Registered: pred 9 months, 3 weeks
The class is beginning to teach itself.To be in the presence of this is a privilege.For me, this is the culmination of education, of what it means to be a teacher.People are drawing themselves forth.They are doing the same for their companions.I am given the gift of sitting back and beholding this blossoming.Now they are gaining momentum.I am happy to let them loose from my tutelage.I wonder to myself what it is that finally propels some classes into this realm.How much of it is me?How much is the chemistry between us?I suspect that I will never really know, and I don’t really care to reduce all of this to a single variable.There is magic in the room.It’s as if all of the unlearning we’ve been engaged in, individually and collectively, is bearing fruit, and we are all learning how to learn.This is no small matter.For the most part, we have been taught not how to learn but rather how to believe, regurgitate, and then pass information on to others.I see before me people learning to trust their feelings, not in the sense of allowing emotions to reign supreme but in becoming acquainted with and trusting themselves in the deeper recesses of their hearts.There is something unshakable about this, and although for each of us it is in infancy and in need of slow, steady ripening, it is nonetheless evident and available.People are sitting in that place, in that seat, at this very moment.Although each of them might name it in a thousand different ways, the evidence of their presence is incontrovertible!Perhaps we will return to all of that next week.From the viewpoint of the curriculum, there is a lot that we have not done.Yet we have accomplished what is most important.We have communicated with one another for the entire morning, and we have been led into communion.I have done a part of my job by planning for today’s class.My planning was well thought out and clear.But that plan simply paled in the radiant wisdom and genius emanating from the people in this room.The rock gardens covered.Deep snow lies crystalline in the arriving light.But more than any of this, I am stopped in my tracks, momentarily suspended by the moon.Behind and above the oaks floats a thin, delicate arc of silver.Now, even as I write, it is turning into a pale, barely visible sliver.This moon reflecting the source of unseen light in this early morning.This sky companion calling me to remember that behind all the activity is this receiving, mirroring quality that gives birth to and sustains listening.It is impossible to speak, to say what is, to touch the truth that blazes like a thousand suns without this luminous, receiving orb.Because everyone and everything would be burned.There would be no softness.No sustaining cycles of heating and cooling that allow for the slow, tender mingling of disparate elements that we call ripening.It is this long listening that gives rise to the sunlight of speech.Selfless in its capacity to reflect equally on all beings.Perhaps, like this moon, I too will continue to remember to listen, receive, serve, and be used.Noticing the intention, the first impulse to speak, attempting, when that impulse arises, to consciously stop and take one breath.Notice what happens in the mind, the sensations in the body, allowing yourself the room, the openness, to receive these internally arising messages while you maintain a listening silence.The sky now revealed deeply blue.The contours of hill, garden bed, and roadside crisply defined.Big light everywhere.Just brightness, radiance, and unabashed confidence.Uncovered and present like Michelangelo’s David.The thermometer reads twenty degrees.Yet in front of me, just beyond the glass, frozen water is now dripping, turned back into liquid.Made fluid once again by the very nature and activity of this radiance.How curious that this light also brings the shadow dance.Now I see along the white ground the play of trees blown in the wind, their shadows connecting and parting.Looking up into this blinding luminosity is stunning.Raw, unadulterated presence.Like the moon, the sun is in here, not just out there.This is a homecoming.Reminding me again and again of the power of clear expression.Part of my own journey continues to be the discovery of voice.This is radiant expression given shape by mouth, breath, and deep listening.The remembering again and again of the brilliancy and feel of wakefulness articulated.When this happens, everything shifts.Weather moves inside.The landscape moves inside.Mountains, moonlight, dawn, dusk, and sun take on a newness, a freshness, that is itself illuminating.Thoughts, assumptions, and the play of emotion begin to be seen as passing phenomena.People taste, awaken directly to this radiance, the inherent wakefulness of human being.This is magnificent.In each of us is housed this inner brilliance.It must be remembered and carefully tended.This is neither metaphor nor whimsy.We have talked with our children about war, racism, bigotry, injustice and justice, about cliques, isolation, and the possibilities of friendship and human community.It is clear that these young women are developing insight and opinion in this domain, initiating conversation, increasingly taking stands, and holding their own in the family discourse.Through all these years of conversation, Felice, our younger daughter, had been particularly touched by homelessness, but she had never seen it at close quarters.When she was six we went on an excursion to New York City during December school break.This was the first time that she and her sister had walked through New York.My mother, their grandma Rosie, accompanied us on our way to Rockefeller Center.As usual, there was construction going on everywhere, and we were forced to walk for two long blocks under the plywood roofing surrounding a building site.My parents can’t work.I have nothing to eat.Can you give me some money?Katy and Felice met eye to eye.Felice just stopped and stared.She read the sign, let go of my hand, and just stood there.I wanted to protect her from this truth.My hand reached out and tightened around hers.I began to pull her away.While we all walked straight ahead toward a distinct destination, Felice kept her head turned back, eyes pinned to this embodied reality in the tunnel for as long as she could see her.We didn’t find Katy because I didn’t take the same streets.Felice talked about that little girl for weeks afterward.Last winter, five years after Katy, we were all in Cambridge for the day.Felice and I sat on a couch in a furniture showroom overlooking Massachusetts Avenue, near Harvard Square.Her mom and older sister were poring over fabric samples as we saw before us several homeless men sleeping in the sun on a cold January afternoon.I saw in her eyes the glint of bewilderment tinged with indignation, blossoming into sadness and unspoken Mystery.She was connected to Katy once again, linked to these human beings before us, to me, and to herself in a way that no longer asked for the same kind of protection and shelter.Her tender, open sadness was unpretentious, and I knew that my relationship with her was changing.I know this movement well with the people with whom I work.But reckoning with this in one whom I helped bring into this world and whom I have