Tag Archive | living in the now

Snippet from early stages of my Taoist mystery

The ditch didn’t exist yesterday. Then again, I didn’t exist yesterday, at least not the “I” that was standing at the edge of a ragged ditch stretching from three feet to my left up the dunes into the trees. Right. Everything Changes. I knew that part. But a ditch doesn’t just become a ditch overnight.

Sam came up behind me.

“That ditch wasn’t there yesterday.”

He bent over the edge, looking into it as if the answer to its birth would be gazing up at him from its bottom.

“Nope.”

“Well, how did it get there? Who dug it?”

“Everything Changes,” I said, knowing that I might as well just have said “Your mama’s so fat….”

“Don’t give me that crap. A ditch doesn’t just become a ditch overnight.”

Excellent. Something we could agree on out here in the middle of nothing at the end of nowhere.  Sam and I had come out here so he could ‘find’ himself. And the first thing we found was a ditch.

‘Bash It Out Now; Tart It Up Later’

Whether or not that’s really what Nick Lowe used to tell the bands he was producing, it’s an excellent method of doing…well, just about anything. So here goes, bashing:

I want to write. I want to write daily. I want to write as “the thing I do.”

I don’t want to do this because I’m a good writer. Once I might have been an ‘ok’ writer but that was in graduate school so maybe I’m just remembering the hubris of every grad student in literature. Mercifully, I didn’t save any of my writing from 40 years ago so I’ll never be able to dismay, despair or disabuse myself of this idea. No, I’m a pretty bad writer.

I don’t want to write because I get pleasure out of it. Writing sucks. Writing is hard. Writing is both torturous and tortuous because it twists my brain into the kind of little bundles socks and underwear come out of the dryer in. I hate sitting in front of a keyboard or picking up a pen whether I’m writing a blog piece, an email or a birthday card. I used to tell my students that was what made me a good writing teacher: I knew just how much they hated it and wanted it all to just go away. No, I don’t get pleasure out of writing.

I want to write because writing is there. Inside my head, thoughts are thoughts and they can grow and play and saunter around all night but they are never ‘there.’ Never within a moment; never here. Only by writing them down do they become the plum, become the juice of the time that I have right now as I dangle on the vine between the tiger above and the tiger below. I want to write because writing is being.

Re-Versing Time

20111229-224052.jpgWe did a lot of “Om”-ing back in the ’70s. Meditation was practically a competitive sport. We’d sit Lotus position, eyes only half closed so we could sneak looks at those around us. “How does she get her foot that high on her damn thigh?” “Oh, c’mon, look at the math geek–half lotus, how sad.” Not only did we not empty our minds, we practically hoarded, adding as many random thoughts as we could cram in. Forget about “gently bringing the puppy back”; we might as well have been at a dog park.

I was a Lit major then. But we all were, weren’t we? Literature or Philosophy:  two perfect majors for those who believed a decent salary was a tool of the Devil. I prefer to think I naively believed I could make a living wage teaching Jane Austen under an oak tree–but that life is truly another story and this story rolled together in that most basic of beliefs: Everything Changes.

What struck me recently is that I might have had some sense of the value meditation would bring as I aged, even as I played it like a varsity sport, when I read a collection of Louis MacNeice poems. I loved MacNeice in college, especially “BagPipe Music.” And when I reread it, I thought: “Yes, maybe I wasn’t totally clueless about the depth meditation can bring to life.”

“Bagpipe Music”: The title says nothing about the content but everything about the lope of the poem from line to line, the bouncing repetition whose gentle lilt hides the darkness of the lines caught in opening couplet:

‘It’s no go the merrygoround, it’s no go the rickshaw,

All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.’

And in the last two lines, after much ill omen and ill will and images of young urbanites trying to outrun their fate, I might have first wrapped my brain–as a young urbanite trying to outrun my fate–around the importance of the “now.”

‘The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,

But if you break the bloody glass you won’t hold up the weather.’

Yup, Everything Changes and you can’t stop it so…

Which led me to my other favorite poem from college and one that I chose as a reading at my third wedding–when I was older, hopefully wiser, and had finally ditched the Philosophy majors: Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.”

Put two of its most resonant lines with that last couplet of MacNeice and there it is: Mindfulness; Everything changes; Be Here Now.

‘The grave’s a fine and private place

But none, I think, do there embrace.’

My Lotus position was never that great anyway.

