Tag Archives: contentment

That fiery quality.

I love the little skippers. I had forgotten until I looked it up again just now, that the type playing among my salvia flowers is the Fiery Skipper. Which makes me think I should mention the currently fiery conditions in California. I am glad to tell you that my situation is still low-risk. But the smoke has been more constant the last week; I suppose it blows in here from various fires, but I don’t keep abreast of their details on even a daily basis. I just looked for an update, but there are so many burns making up the various fire complexes, it’s a lot to keep track of. Especially when acronyms generally are so hard for me to remember.

When I start to look up the fires in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I cannot for the life of me remember that those are not part of the SCU Complex, but rather the CZU Complex. “The SCU Lightning Complex Fire is composed of 20 separate fires in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Santa Clara, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties.” The LNU Complex spreads over six counties. See how it is? And I haven’t tried to learn anything about the fires beyond those three, in other parts of our huge state.

Wines of the 2020 vintage from northern California might be interesting: “The early fires pose a threat if they persist and heavy smoke blankets the region for several days before grapes are picked. That can lead to ‘smoke taint,’ an undesirable burnt taste in wine made from grapes with skins permeated by smoke.”

In some areas, as below, with San Francisco Bay close to the middle, the burn scars are so large they can be seen in satellite images.

What is it like for the birds and the tiniest creatures when the air is full of ash?

They continue to go about their business, doing their work, but are they slowed down by the smoke? Are their lives shortened? They don’t worry about longevity; they just keep going until they are struck down.

A man in my church lost his house in a fire near Lake Berryessa. He had sold it only three weeks before, but was still living in it. All of his belongings burned. He said he was very glad that it happened before the new owners had moved in, so that they were his things and not those of people who would have lost all their belongings and their new house. He is a single man and seems to feel content with being completely unencumbered.

I am continuing to do what I do… Last week my neighbor gave me a couple of quarts of strawberries that were left over after the food bank distribution that she helps with. They were perfect for making into popsicles. I found my ancient molds on a high shelf in the garage and poured in the sweetened puree. Several grandchildren will be visiting next month and I’ll be ready!

Soldier and Joy’s family are meeting me in the mountains for a few days, as part of our time together. They are flying to California, so I am trying to bring most of the stuff we’ll need in my car. Like books!

The sun will shine and we’ll be at the lake a lot… I hope it’s not too smoky up there. I also hope we will have thunderstorms, and it will be nice to be cozy and read by the fire. A fireplace fire, 100% contained.

I need more than energy.

Yesterday when I wrote about my grief, I had started out to write a critique of the book I quoted from. Being my sweet self I had begun my essay not with what I didn’t like, but with something I appreciated about this grief counselor’s message. Immediately I realized that I wasn’t competent at that time to do anything requiring intellectual focus, because the quote helped me to see that I was scrambling to find my bearings without my “landmarks,” and that can consume all of one’s inner resources. So I wrote about that.spiral staircase

The fact is, I recommend the book with great reservations. It is Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping With Loss, by Sameet M. Kumar. The author presents several helpful metaphors like Landmarks and (traveling up) a Spiral Staircase, and important warnings about not trying to relieve the pain and depression with drugs, because that prevents you from doing the work of grieving.

All of those good things, and even the advice I didn’t find useful, could have been presented in a book half the length. The author is very repetitive, as though you are consulting him in his office for a year during which he has to reiterate the prescription every week.

Kumar is a clinical psychotherapist and grief counselor, and a Buddhist who credits the Dalai Lama with giving him the tools to find his career path and change his own life for the better. I mentioned some major concerns I had about his philosophy in my post on Changing Views, so if you like you can read them there; today I have thoughts on other aspects, though I haven’t the time, and maybe not the ability, to treat all of the problems I find.

I just read over that article and find that back then I unknowingly used a phrase that I hadn’t yet encountered in Kumar’s book: emotional energy. On the day I was writing about in August, I was surprised to find that I lacked emotional energy to do simple everyday tasks that should have been easy and even fun. But Kumar says that we should “use the tremendous influx of emotional energy that comes from experiencing loss to nurture life.” This labeling of the debilitating pain of grief as just another kind of power we can use to drive whatever activity we want is very odd, if not ludicrous.

Kumar writes a lot about compassion, and how we can turn the energy of our grief to compassion for others, but the book is short on concrete examples of what this looks like. From what I can tell, it means telling people, “Everyone suffers. Get used to it.” Can compassion be cold? Buddhists say yes.

