Time walking the journey of life makes clear that managing in the world asks us to stand in the “breach,” in the tension, in the paradox between our individuality and our universality. And yet, the breach, the tension, and the paradox also ask us to stand between our own needs and the needs of those around us; between our finite physical selves and our minds and our spirits that reach beyond what we can actually do in the time and space we occupy; between our dreams, our hopes, our visions, and the reality of the details of daily living and of the physical path we walk.
Once we begin searching for both our inner unique self and our universal self, the questions become more practical. What helps us in this process? What hinders us?
Perhaps you have experienced a deep need to be heard, or a time when you could not learn from others but needed the space and the silence to hear your own inner voice. Deep listening, to ourselves, to our ancestors, to the texts we hold sacred, to the Earth and the stars, to G!d – deep listening can connect us to our inner truth. Judaism teaches most fundamentally Sh’ma – hear – something we can only do if we listen. Pauline Oliveros, in words of hope for the third millennium of the common era, writes, “I pray for deep listening in the new century – listening alone – listening together – listening to others—listening to oneself – listening to the earth – listening to the universe…helping to create an atmosphere of opening for all to be heard, with the understanding that listening is healing. Deep listening in all its variations is infinite. Deep listening is love.”
Deep listening can lead us to broader understandings and visions. Standing in the breach can become more manageable when we find and maintain a vision, see some kind of Big Picture before us, and find ways to remain connected to that vision or that Picture. The development of such a vision generally evolves over time as our life changes. Although it generally doesn’t pop up fully fledged overnight, it may start like a thunderbolt, making us acutely aware of its birth. Or, it may very slowly emerge, almost without our awareness, and we may find it difficult to pinpoint the birth moment.
Either way, the early stages of our vision may be as fragile as a premature baby. Imagine the first time you performed a ritual, tried a new task, spoke a new language, or did anything else you’d never done before. Whether or not it felt awkward or powerful, it nevertheless was something new and different. Only many, many repetitions of that act will make it feel integrated and a part of whom you are. With time and our nurturing, our fragile sense of our Big Picture can grow stronger and more mature and one day it will stand securely on its own. If we hold on and don’t let go, if we trust that inner core, we will gradually shed our fear and our insecurity and grow stronger. So, too, it is with our most intimate connections to our hearts and our souls, and to the universe.
But life of course is much more than a vision. Alongside our sense of our wider goals and the direction in which we want our lives to be going stand the myriad details of life. We must get up, get dressed, have breakfast, wash up, and get to work or otherwise get on with the day. We must call the phone company. We must plan for our old age. We must change the diapers. We must pay our bills. We must wash the floor, the clothes, the dishes. We must feed the cat and take out the compost. We must call our cousin and care for our father. We must send a birthday greeting. We must deal with a bitter co-worker. We must confront the personal issues of our family members. We must….
Sometimes the details are joyous. Sometimes they are dispassionate. Sometimes they are excruciating. Sometimes they are heartwarming. Sometimes they are annoying. Sometimes they are peaceful. Sometimes we must engage with the details and sometimes we have a choice about how to respond – both physically and emotionally. Evaluating when the details are important and when to let them go because they are impeding our progress forward is an important and legitimate process. There are situations when we need to engage and make a difference in the world. But there are other situations that just don’t matter enough, even if at first they seem important: the misunderstanding with the transit employee, the driver who cut me off, the lack of a thank you from a friend or family member for a gift I sent. Does getting upset about these things help me move forward with my vision and engage with my Big Picture or does it just take up energy I could be using more constructively? When stated like this, away from the emotion of the moment, the latter seems the obvious answer. The critical piece is always in the moment. The bark of a tree may respond to the growth of its trunk by stretching or by cracking, and if it cracks, a diversity of patterns of fissures and ridges may emerge. We, too, develop varying patterns depending on how we respond in the moment. Finding ways to keep the balance between the details and the vision is a daily tightrope walk that can smooth the pathway of our journey through life and help to keep us calm and focused.
 From Prayers for a Thousand Years: Blessings and Expressions of Hope for the New, Elizabeth Roberts, Elias Amidon, HarperCollins Books, 1999, p. 55.
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