We only have a right to our work

November 29, 2017 Ian White Maher 3 comments

I came to Stone Mountain with a chest full of wanting. I wanted something dramatic to happen. I wanted something special. I wanted to tell you stories about conversations I had with the ancestors. I wanted to offer you a path. I wanted. I wanted. I wanted.

But nothing happened.

I sat all day and didn’t see anything but my wanting.

By midday the voice in my head had become quite loud.

“Why did I come here?”
“This was a mistake.”
“I don’t even know what I’m doing”
“Why do you think there is a way out of this?”
“What’s done is done. There is no going back.”
“This is too big.”
“This is stupid.”

Stone Mountain Georgia photo
Photo by Andy Montgomery

The overlook where I first sat had become popular with happy hikers, joyful kids, and cautious parents, so after lunch I moved to the backside of the summit where no one seemed to visit. It was quieter but I could still hear the faint sounds of laughter and friendship washing over me. I could hear mothers and fathers warning their children about the dangers of running around the mountain. I wondered how many later warned them about the dangers that lingered in the echoes of the men who climbed this mountain long ago to reform the KKK.

KKK photo
Photo by Oldmaison

As I sat, I imagined those 16 men on top of this bald peak. I listened for the enthusiasm in their voices as they took those ominous oaths pledging themselves to the invisible empire. I tried walking up the path alongside them searching for that excited anticipation, the fraternity of brothers, both solemn and purposeful, convinced that they were about to change history, which they did.

These men did not create white supremacy or even the KKK, but this small act of rebirthing the Klan opened Pandora’s box and an evil flew out into the world that we are still living with today. The myth of Pandora tells us that only hope remained in the bottom of that vessel, but as I looked out over the beautiful Georgia countryside, leaves changing from green to crimson, I wondered where that hope was.

Stone Mountain Georgia photo
Photo by Lee Edwin Coursey

The sun started to set and I packed up my cushion for the hike down. What, if anything, had happened? The path of hope felt so opaque. The ancestors so fixed in their course. It wasn’t frustration as much as emptiness. I came wanting but left lacking.

That night a friend asked me about the retreat and I felt like I was letting her down when I said, “Nothing happened. I saw nothing. I felt nothing.” But oddly there was no regret.

A day later I remembered the famous verse from the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 2 Verse 47).

We only have a right to our work
We do not have a right to the fruits
The fruits should not be the motivation for your actions
And do not shirk your work

This gave me comfort.

I do not have a right to any particular outcome. All I can do is offer my work to the best of my ability. It is the work that is valuable, not the special feelings or the dramatic spiritual encounters I desired so much.

No ancestor spoke to me. No epiphany occurred. There are no great stories to share with you about my trip to Stone Mountain. Nothing sexy. But neither do I have regrets. My life is my work and I am blessed by that simple truth. Next year, I will return to pray for the ancestors again, not for any prize but because that is what I am called to do. Maybe some of you will come with me. We may never see the end of white supremacy in our lifetimes, but we do our work anyway. For the work gives the world hope, and in the hope lies the holy.

Photo by Andy Montgomery

3 Comments on “We only have a right to our work

  1. Sweet Ian. One of the fruits of this testimony is that you have touched my heart, my longing, my sense of wonder that you made yourself willing. I am weeping as I write this. And tears are a sign that Spirit is in engaged.

    As I read, I was reminded of Rumi’s “Love Dogs”:
    “Love Dogs

    One night a man was crying,
    Allah! Allah!
    His lips grew sweet with the praising,
    until a cynic said,
    “So! I have heard you
    calling out, but have you ever
    gotten any response?”

    The man had no answer to that.
    He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

    He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
    in a thick, green foliage.
    “Why did you stop praising?”
    “Because I’ve never heard anything back.”
    “This longing
    you express is the return message.”

    The grief you cry out from
    draws you toward union.

    Your pure sadness
    that wants help
    is the secret cup.

    Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
    That whining is the connection.

    There are love dogs
    no one knows the names of.

    Give your life
    to be one of them.”

    You, sweet friend, have given your life to be a love dog. Sorry to say: that involves a LOT of longing. And it is sufficient.

    Thank you!!

  2. Hi Ian – I head out for a week’s silent retreat (having not been silent any longer than an afternoon or evening) and it is such a temptation to imagine what I might learn, the questions that might be answered, or the ways in which I might feel. Your meditation is such a helpful, healthy reminder that our essential call is to show up. We must listen for the Divine by letting go of intention or desire, even (or perhaps especially) when our intention or desire is tied to loving God. As always, your vulnerability offers much to those of us who similarly struggle and seek. Thank you!

  3. Hi Ian,
    Much heartfelt gratitude to you for making this journey. Durning these dark times of turmoil we are seeking simples answers. Answers that can give us comfort, within this madness. The answers just don’t seem to come how we want them to. . This evil that keeps raising it’s nasty head has been out there for a long time .
    I hear you say when you say you left the mountain feeling emptiness.. lack…You did not receive the message, the guidance and insight that you longed to hear. You went to find some sort of answer to battle prejudice, discrimination and hatred. What you found were children playing, families laughing, unaware or uninterested of the evil that was birthed in this beautiful place. Prejudice is silent and deadly. In moves in and out of our lives going unnoticed by us white folks.What I can share as a white woman that has worked deep in the African American communities, that prior to this assignment I was clueless as to the levels of hell people of color have to deal with.
    What I am saying to you Ian, is that you got a clear answer. That answer has been inside you the entire time. What you experienced had no substance. It was empty. It was less than. This is how folks of color can feel everyday. Because of how they look they are easily labeled less than. Our white ancestors unleashed this madness. On that day, you were one man on a mountain with a purpose.It takes more than one man to change this mess.What it does require is a man on a mission knowing in his heart that he has to keep praying, talking and shaking up humanity.That’s you Sir. There are those of us that will walk with you and work hard to dismantle this silent machine. Keep on Keeping on. You are surrounded in Divine Love and Light.

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