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Archive for March 29th, 2010

On a visit last week to Fort Lauderdale, I visited the Butterfly Garden with my wife and daughter. The weather was on the warmer side, the sun shone brightly, and the butterfly aviaries were a delight. We spent a few hours walking through the extensive property made up of a small bridge over a well manicured pond, colorful plant life and trees, and, of course, quite a few separate aviaries dedicated to diverse species of butterflies and one set aside for hummingbirds.

The best part of the experience was to sit quietly on a bench surrounded by tens of butterflies and letting them settle on my arms and clothing. Fortunately, the aviaries were not crowded with people so it was easy to sit for a while and appreciate the amazingly rich array of color and patterns. These are among the most fragile of life forms but few are as inspiring. Just before Easter, they served as a marvelous metaphor for resurrection and rebirth given the metamorphosis from caterpillar to taking flight on breathtaking wings ranging from pure white to spotted, turquoise, various pastels, full yellow, and a striking red and black variety ( see the picture above).

It is hard to imagine  being anxious (barring phobias) in such spaces. A sense arises of the inter-connection of all things. What a privilege it is to be conscious and able to savor for days weeks and months to come the experience of a quiet afternoon in the Florida sunshine with creatures such as these.

As I walked and took my many pictures using my cellphone camera (which, surprisingly, captured some wonderful shots), I came upon a white butterfly that sat on the ground in harm’s way already clearly having suffered wing damage. I became immediately saddened at the sight and then pensive at the scene as one tries to reconcile the tragedies of life with its glories. What came swiftly to mind is the rosary and the important juxtaposition of the Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous Mysteries. Almost without a thought, I felt compelled to pick up the butterfly and return it to a nearby leaf. It was clear that it was dying, and it felt right that it should do so on a leaf and not against the cold, unnatural pavement.

I am a panentheist and this moment brought that home to me once again. The Spirit runs through all the created. Each natural form is a face of the mind of Ein Sof, the otherwise unknowable. Once again, as creatures with personhood, we know the Divine Presence personally. We feel the Presence more so than we can adequately think the Presence. This is the Gnosis Kardia, the Knowledge of the Heart.

So, on a quiet March day, just a week ago, I was visited by a butterfly who stopped me in my tracks to consider my own mortality, the mortality of others, life’s mysterious transits, and the power of regeneration, resurrection, renewal and the true heaven that emerges in every moment illuminated by authentic compassion.

This is Holy Week in the Western calendar. May this week be a time for you of profound revelatory moments, of transformative experiences, and a deeper dive into the Heart of the Cosmos.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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When I usually think about the matter of our advancement and progress as a species, I, as I suppose many, begin to enumerate technological accomplishments, innovations, and breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe. All that is certainly relevant. But, a simpler, more straightforward, and not sufficiently well appreciated metric is the condition of our public toilets.

Civilization is really less about knowledge and more about compassion, fellow-feeling, watching out for one another, empathy, and caring.  Without these qualities, our advances are cold, and can too easily convert to a merely more sophisticated manifestation of barbarism.

So, how far really, examining the state of public bathrooms, have we truly come?

I never cease to be amazed by the deplorable state of American public toilets. I will spare my reader any of the imagery that I am sure s/he can conjure at the mere thought of American restrooms. If we look at it as a reflection of how advanced we are as a culture, the experiences all Americans and visitors to our shores have had paint a depressing and demoralizing portrait indeed.

I am constantly shocked at what I discover in public facilities. How can people, who no doubt are, for the most part, otherwise fine and upstanding citizens when in the public eye, behave so thoughtlessly when in these private moments in public facilities. To leave the toilets in the way they do suggests a total absence of civilized attitudes and mores. There is a passive aggressive character to what one sees in these places. One’s heart goes out to those who have to put things right who are in the employ of the restaurants and stores.

By contrast, my diverse British, European and Asian experiences suggest far more mindfulness and care in leaving a clean facility the way it was found. There is a cultural maturity that American society appears to have not yet achieved. With the state of public toilets as a measure, we in the U.S. are relatively uncivilized. The behavior is at best adolescent and at worst the product of people who lack even the most rudimentary hygiene and social graces of a toddler.

It seems to me that one cannot talk about spiritual progress unless the words are first made credible by virtue of lifestyle and action. For all the rhetoric about social progress, this is one example of the distasteful truth that our illusory march of civilization is a quite thin veneer; a pretense, a front for violent, thoughtless disregard for others. I imagine that these people, who anonymously deface and defile our public bathrooms, act, for the most part, with what must be a feigned cordiality and at least a modicum of  intelligence in the open square when their behavior is anything but anonymous.

The measure of spirituality is what we do when alone and when others cannot see what it is we are doing. By that reasoning, there is a much distance that we need to travel before we’ve earned the right to be known as civilized society. As a personal practice, I work to be attentive to what I pass on to others from the standpoints of both the quality of my work, and the simpler gestures of care and concern.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta summed it up admirably:

In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.

My own personal campaign involves such small things as:

  • drying off the sink after use with paper towel
  • informing the management if a toilet is clogged or a faucet or urinal is running constantly
  • alerting the management if the waste baskets are full to overflowing vs throwing ( as I see done so often) on the floor in the general vicinity of the wastebasket
  • ensuring that the person who follows me will be glad that I preceded him.

I hear a lot of talk about civility ( and the lack thereof) and I often make comment about it. The talk is fine as long as we are spending our energy to do what’s right on behalf of the next person. Anything less is hypocrisy and sophistry.

It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love that is put into them that matters.

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

Good works are links that form a chain of love.

We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.

– Various quotes from Mother Theresa with appreciation for her example

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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