A Beautiful Mind
August 12, 2010 § 12 Comments
Yesterday afternoon, I had an extraordinary conversation with Gina Sharpe, a woman I have known for about a decade and now hold as a true spiritual inspiration. Once a successful corporate lawyer, Gina has been a longtime dedicated student and teacher of Vipassana meditation and Theravada Buddhism. The mind assumes it understands what a change in career like this means–or mine did. We do a kind of narrative math and depending on our notions of what is good and bad, we come up with a sum: a) Gina was tired of the pressure and opted out or: b) Gina was sick of the devouring greed for money and power that drives that profession and chose to jump into another stream of life or even: c) Gina decided to try to swim upstream against the swift currents of desire and the usual habits of mind. Talking with Gina yesterday–and really over years of listening and observering her–I learned this way of thinking isn’t remotely near the real truth. A real change in the heart and mind (in Buddhism the two are not separate) is not a matter of progressing from point to point. In a way, it has to do with stopping, with daring to be still and know what is in the present moment–and persistently enough to fully open, to really be able to receive the full mystery of what is.
I don’t mean to portray Gina as a saint or an angel above ordinary life (as we talked in the upstairs study of her pretty house in Westchester, she made green tea she told me was “the really good stuff.”) But what I glimpsed in her was how moments of being present can grow by dedicated practice into moments of Presence. Who we really are is not an isolated individual on an isolated journey but a being who is an inextricable part of a greater and perfect Whole, a greater living Presence. Like any living being, this Presence is always in movement, never static. The intricate, interconnected Mystery of it All, the real Truth, can never be reduced to thought (even a Great Thought). It can only be received like grace by a mind that includes the heart and body. We are meant to participate in theTruth, to contribute our particular lives to the workings of the Whole.
I haven’t yet transcribed my interview with Gina, but to reduce it to a few blunt and inadequate thoughts: the progress of Gina’s life has been towards excluding less and less from heart and mind, and towards including more and more. I learned from her that the more we we are able open to the present moment, the more we realize the truth is particular and irreducible. It changes moment by moment. How could she say being a corporate lawyer is bad and being a teacher of the dharma is good, or that former is greater and the latter is less? At a certain moments, knowledge of the law is just what is needed. Nothing can be excluded, sentenced, judged. And at moments, we can touch Presence, in which the fully Mystery and Beauty of life flows into the present moment. We learn in such moments that it here, waiting for us to receive and give ourselves to it in turn.
In the past week, a reader of my blog sent me a link to Wordsworth’s “Tinturn Abbey.” Thanks for the gift! This extraordinary poem captures something that Gina was trying to get across to me–that all the while we move through our lives in the illusion of isolation, there is a subtle and secret economy at work. And not the “shadow economy” we are learning about but the luminous web of life that we lack of better words call the Whole:
“Five years have past; five summers, with the length/Of five long winters! and again I hear/These waters, rolling from their mountain springs….”
In the midst of the city and the 10,000 troubles and burdens of this world, the “beautous forms” of nature bring Wordsworth feelings of “unremembered pleasure,” those acts of kindness and love that took place below the radar of his fixed aims and business. By the end of the poem, Wordsworth realizes that those “wild secluded scenes” that invited a deep inner seclusion–those moments of being fully present in nature had imperceptively opened his heart and mind to something vast: “While with an eye made quiet by the power/Of harmony, and deep power of joy,/We see into the life of things.”