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What is Spirituality? Being Awake

This is the last blog posting for the month of January 2010.  In my last posting I presented Anthony de Mello’s ideas about spirituality.  He wrote:

 “Spirituality is being awake.  Getting rid of illusions.  Spirituality is never being at the mercy of any event, thing, or person.  Spirituality means having found the diamond mine inside yourself.  Religion is intended to lead you there.”

Let’s consider the first thing he says, “Spirituality is being awake.”   What does this mean?  What does it mean to be awake?  When I first thought about “awakeness,” I realized how often I am not awake, how often I live as if I were sleepwalking through my days.

 Occasionally, life gives us a wakeup call.  Sometimes this wakeup is harsh and causes us to wonder about our lives and their purposes.  An old Peanuts cartoon by Charles M. Schultz images such a moment for me.  In the cartoon Snoopy, Charley Brown’s pet beagle, is jarred awake by something unwelcome.  The caption reads, “Life is full of rude awakenings.”

One such moment for me occurred several years ago.  During the warmer New England weather I enjoy bicycling.  One day I was biking and making my way to my favorite route along the Charles River.  As I neared the river, passing through the vicinity of Harvard Square, a woman opened her SUV door abruptly in front of me.  I swerved to avoid hitting it, but it was too late.  I ran into the door and flew over my handlebars, landing on my head and shoulder.  Fortunately, I had a helmet, however, I did sustain an injury to my shoulder.

Slowly, my accident and a subsequent incident awakened me to the tenuousness of life.  Two months later in July a young woman was “doored” while biking on Mass. Avenue, landing in the middle of the street.  An MBTA bus, whose driver could not avoid her, ran over and killed her.  This sad and tragic event made me realize how fortunate I was to be alive because there is an MBTA bus that travels the road I was biking, often rounding the bend where I laid, at a high rate of speed.  The driver would not have seen me in time either.

This event helped me to appreciate life and got me to pay more attention to the details of my life. In each of those little details I discovered the flavor of my life that was just waiting to be savored.  Let me end this blog, the last of this month, by providing a poem written by someone who truly seems to “be awake” and attuned to the details.  That person is the Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Mary Oliver, a resident of Cape Cod Massachusetts.  Her poem, “The Summer Day,” represents “being awake.”   I’ll have more to say about spirituality and aging in February.

 The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

 Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean—

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Posted in agingspirituality on 31 January 2010
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