The Waltz in the Woods

March 19, 2013 § 31 Comments

Cold and gray this morning.  The storm has moved on.

I sit at the wall of glass looking into the pine forest that encircles my home along the southern coast.  I hear only the sound of the coffee brewing and the faint clicks from the keyboard as I write these words.

Right now the wind from the tail end of the storm is moving through the tall pines.  Each tree moves rhythmically with the wind, first bending to the wind’s will and then swaying back to its upright posture.   Yielding just enough to accommodate the gusts and then returning to its centered, upright way.

The wind ceases.  The dance ends.  The trees are nearly still now, just quivering a bit in the soft breeze that remains.

And then the wind comes up.  The dance commences again.

This cycle repeats- still, then quivering, and then swaying- a choreography of wondrous and hypnotic beauty.

I have not written anything for more than two weeks.  I have thought of writing every day.  And every day I somehow wasn’t able to write- too busy, the idea for the writing unworthy, whatever.

But this morning, I didn’t think about writing, I just sat here and looked out the window.  Wrote what I felt and what I saw.

Nature always models the way.  Giving up resistance, the tree bends to the wind.  But when the wind passes, she returns naturally to her centered existence.

The winds took me away because I resisted, I tried to think my way out.  But when I ceased fighting those winds, when I stopped thinking about what I had to do, I found myself again- here, at the window, watching the waltz in the woods.

The Dance

January 26, 2013 § 41 Comments

I stood at the window for a long time.  Watching the snowflakes dancing past.

Seeing the frozen jewels glide past my window, falling into the white blanket beneath, I felt- for a moment- sadness.  Those exquisite creations, each swallowed up in the drifts below.  One after the other.   Here and then gone.

And then I thought what it would be like to tumble downward like the snowflake.  Falling without resistance, surfing the winds in a trajectory that belonged only to it.  Surrounded by so many other dazzling partners.

I thought of the crystalline and fragile beauty of each individual flake.  A singular beauty arising from the interrupted symmetry of their creation.   Never to be repeated.

And something else took the place of my sadness.

 

To understand that we each exist as a unique creation of the One.

To accept the winds of the world and make our way without resistance.

To dance down our arc of time as a singular- but not isolated- being.

To use ourselves up, holding nothing back from life’s descent.

And then to return to the place where we began.

Melting into the snowy bosom of all that is and all that will be.

 

I stood at the window watching the snowflakes and I wept.

Not sadness anymore.  Tears of a nearly unbearable gratitude.

Gratitude for the blessing given to me- and to each of us- the chance to live out the finite and exquisite dance of life.

The Murmuring Brook

January 24, 2013 § 24 Comments

We say, “Step by step I stop the sound of the murmuring brook.”  When you walk along the brook you will hear the water running.  The sound is continuous but you must be able to stop it if you want to stop it.  This is freedom; this is renunciation.”

Shunryu Suzuki

 

Sitting alone in the dead quiet room, I hear the bells.

I am blessed by an affliction that puts a ringing sound in my consciousness ceaselessly.  When I listen for it, it is always there.

Sometimes it goes away.  But it doesn’t really go away because the very moment that I think of it, the sound is there.  It- the sound- is always there.  But like the sound of the murmuring brook, I can stop it.

To stop the ceaseless tolling of those bells in my mind, I need to do only one simple thing- stop listening, stop looking, stop doing.  Just stop.  And be only and simply in the moment.  In full acceptance of all that I am and all that is.

My affliction is like a murmuring brook I walk beside constantly.  Always there.  Ready to receive my renunciation.  Ready to leave me in my freedom.

Such a blessing.

In the Woods

January 3, 2013 § 29 Comments

Today in the woods- deep snow, air so cold and sharp it tingled.  Finding  a sliver of bright sun, beneath the sky of infinite blue, I felt the sun’s warmth on my face.  Standing there, I allowed the spirit of the trees and the sun and that sky that went on forever to come upon me.

How is it that I could be given such a moment?  A moment of peace beyond peace.

And then I know.  That moment belonged to me because I belonged to it.  In that moment, no sense of time, no duality, no thinking.  Just being.

The simple magic of pure existence.

A Year of Living

December 30, 2012 § 36 Comments

This year.

A year of putting aside the pointless pursuit of the targets of my ambition.  Giving up the enticing numbness of repression and drift.  Not stepping away when it feels too real.

Shutting down my busy mind.  Switching off that self-lacerating judgment.

Holding a vision of that pure way of being- strong, centered, and present.  A way beyond ambition or judgment- the place of gratitude, forgiveness, and acceptance.

Being with those I love.  Seeking what’s real and intimate, not contrived and hedged.

And all these new and wondrous connections- the writers, poets, and artists, the depressed and joyful ones.  These kind and generous beings, each one so precious to me.

Recalling also those moments of sublime experience- moments in the woods, at the sea, or simply sitting at this seat in my kitchen.   Moments of communion with all that is and all that I am.  Just the memory of them catches my breath.

But this year has also brought great pain and struggle.  More than ever before.   At times nearly unbearable.

Still, not going back to that other way.  Having lived the truth, can’t ever go back to the lie.

Seeking now to embrace the pain- and the joy- that comes with awareness.  Wide open, ready for what is to come.

I feel a stirring, a shift.  I feel the New Year coming.

 

A Great Disorder

December 11, 2012 § 19 Comments

A. A violent order is a disorder; and

B. A great disorder is an order. These

Two things are one. (Pages of illustrations.)

Wallace Stevens, “Connoisseur of Chaos “

 

My expectations explode against hard reality.

I end up not where I am supposed to be.

Nothing unfolds according to plan.

