Finisterre: Living with Astonishment

A pledge to keep walking beyond where I have once called home, onto where I am challenged to change, reconcile, surrender, and create in ways I hadn’t imagined.

I follow the blog site called the Marginalian by Maria Popova, often amazed at the breadth of her reading and compilation of the wisdom of so many sources that she offers with each post. One of the many topics she broached this week was how we grow old gracefully. In an excerpt she writes, “This open-hearted curiosity, this aura of astonishment, becomes an antidote to the spiritual poison most corrosive to this world—cynicism, that supreme enemy of hope. At any stage of life, the refusal to succumb to cynicism is among our greatest triumphs of the spirit. It is certainly our mightiest force of courage and resistance to the cowardly denouncements of possibility that pock the countenance of humanity.” 

Cynicism. An inclination to believe that people are motivated solely by self-interest. Or also defined as an inclination to question whether something will happen or if its worthwhile. A close relative to pessimism. You may have your own definition and experience.

It is one of my ongoing practices, and a hard one, to not collapse into cynicism, especially with politicians or do-gooders or anyone I don’t trust.  I am aware every time it wins; I feel how it contracts me, makes me feel hard and tight. It gives me a sense of power, but false power. If I’m cynical, I feel in control, not duped, not sentimental. Yet it is always embroidered with fear of some flavor. Cynicism helps cover up the hurt of what‘s happening in the world, almost giving me license to not do anything. I question over and over in myself whether I am just unwilling to look at the frustration and real struggles of this world because they are too painful or has cynicism made me hopeless? I’m also aware every time that I counter cynicism, it feels like some kind of victory of the soul. I feel lighter and closer to what I really want to be. I trust I can respond to the struggles of this world appropriately.

I agree with Popova that this “refusal to succumb” is one of the most important things in my spiritual practice. Popova quotes Nick Cave on his way of resisting the pull of cynicism:

“Absorb into yourself the world’s full richness and goodness and fun and genius, so that when someone tells you it’s not worth fighting for, you will stick up for it, protect it, run to its defense, it is your world they’re talking about, then watch that world to pour itself into you in gratitude. A little smart vampire full of raging love, amazed by the world.”

Steve and I are nearly four thousand miles into our road trip from Alaska today. I have four thousand miles worth of wonder now to talk back to that destructive voice of cynicism. I’m still daily amazed that I am here because 14 billion years ago there was a huge explosion in which much was annihilated, but helium and hydrogen emerged to begin creation. Then a supernova erupted and carbon and other elements were created that continued this process of evolution that the universe was planning all along. That evolution that led to me being here now.  That wonder is deepening as I understand more and more about cosmogenesis. That “aura of astonishment” that Popova writes about is what I want to cultivate more and more as I age and ripen. Maybe five or six years ago, Steve and I changed the license plate on our camper to read WOW SKR. It means “Wow Seeker” to us. “Wow” became our natural mantra as we traveled this country of ours—wows to natural beauty, wows to human creativity and wows to how much these experiences enlivened our souls.  And yes, also wows to how we as humans can destroy and hurt one another and the earth. But just noticing, not succumbing. 

Steve and I catch each other all the time, when cynicism could so easily win. And I ask for grace to accept reality as it is without cynicism, yet with full awareness, not denial. As one of my Diamond Approach fellow students said with amazement upon discovering this in her inquiry, “I guess it’s kind of stupid to reject reality.” It made us all laugh when she said it. We all recognized this foolishness. This truth comes from so many traditions. I recently read an article in the magazine, Spirituality and Health, about the practice of Ho’oponopono–which I have relied on for the practice of forgiveness for many years. Ho’oponopoo Ke Ala means to “make the path that is right more right.” Auntie Mahealani Henry is quoted in the article as saying, “Nothing is wrong—all is in right place, right time, right being—what Hawaiians call pono.  Stop resisting what is…everything is pono—as it is—be grateful..all of it, exactly as it is. Accept it.” 

There is another elder that lived by this wisdom—my mother. Her mantra, “It is what it is.”  Fellow resisters of cynicism. Fellow human beings that want to live with curiosity and trust in this world as it is—able to be astonished and open to what will be. Holders of hope.

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