Fear is everywhere—in our culture, in our institutions, in our students, in ourselves—and it cuts us off from everything. Surrounded and invaded by fear, how can we transcend it and reconnect with reality for the sake of teaching and learning? The only path I know that might take us in that direction is the one marked "spiritual."
Fear is so fundamental to the human condition that all the great spiritual traditions originate in an effort to overcome its effects on our lives. With different words, they all proclaim the same core message: "Be not afraid." Though the traditions vary widely in the ways they propose to take us beyond fear, all hold out the same hope: we can escape fear's paralysis and enter a state of grace where encounters with otherness will not threaten us but will enrich our work and our lives.
It is important to note with care what that core teaching does and does not say. "Be not afraid" does not say that we should not have fears—and if it did, we could dismiss it as an impossible counsel of perfection. Instead, it says that we do not need to be our fears, quite a different proposition.
~ Parker J. Palmer
Because I Could not Stop for Death by Emily Dickinson
Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held but just Ourselves
We slowly drove, he knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For his civility.
We passed the School, where Children strove
At recess in the ring
We passed the fields of gazing grain
We passed the setting sun.
Or rather, he passed us
The dews drew quivering and chill
For only Gossamer, my gown
My tippet only tulle.
We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the GROUND
The roof was scarcely visible
The cornice in the ground.
Since then 'tis centuries and yet
Feels shorter than the DAY
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.
Kindness does not stop with us; we can extend it outward from ourselves, like the ripples on a pond, toward our family, friends, and loved ones. This is relatively natural and effortless. But for loving kindness to be genuine, it cannot just end with the people we know and like; it has to go further, toward those we do not know and even do not like. This includes people we may be having a hard time with, someone with whom communication is difficult, where negative issues have arisen that are pulling the relationship apart, where there is anger, resentment, or dislike.
When we are affected by someone being hostile, dismissive, critical, or hurtful, then it is often because there is a hook in us for that negativity to grab hold of, a place where it can land that triggers all our hidden feelings of unworthiness, insecurity, doubt, even self-hate. However, when we extend kindness toward such a person, as we can in meditation, an extraordinary thing happens: The landing place, or the hook within, begins to dissolve. There is no place for the negativity to take hold.
The negative reactions that arise within us during moments of discord or disagreement cause continued conflict. Extending kindness toward the adversary is, therefore, really extending it toward ourselves, as it releases the inner pain and puts us into a more balanced place.
~ Ed and Deb Shapiro
When we were born, we were programmed perfect. We had a natural tendency to focus on love. Our imaginations were creative and flourishing, and we knew how to use them. We were connected to a world much richer than the one we connect to now, a world full of fascination and a sense of the miraculous. So what happened? Why is it that we reached a certain age, looked around, and the charm was gone?
Because we were taught to focus elsewhere. We were taught to focus elsewhere. We were taught to think unnaturally. We were taught a very bad philosophy, a way of looking at the world that contradicts who we are.
We were taught to think thoughts like competition, struggle, sickness, finite resources, limitation, guilt, bad, death, scarcity, and loss. We began to think these things, and so we began to know them. We were taught that things like grades, being good enough, money, and doing things the right way, are more important than love. We were taught that we're separate from other people, that we have to compete to get ahead, that we're not quite good enough the way we are. We were taught to see the world the way that others had come to see it. It's as though, as soon as we got here, we were given a sleeping pill.
The thinking of the world, which is not based on love, began pounding in our ears the moment we hit shore. Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here. The spiritual journey is the relinquishment, or unlearning, of fear and the acceptance of love back into our hearts. Love is the essential existential fact. It is our ultimate reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life.
~ Marianne Williamson
Often one of the stumbling blocks to living a simpler life is our inability or unwillingness to change how we play some of the games that got us into these complicated lives in the first place. If you've spent a lot of years not knowing what you really want to do, either in terms of your career or in terms of your personal, social, civic, or family life, it can seem like an impossible task to stop what you've been doing—or at least slow down for a bit—and figure it out. It often seems easier to keep on doing things we don't want to do. We continue doing things we almost want to do, or we continue doing things the way they have always been done simply because it is convenient.
