Sometimes, it seems I’m split in two. Did you ever feel that? Don’t we all at times feel divided against ourselves?
I hear a catbird complain and a cicada call out, continuously. A background concert the universe plays for me right now. Other birds join in. A car races down the road. A raven responds raucously. And I write about that. I write a blog about the comfort of nature, love, meditation, art, overcoming fear, feeling at home.
Then I hear the news, about DJT, the Supreme Court, Jan 6, new legislation in Congress, climate emergencies, people being flooded or burned from their homes. All accentuated, fueled by a warming planet that so much industry and GOP politicians want to hide from us. I feel anxious. I feel a desire to meet people and bring us together, to act, to speak. To change it all and resurrect justice. And I write about that.
And the two sides of me can feel so different, in opposition even. I feel wonderful after writing the first blog. There’s so much appreciation, gratitude, joy there. So much anxiety, worry, anger in the second. Concern. Care. I am so glad I wrote not only the first but the second blog. I feel I had to write it. There is power, strength in saying it. But it hurts.
There is care in both. Compassion. I touched on this in my last blog. They are both fueled, I realize, from the same yearning.
There are not two sides, but many. Maybe an infinite set. And maybe we always wish to be one being in agreement with ourselves, but we’re not so easy to pin down. Maybe it’s not that I’m split in two, meditative on the one hand, angry on the other. Maybe it’s just that since the universe itself is so indescribably complex, interconnected and everchanging, it presents us with so many different faces that our face must change, too⎼ a new face with each meeting.
Sometimes, we’re just damn lucky. We see a person smile. The wind bends two trees together, so we hear them speak. Or it rains, and instead of a flood, it ends the drought, and the air feels lovely, cooling. Or we read a passage in a book, and it takes us right where we’ve always wanted to go but never knew we needed to go there. Nothing in or around us stands in our way or fights with us. We see it all up close and personal and the person we see or passage we read goes right to our heart and beats for us.
Other times, it’s more difficult to see how we and the universe fit together. But who said life would or should be easy?
In the first blog, ‘I’ disappear. It’s not just that my being at peace and yours are not separate. Looking at the tree in my front yard, hearing the catbird, the cicada⎼ that is home. It is where I live. And in the second type of blog, ‘I’ jump to the forefront clothed in fear, hurt, and pain.
Pain so easily closes us into ourselves or consists of us closed into our self. But what if we noticed some space between the beats of pain? Or we felt how much space there was around us, in whatever location or whatever room we were in? Or instead of taking in less, we took in everything? Then the pain becomes just one beat out of many, one place in a vast universe.
Susan Murphy, in her wonderful book Upside-Down Zen: Finding the Marvelous in the Ordinary, talks about Zen practice, and what she says has meaning for all of us. When we can directly face the sharp fact of our world, we realize every life comes to pieces at times. In every life, besides the beauty and love there is discord, sorrow, regret, and anger⎼ and this hurts; it can feel like sitting on the point of a needle.
But when we can pause, take a breath, or find a way to calm and just allow ourselves to be there, make our home there, our heart changes. The point of a needle becomes the only comfortable place to be, or at least a place we can accept. We look at and see more clearly not only our life but all lives, all life. We realize we all share what Susan Murphy calls a “sweet unease.” And in this sharing, we are released from our homelessness and alienation. We are no longer forlorn.
She tells a story I had read many years ago, but I now see in a new light. When I was teaching, I even shared this story with high school students because it fit so many of their lives with such perfect familiarity. I read it first in Elie Wiesel’s book, Souls On Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters.
The story is of a man named Zusia. Before Zusia died, he was reported as saying: “When I face the celestial tribunal, I shall not be asked why I was not Abraham, Jacob, or Moses. I shall be asked why I was not Zusia.”
Why was I not myself? Why was I not able or willing to just be honest with myself and speak that honesty? Why did I let others, let dictates, expectations, fear or oppression stop me?
Why could I not see that wherever I was, right there was the chance to honestly live who I was? Even in this regret, when we allow ourselves to learn from it, there is sweetness. Instead of getting down on ourselves, we notice a way to stand up. Right here in this thought and feeling, there is a new beginning. There is home. There is opportunity. There is something to do, however small. Even in the storm there is refuge in clearly considered action.
I reside somewhere in whatever is perceived, thought, or felt. Not only in this skin and bone shell but in every shell and container and everything that escapes and defies containers. Not only me but everyone yearns to feel whole. As Susan Murphy put it, the whole universe is held together by such yearning. Ah, when I feel it, what a sweet feeling that is.
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