'Back River - Georgetown, Maine'
The word "ripe" is from the Old English "ripe," meaning "ready for reaping, fit for eating, mature." The meaning "ready for some action or effect" is from the 1590s.
Life is a process, a happening, a ripening. We tend to think life is a something we are part of; rather, we are the movement life is. We are not only in life, we are life. Life ripens, and we ripen; we ripen, and life ripens.
Having been raised on a farm, we lived with the ever-present fact of ripeness. We witnessed how animals gave birth to little ones, as chickens did eggs. We had vegetable gardens and fields of corn, and these were ripe each in its own time. I worked in my youth in the tobacco fields and learned how the leaves of a stalk indicated ripeness. The ripening began from the lower leaves and, over many weeks, proceeded upward. I learned how to crop leaves based on color, as coloration indicated ripeness. After cropping three or more leaves one week, the following week, another three or more would be ripe. We had entirely harvested the field, when no leaves remained, only stalks. This ripeness mirrors our inner life, too, as well as the outer.
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I was offered to live at a retreat site and, if I wished, offer some offerings in spirituality: workshops, retreats, ... basically, what I would decide and the retreat owners-directors would agree to. This offer was a dream come true, I felt. Also, I had been at the retreat in silence alone a month and much enjoyed the site. After writing up some ideas on offerings, nothing felt right - so, ripe. And I did not feel right, and possibly I, also, was not ripe for the position. No flow, no readiness felt for “Yes.” I eventually declined the offer, which one could have said to, "Brian, this is what you've wanted for many years. Are you out of your mind?!" I have learned when being in the Flow, that is a good sign, when otherwise, be attentive, something is not on, not ripe. Not ripe means not right, not in opposition to wrong, just not ready. So, now years later, I can feel gratitude about not accepting that "dream" opportunity. I followed the peace.
Part of ripeness is inner peace. A Christian Scripture - Colossians 3.15 - speaks of the witness of peace to right action -
And let the peace of Christ be the decision-decider (lit., umpire) in your hearts, ...
Related to inner peace is emotional suffering, and with it struggle. When we are moving in consort with Truth, we move with equanimity within, even if we have some anxieties or concerns about the outcome. We are anchored in Life, moving with Grace, not against Spirit. Hence, there may be challenges, but we feel calm within, and we sense a rightness within. Inner disturbance is, then, a sign to return to our anchoring in Spirit and, often, this means waiting for clarity and calm to move forward. Sometimes, what we are called to may not be ready, at other times, we may not be ready, or, sometimes, it and we are not ripe for the move.
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When I lived at an outpost beside Santa Fe River, in Florida, I went kayaking upstream. The owner of the outpost said I could kayak free, if I went upstream and, then, downstream back to the outpost. Having never kayaked, I decided to welcome the venture. I got onto the river and rowed the kayak into the center. I quickly became exhausted, and about two-hundred-foot upstream, I turned the kayak around and returned to the dock. Later, a friend, who worked at the outpost, on hearing of my misadventure, told me the one place not to be kayaking upstream is in the center. I was to remain along the shore, where the current was weaker. Following, I kayaked several times upstream and back, staying near the shore upstream, but was always glad to begin the trip downstream, exhausted from the upstream journey.
When moving with Grace, we feel a gracefulness. Life is moving more easily and with less effort. We put forth an effort, but we are not effortful. The way we feel in the body is a means we discern whether we are moving in-Spirit, or not. If we are struggling, feeling effortful, likely this indicates we need to pause and reassess.
And, sometimes, we sense this Guidance leading us to the edges of the familiar and, then, into the unfamiliar. Then, we need a grounding in peace.
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Jewish Scriptures - Bereshit (Genesis) 12.1-2 -
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country, your kinfolk, and your family to the land I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, will bless you, and make your name famous, so that you will be a blessing."
All that the LORD has for Abram is past the edges of the familiar. Abram will never become Abraham, a newly named and destined man, if he remains in the usual, inside the borders of the known. In the familiar, he will feel safer and know the territory better. In the familiar, he will not lose his closeness with family and friends and land.
