Movement 2 - Steering Our Way to Center
The Net of Influences
"The beat under everything gives us a life we don't know what to do with."
- We are not alone in this perennial task to be who we are and stay connected. For every spiritual path asserts a belief that everything is connected through a net of influences that each path names differently. And every tradition acknowledges that it is our human struggle to hold on to this fundamental connection. The Native Americans are wise teachers in this, in how they believe that all things are related. Thus, the native phrase ALL MY RELATIONS (from the Lakota MITAKUYE OYASIN), which suggests that existence is a family of relationships, one influencing the other. So deep is this notion that when members of the Blackfoot tribe greet each other, they do not say, "How are you?" but "How are the connections?" or "TZA NEE DA BEE WAH?" For how you are is embedded in your connections to everything that exists.
- Black Elk puts it this way: "We regard all created beings as sacred and important, for everything has a WOCHANGI, or influence, which can be given to us, through which we may gain a little more understanding if we are attentive."
- IF WE ARE ATTENTIVE ... This seems to be the key. Our undivided attention opens the way. It turns "How are you?" into "How are your connections?"
- So let's pause to consider what undivided attention means. I think it means more than just focusing on one thing, though this is where we must start. Our modern world insists that we multi-task constantly, tending many things at once, and while we are skilled enough to manage this, the deeper ways won't open unless we give them all of our attention. When we can fully attend one thing at a time, undivided attention takes on a deeper meaning.
- Once fully present, beyond distraction, we are invited to enliven all of who we are until the things we keep inside meet the world. When we can do this, however briefly, the pulse of what is real is renewing. The sun reaches our dark corners. At this level, undivided attention is a WAY OPENER. It leads to tasting the influence, or WOCHANGI, of the forces that surround us. It opens us to the net of influences. It opens us to the One Direction.
- In the African Yoruba tradition, there is a deity known as Eshu - the way opener. He is regarded as the angel of experience. Whatever your tradition, isn't your undivided attention a face of Eshu, a living prayer that opens deeper ways?
- Yet how do we translate this to our daily lives? How do we make spiritual things useful? Well, often, everything seems irksome until we are forced to take the time to surrender to what is near. Only when broken of our agendas and lists does the simple sanctity of life present itself. Only when shaken of our stubbornness does the deeper influence of things touch us.
- Last summer, my wife, Susan, was away and I was asked to water an unexpected explosion of flowers in our yard. It took about thirty-five minutes to water everything daily. At first I sighed, feeling this was a chore. Then, as I dragged the hose around on the fourth or fifth day, the sun grew intense and I began to see the flowers individually in their various textures and colors.
- I've always loved flowers, so it wasn't that I was oblivious to them, but now I was RELATING to them, CARING for them, and this relating and caring opened a deeper, more comprehensive seeing. It opened me to their influence, their WOCHANGI as Black Elk described it. Now I could see that the dandelions had sturdy stems but delicate petals and so they required a cone of spray to quench their thirst. But the coreopsis would bend under anything but a mist. And the day lilies begged for a full shower. Now I marveled at how the different-colored petals would hold their drops of water in the sun.
- By the second week, the iris seemed to lean into their watering. Though I began with much resistance, watering these flowers became a sacred practice for me, all because I was asked to give something near my undivided, complete attention. This chore became part of my Spirit's Thread. It pulled me sweetly into the shimmer of things.
- Also, last summer, a friend of mine resisted all his usual distractions. For some reason, he didn't turn on the TV or the stereo. He let the bills sit for a while. He let all the burning news fit to print smolder. He even ignored his unease at not knowing what to do. And beyond his habit of tracking things with a skillful but divided attention, he became intoxicated with the stars with the naked, impervious watch they keep over us, with the fact that the sky is not a ceiling, that there is nothing between us and these worlds of light burning as pinholes in the galaxies. It drew him into its magic and he began to read about the heavens and wondered if we appear as pulsing, tiny lights to them.
- While watering the flowers so completely and watching the stars so intently, we both felt sensations of wonder and joy. It is beautifully so for many of us. What we tend to call hobbies are usually points of ordinary existence that we surrender our complete attention to, often by accident. And in so doing, we open our Spirit's Thread to the miracle of what is. In truth, most hobbies are sacred exercises in undivided attention through which we truly know the world. Yet we minimize these interests as extracurricular when they are more essential than we imagine.
- If we look at anything - a flower, a star, a spoon - long enough and completely enough, it gives way to a pulse of what matters that we can't do without. For it is the effort to be so present that lets us be who we are and stay connected. And it is both of these qualities that allows us to draw strength from the net of influences in which we are all related.
- When we can honor this inner truth, we sing the very air into being, and hobbies become thresholds and chores become adventures and everything regains its capacity to surprise us. Then the world ceases to be divided into vocation and vacation or livelihood and hobby. Then the friction of living is made bearable, softened by wonder when we wake, and eased by peace when we sleep.
- The simple call to attention returns to us like a mantra or rosary. It beckons us to SAY WHAT IS and to HOLD WHAT IS. It whispers strongly in our stubborn ear: If you find yourself struggling, depressed, confused, or simply bored, give yourself completely to whatever is before you. See it for the first time. Let it speak to you. It will not erase your struggle or remove you from your life, but chances are you'll be refreshed and the size of your problems will shrink more closely to what they actually are.