Practice infers forgetting who we are and what we are doing. If we didn't forget, if we didn't wander off-balance into outlying areas, there'd
be no need for practice. Practice is waking up to where we are, remembering who we are, and in return finding balance again.
Only to forget and wander off again, as seems to be our habit.
What good is meditating on patience
if you will not tolerate insult?
What use are sacrifices
If you do not overcome attachment and revulsion?
What good is giving alms
If you do not root out selfishness?
What good is governing a great monastery
if you do not regard all beings as your beloved parents?
(--from The Life of Milarepa, trans. by Lobsang P. Lhalunga)
Practice makes perfect. That is, practice makes its way through. Life is passing through. No passing through, no life. I know what not passing through feels like. Stuck. In a rut. No movement. This usually accompanies, or at least signals, a failure to practice.
Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac
with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
and changed nothing in the world
except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving
someone or something, the world shrunk
hand-size, and never seeming small.
I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet ....
Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low
and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief
until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough
to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care
where it’s been, or what bitter road
to come so far, to taste so good. (Poem by Stephen Dunn, “Sweetness” from New and Selected Poems 1974-1994. Copyright 1989 by Stephen Dunn.)
Practice sometimes is a sweetness. It reminds you of what has gone by. It returns you to a more balanced center -- but accompanied by the realization that a duration of time and span of missed events will not be retrieved. The sweetness of return is tempered by the sorrow for the lost and missing -- that of us absent.
If faith is trust in love and truth, faith reminds us there is a home that has not gone anywhere -- even as we look for it in disarray.
I Belong There
I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born.
I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, and a prison cell
with a chilly window! I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own.
I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon,
a bird's sustenance, and an immortal olive tree.
I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey.
I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to
And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears.
To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood.
I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them
a single word: Home.
(Poem, I Belong There, by Mahmoud Darwish, Translated by Carolyn Forché and Munir Akash)
A friend in Maine has buried his father. A friend in Connecticut has buried her mother. These, with others, remain in the invisible house of prayer carried in contemplative mendicancy and meditating sunyasins
With no permanent abode or fixed landscape -- the life of practice, prayer, poetry, and presence -- rely on faith to continue. To continue through the vagaries and unforeseen transformations visited on those who wander unknowing through this life. And unknown. Whose names we do not know. Or have forgotten. But whose breath of whisper can be felt in solitude.
We are of a piece. Cloth without seams. But ignorant, mostly, of this understanding of our true home. As we meander through details of day. Distraction of dialogue scripted by insane thoughts dissociated
and dedicated to dissemblance.
Poet Mahmoud Darwish
looked with open heart and bleeding mind (or bleeding heart and open mind) at his people and invited words to carry the Palestinian refugee experience out from fear and anger into our hearing -- seeking a home in a world within us that knows no hatred nor accepts lies. He died last week.
They did not recognize me in the shadows
That suck away my color in this Passport
And to them my wound was an exhibit
For a tourist Who loves to collect photographs
They did not recognize me,
Ah . . . Don’t leave
The palm of my hand without the sun
Because the trees recognize me
Don’t leave me pale like the moon!
All the birds that followed my palm
To the door of the distant airport
All the wheatfields
All the prisons
All the white tombstones
All the barbed Boundaries
All the waving handkerchiefs
All the eyes
were with me,
But they dropped them from my passport
Stripped of my name and identity?
On soil I nourished with my own hands?
Today Job cried out
Filling the sky:
Don’t make and example of me again!
Oh, gentlemen, Prophets,
Don’t ask the trees for their names
Don’t ask the valleys who their mother is
From my forehead bursts the sward of light
And from my hand springs the water of the river
All the hearts of the people are my identity
So take away my passport!
(Poem, Passport, by Mahmoud Darwish)
Each belongs, always and only, to itself.
What is itself? Solitaire aut Solidaire?
Or is it: Solitaire et Solidaire?
Start with this question.
Practice the sound of it.
Listen to the sound of what is... being... said.