Good Thoughts from Joe Zarantanello – Ed O’Rourke

Joe and I were teachers at St Thomas High School in the early 1970s.  Some years back, he and Pam started a retreat house, the Loose Leaf Hollow, in Bardstown Kentucky.  On Mondays he sends out his latest poems.  Sometimes he composes thoughts and send them out on any day. See below what he issued yesterday.



Retirement or Ripening — The choice is yours It is sad to grow old, but nice to ripen.— Brigitte Bardo I never have liked the word retirement. It always seemed to say, “Well, the important stuff in life, your work, is over now. So now what?” I am writing this essay for the many people in their 50s and 60s who are eyeing this initiation called “retirement” as an event horizon they are anxiously approaching. And I’m writing this for the folks who are in the thick of struggling with retirement. As the title of this essay makes plain: you have a choice — Retirement or Ripening. I’m going to be making the case for living a life of Remembrance and Ripening. What to RememberRemember to love Holy Mystery with all your heart and soul; and to love your Neighbor, and Nature, as your Authentic Self — for we are all, always, and already, connected. If you can simply remember these 31 words, your life will ripen just like the most luscious Georgia peach, and you will become, absolutely, who you were meant to be. But here’s “the rub,” (as Shakespeare put it) — Humans tend to forget everything, all the time! In fact, our species should be called Homo amnesians! And that’s why “the practice of remembrance” is so crucial to the mystery and adventure of human ripening.  Holy MysteryOkay, quick quiz: Without looking back at the previous paragraph, can you remember the first word, and the last word, of the “31 words to remember”? ( Homo amnesian?) So let’s simplify “what to remember” to just two words: “Remember connected.” Remember this mystery: We are all, always, and already, connected. You need to remember this Holy Mystery especially when you feel totally disconnected from everything and everybody.The word “God” has become problematic for so many people. If the word “God” works for you — reminds you of “the felt-sense of the always-already-connectedness” — great; but if the word “God” doesn’t work for you, perhaps some other word would work. Einstein used the phrase “The Unified Field”; Buddhists call Ultimate Reality shunyata, Emptiness; the Muslims say Allah; Jesus called it Love. Gregory Bateson, the great anthropologist, used the term, “The Pattern that Connects.” All the saints and mystics, in all the human traditions — from the earliest hunter-gatherers to modern quantum physicists — all have developed ritual practices to show remembrance and reverence to this same Holy Mystery that is “the felt-sense of always-already-connectedness.” Remembrance RipensHuman beings are organic, like tomatoes, orchids, or peaches. A plant needs just the right amount of sunlight, moisture, a certain depth of soil, and a specific temperature range to flourish. So too, human beings need four types of connections to flourish and ripen. We’ve talked about the need for people to remember, and to reverence, the Holy Mystery of the inherent “felt-sense of always-already connectedness.”  There are many ways to connect to the Transcendent. Multiple religious traditions have rituals and practices to help you remember your connection to the Divine. Most of us have grown up in a certain religious tradition, and perhaps you are sustained and connected to the Transcendent by that tradition. However, if the tradition you were born into doesn’t work for you, or if you were not raised in any spiritual tradition — there are still many good avenues you can explore that might “re-mind” you of your connection to the Transcendent.The great Sufi Mystic, Rumi, said this: Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and afraid. Don’t rush to your desk and begin working — instead, take down a musical instrument. Make what you love be what you do — there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground! This is very deep wisdom: start your day with something you love. I start my day with a cup of coffee and spiritual reading. Monks call spiritual reading Lectio Divina, or reading that reminds you of your connection to the Divine. You can delve into sacred scripture from any tradition — right now I am reading a book about the soul by a Jungian analyst; before that, a book on quantum physics; in my “on-deck circle” is a book on the Jewish Prophets. After doing my spiritual reading, I meditate. This is the way I start my day. I’ve been starting my day with these two practices — Lectio and meditation — for almost 50 years now. But remember, there are hundreds of ways to remember your connection to the Transcendent. I know one woman who starts her day at her bay window, sipping coffee, and watching the songbirds at her bird feeder. So remember, anything can be a spiritual practice to help you remember your connection to the Transcendent — as long as it involves these three things: Intention, Attention, and Repetition.So, in addition to remembering their connection to the Transcendent — humans flourish and ripen if they can remember their connection to: Neighbor, Nature and their Authentic Self. For example, you can walk your dog everyday, but if you are listening to a podcast, or talking on the phone to a friend — it may qualify as a habit, or exercise, but it isn’t really a spiritual practice. On the other hand, I know a woman who walks her dog every morning (repetition), as a spiritual practice (intention), and she’s paying (attention) to her dog while she walks it. Now that’s a spiritual practice that connects her to her dog and to all of Nature. And you can apply the same “Intention-Attention-Repetition” formula to connecting with your Neighbor, or your Authentic Self. Everyone is “getting older” from the day they are born, but not everyone “ages well.” The more we can remember our “always-already connectedness” to the Transcendent, to our Neighbor, Nature, and to our Authentic Self via spiritual practices — the more we will ripen our souls. Shakespeare once wrote, “Ripeness is all!” When you meet a person who is old and disconnected, it’s about as pleasant as drinking grain alcohol; but when you meet a person who’s deeply connected to life, whose soul has aged well — it’s like sipping mellow, 12-year old Kentucky Bourbon. So, you can become either just plain old, or aged to perfection — the choice is yours. 

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