just be it It’s about the work involved in establishing a dedicated practice to feelings of a bigger belonging through practices aimed at increasing feelings of compassion, gratitude and forgiveness

Holding Faith Through the Free Fall

Published on 26/09/12
by randy

Yesterday I went to an air show and was amazed at the stunts the acrobatic pilots were able to pull off.  I was most impressed when they built speed in a dive only to throw the plane into a vertical climb, maxing out in a held static position until the plane stalled and free fell like a leaf.  These pilots took the plane from complete control to a full surrender.  The plane would tumble several hundred feet and then it would capture enough airspeed where they could throttle up and fly out of the plane’s overwhelmed condition.  These pilots had faith in the realm of uncertainty and apparent overwhelming conditions.  I’ve interviewed many top athletes known for pushing new maneuvers and have always been curious about that ‘moment’ when they left familiarity, entering a new zone of performance outside their previous experience.  It’s almost unanimous that they systematically work up to the moment of surrender with days, months, and sometimes years of practice.  Yet, there’s a moment where they step beyond our typical notions of time and space, almost in a foreknowledge, completing the surrendered procedure before initiating it.  Katagiri Roshi describes it beautifully in Each Moment is the Universe:

“…time becomes supreme time, beyond any concept of past, present, or future; place becomes supreme place, beyond any dualistic concept; and person becomes supreme person, who is melted into the universe.

That situation is unknowable with our consciousness.  It’s impossible for me to express it in words.  But maybe you can feel that this is true, that this activity is something that could appear in you life in the future.  If so, that feeling becomes a kind of prediction, foreknowledge, or hope.  That is big hope.”  p. 145

He talks about how hope just comes up, we do something with complete devotion and focus, from the whole heart, we forget our self (separation), and we change the structure of time and space.  Even though people may not see this, they ‘feel’ it.  There’s a felt sense of the bottomless nature to life’s mystery that brings us to our knees in wonder and awe.  It’s what gives us the courage to free fall ourselves when moments of uncertainty inevitably arise.

At the same air show, I by chance, met up with one of my favorite sailing friends.  He’s an ER doctor working one of the Duluth hospitals and was giving his time to cover medical emergencies at the event.  We spoke about those life situations where we’re brought to our knees from ‘not knowing’.  I had told him how this was our topic of conversation at a recent meeting I’d attended for a group at Rush City Prison.  I told him how some inmates described the free fall from ‘no hope’ and others described it from faith.  We briefly discussed the life experience of overwhelm vs. the courage to surrender in faith to life’s next surprise.  He then went on to describe his experience in treating attempted suicide patients in his ER.  I recall him saying how most surviving suicide patients radically change their spiritual journey once they’ve lived through their attempt to end this physical life. He had seen a major transformation that he said was hard to explain.  My sense was that they felt ‘caught’ from the free fall.  This seems to be our journey.  So often we can slip into overwhelm with feelings and thoughts of ‘not enough’, guilt, shame, and conditions not turning out as desired or expected.  Yet, when we surrender to divine Providence, when we can ‘let go’ our attachment to what we ‘think’ should be, faith grows through the experience of knowing we can never be alone.  We break the illusion that we’re separate and we find the strength and courage to enter what I call ‘I don’t know land’.  As Katagiri wrote, ‘we’re melted into the universe’.  He also describes it as knowing that wherever you ma be, your life is sustained and supported by the whole universe.

The night before this air show I had the great fortune of watching some friends creating music at a local club.  A couple who’s been deeply in the depths of ‘I don’t know land’ from a serious health condition intensely stepped up to meet the moment, hitting the presence of each arriving note.  Their sense of ‘aliveness’ brought a vitality to their music that touched us all.  We could ‘feel’ big hope in the moment, in supreme time and supreme space. They communicated the feeling of being supported by the whole universe.

