"We live with expectations. Marriage is not what anyone expects; those in religious life report being surprised by the actual journey; growing up and being on your own is never what anyone expects, especially when the responsibility of earning a living settles in; raising children is never like the first picture we create in our minds. And none of this would matter, except that our expectation of things — especially the expectation we have of the people in our lives — prevents us from seeing who and what is really before us. Expectation makes us blind, and the gift of meeting the actual person who sits across the breakfast table is lost. Instead we are left with our image of that person — we are left with the mind's projection.

"When couples attend a retreat together I sometimes invite them to separate and sit apart so they can watch one another from a distance. The exercise is always surprising for them. Looking across a room at someone you think you know very well creates an unusual context. You begin to realize that there are many things about this person that you really don't know. He or she is not your image of them, but very much alive. It's illuminating to watch a person well known to us — a partner, child, parent, sibling, co-worker — as if he or she were really a stranger. Subtle insights arise. By dropping our projections and images of someone else, we're free to just look. Life meets us in that moment with all its power. Everything else is a story we have made up.

"The movie Paradise Road documents the true story of a group of women held prisoner by the Japanese during World War II. They are forced to live in inhuman conditions and endure ongoing abuse at the hands of their Japanese captors. Yet the women's capacity to endure is extraordinary, and they eventually unite, in spite of the danger, to form a vocal orchestra. With voices alone they become a symphony, and that which is most deeply embedded in life rises up within their courage. It is, as it always is, an irresistible force. Even the Japanese captors are unable to lift a hand against them — the music they create with their voices is a pure expression of spirit. In a stinking hellhole in captivity the women let go of their former, privileged lives. They see through the false illusions that have covered them like a second skin and find their way beyond them. In the very life conditions they did not expect or want, they find their way to the present day. There they are suddenly, beautifully alive. Using the words of Richard Rohr, they 'let go the small "I" so that the true "I" can be born . . . The result is, quite simply, love.

"There is no way life is supposed to be. There is only life."