Grounded, Simple, Generous, Controlled, Joyful, Present –
The contemplative life isn’t hard to understand. Most of the teachings can be learned in a day but they offer a lifetime of wisdom.
A few moments ago I was sitting on the porch basking in the sun. It was wonderful. I had brought my phone with me but not sure why. I laid it down beside me and closed my eyes. It’s warm for the month of January. Yesterday it was cloudy and cool but in that present moment of sitting on the porch, the skies were a brilliant blue. Our Siberian Husky was sprawled out on the driveway, not a care in the world. As I embraced the beauty and warmth my attention kept going to the phone. I knew there wasn’t anything on it I needed to read or respond to but the fact it was there distracted me.
This is why simplicity is important in the contemplative life. Everything we own, invest our ourselves in, give our passion, energy and time takes a piece of us. The more we have in our lives the less contemplative we are able to be. Letting go of all that is superfluous allows us to focus on what’s important while the fluff floats away.
On my way home from Nashville, Tennessee, earlier this week the road I was traveling had a construction zone. I maneuvered into the proper lane and most other vehicles did the same. However, there was a woman in a silver Mercedes who misjudged when she needed to get over. I noticed just in time as she attempted to pull into the same space occupied by my truck. When I recognized that she didn’t see me I honked the horn but this didn’t stop her and I slammed on the brakes to avoid getting into a collision. I’m not a science professor but I remember that one of the Laws of Physics says; “Two solid objects cannot occupy the same at the same time.” I couldn’t tell if she was oblivious, didn’t care or wasn’t up on her physics laws.
After we passed through the construction zone we went back to our regular speeds and as I passed the driver of the silver Mercedes I reflected on the truth of this Law of Physics in other parts of our lives. We have too many things which occupy our minds and spirits. We fill our homes, jobs, brains, and souls with trinkets which need constant attention. We rarely, if ever, find a place to leave everything behind and just be still. The objects we possess end up possessing us.
Simplicity scares us because we think we must get rid of things; “we can’t do without.” This is a lie. There are many objects, treasures, things that seem important which if we dared we could eliminate. Stillness of spirit, peace, eludes us because too many things occupy our lives.
Death is the great equalizer. As the old proverb states; “King or pauper, rich or poor, famous and infamous, all end up in a box in the ground.”
Many faiths and wisdom teachers make a bold declaration that; “death is not the end of the journey but the start of a new one.” Yet, many are scared of this final destination all must face, accept and experience.
Death does indeed strip away all of the illusions and lies we tell ourselves. If allowed, it can bring us a sense of thankfulness and peace instead of dread and anxiety. Death comes for all. Some go kicking and screaming others with an embrace of that which we cannot outrun.
Death can also strip away our excuses, narrow our focus, help us find our purpose. When death is our company on the way it is either a reminder of compromise and wastefulness or determination and simplicity.
We should not fear death but welcome it daily as a silent partner who helps us truly live.
I couldn’t count myself among Lou Reed‘s fans. Though I’ve never listened to his music his wife Laurie’s farewell is worth reading and reflecting upon.
“What a beautiful fall! Everything shimmering and golden and all that incredible soft light. Water surrounding us.”
A reminder of how common the changing, passing of life is, as familiar as summer transitioning to fall. The leaves turn, decorating the earth, the water laps on the shore and the sunlight reflects even in our tears. Seasons do not stop, time doesn’t stand still when death occurs, it is a part of nature, existence, as sure as fall will soon give way to winter.
“Lou and I have spent a lot of time here in the past few years, and even though we’re city people this is our spiritual home.”
Nature has a way of drawing us to it. Even in the hustle and bustle of a world with cellphones, Google glass, smart watches, when technology seems to be attaching itself to us like skin there is a deepness that beckons. A wisdom found in trees older than our nation, rocks more ancient than our species.
“Last week I promised Lou to get him out of the hospital and come home to Springs. And we made it!“
Those who have faced the loss of loved ones know the painful decision of leaving the hospital, not because of life restored, but to let it go. As a culture we have forgotten what it means to age and die well.
A time comes when we must cross the boundary of death and walk on the other side. To do so with dignity, to not be so frightened, grasping at every remedy, treatment, half-hearted physician’s promise, but recognizing the moment and embracing it with a sojourner’s spirit.
“Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.“
To spend our last days, for each one is closer to our last, “being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature” is all we can ask from this existence. Being mindful, wise enough to be in awe of the world which surrounds us.
Too often the majesty of this life escapes us, the wonderment found in every breath. Aliveness has lost its magic. So much time is spent trying to control, understand, coerce, manipulate, we miss the miracle of simply being alive. We miss being happy and dazzled because we are busy doing other things.
“Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us.“
“Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us.” A life well lived is a life that inspires others to truly live. May we be a people who drink so deeply from life’s well that it spills into the lives of others.