Monkey Mind

I'm blocking. I've started this post now three times and I don't know what to say. Keep writing. Just keep writing. Watching my mind as I try to pray this morning, thoughts streaming in. John of Ruusbroec would not be surprised. Or would he? He doesn't really say much about watching one's thoughts, not like the author of the Cloud of Unknowing, whose whole emphasis is on pressing down all the monkey-mind (not his word) thoughts so as to make space (again, not his image) for God. I want to make space for God in my life, I really do. I've been doing my centering prayer now since August, and...well, what? What would one expect to report? Great lights? Visions? Consolations? John of Ruusbroec would definitely say not to be deceived by such experiences. No, that's not quite right. I wish I were one of my graduate students right now. They have no idea how easy they have it. Again, no, not easy. They are worried about their grades and preparing for orals and whether they will get jobs in the future. But they are in a special time, which, predictably enough, they will not appreciate until after it is over. Time to be training--okay, I started trying to rewrite just there and needed to let it go. Let it go. Let it go. If you haven't guessed, I'm trying to do Morning Pages here, but, interestingly enough, it's not working. I'm out of practice, I suppose. The Censor (see, I wrote Editor first and then backspaced over it), the Censor is out in force and telling me I can't say this or that because, well, it's dull. Dull. Dull. Dull. That's an interesting word. I need a name for my--our--dog. I got my D2009 in foil on Sunday, did I tell you? Funny that I didn't. I've been waiting, working, fretting over renewing my D for over two years now. Frustrated that getting my D for the first time in 2007 did not mean that I began to place regularly at that level, quite the reverse. It's been two and a half years since I placed high enough even to make an E, never mind a D. And then, wonderful to report, on Sunday I was finally in the right place at the right time to earn the ranking again. See, I have so much to tell you and I just can't seem to find the energy. These ramblings are nowhere near as interesting as all the things that I've been thinking about wanting to say. How about that insight I had at practice on Tuesday fencing against one of the younger fencers at our club, when I suddenly saw the difference between launching an attack just to finish--which is always, always, always parried, it's so obvious to my opponent--and beginning an attack with the clear intention of finishing, confident that it would land? See, I can't even find the words now, but there is a difference, I've felt it. It even stayed with me last night fencing again the same fencer, and there it was: I knew suddenly that one of the things that has been holding me back is, well, myself holding myself back as I start an attack, as if starting without actually meaning to finish because I'm afraid that my opponent is going to parry. But with what I felt Tuesday, there is a lightness: start lightly, not aggressively, with confidence but not certainty. No, not quite right again. Anxiety now: if I can't find the words for it, will it still be there for me tomorrow or the next day? Like God. Oh, my oh my. I could barely stay awake reading Ruusbroec's Spiritual Espousals on Wednesday. Bang, bang, bang, I fell asleep I think four times trying to work through the text. I understand it now much better, in large part thanks to the outline that one of my students made for our class discussion yesterday. Can I describe the treatise to you in 500 words or less? There are the comings of Christ into our heart, our spirit and, oh, what was the other thing? "See, the Bridegroom is coming. Go out to meet him." Go out to meet Him, He is coming. I'm having just as hard a time listening to St. John of the Cross on my way to fencing practice these past couple of weeks. Really, it makes no sense, The Dark Night of the Soul. Not so much the idea--although I'm pretty sure most people don't mean by the dark night exactly what John means, that is, John of the Cross; John Ruusbroec is less interested in darkness, much more in light, Christ as the sun shining into our hearts--but the argument of the treatise, all broken up into divisions and subdivisions, very difficult to follow orally when all you hear is: "Three, gobbledy-gook, gobbledy-gook, seven, more gobbledy-gook, two..." and you start thinking, "Wait, weren't we just on four, how did we get to eight?" Where is God in all of this? I don't think God is made up, I've written about that before, but I'm not sure I quite believe in Him. That is, I'm not sure I quite trust Him, which is the point of faith. Faith, faith, faith. Anamchara had an excellent post about faith this week (I linked it on Monday, if you want to see): faith as the continuing pursuit of faith throughout one's life, and I realized on reading it that I really do have faith, because otherwise why would I be so tormented all the time about not having it? My faith manifests itself as a continuing doubt, nagging, nagging, nagging at me not to let go, God will be there for me, is there for me, loves me, wants me, desires me like a bridegroom longs for his bride. And I, bitch that I am, cannot find it in myself to surrender to him. Alpha bitch. Now there's another image from this week that I just can't shake. Can I tell you about this? No, not even here. Too many feelings at stake that are not mine. Here I can confess to you all of my innermost fears, but the fears that I see in others are theirs. No, that isn't it. Blocking, blocking, blocking again. The Clock of Wisdom, tick, tick, tick. We were reading Henry Suso for this week, too. Such heady stuff. I'm not getting any relief here. Twenty minutes into this exercise and I am still just as blocked. Let go. Watch the thoughts drift along the river. What do I want to tell you about? There, I'm sitting on the chaise lounge (how do you spell that?) now, rather than at the table. What do I want to tell you? Things that I can't because they aren't only about myself but about the people that I am interacting with in my classes, at fencing, at the church. No, not the church, things have been fairly peaceful there now that the profile is finished. But...but what? Why don't I feel anything much when I go to worship anymore? This is the dark night, the time after the consolations and insights when there is nothing but the dark plain stretching out before you, like the afterlife in one of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels: a plain of black sand with a black sky overhead sprinkled with stars and