A Gathering of Yellow... Northern Maine
Note: "Tradition' is not a favorable term for many today, partly for traditional institutions have brought unjust suffering - and continue - to so many. Yet, tradition is not the same as those institutions. Another way of speaking of tradition, and which I like, is "ancestral wisdom," or "wisdom of the ancestors." The latter is more personal, pointing to a relation between the past and those persons and peoples we honor who have left their wisdom for us to live and pass on to the next generations. Wisdom is flexible in how it is expressed and lived, and we are those spiritual ancestors for forthcoming generations depending on us to work out how to live the spiritual Life now.
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During mindful walking today, an image arises of 10 years prior. I am a jail chaplain. I have just led the inmates of the interfaith program in teaching on walking meditation. We are outside in a fenced area, on a basketball court, and under the radiant, warm Florida sunshine. There are about ten of us. They are wearing their orange inmate suits and walking head downward. They are walking each in his own way. The only instruction was to be mindful, but otherwise, no particular manner of walking was taught as the correct way one should mindfully walk. They are walking as the spiritual ancestors did and thousands of persons now worldwide who follow the Way. In their steps, the inmates are linking ancestral wisdom with the freedom of now, as it manifests differently in each of them - the universal with the particular, the ancestors' wisdom with their present bodies.
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Today, as I walk mindfully throughout my tiny apartment in Northern Maine, 1,810 miles from that scene, I feel joy in revisiting this past moment become present. What does it say to me? It speaks of freedom.
In spiritual practice, we all need guidance initially and likely will never outgrow that need. And, in the beginning, we may be directed more specifically on how correctly to do spiritual practices. This supervision leads us to adjust later to a way that feels right to us, which is natural for us. We learn the correct way to do a practice; then, we shift to the right way for us. The right way for us will be like and unlike the way taught us.
In some practices, like walking mindfully, we may be ripe for freedom in expression up front. In other practices, it may be many years before being ripe for such free exploration. Yet, if we are in a particular tradition, we need to spend years following its guidance - with the inmates, we were not following a distinct tradition.
Hence, generally, we become more creative, more playful with the Way later. And one is ripe for this freedom only after many years of practice, and it should arise naturally in its own time, like all ripeness.
I learned this in writing. I studied much to write correctly. I enjoyed learning the rules of grammar and syntax. Then, I began, after many years of writing, exploring how to write in a manner that did not keep me bound within the rules of correctness. I did not aim to write badly, yet my creativity needed to expand outside the right-and-wrong way. Then, my writing became more playful, more like creative self-expression.
When exploring creative freedom in our spiritual practice, we expand that into our life generally. We do not want to be reckless, no, nor disrespect tradition; yet, we must explore our uniqueness and how to live that in our way. If we do not, we forfeit the joyfulness of the Way. Once lively means become hardened, a feeling of crampiness envelops us and our spiritual practice.
We need to feel the winds blowing freely and the freshness of the playful discovery. If we do this, the power of our creativity and the subsequent joy we emanate will inspire others. It will teach others it is okay to discover a life beyond the narrowness of right-and-wrong, a manner respecting the Way and lived in each her or his particular way to contribute to the good of all.
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Freedom in the Way needs grounding. It is grounded in the past. Freedom is not just doing what one wants - that is irresponsible, that is license, that is disrepect. Chogyam Trungpa came to America and did not require any specific meditation posture. He found too many of his American followers were not ready for that extent of freedom; too many of them followed the American nightmare of individualism. And, of course, then as now, many were rebelling against all tradition. Some were just flopping on the floor. They had not learned a traditional manner of practice, so he had to teach a traditional way. So, freedom will always be an expression of the wisdom of the past. Freedom will be particular expressions linked with that wisdom, not disrespect of or ignoring it in some egoistic idea of individual right. The one on the Way will have to face the challenge of the collective wisdom and how to live that in a manner true to herself or himself.
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What if someone finds the way she or he was taught remains vital and no need of change is needed, therefore? That would be okay, if one can relax in it and know truly it remains the way expressing her or his uniqueness. Yet, my sense is that this is unlikely for most, if any of us. Life is change, even as the seasons change. Without change, mediocrity and staleness sets in. Change invites ever-renewing freshness.
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Jesus - Gospel of John 3.8 ...
The wind blows where it chooses. You hear the sound of it. Still, you don't know where the wind is coming from or going to. This is like everyone born of the Spirit.
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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.