“The most amazing fact about Jesus, unlike almost any other religious founder, is that he found God in disorder and imperfection—and told us that we must do the same or we would never be content on this earth. ”
― Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See
When I am stressed, the first thing I do is clean.
I clean my lists, my bed, my desks, my e-mail inbox, my face – anything to make the visible world feel more orderly and perfect. I have heard it called “procrasti-cleaning” because it takes the mind from the present stressor and allows us to escape the imperfections of the present moment. The hands seem to take over and make the outside world in control before the eyes turn within to see what is actually happening.
The more I have read about the impacts of stress this week, the more I have realized its pervasive hold on our society. In our industrial culture, we suffer from epidemic rates of chronic health issues related to stress such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, insomnia – you name it. Why are we so stressed?
One answer comes from our faith traditions. In Christianity, one of the most repeated phrases of Jesus in scripture is “Be not afraid.” Jesus knows that our fear makes us desperate to be in control. He came not to make the world perfect so we could lessen our fear, but to show us that God is with us through the stress and turmoil. He went so far as to die alone and be resurrected to show us God’s love is the ultimate reality.
When we trust that God’s love is incarnate in Jesus Christ, we come to see all Creation as a reflection of His love. The seeds, the rain, the trees, the human beings – we all are created to reflect God’s glory in our particularity. The true message of Christ is that God’s love “fills the universe in all its parts” (Ephesians 1:23). We need not be afraid when we see God’s love at work everywhere; as I write this blog, God’s love opens my lungs to breathe. I have nothing to fear when I am held in this ubiquitous presence – this naked now – of love.
Similarly, Buddhism teaches that fear is a powerful force at the root of suffering. We are afraid because we are uncomfortable with uncertainty; we try to control the outside world when do not see the impermanence of life. We create patterns and routines that perpetuate suffering because we want to be in control. The tradition of mindfulness in Mahayana Buddhism teaches our fear can only be dispelled through meditation – seeing our thoughts, our desires, our judgments that make us insecure.
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
Our fear is dispelled once we realize that the present moment is a miracle. While we cannot predict the future or control the past, we can choose to be present with what is. The meaning of life is being here in the naked now, as we wash the dishes and we walk to class and we hold conversation. We do not need to escape; we simply need to clean our eyes to see the infinite possibilities, the miracle, of the moment.
“Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh
Image of Mount Rogers, Virginia (where we hiked this weekend!) Image Source
This weekend, I went into the wilderness with four amazing women with the purpose of mindfulness. Mindfulness is not a religion, but a lifestyle; it is a way of contemplative seeing to be more present. On a backpacking trip, mindfulness is a challenge to maintain our focused awareness especially when wilderness is out of our control. This intention allowed us to be at home in bodies, in the time we spent together, as inherently valuable places to be. We experienced the sacredness and security of being together.
In the midst of exam stress and preparing for the end of the year, this trip was a truly heart-changing experience. I felt like I was part of a family, a body fostered by interconnected love. I felt sustained by my sisters as we shared meals, poetry, holding hands – learning how to take care of ourselves and others in each moment. My mind resisted the rainstorms and cold nights at times, but my heart was content with being dirty and wet. In our community, I felt held in love and cleansed of fear. I am incredibly grateful to Jessie, Hillary, Rachel, and Annalee for opening me into the miraculous moment. I hope that I can continue to feel renewed gratitude for each fleeting moment, as interactions with friends become more and more precious.
Here is a poem that I wrote on Saturday morning in the spirit of mindfulness. I hope you enjoy!
The deep parts of my life pour onward.
There is a stream a mile from my house I go to when I need
my toes to be interwoven with the mud and my ankles
to be cleansed from old roots.
There is never an end to the flux of longings,
desperate seeking, water rushing
over sharp rocks to smooth.
Onwards is a continual tide
of abundance discovered beneath
Aha! the stream creatures, how wondrous,
flowing with the direction of the current.
Rescue my mind from its muddled scabs.
How do you heal? Bring the wound to air, swim
in the coral reeves, kiss the tender lips of a stranger
you’ve known for years, give yourself the name
of your spirit animal, the one swimming
with you in the creek.
We all breathe that water, live in the same current
What if I gazed into the pouring out of tides
and saw ripples of grace?
What if I swam naked
letting my wounds touch water?
What if I let God live in my belly,
birthing into that stream