Since my house burned down
I now have a better view
Of the rising moon
Haiku by Basho
It has been difficult to come to this writing these past months. To write from the heart as I have committed to do for this blog, to be open and vulnerable in all that I choose to share. There is a starting anew that is taking its own time, demanding its own pace, not just for this writing, but a starting anew of living, a starting anew of giving over to everything that arises in my heartspace that I may or may not wish to explore, and that demands paying attention now, in this only moment there is to notice. Moments at times that are unending, sometimes unbearable, but I have found can become moments of exploration, of curiosity, of settling, of letting go, even of joy and of great love, moments of rest and renewal, of realignment of self and staying with whatever arises. These moments have been a time of rending like no other, of being bathed in a well of grief that finds no ground, and any pebble thrown in to contemplate its contents keeps dropping further away, and in that dropping only the capacity of being and loving fully present exists and holds it all.
During this time of being without anchor I have been noticing the urge to do something, the urge to be someone, the urge to have life sorted out and know all the answers. Especially the answers to why, why, why? The how, what, when, where, are perhaps easier to find some traction with. But the contemplation of why lies much deeper. Lies perhaps more at an existential level. A question we ask in so many areas of our life, and often rush to answer. Rush to cover with our not knowing. What has become striking for me in this question, without any answer, or at its very best a most difficult answer, is how this question comes up again and again in so many areas of our lives. Often when we are struck down by great suffering, by a change that is beyond our understanding. When life comes right in close, stark, intimate, and personal, and interrupts our dream state in a way that we cannot but acknowledge its presence.
Why is the question many of my patients and their families ask, if we allow them to hear it for themselves. Why me? Why this? Why now? Why? And we have very few answers in response. And in the difficulty of having no answers we fill the space with doing. We rush to relieve our own distress with treatment options, with care plans, with more unbearable technology that we hope defies pain, suffering, and death. We struggle to just sit and be with the why a while longer. With not having the answers and with letting that be, and in that being be present to whatever arises, even to the incapacity to know what to do and the unbearable sensations of feeling less than in its overwhelming presence.
In the past few months, having faced changes in every facet of my life, moving from South to North, from everything material possible to much less, from big to small, from help to none, from driving to walking, from easy company of many friends and family to very few, from marriage to no longer, from a family mostly in one place to now moving out into the world, from working to not yet, from an under-resourced environment to one at times easily over-resourced, from warm to cold, and more, I have had to face intimately what if means to move from a place of doing to a space of being. I have had to face intimately the unbearable sensations of feeling less than in the presence of not knowing and being touched by a deep learning of how to just be. I had thought, naively perhaps, that I had had a sense of what it means to just be, to allow life to show itself, but when everything is swept away the just being is no longer a simple choice, it becomes an existential choice and comes with an active letting go of needing this moment to be a particular way, perhaps an allowing in of a certain state of grace, of faith, that has nothing to do with an external being and everything to do with one’s internal capacity to rest in this moment, and in the knowing that this moment can hold all that shows up. It is in this state of grace that life unfolds its rich bounty and beauty and wondrous moments of endless joy, even when at its most challenging and difficult.
The days and moments continue to unravel for me, demanding that I show up with faith for it all and choose to be here. The surprise gift of this change is the awareness that life indeed is completely real and that to be real it is messy, that to be real it cannot be packaged in a particular way and stay all neat and tidy. I have come to intimately know that things get completely messed up but it is not so much the pain and suffering we are affected by as it is our relationship to reality and our sense of self compassion in how that has to shift beyond a clinging only to the pain of the suffering and encompass a greater sense of self and of being. This transformation from an illusion of life without feeling any of the suffering to the intimate knowing and becoming real through that suffering, is illustrated beautifully in the children’s story by Margery Williams ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’:
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
This awareness of being present for my own vulnerability, and through that awareness giving permission for those around me to be present to and show up for their own vulnerable precious beings, allows all of us to find our own way, our own voices, our own sense of self, independently of each other. And it is in this independency and individuation ultimately that we come to learn the joy and love and pain and depth of dependence, of needing others, of once again understanding what it means to need to be nurtured, to be seen, to belong, to be real. Being in such a way that the why falls away and there is only this, this present moment, this now, and enables the why to no longer be so relevant to how life unfolds.
One of the phrases often used in the guiding of mindful meditations is “resting here”. It is a phrase I have often used myself, and many times heard. It has never settled so deeply into my being as now. What does it mean to truly rest here? To just be without any expectation for what this present moment should hold? To rest without knowing or striving for this moment to be a particular way? This curiosity into the ‘resting here’ is my journey for now. Perhaps my journey for this lifetime.
I hope that in this, at times, frantic pace that leads up to the end of the year, you too may find some time to rest, to just be, to listen to your deepest longings, and to allow grace, in the face of the unbearable unknown, to fill you with a joyful presence of being.
David Whyte, as so often lately, continues to inform this journey.
REST is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be. Rest is not stasis but the essence of giving and receiving. Rest is an act of remembering, imaginatively and intellectually, but also physiologically and physically. To rest is to become present in different way, especially to give up on the will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we put it right; to rest is to fall back, literally or figuratively from outer targets, not even to a sense of inner accomplishment or an imagined state of attained stillness, but to a different kind of meeting place, a living, breathing state of natural exchange…
From Readers’ Circle Essay, ‘REST’
©2011 David Whyte