Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.Matthew 11:28-30
Jesus’ words here are some of the most beautiful and frustrating of anything he said. Growing up, I earnestly believed them. I was burdened, I labored and was heavy laden. I wanted to find deep rest for my soul, which seemed to never be able to sit still, but was always flying off to find happiness or avoid some painful feeling in the present.
I was an anxious and compulsive child, prone to weird varieties of thought. I once became deathly afraid I had contracted AIDS from a toilet. I worried about and suppressed many kinds of supposedly objectionable thoughts. I tortured myself incessantly, especially after finding that Jesus said things like “don’t look on a woman to lust after her, or you’ve committed adultery”. I policed my thoughts until I had become quite a neurotic teenager.
No one had ever told me thoughts weren’t a problem, not really. I know I’ve recently written about thinking, and made thought out to be a boogeyman, but it’s not quite like that. It’s the way we reify our thoughts that is problematic, not having them pop up. No one ever told me thoughts aren’t true. If they had, I wonder if I would have been a lot happier in my teens and 20s.
Jesus promises that you can come into his gentle presence, take his yoke, and find the rest you’re looking for. I wanted that light burden. All my life, maybe without knowing it, I really think I’ve simply wanted peace: happiness. Even a sense of okayness, not in a resigned way, but in an all is well way. I tried for so long to find that peace in the arms of Jesus. Funnily enough, his arms aren’t that comforting. You can’t feel them. You have to be content with imagining his gentle warmth embracing you.
That wasn’t enough for me. After years of struggle, prayers, and self–torture, I finally realized the peace I was looking for wasn’t to be found in doing the same thing over and over again, hoping that maybe, this time, the outcome would be different. I was so desperately conflicted about my faith. I was, in fact, becoming less peaceful by the day, until one day the levee burst, and the inner demons I had tried so hard to pacify were mercifully swept out to sea.
I felt tremendous relief, but it didn’t last long. I was more OK with myself, but still not truly at peace, not really home. I’m driven by a sense of dis–ease with life, a kind of unrest that rarely quiets down. I find, more and more, that what quiets my soul is to rest in the now. When I believe my thoughts, when I am thinking about past and future, when I think about my self–concept, my plans and hopes for myself, I often am fearful. But when I sink deeply into the bodily sensations, the sounds, the sights, the colors, the voices, the movements of light that occupy my waking hours, there is no lack. There is no need to seek peace, for I am peace.
I am not a person, carrying around problems, wishing things were different, with a desperate longing for wholeness. I am everything. I am nothing. I don’t need to exist, as a thought. I can simply be, as an endless sea, active yet calm. Fully awake, fully alive, I become wisdom itself, an intelligent life force, constantly morphing, taking the shape of friends and couches, flowing by in an endless stream. And here, in the flow of life, there is peace. It’s nowhere else but here.