In the Arriving

I rested my hand on his shoulder.  Confident and firm, but the trust was still brittle.  We accelerated through cyclists and peddlers and ornately decorated rickshaws and buses with flailing young boys hanging out of the sides, careening the streets to enroll passengers.  Aggressive taxis and the occasional meandering cow muddled the traveling stream as well.  Bending with the silhouette of the lake, we rumbled further into rice paddies through muddy gingerline colored earth stitching the patchwork of fields.

His smile would mirror back your worth. Spectacular aesthetically, still, the poise of his eyes possessed a focus that believed in the value of the fixated object.  Typically scattered in motion, yet soft in presence when they finally landed.  The stable base to the sharpness of his eyes, was his ever present, perfectly aligned teeth in a capaciously framed mouth.  The smile, almost as constant a companion to him as the beloved Royal Enfield humming between our legs.

We were heading to a stupa outside of the city of Pokhara.  A whitewashed stone, sacred site meticulously built and humbly inarticulate, the grandeur muted by its longevity, on top of a ridge above the streams and trickles of eclectically gathered scurriers and drifters and journeyers.  Gurung was a waiter for a coffee shop I frequented.  The balcony strapped to the outside of the small venue kept the AnnaPurna still and subtle before my eyes, a deeply moving scene to write and journal before in the mornings, ahead of daily excursions.  Enthusiastic by the delivery of warmth and sincerity in our gestures and questioning of one another, we celebrated a quickly sound friendship.  Though we had a mere few hours of interaction, we took off on an adventure to a sight neither of us had seen.

The peak dangled closer.  Nearing the stupa, we taxingly climbed the crudely cut ivory steps teething out of the hilltop.  I love man’s desire to institute a site as sacred and set apart.  Our arrogant authority in our ability to only title and name.

Gurung, more than I,  drew honestly and mightily from his pseudo-healthy state, a blessing of youth rather than manicured care or effort.  Also, I think he smoked, which I have no evidence for jealously inferring.  Oh well, I thought, I’ll get to the stout, stubby Buddha quicker.  At the top, we removed our shoes and reverently walked around the rim, randomly pantomiming out to scenes that caught our attention across the verdant landscape.  Metal plates of scripted words circled the enshrinement.  I wish I knew all the great religions mantras and scripted prayers.  I think more so, I just wish I had some ruminating in my heart.  Like my thoughts and mind musings were just strewn out on the back side of a page embossed with braille, so maybe they’d have some direction, falling into the rivets and dents of prayers as they move along the surface of my soul.  That’s how I like to think of prayers and chants and meditations on holy texts.  Something that gets at you.  It creates cavities and gaps and textures on the exterior of your soul, so when traffic embraces you, as you mount the on-ramp to the freeway or you burn the blueberry lemon scones or a freak hail takes out your sunflowers in your garden, or planners and schedules and agendas become a thing, splashing and sloping against you, they can spill out of the channels and depressions carved by spiritual formation.

And maybe, just maybe, they’re deep enough to hold the weight and flow of our great sufferings through life, a shattered dream or life altering illness, or maybe even the loss of a loved one.

I looked back at young Buddha.  A statue of a handsome man before he let himself go.  We tried not to talk as we rounded the precipice.   When we felt satisfied and holy enough, we gathered our shoes, and with delight, started the far less demanding descent.  Extending meekly into the path was the limb of a cherry blossom tree.  I reached for an opened bud, holding it loosely.  Motioning to the flower, Gurung speaks, “Do you love, or do you like?”  I was really proud of his English proficiency, though I’m not sure polishing the brokenness in his speech could still resonate with the same intensity of his non-verbals in this moment.  Really, most of the time.  I said, pausing extensively, as I often do, “I love it.”  Which was true!  After trying to internally tare various levels of admiration and worth alongside their adversative counterparts, I remembered Elie Wiesel’s quote:  “The opposite of Love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

He replied, “Then you’ll let it be.”  I smiled back in agreement.  I don’t think beauty needs our ownership either, but our amazement.

We continued at a slow, appreciative pace.  Reaching the bottom, we hummed away.

