by Suleika Jaouad
‘…but I’m still yearning. It’s different now, in that it’s not specific things, just the word: more. That’s the bittersweetness of being granted your wishes, then facing the prospect of losing them. I love my life—my family, my husband, my sweet new dog, my friends, my home, my garden, my work, and this beloved community—and I want to be able to enjoy that life, today and tomorrow and for many years to come.
But with this illness and all the treatment side effects, I can’t rely on my body from hour to hour, much less day to day or week to week, which makes planning or making commitments so difficult. It’s strange to have a sense of urgency to make and do and see, but to also have a body that often just can’t. It’s a particular kind of entrapment.
So here at the beginning of fall, instead of embarking on some grand adventure, I’m rejoicing in the moments where I can enjoy a small one. One day last week, while out at my farmhouse, I woke up feeling… well, feeling like I hadn’t just consumed a dose of rat poison. I have two electric bikes, and that afternoon, my friend Kristen and I hopped on and started speeding down the winding country roads, past babbling brooks, under covered bridges, up into the hills. After awhile, we stopped at a plant nursery with a little outdoor bar and lounge and had cocktails—something I hadn’t done in a very long time. By the time we left, the sun was setting, and I felt almost giddy. That afternoon, I’d had more.
[Alet-les-Bains in Languedoc, France.]
From Fr Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation.
Old age, as such, is almost a complete changing of gears and engines from the first half of our lives, and does not happen without many slow realizations, inner calmings, lots of inner resistance and denials, and eventual surrenders. All of them by God’s grace work with our ever-deepening sense of what we really desire and who we really are.
Reality, fate, destiny, providence, and tragedy are slow but insistent teachers. The horizon of old age seems to be a plan that God has prepared as inevitable and part of the necessary school of life. What is gratuitously given is also gratuitously taken away, just as Job slowly came to accept.
If we are to speak of a spirituality of ripening, we need to recognize that it is always characterized by an increasing tolerance for ambiguity, a growing sense of subtlety, an ever-larger ability to include and allow, and a capacity to live with contradictions and even to love them! I cannot imagine any other way of coming to those broad horizons except through many trials, unsolvable paradoxes, and errors in trying to resolve them.
The ripening of mind and heart is most basically a capacity for nondual consciousness and contemplation. So my guidance is a simple reminder to recall what we will be forced to learn by necessity and under pressure anyway—the open-ended way of allowing and the deep meaning that some call faith. To live in trustful faith is to ripen; it is almost that simple.
There she is. Johanne. Joan of Arc.
At Église Saint André in Alet-les-Bains.
It finds us.
“What’s the difference between a prison and a monastery?” Dass would ask. The answer: “Almost nothing. Both are filled with people who are alone in their cells all day, far from the world. The difference is that for the monks it is heaven, for the prisoners it is hell.”
[Feast for the Soul]
I come back and pour two whiskeys neat and we stand in the kitchen and talk about it all, the dreams, the making the dreams happen and then we toast ourselves and our dreams and the pushing as hard as we can against the inevitability of death because that’s just what you should do with your once and only life.
‘From Inside the Monastery’
This is not some simplistic “change your mind, change your life” solution. I can’t opt out of my corporeal reality; I don’t have the spiritual muscles to lift myself out of physical discomfort. So I have to learn to hold both: to be in great pain and, at the same time, to find some small respite. I can’t wait for dreamy, poetic moments of inspiration (as when the above image—of a roseate spoonbill holding me in an inflatable lifeboat—occurred to me), but work very hard to seek them anywhere and everywhere I can. And wonderfully, when I start looking, I find them more often. I feel them more often.
‘Look Down, Get Low, Think Small’
I once walked through the world with such certitude, convinced by what lay before me. Now I know reality comes in layers, complex and delicious. Crawling around the forest floor has slowed me down, brought me closer to the earth, and made me somehow braver. How can our world be so scary when there’s more beauty in a square foot of forest, more wisdom than we’d expect in an acre? Humbled, heart opened, desirous, now when I step outside I look down, get low, think small.
This love is actually part of you; it is always flowing through you. It’s like the subatomic texture of the universe, the dark matter that connects everything. When you tune in to that flow, you will feel it in your own heart — not your physical heart or your emotional heart, but your spiritual heart, the place you point to in your chest when you say, “I am.”
When you need it, loop it. :)