Tuesday Writing Conversation: Ireland

May 10, 2016
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The old church in Dromore (written about in ‘Polly of Bridgewater Farm’)

A trip to Ireland is forthcoming to gather some more material on ‘Polly of Bridgewater Farm‘ (written by Catharine McKenty) and some background on Neil’s biography of John Main ‘In The Stillness Dancing: The Journey of John Main‘ .

Check back on this page for updates.


Radio clip:

click below to hear the best of McKenty from Exchange

Tuesday Writing Conversation: “civilised, sophisticated, roguish, Irish…”

May 2, 2016

An early review of In The Stillness Dancing: The Journey of John Main by Neil McKenty.

“…an attractive and indeed inspiring account of Main’s intriguing personality and interesting life…

The author gives a full account of John Main’s method, and an engaging picture of the man: civilised, sophisticated, roguish, Irish, yet with an essential spiritual solitariness. It is a fine introduction to a stimulating teacher…”
The Church Times, U.K.

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Today we are celebrating the new edition of In The Stillness Dancing being released by lightmessages.com

Journalist, soldier, barrister and Benedictine monk, John Main’s spiritual odyssey was a deep seated quest for an authentic life of prayer. The door finally opened when he met an Indian swami who taught him to meditate using a mantra, only to close again when he entered the Benedictine noviciate and adopted a more traditional form of prayer.
Long after ordination in 1963, John Main discovered that the form of prayer advocated by the swami already existed within the mainstream of Western Christianity but had fallen into disuse. From then on, he was to devote his life to restoring this form of christian meditation to its rightful place within the Church. His work began with the foundation of a meditation centre at Ealing Abbey in London and led, some years later, to the foundation of the Benedictine Priory of Montreal and the establishment of a worldwide spiritual family linked through the daily practice of meditation.
Neil McKenty paints an attractive portrait of this compelling Irish monk whose teaching and writing on meditation were to transform the lives of thousands of men and women.

Click below to hear Neil being interviewed about John Main

John Main

John Main

Some more reviews of In The Stillness Dancing:

“Neil McKenty has presented this remarkable man with enthusiasm and devotion, warts and all. The account of his last illness when he struggled against, and finally accepted, his cancer, is movingly told”.
Catholic Herald, U.K.

“This is a remarkable book about a remarkable man.

The author sees three major contributions made by Dom Main: rediscovery of a formula, a discipline for ‘pure prayer’ as an instrument of reform for the monastic life; made ‘pure’ imageless prayer more accessible to the person on the street (as St. Paul always urged).

McKenty introduces the reader to a man who made a deep impression during his too short life, a man many would liked to have met”.
The Telegraph-Journal, Saint John, N.B.

Farmhouse for sale

April 29, 2016

 

This is just to let you know that our longtime friend and colleague, Cynthia Macdonald, has a special property that is about to go on the market. Here is her description.
                                                                  

                                                                                        FOR SALE

Renovated, spacious 2 bedroom 1-1/2 storey farmhouse on 31.5 acres (2 meadows, woods, brook, lovely trails of bedrock, lots of trees, deer, and other wildlife.)  Large eat-in kitchen.  1.5 baths.  Finished attic for additional sleeping or living space.  Oil heating and wood stove.  Drilled well.  Perennial garden.  Quiet, safe neighborhood.  4 season home or seasonal hideaway.

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Farmhouse

Close to I-87, HWay 15.

–         5 minute drive to Champlain border

–         10 minutes to village shopping center, school, church, library, train station

–         30 minutes  to Plattsburgh

–         1 hr. to Montreal

–         1 hr. to Burlington
Unlimited potential:

–         Operating/Hobby/Organic Farm

–         Campground

–         Yoga/Religious Retreat

–         Vineyard

–         Winery

–         Recreation

–         Conservation

Location:  252 Perry Mills Rd., off Route 9, Champlain, NY 12919

Asking Price:  $99,000.

 

To view, please phone 514 485 1636 or cynthiamacd001@hotmail.com

Tuesday Writing Conversation: Discovering your roots

April 25, 2016

Your own family’s history can be an inspiration – and a good source of material for writing. In the video below Bob Fleming discusses how he traced his irish roots. This same story led Catharine Fleming McKenty to write her first novel, Polly of Bridgewater Farm.

Have you investigated your own family’s history? Have you written your memoirs?

Tuesday writing conversation: 5 years ago

April 19, 2016

Back in 2011, Neil was looking at American politics

Can you believe that the phony financier, Donald Trump, is close to the top of the GOP candidates getting ready to challenge Obama in 2012?  And not only that.  Trump’s big issue is that Obama was born in Kenya and is not really an American.  Trump also does not believe Obama wrote his first book.  Some left wing ghost writer did it for him.  There is not a scintilla of evidence advanced to back up either of these assertions.

Obama himself was asked about the ‘birther’ issue by A.P.  He replied the vast majority of Americans believe that he is an American.  And he added that if the ‘birther’ is all his opponents have got, he must be in pretty good shape.

