Midweek Faith Lift
May 26, 2021
“What If Every Thing is Alright?”
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
Ram Dass would always say, "Hold on tight; let go light." We have to try to make wholesome attempts to make things work, and accept it when they don't.
— Lama Surya Das in Awakening the Buddhist Heart
by Lama Surya Das
To Practice This Thought: Remember this slogan the next time you are in a bind.
Hold on tight; let go light! And what if every thing is really all right? What a question. The title of this talk when I shared it last week was “Unconditional Friendliness” and now it has morphed into everything being all right!? How is that for heaven’s sake? That doesn’t make any sense! Well, maybe it does.
We are on a spiritual journey together that is a combination of learning how to “let God help you” and cultivating a practice of “radical acceptance.” It is amazing to me how well the teachings of Myrtle Fillmore and Tara Brach fit together as a mystical understanding of Christianity from Myrtle meets the Buddhist Mindfulness practices of Tara Brach.
As I have continued to explore these writings in my own journey, it is clearer to me than ever that the experience of Myrtle Fillmore’s healing was a radical acceptance of her experience of illness and from this acceptance came a deep realization that everything in her was all right. Myrtle had TB and had been told by doctors that there was nothing they could do for her and that she would die, probably sooner rather than later. She heard a message in a lecture that she was a “child of God and sickness was not her inheritance.” She began to believe that which is to say, she believed that everything was truly all right with her. The side effect of this was healing!
So, what is it that we really need to remember when we are in a bind? Because as life keeps happening, we keep getting in a bind, sure enough, don’t we! Right now, people are feeling in a bind about masking. Should I continue to wear a mask or not? Is it a political statement or am I just being careful….and on and on it goes! Well, as with everything, there are many layers of complexity in all of this and we just want it to be simple and clear, right and wrong, yes or no. But it is usually never that simple. And it really wasn’t that simple for Myrtle, either. She had no expectations for an outcome as she embraced the mantra of being a child of God who did not inherit sickness. We need to remember that!
So many times we hold on tight, really wanting a specific outcome and sometimes it “works” and sometimes it doesn’t. This leaves us pondering our situation and struggling to continue to make things “work” even in the face of evidence to the contrary. The legendary early psychologist, Carl Jung had a description for this. His statement, “What you resist persists” is a spiritual truth in a nutshell. Eckhart Tolle expanded on that to say, “Whatever you fight, you strengthen.” We are really good at putting ourselves in a bind, aren’t we? We love a good fight, especially when we want to put things right, to “right a wrong!”
And the really hard part of this is that most of the time, the things we resist the most are right here, right inside ourselves. As we explored last time, it is in the act of pausing, of sitting still in the Silence that we come up against our biggest resistances. So what is the world do we do with this? How do we allow what it is we really don’t want to be there, no matter what it is? We have a deeply entrenched habit of being “fair weather friends” to ourselves, pushing away or ignoring whatever darkness we don’t like. How can we begin to make friends with all of ourselves, all the parts that we would rather send away to a homeless shelter?
Tara Brach relates a story at the start of her chapter, “Unconditional Friendliness” which describes a man who is experiencing the mid stages of Alzheimer’s who was learning to make friends with it by not making anything wrong. He was attempting to give a lecture about Mindfulness meditation and suddenly went completely blank. He began to just say aloud what he was experiencing: fear, confusion, embarrassment, powerless, feeling like a failure and so on. He kept saying these things aloud for several minutes, so loud the audience could hear and just witness. Eventually, his awareness returned and he could share his actual presentation. The meditation students in the audience who witnessed this were deeply moved because he was actually practicing Mindfulness and Radical Acceptance even as they watched.
What if we, too, were so courageous and mindful as to be able to be so present so quickly to what we are really experiencing? What if we make friends with our own version of Alzheimer’s? How powerful that would be, wouldn’t it?
We have some guidance from the words of the Master Teacher, Jesus about this being present and making friends with ourselves without judgment and self-hatred. Consider this passage from Matthew:
Matthew 5: 25-26
25 Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; 26 truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny. (RSV)
Now I have always read this passage and understood it to be about forgiveness, about letting go of holding a grudge, and it is about that. But when I think of myself as the accuser, then it begins to reveal a much deeper truth about our human responses and how to just be with them and allow them to be there. We all truly want to be free, and not in a prison of our own making.
