Thursday, September 24, 2015

Not on the Menu

Kitty Hawk beach
Outer Banks, NC
Photograph by Lee van Laer

Notes from a dog walk, Sept. 16, a.m.

The other night, someone I know was speaking about their life, and they described this factor and that factor, and so on... 

and then they paused. 

They were waiting for me to comment. I wasn't sure what to say; after all, every life is so unique, and we just don't know what life is or what will happen next. 

Prompted, I finally replied, 

every day, we are served a life of impressions that we have to digest. It never looks like what we think we ordered.

I think we all come to this world with bare feet, and then spend most of our lives waiting for shoes to drop. That is to say, our expectations are a fictionalization of what actually happens; and that is the scene that plays in us, day after day. Because we become pretty good at guessing, there is always a degree of correspondence — that means that sometimes, our expectations are in fact met. It doesn't change the fact that most of them are fictionalizations of what will actually happen, and where things actually are.

If I am truly aware, I think, I don't expect much. I encounter; but I don't expect. It's this difference of encounter and expectation that marks the line between Being and expecting; within Being, I just meet life, whereas within expecting, I attempt to control it. 

I think it's like this for all of us. We want to replace the truth of relationship with the illusion of control. Entering a relationship is quite different than demanding control. But I don't see that. Entering relationship and entering a moment of participation creates the possibility of an agency that does not exist when I demand control. It's true that I can create a certain kind of agency through the demand for control; but doesn't that demand for control always create a certain kind of rigidity that resists the natural evolution of circumstances?

Every morning, I pray. I pray throughout the day, of course; and there are days when it seems difficult, or it doesn't come to me in the way that I hope it would, that is, absolutely naturally—as it should. This despite the eternally available Presence. 

But I think the point is that I make the effort most mornings. Some people call it sitting — some people call it meditation. But just sitting there doing nothing, attempting to be completely open and empty, is something I did for many years, and (like some others my age and older) I eventually began to see that although this led to some interesting inner places, it wasn't enough of a demand—it wasn’t intelligently active. 

Passivity is a good thing, I think, but only in measure.

So now, when I sit, I say that I pray; and I pray actively, that is, I make an inner effort to come into relationship and see how I am, while at the same time applying a prayerful mantra that demands both feeling and intelligence to accompany the sensation of sitting.

Engaged in this activity this morning, and watching the inevitable cartoons of my life that play across the surface of what is almost always an unquiet mind, I realize that trust may be the most important element in meeting life through relationship and participation. I could just trust what happens instead of trying to control it: what a revolutionary concept! Maybe it's acceptable to just show up and accept the Presence of God instead of trying to show up with a big stick, no matter how softly I speak.

I think we make things too complicated a lot of the time. We are always trying to figure life out, instead of being in it. 


Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.

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