Exactly the point.  If a joker like Trump can get to the top of the GOP greasy pole by playing the ‘birther’ card, then Obama is a shoo-in for 2012.

The ‘birther’ issue hurts those who espouse it.  It does not hurt Obama.

The issue also reveals what a jumble of mediocrities are trying to take Obama on.  In a poll published in today’s Washington  Post Obama beats every single one of his opponents.  Of the two at the top he beats Romney by six and Huckabee by four.

So much for a one-term president.  Not bloody likely.

Whom does the ‘birther’ issue hurt?

What do you think?

Tuesday Writing Conversation: Writing about the Laurentians

April 12, 2016

Catharine and Neil McKenty wrote a best-selling book about the Laurentians, a hilly area north of Montreal. In this short video, Catharine tells us about the background.

The book ‘Skiing Legends and the Laurentian Lodge’ is available to purchase here.

 

TUESDAY WRITING CONVERSATION

April 5, 2016

The Inside Story

Lets continue the story…

 

 

12

The Special Olympics And A Special Wedding

I arranged to see Catharine that same evening in early May 1972.  For the next ten nights straight we went out dining, dancing or to the theatre.  Sometimes Catharine would come for breakfast.  I also began sending flowers and telegrams to her office on a daily basis.  This was about as normal for me as getting up at midnight to floss my teeth.  But nothing was normal these days.  I was in a new space, one I had never inhabited before.  This wasn’t puppy love in Hyde Park or infatuation over a weekend.  This was the real thing.  I had sensed in Catharine a depth both mysterious and translucent, a spiritual quality that rang true.  Add to that an effervescent sense of humour and a musical laugh that tinkled like Christmas bells.  Would she marry me?  Yes, she would.  I don’t understand now why we waited ten years.

That same evening.  Catharine went to a large family gathering where she told her mother she had become engaged.  A few days later I was invited to meet her mother, Victoria, in her elegantly furnished apartment off Avenue Road below St. Clair.  In some respects Victoria, affectionately called ”Aunt Queenie” by her close friends and family, fitted the description of a mulier fortis, a matriarch, in the Old Testament.  She was a woman of character, faith and wisdom garnered over long years rich in experience, people and giving to others.  Her life was centred on her extended family.  Her father, Robert J. Fleming, ”the people’s Bob,” had been mayor of Toronto in the 1890’s.  Her husband, Walter Turnbull, a Protestant missionary, had been killed in a car accident before their only daughter, Catharine, was born.  Victoria never remarried but devoted her life to her family, her friends and her many charities, especially those related to the church.

So in terms of background our meeting was a curious one.  Victoria had come from a long line of northern Irish forebears rooted in the Protestant tradition, a tradition that viewed Irish Catholics and some of their superstition and drinking habits with, not to put fine point on it, some suspicion.  And here I was in her spacious living room, not only an Irish Catholic but former Jesuit priest, ostensibly asking for the hand of her only daughter in marriage – ”ostensibly” as the question was academic, since Catharine, like her mother, had a strong mind of her own and had already made it up.  Nevertheless, Victoria expressed her concerns about our relationship, then explained to me how she and her large family had been praying since Catharine was a little girl that the Lord would provide the right husband for her.  Summoning all the years of Jesuit training going back to Aristotle’s advice on how to make one’s case, I replied quickly, ”All your prayers have now been answered.”  In spite of herself, Aunt Queenie’s sense of humour surfaced and we both relaxed into our chairs and began to discuss plans for the wedding.

There was one problem that seemed insuperable.  It was one thing for Victoria to agree to her daughter’s marrying a Catholic; it was quite another to agree the marriage should take place in a Catholic church with a Catholic priest.  Catharine told me frankly this would be asking too much of her mother.  So we took our problem to a senior official in the Catholic Archdiocese who promised to take it higher.  To my relief, Archbishop Pocock gave permission to have a Protestant minister officiate at our marriage.

So on August 19, 1972, a hot cloudless day, Catharine and I were married in the chapel at Bishop Strachan School which she had attended.  An old friend of Catharine’s family, Canon Dann of St. James Anglican Cathedral, presided at the ceremony, assisted by my good Jesuit friend, Father Edward Dowling.  Afterwards the reception for our family and friends was held at the Hunt Club overlooking the sparkling waters of Lake Ontario.  We drove to Muskoka for a few days of canoeing and swimming, then to the shores of Lake Simcoe to Victoria’s splendid sixty-years-old summer home, Peribonka, named for the river in Quebec where she and Walter had spent their honeymoon.  For Catharine and me on our honeymoon on Lake Simcoe, they were happy days.

Visit the bookshop here: click here

Jean P.

WHAT HAPPENED ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY?

April 4, 2016

 

 

Here are some historical events that happened on the 4th of April.

 

 

In 1460, University of Basle in Switzerland is form.

