￼I’m typing this on my phone. I just wanted to check in, let you know where I am, what’s going on. I didn’t post for Gratitude Friday this week and my Something Good list is postponed until Tuesday. My only explanation is this picture, my grandneice Lia. I had to come see her and everything else has to wait.
Clearing by Martha Postlewaite
Do not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worth of rescue.
In my Wild Writing class on Friday morning, Laurie used this poem for our final prompt. It was exactly what I needed to hear at that particular moment in time. I knew I would need to find it, print it out, read it again and again, let the meaning sink in and stick. It’s an answer to a question I’ve been asking. A question I’ve asked myself, trying to connect with my own internal wisdom, and a question I’ve cast out into the universe to see what might come back.
Maybe you don’t know this about me, but I am trying to save the whole world. A bodhisattva who vowed to keep being reborn, to keep coming back until there is no one left suffering. I think I was born with this promise already in my heart. Maybe I made the vow in another lifetime, or maybe it formed in my mother’s womb along with my fingers and toes. It seems to have always been there, the longing to ease suffering, in myself and in the world.
The poem seems to answer the lingering, “How?” It’s an answer to my confusion about what to do next. It is a clarification of my bewilderment that time someone said, “think about what breaks your heart and you’ll know who you are here to serve,” and I responded, “but what if everything breaks your heart?”
“Don’t try to save the whole world or do anything grandiose. Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life and wait there patiently, until the song that is your life falls into your own cupped hands and you recognize and greet it. Only then will you know how to give yourself to this world so worth of rescue.” So worth of rescue. All of us, all of it, all of me.
Though you cannot
remember it now,
you have taken a vow
with the stars
as your witness,
to offer your heart
to this world.
You have agreed
to remain naked, raw,
and vulnerable forever,
to enter into
the heart of sadness
and the ocean of tenderness
if that is where love calls you.
Your only guide
is the unknown
and the only map
is found inside
the cells of your own heart.
This poem is on my mind, especially the opening and closing lines.
by Mark Nepo
Everything is beautiful and I am so sad.
This is how the heart makes a duet of
wonder and grief. The light spraying
through the lace of the fern is as delicate
as the fibers of memory forming their web
around the knot in my throat. The breeze
makes the birds move from branch to branch
as this ache makes me look for those I’ve lost
in the next room, in the next song, in the laugh
of the next stranger. In the very center, under
it all, what we have that no one can take
away and all that we’ve lost face each other.
It is there that I’m adrift, feeling punctured
by a holiness that exists inside everything.
I am so sad and everything is beautiful.
Think of a plum tree. In each plum on the tree there is a pit. That pit contains the plum tree and all previous generations of plum tree. The plum pit contains an infinite number of plum trees. Inside the pit is an intelligence, a wisdom that knows how to become a plum tree, how to produce branches, leaves, flowers, and plums. It cannot do this on its own. It can do this only because it has received the experience and adaptations of so many generations of ancestors. You are the same. ~Thich Nhat Hanh*
I would add three things. One, the trauma and suffering of the trees and fruit that came before are also contained in that pit, so each plum works with that as well.
Also, it not only has the benefit of its lineage, but is helped along by the soil, the rain, the sun, the air, the bees, and the occasional kind and gentle gardener. Similarly, it can be harmed by shifts in the environment, the weather, etc.
And finally, no plum tree ever questions what it has to offer. It doesn’t say, “am I doing this right?” or “should I make apples instead?” but rather trusts that the best it has to offer is exactly what it has to give. It trusts the season and when the fruit is ripe, it lets it go, unconcerned with what happens next.
*Thanks to @thedailytourist for sharing the Thich Nhat Hanh quote.
I taught a yoga class this morning. Towards the end of savasana, the song that was playing came to a crescendo just as an ambulance drove past with its siren blaring. The contrast between those two external demands, the beauty of the music asking to be noticed and the siren needing people to pay attention, was a reminder that life is both beautiful and brutal, tender and terrible, and that no matter what arises, as practitioners we work to keep our hearts open, to stay with it, to try and work with it with wisdom and compassion.
It reminded me of the quote from Pema Chödrön, the one about tigers above and tigers below.
There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.
Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life. ~Pema Chödrön, The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World
This is a good reminder. When the chaos of life seems unmanageable, when so many are suffering and there’s so much confusion, there is also this, “delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”
This absolutely doesn’t mean, “stay positive.” It doesn’t mean we deny the tigers above and below. It doesn’t mean taking no action either, because if you notice the story starts with the woman running from the tigers until she can’t run anymore. Instead, we make space for it all.
We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. ~Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart
I posted this picture to Instagram yesterday, with the caption “Feeling stuck.” There is so much to do, to say, to consider, to resist. Sometimes I feel completely frozen.
I know that part of it is the overwhelm of our current political situation, and in particular a leader who is amplifying the oppression of anyone who isn’t white, cisgender, or male in a culture that already leaned that way. This past week was especially disturbing — the speech he gave at the Boy Scout Jamboree, inciting violence against people of color during a speech to a group of police, and banning transgender individuals from serving “in any capacity” in the US armed forces for the same sort of reasons that used to be used to keep women out of the military.
And it’s not just that. People I love are suffering. People I hardly know but love anyway are having a tough time. We all suffer, and in our hurt and confusion, we lash out, in ways large and small. We can get so caught up in the confusion of trying to feel okay, clinging to what we want and rejecting what we don’t, that we don’t even see the suffering we are generating all the time.
Yesterday morning, I walked past a women’s clothing store in Old Town Fort Collins with a chalkboard outside that read, “A dress should be tight enough to show you are a woman, loose enough to show you are a lady.” One might think that’s completely innocent or even cute, but if you look at it closely, it’s so harmful, oppressive, and ugly. And this from women trying to sell other women clothing! Internalized oppression is tragic — not only does the harm come from external sources, but lives inside us too.
I tried to start this morning without the noise of the news. I took Austin Kleon and Susannah Conway‘s advice and didn’t check Facebook first thing when I got up. I meditated and wrote instead. It helped a little, but the world manages to creep in anyway.
I tried to determine if I felt depressed or sad, and remembered the quote from Gloria Steinem that Susan Piver has shared before, “When you are depressed, nothing matters. When you are sad, everything does.” So, sad it is. I once heard someone suggest that if you want to know who you are here to serve, just notice what breaks your heart and you will find your purpose — but what if all of it breaks your heart? And what if you want to help everyone, fix all of it, where do you even begin?
Meghan Tonjes posted a picture on Facebook earlier today, and the caption gave me some insight into another approach, “Instead of focusing on the things and people I can’t fix, help, save, love through or give any more to, I’ve filled the entirety of my days with what I can control.” This reframe seems helpful — when I feel stuck, overwhelmed, helpless, I can ask myself “what can I control?” I tend to take too much responsibility for whatever might be happening, even though I know intellectually that there are layers and layers of conditions and circumstances working together in ways that I can’t know, can’t understand, and most certainly can’t control.
And if these strategies fail, I’m going to stare at this picture Janelle Hanchett just posted of George, because George is one of the reasons to never give up.