*Brian Wilcox. 'Where leads the Way?'. Flickr.
We often claim to be open-minded, but the moment we shut down around an object and decide what it is, we succumb to fundamentalism and rightness. Fundamentalism is simply the inability to bear the fathomless nature of things.
Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel. The Logic of Faith: A Buddhist Approach to Finding Certainty Beyond Belief and Doubt.
* * *
Life is fathomless, and to think we can determine our lives, control our lives, know by ourselves what is best to do right now, or even fix our lives, all this is nonsense. Not only is life fathomless, you, being part of life, are fathomless. The way reveals itself, and our role is communion with life, respect for life, and patiently waiting with life, so we act in sync with the way, not our way, not the right way, not any particular way in contrast to other ways, but the way. And, we can only know what this is in the communion with it, in the act of acting in accord with grace. We find, then, often the wisest action is in patiently waiting, in humbleness and curiosity at what appears, and without feeling a need to understand it. By releasing the need to understand, a form of control, we can, indeed, come to a deeper, more fulfilling and enriching relationship with it and knowing of it.
* * *
Recently, in a Quaker Meeting and sitting in Silence together for about fifty minutes, we engaged in a time of relaxed conversation. We moved through a few topics, in unhurried fashion. I felt a renewed sense of presence and vitality, a fresh joy. I observed this shift, more powerful and endearing than the time we sat quietly together.
This is a contrast, I reflected, from the past. I was hopeful this indicated a sign of growth, from a more private kind of experience, even less receptive to others. In the past I enjoyed the quiet sitting, whether in a worship setting or in a meditation sit, more than persons engaging together. How ironic, the grace felt more vividly in this wandering about in conversation, than in the prior quiet.
And, yes, one could say part of the reason I was so touched by the sharing was we had sat silently in the Silence prior, no one speaking. Still, I had rarely had a more intimate knowing of grace in conversation than in silence. So, this was different for me.
* * *
even a fruit tree, say apple,
can teach us about the mystery of Life
as being and becoming
when does an apple tree begin
when does an apple begin
does either end
does an apple tree hurry
to produce apples
did the apple tree decide its destiny
to be an apple tree, say rather than an orange tree
does the apple tree
try to be an orange tree
or any other than an apple tree
or are many causes and conditions arising together
including the nature of an apple tree
producing an apple, even as an infinity
of causes and conditions made the apple tree an apple tree
is the apple tree
the same as yesterday
the same as one minute prior
can the apple tree control
what may or may not happen to it
how it will or will not change in time
persons may think this simplistic
to me it is simple:
we would do well to learn
from the apple tree
* * *
Like in the opening photo above, "Where leads the Way?," we come to see the path is a pathing, for we cannot locate a fixed way, we can predict only inaccurately what we see as the future. We do not know what is around the next corner, so to speak. It could be joy, or deep sorrow. Who knows? Our language betrays us, in that it tends to fixate things in time and space, and give solidity to them. But the way is the way, for we cannot locate it, we cannot stop it from changing: the nature of the path is to change. So, really, I cannot point to a path other than a general process.
Our wisdom path comes to feel more like it is moving and we being moved by it. Or we are on it while it moves.
When I was younger, for example, I attended worship meetings in which we sat facing a pulpit. We sat on rows of pews. This is how I was raised in a little rural, Protestant church. Baptist churches were, as we would say, on every street corner. Now, I sit in a circle, in a folding chair, in Quaker Meeting. We face one another. There is no preacher. We sit silently, prayerfully in quiet. Anyone can speak, but is to speak only if inspired to by the Light, and one is to speak briefly and return back into quiet. I could never have dreamed I would be worshiping like this in the Northeast United States, it so contrasts with my socialization as a Southern Baptist in Georgia, a group I, likewise, became a clergyperson in when an adolescent.
Did I decide all this change? Or did it happen to me? Or both? In releasing the questions, I can rejoice in the now, what is appearing as naturally arising in a way answers can never answer. I call this Mystery, not for it is illogical, but for our logical categories cannot grasp it, cannot explain it definitively. Who would want to live in any other kind of world?
