and then taking more personal responsibility for the myths and stories we live in or live by can be a cooperative and synergistic approach to healing… Ways that will compliment any psychotherapy and will supplement any drug use we find necessary.
From her research, I have learned that Dr. Joan Borysenko, discovered that approximately 16% of our American population is now classified as
being depressed, 1 in 8 people! ( and that was before the financial crisis!) And she went on to say, that drug therapy only works in approximately 65% of the people, and there is a full 35% who seek out help where drugs have little or no benefit… So looking into non-medical alternatives, to me, has much merit!
Now it would be somewhat impossible to try to encapsulate Hora’s Existential Meta-Psychiatry, his links to Heiddegger, Kierkegaard, and the modern influences of theologians like Paul Tillich in any short sermon, but I think I will try…
Dr. Hora, when quoting the wisdom found in Proverbs, would say to his students: As thou seeest, so thou be-est” and as a “Man thinketh, so in his heart, is he.” What is the meaning of what appears to be?”
He taught that how we look at ourselves and our world, and how we allow or permit our experiences to define us, is what or who we often do become.
Dr. Hora advises we have to be very careful about how we look at ourselves, and how we view others, what we allow to program or influence us, for our perceptions, whether they are fearful and insecure or hopeful and optimistic, can influence our picture of reality… And consequently, those ways of seeing and perceiving can have either an adverse or a beneficial effects on our mental and emotional health! So taking his four qualities of soul, or his four values and virtues that he taught me that are essential for living a life of purpose and meaning, I will share with you a summary of my understanding. These four words or ideals are: P A G L… Peace, Assurance, Gratitude, and Love…
PEACE: I value a sustained sense of peace in my life. I prize serenity over sensation, preferring quiet over too much stimulus. My task in this area begins by acknowledging my tensions as my teachers; Like Jacob at Jabbock, or what blinds Paul at Damascus, what can bind me or blind me can also free me or bring me new vision. All it s takes is knowing the story, and allowing its wisdom to teach me. My own life story might contain valuable clues and keys that could eventually bless or free me. Whatever I want to see in my world begins in my own heart, and then I have to become aware how those motives needs to be carried forward into my responses and reactions that maintain harmony, and that will foster the inner peace and quiet I seek.
On the most personal level, peace has to flow from an inner security and a sense of acceptance. I cannot be peaceful if I am restlessly wanting, or striving, or when I am battling with my insecurities. Whenever there is a sharp word, a tense feeling, or some other form of discontent, I have to recall a sense of peace that not just a docile acceptance, avoidance, or quick surrender. It is an alert, yet serene. It comes from my ability to be mindful; observe my innermost thoughts and feelings, and then consciously decide on which thoughts and feelings I want to invest with meaning, with purpose and with reality.
Peace requires me to be aware of the justice and equanimity within all my motives, and to choose which actions can preserve it.
While it is true that “Blessed are the peacemakers,” I know that my tendency toward making prophetic statements, and truth-telling, does not assure me that I will easily maintain much peace or tranquillity, or that I will be free from agitation or restlessness. As Emerson states it, you can have truth or you can have repose… But you cannot have both! People wish to be settled; but only as far as they are unsettled, is there any hope for them!” Being restless in the pursuit of one’s own answers is a lifelong activity…
Because I fully realize that I cannot accomplish any sense of lasting peace exclusively on my own, I hold that part of my sense of peace is participatory, and interconnected to my work and my community. Peace comes to me fully as being a shared value, and I believe that peace multiplies its good when it is shared, and then made manifest to the outside world.