So our lives get dissipated away by a social engagement here, a luncheon there, an evening of television here, or the habit of working evenings or weekends or both on projects that we don't have all that much interest in. And the things we really want to do, in our heart of hearts, get put on the back burner. One of the things simplifying your life will do is free up time for you to figure out what really matters to you, and then enable you to arrange your time so you can do it.
~ Elaine St. James
Gratitude can be transformative. When we offer thanks to God or to another human being, gratitude gifts us with renewal, reflection, reconnection. Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life (is it abundant or is it lacking?) and the world (is it friendly or is it hostile?). Once we accept that abundance and lack are parallel realities and that each day we choose--consciously or unconsciously--which world we will inhabit, a deep inner shift in our reality occurs. We discover the sacred in the ordinary and we realize that every day is literally a gift. How we conduct our daily round, how we celebrate it, cherish it, and consecrate it is how we express our thankfulness to the Giver of all good.
Gratitude holds us together even as we're falling apart. Ironically, gratitude's most powerful mysteries are often revealed when we are struggling in the midst of personal turmoil. When we stumble in the darkness, rage in anger, hurl faith across the room, abandon all hope. While we cry ourselves to sleep, gratitude waits patiently to console and reassure us; there is a landscape larger than the one we can see.
~ Sarah Ban Breathnach
Our feelings play a very important part in directing all of our thoughts and actions. In us, there is a river of feelings, in which every drop of water is a different feeling, and each feeling relies on all the others for its existence. To observe it, we just sit on the bank of the river and identify each feeling as it surfaces, flows by, and disappears.
Mindful observation is based on the principle of "non-duality": our feeling is not separate from us or caused merely by something outside us; our feeling is us, and for the moment we are that feeling.
We are neither drowned in nor terrorized by the feeling, nor do we reject it. Our attitude of not clinging to or rejecting our feelings is the attitude of letting go, an important part of meditation practice. If we face our unpleasant feelings with care, affection, and nonviolence, we can transform them into the kind of energy that is healthy and has the capacity to nourish us.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us. Not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence. It is hard to find. In its presence we can remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build a life. Silence is a place of great power and healing. Silence is God's lap.
Many things grow the silence in us, among them simply growing older. We may then become more a refuge than a rescuer, a witness to the process of life and the wisdom of acceptance. Taking refuge does not mean hiding from life. It means finding a place of strength, the capacity to live the life we have been given with greater courage and sometimes even with gratitude.
~ Rachel Naomi Remen
It's neither arrogant nor overreaching to ask for a miracle. Miracles aren't possible because of anything we do; they are possible because of the nature of God. We do not personally work them; rather, they are worked through us as we open our hearts more deeply to love. The mystical heart is a loving one, and thus a conduit through which God naturally reveals Himself. We have a power in us, but not of us, that can miraculously heal the entire world.
Perhaps the miracle arrives in the form of an insight that unlocks a riddle in your life, a reconciliation with someone, or the opening of a door that has long remained closed. Try as you might, your efforts to break through using your talents, your power of rational analysis, or sheer force of will had remained fruitless. It was only when you put God first--when your heart softened, you stopped blaming, you stopped talking so much and started to truly listen--that some wall of resistance began to crumble. You had not done anything so much as you had released the energies of self-will. You had asked, in a way, that God's will be done. A miracle occurred not because you caused it but because you allowed it. In the words of writer Willa Cather, "Where there is great love, there are always miracles."
~ Marianne Williamson
For many people, solitude is just a poet's word for being alone. But being alone, in itself, is nothing. It can be a breeding ground of loneliness as easily as a source of solitude. Solitude is a condition of peace that stands in direct opposition to loneliness. Loneliness is like sitting in an empty room and being aware of the space around you. It is a condition of separateness. Solitude is becoming one with the space around you. It is a condition of union.
Loneliness is small, solitude is large. Loneliness closes in around you; solitude expands towards the infinite. Loneliness has its roots in words, in an internal conversation that nobody answers; solitude has its roots in the great silence of eternity.
Most people fear being alone because they understand only loneliness. Their understanding begins at the self, and they are comfortable only as long as they are at the center of their understanding. Solitude is about getting the "I" out of the center of our thoughts so that other parts of life can be experienced in their fullness. It is about abandoning the self as the focus of understanding, and giving ourselves over to the great flowing fabric of the universe. In solitude silence becomes a symphony. Time changes from a series of moments strung together into a seamless motion riding on the rhythms of the stars. Loneliness is banished, solitude is in full flower, and we are one with the pulse of life and the flow of time.
