…The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
Jalal al-Din Rumi
I love to rise early each morning and sit with my tea before I meditate. Even the kitty still sleeps, snuggled on my lap. It is quiet as the beautiful forest around my home slowly comes alive in the magical first lights of green and gold. The cardinals and wrens begin their calls as they guide one another to food and safety and love. The air is sweet and life is good.
I was sitting there, some time ago, pondering the Ku Klux Klan rally that was coming to Charlottesville. In the midst of the loveliness of morning light and sound, I had images of white sheets and pointy hats and hate speech and, perhaps, violence. On the day of the rally, I had planned to be vacationing at the ocean with my family, wandering the beaches, catching up with grandchildren’s lives and laughing together over good food, impromptu board games and splashes in the ocean. Could I just plead “vacation” and, avoiding the rally, plan to stay at the ocean? Should I leave my family and, joining my other faith community friends, march to offer a calm presence, a buffer against violence? I saw my resistance and my reluctance to even think about it all. I saw my wishing that hatred and division wouldn’t intrude on the peace of the morning or on my vacation plans, my wishing that I didn’t have to make these decisions about my own energies and my own life. I saw my great privilege in even having a choice. My body began to ache as my mind reeled with the tension of it all.
It strikes me that this was Siddhartha’s dilemma as he contemplated leaving the comforts of his family and home to begin his quest for freedom. Freedom. It is, I thought, what I investigate every day as I encounter the difficulties that arise in just bringing myself to my meditation practice. Freedom. Why else would I do this strange sitting-on-a-cushion thing? That sunny morning, my practice was a deep inquiry: What did freedom from suffering really mean when it came to my presence – or not – at the apparent evil and hatred and injustice of a KKK rally on a beautiful summer day? Further, what was mine to do?
I saw that the difficulty was not so different, really from the ordinary decisions that I must make every day. I remembered a TV commercial, years ago, in which a young grocery clerk brightly asked her customer “Paper or plastic?” He became paralyzed in indecision. “Paper or plastic? Paper or plastic? Paper or plastic?” His thoughts churned indecisively through all of the conceptual pros and cons as the clerk and other customers impatiently awaited his response. The punch line of the commercial was something like “Some decisions are easy.”
Perhaps some may be. As I looked that day, though, the easiest possible decisions were the ones that were informed by various kinds of mental concept or emotional reactivity. There were thoughts about what others might think and rules about what I “should” do. There was a pull to frozen collapse in overwhelm and numb avoidance at one extreme or a mindless jump into emotionally reactive !ACTION! at the other. There was the desire for my own safety, family ease and comfort. There was the hope for the protection and safety of all. Of course. I saw my longing that concepts or rules or the expectations of others could make the decision for me.
Tea in hand, kitty in lap, summer morning light streaming through the window, I continued in the quiet. I sat, knowing my experience, greeting it with care. There was mental agitation and confusion. There was tension in my throat and back and shoulders, a restless turbulence throughout my body. I sat. “Don’t go by reports,” the Buddha said, “(or) by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher”…When you know for yourselves that these qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted and carries out, lead to welfare and to happiness – then you should enter and remain in them.” The Buddha
There was curiosity and a careful and kind and very personal inquiry. There was a listening into the silence and wisdom of a mysterious universe, of the deepest intention of a heart not ruled by history or hungers or concepts or rules or emotion or pressure or division. The clouds began to ease. My body, still alert, slowly began to unwind some of its tensions. My belly – my “gut sense” – began to reveal itself and to guide me to more clarity and release and conviction.
I did go to the Charlottesville rally. There, through a fully surprising turn of events, I suddenly found myself in the central role of opening the pre-rally Church service as I guided the entire assembled Charlottesville faith community to embrace and remember our own embodied intention and care and presence before we encountered the rancor of those many others. Pastor Brenda stood next to me. We sang.
And then we marched. For all of us, it was truly entering into the mystery of life. There was an invitation into magic, into being willing to be guided by beings seen and unseen, into being surprised. “Don’t go back to sleep,” Rumi’s words were a beacon, then and even now.