In the beginning was the Image. -- Fritz Eichenberg
The world will be saved by Beauty. -- Dostoevsky
Moon climbing the black sky -- what is one breath?
When sitting in rapt wonder at the beauty of the moon climbing the sky, perhaps huddled beside a lover and a campfire, the Earth, the Universe, and all that She holds within Her can seem overwhelming and so filled with grandeur that one is "reduced" to awe and a kind of emptiness -- maybe a sort of "pregnant pause" will come upon one -- a pause that can suddenly awaken one to the subtle power of one conscious breath... One Love...
"One breath" is every breath, or our last breath. Every breath is the Holy One, our Beloved Friend, breathing the gift of life into us and into every living creature... every breath and every life presents us with an astounding opportunity to revere and adore... Dorothy Day wrote that "the saints are those who know how to love, whose lives were transformed by love. The desire deep in the heart of every one of us is to love, to love in such a way that all things become new, that there is a new song in our hearts."
In the ineffable silent space between the incoming and the outgoing breath is where the Heart may enter the Light of the Holy One -- almost as if from the inside out, the upside down, from the smallest or most fragile, and only then on into the grandeur of the Infinite One, the Holy, the Beautiful One. In the ineffable silent space, in this Place, one may hear the Heartbeats and feel the Breath of the Holy One on the nape of one's neck and see all creation shining with an almost unbearable Light... "I belong to the soul of the Beloved. I have put duality away, I have seen that the two world's are one; One I seek, One I know, One I call." (Rumi)
I created your soul with a capacity for loving -- so much so, that you cannot live without love. Indeed, love is your food. -- St. Catherine of Siena
We pause here to remember one whom we had the pleasure and joy of working with for a few years... at first, she was "just" the bookkeeper... her head always focused on the computer screen, focused and determined. After a while her eldest daughter started volunteering, always with a radiant smile, but shy... then a USC Immersion Group showed up for a week... both Debra and Mary showed up for our USC vs. Dorothy's Place softball game... after much coaxing, Mary finally picked up a bat... one slow pitch later, the ball was sailing into the deep outfield and Mary was charging around the bases. Steadily after, Debra and her family were "charging" into our hearts...
Stories of a constant practice of kindness abound, and a business office became the beating heart of a Soup Kitchen... Irene walked up the stairs for a good word to inspire hope... Raul came for inspiration to enter a recovery program... Kalei dropped by for a listening ear... Maurice would drop in because it was the one place where he could escape judgment... And then it came time for Camp St. Francis: would Debra's daughters, Mary, Savannah, and Carmen each like to be group leaders? Enthusiastic Mary was ready, but Savannah and Carmen were beleaguered with doubt... nevertheless, they all showed up... Carmen soon had to go home... but Savannah stuck it out: and day-by-day, she blossomed into a caring and self-confident leader... then she began babysitting for Robert and I to actually go on dates -- what a luxurious gift! Needless to say, she fell in love with Donovan, Devin, and our wild Rose of Sharon, and became part of our family...
Then the Holidays rolled around and Debra had to take a second job to provide the gifts she wanted for her family and friends -- while at the same time securing donations and volunteers to offer a Christmas Celebration for hundreds and hundreds of children at Dorothy's... all done without fanfare, simply because she was "aware of suffering" and her heart had been opened by Love... and to top everything off, months ago she took a homeless woman home with her to be part of her family...
We continue our reflection with another thought of the importance of opening and surrendering to Love -- and how very "different" the prophets, saints, rabble-rousing radicals, and world scriptures read when seen from the "vantage point" of the "disadvantaged": all those persons who have been marginalized by others with power! The luxury of "faith" meets head-on its complicity with injustice! The luxury of "faith" meets head-on the struggle that is solidarity and the Living Presence of the Holy One still alive among us!
We realize that there are no easy answers -- just as there is no "guarantee of success". But there is a way as there is a task: scattering the little seeds of paradise as you / we go about our daily lives. Here in this moment we can choose to be fully present and alive with our possibilities a blessing and a gift for all those persons we will encounter. To "scatter the little seeds of paradise" means to live without either the need or desire to judge another being! What a blessed relief! We don't need to judge! We don't need to manipulate reality to suit our ends (wow, what an exhausting use of energy)! We can choose to be free -- talk about "wonder and awe"!
