Everybody is Unshakably Good. No Exceptions.

Opening Minds, Opening Hearts Podcast Season 2 Episode 10 with Fr. Greg Boyle

Episode Title: Everybody is Unshakably Good. No Exceptions.  

“It’s not one day at a time, but with every breath you take. You breathe in the Spirit that delights in your being and then breathe it out into the world because the world can use it……Cherishing people isn’t hard but remembering to cherish is really difficult. Link it to your breathing even when you aren’t sitting in your morning prayer.”

- Father Greg Boyle

Centering Prayer is a practice that changes the way we see the world from the inside out and is important for our well-being both physically and mentally. To help us reflect on this important principle, we are excited to welcome Fr. Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world. Fr. Greg was born and raised in Los Angeles and became a Jesuit priest. He served as pastor of Dolores Mission Church, the poorest Catholic parish in Los Angeles that had the highest concentration of gang activity in the city. After witnessing the devastating impact of gang violence on his community, peaking at 1,000 gang-related killings in 1992, he was inspired to adopt a radical approach at the time, treating gang members as human beings. Homeboy Industries employs and trains former gang members in a range of social enterprises, and provides critical services to thousands of individuals who walk through its doors each year seeking a better life.

In this episode
  • Centering Prayer has always been a part of Fr. Greg Boyle’s life during 50 years as a Jesuit. He says “Finding grounding isn't the ground you land on, but the ocean you float in.” 
  • He encourages us to cherish with every breath we take, not just during the time of Centering Prayer but always, by linking Centering Prayer to your breathing. He says it’s not the words we say or the thing you imagine, but your stance in the world. 
  • He shares one of their guiding principles at Homeboy Industries - “Everyone is unshakably good, no exceptions and we belong to each other, no exceptions.” 
  • We explore the idea of therapeutic mysticism. Fr. Greg says that the basic goodness comes from the transformed mind, but when people come to him from prison or the street, they must impart that awareness to them. He shared that the traumatized are inclined to cause trauma but the cherished have to find joy by finding the cherished within themselves. They must see themselves as God sees them. 
  • Therapeutic mysticism is a way of aligning your way of seeing with how God sees this moment. We must align our hearts with the ground of our being. Fr. Greg says the starting point is - Everyone is good, unshakably good. 
  • He says the answer to every question is compassion. He challenges us to ask what language we are speaking with our acts and strives to create a community of cherished belonging. 
  • We must go against our inclination which is to be self absorbed and be attentive to others. He encourages us to receive and greet others, which is the fruit of contemplative practice. He says to “choose to brighten” and practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes habitual, nearly permanent by linking it to our breathing, cherishing and keeping the mantra going all day long, not just during times of prayer. 

“All of us are good. Our basic core of goodness is our true self and the center of gravity that is God and the acceptance of our basic core of goodness is a quantum leap in our spiritual journey.”

- Father Thomas Keating

To learn more about Father Thomas Keating’s guidelines for service and principles visit www.contemplativeoutreach.org/vision

   To connect further with Fr. Greg Boyle:

Fr. Boyle is the author of the 2010 New York Times-bestseller Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. Followed by Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship (2017) and The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness (2021). Most recently, he authored Forgive Everyone Everything, an anthology of writings accompanied by Fabian Debora’s artwork.

To connect further with us:

Season 2 of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts was made possible by a grant from the Trust for the Meditation Proces a charitable foundation encouraging meditation, mindfulness and contemplative prayer.

  This episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts is produced by Crys & Tiana LLC www.crysandtiana.com
Opening Minds, Opening Hearts Season 2 Episode #10: Everybody is Unshakably Good. No Exceptions. with Fr. Greg Boyle

[cheerful music starts]

Colleen Thomas [00:00:02] Welcome to Opening Minds, Opening Hearts, a podcast about the transformative practice of Centering Prayer. In each episode, we will talk to Friends of Contemplative Outreach about their personal practice. Listen in as our guests share insights about the teachings of Father Thomas Keating, how the practice impacts their work in the world, and their thoughts about how Centering Prayer connects to the living traditions of contemplation and meditation. We are your hosts, Colleen Thomas.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:00:35] And Mark Dannenfelser.

Colleen Thomas [00:00:36] Centering Prayer practitioners and contemplative life seekers who love to talk a little too much about how the practice of contemplative prayer transforms our inner and outer worlds. Our hope is to open the door for you to explore more deeply this powerful practice of Centering Prayer.

[cheerful music ends]

Mark Dannenfelser [00:00:59] Welcome to the Contemplative Outreach Podcast, Opening Minds, Opening Hearts. I'm Mark Dannenfelser. 

