Wednesday, February 6, 2008

An Ash Wednesday Meditation

What are you giving up for Lent?

It is a commonly asked question this time of year. Anthony de Mello tells a story that frames the question differently.

There was once an ascetic who lived a celibate life and made it his life's mission to fight against sex in himself and others. In due course, he died. And his disciple, who could not stand the shock, died a little after him. When the disciple reach the other world he couldn't believe what he saw: there was his beloved Master with the most extraordinarily beautiful woman seated on his lap!

His sense of shock faded when it occurred to him that his Master was being rewarded for his sexual abstinence on earth. He went up to him and said, "Beloved Master, now I know that God is just, for you are being rewarded in heaven for your austerities on earth."

The Master seemed annoyed. "Idiot!" he said, "This isn't heaven and I'm not being rewarded - she's being punished."

When the shoe fits, the foot is forgotten; when the belt fits, the waist is forgotten; when all things are in harmony, the ego is forgotten. Of what use, then, are your austerities?

- De Mello, Taking Flight: A Book of Story Meditations

Renunciation only binds us more tightly to what we are trying to avoid. Cultivate insight, understanding, detachment, and compassion instead, and whatever needs to be let go will drop away of its own dead weight. You will not need to "give it up." You will not even notice "it" anymore.

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