Thursday, July 26, 2007

Childhood

This is a picture of Genevieve, who arrived on this planet--and in our house-- a few weeks ago. We took her mom in a few months before she was born because she was living at a women's shelter, and my wife and I felt that was Not the Greatest Place to Have a Baby.

Anyway, welcome, Genevieve. Much tree-planting and well-digging lies ahead of you.

Returning from my spiritual retreat, I find myself emerged in a rich ocean of new impressions, experiences, and understandings.

It will probably take some time to process all of this; today, I am going to try to avoid the temptation of reaching for what is most readily available, and instead enter into an attempt to discuss something I saw during meditation yesterday.

We are all within childhood on this planet. We do not understand it this way; we grow old, give birth to children, get white hair--in short, we believe we enter what we call adulthood.

Nonetheless, religious traditions continued to refer us back to the idea that we are children of something higher. Certainly this idea is embedded deeply in the Lord's prayer, since it begins with the words "our Father."

I don't think we understand this idea very deeply. Our experience of this life does not, somehow, affect us as a child's experience of life, even though I believe the potential to do so is always there. Children are soft and permeable; over the course of a lifetime, in all of us, something hardens, and we no longer receive our lives the way a child receives its life. We believe that we have grown up, and--generally speaking -- that our adulthood represents an achievement of some kind.

The whole point of being here is to receive our life, but we stop doing it. Instead of receiving it, we try to take it. We live entire lifetimes at this stage of grabbing and snatching at everything around us.

If we enter adulthood at all in this life, it is at the point of death. Even then, numerous traditions suggest that it takes many deaths to become an adult. So everything we attempt in this life, every step we take, every breath we breathe in, and every exchange we have with another person, no matter how much younger or older they are than us, is just a part of childhood.

We are all just children.

Perhaps part of self remembering is remembering that. For as long as we think we are grown up, as long as we presume an authority conferred upon us by experience and age, we indulge in the sin of arrogance.

Here's my sense of it:

If age brings anything real, the first thing it should bring is humility, as we see how small we are, how far short we fall of any real sense of Being and responsibility, and how much more effort it will take us in order to reach anything that could be called a "man" without the quotation marks.

Mr. Gurdjieff did his best to remind us of that over and over in his magnum opus,"Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson." He repeatedly explains to Hassein how severely the reason of man has deteriorated-- we have forgotten the source of our arising.

He points out that most people, at the end of their lives, reach a moment where they suddenly begin to see reality more clearly, but by then it is too late. It is as though our childhood is almost over-- and we abruptly realize it-- but it is too late to obtain the education we were supposed to have as children.

And no wonder -- why bother to obtain an education if you think you are already grown up? ...It reminds me of all the dreams I used to have where it was the end of the school year, exams were coming up, but I had failed to attend any of the classes. (This never actually happened to me, as I was a very diligent, if inexcusably rambunctious, student.)

If we look at the way we behave, the way we treat each other, don't we all still act like misbehaving children most of the time -- willful, disrespectful, grasping, impatient, cruel, unthinking? Aren't all the religions and disciplines on the planet actually systems to help us try and grow up?

I need to ponder this question more. I think if I saw, organically, within the depths of my being and with all of my parts that I am still, at the age of 51, in childhood, it would be a big understanding. It is one thing to grasp this intellectually. Grasping it emotionally and physically carries a demand that produces a remorse almost too great to bear. Perhaps that is why we all avoid this question so carefully.

I cannot resist adding one other observation which I had this morning in regard to the way we treat each other. It is not exactly on the subject of childhood, however, I think it relates.

I attempt to ask myself a real question, a living question -- am I compassionate? Do I have enough compassion?

What does compassion mean? If I don't act from love, what am I acting from? If every action I take is not informed by love, by a deep, respectful love of others, then where does it come from?
Do I want it to come from some other place?

...And isn't that a frightening thought?

The way this question presented itself in me this morning was in the following conceptualization:

Honor every effort in another as though everything in their effort came from your own wish.

I am glad to be back, even though leaving the retreat was difficult... God's blessings to every one of you.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

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