By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies and our Privacy Policy.

Theme:
Reality Initiating Us: Part One

Reality Initiating Us: Part One

Summary: Sunday, March 29–Friday, April 3, 2020

In this time of global crisis, it may be that reality is revealing itself to us—through great suffering—universal patterns that are always true. (Sunday)

We do not handle suffering; suffering handles us— in deep and mysterious ways that become the very matrix of life and especially new life. (Monday)

When we are willing to be transformed, we stop wasting time theorizing, projecting, denying, or avoiding our own ego resistance. (Tuesday)

After any true initiating experience, you know that you are a part of a much bigger whole. Life is not about you, but you are about life. (Wednesday)

At some moment I did answer Yes to Someone—or Something—and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life in self-surrender had a goal. —Dag Hammarskjöld (Thursday)

The transformational journey of death and resurrection is the only—and always denied—message. It really is a way we are saved. (Friday)

 

Practice: Death and Life

Before we share our practice over the next few weeks, we invite you to join us in prayer for all those who are suffering as a result of COVID-19, those who have already lost their lives, and those who are healthcare workers attending to the sick. You can also dedicate your contemplative practice as a prayer for the benefit of all.

God, we ask that all who are affected by this virus be held in your loving care. In this time of uncertainty, help us to know what is ours to do. We know you did not cause this suffering but that you are with us in it and through it. Help us to recognize your presence in acts of kindness, in moments of silence, and in the beauty of the created world. Grant peace and protection to all of humanity for their well-being and for the benefit of the earth.

Death and life are two sides of the same coin; you cannot have one without the other.

Christianity—as well as Buddhism and other religions—suggests that the pattern of transformation is not death avoided, but death transformed. . . Christians submit to trials and learn that the only trustworthy pattern of spiritual transformation is death and resurrection because Jesus told us that we must “carry the cross” with him. Buddhists do it because the Buddha very directly said that “life is suffering.” Buddhism teaches us to skillfully discern the source of suffering, detach from our expectations and resentments, and end all suffering. Today’s practice, from writer Gesshin Claire Greenwood, comes from the Buddhist tradition and asks us to practice releasing the thought that “things should not be this way.” Greenwood writes:

Buddhist wisdom points to the reality that suffering is an enduring and continual part of being alive. . . We are often sheltered in our own kind of psychological palace where we are shielded from things like illness. Yet this kind of suffering can ultimately not be avoided. We will all, everyone one of us, face old age, sickness, and death. . . .

Personally, one of the most distressing things to me about the COVID-19 outbreak has been a feeling that “things should not be this way.” In reality, though, things are and always have been this way. . . . The suffering caused by illness and death is nothing new.

. . .

According to [a Buddhist] legend, there once was a woman who sought out the Buddha after losing her baby to illness. Crazy with grief, she asked him for medicine to bring her son back from the dead. He replied that he would give her this medicine if she brought him back a white mustard seed from the house of a family that had never experienced death. The woman went door to door, searching for a family untouched by the loss of a loved one. Of course, she could never find such a family. She realized that death touches everyone. And in realizing the universality of grief and death, her suffering lessened.

This story shows us that the feeling of “things should not be this way” is an additional and unnecessary pain on top of our inevitable suffering. We cannot avoid old age, sickness, and death, but we can remove the unnecessary assumption that things should be otherwise, and the psychic pain this assumption causes us. [1]

References:
[1] Gesshin Claire Greenwood, “Spiritual Advice for Fears of Pandemic,” from “Practicing in a Pandemic,” Tricycle: The Buddhist Review (March 13, 2020). https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/coronavirus-meditations/

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Death Transformed,” Daily Meditations (April 26, 2019). https://cac.org/death-transformed-2019-04-26/

For Further Study:
Richard Rohr, Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation, (Crossroad Publishing Company: 2004)

Image credit:  Agony (The Death Struggle) (detail), Egon Schiele, 1912, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
1. Life is hard.
2.You are not important.
3. Your life is not about you.
4. You are not in control.
5. You are going to die.
Read Full Entry

Reality Initiating Us: Part One

Lesson Five: You Are Going To Die
Friday, April 3, 2020

The surprise of surprises is that although everybody who has ever lived in this world has died, for some reason, we think we won’t. —Hindu aphorism

Jesus did not once tell us to worship him; he only told us to follow him on the necessary three-day journey that Christians celebrate during Holy Week. And “three days” did not necessarily mean Friday to Sunday. It is a classic initiatory phrase for going the distance or the full cycle. The transformational journey of death and resurrection is the only—and always denied—message. It really is the way we are saved.

