Awakening can be defined as the beginning or rousing of something. In our practice, we can define it as an expansion or shift in consciousness. But what is it we’re supposed to do with this beginning? What are we supposed to do with this shift?
Michael Stone, the Buddhist teacher and author, whose work “manifests the fusion of committed spiritual practice and social action,” says, “Awakening without responsiveness is just apathy. It’s not useful.” Responsiveness here is defined as giving. The idea that as we practice and become more awakened we need to give back. It’s our duty. As compassion becomes who we are, we must take action.
My brother recently shared an email newsletter from Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest. I wasn’t familiar with Rohr and did a quick search. Rohr’s “teaching is grounded in the Franciscan alternative orthodoxy—practices of contemplation and lived kenosis (self-emptying), expressing itself in radical compassion, particularly for the socially marginalized.” Self-emptying leading to radical compassion for the socially marginalized.
The newsletter contained a poem by Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, poet, and social activist. Merton was a proponent of interfaith understanding creating dialogues with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh. But it was through his social activism that he supported the nonviolent civil rights movement and went on to state that “race and peace were the two most urgent issues of our time.”
Rohr interprets the final line of Merton’s poem as, “The inner life of quiet, solitude, and contemplation is the only way to find your ground and purpose now.” Michael Stone refers to equanimity, the 7th factor of awakening, as the divine abode. Our refuge. As Rohr says, there is no where else to go for sustenance. But we can’t spend the rest of our days basking in our enlightenment. It’s not useful. When we begin to find the balance and the grounding, when we find our purpose, we must go outward and give back. Ultimately recognizing that we don’t practice for our own enlightenment. We practice for the awakening of others.
Stone, Rohr, and Merton, three extraordinary men, having dug down to the soul level and found their awakening, living (or having lived) contemplative compassionate lives, and using what their awakening to create social change.
Merton’s poem, below, is in upright type and Rohr’s comments/interpretation of Merton’s words are in italic. Whether you read each individually or in combination, they are beautiful.
When in the Soul of the Serene Disciple
When in the soul of the serene disciple
At the soul level, and with the peacefulness of time
With no more Fathers to imitate
When you have moved beyond the “authoritative,” the collective, and the imitative, and you have to be your True Self
Poverty is a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:
He has not even a house.
When you have made it all the way to the bottom of who you think you are, or need to be, when your humiliating shadow work never stops, and when your securities and protective boundaries mean less and less, and your “salvation project” has failed you
Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin,
Saints depart in several directions.
When you have faced the hurt and the immense self-doubt brought on by good people, family, and even friends who do not understand you, who criticize you, or even delight in your wrongness
There is no longer any need of comment.
The inner life of quiet, solitude, and contemplation is the only way to find your ground and purpose now. Go nowhere else for sustenance.