Advent is here. I always loved the word “advent,” and the notion of preparing ourselves for the coming of something extraordinary, something that is yet to be. Advent has a special resonance for me today because I’ve been reflecting about what it means to observe ourselves and to be open to others. In the “Love” issue of Parabola, I interviewed David Rome, a student of the technique called focusing and a teacher of a Buddhist version called Deep Listening. Since then, I’ve become more and more aware of the potentially transforming power of this seemingly humble, seeming passive act: Listening and watching deeply makes it possible to bring down the walls of separation between self and other. Like Advent, this way of being is quietly miraculous. It calls what is beyond the ordinary world of appearances towards us. It hinges on the ability to be patient, to be with what is, to let experience unfold as it will without poking and prodding at it in any way (even with the best of intentions). It requires that we be able to make a space inside for the stranger to enter. At the risk of making another Christian allusion, we have to make room in the inn. The readiness is all.
To come out of our usual isolation and welcome what is coming towards us we need to practice noticing how own needs and interests color everything we see. Everything we take in is tinged with an automatic bias. We like or don’t like or are indifferent to what is happening or what is being said based on how it affects us. Oftenwe interrupt (or find other ways of hurrying the speaker along) because we already know what we think and are just waiting for a chance to say it, or we’re uninterested in what is being said and want to change the subject. When we do respond, we’re often either repeating something we’ve heard or read before or we’re scrapping to argue and prove we are right. One way or another, we want to win, to affirm ourselves (even though that might take the pervers form of being the worst). How rare it is to sit back and take in what someone is saying, listening not just to the words but to where the speaker is coming from–to the longing or aspirations beneath the words. Rarer still are those times when we are so grounded and still inside–so free of self-interest and attentive of heart–that we can see or hear an ordinary person or scene before us and see in them the advent of a much greater truth about interconnection or divinity.
The poet John Keats described this state of openess and preparedness for the advent of extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary “negative capability.” He defined this as “when a man is capable of of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” What might support such a state? For me, the first step is coming down out of my thoughts and settling down in the sensation of being present. Next comes a very gentle movement of allowing everything to be as it is, inside and out. This takes faith that is an opening outward, an acknowledgement that more is coming, maybe even something wondrous. This also takes acceptance and kindness towards oneself, an acknowledgement that no bias or limitation is final. More is possible. As Rilke said: “Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart. And try to love the questions themselves. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions.”
This Advent, I intend to try to watch and listen deeply, to see what it takes to be open and prepared to receive.
14 thoughts on “Advent”
Tracy, let me share this please. It’s called –
Saying Yes to Jesus
Advent does give us a chance to slow down and to wait with an expectant heart, it we only will.
Tracy, you reminded me of the Parble of the Ten Virgins. You seem to be describing what is necessary to retain “oil.”
Matthew 25 (KJV)
1Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
2And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
3They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
4But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
5While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
6And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
7Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
8And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
9But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
10And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
11Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
12But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
13Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
Have you seen this excerpt from a longer talk by Jacob Needleman? He describes an experiment in listening.
Far easier said than done. Yet the concept is attractive to some. Julia Haslett directed her documentary on Simone Weil because she had personal issues and felt Simone’s remark concerning attention could be of great importance for her:
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,”
I believe retaining oil and becoming capable of listening would be more the norm if we were capable of this quality of conscious attention.
Thanks for all this, Nick. Very rich stuff.
Wonderful thoughts! Advent and patience goes hand in hand. Patience is the highest virtue and advent is the quality of chosen one. It is only when we have these two, the shift in the consciousness is possible. Thanks again for this beautiful pen note. It glitters my way.
A beautiful writing ! This is truely a time of mystery, of trusting the unknown…something sacred coming.
These days I know this from the darkness, the cold and the natural world…but I know because I came from celebrating this time in earlier years… I came from putting a piece of straw in a small empty manger on the dining room hutch in preparation and anticipation of “the arrival” or some big event” and what greater mystery is there for a child than opening a small glittered window of a calendar, getting a glimpse of a camel, a donkey face in a barnlike window or peak at a king with a beard , or finding a yellow star.. This kind of hopefullness runs deep at this time of year, whatever story we were told. It is an intimate time both personally and collectively….
