I will NOT lose my sense of humor. I will NOT lose my sense of humor...
The truth of it is, we've had more than a little snow up here in Boston. (See there? That lump to the right? That's the car.)
So while I've enjoyed reading my usual arrangement of inspiring blogs, I have to admit I stare a little in disbelief at those kind women who are sharing photos of young new shoots poking through the chilly ground.
It's an article of faith, a little love-letter in my heart that I've written to Spring, that returns me to the window again and again each morning, loving what is and hoping for what's to come, in the form of a little green of our own.
It's a funny little paradox, and not very 'zen' of me I'm afraid. But the truth is, I adore my 'pagan' hope. It's that bright spark that gets me up in the morning. Hope turns the wheel. (Not to mention, trust.) Don't get me wrong: I do actually love all of this whiteness. It's a glorious morning, the mornings I wake up to white flakes swirling around the air. But after years in warmer climes-- Northern California, Southern Maryland, New Mexico, Alabama-- can I truly bear such a long wait for tender shoots, and the smell of awakening? It is a new sensation, being a new New Englander.
Perhaps it's because Spring and I share a birthday. (And you'll note, my springtime 'sun' keeps getting one candle brighter, ahem.) What is my hope for my own personal spring? Can I bear the final moments of 40, eager as I am to get on with 41, and the rest of my life? Blowing out the candles is one long exhalation, after all.
Which brings me back to wonder, Why am I holding my breath in the first place?
Outside, where little wings fall to the earth and gather into great fluffy piles of white, I have been looking for stories.
Where have our neighbors gone? Excepting one long afternoon of communal shoveling, they've all but disappeared into the warmth of their own homes. The street is full of us, but you wouldn't know it from walking outside. Outside the buildings stand tall and silent, like colorful, watchful trees.
Inside, there are plans and projects strewn about the place, and I joyfully attend to each one, happy to give my hopes time (finally!) for expression.
It is the gift of winter's heart: if there is a chill, there is more tea; if there is hope, there is a quiet corner offered from which one can work out the details of bringing it to fruition.
Long ago, a wise lady taught me that winter's long rest is not just the cold and dark of weathered days. Rather, it's a hermitage for the soul, a fertile darkness that nourishes the seeds of understanding that were planted with those other seeds that escaped pod and tree-top-- the ones that rode autumn's crisp wind to new fields, cracks and alleyways.
I look for clues in that deep silence to know their stories, all of them: the seeds, the snow, the neighbors hidden beyond the endless walls that line our street. And in turn, that golden ember of curiosity warms my hands and propels me on, intrigued and determined, in a steady tromp through the snow.
She used to get a bit of a twinkle in her eye, you know. An impish, wondrous twinkle. "They're all going to be jealous," she said, speaking of all the other grandmotherly zen teachers in her circle, "when I tell them my sangha has a baby!"
And she warmly welcomed my baby, just a bit over a year old at the time and very (rambunctiously) mobile, into the very intimate group we had that met on Tuesdays at Healdsburg Yoga Studio. Darlene shared his free spirit; you could tell that she, too, was in love with the world. This open, clear penetration was evident in everything she did, in the way she made you feel. All at once I was warmed by her, mystified by her, and a little intimidated. (You don't come into contact with that kind of clarity without feeling a wee bit so.)
I've always known she would die. She spoke openly about her experience with chronic pain and cancer, as these very points were the cornerstones of her own practice. Yet it was a shock to read that she had died, just yesterday, while here in Boston the snow was flying. The glorious snow was flying, our neighbors were sharing a laugh and a grumble in a shoveling extravaganza, and life was going on. Life and death juxtapose so strangely on some days. Do you laugh? Do you cry?
"You do both," she'd say. For it was from Darlene Cohen that I finally learned to accept all of my emotions, and understand them as vital parts of myself, and vital to my own practice. "Nothing is pushed away," she'd say. "Not one thing needs changing. Except maybe your orientation to it."
On her birthday, which was a day shared with the Halloween holiday, she'd come to sit zazen with us in full costume. On other days, she'd sport the most amazing earrings... oh, her collection of earrings, you would not believe some of these bits of artful extravagance! Nothing is pushed away. Darlene sat with her whole self, warts and pain and all, and in this her gift to us was an attitude of complete acceptance-- of who we were, of how we were, joyfully.
I left California, and our little sangha, in September of 2008. I daydreamed of returning to share the women's retreat with Darlene and my teacher, Angie, at Grace Schireson's Empty Nest Zendo. I daydreamed of the letter I'd send Darlene and the sangha in the meantime-- or at least, the birthday card that I meant to send this year. Always life flares up and always, these precious intentions are left on the back-burner.
Turns out, that's precisely where our zen practice cooks the most: the back-burner of intentions, wishes, hopes and best-laid plans. Things we'd like to ignore, things we pray will change... we can push any number of things, sure; but the truth of it is, they do not go very far away.
Thank you, Darlene, for reminding me to stir that pot.
While I allow the whirlwind of the holidays (and my boy's fourth birthday) settle some, I thought I'd pass along this sweet exercise from my blog-friend solsticedreamer...
This time of day always begets the best kind of light for daydreaming.
I've seen some wonderful blogs that highlight photos of one spot (such as "out my back door"), anywhere from 365 days of the year to once-a-month captures.
No, no, no, it's not the birth of a new planet. That's my birthday cake, bright with 40 candles!
As it turns out, this will be my last entry for my little seasonal project of one-picture-a-month of-the-same-spot... of this house.
Just a quick note today... as we just returned from a visit to the home of a good number of healthy whales off Cape Cod, my mind is reeling from the reality of those whose lives are severely compromised in the Gulf of Mexico. I had an essay brewing in my mind for a long time after my retreat.
Zen practice is not about getting away from our life as it is; it is about getting into our life as it is, with all of its vividness, beauty, hardship, joy and sorrow.
Not long ago, I determined to make a pilgrimage. I stood at my back door, and took a deep breath...
The Day of Climate Action was created as a grassroots reaction to politicians' inaction on the issue of Global Warming.
The morning after my ordination (Tokudo), I had an interesting vision: a wide field opened before me.
They say that celebrations of the Solstice gave salve to the fear of our ancestors who, after the warmth of the growing season faded, became afraid in the long dark that is winter.
...and you, what have you been thinking about over the last year?Bright wishes of a bountiful, beautiful 2011 to you!
Oisin G'Dea's mama, wife of an Ruaphok Gaiscíoch; lover of the creative life, nomadship and stewardship; zen priest, gardener, artist, writer, herb-crafter, counselor and dreamer... I've lived in the inspiring high-desert, mountain-punctuated New Mexico & Colorado ~ misty redwood-coated coastlines of Northern California ~ strangely elegant riversides in Southern Maryland ~ snowy, busy Greater Boston ~ lovely and welcoming Hilltown Massachussetts.