Becoming a Messenger of Wonder-Nourishing our Spiritual Aspirations

Becoming a Messenger of Wonder-Nourishing our Spiritual Aspirations

Discussion date: Thu, Sep 23, 2021 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Silver Spring, Maryland, Community Online on Thursday Evening
September 23, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all Online on Friday Evening
September 24, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Dear Still Water Friends,

Recently a friend ended an online gathering by reading a fragment of a poem by Diane Ackerman:

In the name of the daybreak
and the eyelids of morning
and the wayfaring moon
and the night when it departs,

I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder,
as an architect of peace.

The potency of her words, especially her vows, animated me and reminded me of conversations I’ve had with myself and others about aspirations and intentions. For me, aspirations have to do with the deep motivation from which our actions manifest. For example, Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh), in a interview with Oprah, explains his aspiration to  became a monk. It began with him seeing a picture of the Buddha in a magazine when he  was seven or eight-years-old.

Thay: He was sitting on the grass, very peaceful, smiling. I was impressed. Around me, people were not like that, so I had the desire to be like him. And I nourished that desire until the age of 16, when I had the permission of my parents to go and ordain as a monk.

Oprah: At 16, did you understand what the life would be?

Thay: Not a lot. There was only the very strong desire. The feeling that I would not be happy if I could not become a monk.

Thay’s aspiration, like Ackerman’s was a spiritual aspiration. They were both focused on the quality of their inner landscapes, the lived experience they wanted in their lives, an intrinsic outcome. There are also worldly aspirations. Most of us are also highly motivated by extrinsic outcomes — our deep desire to receive approval and rewards from others (such as fame, fortune, and power), or to avoid disapproval or punishment. And much of the time we are running on auto-pilot — without being able to clearly identify or acknowledge the underlying aspirations that shape our lives.

One of the turning points in my life was during a week-long meditation retreat when I realized how much my life was oriented to external validation, especially familial, interpersonal, and professional approval and recognition, and how little conscious thought or effort I gave to internal validation — such as the nourishment I receive from a silent sitting, walks in nature, or moments of connection with those I care about. Once I had that realization, I decided to alter my life by increasing my attention to internal validation.

In How to Love, Thay writes about the conscious cultivation of our aspirations in the context of the Four Nutriments, the four kinds of food we consume each day. In addition to edible foods, sense experiences, and consciousness, there is volition:

This is your desire, your hope, your aspiration. It’s the energy that keeps you alive. You want to be someone. You want to do something with your life. If you’re motivated by compassion and love, your volition will give you the energy and direction to grow and become even more loving and compassionate. However, if your desire is to possess or to win at all costs, this kind of volition is toxic and will not help your love to grow. You can practice developing a strong and positive volition. You can even put your commitment in words, such as: “I vow to develop understanding and compassion in me, so I can become an instrument of peace and love, to help society and the world.” This kind of intention is based in our deepest aspiration.

This Thursday and Friday evenings, after our meditation time, we will read “School Prayer,” the poem from which the Diane Ackerman segment was taken (copy below), and focus our Dharma sharing on our cultivations of our aspirations. We will begin with these questions:

  • Is there a phrase or an energy in the poem that stimulates or encourages you?
  • In what ways have your deep aspirations changed over time?
  • What would it be like to become “a messenger of wonder?”

You are invited to join us.You are also invited to join us for The Buddha’s Enduring Counsel — The Still Water Online Fall Retreat, October 8, 7:00 pm – Sun, October 10, 12:30 pm.

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner


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School Prayer
From I Praise My Destroyer by Diane Ackerman

In the name of the daybreak
and the eyelids of morning
and the wayfaring moon
and the night when it departs,

I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred,
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder,
as an architect of peace.

In the name of the sun and its mirrors
and the day that embraces it
and the cloud veils drawn over it
and the uttermost night
and the male and the female
and the plants bursting with seed
and the crowning seasons
of the firefly and the apple,

I will honor all life
—wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell—on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Sep 23, 2021


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