Living in the space given... in a distracted world
The Wisdom of the Unfinished
Apr 3, 2021
"A Peaceful Abiding"
Todays' Saying: "Acting wisely, we nurture a sense of space, of waiting, stillness and quiet, deep listening, and being fully present to others."
There is the wind, the sound of rustling leaves, the brightness of the room, the breathing, the color of the wooden floor, the hands resting, the heart beating. There is saliva gathering in the mouth, and the swallowing of it. What's so hard about being in touch with what is real, with what is actually here this moment, unspectacular though it may be?
*Toni Packer. The Light of Discovery.
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The following story is told by Emmet Fox, in Around the Year with Emmet Fox, of a friend's experience -
A man visited a great cathedral in Italy. Just inside the door, he saw a grand, unfinished mosaic. The mosaic was the width of the building and consisted of an enormous number of tiny marble pieces of varied colors.
A man was on his knees working on the mosaic. Someone who had entered the cathedral whispered to him, "What a stupendous task you have! I could not even dream of undertaking so much work." The craftsman spoke softly, "Oh, I know about how much I can do, and I don't bother my head thinking outside of that space. Before I know where I am, the job will be complete."
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Was there anything spectacular for the craftsman about putting in place all those pieces of colored marble, slowly, piece-by-piece? Can we invite the unspectacular? Can we be content with the unfinished? Can we be with what is present, not rushing to the following so-called better or more pleasing thing to do? Can we see how distraction after distraction leads us into the shallows, rather than enjoying the ever-unfolding, yet always fully present Mystery we call life?
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The late scholar of world religions, Huston Smith, assesses the consequences of our buying into the promise of technology to provide more leisure. Smith notes, in The Soul of Christianity -
Even the less destructive applications of technology aren't much more satisfactory, for what do they result in? The multitude of possessable objects; the invention of new instruments of stimulation; the dissemination of new wants through propaganda aimed at equating possession with well-being and incessant stimulation with happiness. But incessant stimulation from without is a source of bondage, and so is preoccupation with possessions. Labor-saving devices have made us busier than ever, and we find ourselves trapped in a culture of haste that makes us a tired nation.
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Smith's words "a culture of haste" and "a tired nation" are worth contemplating. They lead us to the inquiry, "How does the haste and waste of our culture pertain to living a meaningful life?" And, "How do we address this tyranny of busyness, wherein we procure and produce, only to feel more need to try to fill the emptiness inside?" I also wonder if the widespread social discontent and disconnect in modern cultures are related to this tyranny of modernity.
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Like the craftsman building the mosaic, we can learn more to live in the space given, even each moment, and enjoy contentment with living an unfinished life with unfinished tasks. And is not our lives always incomplete? Is that not central to life as a joyful adventure?
Spirit leads us, if we are willing, to where we are emptied of even our spiritual aspirations, virtues, and good works. We are guided beyond the possessables. We are no one, we have nothing. We cannot claim to possess the Spirit-of-Life or the one right way to that Mystery. Yet, in this emptiness, we find we enjoy life so much more. In not being anyone, we discover who we indeed are. In not having anything, we appreciate all Nature.
The gifts of modernity are blessings. Technology is here to stay. I certainly would not want to return to a previous age. I am using this technology now, writing this writing. I do not want to return to pen-and-paper. I enjoy good movies online. I watch news online. I appreciate having a doctor visit online or visiting with a friend I cannot see in person.
We cannot return to pre-modernity. Technology is a blessing. Yet, to live deeply, meaningful, we need wisdom in this age of distraction. Acting wisely, we nurture a sense of space, of waiting, stillness and quiet, deep listening, and being fully present to others.
Can we not appreciate how a slow walk in the woods, listening to sound and seeing plants and creatures, nurtures us, and so much more than the hours we might spend staring at a computer screen or making comments on a social network to persons we have never met? Can we enjoy a garden as a sacred sanctuary? Is it possible, in being totally present to a stranger, experience her as a sacred presence, as much as any priest, guru, roshi, or spiritual teacher? A path of presence, in which we can be engaged but not distracted, hence quietly attentive, is a meeting point with Life moving both within and outside us.
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Toni Packer, again in her The Light of Discovery -
Last night in the meeting room there was a lamp on the table, and just beneath it a small plant with the greenest of leaves, like tongues unfolding out of the little pot, and a few red flowers, as red as red can be, with yellow dots inside. That simple. Can we see it and not expect this to do something for us? Can we just see it, hear it, feel it completely?
Here is a key to living contently with the ever-becoming-complete... enjoying what can give us nothing but itself. For example, we can rest quietly, no special posture - we do not have to refer to this as spiritual practice or meditation. In this being attentive, we relax from seeking to expect anything special. We discover what is is itself special. Life, through so many sights, sounds, tastes, feelings, imaginings ... gives us Itself. Can we be-with that? For those of theistic faith, can we be with God, not expecting God to do anything for us and without trying to give God something - simply resting in a mutual sharing of presence?
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*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2021
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book is a collection of poems based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.