Recently I read a brief account of a Buddhist who converted to Orthodox Christianity and became a monk on Mount Athos. He was questioned by a visiting priest about his reasons for leaving “such a great cultural tradition,” and he answered,

“Divine companionship!…In Buddhism, my Father, you are very very much alone. There is no God. Your entire struggle is with yourself. You are alone with yourself, with your ego. You are totally alone in this path. Great loneliness, Father. But here you have an assistant, a companion and a fellow-traveler in God. You are not alone. You have someone who loves you, who cares about you. He cares even if you don’t understand Him. You speak with Him. You tell Him how you feel, what you would have hoped for – there is a relationship. You are not alone in the difficult struggles of life and spiritual perfection.”

I can well understand this man’s natural desire to be with God, a Trinity of three persons in love and community, because it is a desire instilled in us by that God, who made us in such a way that we can’t be fully ourselves until we are pulled into that love relationship.

But Kumar says, “The acceptance of emotional hardship is the core of radical acceptance—simply being present with your feelings in the here and now, rather than longing for something different.” [italics mine] Acceptance, I realize, is the path I am also on, but I think of it as being something like full contentment. My favorite word on contentment is in the book of Hebrews,

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”

For many of us, being with God is something different and well worth longing for. To accept and be content with our lot is only proper and possible if we have found the One who will never leave us or forsake us. Divine Companionship is the very Presence of the Almighty God who has many names, each one speaking to one aspect of our heart’s longing.

Names_of_God

This brings me to the last point of disagreement I will address, which is the form of mindfulness and meditation that is taught in this book. I don’t think it hurts to “simply be present with your feelings,” or to “come in full contact with yourself,” at least as a starting place. But I don’t believe that those encounters are likely in themselves to reveal “how capable we are of containing and healing the grief we carry.”

Jeffrey Brantley tells us in the Foreword that “…the benefits depend not upon trying to change anything, but instead mainly upon one’s willingness and commitment to reside in the present moment, while making room and becoming intimate with the texture of unfolding experience – whatever that is.”

And Kumar goes further in describing the intended results of this activity: “Mindful attention does not try to change what is happening. Instead, it reflects— accurately and precisely.” This idea of the accuracy aHolyTrinity new sketend precision of our thoughts that float by also seems to me lofty and unrealistic.

What we need is PRAYER, People! I am no expert on it, except to know assuredly that I need to do it, and that it is work. It doesn’t spontaneously generate from my random thoughts, but it comes from finding God in the present moment, in spite of our thoughts. Just google Orthodox and Prayer and you can find all the resources you need for getting started. My spiritual father told me early on to read anything that Anthony Bloom writes on the subject. It is in real prayer, in Divine Companionship, that we will find healing and contentment and a truly spiritual kind of energy, the Energies of God.

It takes wisdom to be content – or discontent.

Comforts that were rare among our forefathers are now multiplied in factories and handed out wholesale; and indeed, nobody nowadays, so long as he is content to go without air, space, quiet, decency and good manners, need be without anything whatever he wants; or at least a reasonably cheap imitation of it.

–G.K. Chesterton in Commonwealth, 1933

I don’t know that my comments on this ironic statement can add much, but for my own sake I will think while I type, and ramble as I think. GKC’s words startle me out of feeling guilty for complaining about modern life — after all, “We are so well off!” We have (noisy) leaf blowers so we don’t have to spend so much time raking. We can stop for fast food on our mad trips up the interstate, and while we eat off paper plates at dirty tables and lick our fingers we can be thankful we didn’t have to go to the trouble of finding a picnic spot by the river.

My first encouragement to question the amassing of things we don’t really want was 40 years ago, in the La Leche League’s Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. The motive was to help women cultivate a peaceful home in which they would have the time to leisurely nurse their babies; that goal would require sorting out one’s priorities concerning what we now call lifestyle choices. Do you really want your tabletop cluttered with knick-knacks, the author wrote, or might you enjoy having clear surfaces that are easier to keep clean and will ultimately be, in their simplicity, more pleasing to the soul?

The whole concept of More With Less has gained ground in the last decades, but Chesterton’s words reveal how easy it is to lose, bit by bit, the most valuable and wholesome “comforts” that our poorer forebears had in abundance, and not even notice what we have given in trade. Note that intangibles such as decency and good manners are on the list, to remind us that civilization is more than physical comforts.

The book Margin by Richard Swenson comes to mind here. He writes (first in 1995) about how the  people he doctored in third-world countries were by-and-large happier than the Americans back home, and he analyzes the reasons why. Even without health care and modern technology, they enjoyed several of the things mentioned in the quote, in good measure.

My own life provides the leisure that Josef Pieper calls the Basis of Culture, enough of it that I can take the time to ruminate on several facets of Chesterton’s clever jibe. At this stage, for myself, I can’t complain. But I pray that I’ll always have the wisdom to know what I want and need to go without, for the sake of being content.

 

 Linking up to Weekends with Chesterton.