And the secrets inside
that we like to hide
are probably boring too.
why don’t we share them?
Cut our guts open
and air them?
We can have a sky burial
and invite birds of carrion
our dark feelings to food.
I want my poems
to disturb you
creep up sideways
and unnerve you
Sidle into your
and slither in through
your too thin skin
I want my poems
to observe you
their slitted eyes –
And when you’ve had
enough of them
I’ll call them home
to me again.
I have decided that
is right for me
because I have so little
time to write you see.
A mother must
to brush her teeth
while pondering questions
of life and death.
She must hold in mind
to give birth to later
and incubate them
while cooking the dinner.
She must dive clean
where the stillness lies
while the world unhinges
She must swim down
and snatch a gem
and return, reborn,
to the surface again.
Sometimes it’s like working in a graveyard, writing, shuffling dead words like dry bones, grey on white. Creating pretty shapes and transient meanings –
Beating still time in the hot stale air of my mind. Every word moving me further away from the target…
Sometimes the page is flat. Sometimes it’s a tardis. An outer expression of an inner world, it’s entrance (like me) shopfront unremarkable, it’s objective correlative, the universe, my mind.
Appearing words (worlds?) unconsciously, projecting them onto this portal page, which holds them safe and when time aligns, embeds them in the mind of the other. The other then living a thousand lies (lives?) in new worlds of their own imagination…
Do I make any enduring meaning, swooning in this play of creation?
What truly matters can’t be expressed in words. And yet, neither can it be reached without them.
Sometimes it’s like working in a graveyard, writing, but sometimes it’s like dabbling in heaven.
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot – Four Quartets
Several years ago I taught a Buddhist class on the profound subject of emptiness, and I used this quote to illustrate what I felt was our true goal in life – to consciously return home.
Not home in the sense of an external place, but as an internal place of perfect inner peace and connectedness – a state which Buddhists enticingly call the union of bliss and emptiness.
Bliss refers to our most subtle and clear-seeing level of mind, an intoxicating place existing deep down beneath the turbulence of our conceptions.
Emptiness is a little trickier. Essentially it is the theory of how things don’t exist – that is, they are empty of existing independently, either from all other phenomena, or from the minds that perceive them. Which is not the same as saying that things do not exist at all! Just that they do not exist in the way they appear to.
Of course this may sound rather strange – our world certainly appears to be a very solid and independent place, doesn’t it? It feels very much as if it’s existing ‘out there’, quite separate from our mind, which exists ‘in here’.
But as Buddha, and now quantum physicists have discovered, appearances are nearly always deceptive, and our reality is far from ‘real’. Like a dream, a mirage, a magician’s illusion… while things do exist, it is only just, and not in the solid way they appear to.
With our mind we make the world
Buddha said, and while this in itself is not a problem (in fact in the end it is the key to the solution) failing to understanding the world’s illusory nature is.
For when we fail to recognize the intimate connection between mind and its projections, we find ourselves searching through all the world’s places for the answer to our problems. Not understanding the true internal origination of our pleasure and pain, we expect more from life than it can realistically deliver, and are left constantly, heartbreakingly wanting…
Spiritual paths (of all descriptions) take us in the opposite direction. Buddhist means ‘inner being’ and its practises take you on an internal journey, returning you to your very source, your own true nature, emptiness.
As we meditate we delve deeper and deeper inside our own minds, exploring down through ever more subtle levels and challenging ourselves to redefine who we think we are.
We try to bring our conscious awareness to this process, even during times of sleep and death, for it is at these times of least external distraction that we have the greatest opportunity to access the most clear seeing level of mind – the clear light of bliss.
When this blissful state is manifest our mind is naturally unclouded by the stories it habitually creates about our world, ourselves and others. During these moments we have a powerful opportunity to understand our own true nature and to reunite with our true ‘home’. Tragically, for most, this opportunity is missed.
Like a tourist lulled into unconsciousness on a train, we sleep through what passes by outside the window of our perceptions, never fully aware, and therefore never fully able to experience it. Night after night, life after life, our internal explorations naturally take us ‘home’, but time and again we fail to recognize it clearly – for what it is, or for who we are.
