Back in the 1960′s, a Trappist monk named Thomas Merton wrote,
Douglas Steere remarks very perceptively that there is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.
He went on,
To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
from ‘Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander’ by Thomas Merton*
I have spent most of my 60+ years being ‘carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns.’ If the internet and email and work haven’t been enough, there has also been my natural desire to be valued by my peers and my unshakeable belief that my ‘value’ is rooted in my accomplishments, real and imagined.
Believing that, I get carried away.
Here’s a bit of meditation artwork that you might appreciate (my friend, Bill, pointed this out to me on the Facebook page of the Upaya Institute & Zen Center, Santa Fe, NM). I can picture this poster hanging on a wall in that special room that we go to for quiet and stillness.
The instructions may look like a lot to remember, but I think its okay to start simply. Just notice 3 stages:
- entering – settle body, recall our intent
- attention to experience
In my experience, the transitions are the easiest part to overlook. It has not been unusual for me to ring the bell in the chapel and watch two minutes of thinking about my work day flash past before the thought lands, “what am I doing here?” It’s at that point that my practice actually feels like it begins. I have also found that watching the transition from stilled attention back into life’s activities provides an important close to each practice period.
Wishing you a peaceful life and practice.
Last week I found myself doing what I have done nearly every morning for the past six decades: taking a shower. The routine of the shower, what to do, where to stand, which way to turn, are all so familiar to me. I shower on autopilot, almost without any thought at all.
But then, as I almost always do, I began thinking. The voice inside my head powered up. The shower quickly vanished. I found myself getting keyed up for the day ahead, my inner voice rehearsing a conversation that has never, will never, go the way I want, trying to score the points that only I can imagine will bring me comfort and satisfaction.
And then something strange happened. Partway through my inner speech, I caught myself. As I began the next round of scrubbing, I picked up the soap and silently greeted it. “Hello, soap!” My eloquent, impassioned diatribe against the injustices in my life was gone.
I felt the water raining down on me and greeted it too. “Hello, water!” I felt transformed. Back in the shower. With everything I needed in that moment. And a feeling of gratitude for the simple joys of a too-often taken-for-granted morning shower.