The conversation changes when we can step out of our small ‘knowing’ minds to embrace the wonder, awe, and surprise found in our ‘unknowing’.  This week the great story teller, Garrison Keillor from A Prairie Home Companion, eloquently told a story about the suffering we cause from our small judgmental minds, especially during political election years.  While our media feeds on trying to grow conflict from polarization (Fox News vs. MSNBC), Garrison told a heart touching story that’s possibly familiar to us all.  He described a relative who carried a wonderful humility when returning to his Minnesota home even though he was famous in Texas.  He knew this gentleman held radical right wing political views in opposition to Garrison’s views.  He described our typical behavior of holding silence on these topics when we believe they’ll only lead to anger and further conflict.  He then went on to describe how this man he was tempted to objectify thrust a butcher blade through his heart from despair when he discovered his wife was having an affair.  He captured our need for compassion, even to those who may think different political or religious thoughts.  He challenged us to the vast mystery of life and humbled us to never be so arrogant to ‘think’ we’re right and others are wrong.  Life is too big.  The Divine is too mysterious.  It’s why we’re repeatedly instructed to love one another, even those of different world views.

It’s so easy to become distressed by the ‘con men’ trying to gain our confidence in ‘their’ thinking.  Noam Chomsky has said there is always underlying violence whenever we try to persuade others from our notion of being right.  It’s why our actions are so much more important than our attempts to debate or change others.  I’ll never forget the Dali Lama leaning over to a fellow Buddhist who was enthusiastic about explaining one of the teachings.  He said, “You’re not trying to push Buddhism, are you?”  Or the ministers who were trying to push their notions/beliefs on traumatized Virginia Tech students who were in free fall from a mass shooting.  We just need to cultivate our faith through the courage to face the surprise of the next moment with kindness.  We don’t need to agree in our heads.  We’re just hear to touch each other’s heart, just as my musical friends did, just as my ER doctor friend has done, just as the acrobatic pilots did.  When we can do our best in meeting the next arising moment, giving our full devotion to our activity, others can ‘feel’ it.  Big hope says this is what we’re here for.  It’s what we do for each other, feeding big hope and faith to those who may experience overwhelm…to those who’ve lost the feeling of being caught.

In the free fall, we need the courage to receive grace, to make space to find the gift in what’s given, and to break through the illusion that we’re alone.  Every act of kindness grows this feeling.  Every act of silence in the the face of attack grows this feeling.  Every act of love given to those in overwhelm free fall heals us all.  Today’s campaign screams ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’.  No doubt, difficult economic times challenge us now as they have in the past and will in the future.  Yet, we know that no amount of material accumulation will bring us lasting peace.  Actually, most spiritual traditions describe how our growth comes from meeting suffering and loss with faith, a knowing that we’re supported by the whole universe.

For me, I’m waiting for the messenger who addresses this ‘free fall’, not trying to sell confidence in them, but in something much bigger than them.  It goes well beyond the strategy and mechanics of the campaign talking heads.  We all want confidence and it can only come from the spiritual journey.  Change happens constantly.  Everything wears out.  Suffering comes from our attachments to what was or what we have.  Our freedom, growth and evolution will come from our kindness to one another.  Our careful stewardship of the planet, nation, state, community and family will forever come from the mandate to do what’s best for all with harm to none.  Our courage to meet each other in our differences, with open compassionate minds/hearts, surrendering to what divine Providence has to offer up, is where we’ll find our healing.

This isn’t about the ‘right’ nation, the ‘right’ race, the ‘right sex, the ‘right’ religion, the ‘right’ political party or the ‘right’ economic strategy.  It’s bigger than that.  We all know we’re in free fall.  Our vitality is fed through our open mind and heart and our willingness to embrace uncertainty through complete reliance upon divine Providence.  Our forefathers got it, including it as the glue to our Declaration of Independence.  We print it on our money, “In God We Trust” (if the word God is a semantic trigger, use the word that best points to the ‘feeling’ of being caught).   If you’ve been awake enough to notice all the times grace has touched you, it’s a dis-on-grace each time we fail to communicate how we’ve been caught.  We’re all caught.  We can’t not be caught.  To rely on others is to be uneasy.  To rely on divine Providence, on everyone being caught, is to open to surprise and our blooming.  Our closed minds evidence lack of faith.  Our open minds, willing to refrain from judgment on others, feeding kindness, is where we’ll find our healing.

This morning I read a post from my son about our grandson’s evening insight.  He said, “Nobody knows anything except God and Santa”.  This openness to bigger mysteries is so evident in the five year old mind.  It’s a release from our arrogance of ‘thinking’ we know.  It’s a deepening in our spiritual journey to forever discover the surprise that God, Santa, Universe, or whatever language you use to point to this feeling, has in store for this next arising moment.  When we crack open our closed minds we can let in the light and wisdom provided from that that’s much bigger than our small mind thoughts and belief systems.

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