Colleen Thomas [00:01:06] And I'm Colleen Thomas.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:09] Hello, Colleen. How are you?

Colleen Thomas [00:01:11] Good, Mark. How are you doing here close to the end of our season? 

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:16] I'm doing well. You're just back from a retreat, so I know you're going to be really inspired and enlightened here in this conversation. 

Colleen Thomas [00:01:23] Oh yeah, I've been in the grand silence, but you wouldn't be able to tell today because I've been sitting in front of this computer all day long. Back to the grind, but it was lovely.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:36] I'm glad to have you back. We've been having some great conversations and we've got another good one today. And we have this theme for the season and we've been talking this season about how we're really hoping to be serving the changing needs of contemplatives and how that relates to the practice of Centering Prayer. We have a special guest today too, don't we?

Colleen Thomas [00:01:56] Yeah. You know, as we've been looking at this guiding principle, we've talked about the evolving community and expanding vision. We've talked about the dynamic deepening the practice of Centering Prayer as we've been talking about serving the changing needs of contemplatives and thinking about preparing for today. The thought that I had was that contemplative prayer really emerged within and behind the closed doors of monastic communities and then it spread out to people going on retreat and practicing contemplative prayer in retreat and at home and in groups.

 But it's even really emerged beyond that retreatants and it's out there in the world of just everyday people who are recognizing that a practice that helps to change the way that they see the world from the inside out is just really critical and important for our wellbeing spiritually, mentally, and physically. And I'm really excited today to talk with Father Greg Boyle and before we bring him onto the microphone here, I'm just going to read a bit of his bio for those who are not familiar.

Father Greg Boyle was born and raised in Los Angeles and he's a Jesuit priest and the founder of Homeboy Industries, which is an LA based gang intervention, rehabilitation and reentry program that was started in 1988 and now happens to be the largest of its kind in the world. And while he was serving as pastor of the Dolores Mission Church in Boyle Heights, which is an area of LA that had the highest concentration of gang activity in the city, Father Greg witnessed the impact of gang violence on his community and it peaked in the late 80s and at its peak there were a thousand gang related killings. And so he really answered a call there in that community. And we'll learn lots about the work that he's doing there and its relationship to contemplative prayer. We want to welcome you, Father Greg. It's great to have you with us today. Thanks for being here.

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:04:16] Thank you. It's great to be with you and with my old friend, Mark.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:04:20] Yeah, Greg, you and I met, I was trying to figure it out, I think it was 2005 at the Ignatius House here in Atlanta. And then I was working on a parish staff nearby the Ignatius House at Our Lady of Assumption. And so I asked you to come and speak, which you very generously did and you came a few times. But that first time, I don’t know if you remember this, but we had this huge power outage as you were driving down from the Ignatius House to come to the parish and the pastor didn't want to have the gathering and these people had traveled from far and wide and we had all these people organizing it. So I asked you if you wouldn't mind signing a couple books there by the light of the open front door of the church and then to come over to my house, which you very generously did. And I don’t know if you remember, but Michael was with you and the both of you came over to the house and suddenly 60 or 70 people appeared in the living room and kitchen and up the staircase and on their way over they brought beer and wine and chips. And what I thought was a disaster at first turned into what was really a very beautiful evening.

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:05:28] Magnificent.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:05:29] Yeah. I was just in awe of your willingness to roll with it and how that can turn things into a really magical evening for us. So it's good to be thinking back on that a little bit. And I appreciate you being here today. We ask all our guests this because we are after all a Contemplative Outreach Podcast about Centering Prayer. So how did you first bump into Centering Prayer? Come to discover it and what's your kind of relationship to the practice?

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:05:57] Well, it's hard for me to remember a time when it wasn't sort of part of the air I was breathing. I'm 51 years a Jesuit, so that was always how things worked. A Centering Prayer, taking time, trying to find your anchor and your center and the ground. And so the ground is not the place you land on, but it's the ocean you float in. And that's always been, I can't think of a time when that wasn't how I proceeded.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:06:24] You and Keating were contemporaries. Do you remember all of that sort of, that ocean rising up in terms of especially folks out in the world practicing this kind of contemplative tradition that, as Colleen said, was really thought of as being kept in monasteries? Do you remember all that happening? Kind of the late 70s, early 80s?

