"Like the study of science and art, accounts of historical events can be intrinsically fascinating. But they have a wider significance. I believe that people are better able to chart their life course and make life decisions when they know how others have dealt with pressures and dilemmas---historically, contemporaneously, and in works of art. And only equipped with such understanding can we participate knowledgeably in contemporary discussions (and decisions) about the culpability of various individuals and countries in the Second World War. Only with such understanding can we ponder the responsibilty of human beings everywhere to counter current efforts at genocide in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia to bring the perpetrators to justice."
"...we humans are the kinds of animals who learn chiefly by observing others---what they value, what they spurn, how they conduct themselves from day to day, and especially, what they do when they believe that no one is looking."
----Howard Gardner, from The Disciplined Mind, published in 1999

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Time Is a River; or, Do You Like Mulch in Your Shoe?

Today was the first day of summer vacation for me.

After the boys went to school, I decided to go to the river that I love. It was a lovely morning, the kind that everyone remarks on in passing, because we just can't believe we've been gifted with such a day.

It was sunny-bright and windy and a little chilly with the breeze that was blowing. In the pocket of my sweatshirt I placed a packet of sand that I keep; it is ironic that I keep the sand given its provenance: the sand is from a sand mandala honoring Chenrezig, known as the Buddha of Compassion in Tibetan Buddhism . The puja was performed by the monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery; my keeping of the sand is ironic as the purpose of the puja is to destroy the sand mandala in order to speak certain truths about impermanence. Dear reader, you might follow the link to see for yourself: http://www.mysticalartsoftibet.org/Mandala.htm#top

It is at this point, dear reader, that I must disclose that I have been most in need of cultivating compassion.

I must also disclose that I have been in need of integrating the knowing of impermanence into my life.

The first time I visited this river, I was brought there by a former boyfriend. We had meant to surprise each other, and we did, delightfully so: I brought watermelon, his favorite; he brought me to a river, my favorite.

I visited this place often, even after J. and I parted ways. It was running along the riverbank after my-then-2-year-old son (he, pretending to be the proverbial Gingerbread Boy; me, pretending to be in hot pursuit) that I remember laughing for the first time in years. (Dear reader, I had been isolated and abused for some time before becoming free. More words for another time, perhaps.) When I received the phone call that told me of my brother's death, I immediately came to the river, in the winter; where else would I have turned?

Without any other way to explain this, I know these feelings each time I visit, and there is deep and simple satisfaction in it.

I wished to just sit without words for a while. I work in public education in an elementary special education classroom. Our classroom will miss one of our special people (who I will, out of necessity, give a designated pseudonym---Cerulean).

Cerulean's parents came to feel that Cerulean was not receiving adequate delivery of service in our classroom, and they are seeking a new placement. Cerulean left rather abruptly, and I felt very sad, for many, many reasons. We are always sad when we know we will likely never see people we care for again, are we not? I felt sad that Cerulean and classmates were not able to have a chance to say goodbye to each other in whatever way they needed; one of the manifestations of Cerulean's autism is that Cerulean does not use much verbal language.

Attachment, dear reader, is the cause of much suffering.

So feeling some strong attachments to feelings and ideas about the Cerulean situation, I went to the river.

As I was walking the trail before sitting zazen with the river, I met a woman, a young girl, and a large dog on the path. (No, dear reader: although it sounds as if it is a promising beginning to a joke, it is not. ) After pleasant conversation about the beautiful day, I remarked that I liked the lilac-colored Crocs worn by the girl. I laughed a little as I said this, as I myself was wearing a pair of Crocs. The woman said, they are a pretty color. But she keeps being bothered by the mulch getting into the little holes. Does it happen to you? the woman asked.

Sure, but I don't much mind, I said. I just slip them off, dump them out, and start all over again. The woman looked dubious for a fraction of a second, and then laughed a little. We went our separate ways.

I found a rock that proved a perfect seat and sat by the river. The intent of my sitting was to cultivate compassion regarding the situation with Cerulean. The day that Cerulean left was difficult for us for many reasons. That night, I had a nightmare. I was in a classroom with our students when Cerulean jumped up and ran out of the room. I chased Cerulean through the stereotypical labyrinth of corridors and floors of bad dream architecture. I finally was able to catch up in a stairwell. In my dream, Cerulean began to speak to me, in "I need..." sentences. Complete sentences. Many, many sentences. I didn't have anything that Cerulean requested in my dream. In my dream, I did not think twice that Cerulean engaged me in a wave of verbal language.

When I woke from this dream, Cerulean's speech was most wonderful and very sad, all at once.

When I was ready to return to the rest of my day, I stood up, and poured some of the sand in my pocket into the river.

I had to laugh a little again at this point. I suppose I finally perceived the joke, dear reader: you know, the one about the girl, the woman, the large dog, and mulch in the shoe?

I remembered that Cerulean sometimes wore Crocs. When this occured, Cerulean would, as a habit, deliberately insert mulch from the playground into the holes.


The Artist formerly Known as Purpleworms (!) said...

More earth metaphors for growth and fertilization! Attachment does cause suffering, but it also causes great joy and it seems to be the only way that we can learn to be kind to others. While I do not love the growth as pain trope, in many ways it does seem to be true - Daily life seems to take the balancing of attaching to and letting go. Of course, if just being is your goal then you do not need growth nor compassion. I do not (yet?) see any way of divorcing caring from compassion and that means also accepting attachment as far as I can tell. (...and I should add, I think that is well and good.)

neroli said...

Artist, how funny----I've been called "earthy" or some such adjective several times this week, and felt a little puzzled. Hmmm, you are absolutely right, I seem to muddle about in the dirt a lot. Shall I start shopping for opera-length gloves and a lavender dress?
I like how you've pointed out the way attachment lends itself to compassion. Thank you.

The Artist formerly Known as Purpleworms (!) said...

Since your post I have been wondering about the definition of compassion and if perhaps in Buddhism the definition of compassion is unatttached concern. Nonetheless I find it hard to conceive of compassion without attachment. Opera gloves and Crocs would be a great combination if you can color coordinate(/complement) them!

Pelicano said...

This post made me sit and contemplate for a bit. I have a poster of the 4 noble truths; it hung on my wall for some time before I re-arranged things a bit and rolled it up.