*This week I will be posting each day about a book that stands out in my memory as having helped shape my thinking–specifically regarding my relationship with God. I will start with the first book that stands out in my memory and work my way up to more recent books, and for that reason they will be numbered in reverse order from 5 to 1. If you feel inclined to read them, you are, of course, free to read them in whatever order you see fit.
So here it is (a day late, with my apologies). It’s a bit daunting finding the words to introduce the one book that more than any of the others on this list “washed the mud from my eyes.” (John 9:13-15) So, for once in my life, I won’t even try.
3. The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See by Richard Rohr
To date, this book is one of the most life-changing books I’ve read.
Did you hear me? I said
This book brought to light much of what I’d learned in the previously two mentioned books, but more importantly it finally gave me answers to the nagging thoughts and questions I still had after reading them. In this book, once and for all, I became aware of the polarizing way in which our minds are shaped from a young age about right/wrong, left/right, either/or thinking. And here, Fr. Rohr shared what he calls “nondualistic” or, more simply “both/and” thinking. It is this type of mindset– this type of heartfelt contemplation– that is the mystical way of greeting the world. It is also what I think Dr. Phil means when he asks his famous question, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”
It truly was life-changing to suddenly realize how sticking to what we believe is “right” is a great way to stay sedentary in our thoughts and in life itself. Happiness doesn’t come from being right all the time. That kind of happiness– when we have to fight and grind and bully our way into changing someone else’s thought processes so that we can celebrate our personal victories –is self-serving and short-lived. Happiness comes from choosing happiness. In everything. Finding joy in pain. Noticing our own shadows in the light. Being present in each moment we are given. Rohr states in his introduction to the book,
“The early, but learned pattern of dualistic thinking can only get us so far; so all religions at the more mature levels [my emphasis] have discovered another “software” for processing the really big questions, like death, love, infinity, suffering, and God. Many of us call this access “contemplation.” It is a nondualistic way of seeing the moment. Originally, the word was simply “prayer.”
It is living in the naked now, the “sacrament of the present moment,” that will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good, bad or ugly, and how to let them transform us. Words by themselves will invariably divide the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is.
When you can be present you will know The Real Presence. I promise you this is true.
And it is almost that simple.”
And to think this is only the introduction!
What happened for me in this book, was that almost from the beginning (but most definitely by the end), a peace came to my heart about so many things I’d struggled with (specifically in regards to religion, but it’s applicable to everything) over the years. Suddenly, I didn’t have to change my religion to be “right.” And I didn’t have to insist that someone else change theirs to be “right” either. Because no single one of us (or group of us) is “right.” ALL OF US are “right” when we allow ourselves to be lifted to those more mature levels of religion where we are (again and again) transformed by God. That’s when we’re free to move about within–and paradoxically beyond–the boundaries and paramenters of our various religions into the realm of simply knowing God. “Without this balance, religion invariably becomes arrogant, exclusionary, and even violent,” says Rohr.
It’s no wonder we, in our various religious traditions for countless centuries now, insist on these so-called “holy” wars. We are so busy insisting to “the others” that they need to know and love God the same way we do, we seldom stop to hear what it is they know and think and feel about God.
This thinking about religion and transformation and mysticism brought to my mind an image. I pictured people we all know who are surely examples of people living (or who lived) at the “more mature levels” of their respective religious traditions sitting around the same table: Mother Teresa. Gandhi. The Dalai Lama. Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Hold that image for a moment.
What do you see?
As hard as I tried, I couldn’t see them getting into fights or stomping off mad and insistent that one of their experiences of God/Love/Truth/Divinity was better than the others. And they certainly didn’t rally their followers into starting a war.
And suddenly with that image, I knew WHO I was meant to be in this world, and HOW I was meant to be in this world.
I realized that like them, we’re all meant to share the same space together in a peaceful, relaxed, respectful and truly loving way–and I don’t mean loving in the sentimental way that we say in cards and poems with little hearts and rainbows. I mean loving in its truest sense. That purest of loves that exists in the quiet energy of our being. That place where we are so content and secure with God-in-us, that the only thing we could actively will on another is a desire to see God-in-them and to allow it to look differently than we may expect.
After that, it seems, the rest is just details.