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:06:46] Yeah. Yeah. So I entered the Jesuits in 72, maybe it wasn't immediately, but it was pretty shortly thereafter. Again, merged with a kind of Ignatian sense of things. Other Jesuits are better than I am at like the kind of imaginative thing. I don't really do that so much. I've made the spiritual exercises twice, which are the 30 day silent retreat version. Plus I did what they called the 19th annotated version. I did that once with a Jesuit friend of mine and that was somewhere in the middle of my life as a Jesuit. That's always part of who I am.

Colleen Thomas [00:07:25] I'm curious about that because the retreat that I just came back from was very Ignatian exercise oriented up there at Mary and Joseph. And we did a lot of examine. There was a lot of being in conversation with God about who I am, where I am, where I am going, a lot of reflecting on scripture. And then in Centering Prayer, Father Thomas likes to talk about silence as being God's first language. And one of the guidelines talks about when you find yourself caught up in your thoughts, you return to this sacred word. And I'm curious about the relationship between Ignatian practice as this imaginative, some people would call it discursive meditation versus the Centering Prayer, contemplative prayer practice that says for 20 minutes, let's just let go of all these imaginings, all of these perceptions, all of these images and memories and just rest in God. Have you experienced a separation or a support in holding space for both of the practices of both being in dialogue in an Ignatian way versus Centering Prayer being more of a resting in silence?

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:08:53] I'm Ignatian in how I operate and how I think, but the Centering Prayer is more how I pray. But I'm also kind of a mantra person, so I'll land on one that'll carry me for a lot of times. Just interesting you would say rest because I have one and where I do my breathing with it, one is that I've been doing lately is resting in me, resting in you. And so that's a mantra or let love live through me. And so are different things. I mean I just have a million of them that some that I use for a very long time or even longer. And so that's what I do. I just sit and I breathe and then the mantra will keep me clear. I think of Ignatius like the meditation on the two standards. And Ignatius says, see Jesus standing in the lowly place.

So it's not, I don't do this meditation where I go off on who's there and you see a tree and I don't really do that, but that kind of notion. So notions are important or ideas. See Jesus standing in the lowly place is a way of imagining Jesus standing at the margins. And then maybe I imagine things like he's not beckoning, he's not telling me to get over there. And he's not outside the lowly place pointing at it. You see him standing there, that's it. That's all I need. And then it's like, come on in the water's fine. It's a little bit like he doesn't indict me for not standing there, but his presence just silently invites me. Which is why I think prayer, I'm kind of a Richard Rohr person on this one. It's not like the words you say or even the thing you imagine or even a technique so much as it's your stance in the world because it becomes so vital.

Homies here who are in recovery, will say one day at a time. And I always say, no, that's too long. It can't be one day at a time. It has to be with every breath you take. So you breathe in the spirit that delights in your being and then you breathe that out into the world because the world could use it. And so you feel this intentionality to cherish. So you cherish with every breath that you take and you take the breath in and you feel yourself cherished and you receive the tender glance and then you become the tender glance. So stance is, it's a little bit like pray always. It's a way of cherishing people is not hard, but remembering to cherish is really difficult and that's why you link it to your breathing even when you're not sitting in your morning prayer. 

Mark Dannenfelser [00:11:32] Yeah, that stance that you're talking about, Keating talked about that too. A basic kind of orientation to who we are and who others are. What he talked about was, his term for that was our basic core of goodness that all of us are good. He said that our basic core of goodness is our true self. It's the center of gravity that is God. And the acceptance of our basic core of goodness is a quantum leaf in the spiritual journey. And you teach that too, Greg, don't you? I mean it seems to be at the heart of what's happening at Homeboy, this unconditional positive regard for everyone, no exceptions.

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:12:10] Recently I was speaking at the LA Times Festival of Books and I was on a panel with Steve Lopez who's a columnist from the LA Times. And then this Rabbi Rachel Levi who also writes books. And at one point I just said, the two operative principles at Homeboy is everybody's unshakably good, no exceptions. And we belong to each other, no exceptions. And then I asked rhetorically, I suppose the audience, I just said, now do I think that all our vexing complex social dilemma would really be addressed and disappear if we embrace those two principles? And then I said, yes I do.

 And then the whole audience laughed and I waited for the laughter to subside and then I said, yes I do. And yes I do. I think those are the two key things. And I think the church in a particular way has done a great deal of damage. Thinking that goodness is a thing you attain rather than just recognize. But I think we're at a different place in our world and gang members have taught me this for sure, that I've never met anybody evil, but I've met people who are damaged and traumatized and despondent and mentally ill. But I've never met anybody who wasn't thoroughly unshakably good, even if they were carrying anguish that was quite hard to carry.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:13:37] You've been laughed at when you say things like that. But you've also had people not laughing and very angry with you for saying something like that when they start to talk about gang members and ex-gang members and those who are incarcerated

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:13:52] In the early days, I mean I've been working with gang members for 40 years. So I think our first 10 years were bomb threats, death threats and hate mail. Not from gang members but from people who demonized them. It was a short hop to demonize me for walking with them. Yeah, it was hard, but I wouldn't say anymore. Now people have hoisted in LA anyway, have hoisted Homeboy Industries up on their shoulders.