How do we make friends with our accuser? Tara Brach’s approach is to recognize that we are in the prison of resistance and then begin to practice inquiry, which is to ask, “What is here right now?” Not “how on earth did I let this happen?” but what is here now? What inquiry means is to be fully present to our experience as it is happening, no matter how uncomfortable. What am I feeling, what is my body experiencing? It is not easy to do that. It takes great courage and mindfulness. We want to ask questions that analyze our situation, to understand and create a story around it so that we can have a feeling of control. As in, if I understand how this happened, I can make darn sure it never happens again, ever! HA!! How’s that workin’ for you, Deb! LOL!!!
Another response Brach suggests to make friends with what is here is to name it or just note what it is. It helps us “recognize with care and gentleness the passing flow of thoughts, feelings and sensations.” (p.79) Let the emphasis here be on care and gentleness, not judgment or resistance. And our noting is just that, noting and naming what is there: anxiety, dry mouth, raised heart rate, sweaty palms, short breath, fear. We note these not to make them go away, but to see them, recognize them as a part of our human experience and to make it safe for the frightened and vulnerable parts of ourselves to be known. We are seeing and allowing the wholeness of ourselves, and that is healing because it reconnects us with our heart. It gets us out of the stories our head likes to make up about our circumstances.
Now Myrtle had something to say about this also in How to Let God Help You, in the chapter on “Spiritual Understanding.” She speaks of how profoundly our perception of the world changed when we figured out that the earth travels around the sun rather that the other way around. Our senses would tell us that the sun travels around the earth, but there is a higher truth, a higher knowing, and that reality is what we grasp with our spiritual understanding, a kind of knowing that is beyond our human thinking. With that spiritual understanding our lives become more than we could ever have dreamed. Here is what she says about how spiritual realization impacts us as we practice the Silence, spiritual acceptance:
When you come into a spiritual realization, as you do in the silence, expect it to go down into the depths of your body consciousness and do its powerful and perfect work. (p,86)
It is a body consciousness experience, friends, not just thoughts and feelings, but a body consciousness! Thank you, Myrtle, for grounding spiritual realization in our physical bodies, for that is where the healing manifests in us.
So how does this look in real time? Well, I have a story of a recently experienced body consciousness event! A week ago Friday, after dinner, I suddenly had a strange feeling in the back of my mouth and tongue. It felt enlarged and sensitive. That went away and I felt a soreness in my neck which was very tender and then felt swollen, like a swollen lympyh gland. Yikes! What was this?! I don’t want this, I don’t have time for this! Resistance!!! I will just ignore it, I decided, but it wouldn’t go away. To make sure it was going away, I kept touching it, pressing on it, no doubt making it worse, right?
I told Todd about it, took some Ibuprofen and went to bed, sure that it would be gone by Saturday morning. As I sat in meditation that morning, I decided I would have this checked out if possible, sooner rather than later. Let’s get a handle on this, right! I can’t be sick, I have to do church tomorrow! I decided to go to Urgent Care to have it checked out. HA! The young man, a physican’s assistant, who saw me said that when he worked in a family care practice he saw a lot of thyroid conditions in older women and that is what he suspected. He casually remarked that it was probably “benign” but I should go to my primary care doctor on Monday to have tests done to rule out cancer and thyroid problems. It wasn’t a lymph gland, it was thyroid.
I was regretting my decision to “get this checked out” soon as possible! As I sat with his probable diagnosis and looked up the condition on the Internet, my observer self, higher self began to emerge. I was feeling fear, worry, concern, oh my God, I’m gonna die, do I have cancer, who do I tell, pain, and so on. But I had NONE of the other symptoms of thyroid! So with a prayer of release, I noted it all, put it aside and Todd and I went to Pella for the afternoon and had a great time. Long story short, I had it checked out on Monday, it was an enlarged lymph gland, and all the blood tests said I was normal for thyroid, etc. What I had realized in the meantime is that I am dealing with a family member who is really a pain in the neck! My body was holding my unexpressed aggravation, which it usually does! Thank you body!
May we all continue to learn to “hold on tight ; let go light!”
Blessings on the Path,