The heart of a life well-lived consists of grace, compassion and awareness. The heart is composed of those wonderful old values that are revered wherever they are found: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Gentleness, Generosity, Goodness, Graciousness, Hospitality, Justice, Mercy, Respect, Self-Discipline, Trust, Humor, Faithfulness, Honesty, Realness, Resiliency… The list is long.
The heart of a life well-lived is the image of the Christ in the Philippian Hymn: “Have this mind among you which you find in Christ Jesus, who did not count equality with God as something to be exploited (for his own personal gain), but emptied himself (of his own personal ambition), taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form (as Spirit incarnated in Flesh), he humbled himself and became obedient (to that which had need of him) to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
The heart of a life well-lived is expressed by Paul to the Philippians: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise”—Paul says, “Think about these things”—I would say, “Embrace and exhibit these things.”
These qualities characterize the core of what we are about. We are here to form a life, not to formulate a set of doctrines, not to perpetuate a system of belief, not to work out for ourselves whether, and how, and why God is Three Persons In One—or Omnipotent, Omniscient, and In Command and Control, or what constitutes the nature and scope of the afterlife, or if there is one.
We aren’t here to defend, excuse, justify or explain. We aren’t here to indoctrinate and propagandize. We aren’t here to sock the Big Bucks away and have it made.
We are here to live toward the best we can imagine—to live in ways that exhibit the best that is within us, while serving the wonderful old values, and establishing the good in all our relationships, in each moment of life—within the context and circumstances of our life.
And, we don’t get a day off. We have to understand that we get out of bed, and go to work, every day. This is not some lark we are on. We are not on vacation except for the time we spend at our job. Our work is 24/7/12 with no vacation, and no time off only for meditation, reflection, realization, and rededication. We have to fit those things into the work that is ours to do, the life that is ours to live.
We have to be alert to the situation as it unfolds before us, attending what is happening, and what needs to happen in response, doing what needs to be done and getting ready for the next situation to unfold around us. What is appropriate here, now? What is missing here, now? What is called for here, now? What now? What next?
There is no time to waste not-knowing, not-seeing, not-hearing, not-understanding, not-doing what needs to be done, not-being who the situation needs us to be. Our life asks us to live it the way it needs to be lived every moment. Here, mindfulness leads the way. We don’t think about any of this, and then act. We apprehend what is called for and respond.
The question in any moment has nothing to do with what we believe, but with whom we are endeavoring to become—with whom we are being asked to be. Answering this question requires us to answer such questions as: What is our idea of the good, and how are we working to incorporate it into the way we live? How are we living so as to express that which is deepest, best, and truest about us within the day-to-day operation of our lives? What is our vision of the Christ within, and in what ways are we living so as to align ourselves with that vision—to bring the Christ forth in the way we live? How do we bring our unique gifts to bear upon our particular time and place in ways that are redemptive, life enhancing, and serve the good? How do we bring the good to life in our lives, and in the lives of those who share the world with us? How do we live so that the heart of what has always been called God emerges in our lives, and God-like-ness is exhibited in all of our interchanges and undertakings, so that people, seeing us, see numinous reality at work in the world?
We are here to form a life, to shape a life, to bring a certain quality of life into being. We are not here to live any way that suits us, any way that serves our interests and achieves our ends. We are here to align ourselves with interests and ends that are greater than ours. We are here to serve a good that is greater than our good.
We are here to envision the good and do it—to name the good and align ourselves with it—to seek the good and serve it. Of course, the debate will rage. The Pharisee’s idea of the good will clash with Jesus’ idea of the good. Who is right? Who is to say? Whose idea will prevail? Time will tell.
The test is always to have an idea of the good that is greater than what is good for us, and those like us. When Jews, for instance, can serve a good that is also good for Palestinians, it is more likely to be good than if they served a good that was good for Jews alone. When Palestinians can serve a good that is also good for Jews, it is more likely to be good than if they served a good that was good for Palestinians alone. When white people can serve a good that is also good for black people, then we are on to something. When wealthy people can serve a good that is also good for poor people, we are on a fast track to Glory Land.
