Getting back to writing this column has taken longer than I thought it would, and has taught me a thing or two: or maybe I should say it has re-taught me.
What happened was that I got lost, in the way that all of us periodically get lost in the multitude of things that life throws at us. My focus, my alertness, my sense of balance all forsook me. Well, they do that at times. But I have made precious little attempt to recover them until now.
I have plenty of reasons for this: good, legitimate reasons. It started out with a night in the emergency room at Kingston Hospital with one of the brothers, and was followed after a while with another night in the same emergency room. Both of these nights were followed by a trip away that required several hours of driving, and I was confronted with the reality that I am six months away from being 70 years old and I don't recover from that sort of thing the way I once did. Then a dear friend of many years died. And I've had two minor illnesses, both of them viruses that were going around the community. Neither of them were at all serious, but they required rest and sleep and time.
I operate close enough to the line to have problems if I have to take time away from my usual work. So as all these other things happened my work piled higher and higher until I found myself surrounded with a mountain of things waiting to be done, many of which seemed to have the word "urgent" painted on them in large red letters. I wasn't prioritizing, I wasn't choosing, I was just trying to attack the pile in any way that I could. Not a very efficient or effective way of dealing with a situation that admittedly was difficult to begin with. The reality was that I wasn't conscious and wasn't trying to be conscious, I was just operating in the midst of my usual fantasy of too much to do, no time to do it, etc., etc., etc.
And then, gradually, consciousness returned. It returned first with breathing. I usually do a series of breathing exercises to keep myself in the present and to increase the amount of oxygen that my body gets. As I turned to these exercises again life began to slow down and come into focus, and I got back to the reality of things, where the situation could be assessed and plans could be made.
I got back, in fact, to the reality of the present moment.
And I realized this time around, that this process is exactly the same as the one I experience in meditation. I start out focused and attentive. I drift away. When I realize that I've drifted away I bring myself back to the present moment and start again. And the cycle repeats. To recognize this pattern in my tendency to get lost in the "distractions" of my life has linked my spiritual practice and my living of my life more firmly together. It's the same process, and it has the same goal: to find God in the midst of things. A key to engaging in this process skillfully is not to beat up on myself, but to realize that this is the way things are in life: we focus on what is most important, we drift away, we realize that we've drifted away, we come back to focus. This is what is called, in meditation circles, Practice. We practice. And we practice. And we practice. Over a long period of time we have sudden realizations that practice does begin to transform our lives.
The well known meditation teacher Larry Rosenberg, in his book "Breath by Breath" describes this process of relating the spiritual path of meditation to the path of the daily living of our lives in a very effective, step by step, way. He lays it out like this:
1. When possible, do just one thing at a time.
2. Pay full attention to what you are doing.
3. When the mind wanders from what you are doing, bring it back.
4. Repeat step number three several billion times.
5. Investigate your distractions.
The great advantage to this description is that it is so human. It reminds me yet again, as I have said before in this space, that I am not engaged in a perfection quest, I am engaged in living my life. The thought that making the transition between my meditation life and my daily life requires "several billion" moments of attention is realistic, and gently humorous and quite doable.
My whole life is, in fact, part of the search for God, if I will let it be. To find God, I have to find the present moment: God is here, now, not in my fantasies of the future or my ruminations of the past. If I'm going to meet God in my life I have to BE in my life, and that requires practice - constant, gentle, repeated, continuous practice. Come back to this moment where God waits. Come back several billion times. Investigate just why you failed to stay in this present moment, and do it with penetrating honesty and also with gentle humor. Resist the urge to beat up on yourself. Do that several billion times.
This is how transformation is worked. And it does work. I experience it.
(Sorry I was away for a couple of weeks while I learned this eternal lesson one more time)
At the Middle House entrance
Originally uploaded by Randy n/OHCPicture of Br. Bede addressing friends and monks at the inauguration of the new entrance of the Middle House as a memorial to Br. Douglas Brown, OHC.
Clicking on the picture will take you to Br. Randy's Flickr photographs.