Sunday, November 2, 2008

Furnishing the pit

A friend sent me a great Anne Lamott quote yesterday:

"Natalie used to tell my mother you had to get out of the pit as soon as you noticed you'd gone into it, or else you'd start furnishing it."

I knew as soon as I saw this that I wanted to offer it here. But at the time I was just thinking about depression, and the way some of us get way too comfortable in that space, and turn it into a home.

But this morning I was reading The Cloud of Unknowing, and it described a facet of meditation that perfectly matches this concept. I remember once being taught a kind of meditation in which each thought should be treated as a bubble: just let it rise to the surface and pop; don't engage with it.

But of course SOME thoughts seem far more noble than other thoughts, and when they appear we are tempted to think that they are messages from God, and we should follow wherever they lead rather than just let them go.

The problem is, they are still thoughts, our thoughts, being offered up by our brain, in the context of our well-established thinking patterns, and we have to let even these noble thoughts pass away. Otherwise they become tunnels, leading us ever deeper into the pit-that-is-not-God.

"The thought will want nothing better than that you should listen to it; for in the end it will increase its chattering more and more until it brings you lower down to the recollection of his Passion. There it will let you see the wonderful kindness of God; it looks for nothing better than that you should listen to it. For soon after that it will let you see your former wretched state of life; and perhaps as you see and think upon it, the thought will bring to your mind some place in which you used to live. And so at the end, before you are even aware of it, your concentration is gone, scattered about you know not where. The cause of this dissipation is that in the beginning you deliberately listened to the thought, answered it, took it to yourself, and let it continue unheeded."

But, of course, there is another far more obvious level where this furnishing activity takes place: in our own actual homes. I thought of this today because a friend came to visit earlier this week, and was enjoying my meditation chair (which is actually a rocker). She had gone through a major downsizing -- by choice -- a few years ago, and when she moved into her new apartment after selling all her furniture she had nothing but her clothes, her kitchen utensils, and a single folding lawn chair.

"It was heaven," she said. "I'd get up in the morning, and feed myself, and then there was nothing to do, nothing to take care of. I felt so free." And then she confessed that when she left me she was heading into town to look at a couch... and maybe she'd look for a rocker, because she liked mine so much.

The fact is that everything we acquire in life, whether in our heads, our hearts, or our homes, requires tending. And the question we need to keep asking ourselves is just this: Is that really how I want to spend my time?

I had a conversation with another friend last week who has been very depressed about the state of our economy. The depression seems to have spread to all areas of his life, and I somewhat flippantly remarked that he needed to work on his gratitude levels.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Oh just at the end of the day, or the beginning -- whatever works for you -- write down five things you're grateful for."

"Oh," he said. "I'd never be able to find the time to do that."

I suspect he may be too busy furnishing his pit...


Unknown said...

Loved this very much. The quote from "The Cloud..." was right on. It's actually kind of funny, when I imagine the person saying what is written there...funny, becuase I know it's true.
Yes, the "furniture" in our lives. Isn't that why poverty is a Gospel value? For our own freedom & our good, not because it's a "sin" to be wealthy?

Anonymous said...

I adore Anne Lamott (I'm reading "bird by bird" right now and I've read most everything else) and I adore reading your blog. So many wonderful insights. Though you seem less "broken" than Anne (though it may just be that I don't know you well enough to say otherwise :o), I enjoy your commentaries on life in the same way as I do Anne's. It's very hard to feel alone in our troubles when we hear someone else saying "me too!"

Thank you for reminding me about my OWN gratitude journal. It sits right beside my computer monitor and I haven't written in it in quite a while. The best part of a gratitude journal is reading it later when you need a lift. My last entry says, "I am grateful for God, for Shane, for onions, for love and for good bras." I wonder what was going on that week?!