Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Climbing Downward

"Simplicity"
- olive branches in my meditation garden -

While looking at a TV news report about last night’s Republican presidential debate,  I was struck by how much camaraderie the candidates were exhibiting when the event was all over. During the debate they were “at each other’s throats,” vitriolic and vindictive personal attacks, name –calling, angrily pointing fingers and shaking fists. But just seconds after the debate finished they all embraced one another with handshakes, laughter and big smiles.

I guess the thing that struck me most about this apparent dichotomy was how disingenuous the political scene has become (maybe it’s always been this way). Watching yesterday’s post-debate revelry made it very clear to me that the primary goal of the debate was for the candidates to say whatever they thought voters wanted to hear and to say it with as much furor and force they could possibly muster.  Debates, after all, are opportunities for each candidate to show that he or she is better than the others, and the ultimate goal is to win an election.

I’ve been reflecting on the idea of “people doing or saying whatever they have to do in order to get the vote,” it seems to me that this is the way lots of people tend to live their everyday lives nowadays. So many people find themselves “clawing their way to the top,” always in the process of climbing the proverbial ladder of success and doing or saying whatever they have to do or say in order to get up the next rung.

From the time we first start school we are taught how to climb upward.  We teach our children that they should not only get good grades but rather better grades than others - “winning  the vote” begins at a very early age and for most of us it continues throughout our entire lives.

While upward mobility may be the path many of us are on nowadays, it is always a slippery slope when it comes to the spiritual journey. When we are always looking for something more in the future and stepping on one another to go higher, we inevitably miss the joy of what “is, ” and whenever we step on another we inevitably step on our own self because we all belong to one another.

I think about something the celebrated monk and author, Thomas Merton, once said;

People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success
only to find, once they reach the top,
that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

Interestingly enough, the path of the spiritual journey flows in the opposite direction of climbing upward – paradoxically the spiritual path always involves climbing downward. We find greater wisdom by “letting go” of our attachments to our rigid ideas and glib certainties and we find deeper peace when we let go of our ambitious desires to be better than somebody else. We find a deep joy when, instead of climbing over others,  we give ourselves in service to others.

The contemporary author and spiritual writer, Richard Rohr, puts it this way:

The soul has many secrets.
One of the best kept secrets, and yet hidden in plain sight, is that
the way up is the way down.
Or if you prefer
The way down is the way up.

In his later years of life Thomas Merton wrote this in one of his journals:

Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition in life
is to be what I already am.


Such great wisdom!

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