Learning Peace

Effort isn’t always good

Forced achievement

Being natural, unaffected, at peace

Listening

Passive

The way of water

The uncarved block

 

What we put on

Mentally, personality, affected responses

Is too much self

Proprium

 

I am learning peace

To act without effort

Just learning

“Are you at peace?” she asked me years ago.

“I have satisfaction,” I replied.

“That’s not what I asked,” she said.

I am learning peace

Just learning

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The Clear Mirror of the Mind

There is a Buddhist saying that goes, “My mind is a clear mirror, I must keep it free of dust.”  That line was taken a step further with the words, “I have no mind, where can the dust gather?”  That latter line is a very high, esoteric Buddhist teaching.  It is not appropriate for me at this stage of my development.  I have a mind.  And I have lately been watching it.  I’m discovering the value of keeping the mirror of my mind clear.

It’s easy to allow petty grievances and resentments to fill our mind.  We can dwell on bad experiences, arguments in the past we are carrying on in the present, reasons to think ill of our neighbor, even think ill of our friends and intimates.  But lately, I’ve been trying to interrupt these movements of the mind.  I am realizing that my mind is a clear mirror that must be kept free of dust.  It is just as easy to fill the mind with pleasant thoughts, with happy truths, with friendly ideas.

The present is all we have.  I am realizing that I want to live in a pleasant present, not one filled with uncomfortable thoughts.  I think of that Yes lyric, “There’ll be no mutant enemy we shall certify.”  Do I have enemies?  Not in my living room.  Not when my partner and I are out on a date.  Why rehearse past grievances or past enmities in the present?  There are those words, “Be as prudent as serpents but as gentle as doves.”  While I need to protect myself against enemies, I don’t need to replay in my mind their past actions against me.  In fact, the less I think about my own issues, the better I feel.  When my mind and my actions are on how I can make the world around me better, or manifest goodness in my present, I find I feel better.  One miserable day I had an unpleasant morning, lost some money at the casino, and was feeling bad about myself.  On my way home, I stopped at a convenience store.  A man there asked me for some money to buy a coffee.  I never give out money, but I went into the convenience store with the man and gave the clerk the money for his coffee.  The clerk thanked me, the man thanked me twice, and I felt good about losing another dollar for this man.  Losing a hundred dollars at the casino just made me mad, while losing another dollar for the coffee redeemed the day.  It is my choice whether I will dwell on the money I lost at the casino and get mad, or dwell on the dollar I gave the man for coffee and feel good.  And so in all the other affairs of my life.  Having a mind like a clear mirror free of dust isn’t a bad way to go through life.  It’s a good present.

THE LEXICON OF LANGUAGE

Human community is the lexicon of language
Shared speech defines word and syntax
I know holy language, spoken among
Those self-identified spiritual
The lexicon of holy books, prayer, chant, doctrines
To whom these matter
I know ecstasy and peace
I know sin and craving
Shadow only exists by sunshine
I know secular language, spoken among
Those self-identified disinterested to spirituality
The lexicon of sciences, literature, arts, pop-culture, ego-gratification, social standing
To whom only these matter, or matter largely
I know class, sophistication, cultivation
I act the fool, commit faux-pas, social blunders
What honest human doesn’t, can’t, won’t
Secular language grounds the holy
As bark encloses trees, skin encloses the body, callous
Only flowers are unprotected

Freedom, Peace, and Love

“Stone free to do what I please,” sings Hendrix

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” sings Joplin

“You’re about as free as they come,” the maintenance man told me

You get into trouble if you’re too free

 

Young and free, I hated the word, “conformity.”

Now I call it cooperation

“The nail that sticks out gets hammered down,” the Japanese say

Cooperation, coordination make harmony, peace

 

We used to talk a lot about peace

While prizing individuality, freedom

But it turns out you’re rarely alone–completely individual

The other is always with us, in conflict, competition, or peace

 

With the other comes the possibility of love

We used to talk a lot about love

I live love now; no longer a philosophy only

And I am thankful that there is the other

Youth and Age and Aging

You’re given an inflexible format at birth

Strong flexible sinews of youth

Weaken, stiffen, strain

Youth’s enthusiasm yields to age’s patience

Headstrong demands yield to forbearance

Irritation to tolerance

Discontent to contentment

Willful drive to peace

Gratitude to happiness

Youth yields to maturity

Maturity to aging

 

A Naif Meets the World

I have dedicated my life to the pursuit of intangibles: poetry, theology, philosophy, music.  My pursuit was essentially free.  My professors told me what to read and study, which was good guidance in the formation of my mind and my critical judgement.  But when it came to writing papers, I freely chose what subject to write on, who and what to study, what to say.  In the writing of poetry, I chose when to write, what to write, what style to use, what feeling to express.  In music, I wrote what was in my heart as the muse beckoned.

I remember my early impressions of professional ministry.  When I first took on a parish, I remember thinking, “This is a job!”  I was compelled to write a 2 1/2 page single spaced talk every week.  I was compelled to pick hymns, Bible readings, Psalters, and every Sunday to suit up and lead the service.  Then there was dealing with the personalities, petty complaints, infighting, and other distasteful things that arise in seemingly every parish.  Previous to taking on professional ministry, I would read theology at my leisure, pray when my heart was moved, commune freely with my Creator and Friend.  Now I prayed on demand, read theology with an eye to using it in my homily, communed according to the prescriptions of the job.  But this is not complaint.  I love this job more than any other job I’ve ever done.  I just never thought that my heartfelt devotion would feel like a job.

