Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Real Self

I was just down by the lovely pond a few blocks from my house, at eight a.m. on a sunny summer Sunday. I did a little stretching, and then sat silently on the big rocks that stand up from the shallows. I closed my eyes, and began to listen to the wind make the leaves rustle each on each, and the water rhythmically lap the edges of the shore.

Eventually, through a process so subtle (and so outside the terms of today’s acceptable conversation) that I can’t describe it here, I reconnected with a Self that knows, by the nature of its very existence, that all my work and effort, all my worry about others’ perception of me, and all my concern about the future, are simply chimeras.

I’m not, of course, saying I don’t want to achieve anything in this life. In some wonderful ways, I’m more ambitious in my early mid-life than I’ve ever been. I am saying that things can be so much more easily achieved when I attend to the winds of Life in each moment, and set my sail in accord with them. It may seem like a detour in the moment, but any sailor will tell you that, to progress against the wind, you have to tack – that is, defer to the very wind that appears to be blowing against you. (For another look at this concept, I recommend my friend Cabrero’s post from this past week.)

What’s more, goals can more easily be achieved when I let the total circumstances of life (including the crucial “still, small voice”) shape and influence those very goals. Perhaps I want to help one of the kids in my group at camp progress beyond infantile perseveration on scatological humor. The very first, and most important, question is, Does he want to do that, too? Or is this just my knee-jerk reaction to his behavior? What might his actions and words be telling me that I haven’t heard yet? Is there perhaps some other area in which he does long to mature? This requires that I let go of my smaller personal preferences, in favor of aligning my actions with larger principles in which I believe more firmly, such as “Some part of everyone wants to grow in a positive direction.” The same dynamic of attending, then attempting applies to my career, my relationship with my fiancĂ©e, and everywhere else in my life.

This principle is not just some exotic eastern export, by the way. Yes, the Buddhists do treasure it, calling it non-doing, and it is also at the very heart of the Tao. But you can also find it in a well-known passage of the Bible (I Kings 19: 11-12). Here, God appears to Elijah not in the popular, dramatic forms of earthquakes and fires, which turn out to be empty roaring, but rather as a "still, small voice."

Of course, this approach requires that I let go of all that societal stuff about success in the eyes of others. The kind of achievements I’m talking about don’t garner the limelight in our current world, attached as we are to self-made people amassing wealth, enormous celebrity based on shallow achievements, and endless, endless rivers of material objects. Maybe these are the 21st century versions of the empty earthquake and fires. Don't get me wrong; I get as excited over a shiny new computer or car as the next guy. I’m only trying to describe here the kind of energy I have to put every single day into keeping what is real at the top of my awareness.

As I write, I’m aware that this post veers away from the intellectual tone of most of my blog. And that’s alright, because that, in itself, is an example of what I’m describing here. I probably am not doing my readership statistics any favors by writing about non-doing as opposed to, say, the new iPhone.

But I felt my larger Self strongly this morning, and after reminding me for the 937th time that I will be freer and happier if I let go yet more of what other people think, it whispered in my ear, “Why don't you go write about what underlies all your other posts, for once?"

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