Autumn does, indeed, grace Northern California. Bushes, trees, squirrels, other creatures attest to that!
Everyone needs ways to return home, to oneself. For me, learning to come back to myself, to be present, has been a life long journey. Because it has not been an easy journey for me, I have had to learn and to re-learn, again and again, ways to return to myself. That doesn’t make me good. What it does make me is a resource for simple, practical ways to return to oneself.
Sometimes, we don’t want to return! When we are feeling pain, or anger, or frustration, when our emotions seem to be overwhelming, it is difficult to make the choice to return to ourselves. The deeper journey of life is not about ignoring or avoiding “negative” or “difficult” feelings. The deeper journey, the journey to a full, complete life, includes the willingness to enter and to accept all feelings, including those that are uncomfortable, and even frightening. Embracing, accepting those feelings is part of the journey of coming back to yourself.
How do you return to yourself? One of the simplest, most powerful ways to return is to be present in the body. For some of us, this is easier than others! I pride myself on being a “city girl,” comfortable on the pavement, navigating between soaring buildings, enjoying the lights and the people I pass. That source of pride is also a weakness for me. I have had to learn, in later years, to return to myself, my body.
Take a few moments to sniff the air today. See the colors around you. Look at the sky. Watch the movement of the soft wind in the trees. What color are the trees, now, this moment? Sit for a moment, and feel yourself sitting in the chair. Know the pressure of your feet, in your shoes, on the floor.
I love to sit in the grass sometimes, and I am grateful for our luxurious plot of grass in the city. On the earth, my senses seem to come back to life. I smell and see and even hear the world in a more present way. When I am present to my moments in the grass, I am present to the present moment. And that is all there is. The masters speak of this, again and again. Our prayers, our meditations, our sitting, return us to this place – this place of presence, the present moment.
The present moment is the greatest gift, the greatest grounding of all. When, for a minute or an hour or a day, you are present, you will discover this greatest gift. You will want more and more of this, this presence, this being-at-one with yourself, in your body, whole, complete, in this moment.
You are deeper, you are more than your anxieties, your fears, for all those things that possess you and keep you trapped – trapped outside yourself. You are here, now. Join in the return. Come back to yourself, now.
How can I live my life as a practice, a practice of whole-ness, a practice of connecting with the infinite, the Holy, the Universe?
There is only this: practice, practice, practice…
The sages of all traditions knew this. the Mother knows this, the monks in their cells in the hidden corners of the earth know this. It may be that the person in the next cubicle knows this. And you know it, too. There is only practice, from one moment to the next, from one day to the next.
What is your practice, today? In my life, my practice has often changed. For a time, I spent hours every day in my car, driving from small town to small town in rural Wisconsin. Then, I began this practice, this practice that has become my life. I talked to God. I talked out loud to God, crying sometimes, laughing, sometimes, and sometimes shaking my fist at God. And I began to observe my life in its unfolding, as if I was looking at my life from another perspective.
Sure, I have had to make the choices we all make. I have had to decide whether or not to go on to school, where to live, what to do on Friday night, whether or not this person was my friend – or not. All of the external choices have been the same. On another level, though, I have discovered that life is a constant of only this: practice.
Practice is only my own way of connecting the Divine, to the Holy that is in me and is in you. I have not been limited by my practice; rather, my practice has broadened my life, my experience, and even my mind. Through my practice, I have learned to question everything I have been taught is true or real. There are no limits to my practice. Like the sea, which rolls onto the beach and roils into the deepest depths, my limits are limit-less. Through my practice, I have questioned my deepest beliefs, and I have discarded some, and still question others, continuing to wonder what is true, what holds to be true not only for me, but for all of humanity, and all of creation.
I have learned that the Holy can hold all this, all my faltering practices, all my failures, all my ignorance, all my less-than-loving self.
I have prayed, an ever-changing, evolving prayer. I have meditated, and I still do, two times a day, most days. I have walked my prayers. I have talked to the grass and the trees, and to my cat. I have cried. I have laughed. I have nodded into a sky that does not answer, and yet is shouting to me. I have sniffed the sweet, wet earth, and smelled the sweet fragrance of lilacs and rosemary and lavendar, riches. I have visited holy places. I have worshiped in unfamiliar places, and I have honored those whose practice I have been privileged to encounter, although theirs might not be my own. I nod to their Holy One, who may seem different than my own, but is not. I honor that Holy One, by whatever name. I have visited dark places, and I have arrived into another morning, giving thanks for nothing in particular, but for it all.
I have not only “tried” many ways to stay connected to All; I have practiced many ways to stay connected. Some of the ways I carry with me now, like a bag filled with spiritual practices instead of groceries. I reach into the bag and take out the one I need, now. In any day, I use my practices to stay connected to Something More, Something Whole, Something Holy – something that is in me, that is me, and that is greater than I am.
Through my practice I have learned this: I do not have to be good. I do not have to do things perfectly. I do not have to work to be worthy. I do not have to know what is right or correct in any or all situations. I do not have to understand to accept. I am complete, here and now, just as I am. This is what I have learned, what I am learning.
