I mentioned some time ago that I wrote a note to my friends Ben & Jock, asking for their insights on Spiritual practice. Part of my asking has to do with the reality of my life up until 1996 - and how much of that reality was tied up in the church - ultimately, in my being a minister for 13 years. While there was much of that job that I disliked, and eventually did Phase 1 at The Haven just to get clear of it all, I realized that I missed the rituals, the sacraments, the ceremonies I had engaged in.
I got back from them a listing of things that they considered to be their spiritual practice. Far from being grand things, there was a list of "little things," moments in their day that they found to be sacred. Jock concluded with the line I quoted some weeks ago, "But then, we're just a couple of simple Zen guys." That's the prelude.
A couple of Rumi quotes:
When you eventually see through the veils to how things really are, you will keep saying again and again,
"This is certainly not like we thought it was!"
Be patient. Respond to every call that excites your spirit.
Ignore those that make you fearful and sad, that degrade you back toward disease and death.
No need to announce the future! This now is it. This.
Your deepest need and desire is satisfied by the moment's energy
here in your hand.
And, in speaking about God, Rumi wrote:
In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest, where no one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that becomes this art.
Quoted from: The Essential Rumi, trans. by Coleman Barks
In my own vocational walk, I notice how easy it is to distract myself with "large things," which inevitably are "out there." I suspect that I mostly bog myself down by not going "in enough." Which, I believe, was the point of the "simple Zen guys" quote.
It is a complicated and ultimately fruitless walk to wander here and there, seeking yet one more affirmation, one more book, one more quote, one more technique - all external things - all of which says the same thing and none of which becomes our spiritual practice. Instead, we need to look, continually, at who are who we are at the core of ourselves, in our depths. The work and the walk, the truly Zen approach is, as it has been said, "an inside job." And not a particularly complicated one, at that.
Oh, I know. We want to make it both complicated and large. I just saw a new client, who described problems with her parents, her ex-husband, creditors and her kids. After describing her interaction with each person, she would sigh and say, "If only I didn't have this needy person in my life, I could be happy. I've spent years trying to fix things. But they never change." The "stage" of her life seems like an amphitheatre, until you look inside.
There, in each situation, is my new client, standing bowed over under the weight of her life, choosing to try to make things all better for everyone else. As we explored this, she could not think of one time that one of her efforts at bailing out another had ever worked. Now, in middle age, it seems that life has passed her by, and that she'll never have the time to be happy. Besides, her kids are 13 & 15, she's separated, and all of her time "should be" dedicated to keeping them happy. Right?
For Rumi, the "way" of life - for Zen, the "way" of life, is often described as looking deeply into a mirror. In my Bodywork descriptions, looking into the mirror is a way of coming back into our selves. Rumi says, "The green felt cover slips, and we get a flash of the mirror underneath."
I was so appreciative of the drive up to Port Elgin today, all sun on snow, blue sky and white clouds. The truck rocked in the wind, and a meditation tape played on the sound system. I found myself flowing within myself, seeing images, hearing the voices of friends old and new, here and there, living and dead. I felt truly alive, in the moment, and lacking nothing.
Dar and I talked before I left. She said that perhaps I'd be less tired from my "non-flu" when I'd begun working with my clients. And this was so. In the interchange, in the dialog, in the drawing them, deeply, into themselves, I re-vitalized myself. I felt, as always, my passion for my walk and for the path I continue to choose.
There are such depths of riches within each of us, and much of it is pushed aside on the altar of wishing life was other than it is. So much external data, flooding by, and such a temptation to assign importance to any of it. So many people, so little time. Until you stop.
And then, your eyes open to the simple pleasure of sitting in silence, breathing. The joy of writing a sentence that captures the momentary essence of yourself. It's not about finding out what others say or write or do. It's about writing it yourself, then living it. It's living in the internal world, where we connect with spirit, and then making what we learn manifest in the external world.
Where is your passion? Where else? Inside, waiting for you to show up and notice. Where is your vocation? Where else? Inside, waiting for you to take it seriously. Where is your voice? Inside, bubbling over with your words, understandings, all waiting to be expressed. Where are your relationships? With whom? There's only you, loving you. Or not.
All there is - all - is now. It's all - now. When you get this, you resonate with Rumi: "This is certainly not like we thought it was!"
Amen to that!
The Phoenix Business Focus
Paying the Price of Freedom
I spend a lot of time talking to employees at various levels in business, and also talk to the self-employed -- about work, paying your dues, taking responsibility. I resonate with Debashis' article last week - about separating the personal from the political at work. I may be making an internal choice to use my work as a learning tool for myself, but I never want to forget that the "product" is not my self-development. The product is whatever it is the business is selling.
I choose to be self-employed because I've never been good at following arbitrary rules. On the other hand, I work well as a consultant because I have good eyes for seeing through corporate boondoggles. The freedom I have to take clients or not, to work hours I set, comes with the price of not getting paid when I don't work. I also don't get paid to go on holidays, nor to take training. Every freedom comes with a price. I would be a fool to set my life up so I hate the price I'm paying. I am not a fool.
