Thursday, December 6th 2012
Sustenance…what gives Life to your life?
There are more than a few ways to look at sustenance and what it means in our lives, I suppose.
Fuel for life…
The most basic way to look at sustenance, and yet no less important than any other way – in fact most important when in relation to our biology – is food. We have all heard the numbers. Unless you’re Gandhi (who quite famously survived a near starvation fasting of 21 days without food at the age of 77) most people can only make it two weeks without food. And we diminish even more quickly without water. Although there are always exceptions based on one’s general health and outside factors like climate, etc. – in general, most people cannot make it any longer than a week without water. It is interesting isn’t it? We are mostly made of water, yet we are unable to retain or store it. We are in a somewhat constant state of needing to replenish it. We are built to be in a constant state of want, of need, of assistance. We are not able to survive, biologically, independent of other life. We need water and food to survive; we need water and food to sustain biological life.
And although it will not be the focus of my blog today, I would be remiss to not mention the impact this need has on the geo-political landscape – what it means for this world to have resources unevenly distributed – what it means to the world to have so much poverty and famine, for some to have so much and for others to have so little. It is important that we ask ourselves, “What do I need to biologically, to chemically, sustain this life?”
We should reflect on our consumption. Perhaps, to dump the two terms – sustenance and consumption – into our melting pot minds and swirl them around a bit. The very few of us (by world population standards), consume much much more than we need to sustain our lives biologically. And even though it is uncomfortable to recognize this, it is important to be aware that our over consumption has a cost – loss of life elsewhere. Life consumes life. This isn’t a guilt trip. We should feel gratitude that we live where we live, to have been born in a region of such privilege. This should also produce some humility, knowing we didn’t cause ourselves to be born into a country of such privilege. But I think it is healthy and beneficial to recognize, while some others are just barely sustaining their life with a few spoonfuls of rice and grain a day, we tell ourselves that we need a Venti at Starbucks, because a Grande or Tall just doesn’t cut it. (confessional: I’m guilty of this) It is also important to become aware of what this need of others, and imbalance of resources does to our heart. Are our hearts called to compassion as we see so many suffer under famine caused by drought or oppression? If we are lovers of peace, are we able to recognize that this imbalance, these conditions of starvation and famine, often lead to unrest and violence? This isn’t just for followers of Jesus (who, perhaps, was most clear on this proclamation); it is true for anyone with or without a spiritual practice: if we want to be authentically and fully human, we must align ourselves with the poor.
After all, we don’t live on bread (or water) alone…
So your belly is fat and you are happy, now what? You don’t have to look far to see statistics that even in this fast-paced land of plenty we suffer from multiple health issues and have had a rise in anxiety and depression. Something is missing. To paraphrase the well known and celebrated Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh – A tree is simply content with being a tree. A tree doesn’t try to be anything else, it just is. We aren’t trees and don’t seem to be content with just being (perhaps, we’ll get there some day). There seems to be a deep yearning and desire within us for meaning. The great wrestling with God, the existential questioning that we humans seem to be a unique in experiencing here on this tiny blue planet. We are often and consistently asking ourselves what it means to be human, why are we here, where did we come from, etc. etc. We are always asking each other upon meeting, what it is that we do. We set off to colleges and universities to find what it is we want to do with our lives….and it better be successful (whatever that means). One might say that we should change our name to human-doers rather than human-beings.
And we often find ourselves and find great value, meaning, and insight from what we do and what we experience. We find what keeps us going, what inspires and motivates us in life, we become aware of what sustains us. Perhaps it is our art. I think the majority of artists would indeed feel like they have died, if they were unable to create. Perhaps it is our romance. Having a broken heart, always feels like death. You should try it, it is good practice.
For what it is worth, we seem programmed to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and leave the Garden. We have to leave, to return. We have to Fall, to Rise again. There is no fault here, no mistake. It is a journey into God, into Life, into Love, into one’s Self. It is written upon the heart…so it is good to wrestle with these questions, to set off on the quest. It is good to listen for that calling and to search out meaning. For many of us, this is what sustains us – this is our sustenance – our art, our love, our passion. It is what keeps us going.
The fingers are not the Moon…
There is a Zen story of the Sixth Patriach Huineng who in talking to a nun about the meaning of things, said, “Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?”
So what does sustain us? What is our sustenance? It can be said that all of the things above are such. Food and water sustain our bodies, keeping our mechanics in motion. Our passion, our desire, our searching fuels our spirit and keeps us living, and gives meaning to our life…but these are simply fingers and not the Moon.
You have to find the Moon for yourself. Each of us does. However, I will share what I believe the Moon is for me.
I do believe that the underlying sustenance, that which sustains us, is in fact the quest to be like the tree, to be. To be known, to be understood, to be loved as we are without having to achieve, having to impress, having to earn. While doing may fuel the spirit, it is in being that the soul finds its rest and peace.
So would it help if I simply said to you
that you are okay,
that you are already complete
Would it give you comfort and rest,
to know that you have
nothing to earn or achieve –
that you are beautiful as you are,
that you are understood and loved?
Would it fulfill your purpose and life
to know that you are,
like the tree,
in your own way,
uniquely rooted in the rich soil of this earth?
and yet so exquisitely,
like the tree,
stretched toward the warmth
of the Sun?
I did not think so.
So, journey on, beloved friends
And may those fingers,
perfect as they are,
point you to the Moon…