There is a Zen observation that says, “An archer’s ability to hit the bull’s-eye varies in indirect proportion to the size of the prize for hitting the bull’s-eye.” There you are. The more we have at stake in the outcome of our doing, the less we are able to simply be in the moment of our doing. The more about us the path becomes, the less we are able to find the path.
When my focus shifts over to me and what I’m getting out of it, and what I stand to gain from it, and how I can use it to my advantage, it’s all over. I can then forget being present in the moment, available to the moment, able to offer to the moment what I have to give. The moment is not ours. We are not here to possess the moment, to squeeze the good out of the moment, to make happen what we want to happen in the moment. We live in the moment for the sake of the moment, not for our sake. We belong to the moment. The moment does not belong to us.
We are not here for what we can get out of it. Enlightenment is not about what we get from being enlightened. We get to be enlightened is what we get, and that doesn’t do anything for us. And, if we ask, “Well, then, what’s the point?”, it may be a while before we get it.
What do we do for no reason beyond doing it? What do we do for its sake alone? What are the “simple pleasures” that we do for the joy of doing them? How much time do we “waste” in a day doing things we enjoy for themselves alone? Do we allow ourselves the privilege of “doing nothing” but enjoying what we are doing? If so, are we aware of “losing the moment” when we begin to wonder how we might turn it somehow to our advantage? When our advantage enters the moment, the moment shifts from enjoyment to strategic planning. We begin to scheme, and fret, and finagle—thinking, perhaps, that we will get back to enjoying life once we have it made. The joy is there right now. Why do we put it aside, to get back to it later, if ever?
Enlightenment gives us the moment. There is nothing beyond the moment to get, to own, to have, to be. If we think there is something beyond the moment, something more important than the moment, we lose the moment. THIS is the moment of our living. How fully can we live it? How fully can we be aware of it? How fully can we be alive in it? What is there beyond being fully alive to get, to own, to have, to be?
Snoopy, in one of the Charles Schultz Peanuts comic strips, reflected on his life as a pup at the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm. “We all dreamed of escape and freedom,” he said, “but, once we got over the fence, we were still in the world.” That’s the way it is with the life of our dreams. At some point, we have to live here, now, with what is with us in the moment of our living.
The dream is always “out there,” ahead of us, waiting to be realized, but the realization only creates the need for a more elaborate dream. In this way, dreaming is a buffer we place between ourselves and the moment of our living, a pleasurable escape from the world of the here-and-now. We lose ourselves in the dream, cut ourselves off from the moment, and go through the motions of life, living only in and for the dream. The question is, and it may be the essential spiritual question, is whether we will do the things that close us off from the moment or open us to the moment—of whether we will live or only dream of being alive.
Spirituality is about being awake and alive in the moment of our living. What do we want spirituality to do for us? What do we hope to get from spiritual growth? How do we want our lives to be different with, say, an advanced degree in spiritual development? A deeply formed spiritual orientation and perspective is only going to give us the moment of our living, is only going to enable us to be alive there.
The irony is that living as those who are alive in the moment of our living transforms the moment. No moment will be unchanged by those who are awake in it. Every moment will be something more than what it was or would have been without those who are awake in them. Being awake and alive in the moment of our living radically and fundamentally alters every moment flowing from it, following it. But, we cannot think there will be anything in any of that for us. We cannot think it will be to our advantage to be awake and alive in the moment of our living. We cannot think enlightenment, or spirituality, is a strategy to get what we want if we want something more than being awake and alive in the moment of our living. And so, the saying: “After enlightenment, the laundry.”
The Way is the way of being who we are, where we are, how we are, when we are. It is the way of being alive in the moment of our living. Being awake, and aware, and mindful, and open, and present to what is present to us. It is the way of seeing, and hearing, and understanding. It’s the way of being true to ourselves within the context and circumstances of our lives. It is the way of living aligned with what is deepest, best, and truest about us. It is the way of being transparently engaged with, invested in, the moment of our living—that is to say, engaged with, and invested in the moment, with nothing personally riding on the moment, with nothing to gain and nothing to lose, with no agenda beyond being aligned with the best we can imagine for the moment.
The spiritual task is to break the spell cast by the culture, by civilization, really. The spell is the perspective that restricts perspective and allows us to see things only from the standpoint of our own advantage and personal interest. Enlightenment breaks the spell, enabling us to see, and hear, and understand—enabling us to know how things are and how things also are, and what is being asked of us for the good of all. The spiritual task is to wake up, to be awake. Waking up is the hardest thing to do. Being awake is the hardest thing to be.
The business of the church—our business—is doing the hardest thing, is waking up, is living with our eyes open, is having eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts that understand. Everything flows from that. Right seeing. Right hearing. Right thinking. Right doing. Right being. Everything changes, everything is transformed, when we see into the heart of things, and know what’s what, and understand how things are and how things also are.
If you are going to give me anything, give me a perspective that is always being enlarged, that is always taking something more into account, that is always seeing past what has been seen into what is to be seen. Seeing is the tool of the soul in the work of the soul. Seeing shapes the world. We cannot see and live as though we do not see, as though we have not seen. Seeing changes us and transforms the world. If you are going to give me anything, give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that understands. With that gift, we change the world.
We don’t have to be somewhere else to effect the kind of change that transforms the world. Wherever we are is the place of power. All we have to do is open our eyes. Eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands are the tools of transformation. If we want to change the world, we only have to see what is before us, hear what is being said and done, understand what is and what also is. The world will be transformed.
We live to transform the world by the way we live in the world. Perspective is the means, the mechanism, for the transformation of the world. We will transform the world by being awake and alive in the moment of our living, but we probably will not have anything to show for it. Jesus and the apostles are no better off for all of the kind things said about them after they died.
It is not about accruing the advantages and having it made. It is about living aligned with the best we can imagine and letting the outcome be the outcome. This doesn’t mean allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of or shooting ourselves in the foot. If we aren’t here for our own advantage, we aren’t here for anyone else’s advantage either. It isn’t about anyone’s advantage. It’s about serving a good beyond our own personal good—beyond all our own personal good—trusting that that will prove to be good enough for all of us.
What is stirring within us, among us? What is trying to be born in us, through us? As you listen to your life, to the time of your living, to the moment of being, what do you hear? What is the Virgin being asked to deliver? We have to listen if we hope to hear. We have to look if we hope to see. We have to be open if we hope to receive the vision that changes the world.
The heart of spiritual practice is sanctuary, retreat, sacred space. We have to create an open space in which to listen and look and wait to hear and see. We have to step back in order to step forward. We have to live with the demeanor of a monk, with the quiet sense of presence afforded by the perspective of a monastery, within the din and press of our daily lives. We have to carry into each moment a quiet place within, a sanctuary of the heart, and live out of that place in bringing the way of God—in bringing life—to life in the world. To do that, it helps to have an actual sanctuary, a place of retreat, were we can go “just sit,” and be present with whatever is present with us. Our work is that of maintaining a proper perspective through our days upon the earth. To do that we have to find a space that enables us to be alive to the time and place of our living. From there, The Transformation!