Grow Into What You Know

I’m a recovering workshop junkie.  In my younger years, if there was a workshop on anything physical, metaphysical, spiritual, mystical, or magical and I could beg, borrow, or barter my way there, I’d go.   

The locations of these workshops only added to the allure for me – San Diego, Kaui, Big Sur, Santa Fe, Tucson, Sedona, Maui, Boulder, Portland, Bend, and Whidbey Island.  It was easier to pretend enlightenment could be achieved in geographically luscious landscapes than in my hometown. 

The truth is, if you don’t bring it with you, you won’t find it wherever you happen to land.  Admittedly, you might be more open to its presence gazing into a cascading waterfall or a wide blue ocean while sipping umbrella drinks with the cabana boy or sitting zazen with meditating monks and majestic mountains in the background. 

However, the real discipline of happiness, peace, or sanity is cultivating it in the present moment under the current circumstances.  I love one of Gretchen Rubin’s Secrets to Adulthood that states what you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while. 

This means you practice cultivating peace, compassion, or non-violence while on hold with the Department of Transportation and in the middle of a tense moment with a customer and as you support your spouse when he or she struggles with Elementary Algebra in the latest back to school effort.  Naturally this is more difficult than cultivating these emotional states while stroking your purring kitten, adoring your latest macramé sweater, or shoe shopping. This is precisely why it is called a practice, no?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all about escaping to exotic locales or anywhere that allows for a change of scenery and some greenery.  This summer seems to have called forth an unprecedented need in me to escape.  Every attempt at progress or forward movement has been thwarted by something beyond my control.  This leaves me especially irritable as I move into the most stressful month of the academic year and highly susceptible to any offers of a last minute getaway.

My challenge has been to accept this with grace and appreciate the gift of not getting what I want.  The good news about my workshop junkie years is although I am far from enlightened, I retained some sage advice from unforgettable teachers that whispers to me in times such as these. 

Like six-second soundbites, wisdom needs context to be fully integrated.  While it was exciting to seek the knowledge, it was arrogant to think I could pass it on to others before I had the proper context or experience in which to frame it.  When I used to do corporate trainings I’d find myself saying certain things with authority because I had heard my teachers and gurus say them.  One day I was saying some simple phrase like, “Be here now,” and dropped to my knees.  Five years after saying this nonchalantly, I totally got it and was deeply humbled.

This tends to happen to me more at midlife.  The cockiness of youth and the certainty of knowing it all give way to the certainty of knowing very little and the curiosity of continuing to learn. 

One of my favorite ways to learn is to listen to audio programs while driving.  It’s like a having a mobile university in my car, without having to take the aforementioned Elementary Algebra.  I get to pick the programs and be moved by the passion that moves these people to share the information.  I appreciate poetry and science and history like never before.
Right now I’m listening to John O’Donohue’s  To Bless the Space Between Us.  John was an amazing Irish poet, priest, philosopher, and lover of life who died at age 52, but left so much wisdom for the rest of us to stumble upon when ready. 

Several years ago I was in a bookstore in Berkeley and picked up Anam Cara, John’s book of Celtic wisdom. I knew it was significant, so I bought it, but I wasn’t really ready for it until now.  Now I can’t get enough of his work.  Listening to his Irish brogue as he recites these blessings is a feast for my ears.

I suppose  I’ll always be a workshop junkie at heart.  I love to learn!  But the wisdom will only be like junk food until I metabolize it by practicing it and living it.  

One of my very best days on planet Earth was the day I got to see the Dalai Lama.  After seeing His Holiness in Tucson, my friend and I went to a yoga studio where Krishna Das was performing.  This was about as far from anything I’d ever experienced growing up on a farm in Illinois.  But there I was, chanting and moving about like a whirling dervish. The combination of wisdom, chanting, and whirling elevated me into some kind of altered state that lasted the plane ride home.  And just as quickly as enlightenment came, it went.  But the knowledge of this left me forever changed.

There is a Zen proverb, “Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.  After enlightenment; chop  wood, carry water.”  One the one hand, nothing changes.  The same things are still required of us.  On the other hand, everything changes. 

Chop, chop.

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