If we take the doctrines off the table, we need to be clear about what goes on the table. I’m suggesting that we put life there. At the center of the table is the heart of life. What we are about is life, learning to live, learning to be alive. That doesn’t come naturally. We are not alive just by being 98.6 and breathing. Our work is to develop the art of being alive.
The temptation is strong to go off on a lengthy rant about the culture as the enemy of life, and its propensity to distract us, as it does, from the primary task of life, and living, and being alive, by offering wonderful nothings and calling that “really living.” We sell our souls for silver mirrors and Mardi Gras beads. But, I will resist the inclination and offer instead the suggestion that the challenge is to be clear about what constitutes the heart of life. What is the center and focus of life? We live for what? To do what? What does it mean to be alive?
The foundation, I think, is seeing, hearing, and understanding. It is participating with awareness—as those who are seeing, hearing, and understanding—in the choreography—in the ecology—of life. In the experience of frogs croaking, birds flying, spring coming and going. We eat, we drink, we sleep, we work… We participate fully in the wonder of being alive, and are alive to the extent that we enter into the experience as full participants. Not escaping, not denying, not distracting ourselves with brightly colored diversions, not pretending that things are something other than what they are.
What else could there be beyond living this moment with awareness? Loving what is to be loved, grieving what is to be grieved, mourning what is to be mourned, rejoicing in what is to be rejoiced, enjoying what is to be enjoyed, doing what is to be done? Ah, doing what needs to be done. How do we know? In light of what do we determine what needs to be done? Who needs to be happy with our living? Whom do we need to please? Posers, these. These are the kinds of questions a community of innocence exists to help us ask, and answer.
I say “community of innocence” because the community I have in mind has no plan, no agenda, no scheme for righting one another and the world beyond seeing, hearing, and understanding. The Way opens before those who are open to The Way, who see The Way. Everybody else looks at us and says, “What do you think you’re doing? Who do you think you are?” A community of innocence says, “How might we be of help to you along The Way?”
A community of innocence listens us to the heart of the matter, and, in so doing, enables us to hear what we are saying. A community of innocence questions everything, including the questions themselves, and, in so doing, enables us to understand what we are hearing ourselves say. A community of innocence engages us in conversation that engages us with life, and is as fresh and as new as the ideas and possibilities it generates. A community of innocence embraces paradox and contradiction, finds the way by not-knowing what it is looking for or what it is doing, and transforms the world by not-doing anything to change a thing about the way things are.
To live together as a community of innocence, we have to be self-directed, self-motivated, self-correcting, self-disciplined, and self-limiting. This is a problem. It’s all up to us. No one can do it for us. We have to engage in regular conversation with one another about who we are and what we are about, individually and collectively, in order to deepen our awareness and continue to develop eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that understand.
At any point, we can only see what we have seen, hear what we have heard, understand what we have understood, up to that point. In order to see more than we have seen, hear more than we have heard, understand more than we have understood, we have to engage in conversation with those whose perspective is different from our own. We are expanded, enlarged, by those who are different. Who see, and hear, and understand from a different point of view, from a different place on the map.
The most we can do for one another is listen, is see, hear, and understand. When we understand another, we help her, we help him, understand herself, himself. That’s the gift of life. Perception. Seeing rightly. The accurate perception of how things are is the key to integrity, to aligning ourselves, our lives, with the true drift of our soul, the deep nature of heart, soul, self, in this time, in this place. There is no static state of being. We are always “on the move.” And, we become who we are to the extent that we perceive who we are—see, hear, understand who we are—know who we are. We get to ourselves by being listened to who we are.
The work of a community of innocence is the work of bringing life forth. Being born again. Being alive. Enabling others to be alive. Assisting one another in the process of birth, of living, of being alive. We are never fully alive. We are never alive enough. Never as alive as we might be. There is always more life possible. Deeper life, fuller life, increasingly abundant life. “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” There you are. That’s it. That’s why we are here. We are here that we all might have life and have it abundantly.
