Yesterday, a group of us sat an afternoon retreat. It happened to be the first day of Hanukkah, and in a sense sitting down to turn our attention inward is a way of rededicating the temple of the body and heart. It is usually under the control of outside forces, worshipping and appeasing all kinds of false gods—all the glittering objects and targets of thought. To “contemplate” means to go inside the temple. It’s a quietly radical act, turning to notice our living experience. It’s natural to be anxious that there won’t be enough light. We must be willing to wait and see.
Yesterday was also the first Sunday in the Christian season of Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word “adventus,” which means “coming.” It is a time of waiting for something that hasn’t arrived yet, something from another level. What will it be like? A light? Another kind of understanding or insight or caring that will untangle us the web of thought and soothe our anguish? We don’t know. And no words can help. Our job is to abide peacefully in the midst of it all and wait.
In the meantime we remember that we are here, alive and breathing, again and again returning to the awareness of the present moment. This can feel discouraging at times, but we stay open. It just might be the case that reality is vast and intelligent and something marvelous is coming for us, something beyond our wildest dreams.
You may doubt this. You may feel so full of pain or torturing thoughts or loneliness that its hard to believe there will be any ray of sunlight through the clouds. I understand. I’ve had plenty of meditations when I felt lost and bereft, wandering the moors, unsure what the outcome would be. How can we endure difficult feelings and times of waiting? How can we endure the hopeless sense that there won’t be enough light, no safe place of freedom and clarity?
One thing that can help us abide is to go very small and young—remember your youngest notions of what is essential and good. Offer someone good food or a kind word or a glass of water or a smile, no matter how you feel. Accept an invitation (there’s a party coming up). Here’s a good experiment from Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard: “Every hour spend ten seconds wishing someone happiness. It’s transformative.”
And here is another wonderful possibility to entertain, this one from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” In other words, just wait and see : ))