When I remember, I can still feel my little girl’s body on the seat of my first two-wheeled bicycle. I can feel the strength of my Dad behind me, holding onto the seat, pushing me along the sidewalk, pushing me, holding on, and then, in some moment, letting go, until I felt the freedom of that ride, that long ride that has taken me to this time, to this moment, to this day. Then, I was practicing. Then, I had the safety of Dad’s strength and love and joy until I took off on my own.
As we get older, what we face is different than what we faced when we were younger. What I have faced in my life – the choices, the decisions, the moments, the sadness, the losses, the small and great griefs – is changing. It has always been changing, although now I am more poignantly aware that my choices are changing. And I can honestly say that the only thing that has gotten me through, the ever-changing practices I have gathered and practiced and discarded, and even those I continue today, are the cornerstone, and the one constant.
Make of your life a practice.
In my experience, imagination is one portal into the spiritual journey. As a child, the idea of Jesus captured my imagination, and I held onto that idea as I slogged my way through fundamentalist confirmation classes. When I had been confirmed and had the time and the inclination to question what I had been taught, I realized that those narrow beliefs (add your own adjective) did not jive with the Jesus who had captured my imagination.
And I will say, also, that my inclination to question has not ended – it is as alive as it ever has been!
A few years later, I was lonely. I often pray for the lonely, because I have known loneliness, a deep, tearing loneliness. Alone in my small apartment, I spent many evenings turning the pages of my address book to find a friend to call. I wanted someone to relieve my loneliness, but that loneliness still tore at me. I soon discovered that a friend could not relieve that loneliness. Now, I see that even my loneliness has become a gift.
During those times, I began to search, and I looked to the Bible – since that was my own tradition – as a place to search. I read, again and again, the words of the Sermon on the Mount. We don’t know what words Jesus really spoke as he taught the crowds who were following him, in the story. We don’t know for sure whether he spoke those words at all. We are not even certain that anything written about Jesus is true or ever happened. We do know it’s a darn good story, and stories – including our own – have power, simply by being stories. There is more power in the story than in its historical fact, or not.
As I read those words, those blessings, again and again, Jesus re-captured my imagination. Now, he was there, with me, present with me. Jesus was there, present to my loneliness. I didn’t see him in the room with me, but I knew his presence, the beginning of a long walk with Jesus. This is not the Jesus who judges those who do not follow, no, this is the Jesus who loves, loves simply and completely. I knew that as a child, I know it now.
What has captured your imagination, what has lived just outside the limits of your conscious awareness? What lives, now?
A few months ago, I re-connected with a a friend who knew me in the years that followed. She reminded that I had spoken to her often about “jogging with Jesus.” The one who captured my imagination was with me, in the most ordinary moments of my life.
Maybe you are imagining a life different from the one you have. Maybe you are lonely, and your imagination takes you over long paths that magically bring an end to your loneliness. And when you take those long paths, you find out, again and again, that you are still lonely. Maybe your imagination cannot conjure up what life, what different life, you’d like to have. All you know is this: you are lonely. You are here. You don’t want to be here, but if not here, then where – and when?
A dear friend of mine told me that she married her high school sweetheart when they were both 20. Within a few years, they had a home together, and life was unfolding as it was meant to unfold. As it was meant to unfold, except for the days my friend spent in her kitchen, tears running down her face, something in her knowing that this was not the life she was meant to live. Something else was capturing her imagination, although she couldn’t name it, wouldn’t name it until years later. She did not know it until she lived it.
What captures your imagination, now, here, at this moment? What flickers on the edge of your awareness, what lights up deep inside you? Who – or what – fascinates you? Who comes to you, not with answers, but with complete acceptance of your questions? Who? What? What comes to you, not with answers, but with complete acceptance of your questions?
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – ” – Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”
How interesting, that loneliness and imagination should so often walk together.
I can say this now: it is good that I had my loneliness. I call it mine; it was/is mine, mine to be named, mine to be felt, mine to be feared – and mine to be known, even to be loved. It is good that I had – and have -my loneliness. My loneliness allowed me to fall into the truth of who I was, of what life I had, and my loneliness allowed me to imagine, to imagine someone or something that could carry me out of that loneliness, even if I wasn’t sure where I was being led.
I still think that something that Jesus said may be exactly what the world needs. I still think that other prophets who spoke to peace, who speak to peace, are what is needed. What they say sounds so simple, too simple. Who are the prophets now, while wars rage, while refugees walk in search of a safe place, while children are dying, without food, in our cities and in far-off places? Who is speaking truth, simple, profound truth, now?
That which speaks to peace spoke also, to my loneliness, and to my imagination. It speaks to yours, also.
I still long for a just world, for all people – a safe place to live, food, for everyone, not a world where justice means getting what we want, but in the old, old, old sense, the dream of enough, for all. The possibility that there is enough captures my imagination, although everything else shouts that there is not enough to go around. Still, that possibility captures my imagination.