via contemplativa

At this natural stillpoint of the year, many of us are already filling our calendars with resolutions that will ensure our busy-ness in the months to come.

The ideology of achievement runs deep through the fabric of our society. We often feed it to our children from their first year of life.

There’s a lot of myth that feeds this ideology. Bettering oneself is one.
Just how much “better” can you get?
How many more goals do you need to set?
When will you make time for peace?

There was a time in Western culture when contemplation was not seen as slacking, but as the very essence of a productive life. Without stillness, there was no kind of knowing to come to. Knowledge was something, back in those days, that was dwelling inside of us. To find it, we needed things to come to a halt at regular intervals.

We went for walks, we were silent. We were immersed in a mundane everyday activity, the way Zen teaches it too. We looked inside instead of outside.
And that’s how we moved the world forward.

Nowadays, we are inundated by a frantic version of the via activa – the active way of life. We perform busy-ness so that others will think highly of us.

And that’s why we keep having those meetings. That’s why we keep sending those emails.

Few of us get a real, tangible or felt value out of it. Most of us go along with it, because it’s the way things are done. Schooling. Work. The public dialogue.
Much of it is a performance, a form of social signaling.

Anxiety in the 21st century does not need a concrete object anymore; it suffices to have FOMO or the conceivable possibility of future regret to send us into a tailspin of undirected actionism.

Before this first month of the year is up, I invite you to reflect on how much time you give to stillness in your life.

The Spiritual Pilgrim

 

“Un missionnaire du moyen âge raconte qu’il avait trouvé le point où le ciel et la Terre se touchent..”
/ “A medieval missionary says he has found the point where the sky and the earth meet..” .
Flammarion engraving (sometimes referred to as “The Spiritual Pilgrim”), unknown artist (1888)
Appeared first in Camille Flammarion’s “L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire” (“The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology”) 

Sometimes, something will happen that stops you in your tracks. You open your eyes and look around finally. You begin to see the true colors of the life that you live.

You start to examine and question long-held beliefs. The crazy idea you’ve harbored for years in the back of your mind, well-kept and hidden, begins to sparkle. You decide to take the leap.

This print in my home office represents every person’s inevitable quest for “knowledge”: to become conscious and aware of oneself, to understand the world, to grasp a sense of meaning or purpose, or even of a higher order in the things we find around us and within us. This quest for knowledge is what pushes us forward, empowers us, gives our lives meaning. It is, ultimately, also the most powerful healing force we have for our lives.

But it also represents our belief systems that create our realities, and how these can become limiting on one’s quest for truth. If you are as determined or brave or stubborn as the pictured medieval missionary, you will eventually reach a point where you need to transcend the “holy order” of your own beliefs in order to grow.

This alchemical process of transformation is one of the myths many cultures and peoples around the world share. Joseph Campbell called it the “monomyth,” aka “The hero’s journey through the underworld .”

It doesn’t matter which way you venture in your spiritual quest – as long as you leave the comfort zone of what you already believe to be true and hold on to as parts of your identity.

It’s these moments that make life the lucid dream it has the potential to be.

This post is dedicated to courage. Mighty, mighty life-changer. May it come to you today as well. 

On Transformation

“Will transformation. O be ravenous for the fire
in which a thing boastful with change forever eludes you;
that designing Spirit which plots earth’s flourishes, —
it loves most in the figure’s élan the moment of turning.
What shackles itself in survival already is rigidity;
does it feel itself safe in the shelter of nondescript gray?
Beware, from afar the hardest is warning the hard.
And woe–: an absent hammer is lifting!

Whoever pours forth as wellspring, Recognition greets;
and she guides him enthralled through the serene Creation
that often ends with beginning and in ending begins.
Every happy space through which they walk marveling
is child or grandchild of Separation. And the transformed Daphne,
feeling so laurel-like, wants you to change into wind.”

RM Rilke: Sonnets to Orpheus, Part II, 12
+ W. Blake: The Ancient of Days setting a Compass to the Earth (1794)

 coming into right relationship with action

I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s. I will not reason and compare; my business is to create.
(W. Blake)

It is all our business to create. Observing is more comfortable, and can feel more safe. But sensing and using one’s own true agency is the one empowering, liberating human experience.

It can be surprising to realize that we have a choice in moments when we have been told – or have told ourselves – otherwise. Habit can cause constriction without us realizing. We are on a slippery slope of letting things slide, until we decide that it’s time to stop.

The power of the individual cannot be understated.

It’s important to remember this as outside reality seems ever-present, ever-powerfully directing the way of the play. 

As below, so above: Even tiny acts of creation have the power to shift the world.

You don’t have to wait for tomorrow, Monday, or New Year’s Day to start implementing the changes you are seeking right now. The tension you may be feeling around the old and yearning for the new or different can be palpable to your environment, the people in your life. Give yourself permission to change whatever needs changing in this very moment. Bonus points for intentionality, simplicity, sustainability of that change.

To practice today: 

Say the little magical word “No.” 

Don’t add anything after it (like “I’m sorry” or “because..”).

Take a breath.

Watch what happens.