Monday, August 10, 2020

Towards a Maturity that Surpasses Common Understanding

     Some of us are sufficiently motivated to work towards a state in which we are deeply happy, quite independent of the usual assumed prerequisites of happiness. This requires dedicated, wise meditation practice, patience & perseverance.

     The longish quote below is from Jim Finley PhD, an advanced, experienced, mature meditator in both Christian & Buddhist traditions. In this talk, he was addressing a Christian audience (hence some of the terminology), but his message resonates with universal, timeless wisdom - see:

     "One sign of spiritual maturity is that a person is in a stable habitual stance of non-violence. They are somebody who respects and even reverences the gift of being a human being. And therefore they do not intentionally do anything to violate that, compromise that, and betray that. They’re like a field with no stones in it. They’re not part of the problem. But they’re there as a non-violent presence in the world.

     Another characteristic is that the person is a nurturing person. They’re nurturing. Realizing how fragile life is, how delicate and mysterious it is, they’re always there, ‘How can I be present to this situation that will help the people feel nurtured, feel met to create an atmosphere of growth and security?’ And so they have this dual quality of being a nurturing person that respects, even reverences the gift of life. And they’re a non-violent person.

     Another characteristic, I think we can look for in ourself, is that the mature spiritual person has a heightened response to suffering. … They don’t live in some kind of ethereal realm above sensitivity to those around them. But a mark of a mature spiritual person is a heightened sensitivity to the preciousness of people, and in that preciousness, they have a heightened sensitivity to their suffering. 

     Another characteristic is that in being sensitive to suffering, they pay the price for that. You can’t have your valet carry your cross up the hill. You can’t be a genuinely caring person by proxy and go send someone on your behalf to be a kind person, while you stay home and grumble. You have to put yourself out there to let yourself be in the presence of the one who suffers. And when you’re in their presence, you feel something of the heat of their suffering. You see it in the look in their eyes, you see it in the world they live in, you see it in the situation they’re in – sometimes pretty overwhelming situations. And you feel that, you feel that. This is why we have to pace ourselves at our tolerance level for suffering. Because if we’re indifferent to it, nothing changes. But if we don’t humbly acknowledge our limits, we move in too close and we drown in it. So how do we pace ourself to be present to suffering – in our spouse, in our children, in our grandchildren, the people on the news? How do we stay open & grounded & present to the suffering of the world and keep a joyful, grounded, wakeful heart? How do we do that?

     And therefore, another characteristic is this. The mature spiritual person is a non-violent, nurturing person, who’s sensitive to suffering, responds and meets the suffering – ‘How can I be helpful?’ – but here’s the key: they live in an inner peace that’s not dependent on the outcome of the effort to help. For us in the ego, we’ve not yet come to mature spiritual awareness. It’s not like this for us, because our inner peace is dependent on the outcome of the effort. It kind of goes like this: ‘You want to talk about inner peace, I’ll tell you what, you tell me that my cancer diagnosis isn’t real, and it’ll go away - I’ll have inner peace. But don’t talk to me about inner peace. And I’m struggling with this.’ ‘You talk about inner peace. I’ll tell you about inner peace – my marriage is falling apart here. And the more I look at it, I don’t know if it’s going to make it. And I don’t even believe in divorce. And it’s crumbling.’ – or – ‘My son or daughter’s marriage is falling apart, or they’re with someone in a hurtful situation. You want inner peace? I’d like to restore things, and heal this situation, and deliver the people I care about because I’m afraid they’re going under here. If you can do that for me, I’ll be happy to talk about inner peace. But don’t talk to me about inner peace.’ ‘You know about inner peace? My home went into foreclosure. We have to move out. I don’t know what we’re going to do. You talk to me about inner peace? Get my home back.’ That’s how we talk. But the mature spiritual person, they feel that too, because they’re a human being. It doesn’t mean they’re not angry. It doesn’t mean that it’s not sad. It doesn’t mean any of that. But rather that their heart is established in the realm of the spirit that utterly transcends the circumstances of this world, even as it permeates through and through and through the intimate hurting edges of life in this world. The realm of the spirit is a realm that utterly transcends suffering. It’s a realm of oceanic abyss of eternal peace. ... This is the peace that’s utterly beyond time and space. But it’s not dualistically other, like we’re trying to look for it, look for it, look for it. This peace that utterly transcends the suffering of the world, mysteriously permeates the suffering of this world. It permeates your heart; it permeates my heart; it permeates the heart of everybody who lives. The mature spiritual person is established in that peace. 

