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August 15, 2011
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I doubt that I will be able to journal here every day, but unfortunately for those of you who have subscribed and will therefore get those annoying e-mail notices … I am on a roll.

Also, I doubt I will be talking about spirit and beliefs all the time either, so please bear with me for now; dying is a once in a lifetime sacred event and I suppose I am just a little preoccupied with spiritual matters at the moment. In any case, I do have one concept that I did want to share before I got into anything else. It’s called grace.

Life is a gift … there is no doubt about this in my mind. Life is also beautiful … absolutely … life is beautiful. Life is an adventure with infinite possibilities … this I believe as well. And life is also hard! Very hard! It has required fairly constant effort for me to keep those other things in view when I allow that view to be veiled by hardship. Kind of a shame … but true nonetheless; and I believe it’s the human condition anyway, so there is no sense in fretting about it either. In any event, while I recognize that life has been good to me and has given me everything I have needed for 59 years and continues to do so; at times I still felt lacking … like I was missing something important.

Ever since the beginning of my spiritual journey some 40 years ago, I understood that life was a learning experience. This meant to me that anything I was going to learn had to be experienced, practiced, and integrated … like learning the violin, or mastering ballet, or whatever. Aside from any inherent gifts, or the benefit of being a savant … on a practical level, few skills could really be learned without the sweat, blood, and tears of effort.

So too did I believe was the case with spiritual learning. I believed that nothing could be learned about myself, about each other, and about life, without the effort involved in constant practice until I got it right. Made me a very serious and rigid young man. On the face of it I still think this is true, but in recent years I have also discovered that little, misunderstood secret called grace.

When I rejected my Christian roots (well, the dogma anyway) I also rejected many of the concepts that went along with that … grace being one of them. However, 30 or 40 years is a long time and much of my original distaste has passed away, and I have re-adopted terms that reflect concepts descriptive of my own belief system … like soul, and -yes- grace.

While it is true that in our physical world there are few options besides going through the rote process of practice, practice, practice; I have learned that this is not always necessarily true when it comes to life. If you remember my discussion yesterday about truth and beauty being the components comprising this physical universe, then you will also remember that I mentioned love being the main component of spirit. It is my belief that it is through love that grace enters our lives and gives us an invaluable gift.

While it is still true that we all have to make the effort to learn about this living experience, and that it is through this learning that we grow fundamentally and spiritually; I have also learned that my own efforts are hardly adequate in giving me the skills to fully navigate this maze we call life. I have come to realize that my sincere efforts have often been rewarded even when I didn’t “deserve” it. Grace rewarded my efforts by meeting me part way. To be honest, I don’t know how I would have been able to persist if it had all been dependent on my own personal drive. I mean; I didn’t even know where I was driving to most of the time! Grace was able to use my sincere intention and help clear the way for my life to continue to unfold. It’s beautiful really.

Does any of this make sense to you all, or do I need an example? Yes? Okay, here goes!

I have been meditating for 40 or so years. In the beginning I meditated like my life depended on it. I never missed a time slot, and never meditated for less than an hour at a time. As the years wore on, discipline and circumstances changed. Sometimes I would be “virtuous”, and other times I would be pretty sloppy. At still other times I would not meditate at all for extended periods. Throughout it all, I felt like I was not really getting very far along anyway, but I continued because I believed it was a good thing to do. However, after all those years of practice I felt like my mind was still in a thousand different places at once, and that I was mindfully present at best only a few minutes a day.  Not a lot to show for my efforts.

But recently I have become cognizant of something else. Here in America, my spiritual life had become, like so many others, abducted by the marketplace where value is placed on things like: more, smarter, better, faster, stronger; and the ends being more important than the means. Yet Spirit lives in a timeless dimension where these things have no meaning. It’s about the process and little more … at least as far as we’re concerned. My only job -really- is to make the effort, to persist, and to be present … the rest will make itself known to me when I am ready. There is really no fast track, so I may as well drop the anxiety this brings … it didn’t help anyway! Grace would meet me part way when appropriate and show me what I needed to do from there. A recent example of this was when I got my cancer diagnosis. Rather than worry about some future event, I automatically shot right to the present with very little effort on my part. Even though I had not been a perfect practitioner of mindfulness … grace carried me the rest of the way when I needed it most.

Okay, maybe that wasn’t the best example of what I am talking about. I have a better one.

I have always loved people; but I have never really been good at knowing how to connect with them, so I ended up isolating myself a lot. I tried to connect many times throughout my life, but never quite seemed to get it. So I focused on other things … more solitary things … and this was probably good for me at the time. However, in the last few years or so as I found myself with a little more space in my life, I decided it was finally time to break through this connecting thing.

