by Michael Lewin
How often are we running way to undertake some ‘ important ‘ task that needs our attention? How often are we working to a busy schedule ( self imposed or otherwise ) that keeps us frantically occupied? How often do we become locked in a cycle of activity that takes us away from mindfulness in the here and now? Even if we try to justify our preoccupations in term of pursuing a spiritual practice it is still busy-ness and will inevitably lead us astray; away from the true course of what our practice should be. Every precious moment that unfolds in our lives is an unwrapped gift that we must pay attention to and respectfully use. To do otherwise could be a diminishment that slowly closes us down, that restricts us to a confined state; that stops us from realizing our true potential – an awakening into a better, more simple but beautiful existence.
Individually and collectively, we are building up a world of neurotic activity that has contributed significantly to unprecedented, record levels of stress induced illnesses. We have over-burden ourselves with stressful amounts of work and travel and then wonder why our bodies ache under the pressure. The values that inform modern life must now be seriously challenged or we run the risk of eclipsing and destroying the innate and precious gift of contemplation and reflection that we all have. This is the vital message of the biblical story about the sisters Martha and Mary. Jesus was visiting their home one day and found Martha busy concentrating on preparing a meal and undertaking other household duties. But increasingly Martha became unhappy with her sister Mary who was apparently doing ‘ nothing ‘ but listening to their invited visitor. Martha rapidly grew agitated with the situation until she could not hold back any further. She approached Jesus to express her concerns over Mary’s lack of work effort but to her surprise Jesus was not at all sympathetic to her argument. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).
But we must not restrict the power that this parable contains by limiting it solely to a particular time and space, set within an historical context. For it has a hidden power to resonate within our own sphere, here and now in our postmodern, twenty first century world because on careful reflection we can see that Martha and Mary are not only sisters of biblical times but also representations of forces that operate within us – now. We all have a Martha and Mary encoded in our make up that confront us in the choices we make in life and the challenge we face is to work out the relative value we should assign them respectively. Yes there is a time for action, a time to push forward diligently and stridently to achieve valued goals and objectives but we must never allow this to dominate us at the exclusion of a more peaceful, reflective mode that Jesus recognized as the “better part.”
THE QUIET POWER OF SILENCE, SOLITUDE AND SIMPLICITY
If there is no silence beyond and within the words of doctrine, there is no religion, only religious ideology. For religion goes beyond words and actions, and attains to the ultimate truth in silence. When this silence is lacking, where there are only the “many words” and not the One Word, then there is much bustle and activity, but no peace, no deep thought, no understanding, no inner quiet. Where there is no peace, there is no light. The mind that is hyper-active seems to itself to be awake and productive, but it is dreaming.
The fast pace of modern life will, if we constantly feed into it, undoubtedly damage our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. We simply were not created to perform at high levels of stress – the modern day Martha syndrome. We are deeper than this, more considered, more contemplative by nature and we must always try to cultivate the conditions under which these can flourish. Traditionally, as a spiritual practice, the way we undertake this is to seek out the presence of silence, solitude and simplicity. Obviously these modes of being are not always available to us in the manner that we may wish but nevertheless they are worth cultivating and developing, if only in a minor way to begin with, so that we can taste something of the fruits they produce. If we can manage this, if we can open up to what they can offer then we will be enriched and inspired as a result with a new way of being in the world, a new way that encompasses, at the core, a mindful presence that attends but does not react.
WE ARE HERE, WE ARE NOW
No paradise of the East
No paradise of the West
Seek along the way you have come
They are all within YOU
We can only find spiritual fulfillment in our everyday lives, nowhere else. Its potential lays in the daily-ness of our existence, rightfully and skilfully lived. In each awakening moment, wherever we are situated, whatever we are doing, we are offered up a chance to gain insight. We are presented with an opportunity to realize self-liberation and all that remains is for us to accept the journey with firm resolve and venture forth into a faith of spiritual receptivity which will grow by our ever increasing embrace of silence, solitude and simplicity.
May we all find that ground