Saturday, May 26, 2012

Necessary Adjustments

For me, almost nothing would be as terrible as losing my sight. To test this, I recently asked a friend (a sighted person) if they thought they would be able to continue living were they to suddenly or gradually, become blind. They quickly answered "No." A very honest response and I agreed that it would seem an impossible burden for those of us who usually take such abilities for granted. My friend then asked me the same question to which I responded, "I cannot even begin to imagine what that would be like, but I hope so. I hope I'd (eventually) accept it and make the necessary adjustments. And I imagine it would be a bit easier to bear up under if I were accustomed to living a rich, interior life." That made us both think. If you are living from the inside-out, then whatever happens on the outside cannot truly get at the real treasure, buried deep within. But what is this kind of life and how to nurture it?

Religious traditions have called it things like mindfulness, centering, growing in Christ-likeness. It's an ancient idea, transcending peoples and places. Let me be clear! I am not saying that the body is bad and that another part of us, some, ghost like "other-us" is good and is to be encouraged at the expense of what we can see, touch and hold. I do not think that kind of separateness is helpful; we are one in being, fully connected to our brain stems, feet, to one another and the universe. At death, we change; this body ceases to be as it is, but only as it is, now. In some way, somehow, our soul is our body is our mind is our consciousness and all that...all of that, needs careful curing and tending.

What does it look like, this part of us that is all of us that lives fully in me but is less than me without you? I don't know! But Wisdom is a good picture. So is caring for mercy more than for justice but not at the expense of justice. Can there be something more than Justice? A bigger, more enduring reality where all that is broken, and sick and evil can find its way to reconciliation? At the space where justice raises its gavel in triumph there exists a greater permanence.

It's in that place that our interior life is called to shine. It is solitude and community, aloneness and gum-on-your-shoe everyday reality. It's kindness and gentleness, peace and pain. Welcome and safety. The land where hell and heaven meet and where both are swallowed by More. The 8th Century Sufi Mystic, Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya, said:

I carry a torch in one hand
And a bucket of water in the other:
With these things I am going to set fire to Heaven
And put out the flames of Hell
So that voyagers to God can rip the veils
And see the real goal.

She was right! This is bold action and it begins within. Pails 'afull and torches aflame are now my weapons of the spirit. I want my brothers to see! But the inundation and burning up begins in me, with me. I must decrease so that Life may increase. My diminishment is my abundance. One cannot kill life. Change it. Disturb it. But Life will win for "death has lost its dominion" as Dylan Thomas said so brilliantly.

Wise men and women have often said that when we begin to speak about such mysteries we have already diluted them. When we pretend to speak about most things, humans often do so with unabashed authority, with an absolutism, with little room for humility. Rabi'a spoke to that, as well:

The one who explains, lies.
How can you describe
the true form of Something
In whose presence you are blotted out?
And in whose being you still exist?

And so I dilute. My life is a dilution. But also a perfection. I must reach into the deep while also pointing away from me to what is higher still. I release the silence and the beauty, and turn to the cries of the voyaging; I must rise and fill my arms with earthly things...though not lesser things. I look inward to live and live outwardly to find the way of knowing and to know the way of finding.


Take time to make the adjustment; fix-it. Begin within, but resolve to continue with a commitment to living a "life on the outside." Otherwise, we've got a stagnant pond, a salten sea, a deadly poison. We were meant to give life, not take it. For me, nothing would be as terrible as losing my true vision: a deep, interior life.

But there is hope even in that place.

Don Quixote at lunch.