May All Beings Be Free

Happy Independence Day!   This is how mine is going to go.  A small group of us is going to one of the colonial manors around here where a canon will be fired and the Declaration of Independence read.  We will mill around among people in colonial dress.  My 19-year-old daughter is likely to provide a lively counter-point to all patriotism by expressing her passionate wish to be an ex-patriot.  Eventually we will come home hot and tired and swim in our lake and I will perform what I have come to think of as a little version of the ancient Indian fire sacrifice.    I will fill my fire bowl with wood and after the coals turn white I will roast chicken sausages and corn and other cook-out Americana as a way to appease the gods of domesticity.  I sometimes fill the role of mother and householder in an almost sacrificial way.  Not that this is a bad thing.

I just returned from a week-long retreat where I spent a great deal of time contemplating what it might mean to live so there is no separation between going outwards into activity, manifesting as we usually are, and moving inwards to the experience of oneness, of pure being, that can appear in stillness.   How can we experience a state of being one with everything in the midst of life.   By mid week, I began to experiment with living as if I was about to die.   I did whatever I did, walking, talking, eating, without striving.  I abandoned all hope of escape from the bare truth of what I was.  I forgot I ever had a head full of ideas and a heart full of aspirations about how I could be better.  I went around just being and bearing witness to it.

It gave me an inkling of what it is like not just to be–but to wholeheartedly volunteer to be.  It helped me understand (at least for a second or two) that we are needed, not just on the meditation cushion, but in all our quirky particularity.  We are meant to play a role in this wholeness.  Last year, I interviewed Robert Kennedy, a wonderful Jesuit priest who is also a Zen Roshi.  He reminded me that od is not a gift-giver, separate from ourselves.  Everything is given to each of us.  Creation plays itself out in our lives ,  as we experience it.  Everything is poured out.  Everything is a gift.  If we can be open to receive it that way.

I have a hunch that being receptive has to do with agreeing to fill the role your  in (really hold those BBQ tongs like you mean it!)  What do you think?

May all beings be free and at ease here.

7 thoughts on “May All Beings Be Free

  1. TC wrote, “I have a hunch that being receptive has to do with agreeing to fill the role you’re in…”

    This is an interesting thought to consider. Often people use the word “accepting” but you used the word “agreeing” and you used the phrase “to fill the role you’re in.”

    There is a tremendous difference between acceptance and agreement. I have no choice but to sometimes accept the role I have been given but do I agree?

    Today, I was reading about Deng Xiaoping. He survived the Long March, fought the Japanese, only to fall out of favor during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. His own son fell out of a window while being tormented by the Red Guards and emerged from the accident a paraplegic. Yet after Mao’s death, Deng survived and rose to power.

    But here is the question: Did Deng agree to play his role or did he accept his role until circumstances changed?

    And it need not be Deng, what about Nelson Mandela: Did he agree to play his role on Robben Island or did he accept the situation?

    Of course, it need not be so dramatic. It could be the most ordinary of moments. Do I agree or accept?

    Yes, it is more empowering, I think, to agree. Agreement implies choice whereas acceptance reeks of a sort of submissive defeat. So, yes, I think you are on to something. By agreeing, we have complete control over our thoughts and senses. We are not victimized by circumstances but willing participants in the moment.

    When I started writing my response, I thought I disagreed with your statement. But after some time gnawing over the use of a word like a dog with a bone, I think you may have spoken a truly brilliant idea.

    Like Epictetus, you are encouraging a complete empowerment of the individual by demanding that no outside force can control a person. So, imagine changing that oft repeated prayer:

    God grant me the serenity
    To agree to the things I cannot change…

    Quite different…So, here is my question to the Parabola community?

    Do you agree to your role or accept what you cannot immediately change?

  2. This is wonderful. I am struck by how often we are promised that something–from a skin cream to a mediation practice– will “change your life.” Why do we feel that our lives need to change? It seems we are really expressing the desire to have our lives, to be in them as they pass.

    1. I have the same question, Margaret. Why do we feel our lives have to change. Here’s another one: Where does the desire–or maybe passion is better–come from to embrace our lives as they are. It’s always such a shock (to the conscience?) to encounter an artist or great spiritual master who does just that. As a friend mused to me recently, it seems that our lives should be…fulfilling…but they just aren’t…there are all these hindrances….

  3. What is being spoken about here, being/Being, is quite difficult to talk about. Right away I challenge Tracy’s words “By agreeing, we have complete control over our thoughts and senses” This is total non-sense. If we could really see for a moment that we live our lives as little more than automatons we could know that we have control over nothing at all. Certainly not control of our thoughts or emotions; and even much less so of our physical movements. The body learns and does movement for us. If anyone has ever practiced the Gurdjieff Movements they will have discovered that our thoughts, our emotions and our physical movements are far from under our control.

    Lest all of this sound a bit far away from being, acceptance and agreeing I hasten to say that it is not. There is something miraculous that humans have been gifted with. I call it Attention. There are different levels of Attention. Ordinary attention by way of which we spend most of our lives can agree or accept and live under the illusion that we are ‘doing’. The real hope comes from moments when we are quiet enough to be free from this ‘spell’ and then a miracle happens. We see the truth of how we are. Thought, emotion are happening by themselves. But then the miracle is not quite over because in the moment of quiet, when Attention is present, doing is done for us. In that moment real acceptance is possible. I see the mechanical thoughts, the mechanical impulse to manifest. And because I am to some extent present, I AM a higher, finer quality of attention. I am not pulled downward into the density of my ordinary attention. How to find and stay in the Attention which is of a different density and a different world?

    When I AM a higher Attention (higher consciousnes)I can taste my being. The sound of a bird, the wind, the color of leaves of a tree, sunshine are absorbed and in some still unknown way seem to reflect the State of my Being.

    1. I didn’t say “by agreeing, we have complete control over….” anything. That would be nonsense. I appreciate the rest of your comment. I can relate.

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