Friday, February 22, 2008

Life on the Crossroad

Earlier in my meditation practice, I used to think of my life as the intersection of two axes. The horizontal axis consists of the world I live in and the worldly thoughts that distract me over the course of time: in one direction lie the people I have known and things I have done in the past and in the other people and things that occupy my thoughts of the future. The vertical axis, on the other hand, is the link that flows from the traditional God above me to the sense I have of God within me.

In those days, when I would breathe I would visualize a sort of membrane that sat at the intersection of the horizontal and vertical axes, connected somehow to each of them, rather like one of those Mexican ojo de dios string sculptures.

I imagined it sort of like two pieces of leather, sewn together but disconnected out at the points of the diamond, so the axes would pass through. As I breathed, the membrane would rise and fall, gently calling me back to center and keeping the four poles of my life in balance. And if my thoughts drifted off, a simple word would bring me back to the membrane and center me again.

In recent months I have been more concentrating on the vertical axis, and the membrane has sort of faded into the past. But this morning in Cloud of Unknowing the author was talking about how a little short prayer of one small syllable, uttered with the passion of a cry of "FIRE!", "prayed with a full spirit, in the height and in the depth, in the length and in the breadth of the spirit of the one who prays it...would pierce the ears of the Almighty God more than does any psalter thoughtlessly mumbled in one's teeth."

And I thought again of that earlier practice with the membrane -- and wondered. The height and depth clearly correspond to the vertical. Couldn't the length and breadth of the spirit correspond to the horizontal axis? And therefore couldn't it be that prayer and meditation are meant to encompass both? After all, I take what I learn on the vertical axis and apply it on the horizontal one; wouldn't it make sense to admit that it is what arises on the horizontal axis that frames the questions I bring to the listening process?

The problem is just that it's somehow more challenging to encompass all four points than it is to just stay in the vertical dimension. But I explored that this morning, and I have to say that, for today at least, the membrane method, for me, was richer. So perhaps it is true that we are meant, as much as is humanly possible, to stay centered in the present moment, to remain firmly anchored --and conscious -- at the intersection of past and present while at the same time aware of and inviting the holiness that calls to us from above and from within.

But what I find most interesting is this: I wanted an image of the ojo de dios, and went to Google images to find one. This little photo, from the Brunswick Community Library website in Eagle Mills, New York, was the clearest of those offered, so I loaded it in. It wasn't until later that I realized I wanted an image of an intersection to open the blog.

So I went hunting through my collection and found this photograph, shot over Christmas break in Taiwan. And now, as I do my final edit pass of the blog, I am intrigued to observe that the two images are in the same color palette -- almost as if understanding the first helped me choose the second. And how intriguing is this, that the colors of both are the red and green we traditionally associate with the season of Christ's birth?

So I spent some time looking at the crossroad image to see if it had something to teach me. And what I realize, looking at this image, is that there are not just two, but three axes; that the world is in fact a plane formed by two axes -- the people coming into and leaving my life from the right and the left, and the future which stretches before me, with the past behind me. And this consciousness of the Holiness above and within -- the vertical axis -- is in fact a third dimension; Christ breaking in.

It is, I think, an important reminder that life is not just about me and my center, my past and my future, my God and my spirit. Surely we are all in this together, and what each of us chooses at any moment affects us all.

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