Dear Donagh…. People who know me would say I have been very lucky and I have everything going for me. But I don’t see it that way…. I suppose I've been successful in the sense that I'm secure and I have my family around me. I've seen to everyone of them and they are all right. But I feel I have nothing to look forward to…. I wouldn’t say I'm unhappy. But I'm unsatisfied. I should be very grateful to God, and I am, I tell God I'm grateful. But I feel I'm not grateful enough, because I'm looking for more, even though I don’t know what I'm looking for….. Is there some prayer I could? Am I in a bad spiritual state? Joseph
Dear Joseph, I hope you won't mind that I shortened your letter to the above. It doesn’t appear to me that you are in a bad spiritual state. You seem rather to be at a very important place in the spiritual life.
A meditation teacher said to me once, “Boredom is the beginning of wisdom.” We tend to classify boredom as a bad thing and try to get as far away from it as possible. This is what keeps us running forever, until we drop down dead. It would a very wise thing to stop running long before then. If you find now that the chase is unsatisfying, congratulations! You are on a path of wisdom. This spot is exactly the entrance to the path.
When we are at this place we get all sorts of good advice except the one kind that might help us. “Shake yourself up, Get a new interest, Take up golf, Try gardening….” All this has the appearance of being good advice. They are all telling you to run away from the feeling of emptiness. But it is impossible to do that, because the feeling is your own, it is you. There is another way. Don’t run. Don’t run from this feeling, don’t judge it in advance, don’t try and replace it with some other feeling. Instead remain open and soft towards it, and just look at it in friendly way. Do this for one minute, and then take a rest if you need to! Do it when the feeling of emptiness comes over you strongly. Hold your ground, gently and firmly. This is remarkably easy to do, but only if you are serious about doing it. This seems a very simple remedy, and that is what it is. But it is the key to a radically different way of being in the world. The commercial world defines us as ‘consumers’. How demeaning that is! But we set ourselves up for it by always looking for something. Only when we stop looking for something else - something that is not given - will we look at what is right in front of us. What is not given is somehow attractive just because it’s not given. This instinct is probably a throw-back to the time when human beings were hunters and gatherers - and it may be that that is what we are still, though with wider tastes than our primitive ancestors. All over the world there are people trying to recall us to meditation - that is, to ourselves, to the present, to what is given, to our concrete existence. This is the road to wisdom and to God. The ego has its own religion, but predictably it is a religion of accumulation. You are blessed that you are not blindly spinning the wheels of desire. You have begun to breathe a different air. It is frightening at first, but don’t be afraid. The other is far more frightening in the long run.
That momentary pause is a very small key, and this may be why so many clever people overlook it. It is a kind of prayer. It is better than any set of words, but when you become familiar with it you can put your own words on it if you like - just as markers, to help you come back to the place.
I heard someone pouring sarcasm on the Sermon on the Mount, particularly “the lilies of the field.” Childish, he called it. Jesus said, “Look at the lilies of the field….” A businessman would have told you instead how to make money out of them. Then the next problem is what to make out of the money. And if the appetite for acquisition is uncontrolled, that madness continues forever. Better to stop and look, and that is what you are already doing.
God bless the work, Joseph.