Among The Thistles

How can one sleep with a moon like this?  It’s so early it’s not even early, it’s late.  I mean early, you’re not up yet, not awake yet, slurps of hot liquid with eyes closed, fan of the mind humming, oscillating between two levels of consciousness, tendons shortened, digestive organs finishing up their work. 

Ten-thousand pinpricks of light still glimmer overhead, and you’re already out walking.

Hormones have been secreting, cells have been forming in your bone marrow, the liver is a tireless magician, the sublime workhorse of your heart has been laying low, half-drunk old man in a hammock.  And, like a gathering wind in the distance, love rises. 

It rises above lies and dictations, the sound of the mind.  It rises above the texture of your words, the swirling ether of your thoughts.  It blows among the thistles, it blows through your whole life.

A love so impossibly vast, unbearable its confinement.

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A Passage From Natalie Goldberg’s Long Quiet Highway

The following passage is from one of my favorite books of all time, Natalie Goldberg’s Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up In America, the story of her 12-year relationship with her spiritual teacher, Zen master Katagiri Roshi, until the time of his death.  Interwoven with her experiences as a Zen student is a memoir of her life, beginning in 1950’s Long Island, and how her journey to free the writer within herself was connected to her journey as a spiritual seeker.  This passage resonates with me because it points to the true depth of responsibility involved in taking the seat of a teacher, and the potentiality of a beautifully functioning teacher/student relationship.

“We have an illusion that a certain time, a certain place, a certain person is the only way.  Without it, or them, we are lost.  It is not true.  Impermanence teaches us this.  There is no one thing to hold on to.

Once, a few years earlier, I told Roshi in anger ‘I’m never coming back here’.  He laughed and said ‘The gate swings both ways, I cannot hold anyone’.  Yet when I returned two months later I could tell he was happy to see me.  But he had to go beyond his personal likes and dislikes.  He could not say to me ‘Please Natalie, don’t go.  I like you’.  He was my teacher.  As a teacher, he had the responsibility to teach me, to put forth the depth of human existence, whether he or I liked it or not.

Meetings end in departures is a quote from the early Sutras of Shakyamuni.  No matter how long the meeting, or what the relationship, we depart from each other.  Even marriage or monkhood end in death.  ‘In the face of that truth’, he said, ‘you can go or come’.  He was not tossed away by personal preferences.  It was his practice to stand on something larger, regardless of his subjective feelings.  And if I returned, the choice had to be mine.  I was responsible for myself.

I drove my thick carcass out of Minnesota.  I did not thank him for his great effort, did not bow in front of him, present him with a little spice cake, an orchid, a wool cap to keep his shaved priest’s head warm.  I know he understood.  He did not teach in order to receive anything, but gratitude may be the final blessing for a student.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  I know what I have received.  Knowing that, the duality of teacher and student dissolves.  The teacher can pour forth the teachings; the student absorbs them.  No resistance, no fight.  It is a moment of grace.”

 

Alchemy

The peacock struts around eating things that are brightly colored: plants, insects and snakes.  

Much of what it eats is poisonous.   

May we learn to move closer to pain, invite in the Lady of Sorrows to sit it at our table, as if she were our neighbor, as if she were a weary vagabond in need of food and shelter, and we were a Spanish Mission.  

Then we might be something like the peacock, whose tail-feathers are alchemized by poison into something bright and beautiful.

No Rush

You don’t have to rush.  You don’t have to be in such a hurry all the time.  You don’t have to feel pulled in a hundred different directions.  It’s only the energy of the society around you, and has nothing to do with the conversation your life makes with the world.

When you give up the habit of rushing and the need to be in control, it creates space in you for peace.

Notice how any system has rules and limitations, and must operate within its own boundaries in order to control effectively.  Notice how weak – or how strong – any single aspect of a system becomes when approached in a non-systematic way, or when it is removed from the system to which it belongs, revealing just how limiting a system can be.

Fear, desire, and the need to be in control are like obstructions in a river, blocking the full potential of the water’s flow.  You can always be less rigid and more fluid, less like stone and more like water.

To live less systematically – and let go of the rush – is to allow the space and flexibility for peace to flow more abundantly into your life.

 

“May I be the tiniest nail

in the house of the universe.

Tiny, but useful.”

Mary Oliver

 

Making Use of Heat

C.M. Rivers

Then you come to that place of burning through the atmospheric fabric of consciousness.  You learn how to make use of the intensity of heat, and you use it to burn through thoughts and emotions, fears and desires, to purify and transform. 

Because you are not your thoughts, emotions.  You are not the sum of your fears and desires, however enslaved to them you perceive yourself to be.  You are a thread in the fabric of consciousness.  You are part of the awareness that witnesses all things in this field of time, this dimension of duality.

So you can stop trying to hold on to your identity as it is defined by others.  You can start to let go of how others might see you, how they might judge you.  And you can start to release your own judgments, assumptions, and misconceptions about others.

You might arrive at a place…

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Making Use of Heat

Then you come to that place of burning through the atmospheric fabric of consciousness.  You learn how to make use of the intensity of heat, and you use it to burn through thoughts and emotions, fears and desires, to purify and transform. 

Because you are not your thoughts, emotions.  You are not the sum of your fears and desires, however enslaved to them you perceive yourself to be.  You are a thread in the fabric of consciousness.  You are part of the awareness that witnesses all things in this field of time, this dimension of duality.

So you can stop trying to hold on to your identity as it is defined by others.  You can start to let go of how others might see you, how they might judge you.  And you can start to release your own judgments, assumptions, and misconceptions about others.

You might arrive at a place of thunderstruck stillness in yourself, a calm quiet place that has always been there, somewhere, like the surface of a pool of still water, or maybe the eye of a storm.  All the great importance of your external environment is diminished in this place of being at rest within yourself, this sensation of coming home to your own heart, this peaceful pause in the wake of the ten-thousand things.

It’s a place where no one owes you anything, and you don’t owe them.  A place free of demand or expectation.  A place of clarity, blindingly brilliant, where you can see a little more clearly what it is to be human.  Because each time you make an individual self-discovery, you discover something about humanity in the process.

There is a revelatory quality in your experience of self-discovery that is unique to you, but you are also simultaneously connected to all those who have made the same discovery, all around the world, down through the ages.  You are connected to those who have not been born yet, and those who are here now, shedding their own brands of light.   

 

Quote by Erich Schiffman

“When you let go of everything you think you know about yourself and stay with what’s left, when you willingly abandon the contradictory evaluations of who you are and courageously reach deeply into yourself in order to experience yourself directly, you will come upon a new experience of who you are.”

Erich Schiffman