I am walking with poet, Lisa Jarnot down Arapahoe swinging a basket of dandelions, morning glories, blue flax, sage, clover, rocks, twigs, and things for an offering to the visiting writers. Week One. We pass trees we touched yesterday, and touch again. This gesture of her hand wrapped around a small trunk is quietly profound. It reminds me of how she stops for each twitch of a student. How do you do that?
This moment is all we have. Don’t you think?
That’s how she says it.
We’ve been talking about the Anthropocene all week* as well as the end of humans on the planet. Or the statement could refer to the Buddhist attempt to be where you be. The twist, “that’s all we have…” spins it into a quiet urgency. This earth, this flash; it’s people too. You …and you.
Yoga teacher, Richard Freeman says he wakes up every day, opens his hands, and what falls there he attends to (like the tale of Patangali’s birth, appearing out of his praying mother’s hands). Twenty years ago I traded cleaning Richard and Mary’s house for Yoga classes. One afternoon when Mary was somewhere else, Richard, in the kitchen, carefully cut the red spine out of a tremendous chard leaf, then another. He put the leaves in a pot to steam, set the timer, and this was lunch. I thought, lucky chard, to die with such attentiveness.
On our walk a geologist/ poet from our class shows me an average looking rock. She says, they all look like this on the outside. Turned over it was split in half, filled with shiny bits in the middle…
At the retreat last week at Shambhala Mountain Center I was stirred by the end of the Diamond Sutra and read it to students daily. They were kindly receptive to my little obsession. I even asked Heather Bui to write it out as a gift to students. Here it is, for you:
this is how to contemplate our existence in this fleeting world…
like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
like a flash of lightening in a summer cloud, or a flickering lamp,
an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.**
I am seduced into thinking what happens right now is less fascinating than moments I plan for, or my memories. Why not attend to what is in my hands, in front of my eyes with earnest respect and care? The early morning dog walkers at Macintosh Lake look at each other and talk about the beauty of the day. The cashier at Walgreens helps me find small circular batteries with friendliness and investigation as if it were the only thing…Do they know…
This is all we have, don’t you think?
I light incense, bow, fluff up my cushion, and cross legs. In about 20 minutes I think, Let’s get up now. I have been waiting to sit all morning. What kind of pleasure and joy do I think will happen if I just blow off the end of my sitting practice? What is worthy of that urgency? So, I wait—not so different than other kinds of waiting. There are whole rooms designed for it. Elizabeth Bishop had a profound realization in a waiting room.*** As I surrender to the next squirming exhale there is something else.. ..a kind of a calling. A whisper of being… body… all around. I don’t care if it’s the ultimate tenderness or a glint of something. I continue to sit through. When the incense goes down to ash I chant the chant to be with you and you and all and all. Then wave the candle out and go toward the day. I take care of the practice by assigning a beginning, middle, and end as a way to give this practice a chance to work— to hold it. Then (you know this) I have a chance at being in the middle of moments of my day. I have a chance at clearing the lethargies from my senses. I have a chance at actually appreciating the smallest flickers and everything walking through.
You may be able to think, or read, talk, or listen your way into this. Maybe you could write your way there. There are so many ways to practice. Today this tender acknowledgement of being comes through something whittled down so far—the simple act of sitting. I alone, with everything.****
Lisa places her hand on trunk of small white oak. The tree is rooted between children’s voices and constant waves of traffic. The tree is stuck. I drive past it all the time. I vaguely remember when a group of people planted a row of them. Little trees, edges of leaves, singed. No wonder we don’t like to sit. The “sitting equals enlightenment,” part of the practice sounds pretty great. The open mind of not knowing frees up expectations. The sense of co-arising, that all these circumstances somehow slide in to make one fantastic moment is supreme! Side B is bearing witness to the suffering of each being whom I pass. Who I am. Animal, vegetable, mineral. Birds and trees. Dogen said also fences, walls, tiles and stones.***** What about forces like gravity, wind. What about the suffering of water?
During the last morning of our retreat we slow our steps up a path into a mountain meadow. We hear the difference between our steps on the dirt and wooden footbridge. We feel our body’s shift slightly, noticing the changing texture of surfaces. We light up hearing a small stream. Water runs all the way down from the high peaks. The path is narrow so when I turn to walk back I practically brush shoulders with each person still walking up. Breathe step. Breathe step. When we are back inside everybody glows from the long slow walk and shoulder-to-shoulder moment. Then I am gone, just a girl drivin’ a car, the country western song sings.
~ o ~
* Welcome to the Anthropocene | Welcome
**chapter 32 [PDF]Diamond Sutra – Terebess
*** In the Waiting Room by Elizabeth Bishop – Poems | poets.org
**** Check out these lyrics:
Dispatch – “Only The Wild Ones” [Official Song Audio] – YouTube
***** 67 On Giving Rise to the Unsurpassed Mind – The Zen Site