Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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In a season of restraint

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Photo: Wertheim.de

The word “relinquish” has a special attraction for me whenever it appears in prayers and passages of inspiration. In a time of fasting that has become a reprieve, as well as a “season of restraint,” I begin to notice how interrelated the experiences of restraint and relinquishment can be.

A description for restraint that really appeals to me is “self-possession.” Might that be true possession, of one’s truest self?

While restraint seems like a condition that arises from my taking responsibility for my self and actions, “relinquish” means to surrender or hand over. This almost makes these two sound like some sort of opposites—or maybe complementary partners

11014906_824910567597565_94928212601865149_nSurrender and handing over can be very tall orders. But there are two other synonyms that offer accessible first steps in that process: “let go by” and “let pass.”

Relinquishment offers an invitation to freedom—from the erroneous notions and occasional tyranny of my own thoughts. Not the thoughts I experience when engaged in focused, constructive intent, but the ones that spin round and round, either in the past or in the presumed future. They usually suggest unhelpful things and never, ever, take me anywhere new. “Noise,” some might call them.

It's A Long Way Down 374

Photo: Kathy Gilman

Something well worth restraining or moderating.

How? By choosing what meditators know is an always-available option: letting thoughts go by as they arise, like the clouds, the weather. Not identifying with them, or defining myself by them. Remembering that Reality is so very much greater than anything those thoughts are trying to reinforce; those opinions of which they’re so certain.

Choosing instead to spend my time, and attention, in what inspires and uplifts me—claiming back the resources that scattered, frenzied, fired-up thoughts often consume and using them for something better.

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Cover illustration: Corinne Randall

In a book called The Seven Valleys, Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “A servant is drawn unto Me in prayer until I answer him; and when I have answered him, I become the ear wherewith he heareth … ”

When I relinquish something lesser for something greater, I seem to catch the sweet notes of that greater kind of hearing. As insistent as my thoughts can be, when I’m willing to relinquish them, what appears in place of them feels positively eternal. And always life-giving.

 


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The ear wherewith he heareth

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Painting: “River of Life”, Diane Kirkup

The word “relinquish” has a special attraction for me whenever it appears in prayers and passages of inspiration. In this month of fasting that has become a reprieve, as well as a “season of restraint”,  I’m noticing how interrelated both restraint and relinquishment can be.

Synonyms for the first include words and phrases like “self-control” and “self-discipline”, as well as “moderation”. (As in moderating one’s self toward balance?)

One description for restraint that really appeals to me is “self-possession”. Might that be true possession, of one’s truest self?

IMG_2758

Painting: “Waves” by Diane Kirkup

Where restraint seems like a condition that arises from my taking responsibility for my self and actions, “relinquish” means to surrender or hand over. This almost makes the two sound like some sort of opposites — or maybe complementary partners.

Surrender and handing over can be very tall orders, of course. But there are two other synonyms that sound like accessible first steps in that process: “let go by” and “let pass”.

What I now hear in the possibility of relinquishment is an invitation to freedom — from the erroneous notions and occasional tyranny of my own thoughts. Not the thoughts I experience when engaged in focused, constructive effort, but the ones that spin round and round, either in the past or in the presumed future. They usually suggest unhelpful things and never, ever, take me anywhere new. Noise, some might call them.

Something well worth restraining or moderating.

Round Tree in a Company of Others - Billericay 137

Image: Kathy Gilman

How? By choosing what meditators know is an always-available option: letting thoughts go by as they arise, like the clouds, the weather. Not identifying with them, or defining myself by them. Choosing instead to spend my time, and attention, in what inspires and uplifts me — claiming the resources that scattered thoughts so often consume and using them for something better.  

In a book called The Seven Valleys, Baha’u’llah wrote, “A servant is drawn unto Me in prayer until I answer him; and when I have answered him, I become the ear wherewith he heareth … “

When I relinquish something lesser for something greater, I seem to catch the sweet notes of that greater kind of hearing.

As insistent as my thoughts can be, when I’m willing to relinquish them, what appears in place of them feels positively eternal. 

IMG_6181

Adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details:

http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=leaofthetre-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=1931847673″

 


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The grace that wakes my heart

When I awake with a prayer running through my head like a song, I know that my day is already wide open to happiness.