* * *
The closing photo speaks of 'the new River'. Yet, this river is always outside the cottage I have rented this winter. I pass over it, by bridge, often, and it flows in the back of the cottage, circles around, and flows into the front. So, why call it new? The river is like the road outside the cottage. The mind sees enough similarity in the dirt road, leading out and onto the main highway, to reify the road as the same road every time I travel out or in. Yet, the road is never the same road. The road is changing, based on many causes and conditions, just as the river I see or the person I greet one day is not the same the next. Brian and everyone sitting in the Quaker meeting, the road, the river, the person met each is in change. So, we do not simply accept change or resist it, as though we have a choice; we are change, and all that sustains our life on Earth is change, also.
Yet, as noted above, there is enough continuity to give the impression the worshipers in the Quaker meeting, the road, the river, and the person met is the same. Wisdom might lead us to call this continuity; for example, George whom I met last week and again today. I would know relatively George is not the Mary I had met many years ago or even yesterday. I recognize a specific George unlike any other that has been or will be, like I recognize Back River moving under the bridge I am driving across, a river that will likely be flowing under the same bridge long after Brian is no longer on this Earth. Yet, as well, Brian is always new, fresh, and so is Back River.
So, we can wisely avoid turning this into a belief; that is, George is, George is not, or George is the same, George is never the same. Life is too mysterious, too infinite, to be trapped in a belief of continuity versus discontinuity, or existence and nonexistence. Letting go of a belief about George, I can meet George and respect George as a continuing revelation of Life. I can respect the Brian who preached from Baptist pulpits and the Brian sitting in a Quaker Meeting in quiet. There is no one George to believe in or not believe in. There is no one Brian to cling to in preference to another. Both George and Brian are too sacred, too amazing to be captivated in such a thought of 'this or that'.
And, we only know, through an immediate encounter, what we meet by letting it be a fresh revelation each meeting. Last week, I met a new friend at the coffee shop. We had an enjoyable sharing. I will never meet her again. Sunday, after Quaker Meeting, I engaged in conversation with a woman. We talked about twenty minutes, having met, apparently, by chance in the same coffee shop. I will never meet her again. Never meeting these dear ones again means, to me, I would be glad to meet them again, to share again, and to welcome seeing them as a fresh revelation happening in the communion of sharing that never happened before and never would again. By allowing this openness, life takes on joyfulness, persons are seen in their astounding, beautiful mystery. We remain humble, receptive, open to curiosity and playfulness. In fact, I am not sure true communion can occur without this openness, and with it the humbleness and receptivity to be-with others beyond what we have come to think about them. The moment I decide who or what you are and get fixated in the belief that must be right, I become closed to receiving you as you. In letting go of that rightness, I am able to see you afresh, to receive you as you are.
* * *
The sense of continuity, of sameness, provides us order for our lives. This is good. I am glad I do not meet George again and call George Roberta or not recognize George as George.
Yet, if I fail to see George as George is in change, I fail to appreciate the mystery, the life George is and is becoming. When we solidify ideas of faith, George, apple tree, grandmother Mildred, neighbor John, Christian, Buddhist, ... we close the mind off from seeing the living, moving quality of each particular expression of life, and how it intersects with other aspects of the same life. We simply see George, and we fit George into the idea of George based on the past George. Yet, George is too amazing for this. We cannot, then, grasp anything as we have known it, only receive it as it is now. How can life be boring when we live with this receptivity to the mystery of the other? of ourselves? What we worship?
