If the soul is to know God, it must forget and lose itself, for as long as it contemplates self, it cannot contemplate God. When it has lost itself and everything in God, it finds itself again in God and it finds also everything which it had abandoned complete in God. (Meister Eckhart, German theologian, philosopher and mystic, 13th c.)
I heard these words today and I felt that somehow they contain the key to my questions about losing myself in order to find myself. Jesus said that in the gospel last week: “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” Another translation reads: “If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it.” And so I ponder the words, twirl them around in my head, shake them up and toss them down to see how they land.
I think that the pattern being described here by Jesus and echoed over and over by the mystics is one of surrender…letting go. It is language that is so often used today in our new age world that I feel it needs some real attention and unpacking. What does that really look like?
I had an odd experience the other day when I picked up my daughter from school that I think sheds some light for me on the issue. She was telling me a funny thing that had happened during the day. It involved the high jinks of the hip, young and bright female teachers from the history department. It highlighted a joke they had shared and how they literally rolled with laughter on the floor of their office. She added that they were very close and often went out socially together. So and so had seen them drunk at a bowling alley!
As she was telling me the story for some inexplicable reason I began to cry. I didn’t just tear up, mind you, I do that a lot. No, these were tears–many streaming down my face. She was so puzzled and all I could manage in response was, “I want friends to get drunk with at a bowling alley.”
So now you are really wondering what this has to do with anything. And here is the connection: I am still grieving from a relocation that happened almost 3 years ago. It comes in waves. I take in my sadness as much as I can and then move forward until the next wave. Mourners often describe this process when a loved one has died. I think its the same for other great losses in our lives and also with surrender.
Over the last three years I have struggled a lot with “what is”…that my life is not as it once was. I don’t have the dear co-workers anymore to roll on the ground with in laughter. I don’t have the pals with whom I could organize a book club. Or the besties who would grab a glass of wine at the drop of a hat. I have learned that life and friendship are fragile. I can cling to what was…to my version of my life, or I can let go of my expectations. I can take the me out of the equation and empty myself…lose myself in the very reality of God.
I wish Jesus had had a little “after the show” talk with the audience so that the whole “losing your life” business could have been cleared up. I imagine that if he had he would have said something like this: “Look, you will get such grand and great ideas about who you should be and what you should do and what your life should look like. It will come from the outside for the most part…from the world. But let go of all that. Your version of your life won’t work…because its not meant to. You are not meant to create all by yourself. Just let go and when you can learn to do that, you will finally be free to see the beauty and feel the joy in the life you have. You will find all you really desire… your life in me.”
And so, on that afternoon, on the way home from school, I had another such awareness of the loss of my former life. The tears were a manifestation and I let them be. I rode that wave. Like an in-breath I was taken up with the reality and in the out-breath, I let go…accepted…surrendered.
What we ultimately need to let go of, or lose, is so large…our very life, that I think it can only happen one event, one moment at a time. I think if we practice it often it gets easier. We aren’t so tosseled by the wave or so harshly dumped on the shore. We learn to let the wave carry us and deposit us safely on the shore, and finally find ourselves “again in God and find also everything which we had abandoned complete in God.”