Friday, January 5, 2007

why contemplativeness can't be planned

Contemplative is the word that I use to describe the way in which I want to live my life. The contemplative way embodies something that feels most authentic, most real, and most alive and awake to me. For most of my life I have been attracted to writers, artists, and people who, in some way, reflect this way of life.

At times, my reaching for contemplativeness has not been clear, and I have felt as if I were juggling a lot of balls trying to be simple -- trying very hard to not try hard. And I fall into a sort of abandonment to the confusion and mush of life only to emerge again, attempting to find and stay on the road.

In his book, “The Contemplative Heart”, James Finley acknowledges the inevitable shortcomings of repeated “efforts” toward contemplative practice:

“Those of us who have been on this contemplative journey for very long know full well how ineffective our plans for contemplative living tend to be. We can look back over our shoulder to see a trail of abandoned spiritualities, like so many cars that have run out of gas. Each, for an enthusiastic moment, seeming to be the long awaited point of arrival. Each leaving us, all too quickly, once again a malcontent in discovering ourselves to be, even after all our efforts, our plain old distracted self. …”

And the dangers of self-absorption:

“ … If we are not careful our efforts to commit ourselves to living a more contemplative way of life become suspiciously limited to an exclusionary process of attempting to rise above or leave behind all that is broken and lost within ourselves and others …”(THE CONTEMPLATIVE HEART, James Finley, p. 38)
Finley suggests that the way through this tangle of misguided efforts is to engage contemplatively in the dilemma of how difficult it is to live contemplatively.

This more generous approach consists, not of attempts to overcome our ignorance, but rather of a willingness to gaze deeply into it, learning its ways as we learn to get up with it in the morning and go to bed with it at night …

In this humble self-knowledge there is the growing realization that this whole journey of contemplative self-transformation is not simply or primarily about “me’ in my private quest for inner peace. Rather it is about entering into the homelessness of the whole world being uniquely expressed in my experience of it. Likewise, we begin to discover that the journey on which we find ourselves is not one of rising above or leaving behind our unaware self. Rather, the journey consists of waking up and coming home to the divinity at once hidden and revealed in the dance of the now so near now so far away, the now so noble now so Oh-my-God-what-have-I-done stuff of our own life and lives of those around us.” (“The Contemplative Heart”, James Finley, p. 39)

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