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You know how it is.

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“You know how it is. Sometimes
we plan a trip to one place,
but something takes us to another…
God fixes a passionate desire in you,
and then disappoints you.
God does that a hundred times!” – Rumi

“You know how it is.” You want something. I want something. We are fixated on it, we want it so badly.

“We plan a trip to one place,
but something takes us to another…”

I see so many examples of easy spirituality on the web. I don’t think Rumi considered the spiritual path easy. It’s not as easy as deciding what we want, then deciding that God placed that desire in us, and then, when we are disappointed, deciding that God is testing us, and that if only we pass this test, our desire will be achieved. Oh – if only it were that simple, if only we could manipulate God that way, if only we held the Universe in the palm of our hand, to shape to our fancy.

***

I know what it’s like to want something badly, don’t you?

For a long time, I wanted a life partner.  That’s what I thought would make me happy.  I fashioned the person in my mind:  someone who would understand me, who would enjoy doing the things I enjoy, someone who could explore intellectually with me, and someone to whom I was wildly attracted, of course!  The list was all about what I wanted, and didn’t include – as I consider it now – anything about who I would be as a partner.  But, there it was, the List, the list of the perfect partner.  I wanted that; I wanted him.

I wanted him to relieve my loneliness, to always be present to me.  So many long evenings, I sat on my red velvet couch in my lonely apartment, going through my phone book, looking for someone to call, someone to relieve the loneliness.

For a long time, that is how I lived.  Caught in the cycle of my unconscious desires, I thought that was how I had to live.  That’s all life was for me.  Is that all there is?

And then, for some reason, I surrendered to it.  I surrendered to the loneliness, to the ever-present solitude of my life, to the life of complete alone-ness I seemed to have.  I don’t know why I surrendered, but I do remember the very place I was when I raised my hands into the air and said:  “ok, God, if this is what you want, this is what it is.”  I can picture myself at that moment, driving into the alley behind the apartment building that held my one lonely, solitude-infested apartment.  I expect I will always remember that moment of surrender.

The loneliness did not end.  I made a sort of peace with the loneliness, though, at that point.  Or maybe I made a sort of peace with God (for the moment!  that dance never ends!).  I knew that the loneliness would raise its head from the pillow from time to time, and so I accepted that I would embrace it, whenever it arose, whenever it was awakened.  That, too, was an acceptance.

***

I can say, now, many years later, that I am grateful.  I am grateful for the one life I have been given, for the one life I am privileged to have lived, to be living.  I can also say that the moments of pain and sadness and sorrow and anger and grief and, yes, loneliness, have continued.  I know now that they are part of life.  The moments of pain and sadness and sorrow and anger and grief and loneliness do not tell me that God has abandoned me, or that I have abandoned my path.  No, those moments are part of the path.  They are part of me, part of this one life I have been given.

Even so, I am grateful.

This ever-disappointing God:

“God fixes a passionate desire in you,                                                                                                        and then disappoints you…”

***

We are people who like to control outcomes, although, truth is, the outcome of any given action or intention or desire cannot be controlled.  God cannot be controlled.  We want to shape God into a shape that fits into our little box – we are ever-inclined to want to understand the workings of this Universe – and we learn, once again, that this God, this Universe is far beyond our understanding, and even farther beyond our ability to control.

And all we can do – if we can stretch that far, sometimes, not always – is to be grateful, to lift our feeble arms into the air to say:  “yes!”  Come what may.

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What You Are

‘As if the sorrows of this world could overwhelm me now that I realize what we are. I wish everyone could realize this. But there is no way of telling people they are all actually walking around shining like the brightest sun.’ Thomas Merton

FullSizeRenderCalla Lily at dusk – shining like the brightest sun.

[White calla (Zantedeschia aethopica) is the classic variety, with vase-shaped white flowers that rise from a clump of dark green, shiny leaves.]

You are so beautiful, beautiful beyond any beauty you have ever seen, ever will see, or any beauty you can imagine.  And if you are so beautiful, so is every other living creature, every human being, every plant and tree and animal and flower and star and mountain and cloud and drop of rain.  We are all shining like the brightest sun.  We are part of the Great Being.

This is the truth!

