Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ka-Ching, Ka-Ching!

Years ago, when we lived on a tiny little island with little or no mercantile distractions, we were adopted by an abandoned gosling. The rumor was that an Osprey had abducted him from his family and then dropped him by the side of the road; after several visits from his parents he was rejected, so we took him in.

I mention this because Kiwi (as the girls named him) taught me about imprinting. He learned very quickly that I was the one responsible for meeting his basic needs: for feeding him, for providing water, and for the warmth of a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel. And he became imprinted on me. I was mama; he had a special cry that would only be satisfied if I came to him, and he followed me everywhere. He would even go for walks down to the beach with me, following me in a line as we walked while our springer spaniel, Sockeye, trailed along, barking at the eagles who circled looking for a fresh bite of gosling.

My reading this morning was the parable about the man who prepares a feast and invites his friends to dinner but they're all too busy to come: one has some business to transact; another has a new house to furnish; a third needs to pay his taxes... so instead the man opens his home to anyone he finds on the street.

So I read this, thought on it a bit, drew some obvious conclusions, and then went upstairs to check my email. I played a couple of rounds of my current favorite video game, which involves sliding pieces on a board to complete a row of three or more like pieces, in which case you get a satisfying "Ka-Ching!", the board changes color, and the pieces disappear. After the second round I remembered I hadn't yet done my meditation, so I went downstairs to sit in my favorite chair and closed my eyes.

Kaching! Kaching! Everytime I tried to move into that quiet space inside, it was like I'd moved a piece into place, and everything would click and slide away. My brain had imprinted on the video game, which has a timer built in to increase the pressure a bit, and I had a terrible time stepping out of that rush, rush, rush.

I think the businessman and the homeowner and the taxpayer in the parable were in the same difficulty. I think that the challenge we face, living in the world we do, is that the pressures of our lives get terribly addictive, and we get imprinted on whatever we do most. We work all day at the computer, and then come home and retire to compute some more instead of interacting with the family. We go on vacation and spend the first few days checking the cellphone constantly for business messages.

Or like the woman in CS Lewis's the Great Divorce, we get so caught up in our children's lives that we forget that we have lives of our own, or that time with our spouses could keep us sane and centered. Or we get so used to building our lives around a mate that we can no longer make space for other friendships. Or we get so caught up in building our wine collection, or being on church or PTA committees, or getting the house decorated for Christmas, or planning our next vacation, that we forget about all those who struggle just to feed their children.

Though it may affect each of us in different ways, the world is a most addictive presence. Add to that the holes, the hunger in each of our lives, and we are very easily imprinted. Think how simple it is to fill those holes with the worldly addictions. Aha, we think. A drink, a drug, another round of roulette. Another website, another email, another video game to play; another item checked off the Christmas to-do list; another pair of shoes, another bite of chocolate, another tchotke for the windowsill... Kaching, Kaching; it's a match, something slid into place and now that particular pressure goes away.

There's always another hole to fill; always another reason to put off the meditation, or the family time; always something else to capture our interest and lure us away from that still center. We are imprinted on the world, and it becomes a very hard cycle to break.

I think if I had been living then where I live now, I might never have noticed that gosling by the side of the road. I would have been too busy with my important errands; too intent on rushing to "the next thing." Had we not noticed that little abandoned goose, our family might never have experienced the joy we found caring for Kiwi, and I might never have known how it feels to hold a grown goose in my arms and have him kiss me goodbye.

The blessing of that life was its lack of worldly distraction, and perhaps it was the years of being imprinted on that environment that makes meditation, my contemplative photography, and this blog possible.

Whatever the reason, I now understand -- at least intellectually, though I do not always pay attention -- that there always exists that invitation to the greater feast; to that deeper joy that comes with silence, with listening, with attending to the compassionate voice that calls to us.

I'm not sure about this, and I certainly haven't mastered the problem. But I think that if we do our best to stay centered in the present, it becomes easier to understand that every present moment carries with it a choice. If we understand that we are making millions of tiny choices every day AND if we can begin to listen before we make those choices, then perhaps we can do a better job of staying in touch with that deeper joy; of staying aware of the consequences of our actions; of staying in tune with the needs of those around us. Perhaps then our hunger will be quenched by the great feast that lies always before us.

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