In his book, The Mystic Heart, Wayne Teasdale mentions four aspects of interspirituality: surrender, humility, spiritual practice, and compassionate action.
As we surrender more deeply we acknowledge our multi-layered resistances and face our egoic conditioning head on. Humility allows us to recognize and allow fuller access to these layers.
I have not surrendered easily. Surrender grows in me though the apprceciation of what the Buddha saw as the primary fact of our lives—suffering. Every one would agree suffering is a natural part of who we are: we are born, grow old and sick, we die. Along the way there are countless separations and insults. This aspect of suffering is undeniable.
The Buddha also described a second, more subtle form of suffering. He taught this level of suffering was entirely of our own doing: the psychic displeasure caused by clinging, by our attachments, our reluctance to surrender our views, opinions and desires.
In the Christian view, it seems Jesus took suffering and transformed it into love. He did not flinch. Through his courage we have come to know something very precious and transformative: suffering as redemptive.
When we approach suffering as ultimately redemptive I feel we can appreciate the work of humility. No matter how advanced you think you are in your meditation practice, if you lose sight of humility, your practice is hurtful.
There is a tendency to think we can somehow get it all together with good meditation. That we can move past suffering for good.
I think we can certainly experience life with more spaciousness, with less reactivity, and more warmth, but I don’t see us getting out of suffering, no matter what we read. I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to take on the programming regarding the end of suffering that is so prevalent in the spiritual advertising handed down to us for hundreds of years.
Rather, it might be more psychologically and spiritually grounding to acknowledge the saying attributed to one of the most celebrated spiritual figures of early Christianity, St. Anthony. He is said to have remarked “expect pain and temptation to the last day of your life.”
This just feels truer. No matter how advanced you think you are, or will ever be, expect pain and temptation.
I am speaking here from some thirty years struggling with Buddhist influenced meditation. I was taught over and over that there is an end to suffering. This sets up the expectation that this will come about with deeper and more correct practice.
Rather, let’s acknowledge that this whole thing is fragile and frail all the way through, from bow to stern. It’s so easy to buy into some fairy tale like expectation of getting it all together.
What if instead of getting it together, we allowed life to be fully tragic?
Isn’t this humility?
Cynthia Bourgeault, in a commentary on The Cloud of Unknowing, which I was listening to the other day on CDs received recently as a gift from a dear friend, quoted Helen Luke when she got to the Cloud’s teaching on meekness. I don’t have the exact words, but Helen writes something to the effect that wholeness is born out of the willingness to bear the struggle between the divine and the human.
Wholeness, or the transformation we all seek (w-holiness?) doesn’t come from the divine somehow canceling out the human. We stop thinking along these collusive lines. Wholeness is simply the willingness to bear the struggle; to allow whatever is there to simply be there. And to let ourselves be moved.
I think this may be what Christianity calls self-emptying. It takes on a very rich context in Jesus’ self-emptying love. The heightened and extended practice of Buddhist nonattachment empties the self into nothingness; it is in this nothingness that we find peace. It is in this nothingness that Christian mystics find God.
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