For a moment, imagine what the world would be like if we all saw through the dark, shaded barriers of our small egos to the light beyond, the light that is us, the light that is the whole of this creation.  How we would love one another!  How we would reach out to one another with help and hope and compassion!  How different this world, this one world we are given, would be!

We look at one another and at the world, ordinarily, through the lens of our small selves, our ego-selves, the part of us that is harsh and critical and demanding – of ourselves, and then, of others.  What we see “out there” is only a reflection of that wounded, small self we so often identify with.  And so we miss – we actually do not see – the light, the whole person, the little bit of beautiful we each are.

“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.” – Max Ehrmann, 1927.

And that “little bit of beautiful” is all-beauty, all-whole, all-loving, all-kind, all-compassion, all-connected, all, all, all, all, all – complete.  Whole.  Light.  Love.  Truth.  Peace. Hope.  Joy.

As the world seems to become more and more unkind, it is going to take some of us to turn around, turn toward the Light, to let go of our small selves, to identify with our Whole-ness, our True Selves, to change the world.  This doesn’t mean you have to stop doing what you are doing.  Whatever you do is important.  What it does mean, though, is that you will have to stop identifying with your small self, moment by moment, letting-go by letting-go…

This is the true work.  This is the work the world needs us to do.  If you’re too busy doing other things, other important things, then you’re too busy to do this work, this work of letting-go, of dissolving the barriers in yourself that have clouded the Light.

You are shining, like the brightest star!  Yes – you!  Yes – now!  Yes!  Yes! Yes!

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A Life of Awe

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This week, a group of scientists will be meeting at the University of California at Berkeley to talk about their research findings as they have studied “the science of awe.” Through their scientific research, these scientists have determined that spending time in nature is good for human beings; experiencing nature brings us to a sense of awe.

Is that why “awesome” is over-used in the conversation of so many of us these days? For example: “I’ll see you at two o’clock, then.” “Awesome!” That word, “awesome” infects our vocabulary. Listen for it.

Although our ordinary lives may cause us to forget, I think that most of us know the experience of awe when we experience awe! We know – as often as we may be guilty of “over-awe-ing” it – that some moments, some sights, some feelings, some fleeting bit of light brings us to a sense, an experience of awe. For that moment, we are stunned to find ourselves floating in a deep feeling that may over whelm us, with gratitude, with joy, with – awe!

And then, the moment passes.

I am sure that the good people of indigenous cultures knew awe as well as we know awe. While their lives were certainly not easy – one could argue that our lives are not easy, either, although for different reasons – there must have been moments when they were stopped in their tracks by a beautiful sunset, a shining tree, the birth of a baby, the first light of morning on the trees, the sight of their home after a time away. Perhaps they were stunned into awe to witness a healing, to witness a death. And so are we.

Awe = a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder, a noun, according the the dictionary on my Apple computer.

Sometimes, life takes your breath away.  Sometimes, with tears running down your cheeks, you must completely stop what you are doing to fully savor the present moment, to see your child’s face light up with joy, to watch a deer leap into the woods, to see the light just-so as day passes into dusk.

I don’t need scientists to teach me about awe.  I’m sure you don’t, either.  The experience of “awe” seems almost primal, so basic to us that we know it when we receive it.  And awe does seem to have the element of gift, of being gifted, attached to it.  We receive awe, we receive the gift, we are grateful for the gift.

The practice of “awe” can be a deep spiritual practice.  Wait, watch, be present every day for the experience of awe.  This practice may take some slowing down!  Whatever you have on your list to do today, be mindful, watch!, notice that moment that may come when you must simply witness, you must be in awe, that state of presence/joy that stops you for a moment, a wonderful, rich, complete moment you could not have created yourself.  It simply is.

And, BTW – have an “awesome” day!

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Our Little Worlds

 

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We all grow up in Little Worlds, Little Worlds that begin with our families – for better or worse – and gradually expand into the world that surrounds us, that Big World, that foreign place.  For some of us, that foreign place intrigues, and so we spend our lives widening and widening the boundaries of the Little World where we began.

For some of us, Big World is a frightening place – which it surely is – and so we use our precious energy to make sure the boundaries of our  Little World are never broken.  We live within the confining – and supposedly safe – shell of Little World.  We take our Little World with us, wherever we go.

