Effort, Grace and a Quarter in the Artichoke

The marriage of effort and grace. Hands folded in prayer at the heart center. Right hand, effort, left hand, grace. When they meet in the space of the heart and ignite, these two forces joined make anything possible. I believe this. But the inquiry that I have personally grappled with, stumbled clumsily inside of for at least ten years is WHAT IS THE APPROPRIATE RATIO OF EFFORT TO GRACE? Of course I don’t think there’s a neat, squeaking answer… no way, Jose. But LISTEN~ these days there is so much hype about the law of attraction and how we create our reality with our thoughts. I can’t deny this… We are also a culture founded on good, honest protestant work ethic. Everybody knows that if you want to be “successful”, it takes a pinch of brains and a scoop of guts and a whole ocean of elbow grease. I mean maybe if you are a crunchy, new age, bay area native you’ll beg to differ with this… but for the most part we have been brainwashed into thinking that success belongs to those with the greasiest elbows. That is the EFFORT half of the equation.

And then there is Grace. What is grace? Let’s ask the omniscient One, dictionary dot com… Oh fuck. The omniscient One suggests that there are twenty separate definitions. Screw that! Lemme sort through them and find one or two that best support the essence I am driving to reveal. What?!?!?$*^#@*% This is ridiculous! None of them come very close to expressing what I was hoping they would. The closest definition is “favor or good will”. But I have come to understand grace as the special flavor of favor or good will of our special Friend, All Pervading Light. I like to imagine that just as sea creatures are immersed in salty water, we are immersed in an inherently generous substance that could be construed as Love. Another name for this all pervading substance of consciousness is Grace. The cool thing about Grace, is that it is an unconditional force. It asks nothing of us, yet gives us our very lives and all of the sub-blessings therein. (whether we recognize these blessings is another story, isn’t it?) Why does It do this? Simply because that’s what it does.

Mykael is sitting across the table from me today. I decided to come to HIS café for once. I used to come to “his” café more often, but then I started to feel sick of him and so we each went to our own separate cafes, which is so healthy… but this morning, he took a huge FIVE HOUR exam and I am so proud of him for stepping in and simply giving his best without attachment (just like Krishna advises Arjuna to do), so I came to HIS café, where they DO NOT know how to make espresso drinks! Ewww, even thinking about the soy latte I just drank makes me want to barf. And even worse, but in a different way are the mochas. That’s what Mykael gets. They are thick and sludgy, like chocolate swamps. You can’t even drink the end of it, because it is mealy, chocolate puke. And now, on the other side of the table he is carving away at this fat chunk of stone and the whole table is violently shaking and I am trying to sound so deep and smart and the table lurches, making it impossible for me to gather these tightly coiled, esoteric thoughts. Sheesh and a half.

Effort and grace. Well, I suppose if you’re someone simple, who has clear, worldly ambitions, it is very obvious. You set a goal, take steps toward it and simultaneously allow grace to weave like sweet breeze, threading its way inbetween your actions. You know, those “coincidences”… being in the right place at the right time, meeting someone who can hook a sistah (or a brothah) up, stumbling upon a book or some thing that magically furthers your efforts. Simple. Effort plus grace equals a life well lived. Right? But what if you are someone like me, who thinks way too much, picks her bones dry because nothing can satisfy this insatiable mind besides the Ultimate Truth? Every day I wonder what in this world is truly WORTH fighting for, sweating for, standing for… It’s kinda nice to be sharing a table with a mirror named Mykael. Here I am steeping in yearning. Yearning to get to the bottom of it all, yearning to be the Holiest me, yearning to See… and I gaze off into the wastelands between nowhere and somewhere, heavy with hope of finding something deeply true. Mykael finds my inwardly scrupulous eyes and mouths, “are you okay?”… And that’s when I realize that this wondering makes me feel sorta sad.

I’m sad because I wish I let life be so simple. I wish I could set my mind to something and then do your basic steamy tango with effort and grace until allofa sudden, SHA-ZAAM! There I am, intention fulfilled! But alas, I don’t trust my lopsided ego desires as far as they could throw me (and boy, can they throw me!). Those are the desires I could spend lifetimes ensnared in, toiling to bushwack my way to imagined happiness… only to feel weary and just as alone and afraid as I ever was. No, folks, the ONLY desire that means anything to me is the desire to find the light inside me and to hear the “still, small voice” (of APL) and be Its sacred bitch. I want to die to myself and be born solely as a messenger of the Highest. Hmmm, I guess that is as good a goal as any. I make effort. I receive grace.

Mykael asked me again if I am okay. I wonder what my face looks like!? My eyes do sting with tears now. WHY? Because waiting for the Ultimate Grace, the Grace that is Awakening, Self Realization takes SO MUCH PATIENCE!!!! So much patience. And there is evermore for me to Forgive. And in the meantime, this other life, this external, demanding survival game keeps happening. And I feel compelled to respond to it, or be fucked. And I know I could make MORE efforts to Realize. Meditate more. Drink more blasted wheat grass. Do more selfless service. Open my heart in more of those moments when my infantile, poopy diaper clad emotional self screams, demonically demands that I remain shut tighter than the tightest of sphincters. Open, then? If I did THAT, I’d pass go, collect hecka money and go straight to the Boardwalk just beyond Heaven’s gates!

Just as I wrote that came another violent table shaking spell. What is that sposta mean? I dunno. What’s it sposta mean that Mykael and split a huge artichoke for lunch yesterday and he took his bowl of gnawed on leaves to the green bin and dumped them and fixed to the bottom of his bowl was an artichoke stained quarter! God, I want it to mean SOMETHING! Something auspicious.

Auspicious~ 1) Promising success; propitious; opportune; favorable

2) favored by fortune; prosperous; fortunate

I would say that a quarter in an artichoke could easily be construed as auspicious, in that case… I bet we’ll find a Ben Franklin in our next artichoke.

Effort and grace? I return to the page every day. For the love of it. I sit here in the gloomy café, my elbows bleeding with grease and my mind dripping with artichokes, stained quarters, lofty concepts, impassioned words. Effort. You read my words and feel something rise, from deep inside your being. Illumination. Your place, nestled in your now moment becomes spontaneously vivified. Maybe you remember that life is equal parts amazing and weird. Maybe you remember that you are not alone… and your brokenness only exists so the light can seep in, and burst out. Seep in and burst out, seep in and burst out. This is grace. My writing ignites entire clusters of hungry, ticklish minds in a wild fire fashion. Publishers and agents beg to represent me as an author. Money pours to me as I continue to pour out these inspired, musing words. That is grace. I wish I could see my own face…

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