Stumbling Toward Enlightenment
*Transcript of Talk given by Rich Hayes at the Unitarian Gathering of South County, Housatonic, MA, Apr. 10, 2016
Unitarian Universalist Church
Barnstable, MA
Aug. 14, 2016

by Karen Wyle

May I see truth when human appearance causes me confusion. May I be able to see goodness as it arises out of pain.

May I forgive even what I think is unforgivable. May I surrender when I want to fight. May I feel my freedom when I’m imprisoned-either physically or by my thoughts.

May I always arise out of the ashes of despair and not falter. May I have a vision when my dreams appear to be crumbling. May I be fully present when I want to disappear..

May I stand in my integrity when it would be easier to sacrifice it.

May I love my neighbor when I am inclined to judge him. May I surrender my anger and irritation in the name of my own peace. May I remember to pray when I am lost. May I see and feel the joy in all that is joyful. May I play and dance and sing, and not hold back for fear of seeming foolish.

May I accept all aspects of my being and see them as holy. May I soar to the heights of my own being when it’s more comfortable to stay small. May the love within me cancel out everything unlovable so that I am peaceful in God’s love.

READING: It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.
-Mark Twain

Transcript of talk begins:
Each year on my birthday I take the day off and do an extended meditation and then some quiet reflection and life review. That’s where I came up with this idea of “stumbling”. You see, as I reflected on things I could see that’s very much what I'd been doing a good deal of my life; stumbling along, doing what I thought to be my best most of the time. Even when I didn’t have a clue where I was headed! But I’ve more or less maintained this kind of "trajectory" in a certain direction.

The older I get, the more I see the dots connecting. And today as I look back, it almost seems as if I really did know where I was going all along. What once seemed random and unrelated in my life, no longer does.
Of course, I don’t think I’m unique...well, that’s not true. I am unique. BUT so are you!

What I'm saying is that I believe we all have had this experience of seeing what appeared random chance or luck as it was happening, to be something quite different when we've had the perspective of time.

Of course that’s provided we’re willing to look, and to consider.
But we will never see what we’re not ready to see.

On my birthday as I did my meditation, I saw myself so clearly at 27-I’d just become a father for the first time. I had my own business and felt I was really on my way. I was so certain about some things. My beliefs were based mostly in the things I’d been taught and told, either at school or by the family I came from. And I was a product of the community I lived in.
Although, back then I would have told you otherwise.

At 27 I saw things in a very black and white way…. and as I looked back I could see the fear I viewed the world with. I tended to vote conservative-I guess those two tend to go together, don’t they?

I saw the world as a tough place where you had to watch your ass and make sure it was covered. While I did believed in the golden rule-and tried to practice it-I could also be a very hard judge - of myself as well as others.

The transition from the “me” from back then to the me that stands before you here today did not happen overnight-or in a matter of a few years. It’s been a still occurring (I hope).

And that’s good for me to remember when I look around at the world today.

Seeing myself at 27 and, more importantly, remembering what it was like to
be me back then, it is absolutely clear to me that there is no way, no how that I would have- OR that I could have- understood what I am able to understand today.
It’s not that I was less intelligent back then. If anything I probably had a few more brain cells.
But you shouldn’t expect apples in May or corn in June.
At 27 it wasn’t yet time.

And that’s what I saw as I looked back.
That’s where this idea of “stumbling” came to me.
I think we all stumble. There is no straight line that takes us from here to there. And it’s usually not a smooth ride, either.

In my case a lot of things had to happen in my life first. And it seems to me that, while I had the great good fortune to have had good and loving parents and many, many advantages; it’s not been all the good things- It’s been the really hard things: the losses, the so-called "failures"; all the tough stuff that’s happened along the way-the disasters and tragedies- these are what have taught me my greatest lessons.

While who I am today certainly has much to do with the good fortune of my birth and privilege, I think a greater part has to do with all the other stuff that’s happened. They have been my greatest teachers.

Through loss I learned to recognize how temporary everything is-including each and every moment. And in this recognition to see how the common or ordinary is really very, very precious.

This was the beginning of my seeing things differently. And it would not have happened without the pain of loss.

To me a big part of enlightenment is learning to see in new ways.
And this process is ever changing because we are always in process of becoming; letting go of who and what we have been in order to become what we are becoming-
It’s never arriving, and that’s perfectly okay! The journey’s the thing!

