Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Peace that Surpasses Understanding

"Deep Peace"
- Sunset at the Desert Retreat House -

I just had a rather disturbing but also informative conversation with a friend of mine who told me that he is “giving up” listening to, reading about or watching any more news reports. He said that he has enough problems in his own personal life without being constantly barraged by reports of hurricanes, ethnic cleansing, terrorist attacks, and political infighting. So, he is suspending all news consumption because he can no longer endure the anxiety that such stories elicit in him.

As I listened to my friend the other day I wondered how many other people might be feeling the same way, overburdened by the anxiety of everyday life nowadays.

My conversation with my friend also reminded me of an ancient “saying” from the 13th century English mystic, Julian of Norwich:

And all shall be well, and all shall be well,
And all manner of things shall be well.

I have heard this phrase quoted many times before and I think it is often misinterpreted to mean that, no matter how tough life is, everything will eventually turn out ok, so “don’t worry and be happy.”  Actually the wisdom of this one little phrase speaks of something far more profound, it points to a deep peace that can “ground” all of us no matter what may come our way in life.

In our culture the word “happiness” often refers to a surface and fleeting feeling of wellbeing and peace is translated as the absence of trouble. People are happy when they get a job or buy new clothes. People find peace when there is nothing to trouble them. But there will always be trouble in life no matter who we are, suffering is inherent in our human condition.

As I see it, the kind of peace and happiness available on a spiritual quest is much more of  what the ancient ancestors called a “deep peace”- a peace that flows underneath the surface of everyday living.

The Christian scriptures talk about a peace that passes all understanding. I think that’s what “deep peace” means, it’s a sense of underlying peace one experiences that goes beyond analysis or understanding. After all, on the surface it probably doesn’t “make sense” to feel peace in the midst of suffering, pain and chaos; and yet that sense of a deep peace that passes understanding lies at the heart of the spiritual journey.

In my own life I experience this deep peace whenever I am able to recognize that “I” am more than a separated individual ego inside a tiny human body. I experience that peace that passes understanding when I become aware of my connection to the cosmos. I experience a deep peace when I know that, even in the darkest times, an abiding Love and Universal Energy “sparks” within my being and in all other beings connecting us all in an amazingly beautiful, mysterious and mystical web of dynamic interrelationship.

And so, I experience a deep peace when I know that all shall be well because Love flows in and through it all - Love is stronger than hate and Love won’t let me go. 

Most “wisdom” traditions of the major world religions recommend the practice of equanimity as a primary virtue on the spiritual journey.

Equanimity is the stability of mind
that allows us to be present with an open heart
to everything that comes our way,
no matter how wonderful or how difficult.

When we are able to practice this “stability of mind” we can abide in deep peace. When we are present with an open heart to all those disturbing news reports, when we are present with an open heart rejoicing at the birth of a child, when we are present with an open heart at the loss a spouse or when we are diagnosed with cancer, when we buy a house or lose a job and we are “present with an open heart” to everything that comes our way we can find a deep peace, knowing that underneath it all, all is well, all is well, all manner of things shall be well.

I am reminded of a blessing that comes from the ancient Celtic Druids. I offer this blessing to any who may happen to read my post today:

Deep peace of the Running Wave to you.
Deep peace of the Flowing Air to you.
Deep peace of the Quiet Earth to you.
Deep peace of the Shining Stars to you.
Deep peace!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Time to Plant

"Blooming Cacti"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

Having spent most of my life on the east coast of this country, I still remember that, in mid-September we were all getting ready for Fall - a time for the harvest, a time to get ready for the coming winter, a time for shutting down.

In my mind I still expect to walk into a store and see them selling rakes for the autumn leaves, snow shovels and anti-freeze for the coming winter season; instead they are selling autumn seeds, potting soil and garden tools because this is a planting season out here where we live.

