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Archive for June, 2013

As you know, gentle reader, I love stories.  As I was meditating this morning the following story emerged into my consciousness.  I cannot remember when I first heard this story, it seems as if it were many seasons ago.  I offer it to you this fine late-spring day.

Many years ago there lived a husband and wife and they had four children, two sons and two daughters.  One day the husband and wife decided that it was time to provide their children an opportunity to learn.  They gathered them together and told them that they were going to send them on a journey.  The eldest, a daughter, was to leave in early winter, the next eldest, a son, was to leave in early spring, the next, also a son, was to leave in early summer, and the youngest, a daughter, was to leave in early autumn.  Their task was a simple one.  They were to travel by foot to a certain valley, find and observe a certain fruit tree.  Then they were to travel home.  After they had all returned home they would gather together and share what they had experienced.

The eldest daughter left in early winter and returned before spring.  The two sons left early in their respective seasons and returned before the beginning of the following season.  The youngest daughter left in early autumn and returned before winter set in.  About a week after the youngest daughter had returned the parents gathered them together and asked them what they had experienced.

The eldest daughter said that the tree was bare, broken, bent, and looked as if it were anything but alive; it was, she concluded, quite ugly.  The oldest son, who had traveled in spring, looked surprised and said that the tree was full of buds and was standing strong with possibility and potential.  The next son said that the tree was full of leaves and fragrant flowers; it was life-full and was, in fact, quite beautiful.  The youngest daughter said that the tree was full of ripe, luscious fruit and she had spent an extra day sitting and savoring the shade of the tree and the sweetness of the fruit.

The parents smiled that smile that knowing parents sometimes offer their children and then they spoke together.  ‘You are each correct in what you observed,’ they said.  ‘Each of you had seen only one of the seasons of the tree’s life.’  They continued, ‘Like the tree, you cannot judge a person’s life by only one season; the whole of each of us is contained in all four seasons of our lives.’  ‘These seasons of our life, like the seasons for the tree, contribute to a life-lived.  Our lives are measured by all of the seasons we pass through, not just one season or one cycle.’  ‘The winters of our life offer us the opportunity to die to ourselves, to let go of that which stunts new growth, to embrace the dark night of the soul, and to prepare for new growth.’  They paused and watched their children’s faces.  The parents’ faces were full of love as they looked from one child to the next.  ‘The spring,’ they continued, ‘offers us new growth, new hope, new possibilities.’  ‘Spring is that time of expectation and new beginnings.’  ‘Then comes the season of summer; a time of blossoming and of embracing and living into and out of the new growth.’  ‘Finally, the autumn of our life is the time to share the fruits of our life with others.  The fruits also hold the seeds of new life and new potential.  Autumn is a time for sitting and savoring.’

‘All four seasons are crucial to each of us.’  ‘Too often we judge a person or we judge ourselves by only looking at one season; it is the four seasons over a life-time that truly demonstrate who each of us is.’  Again the parents paused and looked with deep love upon each of their children.  ‘Embrace each season of your life.  Care deeply about each one.  Seek to continue to love yourself and others as you journey through each season.’  ‘And. . .’ they paused again, ‘remember that each season has its time and that each season will pass; no season is permanent.’

‘Winter,’ they concluded, ‘is the most important season for the trials of winter reveal your true character and they provide you the opportunity to learn from them.  The sorrows and tears of winter nourish the seeds of healing.  The failures of winter help you to be humble and are reminders that you are not perfect.’  ‘The other seasons are important AND YET they need the season of winter in order to exist, survive, grow and thrive.’  With this final statement, the parents drew each of the children close and hugged them with the hug that only comes from deep care, compassion and love.