Just once, could things happen as they are supposed to happen?  Just once, could what I seek come my way as I imagined?

In Zen we say that all things exist in disorder but against a background of perfect harmony.  I have tried in so many ways to see and feel that harmony.  I have even pretended to grasp it.  But I don’t.  I feel no order or harmony- just swirling and cruel chaos.

Where is this harmony?  How can it be mine?

All this grief and questioning and doubt, I now understand, arise from one simple mistake.  I keep supposing that I can control what will come.  I imagine that when I do X today, then Y will happen tomorrow.  I seek to impose order upon the disorder.  And when I fail, as I must, I rage against it all.

The harmony, I know, is right there.  Waiting for me.  The key to that ecstatic existence is right here.  Simple acceptance.  Undiluted, sure, steady acceptance of all that is and all that I am.

I know these things.  And I know that I am moving closer and closer to that way of being.  Substituting that simple truth for that simple mistake.  To be purged of rage, filled with gratitude and acceptance.

Closer and closer.

The Weight

December 8, 2012 § 48 Comments

Sitting on the back porch, feeling the warm sun filtered through the pines.  I am a stroll away from that great source of peace, the ocean.  My precious dog, Sammie, is dozing at my feet.  I know I’m blessed.  And still.

It’s hard to describe.  This feeling that keeps me away.  Like a drug that leaves me numb and stalled and lost.

These past weeks I could not bear to look at the blog.  Thinking of those with whom I felt a connection here, I imagined that they had left me- or worse yet, that they had come by and in my silence I had let them down.  So I just stayed away.

But today, awash in the terrible sadness that I just can’t shake, I decided to stop waiting for the strength to return.  To stop waiting for that moment when I might again write of peace and gratitude.  Just come back in all your shakiness and doubt and then go from there, I thought.

So here I am.

Dying in Each Moment

November 20, 2012 § 42 Comments

“To live in the realm of Buddha nature means to die as a small being, moment after moment.”

Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

As the cancer consumed my father, he disappeared a bit at a time.  First he lost the capacity to walk, then to read, to eat, to speak, and finally a coma-like existence.  And then the shell that remained ended too.

This all happened many years ago.  Yet in my memory, it is as fresh as yesterday.

In his final months a peace came upon my father.  I do not know where it came from.   He practiced no religion, held no faith in the transcendent.  Most of his life he seemed at war with his very existence, deeply unhappy with himself and the life he felt trapped within.

But as he wasted away, my father changed.  His resistance melted, acceptance emerged.  Not just acceptance of his coming death- acceptance of the people around him and of life itself.  He projected a warm and natural love.  My father seemed ready to die, unafraid and open.

I cannot know the source of my father’s peace.  But I now believe that somehow, some way, my father understood at the end what I know now.

We each die a little at a time, moment to moment.

I am not thinking here about the simple awareness of mortality.  Something else.

The peace my father embodied comes to us only when we exist in the fullest sense.  “No illusions in our mind, no resistances in our body,” as the Tao teaches.  But this way of being cannot be separated from non-being.   This communion with life itself is to embrace death itself.  To understand finally that life and death are one.

Those final months my father gave me a great gift- a model of how life might be lived- and death embraced.  A gift that took years for me to unwrap but which is mine now.

Only Love

November 13, 2012 § 46 Comments

I used to believe that love was a form of relationship.  I love you; you love me.  That’s our deal.

I would diligently monitor my love relationships.  Feeling hurt or wronged, I would ask- was that an act of someone who loves me?  If she loves me, how can she not see my needs?

Or I would turn this judgment on myself.   Why have I been filled with anger towards her?  Why have I been so cold and distant?

When the ledger got out of balance- and it always did- I called the deal into question.  Does she really love me? Enough?  Or, looking inward, I’d ask whether my conduct suggested the absence of love?  And in either case, I doubted my commitment.  Perhaps time to back out of the deal, I’d think.

All, all, wrong.

Love, as I now seek to live it, is not a relationship or a deal.  There is no ledger.  Love is not earned or maintained.  Love exists in my simple, full, and caring acceptance of the other person.  It resides within me.  It doesn’t depend on what you do, or fail to do.

If she is angry, I love her in her anger.  If she is depressed, I love her in her depression.  If she hurts me, I love her in her very assault.

This is the love that I seek to embody.  I often, maybe most always, fall short.  Sometimes hideously short.  But now I know.

Seeking to love others in this way, I also know that I must begin with myself.  Suspend self-judgment.  Never wish to have done this or that.  Cherish who I am.  Only from that foundation can this sacred and abiding love for others come.

Just love.  Only love.

 

Resistance

October 23, 2012 § 33 Comments

I feel the horrific rush of self-judgment.   You dropped the ball again and now look where you are?  Buried and lost.

And then I think- No, this is all wrong.  Don’t look back.  That’s done and gone.   I take a breath.  I feel the calm.  It’s okay now, all okay.

But soon the dark feelings return.  So again, I breathe.  I repeat the mantra- nothing but here and now, no looking back, no judgment.  Calm returns.

This pattern repeats- distress, then calm- over and over.  An endless, soul-crushing loop.

The truth is that we never beat back our demons.  So long as we consciously resist the negative feelings, we will never find real and enduring peace.

I cannot think my way out of my unsteadiness and self-loathing.  Nor is it simply a matter of belief in some external set of principles.  I could read the Tao each moment for the rest of my life and still not escape this terrible loop.

I must return to the place where I belong.  I will not get there armed with a club and a conscious striving.  I will not get there at all.  It is not a destination or an achievement.  I will just be there.  I will just become who I am.

Resistance is never the way.  Simply to live acceptance, love, and forgiveness is the path- the only way home.

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