spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily
rock bottom / Lee Nachtigal
He was tall, thin and wore a navy-blue wool cap that covered his ears. His scruffy one-legged companion was in a wheelchair, and when I came in to Starbucks at the Fillmore Center at 6 a.m., they were gathering their belongings, bags, and backpacks from the table for the handicapped. The tall younger man tottered toward the waste receptacle, sagging forward on bent knees. Behind the counter, Rob was watchful.

Suddenly, the man’s arms swept out to his sides and loudly he proclaimed, “We have come in out of darkness. We weren’t until we came in and your kindness gave birth to us.” And he went on, more to Rob than to me, “You can see this, can’t you? We were wandering in darkness and you let us come in.” And again, “Now we are born.”

I looked at Rob. His face mirrored the amazement on my own. To Rob I murmured, “I don’t do drugs, but if I did, that is the drug I want.” And we laughed in amazement.

On the sidewalk in the rain, the companion in the wheelchair waited impatiently. We could not hear him, but the look on his face led Rob to tell the poet that his friend was waiting for him.

Meanwhile, the poet was trying to pull a plastic newspaper sleeve over his head to keep his hat dry before joining his companion in the downpour. The plastic kept splitting, never opening wide enough to fit over the cap, and soon it was just torn and rumpled plastic sitting on top of his hat.

I have seen many scruffy wanderers warming themselves in this Starbucks, their belongings in plastic or paper bags, or they sit silently wrapped in soiled blankets. Not all of them are suddenly eloquent. Some, like Derrick, whose name we know, never speak but drum on the table to music we don’t hear or wave their fingers conducting the unseen. Some curse and curse until a barista asks them to leave.

Each morning into this café comes a parade of vagrants whom the light and warmth welcome. On this particular morning, the poet with plastic on his hat and his companion in the wheelchair put me in mind of lines from Jalaluddin Rumi’s poem, “The Guest House.”       

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor....

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

This is not the whole poem. I skipped to the parts that connect the “guests at Starbucks” with the “guests” that frequently gust through me, the sometimes unwelcome, often uninvited thoughts or impulses and uncomfortable energies that call me their home. My own vagrants for whom I provide the light that gives them birth.

I’m not always delighted by the aspects of myself that seek to be acknowledged, but meditation teacher Pema Chodron instructs that one must cultivate unconditional friendliness and stick with oneself through thick and thin. This, of course, is easier when what I see is pleasant and acceptable. It is much more difficult to stay present and open and say “Welcome, come in” to the dark, the shameful, the malicious pieces of myself I have ignored or denied.

But I am committed to being a friend to both the acceptable and the painful pieces of me. Meditation instructions to meet each piece with gentleness make tending and befriending easier. So as I learn to stay open and present to whatever aspects of myself present themselves, I welcome all who seek the light of my consciousness. I invite them into my inner silence.

I love that meditation is a constant flow of saying yes to whatever comes to mind. When thoughts come by, I can note them gently and see them waft past. When strong and painful feelings land with a thud, I can hold them and bathe them in a stream of “yes, yes, yes.”

In some respects, being a meditating human is like being a welcoming café that opens early and is warm. All the guests who come may not be so desirable, but closed door or mind precludes so much.

Catholic mystic, Thomas Merton wrote:  “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”

Gregory J Rittger
3/5/2012 06:15:04 am

Powerful and yet so gentle. One of your finest musings, for me, Ma.

Carole Schultz
3/5/2012 08:54:15 am

"But I am committed to being a friend to both the acceptable and the painful pieces of me."
Isn't this what we all struggle with on a daily basis? Or do I only speak for myself and my inner turmoil of constant self-doubt?
I have to hope Thomas Merton intended we include ourselves in our "job" to love....
A worthy yet difficult endeavor for sure!

3/5/2012 09:39:39 am

I agree, Carol. It is hard to quiet self doubt. And I like to think that Merton meant the inner as well as the outer. All love! To you as well.

Linda Posner
3/6/2012 01:00:44 am

A jewel serving many. Beautiful to see, feel, be. Thank you for sharing generously and personally with your heart, mind, spirit and hands.
xoxo LP

3/6/2012 11:16:35 pm

You know in your own life and choices and I bow to you.

Ali deGuia
3/17/2012 09:50:17 am

More power to you, girl! So splendid to "hear" your musings again (after a couple of decades)!

Brandon stover
3/21/2012 04:18:12 am

Knock knock....

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