That is all that enlightenment is about, being alive. Enlightened, we are alive. That’s all. That is all there is to be, alive. That’s the meaning of life, to be alive. We think it’s about having, possessing, owning, achieving, accomplishing, consuming, amassing, collecting, controlling… It’s just about living. “What is the meaning of life?” is not the question. “What does it mean to be alive?” is the question. What does it take to be alive? What do we have to do to be alive—fully, richly, deeply alive? How alive can we be in the time left for living?” These are the questions a community of innocence is equipped to help us ask and answer by enabling us to develop eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands.
Eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands are all products of conversation—the right kind of conversation with the right kind of people. We are here to learn how to engage in the right kind of conversation, and become, thereby, the right kind of people. We are not here to make everyone alike. Like-minded-ness isn't about ideology. It's about understanding the importance of conversation, and continuing to engage one another in conversation, especially those who don't think much like us at all. Like-minded-ness is a joint commitment to the development, and deepening, of perspective. It doesn’t mean thinking alike, or agreeing about much of anything beyond the importance of thinking our own thoughts, and allowing and encouraging different ways of seeing, hearing and understanding.
Communities of innocence understand that there is no one way things ought to be. Everything has its own integrity, its own way of being. To say, “That’s the way things are,” is to say, “That’s the way horses are,” on one level, and “That’s the way this particular horse is,” on another, and “That’s the way this particular horse is in this particular time and place,” on another. “That’s the way things are” is the way things are with this horse in this moment in this place. It will be different tomorrow.
There are as many ways of being as there are horses, and people and things. How many worlds are there? There are worlds we don’t know anything about. In this very sanctuary. Not to mention this city, this state, this nation. This world. There are worlds within worlds. Worlds we don’t have any business knowing anything about because they aren’t OUR worlds. We are restricted to our worlds, and we die if we are removed from our worlds and forced to live in some other world, like caged animals on exhibit in a zoo, or, worse, a circus.
As I wrote this, I was looking out the window at a surfer paddling out to meet the waves. My wife was in the room sleeping, a group of bikers was having breakfast before hitting the road. Take me out of this world, my world, of laptop writing, and put me in the surfer’s world, or my wife’s world, or the bikers’ world, and I begin to die. Keep me there, in any of those other worlds, and I am dead, dead, dead. They do fine in their worlds. I do fine in my world. We have to know which worlds we inhabit, and inhabit them.
We can’t take someone else’s recipe for how to do it and do it in our world. We have to figure out how to do it in our world. We have to figure out how to be alive in our world. We have to figure out how we would do it and do it that way. We have to do it the way that is integral with who we are, and how we are. We cannot follow someone else’s path. We have to find our own path, make our own path.
So, how ought things be done? Who is to say? How would we know if she, if he, knows what she, what he, is talking about? Whom do we trust to know how things ought to be done? Whom do we trust to take everything into account? I don’t think we can figure it out. We figure life out by living with our eyes open. We just do the next thing and see where it leads. We just do something and make adjustments as necessary until we as right as we can.
I watched the surfers out in the ocean waiting for the right wave. I was sitting at a table drinking coffee waiting for the right word. They were decked out in surfing paraphernalia, I was decked out in writing paraphernalia. Our worlds are different, yet the same. The way things are in one world is the way things are in all worlds. You just have to back out far enough to see it.
“Seeing it” is part of the way things are in all worlds. All worlds require us to “see it.” Seeing, hearing, and understanding—knowing how things are—is the foundation of life in all worlds. Our work is the work of seeing, hearing, and understanding. It is the work of being alive in the time and place of our living. And it takes participation in a community of innocence to pull it off. It takes being a community of innocence to pull it off. I’m getting personal now. If we take the doctrines off the table, and put life on the table, we have to mold ourselves into becoming the kind of community that befriends life, that makes life possible. This isn’t a parlor game. This isn’t some Sunday morning warm up for brunch. This is life. Everything rides on how we live it., and enable others to live it.