Give up your endless searching
Lay down your map and compass,
and those dog-eared travel guides.
Rest your weary eyes from so much looking,
your tired feet from so much wandering,
your aching heart from so much hoping.
Lay down on the soft green grass
wet with morning dew, and watch as
the tree heavy with pendulous pears
bends her long branches toward you,
offering you perfection in every sweet bite.
Give up the weight of knowing,
for the reverence of quiet attention
and curiosity, for the delight of
juice that runs in generous streams
down your chin.
—Christine Valters Paintner
Dearest Monks and Artists,
July 6th marked a year since John and I stepped onto an ocean liner to cross the Atlantic on our life pilgrimage. We chose this slow crossing intentionally, as a symbol of how we wanted to live this time. One of the things I have loved most about living first in Vienna and now in Galway, has been the slower pace of life in general in Europe, something that nourishes my monk heart. I spent some time last week reading through my journals of this past year, which was a beautiful way to honor and witness the transitions of this time and the wisdom gleaned.
When we left, people would ask how long we would be gone. “Somewhere between a year and forever” became my reply, not knowing how things would unfold. After our first year, we are in no rush to return anytime soon.
Again and again, throughout our time of bumping up against foreign customs and challenging our preconceived ideas, the wisdom offered has been to release the seeking. This time of living overseas is not a grand quest, but an invitation to a deepened way of being in the world. I am not here to discover something missing from my life, but to recognize the fullness of things as they already are. I went on a retreat in Austria last August, near the start of this adventure and the gift I received was these words: “Drink freely from the life you have been given.” Every revelation has followed from this initial one.
For many years, work with ancestry and family systems has been an essential spiritual practice for me, bringing more inner freedom than I ever could have imagined. It was at the heart of the call to move to Vienna, where I experienced so much healing in relationship to my father. I was able to break the patterns of withholding and cycles of despair that extend back for generations in my family. I came to receive my father’s blessing and the blessing of grandmothers and grandfathers. Vienna, it turned out, was a portal rather than final destination.
We should only go on pilgrimage if we want to be changed. If we are not changed, we have simply embarked on a vacation, demanding nothing of us. We do not return the same. The challenge is that we can not know the ways we will be changed, which can be terrifying if we like life to be predictable and in our control. We do not know ultimately what it is we are looking for, so we must lay down even the seeking, and let the journey itself shape us.
“The monk is not just someone who wishes to be a monk. It requires a breakthrough, an initiation, a diksa, a new birth.” —Raimundo Panikkar
My word for this year is “breakthrough” and I am discovering that rather than the thunderous revelation the word might suggest, I am experiencing a slow and quiet revolution where this monk’s path of yielding is taking firmer root in my heart. Exploring the beauty of Ireland’s landscapes and ancient monastic ruins feels like a kind of initiation into something I am yet unable to name. I am experiencing a new clarity of my call in this world, and the paradox is that I do not have words for it.
Conversion is one of the great Benedictine principles. The commitment daily to practice the path demands of us great courage, to have faith in what is unseen, to yield to a greater force in lives than our own sheer will. To know the discipline of showing up to life matters, and the recognition that I have never arrived. To be a monk in the world is to allow this great “quest” I am on to reveal that there is no “quest” at all, only a great softening, following the threads, being formed slowly by the landscape, trusting what it is I most love, and releasing the burden of whether I am worthy to say yes, yes, yes.
How is it with you on your own great life pilgrimage?
Have you laid down the quest in favor of the quiet revelations waiting for you, right in this moment?
With great and growing love,
Your poem above is so beautiful, Christine. What you say in the poem is especially helpful (and also ironic) as I begin to cultivate a career that centers around pilgrimage – it’s a much needed reminder to settle into and receive the unknown gifts and wisdom of the present journey, both in my work and in life.