The Movement of Light

If you’re longing for a “mind blown” moment, consider all the ways we’re moving every nanosecond of our lives. Earth spins around its axis and orbits the sun; the solar system rotates around the center of the Milky Way; the Milky Way travels through space. Our cells move and divide; molecules cross cell membranes; we cannot pinpoint the exact location of the electrons in the atoms that compose us.

Welcome to finitude, where being is a verb. No wonder there are so many coffee shops.

And yet, we constantly grasp for some sort of arrival. We want to locate ourselves on a continuum of achievement or progress, and we think there is a point, always in the future, where we will have enough of whatever we’re striving for, where we will be complete. We want to know we are getting somewhere, but inevitably when we reach that place, the “thereness” fails to satisfy for very long.

We are always works in progress, particles of a greater process that’s pushing fourteen billion years now. The scientific jury is still out on what will happen to the universe, but there’s no question that during this lifetime we will never come to a resting point.

Still, we yearn for peace, so how can we be at peace with the reality of never being at rest? Maybe, as with electrons, we can understand ourselves better if we stop trying to define ourselves as a particular point. Maybe we can think of ourselves as both particle and wave.

Right now, I am this moment’s self, with all my gifts and shortcomings, all I’ve done and all I’ve failed to do, but that’s not the sum of me. Considering my life as a wave, I stretch back to my childhood and forward to the unknowable future, and all of that is inseparable from all the rest of it. As a wave, I am—we all are, our lives all are—movement.

The movement of what? Energy. Light. Each of us embodies a particular frequency, so to speak, but we are all composed of Light.

Not Getting There

This week may have been about not losing sight of the infinite, which of course I learned by losing sight of it in many small ways. Like eating three—OK four, but they were small—croissants in one day, panicking over approaching work deadlines, or falling back into my default position of resisting doing things such as the dishes or writing this blog. But somewhere in the midst of that, I heard for the first time the phrase, “the peace that surpasses all understanding.”

Of course I’ve known those words most of my life, but I’d never heard them, especially that word “surpasses.” I’d always heard, “There’s this state out there that you’re supposed to achieve that you don’t understand yet because you’re not advanced enough, pure enough, whatever you’re supposed to be enough.” Turns out this is not what “surpasses” means. Plus there’s that pesky little “all” in there.

This peace is not understandable ever, no matter how smart you are or how holy you are; your mind cannot grasp it. I don’t know about your mind, but mine is not fond of admitting the existence of things outside its purview.

Jim Finley says something along the lines of, we think there’s a corner to turn and then we’ll be able to grasp all this, but there isn’t. That’s the story our mind tells, but as Finley points out, there’s nowhere to get to because “all this” is infinite.

On first blush, I am not a fan of this situation because I really want to get to that un-gettable place. I want to believe that at some point in my life I will have better time management skills, and that will make it all OK. But on second glance, there’s a spaciousness that opens up when I admit the possibility that, as William Stafford says, “there will come a time when all we have said and all we have hoped will be all right.” That time is any moment we choose to accept existence, including ourselves, as it is.

Note: The Stafford quote is from the poem “A Message from the Wanderer.” “The peace that surpasses all understanding” is from Philippians 4:7.

Judgment Day Every Day

There’s nothing like a little loving kindness meditation to bring all your really nasty thoughts into sharp relief. I recently did a meditation that moves from offering loving kindness first to yourself—may I be happy, may I be well, may I find peace—then to someone you love, someone you feel neutral toward, and finally someone you don’t particularly like. Then I went out into the world and watched all these instant and cruel judgments about others flash through my mind.

For example, I was leaving church (seriously), and someone with what I considered to be an offensive bumper sticker cut me off on the way out of the parking lot. The thought that went through my head was at least as hateful as the bumper sticker.

I’ve known for a while that I am, to borrow a colleague’s phrase, a judging machine, but I don’t usually feel the spite attached to these thousand small opinions I form about others. Unfortunately, it is most certainly there.

The idea that world peace starts in our own hearts suddenly became very concrete. If I can condemn someone based on a bumper sticker—or the shoes they’re wearing or what I think I hear them whisper to their daughter in the pew in front of me—what are the odds that whole nations of people like me with the added difficulty of trying to bridge cultural differences are not going to kill each other to get resources?

