The words in the book, while intending to help me along on my path to learning meditation, were none the less, unsettling. They told me to feel at home. At home sitting in the quiet, at home in my marriage, at home where I lived, at home at my age, at home with who I am, at home in this world. “You deserve to be in this world and this world deserves you.”
I found this unsettling because I realized I have never felt at home.
Growing up my family moved, a lot, and putting down roots became a risk because eventually I learned that uprooting would be certain and painful. As I entered a life of faith in my teens I was constantly indoctrinated with the thought “We are not meant for this world. There is a better place waiting for us!” Spiritual life began to be little more than a lifeboat queue where we had to behave ourselves so as to not lose our seat when it came time to board. We were told to ‘love not the world’ which I now understand, but it was taught more like ‘hate the world’, or ‘abhor the world’. Looking for beauty and pleasure was being tempted to sin. Certainly the idea of being at home in this present world was not something we were encouraged to do.
What did the writer mean, “Be at home”? With the filters of my upbringing the idea that I deserved to be here was not encouraging as ”Here” was never held up as a good place to be. Admittedly, my imagery in this matter was formed when I was young so I’m sure many aspects may have never really set in clearly with me. Looking back I am certain there was a distinction made between this world and the world system: the world about us and the human culture that pervades our lives with so much that is contrary to wisdom and goodness. But even the physical world was seen as corrupted, cursed and destined to burn.
The writer, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, was a Tibetan spiritual leader with a very different world view than I grew up with. Not having Christian archetypes to filter his thoughts he was taught to experience life through this moment. To his thinking if you don’t deserve to be in this moment where else are you going to go? This moment is all we have. All that has happened before now happened when it was now. All that will happen someday will happen when it becomes THIS day. I am reminded of a poster I saw at college: “Yesterday is a dream tomorrow but a vision, but today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope ” Chögyam would have agreed wholeheartedly.
My reading and practice has continued over time and many lessons have been taught, some learned, some still on my syllabus. Through the time that has passed the one recurring struggle has been that one simple instruction. Be at home. I have come to realize that whether or not I am to be at home in this life is not as dependant on where I am as much as it is of me. In many ways the early lessons of not setting down roots, not loving this world, holding the Realm of God in highest adoration and desire actually were the right lessons to learn. We really shouldn’t attach ourselves to this present world. With good reason. It hurts.
Think for a moment of a fire in a cozy fireplace. Wood is burning and setting the shadows dancing. The smell of wood smoke tickles the senses as the crackle and occasional pop bring a warmth to the heart that is more than the heat cast forth by the fire. Nice scene, huh. Now picture and imagine yourself reaching into the fire and taking a burning log and holding it in your hand. Not so nice. The fire can create great joy and pleasure when appreciated for what it is. What is unnatural and the cause of great pain and suffering is trying to take it in our hands and hold onto it. The world about us is like that. If we think of the world as aflame we begin to put it into perspective. Beautiful, amazing, joyful and full of wonder but we cannot hold onto it. It is destined for flame, indeed, it is burning now, so we must not be attached to it.
I grow old, death comes to a loved one, a job or business tanks, a relationship goes south. As long as I try to encase my life with concrete and fight to keep it aligned with my desires and expectations I am clutching the burning brand to my chest, screaming at the pain. If I cannot let go I will suffer and die. We have to let go.
I will always have my youth with me and now I have added adventures and challenges as age draws about me and my final years approach. My cat gave me untold moments of joy and happiness and I will always have those. The pain I hold onto not wanting him gone risks exchanging the memories I cherish for sadness and grief. Jobs, careers, positions, ways and means come and grow or come and go our entire lives. If we are not flexible, open-hearted and willing to change it will be a never-ending upstream swim of desperation with a waterfall roaring at our heals.
Attachment is death, self-inflicted. Unless we are at peace with life as change we will never be at home.
Is it possible to be at home in an ever-changing universe? If you resist and deny that it IS a changing universe then yes, it is impossible. Oh, but if you accept it! If you embrace the reality of life as it is, on its own terms and accept that you were born into THIS world, not the next, not by accident, not in the wrong place or wrong time. Here, now.
And what a blessed world it is. When God said “It is good” he was serious. I cannot believe he is disappointed in this constantly enthralling, surprising universe. Like an infinite kaleidoscope held up to his eye the wondrous, spontaneous eruptions of everchanging beauty must be an enduring source of pleasure to him. Life is change, creativity is change, every aspect of creation is in the process of change and any particle that ceaces to change is dead. Inert. It was all meant to be an ever enlivening dance of existence set to the music of his heart. And we are part of it. We were invited, we are meant to be here, intended to be here. We deserve to be here because it was his idea. When you realize that you are where you should be right now get ready to see life open like a flower in the warm summer sun.
Yesterday it snowed little grains of frozen stuff that bounced when it hit the ground. Not sleet or hail, just little snowballs bouncing everywhere. I stepped outside to pull something I had left on the deck out of the weather and stopped. The cold air swirled around me as it did the wind chimes that I have hanging everywhere. The cold itself touched me and moved along my skin as the little frisky snowballs bounced off my face and my smile. I took in the joy of the moment, amazed at the world and its beauty, amazed to be included in the Dance of the Tiny Snowballs, amazed to be embraced by the wind and caressed by the cold and kissed by the snow. Amazed that I was no longer an outsider. Amazed to be at home.
The words of an even greater Teacher sang with the wind chimes that morning bringing a deeper joy to my heart: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”* And yes, that is here, and now.
*John 10:10 NKJV