 

In 1660, English king Charles II sends Declaration of Breda (freedom of religion).

 

In 1814, Napoleon abdicates for the first time in favour of his son.

 

In 1818, Congress decides on the US flag: 13 red and white stripes and 20 stars.

 

In 1832, Charles Darwin aboard HMS Beagle reaches Rio de Janiero.

 

In 1850, The city of Los Angeles is incorporated.

 

In 1862, The battle of Yorktown (US civil war) begins.

 

In 1896, Announcement of gold in Yukon.

 

In 1912,  Chinese republic proclaimed in Tibet.

 

In 1921, Stanley Cup: Ottawa Senators (NHL) beat Vancouver Millionaires (PCHA), 3 games to 2.

 

In 1933, US Dirigible Akron crashes of the coast of NJ, 73 died.

 

 

For more historical events go visit: onthisday.com

 

 

 

 

Jean P.

Tuesday Writing Conversation: A Journey Within

March 28, 2016

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

Neil McKenty wrote extensively throughout his lifetime – from early efforts as a budding journalist for his local paper, to a multitude of articles for various publications at the end of his life. But arguably the hardest piece of writing was his memoir The Inside Story which chronicled his painful struggle with depression, and his voyage from despair to hope.

Have you ever tried to write your memoirs? Would it be just for your family or the general public? Or is it just too painful to write about your childhood?

In the final chapter below Neil describes the healing process he embarked on with the help of his friend Jim Reed.

SPIRITUAL AWAKENING

We drove several blocks, parked the car, walked up a flight of stairs to a mussy second-floor apartment swirling with cigarette smoke, where Chris introduced me to Jim. Jim was a man in his early sixties, medium height, with a moustache, a quizzical if not slightly sardonic expression on his face and the stub of a cigarette in his mouth. Jim lit another cigarette and invited me to come and sit at the kitchen table. I told him what I had told Chris at supper, “I just want to be real.” Jim sensed immediately I was in a panic, perhaps needing professional help, and began to muse about a treatment centre, perhaps in the United States.

I pounded my fist on the kitchen table and said in desperation that I didn’t have time to go looking for treatment places in the States – I needed help and I needed it right now! It was Jim’s turn to pound the table. “All right,” he said, “this is what we’re going to do.” Then, as though he was firing a machine gun, he laid out a program of activity that made my head swim – which is precisely what he intended. He wanted to change the tapes.

First, I was to come to his apartment, on foot, six nights a week at seven o’clock for a discussion; every evening before I came I was to sit down at my desk and write out a detailed agenda of my next day’s activities; I was to fix a reasonable time for getting up in the morning and stick to it; I was to do at least an hour of physical exercise a day, preferably brisk walking; I was to watch for interesting films – to get me out of myself; I was to sign up for a weekend retreat with a group of Jim’s friends – because their serenity and laughter might well be contagious; and I was to plant some kind of garden in my back yard so I could get real earth on my hands and stop and smell the roses (or, in the case of my garden, cherry tomatoes). And that wasn’t all. Jim loaded me up with a stack of books to take home and read, most of them on some aspect of mental and emotional health, many of them based on the spirituality of twelve-step programs. I walked out the door that first night, with Jim’s words ringing in my head: “You’ve been saying ‘no’ most of your life; try saying ‘yes’ more often.”

Jim Reed

Jim Reed

As I walked home after that first meeting, I felt a twinge – almost imperceptible but still real – a twinge of hope. Jim had given me a down-to-earth program that I could begin immediately, and he also gave me the impression that if I didn’t buckle down to it seriously, he would dump me. So I set my alarm clock for the morning, and to make doubly sure I would hit the deck running, I arranged to have breakfast as many mornings as possible with Chris in a nearby restaurant. I set aside time for the reading Jim gave me, checked the newspaper for entertaining films, went with Catharine to the Atwater Market to buy our tomato plants, and tried to say “yes” more often: for example, becoming involved with Benedict Labre House for Montreal’s street people.

As the April weather became warmer I joined the Meadowbrook Golf Club in Montreal West. Frequently my good friend, Jean Prieur, would pick me up about 7:30 and we would play four hours of golf, no carts, walking briskly all the way. I arranged to take some lessons at Golf Gardens on Cote de Liesse and started to practise for the Madawaska Classic. This was the family golf tournament at Bob and Patsy Fleming’s island summer home in the St. Lawrence near Gananoque, scheduled for the last weekend in August. Thanks to CJAD’s news director, Gord Sinclair, I was still doing the afternoon radio program, only now I walked the dozen or so blocks to the station. Usually after I returned from CJAD, Catharine and I headed to the Westmount pool for a swim. At home again, I sat down at my desk and wrote out the next day’s agenda, a simple enough task that steadied me and gave me reassurance like a security blanket.

