There is a story about a kind, quiet man who prays in the Ganges River every morning. One day after praying, he sees a poisonous spider struggling in the water and cups his hands to carry it ashore. As he places the spider on the ground, it stings him. Unknowingly, his prayers for the world dilute the poison. The next day the same thing happens. On the third day, the kind man is knee deep in the river, and, sure enough, there is the spider, legs frantic in the water. As the man lifts the creature yet again, the spider asks, "Why do you keep lifting me? Can't you see I will sting you every time, because that is what I do?"
Walking the beach one day, Gunilla Norris sees a young child run—determined on very unsteady legs—into the water. The toddler’s intensity is palpable. The mother sits some distance away, outwardly comfortable enough about her child’s safety not to interfere with his adventure. With a wet sagging diaper, the young boy runs into the water with the half-weaving, half-stumbling motion of toddlers who have just learned to walk. Would he fall? Or, perhaps not stop until in over his head? There are so many things that could go wrong.
But the child knew when to stop, and when was deep enough. Seeing the water lap against his chubby thighs, it is clear that from his perspective these small waves are giants. He is with something VERY BIG. Standing in the water with enthusiastic concentration, his small body thrums like an instrument. He turns, still deep in the experience, walks unsteadily out of the water and over the thin strip of pebbles at the water’s edge. He makes a “kind of circle,” and heads back into the water, again up to his thighs, savoring another experience of the sea. He repeats his foray seven or eight times, as if verifying what this wet, cold living thing called water is to him.
Even yards away Gunilla could feel the exhilaration of the boy’s experience. Finally, fully satisfied, the boy stands in his wet diaper–with arms outflung–and begins an unintelligible but eloquent speech to the water, to the gulls, to the sand, to the world. Obviously not yet speaking with words, he was most certainly speaking with his heart.
This is a story about living wholehearted.
And yet. Somewhere along the way, someone will tell you no.
You can’t do that. Or, no, you must be careful; watch out! Or, no, that is so imprudent. Or, more simply, grow up, what will people think?
And if you can’t grow up, at the very least do your best to look good (which translates to living guarded), because people are watching, after all.
There are so many reasons to quit.
Patricia Madson writes about the shock of losing a teaching job at a university. Thinking she had done everything flawlessly, until it occurred to her that she had been working only “to be worthy of tenure.” So, she writes, “I had not been true to myself. I need another way of living that doesn’t require a script. I need to listen to and trust my self.”
Just like the boy in the waves. And I want to be that young boy. I am drawn to the eagerness, the passion, and the wholeheartedness.
But that’s just it: I already am that young boy. He is inside of me, needing only to see the light of day.
This is where it is so easy to get tripped up. We ask for the list. What are the steps to live wholehearted? How many days will it take? And what will it cost? So. We’re back to who’s watching and what is there to prove.
And here’s the deal: when I see only scarcity (what I lack), I miss the fact that every single one of us has been gifted with creativity, abundance, heart, love and passion. This is not to mention that we have been gifted with everything that goes with wholeheartedness… gentleness, helpfulness, caring, kindness, tenderness and restoration. Yes, this is also a story about sufficiency.
People living from this strong sense of love and connection (well-being) are whole-hearted. What they have in common is a sense of courage, Brené Brown tells us. “I want to separate courage and bravery. Courage, the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language, it’s from the Latin word cor, meaning heart, and the original definition was to tell the story of who are with your whole heart… and wholehearted folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first, and then to others. Because as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. And the last is, they had connection–this was the hard part–as a result of authenticity. They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were.”
Letting go is all about vulnerability. It is circling back to wade into the waves one more time. And we can only do that when we are not afraid.
Fear tells you “I’ll make you safe.” Love says, “You are safe.”
Along the way we come to learn that what makes us vulnerable also makes us beautiful. Yes, vulnerability can be that place of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, and creativity, of belonging, of love.
Because of the connection between wholeheartedness and well-being, it is easy to see why sanctuary matters.
I need sacred space for healing, renewal and nourishment. Time to savor, learn, grow, reflect. “When I’m off my soul food diet, I languish,” my friend Nelson reminds me.
I’m having a conversation with an old friend. And we’re talking about things middle-aged men talk about; receding hairline, expanding waistline and loss of virility. And he asks me, “Is there anything in your life that you are passionate about?” I must admit that the question kind of stumps me. Being a good Midwestern boy, passion was not exactly something we talked about. It was akin to boastfulness; which means it made it on that sin scale somewhere between card playing and dancing. But the more I thought about it, the easier the answer came, “Yes, there is something I feel passionate about, gardening.”
Of course my friend is incredulous, “Gardening,” he said, “gardening is so, so self-centered.”
I thought about it, but didn’t like the alternatives. And then it hit me. I remembered the first time when I really knew I was a gardener. And I realized that for the first time in my life I was non-self-conscious. Completely non-self-centered. For the first time in my life I cared about something bigger than my own little petty issues. I was with something VERY BIG. Gardening wasn’t something I did; gardening was something that was done unto me.
Exactly. Being passionate will keep you alive. And more than ever, it seem to me that we live in a world where our whole heart is required. Where we come to feel the depth of life even in the smallest of activities. We trust that we are intended for wholeheartedness, that each day we are meant to be steeped in mystery, and so to remember our true lives.
Saturday was Earth Day. Speaking of whole hearts… as a parent, as a gardener, as a human, I literally give a damn. We can’t stop caring. Or letting our light spill.
This week I read Nelson Price’s Spirit Sail (a memoir of sailing and spirituality), Robert Capon’s Food for Thought (a book about wholeheartedness and food), revisited David Brook’s The Road to Character and caught up on Jon Katz’s blog, Bedlam Farm Journal.
I couldn’t run out into any real waves today. But I spent some time reclaiming a bed that leads from the lower garden. I am lucky to be here in my garden, a time for quiet and healing and reflection.
It is spring, so the garden is big, bounteous, unstinting and unrestrained. There I stood, with arms outflung, doing my best rendition of an eloquent speech to the cathedral spires of fir and cedar, the finches at our feeder, and to the gray canopy that gives our sky a tranquil light.
Quotes for your week…
If anything we do in this life matters, then everything we do matters. There isn’t living and Living. The only difference is how completely we give ourselves to living, how we let ourselves be part of the cosmos and be lived. Greta Sibley
Sometimes saying payers keeps us from being prayers. Words come then not in response to life but in substitution for life. Gunilla Norris
Notes: Story adapted from Gunilla Norris, Being Home.
POEMS AND PRAYERS
O Taste and See
The world is
not with us enough.
O taste and see
the subway Bible poster said,
meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination’s tongue,
grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform
into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being
hungry, and plucking
My Prayer For You
When things look empty I pray for you to know hope.
When things are chaotic I pray for you to find inner silence.
When things are complicated I pray for you to see simple beauty in all things.
When you’re troubled I pray for you to feel peace.
When you’re down I pray for you to feel joy.
When you’re lonely I pray for you to feel love.