Where We Meet Ourselves

Don’t take the cheese out of the refrigerator until you’re ready to slice it. That’s my deep spiritual insight for the week.

It came about when, you guessed it, I took the cheese out of the refrigerator, thinking I’d do two quick things and then cut up some dairy goodness to take to work the next day. I have no idea what or how many things I did, but by the time I got to the cheese, it had started to wilt.

Every day I create an itinerary for each hour in my head, and every day, it doesn’t go that way. I mean every, single day.

Often around 5 p.m. I think with a tinge of confusion or surprise, wow, that didn’t go as planned. Existence consistently moves along in ways we cannot predict as we trail after saying, huh, I didn’t think it would happen that way, even though it has never once happened the way we envisioned it. It is so difficult to learn that we are not in charge.

Maybe the late Irish poet John O’Donohue was having a cheese moment when he wrote the short poem “Fluent”:

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

What freedom we’d have if we lived in openness to the surprise and unfolding of ourselves. Instead of trying to stay on a course we charted for reasons that no longer apply, we could inhabit the spaciousness that exists within and around us.

We are already flowing whether we know it or not, and the moment we are flowing through has never existed before and will never exist again. It is incomparably beautiful. It is more full of life than all of our plans. It is where we will meet ourselves and all of creation, cheese or no cheese.

Compassion All Around

This week, noticing the convolutions of my interior life, I thought to myself, God, what a mess. Happily, the thought didn’t carry its usual load of self-judgment. Instead, it came with a smile and a good deal of compassion for myself.

The next day I saw how people who cause untold suffering for other people must have incredibly messy interiors. Living inside their skin must be excruciating. This isn’t news, but after experiencing compassion for myself, I was able to feel the same toward those I usually condemn. Paradoxically, at the same time, the tragedies caused by their actions came into sharper focus.

In The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama tells the story of a monk in a Chinese prison camp in which many Tibetans died. After the monk escapes to India and is telling his story he says, “I was in real danger.” The Dalai Lama thinks he means he was in danger of losing his life. The monk says, “I was in danger of losing my compassion for my Chinese guards.”

I think the first step in cultivating this kind of compassion is to extend it to ourselves. In my interior landscape, I often approach myself as if I weren’t trustworthy, as if I’m just waiting for the rules holding me in check to let down their guard so that I can do something truly terrible. Like what? I have no idea, but the inner messages make out as if it’s along the lines of clubbing baby seals.

There may be better ways to approach one’s own humanity with loving kindness. We will make a lot of mistakes, but everyone reading this blog stepped out into the world with the intention of doing good today and is likely succeeding at least eighty percent of the time.

Richard Rohr says suffering that is not redeemed is passed on. Jim Finley says when you touch suffering with love, it dissolves. We will not end suffering in the world by staying at home and loving those who cause it. At the same time, we cannot cause lasting change if we act without compassion toward ourselves and all the world.

Trusting Solstice to Solstice

On the solstice, the year’s high tide of light, I was reminded of the ebb and flow of our existence. This longest day, the peak of the wave, is also the beginning of the fading of the light.

I love the fullness of summer, the long days, the bounty and spectacle of fruits of all colors. I love the swooping and diving of the swallows who built their nests under the eaves of a nearby building and their little heads peeking out of the holes, keeping watch. Summer is a time for savoring some of the sweetest gifts of life, and its arrival began with the winter solstice.

I often forget nature’s rhythm or try to live as if I could choose to be apart from it, as if force of will could keep the wave of productivity ever cresting. As if this were somehow desirable.

If we try to skip our own ebb times—hours, days, or seasons—it’s so much harder for the fruitfulness naturally growing within us to fully ripen. We are so convinced that we have to do something, to work hard to become what we are supposed to be, but life is working within and around us to draw forth and bring into being who we are.

This process of becoming is not so much up to us as we think. We can’t hurry it along any more than swallows can build their nests in winter.

Allowing our own ebb and flow requires trusting life. There are so many reasons not to trust—chronic sickness, war, cruelty of all kinds—but perhaps the deepest reason is that we do not believe in our own divinity, that who we are becoming is beautiful and beloved.

It’s easy to see how this happens. Our culture tells us hundreds if not thousands of times a day that love depends on performance and appearance when anyone who has loved another person, animal, or plant can tell you that this is fundamentally untrue. We love the dog’s floppy ear, and we often love our friends most tenderly when they’re struggling.

Summer and winter, ebb and flow, the Life and Love that lives through us sees that we are dazzling.

Beyond Wanting

Strolling around the local farmers’ market, I noticed my mind flitting off toward each bunch of lettuce or giant chocolate chip cookie saying, do I want that, do I want that, do I want that? It surprised me and showed me that we, perhaps especially we Americans, are taught wanting as a fundamental way of relating to life. (I did want the giant cookie, in case you’re wondering.)

We start this education at a young age. What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas? What do you want to be when you grow up? And then we become more sophisticated about it. What kind of kitchen cabinets do you want? What are your career goals?

In Buddhism, there is a practice of directing loving kindness, or Metta, toward oneself and others. In one guided Metta meditation I listen to, the leader reminds the listeners that deep down all beings want to be happy. The problem is, the giant cookie will not ultimately get us there.

