When the sun sets – red – in the trees,
I lie in the new grass.
The cat comes, too.
Together, we sink into earth,
sniff the soft, green, blanket that holds us,
breathe in harmony.
The anthropologist and spiritual teacher, Angeles Arrien, is credited with these four rules for living: show up, pay attention, tell the truth, don’t be attached to the outcome.
Not one of these “Four Rules for Living” is easy. Simple maybe, easy enough to understand (we think we understand, anyway), but not so easy to actually live. If we are honest, and if we are looking to live a life based on our deepest self, we know these rules are not easy. We find them challenging. We know them to be a daily practice, a hard practice of letting go. We know we do not choose to live our truest Self – instead, we fall into that Self, by letting go of ego. Hard practice. Hard – and life-giving, ultimately.
Don’t be attached to the outcome.
Now, this is a tough one! “Don’t be attached to the outcome.” Do your part, speak your truth – and let it go. In other words, do your part and trust. In other words, do your part and watch what happens. In other words, do your part.
This matter of “letting go” is so often misunderstood. We do what we can. Sometimes what we choose to do will have noticeable results, and sometimes what we choose to do won’t make a significant ripple. What we “let go” of is our ego-involvement. “Let go” of controlling the outcome. Let go of your ego-attachment to what happens.
Fall into it. Don’t swim against the tide of your ego. Fall into it. And what you will discover is this: when you fall, you fall into your Self, your True Self, the Holy.
So much of life energy has been wasted – and destructive – by forcing itself on others. Tribes force themselves on other tribes, nations on other nations. We are critical of Russia’s military action in Syria; Russia is critical of the military action of the U.S. in Syria. We see this waste of life energy in our own lives, in the lives of others, and we see this waste of life energy in the world. And we know this: life is not honored, truth is not honored, life is not nurtured by force. And yet – we are all complicit in this waste of energy. Not one of us is better than another. We all act destructively, even doing so in the name of love, or honor, or nation, or religion.
If we’ve each done our work, the work of showing up, paying attention, and telling the truth, the possibility is that our work will succeed, although maybe not in the way we’ve imagined.
So often when we have ego-attachment to our actions and choices, we look for particular results. We think we’re in control, so if things go as planned, they’ll go the way we expect them to go. In that case, we also think we know what is the best way for things to work out. We are strategists, and life does not allow for strategists! To believe so is a kind of insanity!
Trust is the word here. Trust as a tree trusts the earth it stands on. Trust as if your life depends on trust. Trust as if you understand that all the control in the world, all the care-ful-ness in the world, cannot assure the results you want. Trust that there is Something or Someone or Some-Other out there that is in charge of the results. And that Something or Someone or Some-Other is not only “out there,” but animating you, bringing you to life – as you let go of your attachment.
This is the hardest work in the world. More than ever, our world needs people who have grown up, who have done their real work – which is the work to become adult. And that work is the work of letting go, of “don’t be attached to the outcome.”
Trust as a tree trusts the earth it stands on. “Don’t be attached to the outcome.”
These past few weeks, I have watched, as much of America and the world has watched, the aftermath of the death of a black man in police custody – in Baltimore, MD. People have gathered in the streets to protest the death, and to bring the country’s – and the world’s – attention to the matter of racism and police use of force in the United States. Having marched on many occasions in my lifetime, I am from a generation and a family of people who understood that sometimes the people must take to the streets to take back our democracy. Like so many of us, I do not condone the violence that has erupted, the fires started in Baltimore, the reckless among the marchers. But I also know that some things will happen, some people will not march peacefully; so many things in this situation – as in our lives – are out of control, and can become out of control.
Hopefully, the violent few will not stop the message of many from being communicated: change is needed.
I especially appreciated the simple and clear statement made by David Brooks on the Public Broadcasting System New Hour last Friday, May 1: “We know what the problem is: we don’t know what to do about it.” Hopefully, that is a statement of progress, a statement that those of us who are white are coming out of denial, that we realize that we are implicated in the systems, the structures that are our system, and that we also will be looked to for solutions for our part in these systems. I pray that strong leadership will arise that will allow us as a country to confront the institutionalized racism that is in the fabric of who we are.
I was also touched by the interviews by members of the news media as they talked to people on their front porches in the neighborhoods directly connected to the violence that had broken out in the protests. I heard the comments of an African American man who lives in the neighborhood where buildings had been burned: “When I was young, the police walked on our street.” He was remembering that there was a different relationship with the police in those days.
I remember those days, also, and I often think about how times were different then, in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. I remember that we knew the names of the officers who walked down the streets of the city where I lived. I know that we respected those officers. I was a white girl, of course. I was also raised in a generation – for good or not – that was expected to respect adults. When I was with other children in the neighborhood, we knew each others’ parents, and we called them by their last name: “Mrs. Smith.” “Mr. Schmidt.” When I look back now, I realize there were many things we did not talk about, that were an unconscious part of those streets and of the lives of the children who played there – domestic violence, drinking, sexual abuse. We held adults and authority with respect, to be sure, and that has, like anything in life, positive and negative realities.
Something has been gained with our growing consciousness of the whole reality of life. We know we cannot go back to those times, but those of us who have lived 5, 6, or 7 decades now have the ability to “take a long view of history.” What happened to the neighborhoods we knew? What happened to the semblance of safety we all had? What happened to the days when children walked to school – safely, for the most part? What happened to our innocence? When did we stop treating one another with respect, the respect we give to another human being?
