The Best Use Of Our Human Lives

We have two alternatives: either we take everything to be sure and real, or we don’t. Either we accept our fixed versions of reality, or we begin to challenge them. In Buddha’s opinion, to train in staying open and curious—to train in dissolving the barriers that we erect between ourselves and the world—is the best use of our human lives.

— Pema Chödrön, Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion (p. 45)

Teach us to sit still

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

— T. S. Eliot, from Ash Wednesday

It is really worth it to read the whole poem — found here.

Verbum Caro Factum Est

I once saw the work of a young Irish artist, Denis Brown. He works with calligraphy which he then paints over. He has done an interesting piece on John 1, 14: “Verbum caro factum est.” The Word became flesh. G. K. Chesterton said he would have given everything he had written to have penned that sentence. The artist had this profound sentence written in calligraphy, but he had “caro” crossed out and “sinis” written over it. John 1, 14 then read: “Verbum sinis factum est.” The Word became ashes. His theory was that there is a phase of destruction in everything. Part of regeneration is destruction as cleansing. Out of this comes new life. At Calvary Jesus the Word became ashes, then like the phoenix in the Resurrection he rose to new life.

— John O’Donohue, Four Elements (pp 115-116)

I couldn’t find the image referenced, but you can visit Denis Brown’s website here to get a feel for his work. 

Rhythms Of Our Living

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Outside the offices of the “Plantlife” in the British Museum of Natural History, there is a slice of the diameter of an ancient redwood from California. There are little white labels from the centre circles outwards, these labels signify key periods of history. They extend from Colmcille’s arrival in Iona in the seventeenth century, through the middle ages, the Renaissance, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and to the world wars of the twentieth century. It is a daunting image: a great tree which has breathed the air and atmosphere of at least 12 centuries. Its patient memory rings grow slowly and generously enough to encircle one century after another.

Landscape holds out against transience. While days, years and individuals disappear, it remains. When its surface grasses and leaves die, they fall back into it. It receives the remains of dead individuals too; long before it takes their bodies, it has been receiving their lives.

The life of a person does not remain hermetically sealed inside one’s skin. Skin itself is porous; and the senses are great pores which let self and creation mingle. As the great outside, landscape quietly absorbs the tones, textures and rhythms of our living. In a sense its final embrace of our flesh brings it no surprises.

— John O’Donohue, Four Elements (pp 140-141)

Image: Sequoia cross section, 2008. Natural History Museum, London.
Image source: Cathedral Grove.

You’ve Felt It Your Whole Life

The true significance of any of our lives is something that’s very, very close.  It’s in each breath you take.  It’s the manifestation of that stillness within you.  It’s the unborn birthing itself, moment to moment. There’s no “how to”, and  there’s no such thing as what it should look like.  I can’t teach anybody how to do it.  I can only tell you that it’s possible.  You can feel it.  You’ve felt it your whole life.  You’ve always known there’s something inside of you that’s sought to be born, fresh and real.  You know there’s something inside you, far beyond your imagination, that’s been trying to break out and be.  Everyone feels this inside.  But to allow life to express itself in that way, with that much abandon, requires a true surrender into the unknown.  We must let go of even the great realizations or awakenings we have.  Even the greatest wisdom that comes to you, the greatest “Ah-hah” was meant for that moment and that moment only.

— Adyashanti, Falling Into Grace (p. 199)

The Way Life Wanted To Manifest Through You

As long as you care about being remembered or being significant, you haven’t totally let go. What if you found out that the way spirit wanted to manifest through you was as a simple, ordinary person, but a person with great love, great compassion, and great wisdom? Maybe nobody would even recognize it in you, but it would simply be who and what you are. What if that were the way life wanted to manifest through you? Would that be okay with you? Would you allow it to happen?

— Adyashanti, Falling Into Grace (p. 198)

But What There Is Time For Is Looking Out The Window

I like to look out the window. I have spent freely so much of my time doing this, and sometimes it strikes me how little I know of the various things other people can do. I can’t play bridge. I don’t play tennis. All those things that people learn, and I admire, there hasn’t seemed time for. But what there is time for is looking out the window.

― Alice Munro in the interviewed by Alice Quinn in The New Yorker

Not Just To Shelter Or Beguile You

A story is not like a road to follow… it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.

― Alice Munro, Selected Stories, 1968-1994