We are too tolerant of distraction. We invent a thousand needs that have nothing to do with hearing the Voice for God nor its message of Truth. We make a clamoring in which we cannot hear and when a faint whisper of love does sift through, we think we can apply it tomorrow.
We are very casual in our approach to spirituality.
When I began to simplify and bring order to my life, I was surprised to find how much could be set aside. I was more surprised by how initially helpless I was in its absence. It was as if the first thing that rushed the open space was not God or love but hateful demons of waste and greed.
So I learned that one of the reasons I have all these distractions – my news and news commentary, my television shows and movies, my ten thousand books, my email, my chat, my this and my that – was because I don’t want know what to do with emptiness. Faced with it I get scared, and so anger and grief and judgment quickly fill it.
Who wants to face their murderous anger? Their utterly petty and cruel judgments against other people? Their rank selfishness?
Nobody. It is better to pretend that we are angels who will get around to being angelic tomorrow.
When I tried to stay with that anger and judgment, not retreat back into distraction and casualness, I saw something else: that I want to be rescued. I want somebody to swoop in and save me – like a parent or a lover. This made me passive and inattentive. It also allowed me to continue to focus on what was external. Where was my teacher? My savior? My lover? How come nobody loves me?
Wanting a teacher to do the heavy lifting is an evasion of responsibility. And a good teacher won’t lie to you about that. They will let you stay in place a thousand years rather than take a step for you.
But if a teacher that you trust – and I am defining teacher here very broadly – tells you it will be okay, don’t freak out, continue to give attention . . . and if you listen to them . . . then you may get to the other side, or begin to.
That is what happened to me. My teacher reminded me that a return to external disorder would temporarily alleviate the pain of facing emptiness but could not end the pain. And she assured me that if I remained attentive that God would not leave me bereft. Why wait?
So I stayed with it. I stay with it.
I slip out, of course. My life in terms of stuff these days is pretty thin compared to a lot of people, but I am prone to emotional drama and neediness, and I seek relationships that offer it to me. So it happens. It’s okay. I know where to return, and how to return, now.
Eventually I saw that the demons of anger and grief that initially roared into the emptiness have only the power that I give them. They survive on my attention and thrive when I feed them – with certain relationships, certain attitudes within those relationships and so forth.
The demons are metaphors – they are not literal! They are more like feelings attached to certain ideas. And when we see this clearly, then we see to that “the power of decision is my own” (W-pI.152.11:3). I am saying it is possible to give attention to what brings peace, what inspires responsibility, what ends our habit of casualness – to those people, places, things and teachers who help us to end our reliance on what is external.
It is very hard work because it requires discernment and space and sensitivity. But the resultant clarity is very helpful.
. . . as distraction ceases to arise to turn us from our purpose, we will find that half an hour is too short a time to spend with God. Nor will we willingly give less at night, in gratitude and joy (W-pI.153.15:5-6).
Ultimately, this is what we are evading: God, the Love in which the egoic self ends, which is the source of all our fear. We long for life and yet have taught ourselves that God is death, and so deprive ourselves of the only Life there is.
Thomas Merton put it this way in New Seeds of Contemplation:
I love my captivity and I imprison myself in the desire for the things that I hate, and I have hardened my heart against true love. I must learn therefore to let go of the familiar and the usual and consent to what is new and unknown to me. I must learn to “leave myself” in order to find myself by yielding to the love of God. If I were looking for God, every event and every moment would sow, in my will, grains of His life that would spring up on day in a tremendous harvest (16).
So it is simply a question of setting the goal of truth, of deciding that we want the experience of remembering God above all else, and then hewing to that decision throughout the day. In my experience this is not easy! We say we want God’s love but deep down it is the one thing we do not want because we believe it will kill us dead. And we are mightily bent on survival. Vigilance and patience are well-advised!
When we get serious about this – when the teacher arrives and we give her heed – our interior lives are likely to become messy and ugly and painful. But there is no other way. Until we see through even that illusion, we will not remember that everything is an illusion but God. And only then can true order and simplicity – infused by and radiating Love – become our lives.