January 7, 2011 § 13 Comments
Greetings! It’s snowing again in the greater New York area. I just came in from walking around the lake. I wonder where the ducks and swans go when the lake freezes over? I see people ice fishing sometimes, though not today. The New York Times reported that Russians from Brooklyn like to drive up here and ice fish, but today the roads are bad. The falling snow gives the air a metallic smell and an intimate hush, like the inside of a big stone church. I walked around enjoying the intimate-feeling solitude, yet reflecting on how essential it is for us to conspire together. To paraphrase that great song “American Pie,” all the beings I have admired most, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost–along with Madame de Salzmann, Thich Nhat Hanh and many other extraordinary ordinary mortals–have emphasized the importance of the spiritual community. A very powerful energy is generated when people practice together. It is my deepest wish and intention that the Parabola web space grow and transform to become a place to channel this energy. So I’ll just begin…
In response to my last post, we were reminded that the word “conspire” means to breathe together. In the sutra called “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness,” the Buddha describes how to wake up, saying that it all begins–and ends–with mindfulness of the body. This is a deceptively simple statement–even, let’s be honest, seemingly disappointing! Don’t most of us wish to be liberated from the limitations of this one, at least somewhat disappointing body, this one, at least somewhat disappointing life? I remember vividly sitting in my high school art room crafting little Siddhartha-looking figures out of clay and staring out the big windows at the snow falling on the road that wound up a wooded hill beyond (snow was/is frequent in Watertown, New York). I remember pondering the way someone said the literary critic A.R. Orage pondered, the way kids do naturally: Why was I here? Why did I even have to have a body that had to make beds and do homework and other torments? Why couldn’t I be a cloud or a vapor so I could get places effortless and see and know things without, well, friction and effort? I smoked cigarettes then (it was part of my outlaw persona, but I quit over 20 years ago.) So I was acutely aware of the pull of habit, and I was also painfully, defensively aware of the narrow confines of my experience and point of view. I was a girl from the North Country and I had a North Country accent (still do, a little). I knew I wasn’t the jungle girl or the international spy I pretended to be when I was younger. How I yearned to be part of something greater!
It turns out that the way to something greater is through mindfulness of the body. It is through conspiring with others–with noticing that others breathe as you breathe, that the body and the potential you have inherited are not yours alone but your part in the common human condition. Bit by bit, and quite reluctantly at times, life pushed out onto that road that led away from the high school, out of the known world of my familiar thoughts and associtations into the unknown world that we glimpse from time to time when we open up–the wild unknown of the ETERNAL NOW. It appears again and again, when we are in question. Even last night! One day this week, everything went my way and I felt blessed–the next day, all bad news and I felt utterly unseen, all my efforts ineffectual and pathetic. Finally, I just had to laugh–just seeing the ego scrambling to get the story sorted out, to insist on itself, it’s claim to be right and the best, whether I was playing the winner or loser! I went out to sit with others in a local sangha, and as I was doing walking mediation, some wild spark of awareness and willingness in me allowed me to let go all that arguing and affirming for a second and just open up to life. I felt the support of the other around me. For a moment, I felt as if I were stepping forward to volunteer for a brave and reckless mission, to be wide be stripped of the veil of thought, the armor of ego, to be open to what may come. For a moment or two, I knew there is another way to take in impressions. We can let them pierce us, rather than buffer them with the mind. I also knew I would not have been able to make that moment of, well, appearing, showing up for duty for a second instead of being lost in thought, without the support of the others around me.
Another comment last time mentioned the old meaning of “gracious” as Godly, also acceptable, and merciful and compassionate. In Lord of the Rings, the beautiful elf Arwen gives the hobbit Frodo a potion of the grace that grants her immortality as a gift for healing and strength. Ron noted that this the way that love and compassion lays us open to grace, which can never be created by us, only received. Yet we can lay ourselves open to what is higher–and Frodo’s pure-hearted willingness to undertake an impossible mission sparked Arwen’s compassion and allowed grace to enter. I’ll never foret hearing Cardinal O’Connor of New York say that Mother Theresa once told him that he had to give God permission to enter his heart.
There are moments in life when we do give God and life permission to enter, either due to the thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to or devoutly wished for and cultivated through prayer and meditation, when we abandon all false hope and enter life. When we find ourselves simply sitting and breathing with others. I am thinking of those who know what it’s like to sit with those who are suffering. I am think of what it is like to wait in an airport or a train station, in a church, a meditation hall, and even writing in this space on a snowy day. We really are all kin, and what we have much to offer one another. We can show up.