* * *
This is where so much religious fundamentalism seems to come in about 'God'. That is, the nature of fundamentalism is to have one correct idea of 'God' and cling to it in a sense of rightness as opposed to others, closing one off from the blessing of learning from others who might see and experience 'God' differently. How can this be loving? And, if I cannot know the road in front of my house as an unchanging road, how can I so well speak of my view of 'God' being the right, unchangeable view of 'God', and be so unreceptive to seeing or experiencing 'God' in new ways? This would appear to me a reduction that denudes the Holy of the beauty and glory the Holy is in becoming the Holy. For anyone believing in 'God', 'God' is changing for him or her, for he or she is changing, as all is changing. That 'God' has been so reduced to belief and rightness, is one reason I speak or write rarely using 'God'. I can say, what I feel and see 'God' indicating is much similar to and much dissimilar to what I thought during my early religious upbringing. To me, that is simply how life works, how 'God' is Goding. And, to argue about what and who 'God' really is, to me is a distraction, a lack of respect for what 'God' implies, at least to me. I am hopeful what 'God' means to me will keep changing, even as I am changing, and I cannot predict who I will be tomorrow, or later this day, or what 'God' will become to me. Wisely, one practices more silence than talking regarding these awe-ful matters of Reality, and avoids argument, choosing rather the honor and respect of the Silence.
* * *
I could never have dreamed how my expression of faith would have changed over the last almost six decades. No one who knew Brian then could ever have predicated it in their wildest imaginations.
And, as one devoted to meditation and teacher of meditation for many years, I would never have dreamed that this man who so loved the silence, and the sense of going inward alone, would relish as much, or more, the kindly conversation of a group of Quakers enjoying being in a gathered presence, listening reverently to the varied voices, experiencing Grace through the array of faces sitting in that little circle in Meeting.
* * *
So, I find it important to appreciate the changes in the path. To trust there is a wisdom to the path is, likewise, important. I have felt-urges to take control, but I am learning more about the wisdom of releasing these urges and being patient to see how the way unveils the direction to take, the decision to make. This is not always easy for us, for in our sense of needing to be right or feel secure, to get things under control, we say, we may act impatiently, often wondering why we did that again. And, we may feel an urge to act quickly, for being patient in not-knowing we may sense will lead others to question our delay, or why we cannot just go on and make up the mind. Indeed, few persons will urge you to be patient, for most of us are living in cultures that act apart from discernment, societies that do not see the path as sacred, but merely pragmatic, to be walked efficiently, even if not wisely or lovingly. Yes, with this mentality we accomplish much, but at what cost to our earth and to us who live together on it? Where is the space for wonderment, awe, respect, when the priority is action, achievement, efficiency, and productivity? Where does Love find a way in?
* * *
Simply, the way works best for me, when I work with the way. This is a communion. This allows me to celebrate what is happening now, how I appear to be now, respecting the past and that the now too is changing. We simply cannot stop the way, we can only choose how we relate with the way. The way is always changing, and that is good news, for who would want a way that remains always the same, anyway? Where would the adventure be in that?
* * *
I had an experience of this today, this needing to be patient in the way. I took time from work to enjoy a season in Maine. At some point, I will likely return to work. I came upon announcements of some immediate openings in a work venue I had been attracted to for years. And, this would help support financially my staying in Maine for a time longer. I went online to look into applying, and the peace seemed to drain out of the body. Also, another discernment of direction kept arising to mind. So, I simply had to ask, "Am I going to trust this guidance and see what happens, or push through for an interview for this job?" If we ever feel a loss of inner peace, ever sense we are trying to push through to something, rather than feeling inner solace and a sense of being one with what is happening, we need to pause and give time to discerning prayerfully what is happening, what we are being called not to do, to do. This is faithing, this is the process of seeking to remain in sync with the way life is unfolding, without our following a compulsion to shut down over our life in our effort to determine the content of our life. Better to live responsively, in communion with life, trusting we are intimately in relationship with what is being birthed for us to say "Yes" to.
* * *
see, the way is changing you
see, you are changing the way
stop and celebrate
see and appreciate
the amazing ways life manifests as and through you
you and life
are in a glorious intimacy that cannot be undone
and, in any moment, stopping to affirm "Yes"
sends a message of surrender to the love and beauty of Grace
that "Yes" becomes part of the way
even as the way leads us to that "Yes"
is it not ironic, then, the ancient "Amen"
is an affirmation "Let it be!" or "It is!" or "Yes!"
when you respond to the way with affirmation ~ an act of faith ~
the way responds in like manner ~ "Amen!" with "Amen!"
*Brian Wilcox. 'the new River'. Flickr.
(C)Brian K Wilcox, 2019