We Are Also Like That
We Are Also Like That: June 15, 2016
I had had an awful morning and it was only 9:15. A series of miscommunications and miscalculations. Emma and I were at the stoplight at Cherrydale. She was singing/talking/laughing. I was set to medium boil and could feel the cartoon lines of my ‘exasperated’ face.
That’s when I heard—or rather felt—the music. Deep bass thump. I looked around with the same stereotype that just formed in your head and saw a Honda CRV with all the windows down. The driver was a white man, 40ish, with blond hair, a tank top, black sunglasses. He was belting out a song.
I rolled down my window and recognized “I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore”. REO Speedwagon, for goodness sakes.
He was totally into it, singing with gusto, and only stopped singing to take a deep drag on a cigarette during the bridge to the last refrain. The light changed, we moved forward, and he turned into Lowes—still singing.
What I loved was his total abandon, his lack of self-consciousness, his single-mindedness. I just slightly envied his cigarette. But really, mostly the free-to-be-me.
They day turned out fine. But I’ve thought of that man several times.
My summer schedule lets me meditate on our wonderful Montreat porch. The creek is nice and loud. And yet sometimes I don’t hear it at all. When I listen, the sound is pronounced and omnipresent. When my attention wavers, it’s as though the water weren’t even there. This is my current (get it?) metaphor for Spirit. It is my attention to the Spirit, not the presence of the Spirit, that falters.
So my friend, Don, takes issue with the faltering part of that metaphor, reading it as self-reproach.
What do you mean, precisely, by your attention faltering? If you find yourself in the bathroom and realize you are pooping (to be both graphic and absurd) without attention to Spirit and see that as faltering, well, that’s just not right. If you are in a situation where you know in your heart and through previous experience what a Spirit-ous response is but do something else through expedience or laziness, well, that’s faltering. At least how I see it.
Fair question. And good distinction. To begin with, I don’t reproach myself for the faltering. Meditation teaches me to acknowledge the thought but not to judge it (or myself). If I judge, then I get off on tangents. Notice the tangent, then bring attention back to Spirit. So maybe ‘waver’ instead of ‘falter’.
But here’s the thing. It really is possible to be fully present even in the mundane, private, bodily parts of life. Like in the bathroom. I can attest that the first poop without pain after giving birth is a pretty sacred moment. And friends who’ve suffered with kidney stones or diverticulitis or constipation can offer holy moments of their own.
Paying attention moment to moment isn’t about focusing on Spirit to the exclusion of all else. It’s not getting lost in the sound of the water. It’s using the sound as a touchstone throughout all the rest of daily life, to bring my attention back to Spirit. It is wakeful awareness. And in brief moments I recognize that it is awareness seeking itself. That is the divine in me that is seeking full union with the divine.
Have you ever seen a child deep in play, or a scientist at work? Maybe you’ve felt it yourself, being ‘in the zone’ or ‘in the flow’.
The craftsmen working on my house are amazing. Monday morning, I went on the roof and saw them tearing up all the plywood they’d put down the Friday before. Bud told me he was upset that the staples hadn’t held and was ripping it up to put it down again with roofing nails. I would not have known the difference. But they were doing it the right way because they do things the right way. They have integrity—from the Latin meaning wholeness, purity—in their work.
I’m not saying that these guys are particularly religious. But when they work, they are single-minded and beautiful the way a dancer is beautiful. The way any artist becomes the art itself, and the way their art is an outward sign of their inward state. A charism.
This, I think, is the goal. My goal. That my outward life enflesh the inner life of spirit. One might say: be spirit incarnate.
Thich Nhat Hahn, in The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, explains in poetry:
Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
Rumi, a 13th century Islamic scholar and poet, wrote: “Remember God so much that you are forgotten. Let the caller and the called disappear; be lost in the Call.”
Paul the disciple of Jesus said:
“The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things….so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘in him we live and move and have our being'. Acts 17: 24-25, 27-28a
So the sound of the stream helps to remind me to release the illusion of separateness. When I can do that, I don’t need the sound of the water anymore. In essence, I AM the water.
Most of Christianity has taught that we are boats—individual rafts, maybe joined into flotillas. We’re pretty scrappy about the governance and beliefs of the flotillas. We respect the water, are in awe of the water. A brave few get in the water but don’t stay long—too cold, too hot, too scary. Maybe we ask Jesus to come be on our raft, to calm the water. But Jesus is the water. “There is only one Christ: he is everything and he is in everything.” Colossians 3:11
Some of Christianity has taught that we are to become the water. We use it to invoke, baptize, cleanse. But Jesus said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:37-38.
In other words, you are the water.
That’s the starting point—not separation and individual perfection. You can never get there that way. Accept the invitation “Follow me” and realize that you are the water. You’ve been the water the whole time, but you’ve perceived yourself as separate.
This is a change in perception, a fundamental shift in perspective—a very different starting point.
It’s a very old starting point, one that is taught by many world religions.
Here’s Thich Nhat Hahn again. “A wave does not have to die in order to become water. Water is the substance of the wave. The wave is already water. We are also like that.”
That is the beauty. We are also like that.
Let’s end with one more verse from Rumi.
Nothing can help me but that beauty. There was a dawn I remember when my soul heard something from your soul. I drank water from your spring and felt the current take me.
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