“But what about the guilt?”

A friend just asked me this. I had to snort at the computer screen, because this keeps happening to me, that somebody who reads my writing will just up and ask me about whatever it is that I least feel like talking about.


I took a very sweet and much needed break this week. No air conditioning. No wall to wall carpet. No social networking. Very little anything but the rhythm of dawn and dusk and the wild and the creatures that I feed. Mind you, this was not a break from work; not hardly. It was a break from the world. It was the kind of break that makes me call myself a runaway, when I feel the weight of the shoulds and the shouldn’ts, but I just straight-up ignore them.

I sit, instead. In my thinking spot, early, before the wasps, and face the East and a patch of orange wildflowers and the sun not yet clear of the opposite ridge. I let myself go. I let my hands fall open. And I wander.

When you asked about the guilt, did you mean that? 

Oh I know, there’s the rest, too. I should have a 401k and I should live somewhere with good schools and I should be contributing to charities and I should be making money to spend money and I should be protecting my children’s future and I should be Doing Something With My Life.

But I’ve walked way from all of it, and not a bit of it is more guilt-inducing than the time I take for my thinking spot, watching the sun clear the ridge.

This is why. There is nothing more sacred in any language than the silence. The darkness will resist it in one hundred ways. One of them is duty.

A Buddhist teacher told me the story this way, once. That when the Buddha sat beneath the Bodhi tree, with his will set against the problem of suffering, the demon came to unseat him. There were distractions, the familiar ones, Desire, Pleasure and Delight, but also there was Duty. Mara called upon the young man’s duty as a Brahmin, his duty to rule. And the Buddha turned his hand to the earth. He did not leave his seat. And the earth bore him witness.

I know I’m mixing my religions, and actually I hate that. I was on the Shambhala Path for a while before I took the Dalai Lama’s advice and stopped trying to put a yak’s head on a sheep’s body. I’m a Christian. BUT. Sometimes you can see something in somebody else’s story that you can’t see in your own.

And doesn’t this sound familiar? The radical pursuit of spiritual things above all else? Dying to this life to gain a footing in the eternal world? Having to readjust your allegiances?

There is nothing more sacred in any language than the silence. The darkness will resist it in one hundred ways. One of them is duty.

Hear me on this, moms, dads, and working stiffs, the free and wandering mind runs to God like water runs downhill. That’s what meditation is for, and why it terrifies. If you want to go off in the early morning to pray and watch the sun clear the ridge, but you’re feeling duty call, you’re fighting darkness.

And don’t you know this voice, too? The one that calls it pride? This one says, who do you think you are, to claim this piece of the sacred? Is it yours to climb this mountain? Is it yours to knock at these clouds? Is it yours to set your thoughts so fully on spiritual things? And, of course, I’m a girl, with kids. Maybe should get back in the kitchen with Martha, although, you know, Martha has moved lately, into offices and stores and universities. Sometimes. She’s gathering money for the orphans.

Do I feel any guilt? Of course I do. 

But I ask myself, which guilt? Guilt for lack of financial security? I’ll have none of that. I believe in downward mobility and solidarity economy. Guilt for sounding so uppity and full of myself? See above. Guilt for having nothing to talk about with friends that doesn’t call into question every bit of ground our lives are built upon? Well. It’s true, the contemplative life isn’t much good for small talk. But if this is guilt for not pursuing worldly things, then that guilt is coming from the world.

I turn my hand to the earth.

And, again, I’m not a Buddhist. (That’s okay.) For me the earth is synonymous with Creation. I turn my hand to the earth to say, I am a part of this. I am a part of this created, beloved, mass. I am not above it. I am not the ruling king of it. Even my birth into this caste — of white Protestant North Americans with college degrees — does not set me apart. I can still rest, here, and let the sun rise on me the way it rises on the lilies. I can be beloved, seen and known, and I will act when action is called, but I will not act from habit, or expectation, or arrogance.

I will sit. I will keep my seat. And seek for spiritual things.