Sunday, 4 November 2012

Catching falling leaves

(This blog was first published during autumn 2012)

I am someone who attempts to practise what they preach. Yes of course I do not do this perfectly but I do at least try.

In recent blogs I have spoken several times that spiritual development requires an increased sensitivity to life and that one way of achieving this is to listen, to really listen to people as they speak. This takes discipline. Well actually it takes more than that, it takes obedience. To increase my sensitivity to life, requires me to be obedient to life itself. This is no easy task.

Now you may not like the sound of this. Obedience is a word that probably sounds too passive to the 21st century ear. This is certainly true in the modern understanding of the word. Today when we hear the word obedience or obedient we think of yielding to the authority of another, which does indeed sound unhealthy and potentially exploitative. 

The problem stems from our current understanding of the word. Obedience is one of those words that has changed in meaning over time. If you look at the etymology of the word it comes from the Latin audere, which means to listen. Actually it is more than that; it means to listen and to understand. Words like audio and audit are also formed from the same root.

Obedient originally meant to listen and to hear what is being said. As I have said many times before you give no greater service to a person than to listen to them and to hear what is being said. It is the same with life by the way. To truly understand life you have listen to it with all your heart, with the sense of your senses. If you do you truly live; you are truly alive.

I recently spent a week catching up with family and friends. During this time I made a real effort to listen and to hear what was being said by the people I spent time with. I made a conscious effort to be obedient to what they were saying. Now of course this was painful at times as I bore witness to the joy and suffering of those I love. Thankfully these days I am able to remain obedient to this. I do not turn away.

I heard many tales, one of which could only be told at this time of the year. This was story of a friend walking in the park with his grandchildren. They were enjoying the autumn leaves together, the colours, the rustling under their feet, when suddenly the children shouted out, “let’s play the catching leaf game”. 

My friend had never even heard of it before, let alone played it. The game goes something like this; you look at the trees and watch for when the leaves begin to fall. As you see one falling you attempt to catch the leaf before it hits the ground. This is apparently no easy task, although it doesn’t sound too challenging. After all it’s just a leaf, it has no mind of its own and gravity should surely bring it down safely into your hands. Well apparently not. It seems that there are other forces at work, namely the wind. My friend said it was virtually impossible to catch the leaves as they fell because they would constantly be blown off course by sudden and unpredictable gusts of wind.

Isn’t life like this, beautiful but unpredictable. The leaves rarely fall directly into our hands. How often are they blown off course just as we are about to catch them.

The wind is a powerful, an ungovernable, beast. It pays no attention to our wants and needs and desires. Once again we have seen this power in the last few days. We have witnessed the devastating effects of the wind as Hurricane Sandy swept across the Caribbean and the east coast of America, with devastating effect. Many homes and livelihoods have been destroyed and many lives have been lost.  It even brought the presidential election to temporary hold. We are very fortunate in Britain that we do not suffer from the extreme weather that many people in other parts of the world have to contend with. although it has to be said we do complain about it a lot!

The wind truly is an ungovernable beast that cannot be tamed. The same can be said for all of life, which will always remain unpredictable. All of us can at times be swept away by the vicissitudes of life, with little or no warning. A bit like the dandelions I wrote of in a previous blog we have to learn to not only except this but learn to love these vicissitudes as part of the joy of living. The key is to learn not take these troubles personally. If the weather is one thing, it is democratic. When it rains in Manchester, it rains on everyone.

How though can we not only learn to accept and love life, but to also not take it personally? Well, it begins by becoming obedient to life itself, to accept life as it truly is. What is required is the ability to listen and to really hear life and to learn to dance in those winds as they gust in and through us. The key is to be in harmony with life itself and to truly understand that we are all in this together. Oh and to learn to play or at least remember how we use to play when we were children. It might be an idea, while there are still leaves on the trees, to go out and try and catch them as they are falling.

Jeffrey Lockwood in his beautiful meditation “Go Fly a Kite” wrote:

“To be sane, embrace the wind. But to be joyous, fly a kite. Dance between caprice and control. The wind pulls the fragile sail upward and the flyer plays out the string. Left to the turbulence, the kite will be dashed to the ground or swept over the horizon. Left on the ground, the kite is moribund, stagnant. But between sky and earth is enchantment.

We are kites, buffeted by the vicissitudes of the spirit, the squalls of fortune, the breezes of intuition, and the glorious gusts of chance encounters. And we are stabilized by a tail - the solidity of the mind, the bedrock of reason, the granite of science. If our tail is too heavy, we never leave the ground. If it is too light, we spin crazily.

The people in our lives - family, lovers, friends, community - are the braided strands, a kite string that sustains the dynamic tension between heaven and earth. They are a lifeline that allows us to be uplifted, to see farther, to live more fully. And the higher we fly, the stronger our string must be. For when our connection becomes worn and frayed it can snap, and we will come tumbling back to earth, landing far from where we left, with nobody to repair our breaks or mend our tears.

And so rejoice in the wind - but attend to your string.”

Rejoice in the wind – but attend to your string. How on earth do we do that?

The key it would seem is the string itself. It is this that sustains us that enables us not only to live, even with all the vicissitudes of life, but to fully enjoy the experience. Our families, our loved ones and our communities are part of that string, but they are not all of it. We each of us have things that hold and sustain us when the winds of life blow, or when they don’t blow. It is strange but I often find that I am at my best in the middle of a crisis, or a storm. Sometimes the hardest days for me are when all is calm and quiet and still. Sometimes that is when the real trouble visits. I know that I am not unique in this.

It is spiritual practise and primarily prayer that holds me and sustains me, it is this that keeps my string in good health. I often pause to pray and connect to life many times throughout the day. I am obedient to this practise. It enables me to listen to and to truly hear life, with the ears of my heart. When I live this way I am more able to speak the language of the heart and to attempt to practise what I preach.

Every Tuesday morning I attend a meditation group. This little group has been vital to maintaining the string that allows me to fully live.  This Tuesday as I went to collect the milk I looked up the sky just as it was becoming light. At the same time the week before it was still dark, I recognised this as a blessing from the clocks going back. The sky that morning had some beautiful pink tinges to it. I also noticed a flock of Canada geese flying past, migrating for the winter. I thought to myself what a beautiful blessing. I also noted some sadness too as I wondered to myself, maybe the beauty of the sky at that moment was in some way related to the horrors brought by hurricane Sandy on  the other side of the Atlantic. These thoughts may of course be nonsense and I am sure that any scientists reading this blog can correct me on this.

Not that it matters too much to me whether it is true or not. What is important is that at the moment I was able to connect to all of life. Not just within me and around me, but in other parts of the world too. The moment increased my sensitivity to life itself; the moment made me obedient to life itself. It allowed me to dance in the joy of the moment and fully appreciate the gift that is life itself, while also acknowledging the suffering in other parts of the world. Life is truly awry.

"By breath, by blood, by body, by spirit...we are all one..."

1 comment:

  1. This reading accompanied the worship that this blog was based on...

    “Dancing in the wind” David Bumbaugh

    Except for a few stubborn holdouts the tree outside my window is bare of leaves.

    The wind, this October morning, worries those few remaining leaves, pulling them this way, twisting them that way, tugging at them until, one by one, exhausted by the ceaseless effort to hang on, they go dancing in the wind.

    As they waltz past my window, the stubbornness has left them and they are finally free.

    What is it about living things that we expend so much energy resisting the inevitable, hanging on to what is already gone, hoping to sustain a season

    Into times that are unreasonable, clinging to old habits despite the pain and discomfort?

    Why are we so afraid to dance in the wind?