There’s nothing wrong with selecting cabinets one enjoys, but if you’re like me, the amount of energy we put into these decisions and the expectations we attach to their results do not align with reality. In investing ourselves and our happiness in the particular outcome we chose, we might miss out on what life is calling us to.

We have settled for wanting when we are made for longing. We can’t find the depths for which we long in any exterior thing or accomplishment that we want or any solution that we can invent inside our own heads. Life is offering us more than we can know or even imagine.

To find the unimaginable, we must let life lead. We must allow what we encounter to open us to our own becoming. We must live in the midst of our longing as it calls us into being. Only there, in that ever-changing moment, will we truly come home to ourselves.

Only there will the words of the Metta meditation come to fruition: May all beings be well. May all beings be happy. May all beings find peace.

Digging with Doubt

It’s not complicated. We’re here to learn to love ourselves, each other, the animals, the plants, and the Earth. I often get confused and think I’m here to be right.

Being right is complicated. There are so many details to figure out. Right according to whom? What evidence shows that I’m right? How can I guarantee that I remain right as circumstances shift? How can I convince others that I’m right?

Loving is an action, something we do in communion with others. Being right is a state that we try to attain or achieve. We can’t offer or share it; we can only claim and grasp it for ourselves. We can step into love at any moment. We can chase being right all of our lives, but we will never catch that illusion.

In his poem “The Place Where We Are Right,” Yehuda Amichai writes,

“From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the Spring.”

Being right isn’t life-giving. If there’s anything that’s clearly, biologically designed into all of us who share this creation, it’s that we are here to give life.

“…doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.”

This might be the nicest thing anyone has ever said about doubt, who tends to get a bad rap in our certainty-obsessed culture. Amichai isn’t referring to doubt about our sacredness, our indwelling divinity, but rather to that moment when we reconsider something we had always thought to be true, when we see the humanity in someone we had judged harshly.

That is the moment we wake up to our nature as love, which is the flow of life through our world and through the universe. We need to dig up our worlds. We need to turn over the soil of our lives and see that just under the surface they are teeming with love.


Note: The blog will be on vacation next week. Wishing you a lively flow of love during that time.

Faith in What?

I was listening Tracy Chapman’s song “Heaven’s Here on Earth” while wondering about the fate of the world, and her phrase “faith in humankind” jumped out at me. What a radical idea that is.

Faith is not an easy or a reasonable thing. The news tells us 24/7 that humanity is an unreliable mess. Society recommends trusting constant acquisition of stuff and status instead.

Jesus, on the other hand, had tremendous faith in humanity. Who in his right mind would say, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church”? What was Jesus thinking? This is the guy who fell asleep in the garden and went on to deny Jesus three times and run away. But Peter’s also the one who recognized the Christ: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus called Zacchaeus, not exactly a model citizen, down from the tree. He told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more. That shows tremendous faith. He didn’t overlook what they’d done before, who they’d shown themselves to be up until then, he looked beyond it. He didn’t ignore the evidence against them but was willing to look at all the evidence in their favor.

What did he see?

He must have seen himself. He must have seen their divinity.

According to a reflection by Jim Finley, “Thomas Merton says there is that in you that no one [including you] can destroy or diminish because it belongs completely to God.” At the same time, we are literally made of this Earth. Everything we are and have comes from the Earth.

These are not contradictory ideas—these are two reasons for hope, for faith in humankind. We are not earthly or divine interlopers. As one of the products of billions of years of evolution, we belong on this sacred planet, as Brian Swimme points out.

“Heaven’s here on Earth in our faith in humankind,” Chapman’s song reminds us. Faith in our ability to love and to change, in our intimate connection to creation, in the reality of God dwelling within us.

 

A Joyful Yes, an Ecstatic Yes

We have no idea what we’re doing in this life. On the one hand. On the other hand, we are deeply connected to this unfolding, called to play a role in creation’s coming into being, intimately integrated into the existence in which we find ourselves.

Every dawn we greet a moment in time that has never existed before. We appear to be doing the same things we did yesterday, but what folly if we expect one day to be like the next. From the large to the small, everything is different. One day our body functions perfectly, or we think it does, and the next the flu keeps us in bed all day. Overnight, a country goes to war. Every second our solar system, our galaxy is traveling to a new location in the universe.

That we are part of the great improvisation is cause for great joy. I’ve heard that the way to be successful in improvisational comedy is to always say yes to whatever your fellow comedians have just come up with. The yes we are called to is an embrace of the miracle of our own existence, an ecstatic yes.

Beatrice Bruteau says that ecstatic love is loving someone in such a way that you love what they love in the way that they love it, not because they love it. You enter into their reality so profoundly that you join in their outflowing love.

I have a friend who loves buckeye trees. I never thought much about buckeye trees before knowing this friend, but now I’m always happy to meet one of them and notice with affection the curve of their leaves, the profusion of their flowers, and of course the smooth nuttiness of the buckeye.

Bruteau goes on to say that the universe is God’s ecstasy, is God’s outflowing love. To fully embrace the miracle of our own existence is necessarily to embrace the miracle of all existence.  To give an ecstatic yes to the infinite Love being poured out as our lives, as Jim Finley would call it, is to wake up to the intimacy and joy in which we belong to all creation.

Free of any need to contain the infinite in our limited understanding, we can learn what it means to be alive.