Wednesday, March 10, 2010

On Being Alone in the Library: my inheritance

My Inheritance
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
You asked me what is the good of reading the Gospel in Greek.
I answer that it is proper that we move our finger
along letters more enduring than those carved in stone…

Czeslaw Milosz, “Readings” from Bells in Winter.

The other morning as I perused the newest issue of “The Whole Dog Journal,” which I considered safe and grounding reading, suddenly the words were staring up at me: “anticipatory grief.”

Well, I guess that’s what I get for slipping into hospice literature even if it is directed towards dogs. But, it’s also kind of nice to know that there is a label for the waves of grief that have been submerging me.

Last week my siblings and I took turns selecting the items that now constitute “our inheritance”: my father’s Mettlach steins; my mother’s paintings- the watercolors and the oils; furniture we grew up with, containing secret drawers: the butler’s chest that road the ox cart in Virginia before the Revolution; the table the Kearfott cousins, Yankee and rebel, sat ‘round peacefully one evening during the Civil War. We delighted in discovering my father’s penciled comments on 3 X 5 cards slipped inside the steins forty years ago. I jumped on finding that Mom had stashed a packet of Poppie’s ashes inside his first and favorite stein. His 3 X 5 commentary, “… the finest example of inlay work that I have ever seen,” became a bit ironic.

The grief has been coming in waves.

By Saturday, I was in such a state I simply drove to the library, the goal two-fold: to sit there by myself and not to be alone. I couldn’t think of any other activity that allowed me just to be.
The grief has been exhausting, coming in intense waves with very little story, subsuming my body as an almost purely physical force of light and energy.

Is grief different every time?
Last time round I learned that grief can be the darkest bitter chocolate variety of love, and something not to miss.
And grief has always seemed a heart breaker. I learned that my senior year of college.
But, this time round the descriptions don’t seem to hold. I find there’s nothing left to break, no boundary, no container, nothing there inside, no resistance anywhere.
And grieving simply means, “there’s grief.”

But, the process’s intensity has been shifting my consciousness, which is why I want to make this note.
To begin let me be clear, I wouldn’t call my situation anything like a “tragedy.”
On the contrary, Life unfolding naturally pretty much decrees that a child survive the parent.
None-the-less, I do like these words of Eckhart Tolle by way of explanation:

There are many accounts of people who experienced that emerging new dimension of consciousness as a result of tragic loss at some point in their lives. Some lost all of their possessions, others their children or spouse, their social position, reputation, or physical abilities…

We may call this a limit-situation. Whatever they had identified with, whatever gave them their sense of self, had been taken away. Then suddenly and inexplicably, the anguish … gave way to a sacred sense of Presense, a deep peace and serenity and complete freedom...

Or in my case, immense Silence, an ocean of consciousness in which the surface waves dance out the human drama – all the stories, all the pain and joys, the ticking of the days and years and lifetimes. In these waves the “me” resides, continues even as identity withdraws to the silent ocean depths. From this vantage point I see both the surface and the depths.
I am here and I am also “up there.”
And in the next moment it becomes quite clear for an instant, “I do not exist.”

This seems a gentle surprise and I’ll look again.
Sure, enough, there is no “I” which is curious, given that I still have thoughts.
And then, more curiosity kicks in and the moment’s gone.
What had been so obvious is soon too paradoxical to hold on to as direct experience – it becomes a memory.
I let it go and just sit. Observing the surface, observing the room, observing the swimmer in the oceans waves as “me and my life,”
alone in the library enjoying the light streaming through the windows.
Enjoy the waves, enjoying the depths.

When forms that you had identified with, that gave you your sense of self, collapse or are taken away, it can lead to a collapse of the ego, since the ego is identification with form…
When forms around you die or death approaches, your sense of Beingness, of I Am, is freed from its entanglement with form: Spirit is released from its imprisonment in matter…

Not everybody who experiences great loss also experiences this awakening...
Some immediately create a strong mental image or thought form in which they see themselves as a victim, whether it be of circumstances, other people, an unjust fate, or God.
This thought form… immediately takes the place of all the other identifications that have collapsed through the loss.

In other words, the ego quickly finds a new form…
Whenever tragic loss occurs, you either resist or you yield…
Yielding means inner acceptance of what is.
You are open to life.
Resistance is an inner contraction, a hardening of the shell of the ego.
…If the shutters are closed, the sunlight cannot come in.
Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth, chapter 2

So, I sat there in the library with a volume of poetry edited by Czeslaw Milosz.
After a while I took up a pen, retrieved a scrap of paper from a trash bin, and jotted down more bad poetry.

On being alone in the library:
How is it possible
when every volume speaks-
“A Book of Luminous Things,”
Czeslaw Milosz
Billy Collins
Louis L’Amour
Susan Sontag

“Sailing Alone Around the Room”
in the cacophony of Silence
drowned in the sunlight
numbed by life’s passing
shadows of heat waves play on the desk top.

How is it possible?
Shadows of heat waves-
“The Incredible Lightness of Being”
being alone in the Library.

In the morning I will insist to my sister-in-law
I must proceed more slowly
That it is indeed proper
that we move our finger gently
over letters more enduring than those carved in stone

as we accept
our heritance.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Some Poetry at Breakfast

Originally uploaded by w e n d y

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels…
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.
Billy Collins, Marginalia

Oh, that last line got me and I had to read it over one more time:
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

Don’t we all do that? Or try? Or hope?
And what might that vessel be?
Not that I thought all these words. No, they stirred around inside me quite unspoken as I stirred my oat meat in its bowl and read the words yet a third time enjoying once again all the questions still unheard.

I’ve been reading Billy Collins for the past week in small, delicious bites: at breakfast, at the hospital, reading aloud a poem or two to Mom and my sister as we wait for doctors, for drugs to help, for healing to begin, for the next “to do.”

It’s been nice. We’re not a family given to reading poetry to one another.
But this past week it has been just right, and this morning Billy didn’t fail me:

Some days I put the people in their places at the table,
bend their legs at the knees,
if they come with that feature,
and fix them into the tiny wooden chairs.

All afternoon they face one another,
the man in the brown suit,
the woman in the blue dress,
perfectly motionless, perfectly behaved.

But other days, I am the one
who is lifted up by the ribs,
then lowered into the dining room of a dollhouse
to sit with the others at the long table.

Very funny,
but how would you like it
if you never knew from one day to the next
if you were going to spend it

striding around like a vivid god,
your shoulders in the clouds,
or sitting down there amidst the wallpaper,
staring straight ahead with your little plastic face?

How would you like it?
I can tell you that this past week I have found it rough going
And the very essence of awakening.

Some Days, by Billy Collins

Photo courtesy of Wendy