The state I'm in
Posted by Simon Parke, 28 July 2017, 6.02am
As I stumble towards my 60th birthday, hours away now, I think briefly on what I’ve done… and the state I’m in.
And the latter is rather more important…
This is something of an indulgence, I know.
My age has never previously felt significant to me; none of the traditional landmarks have made an impression, apart from perhaps my arrival at the age of thirty three, when, as a semi-conscious priest in London’s West End, I remember thinking:
‘Blimey - Jesus was grown up, smart and finished by now!’
I had barely started…I still haven’t.
So what have I done?
I pencil a list, with probably some things forgotten…
I took some shows to the Edinburgh Fringe
I wrote some satirical scripts for TV and radio
I looked after three London parishes over twenty years, preached twice at St Paul’s
I stacked shelves in supermarkets for five years (change of gear)
And then I’ve hosted many retreats
Seen a glory of people one-to-one
And along the way, I have also written some books, run some marathons, written some blogs – ta-da!
A list such as this is not self-revelation, of course.
What we do says hardly anything about what or who we are.
Motive and intention, drives and fears, they lurk beneath the easily-rolled-off C.V.
And now on the cusp of my 60th, I’m drawn to ponder not what I do, but what I am, the state I’m in.
It is not demanded that we are always in a state of virtue and self-mastery; and this is just as well.
It is only demanded that we know the state we are in.
This is all that is realistically possible for us in this moment as human beings: to know our state.
(It makes us much less dangerous in the world.)
It is not everything we could be, or what ultimately is meant for us.
But such awareness is the only miracle worth the name, freeing us to speak without illusion, without mixed motive and without being disingenuous.
But crucial…because I am constructing my reality from my inner state, it is important I know the material I’m working with.
So on the cusp of my 60th, as I consider my state, I’m aware of two characters who have re-appeared in my life since going free lance and who can significantly distort my perception of reality.
I do not respond well to rejection, perceived or actual, professional or personal; and I have significant survival fears, which gather in a sad huddle around finance.
So for me, issues around rejection and survival.
It is their knock on my door that can paralyse or induce terror.
They can be the state I’m in.
My little self came up with a good plan to survive these things, of course…our little selves do; but it was never more than a plaster, and life exposes our childish mendings.
So what now?
There is nothing for me to learn or acquire. Truth is not the acquisition of anything; it is simply the removal of error.
(We’re full of truth when that goes!)
And how? Just by noticing the ghosts gently.
As my colleague Mark Godson said to me, as I spoke of these things: ‘Regard the conceptual interpretation lightly and stick with the thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that are arising and passing away.’
Having labelled them so they can be seen, un-label them, do not regard them with huge seriousness, for they have no substance, they are just thoughts, just feelings.
And so I presently watch the dissolution of these two ghosts from my past, not needed and unhelpful now.
They can still frighten; but on my 60th birthday, while I’ll be saying some very happy ‘Hellos’ – Oh yes! - I’d like also to say to one or two ‘Goodbyes’.
I do not know what I will be doing in the future; it is particularly unclear at present, and even as I write this line, I feel the fears rising.
But the bigger truth is I can both feel and see beyond them, through the worn-out veil of the past, and know ridiculous thankfulness.
And that is enough.
For all those screams, and all those tears, and all those glory, glory years… just gratitude.
Indeed, the universe is barely large enough to contain it.
And as Mr Nietzsche reminded us, and I think he had you and me in mind, ‘You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star’.
Concerning the state I’m in, it is possible my stumble is a dance…