Abram has to choose between the known or journey beyond the edges of the known. We do, too. And, possibly, the most extraordinary journey we could ever make, and most challenging, is within. In fact, often we have to take the journey within before we are prepared to say "Yes" to the calling without. Going within is our being prepared for the "Yes" of action in the world. Our engagement with others becomes the fruition of our intimacy with the Beloved of the heart.
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If we say "Yes" to beyond the edges of the familiar, we will discover life was never meant to be a destination, but an adventure. The adventure is not the destination or success or failure - anyway, success and failure are relative. Instead, journeying is itself the adventure, and the experience is sacred regardless of the outcome.
With this attitude, we can be in the moment and, yes, enjoy, not feeling others must see us as succeeding. Indeed, fidelity to the journeying as a sacred pilgrimage is the mark of success. As Thich Nhat Hahn titled one of his books, Peace is Every Step. We can only be faithful one step at a time, and we can welcome peace only one step at a time. With the heart of a pilgrim, we cannot only be true to the journey, we can enjoy stepping again and again into the unknown.
And this prepares us for the unknown of death. No one can tell you what that will be like for you, for no one speaking with you has died and not returned to tell of her experience. If, like Abram, we are embracing the adventure now, we can be better prepared to do so at the end of this life path. Our prayer can be, "May I live as I wish to die, with peace within and a sense of adventure to a new, unknown territory."
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We think we have some times when we step into the unknown, and these are, to us, the exception. Really, with every step, we step into the unknown. The only known we know is the never-before. Life is ever-fresh, each breath an invitation to what has never been before, to a welcome beyond the familiar. This means we never repeat the past - indeed, we cannot; we create anew and become anew.
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Sometimes, some person or persons, or something unseen and subtle, will be instrumental in assisting us in welcoming the step beyond the familiar. The human companions do not tell us what to do, they companion us in our discernment. They provide first wisdom, not answers. They serve as an anchoring presence for us; they are not advice-givers, though they may offer some advice.
When in indecision about going into Ph.D. studies in 1987, I really - I mean really - did not want to, yet an older friend, a counselor at the school, urged me to pray about it and be receptive to inner guidance. I followed his encouragement, knowing it was wise. I left New Orleans, Louisiana, and traveled fourteen hours home to family. The first night there, I rested on the couch in the darkness. And peace arose. What I had feared became an attraction. "No" had naturally evolved into "Yes." I was enthused to inform my family the following day of the decision. The fear of the daunting journey was no more. From that "Yes," began years of additional studies and one of the more fulfilling pilgrimages of my life. Getting the Ph.D., with that sense of great accomplishment and feeling the joy of my family being proud of their son, arose with that arising of inner summons, a peacefulness as I rested on the couch that night. And that Ph.D. likely would not have happened, if not for one wise man seeing the potential in me, encouraging openness to divine guidance.
We can step beyond the borders of the familiar in times of significant transition by living with the attitude of openness always. Likewise, by nurturing our connection with Life, we find strength when the time comes to a "Yes" or "No." Through cultivating intimacy with the Inner Light, we look with a heart open beyond the edges of the familiar, sensing we may hear a call, not being able to see what awaits - like Abram, not "to a land I have shown you," but "to a land I will show you."
What happens, then, when we feel we cannot say "Yes" to the adventure? We relax. We pray our unwillingness, honestly. We trust Life will prepare us to the ripeness, that joyful "Yes" we felt unable to say and, possibly, could not say prior. Then, with the "Yes," we find the arising of the enablement to fulfill the calling and enjoy the adventure of it. Life, then, is not survival, but celebration.
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yes and no
yes arises from no
no from yes
sitting with yes
one sees no
sitting with no
one sees yes
each a transformation
of the other
choiceless presence, being present
for seeing to arise
to yes and no
to yes or no
as the way Spirit shows itself
in its own time
no push no pull
when you're prepared to see, not before
when you're prepared, not prior
for you, too, are life
not separate from life
yes and no and
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*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2020
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book is a collection of poems based on mystical traditions, especially Christian and Sufi, with extensive notes on the teachings and imagery in the poetry.