There are certainly serendipitous turnings on the road to Wisdom. The phone rings, a stranger is kind, you are really seen by someone at a party, or exactly the right book falls off a shelf into your hands. These are moments of grace, telling us we are not alone. The road to wisdom, however, also calls for intentional practices, called Sadhana in Eastern traditions. These are practices that are aimed at becoming more self-aware and less self-conscious, and at deepening the beliefs that create a more ample and generous world in which to live. In subsequent essays, I will be writing about practices from various traditions, but for today I would like to share one of the rituals that enriches the lives of Carolyn and me. I realize that the rituals we weave into the fabric of our lives are ultimately highly personal, but it is also helpful, I think, to glean ideas from glimpses into each other’s lives.
Lectio Divina, or holy reading, originated as a monastic practice of contemplating the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, but Carolyn and I are far too eclectic to restrict ourselves to one tradition. Still, one of the most precious parts of our day is the ritual of reading aloud together every morning after eating breakfast. Sometimes we spend only 10 minutes, and sometimes over an hour, depending on the inspiration of the moment, but it is amazing how much ground you can cover reading thoughtfully with a loved one. We have read classics, like Plato’s Symposium, the Handbook of Epictetus, and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and more contemporary authors such as Martin Buber, Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, and Thomas Moore. This might sound a bit stodgy, but it has become an important part of our lives for over twenty years. For it is not simply the reading and discussion of books that is important, but it is the chance it gives us to check in with each other every morning.
Now I realize that working Moms and Dads can’t sit at the breakfast table for an hour every morning talking Philosophy and Psychology. Carolyn and I certainly spent our parenting/working years out straight. What we did do, however, was set a time in the still of the evening to give the TV a rest, light a fire, pour a glass of wine, and settle in with Lao Tzu. He was our man of choice for many years. We own a good 10 translations of the Tao Te Ching, and we would each take turns reading two renditions of a particular verse, and then using that as a platform for being together. After all, Gabriel Marcel says that the fundamental call of one human being to another is simply “Be With Me.” That strikes me as very beautiful and quite difficult to achieve in this modern world. It is, however, more than worth the effort. I have mentioned in another post how easy it is to fall into an “I know you” rut in an intimate relationship, but I believe that we, like the river of Heraclitus, are constantly flowing. We need to pay attention to ourselves and to each other every day. It is a wonderful part of relationship to hold hands in the depths of our human confusions and anxieties, and on the numinous thresholds of insight and growth. As we listen to each other, we enter the world of intimacy embodied in these words of Rumi:
My heart, sit only with those
who know and understand you.
Sit only under a tree
that is full of blossoms.
Not every eye can see,
not every sea is full of pearls.
My heart, sing the song of longing
like the nightingale.
The sound of your voice casts a spell
on every stone, on every thorn.
First, lay down your head
then one by one
let go of all distractions.
Embrace the light and let it guide you
beyond the winds of desire.
There you will find a spring and nourished by its waters
like a tree you will bear fruit forever.