We are here to optimize our lives. Primarily, this means learning to trust ourselves, our own sense of what is right and what needs to be. It also means learning to nourish our souls and express the truth of our deeper Self (that which is deepest, truest, and best about us). It means learning to see, and hear, and understand—to know what is truly important and do it.
There are two tables. On one table we are asked to put our ideas about the way things are, the way we think things are. On the other table, we are asked to put the way things are. Then, we are asked to live in light of the truth of both tables. That is all there is to it.
Our perception of truth keeps us from perceiving the truth. We come into the room (any room, every room) with ideas about how things are, about the structure of reality, about what is in control of our lives and how we can manipulate the controlling forces by giving them what they want. If we figure out the hoops to jump through in the proper sequence in the right frame of mind (we have to be true believers, you know), then the gods, or God, or the stars, or the Universe, will smile upon us and life will be, finally, grand.
We think it’s all about our arranging grand lives. Life is pretty stinky. And, if it is not stinky yet for us, it is stinky for a lot of people and we want to guard against the stink settling in on us. We want to avoid the bad and amass the good, and so the search for the right hoops to jump through, and the right steps to take in the right se-quence, and the right recipe to follow to the life of our dreams, and if not quite our dreams, at least close enough.
So, we come into this room, into every room, with ideas. Motives. Agendas. Interests. We come into the room with something in mind. You know what you want to hear. You know what I’m supposed to say. And that limits what can go on here. There should be a sign for us to check our baggage at the door. Wouldn’t that be nice? Com-ing in here with no baggage. Completely open. Free to ask any question. Free to examine all of our ideas, motives, agendas, and interests. Free to put everything we think about reality on the table, and take everything off the table, and bring back to the table only those things that are truly helpful in growing up, waking up, seeing, hearing, and understanding, as those who are increasingly awake, aware, and alive. Wouldn’t that be something?
Where do we get the idea that our personal comfort is the idea, or that we know what to want? What is there really beyond living knowingly with compassion? Beyond doing unto others as we would have them do unto us? Beyond bearing the cross of realization, awareness? Beyond living in the searing tension between how things are and how things ought to be and working endlessly there to make things more like they ought to be than they are for all people, for everyone, even the least of our brothers and sisters around the world? And, what do we need for that work beyond clarity and courage? Yet, we look for what? Not for clarity and courage, but for assistance from the gods, or God, or the stars, or the Universe in avoiding the bad and amassing the good for ourselves and those we love alone, and if there is any extra good left over that we don’t need, perhaps it will trickle down to the poor masses who have failed to please the powers. We have a long way to go. And it begins with putting what we think about how things are on the table.
We have to step back from our seeing in order to see. But, isn’t that the trick, though? Seeing how we see things is the first thing to see. When we see, we see that the way we see things is just the way we see things, and it has no necessary connection with the way things are. What are the statements we call truth? The things we believe to be valid? We have to put them on the table, and step back from the table, and consider the table and the things on the table. And the things on the other table.
We have to square ourselves with who we are and who we also are, and how it is with us. What are all the things that are true about us and our lives? These are the facts of life. Put them on the other table. The work of wholeness is the work of recognizing the truth of who we are and who we also are, and how it is with us (the truth of all the things that are true about us), and living in the light of that truth as we make our choices in the time left for living.
It is difficult to face the truth of ourselves and it is difficult to bring forth the truth of ourselves within the truth of our lives. It doesn’t get easy. If you are looking for easy, don’t wake up! Dying is easy. Living is hard. The disparity, discrepancy, between how things are and how things ought to be will take your breath away, and not give it back. We cannot breathe knowing the truth. The first task is breathing, knowing the truth.
What nurtures, nourishes our soul? Expresses, exhibits our Self? We have to do more of those things. We have to live to nourish our soul and express our Self. And the two are likely to be one. We have to be true to our-selves within the context and circumstances, terms and conditions, of our lives. That’s where we run into trouble. We have competing, contradictory, mutually exclusive truths at work here. We are torn within with conflicting mo-tives and agendas, and we are faced with the impossibility of living in the world, on the world’s terms, in light of the best we find within.