And every evening after supper I set off for Jim’s place on foot. Every time it was the same routine. First, we sat down in his den and watched videos, ranging from biblical archeology to the significance of myth, all raising questions about the meaning of life. As Jim told me much later, we were not seeking knowledge but wisdom; he wanted to find what made me tick; he wanted me to discover a new perception of reality. Then we moved to the living room where we listened to tapes, many of them relating to the spirituality of the twelve steps, most of them chock-a-block with humour. He wanted to see what made me laugh and what didn’t. All I remember now is that for a long time, those tapes didn’t.

And then we talked. Looking back now, it is difficult to remember all that we talked about – anger, resentment, arguments, anxiety, fear, shame. There was nothing theoretical about these discussions. Usually they were about my relationship with Catharine, with colleagues in the media, with the Jesuits and the Benedictines, with my father. If I didn’t respond one night, Jim wouldn’t push. Instead he would come at the same issue from another angle six nights later. Often we discussed incidents that had happened that very day, incidents that now seem inconsequential and picayune, but in fact revealed to Jim, and ultimately to me, patterns of behaviour and attitudes. How did I feel when Catharine asked me to get a loaf of bread? Did I usually open the car door for her? What triggered my last outburst of anger and did I see that it was a control issue?

august 2012 ptgs 027

Looking back on those many hours of discussion, I don’t think what we talked about was nearly as important as my growing conviction that Jim understood me and what I had to do to change. He sensed what he called “the football of pain” in my stomach because he had dealt with it himself. He has a spacious and intellectually curious mind – he wants to do a study of the evolution of the Bible on his computer – but when it comes to everyday garden-variety spirituality, he is as down to earth and practical as a can opener. Time after time on those many evenings of two- or three-hour sessions, Jim astonished me at how accurately he could push the buttons that governed my emotional ups and downs. Sometimes he would use shock treatment: “You’ve spent a lot of your life being a pompous ass.” Other times he would ask a simple question: “Do you think your attitude to Catharine is changing?” Presently I realized this was the key. Jim equated attitude change with personality change. My life had been soured by anxiety, fear, anger and resentment. There was little room for tranquillity, compassion, love, or real friendship.

So night after night we examined the inner dis-ease, trying to reduce the size of the football in my stomach. It was not easy going. Some days I would goof off, give up and head back to the security of the couch. On such an evening Jim would warn me, gently but firmly, that I was playing with fire, that we could lose all our hard-won gains in a moment of folly. Another time he was tougher. He asked me if I wanted to go back to the Vendome metro station and, this time, jump.

When Dr. Cervantes heard about my suicide scenario he was extremely upset and rightly so. I had promised him I would contact him immediately about any suicide plans. He felt I had let him down, betrayed him, by keeping my plans to myself. Dr. Cervantes wanted me to go back into the hospital where I would be in a secure environment. I dreaded going back to the hospital and managed to convince the doctor to give me another chance. I think my fear of going back to the psychiatric ward provided a strong motive to keep me faithful to the program Jim had developed for me. And I added another element to the program. Despite my almost total lack of skill, and mindful of the dictum about starting to say yes instead of no, I joined a small group in an art class given by Jim’s companion, Sharon, an effervescent woman whom I came to know and like. Little did I realize that for our final session I would be struggling to paint a live nude.

After a few weeks Jim had seized my attention (“pompous ass”), expanded my awareness (Catharine was astonished by my cooperation and thoughtfulness), and begun to shift my perception of reality to diminishing anger and resentment, growing serenity and compassion. In a way, Jim was helping me change the lenses through which I had viewed the world and this change was rooted in and related to a spiritual experience.

Because ultimately that is what the depression itself was, a fundamental spiritual experience. I had reached a spiritual and emotional crisis where, for a few critical and decisive hours, the emotions of despair and hope were balanced on a knife edge. There are, in my view, only two paths out of this existential crisis: giving up (some form of suicide) or giving in (some kind of surrender). The Chinese word for “crisis” has a double meaning, danger or opportunity, pointing the way to these two paths. Thanks to a strong instinct for survival which I have had all my life, with the help of divine providence and of many people, I chose to give in, to surrender.

jim3

Jim and Neil traveled together down to New England to see Obama on the campaign trail.

What did I surrender and to whom? First and foremost, I surrendered control, a lifetime of trying to control the circumstances, the people, the success in my life. I even tried to control the most minute detail of daily living, such as boiling over with anger if Catharine was not at the door the minute we agreed to leave for an engagement. Further, I had to admit that I was powerless over my emotions of fear, anger and resentment, that in those areas my life had become unmanageable. I had to reach out beyond myself for help and had to surrender the front, the mask, the persona I had spent so many years laboriously constructing, the persona disguising how rotten I really felt about myself.

In biblical terms, I had to lose my life in order to find it. The depression had driven me to my knees. Jim told me to get on the floor each night before going to bed and each morning after rising and put the day in the hands of God – whether I believed in God or not. With a smile, Jim told me he knew people who were so shy about praying that even though they lived alone, they would go into the bathroom and lock the door before getting on their knees.

