Living in this World

Friday, December 24, 2010

#96 What rings true

Every now and then I find myself engaged with life in a way that seems just right. I have a human interaction that is clear and connected, and deeply satisfying. I pause when I walk under a tree, taking in the colors and light and shadow that the sun and leaves create. I extend the life of something old and functional with a careful mend. I do a piece of work that matters, and clearly has my name on it. I take the hard next step, that’s waiting to be taken, in a friendship. I transplant a flower to give away, using my good compost. Something about what I’m doing rings true.

What rings true? I’m thinking that this is a powerfully illuminating question to bring to all parts of our lives. We could start anywhere. Take, for example, what we eat. Can I think of an experience with food when I sensed something deeply right? What were the ingredients that made it that way? Or take gift-giving. When has a moment in that emotionally-charged mine-field rung true? What made it right? When has my mind been clear? When have I had an interaction, no matter how simple, that I’d be happy to live over and over again? What made that possible?

A bell can’t ring true when it is covered or padded or stuffed. It can help to get down to the bare bones of the matter. What clutters our minds? What messages have we taken in (from our childhoods, from advertising, from society at large) that muffle the truth? What has accreted to our social institutions that keeps us from discerning their true vocations? What layers of history and privilege and inequality obscure the possibility of respectful and mutual friendship in any situation?

I’m an enormous fan of a colonial Quaker, John Woolman, who advises us to “Dig deep... Carefully cast forth the loose matter and get down to the rock, the sure foundation, and there hearken to the Divine Voice which gives a clear and certain sound.”

What if the central principle for organizing our lives was moving ever closer to what rings true? It can be discouraging to notice how much of our time is spent elsewhere. We know what we’re doing doesn’t ring true, but it’s hard to see an alternative. Or we try to get some relief from that tinny sound with activities that are supposed to be pleasurable or comforting, but then those activities--often some form of addictive behavior--don’t quite ring true either. The relief doesn’t really satisfy, and it’s hard to know where to turn.

Just identifying this as something we want, however, and being able to recognize the moments when we’ve had it, is a big step forward. I smile as I imagine us counting up the minutes that ring true in our lives--just two minutes this day, maybe seven the next--and then reaching for more.

I think of a wise friend who is gifted with parents and children. The times that are truly golden, she says, come when you’ve played with a child in enough different ways that you can find a spot where they laugh openly and freely--then you stay at that spot, and they laugh and laugh. We don’t have to just wait for a miracle to hear the ring of truth more often in our lives. We can remember those moments, and value them. We can look for where they most reliably happen. We can talk with our friends, and get help working to reproduce the conditions that encourage them. We can dig away at the stuff that muffles them. There may be no work that’s harder--or more worth doing. And maybe, as we keep trying, it will get less hard--and we’ll hear that ring of truth in our lives more and more.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

President Obama's refusal to give up on the START Treaty, and the Senate's ultimate passage of the treaty, reducing tension between US and Russia.

The revocation of a multi-million dollar casino license in Philadelphia--perhaps the first in the country--after five years of struggle, started by a tiny community-based anti-casino group.

The growing availability of not only vegetables but local eggs and honey right in my urban neighborhood.

An American nun who helps support a group of Rwandan woodcarvers by selling their work--and thousands more like her.