Several years ago, my friend Sean shared his daily practice of zazen. Every morning, first thing, he would sit for an hour of meditation. “It has changed my life,” he said. Who would not perk up at such testimony? Who would not want a practice that would change their lives? So I did a little bit of reading and decided I would embrace the practice. Five minutes – that is how long I lasted. Those five minutes were filled with distracting thoughts and physical discomfort. What I wanted was a quick fix that would lead quickly to Sean’s life-changing results.
The spirituality emerging from the Rule of Saint Benedict is not about quick fixes nor is it about learning to take on rigorous practices that may be out of one’s reach. What my formation in this spirituality has taught me is that moderation is, in fact, demanding with its emphases on steadfastness, patience, and sustained practice. One other important lesson is the recognition that few are born spiritually complete. Those rare souls are exceptions. Most of us know firsthand that spiritual growth does not follow a straight, slowly-ascending line to perfection. More often than not, it is an erratic EKG with peaks and pits that rise and fall. This pattern in my own life has confirmed my need to embrace beginning again – and again and again. Hopefully, each time of new beginning will be enlightened by lessons of falling short. But I have long ago let go the notion that falling face down in the dirt is a signal I am not cut out for Christian discipleship. I get up, brush the dirt from my clothes and hands, and reengage the practices that remind me of my intent, my call, the divine love and mercy in which I am always held.
Sentimental stories of pious rigor seek to convey a type of spiritual heroism. Such stories, however, can slip into the implication that spiritual success is dependent on extraordinary effort and the suffering it entails. What my teachers about the Rule have taught me is that my path more often than not will call on me to respond to the very ordinary routines and encounters of daily life with kindness, understanding, and charity. Extraordinary moments may occur to which I will hopefully rise; I might also fail miserably. Nonetheless, whether success or failure, I get up and begin again.
Some may find this approach too soft, too short on rigor. While that is possible, I find encouragement in understanding that steadfastness with what keeps me attentive and striving to infuse my daily life with my deepest values is more promising for me than conquering zazen with the hope my life will fall neatly into place if I can just last more than five minutes.
Victor Klimoski, a writer, adult educator, and consultant whose poetry practice has evolved over the past 30 years as he explores the meanderings of his mind and heart. As a writer and adult educator, poetry gives him a fresh language to interpret his experience. Vic’s teaching lets him accompany other writers in that same work.