Deck Chairs rearranged?...Hull breach repaired?..Watertight Bulkheads sealed?...History rewound?...Safety procedures heeded? The Titanic was doomed. Was there any hope?
The vessel itself would eventually age, rust and be scuttled. The people on board would eventually age, sicken and die. New safety systems would eventually reduce the likelihood of such a tragedy occurring again—mostly. History would chug along. Yet...
I am a recovering alcoholic. Part of my recovery includes reading and rereading the AA "Big Book". With a friend I have been working through the first few steps of the program; and in reading to support this work happened upon a paragraph that resonated deeply. Toward the end of the chapter entitled, There is a Solution, one finds this sentence. "Ideas, emotions, and lives of these men (sic) are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to produce some such emotional rearrangement within you." This seemed to capture something of what I have been experiencing over the past few years in my spiritual life; a rearrangement at the deepest level ("...huge emotional displacements and rearrangements...").
My spiritual journey to date has been a two pronged thing, a careful and long term coordination of internal beliefs with a deep external grace. I am not entirely sure why (though I have some ideas), but in my case this journey was only able to penetrate so far into my various dysfunctions and character defects. You might say I was the stricken Titanic laboring to find hope amidst hopelessness, fixing the steerage class plumbing instead of helping launch lifeboats.
Until, that is, I began exploring mindful meditation.
I find myself not yet equipped with sufficient insight to explain this rearrangement. I can only say that it feels like it is underway. It feels as if my interior life is being slowly but surely rearranged with "a new set of conceptions and motives."
For instance: I have long internalized guilt and shame as intrinsic and essential qualities of my self. No amount of external grace and mercy could touch, let alone "fix", that which is (or so I have lived it) intrinsic to who and what I am. Mindfulness, a cornerstone of Buddhist thinking, asserts that suffering (for such is how one must describe guilt and shame) is universal and is the manifestation of causes and conditions. The prescription, so to speak, is to "cling to nothing as me or mine".
To say that, "I am a wretch" is to declare as intrinsic and essential a feeling that arises. One makes a bad choice. You feel badly about this, hopefully admitting it to yourself and someone else. I, for whatever reason, would add this to my permanent interior self-description. My sense of me as irredeemable would be reinforced.
I am learning to watch this kind of suffering arise within me. I acknowledge its particular feeling, without dwelling on the why's and wherefore's, and then watch the feeling recede. The process and practice is the same as watching the itch on one's nose arise and pass away. Unwise and hurtful choices are not on the same relative playing field as a nose itch. However, the dynamics are the same.
"Clinging to nothing as me or mine."
I am in the process of relaunching the Titanic. There are icebergs galore before me. I can sense, though, a deep internal rearrangement, not of deck chairs, nor of watertight bulkheads, but of who I am and how I live with myself—and so with those around me.