Self-Emptying: Weekly Summary — Center for Action and Contemplation
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Self-Emptying: Weekly Summary

Self-Emptying

Saturday, December 19, 2020
Summary: Sunday, December 13—Friday, December 18, 2020

In our consumer culture, even religion and spirituality have very often become a matter of addition: earning points with God, attaining enlightenment, producing moral behavior. Yet authentic spirituality is much more about letting go. (Sunday)

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus struggled and anguished but remained true to his course. Do not hoard, do not cling—not even to life itself. Let it go, let it be— “Not my will but yours be done, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my spirit.” —Cynthia Bourgeault (Monday)

Jesus was uncompromising in his belief that all human beings were equal in dignity and worth. He treated the blind, the lame and the sick, the outcasts and beggars with as much respect as that given to those of high rank and status. —Albert Nolan (Tuesday)

When we meditate consistently, a sense of our autonomy and private self-importance—what we think of as our “self”—falls away. Little by little, it becomes unnecessary, unimportant, and even unhelpful. The imperial “I,” the self that we likely think of as our only self, reveals itself as largely a creation of our mind. (Wednesday)

Let us for now refer to emptying of the self in a twofold sense: as a breaking down of our cherished self-identities, wants, demands, and ego struggles; and as an openness of being, where all the doors and windows of the soul are thrown back to allow in the splendor of life. —Beverly Lanzetta (Thursday)

If we’re not trained in letting go of our pain, transforming it, turning crucifixion into resurrection, so to speak, we’ll hand it off to our family, to our children, to our neighborhood, to our nation. (Friday)

 

Practice: Remaining in Place

What if the challenges of the current moment are actually offering us an invitation to let go of our ideas of freedom and mobility and to consciously participate with reality in a new way? In The Great Within psychologist Han F. de Wit invites us to consider the discipline of stabilitas loci (or remaining in place) as a liberating practice. He writes:

Many contemplative traditions contain the rule of not abandoning the monastic community or the place of retreat for shorter or longer periods (sometimes for life). If one follows this rule, it is almost always preceded by voluntarily taking a vow to keep to it. In the Christian tradition, it is known as the vow of stabilitas loci (remaining in one place). This place can, for example, be where one goes into the solitary retreat. The practitioner then vows not to leave this place before he has completed a specific spiritual practice or attained a certain realization. This approach can be found in the Hindu tradition: the yogi draws a certain line around her place of retreat and vows not to step outside it until she has completed a certain practice (sadhana), until she has reached enlightenment, or until death has reached her. A well-known example of this in the Buddhist tradition is obviously that of the Buddha himself, who finally sat down under the bodhi tree and vowed not to leave that spot until he had reached enlightenment. . . .

Why do people do this? What is the function of such a discipline? . . . The contemplative psychological function of this physical stabilitas and of the adherent vow is that we let go of the idea that we have an alternative, we give up the possibility of withdrawing. As we know, one of the characteristic aspects of ego is that it always wants to have alternatives available: ego reflects a mentality that always wants to keep an exit open and therefore can never come to complete surrender and acceptance. Through the vow of stabilitas loci, we confront and surrender an important part of that mentality. We say, “This is my place, my situation, and that is what I want to work with, however it develops, for better or for worse.”. . . The limitation that this discipline imposes on ego proves to have another element: a flourishing of self-confidence and strength of mind that enables us to be in the situation we are in without any reservations. What may seem claustrophobic or restrictive actually turns into vast and hospitable space. [1]

Richard again: Speaking from personal experience and my many years in Lenten hermitage (where I stayed in one small place for the forty days of Lent), I found a deep inner liberation in “giving up” my freedom to come and go as I chose. I am experiencing some of that same freedom in my hermit-like life necessitated by the pandemic. I cannot “fill” my life or myself up with outside experiences; I must simply “be” with myself and God.

Reference:
[1] Han F. de Wit, The Great Within: The Transformative Power and Psychology of the Spiritual Path (Shambhala Publications: 2019), 263–264.

For Further Study:
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambala: 2008).

Beverly Lanzetta, A New Silence: Spiritual Practices and Formation for the Monk Within (Blue Sapphire Books: 2020).

Beverly Lanzetta, The Monk Within: Embracing a Sacred Way of Life (Blue Sapphire: 2018).

Albert Nolan, Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom (Orbis Books: 2006).

Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis (Sounds True: 2010), CD.

Richard Rohr, Letting Go: A Spirituality of Subtraction (Franciscan Media: 1987, 2005), downloadable audiobook.

Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (Crossroad Publishing: 2009).

Image credit: Ajanta Caves (detail mural of the Buddha), Aurangabad, Maharashtra State, India.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we meditate consistently, a sense of our autonomy and private self-importance—what we think of as our “self”—falls away. Little by little, it becomes unnecessary, unimportant, and even unhelpful. The imperial “I,” the self that we likely think of as our only self, reveals itself as largely a creation of our mind. —Richard Rohr
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