The Parable Series: Let It Go

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And so the parable goes:

A master and his disciple are walking along the bank of a river (there’s a lot of walking goes on in parables: second of the parable series and we’ve already walked twice) when they come upon a lovely young gentlewoman, standing on the bank and crying because she cannot get to the other side. Don’t ask; who knows why she wanted to be there, doesn’t affect the parable. She sees the two men and begs them to carry her across the shallow river to the other side. The disciple, knowing that the teachings allow no contact with women, ignores her plea and assumes his master will do the same. Much to his surprise, his master hoists the young woman onto his shoulders, carries her across and returns to the bank where his student stands stunned. They continue to walk but the young man can’t get the idea out of his head that his master not only looked at a woman but, Holy Moly (I doubt that was his exact thought), actually touched one! Al lthrough the walk he stews over this until he can’t keep silent any longer: “How could you have touched a woman! Isn’t that forbidden? Don’t you feel guilty?” The master smiles, “Look at you. I left that woman on the bank of the river long ago. But, you, you are still carrying her on your shoulders.”

And so the parable ends.

For much of my life, I was a chronic “muller.” I would chew on a thought until the last crumb was gone and would then continue to chew some more. No perceived slight went by; no criticism was ever forgotten; no idiotic act I committed was ever quietly put to rest. Even a trodden on toe became a reason to dwell on the insensitivity of the foot that did the trodding or the obvious lack sincerity of apology–if there was one. I’m not sure whether flagellation would even have been satisfactory.

Ah, yes, truly my mother’s daughter. I watched her abandon a favorite restaurant because the server didn’t remember her drink order from a previous visit and years later, she would bring this up to me again, as if it had plagued her every sleepless night. And worse, she ditched a friend of decades for some perceived insensitivity on the friend’s part. As I recall, it was because her friend had lunch with someone else without inviting her. And, yes, this became a story that she would repeat over and over, in explicitly juiced-up detail, stirring the bitterness of rejection into every cup of tea.

I’m not sure what changed for me. Perhaps it was simply growing older–although that certainly didn’t help my mother–or marrying a man (third time’s the charm) who for all of his gentleness and, more important, incredibly good taste in fashion, won’t ever remember what year I was born. And why should he? What importance could that have? For that matter, what importance can a stepped-on toe have once the stepping is over?

My nights have been more restful; my self-forgiveness much easier; my relationships quieter. And it only took remembering three words: Let it go. Let it go and leave the woman on the bank, rather than carrying her on your shoulders.

 

 

The Parable Series: The Tiger Below

Electric Tiger

And so the parable says:

A man is walking through the forest thinking about his past and his future, paying little attention to the trees and birds around him, when he hears a low growl behind him. Turning, he sees a large tiger bounding through the woods toward him, images of legs of lambs reflected in his eyes like a Warner Bros. cartoon. Terrified, the man begins to run, huffing his way along just ahead of the tiger (admit it: here the parable breaks down a little–could he really outrun a tiger?). At the moment when the tiger has almost caught up to him, the man comes to a cliff. So scared he doesn’t even think, he flings himself over the edge  to find that there are two vines trailing down the side and he is able to snatch onto them, one in his left hand, one in his right. As he hangs, relieved to have escaped, he thinks “Cool. All I have to do now is climb down and I’m home free.” He should know better; this is a parable, after all.

At the moment he’s about to start shimmying down, he hears another low growl, this time from below. The tiger that had been chasing him is still pacing at the top of the cliff, so it can’t be him. Sheepishly (remember the leg of lamb image) peering down, he sees another tiger, even more ferocious looking as tigers go, pacing below him, licking his chops just waiting for the man to climb down. “Oh, great” sighs the man, “I can’t go up; I can’t go down. Oh, well, at least for now I’m safe on the vines and maybe the tigers will get bored and go away.” Hands tightly gripping the vines, he relaxes enough to begin to doze, feeling safe again if not comfortable, when he hears tiny gnawing noises above him. Feeling a bit piqued at his troubles by now, the man looks up to see a black mouse chewing on the left vine and a white mouse doing the same on the right, stripping away his safe hold millimeter by millimeter. “Well, that does it. I’m doomed to be the value menu for that tiger below,” the man sobs, resting his head on the cliffside awaiting his fate.

At that moment, he sees, just within reach to his left, a slender plum branch growing out of the cliff and on it hangs one perfect, shiny purple plum. Grabbing the right vine a bit tighter, he reaches out, plucks the plum and bites into it, the sweet juices rolling down his chin. And he smiles.

And so the parable ends.

Perhaps it’s not too tough to figure out that this parable represents living in the “now,” enjoying the present moment rather than worrying about the past–the tiger of birth chasing him through the woods–or the future–the tiger of death below. But I come back time and again to the mice that represent the passage of time, the night and day, that chew away our lives in tiny pieces. Nibble: a new wrinkle appears. Nip: arthritis in our fingers draws us away from our writing. Chomp: the knee that ran a month ago now berates us on every stair.

The tiger below? Yeah, he’s going to get me, maybe sooner than I would prefer or later than I can tolerably bear. But the mice. The mice are the animals I am most afraid of, the ones that send me running to my therapist, my meditation cushion–or a cosmetic surgeon. The animals whose little needle teeth, tiny as they might be, will cause me, more than the tigers, to forget the pleasure of biting the plum.