So, there is a holy play post simmering on the back burner and it may slip in at some point when I have a quiet week (!), but for now we are launching into term one of 2020.
Over the summer I finally got around to reading The Grace in Aging by Kathleen Dowling Singh, and it was so chock full of wisdom and insight that I thought it would be good to unpack and process together.
While I’m at it, three more books that I’ve recently read and loved to the point of being a bit fanatical, but which probably won’t feature much here:
It’s been a good summer for reading :^)
Stepping onto a noble path
As pilgrims of faith, it’s a given that there is a path to journey along, but in The Grace in Aging, Kathleen points out that it’s possible for us to be sleepwalking as we go – that many of us do this, becoming elderly without becoming elders.
Growing older is about passing time.
Growing up is about self knowledge, integrating the various parts of our selves, including our emotions, our shadow and our stories.
Waking up is entering a noble path of spiritual integration which seeks to bring the day to day living of life and our heart’s deepest longings and understanding into deep and beautiful alignment. Waking up is about living our way into all kinds of freedom and from there flows peace, compassion, generosity, humility, simplicity, presence, forgiveness…. that’s where we’re heading, anyway.
So perhaps the best place to start is with what’s stopping you.
What do you notice about the barriers you have put up to love and to openness? What has that cost you?
How have you hidden the very vulnerability that allows connection?
Are you the hero who hides in strength? The loyal soldier, soldiering on? Are you the helpless one who hides in vulnerability itself? Are you the invisible one who withdraws into a shell of not needing, not feeling? Are you the self sacrificing one who hides in giving to others?
What do you notice are the triggers that evoke the same knee-jerk reactions in you, habitual patterns in your closest relationships?
Can you identify the narratives that control your experiences and expression?
Hoping to please others…need to be polite…need to be successful/competent/strong….need to keep peace…fear of criticism/anger/rejection…need to be right/the one who knows…even, perhaps, the need to be free?
To ponder these you’ll probably want to take a walk or journal your reflections or talk those over with a friend, and it may take some time for insight to arise….some of your patterned behaviours may still be in your blind spot, or you may uncover the sense that the patterns are held by the one who triggers them and traps you into the expected reactions.
As a companion to spiritual practices that deepen awakening and give us a way to embody the longings of heart and soul, Kathleen points to the moral discipline of Buddhism which calls for the abandoning, with intention and over time, the ten nonvirtuous actions. They are strikingly similar to the ten commandments, in many ways, and yet also strikingly different.
The deliberate engagement with these disciplines is like soil preparation for the garden – pull out the weeds and turn the soil before adding compost and planting seedlings. If we engage with spiritual practices but don’t support them with the disciplines of body, speech and mind….well, you know.
- killing (anything…refrain from interrupting the flow of life of which humans are a part, but not the most important or significant part)
- stealing (taking anything that isn’t freely given separates us from trust, mires us in separation and defendedness, trains us in clinging and grasping)
- sexual misconduct (separates us from integrity, binds us into alienation and allows us to objectify others)
- lying (separates us from truth, allows us to dwell in fiction and self deception)
- divisive speech (separates us from wonder and interdependence, creating enemies and adversaries)
- hurtful speech (separates us from compassion. There is enough suffering in the world. No need to add to it)
- idle chatter (carries us like a rip tide into gossip and mires us more deeply in our partial stories and unexamined assumptions)
- covetousness (separates us from contentment, peace, equanimity and gratitude)
- malice (separates us from the goodness of our own essential nature. cf “made in God’s image”)
- wrong view (separates us from wisdom and clear seeing, judges as lacking and resists the present moment and all it contains)
And here are the ten commandments from Exodus 20:
2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me.4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, ….You shall not bow down to them or worship them…. 7
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God….
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 For six days you shall labour and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work….
12 Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 1
3 You shall not murder (or kill)
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal. 1
6 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
17 You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.
Read each of the lists of nonvirtuous actions through slowly, letting your attention rest in each one as you dwell upon it and see what resonates, what you resist, what rises, what nuances you are newly aware of or how one list enriches your understanding of the other…you might want to journal a bit from that again.
Pick one or two of the nonvirtuous actions or commandments that you find yourself responding strongly to (either with a yes or a no) and ask a few other people – family members, work colleagues, church friends or other folks you hang with – what their experience has been regarding it. Let curiosity flavour the conversation – what do they think…how do they practice that…how has it particularly impacted their living or relationships…what is challenging about it…when is it hardest to keep/easiest to slip into without thinking?
A virtuous alternative
Identify one of the nonvirtuous actions that you’d like to help yourself refrain from and come up with a virtuous alternative to replace it with whenever you notice you’ve slipped into autopilot reactions. For example: Can you respect the flow of life in your attitude to flies, mosquitoes and ants? Can you bring an underlying awareness of freedom to your compassionate generosity? Can you practice speaking from a mind of lovingkindness and compassion, of cherishing the other? Can you practice appreciation for the beauty and goodness in your life – inner and outer?
Let the beauty you love be what you do
Sink into this poem by Rumi each night before you sleep, then read it again in the morning…
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don't open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
Watch for the ways that you hide in your study (or wherever you hide)…watch for the ways you open to creative flow….watch for the ways that beauty nourishes you during the day and for the ways that you might respond with gratitude, delight, reverence.
Return to a contemplative practice
Of course! That old chestnut. You know what is required: retreat into solitude and sit in silence, letting the thoughts come and go, gently releasing thinking every time you notice that you are caught up in following the thought, and returning to rest in Presence.
So simple. So challenging. So necessary if we really are serious about the transformative path. Take 20 minutes out of your day to let go of selfing and return to the truth of your wholeness and Oneness with Divine Presence and all that is.