Sunday, 14 June 2015

Lessons in Living

“Were I to Teach a Course on God” by Nancy Shaffer

Were I to teach a course on God I would begin with a plate of persimmons – the sweet, crisp kind, the ones more orange than red; the hard, squat Fuyus I eat each November morning on hot wheat cereal with almonds.

I would slice the persimmons gently across their fat centers, then hold them out. See the star shape? I would offer them, so all might wonder.

I would slice brown Bosc pears straight down their middles, so the threads of each stem trace wisply down to that rounded place where dark seeds lie, tear-shaped and wet in white, firm flesh. I would hold these halves silently forward, their bottoms smooth in the curves of my palms.

I would teach God with plates of pomegranates, both before they were opened and after. I would bring wet washcloths. We would bury our faces and eat; all that luminescent purple-red, those clear-bright kernels fitted in tight rows on small and tumbling hills – and all that juice, so easily broken, sweet and pucker at once. We would say nothing.

I would teach this way; with plates of fruit, a knife; many washcloths. With my eyes very large; my mouth mostly silent, so all might eat.

...I love these words, they speak to that special place deep down in the soul of me...Been singing in my soul for some time now...If you want to know about God you have to delve into life and just taste those sweet juices in the messiness of will love it...I do...

There was a time in my life when my mantra was “Avoid, everything, avoid everything, avoid everything.” Hardly what you would call a mantra for living, more one for not living. Thankfully those days are long gone. These days if I have a mantra it’s “embrace everything, embrace everything, embrace anything.” As I often like to say “I believe in everything and that little bit more than everything.” That which lies at the core of everything and yet somehow transcends everything. That which allows us to see, to hear, to touch, to taste, to feel, to laugh and to love. The true seven wonders of life. Yes I believe in everything and that little bit more than everything.

Life has so much to teach us if we would just be awake to it, we just need to have our senses open to it. We just need to be here now. Not waste our time wishing we were here, but actually be here bringing this moment fully to life; wanting what we have and not wasting our time wishing we were some place else or living some other life; not wasting our time like the character in the film “Postcards from the Edge”, based on Carrie Fisher's semi-autobiographical book about an alcoholic Hollywood star,   who sends a card home while on holiday that read “Having a wonderful time. Wish I were here.”

I used to think that nothing mattered, that life was meaningless and empty and without value. I now know that the opposite is true, that everything matters, every thought, every word, every feeling, every breath, every moment. Everything matters. I no longer need to go seeking anything in life I just need to be alive to everything and avoid nothing. I have a growing and increasing sensitivity to everything and that little bit more than everything. Now please don’t get me wrong I’m not saying I am more sensitive that I take things increasingly personally, no what I mean is that I have increased my sensitivity my openness to everything.

I think it was Bill Darlison who claimed that if we wish to live life more spiritually we need to increase our sensitivity to life. I believe that if we do we will know experiences beyond our imaginings and life will become our constant teacher. We will grow in deeper understanding and most importantly we will become more effective in our daily living and truly become of service to life and those we meet in life. Certainly this is the lesson life has taught me.

Life is the greatest teacher of them all and we as a part of life can teach just by our presence in this world. People have taught me many things, in so many ways without ever really realising it. I have often only realised those lessons many years later. Lessons I have tried to pass on to others. I remember many years ago my grandma once saying to me “Why do you always say you are sorry, when you don’t really mean it.” I remember at the time going silent and taking it deeply into myself. It was only many years later when I understood what she meant. I used to say sorry all the time not because I was genuinely sorry for what I had done and had the intention not to do it again. No I used to say the word “sorry” as a way of controlling the potential anger of another. It had little or nothing to do with putting right what was wrong. The truth is that I didn’t really mean it at the time. A lesson it took me many years to learn.

I have learnt many things from many seemingly ordinary people throughout my life. One of my greatest teachers was an ordinary man, from Oldham of all places, who taught me , amongst many other things, how to listen. This all began by practising and noticing when I wasn’t listening, especially when others were talking. He taught me to observe when my mind wandered off or to notice when I was listening how much of my time was spent on working out what “brilliant” response I was going to make, in an attempt to refute what the other person was saying. He taught me that when we are listening to another we are extending ourselves to that person, we are giving them a gift; a gift that we can both share in. In making space for the other, we create a sacred space, we make space for God and we get a taste of heaven.