As a practical matter, I had no problem about getting on my knees or asking for help, even if I had to fake it until I made it. I knew full well I could not make myself well. So I had to reach out to a power greater than myself, and I had no trouble calling that power God. But I made a bargain with myself. Never again would I make a spiritual commitment that did not ring true, that was not real. I had been baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church, taken perpetual vows in the Jesuits, been ordained a priest. Never again would I take a step for which the map had been drawn by other people. So when the right time came, I knelt down with Jim in his smoke-filled living room, his Russian cat watching us, and made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understood God. I wasn’t sure what the words meant or how the decision would turn out. But I had a good feeling about it.

As this program of activities, exercises and discussion continued through the spring and early summer of 1994, slowly, imperceptibly at first, my depression, like a fog on the landscape, began to lift. And I began to see and enjoy experiences – simple things I had not had for two years – a boat trip around the harbour, a sour-cream doughnut at Tim Horton’s, a genuine spontaneous laugh from deep inside. This last was the best because I had not laughed for two years. One evening I went out into our back yard and excitedly picked my first cherry tomatoes, imagining how they would shine like red Christmas balls beside the poached salmon for dinner.

In July, Catharine and I drove to Prouts Neck on the coast of Maine where we spent ten days with Clare and John Hallward. In August we visited with Bob and Patsy Fleming at their hilltop summer house in the Thousand Islands. I was delighted to be named the most improved golfer in the uMadawaska Classic.” I’m not sure what the accolade was based upon since I am one of those peculiar golfers who never keeps score. I signed up to take and give a couple of courses at the McGill Institute for Learning in Retirement and at the Thomas More Institute. The fog was lifting, burned off by the warm sun of recovery.

People ask how I overcame my depression. There are, I think, three broad reasons for my recovery. The first is the treatment and support from the medical profession and other counsellors and therapists. This included psychotherapy, cognitive and group therapy, and counselling. I saw an insightful and understanding Jungian psychologist, Tom Kelly, for more than a year. I also had shock treatment and the very latest anti-depression medication.

I daresay I had access to the best treatment facility and medical personnel in North America at the Montreal General Hospital. The key person on the treatment team was the Director of the Mood Disorders Clinic, Dr. Pablo Cervantes. He is a remarkable, caring, intuitive, patient and skillful doctor. He never gave up when my depression, frustratingly and unpredictably, proved to be resistant to prolonged pharmacological treatment. In many ways Dr. Cervantes allowed me to manage my own treatment. He is a superb listener. He trusted me, and did not give up even after my suicide scenario. He paid attention to my wife and gave her support and hope. One day in his office, it was obvious to him the turnaround had begun, the snarling dogs were retreating and my depression was lifting. To my complete surprise, in a most uncharacteristic move, he jumped up in his chair and punched the air with a victory salute. I owe him a lot.

After the array of medical treatment, the second element in my recovery was daily physical exercise. I don’t have any scientific way to explain how exercise affects our metabolism. But it seemed evident that striding around a golf course, the sun shining on the fairways and the birds chirping in the trees, beats lying in the dark on a couch, the blinds drawn and the covers pulled up over my head. And so it was with all the exercise during this recovery period – swimming, bicycling, golf, walking, gardening. Somehow all of it helped the body re-invigorate the psyche.

The third element in my recovery, by no means entirely dissociated from the medical and the physical, was the spiritual dimension. It was also, in my view, by far the most important and decisive. In his book Simply Sane, American psychiatrist Gerald May maintains that therapy alone will not save us or even change us. What did change some of his patients, Dr. May explains, was “some kind of deep spiritual existential experience.” There is no doubt in my mind that for me this “deep spiritual existential experience” was triggered immediately by my depression, although three preceding events related in some way to the onset of the depression. These three events were my major chest surgery, regrets about my retirement from an exciting career in the media, and profound sadness about the distressing breakup of the meditation community at the Benedictine Priory.

It is immediately evident that all these experiences share a common element – a sense of something being lost, with its concomitant feeling of grief. This sense of loss is also emphasized in William Styron’s memoir on depression. Still, these events were only the occasion of my depression, not its cause. I believe that the cause was a lifetime of chronic anxiety, fear, resentment, anger, alienation, shame, loneliness, success, religious strictures, public acclaim, sex and alcohol – which almost destroyed me.

These are the main elements of my depression, but they are not its positive dynamics. How can the elements of a life-threatening disease be transformed into steps of recovery? How can the change from depression to recovery be effected? What is the nature of the “deep spiritual existential experiences” that Dr. Gerald May posits as essential to getting well?

Obviously this existential experience involves at its base a fundamental change. But what kind of change? It is easier to describe what the change is not than what it is. It is not only an external change. It will not be enough to win the lottery or take a holiday at Banff or move to Florida or California. It will not be enough to make new friends or even form a serious relationship with another person and count on him or her to make you feel better. The kind of change I am talking about will not come through a promotion at work or being awarded the Order of Canada.

