Developing Spiritual Lifestyle Practices - Day Nine: Practicing Awareness
Today we are continuing our exploration of the twelve spiritual lifestyle practices that Fr. Richard Rohr outlined in his book Just This.
This morning we're taking a close look at the spiritual practice he refers to as "Practicing Awareness."
Fr. Richard asserts that awareness is the doorway that will lead us to a greater understanding of ourselves, others and ultimately God.
But far too few of us are able to actually be aware in the sense that Fr. Richard believes is necessary to achieve this kind of understanding.
We let ourselves get distracted, worried and obsessed with appearances, success, winning, losing... all of the things that keep us from truly seeing God in the world and in one another.
Fr. Anthony de Mello, whose amazing little book Awareness has been a daily read for me over the past year and change, wrote a lot about this. In fact, something he said has stuck with me for a long time:
Most people don't live aware lives. They live mechanical lives, mechanical thoughts--generally somebody else's--mechanical emotions, mechanical actions, mechanical reactions.But how do we experience awareness? How can it become a spiritual lifestyle practice when so few of us actually achieve it?
Interestingly, all of us know how, deep inside. In fact, there are moments when we experience awareness, but we typically don't know what we are experiencing. Let me explain.
Think about a time when you were caught off guard by beauty. It could be the beauty of a hawk flying against a blue sky, a mountain rising up in front of you, majestically, a waterfall that captures the afternoon light, just so...
Or it could be a moment where you recognize something eternal. The first time you saw your child smile at you. A kind word from a stranger that pierced your heart and brought you to tears.
It could also be the moment when you truly see someone in all of their brokenness and glory, all of their flaws and perfections, and you love them. Not for what they mean to you, but because you simply love them as they are, for who they are.
Fr. Richard says that when you begin to see the world this way, and lean into it, even when it happens unexpectedly, you will begin to "allow things (and people) to speak their truth to you as a receiver instead of a giver."
Or to put it another way---you will see them as subjects and not objects.
Fr Richard goes on to say that then:
You will thus learn to appreciate and respect things in and for themselves not because they benefit or threaten you... You should experience a contented spaciousness and silence that is a form of non-dual consciousness.Awareness---waking up---means that we no longer see things or people as a means to an end for ourselves. We no longer depend on others for happiness, because we are aware of them as themselves and not as a reflection of our own needs and desires.
It's then that we can truly love--love others, love the world, love God.
But we must be vulnerable to experience this kind of awakening. It requires something of us--something risky. We have to let go of our base desires, and our perceived needs. We have to let go of our ego, our need to be right, and the desire to succeed in the way that our culture defines success---through power and control.
We have to risk becoming nothing, letting go of all that we thought we held dear in order to truly find ourselves in God.
Author and speaker Brene Brown once wrote:
Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.When we are willing to risk being vulnerable, we will soon discover that God meets us in our vulnerability. God finds us in our brokenness, and God opens our eyes and our hearts to more easily experience God in all things and in everyone around us.
It's like we have been asleep, and God wakes us up to a new reality, a new way of seeing and being... a new way to be human that is fuller and more abundant, more eternal than we could have ever imagined.
The Apostle Paul wrote about this in his letter to the church at Ephesus:
... for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
You can easily begin to practice this on your own today.
Find a quiet spot, and focus on something you see---a rock, a tree, a fountain, flowers, people walking by on the sidewalk outside your house... Focus on whatever it is that you've chosen and stay focused until your mind lets go of all of the thoughts that are swirling there.
Let yourself see with new eyes--become aware of the beauty of it all. Let it speak to you, and listen carefully to what it has to "say."
The voice you hear might sound remarkably like your own, at first. But trust me... what you are hearing is the voice of the always-speaking God, telling you the truth about who you are, how you are loved, and what truly matters in this world.
May you find hope and strength as you listen, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.