Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Sunrise I Almost Didn’t See

by Troy Chapman

I can see the sunrise partially from my north-facing window and it’s my habit to check on it each morning as I drink my coffee. It comes this morning in peaceful pastel pink, lighting all the clouds until they seem to burn from within.

As I watch, I note an absence of connection between myself and this beauty. This is a common experience for me and I know it by the fact that at other times I look and am deeply moved by beauty. I am healed by it, renewed, given back to myself in some unutterable way. So there are these two ways of meeting the world (because this does apply to all experiences).

For many years I didn’t know what determined whether I would have one kind of meeting or the other and thought that it was random. But as I began to examine it and meditate on it, an obvious thing occurred to me: the world out there isn’t at all different during these two types of encounters; the difference is in me. It’s as if sometimes I see from a shallow place in myself and other times from a deeper and wiser place. And I did indeed wander between these two places in a random sort of way, in an unconscious way.

But that was just it: the randomness of it was a result of my unconsciousness, just as a random sort of wandering results from sleepwalking or even walking with one’s eyes closed.

I’ve talked about this in the past as “wrong-relationship” and its counterpart as “right relationship.” Lately I’ve been thinking of it as being in or out of communion. Whatever we call it, it seems to me the important thing is to clearly see these two distinct ways of being and to ask what we can do to be in deeper communion in our lives. Because this is highly preferable to life out of communion.

Communion is a place from which deep peace flows like a river. Creativity, gentleness, humor, love and goodwill grow like flowers and shrubs and trees along the banks of this river. Joy comes like sunlight and breeze to rattle the leaves and ripple the surface of the water so that life seems to dance and laugh and wave its arms in the air.

It’s also a place where suffering can be met like a family member whose inner process is a mystery to us. “Why are they the way they are?” we ask, sometimes in frustration, sometimes in sadness, but in the end we remember that they are family and that we belong to each other. In communion, we meet life with humility and gratitude and kindness, with open arms and hands.

But when we step out of communion, we find our hands clenching into fists, our arms closing over our chests and our selves removed and hidden, replaced by some mechanical shell that goes through all the right motions but isn’t really there, isn’t really alive except in the biological sense.

I still experience both of these states but I’m trying now to learn this art of being in communion. It seems to me to be the very essence of our spiritual task, for what good are salvation, enlightenment, prosperity, holiness or any other spiritual holy grail if in the end we are essentially absent? Or, as Jesus asked, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?”

So I’m called to this above all else — to simply live in true communion with God, myself, others and nature. I watch the sun rise higher, the pink shifting subtly to lilac, the clouds drifting and changing shape so slowly they seem not to be moving at all. I find that I can’t talk myself into communion or get there by any other form of positive effort. The more I try, the more firmly entrenched my disconnection becomes. Yet when I give this up, and begin exerting a sort of negative effort, what Buddhists might call “non-effort,” by simply pulling up a silence from within myself and stepping into it, I find myself suddenly in communion.

By the time I remember this, the sun has risen high enough that the clouds have cooled to a blue-grey; this morning gift has almost passed. But as I turn away and pick up my pen and paper, and pause for a drink of coffee, I find I can still hear the river running through that silence. Just a great shushing, but clear and unmistakable if I stand still and turn my head in the right direction.

Painting by Troy Chapman

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