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Be Still & Know: A Zen Reading of a Biblical Saying, by Ruben Habito, Part 2 of 3

June 3, 2017

Insofar as this little “I,” secluded from the boundless “I AM,” reigns in our lives, we are blocking the infinite capacity that is the totality of ourselves as enveloped by the boundless “I AM.” We have fallen from grace.

Read Part 1 of Be Still & Know

We are invited to sit in silence, and to immerse ourselves in the vast and boundless ocean of “to be,” and to know that with this, there is nothing else we could ever want, there is nothing else we could ever need in life. We can just continue our lives keeping ourselves dipped in that ocean and immersed in the living waters that flow from there. Whatever we would need in life would come from that abundant source, in whatever situation we may encounter from here on.

We are invited first to accept that concrete reality that we are as we find ourselves. Accept your concrete individuality, and having done that, then you may also realize you are blessed just as you are.

We human beings are given the capacity to reflect on this “to be” in a way that, for example, the trees and the flowers or cats and dogs or even this wood are not. There’s this so-called self-reflexiveness that our human mode of being is given as a gift. Now, that is precisely what enables us to acknowledge that fact of “to be,” that “I am,” but it is also what places the fact under a cloud of darkness, a cloud that comes with the discriminating thoughts of our discursive intellect. When we just say, “I am,” and open our eyes around us, we intuitively see that those others are also included in “I am.” I look around and see the lilies of the fields, the trees, the flowers, the pebbles. They just are. They are also embraced in that “I am.” And in being what they are, as they are, they already reflect the glory of that pure “to be,” that pure I am that we call God, just as they are. We too are able to reflect the glory of God, just as we are.

Yet the discriminating mind tells us, “But these other things are different from me; they are not me; they are other to me.” So this human mode of reflexive self-awareness leads to this possibility of dividing or shutting off our little “I am” from the “I am” of others. But if in that capacity we are given we just focus that “I am” in our little “I,” then the glory of God gets covered up by that little “I” that focuses on itself and shuts out the vast horizon of the boundless “to be.” This is what happened to Adam and Eve, when they gave more importance to their individual “I” as they desired “the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” In other words, the discriminating mind prods us, “I want to know this”; “I want to be able to decide what I want for myself and what I don’t”; “I want the power that this kind of knowledge of discriminating things can bring”—that is, the power that the knowledge of good and evil brings. In so doing, I block the opening that enables me to stay in communion with the pure “I AM” that underlies all things that exist in this universe, and shut off my narrow little “I am” from everything else.

Insofar as this little “I,” secluded from the boundless “I AM,” reigns in our lives, we are blocking the infinite capacity that is the totality of ourselves as enveloped by the boundless “I AM.” We have fallen from grace.

When we recognize this, what then is our task as human beings? One way to put this is that we are now called to let the little “I am” open up again to the big “I AM.” My late teacher the Jesuit spiritual director Father Thomas Hand, S.J., had an expression that he repeated time and again to explain what Zen practice was about. “It is about moving from the ego to the we-go.”

In other words, in our practice of sitting in stillness and allowing ourselves to go deep into the silence, we are enabled to see through this little “I am,” and in doing so, we open our hearts and realize that we are all embraced by that vast and boundless “I AM.” That is what we are called to really embody in this life: this is our “role,” our particular and unique place within the big scheme of things. It is to let the big Self, the we-go that Father Hand spoke about, become the ground and basis of everything that I think, say, and do as an individual human being. So as we put that little “I am” in its place—that is, in the light of the big “I AM”—we are able to acknowledge our individual gifts as well as our limitations and realize that each of us has his or her own unique gifts and limitations. So we find ourselves in good company with everyone, and we are thus enabled and empowered to accept everyone around us just as they are, as we now are able to see them in the light of the big “I AM” that also embraces my own individual existence. Everyone is simply a reflection of that same “I AM” just as they are.

The message here is this: accept yourself just as you are, with all of your struggles and issues and weaknesses. And in accepting yourself, you’re simply agreeing to the fact that you are already accepted by the entire universe, just as you are. So don’t block that movement of the universe accepting you as you are, by thinking, “But I am an imperfect, troubled, vulnerable human being full of faults.” Yes, you may be, but you are accepted just as you are, no ifs, no buts. So just allow that to sink in as you sit there in the silence, and you will experience the great freedom of just being yourself. And with that, even those aspects we think are our gaps or limitations can be gifts. So let us then bask in that acceptance.

Jesus invited the disciples: “Behold the lilies of the field, see how they bloom.” They never worry about whether they have little stains of dust, because these would just blow away anyway. Just let us learn from each and every thing that simply is there, just as it is, reflecting the glory of that infinite source of our being, that boundless, timeless, infinite “I AM.” And as we do so, we also acknowledge that even in my own little way, I can reflect that also. I am a reflection of that also. So let us accept that we are accepted, and that will open the floodgates of the Infinite to enter into our lives. The rest of our life can then be an unfolding of that infinite horizon, allowing it to be embodied and made fully manifest in every event and every encounter in this earthly life of ours.

Part 3 of Be Still and Know will be published on June 10.


Published as Be Still and Know in Tricycle, Spring 2017 . Excerpted from Be Still and Know: Zen and the Bible, by Ruben L. F. Habito, to be published by Orbis Books in April 2017.

Images: Featured) Sunset by AdinaVoicu 1) Water flow, by freenaturestock , 2) Autumn by thomashendele; all images are CC0 1.0, Public Domain.

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