However, death, in any form, is perceived as the great human enemy. We construct much of our lives to avoid it, delay it, and deny it. It seems that we are not ready to die, until we have truly lived. Ironically, people who touch upon real life are the ones who can also let go of it. It is the people who have not yet begun to live who fear death the most. True insight has not happened to them yet, which leaves them without a center, foundation, or even primal desire. Their core has not been touched and so they have nothing to harken back to or look forward to or anything to trust deeply within. They are afraid. And we must be honest that this is much of humanity.

In initiation rites, some ritual of death and resurrection was the centerpiece. This is probably why Jesus sought out and submitted to the death and rebirth ritual of John the Baptist at the Jordan River. It is probably why he kept talking to his disciples, three times in Mark’s Gospel, about the necessity of this death journey, and why three times they changed the subject (8:31–10:45). It is undoubtedly why he finally stopped talking about it, and just did it, not ritually but for real.

The genius of ancestors who practiced initiation ceremonies is that they exposed and revealed the truth about pain in a sacred space, which makes all the difference in the world. Now pain is no longer a scary unknown, an unfortunate mistake, something we must change, but maybe an entranceway! As Eckhart Tolle says, “You do not need to be a Christian to understand the deep universal truth that is contained in symbolic form in the image of the cross.” [1] Before such transformative images, the worst things can become the best things.

The initiation instinct realized that facing one’s death was the ultimate encounter with the sacred. Walking through one’s fear of the last thing becomes an encounter with the first thing. A person is then free to live, often for the first time outside of their head or their fear. Death encounters seem to be the primary way to build or rebuild a real life. Then life itself, in all its depth and beauty, becomes the unquestionable gift.

References:
[1] Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks (New World Library: 2003), 127.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation, (Crossroad Publishing Company: 2004), 92, 94, 100, 102–103.

Image credit:  Agony (The Death Struggle) (detail), Egon Schiele, 1912, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
1. Life is hard.
2.You are not important.
3. Your life is not about you.
4. You are not in control.
5. You are going to die.
Read Full Entry

Reality Initiating Us: Part One

Lesson Four: You Are Not In Control
Thursday, April 2, 2020

At some moment I did answer Yes to Someone—or Something—and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life in self-surrender had a goal. —Dag Hammarskjöld

To be in control of one’s destiny, job, or finances is nearly an unquestionable moral value in Western society. The popular phrase “take control of your life” even sounds mature and spiritual. It is the fundamental message of nearly every self-help book. On a practical level, it is true, but not on the big level. Our bodies, our souls, and especially our failures teach us this as we get older. We are clearly not in control, as this pandemic is now teaching the whole planet. It is amazing that we need to assert the obvious.

Learning that we are not in control situates us correctly in the universe. If we are to feel at home in this world, we have to come to know that we are not steering this ship. That teaching is found in the mystical writings of all religions. Mystics know they are being guided, and their reliance upon that guidance is precisely what allows their journey to happen. We cannot understand that joy and release unless we’ve have been there and experienced the freedom for ourselves.

In my life I have found the mystic teachings of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897) helpful for living into this truth. She was a master teacher who was never afraid of presenting humiliating evidence about herself. She called this her “little way.” As she so brilliantly put it, “If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, you will be for [Jesus] a pleasant place of shelter.” [2] What gives religion such a bad name is that most religious people are eager to be pleasing to themselves, and want to be a part of a “big way.”

Being willing to be “displeasing to ourselves,” or to allow our autonomous ego’s needs to take a back seat to the larger field of love, is part of what it means to not be in willful control.