Instead of finding myself awash in thoughts run rampant — or consciousness dragging to life like sluggish motor oil, here is a mild, reassuring rhythm already oscillating inside me. All-embracing, and transporting.

This affects me so deeply that when it’s time to read the prayers I customarily say with my husband each morning, the mere sight of words like “the All-Merciful, the Ever-Forgiving” and “the ocean of Thy nearness” overwhelm me to astonished tears, like immersion in an ocean of light.

I am embarking upon what members of the Bahá’í Faith sometimes call the “Season of Restraint.” This is a period at the close of our calendar year when, for 19 days, we are asked to undergo a material fast from food and drink during daylight hours as “an outer token of the spiritual fast … the withholding of oneself from all appetites of the self, taking on the characteristics of the spirit, being carried away by the breathings of heaven and catching fire from the love of God.” 

Fasting from the appetites of the body reminds me how insistent these appetites can be; how unsatisfied, and unsatisfying.

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Photo: Saffron Moser

And it also helps me be aware of how much time the business of survival can consume in my day, and my awareness — especially when it’s overemphasized by the culture around me to the point at which I might begin to forget that I have a spiritual life at all.

Fasting reminds me that there is an entirely other possibility waiting in my living that’s like a portal to a wider, kinder refuge. One in which I am visited and accompanied by a grace like the prayer that woke my heart.

coverthumbAdapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details:

http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details-ebook/dp/B00B5MR9B0/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=


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Nourished by the Mystery

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Image: Lauren Chuslo Shur

When the spring equinox arrives, a very special time of year comes to an end, for me.

Over these last 19 days, I’ve been more conscious than usual of the sun’s rising and setting, since between those demarcations of the day, I’m pursuing the fast I make each year at this time.

Fasting from “the appetites of the self” has made me more aware, again, of immortal words of Wordsworth’s: “The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers …”

The hours have also reminded, as author Thomas Moore suggests: “We usually try to explain the mysterious. It would be better to cultivate wonder and reflection.”

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Photo: Nelson Ashberger

It seems easier to feel the truth of this when the day has the added space in it that fasting can provide.

Sometimes, within that space, things can arise that might otherwise stay masked in our busy lives, things that can confuse and baffle.

After several decades of this particular blessing of the Fast, I know what Rumi says is true: “Don’t worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?” IMG_3375

The end of the Fast brings Naw Ruz, literally “New Day”, as spring arrives and along with it, a new year in the Baha’i calendar.

At the threshold of that year, 19 blessed days have also reminded me of what ever-inspirational Flora Whittemore pointed out so wisely:

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.”


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The prayer that woke my heart

Photo: Nelson Ashberger

When I awoke with a prayer running through my head like a song, I knew that the door was already wide open to happiness.

Instead of finding myself awash in thoughts already run rampant — or consciousness dragging to life like sluggish motor oil, here was this mild, steady, comforting rhythm already oscillating inside me. All-embracing, and transporting.

This affected me so deeply that when it came time to read the prayers I customarily say with my husband each morning, the mere sight of words like “the All-Merciful, the Ever-Forgiving” and “the ocean of Thy nearness” overwhelmed me, like immersion in an ocean of light.

Photo: Nelson Ashberger

I am embarking upon what Baha’is sometimes call the “Season of Restraint.” This is a period at the close of our calendar year when, for 19 days, we are asked to undergo a material fast from food and drink during daylight hours as “an outer token of the spiritual fast … the withholding of oneself from all appetites of the self, taking on the characteristics of the spirit, being carried away by the breathings of heaven and catching fire from the love of God.” 

Photo: Nelson Ashberger

Fasting from the appetites of the body reminds me how insistent these appetites can be; how unsatisfied, and unsatisfying.

And how much time the business of survival can consume in my day, and my awareness — especially when it’s overemphasized by the culture around me to the point at which I might begin to forget that I have a spiritual life at all.

Fasting reminds me that there is an entirely other possibility waiting in my living that’s like a portal to a wider, kinder refuge. One in which I am visited and accompanied by a grace like the prayer that woke my heart.

Adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details: http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details-ebook/dp/B00B5MR9B0/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=