If We Only Knew

“Can you use a Roomba on wood floors?” That’s one deeply important topic I considered Googling tonight.

In the story “A Visit from the Buddha” by Theophane the Monk, the Buddha comes to visit a monastery and while the monks are sleeping he scrawls, “Trivia” all over the walls. When the monk narrating the story first sees the graffiti, he’s offended, but then he realizes it’s true.

This existence is difficult. We will all experience loss and mental, emotional, and physical suffering. The degree will differ, but no one is exempt from these realities. Yet when these times pass, we tend to return to Roombas, to the trivial.

There’s nothing wrong with robotic vacuum cleaners. We all need clean floors and great cat videos, both effective antidotes to suffering. But the daily details and decisions, important as they are, will never lead us to the depths of our lives where God waits, hoping to meet us, hoping to open up the fullness of our being.

“If people only knew the love and joy they hold in their hands,” a friend said to me this week, speaking about the often unrealized potential of relationships.

“To be is to be in relationship,” Fr. Cyprian Consiglio once said in a talk. Unless we recognize and live into our interconnectedness by loving one another, we are denying our very existence.

God is relationship, multiple spiritual teachers have said in various ways. For us to encounter the reality of ourselves, we must enter into relationship—with other people, with other beings, with the Earth.

May we choose, as the monk in the story finally does, the heart of Jesus, a path of radical self-giving with the power to transform the world. If we only knew the love and joy we hold in our hands.

 

Visiting Reality

The present is a nice place. I would give it five stars on TripAdvisor. I visited there recently and hope to return soon.

The casual observer of the inside of my brain might conclude I own a time machine. A quick tour would reveal imagined futures that often affect my life as if they were real: fear about how current projects will turn out, conversations that will never happen, infinite lists of unfinished tasks. And of course a small corner reserved for the chocolate radar.

Driving to work one day, all of that fell away through no particular effort of my own, and for a mile or two, I inhabited the space and time called now. The reality of the same pine trees, the same ocean, the same freeway I see every day suddenly broke through the usual fog I hang over my mind and senses.

My version of the present is narrow, but the actual present is spacious. I tend to see now as a place I’m passing through on the way to somewhere better or somewhere I’m supposed to be, but it is all that is. It is the only thing that’s real.

The future of my own creating is a shadowland. Right now is a force, a power, a beauty that we miss going about our everyday lives trying to get to what comes next.

Of course we have to plan and work toward things. All animals do this. But we tend to focus on the destination to the exclusion of where we are, and the destination we imagine does not exist and never will.

May the present break through for all of us and may we dwell in the spaciousness of the real.

Bigger than Us

Sometimes a phrase or an idea sticks with us for years though we don’t know what it means. Then one day an experience trips the switch of comprehension, as if the concept had been pulling us toward its fulfillment all along.

Richard Rohr says that when we get a college education, we feel entitled to understand everything but that there’s a more generous viewpoint from which we can interact with creation. For me, this was one of those un-realize-able ideas until a couple of weeks ago.

As I was staring out over the ocean from my garden at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, the world got a lot bigger all at once. Between one breath and the next, existence became a reality that is rather than a thing to understand.

Suddenly, the world didn’t owe me anything, not even an explanation. It was free to be itself, and I was free to enter into some deeper communion with its vastness.

When I’m attached to understanding everything, those things that I can’t explain have to be rejected because that’s the way the mind works. Paradoxically in letting go of the need to understand, I felt a deeper comprehension than I had before, “comprehension” in the sense of “being in touch with the nature or meaning of, taking in or embracing.”

This shift in perception is not a dive into willful ignorance. It does not mean denying or rejecting the rational mind. Rather, it’s a wider, richer way of experiencing a cosmos that our minds cannot contain. The Infinite is at play in our souls and at the heart of all creation, and joining that dance will yield a joy and peace that “surpass all understanding.”

Grace and God’s love, never content to leave us where we are, will continually reveal what’s been there all along, will usher us into new, deeper, and more expansive relationship with what is.

A Wonder-Full Unfolding

In describing the transition to civilian life, a young man who recently switched from active duty to the navy reserves said he was taking the energy of being on high alert all the time and transferring it into being curious. This sounded to me like a brilliant idea for everyone.

I’m not claiming that in the day-to-day civilian world we maintain the same intensity as those who serve in the military—though people who have experienced trauma probably do—but that we often approach the present moment as a threat, a situation that could go wrong or needs to be controlled. If, instead, we approached our lives with wonder and curiosity, we could better participate in what’s actually happening, better recognize what’s coming into being.

