“Everyone is gifted–but some people never open up their packages.” This quote, attributed to everyone from Anonymous to the late, great rocker Kurt Cobain, points towards the truth that each of our lives is a gift–and that gifts of perception, connection, love and insight are constantly coming to us–except that at least some of the time most of us miss the forest for the trees. How do learn to open up and receive what’s constantly being offered? What does it take to open up? When the ascetic Bahiya asked the Buddha for the way to liberation, the ultimate opening up to the unfolding of creation (It might seem like I’m mixing religious idioms, but I do think liberation is surrender…and surrender opens the door to grace). Anyway, the Bahiya, who had been the local eccentric, going around in bark clothes and otherwise making a huge big deal out of being a wild holy man, way different than the rest of us, was told by the Buddha: “When seeing, just see; when knowing, just know; when thinking, just think.” In other words, don’t be lost, be open to what is present here and now.
As I was writing this, my daughter Alex emailed me an article on how to be lucky. Unlucky people, the researcher discovered, tend to have fixed ideas and routines. They see only what they are looking for. Lucky people are more open and relaxed. They listen to their intuition, not just reason. They spot chance opportunities–indeed, they can even see the gift inside tough breaks.
I realized as I read this article from the Telegraph in the U.K. (Alex loves British stuff) that many religious practices–from the Buddhist Metta or Lovingkindness practice in which a person practices wishing another person well to Jesus’ admonition to treat others as we would be treated–is actually a way to open the heart and mind to the unexpected quality of reality.
A couple of years ago, for the “Silence” issue of Parabola, I interviewed Robert Kennedy, a Jesuit priest and a Zen Buddhist Roshi. We spoke of that point where prayer and meditation meet. We spoke of that moment on the Christian path where one accepts their inner poverty, where one gives up hope. At that moment, said the priest Roshi, a person can stop seeing God as a gift-giver, separate from ourselves: “They discover the great gift of God’s own Self to us. This is one meaning of the Incarnation, the unity of the divine and the human. It doesn’t just apply to Jesus, it applies to all of us. We are one with the Absolute, one with Christ who was one with the Father. And everything is given to us. At the moment of Creation, everything is poured out.”
How open can we be? Can we see and hear and know that the miracle of creation is here and now? Most days, no, I can’t. Especially on these winter mornings, I can sit coffee in hand feeling like I’ve been consigned to the cold margins of life. But I can work on it. I can take that practical British advice and crack open the door of my mind, my perceptions, and my expectations just a bit. Can I possibly tie this in to Avatar one more time? Wait for it…yes I can…try on a new body and assume new attitudes…leave your old paralyzed body behind for a time and move through the world like it’s a wondrous new Creation. Receive it like a gift.