maybe, just maybe some mountains in the distance but still no clear direction to go. Where is God in all of this? These were the thoughts that came to me this morning as I sat in my prayer, pounding and pounding and pounding against me. Good that it's Friday the 13th today, don't you think? A good day for a post that is not a post but a frantic scrabbling at a post, watching my thoughts, trying to bring them to stillness and failing. But that's really okay because God is there anyway, watching my thoughts, waiting for a moment when I can let them go by without attaching myself to them and turn instead to look at Him. "See, the bridegroom is coming. Go out to meet him." Confessions to make, impurities to cleanse from my conscience. Getting angry after losing my second DE on Sunday to another of my clubmates who does not practice, not at least with us, as much as I do, and saying as much to her, "But you don't even practice!" "I practice," she said. "Where?!" I cried. "By myself," she replied. Now, how, I ask you, can you practice fencing by yourself? Can you feel the "Aha!" moment hovering on the edge of consciousness here? Aha, I need to practice centering myself as a fencer; she doesn't need to practice the physical actions so much--although she's lost weight in the last year, so maybe she's been working out physically in some other way--because what she is really working on is the practice in her head. And she's right, of course. I am absolutely confident now that my problem is no longer with my physical skills; they have definitely improved. It's really my mind that is a mess. See, it's a mess right here. Hop, hop, hop. No wonder I can't get the touches I want: I'm not even thinking about getting them half of the time I'm on the strip. Instead, I'm thinking about everything but: winning the bout, whether I'll be embarrassed if I lose, whether my opponent will be upset if I win, how I lost the last bout, how I won the last bout, what the score is--everything except the moment on which I am supposed to be concentrating. Simone Weil said it very well. The key is attention, laser-sharp, concentrated attention. Which, of course, is not attention at all, but attending: waiting for God in the moment, waiting, waiting, waiting--go! There is the opening! There is God, meet Him! But is He there all the time or only when I am looking for Him? Jealousy of the fencers who can see Him constantly, in my errors, in my bumblings. Just as I can see Him--that moment, that space--in fencers who are weaker than I am. It is not a space so much as the possibility of a space if I make it there. It was there and then it goes. No, no, it is only there if I am able to use it, otherwise it was never there. Monkey mind, monkey mind, are you really calming down, centering into a thought? But not a thought: the space that is not a space because it does not exist except insofar as I wait for it and then seize it. Oh, I am so close to something here. You can't make it happen, that space, but on the other hand, you can give it the potentiality to be there. Those who have had the experience will know what I am describing, those who haven't will simply have to trust that what I am trying to give words to is real. It really is real. Does this mean that God is real? Did John Ruusbroec know the Bridegroom in the way that he describes? Coming into him (that is, John) as light streaming over the mountains, as a threefold stream inflowing his faculties (memory, understanding, will), as a source ebbing and flowing throughout his life? Again, not throughout his life, but there, always in the instant, life nothing more or less than the instant, the moment when the space that was not a space opens and the Bridegroom comes in? Alas, alas, there is such a good metaphor potentially here and I can't seize it in language. Perhaps this is why I've found it so hard to write these past couple of weeks. Not just the busyness of life, the pressures of teaching--which aren't really pressures so much as insistences, the need to be ready for class so as not to let my students down--but the movement into a new level (not level, wrong metaphor, perhaps space) of understanding. The texts that we've been reading for my graduate class are pretty overwhelming: The Cloud of Unknowing, Walter Hilton's Scale of Perfection, Birgitta of Sweden's Book of Questions, Langland's Piers Plowman, Henry Suso's Clock of Wisdom, John Ruusbroec's Spiritual Espousals, none of them an easy read, none of them easy to summarize. I want to be a great spiritual writer. Ha! Like saying, "I want to be a mystic." I want to be able to describe for you great insights and ecstasies; again, no, not ecstasies. I don't think that is the point any more. When the Bridegroom comes, it is as if He has always been there, because, of course, He has. My son is right, fencing isn't as hard as I make it out to be, I'm just not paying attention. I'm confusing getting the touch with the point of things; I'm making getting the touch too difficult when it isn't really. Just set it up, be ready, like the Wise Virgins with their lamps trimmed, awake and attentive for when the Bridegroom comes. I am a Foolish Virgin, I think that it is okay to sleep, I don't buy enough oil or bring extra. I confuse practicing a lot with practicing well.... Interruption here while I talked with my husband before he set off for work. Peaceful thoughts now about where we live, about doing up the kitchen and making this apartment really our home, recognizing that it is foolish, indeed, to spend more money on a home than we need to, no need for a house, much better to concentrate on making our apartment the space that we want it to be. That is serenity: knowing the things we can change. Our cabinets and countertops and floor. The window and the door. The shape of the counterspace. Space again. Space that is already here for us, space that we can move into and use. No need to look for more space, fallacy of looking for space as an emptiness, space rather as potential for activity, just as in the bout. Have I told you--no I haven't--about making peace with not having a house? How stupid it would be to waste money on a house when we quite honestly don't need one? The light streaming in through the windows in our apartment these days is so beautiful, this is the most beautiful space in the entire universe, sunlit and brilliant. I am happy here, have been happy here, will be happy here, with my family--and dog! With the work that I am doing and will do. With the memories with which I am going to continue to fill this space, waiting for God. Like on my blog. Plenty of space, plenty of time.


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