Lent 2023: Monday Lent Week Two

The simplest things in life are the most difficult – the most difficult to describe, to understand, to live.

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The simplest things in life are the most difficult – the most difficult to describe, to understand, to live. We long for them but a simple desire can innocently develop a field of great complexity around it. We want happiness, or relationship, or to do the work we love. When circumstances prevent this, we can become sad, angry, or hopeless and go off looking for false consolations, substitutes and distractions. The original authentic desire is now lost in a virtual web of inauthentic lookalikes.

Contemplative wisdom says to detach from desire. But what kind of desire?. Lent trains us in self-control. Spiritual discipline teaches us discernment not to abandon the original desire but to separate the sheep from the goats among our many secondary ambitions and fantasies. Original desire then transcends desire in purity of heart. It is not a desire for some thing but an imminent happiness prepared to remain non-possessive. A gazing, not a hungry staring, a receiving not a snatching. This is the desire for God, aligned with God in a way that egocentric desire can neve be.

As a boy I longed for a bicycle. When it arrived, I was ecstatic. Then I became painfully frustrated and humiliated by my inability to ride it. My simple desire had been satisfied: the problem was enjoying what I had wanted by letting go of desire. I just wanted to get on my shiny new bike and cycle off fulfilling my fantasies of freedom. I didn’t understand the learning and patience necessary to handle getting what we want. The bike taught me this through failures, crashes and slight concussion. Then I got the hang of it. Meditation takes longer but teaches the same principle of simplicity of how to receive a gift.

We desire deeply to find the simple core of reality. Proving harder than we imagined, we may try dissecting reality, by over-analysis, intellectual control, or religious fundamentalism, in order to cut through the layers of ordinary life. However, it is life as we are living it, tangible, messy and unpredictable, where the simple, radiant light of God shines on and soaks into us. God is infinite simplicity. 

God is also eternally present. In complicating things we imagine the present moment as a freezing of one of the fleeting ticks of the ticking clock of our life. But time cannot be frozen. The eternal presence of God is in and outside time, the heart of time. 

I don’t know any more simple way of coming into the present moment than saying the mantra. Like the bike it is mastered through failure and, like cycling, we do it properly only when we stop thinking about doing it. 

Time is the problem solved by stillness. Anxieties of the future, the resurgences of the past that may flood our feelings, resolve over time and through deeper presence. No theology or neurology can explain the immense power of love set free by this deep stillness. Whatever else they may be as well in the world, the contemplative is a lover and an artist. Contemplation unleashes a flood of beauty and beauty shows us how the simplicity of the whole manifests in the present because it is present in each particle of every part.

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