Colleen Thomas [00:14:19] So this basic core of goodness, which I think comes from that understanding rather comes from this transformed mind. And you hold this belief that at our core we are all good. But when people come to you from prison, from the street, how is that awareness of that inherent goodness imparted to those, what is the spiritual formation process, if you will, like within Homeboy Industries, how do you practice or teach the practice of that kind of awareness of self?

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:15:06] Yeah, if it's true that the traumatized may be inclined to cause trauma, it has to be equally true that the cherished will be able to find their way to the joy there is in cherishing themselves and others. It has to be true. You talk about holding space, we create a safe place where people can feel seen and then they can be cherished. So part of the mystical stance is to be able to see as God sees. So we talk a lot here about therapeutic mysticism. Certainly there's a practice and certainly we certainly meditation and everybody here is exposed to that. But you know what, Ignatius in February 27th, 1544, he enters this one word in his spiritual diary. And then he proceeds to use it many times for the remaining 12 years of his life. And before he dies, he goes back and he circles the word all the times he used it, and I speak Spanish, but I'd never heard this word.

And the word is acatamiento and it comes from an archaic word, acata which means to look at something with attention. And I think it came from like the idea of a king asking a servant, Hey, go do this for me. And then the guy says right away, I'm on it, acatamiento. But it gets translated as affectionate awe, which I think is the whole thing. And I think Ignatius surely that was born of some singular mystical moment, but he didn't want it to stay a moment. He wanted it to be a stance, a movement really. How do you stand at the margins with people whose dignity has been denied and folks whose burdens are more than they can bear? You stand with affection at awe. It's a game changer I think, because then you stand in awe at what people have to carry rather than in judgment at how they carry it.

It just opened a door for me because affection at awe is exactly how God sees and it's freed of judgment. The homies here always talk about, find the thorn underneath it finds the thorn. And it knows that the answer to every question is compassion. And so we're not trying to create a behaving community here, but a community of cherished belonging. And everybody knows that violence and behavior is a language. And so we always want to know what language is this act speaking, it's different. There's no banishment, there's no such thing as punishment. Sometimes people have to be stopped, but it never touches their goodness. Because that's unshakeable.

Colleen Thomas [00:18:03] What does this therapeutic meditation practice look like?

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:18:08] Therapeutic mysticism? Yeah. It's just a way of seeing. So you want to align your way of seeing, you want to be able to, it's like an agreement and you are always checking in with it. It's like, how does God see this moment? And you want to align your heart with the ground of your being. Once you're conscious of that and you're aware of that, the starting point, which is everybody's good, unshakably good, that's my part. No matter what behavior gets in the way, a lot of times people's agency is compromised because they're mentally ill or because they're addicted or they're stuck in a despair that's quite dark. And so everybody's trying to infuse hope and everybody's trying to heal and in repair attachment. And you're trying to deliver mental health services from people who are culturally sensitive. So you're trying to do all those things, but no matter what, so like I have a guy out there right now who's just acting out and is getting high and he's kind of self-medicating, but none of that touches his goodness.

His goodness is untouchable. This isn't about maybe one day he'll be a good person. Nobody thinks that way here. And the reason is because God doesn't think that way and that's abundantly clear. So the therapeutic mysticism is about transforming your pain so you don't have to inflict it anymore. But it's also about joy. How do you get people to a place of joy? And the place of joy is what Mark was saying earlier, which was, you know your true self in loving and then the truth of who you are. And then you can say, well, God is love and God loves me. But then you also say, God is in the loving and then you know that loving is your home. You're never going to be homesick. And then people can leave here. 

The healing ends in the graveyard and our program is 18 months pretty much. But then people leave and they've experienced some very palpable, essential foundational healing where they're resilient and they're sturdy because they know their true selves in loving. When we talk about the culture here, that's the culture here. People are cherished and it's demonstrable.

[solemn music starts]

Mark Dannenfelser [00:20:36] In the Christian tradition, Contemplative Prayer is the opening of your mind and heart to God who is beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. Centering Prayer is a method designed to facilitate contemplation. The method suggests four guidelines. 

One, choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within you. 

