Allowing Mystery

Richard Rohr, among others, says we live our lives three steps forward and two steps back. One of my big do-si-dos is forward to allowing and back to control. As you may have guessed, the last week or two have not been forward steps.

Among other really clever and subtle methods of control—such as interrupting people to show them I’ve already figured out what they’re going to say—I returned to confusing my to-do list with my life, or perhaps more accurately my self. Because everyone knows that if you can figure out, keep track of, and do everything that needs to be done—and do it well of course—then you are a good, worthy, and fulfilled person. You might even be qualified to run the universe.

Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, recommends aimlessness instead of striving. “There is nothing to do, nothing to realize, no program, no agenda….Your purpose is to be yourself.” It reminds me of the Tao Te Ching’s “When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.”

I don’t think either of them is encouraging my reluctance to wash the dishes. Rather, they’re suggesting letting life unfold according to its plan rather than ours. My to-do list is my plan, and while it’s certainly useful, when I forget that it’s a tool and assign it self-worth-measuring-meaning-of-life status, things go downhill fast.

The more life-giving not-plan is to allow ourselves to be brought into existence, to allow the divine to express what it has in its heart as it continually loves us into being. When I focus all my energy on getting stuff done, it’s as if I’m hoping these things I do will create me, but there’s no room to become anything wider or deeper than I already am, no room for mystery.

Mystery is both what we are and what we are living, what we come from and what we are becoming. We need a good deal of aimlessness to stay in touch with that.

Open Up the Door

In case you didn’t know, The Beatles were really, really smart. They summed up what I learned this week:

When I was younger so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured
Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors

Last weekend, I was staring at a pallet full of wood flooring held together with two impressive steel bands. Over the phone, my dad recommended using a Sawzall to cut them because I didn’t have a tin snips. I had used a Sawzall before, so it was no longer in the category of scary power tool. But then he said, “You might want to put on some safety glasses if you have them.” At that moment, it became very relevant to my life that my neighbor’s garage door was open.

I had watched my neighbors build a bunk bed frame and so concluded that they probably owned many tools, including, perhaps, a tin snips, a tool that does not require safety glasses. I wandered into the garage and after calling some hellos met not my neighbor but a friend of theirs who lived around the corner.

There were no tin snips, but this young man knew all about Sawzalls. He could tell a blade designed to cut metal from one that cut wood in a single glance. He quickly noted that the metal blade I had inserted was old and dull and therefore might fly apart mid-cut. And then he volunteered to do the sawing for me. I said yes.

I’m happy to report that no shrapnel flew, no one was rushed to the emergency room. I’m even happier to report that a few minutes later, the young man came back to borrow some aluminum foil for barbecueing corn and stayed for a few minutes to ask me about my water softener.

It struck me that it took such a small letting go of self-assurance “open up the door,” to transform our relationship from “people who live next to each other” to “neighbors.” I spend a lot of time trying to convince myself and others that I can do it on my own, but The Beatles have it right: Help!


 

Note: The blog may be sacrificed to the home improvement gods the next couple of weeks as my dad and I install the above-mentioned flooring. If you know of any other sacrifices that appease these particular gods, please don’t hesitate to perform them on our behalf.