Movement 1 - There are Teachers Everywhere
"My whole life I have tried to fly, not realizing that our arms are our wings, and we glide by reaching out, and land by reaching in."
- The Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman tells the story of a monk meditating arduously while a man nearby is kneeling as he rubs a tile in the floor. The rubbing grows irritating, but the monk tells himself that the rubbing is part of his meditation. Still, after several hours, the rubbing persists and the monk blurts out in frustration. "Why are you rubbing that tile?!"
- Without looking up and without stopping, the kneeling man says, "I'm rubbing the tile into a mirror."
- The monk blurts back, "You can't rub a tile into a mirror!"
- And still rubbing, the kneeling man replies, "Any more than you can meditate your way into enlightenment."
- This Buddhist parable implies that we can practice being clear, but we can't induce moments of clarity or know how they will draw us further into living. All the practice in the world can't instigate enlightenment or revelation. It can only make us ready vessels for when these moments occur.
- In truth, practice implies practice for SOMETHING, usually a readying of the self in some fashion for the unexpected moment of life that calls once we're in the midst of it. Strangely, paradoxically, practice of anything prepares us for a moment that can't be prepared for. No matter how the heart readies itself for hurt or disappointment, we can't know how that hurt or disappointment will impact us. No matter how much we meditate or pray to open our hearts and minds in readiness for revelation, we can't know when such revelation will come or in what form of piercing or blessing. No matter how we work our minds to grasp the ungraspable, we can't know what subtle appearance of grace - what leaf or wind or dapple of light - will part our knotted ways like so many veils.
- If we're not careful, practice can become a devout haven in which we mistakenly hide from life and all the unpredictable moments that carry what can transform us. Yet practice is essential. It is a way to train the mind to be an open field, a way to train the heart to stay as clear and receiving as water. Still, practice only seems worthwhile when we can remember that it is no substitute for the moment of living.
- One hazard of practice is that the devotion of PRACTICING FOR SOMETHING can so heighten our expectations that we can miss the treasured moment when it comes. This brings to mind the story of a man who prayed every day to be of use, to be a saint, to be a man of compassion. In praying this way, he imagined repeatedly what being like a saint would look like. But every day, he felt no revelation or sense of understanding. He felt no presence of the Divine. He was saddened and frustrated that after all his efforts to be a good man, he was no closer to God than when he started.
- This troubled man would rise from his daily prayers, waiting for some sign from God to lift him. And everyday, nothing. Yet every day, he was always in the right place at the right time. An old woman would trip and he'd catch her and still he'd feel sad that he was of no use. Someone would spill a cup of tea near an infant and he'd block it with his robe and still he'd feel sad that he was not capable of action. His sudden smile would stop two sisters from quarreling and still he'd feel sad that he was not filled with compassion. A sparrow would light on his depressed shoulder and still he'd feel sad that he was not connected to nature.
- This story says much about how we look everywhere for what is already within us, how we search for preconceived forms of God and love, while missing the actual rhythms of being kind and loving. The way flames dart about a wick, we often search for truth when it is the wick of truth that sparks the search.
- I confess that the times I've fallen in love or tumbled into the moment have always been unplanned and unrehearsed. It's always been a matter of pulling some vibrant thread that is compelling. And, once pulled and followed, once leaned into, this vibrant moment opens to an all-encompassing atmosphere of Spirit - so close that I'm always astonished to have almost missed it. If I didn’t dare to speak to you, or follow the blackbird's song, or stay in the overwhelming silence, God never would have appeared.
- For sure, we may never rub the tile into a mirror or meditate our way into enlightenment, but we might be practiced and ready to open the window of our soul in order to be bathed by the sacredness in all things.
- In real and tender ways, unrehearsed living means that we dare to let whatever floats or sinks or rises find its way to touch us, without pricking it with explanation, without dousing its pain. It means that we dare to make a cup of what we don't know and let the heart spill it. That, when spent and unsure, I can ask to be held and not regroup. Then, all this softness, all this yearning that makes the heart open like the throat of a baby bird, will deliver us into meaning.
- When we can risk leaning into the unrehearsed sense of things, it becomes clear that this moment has never happened, is unrepeatable and miraculous. And in such an emergent light, when I bring up what I keep inside before you, it becomes sacred and scary, and you don't know if you want to touch or not, like reaching from a ladder into a nest of baby birds. It's too soft and sacrilegious, you say. It seems a place where human hands do not belong. But I invite you anyway. Go on. This is who I am, who we are, when no one's looking - incredulous hungry parts that, eventually, if fed, will fly.