Hoodwinked by the dream of our own projections, we grasp instead onto what is not (was never) really there, except in our own minds making…
As Albert Einstein said,
Our search for happiness (or satisfaction, peace, home, enlightenment) in all its myriad expressions (as urgings for love, sex, drugs, shoes, money, success) is really all about this divine drive for union with our true selves.
As Eliot pointed out in the Four Quartets, this is our real job, our highest purpose – to return to that primordial union of bliss and emptiness (or God, he would call it) and to consciously know that state for the first time. To recognize ourselves as we really are – free of race, gender, job, social status, ego; what’s left after all these are gone is what there is.
But this is at least a lifetimes work, perhaps many lifetimes…
Was T. S. Eliot a Buddhist? Being a Christian, I’m sure he would not have said so. And yet, unsurprisingly, it seems our shared purpose is the same.
When you are here I want you gone, and when you are gone I want you here – we only just hang together, you and I. The push-pull energy between us is an uneasy equilibrium, always ready to explode, or implode.
Without you I can expand into the day, read outside in the late afternoon sun, have toast and tea for dinner, find time to play. I can be free of the force of your anxiety that keeps pulling us, and pushing us, through our day –
Hurtling towards what? I ask you
Rest, you grumble.
Death, I say.
(Careful, don’t be in too much of a hurry…)
Tonight you thunder-storm into our warm little kitchen and my heart pales grey because I can see that you are upset and need to fight. So I slow my breath, and calm my voice, and try harder to love, and say,
– You’ve come in a bit grumpy. Why don’t you just try to relax?
But you don’t want to relax. You need to throw off your uncomfortable feelings, and the best way you know how is to push them into me.
– Relax? you say, how can I relax, when I’ve been running around all day?
And so it goes…and as the poison flows I see that words won’t help, and finally I snap –
(Who is that crazy lady screaming, me?)
It’s a conscious decision – most of the time – and it seems to work better than patience (I know that’s a lie). But by your own admission you’re a scorpion who can’t help but sting, and I know you won’t back off until I make you.
(Oh why do I have to make you? Why can’t you see that I’m not angry with you, I’m not scared of you, I’m not fighting with you – I’m just trying to figure out how to make you stop! Why won’t you stop?)
Perhaps it’s because it feels too good to stop…
Now we circle each other like two fighting dogs with our minds, teeth bared, hair bristling, both of us eyeing the jugular.
How I wish it could be different. How I long to arch my pale white neck and place the sharp blade in your trustworthy hands – I think I could do it, if you would; you wish you could, but can’t. In the end, vulnerability is ill-advised with you.
It used to be more of a game, an explosive break-up and make-up. Now the problem is that if we go down, we take our little ones with us. And their eyes go so scarily wide when you scream, and even wider when I lose it. Their innocence keeps us honest and, at the edge of the cliff, just sane enough not to step off –
I grab your face and search your eyes, trying to draw out the good person I know suffers in there. A moment of clarity flashes between us and in its painful glare we glimpse our love lying shredded at our feet. We realize we are naked, that we have stripped each other bare, and are ashamed.
This is such a dangerous dance.
I take your hand and we carefully back away –
No water and a vomity child – there’s the rub! The street is full of trucks and noise and men in orange vests all trying to fix the problem. The house is full of dirty bowls and towels and unwashed hands, and no way to clean them.
Inside we sit, my little girl and I; she cries and cries and only wants to cuddle, nothing else – as if I had the power to fix her problems.
I hold her while I look around in mild desperation at the uncleared breakfast, uncooked dinner, ever mounting mound of unwashed clothes…
I try to disentangle and then stop – her face is liverish blotchy and her eyes are wide with belladonna – she needs me and she trusts me and I cannot let her down.
I sigh and settle back into the couch. A mother’s life is thus, so simultaneously mundane and sacred it stretches and explodes your heart like a dream death every second. And just before you’re sure you cannot stand it any longer your love, like life, so bittersweet it nearly kills you, is breathtakingly born anew –
Unbelievably, ridiculously, stronger for its testing.
What to do?
My body is stiff from so much sitting. We walk to the window searching for diversion. The cacophony of men and trucks is gradually quietening and clearing. Already, the winter day is darkening. I try the tap and relief gushes out in a thick brown muddy stream.
Blessings rain down into me and I am full.