Thursday, July 14, 2011

The sanctity of ordinary things

As I believe I mentioned earlier, one of the recurring questions at our Mary Oliver retreat was simply "How?"  How can we integrate our spiritual practice into our everyday lives?

The book I opened yesterday, loaned to me by my beloved neighbor, is a marvelous attempt to answer that question.  It's called Ordinary Magic, it was edited by John Welwood (so I'm hoping he won't mind if I put his other book aside for a bit) and it features writings by a variety of authors on this very subject; on bringing together the sacred and the ordinary.

Though I loved the first reading -- "Sunshine and Green Leaves," by Thich Nhat Hanh (a perfect gem, which I will read and re-read for years to come) -- I was initially skeptical about the second, "Everyday Life as Practice" by someone named Karlfried Graf von Durckheim.  How could someone I'd never even heard of even begin to follow that first gift?

Trust John Welwood to offer exactly what I need to hear: listen to this --

"What" we do belongs to the world.  In the "how," the way we do it, we infallibly reveal to ourselves whether our attitude is... open to Divine Being or closed to it -- able to experience Divine Being in ourselves and to reveal it in the world.

Let us suppose, for instance, that a letter has to be posted in a mailbox a hundred yards away.  If the mouth of the mailbox is all we see in the mind's eye, then the hundred strides we take toward it are wasted.  But if we are on the Way and filled with the sense of all that this implies, then even this short walk, providing we maintain the right attitude and posture, can serve to renew us from the well of inner essence. (Don't you love that phrase, "the well of inner essence"?)

The same can be true of any daily activity.  The more we have mastered some relevant technique, and the smaller the amount of attention needed to perform the task satisfactorily, the more easily may the emphasis be transferred from the exterior to the interior.  Whether in the kitchen or working at an assembly-line, at the typewriter or in the garden, talking, writing, sitting, walking or standing, dealing with some daily occurrence, or conversing with someone dear to us -- whatever it may be, we can approach it "from within" and use it as an opportunity for the practice of becoming a genuine human being.  When this is understood, the truth of the old Japanese adage becomes clear: "For something to acquire religious significance, two conditions alone are necessary: it must be simple, and it must be repetitive."

Okay.  So our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to find at least one simple task, something we do all the time, and ... sanctify it.  Do it consciously.  Practice.

It takes us so long to get the hang of meditation that we are easily misled into thinking that's enough; that if we can meditate regularly, we can become spiritual beings.  But I've been suspecting for some time that meditation is just a way of whetting our appetites for Divine Being: somehow we have to carry that level of awareness back into the rest of our lives; to find a way to "divinely BE."

... not that I'm saying that will be easy.  But we do need to stop talking and wondering and whining and waiting for enlightenment to make it easy, and just... practice.  Work at it.  Notice; be attentive -- I suspect the results will surprise us both.

3 comments: said...

Hi Diane,
Thank you for sharing the above. Paul and I had a beautiful experience last night with a small group of ladies, Centering prayer. Like, Wisdom school we came with no knowledge of what would be. It was indeed a simple way to clear my mind for Jesus Christ. I have tried meditating, this new but old practice held a special key for me. Again, I was not disappointed.
So nice to have met you, Diane at Wisdom School. An incredible experience, I will hold special in my heart always and do hope to see all of you again.
I am glad you got some practice in on scraping and are now doing so on your home!
Blessings, Genora

Gberger said...

I love this image. Thanks for posting it!

Joyce Wycoff said...

I love that first paragraph of Welwood's ... thanks for sharing it and that beautiful image.