I remember looking up at Goat Mountain from the Kohan Garden that evening. We’d had a lightning storm about an hour earlier and now the trees were candling, just up the mountainside from our house. Close enough that if the wind kept up, we’d be evacuated before the night was out. I sprinted home and we packed the car as fast as we could. Because we weren’t ready for this.
Maybe you have a story like this from last summer, or a previous summer, or another natural disaster at another time. The message we always get, be it fire or flood or windstorm or blizzard, is, “Be prepared.” Here’s the checklist of things you should have on hand. Here are the precautions you should take. Here are the people you should notify. Here are the things you should take with you. It won’t be so bad, if you’re just ready for it.
I don’t want to knock that message. If the fire on Goat Mountain had spread down toward our home, I would have been deeply grateful for the checklist we followed, all the water and important papers and dog food and medications we packed.
But there’s more than one kind of readiness. I was reminded of that this week when Fr. Lawrence Freeman, a meditation teacher, sent an email thanking people for their support during his recent health crisis. One of the things he suggested is that we need to be ready. But he wasn’t talking about packing your go-bag. He was talking about internal readiness.
The kind of ready he was suggesting is the result of practice. It’s an internal steadiness that knows how to stay calm when life falls apart. Because life always falls apart, that inner quiet is a great gift. It’s also never enough, is it? Because as Freeeman notes, we’re never ready. We can never anticipate just what’s going to happen. More importantly, we can never prepare for how it actually feels when things fall apart.
I’ve been attending to Freeman’s message for the past few days because I find myself with a Thorn-in-the-Flesh. Specifically, someone with whom I am collaborating has revealed himself to be chaotic and convinced of his own correctness. This is a difficult combination, one that severely tests cooperation. I’ve found myself anticipating this guy’s responses and trying to think three steps ahead, mentally preparing to counter the next craziness. I guess this is one kind of readiness: I need to be wise as a serpent, as the saying goes.
But that statement, “Be wise as a serpent,” has a second part: “and gentle as a dove.” This is the readiness of which Lawrence Freeman speaks. This is the readiness that serves me best: training my heart to appreciate and wonder rather than endlessly defend. If I can treat my colleague with respect, see his creativity, while still lovingly, steadfastly holding my ground, that helps us both. I’ll prepare my arguments; more importantly, I will prepare my heart.