We also have to bear the contradiction between what we experience as true and what we have been told is true. We have to bear the weight of our experience without the comforting buffer of what we have been told is true. Reality is a hard pill to swallow. The Way is about consciously bearing the tension between who we are, and who we also are, and what is required by, and allowed in, the context and circumstances of our lives. We have to walk slowly along that way, knowingly, with compassion, every step along the way. It is amazing how difficult this is. Dying is easy. Living is hard.
There is a price to be paid for waking up. It’s the price of a new pair of shoes. Jim Hollis is always quoting Carl Jung’s statement, “We walk in shoes that are too small.” By that he means that we live lives that are too small. He means that as people we are too small. We are small people who need to become large. Who need to grow up. We grow up by waking up. We wake up by seeing, hearing, and understanding how things are with us. We wake up by living consciously, by being conscious, being aware, of the life we are living, and of the lives we are not living. We wake up by being attentive to, paying attention to, and aligning ourselves with what Jim Hollis calls “the soul’s summons.” But to live like this is the most subversive life imaginable. This is a problem.
The problem is that the life our soul would have us live is not the life the culture, and our parents, and our peers, and anyone who matters in our life, including us, would have us live. From the beginning it has been this way. In the old story about the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ignored the life their soul had in mind in favor of that which “was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise (but not really)” (Gen. 3:6). And, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus exemplifies the struggle of those who follow their soul’s leanings when he prays, “Not my will, but thine, be done!” (Mark 14:36).
This is the price we pay in waking up, in living between the life soul would have us live and the life we wish we could live—the life the culture wishes for us to live—and choosing to go with soul more often than not. Our task is to nourish soul, to express the Self’s true desires, within the terms and conditions of our lives.
Waking up means waking up to the need to be responsible for our own lives. It means being uncomfortable, and disturbed, and squaring up to the way things are (and the way things also are), and finding our way, over, un-der, around and through the terms and conditions, context and circumstances of our living to the deep truth of our-selves, in order to relish and express the wonder of who we are, and be alive in the time left for living.
“The facts” resist us, oppose us, enlarge us, deepen us, expand us, and grow us up as they challenge us to be who we are within “the terms and conditions, context and circumstances of our lives.” We are bigger, better, people for having lived our lives with an eye on “the facts” and an eye out for our own hearts (which is one of the facts) serving the interests of our souls (still more facts) within the limitations and restrictions of space and time.
We have to adjust ourselves to the realities of our lives. That’s the work of maturity, of consciousness, and grace. The world is not how we would have it. Life is not lived on our terms. We have to square ourselves with “the facts,” all of them, internal and external, and live in and around them, finding ways to express the contrary truths of our core values within “the terms and conditions, context and circumstances of our lives.” To be awake and alive we have to consciously bear the pain of living, and live as fully as we are able within “the terms and conditions, context and circumstances of our lives.” That’s all there is to it. No diversion, no distraction, no denial. Life in the raw. Life on life’s terms. Without capitulation or surrender. We live with the facts of life in ways that are true to our own hearts, souls, selves. And our lives are works of art.
The work that is art is squaring ourselves with the facts governing our lives and living to bring the good to life, anyway, nevertheless, even so. It is to blow on the coals of love, joy, peace, etc. and ignite a roaring blaze of ex-ceptional worth and unaccountable value in the time left for living. Our task is to know exactly what the deal is and live as though we don’t know, or knowing, don’t care. Our task is to be an enigma, to not make sense, to be an anomaly, to stand as a stark contradiction to all that we cannot deny. To explode in a mighty burst of goodness, and generosity, and mercy, and grace. To let no opportunity to express compassion and exhibit kindness pass unseen or unseized. To live as life should be lived. Without worrying about the outcome, or thinking things are invalid if they don’t last. Fireworks don’t last. No one ever boos and hisses at fireworks. Live like fireworks. Make them oou and ahh at your passing. And, don’t forget to wink on your way out, as though you know something.