If you have been paying attention, you know that I’m all into self-determination, and self-realization, and self-expression, and self-direction, and self-discovery, and self-orientation, and self-correction—but not entirely, not at the expense of other people. That’s where it gets tricky. We have to be true to ourselves within the circumstances and context of our lives. Finding the way means finding the way of being a self in loving relationship, in right relationship, with other selves. If you think that’s easy, give it a spin!
How much for me? How much for you? You don’t get the answers to those questions in the back of the book! There is no book! There is just working it out in the present moment of our lives. Working it out is painful. Something is always unfair to someone. Someone is always having to pay more of a price than someone else. Someone is always giving up, giving in, giving way, stepping aside for the sake of the relationship, for the sake of someone else, for the sake of paying the bills. We can’t live like two-year-olds and find the way. We have to be a lot older than that to have a chance.
The Toddler’s Creed, you’ll remember, goes something like this: “If I have it, it’s mine. If you have it and I want it, it’s mine. If I put it down, leave it alone, it’s mine. If you put it down, and I pick it up, it’s mine. If I gave it to you and you’re having more fun with it than I was, it’s mine. If it breaks, it’s yours.” That’s the orientation we have to grow out of if we are going to be a self in right relationship with other selves.
We live our lives in relationship with one another, not in a vacuum, not in a cave, not in the woods or on a mountain top. We have to decide what our life is asking of us and then figure out how we can do that within the context and circumstances—within the relationships—that constitute life for us. Where do others stop and we start? And, who says so, who draws the line? We do. How do we know if we are right? We don’t.
We step into the moment and do what can be done there, and do it again in the next moment. We trust our lives to unfold in their own time according to their own direction, and try to not mess things up by interfering too much with the drift and direction things are taking. But that’s a problem, because there are duties and obligations and responsibilities to consider, not to mention local, state and federal laws and IRS regulations. And so it is said, “Straight is the way, and narrow is the gate, that leads to life.” It’s a fine little line that we walk on a slippery surface, trying to determine when, and where, and how to do what.
We find the way with eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. The all-weather secret to seeing, hearing and understanding is being able to set self-interest aside. If we are too much invested in having our way, in getting what we want, in doing what we like, we will never be able to find the way to the good of those concerned amid the tangle of relationships that make up our lives.
An equal danger, of course, is the complete abdication of ourselves. It is easier, much less of a struggle, if we just disappear, if we have no interest at all, if we just “go with the flow,” and are carried along by the will and ways of others. Which is, in a way, having our way by not having a way. We avoid conflict and maintain peace and harmony, but only apparently so. The price if such harmony is the complete loss of self, the loss of soul. To live like this is to not live at all. It is to die the wrong kind of death, and to walk through our lives hollow-eyed and lifeless, awaiting further instruction and the arrival of the undertaker to make our death official.
Much more difficult is the way of life. That is the way of seeing, hearing, and understanding, the way of living open to the reality of each moment, aware of what needs to be done there to serve the good of those concerned. Here’s how that works: The most reliable tool for behavior modification ever invented is not a gun or a whip, but a mirror. When we see ourselves, we change. Awareness is alteration. Even when awareness is affirmation it is alteration, because it enables us to embrace who we are. Affirmed, we relax. Something shifts. And, we can step into the fray, confident, centered, steady, ready, at peace.
Seeing things changes things. Want to change something? Just see it, exactly as it is. Nothing remains what it was when it is seen for what it is. Seeing a thing changes our relationship with the thing, if not the thing, and that changes the thing to the extent that it no longer holds the place it once held in our lives. Things are different with the thing. Things can happen now that couldn’t happen before. Things have changed.
If things are static, unchanging, we have to wonder what we are not seeing, or, what we are seeing that isn’t so. When we fail to see our assumptions, presumptions, and inferences, we fail to see the thing itself. We have to stand aside from what we think we see in order to see. Nothing is quite as freeing and transformative as a perspective that takes itself into account. Seeing our seeing changes what is seen. Changing the way we see changes what we see, changes who is seeing. Seeing clearly is one of the central gifts of finding the heart of life in silence and stillness.
