The feeling of anxiety, of terror, of not knowing. Of worrying that you are not worthy enough to make it to the last end. When I was young, my dad told me that I should always play basketball with someone better than me, and that life was that way, too.
But in order to get there, there has to be a kind of conditioning towards bravery. A daily ritual, a reminder that we are more than ourselves. That it is not about us being worthy or not being worthy. It is about how we have conditioned ourselves towards listening. How we have developed the muscles of readiness that will prepare us for the battle with the multiple ideas that are going on in our heads. In Hemingway, it’s called the Iceberg effect, where you can see the tip of the iceberg in the story, but there’s all this great weight underneath. Hemingway isn’t the best example of humanity, but I like the metaphor. It’s simple and clear.
So then, preparation. There are so many ways to prepare for the courage to see yourself through something risky and rewarding. I’ve been reading a lot of Easwaran, a spiritual teacher who developed a method of meditation that is holistic and takes into account many of the world’s religions. He’ll mention the Buddha alongside Mother Teresa, and his books have a kind of kind grandfather vibe to them. They’re filled with simple metaphors to describe something that is weighty: the human struggle for life to have meaning that lasts, or the spiritual life.
Post-enlightenment, I’m never sure what anyone believes as we all seem to have a rational separation — work is work, beliefs are for the home. But regardless of what you believe or don’t believe at all, humans have a drive to understand. To live lives of what we call impact. To look inward, to treat others well, to reach a level where we are satisfied. But that satisfaction is elusive if we can think we can do it on our own. I say that not to be didactic, but to put it in the air. To create a finality. To enact action in myself.
Easwaran writes: “Years ago, when my wife and I were looking at old houses, we came across a once-gracious garden with an ancient marble fountain so clogged with rubbish that not a drop of water could get through. You don’t just give up such a fountain for lost. With a lot of cleaning, you can get the water to start playing again. Then grass and flowers will grow around it, and birds will come there to have their bath; it will grace the garden with its beauty.
It is the same with personality. To remake ourselves, we don’t have to bring goodness, love, fearlessness, and the like and stuff them all in somehow. They are already present in us, deep in our consciousness; that is why we can never really rest content with being anything less. If we work to remove the impediments that have built up over many years of biological conditioning, to dislodge all the old resentments and fears and selfish desires, love will flow from us like a fountain, and those we live and work with will come to us to be refreshed.”
I read another passage by Easwaran last week, about how we take our work home with us: ”Many people who work hard bring their work home with them, yapping like a poodle at their heels. At the dinner table, when they sit thinking about their deadlines and responsibilities, the poodle is nestled under the chair, whining away. They curl up with it at night and dream about reports that haven’t been filed, statistics that don’t point to the right conclusions, mail that hasn’t been responded to or that has been sent out with the wrong memo attached. Detachment gives us the capacity to concentrate completely while on the job and to drop our work completely when we walk out the door…”
“Mahatma Ghandi worked fifteen hours a day for fifty years for all of us who want a politically free world. When he was asked, “Don’t you want a vacation, Mr. Gandhi?” He said quietly, I’m always on vacation.” It wasn’t a flippant reply; he meant every word of it. So don’t content yourself with two weeks in July or two weeks at a ski resort in January. You deserve three hundred and sixty-five days of vacation, and that is exactly what detachment can give you…[there are] men and women like Mahatma Gandhi, George Bernard Shaw, and Mother Teresa, who grew in wisdom and vitality right into the last days of a long, creative, fulfilling life. I grant you that in the evening of your life you may not be able to compete successfully on Centre Court at Wimbledon. But every one of us can enjoy the vitality, resourcefulness, and unerring judgment that come from a heart full of love and a vast reservoir of experience.”
This idea that every moment could be meaningful if we work at conditioning ourselves to see its meaning, to think of others, to be open to the idea that it’s not all on us, that it’s on “we,” is something I’ve been thinking about. Last week I went to a concert, just because. There were 3 roses on the screen behind the singers. Then walking home, in the rain, as sometimes happens, you can feel the people in the city waking up. You can feel a collective something in the air, a turn of events, as spring becomes summer for us. And it’s that connection that I’m interested in.