Two, sit comfortably and relatively still close your eyes or leave them slightly open and silently introduce your sacred word. 

Three, when you notice you have become engaged with a thought, simply return ever so gently to your sacred word. 

And four, at the end of the 20-minute prayer period, let go of the sacred word and remain in silence for a couple of minutes. The additional time invites you to bring the atmosphere of silence into everyday life.

[solemn music ends]

It is a therapeutic culture. You call it that mystical therapy. Keating called it divine therapy. It's being in that, just being in it. But I imagine too, people are coming with some really tough pasts and there's been a lot of hurt for them. And one of your more recent books, or I guess the most recent book, I love it. It's this little combination of your first three little quotes and antidotes from it. And it's called Forgive Everyone Everything. I love it. It's like a little meditation. And I really love the stunning artwork there by Fabian Debora, is he still the Executive Director of Homeboy Art Academy there?

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:22:22] Yeah, he's, yeah. 

Mark Dannenfelser [00:22:23] Yeah. It's phenomenal. But that title, Forgive Everyone Everything. There has to be, for some people, a little bit of a hitch there. It's hard to get past things, isn't it? Or have you seen people get past some things that just coming in?

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:22:37] Well, I'm kind of embarrassed by it a little bit, only because we have this thing called Thought for the Day. And I realized that I had thought for the day I parked and I pulled up right behind a car. It had a bumper sticker and it said, forgive everyone, everything. And I said, well, there's my thought for the day. So then I went and made up something and somebody saw it and then they said, Hey, how about a book that's a compilation of stuff from all my other books. But I have a spiritual director named Sergio who is a homie and prison meth addict. And every morning we email each other and usually we just reflect on the readings from the day.

 And one day he wrote, and I think the scripture must have had said something about forgiveness. And he says, I'm not so much into forgiveness. He said, there's too much back and forth. He said, I just believe in forth. And I thought that was brilliant because then he said forth. So it's the difference between forgiving somebody 70 times seven times and the father who runs to the son to throw his arms around him. That's mercy. The other one is forgiveness. Forgiveness waits. You wait for the other person or there's no waiting in mercy. So I like mercy better than forgiveness, even though I have a book that-

Mark Dannenfelser [00:24:04] Well, it's a good bumper sticker.

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:24:06] Forgive Everyone Everything. So.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:24:07] I like the forth part of the forgiveness. 

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:24:09] I love the forth. Yeah, back and forth, back and forth. Yeah. Forth is really where you want to live. Forth is seeing as God sees because It's all mercy. Thomas Merton talked about mercy upon mercy. That's what you want. Mercy is the goal.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:24:28] And that goes perfectly with the unshakeable goodness. Because it's already available to everyone. And there's no holding back on that kind of forgiveness.

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:24:37] There's no waiting, there's no achieving, there's no, hold the bar up and let's see if you measure up. Our God doesn't operate that way ever. But we do constantly. We're always who's in and who's out and us and them. And separation is how we've built, even today, I just came from this funeral and then you read some of the prayers and they're awful at funerals, you know? Because it's about having achieved some secret past to get to the next life. I mean that language is all over the place and it's hard to extricate yourself from it. And it's just so bad I think because it's all about attainment. And rather than seeing yourself as God does, God is never waiting for you to do something or waiting for you to stop doing something. And I think the mystics, and I include Keating in that, they all have that notion of hard for them to acknowledge hell.

That they go, well, the mystics would acknowledge, okay, maybe there's a hell but it's empty. They'll say that. Or Julian of Norwich says, sin doesn't even exist. It's because once you know, it's a little bit like Jesus sees the guy having seizures and he like everybody thinks the guy is possessed by a demon. He's not. He has epilepsy and in 2023, here's a pill. And you could probably control it. They didn't know any better and Jesus didn't know any better. But we've been saddled with that notion that somehow, so demons have no place in the discussion about epilepsy. And sin has no place in a discussion about behavior because I don't know, that's what I've learned from working with gang members. Because you can pinpoint things that you could actually alleviate suffering as the Buddhist would say, despair, darkness, a lethal absence of hope, abuse, trauma, damage, pain, suffering, mental illness.

There aren't any demons, I don't think. There isn't even any sin. It's just help this person discover hope. But we backed the wrong horse, you know, a lot of years ago. And it's too bad because we're always trying to undo thinking. My friend [indiscernible 00:26:59], who I recommend, she's a great translator and her books are wonderful and we've become friends. But she always says, once a God of love, you fire all the other gods. And that's important. That's an important task. And if our own kind of Centering Prayer doesn't get us to that floating in that ocean, then I think it's just an exercise. And I don't know what self-absorption maybe, but you want it to get to a place where you are able to be in the world who God is. 

