We own nothing. Nothing is ours.
Not even love so fierce it burns like baby stars.
But this poverty is our greatest gift:
The weightlessness of us as things around begin to shift.
Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls, from “Everything in its Own Time”
Two weeks ago, I had an embarrassment of spiritual riches through my business and spiritual support community. Monday, a regular morning call (which begins with meditation and prayer); Tuesday, a meeting with my ministry/business coach; Wednesday, Holly Glaser’s Deep Dive Heart Check-in meditation; Thursday, a delicious meeting with a deep and open client from the other side of the globe; and Friday, a Zoom-enabled Sufi retreat.
A lot. It was beautiful, and combined with my daily practices, it was just…aie, friends, I barely have words for it, but here I am, writing to you about it anyway. It makes me think of Playing by Heart in which Angelina Jolie’s character, Joan, says, “Talking about love is like dancing about architecture.”
Sometimes talking about spiritual experiences is like that, I suppose. And when it leaves you giddy (Old English gidig ‘insane’, literally ‘possessed by a god’) and dizzy (Old English dysig ‘foolish’ from Old High German, “foolish, weak”), well, it makes things even harder. I still feel a little dizzy, weakened, giddy, god-touched. And the powerful sense that I had during the Wednesday meditation, that I could just curl up in the lap of the Divine and be utterly, completely safe, well, that comes and goes.
So what happened? What has made me giddy, dizzy, drowsy?
On Wednesday, during Holly’s Deep Dive, I did indeed “go deep,” as we say. She prayed in Arabic (Holly is Sufi) and gave the participants instructions over the course of about forty-five minutes regarding our bodies, our breathing, our thoughts, the shape of our meditations. She told us to bring our questions to the Source of Love, however we imagine, feel, believe, or experience that Source to be. She talked about how she puts her questions into a sort of great, cloudy Hand of God she imagines emerging from the mist.
For a while, I didn’t know what my question was. And for a while, I didn’t know whether I had a question for me or for others. Whether it was something just for my own heart to hear, or something to share.
But I did eventually, ask, “What should I do next?” Just simple. “What should I do next?” I think I meant it about The Way of the River as a business and a ministry. I think I meant it in that context, but the answer may be much larger than I realized. Time will tell.
“What should I do next?”
“Withhold nothing.” Withhold nothing. Withhold nothing. Withhold nothing.
It rang through my head at first like a whisper, a featherlight kiss on my forehead, and then eventually as a matter-of-fact admonition: Withhold nothing.
Two days later, in the retreat we shared at Heart of Business, one of the Holy Names of God we held was, “Maliku-L-Mulk”—the Ultimate Owner, the Lord of All Worlds. I laughed out loud when I learned it. The Ultimate Owner. That’s surely not me!
Who holds all things? In Sufi theology, of course, it is Allah, the Oneness, the Unity of All Things. And that is not so far off from the theology of my Wiccan practice…that all things emanate from the One and Many—Male, Female, All, and None. One, many, multiplicity, unity… It didn’t matter in those moments.
In those moments of the retreat where I listened and learned about Maliku-L-Mulk, and thought and meditated and prayed, several things came to mind. One that came up very strongly is from the Indigo Girls’ sacred text, the song, “Everything in its Own Time,” which I have quoted above. “We own nothing…”
And there were others, blessings of poverty and giving away everything. St. Francis. St. Clare. The Discalced Carmelites. People from my Catholic past whose stories rose up within me.
But the admonition to withhold nothing is not the same as an admonition to give away everything. I have not suddenly given away all my possessions or sold them and given the money to the poor. For one thing, I’m not Christian, so I don’t experience that as a commandment. But the difference is slight, I’ll own that, it’s slight.
The question of withholding makes me ask, what am I holding back, where and why and how? And some of those answer – ha! – I do withhold from this space right now because they are private. Not secret, but private. They are matters of the heart, the household, they have their own place to be revealed or discussed or prayed about.
It seems unlikely that the admonition, “Withhold nothing,” means give everything away all the time. I think of Naomi Shihab Nye’s reminder to the artist in “The Art of Disappearing:” Walk around feeling like a leaf. / Know you could tumble any second. /Then decide what to do with your time.”
There are things that must be held close with as close as infinite tenderness, infinite gentleness as we can imagine: embers to be blown on gently, birds who little, air-filled bones will break if we clasp them too tightly and which will fly away if we open our hands entirely. We keep some things close so that we can give them more fully later. Yes!
Everything in its own time.
If I own nothing, how can I withhold anything?
Withholding is an illusion, I suppose. One of those pieces of selfness that falls away with Enlightenment, or perfect Presence, or ultimate Union with the Divine.
And maybe that is another lesson. Just to remember that nothing I have is my own. All things I “have” I do because they have been given to me by my ancestors, by the spinning Earth and Her gravity, by bees and their generous work, by methods I have been taught, by ways I have emulated, by the action of galaxies I will never understand…I have created nothing alone. All that I seem to have came from somewhere else, from the vast swirling spirals of connection, the innumerable webs of space and time, the Ten Thousand Blessings that connect me to all the rest that is.
And there it is again, my beloveds, one of the things it always comes back to. We are all part of the Big Picture. We are all in it together. The Big Picture wastes nothing. The great Vultures of the Universe recycle and recycle and recycle. Our matter and energy cannot be generated, nor can they be destroyed. We are eternal, my friends, just not in this beingness we have now.
But here’s a thing not to withhold from you. I don’t think consciousness is recycled. I read Richard Bach saying that the universe recycles everything, so why not consciousness? I just don’t think it happens that way. I do not see the evidence or feel the presence of past lives, though they’re fun to think about.
But the Mighty Dead, the ancestors are close. That much I know. They are close around us, always with us, moving in our movements, speaking through our mouths.
And so that is a bit I do not withhold from you today. I believe that when we die, we die. And that it is okay and right and good to be recycled by the Great Sea of Being into our own new parts of the blessing of the Ten Thousand Things.
May we all be blessings. May we be so today, and each day we are mindful enough to remember.