The eyes of a child

 The real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.

Thich Nhat Hahn

Dropping into…

Peaceful abiding describes the mind as it naturally is… The human mind is by nature joyous, calm, and very clear.

In  meditation we aren’t creating a peaceful state—we’re letting our mind be as it is to begin with.

Sakyong Mipham

Restlessness

I have been reflecting these days on how our sense of self is related to finding a space where we can feel safe, which we can be “at home”. It may be a place, but it is more likely found in the acceptance and love of others. We search for this all our lives. Without it we are restless, even lost.

 

One way to express the crisis of our time is to say that most of us have an address but cannot be found there.

Henri Nouwen

I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.

Maya Angelou

A short practice to increase our strength

O Adonai, and Leader of the house of Israel, You appeared to Moses in the burning bush,
and gave him the Law on Sinai: come and save us with an outstretched arm.

As Christmas draws closer,  the Christian liturgy chants the ancient “O Antiphons”  originating in the 5th Century. They testify to the desires of people down through the ages, and our ongoing human needs based on the different situations we find ourselves in. This one asks for  strength and protection, –  a strong arm to support us when we ourselves do not feel strong. It’s imagery comes from the story of the escape from slavery in Egypt and the journey across the desert.

There are so many times that we need to take in strength, to remind ourselves of our resources. One of the things which the mind does when we are stressed or depressed is to underestimate our resources and overestimate the threats which we feel. We divert our energies into the defense against threats, fearful that others may disappoint or take advantage of us.  These ancient words are a metaphor for what happens in those moments. The Hebrew word for Egypt – Mitzraim –  means “a narrow place.”  The escape from captivity in Egypt means the escape from the narrow places where we are stuck, to a wider place, a place where we can breathe freely. We can feel trapped in our lives,  in different forms of captivity. We can frequently feel as if we are travelling in unfamiliar territory, unchartered waters, and this can overwhelm us. We feel fortunate if we get through a day, or through the night when our fears come to worry us,  let alone know where we are going in our lives.

At times like this, we need to keep our focus on words and ideas that give us strength, that link us into to our fearless nature. We can try this simple exercise to increase awareness of the resources we have:

Find a quiet place and sit, gently closing your eyes. Become aware of your normal breathing and the wider sense of your body sitting here. See if you can sense the energy  in the core of your body. Notice your breathing, how it is constant and has a strength of its own. Feel the solidity in your posture, the strength in your upright back and shoulders, the dignity in the way you are sitting, the support in the contact with the chair or the floor. Become aware of the way your body functions in getting you around day after day. Consciously focus on your own strength, savouring this awareness, taking it in and drawing it out.

Now, picture in your mind something in nature that feels strong, like a mountain, noticing how massive and unmoving it is. In your mind’s eye, bring the mountain into your own body so that you become the mountain – your head the top,  your body the solid base,  rooted on the cushion or on the chair. See if you can imagine a sense of uplift, the strong quality of the mountain deep in your own spine. Invite yourself to become like a breathing mountain, unshakeable and still.

Now let that sense of strength sink into you and rest in you. Imagine it and prolong it. Breathe it into your emotions. Feel it in your spine, your head,  your chest, the muscles of your face. Let it become part of you, breathing it in deeper and deeper. Gently, let it touch the places in your life where you feel challenged or weak. Keeping the sense of the mountain in your awareness, seeing if you can place the difficulties in relation to that, almost like the clouds that pass over a mountain without affecting the mountain itself. See if you can make the awarenss of strength the present reality, even if just for a moment. If this is too difficult just do it briefly and return to the awareness of the mountain.

Rest in this awareness for five or ten minutes, if it feels right. Make conscious,  as best as possible,  the strength which is in your body and in your mind. Register it in your bones and in your muscles, your thoughts and your emotions. Continue to breathe gently as you finish the exercise and resume your daily activities.

Peace comes dripping slow

Some sense of longing seems to be a part and parcel of human nature, and will never go away. It comes from the fact, as John O’Donoghue wrote in Anam Chara, that the human person is a threshold where many infinities meet. This can explain why, for many of us, a deep lasting peace is very hard to find in a world which is finite.

We intuitively know it exists, and look to find it in many ways.  However, it seems to me that true rest, in a lasting and definitive sense, is something which slips from our grasp. As much as we try to realize it and make it our own, it never seems to linger with us very long. It stays a while with us and then takes flight. We are restless and often struggle to find security within ourselves, to get our lives together, to create a real home for ourselves. However, even when we have fulfilling days, or a job that goes well, we can still go around with a subtle awareness that there are unfinished tasks, unrealized possibilities.  We have a feeling that there is something else that we should have remembered, done, or said. An underground sense of being unfulfilled underlies our filled lives.

Some profound sense of restlessness remains and will always do so. Recognizing that a complete answer to our deepest longings cannot be found in how hard we work, or how much we possess,  is a fundamental first step to attaining deeper peace. It means, paradoxically, accepting that we will always be somewhat unfinished.

However, there are real ways that we can increase our actual fulfillment and contentment in our day-to-day lives. Often it requires that we shift our focus, away from making life problem-free, to giving our ordinary,  everyday life a depth and value. In a sense,  we have to turn away from always looking for certainty and fulfillment, and instead, look more deeply at the reality of what is actually happening in our life. A focus on something external keeps us from resting on our own centre, leaving us outwardly turned and inwardly disconnected. If we imagine that others will be the source of our complete fulfillment we are attaching our hopes onto something that can lead to betrayal and let down. We have to stay with what actually is,  not what we would like to be there. And not just the parts which we like. Because if we keep running away from what is unpleasant, thinking that we should only have pleasant, and put an emphasis on control, then we have a recipe for a a cycle of unhappiness and disappointment, which leads to us feeling weaker and weaker.

The ways and means vary as to how this peace comes to us, how we find it. Amidst the hectic activities of our days, and the rush of modern life, we try to clear some space to be alone, to still the chatter in our heads and to taste a little bit of solitude. Peace comes dripping slow, as Yeats reminds us. We cannot rush it by grasping after it.

Being able to see into the heart of things is great wisdom

Everyone who lived at that time,
not being as wise as you young ones are today, found it rewarding enough in their simplicity to listen to an oak or even a stone, so long as it was telling the truth.

Plato, Phaedros

He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe,  is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.

Albert Einstein