As usual, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing … but I tried. I made efforts, I worked hard at not taking anything personally, and I used my few minutes of mindfulness each day on being present with whomever I was with. Still, I felt pretty clumsy, self-centered, needy, distracted, and I made lots of mistakes. But what I noticed is that my efforts were appreciated. My feeble, little efforts were appreciated! People gave back to me much more than I felt like I was giving them. My imperfect, but sincere desire to share in other peoples lives was noticed by grace, and grace met me part way. It’s amazing really. I feel like I hardly did anything, but the circle of love followed through. Grace took my copper efforts and turned them into golden moments. It is experiences like these that are teaching me that I don’t have to be perfect in order to grow, which is really a contradiction in terms. And I certainly don’t have to be perfect to be loved; I am loved for who I am. You can say this is from God if you are so inclined … I don’t really mind … I only know that it is. And my hope is that all of you might take some comfort in believing that we are cared for in this way whether we believe it or not. As a friend so eloquently put it: “we are, therefore we are loved.”

This I believe is how I have experienced joy in my life. The utter delight of knowing that I don’t always have to get everything just right. By making a sincere effort to learn from what I do and observe, goes a long way. The rest of the time I can be appreciating the awesome truth and beauty that the Universe showers on me everyday.

The reason I bring this up right now, and why this post is a little longer than I promised they would be, is because I want to give you all a small gift. At my age I trust that I have garnered a few small tid-bits of wisdom to share; and as someone who knows he is dying sooner than later I think I am uniquely motivated to want to distill life right down to it’s very core. And so I want you to know that what I am carrying with me into the next life is this: birth, life, death, and love are utterly true, utterly natural, and utterly integrated … one into the other. Love does not form and then disappear, neither does life … they continue on, they continue within each of us, and they continue throughout all things. 

So, as you find yourself hurrying throughout the day in order to get to the next thing, just try and remember that what we are all really here for is to pay attention to what we are doing right now, to do it with sincerity and love, and do it with the best of our ability, and then give ourselves a break so that we can absorb the fruit of that effort. Try to feel the spirit of love that saturates the space between space. Take a few moments each day to think about what you like about yourself, and befriend that part … this is you, no matter what anyone else says … this IS you!

So you can see that it starts with you! You will never see the love that you don’t see in yourself; but when you do, grace will finally have a chance to meet you there.

Big talk, I realize, because I haven’t fully absorbed this lesson yet either, but I have time.

rick

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Anacker Faith permalink
    September 9, 2011 8:05 am

    As always, I fully agree with you! Thank you for expressing what is! The more I hear and feel the thoughts of loved ones the more I realize our oneness! It is so affirming to feel the connection! It helps me to be more patient with myself and keep plugging away on this path we call life. I guess those special moments that we do see we are undivided fuel our practice… Love to you, now and each moment dear friend!

  2. Julie permalink
    August 25, 2011 9:30 am

    Wow.

  3. Loma permalink
    August 19, 2011 10:39 am

    I love this quote from what you wrote here: “…as you find yourself hurrying throughout the day in order to get to the next thing, just try and remember that what we are all really here for is to pay attention to what we are doing right now, to do it with sincerity and love, and do it with the best of our ability, and then give ourselves a break so that we can absorb the fruit of that effort.”
    Simplifies life down to the basics of being present and loving. Thank you, Rick, for putting your thoughts and insights into words and sharing them so freely.

  4. Gemina permalink
    August 17, 2011 11:18 pm

    this is a really beautiful piece. i’m so glad you’re sharing this journey with us.

    hope you like the quiche 🙂

  5. August 17, 2011 12:55 pm

    ha…I’m reading luv..here’s a poem

    “even lying down, a sea
    of pine, red
    birds, crickets

    and your hands, the feel of
    waking up in the
    morning

    bursting with haves”

    — Lyn Lifshin, “Haves”

  6. Mike permalink*
    August 17, 2011 9:37 am

    It’s interesting, Rick. For years, I thought that you were isolating yourself in your little corner of Wisconsin because of some internal need to hermit-ize yourself: to escape from all those people out here who can be so complex, maddening, chaotic, hateful and very intrusive.

    Little did I know that your self-imposed sanctuary was like your monk’s cave where escape is not the goal, but getting closer to Spirit is the goal.

    I remember that you and I took Swami Rama’s meditation course together so many years ago. I think I kept up with it for perhaps a year, but while I appreciated the ideas and purpose behind meditation, the busy-ness of life simply got in the way of seeking singleness of mind. Such have gone all of the less-secular diversions in my life.