Our minds hold our Little Worlds, embrace our Little Worlds, surround our Little Worlds.  If we think we have open minds and still, our world does not embrace the wideness of the world and its varieties of thinking and people and ideologies and practices and dresses and rights and wrongs, then our minds are not open at all.  We are locked in our Little Worlds, the only worlds our minds can hold.  Whenever we think:  “how can they be that way?” or “how can they think that way?” we are living within the limits of Little World.   That’s how our minds think; that’s what keeps us in Little World.   Often our Open Minds are not Open at all, they are only the Little World, unable to give way to Big  World.

Experience teaches us – hopefully – that our Little Worlds are not big enough for life.  We try to control our Little Worlds, keeping the Big World away; sometimes we are startled awake, startled alive,  have our minds broken open.  When our minds break open the edges of our Little World gives way to  Big World.

Our minds are broken open when our hearts are broken open – by failing, by submitting our privilege, by addiction, by depression, by the truth that whatever rules we learned in the Little World cannot carry us in Big World.  Our minds are broken open when we realize we do not know, we cannot know what is right or good for another.  We learn that we don’t even know what is right or good for ourselves.  We learn that the rules we learned in Little World don’t work in Big World.  The rules we learned in Little World are meant to keep us small, and safe.  Big World is not safe; Big World is an adventure.

We – those of us who have  had our Little Worlds broken, are grateful for those things that have broken us, for they break the Little World.  And this, this alone makes the world a safer, kinder, gentler place, for all.  Big World is a place of love, of limit-less love.

When Little World is broken, Big World appears.

 

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Into the Darkness

darknesslight

The days are still growing shorter, people in colder climates are dressing with warmer clothes, winter-proofing cars, and carefully navigating days when the temperature hovers around 32 degrees Farenheit. Here in the warmer climates, those of us who come from colder places have a longing for colder days!

This time of waiting – of waiting for the light, the longest night and shortest day, which will relentlessly move into longer days, one moment at a time – is a time, as I wrote in an earlier post, to go into the deeper, darker places of ourselves.

Maybe we do this naturally, without guidance. Many women in particular confide that as the days grow shorter, they do some “cocooning,” going inside, baking, cleaning the dark spaces in the house, taking care of things that in the sunshine days did not seem important. In this season of darkness, there is time and space for taking care of these things.

What do we find in those cobwebby, shadowy places in ourselves? We often find tears there. We discover grief, even grief that has been forgotten, or set aside. We may find things we didn’t ever want to see again. We find things we didn’t want to remember, perhaps. We see the faces and the memories of those who are no longer with us – how we wish we could see them again, one more time! Words may arise in us, things that were said; perhaps those unsaid things arise in our thoughts, as well. We have carried those unspoken words with us, hanging in the air between us and another.

When we go into the darkness of ourselves, we may find things we don’t want to find – or to see! We may discover some feelings we wish we didn’t have: jealousies, hates, fears, terrors. We may remember someone who abused us, someone who tried to keep us from becoming our truest selves, because their own dark places were never explored.

Or we find confusing things, things we will never understand.

Sometimes when we go inside ourselves, we may discover something with complete clarity, something we’ve always known. There, touching it again for the first time in many years, our knees on the hard wooden floor of our memory, we begin to see it glimmer. Maybe that clarity is something we need desperately, now. We are grateful.

During this season of this year, there is much talk about the system of racism that pervades us as a country, as a people. Liberal or conservative, socially progressive or longing for values that don’t seem to exist anymore, we seem to be having a conversation we have needed to have for a long time. We may be hopeful, we may find hope as a people in those under-belly places of our collective psyche, or we may find even more hopelessness than we have now. As you think about the happenings of these past few months, I invite you to listen to the Bill Moyers’ interview of journalist Ta-Nehisi as he frames the nation’s history of slavery and white supremacy in challenging terms.

Sometimes when we go within – as a people, as individuals – we may find unresolved things that cannot, will not be easily resolved. We may cry or shout or rage again and again, and this may never end.

***
It is interesting that this season of darkness that brings us face to face with the light is associated with hope. Maybe it’s more appropriate to call it Hope, with a big H. We all need this hope, and it’s something we can’t buy at the stores, at the busy malls. I think maybe Hope arises from that journey into the darkness.

“All shall be well, all shall be well, all shall be well.” Julian of Norwich, mystic.