So a Bird Can Fly Through
One thing I’ve noticed that all the saints and mystics have in common: they admonish us to live with less, to give away the things we don’t need that could help others. This isn’t to impoverish ourselves so we go on the dole, but to allow us to get down to our bare essentials, so we can let go of distractions and discover the riches within ourselves.
Do you think Saint Teresa of Avila, Hildegard von Bingen, or St. Francis of Assisi could have reached their heightened awareness if they had been watching CSI every night, or shopping until they dropped for stress relief? We know it wasn’t until they let go of the busy-ness around them that they could meditate and receive divine inspiration—the kind that comes from being so tuned into a problem that our consciousness has an equal but opposite reaction, flipping us into the solution. This won’t happen until we surrender and let go of our fear of lack, and eliminate the congestion of things.
It’s a paradox that in surrendering the worldly, we are able to gain access to the greater world of the spirit, a world beyond our security blanket of things. We may even know certain “lilies of the field” who have survived and thrived without having a house full of stuff—or bought into the consumerism mentality that keeps us on the treadmill. Maybe someone like Ivan Illich, the renaissance man of letters who in later life owned only what would fit into a suitcase, yet traveled the world living off his writing, and the largesse of the many friends he had made in his life—people who were happy to have him visit and share his latest philosophical insights. It may not be an easy way to live, but when compared with jumping through corporate hoops or living an inauthentic life, maybe not so bad. Would any of you be happy to make room for the Dalai Lama or Bob Dylan for a few weeks each year? And wouldn’t you rather talk or make music than watch tv together?
We have finally reached an age where having too much can be a liability—not just spiritually, but financially. How much does it cost to house our collections of stuff, to protect these things we surround ourselves with? How do we divide our time amongst it all, these things that have become liabilities? How many cards will you be holding when they end the game?
These times are the manifestation of a systemic disease, and as any naturopath will tell you, don’t shoot the messenger. Reflect, review, look for the root cause and fix the system. (How long has it been, anyway, since we took a fearless inventory of ourselves, our addictions, or our way of conducting business?)
We see in some of the great criminals aspects of ourselves that we wish weren’t there—greed, or the desire for getting away with something illegal or illicit once in awhile. But let’s look at the upside. Carried to the extreme, now greed has no place left to go, so the yang swings back towards the yin, the calm follows the storm, and we have time to re-examine where we went wrong and fix the holes in our roofs. And we’ve learned once again not trust anyone who claims he or she can help us get rich quick.
These realizations don’t come when we’re flush.
During a storm, we are likely to lose something at some point, even if we are prepared. But let’s think about our true assets, the things that they can’t take, no matter what. Say we went to prison. What could they not take from us? First of all, our spirit. We would do whatever it takes to keep that alive, even fake submission—for awhile, at least. Second, our minds, our education. Imagine, suddenly, with everything else stripped away, there’s so much more room for these things to grow. How many prisoners have made the most of their time and produced works of great literature, science, poetry or philosophy?
I wonder what would happen if we all as a group decided to forfeit some of the luxuries or habits we’ve accepted as being necessary in our lives—cable tv, luxury cars, closets full of new clothes, lattes at Starbucks. After complaining for awhile, would we then take stock of the things we have left, and create something of beauty and value?
I once watched an Imperial Japanese gardener prune trees. I asked him about his method. He said it was easy—just clear away the unnecessary branches, so a bird can fly through. I like to see this time as a sort of cosmic pruning, an opportunity to clear away the excess in our lives, so our spirits can fly through.