“We should appreciate what we are doing; there is no preparation for something else.”
There is deep fog in my woods this morning. The trees are skinny dark shadows in the gray air, standing like tall, prickly ghosts on a bad hair day. I’m told that they are likely talking to one another. Maybe the old ones are telling stories of squirrels and baby birds and that horrible storm in the 80’s that knocked over and killed one of their cousins. Maybe they are encouraging one another to have patience and faith in the cold of this dark winter morning. Maybe they are just happy, enjoying a little quiet time to themselves, resting for a bit before another season of exuberant growth in in the sun.
Out in the world, there is a new president but my sense of safety and stability remains unsteady as political rancor carries on. I both long for and fear connection as the pandemic continues to rage and devastate. I can feel the wishing for refuge, a wanting to “get out” of these uncertain times when all that is familiar no longer works in quite the same way. My mind clutters with restless thoughts and fears; part of me wants to act – somehow – to fight against all that is wrong.
My friend writes to say he is “waiting for better times.” I see what he means; catalogues for summer flowers appear in my mailbox and I look to the future. There are visions of plump tomatoes, and those cute little green peppers that Hal likes to make into pickles. Maybe we’ll plant early spinach this year. Then, too, maybe I could just now quietly flee inward until this is all over and life is again “normal?” Maybe I can nap this strange time away?
I meditate. Internally, there is a sense of quiet emptiness, a not-knowing. The breath moves. Ajahn Sucitto reminds me that my meditation should not be like driving a taxi in New York. Ha. I’ve never driven a taxi, but I get it: meditation as a kind and patient presence, a letting go of rushing about, even with this uncertainty and confusion. I consider the Tibetan practices for the bardos of dying: ancient teachings on how to navigate the transition between this earthly life and what comes next. I am reminded that “bardo” is not just a reference to the afterlife; the word simply means those constant gaps between the completion of any one situation and the onset of another. These gaps, are, by definition, confusing; they are moments of vulnerability and “don’t know.”
Yes, my body and heart and mind recognize that. I see the little pause at the end of the movement of each breath; there is quiet and, it seems, nothing. Andrew Holecek speaks of this pause, these bardos, not only as times of stress, however, but also as “… opportunity…when…all kinds of miraculous possibilities can materialize, a time (inviting)… a complete openness to whatever arises…(when)…surrender is more important than control. “
I think of my friend’s cat who is in an uncertain bardo of her own. Bella, long deaf, has suddenly become blind; now everything familiar to her has vanished. No one knows why; it seems to be something in her brain. Bella stays mostly quiet now, in one of the rooms where she feels safe. Her bed and her food dish are there under the window. Her litter box is on the other side; there is a sunbeam to sleep in. She sits there, Judy says, living in darkness, “trying to work out how to be with all of this,” finding her way.
I keep thinking about Bella, sitting there and not thinking so much as quietly sensing into things, “trying to work out how to be with all of this,” finding her way. It’s inspiring.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the darkness come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theater,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing façade are all being rolled away….
T S Eliot
The uncertainty of today, the bardo between what was and what will be, is a sacred moment. I practice making good use of it. There is the possibility of refuge in ever-deeper faith and patience and delight, allowing these moments to open me to the sacred. Unless I pause and relax with it all I’ll stumble impulsively into old patterns, filling up the space and bumping into walls, but not being so skillful and probably not seeing or learning so much. I am invited daily to simply breathe and, in a simple way, to practice dying.
Now, I see that the wind has come up and the bare trees are dancing. The fog is lifting. There are specks of blue sky and a red-headed woodpecker is tap-tapping on that old dead oak. I am drawn in to the truth and tenderness and wonder of it all as this fluidity resonates deeply just now in my eyes and ears and body and mind and heart.
These are sacred moments, even now.