Gerald May (1940–2005), one of my own teachers, very helpfully contrasts willingness with willfulness:

Willingness implies a surrendering of one’s self-separateness, an entering-into, an immersion in the deepest processes of life itself. It is a realization that one already is a part of some ultimate cosmic process and it is a commitment to participation in that process. In contrast, willfulness is a setting of oneself apart from the fundamental essence of life in an attempt to master, direct, control, or otherwise manipulate existence. [1]

For many of us, this may be the first time in our lives that we have felt so little control over our own destiny and the destiny of those we love. This lack of control initially feels like a loss, a humiliation, a stepping backward, an undesired vulnerability. However, recognizing our lack of control is a universal starting point for a serious spiritual walk towards wisdom and truth.

Please join me in trying to be faithful to that walk, even as we pray for God’s mercy for those who suffer, and especially the most marginalized.

References:
[1] Gerald May, Will and Spirit (Harper & Row: 1982), 6.

[2] Thérèse of Lisieux, Christmas letter to Sister Geneviève (December 24, 1896). See Collected Letters of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, trans. F. J. Sheed (Sheed and Ward: 1949), 265.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation, (Crossroad Publishing Company: 2004), 67–68, 70.

Epitaph from Dag Hammarskjöld, Journal entry (Whitsunday, 1961), Markings, trans. Leif Sjōberg and W. H. Auden (Alfred A. Knopf: 1964), 205.

Image credit:  Agony (The Death Struggle) (detail), Egon Schiele, 1912, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
1. Life is hard.
2.You are not important.
3. Your life is not about you.
4. You are not in control.
5. You are going to die.
Read Full Entry

Reality Initiating Us: Part One

Lesson Three: Your Life Is Not About You
Wednesday, April 1, 2020

After any true initiating experience, we know that we are a part of a much bigger whole. Life is not about us, but we are about life. We are not our own. We are an instance of a universal and even eternal pattern. Life is living itself in us. We have been substituting the part for the whole! This message is an earthquake in the brain, a hurricane in the heart.

Accepting that our lives are not about us is a Copernican revolution of the mind, and it is just as hard for each individual today as it was for earthbound humans when they discovered that our planet was not the center of the universe. It takes a major and monumental shift in consciousness, and it is always given and received with major difficulty. It comes as an epiphany, as pure grace and deliverance, and never as logic or necessary conclusion.

Understanding that our lives are not about us is the connection point with everything else. It lowers the mountains and fills in the valleys that we have created, as we gradually recognize that the myriad forms of life in the universe are merely parts of the one life that most of us call God. After such a discovery, we are grateful to be a part—and only a part! We do not have to figure it all out, straighten it all out, or even do it perfectly by ourselves. We do not have to be God. It is an enormous weight off our backs. All we have to do is participate!

After this epiphany, things like praise, gratitude, and compassion come naturally—like breath. True spirituality is not taught; it is caught once our sails have been unfurled to the Spirit. Henceforth our very motivation and momentum for the journey toward holiness and wholeness is immense gratitude for already having it!

I am convinced that the reason Christians have misunderstood many of Jesus’ teachings is because we did not understand his pedagogy. Jesus’ way of education was intended to situate his followers to a larger life, which he called his “Father,” or what we might call today God, the Real, or Life. When we could not make clear dogma or moral codes out of Jesus’ teaching, many Christians simply abandoned it in any meaningful sense. For this reason, the Sermon on the Mount—the essence of Jesus’ teaching—seems to be the least quoted by Christians. We sought a prize of later salvation, instead of the freedom of present simplicity.

My life is not about me. It is about God. It is about a willing participation in a larger mystery. At this time, we do this by not rejecting or running from what is happening but by accepting our current situation and asking God to be with us in it. Paul of Tarsus said it well: “The only thing that finally counts is not what human beings want or try to do, but the mercy of God” (Romans 9:16). Our lives are about allowing life to “be done unto us,” which is Mary’s prayer at the beginning and Jesus’ prayer at the end.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation, (Crossroad Publishing Company: 2004), 60–64, 66.