The question is whose good is served by the good we call good? The answer introduces us to the concept of the cross, to the experience of Gethsemane and Golgotha. It isn’t easy, being good in this way, but we cannot allow that to stop us.
We cannot allow the difficulty involved in perceiving and doing what is good in each situation as it arises to stop us from formulating for ourselves a vision of a worthwhile life. What are the qualities and characteristics that we want to bring to life in the life, through the life, we are living? What kind of life do we want to live? Who are the people we want to emulate? What is it about them that we would like to duplicate in our own life?
It is quite acceptable if we become a montage, a collage, a patchwork quilt, of the best qualities of the best people we have known, or known of. We have to start somewhere. How can we be compassionate, for instance, if we have never witnessed compassion anywhere in our lives? Who are the people who model for us how life truly ought to be lived? Model homes are everywhere. Where do you go to find model lives?
If there is a flaw in one of those lives, do you throw the whole life away? Do you say, “Ha! Just as I thought! There are no model lives!” and live to serve your own advantage? Do flaws in the best of people open the door to cynicism and despair for you—and excuse you to live any way at all—because, in a world where the best people are flawed, what good does it do to even try? At this point, we need to remember there have been bodhisattvas who were also alcoholics, alcoholics who were also bodhisattvas. That’s the way it is.
Don’t look for perfection among the best of people. Don’t expect too much of them, or of yourself. Don’t be quick to discount, dismiss, goodness when you encounter it because of some other characteristic that is not so good. Grace, compassion and awareness are the foundation of life, real life, true life, abundant life. The task is to be gracious wherever you are—to be compassionate with everyone, just like you would be compassionate with a child learning to talk, or with a puppy figuring out where to carry out the business of peeing and pooping. The task is to grant everyone the benefit of the doubt, and see where it goes.
We would all do better with a different background and outlook, and with a little more time we may get it together. In the meantime, we need to grant ourselves, and everyone else, benevolent intent. We need to believe that we mean well, or would if we could, and yes, we have flaws, but we are doing the best we can, and hope to live long enough to do better by all measures. If we cannot be completely proud of who we are now, maybe we will grow to earn our complete respect over time. Until then, we have to trust everyone to take what is best about the good people they know and use it in their own life, while trusting the good people they know to work on their flaws, as we work on ours, so that we all become better over time.
The best people we know will be flawed. No one does everything the way it should be done. We are not to throw away the good just because it isn’t the best. We are to take what we admire most from the best people we know, and incorporate their best qualities into our life. What do we like that we see in the people around us? We incorporate those qualities into our way with the world.
One of the 10,000 spiritual laws speaks clearly to this aspect of spiritual development: “Become what attracts you—integrate what repels you.” We hate in others what we cannot allow ourselves to see in ourselves. So, when we find ourselves reacting in a strongly negative way to a quality, or way of being, in someone else, we let that open us to our own flaws which need to be recognized, owned, and integrated in ourselves.
When I respond in a quick and negative way to the stupid lack of graciousness on the part of some of those who share the planet with me, I have to become aware of places in my own life where I exhibit a stupid lack of graciousness. I have to sit with those places, and find what I’m resisting, what I’m opposing, what it is that I don’t like, what the roots of that are, what it reminds me of, where it is reflecting me to me, and imagine what I might do with it beyond exhibiting a stupid, and unconscious, lack of graciousness with regard to it.
Mirrors are everywhere. We never run out of blind spots to see, work with, and integrate into our life—the work of integration is one of the most difficult aspects of spiritual development, but the work is augmented by awareness, and begins with our paying attention to what repels us, and then examining ourselves to find where and how we are “like that.”
We are here to form a life that is worthy of us, and to live it as fully as possible within the context and circumstances of our lives. Some of us could have done better with different parents and a different point of origin, but here we are. The future is opening up before us even now. Our work is to do what we can, with what we have to work with, in making that future as good as it can possibly be. Our work is to imagine the life we are called to live in that future, and begin to shape it, form it, birth it, bring it into being, so that, over time, the qualities and characteristics we admire most will be evident in the life we are living, and the earth will be increasingly blessed by our presence over the course of our life.