Thursday, April 16, 2009

Clinging to the clutter

Driving down our street yesterday I passed this surprisingly large rubber duck sitting on a neighbor's front porch. I hadn't realized rubber ducks came in larger sizes but this one is about 18 inches from stem to stern (that's dune grass you see in front of him, not regular yard grass).

My guess -- since I haven't seen him before -- is that he's a relic of Easter. And though I could chuckle at the idea of giving a giant rubber ducky to this family's children (who are approximately 9, 11, and 12), the fact is that I sent both my daughters (who are 20 and 22) easter bunnies and candy this year to liven their dorm rooms.

The problem with such gifts, of course, is that, though the giving and receiving of them is a joyful ritual, "within a short time the gifts, or most of them, have lost their giftedness and become possessions which clutter up our homes and lives." (that from Laurence Freeman) What, then, do we do with all this clutter?

I received an email from a friend this morning who had told me over the weekend of a promising new man in her life. Now, four days later, they are still playing telephone tag: he sets a time to call and misses it, then calls after she has gone to bed and turned off her phone -- or, he sets a time to call and then says he's off to dinner with friends, or wine with the neighbors: can he check back later? For her these are red flags, signaling that something isn't quite what it seems about this man. And for me, though I, too, can see that he is not what he appeared to be, what I also see is a person who is clinging desperately to the clutter in his life.

Which is, of course, what Freeman is talking about. Because he mentions the problem of possessions in the context of a chapter on meditation: the thoughts we bring with us to meditation are like that post-Christmas clutter. They are the things and activities which, during our busy days, keep us feeling occupied and important. But just as the gifts we get at Christmas serve as a symbol and reminder that we are loved and valued by someone, and then gradually lose their symbolism as the moment of giving wanes; so the busy activities of life are just ways we have of feeding our ego's sense of importance, giving us the illusion that we are valued, loved, special.

The distracting thoughts that so repeatedly take over when we meditate are really only pale imitations of the real truth, the value and love we can discover if we sit quietly, release them all, and sink to the core of love that lies at the center of our being. So why do we cling to them so? Perhaps because we cannot trust that core is really there: perhaps we are afraid to let go, for fear there will be nothing more to discover within ourselves than a collection of petty distractions.

But it works the other way, too: sometimes, however briefly, we succeed in setting aside our thoughts and reach a moment of transcendence. And then the temptation is "to capture that taste, to preserve it for later use... attempting to turn gift into possession. But even to think about it conceptually is to try to possess it, and this drives it away."

The good news, though, is that -- like a very special Christmas present -- the awareness of this particular gift, the taste of the Holy that sometimes transforms our meditation, can linger long after the experience of receiving it is gone. The taste of this transforming reality, says Freeman, changes us forever. Because, having tasted it, we come to realize that we have had an opportunity to touch into our essential and true nature; into the boundless love that is God, that lies at the core of being. And, having tasted it once, we learn over time to keep coming back for more; learn -- however slowly -- that the other thoughts and concerns that distract us pale in comparison to this moment of ultimate union. In continuing to commit to meditation, in continuing to choose to sit when every part of us yearns to "take care of business", we learn that in releasing our thoughts, emptying and impoverishing ourselves of the daily business and "important stuff" of our lives, we come in time to the ultimate fullness for which we always hungered.

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