Image credit:  Agony (The Death Struggle) (detail), Egon Schiele, 1912, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
1. Life is hard.
2.You are not important.
3. Your life is not about you.
4. You are not in control.
5. You are going to die.
Read Full Entry

Reality Initiating Us: Part One

Lesson Two: You Are Not Important
Tuesday, March 31, 2020

O God, if I worship you in fear of hell, burn me in hell. If I worship you in hope of paradise, shut me out from paradise. But if I worship you for your own sake, do not withhold from me your everlasting beauty. —Rábi‘a (717–801), Islamic mystic and poet

When we are willing to be transformed, we stop wasting time theorizing, projecting, denying, or avoiding our own ego resistance. The true spiritual teacher is not afraid to give us a dose of humiliation. If we immediately balk at some minor blow to our ego, the teacher knows that no basic transformation into our True Self has taken place yet. It takes a masterful teacher or mentor to teach us that we are not important. Otherwise, reality itself teaches us: painful life situations have to dismantle us brick by brick, decade by decade.

Jesus knew that he needed to destabilize a person’s false, separate self before they could understand that they had a True Self, but destabilizing our security systems and our ego is always a hard sell. He says, “What does it profit a person if they gain the whole world and lose their soul?” (Luke 9:25). Typically, it is the prophets who deconstruct the ego and the group, while priests and pastors are supposed to reconstruct them into divine union. As God said in the inaugural vision to Jeremiah: “Your job is to take apart and demolish, and then start over building and planting anew” (Jeremiah 1:10).

True master teachers, like Jeremiah and Jesus, are both prophets and pastors, which is why their teaching is almost too much for us. They both deconstruct and reconstruct. But the only reason they can tell us that we are not important is because they also announce to us our infinite and unearned importance. Maybe the reason we have to be reminded of the first truth is because we no longer believe the second. We no longer allow our separate self to be humiliated because we no longer believe in the Great Self.

Our personality and self-image are all we have.

Every parable or spiritual riddle, every one of Jesus’ confounding questions is intended to bring up the limitations of our own wisdom, power, or tiny self. If we have not yet touched upon our essence, we will continue to build up ego structures in defense of our momentary form. Most Westerners no longer tolerate it when our small selves are ignored, subverted, or humiliated. We appear to be lost in a whirlwind of images, all passing and changing week by week.

With all of us globally experiencing our common vulnerability to this virus we can learn the lesson that we are one in our humanity. No one is more important than anyone else. Powerlessness is the beginning of wisdom, as the Twelve-Steppers say. All we can finally do is pray that we allow the flow of the Spirit’s very presence within us. If there is no living water flowing through us, then we must pray for the desire for it to flow! Once the desire for something more is stirred and recognized, it is just a matter of time. Nothing less will ever totally satisfy us again.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation, (Crossroad Publishing Company: 2004), 54–56, 59.

Epitaph adapted from Translations of Eastern Poetry and Prose, Reynold A. Nicholson (Cambridge University Press: 1922), 135–136.

Image credit:  Agony (The Death Struggle) (detail), Egon Schiele, 1912, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
1. Life is hard.
2.You are not important.
3. Your life is not about you.
4. You are not in control.
5. You are going to die.
Read Full Entry

Reality Initiating Us: Part One

Lesson One: Life Is Hard
Monday, March 30, 2020

You have to be sick and tired of being sick and tired before recovery can begin. —Twelve Step Wisdom

All great spirituality is about what we do with our pain. Creation has a pattern of wisdom; and we dare not shield ourselves from it, or we literally will lose our soul. We can obey commandments, believe doctrines, and attend church services all our lives and still daily lose our souls if we run from the necessary cycle of loss and renewal. Death and resurrection are lived out at every level of the cosmos, but only one species thinks it can avoid it—the human species.

I am afraid that many of us with privilege have been able to become very naïve about pain and suffering in the United States and the Western world. We simply don’t have time for it. However, by trying to handle all suffering through willpower, denial, medication, or even therapy, we have forgotten something that should be obvious: we do not handle suffering; suffering handles us— in deep and mysterious ways that become the very matrix of life and especially new life. Only suffering and certain kinds of awe lead us into genuinely new experiences. All the rest is merely the confirmation of old experience.

