Life would be so much easier if fulfillment could be found in exterior things. The world’s most amazing piece of chocolate cake exists somewhere, so find it and bam! you’re done. Mission accomplished. Life well lived. Carefree from here on out.
But nothing outside of our selves—space intended—will ever satisfy us, a reality that can cause a lot of joy or a lot of suffering.
So many things seem as if they describe or comprise our selves but don’t: our accomplishments, our responsible-ness, our moral conduct, others’ opinions of us. Sometimes, though, we really mess up all of these things—I mean really, or at least I do—and so they can’t be who we are.
What’s left when everything our society teaches us to value or work toward is not us? In a recent meditation, Richard Rohr writes, “Gospel holiness…is almost entirely about receiving God’s free gift of compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.” Or to put it another way in another tradition, “We don’t need to look outside of the present moment to find inner peace and contentment; when experienced with awareness, everything becomes a source of joy,” according to Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.
This sounds great but can be frustrating because there’s nothing we can do to make ourselves happy or become who we want to be once and for all. We are more than anything else receptors, and the best we can do is attune ourselves to the divine frequency, a station that only plays in the present moment.
“I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through,” says the Sufi poet Hafiz. When we allow that music to flow through us, our actions become notes in the divine song—natural expressions of our true selves. I suspect this receiving and giving is better than chocolate cake.
For those who have been anxiously awaiting the fate of THE REPORT, we dropped it in the big UPS box Monday afternoon, and it miraculously arrived at its multiple destinations, including Hawaii, the next day. I have added whoever invented overnight delivery to my list of personal heroes.
As I worked a few long days on the final details, it occurred to me that worrying so much about a report is a great luxury. People worry about much more serious things in this world: having enough to eat, living through the sickness or death of a family member, ending a relationship, avoiding land mines. In this context, I consider being allowed the time and energy to shape a piece of research and writing as perfectly as possible an extraordinary gift.
Gifts like this don’t always appear immediately useful. They don’t end world hunger or stop gang violence. Those of us who worked on the report hope it will lead to improvements; it may or may not. The effort must somehow contain its own merit.
A few years ago, a group of Tibetan monks came to campus and constructed an exquisite mandala. After a week of painstaking work, they prayed over it then destroyed it and carried the sand to a local creek to be washed out to sea—a lesson in impermanence. Knowing the mandala’s end didn’t deter the monks from studying for years to learn the art, from paying attention to each grain they placed, or from creating a work of stunning beauty.
I am not claiming that our report has the spiritual significance of a mandala, and I hope it doesn’t get washed out to sea or even accidentally deleted from the server. I like to think, though, that we made good use of the time we were given, that we honored it by producing something good. Because what is there to do with a gift but accept it?