I loved ron’s poem of saying yes to jesus…these days I beleive that jesus is another word for love.
I have a piece in my studio with the following quote from Thich Naht Hanh
“The most precious gift we can offer others
is our presence.
When mindfullness embaces those we love*
they will bloom like flowers.
* I like to say the word those we meet .
I guess we are all just a big bouquet!
Thanks Judy G. What you write about childhood shows me that there is something in us that knows how to await the miraculous, the beloved.
The quote about presence corresponds with what Nick shared about attention being the rarest and purest form of generosity. I always associated Jesus with radical generosity.
Not only everything we take in is tinged with own automatic bias, but everything we give or express … at the risk of noticing own bias, even in the hope that more is to come …
“Rarer still are those times when we are so grounded and still inside–so free of self-interest and attentive of heart–that we can see or hear an ordinary person or scene before us and see in them the advent of a much greater truth about interconnection or divinity.”
I have greater capacity for this when I care-tend my son who has an extra-gene-related speech delay, in spite of my anxiety that others only acknowledge and seek his best efforts and successes.
I have less capacity when I visit my dad who has age-related hearing loss, in spite of my late recognition and gratitude for all he has done for me, and for others.
I absolutely wrestle with this when I regard my husband, and he me, each tending impatiently, caring impatiently, each pleading seeking patience, long-suffering, and love.
Oh. And joy.
The three men in my life,
my past and my present and my future,
all here now, all facing what may come …
Thanks Karen, I like this, “the thee men in my life, my past, my present and my future”–and the image of tending and caring for each impatiently. Also, when I first read it, that strain from “Bye, bye American Pie” came into my mind: “The three men I admire most, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost….”
I really liked Judy’s reference to …
“The most precious gift we can offer others
is our presence.”
“When mindfullness embaces those we love they will bloom like flowers.”
In a poem to my wife Joanne, I wrote the following words.
“I bow to you now, as Texas bluebonnets
bow graciously in a warm spring breeze
blooming with color, as you bloom with light.”
And she does, she blooms with light, unless she is dead tired or really upset with me. ;-)
In about one week, I’m doing my very first public reading and book signing, ever, in front of about fifty or so people. I’m a bit nervous actually, stage fright is actually a big concern.
What will make it worse I think, will be the presence of long time friends and family who have known me all my life or for many years.
Somehow, I will have to give each and every one of them the gift of presence, the presence of the work and of myself.
And hope that they are blessed in kind by another type of presence (wholness – holiness – the three men I admire most kind of presence) in the time we spend together.
I’m worried that I will not be able to give each person there my undivided attention, in saying hello, in reading a poem, in conversation, in signing a copy of their book. I’m a nartural introvert, I can also be a bit ADHD times and easily distracted by others. ;-)
But, it is so important to give them that gift of presence.
How do you stay focused and do that with a clear intention?
That is an honest question and I would welcome any feedback you may wish to offer.
If you would like to read the poem to Joanne, it is here. ;-)
Thanks for the beautiful poem and for your honesty, as always. I also get very nervous before I have to speak before others. One thing I do to ground myself and keep a clear intention is to focus on the space between myself and listeners–to remember that I have a truth I wish to offer which may touch the truth in them. It’s like meeting in the middle of a bridge–no me, no you, but the meeting place.
Stay grounded in the present moment, speak from the heart, and picture yourself carrying a candle to a dear friend who needs a light.
You’re going to be great!!! I wish I could be there in person, but I’ll be sending this metta (lovingkindness) wish from New York– May Ron be happy and at ease.
Thank you Tracy for the words of encouragement, and with just a bit a grace, I know it will go well. I’m taking next Friday off to focus and prepare myself mentally. A long morning meditation will help too I’m sure.
All metta is welcome this next week. And this is of course a very personal kind of Advent for me, certainly a new adventure. ;-)
“Yesterday is history. Tommorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why we call it The Present.” Babatunde Olantunji
Thank you so much Tracy!! Reading what you have written about Advent ignited the spark of Presence in me and helped in shifting my attention in deep waters this morning!