It is Saturday morning. There is nothing I have to do – or nothing urgent. I sit at the open window in my pyjamas with the sunshine, the trees now in full leaf, the early morning birdsong, the air touching my face. This is what I want to do. This is how I want life to be always: nothing I have to do. I feel my upper chest relax, right into my shoulder joints, as I allow the truth and trust of this fully to sink in. Though it is my ritual upon waking to sit here, to pray and meditate, I don’t feel the need to do something ‘spiritual’. I want to sit and look out of the window and do nothing (except for the mostly unnoticed actions that occur autonomically: respiration, blood flow, peristalsis: this body is a dynamic system that does not rest – until it does).
I have a completely clear day. Nothing planned. No one about. I am wondering what to do. I decide to sit here until I find out what I want to do.
But then I realise: Sitting here, doing nothing, enjoying the edge of the rapture of being alive, is exactly what I want to do. For a few seconds, now and again, I choose to be aware of breathing and I feel the air on this body. How amazing it is to be alive! What a surprise! How shocking that I am of the Universe!
A stranger here, strange things doth meet, strange glory see,
Strange treasures lodged in this fair world appear,
Strange, all, and new to me: But that they mine should be who nothing was,
That strangest is of all; yet brought to pass.
Thomas Traherne, The Salutation
Frequently an impetus arises, a feeling that I ‘ought’ to do something, and there occurs a frisson of anxiety in my chest. My shoulder joints tighten up again. (A seemingly trivial example: Last week on Radio 3, there was a series of lunchtime concerts given by Michael Collins, a clarinetist I like. The acquisitive part of me wants to record these. And then this wanting turns into an imperative with a deadline (they are only available for a month on catchup) that I must fulfil or else they will be lost to me forever.)
Truly being alive, being with You, experiencing “the rapture of being alive”, is a continuous flow, like breathing, repeatedly receiving the unexpected and unwarranted gift of life, and then letting it go. This body is a sacrament of this flow: inhale, exhale; systole, diastole; ingestion, elimination; birth, death – inspire, expire.
Death is not the opposite of life. Holding on is.
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise
When did the simple pleasure in being alive get overlaid with the need to possess – to have and to hold, from this day forward … till death us do part? When did amazement turn into amassing?
“Repetition” is not holding on to an experience, of God or of consolation or insight. It is revisiting and remembering and realising the eternal truth and reality revealed in that experience. To have felt God’s love once is enough to know that I am loved now.
So, in looking out of the window, which is also looking at You, I am not trying to get or achieve anything, something I can hold onto. I am being alive, being with You. This is my deepest desire.
Human being is a gift that is only on loan for a while. Growing up and ageing comes with the increasing apprehension (in both senses: understanding and anxiety) of the inevitability of death. With this apprehension comes a desire to hold on to life. This holding on – and the reverse of the same coin, a refusal to embrace – is precisely the condition of the denial of life. You really cannot have your cake and eat it.
Otto Rank described this life stance with a wonderful phrase: “Refusing the loan of life in order to avoid the debt of death.”
Irvin Yalom, Love’s Executioner
“Unless you become like children,” that is to say, unless you rediscover the simple pleasure in being alive that allows everything to arrive and depart, “you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” which is right here, now and always, within and among us. You do not need to search for it because it is what you already are; you do not need to possess it because it is what you always will be.