If we wish to become "Companions of the Way", we must quiet down our scalawag minds, and practice kindness and compassion -- we must live "target free" from now on. The deepening dimensions of this practice opens the heart to visions of Beauty everywhere, and Justice is then known to be our personal responsibility... the Beloved Community relates everyone and everything to this conscious commitment. "The end is the creation of the Beloved Community." (Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
The Seventh Mindfulness Training:
Aware of being here now, I am choosing to live with an everyday consciousness of having surrendered my mind, heart, and life over to the Beauty that is Love. I will make the actions that flow from this surrendering the story of my life.
How can we cultivate a culture of compassion and kindness in our homes, schools, workplaces, and all about us in the world?
Aware that I am alive and of the preciousness of time, I am choosing to live with ecstasy and to serve others, and all life, with compassion, kindness, and holy joy.
How the heck does a positive attitude protect one from the dis-ease of an intensely negative person or life situation? How does forgiveness contribute to a better world when confronted with the deliberate poison of one (or a group) who lies, distorts, manipulates, and destroys every opportunity for harmony, tolerance, and community through a mad lust for power? How can one avoid retreating from these situations and experiences into either anger or fear? How does one resist these very same temptations that are within every person? Is it enough to propose "mindful breathing, meditation, and forgiveness" as a solution?
What is the REAL ALTERNATIVE to the dominator paradigm that infests every mind and social institution? Where lies the NONVIOLENT POWER for transformation? How do I build the life I dream of? How do I build a community that thrives in goodness, kindness, and passion? How do I sustain my / our hope in the midst of certain defeats and failures?
What do you think of our list of questions that begins this sixth "Light Upon the Path" reflection? What questions would you add? It seems to us that every life and great purpose begins with a question, or series of questions... every life and great purpose is a quest... it is that quest that makes life so incredibly interesting! Mother Teresa is quoted as having said, "You have not been called to success... You have not been called to failure... You have been called to fidelity." We would massage this statement somewhat and say instead, "We have each been called to the fidelity of our quest"... One more question: is there a quest that is common to every person?
Our answer is a resounding "yes!" So, what then is this quest and how do we actualize it? We've been following this meandering river of questions to propose two basic answers -- kind of like a patchwork quilt a grandmother would have made to keep all the kids warm on a cold wintry night... Our first proposed answer to our questions we found in our reading of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (if you've yet to read this novel, get yourself into a library or bookstore and get to it!). The trek of the Joad Family in the novel is always toward their place, their work, and their purpose, all of which is there Promised Land: their Home. The sweet irony of the novel is that by book's end they have yet to arrive at their goal. But in one of the most stunning conclusions to any novel, a marginal character, the Rose of Sharon, is presented with a moment of "sudden" grace and transformation and "suddenly" becomes the point of the book's revelation: we will find our purpose and our home when "our finding" is no longer about "us and our arrival" -- but instead, it becomes the "welcome home for every Other". And it also seems to us that this is what we have forgotten as a people, as a nation... The Grapes of Wrath articulates the great American vision of "welcome home and justice for all". Isn't this the challenge before us now, to leave no one behind or out on the margins of human community and possibilities?
So if our first answer to our list of questions is, in its essence, "Welcome Home", then what is our second answer? Are you ready? Ecstasy! Okay, we can see we've got a bit of explaining to do! Instead of casting about for new insights, we're going really weird: we're looking for the dictionary (that relic from the distant past)... We'll start with "home": the Random House Dictionary lists a number of definitions including "The place in which one's domestic affections are centered"; "any place of refuge"; and "a principle base of operations". And for "ecstasy" we find that the word's root is Greek "ekstasis": ek, out; stasis, standing or stoppage. So, ecstasy or a great joy and feeling of delight proceeds from having gotten "unstuck" and "into" the flow of life, wonder, joy, and "surprise". The great alternative to all power which does not serve to liberate is creative ecstasy and the practice of beauty (a gracious yet radical harmlessness in daily life).
