Everything And Nothing

September 4, 2014

It’s two years, today, since I moved into the Denver Catholic Worker. What comes to mind as I reflect on my time here--what I’ve learned--is the terse answer I receive often from one of our guests when I ask her what she is up to. “Everything and nothing,” she says.  She is an artist, and when I ask her what she is working on I receive the same: “Everything and nothing.”                                                                                                                                        

I try to understand what brought me here. Maybe it was my desire for relationships with others with whom I could share work, with whom I could squint, seeking the “truth.” Maybe it was the writer in me, who wanted to experience, to understand. A dull aching. A vague curiosity.  Maybe it was more simple than that, more about pleasure, about letting go. I don’t consider myself a risk taker—I’m careful, analytical, hesitant, often indecisive—as much as I enjoy the feeling of falling, finally making a decision and giving in to it completely. I went sky-diving when I turned twenty-one. I let go—but it was a short thrill.  Attachment is the weight we carry—when we are able to separate our true selves from our attachment-heavy selves, we are light. We are awake. Present. We are no longer stuck, longing, clinging, worrying. Catholic Workers, ideologically, work to be non-attached. Typically—historically—Catholic Workers are single. They choose to live “simply.” They leave it at the door, put it all in a box, send it down the river.

The first six months of my being here, I felt distinctly this sense of free-falling. I could look around me, observe the people I lived with (both workers and guests) and this house, suspicious yet sturdy, with only love. I was like a tiny fly, silent; I moved with the wind. I was enchanted.

Some time later, it’s clear to me that to choose to live at a Catholic Worker—or be a part of one’s community—is not to choose a life of simplicity. That feeling—of being refreshed, renewed, awakened—does not last (without hard work, hard prayer). You can only jump out of a plane once. Momentum slows after what we call the “honeymoon phase” of living at a Worker. It’s choosing complexity. It’s in growing comfortable with the complex, knowing complexity deeply, that we are able to suddenly see something as simple. It’s seeking the “Middle Way.” In a Kundalini yoga class recently, our teacher guided us in a meditation. During this practice, I felt an intense sense of calm, a feeling that I was riding a wave, while also feeling completely centered and still—moving, changing, transforming, and yet unchanging and steady. I asked him what the chant meant. He said that the meditation is meant to direct our awareness to “one reality.” This specific teacher has said he is not into “feel good” yoga. He is not into yoga that encourages students to pretend life is not complicated--lovely and painful. That we have selfish motives, at times--that we are human. Spiritual progress only happens when we are able to accept ourselves--and others--as infinitely complex. Everything and nothing. One reality. Maybe it’s in growing comfortable with being uncomfortable that we more easily, more abundantly experience true comfort. Joy. Perhaps the more comfortable we grow with change the more everything becomes for us still, constant. The more we trust. Certainly, the desire of Dorothy Day was not to rid the world of suffering—but to welcome it in. She didn’t think she could fix the pain of others, the many problems of the world—at least not on her good days—but she wanted to acknowledge pain, carefully, patiently, lovingly. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says he cannot imagine a world—a heaven—without suffering. Yet that does not mean one cannot feel peace within such a place. It is a truer peace when suffering is not denied or looked over as unimportant. Tonight I was able to listen to a new guest tell me of her past without latching myself onto it, the pain of it, allowing it to pull me away from her. Perhaps it was because of the peace that she somehow radiates. A pale glow. Forgiveness. Acceptance.

I’ve learned there is no swimming to the top, pushing the water down—there is no quick way to becoming more aware. You must learn to breathe slowly; you will find truer clarity. Silence where there is noise. If we were able to take each layer, fill in the patches, weave in again the falling away strands, hand wash, douse in lavender and eucalyptus—there would be another layer to purify. Two years later I’ve become more gently aware of imperfectness, the beautiful, intricate complicatedness of myself and others. During a moment of wonder—that comes like a sudden whisper—I know that nothing is simple, and I am free.