A Shore at Sunset
Old Orchard Beach, Maine
A visitor asked the Sage, "Sir, what is most important about what you do?" "What is most important about what I do is what I don't do," said the Sage.
*Brian K. Wilcox. "Meetings with an Anonymous Sage."
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There is nothing impractical about the spiritual life; instead, the spiritual life is most practical. Even those in solitude act. Solitaries cannot not act, even though their action may appear to those not attuned to such a way - and few are - odd or impractical, and those who serve in solitude be seen to be irresponsible and slothful.
The solitary ascribes to efficiency as efficient as one plunged into the stream of activity among others. The solitary is there, too, in a different mode.
Hence, the spiritual life is not about actives versus inactives, or the contemplative life and active life, for all are actives, in different ways. All must act, while the contemplative and active can both lose themselves in action or act unwisely. That is, the active life, becoming a busy life, may entail a frenzy of activity that falls far short of the efficiency of the one living the life of a solitary.
How much one does is not the litmus test for action in the spiritual life. One is no more faithful by doing a thousand things as one thing. The litmus test is from where and how one does. In fact, those not called to solitude need some solitude to test their motives for their active lives.
Stillness and silence speak to us of the condition of our heart, including our motives, when attachment to action easily silences the truth of why we do what we do. One easily gets lost in doing for doing or meeting some standard the ego sets up as a sign of success, productivity, worthiness, being responsible, being faithful, or something else. This danger is why those seeing themselves as actives need the presence of solitaries.
Yet, those active usually fail to be willing to receive the wisdom of such quiet, retiring souls. How can they receive it, when they do not even recognize the worthiness of such a life? Immersed in doing, the aloneness of the solitary seems to them an invitation to death. In a way, spiritually speaking, it is.
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A story about the mythical sage, Mulla Nasruddin...
Mulla Nasruddin was eating a cheese sandwich for lunch each day. He kept complaining about how tired he was of eating cheese sandwiches. His co-workers heard this complaint daily. They agreed, "Tell your wife to make you another kind of sandwich. Be persuasive with her, friend." Nasruddin replied, "I don't have a wife." They asked, "Then, who makes your sandwiches?" "I do," said Nasruddin.
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Wisdom is not a collection of insights to store up and return to adore, like a shrine of precious gems. Wisdom is guidance on acting sanely to better our world and enrich your life, too. Acting to better the world, you better your life. Insight comes with the question, "Now, how shall I act?"
For the wise, all life becomes a reply to a question life poses her. Life is wisdom. We cannot find wisdom outside life. Life reveals itself, teaches us what she is; this is insight.
Doing includes not-doing. That is, withholding action is an action. We all need to act not to do, to rest from doing. In this rest, we recenter and reinvigorate. The body needs sleep; the spirit needs frequent visits to rest. Stillness is an act, a much-needed one, and, possibly, more so the more we do. Solitude tunes the heart to be more attentive and present when among others.
We see to do. In doing, we see. And, sometimes, the action is not a change in what we do; it is a change in what we bring from within ourselves to what we do.
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So, wisdom and compassion arise together. Here, compassion is not first a feeling; it is an identification with, a being with, totally. You are no longer hiding. Among others or alone, you are present. You are like the hand on the wall or the sunlight on the eyelids. You are present, yet not personally so. You are more present for not being personally so.
When you see, you want to act. You want to be a difference, not simply complain about what needs to be different. In bettering yourself, you want to better the lives of others. This wish arises spontaneously, for you do not turn others into projects. You do not need others to complete yourself. You give from your completeness, like someone with a lot of money in the bank giving charity, not someone giving charity from her lack of funds. You have realized a richness within yourself; that is the fount of your givingness.
So, in this acting, there is an unselfconsciousness. You are not driven by an egoic need to make a difference. You do not parade yourself, like someone on a stage performing to be seen and receive applause. You are not performing at all. You and the doing or so one you cannot perform. You move about more like the wind. Persons may not notice the difference you make, for you are so subtle about it.
You are a gentle breeze caressing the house, not a roaring wind tearing shingles off the roof. Your movements are a whisper; you do not need to stomp around to be noticed. Yet, the whisper is like the roar of a lion. Your whole being has become sensitive and quiet, so much so, you are powerful, though not obviously so. That you are not so obvious means you are purely powerful.
What you do not do is live by complaint. To you, that is absurd, is useless. There is too much to celebrate. You may even celebrate eating a cheese sandwich daily for lunch. If you do, you know how to appreciate that cheese sandwich. It is only a chess sandwich. But you know it is, also, a revelation. Or you may make another kind of sandwich. It matters but does not - not to you. Either way, with wisdom, has arisen not only compassion but gratitude.
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Seeing life as life is, not through the veil of seeing what appears to be its absurdities and problems, how can you not be thankful for it? The doing arising from wisdom includes something happening in the heart - like love, awe, gratitude - that eyes will never see, yet they are no less action arising from what one has come to see. Gratitude is, see, a doing, too. As to worship, your unspoken thanksgiving would be as profitable as your exclamations of praise. Do not underestimate not-doing and silence as profound ways of doing and speaking.
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*©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.