Here in Southern California (especially out here in this desert region), we have several growing seasons all year long. The intense summer heat has now come to an end and so around mid-September we plant the “winter crop” in backyard gardens and in farm fields.

I have often said that the desert is a perhaps my best teacher, it offers so many lessons about life, so much wisdom for the journey – that’s one of the reasons a desert is often perceived as being such a spiritual place. At this time of the year the lesson the desert teaches me is:

Don’t ever shut down.
 Don’t ever give up.
Every season of life is growing season.

I know plenty of people who feel as if they have reached a dead-end place in their lives. Their life-long ambitions have never come to fruition, relationships have failed or dried up, they are bored with their jobs or have no jobs, many are dulled by the “same old-same old” of the daily routine and so they become cynical and despondent and they begin to “shut down.”

Whether or not you actually live in a desert, the lesson learned from the wisdom of the wilderness at this time of year offers us all a “wake-up call.  Every life is always ready to burst with blossoms that have not yet bloomed no matter what the season, no matter how dry life may seem or how long the day has been.

The Buddha said:

There are two mistakes one can make on the way to truth,
one is not going all the way,
the other is not starting.

The desert in autumn teaches me something about starting over and over, again and again as I walk on that journey to truth.

We’ll be going to the nursery today to get what we need for the garden we will plant in our backyard this week and I am reminded of something Robert Louis Stevenson once said:

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap
but by the seeds that you plant.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Freedom of Forgiveness

"A New Day Dawns"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

I remember a conversation I once had with someone who had been seriously betrayed by a close friend whom she thought she could trust. The person told me that she doubted her one-time friend would ever apologize to her and so she’d probably never be able to forgive her.

I clearly remember what that person said about forgiving because it was so emblematic of how most people misunderstand what forgiveness is all about. More often than not we confuse forgiveness with reconciliation and the two processes are not the same.

It takes at least two people to reconcile but it only takes one person to forgive.

In order for people to be reconciled, they must encounter one another and admit faults, apologize, sometimes vow to make amends, and then they are reconciled.  But to forgive someone we simply “let go” of the burden of our resentment, anger or pain that we hold against the other so that it doesn’t eat away at us.

The Buddha said:
Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal
with the intent of throwing it at someone else.
You are the one who gest burned.

When asked by his disciples about how often they should forgive others, Jesus tells them to forgive “not 7 times but 70 x7 times.” In other words, forgive without limits, never hold back forgiveness.  It’s also interesting to me that the great wisdom of most all world religious traditions teach the same thing: unlimited “forgiveness” is prized as a core virtue for the spiritual path. After all, a spiritual journey should lead us to greater peace and we can never find that greater peace if we are unwilling to “forgive” those who do us wrong.

We human beings inevitably hurt one another and cause each other pain; but what we do with this pain makes all the difference in the world. If we cling to the anger and the pain, keep grudges, seek revenge, the pain becomes a poison that infects and destroys our spirit. Forgiveness is the process of letting go of that pain and when we “let go” we are set free.

Nelson Mandela was locked away in a South African prison cell for many years. He hated his captors and vowed revenge when he was set free. Then one day, Mr. Mandela realized that his resentment was the cause of his greatest suffering, his resentment was keeping him in prison more than the iron bars that confined him. So, in his heart he forgave his captors and prayed for their well-being. He didn’t excuse their behavior, he never expected to be reconciled with them, he simply “forgave” them and in doing so he was set free.

In one of this journals, Mandela wrote

Resentment is like drinking poison
and hoping it will kill your enemies.

Most of us can readily remember the “wrongs” done to us over the years and we often live our lives with those “wrongs” filed away someplace deep within our hearts.  Today, as I ponder the freedom offered by “forgiveness,” I refuse to hold onto the memory of past injuries or to harbor them in my heart as if clinging to those memories might somehow punish past offenders.

This morning as the sun rises, I conjure up the images of those who may have injured me and deep in my heart I say “I forgive you”

Free at last!