Thursday, August 23, 2012

Choiceless Choices

In the second half of the spiritual life, you are not making choices as much as you are being guided, taught, and led-- which leads to "choicless choices": these are the things you cannot not do because of what you have become; things you do not need to do because they are just not yours to do; and things you absolutely must do because they are your destiny and your deepest desire. Excerpt, Fr. Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Useful or Beautiful

"Do not have anything in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful," wrote William Morris. 

A magnet with that saying printed on it hung on my refrigerator for years as a reminder to me. I put it away to make space for pictures of my granddaughters who are beautiful. That sentence of instruction has stayed with me, though, for it is one of my measuring sticks for what to keep and what not to keep.

Recently I have looked in the mirror and admitted that I was never beautiful even at my zenith and am now becoming less and less so. My usefulness is also declining. And what about this decline into old age in light of the William Morris adage?
My friend Mike left a comment that seems so important to me that I am reposting it here: 
"Worthy work carries with it the hope of pleasure in rest, the hope of the pleasure in our using what it makes, and the hope of pleasure in our daily creative skill. All other work but this is worthless; it is slaves' work — mere toiling to live, that we may live to toil," too wrote Morris, a favorite author, poet, medievalist, calligrapher, philosopher, carpenter, historian and artist of mine.

Usefulness for Morris is measured by something as simple as cooking a delicious meal. It is the creation of beauty, and the ability to appreciate it.

He also said:

"Wherever Nature works there will be beauty."

(The decline into old age is a wonderful example of Nature working. In many of Morris' fictions and poems, the dying body is a glorified one; it is only one of many seasons in the cycle of life and death).


"Most of us must be content with the tales of the poets and painters about [awe-inspiring] places, and learn to love the narrow spot that surrounds our daily life for what of beauty and sympathy there is in it."

Monday, August 13, 2012

A scrap of life

Poor, dead baby, its cloven hoof not as big as my thumb,
it's polkadot suit torn at the hip, fragile tan bone showing.
It lies in the ditch where feeding goes forward
after death from injury, accidental. Did the driver think 
the little one limped off to be healed 
by nursing, by the kind Mother Earth?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Find Treasure: old rules and old-new desires

The soul question, "What do you most deeply desire?" and its various answers might push old "shoulds" and "ought-to-s" aside. I often recognize, though, that the results of acting in accord to the old "should/ought-to" teachings lead exactly to the present fulfillment of so many of my desires. The old rules and the structure they created as I grew to midlife and now beyond led me to some very good places, to ways of being that I desire, ways of being that underlay all my ways of doing.

I am now questioning which of my shoulds I will appropriately lay down. There is a danger of losing treasure if I am too casual and free in letting go of long practiced patterns. And there is danger of rigidity and the waste of precious resources (time, energy, attention) if I hold too tightly to rules that, on close examination, seem to be opposed to the primary commandment to love, for following that commandment in my life is my primary desire.

Grounded. Centered. Balanced. Whole. These are basic guiding principles I return to again and again as I strive for intentional choices for my day. First, each has a physical reality, and then robust metaphors grow from each. These four ways of measuring guide me to the kind of compassion for myself that, once recognized, I may then also extend to the world. 

Just is. The world, and my small, interconnected place in it. Just is.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

More waiting

This morning I waited, fasting, for some medical tests. (The very kind technician commented out loud about what he saw: no significant problems. Whew!) This morning I tended toward tension, and anxiety rather than a calm, accepting, just-is body response.

We are whole—mind and body—so that coming to a condition where one is calm, alert, not-acting but yet intensely interested and involved is not just a mental trick, but also involves the body. It is my experience that attentive, calm waiting is a both-and effort. Even waiting at a traffic light. I both intend to be calm and alert and also pay attention to the sensations of my breath, my pulse, my gut. I relax my muscles and focus on simply noticing thoughts as puffy clouds passing, notice my breath passing my nostrils, simply noticing a place of deep, inner being. 

Some traditions call this contemplative prayer, others call it meditation. I call it a blessing and a plain, good-sense tool to carry with.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Brave and sane enough.

"The only reason we don't open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don't feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with." Pema Chodron

Monday, August 6, 2012

Waiting: passionate, vibrant, contemplative work

   "One day, while I was reading in the Gospels, it occurred to me that when important times of transition came for Jesus, he entered enclosures of waiting—the wilderness, a garden, the tomb. Jesus' life was a balanced rhythm of waiting on God and expressing the fruits of that waiting.
   "I had tended to view waiting as mere passivity. When I looked it up in my dictionary however, I found that the words passive and passion come from the same Latin root, pati, which means 'to endure.' Waiting is thus both passive and passionate. It's a vibrant, contemplative work. It means descending into self, into God, into the deeper labyrinths of prayer. It involves listening to disinherited voices within, facing the wounded holes in the soul, the denied and undiscovered, the places one lives falsely, It means struggling with the vision of who we really are in God and molding the courage to live that vision."
(Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions. HarperSanFranscisco, 1990. 14.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Intellect vs. feelings

"I wonder if the process of aging doesn't bring as its chief gift the capacity to separate our intellect from our feelings. A sixteen-year-old can know one thing but be emotionally incapable of acting upon it. At sixteen, the emotional needs must come first if the heart is to survive. Perhaps this is true at every age, but at sixty-six I am no longer hungry in that old starving way. Even if all my sources of comfort were to vanish, I would know how to create new ones." (Phyllis Theroux, The Journal Keeper, Grove Press, NY, 2010, 242.)

I wonder if this is all true? Yes, I am "no longer hungry in that old starving way." Yet would I know how to create new sources of comfort? My primary source of comfort is the natural world, and my own basic human-animal needs fulfilled in it. I want my physical safety, and the ability to care for my own bodily needs. I depend on the comforts of running water, hot and cold; food, and the freezer, refrigerator and stove to preserve and prepare it; my own bed; the land and water beyond my walls and windows. How would I possibly create comforts to replace those?

Further, how could I replace long time family and friends? Babies and new friends are marvelous, oh, yes!, but they cannot help me carry my memories. If I forget where I've been, how will I not return to that?