Every time I am heading out the door after a spiritual direction session, my loving friend and spiritual director Janet says, “Keep drinking from deeper wells.” She has been saying this to me for ten years, and I am only now beginning to really understand what this means. Truth be told, I never thought about it too much until about a year ago.
The reminder to drink from Deeper wells suggests that there are shallow wells to drink from. I certainly am familiar with those. After drinking from them, I am left thirstier then ever before. Here are some places I’ve run to in search of a lasting quench to my dissatisfaction with life:
Striving to be above reproach
Being admired and approved of by others
Earning the respect of people I care about
Helping others with their problems
Making myself needed
Getting a GPA above 4.0
Fantasizing about and searching for a career that will fulfill me completely
Curating certain “moods” to wallow in
Eating ice cream
Eating dark chocolate
Making my parents proud
Becoming knowledgable on certain topics
Looking at things from an objective and logical perspective
Repressing my emotions
Filling up my life with stimulating and pleasurable activities
Getting a dog
Living in community
Searching for a life partner
Trying to fix my partner
Treating myself like a self improvement project
Having a plan and being prepared
Making check lists
Venting and raging
Buying a kick ass bike
Upgrading to an electric bike
Saving money for my future
Numbing out through books and movies
Eating more chocolate
Checking Facebook again
Thinking about making popcorn
Slicing a pear and spritzing it with just the right amount of salt, lemon and Chile powder
Obsessing over plucking my eyebrows
Watching the Daily Show and Trevor Noah’s standup comedy
Buying new shoes
Explaining to you why I’m right and you’re wrong
Cleaning my house
Being in a position of power
Trying to save all the children at Bancroft Elementary from their horrible manners and trauma
Having a bomb-ass hairdo
How do you suppose those things are working out for me? ... Exactly.
The Buddha held up two leaves while teaching his students one day, and said, “There are innumerable leaves in this forest, and yet I hold only two. Just so, while there are innumerable things I could teach, I choose to teach only two: suffering and the end of suffering.” The Buddha didn’t choose this focus to be a Debbie Downer. He chose it because the study of the roots of suffering leads to seeing suffering clearly, as it truly is, and that leads to liberation. But instead of getting curious and interested in the persistent dissatisfaction inherent in living a human life, we keep trying things that we have temporarily convinced ourselves will ultimately satisfy. Some days, I just know, with all my might, that eating that organic eight dollar pint of ice cream is going to make me happy. So I go out and buy it, and before I’m even half way through eating it, I feel sick both physically and emotionally. The “happiness” lasted for about the first two bites.
It turns out nothing in this life satisfies. Not permanently anyway. Because everything is always changing. If I ever find the “perfect” life partner for me, I know they will not fulfill me. There will be days when they are the source of my deepest suffering. It’s a set up believing the story about “happily ever after.” And yet, I do. If I could just travel to all my bucket list vacation destinations, then I’d be happy. If I could just have perfect health, then I’d be happy. If I could just find a way to make more money, then I’d be happy…..
One needn’t be a Buddhist to get interested in suffering. All we need is curiosity about our patterned lives and personalities, the willingness to be brutally honest about what we discover, and the openness to let go of our viewpoints. That, of course, is much easier said than done, since our defense mechanisms and incredible ability to live in denial is so strong as humans. This is why it is helpful to have a wise guide, a spiritual teacher, a holistic therapist, or a spiritual director. Best to have one of each, because most of us need all the help we can get! At least I do.
These soul friends and spiritual guides can help us course correct when we insist on drinking from shallow wells. They remind us that there is another source, The Source, that comes from a much deeper place and satisfies the soul and aides us in our journey through suffering.
I am reminded of the story of Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well. Provocatively, he tells her he can offer her Living Water. Wondering what he means by this bizarre statement, she prods him further and he answers her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14). What in Godde’s name did he mean by that??
I do not purpose to have the answer. I know what the answer is for me, at least partially. There are many ways in which I’ve found access to the Deeper Well. While I have not yet found how to remain connected to the Living Water at all times (because my active ego still lures me away), when I do drink of it, I sense that it has been waiting for me to receive it, waiting for me beyond space and time, in this mysterious space called eternity. Its flavor is patience and grace, joy and abundance, kindness and immeasurable Love.
Questions for contemplation:
I'm a Spiritual Director, Enneagram Educator, and Liberationist-Buddhist-Universalist-Mystic-12 step-Queer-Christian. Playing with questions, answers, and surrender.