In a recent post describing the daily reading that serves as an intimate and attentive ritual for Carolyn and me, lectio divina, I acknowledged the serendipitous turnings on the road to Living the Love of Wisdom. These are moments of grace, inviting a turning of our whole being. The road to love and wisdom, however, also calls for intentional practices, called Sadhana in Eastern traditions. These are practices that are aimed at helping us to become more self-aware and less self-conscious, and at deepening the beliefs that create a more ample and generous world in which to live.
Beliefs, however, while important, are not enough. Aristotle emphasized that human flourishing (eudaimonia) is realized in action; it is a matter of living life from the very best in oneself. Living the Love of Wisdom, then, involves a nexus of practices whose pursuit gives direction to an entire lifetime. These practices deepen commitments to patterns of behavior that in turn enlarge the soul’s perspectives and reinforce our commitment to kind and thoughtful behavior. Thus, the actions that constitute the pursuit of Wisdom as a Way of Life both flow toward the flourishing of Wisdom, and then flow from Wisdom into life’s daily actions, spiraling toward ever deeper wisdom and ever more effective loving in the world. Herein lies the spiral of transformation.
Golden spirals and Fibonacci spirals are found everywhere in nature, from galaxies to flowers, from snails to the human body–and even to the human soul. The path to a robust love of wisdom is not a straight line, but swirls and spirals as we succeed and fail in the daily rhythms of life. Sometimes the spiral path is intentional as we seek to incorporate our highest values into daily living. A wonderful example of this can be read in the blog Soul Harmony on Demand, where Veronika applies some of the teachings of Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra to our daily drive to work. In my opinion, she does an inspiring job. Thich Nhat Hahn advises us to bring mindfulness to washing the dishes, and Thomas Moore has written extensively on the holiness of everyday life.
Sometimes, however, the spiral path toward love seems chaotic, and out of our control. Our lives have the opportunity, however, to become more vibrant as we meet the obstacles and challenges placed (or we place) in our way. Slowly it dawns on some of us that these obstacles are in fact invitations to change our thinking, our feelings, and our behavior. So often in my life, my beliefs would slam me into a wall that seemed to mock my good intentions. But after many head and heart aches, I began to learn to go around the wall, or to find another way, and finally to adopt an attitude that dissolved the wall entirely. As I noted in my essay On Sin, the recognition and acceptance of my fallible and vulnerable humanity has the power to deepen my reservoir of compassion, and every return becomes a renewal. As T.S. Eliot famously observed in Little Gidding:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Sometimes when I find myself revisiting issues with which I have been contending for many years, discouragement looms on the horizon. Bernard Malamud once asked “If it’s a sentence Lord, how long?” But Martin Buber advises us to get over our negative self-judgment, which actually is a form of narcissism. He relates this wonderful insight from the Rabbi of Ger:
“He who has done ill and talks about it and thinks about it all the time does not cast the base thing he did out of his thoughts, and whatever one thinks, therein one is, one’s soul is wholly and utterly in what one thinks, and so he dwells in baseness. …What would you? Rake the muck this way, rake the muck that way–it will always be muck. Have I sinned or have I not sinned–what does Heaven get out of it? In the time I am brooding over it I could be stringing pearls for the delight of Heaven.”
And so we “human merely beings” follow the call of Love, sometimes joyfully in the light of conscious awareness, and sometimes stumbling through the dark night of confusion and what feels like self-betrayal. It has been my experience, however, that at least once in a while I return to the darker places of my being with more understanding and love. Slowly I am learning to trust the spirals of existence that swirl in the cosmos and in my own heart, to lead me home.