It is amazing to me that the cross or crucifix became the central Christian logo, when its rather obvious message of inevitable suffering is aggressively disbelieved in most Christian countries, individuals, and churches. We are clearly into ascent, achievement, and accumulation. The cross became a mere totem, a piece of jewelry. We made the Jesus symbol into a mechanical and distant substitutionary atonement theory instead of a very personal and intense at-one-ment process, the very reality of love’s unfolding. We missed out on the positive and redemptive meaning of our own pain and suffering. It was something Jesus did for us (substitutionary), but not something that revealed and invited us into the same pattern. We are not punished for our sins, we are punished by our sins (such as blindness, egocentricity, illusions, or pride).

It seems that nothing less than some kind of pain will force us to release our grip on our small explanations and our self-serving illusions. Resurrection will always take care of itself, whenever death is trusted. It is the cross, the journey into the necessary night, of which we must be convinced, and then resurrection is offered as a gift.

In this time of suffering we have to ask ourselves, what are we going to do with our pain? Are we going to blame others for it? Are we going to try to fix it? No one lives on this earth without it. It is the great teacher, although none of us want to admit it. If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it in some form. How can we be sure not to transmit our pain onto others?

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation, (Crossroad Publishing Company: 2004), 35–39.

Image credit:  Agony (The Death Struggle) (detail), Egon Schiele, 1912, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
1. Life is hard.
2.You are not important.
3. Your life is not about you.
4. You are not in control.
5. You are going to die.
Read Full Entry

Richard Rohr introduces this week’s Daily Meditation theme on “Reality Initiating Us,” addressing our current global crisis as a collective initiation experience which we are all undergoing.

Reality Initiating Us: Part One

The Patterns That Are Always True
Sunday, March 29, 2020

In this time of global crisis, it may be that reality is revealing itself to us—through great suffering—universal patterns that are always true. A little over fifteen years ago, I wrote a book called Adam’s Return that focused on male initiation rites. These are the sacred rituals in indigenous cultures that marked the symbolic growth of a self-referential boy to a generative, compassionate man. While that book was written specifically for men, it seems to me that reality is “initiating” all of us to know and live by these same essential truths. This week I will be trying to present this global crisis as a global initiation into what matters and what lasts.  Now women need this essential initiation just as much as men. 

The work of sacred rituals like initiation was to situate life in a bigger frame, so nature, beauty, suffering, work, sexuality, and ordinary moments were seen to have transcendent significance. They gave life meaning— the one thing the soul cannot live without. Heaven and earth have to be put together or this world never becomes home. That integration is the necessary human and spiritual task, at which initiation rites succeeded, probably on a much broader scale than modern churches.

Initiation was always, in some form, an experience of the tension and harmony of opposites: of loss and renewal, darkness and light, the cycle of seasons, death and resurrection, yin and yang, the paschal mystery. Somehow initiates had to see the wide screen and, at least for a moment, find goodness and meaning in what was offered right in front of them, which is all we can love anyway. Universally, early cultures insisted on large doses of separation, silence, looking, listening, and various kinds of suffering.

In my cross-cultural research on male initiation rites, I perceived five consistent lessons or truths communicated to the initiate, meant to separate initiates from their attachment to who they think they are and reattach them to who they really are.

In this time of global disruption, these lessons can help us align to reality, our own belonging in it, and remain grounded in the infinitely trustworthy presence of God.

These five essential messages of initiation are:

  1. Life is hard.
  2. You are not important.
  3. Your life is not about you.
  4. You are not in control.
  5. You are going to die.

You may be shocked by the seemingly negative character of these five truths. Most Western postmodern people are, but there’s no way around these truths, hard as they may be.  In fact, one could say much of the superficiality of our world is because we stopped growing up men. We will be exploring these five lessons in this week’s Daily Meditations and their positive spiritual counterparts the following week. None of this is easy work. We typically want to flee from our current anxiety, grief and pain, but I encourage you to stay with these messages. They are truths for your soul that can help you find meaning and a sense of God’s compassionate presence inside of the chaos.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation, (Crossroad Publishing Company: 2004), 29–30, 32–34.

Image credit:  Agony (The Death Struggle) (detail), Egon Schiele, 1912, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
1. Life is hard.
2. You are not that important.
3. Your life is not about you.
4. You are not in control.
5. You are going to die.
Read Full Entry

The work of the Center for Action and Contemplation is possible only because of friends and supporters like you!

Learn more about making a donation to the CAC.

FacebookTwitterEmailPrint