 

Self-emptying and Go-gurts and Grace

True, uninhibited life is found in seeing beauty in the seemingly random flares of grace.  The more we gather empirical experience, poignantly contemplative at the ephemeral playfully at work, the higher the resolution at which we perceive the transformational spiritual reality we’re called into;  it’s availability and presence and immediacy.  There exists and permeates a reality, as Peter Rollins says, “found in the act of love.”  Knowing there’s patterns and rhythms brooding with a sacred weight, means the opposite is also true.  There’s an exchange of love that takes place in the ambiguity of chance and frills of casual daily living.  There’s small moments fermenting with rich, experiential life if attuned to in the spontaneity and unexpected.  I have two beautiful accounts.

I was substitute teaching on the southwest side of my Texas city, in school deeply within white-flight, upper-middle class area of the district.  Incredibly quick backdrop, with self-actualizations and inner angst-filled turmoil for another post, needs to be made.  I recently got back from a multi-month trip backpacking overseas in Southeast Asia.  I love primitive, minimalism mixed with cultural immersion and be external intuitively-stimulating environments of application and dissonance that teach me about humanity and my soul.  Long story short. So here I am in Texas, the community I’m humbled to serve and love and change (, bless their hearts).

His name is Naziel, at least that’s his last name which I mandated as his salutation upon its pronounceability.  He’s the one non-white.  He’s Pakistani and Muslim. And he’s such a collection of inviting, pristine awareness.  Confident and sure.  He’s chastized and pushed in the margins, both by faculty and students.  Living seen through bifocal perspectives of paralleled opposites:  my religion vs. your religion, arab vs. white, different vs. same.  His untarnished, freewheeling spirit makes him such a beautiful demonstrative force at love.  He walked in acceptance of situational circumstances,  but not defeated.  He chose self-disclosure and vulnerability in response to vocal dissent and timidity of uncertainty.  I felt Ihidaya, the Single One, through him.  His spirit marinated my heart into the clarities of his “knowing” me.  THrough his opening and opening, I saw whole and new into the divine energies of Being manifested around me.  I preempted this story with myself to illuminate the isolation and misunderstanding I sometimes feel….and its pettiness. Naziel showed me the third way, a response into a reality that transforms those around you.  He expands and opens himself in a liberalness of spirit that doesn’t carry wounds of exclusion or mistreatment.

By the end of the week, his mom who had never met me, made me a traditional Pakistani meal.  The nuances and subtleties of flavor, prepared with love, almost made me weep as I ate in the gym, alone, in a white wall washed school in West Texas.  You can guarantee I accompanied every morsel with sighs of ecstasy. I worshiped with a fork as my medium.  

Secondly, I took a position for a day working with elementary-age kids that have cerebral palsy or permanent brain damage from shaken baby syndrome.  I was struggling with lack of fulfillment, wondering whether any impact or change was being made without linear continuity in the day to day as a substitute, or oppositely concerned if I was grasping to acquire meaning through immortality projects.  Anyway, walking across the threshold of a room laden with beautiful souls, I felt invited to be faithful with the world.  Mother Teresa says “There’s no great acts, only small acts of great love.”  Teary-eyed and humbled by grace, I was entrusted to be everything in changing diapers, moving positions, cyclically, from seated to standing to lying.  The evening was spent in a sensitivity hangover as I felt my heart had been massaged by their laughter and outbursts and spit-ups and smiles all day.  I took a second day there.

I love the dependency. I love how interim and nothing I am. I love kids needing help at lunch with milks and go-gurts, taking no stock or identity in self-reliance.  I love the kenotic, fallow self-disclosure that has to take place before I can become anyone, in all my humanity and partiality.

In Scandal and Squalor

Patience seems to always make its reprise, unknowingly to itself, at a child’s laugh.  Trees kindly wave their hellos, the branches tempting, alluring invitation to see new angles into elevated freedom and wind-chilled cheeks.  The buzzing rigor and austerity accompanying a bee’s missionality, leaves wonder found in color and bloom.  