Now I am discovering that music is a business.  Sure, you hear talk about the music business all the time.  But to find yourself in it?!  It is a business that requires as much delicacy as does balancing the personalities in a parish.  A good friend of mine, who is an international pianist, has been giving me much appreciated, much needed advice about the “business” of music.  I am making a CD of my original music.  In order to make a quality disk, I needed first rate musicians.  I inquired of a well-established musician in my home town, and he set me up with a musician to play on one song.  This musician took an interest in my music, or my money.  He appointed himself executive producer, and made plans about the future of my disk and my musical career.  When I decided he was getting too intrusive, I made calls on my own to hire my own musicians.  The musicians I contacted talked, the “executive producer” found out I was making decisions on my own, confronted me, and laid down the law of how our business relationship was to be.  Now I am embroiled in an imbroglio.  All I want to do is record my originals.  But there is a business side to music, even as there is a business side to theology.  Even as there is a business side to everything in this material world.

One of the characteristics of my music is a tone of peacefulness.  The music is all written, and only needs recording, mixing, and mastering.  And that can’t be done without entering the business of music.  But that peace I entered into in the writing of my music is seriously compromised now with the business of production and the soap opera of the interwoven world of musicians.  I had no idea that manifesting my music would mean entering an internecine world of rivals for my wallet and musical future.  It’s comforting to know that it’s all written, and written when I was in a better place.  Where this new magical mystery tour will take me, I can’t foresee.  What it will do to my future compositions, I don’t know.  I only know this, my naivety has met the world.  It seems that on this material plane, intangibles manifest through business.  Some people make business their life’s calling.  I have dedicated my life to intangibles, not business.  But I now see, sadly, that maturity means dirtying one’s hands with the negotiation of money and the people who come with it.

Who Am I; Who Are You?

After resting for 45 minutes motionless, with acupuncture needles in my face, arms, abdomen, and legs, my doctor come into my room.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Peaceful,” I replied.

“Good,” my doctor said.

I thought to myself, “How many people that I know could I tell I’m peaceful?  How many situations that I find myself in would the subject of peacefulness be an appropriate conversation topic?”  And, “How many people would think I’m weird to tell them I feel peaceful?  Or not understand?”  Certainly, not at the Blues Club I frequent.  Or in my casual social occasions at the coffee shop or diner.

But my point is not how out-of-place talk of peace is.  My point is how often our conversation is constrained by our environment.  How often who we are is determined by whom we are talking to.

There are people with whom sports seems to be all I can talk about.  And I’m not that into sports.  There are people I talk about work issues with.  There are people with whom I act as a professional counselor.  There are some I seem to be talking about politics with.  Some are academic colleagues and we talk about philosophy.  Not too many people I can talk about poetry with.  There are some situations in which we complain and gripe.  There are a few people with whom I can bare my soul.  Who am I in each of these different scenarios?

There are degrees of authentic presence with other people.  There are situations in which we are polite and mannerly, which is essentially following a rule book.  There are situations in which we are diplomatic which requires sensitivity, fast and careful thinking and word choice.  There are times when we say what we think other people want to hear.  Then there are the feelings with which we encounter others.  Sometimes we speak in mutual love.  Sometimes we speak in mutual anger.  Sometimes we speak in mutual sincerity.  Sometimes in company with others we feel lonely because there is much of who we are that we cannot express in the environments we find ourselves in.  Ralph Waldo Emerson speaks of situations in which one cannot talk because the listening audience is to heterodox to the one talking.    Who are we in these differing ways of dialogue?

I think that there are different degrees of depth in our personality makeup.  When we are alone, some of us are in touch with a depth that we can’t express in public, for various reasons.  We think, do, and feel as we wish when we are alone.  This may be who we really are.  There is also meditation and prayer, which takes us to an altered, deep level of personality above ordinary experience.

So who we are alone is one measure of the self.  Then, on the other hand, there are times when a person gets lost in sociality.  These are times when our environment dictates who we are, how we act.  When I was a Harvard student in Boston, I felt so connected to my social environment that there was no real divide between me and the culture of Harvard.  On the positive side, I was learning social graces and expanding my intellect.  On a negative side, I was all surface, appearance, propriety.  I lost my feeling of peace when alone in Nature.

But we can’t love when we are alone.  Love isn’t a feeling we shine out from our heart.  Love is an action word.  We love when we are involved with others.  We can love, also, when we do something of service to others, even when we are alone.  When I write, or play music, which will eventually get to other people, I love what I am doing.  My love for others comes out in words or melodies.  Sometimes peacefulness comes out.  When I am in company with others, I aim to bring love and the Good to our encounter, my love for humanity, and what I have learned to date that is good.  I may listen empathetically; I may joke around; I may share my personal life, I may inquire about others’ loves, lives, interests.  In all this I strive to be authentic.  I want people to meet who I am, not who I want people to think I am.

Once, a long time ago, I was talking to a stranger in a bar.  She said, “I’ve never met a real person before.”  I hope that wasn’t the whole truth.  But I think that we encounter degrees of reality in the people we meet.  I knew a man who accidentally told me that he is skilled in becoming the kind of person he thinks his social companion wants him to be.  That would be the opposite extreme of who I was back in the bar.  Being an authentic self is knowing self, and bringing self to social interactions.  And self in relationship with others is self expanded, growing through the interaction, acting on and in love and the good.  Being authentic in relationships expands who we are as we come away with an encounter of the other, another reality than our own.  While we may be one kind of real self when we are alone, we are also a real self when we are authentic in our relationships.

 

 

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