“Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.”
When I was growing up we talked a lot about “ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing”. Hell and the devil were ever-present realities, particularly after it turned out that I was not devout by nature. It took our particular brand of religion about four years to convince me that I was irredeemably wicked and bound for hell. I was five when I first realized that I was depressed, though I didn’t even know the word yet. It became a life-long condition.
When I had a son I knew that if I wanted to teach him ethical and moral principles without the baggage that so often accompanies them, somehow I had to move beyond toxic ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing to the field Rumi describes. What Does It Mean to Be Present?, written by Rana DiOrio and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, is a book about living peacefully, mindfully, gratefully, and joyfully in that field.
I don’t usually write about religion in this blog, but then I’m not usually reviewing a book like Present, either. The truth is, DiOrio and Wheeler have done something amazing in this little book–they have provided a beautiful, inviting, and simple guide to living morally, ethically, and gently in the world–and they have done it in positive terms.
What does it mean to be present? asks the narrator. It means listening carefully to others, noticing when help is needed–and giving that help; focusing on what’s happening now, rather than what’s happening next; appreciating what you have; waiting your turn; treating each new day as an opportunity; understanding that mistakes are how we grow…”
I found myself comparing these simple, positive explanations with the religious directives of my youth: you shall have no other gods before me, you shall not take the Lord’s name in vain, you shall not steal, you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not dance, you shall not wear jewelry, you shall not read fiction…
Every “you shall not” became a rail in the fence containing me into “rightdoing,” and safely out of the province of “wrongdoing.” But I couldn’t get into the field beyond, either. The very prohibitions designed to shape me into a good person prevented me from seeing beyond them to the simple principles that would shape me into the kind of person for whom the prohibitions were unnecessary.
I started this post with a quote from Rumi. I read it in a book and loved it, but I had no idea who Rumi was. Turns out he was born in 1207, in what is now Afghanistan.
When I read that I asked myself, What if we could not discard the moral values our religions teach us, but move beyond them into the field, where twenty-first century small-town single mothers can meet joyfully, gratefully, and respectfully with thirteenth-century Muslim mystics? What about if we laid aside the restrictions that both limit us and create a society of exclusion and stepped freely, responsibly, and mindfully into that sunlit field? What might our world be like then?
Who knows? But I intend to find out.
To learn more about What Does It Mean To Be Present? or to purchase the book visit Little Pickle Press online.