Colleen Thomas [00:27:34] Yeah, we talk about that a lot within Contemplative Outreach. A practice that it doesn't move outward. You kind of get stuck in the chair, so to speak. And I think that's one of the incredible things about your work is that you've been out of the chair and really living out contemplative practice in the world. And it's so important. And I even find myself thinking though too, about still this forth idea of being mercy and just being able to step over into that. That we're already in it and being able to live in and embrace it. But it is a challenge. It's a challenge for me. And I grew up in a stable home. I had no childhood issues compared to gang life or incarceration or dysfunctional family. And still this idea of belovedness took years of practice. 

And so I'm just imagining when you are offering that choice to someone, and that's a very Ignatian practice to discernment. You can enter into your program, which is a choice when some don't, I'm sure. And then they go out into the world and have another choice. Do you have any experiences you can share with us maybe of how people have wrestled with that choice? What has been that bridge over to embracing that mercy in a way that has really sustained them outside of your program?

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:29:17] Choice is an odd thing. I was writing somebody the other day, emailing them saying, I'm not sure I believe in free will anymore. Not all choices are created equal. So I share a similar, you know, at least background in terms of trauma free and loving parents and wonderful siblings. And I won all the lotteries, education, zip code. I just won those lotteries. Not because I'm morally superior, just because it was a totally random thing. So it's hard to talk about choice here. You could choose not to do that. I go, well, I don't know. Not all choices are created equal. Last night I was at this wake for this young woman who was killed in a car accident. And I see homies there that I haven't seen in many years. And, and one guy, his brother comes by here, I haven't seen him for a while, which is probably not a good sign.

Maybe he's in jail. He is really mentally ill, severely mentally ill. And he gets high sometimes, but he is just out there and he's just wearing tatters and he's filthy. And it's funny, I hadn't seen the older brother in a long time. And he did this whole thing about, I don't know why he is doing this to my mother. My mom's going to die and she won't see her son. And why would he choose to do this? And I go, wow. He never chose this mental illness. It chose him. And now on the one hand you hope, and we've tried to get him into rehabs and stuff and if I could check myself in for him, I would've been had done it. But I can't. He has to walk through the door map his recovery, he is obviously dual diagnosis, but it was fascinating to me.

He basically thought his younger brother was a bad guy for choosing to live on the street and be filthy and absolutely wearing tatters. We're always giving him clothes so he can take a shower here but he's completely mentally ill. And you want to say, who would ever choose this? Nobody would ever choose this. And yet it chose him and I have no explanation for why it chose him, is just, it's very random. So choosing is a kind of a dicey thing. So when somebody walks through the door here and they're tired of being tired, it's really red carpet and a ticker tape parade because we know how much courage it took to do that. And everyone's at a variety of levels of readiness. And sometimes we have to tell people like when they bring a gun, we go, all right, here's the deal. We love you. You're great. Come back when you're ready. And that happens only every day. 

Colleen Thomas [00:32:09] Yeah. Talk about attachments.

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:32:11] Somebody just walked by and knocked on my door. That's happened three times already. There's a big sign that says on a Zoom, oh, they don't care.

Colleen Thomas [00:32:20] Sounds like my nephew. 

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:32:24] And I have two big, huge homies who are standing by the door who are security who shush people every once in a while.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:32:34] Every once in a while. How do you keep your own center in some of that? There's a lot going on all the time there.

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:32:42] It can't be about me. So that's a mantra. So I don't take anything personally. Your intentionality is to delight in people and then you notice the notice of God and then you become the notice of God. So then you're noticing people and you're trying to be attentive and then you discover that you love being loving. That's where the joy is. And all our sadness is not just from clinging, but it's from self-absorption. And not because people are selfish. They're not selfish, they're just self-absorbed and they don't know that. And they're fearful and they're afraid that they won't get their suitcase in the overhead compartment. They're standing in the aisle and they're not getting out of the aisle. Not because they're bad people or even selfish people, but for the moment they're stuck in self-absorption and is born of fear. What if I don't find a place for my overhead suitcase in the overhead compartment?