Think about it: we are never quite the same person we were just a moment ago. That person resides in us. But it’s "in there" with all the other versions of who we have been from all the other previous moments. That’s how I could go back and experience the 27 year old me!!
But I must tell you that, although it was nice to visit, it was even nicer to
not have to stay! Although my body was more flexible back then, my mind was not.

Thich Nhat Hanh said, “There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.”
Daily life is our greatest teacher.

In her autobiographical book “The Spiral Staircase”, theologian Karen Armstrong uses a spiral staircase as a metaphor for her own spiritual and psychological journey. She says that at one point in her life she felt particularly stuck, as if she was making no progress and getting nowhere.
Then she remembered the spiral staircase in the abbey she’d attended. It was as if a light went on! She saw that, as you start up the stairway, it may appear that you’ve made little progress and are standing more or less in the same place. But you’re not. You’ve come around one time and are a little bit further on. The view is ever so slightly different. And so it continues, as you continue to climb.

A moment ago I said that it was good for me to remember this 27 year old version of myself as I look at our world today. You see, by remembering how I once was, I am able to have hope, despite things appearing so bleak and dark and so "un" enlightened out there.

In my own story I’m reminded that it’s been the really painful things that have shaken me, disturbed me, forced me out of my comfort zone -or my stupor, and they have led me to some of the greatest gifts of my life.

And I know this one truth:
Had I been granted the option to choose at the time, I would have never chosen to go through any of them. I would have avoided these like the plagues I believed them to be.

But without them where would I be today? Surely, not here speaking with you all this morning.
It was these things that woke me up-got my attention, made me willing to change the things I was doing.

These are very difficult times in our world, and it seems that collectively we are in trouble on practically all fronts.

I think of this world of ours as a macro of the micro: it is the human journey, the human struggle, the human adventure of our “becoming” -being carried out over and over and over again, amplified billions of times.
In it is the best of what we each are, as well as the very worst of what we can be.
Carl Jung wrote: “Enlightenment is not imagining figures of light, but making the darkness conscious.”

Using Karen Armstrong’s analogy of the spiral staircase, although it may appear that humanity is still in the same spot, because we’re still doing so many of the same awful things, I believe we are on an upward trajectory. There are millions of us who are seeing the darkness and making it conscious-it is no longer hidden or concealed. We are seeing it. And it is only in this that we can change.

What we're not conscious of we have no power to change. Recognizing our own shadow is the way up and out. Shadow as I use it here is not "evil", it's that which is hidden and we're unaware of it. Within all human beings is the potential for the greatest good as well as the worst imaginable. I heard someone once say that in all of us there is a Hitler and a Mother Theresa. There is another saying: "we love to hate in the world what we hate to love in our self".
And one of the greatest realizations coming to consciousness around the globe is this awareness that we are just one part of a vast interconnecting web of life.

We are not separate from all the other creatures and the earth-Seeing everything as part of the One, sounds an awful lot like the way enlightenment is described in many spiritual texts.
So maybe we’re closer than we think? I think we may be.
We certainly have gotten the stumbling part down pretty good, haven’t we?

But before it can happen "out there", it must start in here within you-within your heart.
Enlightenment is an inside job.
It begins with you.
It’s about opening, not closing.

How do you do this?
You make a conscious effort every day to open your heart so you can love more. And love will allow your eyes to see familiar things in new ways, giving you new eyes to see with.

And possibly the greatest challenge of all, open your mind.
This is a tough one! My visit with my younger self reminded me what a mind that is married to certainty and being “right” looks like.
When I believed that I knew something, my mind closed to any other possibility.
And that certainty kept me trapped.

When I was younger it was so important for me to know the “right” answer. I hated feeling unsure and I was scared of being wrong. Maybe it’s one of the gifts of age, but being “right” isn’t all that important to me. As for answers? I’ve learned to love the questions!

The truth is that the older I get, the less I “know”. And that’s oddly comforting, and very exciting; because then I get to learn new things. Or see what I once thought I knew, in new ways.

So I recommend allowing yourself to “not know”-to cultivate beginners mind. Let your open mind process what is being seen with your newly opened eyes. And then let your open heart take it all in.

As the writer of the Tao, Lao Tzu said, “There are many paths to enlightenment. Be sure to take one with a heart.”
Ram Dass reminds us: “In the end, we’re all just walking each other Home.”