Hidden meanings. We all love to find them. Playing Beatles songs backwards to uncover hidden Satanic messages. Whole literature classes devoted to unpacking the meanings underneath the words -- as if the beautiful story in and of itself was not enough. Poems. Parables. Koans. Perhaps our belief that there are messages everywhere just waiting for us to find them one is our means of assuaging our anxiety about living in a Great Unknowing, our desire to find at least a key to the Great Mystery.
For those of us who tend to be silver-lining types of people, Pollyannas at heart, when something difficult occurs, we tend to look for the greater good, for the lessons we are learning, for the hope and the healing.
What is the Universe trying to teach me? I ask myself that a lot lately. When last Sunday, which began as a love-filled celebration of a whole year of writing about this daily practice of joy, Instead became a day of deep soul-searching, I prayed to uncover the greater meaning, the hidden message. This is the healing that finally came to me: It is time to let go of the old stories.
A lot of what I write and speak about has been The Past, particularly long-gone people who still have a deep and profound effect upon my life. The people I have loved the most. But have I been writing about the love, or about the stories about the love? Because where love meets love, the response can only be love. Love is that pure. That true. Love is our living legacy. It's our stories about love that chain us to be past, and often clash -- as they have been a lot in my life lately. My investment in MY version of what love is or should look like crashing up against someone else's cherished story.
My mother's favorite line from her favorite hymn was: "I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine." Thinking about that now, I can imagine that, as a lifelong designer, she loved the idea that even her dross was "designed" -- designed to be consumed -- just as much as her gold was designed to be refined. And it is a beautiful idea -- that instead of beating ourselves up for having dross at all, we recognize that our impurities are designed to be brought to the surface to be removed in order to reveal the gold in us, which is also designed. . .to be refined.
Now here's the thing -- to refine gold is no pleasant task. The refiner sits beside a crucible heated in excess of one thousand degrees Celsius, stirring the gold in order to bring its impurities to the surface. Those impure and unwanted bits are then skimmed off the top leaving only pure gold. It's scalding hot and dangerous as hell. In fact, it is a kind of hell. A chosen hell. The burning off of all that no longer serves us. And it takes that kind of hellish heat for the dross to release itself from its gold. Because you better believe that damn dross is very happy being a part of the gold. It sure as hell doesn't want to be skimmed off the top and dumped. But that's what has to happen -- for us all.
2016 has been a crucible for me in every sense of the word -- and it continues to be. But here's the good news -- inside the refinery that is my life at the moment, as more and more dross comes to the surface, it is easier and easier to feel the pure Love underneath. Everything that has happened this week has shown me that this is true.
After being on the road for six weeks, I drove into Santa Fe last weekend knowing I had some big choices to make: Is it time to leave Northern New Mexico after living here for almost 25 years? Should I get another place or just put everything in storage? What should I sell and what should I keep? For a week now, the answer has come through loud and clear: LET IT ALL GO!!
So, I began dismantling my home. I am finding, of course, that this process is actually only a metaphor for the dismantling of much much more than my physical life. In fact, every choice I am making on the material plane these days seems to reflect a much larger choice I am being asked to make in my interior life, my spiritual journey.
My first decision was to embrace purposeful homelessness -- that is, to choose not to have my own place to live, but rather to recognize that my home is within me -- not a place outside of me, but rather The Belonging to something much larger than me that I have never not had. And in fact, I have never been without that Home.
So, I decided to put my things in storage at least through the end of my planned travel schedule for this year. But then, as I looked around my house, I began to realize that even that wasn't as easy as it sounded. Although I have sold off so many I things over the years, like most Americans I continue to accumulate a lot of stuff. To put everything in storage meant a lot of storage units. . .which seemed, frankly, crazy.
On one of my recent road trips, I listened to the audiobook of The Magic Art of Tidying Up, in which the author claims that, if you follow her method for clearing out the clutter of your life, you will never have to do it again. The crux of her means for deciding whether to keep or jettison something is to hold the item in your hand and ask yourself to feel: Does it spark joy?