    I’ve no doubt as I read your cogent and wonderful passages here that the mental place your devotion to this simple practice has taken you has given you more insight into Life and Death than a hundred books by famous philosophers ever could have.

    I regret now that because of the physical distance we always seemed to have had between us, we didn’t get to spend more time discussing these things, although whenever we did, it was always very satisfying for me–and I hope for you.

    But it is good being able to read your thoughts now and to see you share them with others.

    Again, Rick, I have to say that I am proud to be your brother.

    Having been something of my whipping boy when we were kids, did you ever think you’d hear me say that? 🙂

  7. Lauren permalink
    August 16, 2011 7:52 pm

    Rick: I was reading something today in a book that used the term “nutritious people” to describe the people in our lives who genuinely “feed” our souls. I thought immediately of you and our budding friendship. Thank you for nourishing me with your words! I belong to you

  8. Susan Leah permalink
    August 16, 2011 6:07 pm

    Thank you for including me and allowing me to be a part of your journey in this way. Just thinking of you with love, and gratitude that you have been a part of my journey.

  9. August 16, 2011 8:23 am

    You and I had a conversation about grace this past year. It is amazing, how grace comes, unexpected, and understanding possesses us, lifts us and even carries us for a brief moment, after which we then have the strength to do the work to find that place again.

    I am always reading a book about death & dying (for those who don’t know me, I’m a hospice volunteer and home funeral educator), and this quote comes from a collection by Helen Nearing, the quote itself is Mohandas Gandhi.

    “The more I observe and study things, the more convinced I become that sorrow over separation and death is perhaps the greatest delusion. To realize that it is a delusion is to become free. There is no death, no separation of the substance. And yet the tragedy of it is that though we love friends for the substance we recognize in them, we deplore the destruction of the insubstantial part that covers the substance only for the time being. Whereas real friendship should be used to reach the whole through the fragment.”

    A month ago while in the hospital waiting room, I looked through the glass wall dividing the optical clinic from the waiting room and saw an older woman trying on glasses. She was heavy and wore a scarf on her head, and while I couldn’t see her clearly, she reminded me so much of my mother, who died 8 years ago, that I almost went in for a closer look.

    It was strange to consider what it would be like to talk to my mother again, in the body and personality she had while living. And I realized, that that was not who she really was or is. And that I know her in a very different way since she made her transition. My experience of her is very subtle, so I had not realized what I knew until that moment – I did not want to go back in time to talk to who I thought my mother was, when I now experience her closer to who she really IS.

    Charlene

  10. Susan permalink
    August 16, 2011 7:34 am

    The way of love is not a subtle argument;
    The door there is devastation.

    Birds make great sky circles of their freedom.
    How do they learn?
    They fall
    And in falling,
    They’re given wings.
    -Rumi

    Susan

  11. Jenelle permalink
    August 16, 2011 12:28 am

    Hey there Rick, I just want you to know that I am reading, I am listening, and I am learning. Did you know you have so much to teach me? I love your words and how they ring true for me. Thank you for helping me to pay attention. It’s in there. It’s in here.

    I look forward to your next post. And I too would enjoy reading them daily. Write on! I feel like I’m sitting in a good, deep conversation with you. And I’m enjoying myself. 🙂

    With Love and Gratitude,
    Jenelle

  12. Jane permalink
    August 15, 2011 7:50 pm

    Rick, I for one would not mind a bit if everyday there was a post in my mailbox from you. It
    s l o w s me down. I love reading your thought provoking view of what is going on in your head. Food for thought! Good good stuff. It also allows me/us to be with you on your scared journey. A real privilege.
    Today, as I read your post, I was reminded of a book I read in 1978/79(?), I was a young single mother. The book was called The Roads Less Traveled and it began by saying LIFE IS DIFFICULT and once we understand that, really understand it- in the bottom of our souls, it gets much easier. It made me look into The Four Noble Truths at that time. From that moment on, my life changed and of course continues to change, but has always been different. Better. More focused on loving people and myself for better or worse. Excepting the bad and there has been plenty, and rejoicing in the good and thankfully there has been a lot more of that
    Tonight, as I fall asleep, I will be thinking about GRACE. Thank you.

  13. August 15, 2011 7:29 pm

    Rick….for a guy who rejected religion (as did I), and has been meditating for 40 years (as have I) and who really appreciates connection (as do I), and who sees grace acting in his life (as do I)…….wait a minute: maybe we ARE ONE!!!!!(smile)

    I love you, my brother.

    David

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