All these are external changes. They change our circumstances. They do not change the core of our being – where we live, where the discomfort and the dis-ease are located. These changes are only cosmetic. They do not reach the inner person. The image I present to the world may be as smooth and shining as a rosy apple. The trouble is that when the apple is cut, part of the core is wormy and rotten. So underneath our gleaming exterior, our core and centre may be diseased and unhealthy and no external change will cure it, because our inner dis-ease is part and parcel of us, of who we really are.

What is this inner dis-ease? What are its major elements? Basically, the disease is characterized by fear – fear that, no matter how successful we are, we have never measured up, that we are not good enough, that, in fact, we are failures. We have never measured up to our parents, our teachers, our priest, minister, rabbi, our church. And we never measured up to what God expects of us or what we were told God expects of us. We have failed them all and the result is we don’t much like ourselves. At the core of our being, no matter how polished and successful our exterior, is the worm of self-hatred, self-loathing.

And this points the way to the nature of the change and why a change that is merely external will never suffice for any length of time. Very simply we must change from disliking ourselves to liking ourselves. In my view this is the most basic change there is at the emotional, psychological and spiritual level. The next question is key: how can this existential spiritual change be brought about? Not easily. Not by reading a book or taking a course. Not by a relationship, no matter how intense.

I believe the only phenomenon that can bring about this existential spiritual change is a crisis of some sort or other. In my case the crisis took the form of a severe and prolonged clinical depression. The depression could have driven me to give up or give in. Giving up would likely have meant suicide which I seriously considered. Giving in meant some kind of surrender to something or somebody greater than myself. In my case, it meant getting on my knees, admitting honestly there were aspects of my life I could not control and, again honestly, reaching out and asking for help.

In some mysterious paradoxical way, admitting that I had lost control and could not manage myself without help, enabled healing to begin. I think the key here is the willingness to give in and surrender. Because that act of humility – or down-to-earth reality which is what humility means – cuts through the control issue the way a hot knife cuts through butter. And once we have shaken off our back the “control monkey,” which we have carried for years, the process of healing can really begin.

At the heart of this process of healing, of moving from loathing ourselves to liking ourselves, is a paradox. When we do give up control, when we admit that we cannot handle the situation and reach out for help, when we make ourselves vulnerable and open to being wounded, then and only then can we be healed. When we are most vulnerable to external threats which we have feared all our lives, then, in a paradoxical way, we have made ourselves most available for healing. As the Jungian analyst Marian Woodman writes, “God comes through the wound.”

So the existential spiritual journey from disliking ourselves to liking ourselves can be a short journey, but it is a difficult one because it is weighed down by the garbage of a lifetime. The admission of helplessness, the giving up of control, the plea for help, the risk of vulnerability, the healing, are all parts of the journey. And in my case, it involved finding a guide who could help me find my way. Much of Jim’s guidance came from his own deep familiarity with the spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous as articulated in the twelve steps. I had read somewhere that Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, considered AA the most significant spiritual development of this century. I began to understand why this was so as Jim and I talked about elements in the twelve steps and how they related to the process of recovery. These steps are a program for living that would enrich the life of anyone, addict or not, and I believe that in one way or another we are all addicts. We are all trying to fill a spiritual vacuum with success, money, relationships, fame, alcohol or drugs.

Or as Scott Peck puts it: “We are all wounded. None of us really has it all together. None of us can really go it alone. We are all in need, in crisis, although most of us still seek to hide the reality of our brokenness from ourselves and from one another. The men and women of AA … must confess their brokenness … and in that sense alcoholism may be a blessing.” Or to put it another way, the spirituality of the twelve steps is relevant as a program of living for anyone on the journey. The three basic elements in twelve-step spirituality that worked for me and might be universally helpful are: an admission of being powerless, a willingness to give up control, and a reaching out for help to a power greater than oneself. I think this is a formula for healing and becoming whole. At any rate, it was for me.

All that I have been describing as a transformation from interior discomfort and dis-ease to a degree of comfort and wholeness, from loathing ourselves to liking ourselves, even in a mild way, is not a proposition but a process. It takes time. It involves not only a goal but a journey. Or as Henry Miller put it: “Our destination is never a place but a new way of looking at things.” All the time I was working with Jim, he was interested in whether my attitude was changing, if I was seeing Catharine and my work and even my resentments in a new way. One beautiful morning on the golf course – the sun was out, the birds were singing – I said to one of my fellow-golfers that it was a lovely morning. “Indeed it is,” he replied, “but we’ll pay for it.” A simple remark, but we were seeing the world through different lenses.