I do what I do, as I do, out of choice. Sometimes, the choice is interesting. I've never been one for mindless paperwork. I work for an Employee Assistance Plan, sort of. They send me clients. They expect paperwork, to, I suppose, justify their existence to those hiring them. I do the paperwork, despite not liking paperwork. Why? Because after I send it in, they send me money!
Now, I could gripe about the paper work (or any task I don't like) and make myself miserable. Or, I could insist they change to make me happy. The former makes me crazy, the latter means they tell me to go away. Or, I could live by my principles, and quit. Then, I don't get paid. Now, that one is worth a look.
I need to question whether what I am being asked to do violates my principles. My main principle is "to do no harm," so I wouldn't for example, work for a tobacco company. But to look at my dislike for a particular task, and do a "principle check," is easy. I hate paperwork because I consider it silly. It's not an ethical concern. It's a practical concern. In this case, I need to get over myself.
One of the prices Dar pays for the "joy of teaching" is having to do report cards. Teachers in Ontario hate the computerized report cards they're forced to use. Yet, I would find it odd if someone quit over them. Every job, every vocation, has within it elements we'd rather skip. The main question, barring ethical principles, is "Am I willing to give up my income over this?" If the answer is no, it might be a good idea to stop griping and simply do the task.
The time I spend on EAP forms is nothing compared to the counselling opportunities I get and the people I meet. And they actually pay me for doing what I love. How silly would it be to get my shorts in a knot over any aspect of what I do. As long as at the end of the day I feel good about who I am and what I'm doing, whatever small price I pay is worth it.
Because in the end, everything has its price.
On the Elephant in the Living Room
One of my new roles this year is the computer contact for our school. This allows me to spend many lunch hours in the computer lab, hold people's hand as once again they tackle reports on the "scary" computer that eats files for lunch, try again and again to solve network printing problems, and mostly have the new digital camcorder for my own use.
This past week has been IT Week. IT stands for Information Technology. One of the perks of this new role is I can go to an IT seminar with free coffee, free lunch, a free T-shirt, and a supply teacher back at school to do my job there.
Upon arrival at the seminar, I looked through the numerous handouts and found a newsletter. There was a poem in it telling an old Indian fable about an elephant. Wayne recognized the story and found a Rumi poem telling the same story. I'll use the Rumi poem for this article instead of the one in the newsletter I read earlier today.
Elephant in the Dark
Some Hindus have an elephant to show.
No one here has ever seen an elephant.
They bring it at night to a dark room.
One by one, we go in the dark and come out
saying how we experience the animal.
One of us happens to touch the trunk.
"A water-pipe kind of creature."
Another, the ear. "A very strong, always moving
back and forth, fan-animal."
Another, the leg. "I find it still
like a column on a temple."
Another touches the curved back.
"A leathery throne."
Another, the cleverest, feels the tusk.
"A rounded sword made of porcelain."
He's proud of his description.
Each of us touches one place
and understands the whole in that way.
The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark are
how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.
If each of us held a candle there,
and if we went in together,
we could see it.
Quoted from: The Essential Rumi,
trans. by Coleman Barks
The writer of the article I read was comparing the elephant in the poem to computers in our schools. Teachers have limited and varied views of computers based on their own experience with them. The tendency has been to keep the computer in an isolated role in the education of students. It is seen as an add-on with skills to be learned in isolation and with no time to learn the skills, thanks to our new curriculum.
The focus of the seminar - it is time to look at the whole elephant, not its isolated parts, and integrate the use of computers into our curriculum. It seems we are way behind in our IT expectations. (And god knows, Dar has expectations! ed.)
I reflected on the poem when I read it. In addition to it being "all about computers ;-)" it also provides us with a view of life. Rumi is clearer about this than the poet I read earlier today. How easy it is to experience life in in only one way - the ears, the trunk, the legs or the tusks - and then use this view as a filter. An attempt is then made to put all of life experiences through this filter.
In this place we can end up with a very narrow view of life -- a view that we are often willing to defend with passion -- arguing that our view is the only "right" way. We become much like the characters in the poem who experience the elephant in only one way and think they know the whole elephant.
Along with this comes the idea that others should be able to see things the same way as we do. Part of my present learning is that something that is completely obvious to me makes no sense to someone else. Goes back to my favourite line - What is the colour of the sky on your planet?
Sometimes I think we have an "earth shattering" life experience that shakes up our whole view. This allows us to adopt another part of the elephant as our world view. Life experiences now filter through this new view, and again we can argue our "righteousness" in this new view.
Some people hold on to their "familiar and safe" elephant part for a long time and others can move quickly and often from elephant part to elephant part. We continue to hold onto only one life view at a time.
Even though we are in the dark and can't see the "big" picture of life, we need to allow for the the existence of this big picture. The small piece of the elephant that we have is simply our world view. In relationships, we can experience the elephant again with candles in our hands. I think the candle we hold is our open mind, which is curious about the experience of others.
Together in the light of curiosity, we can learn more and more about the elephant of life. Together we get a clearer and clearer picture.