Show Up, Pay Attention and Listen!

Whether en route to lunch with a friend or heading off to the grocery, three random threads keep weaving their way through my thoughts. Amazing what intrigues us or where we find wisdom for living.

Last evening during a three-part offering about meditation sponsored by our church the facilitator quoted a Tibetan monk: “Easeful attraction is more effective than frantic pursuit.” Jeb the Dog has taught me much the same when I try to convince him to return to our yard rather than pursue that bunny up the alley. I guess it just takes a monk to convince us that simply paying attention reveals much of what we need to know.

The second snippet comes from a dear friend who has been grieving a terrible loss for the past few years: “How do we get past what we will never get over?” So much of life is this way. Grief is a tenacious and persistent experience,  a process that never really ends. Here’s what I’ve learned… we never do get over it, nor should we! The best we can do is to get past it by finding the ability to somehow cherish that “recurring void” as a sacred testimony to that, or to the one, we have lost.

Somewhere over the past two weeks someone said something or I read something that provided a flash of recognition and appreciation: “Love suffers, but suffering is not love.” Wowser… I could almost feel the synapses connecting! Brought back grateful memories of Mom and Dad as well as so many great loving and long-suffering parents I’ve observed. Isn’t that the truth. Our world could use more of that bit of wisdom!

Life is so crammed full of goodness and truth. It really does come down to: “Show up, pay attention and listen!”

Jeb the Dog, Spiritual Mentor

When claiming an upstairs bedroom for my personal “cave” I envisioned a place reserved exclusively for spiritual practice. No using the writing table to pay bills. No sitting in the comfortable rocker to read about current events. The room at the end of the upstairs hall would be far removed from casual visitors, especially those with merely a voyeuristic curiosity or any who may judge my hunger for sacred silence to be a bit eccentric if not peculiar.

Much has softened over the past few years. My initial intention to religiously leave my shoes at the door has given way to practicality. Though I remain grateful for its isolation from the flow of everyday-life, it is no longer off-limit to house guests or friends. Surely the greatest evolution has been the welcome of Jeb the Dog within the cloistered walls.

With a beginner’s naïveté and hyper spirituality I had envisioned training Jeb never to cross the threshold. Along with street shoes, “secular” reading and mundane social correspondence, he would remain on the other side of the threshold. Jeb already enjoyed full reign over the rest of our house. He didn’t need to trot uninvited into my inner sanctum.

Training Jeb never to cross the threshold now serves as a perfect metaphor for how I erect and defend boundaries within my spiritual life. He’s helped me recognize how disposed I am to define who or what is or is not “holy.” In fact, I would say Jeb the Dog has become my primary spiritual mentor, not just on our daily walks along the creek but also within the intimate sanctuary which my cave has become.

Long ago, Jeb made clear the wisdom that great apostle Peter had to learn (Act: 10). Who am I to judge anything God has created either ritually clean of unclean? All has been created by God, manifests God’s goodness and offers praise by virtue of fully being what it or whom it was created to be.

We guess Jeb is about seven. When he came to us in 2011 he was said to be “about 2” according to the Human Society. Still, he follows us around like a puppy-dog. Wherever we are he wants to be. Now when he follows me upstairs for my 20 minute meditation — trust me, best intentions always surpass my actual practice — Jeb trots right along and takes his preferred place aside the prayer rug. Lesson #1: Would that I were as eager to place myself in God’s presence as Jeb is so easily disposed to be in mine.

Unlike me, Jeb neither fidgets nor fixates on the clock. He simply takes his position and is content to rest in the present moment. At times I wonder whether he was Eckhart Tolle’s ghostwriter for The Power of Now.  A Zen master would be pleased to cite his audible exhalation as the proper method of “breathing” in prayer. Lesson #2: Would that I were as docile before God and attentive to sacred silence as is Jeb.

Outside meditation time Jeb is the master of getting his needs met. He possesses an uncanny ability to turn a pat atop his head into a full blown tummy-scratch. Clearly he knows what he wants but is never demanding or insistent. Rather, he is transparently honest and always available to whatever might come his way. Lesson #3: Would that I were as grateful for everything that comes my way and receive everything — absolutely everything — as gift!

Many more lessons have come via Jeb’s mentoring. These examples seem sufficient to clarify something Jeb did today. He trotted upstairs to the cave this morning having discerned I wasn’t delivering laundry or merely cleaning house. Taking his position aside the prayer rug, he exhaled deeply as is his wont and there quietly remained for the duration.

Here’s what made me smile in awe and amazement — upon my tapping the prayer bell which marks the end of each prayer session, Jeb promptly got up from his position and trotted back downstairs. His knowing attentiveness to the moment and our common ritual brought a chuckle that came from way down deep.

Perhaps that is the greatest lesson of all… Whatever our spiritual practice, ultimately it is to be judged by whether it brings forth a deep and abiding gladness.

As WC Fields wisely concluded, “If dogs don’t go to heaven, I want to go where they go.”

Nada, Nada, Nada

Eminent 20th-century theologian, Jesuit priest Karl Rahner speculated near the end of his life, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist.” Changes and events since his death in 1984 suggest Rahner’s well considered opinion was both prescient and prophetic.

Thus, coming upon a Wallace Stevens poem during a three-session meditation offering at our church delighted me, and simply knocked my socks off! So, for all would-be mystics and fellow contemplative-seekers…

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Frames the profound double entendres surely intended by that great 16th-century Spanish mystic, St Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.


Wallace Stevens, “The Snow Man” from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. Copyright © 1954 by Wallace Stevens and renewed 1982 by Holly Stevens. Source: Poetry magazine (1921).