MYSTICISM: Awareness, by Joyce Rupp

From The Cosmic Dance

At a certain point you say
to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, the world,
Now I am ready.
Now I will stop and be wholly attentive.
You empty yourself and wait, listening. .
.
Annie Dillard

 When I deliberately pause to look and listen to life around me I discover an amazing harmony within myself and all of creation.  It is not always easy to stop, of course.  I may be able to slow down my body, to sit relatively still in a lawn chair or at my desk.  I may even lie down on the grass or lean against a tree or sit by the seashore.  But even then, my mind and emotions can keep careening along, whirring at a dizzying speed due to my habitual pattern of constant activity and stress.  I am too used to gobbling down my food, driving numbly through traffic, working feverishly while waiting for an appointment, thinking about tomorrow as I stand in line at the store.

There are times when my life rains a zillion details and I am so absorbed that I miss most everything and everyone.  There are situations when I am so intent on being with someone in pain or so absorbed in my own hurt or sadness that I turn all my senses away, instead of toward what is happening to me and to life around me.  There are moments when I am simply too weary and worn out to even care whether or not I am aware.  There are other times when I am filled with judgment about someone or some thing and I miss the connections being offered to me.

No matter how pressed my life is or how fraught with difficulty, I do eventually wake up.  My desire to be aware is restored most often through finally stopping, or being stopped, by the sheer magnificence of creation.  I have been ambushed by the power of the moon, held captive by fireflies dancing at dusk, bowled over by wobbly white shoots beneath a rock pushing their way out to life, moved to tears by the sight of a small finch falling from the roof.  I have lain on the picnic table and gazed at the stars in sheer ecstasy until I thought the only option for my heart was to die at that moment.  I have sat still, stood attentively, hiked happily, skied freely, gardened with quiet vigor, and all with the intention of becoming more aware of life around and within me.  When I have freed my spirit to become aware, I have never failed to find meaning and hope, gratitude and peace, comfort and encouragement.

If there is a lesson to be learned in all of this, it is that in busyness I often close down.  In deliberate or unexpected awareness, I open up.  It is in this openness that I “see” in a deeper or newer way, viewing people, creatures, and nature in a clearer light.  As I open and become more aware, something happens inside of me to cause the barriers of my inattentiveness, judgments, or busyness to move aside and for bonding to occur.  It is then that I recognize my oneness with the dancing that is inherent in the all of creation.

There are big moments of awareness but also many day-to-day ones that allow me to enter into this attentiveness.  I do not need to be away from home or work in order to know this oneness.  I do not need to be at the seashore or on a mountaintop to enjoy the cosmic dance.  I only need to be awake and alert, to let go of my busyness and my self-absorption, in order to discover mystery and wonder in things like the food before me and the people at my side.  There are stories of life dancing vividly on every level of the world in which  I live.  Each creature, person, cloud, city corner, rock, and plant has numerous layers of inner activity, threaded with meaning and circles of mystery, offering hope and encouragement to my life.

When I take a deep breath and pull in the reins of my “hurry” I begin to find the numinous everywhere.  I notice the soft breeze and how it caresses, soothes, and quiets me.  I look out the window beyond my desk and I see not just trees, I see how they behold the sun and receive the nurturance offered to them.  I speak with someone on the phone and I hear not just a person’s voice, but also the bond of life that connects us.  I place my pen on the paper to write and I am lovingly united with the soil, rain, and sun that grew the tree along with the hands that labored to bring the pulp of the tree into the form of paper.  In aware moments such as this, I see more clearly, lean into the mystery of life more deeply, and honor the oneness of life more truly.

I learned how to be aware when I was young.  I saw how my father would watch the skies for storms, how he sensed when it was the right time to plant and to harvest.  He taught me how to sniff the air and smell the seasons, to look at winter skies and know when snow was about to land.  I learned what hail clouds looked like in the spring and which clouds would bring the rain.  It was Dad who talked about being able to hear the corn grow in the summer and who noticed how the maple leaves turned when a change was on its way.  He was attentive to the farm animals and knew when they needed special care.  I watched him find the places where fish and turtles swam in local creeks and how he ran his hand through the grain as it filled the bins at harvest time.

Awareness was a great gift my father gave me.  I did not know in those early years what a vital component of life I had learned.  As I grew older I forgot how essential it is to be alert and attentive to what is a part of my life.  It has taken me time to recover this gift and I still lose it now and again.  I am growing in awareness, however, and each day I re-commit myself to this gift as I turn my entire being toward the cosmic dance, longing to lean into it with all I am and all I do.

This awareness is essential because my experience of the cosmic dance depends on whether my senses are alert and whether my heart is attuned to looking beyond what is visible.  If I rely only on the rational, I will miss a good portion of the cosmic dance.  If I fail to be still and to explore the far regions of mystery, the dance will remain aloof from my inner eye.  Daily I must set out, again and again, to have an open mind and a compassionate heart.  Daily I must perk up my external senses and commune with my internal ones, as well.  The cosmos holds out her cup of life to me, filled with invisible packets of energy.  I need only respond with a desire and an intention to receive.  It is then that I enter into the cosmic dance with awareness and gratitude, and hear again the inner voice urging me toward oneness.

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