I am a fan of the Quaker educationalist Parker Palmer. Last weekend I attended a workshop grounded in Parker’s work, a Circle of Trust. In a circle of trust, there are underlying values and intentions for being together. These are similar to those created within an MBSR group, the intention for deep listening to oneself, and to others, and the collective understanding that life matters, and is worth reflecting upon. It is a joy to be with a group of people who are willing to scratch the surface of things, ask important questions, and share something of their way of looking at life.
As in MBSR groups, poetry played an important part. The poems were invitations to reflect upon and explore ones experiences of life. The poems spoke to me, resonated with my present life experience. On later reflection, and in conversation with others, I realised that the poems spoke to everyone in different ways, spoke to universal human themes using the metaphors of pathways and doorways.
Pathways. In learning to live mindfully there is an emphasis on being in the present moment, and yet the moment is not an isolated ‘thing’, but part of an ongoing stream of experience. Each moment is the culmination of prior moments, is informed by them, and the moments to come, will be informed by this moment here and now. The ‘path’ that has bought us here, is a part of ‘here’.
It may be that the path that has bought us to this moment is a combination of inherited ideas of how life is meant to be, shaped by family and social influences, and some level of ‘self’-determination. The path we are to walk in life, isn’t necessarily the one that was given to us. It may be, that we need the courage to cultivate and clear a path for ourselves. How are we to do that if we aren’t aware of what is going on in our bodies and minds? How will we know what serves us, or doesn’t, if we aren’t paying attention? How will we know what is important to us, if we don’t make the time to slow down and listen to ourselves?
This has important implications for the path ahead. How we choose to attend to, and live our lives in the present, is to some extent shaping the experiences we will have in the future. For example, if we feed the habit of impatience in the present, it is likely that we will continue to be impatient into the future. On a mindfulness course, we learn to pay attention, so that we can notice what we are doing in the moment, and can make choices about whether it serves us or not. We can consciously cultivate a path, clear the weeds, and shape, to some degree, the kind of life we want to live
Doorways. David Whyte in his poem ‘Everything is Waiting for you’, says ‘the door is there to frighten and invite you’. Indeed, when the need for larger changes in life beckon, we can experience the invitation with some amount of fear. We stand on one side of the doorway, and what is beyond is yet unknown to us. David Wagoner in his poem, ‘At The Door’, puts it beautifully:
‘ You see your fingers touching the doorknob,
Closing around it, turning it
As if by themselves. The latch slides
Out of the strike-plate, the door swings on its hinges,
And you’re about to take that step
Over the threshold into a different light.’
The doorway may be the decision to find a new job, to have a family, to separate from a partner, to move house, or maybe less challenging, to change a bank account, go to a party, change ones diet. Whatever the doorway is, can we consciously meet it? Can we cultivate the capacity through our practice, to include the multitude of sometimes contradictory feelings we have, and ‘hold’ them with kindness and patience. To have the patience to wait, until we know what to do. Aaaahhh….patience that elusive and stress relieving virtue, a virtue that includes the feelings of impatience, and needing to know, the longing for certainty. David Wagoner again:
‘Or you can stand there briefly, as bewildered
As by the door of a walk-in-time-lock safe,
Stand there and stare
At the whole concept of shutness, like a rat
Whose maze has been rebaffled overnight,
Stand still and quiver, unable to turn
Around or go left or right.’
When we live mindfully we cultivate the capacity to tolerate the confusion, the not knowing, the anxiety and uncertainty. In this way we walk a path of trust, a trust that things will unfold in their own good time, that being right here, in this moment, is enough for now. That confusion is a part of the path, of life, and is OK.
I share the aspiration of theologian and poet John O’ Donohue:
‘I’d love to live as a river flows, carried by the surprise of my own unfolding.’