Monday, March 10, 2008

Sins Against Contemplation

What is that old saying..."idle hands are the devil's playground?" Sounds suspiciously like a Protestant work ethic adage to me. Which would explain why we reward and laud productivity in this country. In America, "nothing" is a negative concept--it is founded on the premise that there is a "something" and "nothing" is its polar opposite. If you are doing "nothing," you are not doing "something," and so what value do you have? Joshu's mysterious Mu (Jap.: wu), like any good koan, flips the logical mind on its head: Mu translates roughly to "no-thing," as in "Nothing, something...you're missing the point. Everything is no-thing."

My biggest temptation--one which I have been fighting a losing battle with this Lent--has been busyness. I can't remember being this busy for such a sustained period of time. It's not just external obligations...it's things I put on myself, projects, ideas, things to occupy the mind. There has been no room for white space, which as any artist or interior decorator knows, is as important to a composition as color. I feel off balance and slightly sick over it. There is just so much I want to do...where is the time?

Jeannie was reading a book when I met her by Margaret Lobenstine called The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One. She has the same problem I do in this regard--how to do everything you want when you only have twenty-four hours in a day. Between the bikes and my research and editing my manuscripts and starting new books and traveling and reading for pleasure and relaxing...it's overwhelming, and a huge temptation to sublet out your white space for the benefit of trying to do it all. I heard on NPR the other day that Leonardo Da Vinci only slept two hours a night his whole life (he was big on napping).

There is a Sufi tale that describes this well titled "The Talkative Lover":

A lover pressed his suit unsuccessfully for many months, suffering the atrocious pains of rejection. Finally his sweetheart yielded. “Come to such and such a place, at such and such an hour,” she said to him.

At that time and place the lover finally found himself seated beside his beloved. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out a sheaf of love letters that he had written to her over the past months. They were passionate letters, expressing the pain he felt and his burning desire to experience the delights of love and union. He began to read them to his beloved. The hours passed by but still he read on and on.

Finally the woman said, “What kind of a fool are you? These letters are all about me and your longing for me. Well, here I am sitting with you at last and you are lost in your stupid letters.”


I'm hoping to make a weekend retreat at Zen Mountain Monastery in the Catskills at some point this spring, and spend some time at Wernersville this summer. I am going to try to see Fr. Vince before Easter and recommit to my Lenten promise during Holy Week, less than a week away. I'm sure God will enjoy the attention; long-distance relationships can be a drag.


Suggested Movie: Shattered Glass
Currently listening to: Why? The Hollows

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