sheltered against this harshness is revelation filled with reverence, slow, painful release, and unexpected grace.There is turbulence in this grace.And I am reminded once again that caring often asks nothing more than open space.To make such space requires the continual dissolution of previously useful, presently shackling ideas and identities, about ourselves and others, whether we are receiving or giving care.Full of their surrounding sounds and animated faces.More so, and evident beyond doubt, full of presence.There is a collective hum emerging out of an unspoken knowing that we have journeyed a long way, having returned now to where we first began, sitting once again in this circle, yet somehow transformed.It is the last class.Most probably the last time that we will ever all be together in the same space at the same time.I do not, as the guide, plan this class as if it were the final class.Certainly it is a beginning as well as an ending, yet, for me, the sense of beginning, in all its fascinating unknownness, holds center stage.Some of my colleagues choose to create wonderful rituals as a way to mark this transition.They invite class members to bring nourishing foods, poems, stories or songs, favorite recipes to share with one another.I have been in their classes, and this way of closure is often poignant and complete.But I have chosen another way to mark this passage.Together, they lingered in this silence for some time.The last class has almost always been this way for me.Long before I heard this story, Class 8 has been shaped by this reckoning.I feel connected to all of these people, some more than others.Yet no matter what the degree of connection, my colleagues and I are willing to extend our relationship far beyond the confines of this arbitrary ending.It is a matter of never giving up on one another.And even if they give up on me, I try my best not to give up on them.People are too miraculous, too filled with latent possibility and blossoming to be given up on.And so this last class is shaped by no ending.We begin with thirty minutes of sitting.For me, it is a joy to be drawn into the collective silence.Coming out of the stillness, we move seamlessly into standing yoga.Then we arrange ourselves on the floor, once again revisiting the body scan.We began here two months ago, and now we have returned.We have practiced together for ninety minutes.Like almost every other class, we have begun with a long period of formal practice, asserting once again the primacy of practice as a way of living our lives now, and later on, when we leave this room.If and how this way of being unfolds in a person’s life is impossible to foretell.Prognostication is not my job, but if we take each day as it arrives, relating to ourselves, others, and the world as directly and as fully as possible, then the future, spawned from this intentionality, takes care of itself because we have taken care of the business at hand.Now we enter the world of collective speech.This does not take very long.Five words limit and sharpen what is said, turning speech into a precision tool.We speak popcorn style, with no definite order around the circle but rather a popping forth when you know for yourself that the time is right to speak.Our momentum, containing the gamut of responses, sweeps us into a deeper collective knowing about what these two months have cost us and what has been found in the barter.From here I pass around envelopes, pieces of plain white paper, and pencils.Quietness arises in the room.Sometimes stopping and closing eyes, sometimes writing furiously, sometimes putting pencil to paper in such a slow, considered pace that when they finish, although little of the paper has been filled, an easy contentment seems to overflow.Others ask if, instead of words, a picture is okay, and so they send themselves drawings.Some ask for more paper, another pencil.And so it goes, until the final envelope is licked, sealed, and stacked in the center of the circle.People speak about what they have learned from one another.They will probably not see one another very often after today.I will see each of them individually for a closing interview beginning in two weeks.They thank me for my efforts, and I accept.I thank them for what they have given to me.My life is much richer for having had the privilege of their presence for the last two months.Then I tell them that when class ends I will stand by the door and shake their hand or give them a hug depending on their preference.I offer to a woman on my right the small brass bells that I have sometimes used during the last two months to signal the beginning and ending of sitting meditation.She says she’s been wanting to ring these bells for a long time.Now she has her chance!Touched by her hands, the bells send out their reverberating sound one more time.All of us linger in the sound, eyes open, looking around at one another, one more time.This teaching cycle has brought forth another savory meal.A meal well worth eating.In 1959, when I was ten, I sat in the hands of the great bronze Buddha in Kamakura, Japan.It was a cool day, a dusting of snow resting with me in the great open palms and long fingers.It altered me forever.When I was in my early twenties, I used to slip into the pews of a church where there was a plain stone statue of Jesus standing with his right arm extended, heart in hand, with an open place in the chest barely intimated behind the folds of his robes.I most remember the face, which was neither frowning nor smiling.There was no sign of martyrdom, no sign of otherworldliness.Simply a quiet presence.Warm, sad eyed, yet full of a quiet joy.A plain and simple seeing of the human heart that has unconditionally given itself to the world.In our direct entry into the life of this impulse there is much pain and much possibility.Our willingness to work compassionately with such a deeply ingrained habit is an open invitation for the discovery of our simple, effusive brilliance.The converging activities of meditative practice and the calling to take good care of ourselves and be of help in the world ask each of us to take full responsibility for the welfare and evolutionary journey of human beings, and to put that responsibility at the forefront of our lives, no matter what our role or profession.Holding such an intention and attempting to live in this manner is fraught with trouble and is a cause for quiet celebration.Such a seemingly impossible task is an attractor for hubris and depression, failure and recommitment, contentment and great joy.What makes the acceptance of such responsibility possible is the force of our universal longing for freedom and joy and our wish to accompany one another on this journey.Living in such a manner is the foundation for a radical shift in our views of self, healing, and the healing relationship.Taking up such a quest holds the possibility of transforming each one of us from cold metal or solid stone to vibrant life.A little death is what the French call the climax of the embrace, which joins us as it breaks us apart and finds us as it loses us, is our beginning as it is our end.A little death they call it, but it must be great, tremendous, to give birth to us as it kills us.
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