Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Piece of God's Candy

When it was made known that Mother Teresa had a 40-year long crisis of faith, there was an uproar. I am rather comforted by this knowledge. In a letter, Mother Teresa wrote, "...the silence and emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear. The tongue moves in prayer but does not speak. The letter was written just a few weeks before she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her charitable work.

More than 40 other letters, many of which she had asked to be destroyed in her will, show her fighting off feelings of "darkness" and torture." During that time period, Mother Teresa did not feel God "in her heart or in the eucharist."

"Lord, my God, you have thrown me away as unwanted - unloved. I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer, no, no one. Alone. Where is my faith? Even deep down right in there, there is nothing. I have no faith. I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart."

She added: "I am told God loves me, and yet the reality of the darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?"

She even compared her problems to hell and admitted that she had begun to doubt the existence of heaven and God.

"The smile," she wrote, "is a mask or a cloak that covers everything. I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God, a tender personal love. If you were there you would have said, 'What hypocrisy'." 

Feeling the absense of God is a lot more common in the spiritual tradition than an abiding, non-wavering belief. The poet and Benedictine monk, Kilian McDonnell writes of the common experience of those who, as he puts it, "remember the early days when prayer was sometimes filled with delight," but now feel as if they are "dying in the Sahara, no longer thirsty for God." Still, he adds, they "faithfully search for God, still pray, while wondering if there is anyone out there. Not a piece of God's candy for years." The wonder is in the waiting, which is not passive, but watchful: at its core is an invincible hope.

The waiting. The hope. Bits of candy along the way. Thrown out from a passing clown in a parade? I wonder if there is a way to encourage the candy-throwing. My concept of God is still not well-formed, but I am definitely on a path of discovery and candy-catching.

Twenty-two years ago I started keeping a little notebook of gratitude which provided 'sweet' awareness of continued blessings. Here are some of the entries:

May 18 - Thank you for the blue skirt, green pants, shorts, blouse. Such abundance, comfort (I can't imagine being comforted by green pants today).

May 19 - Thank you for the visit from Columb last night. Kindred spirit - spiritual break-through. Thank you for guiding me to wonderful books. 

May 20 - Thank you for the insight into the physical world I had today. Every action involving something material is symbolic. We live in the world. The earth makes us dirty. We sweat. When we bathe, we remove the things of the world. We are cleansed. I'm going to try to see the meaning daily of removing the stains of my life.

May 22 - Thank you for the Woman's Conference and especially the guided meditation. New ideas. Great possibilities. Choices. Adventures.

May 25 - Got shoes for all three children. Casually mentioned there should be a group discount and the salesman gave it to me. Thank you.

June 8 - Started my period. Thank you.

That was 1988. I think in 2010 I am going to make a conscious effort to see and eat God's candy through gratitude. Already, I am grateful I have an income and excellant health and wonderful friends. There's so much more, I'll have to get another little green notebook.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Taste Of Contentment

Blogging friend, 'Standing' asked me to describe what in my life feeds me.  I don't know if it's my age, or the psychological and spiritual work I've done, but I suddenly find that I'm content in a way I never imagined I would be.  So I guess I would have to say, "my contentment feeds me." That's not to say that I can't get riled over injustice - say, watching people waste things or witnessing co-workers go into denial about the need to be green. But these moments of angry arousal pale in comparison to how obsessive I was around certain issues in the past.

There are two particular books that I always turn to when I start to lose my grip on the kind of sanity I want to maintain. The author is Vernon Howard. He has a nice way of compiling a lot of esoteric authors' quotes into what he calls, "The Power of Your Supermind" and "The Mystic Path to Cosmic Power." I know. I hate those titles too. I was so embarrassed to carry these book around that I made  covers for each out of old sacks. I even started going through them and crossing out 'super'  and 'mystic' because I thought these words couldn't describe how I want to see the truth. But the more I read Vernon Howard, I don't care what words he uses. These truths do bring inner peace. I guess it is pretty super and mystical to arrive at a happier place.

In these books, Howard quotes many others like William James, Arthur Schopenhauer, Erich Fromm and Thoreau. He also quotes and paraphrases The Tao. The Tao is a personal favorite of mine. If I am anything, I am a Taoist. The Tao teaches that life is a series of natural and spontaeous changes. We shouldn't resist them or wish things were different. That only creates sorrow. Go along. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. Be like a pebble carried effortlessly along the stream of life. 

