The calendar of practice events inspired the previous Musings article. Continuing with the theme of “what is” as source of exploration, two major events in November seem to anchor this month’s musings…
An occasion to vote and
An occasion to give thanks
For us Awareness Practitioners, casting our votes and giving thanks are not discrete events in time that happen at pre-determined intervals; rather they are (or can be) continuous processes that define a way of life.
In each moment, we practice voting with our attention.
The parties on our ballot:
Conscious Compassionate Awareness OR
The voices of egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate
When we elect to attend to thisherenow, we exercise a choice for freedom from the process of suffering that traps us in an often hateful, unhappy, unsatisfactory, albeit, illusory world of opposites. Each time we choose to empty the teacup of the positions, preferences, and opinions of ego-I, we are blessed with the “knowledge of emptiness,” an experience so indescribably joyful that we are compelled to a celebration of thanksgiving!
Why cast the vote for Life?
In a couple of recent workshops, the Guide asked us to sit with a profound spiritual question: What do you see as the point of a human existence?
Just sit quietly with this question for a moment…. What drops in?
The point of human existence?
Do we know?
And yet, what an important question!
If we stop to consider for a moment, we see, implicit in how we live our lives, an embedded and unexamined assumption about the point of our existence. It’s only when we become aware that life as we are living it is failing to deliver the fulfillment we sense is possible might we turn to a spiritual practice and seek an alternative.
The alternative that spiritual practice provides is not an answer to the question of the point of existence but a pointer to a way of life, which when practiced reveals the mystery of our conditioned assumptions about existence.
This way of Life is beautifully articulated in the Prayer of St. Francis.
Make me an instrument of your Peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not seek so much
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
It is in dying to the self that we are born to eternal life.
The essence of Practice is summed up in the last line of St. Francis’s Prayer.
It is in dying to the self that we are born to eternal life.
As we embark on a spiritual practice, we may or may not agree that “eternal life” is what we seek. But in Zen, as with many spiritual traditions, practice definitely involves “dying to the self.”
The surest way of “dying to the self” is to live in Yes because any no is ego resistance.
Did you hear the loud NO of protest to that last statement? Did you register the indignant sputtering, the BUTS, the fog of confusion, the scramble to articulate the exceptions?
That’s the NO we want to die to!
As we often point to, living in “Yes” is not yes to content. It’s not saying
yes, to not eating meat,
yes, to accepting that job,
yes, to ending this relationship,
yes, to taking out the garbage.
It’s a process of yes.
It’s a stepping out of the “no” of ego.
Each time we feel resistance, we are offered the opportunity to step back and examine where the “no” is coming from.
Does it simply maintain an ego-I stance?
Is it self-hate keeping the “self” in play?
Is it a barrier to love?
Is it a way to constrain the life force to the limits of what is “me?”
Is it a door closing on curiosity, wonder, exploration, learning and expanded awareness?
Practice encourages us over and over again to move towards anything ego resists so that we may have a direct experience of the freedom and fulfillment that comes from dying to the “I,” “me,” “mine.”
For, in the words of Aldous Huxley, “Deliverance can only be achieved as a consequence of the intervention of eternity in the temporal domain; and eternity cannot intervene unless the individual will makes a creative act of self-denial, thus producing, as it were, a vacuum into which eternity can flow. All our actions must be directed, in the last analysis to making ourselves passive in relation to the activity and the being of divine Reality.”
The vote has to be cast for emptiness!
How do we cultivate this receptivity to divine Reality?
St. Francis points the way again.
Attend to Life
The first lines of the prayer point to where we focus the attention – on love, hope, faith, light and joy. Only the ego feels despair, doubt and hate. Only the ego gets injured and suffers. So wherever and whenever we encounter an ego experience, we practice redirecting attention to a Life experience.
We cease to look at Life through the lens of the ego narrative of what’s not, what’s missing, what’s wrong and how it should be but isn’t. We elect to look at life through an appreciative and expanded awareness for all it is.
Notice how the prayer does not petition for love, hope, faith, compassion and joy to be given to us. Implicit in the prayer is the awareness that we already have access to love, hope, faith, compassion and joy. We simply have to turn away from the illusory belief in “what we are not” to awaken to the Reality of what we already are.
Cultivate Thy Will be Done
There IS a petition in the second stanza of the prayer:
“Please, Grant that I may never seek so much as to be ….”
that points to an attitude essential to transcending self-will: humility. We practice the movement of surrender that is a submission to Life’s terms. Acknowledging that spiritual freedom is beyond “my” will, it’s not up to “me,” and is not about “me” assists us to avoid the danger of ego-I taking over our practice.
An example of an ego takeover of practice is believing a voice that says:
“If you were the right spiritual person, you would be more present.”
In pointing to the flaws in how we practice, by introducing standards of spiritual awareness, we are bamboozled into re-identifying with the “I” and practicing to be the right “me.” The illusion of “self” is still maintained in the pursuit of it’s transcendence.
It’s perhaps for this reason that the petition in the prayer focuses on being supported to give love, understanding and consolation instead of seeking it for ourselves. That movement assists us in cultivating love, understanding and compassion that is disinterested instead of self-directed.
For who of us has not “suffered” from feeling misunderstood, unloved and forsaken? The desire to experience love is the battleground of the ego, for “not having it” produces sensations so “real” that we can be conned into wallowing in lack and recklessly pursuing the desire.
There is a subtlety not to be missed in the structure of the prayer…
If we desire something, we are tacitly admitting the absence of it; we are expressing dissatisfaction with the way things are. In eschewing the desire to be consoled, understood and loved, we are practicing eschewing desire not giving up on consolation, understanding and love.
In choosing to give instead of to seek, we wear away the grooves of the sense of “me,” that keeps “me” in suffering over what “I” want that I don’t have. When the “I” falls away, we come to the magnificent realization that brings us to our knees in gratitude – that nothing is missing – that we have an infinite capacity to give and receive Love, Compassion and Understanding because that IS what animates us.
Choosing Freedom No Matter What
This brings us back to the beginning of the prayer: “Make me an instrument of your peace.”
To produce a melody of peace, the instrument has to be whole. It cannot be fractured by discord, divisiveness, dissent or conflict. However, the choice to be whole, to be an open channel for harmony, is left completely to us. In the words of Hans Denk:
“The Divine forces no one, for love cannot compel, and to be in the service of the Divine, therefore, is a thing of perfect freedom.”
Choosing peace no matter what requires us to say yes to Life no matter what, to say yes to unconditional love in the most trying and difficult times.
“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be”
we want to elect to be instruments of peace through which it is possible for the world to rest in Grace, even though there is no guarantee that peace will prevail.
It is the hardest place in practice to vote for peace when the outcome of that election is uncertain. But the necessity of it is undisputed, for there is no alternative.
As the Dhammapada uncompromisingly states:
For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love. This is an unalterable law.
Or once more in the words of St. Francis
“It is in pardoning that we are pardoned...”
- As the festival of thanksgiving approaches, practice appreciating Life as it is.
- Choose to look through the lens of conscious compassionate awareness and fully receive what you’ve been given!
- Elect to be an instrument of peace through which consolation, understanding and love is available to anyone who seeks it from you.
- Vote with your attention for presence, joy and gratitude.
- Record and Listen