The Messiah is never the Messiah we are looking for. The help we get is not the help we have in mind. The White Rabbit is anything but the path to the future of our dreams. Nothing gets in the way of our living like the expectations we have for our life.
Here’s the deal. A potter plops a glob of clay down on the wheel, and takes a seat with an idea of a pot in mind. As she puts her hands on the clay and the wheel begins to turn, something happens. The clay resists her efforts to force it into what she wants it to be. The clay has a mind of its own. A life of its own. The potter has to listen to the clay, has to see where the clay wants to go, has to know what the clay wants to be, has to allow the clay to lead her to an outcome that might be quite different from what she has in mind. A pitcher, not a pot. A plate, not a bowl. A set of contemporary goblets, not a traditional run of mugs.
Our life is a pile of clay on a wheel. It is not ours to make of it what we will. We do not stand before our future and decide what it will be. We listen and follow the lead of that which we cannot name. Who is directing the action? Who is producing the pitcher, the plate, the goblet? Whose idea is this life that we are living? We didn’t get here by thinking our way here, or by carefully placing our feet in the black footprints laid out by Those Who Know Best.
Our life led us here. Our life will lead us into our future. Our place is to be alive in the time of our living, to be attuned to what our life is presenting to us, asking of us, as a potter is attuned to the clay. We join our life, as a potter joins the clay, in producing an outcome—a LIFE—that is more than we could ask, or think, or imagine, more than we could design and implement, on our own. The Lesson here is that we are not alone! We are no more alone than the potter is alone in the production of pots. But, we have to open ourselves to that which is present with us if we hope to bring ourselves into alignment with who we are, with that which is striving to be born in us and through us into the world.
We are mid-wives of our own lives. We bring ourselves, our lives, forth. It’s the birth process. We are mothers of who we are. Who we are emerges through our interaction with our environment, with the nature and circumstances of our lives. This is our work. Bringing ourselves forth into the world, into our lives. Our work is to be who we are.
Ah but, how’s this for a complication? There is who we are. And there is who we wish we were. And there is who other people think we ought to be. And there is who our circumstances require us to be. And we stand before all that and want to run. How can we integrate these fragmented selves? How can we restore ourselves to wholeness? How can we make peace within, and between ourselves and our environment? This is the spiritual task. It is the search for the Holy Grail.
The work of squaring things up is the work of soul, the work of spiritual development, the spiritual journey, task, quest. It requires us to live on the boundary between yin and yang, between how things are and how things also are, and to make our peace with the opposing forces pulling us in different directions. It is peace that we seek, harmony of being, and we achieve it by recognizing the validity of contrary voices and giving them their place in our lives. This is true, and that is also true. In living the contradictions we become whole.
The work of wholeness is the work of integrating our opposite sides, our opposite selves. We do that by granting all sides/selves their right to their own voice, perspective, agenda, but requiring them to talk to each other through us, and ultimately trusting us to make a decision about what is to be done after listening carefully to the desires of every inclination.
It’s harmony of being all the way. We have to harmonize ourselves with ourselves and with our environment, square who we are and how we wish things were up with the world. We cannot live in a state of dissonance, of dissociation, of disconnection with ourselves or with the world. We cannot deny how things are with us, or with the world, and get by with it. Living in harmonious accord with ourselves and with the world is IT. There is nothing beyond that to get, or have, or be. The work is harmonizing our lives, living at-one with ourselves and our environment, being true to ourselves within the nature and circumstances of our lives. This is the work that kills us and restores us to life. It is Grail work. The spiritual journey, task, quest. We live to be at-one with ourselves in the life we are living. We come to life and are alive when we are at-one with ourselves in the life we are living, in a way that nothing else (a new house, car, partner, etc) can duplicate or surpass. Harmony of being/living is the essence of life. True human beings are those who harmonize being with living. They are who they are and their lives reflect that, exhibit that, make it plain for all to see, and they are a blessing in the lives of all who come their way, just by being who they are in the lives they are living.
We do not live well, we do not live as those who are alive in the time of our living, accidentally. Coming alive does not “just happen” any more than a potter “just happens” to produce a chalice or a jug. We come to life by intending to be alive, by taking up the work of being alive, by engaging in the practice of being alive.
The practice is being present. We practice presence. We practice “being here, now.” We practice seeing, hearing, and understanding. Seeing what we see, what we look at. Hearing what we hear, what we listen to. Understanding where we are and what is going on around us. Knowing what is happening and what is being asked of us and what is needed “in the situation as it arises.” That’s the practice. The only practice. Get that down and you are exactly where you are going to be when you get to wherever it is that you think you are going.
Are you beginning to see what we are about here? Being alive. That’s what we are about. Bringing ourselves to life by engaging the contradictions of who we are and who we also are and what our life allows and what it disallows. By working to achieve the harmony of being who we are within the context and circumstances of our life. By developing eyes that see, ears that hear, and a heart that understands. By living to exhibit and express who we are within the context and circumstances of our life. By being true to ourselves in caring relationship with other selves. By seeing what we see, hearing what we hear, knowing what we know, tasting what we taste, smelling what we smell, sensing what we sense, feeling what we feel, touching what we touch, liking what we like, etc. and saying how it is with us and what our experience of life is in caring relationship with one another… As Linda Cohn might say, “Are you picking up what I’m laying down here?”
We have to know what is important and what is also important, and live in the tension between the competing claims on our time and attention. The One Thing Only focus, is not about one thing. It is about all things, everything. We can only do one thing, focus on one thing, attend one thing at a time. To talk on the phone and watch TV and scramble an egg and change the baby at the same time is to not do any of those things well. We do only one thing at a time even though all the things might be going on at once. Multi-tasking leads to car wrecks and heart attacks, and those who pride themselves on doing it are no fun to be around.
The point is to be focused on and attentive to the One Thing that requires our focus and attention at any point in our lives, and to not be ruled by that thing through all the other moments as though it and it alone is worthy of our complete devotion and allegiance forever. With me, photography is not the only important thing. Other things become central in their own time, and photography has to be set aside, has to move over and make room on the table for that which is also important. I can’t walk through life with a camera stuck to my face. We have to live in light of what is important and what is also important, and bear the pain of choosing what must be done now.
This is quite a different approach from living focused on the black footprints. Following the black footprints asks nothing of us, yet, it takes everything from us. The surest way to kill an organization, or a relationship, or ourselves is to live strictly by the rules. Pull out the manual of operation. Follow the prescribed procedures in making every choice. Do what the instructions say to do the way they say to do it without fail or exception. Death by careful compliance. Live your life stepping in the black footprints, thinking what you are supposed to think, believing what you are supposed to believe, doing what you are supposed to do. You’ll be dead by the end of the week. You may be breathing, but, you’ll be dead. But, you will be very safe and pain free, free of the anguish of deciding how to live your life.
The cross that Jesus talks about is not the cross of death but of life. It is the cross of dying the death that life calls us to die. The death of opening ourselves to the experience of life, of not knowing what to do with the clay on the wheel, of being afraid, of wanting desperately to follow the black footprints so as to avoid having to choose. “Who do you say that I am?”, asks Jesus. “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?”, asks Jesus (Luke 12:57). Why don’t you listen to the clay and see what happens?
Listening to the clay, to our lives, to the life that is trying to be born in us and through us into the world requires us to believe that there is more at work here than our conscious, thinking, rational, logical selves. Requires us to believe that we are not alone. Requires us to believe that there is more to us than meets the eye. If we are going to live, we are going to have to take a chance on life, and die the death that life calls us to die, and bet everything on the possibility of life after death, here and now, on this side of the grave.