Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven't they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Don't go too early.
You're tired. But everyone's tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.
I love this poem because it makes such a good effort at capturing the small, suble preciousness of life. Sitting meditation does the same. I didn’t feel that way at first about zazen. Instructions were impersonal, even tough. In sesshins I recall people glowering at me if I made eye contact, reminders about waking up, sitting straight, don’t move, don’t do this or that. I am aware that that hard disciplined tone is my own internal voice, too. And there are the images you hear: sit like your hair’s on fire, or sit as if a hungry tiger is about to leap into the room.
Outside my office a bird nest lies between the wall and a large drain pipe. I can’t quite see the nest but I’m aware it’s there—it’s been built and rebuilt for years—and when I really do zazen, when I’m deep in sitting practice, I can almost sense the stirrings of life there in summer time, the parents’ comings and goings, the open-throated cries of new chicks. In meditation there is discipline, but also equal receptivity to every single thing that arises, based on the perception that every single thing is equally important: the itch in my knee, the phone ringing, the ladybug crawling on the window sill, the dry upper palate of my mouth. Everything is equally life, and equally death as well for that nest could fall down in big gusts or a storm. And even as I say that zazen makes everything equally important, I don’t mean that it makes us dull or that it makes life single-hued. The personal is all different; the impersonal is the same, and we experience both at the same time.
We often talk of the differences and the oneness, but lately I have been thinking a lot about opposites, or contrasts. When we were in Rwanda life often presented itself not just as differences, but as opposite poles: Tutsi and Hutu; victim and perpetrator; those who forgive and those who don’t; the dead and the living. I often felt like I was hopping from bearing witness to one and then bearing witness to its very opposite.
I felt similarly when I was in Israel during its war with Gaza a month ago. I tried to write a straight narrative about my experience and encounters, and couldn’t. The only thing I could do was make a list of contrasts, or opposites. It looked something like this:
Bombs into Gaza Rockets into Israel
Gorgeous weekend at the beach Signs telling you where is the nearest shelter
Gazans have no bunkers in which to Israelis have great shelter system
Hamas tells its people not to leave Israelis warn Gazans to leave
“I hate what I do on the West Bank; at It’s not at all clear that Hamas was
the same time you have to stop behind the killing of the 3 Jewish
terrorists.” young men.
They kill women and children They leave armaments in homes, mosques and hospitals
Children scream when the bombs hit. Children hear the tunnels built underground
Our survival is at stake Our survival is at stake
The list was longer than this. Bearing witness to these opposites as they played out during the war was one of the hardest practices I ever did. It’s a lot easier to listen to loud, certain voices of politicians or commentators on TV, to self-righteous harangues on Facebook, or indignant newspaper editorials. At least one result of bearing witness to all these voices is the realization that they are very similar to my own inside voices, that fear, anger, ignorance, and blame underlie almost all these actions. I am familiar with those sources of harm and suffering and am aware that given even slight changes in karma, I am capable of perpetrating the same kind of suffering as the very people who are dubbed occupying armies or terrorists.
For me, the question finally is: How do I bring everything and everyone to the table? Not to shame them, blame them, and help them change, but in full acknowledgment and acceptance of their differences from me and each other. This is taking care of it all, taking care of the One. Whoever I leave out of the conversation—terrorists, Muslims, Jews, settlers—will find their way of reminding me that they, too, are this One. Every dharma brings into being its opposite, which is another dharma. This is what I wish to be fully present to. Not serve, which sounds dualistic, but to show up for everything with a strong back and a soft front, with meticulousness, integrity, and yes, courage.