I have been going through everything I own, touching it, feeling it and its history and its meaning in my heart and then choosing what to keep and what to let go of -- and I have been letting go of almost everything. As I have, two things have happened: The first is that I have FELT how the weight of living with so much accumulated stuff has burdened me. From there, it was a hop skip and a jump to grocking the ultimate meaninglessness of most of it. And instead of that feeling frightening or depressing, it has felt totally and utterly liberating!! The second is that, as I have put the energy of letting go out into the Universe, exactly the right people have come in to my life, for whom the things I am releasing do spark joy. And I, in turn, have felt the immense joy of watching my "things" leave to become parts of new homes, to bring joy to new lives. As my friend Mary likes to say, Oh What Fun!
So, as I begin my second year of writing about the creation of a daily practice of joy, I stand on the cusp of a whole new way of being. I thought it would feel a lot scarier than it does -- not knowing what the future holds, where I will live, how I will earn my living, what my life will look like. Turns out, what I feel is the Liberation of Living in the Now.
For years I have known that one of the real blocks to my spiritual practice has been my compulsion to overplan my life as a means of assuaging my anxieties about the future. Live in the now, everyone has exhorted me. Easier said than done when you're invested in your own status quo. The more we feel we have something to preserve or protect, the more anxious we become about losing it. The stories of our past collide with our fears about the future, and Now becomes an illusory nanosecond in the timeline of our overwrought lives.
BUT, as it all turns out, when you purposefully toss yourself into a roiling boiling cauldron and ask to have your dross removed, living in the now is all you CAN do. And NOW RIGHT NOW everything is OKAY! More than OKAY. Right Now it is All Good. Right NOW.
One of the best things I have learned from the remarkable Richard Rohr is that the trouble starts for all of us -- individuals and institutions alike -- when we feel that we have something to protect. Whether it is institutional power, societal status, or property rights -- we become more invested in that than in the only thing that really matters -- Love: Loving the Divine, loving one another and ourselves.
The same is true of our stories. The more we invest in the stories of our or other people's pasts, the less we live in the legacy of their love. That Love is the gold they have left us as their LIVING legacies to us. You see, legacies are given to us to keep living. They are not tired-out stories we are destined to rehash ad boredom. The stories that no longer serve us are the dross designed to be consumed in the cauldron of time. Time, which allows us the beautiful blessing of allowing us to regain the perspective that our only real answers are always love and forgiveness.
And so, my fellow joy journeyers, I invite you to jump into the crucible of change with me and join me in choosing love and forgiveness. Join me in living your legacies instead of re-telling your old stories. So many adventures await us, if we are willing to slag our small selves in exchange for the prospect of the Pure Gold of Now.
It's not easy. Often it's scary as hell. In this time of transition, I have come to rely on a verse from a glorious poem called "Mameen" by the wonderful David Whyte, which has become a mantra for my new life:
Those of us who are appreciators of horizons -- whether we reach them or not; those of us who are called to get up out of our chairs, open the door, and walk into the clean air toward that edge . . . we often struggle with the confusion of living lives beyond the ordinary -- the loneliness of not being like other people, the embrace of strangers, the lure of solitude. What I love most about this verse is David Whyte's conflation of being both the privileged and the pilgrim. Because it IS a privilege to have the freedom to be a pilgrim -- as the envy I have seen on everyone's face when I tell them I have embraced purposeful homelessness reminds me. This beautiful poem helps me remember that my own privilege comes not in the accumulation that seems to have been a great part of my family legacy, but rather the gift I was given of being at home wherever I am in the world, with whomever I am with.
I AM both the privileged and the pilgrim -- and to stay in that gratitude is the hope and the healing of my whole journey back into joy.
I am the one who will tell the story, AND the one, coming back from the mountain, who helped make it. And that story will be my own -- not the retelling of the stories of others. Those stories are theirs -- and it is time to let those go and live my own legacy. The only legacy there is: The Legacy of Love.
That is what we are ALL here to do: To live in the now. To discard the past stories that have weighed us down, the life-limiting narratives that no longer serve us, and to recognize that the future we are so keen on planning is the source of all our fears.
Right here, right now, everything is enough.
Right here, right now, we are present in our lives.
Right here, right now, we are ALL the privileged and the pilgrims, the ones who can choose to make the stories of our lives the stories of Love.
This present moment is all we ever have, and all we ever are.
(What a relief!!)
Let us all choose to live in the liberation of the Now of Love.
Let us all recognize the privilege of this pilgrimage we call Life and live our legacies of Love.
Right here. Right Now.
Will you join me?