Is the prayer of Avila really helpful when life comes with its share of fears, worries, stress, disturbances, and anxieties? A Zen story comes to my mind: A disciple asked his master, “Master, now that you are enlightened, what’s the difference between ‘before and after enlightenment?’ The master replied, “Before enlightenment, I used to be depressed; after enlightenment, I continue to be depressed. Awareness is the difference.” Depression came and went but he had learned not to identify his ‘self’ with depression; his response to it had changed. Prayer, for a believer, is an invitation to root one’s life in God alone who never changes; everything is changing.
In this blog let us focus on two very important truths in Theresa’s prayer: everything is passing and God never changes. Living these two truths result in inner peace and joy.
“Everything is passing, everything is changing.” Life is not devoid of problems but the corresponding emotions and feelings that these problems produce in us are never permanent; they are passing. Intellectually we know that reality is constantly changing but the biggest spiritual challenge is to be aware of it at an experiential level. Things are ephemeral. Our bodies, minds, emotions, feelings, mental states, memories, experiences, name and form, possessions, relationships, self-defined ego, past, present, and future… nothing is permanent. Mindfulness Meditation, focusing on the sensations in the body, makes us aware that no sensation is permanent; the nature of a sensation is to rise and fall. One sensation is replaced by another. Sensations, pleasant or unpleasant, hot or cold, do not last long. The same is true even with emotions, feelings, and the various mental states in the mind. Fears, worries, anxieties, disturbances, and the most painful experiences arising in the mind will pass away for they do not have permanence. Holding onto God as the ground of our being, we let go, the habit of not identifying the ‘self’ with the different states of mind. If only we can remain without identification… This does not imply that we are indifferent to the experience that is unfolding in the ‘now’ but we try not to cling onto it knowing that it is constantly moving and changing. It is an experience of the present moment without getting attached to the experience of the moment.
Secondly, in prayer, the ‘self’ by not identifying itself with all that is passing and changing draws itself more and more to God who is the ground of our being. The Scripture and the lives of holy men and women show us that in the midst of the passing things of the world, God alone remains as the Unchanging Reality. In God alone we move and have our being (Acts 17:28). The ‘self’ by nature longs for a union with the ‘Unchanging Reality’ that is always present within us. The ‘self’ which is the ‘image and likeness of God,’ ‘a spark of the Divine’ can find genuine and lasting joy and peace only in its creator and not in the creatures, the passing things of the world, or the changing states of the mind. The ‘self,’ through a life of spiritual discipline, learns to turn ‘inward’ to the Presence within us and not to ‘outward’ realities that are in a constant flux. Isn’t our suffering, a result of this identification with the ephemeral things of the world? For the ‘self’ to detach itself from the passing things of the world and to attach itself to the only Unchanging Reality needs a life of self-discipline, determination, and commitment to a spiritual path. And in this spiritual effort God’s benevolent grace is always ready to accompany us.
Let us hearken to the words of Theresa:
… I say that it is very important – it is everything to have a strong and firm resolution, not to stop till we arrive at the water [union with God], come what may, or whatever may be the consequence, or whatever it may cost us. No matter who complains, whether I reach there or die on the way, or have not courage to endure the troubles which I may meet
with, or though the world should sink under us… (Way of Perfection, Chapter XXI)
There is no vacation time in spiritual life.
Blessed are those who root their lives in God alone; fears and anxieties will not disturb their peace of mind.
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