A Fixed Place To Stand

Richard Rohr

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Archimedes (c. 287–c. 212 BCE), a Greek philosopher and mathematician, noticed that if a lever was balanced in the correct place, on the correct fulcrum, it could move proportionally much greater weights than the force actually applied. He calculated that if the lever stretched far enough and the fulcrum point remained fixed close to Earth, even a small weight at one end would be able to move the world at the other.

The fixed point is our place to stand. It is a contemplative stance: steady, centered, poised, and rooted. To be contemplative, we have to have a slight distance from the world to allow time for withdrawal from business as usual, for contemplation, for going into what Jesus calls our “private room” (Matthew 6:6). However, in order for this not to become escapism, we have to remain quite close to the world at the same time, loving it, feeling its pain and its joy as our pain and our joy. The fulcrum, that balancing point, must be in the real world.

True contemplation, the great teachers say, is really quite down to earth and practical, and doesn’t require life in a monastery. It is, however, an utterly different way of receiving the moment, and therefore all of life. In order to have the capacity to “move the world,” we need some distancing and detachment from the diversionary nature and delusions of mass culture and the false self. Contemplation builds on the hard bottom of reality—as it is—without ideology, denial, or fantasy.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t have a fixed place to stand, a fulcrum of critical distance, and thus we cannot find our levers, or true “delivery systems,” as Bill Plotkin calls them, by which to move our world. We do not have the steadiness of spiritual practice to keep our sight keen and alive. Those who have plenty of opportunities for spiritual practice—for example, those in monasteries—often don’t have an access point beyond religion itself from which to speak or to serve much of our world. We need a delivery system in the world to provide the capacity for building bridges and connecting the dots of life.

Some degree of inner experience is necessary for true spiritual authority, but we need some form of outer validation, too. We need to be taken seriously as competent and committed individuals and not just “inner” people. Could this perhaps be what Jesus means by being both “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16)? God offers us quiet, contemplative eyes; and God also calls us to prophetic and critical involvement in the pain and sufferings of our world—both at the same time. This is so obvious in the life and ministry of Jesus that I wonder why it has not been taught as an essential part of Christianity.

Richard Rohr is a Franciscan friar, an internationally known speaker and author, and ​founding director of the Center for Action and Contemplation. The above passage is from his book, "A Lever and A Place to Stand: The Contemplative Stance - The Active Prayer."

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the metaphor of the lever, balancing slight distance from the world with our closeness to it? Can you share a personal story of a time you found your leverage by combining steady spiritual practice with a delivery system in the world? What helps you bring a quiet, contemplative vision while being critically involved in the pain and sufferings of our world?

Add Your Reflection:

11 Previous Reflections:

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    On May 18, 2021 Kay wrote:
    Thank you Richard for this centering article!

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    On May 18, 2021 Gururaj wrote:
    Having been born as an earthling my fulcrum is by default based near the earth. In fact it appears most of the time to be on the earth itself and I have almost no leverage except the brute force I can summon of my physicality and basic being force. The action and results of my efforts are short-sighted, bigoted, usually unwise - amplifiedmanifold if all others around me are of the same level of being. And a lot of effort is needed, expended and there will be burn out.

    However as my perspective broadens and my being evolves, not only does the fulcrum shift a bit away from the 'earth' but the capacity for leverage also increases in proportion to the intensification of the contemplativeand non-identified statein me. My perspective progressivelycan become global, cosmic and ,potentially, even divine ('Thy will' does get done). And the personal energy and what can be evoked in others, I have heard, becomes as though connected to a large reservoir.

    1 reply: Jo | Post Your Reply
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    On May 18, 2021 Patrick wrote:
    A "fixed place to stand" is not achieved by striving, but only in complete surrender to Divine LOVE. It is the "emptiness" (kenosis) of Buddhism and the like. }:- a.m.

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    On May 15, 2021 David Doane wrote:
    I find it is important to be detached from and involved in the world, which means to be in the world but not of it. Detached doesn't refer to distance, 'slight' or otherwise. Detached means independent of. Our challenge is to be independent of and not captured by the world while involved in it. As related to spirituality, I found my leverage when I became committed to following truth as I saw it, not following what someone else or an institution said was true. My priority is holding my truth and not losing myself. When I start to lose my truth and myself, I at least sometimes become as wise and elusive as a serpent or I back off my involvement in the world. What helps me is to become more firmly grounded in my truth and become more adept at being wise as a serpent, which do seem to increase or decrease concurrently.

    1 reply: True | Post Your Reply
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    On May 14, 2021 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    We all need a steady, rooted, poised and balanced placeto stand otherwise the winds of pain and suffering may uproot the tree of our life. All wisdom traditions strongly emphasizethe significance of contemplation and meditation to work on our inner world and the need to be connected with the outer world of suffering and pain. In order to be whole and fully functioning persons we need to create a balance and rootedness within ourselves. I had attended one month retreat for mindfulness meditation and deep contemplation. That was a transformative experience for me. I felt profoundly centered, calm and rooted. I felt at home with me and with others in the retreat.This experience fostered a deep sense ofempathy and compassion in me for others. It was a powerful transformative experience for me. Daily practice of mindfulness meditation and self-introspectionhelpme to maintain a balanced and wholesome connectionbetweenmy inner world and outer world, between my "private room" and m... [View Full Comment] We all need a steady, rooted, poised and balanced placeto stand otherwise the winds of pain and suffering may uproot the tree of our life. All wisdom traditions strongly emphasizethe significance of contemplation and meditation to work on our inner world and the need to be connected with the outer world of suffering and pain. In order to be whole and fully functioning persons we need to create a balance and rootedness within ourselves.

    I had attended one month retreat for mindfulness meditation and deep contemplation. That was a transformative experience for me. I felt profoundly centered, calm and rooted. I felt at home with me and with others in the retreat.This experience fostered a deep sense ofempathy and compassion in me for others. It was a powerful transformative experience for me.

    Daily practice of mindfulness meditation and self-introspectionhelpme to maintain a balanced and wholesome connectionbetweenmy inner world and outer world, between my "private room" and my "public room."
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave'


    [Hide Full Comment]

    4 replies: R, Aj, Aj, Kay | Post Your Reply

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