Walking in the Dark
As a youth I grew close to the parents of a friend of mine from high school, we kept in touch for many years after graduation. “Mr. Fitz,” as I called him was much like (the famous 70’s sitcom character) Archie Bunker type personality with smoother edges. “Mrs. Fitz,” was indeed much like Edith Bunker, Archies wife, without pretension, beautiful, sweet, and with that quiet wisdom overshadowed by her humility. I remember one occasion when I stayed for dinner, afterwards the news with Walter Cronkite came on the television. The “Fitz’s” made it a point to sit together on the “davenport” or the sofa together, sometimes holding hands if she wasn’t knitting. At the end of the news broadcast Walter Cronkite would always say, “And that’s the way it is.”, to which Mr. Fitz would respond, “No it isn’t Walter, no it isn’t.”
“C. S. Lewis taught, if the devil were to succeed in England, he would need to wear a three-piece suit and speak with the Queen’s English, and surely never appear as a red demon with horns and a pitchfork.” This morning like most Americans I woke to the news of yesterdays current events, a practice I have limited now to approximately 3 minutes at best, only to hear the same news from the day before and days before that. Nothing much had changed. Hatred, distrust, accusations, true or false, blaming, promising, hopes, doubts, more hatred, more accusations, and more promises that have been made for decades by others who, hated, suspected, and mistrusted someone other than themselves or their party or particular group. Like the saying goes, “The more things are supposed to change, the more they stay the same.” I immediately observed my muscular skeleton retract in pain with the kind of feeling you get when you’ve tasted something that always turns your stomach. My reaction was to pick up my aging and almost near dying dog sitting near me and hold her close to me telling her, “I love you girl.” I needed to find refuge in my humanity and something that was real, my dog.
One of the stories about Jesus in the Gospels tells about the last days he spent with his students along the shores of Galilee. In this particular account he is speaking with Peter, his successor, the one who would continue his work after he ascended into heaven. While they’re talking Peter makes reference to the younger Apostle considered to be a favorite of Jesus, asking “What about him?” Jesus replies, “What’s that got to do with you, you follow me.” That story stays with me today and serves as a kind of mantra I remind myself whenever I feel overwhelmed by the current national or world events. It’s not unusual and should not be surprising to feel overwhelmed because those creating the events intend it to “overwhelm you”.
As a “spiritual being immersed in a human experience,” just as a matter of emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual well-being, training in the principles of loving-kindness, compassion, and just plain humanity, is not a luxury but an absolute requirement for survival. Without which even the best masters among us could not sustain any level of peace-of-mind or body. This is the first lesson. I have always taught since 1975 if you are not immersed in a practice and part of a truly spiritually grounded community you will not survive what’s to come. Do not underestimate the power of hatred and fear! The devil is not only in the details but everything else for that matter.
So “What’s a monk to do?” or anyone else?
Allow me to repeat myself.
Single parents are familiar with the mantra that goes, “Pick your battles.” I suggest it applies not only in parenting children. You might also consider that for spiritual beings living in the world today, is just like parenting. “To parent” means, “to bring forth,” as in a “new world” or “new possibilities”. Jesus said,“What’s that got to do with you…” When they stand on their pulpits propagating hatred, and division, and bigotry, violence and blame, find refuge in the principles of loving-kindness and compassion. You follow “The Way”. But not until you’ve taken names. Remember the devil will be dressed in “a three-piece suit and speak with the Queen’s English” or in this case the language of ignorance. Then turn off the TV or Radio. Then come back to that breath, breathe in, breathe out, and hug your pet, your child, your spouse or partner, a friend, your Self. And keep walking. Speak lovingly. Act supportively. And before you lay your head down to rest at night, smile and take account of your blessings, no matter how little they may be, give thanks, and rest well. They will be more work required tomorrow.
The next thing you need to remember is to stoke the fire which keeps your light burning. When I was about 13 years old I began to hike around 4:00 AM five days a week to my parish which was between two and three miles away to get to the 5:00 AM Mass. It was obviously dark outside and I carried a flashlight with me. It was the flashlight in my hand which got me through both the lighted streets and the not so lighted streets between my house and my destination. If you are going to “walk in the dark” you need to have a good light. You need to attend to the fire that keeps your heart shining and able to guide you along the way. Meditation, prayer, and contemplation is no longer a luxury, (it never was) it’s absolutely required.
“Community is the Spirit, the Guiding Light…” If you aren’t already you need to become part of a group of people who will inevitably become your friends and, your extended family, who pray, meditate, and train in The Way. Regular communion with other spiritual beings is not part of being spiritual, it is being spiritual. Authentic Spirituality is relational by nature. What brings our spiritual practice together is relationship with others, which includes giving to others. Everyone has something to give! Everyone! Never believe otherwise. I cannot say enough about my experience during “Early Dawn Meditation” here at Pine Wind. It is my favorite practice. When I am sitting in the Zendo around 5:00 AM after I have prepared it for others, and maybe it’s because only one or if I’m lucky two or there attend, whenever I hear the sound of someone walking toward the entranceway my heart jumps with joy. Before that person has even entered the Zendo, they’ve given me something. You, your presence alone, is the greatest gift for the world. A wise teacher once said, “Spiritual practice eventually is about showing up.”
I Love You,