The path of non-effort, by Rev. Jen Crow

As our second year of Wellspring comes to a close, I’m reminded of a phrase from the meditation teacher and author, Jack Kornfield. The phrase is simply this: “No enlightened retirement.” What he means, of course, is that there is no pinnacle of spiritual awakening, no end point to our practice, no one place at which we will arrive and stay forever on our spiritual journey. Change is inevitable, and we – in our Wellspring groups, in our congregations, on our planet – are changing as the seasons change.

The challenge, now and always, is to integrate all that we’ve learned on our journey so far as we stay open to the new avenues of awakening that are already presenting themselves. As Unitarian Universalists, many of us are strivers by nature. We value risk, creativity, and novelty. We like to choose our path and move forward intentionally. And in doing so, at times, we miss the wonder and beauty, the potential for awareness and growth that exists all around us.

Now don’t get me wrong – sustained effort and attention are required for spiritual growth. But they are not everything. Jack Kornfield, author of After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path, describes two complimentary ways to spiritual growth: the path of effort and the path of non-effort.

“In the path of effort you purify yourself, you struggle to release all the obstacles to being present, you focus yourself on awakening and illumination so fully that everything else falls away…In the path of non-effort, there is no struggle. You open yourself to the reality of the present. To rest in the sense of naturalness is all that is asked. Out of this, all understanding and compassion follow.”

As the formal program of Wellspring ends this year for our participants – and as the seasons change for all of us – what would it look like if we took up, just for a time, the path of non-effort? What would it look like, what would it feel like, if we simply attended to the wonder that is this unique moment in this unique day – releasing ourselves, for a time from the path of effort and striving? What if we really tasted our food, breathed in the warm air, or did the dishes with gratitude for a roof over our heads in this beautiful and broken world? What if this is how we lived into a moment of enlightened retirement?

I’m heading out to the porch to watch the birds and feel the breeze. Let me know what non-effort looks like for you.

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