I can’t help but believe that this divine energy, underlining and infusing, exploring and stabilizing all of creation, is bound to a linear transfer or procession.  When attentive to being, you’ll find in glimpses, this Source flicks and floods and beckons and parades our participation in life.   There’s a definite systematic methodology we’re innately aware and supportive of, even yearning and hastily constructing in our own coarse, finite, and fragile means. Relationships are seen as investments, dispensing resources and energy with piecemeal utilitarian tact towards posterity. Sense of place is held to loosely and comfortably, to make available the choice to engage the next lucrative job advancement or resume padding, partitioning us from intentionality and embrace of community and setting.  

 

It’s easy to recognize and facilitate Love that procures longevity of well-being and stability.  Yes, love is found in a mutual exchange. There’s a giving that accompanies receiving.  A symbiotic nature threads through the intent of choices and actions:  it’s primal and natural and lovely. We’re keen to see and live in the apparent.  This author I adore, Cynthia Bourgeault, quoted a piece by the great Sufi mystic jalalludin Rumi that conveys a beautiful tone on self-emptying love.

 

“Love is recklessness, not reason.

Reason seeks a profit.

Loves comes on strong, consuming herself, unabashed.  

 

Yet in the midst of suffering,

Love proceeds like a millstone,

Hard-surfaced and straight forward.

 

Having died to self-interest,

She risks everything and asks for nothing.

Love gambles away every gift God bestows.”

 

How do we love first, without any desired response?  How do I give recklessly and uninhibited?  Can we have our being in a vulnerability that risks and bares it all?  As Cynthia Bourgeault refers, how do we make abundance and generosity bordering extravagance, our signature?  

Detachment from Expectations

How do we remove our loyalty to outcomes, expectations, and agendas? Can hope and anticipation be healthily applied to our lives?

A projected outcome keeps a dreamlike haze around the scope of our vision, shading reality in its fullness and vibrancy.  Surprises then wear the facade of obstacles and rugged scenery is nuisance to the trek,  hindering return to the well-beaten path.  We choose our response, the ripples lapping against our being that portray a movement towards a reality we’ve created within our own minds.  A constrictive, false reality that limits, ignores, and dispenses possibility.  The disturbances in the water only merit our acknowledgement when they align and cooperate with our desires and hopeful anticipations.  Expectations set a sterile standard, limiting potential and a probability for more.  They shoulder others with an undisclosed, internal accountability and results to perform.  In the relational sphere, loved ones are limited to what emotions can be extracted and replicated out of them, personified ideals of an individual is the manifestation seen out beyond the lens.  

Speckled on our days, splintering foresight’s dominance, is the subtle responsibility to move against will and breathe in what is.  The now invites us into full participation.   Efficacy demands loyalty in time spent, relational investment, performance in vocational and self-study practices, and through labels coloring into condition.  Detachment from expectations, wants, desires, goals, and results brings liberation and the present, “for the present is the presence of God.  Things have a past and a future, but only God is pure presence” (Abraham Heschel).  Peace is the gift set before us when our awareness abides in an intimate permanence and maturity.  Sentient in nature, admiration has capacious ability to thrive within us, which must accompany the pulse of our movement through life; anything other is self-denial and austere.  Our hearts were made for worship and observance in the present.  Expectations remove us from dwelling in the richness of His presence.  In the breath by breath with the divine, the primordial existence comes to life and the provisional faithfulness moves me to a cosmic humility.  

In Bedouin culture, shepherds lead their flocks through through the Judean mountainsides for sustenance and life.  These mountains are desolate and barren.  Tufts of grass, 3 to 4” in length, grow from outcrops of rock, which are heat-stricken and dead by noon.  The only hillsides that may contain this scarcity of life and provision for the sheep, their family’s livelihood, are mountainsides touched by the “Ruach” or wind from the Mediterranean Sea the night before, carrying moisture.  The shepherds could potentially lead their flocks to a slope without anything for the sheep, of whom their existence completely depends.  

What a different picture from our aggrandized, western view of Psalm 23:1-2: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.”  The “spirit” or “Ruach” is a moment by moment need for life, to live.  We need to be lead by the shepherd for every breath, “the green pastures are every moment of the day.” (VanderLaan).  He’s a God of the present.  Lean into whom you draw everything, because all that exists is the now.  

 

“We always become what we behold; the presence that we practice matters.  For those who have learned to see, everything is holy.” – Richard Rohr