The consuming need to acquire riches, fame or power is explained as empty desires. With Tao, you have genuine wealth that never fades away.  And you don't need to shout it around. If you have a pocketful of gold, it is just as valuable whether others know about it or not.

Here is a favorite quote from "The Mystic Path To Cosmic Power."  - 

"Place total living before intellectual gymnastics. That solves everything. Deep within, you know how to live fully; you have always known. You knew it in childhood before hypnotized people misled you. Whenever you don't understand life, dismiss your mind and live without straining to understand. Total living is understanding, just as you understand an apple by handling, tasting, eating. Why ask about an apple? Just eat it. It is for health and enjoyment. And so is life. We learn what life is all about when we dare to live simply, directly, without needing to know anything. This is not a paradox; it is a beautiful state."

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Deirdre Blomfield-Brown

I really like this picture. I wonder if anyone who happens to read this knows who Deirdre Blomfield-Brown is. I know who Deirdre has become in the 40+ years since that picture was taken. I've never met her, but like millions and millions of people around the world, have followed her through her books and CDs.

In this picture I see a young, very attractive woman. Married, intelligent (she has a bachelors and masters degree), outgoing, playful, happy, and with a look in her eyes that says she could be, in her mischievous moments, even a bit flirtatious. I see someone who, at one point in her life might have thought she had life by the tail. In this picture she looks like the girl next door, like the woman making copies at the copy machine at the end of the hall, like the woman standing in front of you at the check out counter in the grocery store, with one kid tugging on her sleeve and the other slung over a hip. She just looks like one of us.

But, according to her bio, her life fell apart. After picking up the pieces and putting it back together again, ... it fell apart again.

This time, rather than following the same patterns and rebuilding yet another life with the same drawings and plans, which apparently weren't working anyway, she decided to look inside and see what wasn't working with herself. To see what was broken in here, instead of out there.

Over the course of the years since that time, Deirdre has become Pema Chodron, one of the most loved and highly respected Buddhist teachers in the world — and, if anything, I am under-exaggerating here.

Like Kūkai a millennium before her, she chose the hard road over the easy, continue life as everyone expects you to, continue to live a "don't rock the boat and you may not sink," "don't open the outhouse door and you won't notice the smell," "just smile a lot and pretend and all will be well" kind of life. And, like Kūkai, she found that the hard road actually awakened her to a better way of life.

Aurobindo, in his Essays On The Gita talks about the "acceptance of the necessity in Nature for such vehement crises." Not the 'possible occurance,' but the 'neccessity.' Pema says, in her wonderful book When Things Fall Apart, "We can use a difficult situation to encourage ourselves to take a leap, to step out into that ambiguity. This teaching applies to even the most horrendous situations life can dish out. ... That is why it can be said that whatever occurs can be regarded as the path and that all things, not just some things, are workable. This teaching is a fearless proclamation of what's possible for ordinary people like you and me."

Shunryu Suzuki, in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, also tells us, "Without accepting the fact that everything changes, we cannot find perfect composure." And the person who could be my favorite contemporary teacher, Daido Loori of Zen Mountain Monastery, says in one of his talks, "She called [silence] an evasion of truth. In a sense we can say that silence is just one side of the duality of speech and silence. So, how could silence be the entry of the nondual gate? What does non-dual mean, anyway? Is nondual the opposite of dual? That is just another duality. How do we transcend all dualities?"

The way forward isn't silently accepting that life isn't working as is. The way forward isn't to bury our heads in the sand and hope that the good-luck fairies will make everything OK. The way forward isn't to try and sweep every crisis under the rug and hope someone else will come by to clean it up later.

The way forward is to run right up to that gate leading out of our worries and troubles, plant our nose right in the middle of the gate so that we are forced to deal with its existence, and then work very, very hard to see that there really is no gate there at all — we are free to walk through whenever we want; and that process begins when we start with Daido's question, "How do we transcend all dualities?"

And this is why I love the picture so much.  In that one picture I can see the beginning of the path and the path after it has been walked from here to the horizon, and that gives me hope that if I keep pushing until my nose is raw, maybe someday I can see what Pema has seen.