What feels for now like a ‘ceasefire’, a break in the rioting and criminal vandalism that is taking place alongside and all mixed up with the desperate protests of people who just want a living wage. I realised in meditation this morning that my breathing in the last weeks has been too shallow and rapid, another sign of anxiety and stress. The body needs regular deep breathing, the lungs filling and the belly swelling out, the bloodstream revived by a strong flow of oxygen. Breathwork can’t be under-estimated.
As at the beginning of every year, there are decisions to be made about work projects, practical choices, decisions that relate to time and money and skills. Work to be submitted to strangers, the fear of rejection. Commissioned work that would involve challenges: working with difficult or lazy partners, meeting very tight deadlines, work that requires unknown months of research. In my 20s I went off on a silent retreat in order to puzzle over some of the quandaries of my life at that stage, and the laconic Jesuit guiding the retreat showed me how to use Ignatian principles of discernment that go to the core of values rather than profits or pragmatism. The key criteria is growth and deepening of the spiritual life, what leads to authentic living.
What would I learn from the more challenging assignments? What would push me beyond my comfort zone and help me deal with doubts and defeatism? What would show me more of my own weaknesses and offer the opportunity to develop better coping skills? What would keep me alert, young in heart and spirit, open, flexible, adaptable? What would build relatedness?
And of course, what would help put food on the table and money in the savings account. That too.
Musing on the quality of felt life in this difficult here and now. The jarring moments, failures, ups and downs , setbacks of conscious living as opposed to what a friend calls the ‘slow death’ of addiction. Life so unquantifiable and mysterious, all the sorrow and dread bound up with the joy and calm, inextricable. So much that is random, paradoxical, improbable and yet felt to be true: like many of us I was brought up with Cartesian and Newtonion science that had to do with scientific materialism and sense-derived data. Now I read quantum physics and reflect on the speculative, incomprehensible and yet somehow contingent myriad possibilities of the Hadron particles and my mind expands like a helium balloon. John Crowley in Lapham’s Quarterly:
We commonly speak of living as though a life were like a candle lit in a room: the candle’s lit at birth, it shows the room; the candle burns, it burns down, it goes out, but the room that was briefly illuminated remains. But what if the room, the candle, the experience of the room and the candle, the candle’s extinguishing, and the room’s continuance, actually all exist at once, always, and only, in a Moment in Eternity? We seem to sense something of this: even though we feel certain that we’ll die and everything will go on just the same without our presence, we are also prone to feeling that existence can’t go on after our deaths—it seems impossible. Have a Moment in Eternity and you’ll dissolve the paradox. You’ll know that any amount of consciousness is all consciousness; that life, and being, and our apprehension of it, go on forever in all directions within every moment. This is why, probably, the average mystic is also usually unafraid of dying or of being dead: death and dying, and his or her own being dead, exist in the Moment in Eternity that he or she experiences, and in fact cannot exist anywhere else. The reason there’s no death is that all time is now, including all the time when we are not.