Being conscious and loving...not stupid and cruel

"Whenever we do anything stupid, cruel, evil or destructive to ourselves or others," notes Fr. Richard Rohr, "we are at that moment unconscious - and unconscious of our identity If we were fully conscious, we would never do it. Loving people are always highly conscious people" (from Breathing Under Water, p. 91). He goes on to say:

To be fully conscious would be to love everything on some level and in some way - even our mistakes. To love is to fall into full consciousness, which is contemplative, non-dualistic and includes everything - even "the last enemy to be destroyed, which is death itself (I Corinthians 15: 26)

Last night was another long fit of sitting alone in the darkness fretting. I am, apparently, a world class, master-fretter even if I would rather give it up for good. So the question that begs asking is how might I come to love my fretting? I am unable to let it go, it seems to have a life of its own and it has been such a regular companion to my soul that I would probably feel lonely without its annoying presence. How, then, do I become fully conscious of love and the presence of the Lord even while bound by the contours of fretting? 

Three different wounded healers - who have served as life-long sages - offer some clues about discovering the blessing within the fretting. Jean Vanier writes that he has come to trust the insights of his body. Knowing that God's loving Word became flesh within and among us is an invitation to trust the wisdom of our bodies. What is at the heart of this fit of fretting? Where do I feel it in my flesh? And what message of love and freedom does it hold for me? "Spirituality," he writes in Becoming Human, "is being fully human... (and all too often) we are not clear about what it means to be human. We tend to reduce being human to acquiring knowledge, power and social status."  And yet so much of our true humanity is broken, weak and more accustomed to the lonely darkness than the light. So how do we love what is afraid, fearful and unattractive? Feeling this question in my body is the first clue towards acceptance: it is real, it hurts, my arms ache and I feel out of balance.

Vanier goes on to say that once we start to trust the wisdom of our bodies, we must carry this forward beyond solitude into community. Left to ourselves we will idealize the powerful and successful, fail to honor our senses and succumb to shame and loneliness. Parker Palmer, another of my spiritual mentors, writes about viewing the various stages of our humanity through the lens of a metaphor: the seasons of nature. "This is a wise metaphor for the movement of life... far richer and more promising and real than life as battlefield or a game of chance. The notion that our lives are like the eternal cycle of the seasons does not deny the struggle or the joy, the loss or the gain, the darkness or the light, but encourages us to embrace it all - and to find in all of it opportunities for growth."

Autumn, for example, is fundamentally about discovering in what is visible "the hidden wholeness" of all creation. The fall leaves are beautiful but they point to death; within that death, however, is also nature's scattering of seeds so that new life will take place. Winter brings us face to face with death, but in a way that carries "the gift of utter clarity." There are no illusions or clutter in the "winter landscape... so we have a chance to see ourselves and each other with utter clarity."  He continues: "Until we enter boldly into the fears we most want to avoid, they will dominate our lives. But when we walk directly into them... we can learn what they have to teach us." Spring is not just about the wild abundance of new life, but how that new life emerges from the humus - the mud - to bring humility to birth. Spring teaches that:

If we want to save our lives, we cannot cling to them but must spend them with abandon. When we are obsessed with bottom lines and productivity, with efficiency of time and motion, with the rational relation of means and ends, with projecting reasonable goals and making a beeline toward them, it seems unlikely that our work will ever bear full fruit, unlikely that we will ever know the fullness of spring in our lives.

And summer, filled with flowers, corn, fruit and greenery, shows us that "nature normally takes us through a reliable cycle of scarcity and abundance...summer is a communal act, the joint creation of an incredibly complex ecology in which each part functions on behalf of the whole, and in return, is sustained by the whole." It is, you see, the essence of community made real in the seasons and our senses. Palmer joins Vanier on the counter-cultural value of community. All by ourselves, we run "headlong into a culture that insists, against all evidence, that we can make whatever kind of life we want, whenever we want it." It is the same culture that hides and denies the presence of sickness, old age, wounds and shadows. Only in an alternative culture - one that honors weakness, fretting, fear and all the rest - can we begin to "see that our own weakness is not something to be judged, something negative, but something to be appreciated" just as we ourselves are appreciated in community. Only when "we belong and have a place," Vanier concludes, will we start to love all the weak and unattractive parts of our lives that we try to disguise

Rohr's work with AA has led him to a similar conclusion:  community is essential for living into
our shadows and failures. When we are held up by trust and compassion, we learn to accept and celebrate vulnerability. We no longer have to fake being successful. We no longer have to submit ourselves to the shame and lies that lock us out of love. As we share our pain, addiction, shame and fear with others who have lived these things just as vividly as ourselves and own them albeit imperfectly, we discover a common humanity. We find hope in the middle of our despair and light within the darkness. 

Feeling the essence of fretting (or anxiety or fear or shame) in my body - learning from the cycle of the seasons - and risking vulnerability in a safe and trustworthy community helps me not only make sense of my fretting, but also to honor its wisdom. To love it. Like autumn, I am learning to wait for the hidden wholeness. And while I am a LONG way from doing this consistently, every time I practice these three steps, I find that they are liberating. Not in changing the facts on the ground, but in helping me live fully as a human being in the midst of them.

At the close of today's posting, Richard Rohr included this stunning poem from the works of Ranier Maria Rilke. It, too, brought me to sacred ground and grounded my fretting in humble love. 

I'm too alone in the world, yet not alone enough
            to make each hour holy.
            I'm too small in the world, yet not small enough
            to be simply in your presence, like a thing--
            just as it is.

            I want to know my own will
            and to move with it.
            And I want, in the hushed moments
            when the nameless draws near,
            to be among the wise ones--
            or alone.
            I want to mirror your immensity.
            I want never to be too weak or too old
            to bear the heavy, lurching image of you.
            I want to unfold.
            Let no place in me hold itself closed,
            for where I am closed, I am false.
            I want to stay clear in your sight.

            I would describe myself
            like a landscape I've studied
            at length, in detail;
            like a word I'm coming to understand;
            like a pitcher I pour from at mealtime;
            like my mother's face;
            like a ship that carried me
            when the waters raged. 


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