Friday, September 12, 2008


I'm off this morning to speak and preach in Fort Wayne, Indiana this weekend.

I thought I'd post a piece of the sermon I gave last weekend. It's about a discipline I learned this summer from my dear friend, Rev. Kathryn Booth.

Have a blessed weekend!

Here it is:

Let’s call it the practice of “fascinating.” Kathryn is starting a contemplative retreat center in Acadia with her partner, but in order to have health insurance and some guarantee of a weekly income, she works as the office manager of a hospice. At a staff meeting one day, one of her co-workers exploded in anger at another and left the room. The woman she had directed her anger at then said calmly and quietly, “fascinating.” “Fascinating?!” asked Kathryn, “What do you mean?” And the woman explained to her that whenever she encounters someone’s anger or contempt or anxiety, especially when it seems to be directed at her, she steps back and thinks, “Fascinating. I wonder what’s going on for her or him to be acting that way.”

Think about it…this is one step beyond the Buddhist’ principle of detachment. It asks us to step back and actually feel compassion for the other person, to remember that we rarely know what is going on "where the spirit meets the bone. " Try it, the next time someone is impatient with you in line at the store or at work or rude or you get an email that was better left unsent or your co-worker or partner is angry or upset with you. Don’t engage your ego; it may not be about you. Think “fascinating” and wonder what might be going on for them —and then decide how to react, if at all.

I’ve also discovered that “fascinating” can be an internal spiritual practice as well. Next time you find yourself anxious or depressed or inexplicably angry, step back from yourself for a moment and observe. “Fascinating. I wonder what this is about.” Show the same compassion for yourself that you hope to show for others. “Hmm…fascinating.” A therapist many years ago wisely taught me, “You have feelings. You are not your feelings.” If perhaps we can think to ourselves, “fascinating”, we can more easily move to the next moment.

Try it, and let me know. Fascinating.


Steve Caldwell said...

And this discipline also worked for Mr. Spock in the Star Trek original series. He often used this word when commenting on various situations.

From the Star Trek original series episode "The Ultimate Computer":

Leonard McCoy: Please, Spock, do me a favor and don't say it's "fascinating."

Spock: No ... but it is ... interesting.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I've tried this practice of witnessing with equanimity, and I guess you might say the results are fascinating.
The women in my life who have expressed anger or frustration with me (oh, yes, it happens), seem to double their energy when I have had this "inappropriate" response. Apparently, it's a direct challenge to the other's ego who is gasping for attention.
So after the shock and added rage, there's often confusion and rarely - acceptance.
I haven't done the practice to enrage others, but discovered it was happening more and more often as I deepened my practice.
I wonder what your experience has been.

Debra W. Haffner said...

Dear view pacific -- no, no, no. You aren't supposed to SAY fascinating. You are supposed to think it, and then allow yourself some detatchment to hear the other person. It's not about controlling your partner's behaviors, it's about controlling your own...! I'm not surprised women don't like it...or that saying it to them doesn't work for you. If my partner responded that way aloud to me, I'd feel it as condescending...what I want him to say is, "wow, this is really upsetting to you. Tell me more."