There is no end to the river of trivial and banal things. You’ll clear your head of the thousand sequential tasks needing attention at work, and your inbox will flood with new requests. You’ll finish cleaning the mess of a downed tree in your yard, and then a mysterious leak will start you down the road of home repair. You’ll recover from an infection, and then a random sharp pain will float in from somewhere else in the periphery of your body awareness.
You’ll think that you’re breaking free of the web, only to turn a corner and find yourself tightly wound in the sticky threads again. If you let it happen.
If you sit to watch the bees in their fluid transformations of form, but you have your cell phone beside you… it’ll inevitably chirp at you when you start sinking into the evolving patterns of the swarm. Watch the rain drip into the pool, and you might start getting mesmerized by the tiny explosions of patterned lives hitting the water… until the oven timer goes off, if you left it on to summon you back. If you rationalize it and order things according to some planned pattern of life and death, you’ll suppose you’re abandoning the trivial for the normal stuff of life. But that’s backward – leaving the sighing trees to answer the ringing phone is almost always abandoning life for the trivial.
One answer to triviality is to retreat. To hide away like a monk in a monastery, like a hermit on a mountain – but staying at the edge of town. I know it’s not a very good one, because it’s been my answer for a long time. The tactical retreat involves turning off the phone, closing down your email program, ignoring the dripping faucet, and avoiding movements that cause bodily pain. Retreat is a short-term solution though, because the trivialities are the swimming movements we do. They’re the way we keep our heads above the water, it seems like, so we eventually always have to get the phone and open our emails. Part of responsibility, right? Just as fixing the leak is part of home ownership, just as resolving the mystery pain is part of body ownership. Our attachment to things… our desire to maintain, to build, and to provide implies that things must be managed.
Another answer to triviality, and it sometimes feels like the “highest” one for those on the road of spirituality, is to expunge responsibility. If we abandon our ties to the body, to our homes, and to our businesses… we won’t be attached to them. We won’t need to maintain, to build, or to provide. If we continue the tactical retreat until we reach the caves in the mountains, then truly we can lay our inner eyes on divine splendor. Isn’t that the tale? Yet… that’s just ego. If we are called to mountains and caves, then so be it. I am not so called, and I don’t think many are… most are called to care and provide for others, it seems to me. We, as a people, are meant to maintain, to build, and to provide – only for each other, not for the pithy fear, greed, and selfishness that it’s so easy to mistakenly worship.
There’s a third choice. It hinges on a great spiritual discovery that the masters of old made and spoke about. The dancing swarm of bees and the rain-rippled pool live in the third choice. So do the monk’s monastery and the wild hermit’s caves in the mountains.
These things are within us. When we connect to the mystery and the magic, we aren’t forging a connection to anything outside of our minds and souls. We’re simply rediscovering that which is within us. We’re learning how to sing again, finding in the outer world the first few notes of mystic songs we’ve been born with. It sounds abstract, but that’s because inward experience always communicates poorly.
Have you felt the streams bubbling inside you?
Have you hazily drifted with the clouds?
Have you swayed gently with the trees?
Those are songs. The third answer to triviality, and the only sustainable choice without abandoning the world, is to claim your ancient inner songs. To revive those peaceful rhythms of happy laughter, of patient biding, of tolerance and compassion in the form of an inward flowing. Sometimes the inner river bubbles with mirth, but mostly it sits still. Sometimes it flutters like a meadow teased by a light wind, but mostly it’s a single exhalation.
So retreat, when you need time to yourself. Flee entirely, if you’re called. And when you’re out there, past the sticky spiderweb of triviality, listen for the starting notes.
I hope to hear you in the mystic songs.