Every living thing has its own idea about how things ought to be. And, every living thing must make its own peace with how things are. Every living thing must come to terms with, and bear the pain of, being alive. For our part, we find ourselves living within the contradictory tension of these two statements: “You can’t keep ‘em on the farm once they’ve seen Gay Paree,” and “Yoda was a highly advanced spiritual being who lived in a hole in the ground.” Gay Paree is the test of our spiritual development. What does Gay Paree have to offer? What does Gay Paree have to offer Yoda? What makes life in Gay Paree more attractive than life in our hole in the ground?
Jesus said, “Not as the world gives do I give unto you. Peace I leave with you. Peace I give to you. In the world you have tribulation, but be of good courage, I have overcome the world.” Overcome the world? Overcome Gay Paree? What does it mean to “overcome the world”? What is to be overcome about the world?
In his hole, Yoda had what he needed to do the work that was his to do, to live the life that was his life to live. If his work called for it, he would have had a tractor, and a riding lawn mower, a bicycle rack and an SUV. The question is not “How much can we have?” but “What is our work?” “What is our life?” What do we need to do the work that is ours to do, to live the life that is ours to live? Once we know the work, the life, that is ours, we will know what we need to do it, to live it.
Our work has its own hole, its own way of being in the world. We must not rush to a hole, as though there is something sacred about a hole, as though any hole will do. Some holes are graves. Some holes are ruts. Some holes are places to hide, to avoid the work that is ours to do. The hole that is ours is a function of the work that is ours, an extension of the life that is ours. Our work will carry us there. Our life will lead us to our hole of choice. Our holes choose us, we don’t choose our holes.
I woke up a few weeks ago in my hole of choice, realized where I was and what I’d done to place myself there, shrugged at the inevitability of my life’s action, of “the fruit of my labors,” so to speak, and went back to sleep. That is as resounding an affirmation of the validity of one’s hole as I can imagine—realizing where you are and going back to sleep. I was lying in a hammock in my basement.
That is hardly the epitome of arrival, as the world counts these things. I don’t know of any of my high school, or college, or seminary classmates who would think I had become anything worth being, there in the hammock in the basement. Basements are okay for storing things, and hammocks are okay for appearing to have it made in on vacation, but they really have to be strung between palm trees on a beach to count. There is nothing of value about regular retreats to a hammock in a basement. You could look it up.
Now, this particular hammock and this particular basement are very much “of the world.” The hammock is made of parachute cloth, industrial strength nylon all the way from end to end. As beautiful a product of technology as there ever has been. And the basement is in a house that extracts a hefty mortgage payment every month. But, the world does not take them seriously. They don’t count for anything in the world. The world wouldn’t think twice about a hammock in a basement, and spending time there would not be found on any resume or belong in any obituary. You aren’t doing anything worth doing when you spend time in a hammock in a basement.
But, our work is our work, and our holes are our holes, and our lives aren’t about impressing anyone with the glamorous and enviable nature of our living. Our lives are about being as ordinary and invisible as a house sparrow and disappearing into who we are and what we do as yeast disappears into the dough. We don’t live to be seen, to be impressive, to be somebody. We live to do our work and step back, and let that be enough, whatever it is.
Everything comes down to, and revolves around, finding and doing the work that is ours to do, the work with our name on it—finding and living the life that is our life to live. Everything comes down to, and revolves around, living with our hearts in what we do. But, how can we think about having our heart in what we do when there is Gay Paree to consider? We can’t concentrate on our work, or on our lives, with our eyes on Gay Paree.
With Gay Paree in the picture, we ask, “What is our work? What is our life? How do we know? How can we be sure?” It isn’t so much that we don’t know as it is that we are afraid we do know, or, are afraid we might know, and are afraid that once we know what we know, it will interfere with our lives, with the life that we want to be our life. We are afraid that knowing what our work is, what our life is, will get in our way and keep us from having what we want, which is the life and lights of Gay Paree.
We know what is “us” and what is “not us,” what our work is and what our work isn’t, but we don’t want to admit that we know, because it isn’t what we want, because it isn’t the life and lights of Gay Paree. The truth about us is that we are not here to do what is ours to do. We are here to have what we want. Any way we can get it. And so, the attraction of Gay Paree.
We cannot hide from the attraction of Gay Paree. What are we going to do? Face the facts. Put the truth on the table. Sit with the contraries and contradictions and the oppositional nature of the “I” and the “Also I” until something shifts, until something moves, until something changes. How we want things to be is just another limitation we work with in doing what is ours to do. But, Gay Paree also comes with limitations.
In Gay Paree distractions abound. Diversions are everywhere. In Gay Paree it’s easy to think our heart is here, no, there, no, over there. And, we are not always in the mood to do what our heart desires. We can walk away from heart and live on the things that are pleasing to the eye. What do our eyes know? Or, our ears? Our eyes and ears are constantly being “caught” by pretty things passing by, pretending to be real, whispering sweet nothings in our ear and singing the Siren’s song, telling us they know the way to avoiding the pain of life in the heart of Gay Paree.
This is the best advice I'll ever give you. It's the best advice I know. Bear The Pain! The pain of being alive. The pain of being awake, aware. The pain of seeing into the heart of things, and knowing how things are, and understanding what the deal is, and living on life’s terms, under life’s conditions, anyway, nevertheless, even so.
Everything comes with pain attached. There is the pain of being in love. And, the pain of not being in love. The pain of doing what it takes to take photographs. And the pain of not doing what it takes to take photographs. There is the pain of life in Gay Paree, and the pain of life in a hole in the ground. There is a price to be paid to do what we do. So, we decide what we are going to do, and do it. And bear the pain!
Being alive is about living the life, and bearing the pain, that brings us to life. Doing the things that make us glad we are alive. Relishing the gladness of the thing. And being open to the wonder of it all. Knowing that it isn’t so much about having experiences, one after another, as it is about experiencing the experience we are having, being aware of what is being called for, and responding in appropriate ways. But, we can run from what is being called for, and be wrong about what constitutes really living and makes for the good life. We are never far from the allure of Gay Paree. How do we do our work with Gay Paree on our mind? Grappling with this question is part of the pain of being alive.
Knowing what is ours to do doesn’t keep us from wanting what we have no business having. What keeps us on track? The fellowship around the table. It all depends on what we bring to the table, and on what we find at the table, and on what we do away from the table. The table will be valuable to us only to the extent that we are living the life that is ours to live and bearing the pain of life away from the table.
At the table we talk about the difficulty of living between Gay Paree and our hole in the ground. At the table, we discuss the ease with which we fool ourselves, shoot ourselves in the foot, turn away from the life with out name on it in the name of being alive. At the table we say, again, even after a long time in the business of seeing, hearing, and understanding, that pretty things still catch our eye, our ear, and our heart goes, “Oh no not again!” At the table, we join one another in working with our tendency to want what we have no business having, not by defeating and destroying it, but by listening to it, by receiving it well, by saying, to one another, “Ah, yes, this too, this too. Come in, won’t you, pull up a chair, tell me your story and the pain you are experiencing with being alive, and I will tell you mine.”