Yeshua said something once, something like this: "Love is all around, but still you do not see." Talk about a Mindfulness Training! We live, move, and have our very being immersed in One Love -- Who is everywhere and everything... Who is the Only Reality -- nothing exists independent of "This". If this is true, then ecstasy is the path forward into this rEvolutionary delight. Rumi talks of the reed pulled from the stream bed and of how it longs to return to its source. This longing for intimacy and identification with the Beloved is the key for unlocking the treasures of the heart and for the ecstasy that will power the transformation that this moment in time holds out for us. Ecstasy is the conscious, deliberate, cultivation of sacred imagination for the liberation of this Planet and the life that it supports. And ecstasy, as the activating energy of creative imagination, even offers the possibility of the redemption of Time itself by un-creating "evil", the negative, the destructive, and the "ugly".
Ecstasy, as "the Way", means to cultivate the plaintive longing of the reed: it means to risk everything for the chance / opportunity to love! It means the freedom of orgasmic ecstasy from the strictures of power: and blesses every coupling that does no harm. It means that this bowl of soup freely given with no expectation of "results" or "success" is enough. It means that this deep bow of respect for the "other" is enough: this welcoming of the undocumented immigrant, of the LGBT, of the Palestinian as equal to the Jew and the Muslim as equal to the Christian, is enough. This kind word, this momentary embrace of a wounded being, this counsel in distress, this uplifted thought, it is all enough. Ecstasy is the deliberate removal of barriers in our minds and hearts, and then outward into our communities. Ecstasy can activate a sustainable rEvolutionary movement with which this precious blue Planet can be saved... Ecstasy is the mystical understanding that at the sub-atomic level, everything is very "loose". It all interpenetrates. It makes the rounds from star-seed to life-seed... We've all gone from algae to this moment, and to the brink of ecstasy (who knows, but maybe we'll all go back again)...
On the metaphysical level, the Divine Whole is the One Reality of which everything is. This Love beckons with all the ardor of a secret lover wanting out of the closet! This Love shares the ecstasy of remembrance: this glance, this word, this touch, this kiss... this act of service, kindness, compassion, and justice... this moment is pregnant with the possibilities of a rEvolutionary transformation: and here's the key, "Only One". In every way let this become your prayer, your economics, your politics, your culture: your passion and your play! So practice ecstasy! Get loose, get out of your "skin" and out of any other boundary or box in which you have placed yourself, or been placed by any power that oppresses: become who you were meant to be: a "paradise possibilitarian"!
Why sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. -- Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There
Come out of the circle of time and into the circle of love. -- Rumi
Aware of the common human desire for happiness, safety, health, and the sure knowing of being "wanted", I will exercise my will and energy in humble service of this common good.
We suppose, if there were to be only one Mindfulness Training, if there were to be only a thirty-one word summary of the Sermon on the Mount or a thirty-one word biography of Mahatma Gandhi or St. Francis, these thirty-one words of the Fifth Mindfulness Training would suffice. Happiness is what every human being craves, and here in this training, the means to that end are articulated -- as well as the "tripping-point" on our life-journey's: the pursuit or exercise of power... and then there is power's antidote... When we find ourselves covered in the mud of our power-tripping, we have the option of soaking in the hot tub of simplicity of life, thought, and motivation... and then getting back on track...
One need only briefly (very briefly) consider the evident condition of someone like Senator Ted Cruz (and, sadly, most Republicans): very nearly his every word, even his facial expressions and body language, exude a pronounced hunger for attention and power: and a corresponding loathing and fear of every "other". He is, unfortunately, convinced that his desire for power is a "public service" -- and not a "filler" for an emptiness of heart... (watch a video of his father for an insight into the sons' secret knowing that he will always be unworthy...). The myth of power is that it can fill the emptiness of the human heart: this is glaringly evident in the actions of drug dealers who work for their "gang" (crime syndicates) on our American streets -- as it is also very evident in the words and actions of the myth dealers who work for their "gang" (the Koch Brothers, FOX News, and the "dollarocracy" syndicates)... But on every level, we are all tempted to follow the seductive gaze of power into the back-alleys of our minds and relationships -- this "following" has become entrenched as the Dominator Paradigm which reveals its ugly face in predatory capitalism, fanatical religious literalism, the justification of violence, the oppression of women, minorities, and LGBT folks, and the willful disregard and destruction of this precious blue Planet.