ASSURANCE: Assurance takes the feelings and motives of peace and moves me toward an inner stillness, toward an abiding sense of faith and trust. While I know that this is often a hard quality for religious liberals to accept, I define assurance as being attentive- paying attention to my inner voice of conscience and faithful to my intimacy and ongoing relationship with God which I define as the Source of inspiration and intelligence, wisdom and compassion that is both beyond each of us, and importantly, it is a source to those qualities that is within each of us. For you who are former Methodists, there is an old Weslyan hymn that begins with the phrase, “Blessed Assurance,” and whether you follow its words literally or not, I know that it is truly a blessing to feel secure in one’s heart, content in one’s life. With a sufficient sense of assurance, trust or faith, whatever events or circumstances come to us can be processed and experienced in a growing and positive way that makes “our extremities into God’s opportunities,” for insight and wisdom. Assurance also strengthens our persistence, and gives us the requisite amount of conscience and courage to choose the best course that meets our human needs, and that preserves our souls, or what we call the center of our awareness. Assurance, for me, gives a sense of security and comes from a feeling I am cared for and valued, that I can maintain a sense of trust for what my life direction seems to be.
GRATITUDE: Gratitude has always been a demand for the spiritual life. Gratitude is often best expressed through little acts of remembrance; remembering to say or do little things, such as a table grace before a meal, or to say thank you when someone offers to help. I try to wake up each morning with a thankful attitude; thankful for the day, thankful for what good the day has in store for me. Not that I always succeed at screening out my worries, doubts, or fears, but I do attempt to see that the day as containing opportunities and blessings for me. What breaks up my anticipatory anxieties is to recall all the gratitude I have for the gifts of love and care I’ve received; whether that is a warm hug, a loaf of homemade bread, friendly pet, or an invitation to lunch, even on a day like today, some unexpected sunshine! As monk and mystic Miester Eckhart put it” If there no other prayer you can say except “thank you”, it is enough.”
Gratitude, for me, is also expressed in my respect for nature. As a personal example, I experience gardening as a healing activity for myself and for the earth; I feed the birds, because they gave up their land for my home. I gratefully pay attention to what I eat and drink, how I exercise, and take care of my body, as ways that I can give thanks for the gift of life…
Gratitude means beholding the good, being thankful for all good that I can see. It helps the prophet in me to be a little less strident, a little more hopeful, and it gives my mystical side some support and solace. Gratitude for my daily life can have enormous and wondrous results!
LOVE: Of course, without a sense of love in one’s life, few of us would get up for work, or see that life itself would be worth the effort. One of the few things I agree with Freud on is this: The two great motives or sources of meaning in a man’s life are work and love. If he has one or the other, then he can survive, he can endure most any of life’s trials. It is when you are stressed by both, that is when his troubles can truly begin.
At its very core, in its very essence, love is a gift, and through its three expressions, qualities or kinds we can freely bestow it on others. However, the opposite is also true: I cannot give or offer to anyone else, what I am not willing to give or accept for myself. Love completes our sense of peace, assurance, and gratitude with an affectionate affirmation of what is truly of value in our lives.
Love affirms and uplifts; that even though there may be the experience of stress, and responsibility in our lives, Love is what fills me with hope to affirm and believe that whatever is broken can be mended, whatever has been wounded can be healed, whatever has been devalued, can be restored to its dignity and truth.
Love, acts as a vigilant daily guide, it is not just a warm and sentimental feeling; It is a deep and enduring, persistent and persevering investment. It includes respect, equality, and dignity for others as its starting point.
Church work and spiritually based work in general requires a certain loving attitude that is accepting and nonjudgmental… It is not naive, but it is idealistic. Love does not ignore egotism, but ask us to live out one’s faith in a way that tries to affirm by both eye and action, that this person or that this community deserves my attention, and my empathetic support.
Since by metaphor and by sacred affirmation, we are all God’s children, we can declare that all people are worthy of love and respect., Though I might personally feel pressed and pressured by life’s demands, I can still remind myself of that larger sense of divine companionship, and the Universalism that declares that I am never outside of God’s love and care…. That blessing or that grace is always with me, no matter my circumstances, no matter where the road of life happens to lead me…
Well, that is the beginning of my unfinished answer to how I survive and try to thrive, getting through each day…. I hope that what I have related to you can prove to be useful in your lives, and that it provided you with a deeper look into who I am, and how I approach interfaith ministry and my daily life.
AMEN, So Be It , Blessed Be…