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A person born blind comes to me and asks, ‘What is this thing called green?’  How do I describe the color ‘green’ to one who was born blind?  Well, one uses analogies.  So I say, ‘the color green is like soothing music.’  ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘it is just like soothing music.’  The person leaves ‘knowing’ what green is like.  An hour later another person blind from birth approaches me and asks me ‘What is this thing called green?’  I happen to have a soft leather wallet in my pocket so I take it out and I hand it to the person and I say that ‘green is like soft leather.’  ‘Ah,’ the person says and walks away ‘knowing’ green.  Later that day I happen upon the two and they are fighting and yelling and screaming.  ‘I know green; it is soft music.’  ‘You are an ignorant idiot; anyone who knows, knows that green is soft leather.’  And on it goes.  Neither of them knows the ‘truth’ or the ‘reality’ of green.  Yet each is convinced that they do and will go to war over their belief.  Now, a year later I meet the first person again and through the wonder of science the person can now see.  We are standing in a beautiful garden — the shades of green are deafening.  I say, ‘now you know what green really is.’  The person looks at me and replies, ‘yes, I heard some soft green music this morning.’

A spiritual guide once pointed out one of my ‘errors.’  She said, ‘you don’t know God because you know ABOUT God.  You are missing God because you think you know about God.’  This is one of the terrible things about religion.  That’s what the gospels tell us — ‘religious’ people KNEW and so they had to get rid of Jesus.  Aquinas might well have been right; the highest knowledge of God is to know God is unknowable.  There is, it seems to me, too much “God Talk’ and too little awareness; too little love; too little compassion; too little caring; too little healing.  There is too little dropping of illusions, dropping of errors, dropping of attachments.  In the East there is a saying: ‘When the student is ready the teacher will appear.’  To what extent am I open to and ready to receive the teacher in my life?  Perhaps my teacher is just off stage waiting for me to deliver the line that will call him or her forth to center stage or perhaps the teacher is standing just out of sight and all I have to do is turn just a bit to my right or left and he or she will come into view and with a nod from me will step into my life.  I close my eyes. I turn, I open my eyes. Now what?

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The ancients from the East tell us that ‘those who know, do not say; those who say, do not know.’  IT cannot be said; only the opposite can be said.  The teacher cannot give you the truth; this type of truth cannot be put into a formula — much less into words.  Your teacher can point out your errors.  When you drop your errors, you will come to know the truth; you will come to know reality.  I remember a scene from a movie where an elderly professional had just pointed out to a younger professional the error of his ways; the younger professional turned and looked at his elder and asked with some energy, ‘Who do you think you are, my teacher?’  And the elder smiled (as all elders smile at these times) and replied, ‘That I am!’

The great mystics show us; model for us.  The great Catholic mystic, Thomas Aquinas, toward the end of his life, wouldn’t write or talk; he had ‘seen.’  He kept silent because he had ‘seen’ and what he had ‘seen’ could not be put into words.  During my third journey to Singapore I was introduced to Durian.  After returning to the States, folks would ask me to describe Durian.  ‘What does it taste like?’  ‘What does it smell like?’  Now anyone who has experienced Durian knows that these questions cannot be answered.  ‘Durian smells like well-worn sweat socks and tastes so sweet.’ It is illegal in Singapore to bring Durian indoors because of its odor.  Most people seize upon the words and assume the words are reality; assume the words are ‘truth.’  Some of us take the words, not the experience, and write our doctoral thesis on them.  Some become experts without ever having experienced ‘Durian.’  There is a man who wrote many books during his life time and was considered to be a management guru; he was always puzzled by this for as he said, ‘I have never managed anyone.’  He had observed others with their ‘Durian’ but he never directly experienced it himself.

How about ‘God,’ rather than ‘Durian.’  Our mystic Thomas Aquinas wrote: ‘About God, we cannot say what He is but rather what He is not.  And so we cannot speak about how He is but rather how He is not.’  Aquinas tells us that there are three ways of knowing God: (1) in the creation, (2) in God’s actions through history, and (3) in the highest form of the knowledge of God — ‘to know God as the unknown.’  The highest form of talking about God is to know that one does not know.  Now, this is no Zen Master speaking to us, this is a mystic of the Catholic Church — To know God as Unknown.  Aquinas even stated that God is ‘unknowable.’  Truth, reality, God, love are unknowable; they cannot be comprehended by the thinking mind.  If one believes this many questions would be set to rest because the illusion that we know would be set aside — we would ‘see’ the error and we could then set the ‘error’ aside.

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