To write these thoughts down is, in a clear way, to present power as "something out there" and only marginally "in here" -- in our own heads, hearts, and lives. When we wrote "we are all tempted to follow the seductive gaze of power", we understood that the Dominator Paradigm is built directly upon our habitual thought patterns, ways of communicating in our families and work-places, and in our network of relationships. The Dominator Paradigm exists because we feed it! We don't just toss it the bones from our plates or the dregs from our cups -- we give it entire harvests and the very best vintage -- year in and year out! Absolutely every time that we are disrespectful to our partner, yell at our children, curse a lousy driver, marginalize and abuse a fellow worker or employee, hunker down into smaller and smaller lives and circles of interests, we are feeding the Dominator Paradigm. This goes on and on and deeper and deeper, until it becomes our unspoken and unwritten self-definitions: and we even pretend that the men who wrote the various Holy Scriptures of the World were somehow exempted from our human condition! But if they were exempt, how could they ever come up with the horrific concept of "Original Sin" and with all of their justifications for oppressing women and for endorsing violence? We are taught to fear-believe that we are fundamentally best defined as "sinners" and not as "delightful images of the Holy One". We are taught to fear-believe that our human worth is always an open question -- and that any "worth" that we might have only comes to us from outside ourselves. And so we come, sooner or later, to the "end" of the human person: we know ourselves to be radically and truly un-loveable. And that horrible knowing is the source of the emptiness that invades our hearts and gives power to the Dominator Paradigm.
The Fifth Mindfulness Training is intended to alter this reality by lightening our load! So we clear the deck of our minds and hearts and relationships! Let's get really radical and speak absolute truth (repeat after us): "I was created by Love, for Love, to become Love. I am worth the very best -- always. I am beautiful, right now, just as I am. I can, and will, change my mind. I will think and speak positively and constructively. I will become an agent of transformation in my family, in my workplace, in my community, and in the world. I am the one that I have been waiting for. I will change the course of human history towards the kind, the gentle, the just, and the beautiful."
To truly live as a human being is to consciously choose a place to stand. The Fifth Mindfulness Training suggests just such a place. Listen to this story: We think of Frances, a homeless woman, someone who has spent years on the margins of our society. Her journey has carried her through the harsh realities of drug addiction, of losing her children, and of losing her way. Yet, she always came back to the Kitchen. As the seasons of her life changed, she found her place in our shelter. She found the beginnings of purpose in volunteering. She found meaning in facilitating a regular NA meeting... What was it that we could see in her through the many years? What is it that we strive to see in every person who somehow gets lost and finds her / his way to the Kitchen? What is it that keeps us going back for more and more? The answer is in the seeing. There is the living light that swirls around us, everyone, and everything: it's very brightness becomes a veil... yet, they are, each and all, transparent; their true reality or nature is desperately seeking ways for breaking through. In the end, we are tasked with assisting in the co-creation of reality through seeing the truth of what has always been there. By affirming the beauty of the person before us, we assist in activating her / his possibilities. The way of service for nonviolence and justice blesses us everyday with opportunities to help Frances name her reality: Who is special? "I am special!" Who does God love? "Me!" Who do you love? "Me!" Who else do you love? "You!" And what are you worth? "The very best! I am worth Love!"
Aware of the common human desire fore happiness, safety, health, and the sure knowing of being "wanted", I will exercise my will and energy in humble service of this common good.
How can we encourage people to commit to lifestyles that promote equality and the common good -- for everyone on this precious blue Planet?
To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that Love is the reason for my existence, for God is Love. Love is my true character. Love is my name. -- Thomas Merton
I love, therefore being is, and life is worth the pain of having lived. -- Emmanual Mounier
Love is an action, never simply a feeling. -- bell hooks
Life is a maelstrom of passion and conflict, of questions and darkness -- and thanks be to the Holy One, also an oasis of possibilities and quest, of dreams and self-effacing courage...
