“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.”
I can still recall my distant life of ‘ busyness ‘ that nearly marched me off into illness. Commitments, responsibilities, obligations, expectations I encircled them all in a frantic whirlwind of activity that seemed so right at the time, so essential to my existence – but I was wrong. Eventually, through feelings of fatigue and anxiety that arose within me, I started to re-assess my life and what I was doing with it. Soon I stopped worshipping at the alter of ‘ doing ‘ and renounced it’s curious hold on me. This single act of rebellion turned me into a different and better person as I started to slow down and appreciate a calmer, gentler rhythm of life. People started noticing this too as I relaxed more in their company. Now, when I get engrossed in activity, especially when it starts to feel neurotically driven, I remind myself of my vow to be in the world in a different, more spacious way and try to return to this relaxed presence – but it isn’t easy….We live in a world of unprecedented economic, military and technological expansion that sees no sign of abating. A world of:
• Unnecessary mass consumerism
• Over dependence on technology
• Ethically problematic scientific research ( eg, cloning, GM food supply etc )
• Rapidly depleting natural resources
• Future devastating climatic changes
• Widespread poverty
• War and death on an unprecedented scale
• Increasing alienation even in the most prosperous regions of the world
• Record levels of obesity
• Unacceptable levels of mental health problems
• Record levels of suicide, especially among the young
• Escalating criminal activity ( especially violent street crime – guns and knives )
• Drug and alcohol addiction
The news from our streets, neighbourhoods, communities, cities is not good by any measure. The hurt and pain, the anguish and despair cries out for attention but too often we feel powerless to effect any change for the better. We feel as if our arguments for a better world fall on stony ground.
The idolatry worship of ‘ success ‘ in our media dominated world is a difficult one to challenge because it is often wrapped up in celebratory glee of accomplishment and reward. But is ‘ success, ‘ in this narrow sense, necessarily a good thing? Can it be measured by the shallow ‘ fame ‘ of hyped up TV performers? By the size of city bonuses earned in a bullish market? By developing a smart, generational level of computer graphics to captivate us on our screens? By Knighthoods conferred for services to industry? By the number of medals pinned on military tunics for fighting and killing in other peoples’ countries?
LIFE ON THE SPIRITUTAL PATH
Life is not about stockpiling a multiplicity of experiences in a crazy world of neurotic activity, it’s about exploring more deeply the most important ones. Experiences that will stretch us to new, heightened growth. Experiences that will help lead us to some comprehension and appreciation of our beautiful world and our rightful place within it.
Exploring the riches of simplicity, spending time in quiet, reflective solitude and silence will lighten our load; make us feel more relaxed, more at ease with the mind, body and spirit. Then, without us almost knowing, something of a spacious calm will descend washing away all our preoccupations around frantic doing. We start to become much more aware, much more mindful of a quieter reality of our existence. Finding this inner serenity, peace and clarity can be disturbing in one sense because once we have found it, once we have tasted its fruits, we know we cannot do anything but to explore it further. Eventually – similar to Dante after he had explored the worldly plains with Virgil – we start to enter a spiritual territory where we feel the need to ‘ give up ‘ more of ourselves, surrender to a higher calling of presence where true humility can surface with the attendant feelings of deep appreciation, gratefulness and gratitude for all that we have been given.
Fragmentary, contradictory thoughts may surface within us, contending with each other, but we are bigger than paradox and inconsistency, we are able to accept the supreme insight of our not knowing – the humbling acceptance of deep mystery and mysticism of that which is beyond our reach, our grasp, our comprehension.
At this point a profound peace (of which we may have never felt before) can settle in our hearts, minds and bodies that will gently encompass and embrace a fuller acceptance and reconciliation to what is.
SPIRITUAL INSIGHTS ON THE PATH
Heightened states of peaceful mental / spiritual well-being are not the only consequence of treading a path of simplicity, for there is always the possibility of gaining profound insights along the way….
Over the centuries, many revered Buddhist masters who have spent long periods engaged in solitude, silence and meditation have experienced and confirmed traditional insights that are laid down in ancient Buddhist texts. Two examples of relevant insights to us can be considered here:
• The first turning of the Dharma wheel is the acknowledgement and recognition of the sanctity of life, all life: every sentient creature. That’s why there is an imperative within Buddhism to become vegetarian. Life is seen as a wondrous gift, a sacred blessing that we must respect with full dignity and reverence. To hurt another is seen to ultimately hurt ourselves. The teachings tell us that a life of sharing and supporting others, as best we can, is the right practice to adopt which will reap a rich, meaningful harvest for everyone, including ourselves. We do not live in isolation, separated and divided from each other, to the contrary we live in a common, mutual fellowship where all life should be dignified and sanctified
• A fundamental belief within Buddhism is that of interconnectedness. Every living thing is accepted and celebrated as being connected in fundamental and profound ways. You, me, and the remotest rain forest tribe in South America ( in all our richness and diversity ) ultimately form one, indivisible whole. On the surface certain differences can be detected between us, and this is undeniable, but underneath this superficiality lies a common shared humanity. And arguably to recognize and acknowledge this oneness of the human family is the greatest challenge we face in the Twenty First Century. For if we do not come together collectively and responsibly to share a common global vision ( to tackle poverty, climate change, pollution, increasing industrialization and urbanization ) then we run the risk of perishing…..
THE PATH CONTINUES…..
The demands for ever more technological innovation, fuelled by science that has an in-built attitude of…… must know, must know, comes from a deep-seated fear of not knowing. Not being comfortable and contented with the mysteries that surround us, the uncertainties that impinge on our lives in this strange, magical place of our existence. Yet the attempts to control more of our world, paradoxically seems to leads us further out of control – alienated and estranged from ourselves and each other. If we are constantly engaged with busyness, preoccupied with doing, doing, doing we might just miss the call, miss the message that we need to attend to urgently. Time is short and there is really no time to waste. Do we choose a spiritual path that will lead us to deeper insights that will enable us to appreciate and celebrate the wondrous natural world that encircles and sustains us OR do we continue to be subject to manipulation by the powerful forces in society that distract us with the damaging aspects of modernity?
The choice is ours, the choice is now….
“ Stopping is a spiritual art. It is the refuge where we drink life in. “
Sue Monk Kidd