The Gift of Conflict

(the following piece was written by Bob Sabath, a man who has been deeply involved with the work with Illuman in the US since he did MROP in 2006. This was the closing witness at Oracle 2020, a recent virtual gathering of American men involved in the work of the Journey Of Illumination. It is a valuable reminder of the importance of conflict and failure in our pilgrimage, and how we must welcome it at a corporate level as well as the individual level.)

First Round

So, on January the 3rd, I was unexpectedly diagnosed with a very aggressive form of blood cancer, Burkitt’s lymphoma. I decided to engage this unexpected diagnosis as a class that I was taking.

Burkitt’s lymphoma was a very demanding professor. This professor also initiated me, just like I was initiated in 2006 [at the MROP]: I’m going to die. I’m not in control. It’s not about me. I’m not that important.

There have been weeks where I have literally been on the bottom of the floor, feeling like my body is being torn apart. My practice has become helplessness.

When my body is so scrambled, all of these inner-work practices that are sensation-based just dissipate. And I just find myself . . . and all that I can surrender is my helplessness.
What I have discovered is that helplessness calls the Helpers. Not just my friends on this physical plane, but I’m convinced that there are Helpers in the other world. And they are drawn to powerlessness, they are drawn to helplessness. And they do come, they do come.
In some ways, I guess I see we [the community of Illuman] are at this juncture point where I hope we can deepen the practice of helplessness.

I see tensions between renewal community and institution, and the fear that we will lose something of the renewal insight if we become too institutionalized. I see tensions between the guys who have been here a longer time and the newer guys who are trying to figure out this place. And I hope we can get beyond just like and dislike.

It’s natural to want to be validated and visible and have a voice. What do these older guys really think about me? Do they even see me?

I think we need to deepen the inner work where we don’t fall apart when we seem invisible or voiceless or not validated. And trust the process, trust the process.
I don’t think “institution” is going to iron out conflict. I think we need to find a different relationship to conflict.

This has been my lifelong lesson: mess, constriction, uncertainty, tensioning, conflict. These are necessary and holy ingredients for transformation to deepen within us and within the organization. If we can’t find a way of standing within it and changing our relationship to it, we aren’t going to be better off if we eliminate it. We have to find a different way of engaging [conflict] because that kind of stuff is a mark of community-deepening and transformation-deepening.

If we want to grow our being, if we want to grow our capacity to connect and love, and to see new possibilities, we have to change our relationship to conflict and see it as a gift. That only comes as we deepen our own inner practices. Otherwise we just go into autopilot.
Someone once said falling is fuel. When I asked a guy that I saw for many years for spiritual direction, “What do you do in the monastery?” He said, “We fall and we get up, we fall and we get up, and we fall and we get up again.” That’s not going to change. We’re not going to get to a place where we are not falling. If we can change our perspective and see that as holy, see that as something that opens us to be able to see things that we don’t yet see, then we’ll get through this.

A great kindness descends when we see our own inner contradictions and complexities. What’s true of this organization is true of me, too. I’m in a state of disarray and, most of the time, I live in dispersion, and away from myself. But something brings me back, it always brings me back. And we can trust that. It’s Grace. This [back and forth] calls to It. And the Helpers come.

Second Round

I’m thinking about Richard (Rohr) saying that we are going to measure the success of what we do . . . that we can’t measure it until the fifth generation. So, I’m thinking of my grandson, Sebastian, my son Peter’s son. That would mean that the fifth generation would be not Sebastian’s son, but Sebastian’s grandson. Will this work be around in five generations?

Renewal communities have a bad track record of extending themselves through time. Unless they are encased in a preserving structure of some sort, they disappear. They’re not going to be around for Sebastian’s grandchild.

And yet, those of us who have been involved in renewal community, we hate institutions. At least I do, at one level. There is something that grates me in it, but yet I know they’re necessary. Part of what grates . . .

I remember Richard saying in one of his books, Falling Upward, that he thought that institutions were inevitably first-half-of-life structures. And just get used to it [the grating]. Because there is self-preservation, money, policy, structural plans, all of this kind of stuff that makes up an institution. And many of these chase the founders away. They kill the founders, the vision holders, the wisdom holders.

I don’t know that Richard is right about that. I think there are new things a- brew where it might be possible to build a wisdom institution. And, if it’s true that tensioning and conflict . . . there can be holy tensioning, that embeds, that keeps us orbiting around each other—where the community and the institution can orbit around each other, and nobody falls. We come to celebrate this holy mess which we’ve created.

I know there’s a lot of experimentation. I hope we can learn from some old experiences that came up in some of our Councils—with AA and the Quakers—and maybe “we” can help us [ourselves]. Finding ways of doing institution that get us to the fifth generation, but can we find a different way of doing it? I don’t know if it’s possible or not. It’s a question I’d like to engage.

About Richard Fay

Richard is the CEO of the Centre for Men, has a background as a pastor and spent many years in the corporate sector. He has a masters in counselling and a diploma in ministry, and has a heart to champion men, women, marriages and families. Richard is married to his wife Judy and has three sons.

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