I was raised by a couple of list driven Calvinists. They didn’t mean to be Calvinists; in fact they rejected Calvinism because it made them feel guilty. But it was too late; they’d been raised in it and as a result, so was I. John Calvin is famous for teaching that there are three ways to atone for the wages of sin: Redemption (God says you’re okay), Works (you do good things and God says you’re ok) and Grace (You know you’re okay when you feel you’re okay, okay?)
If you think about those choices, the only one under your control is doing good works. As a result, Calvinists are busy, busy people. They never seem to rest and it is impossible to rest around them. The clatter of furniture being moved for the vacuum cleaner at sunrise incites a need to at least appear active. Rejecting this doctrine does not make it go away. It’s in my DNA; like water seeking the lowest level. Busy is my angle of repose.
Still, I try. I’ve been studying Buddhism which means I’ve been trying to mediate. This admission makes those who know me smile indulgently. I have the personality of a squirrel on crack. And I like being busy, mostly because I crave control. Buddhist teachings call this grasping to thoughts, emotions and the illusion of self. Sogyal Rinpoche says in The Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying, “Meditation is not striving but getting used to the practice of meditating… it is not something you can ‘do’; it is something that has to happen spontaneously. Right, I get it, kind of like grace granted after you do good works. John Calvin meets the Dalai Lama.
No, the voice of Rinpoche whispers to me, ”Let peace work on you and enable you to gather your scattered mind into the mindfulness of Calm Abiding . . .you will find negativity disarmed, aggression dissolved and confusion evaporating like mist in the stainless sky of your absolute nature.”
My voice sounds off in my head, “Negativity, aggression and confusion gone? Do you know me? What would be left?”
Rinpoche soothes, “Exactly.”
Rinpoche likens meditation to the man who has labored in the fields all day. “He has accomplished what he set out to achieve; there is nothing left to worry about; nothing left undone, and he can let go of his cares and concerns, content simply to be.”
My voice, ragged with frustration, says, “Right, that’s where our paths diverge. For me, I am never done, satisfied or content. There is always something more to do. My worries are endless. I have an allergic reaction to the phrase, “No worries!” It makes my teeth grind and I think, let’s start with global warming and work down to the drought in California. Somewhere in between we can insert war, world hunger and the presidential election which has given me stomach aches.”
I hear Rinpoche say, “When your mind is wild, it is best to lower your gaze. Back into yourself slightly and let your gaze expand, become spacious. Your meditation inspires your gaze and now they merge as one.”
Finally, exhaustion silences my voice. I surrender, breathe deeply and exhale. My shoulders straighten and my gaze settles on my hands as they rest on my legs. I feel anxiety ebb and I take another breath. For just a brief but unforgettable moment I actually feel abiding calm as time and matter fall away, and my mind merges with the wisdom of those who have gone before. And then I think, “I won’t be able to do this everyday. I have so much to do and I have to be out of here by seven.” Still, I can no longer say that Calvinists can’t meditate.
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