I have been born into a culture imbued in Calvinist religion and a worldview that we are but mere sojourners on a pilgrimage on our way to our eternal home, forever looking and longing for the Promised Land. It came with a very strict set of rules, regulations and expectations of how you should be spending your time and life while on this journey, demands which I, at best of times, struggled to meet.
As I grew older I became conflicted and confused about the expectations of the religion on the one hand and the expectations and demands of the capitalist, consumer driven society that surrounded me on the other.
Calvinism required of me that I would see all material goods as earthly and temporary, not to get too attached to it, to keep my mind set on the heavenly and eternal at all times and to store up heavenly treasures for myself and those I loved. On the other hand, the producer-consumer society urged me to put down root in the earthly and to seek permanence in everything that I undertook (permanent job with long term career path; permanent address with twenty year mortgage; permanent relationship with my husband which will only end with death; success that will have such an impact that it will resonate through generations to come; etc.) and to accumulate as much as possible material possessions and financial resources in order to secure this stability.
Which was it to be, was my life to be like the grass in a field as the psalmist suggested (The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like the flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.- Psalm 103:15-16) or a permanent monument to the greatness of mankind as the capitalists tried to persuade me?
Therefrom, I set of onto my life path as a responsible adult trying to find a middle ground between these two conflicting mindsets. There was however, one thing that these two views had in common and that was the promise of future rewards. For the Calvinist it was the future reward of heaven and all it promised after death. For the financier it was the future return on a long term investment and for the careerist the lure of retirement and its pleasures after a lengthy career.
It was this one simple factor, the promise of FUTURE REWARDS, which broke the spell for me. I was not interested in what the future held or promised me but what was and could be experienced in the immediate present, lured me.
Even as a child I would often seek out time on my own and make my escape of how things should be to one of my hiding places where I could daydream, play out my fantasies or just sit and watch the birds in the garden or the clouds slowly gliding over my head. Other times I would go to the neighborhood park and take to the swings and merry-go-round with fervor or rode my bicycle down the oak tree lined streets, enjoying the splendor of these majestic ancients, the play of light through their leaves and the mosaic of autumn leaves against the black tar. As I grew older I had to be more strategic and organized with my times of solace and solitude but they remained an integral part of my life. They would take on the form of a daily hour of meditation or reflection, a few quiet moments in a secluded spot in our garden now and then, a solitary cup of tea in the dusky light of an early morning, a few days camping in the lush bushveld.
In all of these I was fully conscious of the immediate moment, therein laid the beauty and the lure of these private moments – to be fully present and mindful of the immediate. Not to think of or reflect on what was or could be, but to just be open to experience what is, in that moment.
Great was my relief when I broke the hold of the Calvinist mindset on my life and no longer needed to seek and long for the Promised Land. Even greater was the relieve when I disengaged from the tug-of-war with consumerism and the general westernized mindset. I was now free to live my life mindfully and to pursue the experiences that added value to my life as I wanted it to be.
My life became a spiritual journey, a pilgrimage of sorts. Not a journey seeking enlightenment or reward neither seeking something better than what I had. It became a journey of living mindful and purposely, embracing what is and being open to experience what life has to offer moment to moment. It became a lifestyle of being aware, adaptable and flexible, of being willing to be changed and sculpted by life itself. It is a daily conscious decision of letting go of control and surrendering the ego to the flow of the spirit.
It is neither temporary nor permanent in nature. It is what it is in the moment.
Did I find a middle ground between the two mindsets? I do not know.
Did I find a way of living that nurtures and satisfy my soul? That I did.
And so continue my life of spirit walks, walk abouts and various forms of pilgrimages not as a means to an end but as a way of life itself.
©Micelle Coetsee 2017