Cygnes et cygneaux.jpg

Everything is meant to be let go of.

Meister Eckhart

A little more from Rilke, because sometimes he says it best.  Changes of direction and endings are an inevitable part of our lives, but can be difficult especially if we do not choose them.  Our instinct is to look for certainty, for solid ground, when in actual fact, the deep reality which we come to accept is that nothing is really lasting or solid.

And to die, which is the letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down
into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.


Life as it is

Bolton 44

It would be great if life proceeded from one moment of perfect happiness to the next, but for most of us, this is not the case. So, just as Dante did, we must proceed by another path, the path through our personal hell, where we encounter moments of pain and feelings of loss and confusion. Given that this is so, you can either live in denial of the truth of your experience or obsess on your pains and disappointments. Or you can consciously accept, even embrace life not working out and trust that in doing so you will discover meaning in your life.

If you choose to consciously embrace pain and loss as your teachers, life itself is not disappointing; it is a series of moments to practice being with life as it is.

Philipp Moffitt, Living with Disappointment

Close to the music

File:Regulus ignicapilla -Galicia, Spain -singing in a conifer tree-8 (1).jpg

Two short pieces from Seamus Heaney, probably the greatest writer of  modern Poetry in Ireland or indeed anywhere in the English language, who died yesterday.  Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.  Both are about space. 

Because there is “constant movement” in our lives, as Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck once said,  “with lots of things going on, lots of people talking, lots of events taking place“, we need meditation which in its essence is   “simplifying space“,  One way of doing that is to simplify the chatter in our minds, creating the space to  simply be with each moment, without always running a commentary. We practice to get closer to pure awareness and less caught up in our judgment, criticisms and interpretations. We too try to stay very close to the music: 

 And that moment when the bird sings very close
To the music of what happens.

The second is just one of my favourite poems, written after the death of his mother. Her passing leaves a gap in his life, reminding him of the space in the front hedge when they chopped down a tree. When we simplify the situation through meditation, we create an inner space for ourselves, removing ourselves from the ringing phone, the television, the constant running. As the poem suggests, this  inner space is not completely empty, but is also a source – a “bright nowhere” –

I thought of walking round and round a space
Utterly empty, utterly a source
Where the decked chestnut tree had lost its place
In our front hedge above the wallflowers.
The white chips jumped and jumped and skited high.
I heard the hatchet’s differentiated
Accurate cut, the crack, the sigh
And collapse of what luxuriated
Through the shocked tips and wreckage of it all.
Deep-planted and long gone, my coeval
Chestnut from a jam jar in a hole,
Its heft and hush become a bright nowhere,
A soul ramifying and forever
Silent, beyond silence listened for.

 The Haw Lantern

photo noel feans

Everything is coming or going

At any given moment, one part of our life is already gone and the other part of it has not yet happened. In fact, a great deal of our life is gone for good — everything up to this very point in time. If you are thirty, for example, that means that your first twenty-nine years are dead and gone already. They will not be any more or less dead and gone in the future, at the time of your physical death, than they are already. As to the rest of our life, it has not yet happened, and it may or may not ever happen. The boundaries of our life are not so clear cut. We do not actually live in either the past or the future, but in that undefined territory where past and future meet, on the boundary of what is gone and what is to come.  The past is at our back, just an instant behind us, nipping at our heels; and the future is totally questionable.  We are caught between those two throughout our life, from our first breath to our last. It is as if we were riding the crest of a wave in the middle of a vast ocean. What is immediately behind us is constantly disappearing as we ride the edge of the wave; and as we are propelled forward, we can neither turn back nor slow that wave’s powerful momentum.

The practice of mindfulness is a way to become more familiar with that undefined territory where past and future touch. Through meditation practice, gently, step by step, we learn to make friends with death as it arises in our immediate experience. We begin to reconnect with the immediacy of life and death here and now. Mindfulness practice starts very simply, with what is most close at hand, the breath. What is our experience of each breath, as if comes and goes? The breath is our most simple, and perhaps most profound, connection with life and death….. As a byproduct of the cultivation of mindfulness, we begin to notice similar boundaries and meeting points throughout our experience. We begin to take note of our thinking, for instance, as a process rather than just a collection of thoughts. Thoughts seem to arise out of nowhere: by the time we notice them, they are already there — we don’t know how they got there, they are just there blithering away. But as we settle down and look further, we begin to see that they come and go too, just like the breath.

In subtle and in more obvious ways, the experience of birth and death is continuous. All that we experience arises fresh, appears for a time, and then dissolves. What we are experiencing can be as subtle as the breath or the thinking process, or as dramatic as losing a job, getting a divorce, or losing our life. That arising and falling of experience is our life; it is what we have to work with.

Judy Lief, Riding the Crest of the Wave

When things don’t work out

Sooner or later, everyone will face not getting what they want. How we respond to this unavoidable moment determines how much peace or agitation we will have in our life. In truth, this is the moment that opens all others. For it is our acceptance of things as they are and not as we would have them that allows us to find our place in the stream of life. Free of our entitlements, we can discover that we are small fish in the stream and go about our business of finding the current.

This deeper chance to shed our willfulness doesn’t preclude our sadness and disappointment that things aren’t going the way we had imagined. But when we stay angry and resentful at how life unfolds beyond our will, we refuse the gifts of being a humble part in the inscrutable whole. When we stay angry and resentful that —and you can fill in the blank— the stock market didn’t reward our conscientious investing or the hurricane destroyed the truck we were going to inherit or the promotion we earned was given to someone else or the person we love so deeply doesn’t care in the same way, we risk getting stuck.

Eventually, we are asked to undo the story we’ve been told about life — or the story we have told ourselves — so we might drop freshly into life. For under all our attempts to script our lives, life itself cannot be scripted. It’s like trying to net the sea. Life will only use our nets up: tangle them, sink them, unravel them, wear them down, embed them in its bottom. Like the sea, the only way to know life is to enter it. How then do we listen below our willfulness?

Mark Nepo,  Not Getting what We Want