Was it as simple as the end of our naivete? Was it the Watergate scandal? Or Vietnam, and the lives of so many sacrificed in a war that was never really called a war? Was it 2001? Was it the resignation of the President? We are the generations that remembers the assassination of a young President whose election had brought many great hope. We are generations that saw immediately and horribly the assassinations of a great civil rights leader and prophet, The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, within a few months. I remember my brother shouting from in front of the television that day: “He shot him!” Like millions of others, my brother had witnessed that moment, on live television.
What is the role of the Internet in all these changes, and the ability we have to see events as they happen, all witnesses to the world’s quickly changing borders and the identities of its people?
What do these things say about us as a people?
I don’t expect any of us to have the answers. There are many among us who are looking for the answers in scholarly ways, searching through the annals of history for the answers. Some simplicity (was life ever really simple?) seems to have been lost. And there are many among us who are remembering with friends, and asking questions, talking, ruminating.
I also am not offering these thoughts as an exercise in nostalgia. We are here, now, given our history, given our mistakes, given our greatness as part of the creation, and even given our questions. This is who we are – and who we are not.
As I enter the Wisdom Years, I can see that those among us who have lived a long time have something that those younger folks among us do not have. We have the scope of history, a scope that has driven us through tumultuous and rapidly changing times. We also have the scope of our own histories, reflections on our own mistakes, some simple learnings, and we also have the ability to hold questions, to know that we do not have answers. We are wise enough to know that the questions may be all we have. We are people who can take the long view.
I am grateful for the life I’ve had. I know I have had privilege that I did not earn, by who I am, a white woman, an educated woman, a woman who has lived through times that women of no generation before has experienced. I know my mother did not know the freedoms – internal and external – that I have had and yet, she, too, is part of this history.
I am also filled with questions. I think we all are filled with questions. It would not seem to be wisdom to strike out to make changes without deep considerations. But we know change must happen. Change means loss, and change means that something new is coming.
I am certain that others who are the elders are ruminating, also, and although not quickly coming up with answers, considering, turning history and the changes of history over in our hands, as one turns a rock over to see the other side. Political correctness and opinions and views that we have held onto for so long don’t hold the answers we need, and I think they will have to be set aside. How can we stop being so afraid of one another, how can we stop taking offense so quickly, how can we hold a space for answers, new answers, new behaviors, to take up space?
These are my questions, these are my wonderings, these are my considerations, not all stated here, but the crust of all that is churning in me as I face the Wisdom years.
What are yours?
“Death is something we shouldn’t fear because, while we are, death isn’t, and when death is, we aren’t.”
― Antonio Machado
Oh, but yes, Antonio, we do fear death. We live our lives in fear of death, that great unknown. And each day is a death, the death of one moment to the next moment, this moment is dead, now, and this next, and now, and this, too…
Think about it: our culture does everything in its power to avoid death.
Celebrities are forever young. “50 is the new 40.” We say someone has “passed away,” instead of saying: “he has died.” Our voices lower to a murmur when death is mentioned, as if it is something shameful. Doctors rail us with promises that we need never age. If only we eat right, if only we exercise enough, if only we learn how to handle our emotions enough, as long as we are happy enough… we will not – die?
But the wrinkles come, and with the wrinkles, wisdom.
As far as I know, there is no fear of death in faith. And as far as I know, that there is no fear of death has nothing to do with what happens after we die. As far as I can understand, there is no fear of death in faith because faith brings us into this present moment, this one moment given to live, to breath, to serve, to give thanks. This is all there is.
And yet we are simply human, are we not? We are simply human, given to fear and anxiety and anger and rage. We are simply human, and so we do fear death. The fear of death seems to be a part of life.
Still, some cultures seem more able to allow death to have a seat at the table. In Mexico, The Day of the Dead brings all ages to graveyards, to eat and to dance and to walk and to be together, among the dead, for remembering, for honoring, as part of life.
No one wants a young person to die, and so we all grieve with the grieving mother. It is true, a child should not die before the parent, this does seem unnatural to us, and it is a wound that no human being should be made to suffer. And yet it is a wound that many suffer. Death claims the young.
We have no freedom from death, as much as we want to run from it, to avoid it, to challenge it, to shake our fists at death. We have no freedom from death. Death is always with us, in this perfect, fleeting, precious moment. Death is always with us.
Death is like the partner who walks with us, wherever we go. “There she is, always following me around,” we might say. And if we turn to look, to nod, to speak to her, she may have something for us, some wisdom, some honesty, some truth to add to our life. Can we embrace her? Can we learn about her, walk with her a bit, learn from her, learn what it is that a final ending to what we know can mean for us now, those of us who walk among the living?
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” – Dylan Thomas
Do not go gentle, Dylan, but take a look, get to know that good night.
I think that part of wisdom is to begin to acknowledge death, that one who walks with us, wherever we go. I see my friends growing older, some refusing to acknowledge that yes, “50 is not the new 40,” that, “50 is 50,” and that is good. And I see some of my friends growing older, knowing that as their health changes and as families grow older and move away, there is yet a beauty, a richness, an honor in accepting that “50 is 50,” and it is good.
You are going to die. Now – how will you live? – meb, 4/2015/Good Friday