By clearly seeing the extremes of experience, you learn to scout the middle way.
Nov. 9, 2016
Flakes, thick and float.
Giddy, I take pictures with my phone as I drive.
Sally got loose but didn’t go far. Norman fought a tabby I’ve never seen. A car, traveling east, almost hit the young calico from across street (last night she was in my dream). I wrote poems and listened to poems. Ate cashew cheese on sesame crackers, hakurei turnip, red carrots, celery; drank lemon ginger tea. Chose red chrysanthemum at the market, the color of blood as it leaves the body and mixes with air. Mark played and we danced slowly, sang halleluiah. At the end we attached safety pins to our t-shirts and blouses. Some cried, some angry and said so. Winter sun slants low through window over couch and to houseplants. They grow in directions I have never seen.
Wednesday all day I lift out of my body then back in. Barbara, on the phone, reminds me of random acts of kindness. I can do this. Laura Ann says call my representative. A man’s gentle voice says, hello, and I read my little speech. He’ll pass the message along. I find out you’re supposed to call every day.
I watched the map go red like the mums. I went to sleep thinking it would work out by morning. When I woke I knew what was important.
At Union reservoir men cast lines off the dock. There was something more urgent than usual in our over-eager waves to each other. I think of Robert Duncan’s “the urgent wave of the verse.” Poets and comedians are going to have an inspiring four years, as far as material goes.
Sitting Wednesday I tried to persuade my spiritual topic for the occasion. I replaced my feelings with A PERFECT teaching for all of us. My expression came out flat and dry like cardboard. A superficial cartoon bubble. In the next bubble friends listened politely and then talked about what they needed to. Disbelief, shock, surprise. AHA! I was swimming in the world of bypass! Spiritual materialism. Caught!
Mark explains “spiritual by-pass” as something like: Skipping over actual feelings and emotions to a so- called spiritual state, like bliss or forgiveness or oneness. Or maybe using spiritual experiences to avoid feeling and relating to emotions, self or other. Using so- called spirituality as a cloak for protection from reality.
Leonard Cohen sings all over the world today:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.*
At Naropa, students spoke from their heart of hearts. Oh! They are exhausted from their vigilance. They talk about threats, language, abuse, the hate. They care. Where do the students find refuge? Wine, yoga, reading, baths, practice, books, community, writing, mom...
I listen to Cary Egan’s radio voice.** She says the job of Chaplin is to find out and accommodate people’s faith, beliefs. She is not trying to convince people of something. Can I be like this, as a priest, a teacher? Can I not offer advice or teachings when the moment calls for something more receptive? I write, and speak from experience mostly. If my rant rubs against a leg of an ancient teaching and there’s an empty bucket looking for a marble, I put a marble there. Occasionally I step far from my own pulse. There’s my body and then there’s this empty talk, like the grownups in the world of Snoopy and Charlie and Lucy…blah, blah, blah…I can then breathe in and return to the pain in my heart, breath in belly, or my feet standing ground. As the elders say, I take my seat.
I sit down, become part of the scenery and sounds of traffic and winter light and my head throb softens and my heart gasp returns to a beat I can recognize… I get up. Return to what I do. Sunday Yoga. Wednesday Sitting. Poetry Mondays. Walk to Walgreens. Sitting in the dentist’s chair is a privilege, a refuge. I can listen to a teacher, and if no one is talking I can listen to the sounds of the refrigerator.*** I can lend a hand; pick up phone. And you? What is your refuge? What brings you the middle way?
Today it is snowing. As I drive to school I take pictures of snow randomly. When I look at the photos I see images of things with snow on them, the cracked windshield, back of white truck, road, cottonwoods, pines, and a little bell hanging off the rear view that rings when I drive a bump.
When I get to school I shoot a 12 second movie of the teahouse in the snow. In the movie it sounds like a river is flowing, but it’s actually traffic. Sounds like this, Shanti… Shanti, Shanti. Last night I dreamt of a teacher who has helped me, from India. In the dream he tells me the same thing.
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