     Elizabeth Kubler-Ross talks about the stages of dying, and the last stage of dying is acceptance. Not everyone comes to the stage of acceptance. They go through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, & acceptance. And Elizabeth Kubler-Ross says that when you’re in the presence of someone who’s come to the stage of acceptance, and you go to visit them on their death-bed, it’s uncanny to be with them, because although they’re still here, they’ve already crossed over, and they’re established in the realm of peace that is not threatened by what’s happening to them. This is freedom from the tyranny of death in the midst of death. And so the one who comes to the acceptance of death is the mature spiritual person. So it’s nice not to wait till the nursing home to do this. Why not try it now? ‘I only have a few hours left, I hope I make it in time.’ 

     Imagine you have a friend who says, 'Might you come with me and visit my wife who’s in hospice?' And you gladly go because you’ve known them for years. Your children and their children played together. You remember when she got the diagnosis; you followed them together through the course of the treatment; there were moments of hope when she was in remission thinking she’d get better, then finding out that it wasn’t. It’s just been an incredibly sad, sad situation. And so you say you’d gladly go. And you go into the room and she’s in the bed. And there’s a chair in the corner – you sit over in the chair. And he approaches the bed. She’s having a hard time talking. And he says to her, ‘You don’t need to say anything, we’ll just sit here.’ And he pulls up a chair and he just holds her hand. You’re watching this. It is so, so, sad. This is sad. And yet it’s not just sad. You can feel it filling the room – the deathless gift of love. We know we’ve learned to love someone when we glimpse in them that which is too beautiful to die, (Gabriel Marcel) and love never dies, because God is love, and God’s love is incarnate in their love for each other. It doesn’t take the sadness away, as a matter of fact the person may have to go through a very bumpy road for a while. But if they let it, what comes bubbling up through, it kind of mellows the heart. And how fragile life is. And when you’re watching them together this way, you almost want to get down and kneel on the floor like you’re on holy ground – like there’s something here that’s incredibly important – to all of us, all the time. And my life would be so much better if I had this awareness every moment of my life

     These people I live with every day, soon we will not be living with each other, very soon. We’ll all be gone. Life’s a temporary arrangement. Meister Ekhart says, ‘What is the joy that death does not have the power to destroy, and how might I discover it?’ This is the great question for all of us. How not to let the conditions of our mind & heart be determined by the conditions that we’re going through. What if the only happiness we know is the happiness we can have because of conditions conducive to happiness – my health is good, family is good, my loved ones? I think I’m pretty good here. But if I don’t have conditions conducive to happiness, I do not have happiness. But what is the happiness that’s not dependent on conditions conducive to happiness? Like a deathless love that utterly transcends all of this even as it so mysteriously permeates our body, permeates our heart, permeates our life, and how can I learn to find my way to that happiness? This is a deep thing. … How can I learn to find inner peace that’s not dependent on conditions conducive to peace? 

     ... And how can I find this? When I hear it spoken of, it speaks to my heart. I know this is true. But it’s hard to find it. Why is it hard to find it? Because the gravitational field of circumstances is very strong. We spin and spin, and we spin out towards the edge. And we get caught up in the momentum of the day’s demands. In the momentum of the day’s demands, we’re skimming over the surface of the depth of the life we’re living. And it’s hard to find the off-switch. Thomas Merton once said, ‘If you wait for the world to cooperate, for it to politely step aside so you can become contemplative, you’ll never do it.’ You have to make the decision. Someone once said, ‘To be a contemplative in today’s society, is like trying to make a U-turn on the freeway at rush hour.’ It goes against the stream. But if I don’t do it … I’m disappearing here. And wouldn’t it be great to wake up to what really, really, really, really matters in every single moment of my life – to sink the taproot of my life in that and live by it every day? I think that’s worth something. 

     Rollo May, the existential psychotherapist, has a lovely little essay called ‘The Pause.’ He said if you look at an Olympic high-diver, when they stand on the platform, just before they dive, they pause. And he said the dive is eloquent, because they dive out of the pause. He said if their ego would stand there – all these people are watching me, cameras are rolling – their ego would dive, and it wouldn’t do it. It’s eloquent when you’re grounded in the pause, because then the taproot of the diver’s heart is sunk in a certain blessedness, and they somehow flow with that. Rollo May says also, when people are speaking, when they’re really speaking from their heart, that there are a lot of little pauses where the speaker doesn’t know exactly what they’re going to say next. Notice when you’re having a really intimate conversation with each other, and it’s really happening, you’re right there, notice it’s unrehearsed, it is unrehearsed. Notice when someone’s hurting, and you say something that helps, and you don’t know how you knew how to say that. And so if we can pause, and relax into the graciousness of ourselves, God can flow through that, and little by little, by little that can become a habit. And this is prayer and meditation." 

     "The Peace that Surpasses Understanding" with Dr. James Finley 


Suezan Aikins "Sound of Wings" Japanese Woodblock

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