Finding the heart of life is a meditative practice in which we can settle into the heart of what is truly important, ground ourselves at the center, find "the still point of the turning world," and maintain a calm sense of equilibrium regardless of what might be happening in our lives. At the center, we see into the heart of things, understand how things are, know what is needed, and make the necessary response without being undone and overwhelmed by the chaotic turmoil of existence. With practice, we can live with “meditative presence,” apart from any kind of official time and place for meditation, doing what needs to be done with grace and compassion, and creating an oasis of sorts in a parched and lifeless land. Seeing things changes things, but it takes being at the center to see in ways that make transformation possible.
Seeing from the center sees into the center of all things, and knows them for what they are, as they are. If we would see, we have to seek the center. Finding the center is a function of stillness and silence. Living from the center is meditative presence in the midst of life in its ordinariness. The whiz of life around us is like the whiz of thoughts inside our heads. “Monkey mind” and “monkey life” is the same experience, and is treated in the same way, “Now this, now this.” “ just this, just this.” It is nothing to get lost in, captivated by, fascinated with. It is “just life,” “just this.” And, it will soon be followed by something else.
Practicing meditative presence is about being attentively, mindfully aware of and present in the moment of our living. We can practice being fully present anywhere, any time, any how. We can survive the complete loss of everything simply by being simply present in the moment of our living, in the now that is at hand. Of course, there is a catch or two. The practice of being fully present is, in part, the practice of adjusting ourselves to how things are and what can be done about it. We never have complete freedom of movement. We are always constrained by something. We can always imagine a better world than the world we live in. And, we are always having to come to terms with “This is the way things are, and this is what can be done about it, and that’s that.”
It doesn’t matter what we want, or wish, or desire. We have to step aside and deal with the possibilities and limitations of the moment in which we live. There will always be restrictions to take into account. We cannot live without considering the impact and consequences of our living. What does the “now” mean for the “yet to be”? What implications does the “here and now” have for the “then and there”? We have to be aware of the future we are creating by our response to the present, by our actions in the present. There is more with us in each moment, more to be considered and taken into account, than meets the eye.
Thus, the importance of seeing from the center into the depths. It is quite the art, this quietly seeking to see. It is the end of impulsive, reactionary living. Now, we bring stillness with us into the moment, and listen, look, waiting to hear, see. This is the essence of meditative presence, this waiting in stillness to see beneath the surface. Being fully present in the moment of our living means being fully awake and aware there, seeing, hearing and understanding, open to what is open to us. And, it means bearing the pain of realization.
We cannot see without being open to, and bearing, the pain of realization. We cannot be fully alive and be immune to the impact of life. There is no living without bearing the pain of being alive. And, yet, there is the realization of that which is also true. We are corks on the water, leaves in the wind, AND we are anchored to and grounded in the immovable center. We grieve our losses, mourn our desolation, are crushed, yet untouched at the same time.
In living at the center, we observe the destruction, experience the raw power of the waves and wind, watch ourselves come apart, with an understanding that accepts it all, that says yes to everything, even our coming apart. Of course, we come apart. Who wouldn’t? Who can bear the complete loss of everything without losing it? We wouldn’t be human if that were the case! At the center, watching ourselves lose it with compassion, understanding and acceptance for ourselves losing it, we act also to hold things together. We are in the storm, but not of it. Observing the pain diminishes it. When we are conscious of our pain, we carry it differently. Simply saying, “Well, of course,” to our pain, causes it to shift a bit, and we bear it a little better.
Practicing meditative presence in each moment and living from the center in all that we do, does not decrease the number of difficulties we encounter, or change the facts which face us. It enables us to see those difficulties, those facts, as they are, and allows us to do what we can in response to them. That includes crying, grieving and mourning. We do not live as unfeeling, uncaring, ascetics. Nor, do we live as depleted spirits in a fetal position. We deal with what comes our way as true human beings, seeing, hearing, understanding, and bringing the best we have to offer to life in each moment of our living. Amen! May it be so!