I’m participating in Sharon Salzberg’s 28-Day Real Happiness Meditation Challenge again this year, and my plan for this blog series is to write a poem or reflection on each day’s practice. You can find all the responses on the landing page.
To simply sit and watch the clouds glide and skim across the sky, collect over there, then fall apart and scatter with the winds, so many thousands of miles away, the sky impassive but aware: the air feels different, again and again;
to simply sit — to be present, to witness, to fully occupy our bodies, ourselves, without escape — is a way of resting, relaxing, held by earth, grounded, rooted like the trees that remain in place, watching too. Anything can happen. Eventually the clouds vaporise or reappear above another watcher, other trees.
Sometimes, a trick I learned in science class, I stare hard at something and then close my eyes to watch it on the screen of my own mind, a complete outline, colours reversed, of what my eyes relayed, shifting, disappearing over time, until nothing remains. Then I do it again. Escape, or practice?
Later, I learned to create these shadowy images in my own mind out of nothing, closing my eyes and waiting, watching to see what arrives in my limbic sky. I follow the unrecognised images as they pass by, and I watch them fade. I am their unwitting creator and their willing witness. For a few moments, I’m passing by their smoky landscape in a fast train, wondering what that is hanging from a skeletal tree, and then there is no tree, nothing hanging from it, and the train dissolves. Anything can happen, and I hold my breath, then let it go.
Today I heard this verse: “Spread the news of dharma that arouses joy, / sing little songs about experience. / Melancholy arises while you are thinking about what to do. / Wherever you are is equable.”
I’m willing to consider this. Wherever we are, it’s the same, one as valuable as the other. So there’s no where to go. There’s no path because no need for one, and chosing paths makes us melancholy anyway. We don’t know where we want to go, and paths can’t take us there, and is there a there there that’s different from the here here?
The clouds aren’t really going anywhere. They’re moving but the sky remains their only home. They rain, snow, cast their shadows on the earth, and then these emanations, so consequential for a time, vanish, again and again, as if they were nothing.
Dharma means in Sanskrit all things, things as they are, the inherent nature of reality. So the instruction is to sing ditties about this experience of reality, about what is, maybe hum or whistle, and perhaps write little poems.
And to recognise the joy when there is no gap, no gap between what’s happening now and where you are, undergoing it, also watching it undergo you, aware but not impassive, not completely sky-like, and yet accommodating these clouds no matter how wispy or turbulent; and they pass, drift by like thoughts, sensations, emotions, the entire landscape, before our eyes. The joy is fleeting, cloudlike, and it’s immersive, immeasurable, sky-like. It lives in us, when we live in us, fully here, not checking the map for a town called Joy.
There is no escape, and we cannot get lost — I heard that today, too. Resting in the ground of being, there is no lost and no found, nothing to seek because what we seek is inherent in us, like our face is, and we don’t seek our face.
So. Resting is a relief, nothing to do and nothing to undo, nothing to find by seeking, and yet we’re not inactive, we’re not simply watching the clouds, nothing to do with us, seemingly nothing to do with us, thousands of miles away. We’re resting by standing in a luminous, devouring fire; occupying a hurricane; lying flat on our backs watching a bolt of energy piercing the tree beside us. Isn’t it beautiful, and sorrowful, and terrifying?
To be present and to remain present anywhere is to lodge ourselves in the thick mire of uncertainty. Everything changes and we know so little. This place, this entire place, is shot through with heartbreak and loss, pain and grief, confusion, hopelessness. Can we really rest here, in the middle of so much loss, without looking for a way out? Can we abide with devastating grief, without distracting ourselves with amusing cat videos? (Perhaps not, and perhaps this is not the question.) In any case, can we bear witness to hopelessness, in ourselves, in someone we love, and what if we love all beings?
There is no escape, no path away or to. And yet, dammit, sing songs of joy.
For one thing, we cannot get lost. We’re here! This is where we are. We’re held. We’re found. We’re in the midst of the wholeness, the essential unseparateness of all things, the eternal ground of being from which we were born and to which we will return (“death …. is taking off a tight shoe,” said Ram Dass). We belong here. Everything belongs.
For another, if we’re present and aware, we can’t help but notice, constantly, erratically, how beautiful it all is. It’s messy and hard and, yes, completely heart-shattering. And in shattered hearts: beauty, luminosity, compassion.
Ordinary life, perhaps you have noticed too, is permeated with moments and sensations that will take your breath away, shock you into breathing deeply again; that leave you shaken with poignancy that’s almost too much to bear, it’s so sweet, and wrap you suddenly in a completely protective overlay of memory, scenery, and the scent of something you only dreamed, which reminds you without any doubt of who you are, how beloved.
Joy: the curled breathing cat, the anticipated lunch, rows of garlic waiting under snow, a tropical beach and the lapping of a salty ocean against shells, the wholly unnecessary and profligate range and gradation of visible colour, discovery and wonder, the first time, art, learning, being known, a tea ritual, forests and rivers, an owl calling, breathing clean air and drinking fresh water, giggling, whimsy, reading, nights of dreaming, body strength and flexibility, texture and pattern, sunlight, warmth and coolness, a rainy day, a bare branch and the white winter sky — a limitless sky, clouds still drifting.
Experience. Sing songs.
Experience. Sing songs. Repeat.
Again and again, never the same,
always available right here, where you are.
"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could." - Louise Erdrich