Wonder and curiosity will remove our habitual defenses, and so practicing them requires a degree of trust. It’s sometimes difficult to believe that existence is trustworthy, even for those of us who have always had food to eat and a place to live. Perhaps this is because our definition of trustworthy means everything will come out the way we planned, or nothing will be painful.

Or maybe it’s because we believe that whatever has happened in our lives has its origin in something we’ve done, that we are the agents of our existence. This belief is just too small to take us very far. In a recent meditation Jim Finley writes, “Our freedom from the prison of our own illusions comes in realizing that in the end everything is a gift.”

Curiosity and wonder open us up to this realization; they are tools to recognize the true nature of reality as something we participate in and help co-create but don’t originate. As Finley might say, though we are not other than the Creator, we are not the Creator.

Finley would certainly say that God is loving us into existence breath by breath and heartbeat by heartbeat, and so we are invited to wonder at this love and at ourselves, who are the manifestation of it, with curiosity about how that love will unfold.

What Is the Use of Worrying?

It’s amazing how right spiritual teachers and traditions can be even when I’ve spent years thinking they were wrong. Take for example this whole idea that we create much of our own suffering. My evolving relationship to this truth has gone from “Yeah right, did you miss war, famine, etc.?” to “Well maybe so” to “Well would you look at that.”

I did not have to look far this week. I was attempting to stuff my purse and my lunch bag into a drawer at work, but they didn’t fit. I wanted to make a cup of tea and get some items checked off the list. I pushed harder on the unyielding bags and thought, oh come on, I don’t need this. Then it dawned on me that I was creating the problem. The drawer was not getting any bigger no matter how much I wanted to put more stuff into it.

Whether or not I accepted it, reality wasn’t changing. The drawer’s solid, physical existence made it clear how silly we are to resist what is.

It was a small, insignificant event, but as Richard Rohr says, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” My resistance to the limitations of three-dimensional space is mirrored in so many aspects of my life: trying to do too many things in a day, wanting other people to act a certain way, wishing I could do things the way other people do them. The list goes on.

In all of these situations, I tend to react with frustration, worry, or some other form of resistance rather than acceptance. In The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama cites the teaching of Shantideva, an eighth century Buddhist scholar who said, “If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying? If you cannot solve it, then what is the use of worrying?”

We skip looking at what’s happening and go straight to worry, or at least I do. Until we accept the situation instead of fighting with it, we can’t even determine whether or not change is possible through some effort on our part.

Sometimes we can change our circumstances, and sometimes we can’t. Until we see what they are instead of what we want them to be, we’ll never know.

Resisting Finite

My lesson for the week: when the curried tomato coconut soup explodes all over the kitchen at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday night, it’s time to admit there’s no way you’re also making bulgur pilaf for a Monday night dinner gathering.

Here’s one of the things I don’t understand about myself: why does it take exploding soup to get me to realize this? Simple addition would do the trick. Number of hours between present time and guest arrival: 20.5. Hours that should be spent sleeping, working, or getting to and from work: 19. Time it takes to make bulgur pilaf: too much. After all, there is now a big mess of soup to clean up.

Needless to say, I ordered pizza. And poured everyone large glasses of wine.

Earlier that very day my mom and I had discussed the radical concept of accepting our limitations. We spend a lot of time in this culture pretending we can overcome any shortcoming with hard work and will power, but that’s just silly.

I am never going to be an Olympic high jumper, for example, or win the Nobel Prize in Physics. I’ve pretty much gotten over both of those. For some reason, it’s harder to accept that I’m never going to approach Martha Stewart-ish, even though I don’t actually want to make matching, spring green, baby-duck napkins, placemats, and table runners out of recycled aprons for Easter brunch.

Other difficult ones: I will never be the uber-productive, uber-efficient, uber-thrifty member of any randomly selected sample of American women aged 27-45. Or any other age for that matter. I will almost never get anything much done after 9 p.m., except this blog. I will probably never succeed at any diet that includes less than a lot of chocolate. I feel I ought to be able to make myself have these capabilities, but I don’t.

It’s possible I’ll once again be cleaning soup off the butter, the counter, the floor, the cookbook, the real estate papers before remembering any of this. At that point, I hope I also remember to laugh and order pizza.