Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What We Need Is Here

I've experienced nothing in my life any more helpful than getting into the habit of pausing--hitting a kind of reset key that refreshes body, mind and soul all together. What follows is a short re-do of an older post about what this is and how can work.

In the Wendell Berry poem below we can sense his deep sense of the sacredness of Life--something always available, always possible, always potentially sustaining:

What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

The poem also reminds us we don’t really have to go anywhere to get to a sacred place. 'What we need is here.' This doesn't necessarily mean we stop taking retreats and making pilgrimages--heaven forbid! It just means that life, in a strange and wonderful way, can be just as rich in our ordinary 'here' as in any extraordinary 'there'.

By cultivating a habit of a Sacred Pause, over time we prove to ourselves this is so. A Sacred Pause is not complicated. It can be as simple as breathing in and breathing out, letting go of whatever we’re doing, whatever we’re holding to, or gently slipping out of the grip of whatever has a hold on us so that we can slip into being ‘quiet in heart, and in eye, clear.’

When we stop our usual down-pat ways of 'doing’ life and start making room for ROOM--open, patient, playful, curious, kind--we get reoriented over and over to what matters most to us. If we cultivate these Sacred Pauses our experience of freshness and openness and possibility begins to happen consistently enough that we can't help but begin to trust the process. Practice builds trust. Trust sustains practice--a gracious spiral into sacred space.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Poem of the One World

Jesus clearly reaffirmed what is central: Love God with our whole being; love our neighbors as ourselves.

I want to grow to love my neighbors as much as I love myself. And I want to grow to count the natural world as my neighbor. At best we tend to ignore what we don't love. At worst we misuse or abuse it.

We humans don't have long to learn this. We misuse the natural world so 'effectively' these days, and there are so many of us now, that we are on the brink of effectively destroying what sustains life. Really.

So many of us love Mary Oliver poems. May we learn to love them more! And differently--to hear them like bells across cities not only calling us to joy and insight but also to prayer and growth.

                    Poem of the One World, Mary Oliver            

This morning
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water

and then into the sky
of this the one world
we all belong to

where everything
sooner or later
is part of everything else

which thought made me feel
for a little while
quite beautiful myself.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Gift of Drudgery

William Blake famously invited use to see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower. How about getting a pinch of bliss doing chores--and a sense of joy in drudgery?  Karen Madden Miller has some good advice for us below. 

I have a garden in my backyard, and even if you don't call it a garden, you do too. In the fall, the broad canopy of giant sycamores in my yard turns faintly yellow and the leaves sail down. First by ones and then by tons. A part of every autumn day finds me fuming at the sight of falling leaves. Then I pick up a rake.

Tell me, when I'm sweeping leaves till kingdom come, is it getting in the way of my life? Is it interfering with my life? Keeping me from my life? Only my imaginary life, that life of what-ifs and how-comes--the life I'm dreaming of.

We don't just struggle with a shirt in a Zen koan. We struggle with the shirts in our hampers. With the pants, the blouses, the sheets and the underwear. Laundry presents a mountainous practice opportunity because it provokes a never-ending pile of egocentric resistance. Its not important to me. It's tedious. I don't like to do it!

If we're not careful, this is how we approach mindfulness: as an idea, one we rather like, to elevate our lives with special contemplative consideration, a method for making smarter choices and thereby ensuring better outcomes. The problem is that the life before us is the only life we have. The search for meaning robs our life of meaning, sending us back into our discursive minds while, right in front of us, the laundry piles up.

Transcending obstacles and overcoming preferences, we have an intimate encounter with our lives every time we do the wash. Its nothing out of the ordinary, but no one turns their nose up at a clean pair of socks.

With only a slight change in perspective, the most ordinary things take on inexpressible beauty. When we don't know, we don't judge. And when we don't judge, we see things in a different light. That is the light of our awareness, unfiltered by intellectual understanding, rumination, or our evaluation. When we cultivate non-distracted awareness as a formal practice, we call it mindfulness meditation. When we cultivate it in our home life we call it the laundry, the kitchen, or the yard--all the places and ways we can live mindfully by attending without distraction to whatever appears before us.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Wisdom of Not Knowing

I'm reading a good, helpful & simple primer on Mindfulness--The Mindfulness Revolution. Very short chapters, each by a different writer covering many different takes, styles, and arenas. The bit below is an excerpt.

Being uncomfortable and uncertain need not be seen as a weakness or problem that needs an immediate answer. Not knowing is a tremendous resource for being effective and innovative at work.

Not knowing means being willing to slow down, drop our preconceptions, and be interested and present to our work situation as it unfolds. Not knowing in this sense is an exercise in balancing effort--actively and intelligently being somewhere in the process of getting somewhere.

We no longer cling to what we know and instead become excited about what we don't know. We ease up on the race to get our jobs done and permit ourselves to notice things we don't normally notice. We let our curiosity have a free rein.

Not knowing is highly inquisitive, and energetic curiosity that inspects then questions without being rude or disrespectful.

We can allow ourselves the opportunity to appreciate, listen, and observe and to be curious about the incidentals, routines, surprises, and even irritations of our work rather than taking them for granted or being put off by them. We can afford to listen for the unspoken messages, often sent unintentionally and even more often misunderstood. By not knowing we open up and so does the world around us, offering an untapped wealth of insight and guidance.

-Michael Carroll