A symbol for the Divine Feminine is that of a chalice: a cup to hold and then to set loose infinite love and possibilities... Our lives are meant to liberate "the other" into becoming an "agent of transformation" and to find both the strength of perseverance and the radical witness of courage. As awareness seeps into one's bones, and then into and through the marrow, the truest response to the pain and suffering that devastates lives and is threatening to destroy this precious blue Planet, is the Way of Love: the breaking and opening of our hearts to unleash the power of compassion and a personal identification with the "Other" -- whomever She may be. Compassion and identification are the two primary "tools" in the belt of the mystic / activist. With them available and activated, becoming "agents of transformation" is within our reach -- without them, we will only fool ourselves and others, and cause still more pain and harm...
Three Stories: 1. Two women, farm workers, showed up at our House asking for food for their families. A few questions later, they revealed that they both had been working for a labor contractor. Together, they worked from sun-up to sun-down. The contractor gave them one check -- which they showed us -- to split for their days' work: the check totaled one dollar. There were a number of deductions made... 2. We organized a free health clinic at a migrant farm worker camp. The volunteer doctors were dispersed in a number of small housing units. The families would make the rounds for diabetes screening, eye exams, PAP smears, etc. I wandered the camp throughout the evening. Every time I passed one of the units, a young girl would come to the door and ask if I wanted to come in out of the cold wind. After a while, thoroughly chilled, I accepted her invitation. She was overjoyed to be able to offer me something from the little they had: would I like some hot chocolate and pastry? I said, thanks for asking, but I was fine and just glad to be getting warm. I could hear her puttering around in the kitchen, and a few minutes later, she came out of the kitchen with a steaming cup of chocolate, and the gooiest Mexican pastry I could have ever imagined. Ah, but the look on Her Face! She was as radiant as the most beautiful summer day... 3. A couple had been reading our newsletter for some months and were curious about our stories of farm worker children. Could I take them with me to a farm worker camp? They went with me that Thursday, following me in their car. We arrived, I parked, and they parked facing the Santa Lucia Mountains across the Valley. "M" volunteered to distribute the beans, rice, and other items in the back of my truck -- I went off to play ball with the kids. Later, "M" came up to me, she had finished, and she and her husband would be leaving. As I was walking her to her car, she asked if I was curious why her husband never got out of the car -- I really didn't think about it, figuring that he was probably just shy. "M" stopped in the middle of the dirt parking lot and pointed to a ranch house in the distance. She said, "My husband grew up on that ranch. He drove by this camp every day of his life -- and never knew it was here."
Another story: It was nearing the end of time. There were huge crowds waiting in line, each one hoping to make it through the Pearly Gates. There was a steady movement forward -- no one seemed to be going away! Whew, maybe there was hope for all of us... Slowly, whispered instructions were being passed back all the way from the front of the line, "Just say that you're a friend of Dorothy Day's. Pass it on." (Thanks to Milton Mayer for another version of this story from the February 1981 edition of "Enthusiasm", the paper of the Viva House in Baltimore).
Aware of how my heart thrills to love, I will focus my daily intentions and actions upon living in solidarity with all those for whom to live means to suffer. I will listen deeply to hear their stories and their wisdom. I will walk with all of my sisters and brothers into our mutual liberation.
How would you re-imagine America (and the world) if every cultural / economic / political / social / and religious institution sought the full development and liberation of every person?
We were just sitting there talking when Peter Maurin came in. We were just sitting there talking when lines of people began to form, saying, "We need bread." We could not say, "Go, be thou filled." If there were six small loaves and a few fishes, we had to divide them. There was always bread. We were just sitting there talking and people moved in on us... And somehow the walls expanded... The most significant thing about The Catholic Worker is poverty, some say. The most significant thing is community, others say. We are not alone anymore. But the final word is love... We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship. -- Dorothy Day
The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say, "What are you going through? -- Simone Weil
The personal life deeply lived always expands into truths beyond itself. -- Anais Nin
Robert Daniel Smith was privileged to serve the homeless and marginalized for 30 years in Salinas, California. Together with his wife, Michelle, they founded an intentional community called the 'Companions of the Way', also in Salinas. Robert and Michelle are community organizers, Catholic Worker renegades, sacred activists, writers, poets, artists, Divine Mother devotees, and practitioners of Kriya Yoga as taught by Rev. Ellen Grace O'Brian of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment. Michelle is also a Montessori public school teacher. Robert is also an ordained Interfaith Minister.