I’ve spoken about contemplative pointers before, and later on in practice they start to emerge themselves. The one that has come up this month is: I want to live.
Now it’s a bit dramatic as pointers go, but then that gets my own attention and it’s likely to have got yours. Other traditions are quite happy to shock you with a bit of surprising melodrama or exaggeration; the Buddhists admonish you not to have ill will towards others even if they were cutting you apart with a saw, and the Christians talk about slavery to God’s will. Both of those can be taken as literal commands to be as unconditional as one can be, but for most of us who wouldn’t be too happy being chopped up, they’re more of an ideal to strive towards.
But I digress. I want to live emerged, and it is interesting to pick it apart psychologically and spiritually- least of all because the abundance of meanings that came out of it when I did show the rich wisdom of the wordless intuition that can contain so much effortlessly, compared to the slow mo intentional mind. It is worth noting that such pointers seem flappy and unfocused to beginners, as they did to me, and it is only later that I started to see them as being as valid as ferocious noting or metta. So, if this doesn’t appeal, go back to your service work, and don’t worry.
I want to live has a certain desperation about it. Am I under threat? Am I not living now? If I’m not living now, what am I doing? There’s a fear of death there, a fear of dying unenlightened, and a fear of dissatisfaction. All fears of the ego, that can be harnessed into contemplative practice with only a tweak of emphasis. A difficult tweak, and often an unattractive one, but nevertheless, a small one.
What do you want to live for? Do you want to live for conditional joys, or do you want to live for something more unshakeable? Do you want to live for yourself, or for God? These all jump out at me as reminders to change my attitude, to refocus on life as practice, not as a rat race. They hit right at the heart of the matter when I am afraid, angry, indulgent, unforgiving. I can note that ill will more when a pointer is refreshing my intent to do some good in the world.
That, of course, is a perfect way of trying to cultivate some unconditional virtues. To live is to experience every form of circumstance and feeling, not just the pleasant. When things are tough, I can at least pray, in the form of this pointer, for the grace to be with it. Being with means to put myself on exactly the same level, not trying to fix, not trying to guide, just accepting, submitting.
To live is to also, however, enjoy my life. As I said in my last post: Why would God not want you to? Where the intent is a little purer, there is a little more relaxation for me, a knowledge that I am that bit more blameless, and that is a cause for joy. Even in frustrating circumstances I can be happy that I am doing the best I can. Pointedly, when life is good, I can be appreciative of it, not push it away masochistically. I want to live the life that I have. There will be none other.
If you are not alive with those around you, your mind elsewhere, then your connection with them will be poor and inert. Life is right here. Purpose is right here and transcends craving and aversion. Craft your own life. Accept God’s gifts. Accept the causation that inexorably took you to this point. Accept your own limitations, as you’re human.
You don’t have to strain when you use a pointer such as this, and that is one of the biggest lessons I learned in contemplative practice. You can’t force anything into the mould you want it to be. No magic phrase can fix everything. Something holy should not be used as a comfort blanket or an avoidance mechanism. (Bear in mind everything is holy, and see what that does to your practice.)
‘Live with your mistakes’, goes another famous phrase. Don’t hide from the past, says this pointer to me. Stick with what’s going on, be part of solutions, be part of forgiveness, be the soul of kindness. When you use a pointer like this, say it with relaxed determination, not like you are condemning yourself or helpless.
Want a mechanistic explanation? That’s fine. You’re cultivating the steadiness of virtue at the same time as the mindfulness of insight. Saying this phrase, for me, puts me back on my feet, back in my body, back in the zone, rather than swimming around in avoidance. It’s training me again and again to remember that it is so much more rewarding to accept.