Thursday, February 19, 2009

Living now, in the squeeze

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, has the most stunning scenery I've ever seen in person. Like all beautiful wild places, it lifts the human spirit and shakes us out of complacency.

So I'm not surprised that a Tibetan Buddhist monastery was established there. I didn't visit Gampo Abbey when my son and I traveled to Cape Breton two summers ago, although we stayed just a few miles away. We ran out of time and, more important, gasoline -- and the closest gas station was in the other direction. But since then I have discovered the writings of the monastery's resident teacher, Ani Pema Chodron. Here's a sample that is relevant to our ongoing discussion of the role of faith in times of economic uncertainty:

We are given changes all the time. We can either cling to security, or we can let ourselves feel exposed, as if we had just been born, as if we had just popped out into the brightness of life and were completely naked. Maybe that sounds too uncomfortable or frightening, but on the other hand, it's our chance to realize that this mundane world is all there is, and we could see it with new eyes and at long last wake up from our ancient sleep of preconceptions.

The truth, said an ancient Chinese master, is neither like this nor like that. It is like a dog yearning over a bowl of burning oil. He can't leave it, because it is too desirable, and he can't lick it, because it is too hot. So how do we relate to that squeeze? Somehow, someone finally needs to encourage us to be inquisitive about this unknown territory and about the unanswerable question of what's going to happen next.

The state of nowness is available in that moment of squeeze. In that awkward, ambiguous moment is our own wisdom mind. Right there in the uncertainty of everyday chaos is our own wisdom mind.

While I wouldn't say this mundane world is all there is, I am quite certain that facing change as though it is birth does give us new eyes to see the gift of now, the abundant life, even in "the uncertainty of everyday chaos."

How do you react to change and uncertainty? Can it be a place of grace?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The gift of empty hands

In the last post, I asked how your faith has affected how you deal with the current economic troubles. A wonderful response came by e-mail from the Rev. John Hewett, senior minister at First Baptist Church in Monroe. With his permission, I am publishing it here.

I have rediscovered books bought but never read, trails driven by but never walked, relationships remembered but no longer nourished.

I have learned to savor things still available for free: quietness, laughter, rest, touch, smiles, tears.

I've been forced to trust in God rather than the work of my own hands or the safety of my retirement account.

I've rediscovered the joy of prayer without ceasing.

If it's true that God cannot pour God's riches into hands that are already full, the best gift we could gain at this moment is the gift of empty hands.

To which I add a fervent "Amen!"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Abundance in a time of scarcity

I walked through Concord Mills the other day with long strides and deliberate blinders. My goal was exercise, not shopping, and I didn't want to be tempted.

The daily economic news is enough to make even spendthrifts put locks on their wallets.
Everyone I know is cutting back: eating out less, putting off purchases, making do.

Budgetary discipline is good. Less focus on material acquisitions is even better. But spending all your time thinking about what you can't buy or shouldn't buy makes you just as much a slave to money as if you were spending all your time shopping or scheming to become wealthy. Either way, you're not living the free, abundant life that religions tell us we were created to enjoy.

I tend to get less antsy about money than about time. There never seems to be enough time to do all that absolutely must be done. So I live in a state of perpetual scarcity despite each day's reliable gift of 24 hours.

I daydream, as most of us do, about what it would be like to have an inexhaustible supply of both money and time. But the truth is that I would not necessarily be more free. True freedom is owning without grasping, giving without resentment, appreciating without craving more.

Yes, I know: This attitude won't pay the mortgage when you've lost your job and your savings. But most of our fretting comes long before we reach that point. And who knows? If we're used to seeing abundance in every circumstance, we might see it even then, in unexpected ways.

How has your faith affected how you deal with the current economic troubles?