There is a bright side, though: I saw those thoughts and knew they were thoughts, not truth. I can’t eradicate them, but I can continue to watch them and let them go. They won’t disappear, overnight, but with time, they may quiet down a bit.

If anything’s worth practicing, surely this is it. May you be happy. May you be well. May you find peace.

Should No More

Usually, if trying to weigh myself down, I will eat excess Ben and Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk, but when a friend wrote about unburdening herself this week, I realized I choose other weights as well.

My friend discussed both the physical clutter in her life and the time she spends mentally distracted from what she truly values. I don’t usually think of myself as burdened, much less self-burdened, but I certainly have my share of material and mental junk.

When I imagined myself as mentally unburdened, a number of the things I habitually feel I should do lost their urgency. Another friend told me recently she thinks of the word “should” as mental terrorism. You, too, can now feel guilty of mental terrorism and tell yourself you should stop.

I am really good at the shoulds. At any given moment, I could list off at least fifty things I should be doing.

I tend to think that without the shoulds, I wouldn’t do any of the things that make me a functional member of society. Assuming for a moment that functioning in society is desirable, here’s the thing: that ancient laptop I should have taken to the e-recycle years—yes years—ago is still sitting in my office. The shoulds aren’t causing action, they’re just making things heavier.

When I entertained the possibility that the world was not going to stop spinning on its axis if the pile of papers on my bedroom floor didn’t get sorted this week—it has been there for months—it actually felt more possible that the pile might disappear someday. It also made it easier to prioritize the bedroom pile over the office pile because neither one held dire consequences anymore.

We may never escape our sense of duty, and that may or may not be a good thing. But life is going to give us enough truly difficult things to deal with that we might consider cutting loose the ballast we don’t need.

Where Peace Comes From

World peace is difficult precisely because I couldn’t resist spending half an hour at the Calvin Klein 70% off sale this evening. I wanted to forego Calvin Klein not because they make their clothes in Asia or Latin America but because I need to get some sleep tonight to avoid imploding. Yet there I was.

We cannot create something we cannot imagine, and we have so little experience with peace. At a conference last spring, a presenter spoke about the connections our brains are and are not capable of making. She put the word “apple” up on the screen and asked the audience to get a mental picture of the word. She then showed a red apple, a green apple, and the Apple logo and asked the audience which image they had in mind. About half the audience, myself included, had pictured the Apple logo. “That result was not possible 20 years ago,” she said.

Twenty years ago we couldn’t have connected an existing concept—apple—to something that didn’t exist yet, the current Apple logo. And pre-iPod, pre-commercial Internet almost, only a handful of members from a 1991 audience would have pictured the Apple logo of the time—most of them hadn’t practiced that connection.

We imagine war every day. We build monuments to it. We watch movies about it. We play it in games. Enter Calvin Klein. How can we imagine peace if we can’t feel it within ourselves? And how can I feel it when I continue to do things I know don’t make me peaceful?

The amount of time I spend fighting myself—not wanting to get up, not wanting to go to work, not feeling I’ve gotten enough done—is much greater than the amount of time I spend at peace with myself—admiring a scarlet leaf shot through with sunlight, sitting still long enough for the cat to crawl up on my lap, feeling pride in an accomplishment. I suspect I am not unique in this internal war/peace ratio, yet we haven’t completely destroyed each other yet.

I think humanity has survived because peace is tremendously powerful. Ten seconds of peace must count for at least ten hours of strife. Which means even in our human-ness, in our infinite capacity for making mistakes, in our resistance to change, in our succumbing to the temptation of the fancy jacket reduced to $30, even in the midst of all that, if we spend just a few more moments breathing or appreciating, thanking or complimenting, being still or being astounded, we will add not drops but bucketfuls of peace to the world.

No one can say whether it will be enough, but let’s imagine what life will be like when it is.

Note: The blog and I will be on vacation next week. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Solstice, and joyous celebrations of whatever other holidays you honor at this time of light growing out of the darkness.