No one, I think, has put this more strikingly than T.S. Eliot in Little Gidding:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

 

In the process that Jim took me through, I began to see my world and feel about it in a different way. The lonely, anxious little boy sitting on the steps of my father’s hardware store in Hastings had changed. In a moment of profound crisis when I had admitted to myself I was helpless, I reached out and there was someone there. In that very act, totally honest and real healing began. The interior split between the way I felt about myself and the way I wanted others to feel about me, began to diminish. I gave up the obsessive drive to control. From being fragmented and torn apart inside, I started to feel more whole – a theme that is elaborated in one of my favourite books, The Spirituality of Imperfection, by Ernest Kurtz and Catherine Ketcham. For the first time in my life the ball was hitting the glove, the arrow the target. I felt I was fitting, connecting in a way I never had before with myself, with other people, and with my understanding of God.

Perhaps I should say a word here about God as I understand God. I have always believed and still believe that there is something bigger than me in the universe or as someone said, “There is a God and you’re not it.” Of course I can’t prove there is a God. But even at the rational level I think the existence of this world makes more sense with a God than without one. I believe there is an after-life and the way we live here will affect the way we will live there. I do not censure one iota those who do not or cannot believe in God. I say only, realizing all the while that faith is a gift, that I am a believer and pray I remain so till my earthly end. I cannot put this better than the writer Morris West: “I have learned to be grateful for the small candle that lights my own faltering steps and to hope that when it gutters out, I may wake to a final illumination.”

Of course, no one else will relate to God just as I do (I still consider myself a practising Roman Catholic) and some will not relate to God at all. Nor do I think everyone must go through an experience of depression such as mine to become more whole. What I do think is that many people are not comfortable in their skin and are seeking ways to relieve their discomfort, often trying to fill a spiritual vacuum with material reality. And I think we must lose our life in order to find it. What I had to lose was my obsessive need to control. This need was so pervasive, so imbedded in my bones, that a spiritual crisis had to occur in order for me to fall on my knees and ask for help. Such a crisis need not be clinical depression. But whatever it is, it must be an experience that transforms the way we feel about ourselves and the way we perceive the world. It will involve relying on a power greater than ourselves whom some people call God. It will almost certainly involve some practice of habitual prayer. And by prayer I mean only a simple and honest reaching out of the human heart toward whatever power there may be at the foundation of life.

It was my birthday, New Year’s Eve 1994, about six months after my depression had lifted for good and after the happiest summer of my life. Catharine and I had spent the afternoon cross-country skiing and were relaxing before supper in the lounge of the Laurentian Lodge Club at Prévost, amid the soft rolling foothills of the Laurentians. Outside the frosted windows, the moonlight was glittering on a fresh snowfall; inside, a roaring fire flamed up the chimney of the large stone fireplace. At a splendid dinner prepared by our talented chef, André, I was presented with a birthday cake and a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” to mark my threescore years and ten.

Naturally I thought that was the end of it. Imagine my surprise when a group of club members went to the front of the room and put on a melange of songs, skits and humorous sketches in my honour. They had been working on the show all day. One skit especially brought the house down. I (that is, my impersonator) was about to hit a golf ball. Another golfer rushed up to warn me: “Stop! You’re hitting from the ladies’ tee!” I waved the other golfer away with exasperation. “This,” I replied, “is my second shot!”

I donvt ever remember feeling happier. I felt connected in a way I had never felt connected before to these people who were my friends. I laughed, and it was a genuine laugh. In some measure, I had become real. I was comfortable in my skin. And as I sat there in the dancing light of the fireplace and the happy sounds of singing, I thought of all the people including my family and the Jesuits and my friends who had helped me on my journey. I thought of how God does indeed write straight with crooked lines. And then I thought, with Catharine smiling beside me, the best is yet to be.

A review of the book:

The writing of ‘The Inside Story’

McKENTY LIVE AND WARM

by Jeanette Paul

When an autobiography’s subtitle tells you the author has been a priest, and its first few pages foreshadow alcoholism, forbidden sex and suicide, would it really surprise you if, a little further along between the bookcovers, you were to come across sermonising, sensationalism, or a numbing downer? From a broadcaster per se (one you scarcely knew in person), would you not suspect, a smidgen, that the page might turn soon into something of an ego trip?

THE INSIDE STORY takes few, if any, forays into the land of writing-sin temptations alluded to above. Because Neil McKenty is a man honest with himself, this courageous tell-all never strips him of his dignity. Nor do his revelations regarding others seek to stir up scandal The generous glimpse we get of Jesuit rites of passage, for instance, fascinates.

Skilfully crafted, The Inside Story speaks openly and even optimistically, of a life-long struggle with recurring bouts of depression. If I’d had a say, the book’s subtitle would not have been Journey of a former Jesuit priest and talk show host towards self-discovery. It would be instead In Praise of Depression.

It’s not just that “it took depression,” in Neil’s own words, “to get me to deal with fundamental fears/’ It was only after an episode of major clinical depression four years ago, he stated matter-of-factly. that “it occurred to me I might have something to say which might help other people.”

Help other people Neil has, according to rewarding feedback already received from readers. (Since publication in 1997, the book has appeared on local bestseller lists.) Even though its genre may be Memoir, or Autobiography, the importance of The Inside Story, to my mind, is more in the nature of Self-help, Some might say Spirituality.