~ Kent Nerburn
Our lives are characterized by transitions and transformations, by necessary losses and unexpected gifts, by an unending series of passages. Life is change. All our lives we are confronted by letting go. Western culture teaches us how to hold on to things, not how to let them go, but letting go is one of the encompassing themes of life. Nothing in the material world is forever. Throughout the many stages of our lives we experience myriad transitions and what we might call loss: We are forced to leave the warmth and security of our mother's womb, give up her breasts, her lap, our innocence, many of our childhood dreams, our youth. Critical to our growth and happiness is learning how to live with loss; we simply cannot have everything as we wish it. Parents, children, lovers and friends part, and sometimes it is we who must part.
Our lives are full of separations that shake us up, force us to attend to our emotional selves and to learn new ways of being in the world. Although many of our losses are painful, they encourage our gains. The lesson life is trying to teach us is that, regardless of the challenges and changes in the physical world, we will abide in peace by aligning ourselves with our inner changelessness. The power of God in us is more than equal to any moment—no matter what it brings.
~ Susan L. Taylor, Lessons in Living
The more we experience fundamental richness, the more we can loosen our grip. This fundamental richness is available in each moment. The key is to relax: relax to a cloud in the sky, relax to a tiny bird with gray wings, relax to the sound of the telephone ringing. We can see the simplicity in things as they are. We can smell things, taste things, feel emotions, and have memories. When we are able to be there without saying 'I certainly agree with this', or 'I definitely don't agree with that', but just be here very directly, then we find fundamental richness everywhere. It is not ours or theirs but is available always to everyone. In raindrops, in blood drops, in heartache and delight, this wealth is the nature of everything. It is like the sun in that it shines on everyone without discrimination.
It is like a mirror in that it is willing to reflect anything without accepting or rejecting. Generally speaking, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors - people who have a certain hunger to know what is true - feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we're holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we'd rather collapse and back away. They're like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we're stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it's with us wherever we are.
~ Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart
Death is a silent yet eloquent teacher of truth. Death is a teacher that speaks openly and yet is not easily heard. Death is very much present in our modern world: and yet it has become an enigma to that world. Instead of understanding death, it would seem that our world simply multiplies it; death has become a quantity. The mystery of death, more terrible and sometimes more cruel than ever, remains incomprehensible to men who, though they know they must die, retain a grim and total attachment to individual life as if they could be physically indestructible.
Perhaps it is this failure to understand and to face the fact of death that helps cause so many wars and so much violence. As if men, attached to individual bodily life, thought they could protect themselves against death by inflicting it on others.
Death cannot be understood without compassion. Compassion teaches me that when my brother dies, I too die. Compassion teaches me that my brother and I are one. That if I love my brother, then my love benefits my own life as well, and if I hate my brother and seek to destroy him, I destroy myself also. The desire to kill is like the desire to attack another with a red hot iron: I have to pick up the hot metal and burn my own hand while burning the other. Hate itself is the seed of death in my own heart, while it seeks the death of the other. Love is the seed of life in my own heart when it seeks the good of the other.
~Thomas Merton, Preface to the Vietnamese edition of No Man Is an Island
Strength has a value for spiritual realization, but to say that it can be done by strength only and by no other means is a violent exaggeration. Grace is not an invention, it is a fact of spiritual experience. Many who would be considered as mere nothings by the wise and strong have attained by Grace; illiterate, without mental power or training, without "strength" of character or will, they have yet aspired and suddenly or rapidly grown into spiritual realization, because they had faith or because they were sincere.
I do not see why these facts of spiritual history and of quite ordinary spiritual experience should be discussed and denied and argued as if they were mere matters of speculation. Strength, if spiritual, is a power for spiritual realization; a greater power is sincerity; the greatest power of all is Grace.
~ Sri Aurobindo, Words of Sri Aurobindo, First Series
Jason E. Royle
Welcome to my blog. I'm an open-minded theologian committed to Christ-like compassion & understanding.
Listed on Feedspot