A Celtic blessing

This old Celtic prayer from Scotland is appropriate for two reasons today –  the feast of Saint Patrick, the patron of Ireland and because of the weather we have had this week: 

May the blessing of the rain be on you, 
may it beat upon your Spirit and wash it fair and clean,
and leave there a shining pool where the blue of Heaven shines, 
and sometimes a star. 

And may the blessing of the earth be on you, 
soft under your feet as you pass along the roads, 
soft under you as you lie out on it, tired at the end of day; 
and may it rest easy over you when, at last, you lie out under it. 

May it rest so lightly over you that your soul may be out from under it quickly;up and off and on its way to God. 

And now may the Lord bless you, and bless you kindly.


Our futile attempts to resist change

A severe weather system is passing over Ireland, with heavy snow forecast, causing a lot of concern and even, panic buying of bread in the supermarkets. A change in the normal circumstances causes uncertainty and reveals that, deep down, we think things should always remain the same. Instinctively,  we seem to try to make some moments last forever.  Nature teaches us that no matter how much we wish or try to control things, tomorrow may not look the same as today. Changes in circumstances in life, like the weather, are a given; happiness – or unhappiness – comes from our response to that given.

High winds do not last all morning

Heavy rain does not last all day

Why is this? Such is Heaven and Earth!

If heaven and earth cannot make things eternal

Why do we think it happens for us?

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Enjoying the ride

Today is the feast of Imbolc, one of the four seasonal festivals in the old Celtic calendar. The meaning of Imbolc is unclear but it may derive from  an old Irish word meaning “in the belly”, referring to sheep being pregnant. Whatever the meaning,  the feast was celebrated because it is the midway point between the winter and the spring solstice, was connected with the budding of new life,  the time when hope begins to stir because Spring will soon be here.

Midway points…Something is always coming to birth. We are always in transition and yet always fully ourselves. The challenge is how to hold fully both aspects. 

As human beings we share a tendency to scramble for certainty whenever we realize that everything around us is in flux. In difficult times the stress of trying to find solid ground – something predictable and safe to stand on – seems to intensify. But in truth, the very nature of our existence is forever in flux. Everything keeps changing, whether we’re aware of it or not. 

What a predicament! We seem doomed to suffer simply because we have a deep-seated fear of how things really are. Our attempts to find lasting pleasure, lasting security, are at odds with the fact that we’re part of a dynamic system in which everything and everyone is in process. So this is where we find ourselves: right in the middle of a dilemma. And it leaves us with some provocative questions:  What is it like to realize we can never completely and finally get it all together? Is it possible to increase our tolerance for instability and change? How can we make friends with unpredictability and uncertainty – and embrace them as vehicles to transform our lives? 

This anxiety or queasiness in the face of impermanence isn’t something that afflicts just a few of us; it’s an all-pervasive state that human beings share. But rather than being disheartened by the ambiguity, the uncertainty of life, what if we accepted it and relaxed into it? What if we said, “Yes, this is the way it is; this is what it means to be human,” and decided to sit down and enjoy the ride? 

Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change


Only half a circle


The creator of the universe loves circles: time and space are circles, the day is a circle, the year is a circle, the earth is a circle.

But when creating and fashioning the human heart, the creator only created a half-circle, so that there is something ontologically unfinished in human nature.

The beautiful irony is that even though we’re housed in separate bodies there is a profound hidden tissue of absolute connection between us. The Celtic tradition sensed that no one lives for herself alone. Your call to discover who you are and to bring your soul into birth is also a great act of creativity toward everyone else.

John O’Donohue, The Presence of Compassion


Don’t interpret

Cold weather forecast for today, with snow possible on higher ground:

A monk wanted to know what was Mahaprajna, Great or Absolute Wisdom. The Master answered:

“The snow is falling fast and all is enveloped in mist.”

The monk remains silent. The Master asks: “Do you understand?”“No, Master, I do not”. 

Thereupon the Master composed a verse for him:

Great Wisdom: It is neither taking in nor giving up. 
If one understands it not, The wind is cold, the snow is falling.

The monk is ‘trying to understand” when in fact he ought to try to look. The apparently mysterious and cryptic sayings  become much simpler when we see them in the whole context of “mindfulness” or awareness, which in its most elementary form consists in “bare attention” which simply sees what is right there and does not add any comment, any interpretation, any judgment, any conclusion. It just sees. 

If one reaches the point where understanding fails, this is not a tragedy:

it is simply a reminder to stop thinking and start looking.

Perhaps there is nothing to figure out after all: perhaps we only need to wake up.

Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite,