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Reader comment on Brother David Steindl-Rast's passage ...

Three Great Forces


On May 13, 2010 Chris Johnnidis wrote:

I loved this passage. We're presented with these omnipresent challenges to staying present in everyday life -- and then left to figure out for ourselves how to counterbalance them! It's a wonderful implicit challenge. Of course we truly respond by the way we live, but it's fun to talk about it as well. :)

First, I think it's helpful to consider these words in the context of "early Christian Elders in the Egyptian desert." Unfortunately, the terms like "Christian" and "Jesus" have been so loaded with baggage by now that it becomes difficult to find the true value in them, amongst the noise. But this early Christianity which the author references was probably MUCH unlike most of what we see today. Before any institution called a church even existed. From reading the texts sometimes referred to as the "Gnostic Gospels" (ow.ly/1KOdg) we can surmise that these early Christian Elders were true seekers, looking within for wisdom, not to an external authority figure -- monks cultivating the contemplative solitude of monastic life. There we'll find mystical and powerful words attributed to Jesus: "If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you; if you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." In effect: know yourself (more on that later). Elaine Pagels has done excellent historical research into this long-lost chapter of early Christianity, and Tucker Malarkey  wrote a wonderful historical fiction novel called "Resurrection" that tells the riveting story of the unexpected discovery in mid 1900s of the early Christian texts in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, and the quest to share them with the world.

With that in mind, it may at first seem less than relevant to apply these teachings to our modern day, hustle and bustle life. But looking deeper, we can each see the seeker within us and recognize the wisdom of identifying these three blockages -- anger, laziness, lust -- to staying present as we progress on our path.

There were some wonderful reflections in the circle this Wednesday. Neil opened with thoughts on the many other obstacles to presence! :) -- while noting their impermanent nature :) -- and held wonderful space for the rest of the circle, including a touching mother's day reflection to close. Around the circle, a gentleman shared a wonderful image of an open mind as an open sky, to which Steve later poetically painted on passing clouds of emotion; Pancho offered his perspective on the "most powerful force" of ahimsa, or nonviolence; another gentleman shared a great insight that to enter into these states of mind in front of others we must first have a feeling of superiority over whomever may be in our present company ... Amidst reflections on when anger, for example, might be appropriate, Ripa reminded us of the wonderful saying: "between suppression and expression lies observation." Some say depression is anger turned inward, and along those lines, Aumatma recounted a time when one of her patients began feeling angry for the first time in while and her recognizing that as a step along the healing path; Ayush complemented that nicely, musing on the need for balance and knowing when to step into anger and when to come back out. Auntie and Uncle blessed us, as always, with peaceful, wise words and of course, the gift of the opportunity to share our journeys in this sacred way. I loved Auntie's final reflection: "I noticed that simply sitting still can be a remedy to each of these three forces." 

Finally, I mentioned the implicit challenge in this passage to come up with our own responses to these three great forces of anger, lust and laziness, and in that spirit I will offer what came to my mind. And as a preface, let me gratefully acknowledge the numerous perspectives that were offered last night in favor of honoring our beautifully imperfect humanity, which means we need not be dogmatic or holier-than-though (superior ;)) in addressing these very normal phenomena....

For laziness, live your gift. Laziness implies a lack of motivation to do something. Last night I shared that of all the four types of external motivators, positive rewards are most effective (negative rewards, positive punishers, and negative punishers being the other three), so find your own best positive reward of living a meaningful life. But I'll take it a step further here: to counterbalance laziness at the root, go beyond external motivators and find your own intrinsic motivation. (with a hat tip to Alfie Kohn: ow.ly/1KObn) This requires deeply knowing oneself, and this is what leads us to the true gifts that we have to offer. That which brings us most alive; that which is in abundance for us, and offering it to another loses us nothing but only enriches both lives. Nipun shared a great quote from his recent trip to Japan: "The purpose of life is to discover your gift; the meaning of life is to give your gift away." At that point, perhaps the joy of giving your gift away beats out the lure of laziness. :)

For anger, awareness. As we mentioned in the circle, anger is often vilified as a "bad" emotion, but it comes up in all of us at one point or another, and how can we pre-judge its purpose? As we also pointed out, becoming consumed in anger does not serve anyone. Awareness will always serve us when anger is arising, and keep us rooted in the unfolding present. As Ripa was also sharing: what does anger feel like on my body? Why is it arising now? These are questions that have subtler and subtler answers that will aid us in knowing ourselves. And to complete the counter-balance of awareness, I would add in a healthy does of acceptance. :) If we do not accept what is, we are stuck with it, but once we accept, we can begin to move and flow with it.

And last but not least :) for lust, impermanence. Lust is an interesting word to use here, and has a very Buddhist ring to it -- attachment to something that is not present. Craving for what is not yet our organic reality. So let's counterbalance with a quintessential teaching of Gautama Buddha: anicca, impermanence, or the ever-changing nature of all things. With that, let me thank you for your attention, and pass. :)



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