How can we begin to understand the nature of simplicity, here in the Western world? Is our restlessness symptomatic of a deeper yearning to know our sense of place more profoundly? Many of us are feeling called to a life less fettered with consumerist trappings and meaningless work. How ironic then, that nations only recently diverted from an agrarian base which ensured meaningful work with unwavering family and community support and time-honored sacred daily rites and practices now want what we have in the way of “quality of life.”
Has one nation tipped the balance of an entire planet? What are we collectively seeking? In his essay The Orphan and the Angel (Ways of the Heart: Essays Toward an Imaginal Psychology), Robert Romanyshyn seems to encounter, as we all must from time to time, the dark night of the soul. “Today we desperately need a transformation of soul, a spiritual revolution. And we need to be awakened in this way not in order to save ourselves or to save the world. Too much of the old arrogance clings to such dreams, too much of our busyness, our hyperactivity, our stubborn refusal to listen. On the contrary, we need to be awakened in order to be saved. We have forfeited our birthright in the scheme of creation, and as such we have lost any right, if we ever really had one, to save the world. Only the world can save us. We need this humility. We need to learn again how to pray.”
Finding time to meet ourselves honestly in the quiet and solitude of our own hearts seems key to discovering the nature of our place in the world. Only then may we feel the pulse of creation flowing in our veins; only then can we taste the sweetness flowing from the fount of Mother Earth. The speed at which many of us hurl ourselves through life can be measured by reflecting on the past day or week or month where we feel time steamrolling by, leaving us flat and dry. It causes us to wonder, wander and ultimately feel a growing sense of isolation from our own skins, our own kinship to nature both phenomenologically as well as from our own human nature. We become orphans on alien ground.
In A Sense of Place, Wallace Stegner offers, “In our displaced condition we are not unlike the mythless man that Carl Jung wrote about, who lives ‘like one uprooted, having no true link either with the past, or with the ancestral life which continues within him, or yet with contemporary human society. He lives a life of his own, sunk in a subjective mania of his own devising, which he believes to be the newly discovered truth’.”
Does this subjective mania describe our cultural malaise as well, and if so, how has our American way of life inflamed virtually all of civilization with the desire to possess a lifestyle which promotes attachment to things and detachment to a deeply rooted sense of place? Is this forgetting something all human beings must collectively move through in order to reencounter a lasting, harmonious relationship with the planet we call home, else lose our place in nature’s scheme? What are we looking for, but more importantly, what are many of us attempting to reclaim? To delve deeply within, to explore our inner life is not the same as isolating ourselves from family, community and our world. To meet the sweetness that life already offers us without condition, we need to reclaim simplicity, meeting life on its terms, not ours. When we meet creation with a certain sense of wonder and enchantment and a lack of guile, life is and has always been infused with the nourishment the hungry ghost within us seeks. In Universal Dharma Realms, Maha Thera describes these ghosts that “always live in the atmosphere of anxiety, illusion and fear. Their desires are never satisfied. The hungry ghosts cannot eat as their throat is as narrow as a pin, but their stomach is as large as a drum.”
Americans might discern the difference between being alone with ourselves and being alone with no sense of place or belonging. We are still a young nation on borrowed soil, needing to come to terms with our arrogance and national philosophy and practice of eminent domain. We need to see ourselves less as owners of the land and more as citizens of Planet Earth. However this plays out in our psyches, ownership is illusory, for our bodies are made of the same earth we stand upon, regardless of where we locate ourselves mentally in space and time. Yet our minds continue tethering themselves to another home, we know not where. How can we remain grounded with this kind of duality in a time where escape seems more desirable than ever?
We are given what we need for this earth walk. Every emotion, every bodily organ serves our path. Many of us have become surgeons of the soul, cutting loose whatever pulls us into discomfort. Yet we also possess the threads which attach us to community, to our sense of place in the world. When we reckon with our innermost yearnings, we reestablish a rooted inner life. When we encounter life on its terms, we find common ground in an unpredictable world. Ultimately if we are to create a quiet life, a serene existence, unpredictability becomes an acceptable state of grace. Without expectations of what life is here to provide for us, we take refuge in the wonder of existence. We meet life profoundly with openness and a sense of being in a place we are meant to inhabit as fully as we are able.
(@2005 Bela Johnson – formerly published in Inner Tapestry Journal)