That's my example. I always look at it and I go, wow, the flight attendant has now said nine times, please step out of the aisle and no one's doing it because they're self-absorbed. But the minute you can step away from that and you can say, I'm going to be attentive to the old lady who can't put her suitcase up there. Suddenly you're outside of yourself and you're really, Ignatius talks about [indiscernible 00:34:12] to go against your inclination, which is to just be self-absorbed. And the second you do it, I also call it choosing to brighten where you choose to brighten, which is to say it's part of your attention of the other person. It's not just being loving, it's you brighten, you really receive and greet the person. It's so hard to do. But that's the fruit of the practice. And you have to work at that. Because practice doesn't make perfect, it makes habitual, it makes permanent as nearly permanent. Though there's no once and for all decision, I will be attentive. God knows that doesn't work. That's why you have to link it to your breathing, your cherishing, every breath. Always bring yourself back to it. Keep the mantra going all day long, not just when you're sitting.

Colleen Thomas [00:35:09] Yeah, no, that when you said attentive to, I thought about the practice, the method of Centering Prayer, being practice for 20 minutes twice a day. So I don't know how many more minutes in the waking day that means that we're not sitting in a chair, but it's intended that we practice putting our attention on other than self. That when I start to think about what's going on with me and my day and my needs, I return to this sacred word or to the breath to practice taking my attention off myself. I think I'm going to hold that word brighten too, because it's also, I can see this image of turning back to the light in those moments where I want to just go into the dark place of my own needs that can just weigh all of us down.

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:36:14] Yeah, I think it's the intentionality. You want to stay anchored all the time in  gratitude and in attention and affection at awe. And again, I don't think it's sin. I just think there's a kind of an inclination to forget to delight in people. It's the duty to delight, as Ruskin used to say. And Dorothy Day always quoted him, the duty to delight. It feels like it's some obligation, but it's really intentionality. And then because I can look out into my office right now because I'm a human being, I'll see, oh my God, what's he doing here? And then I go, oh she is wonderful. I look forward to talking to her. No, you, you want to do it in a way that's indistinguishable. You want to say, this guy drives me crazy and he is going to ask me to pay his rent and I just want to somehow rise above annoyance.

And so George Saunders, who's the great writer, and he says, the only non delusional response to everything is kindness. Which is true, but it also has to be true that every other response is delusional. So your annoyance, your anger, your resentment, your impatient, everything is delusional. The only thing that isn't is kindness. That's a touchstone for me. I think it's brilliant and I think it's obviously true. And then it links with tenderness that the highest form of spiritual maturity is tenderness. And so it's the fruit again, it's the fruit of the centering is that it's like tenderizing meat being tenderized, you're tenderized by it and which is why you do it, not because it links you or unifies you with God because God doesn't have much interest in that. Because God is hoping that you will unite to everybody else that you may be one, which is the parting words of Jesus or my joy yours, your joy complete. It's not about, hey, look at me.  Our God is self effacing. We aren't so much. Which is why we project that onto our God. And that's why it's important to know the God of love so you can fire all the other gods. The wrathful God, the jealous God, the fickle God, the moody God. All the God who- 

Colleen Thomas [00:38:46] Who's on my team.

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:38:48] Yeah, yeah. On my side. Yeah. And so we draw lines, but God only erases them. But God's dream come true is a community of cherished belonging. Not that you will look at God and say, wow, you're amazing. It's not about waving your arms, it's about rolling up your sleeves. And if Centering Prayer doesn't get you to roll up your sleeves, then I'm not so sure what it's about. But I know it does that if you surrender to it. Otherwise it takes a detour where it's just sort of reinforces one's own self absorption and sadness, that's where sadness is. And so the mark of the true disciple, the two marks are joy and fearlessness and we're plagued by sadness and terror. And our church can be just so filled with fear and sadness and you go, yeah, no, I think it's probably a sign that we need to move in another direction where that somehow gets us to joy and fearlessness.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:39:54] You must be a very patient person. I know you to be patient as you're talking. I'm thinking because there a lot of times there's not that sense of belonging, there's not that sense of connection. You've mentioned trauma before as a trauma therapist that's, you know, a real interest of mine as well as a contemplative practitioner. And people will come to you high levels of trauma, which is a kind of disconnect. There's not a connection there, there's a fragmentation. So how do you, either inside or outside the practice, do you work with that trauma or wait on that trauma? Is it about creating a safe place for people to just be in and start absorbing it or, I know you do specific counseling and all that too, but.

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:40:43] Yeah, and we have therapists and we have groups and we have a psychiatrist also who every once in a while if somebody needs to take something to lift their boat so their boat doesn't take water, that happens. Lately I've gotten to know Jim Finley, James Finley, he has a podcast called Turning to the Mystics. And he just wrote a memoir, which is very sweet and he is a therapist and he knew Thomas Merton and lived with him for six years and wrote a great book on Merton. And he talks about in his own trauma in his own life, he talks about the dissociative cave and how he would retreat to the dissociative cave. And that has a lot of resonance here. Because every once in a while people they're living in the dissociative cave. What coaxes them out of this dissociative cave?