And the questions we asked Neil at our WARM meeting February 11th bore testimony to that; many were posed with a seeking-personal-guidance slant. Not that our guest speaker didn’t do excellence in answer to queries more directly related to his topic, Writing Biography & Autobiography, too.

Neil pointed out that the trouble with most people who want to write is that they have nothing to say. As a university student, he knew he wanted to write, having gotten a taste of it already as a stringer for The Peterborough Examiner (under editor Robertson Davies), When he confided this desire to a wise Jesuit mentor, he was counselled: “then take something with content.”

This sage advice steered young Neil away from the usual writerly likes of English lit courses, and led to a History thesis which became the nub of his first book; a biography entitled Mitch Hepburn. (For those unfamiliar with Ontario history, Hepburn was a flamboyant 1930’s premier.) Neil McKenty later wrote one more biography (In the Stillness Dancing: The Journey of John Main) about the founder of a Montreal Christian meditation centre, today Unitas.

But now, in his seventies, when he finally did have something to say about himself. Neil’s problem suddenly became how to go about saying it- An elusive muse eventually vested upon him inspiration of the simplest sort: “just tell it like a story.”

It’s a good thing Neil possesses fine faculties for linear thinking and a marvellous memory, given that he never kept a journal. He just, as he says went with what was in my head – I figured it would be the most important.”

It’s also a plus that, as he confides with pride, “my wife is a very good critic,” since “I need reactions right away.” Never writing for more than four or five hours a day, he finished the first draft of his book “in two months flat”

And it didn’t hurt either that Neil doesn’t give up easily. Manuscript completed, he mailed a cover letter, a synopsis, and “a couple sample pages” to prominent Canadian publishers. Response varied from nil to No. He then mailed again, to publishers slightly less prominent. Ditto… 40 mailings all told.

Neil lauded the personal attention given him by the small publisher Shoreline, in nearby Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. as well as the professionalism and speed with which his book was produced.

The drawback with a smaller press, he answered frankly when asked about publicity, is that they do not have the big bucks. “Anyone who wants to write a book today but who doesn’t want to promote themselves,” he said, ’’might as well forget it”

Not everyone has the same “public persona” promotional advantage that Neil does as CJAD radio’s former (and first) Exchange talk show host, and later, TV’s McKenty Live. But then again, it’s not everyone who could have made a capacity-crowd WARM meeting so memorable, (Guests from Canadian Authors and McGill ILR joined us also.)

’”Wasn’t Neil McKenty a great speaker?” penned one member in his notepad afterwards. “I thought he gave a wonderful talk.” With a quick nod, another member summed up her evening succinctly: “What a nice man!” All I can add to that is Amen. +

Originally published in Warm Times 1998

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Radio

Neil was happiest behind the microphone. Click below to hear an episode of Exchange ‘Laurels and Lemons‘.

 

 

Tuesday Writing Conversation: writing for the internet

March 22, 2016

Neil had no idea when he started to dabble with blogging that it would become a great passion for him. The immediacy of the digital world suited his habit of reading through several newspapers and putting together some thoughts, and a question or two, to share with his readers. As a writer he could jot down some ideas quickly and get them out there, while working on larger articles for print.

Do any of our readers have their own blog? What is your experience of blogging?

_ _ _

Below: a hotch-potch of Neil’s posts to the blogosphere.

The first post to the blog: SHOULD DON CHERRY GET THE ORDER OF CANADA?

Even before the dust has settled on Dr. Morgentaler’s controversial nomination to the Order of Canada, the drums have started to beat for another divisive public figure. I speak of Don Cherry who is lauded for the Order by Rex Murphy in today’s Globe and Mail.

Read original post

A popular early post: IS RELIGION A HOAX?

Bill Maher is one of my favourite comedians. He is funny and he is caustic.

Both these traits are on grand display in Maher’s documentary film, Religulous, in which he visits religious communites around the world from a trucker’s chapel in North Carolina to the Vatican and concludes that religion has done more harm than good.

Read original post

ARE WE LOSING OUR PRIVACY?

Neil had a knack for sniffing out the most important issues of the day. Here is a posting to the blog where he wonders about new technology and privacy back in 2009.

Read original post

Neil always kept a keen eye on Quebec politics and society: SHOULD QUEBEC BE A SECULAR STATE?

A Montreal based lay group that would like to see fewer religious symbols in Quebec is calling on the provincial government to draw up a new “social contract”   making the province secular and banning religious garb for anyone working in the public sector.

Read the original post

He also kept an eye on the past….

Now that I am here in the good old USA for a month, my mind has turned to the history of American-Canadian relations.  Turned to the war of 1812 whose bicenntenial anniversary occurs in two years time.

War of 1812

The most popular post:IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MAPLE SYRUP AND TABLE SYRUP?

This is always on the top 5 of the posts on the blog

Pancakes at dawn

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