The River –
“Imagine yourself sitting on the bank of a river. The river is your stream of consciousness. Observe each of your thoughts coming along as if they’re saying, “Think me, think me.” Watch your feelings come by saying, “Feel me, feel me.” Acknowledge that you’re having the feeling or thought. Don’t hate it, judge it, critique it, or move against it. Simply name it: “resentment toward so and so,” “a thought about such and such.” Then place it on a boat and let it go down the river. When another thought arises—as no doubt it will—welcome it and let it go, returning to your inner watch place on the bank of the river.”
#ThomasKeating, “Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel”
One of the greatest and most difficult realizations is the truth that we are not our thoughts. We are not our actions. We are not our egos. True, each of these can reveal things about us and to the world but we are not these things.
The problem is we’ve been taught the opposite most of our lives. The famous quote; “Reap a thought, a word, an action, then a destiny,” seems right but our thoughts do not have to lead us to who we ultimately become. We can choose to go deeper, change paths, refuse to be captive to our thoughts by breaking free of them.
I could tell she needing something without knowing how to ask for it. Finally, she began to say a few words, jumbled, somewhat coherent, and then blurted out a need her husband had and could I help? Responding in an assuring voice with, hopefully, peace giving words I told her; “Yes” and “would she like a card?” She smiled affirmatively, took the card and said; “Thank you.” “Anytime,” I replied back. “I hope you have a nice weekend.” I don’t know if I’ll hear from her or her husband again but it was not my first time I’ve encountered someone looking for assistance and yet hesitant, resistant, to ask for help.
I reflect on our brief conversation and wonder; “Why is it so hard for some to admit need?” I think part of it is our; “Pull yourselves up by your own bootstraps” culture. Folks who need a helping hand often feel they are somehow “less than” others.
Maybe it’s the thought that; “Others are so much worse off.” It seems selfish to take food out of their mouths, clothes off their backs, a roof over their heads.
Might be, perhaps the darkest reason; “I don’t want to be lumped in with the people who ‘have their hands out.'” They are judged, looked down upon, seen as lazy, under-achievers, taking advantage of people, churches, community organizations and the government.
Being in need is nothing to be ashamed of. Whether its physical, mental, emotional or spiritual we all need each other to make it. A wisdom proverb states; “No one can navigate the road of life alone.” In truth, we are all needy, weak, impoverished and cannot do it on our own. Asking for help is not helplessness it’s having the right balance of strength and humility to admit we are flawed, defective, deficient, have shortcomings, imperfections, in short,we are all; human and to be so is to be in need.
“Someone asked the great Master one day; “What is the gospel?” The Master replied; “The gospel is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.” Wisdom Proverb
Earlier today I was mowing the grass near our wooden fence. There was a weed in just the wrong place and I couldn’t cut it with the mower. I flipped the mower around and reached down to grab the unwanted sprout and ended up with a splinter from the fence under my fingernail. “OUCH!” I jerked my hand quickly back and carefully removed the sliver of wood. Earlier this week, while washing my hands, I noticed I’d picked up a splinter from somewhere but didn’t realize it until I saw it. It too was removed.
Wiping the blood from my injured finger, I thought about both splinters today. One caused great pain and I was aware of it instantly the other didn’t bother me at all. I also reflected on the parable from the Master;
“Stop judging so that you will not be judged. Otherwise, you will be judged by the same standard you use to judge others. The standards you use for others will be applied to you. So why do you see the piece of sawdust in another believer’s eye and not notice the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to another believer, ‘Let me take the piece of sawdust out of your eye,’ when you have a beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye. Then you will see clearly to remove the piece of sawdust from another believer’s eye.” -The Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Chapter 7
We are quick to judge and focus on others instead of inspecting our own lives, allowing wisdom to show us our own shallowness, selfishness and sin. I wonder how many splinters, pieces of sawdust or wooden beams, we’d find if we actually looked?
It was a simple request from one of the men in my incarcerated fathers group. It was the week after Easter and he wanted a piece of holiday candy, preferably, a Cadbury Egg. I told him I would check with the correctional facility’s supervisor and if she said; “yes” I’d bring some with me to our next meeting. The Lieutenant gave me permission as long as they ate the treats immediately and I collected the wrappers. This was no problem and on Wednesday evening I brought the guys some bite size candies. Unfortunately the store I went to didn’t have any Cadbury Eggs but that didn’t seem to matter. They relished each bite of the three pieces received. They were thankful for an act of kindness and that their request, that they, weren’t forgotten.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’”
–Gospel of Saint Matthew 25
Basic. Simple. Kindness. Love. Grace. Gospel.
I had breakfast with a friend this morning and the conversation shifted to difficult people who inhabit our lives. We both agreed that some of the most contentious, complicated and frustrating folks are those who are focused on others and not self aware enough to discover and admit their own problems. They talk about others as a way of avoiding their own inner journey. They cause problems by gossiping, outright lying, attempting to control others or try to destroy another’s life or livelihood through nefarious means.
Each of us have people in our lives who are either unwilling or unable to truly see themselves. Looking deep within ourselves, coming to grips with our egos, biases, ugliness and evil takes courage. It is a path that can only be traveled through humility and honesty. It’s easier to look at everyone else, every day, for all our lives, than to see who we really are even for a moment.
“The teacher appeared again and the people gathered around him as he sat down to teach them. The educated ones brought in a woman caught having sex with a man not her husband. They humiliated her by making her stand before everyone. They said to the teacher, “This woman was caught in the act of adultery. We’ve been taught to stone such women! What do you say?” The teacher knelt in the dirt and began writing on the ground with his finger. After a moment he looked up and said; “If any of you are without sin throw the first stone, then the rest can join in.” The teacher looked down again. Silently the accusers began to slowly walk away, one at a time, until only the teacher and the woman were left. He stood up and asked, “Where are your accusers? Is there no one left to throw even one stone at you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Neither will I.” he said. “Go now and live a life worthy of being saved.” The Gospel of Saint John, chapter 8
We throw stones because people watch the stone instead of the one who threw it. When we become aware of our own sin, weaknesses, habits and hangups, we’ll be unable to judge others because we’re able to truly see ourselves.