Choosing to Be

Daisy in cement
Maybe you thought life offered you no choice? I often did. As a working single mother raising three kids, life was all about Doing in order for me and my loved ones to survive.

Did I sometimes long for a nun’s habit and a quiet cloister? In my dreams! But I did try from time to time to take a deep breath and find an experience of my Self. Nevertheless nothing could stop the flow of demands for action. How could I rest in my Being when Doing and Being seemed like two polar opposites that interfered with each other?

A few days ago, reading Michael Conforti’s first book, “Threshhold Experiences,” I realized this wasn’t an opposition but a troika. He quoted writer/psychiatrist Dr. Robert Langs: “The alternative to Being is reacting, and reacting interrupts being…”

So there’s Being and Doing, but there’s also Reacting. That certainly throws a spanner into the view that I must choose between either/or — that in my efforts to live an examined life I must either engage in attending to my being or bring all my attention to what I am doing.

That means this person who is in search of clarity about who I am and what I’m here on earth to accomplish is also a reacting machine. Every impression I take in —which includes hundreds of impressions every minute — evokes a reaction. And at the moment of reacting, I lose my Self.

What to do? How to find that elusive state of greater connection with Being, beyond a life of endless activity and reactivity? Well, this morning, while reading “The Reality of Being” by Jeanne de Salzmann at breakfast as I often do, I was riveted by her view of our mortal situation. She says:

“My existence itself is a question to which I am obliged to respond, whether or not I so wish. My response is in the way I exist at the very moment, and the kind of action in which I am engaged. At every degree of awareness my response is strictly conditioned by my state of Being. The challenge in the question is always new. It is the response that is old…” (p. 41)

And that old response is me, once again reacting even as I try to open to a larger sense of Self. However, later in the book she offers hope for another kind of activity — an activity of Being:

“What is important is to see the constant change of facts in oneself, more important than to seek to go beyond. Consciousness of self, as one is, without theories or conclusions, is meditation. When our thoughts and feelings blossom and die, we enter another sphere. A movement outside times appears, which the thinking cannot know…The transformation that can take place in me is transformation of my consciousness by another kind of thinking and another kind of feeling…In seeing from moment to moment what I am, I abandon all that I pretend to be. Everything is engaged in this—my emotions, my thought, my body—each intensely active. It is under these conditions that seeing appears. An energy is liberated that alone gives me the force to look deep in myself and not turn away…I am at the same time that which creates and that which is created, without any division.” (p. 265-6)

Like Rumi’s field “beyond our ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing…,” there is a place we can go. I often sing that song from West Side Story, where love flourishes between two warring opposites, the two gangs, Jets and Sharks:

There’s a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us
Somewhere.

There’s a time for us,
Some day a time for us,
Time together with time spare,
Time to learn, time to care,
Some day!

Somewhere.
We’ll find a new way of living,
We’ll find a way of forgiving
Somewhere . . .

There’s a place for us,
A time and place for us.
Hold my hand and we’re halfway there.
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there
Somehow,
Some day,
Somewhere!

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