Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Practice of Gentleness

"October Dawn"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

We seem to live in such a compulsively "driven" culture - everyone so driven to succeed, driven by ambition, driven to perfection. As I sit in my desert garden on this refreshingly clear and quiet Sunday morning, I  think about people going off to churches everywhere, and I wonder if perhaps they are somehow striving for perfection - are they being "driven" by a desire to win the big prize that comes at the end of the journey?

As I look at my own life of faith, from my earliest days of childhood I was taught that Christians are supposed to "fight the good fight." We were taught to look at life as a war between the forces of good and the forces of evil. We were to perpetually do battle against the darkness in us, to fight against sin, to wage a war on behalf of the forces of light, always striving for perfection.  

I have come to see that you can get pretty exhausted, if not downright burnt-out when you are always doing battle in life. In fact, many people who think of their spiritual journey as "fighting the good fight"  often feel like they are losing the war because none of us is or ever can be "perfect" in any way, no matter how hard we may try.  We, human beings, are an odd if not beautiful mixture of light and darkness, prone to love and compassion; and yet all of us are wounded and worried, often succumbing to our self-centered impulses. 

I actually think that this "drive" toward perfection is not just limited to those on a Christian path, but in a "driven" culture such as ours,  I would guess that lots of people on many different paths see their  spiritual journey as "fighting the good fight."

Just yesterday I had an online conversation with someone who told me that she was an abysmal  "failure" at meditation.  She lamented the fact that whenever she takes the time to sit quietly and meditate, all sorts of random thoughts and worries creep up and invade her mind. In fact she confessed that her meditation time often elicited restlessness and worry in her.  In essence, she was telling me that she had failed at being a good soldier in her battle of "fighting the good fight."

My response was that it is impossible to fail in meditation. In fact I suggested that the very fact that worries, doubts, fears and failures had surfaced in her meditation time probably meant she was doing something "right" rather than doing something "wrong." Instead of running from her fears and hiding from her faults and imperfections, she was facing them, welcoming and befriending them. 

I also reminded my online friend of something Buddhist monk and Zen Master,  Thich Nhat Hahn, so wisely teaches:

It is important that you do not consider awareness to be your 'ally' called on to suppress the 'enemies' that are your unruly thoughts. Do not turn your mind into a battlefield. Opposition between good and bad is often compared to light and dark, but if we look at it in a different way, we will see that when light shines darkness doesn't disappear.  It doesn't leave. It merges with the light. 

To meditate does not mean to fight with a problem. To meditate means to observe. If you are restless don't judge it or try to destroy it,  just shine the warm light of your awareness on it.

Thich Nhat Hanh also teaches that on a spiritual journey perhaps the best thing we can ever do is to be gentle with ourselves - no feelings of failure because we have lost a battle in the good fight. Just be gentle with yourself, practice gentleness.

I think this is such profound wisdom and such sage advice.

Master Hanh observes that when you are gentle with yourself, 

You are yourself and you have acquired some peace,
It is this peace that makes a child love to be near you.

In my own life I have locked away all the armaments and declared an end to the war. I no longer fight the good fight. Instead I am practicing"gentleness"with myself.  I want that kind of peace that would make a child love to be near me.    














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