Well it's people in a culture that cherishes and they walk out. In the old days we used to say if somebody left or went to prison or relapsed, we would lament. We would say, well maybe they'll come back. Nobody says that now. Everybody says he'll be back. And they always come back always. Because being cherished is so compelling. Once you have a dose, there is no drug more compelling than being cherished. And people really have to have it and they all come back. The steady diet really is everybody coming in and say, where have you been? Oh I got locked up or whatever. But they remember it's a touchstone. They remember the dose they got and everybody gives a dose. It's not just the therapist or me, it's the homie who's has the security shirt on and is trying to calm down a situation.

They all remember all the dosage, the dosing they got. And it's really compelling. Anyway, I think that's really how it works. And it's hard because I'm an introvert. I'd like to think more about that a little bit more, the difference between an introvert and an extrovert in terms of spiritual practice. Because I think there's something there is just, we operate differently. I love being here and I love the energy from folks, but I'm an introvert. I like my solitude, I like taking my long walks. So I don't know, there's something there that I just haven't explored. And how do people cherish differently as an introvert or an extrovert? I don't have an answer to that.

Colleen Thomas [00:43:23] That sounds like your next book, Father Greg. We need that book. This whole concept of being cherished. And it is true. It is true. And it is also so sad that so many, even of us spiritual folks don't have the capacity to cherish those who, like you were saying, don't really have a choice. We don't know how mercy's dealt out. We don't know how grace is dealt out. One of the most uncomfortable things to me about God is that there seems to be unequal measures of grace being dealt. And I don't know why I was born here and some was born there and I see your face, so respond. I'm curious.

Fr. Greg Boyle [00:44:11] I am a firm believer in shit happens and I want that on my tombstone because I think the minute you know that, then you go, it's all random. And Jim Finley always says, God protects me from nothing and sustains me in everything. And I believe in that. That's my credo. So I think that's important because even this morning, you know, and it's heartbreaking. And this woman who I've known for 40 years since she was a little kid in the projects and she has one daughter and she has two granddaughters and it's like, why did this happen to her? I said, because accidents happen and God has nothing to do with it whatsoever. Nothing, nothing, nothing. 

Except God will carry you if you let yourself be sustained. That I know for sure, but I know God didn't do it. Some guy who was driving like a crazy person, he did it. And then why did he do it? Because he hadn't transformed his pain. So he transmitting it. And I don't know why that is.

Because he also died in the accident. He just head on. It was like they were racing or something, and then he jumped the thing and hit her and she had three little girls in the car and not a scratch on any one of them. And she was killed instantly. Anyway, again, you know what we have to undo? I mean, one thing is you add, but you also subtract. You have to subtract notions of God that are just so goofball but it was part of the air we breathe. We thought God was at the control booth and it turned out that was never. God is too busy loving us to orchestrate anything. There's language I never use, I never use. God has a plan or there's a reason for everything. I don't use that stuff because I don't believe it.

And I just know life is so random and that's okay. Shit is going to happen. And every one of us is going to die, but none of us will live forever. But all of us can live in the forever. So roll up your sleeves. Let's live in the forever. And that's the idea, that's the hope. And it's all working towards one thing, not praising God because God's not interested, but it's about creating God's dream come true. Let's make God's dream come true. Not everybody going.

[solemn music starts]

Oh my God, you're amazing. God has no interest. A loving God has no interest in that. God only wants us to create a place of kinship such that God might recognize it. 

Colleen Thomas [00:46:47] Thanks for joining us on this episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts. Visit our website, contemplativeoutreach.org to subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever else you listen to podcasts. You can also follow us on Instagram @ contemplativeoutreachltd. To learn more about our guests and their work, you can find info in the show notes for each episode. 

If you enjoyed this episode, you might want to check out our YouTube channel: C-O-U-T-R-E-A-C-H. Coutreach. 

Thanks for listening and see you next time. 

Mark Dannenfelser [00:47:32] Season two of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts was made possible by a grant from the Trust for the Meditation Process, a charitable foundation encouraging meditation, mindfulness, and contemplative prayer. To find out more about the foundation, go to trustformeditation.org. If you are a grateful listener and would like to support this podcast, go to contemplativeoutreach.org/podcast to make a donation of any amount. And thank you for your support.

Colleen Thomas [00:48:09] This episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts is produced by Crys & Tiana.

[solemn music ends]