Seconds at a time

05-29 BEE POLLEN web A

Most of life only lasts a moment. Then our life becomes a memory, a dream. We are only alive a millisecond at a time. This moment! Or as one teacher put it, holding his thumb and forefinger about a quarter-inch apart, “All of life is only just this much –just a moment in time.” When we open to this very instant in which awareness produces consciousness, we are fully alive. Completely present. Big-minded. To the degree we are present for “just this much”,  this living moment, we are alive.

Stephen and Ondrea Levine, Embracing the Beloved

The strength from within

Each person must learn to relate to external people and situations. But it is equally important, and even more urgent, that he learn to relate to his own self. Until he learns to confront the motives, desires and unlived possibilities of his own secret heart, he can never be complete within or genuinely fulfilled. That power within, which constantly urges us to experience our unlived possibilities and values, is the most awesome force in human life. For ultimate meaning must be found within: A man must relate to the outer world from the strength of inner wholeness, not search outside for a meaning that he finds, at last, only in the solitary pathways of his own soul.

Robert Johnson, We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love

….And keeping our faces toward change

imageLife is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.

Helen Keller

In a general sense we seem to prefer things to remain the same and dislike too much uncertainty (except  maybe when the normal dull Irish Summer has been replaced by warm sunny days).  Change unsettles and can prompt an almost instant movement towards turning away or tightening up.  So it is a challenge to “keep our faces towards change” –  as Helen Keller says-  by going against our instinct for once and staying with something that our fears tell us to avoid.  When we consistently buy into our fears and strengthen fearful  thoughts, we can forget some of the larger truths of life, or  lose sight of our essential confidence and strength. An avoidance mentality leads us to expect trouble and weakens our ability to live with how the present moment is unfolding.

One of the fundamental truths of existence is that life changes, and changes in ways that we cannot expect. So developing this capacity to turn towards change is a necessary skill for working with life. It is probably best to practice it in smaller matters, so that it is somewhat developed when the bigger changes happen. So it is good to sometimes look at some small things we avoid and see what we can learn from them. We could practice with something like some paperwork we have been putting off, a contact we have been delaying, or staying in the presence of  someone who disturbs us instead of running away.  In this way we can be curious about  what happens when we  move towards something rather than moving away.

photo of dawn at Dunmore East Co. Waterford, Ireland

Staying put

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In meditation we discover our inherent restlessness. Sometimes we get up and leave. Sometimes we sit there but our bodies wiggle and squirm and our minds go far away. This can be so uncomfortable that we feel it’s impossible to stay. Yet this feeling can teach us not just about ourselves but also about what it is to be human. All of us derive security and comfort from the imaginary world of memories and fantasies and plans. We really don’t want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience. it goes against the grain to stay present. The  instruction is,  Stay…stay…just stay.  So whenever we wander off, we gently encourage ourselves to “stay” and settle down.

Pema Chodron, The Places that Scare you

Today the stage of the Tour de France takes place around Annecy and goes up the Col de Tamié. On last Sunday I was fortunate enough to be in that part of the world as I went to the liturgy in Cistercian Abbey of Tamie, founded in 1132. As always,  I was struck by the silence as I sat in the ancient church, as the thick walls keep out most sounds and I was conscious of a depth of stillness. I have visited the place often and I recognized the faces of the monks. They have been there, every day since I last visited, performing the same work in that isolated place, without been seen, repeating the same chants and prayers seven times a day, starting at 4 in the morning until 8 in the evening, in the depth of the cold winter and the relative warmth of the summer. And then on Monday I visited the monastery of Bolton Abbey in Kildare, a place I had not seen for over 10 years. Again, the same monks, the same liturgy, even though years have passed.  A continuity across miles and across years.

The founder of Western monasticism, Saint Benedict, placed an emphasis on this capacity to stay put.  He saw in the latin word “stabilitas” –  to be still, to stop, to persevere – a remedy for the troubles of his age, namely, insecurity, the movements of people, cultural and political upheavals. “Staying put” for Benedict meant that the person resisted the temptation to move from idea to new idea, and instead remained in the monastery where they had entered long enough to put down roots in order to grow and bear fruit. Perhaps he can teach us something today in this similar age, with the added distraction of increased communication and media. Many people today have lost their points of reference, and have little sense of community or family. Commitment is often presented as against personal growth and rituals seen as stifling or boring.

Benedict was drawing attention to a psychological fact, the need to stay put, to not run away or move when we come face to face with our internal restlessness.  He echoes the psychological wisdom found in the Desert Fathers who said frequently that the first work we had to do was to learn to stay, and quieten the mind in this manner. As Abba Moses replied simply when a visitor requested some novel, wise words “Go into your room and sit there, and your room will teach you all you need to know”. There is no substitute for learning to befriend ourselves. There is some link between calming the body’s desire for novelty and movement and calming the mind.

These words are not far from those we find in meditation teachers from a different tradition today. The basic  practice which we return to each day is taking our seat and staying there. Slowly it settles the mind. Gradually something is transformed in us and an interior peace can grow. We come face to face with our deep interior confusion, but we decide not to run away. It worked in the time of Saint Benedict and for those monks in the quiet valley of Tamie and the plains of Kildare.  It can also work for us in our restless age with its desire for novelty and 15 minutes of fame.

 

Doing things quietly

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I’m just sick of ego, ego, ego. My own and everybody else’s. I’m sick of everybody that wants to get somewhere, do something distinguished and all, be somebody interesting. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody. I’m sick of myself and everybody else that wants to make some kind of a splash.

J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey

photo Júlio Reis