This truly opened me up to people in way I had never been before; it brought me alive to life in ways I had never been before. Now of course not all the great sages come from Oldham. Those of ancient times taught similar lessons to this ordinary man. That said I am not sure that I could have accessed what they taught eleven or so years ago. It required simple language from an ordinary man. He spoke the language of the heart and I was prepared to listen. I learnt a valuable lesson that day; I learnt that the language of the heart is universal, it can break down any barrier. Those simple words opened me to experiences I never knew were possible. Those experiences opened my senses, particularly my ears, I finally had ears that could hear and I began to finally hear so much more than mere words.

There are teachers all around us, as there has been throughout human history. Some have specific names such as masters, gurus, crones, rabbis, elders, sages, priests, sheikhs, even ministers and they have played vital roles in revealing spiritual truths. They have done so both directly and or indirectly through parables, koans, stories, sermons and their personal example and they have recommended methods that can lead us to enhance our spiritual lives and therefore open us up to everything and that which is more than everything and yet can be found in everything. Sometimes we need such people to get us started on our jounrney, just as I needed that ordinary man from Oldham who taught me how to listen, how to open my ears how to have ears that could hear, so that I could finally hear and my other senses could open too. This led to the realisation of the truth that everyone and everything in life can and is a teacher, even seemingly negative and painful experiences, if we remain open to them. In fact perhaps I have learnt more from suffering than joy, from getting things wrong rather than getting them right for these experiences have humbled me and therefore opened me up to more than I could ever have even begun to imagine.

All this speaks to me of the nature of God. My understanding of God is a kind of panentheistic one, not pantheistic, panentheistic. For me there is this something more than everything, that is present in everything and yet somehow more than everything, that is both transcendent and imminent. That said this sense, this spirit, does not control everything, but does communicate through everything. I experience what I would describe as some kind of universal will calling life to be in harmony with it. Calling always calling, what I have heard described as “The Lure of Divine Love”, which I have come to believe communicates through all life and I have discovered that the more awake and open to life I am the more I have a sense that it is communicating with me. When my senses are fully open and awake I feel that life is constantly communicating with me.

I hear this in the words of one of my favourite hymns “God speaks to us in bird and song, in winds that drift the clouds along, above the din of toil and wrong, a melody of love." Something that is echoed in the following beautiful words from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”:

I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign'd
by God's name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe'er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.

Everything, all life can be our teacher if we are open to it. If we have ears that can hear, if all our senses are awake to everything and that something or perhaps nothing that is are the core of everything and yet beyond everything.

Either nothing matters or everything matters; either life is meaningful or there is no meaning at all in everything; either you should avoid everything or experience everything. For me I have come to believe that everything matters, every thought, every word, every feeling, every breath, every moment. Everything matters. We don’t need to seek anything, nor do we need to run from life either. All we need to do is to be alive to everything and avoid nothing; all we need to do is increase our sensitivity, our openness to everything and our lives will become rich in meaning. We will find our place in everything. We will know that we belong, we will find our place in life and give what we have to life which will give back to us in turn, abundantly.

Listen you have ears that can hear. Listen life is speaking to you. You can open yourself to it and if you do it will begin to speak to you and through you.

I’m going to end this little chip of a "blogspot" with these words of wisdom by Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro, from “Wisdom of the Jewish Sages.”

"Consider a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece has its place, and no other piece can fit that place. Yet no one piece makes sense on its own. Each piece needs the whole for its integrity and coherence. And the whole needs each piece to fulfill its purpose and bring meaning and order to the puzzle. Once a piece is in its proper place, its separateness is surrendered. We know a piece is in its place when it blends with the whole and disappears. What is true for a puzzle is true for Reality, with one exception: There is no hand putting us in our place. We must do that for ourselves. We must discover our place and take it. And when we do this, we discover the integrity and meaning of the whole; we discover the divine energy that flows through all things that links each to the other and all to God."

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