This morning I tried to figure out how to bring Russ’ alabaster sculpture, which has been on extended loan to us for the past 10 years, back to his house around the corner. But it’s very heavy – no way either Russ or I could carry it there. Maybe I can ask Noe to help us – masked, of course – so I need to call him and Russ to find a time that might work for all of us.
I’d better write that down on my to-do list – but where the heck is that darn list? It’s got a bank number on it I need – which reminds me I’ve got to make a deposit – but the bank has reduced hours during lockdown, so I’d better get going! Now where in the world did I put my car keys?
I’ll ask Sarah to give me a lift to the bank before it closes – ooops there goes the phone! I’ll just leave it – but It’s Deb calling from Vermont! – wait ‘til I tell her about this morning!
By the time we hang up I have no idea what was happening before the call – something about Sarah..?
That’s my life these days, with a brain as cluttered as my house. Boxes are stacked to go, and other boxes are in the discard pile, but I get mixed up which pile is which!
I am losing my mind, for sure.
But since I find my predicament hilarious, I decide to write a piece about it – as if I actually have the time and attention to sit down and write in the midst of this pandemic craziness and house moving. Well, if I’m a writer then it’s my job to bear witness to the human story, no?
I once watched Maisie go through a goat version of this on the farm, when she was in labor. Her baby crowned, little nose first, and slid out, plopping to the ground with the cord still attached. Maisie did what goat Moms do and began licking away at the birth sac around her kid who, as soon as it could stand on its own wobbly little legs, did what kids do and took off down the hill. Mama tried to follow, afterbirth still dangling behind her, but a second baby’s little hoofs and nose were already peeking out of her opening so she had to stop and give birth to the twin before going after the firstborn! Then she stepped bang right on the new kid still encased in its sac beneath her! She was totally confused! Fortunately, I was there to rescue the twin from its mother’s hoof and then run after the firstborn who was staggering drunkenly down the hill. Laughing, I felt very important that day.
Today, however, I identify with Maisie herself. Unable to figure out what to do next, I turn around in circles in overwhelm, incapable of rational thought. It reminds me of my days as a Zen student when we were given Koans to meditate on.
A koan is a simple but outrageous statement that makes no sense, and the student is told to figure it out. ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’ is a famous koan. We were instructed to stay with ours until we understood it, which in fact was virtually impossible.
The point, I eventually learned, was that I had to stop trying to figure out the meaning, and let go until my heart – not my mind – found its own way to understanding. I had to ‘feel for,’ not ‘think of’ the answer – a kind of deliberate passivity that was receptive rather than active – but totally attentive at the same time.
Not this, not that – but both. And…
My koan was “You’ve got your eyes and your nose, but you’ve lost your mouth”, a conundrum if ever there was one! I finally got it that this was about directly seeing the whole face in a strong moment of total attention. It had nothing to do with trying to figure it out rationally. If anything, it felt a bit like the irrational sensations of falling in love, when everything fits and makes emotional sense and the beloved is the center of your universe. Nobody can tell you otherwise!
At that moment of ah-ha! understanding it felt to me like I dropped into the wholeness of the world! Of course! How could I have missed the obvious?
This kind of knowing we call ‘intuitive knowing.’ It feels like being part of a web that shimmers with life, all connected up to everything else in the world.
What is mostly taught in school is called ‘rational thinking,’ that removes things from their context in the rest of the world and analyzes the component parts one by one, memorizing facts about them. The facts are often fascinating and very worth knowing but ultimately are a partial view, lacking the deeper essence of their connection to the Whole. When that is lacking, we humans tend to make terrible mistakes of judgment – like desecrating the environment for profit, for example, and destroying the very web of life that maintains our health and sanity.
Not smart. Seems obvious that we need both ways of knowing, and if we ignore either one or the other we’re toast.
So, what does this have to do with packing up my whole house? Everything and nothing, I’d say. Since this job is clearly bigger than I am with too many tasks to accomplish by myself in lockdown, I am forced to get creative. My koan of the moment is: how do you have fun doing something that’s impossible? More poetically, it might read, “How do you climb Mt. Fuji with one leg?”
So, my response is to give gifts with a vengeance, the challenge being to match up the right gift with the right person by casually asking my friends about their secret desires. I’m learning a whole new side to my friends – even the mailman! Then I find the perfect gift for them from my piles of stuff and watch their faces when they get it.
The young ones, of course, would like a horse, but I shower them will my art supplies and horse books from my own childhood. My quilting fabrics go to a friend who teaches sewing to teenagers; Azadeh and Ayla get quilts for their new bunkbed and Jak gets a rare book on Chinese medicine. One by one, like seeds sown by the wind, the things of my life find new ground in the homes and hearts of my friends.
The deeper part of this exercise, for me, is that I am pushing back against a world trying to make Maisies out of all of us; I am turning this crisis into an adventure by inventing a different response to hard times. My enjoyment of it is the revolutionary part, for this is a time we all have way more worries than any of us can handle.
…climate change, polluted oceans, public education, poverty, racism, gun reform, soil depletion, hunger….
This is clearly impossible to grasp, but we have to…but we can’t…but we must…but how, certainly not with a border wall…but how else…should I send money for…what? Aaaagh!
It’s a koan! See?
Of course we cannot take it in rationally, because it makes no sense, so maybe we have to shift our awareness into the larger picture and accept that the world, with all its confusion and craziness may be ultimately working in the favor of all life, ourselves included. Perhaps we have to be willing to drop our limited and rational viewpoints and take in a much larger picture with our hearts wide open despite the chaos.
By letting go of our shirts can we rescue the whales? (I just made that koan up.)
I suspect we might learn something about the treasures and abilities we have when we have no choice but to ‘let go and let God,’ as they say.
In any case, 2-party politics isn’t doing very well…
And why not try? Is there anything better to do than to believe in magic? I think not.
And magic, you know, is real.
I feel like an archeologist these lockdown days, digging through layers of my own life as I slowly clear out boxes of storage in preparation for my move to the farm. Yesterday I found an assignment from the fifth grade, to write a story about Thanksgiving, and I had kept it because it had all but destroyed me as a child. I remember it in detail, as clear as it was those many decades ago, and as painful.
My story had been about the turkey and the man who was going to kill it for Thanksgiving dinner. In my story, the turkey wins the round by outsmarting the man who runs away hollering while the turkey cackles his triumph. The bigger story, though, was what happened at home when I showed the piece to my father, who assured me he could do it better, turned it into rhymed doggerel and told me to bring that to the teacher!
The upshot was that the teacher recognized a forgery, asked me if I had really written that and I, caught between lying to teacher and betraying that my Daddy was indeed that stupid, lied to her. This smart teacher who I loved and who encouraged my imagination, never called on me again.
And I kept that fragile piece of paper for three-quarters of a century!
Thanksgiving story clearing old forms, emotions, harms – couldn’t cry
Clouds the other morning
Releasing the old, cycling round to the new