Movement 1 - There are Teachers Everywhere
You Must Reverse The Haiku
"The bottom of the sky sings the ancient ways till I give the truth away."
- In the 1600s, the Japanese master Basho spoke profoundly to his student Kikakou:
"We shouldn't abuse God's creatures.
You must reverse your haiku, not:
remove its wings -
a pepper tree,
add wings to it -
- The destruction or healing of the world hinges on how this thought unfolds. Whether we pull things apart or put things together makes all the difference. Indeed, Basho's small instruction reveals how human history has unfolded, with one pilgrim taking things apart and another putting them back together, and on and on. As Martin Luther King Jr. prophesied, "I believe what the self-centered have torn down, the other-centered will build up."
- Yet we must be watchful, for we all suffer both the impulse to separate and own and the impulse to unify and belong. Just as our eyes shut and open repeatedly, we take things apart and put them together constantly. Still, healing often depends on keeping things joined the way that wakefulness depends on keeping our eyes open.
- So much of our life on earth depends on how we relate to everything around us. And while there are certainly times when it is necessary to dismantle bonds or entanglements to regain the health of freedom, mostly, when we can put things together instead of taking things apart, we are offered a way to befriend what is timeless and enduring. Often, when putting things together, we enter the pulse of a vital paradox, how small a part we are in the living Universe, and still, how our complete sincerity matters and contributes, the way one cell keeps the body going.
- The question put to our daily lives, then, is: In love, in friendship, in seeking to learn and grow, in trying to understand ourselves, how often do we, like Kikakou, remove the wings of the thing before it has a chance to free us? We are taught at an early age to pull things apart in order to solve them, to break problems down to understand their parts. Yet in the terrain of spirit and relationship, in the sweet territory of compassion, we often need to LET THINGS IN rather than break things down. So, the question each day becomes: When pressed by life, do I bridge or isolate? Do I reconnect the web of life and listen to its wisdom? Or do I make an island of every confusion as I try to solve its pain?
- Often, the gift of surprise is what loosens our hold, moving us from dissecting things toward bridging them. Often, the unplanned and unexpected appearance of what is authentic jars us from our self-created sense of things into the larger order of life that we are all a part of. We repeatedly have this choice: to make all we encounter self-referential or to bridge our small, troubled selves to the wonder and mystery of the Universe and its life-sustaining vitality, which like electricity is only released through the life of its connections.
- When we can connect to what lives both at the heart of our problems and at the heart of the problems of others, and listen to those connections, we become bridges to each other, the world and to the spirit that informs everything. So, when we speak of integrity, we are speaking of how we care for the tender bridge between our innermost being and the common life of all beings.
- Yet, being a human bridge - a living tool that puts things together - is not easy. For everything from erosion to fear tries to wear us down. But this is nothing new. Birds have always flown in the face of gravity, and fish have always made their way to the bottom despite the buoyancy of the sea. It is simply part of our calling: to be a bridge, to lie down so that living things can join and realize they are one. Kent Keith speaks to this simple calling in his poem "Anyway".
"If you are kind, people
may accuse you of selfish,
Be kind anyway...
What you spend years building,
someone could destroy overnight,
Build anyway ...
The good you do today, people will
often forget tomorrow,
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough,
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis,
it is between you and God,
It was never between you and them anyway."
- Yet when caught by the contradictions of life, we often forget there is a Whole, and we, like Kikakou, can be found pulling things apart. While this is understandable, this pulling apart can lead us to serve other gods. As the poet William Stafford says:
"If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made
may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home
we may miss our star."
- Here Stafford implies that bridging is a practice by which we maintain our sense of who we are. It is a practice that renews our vitality, because bridging opens us to the energy, strength, and timeless perspective of the Universe. When we are blessed to remember this, our small but crucial role as a living being becomes clear. The great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda understood this deeply when he made this vow:
"So, drawn on by my destiny,
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
the seas lamenting in my awareness [ ... ]
So, through me freedom and the sea
will make their answer to the shuttered heart."
- Neruda makes it seem simple. By staying awake, we keep the larger truths alive. By staying on the journey, we become a living bridge that keeps everything living connected. Not only is our journey essential to us, but each of us is a stitch that keeps the fabric underneath everything whole. Yet we all know it isn't that easy. It remains a struggle. This is one chief reason we need each other: to stay connected. How? By helping each other stay awake, stay true, and on the journey.
- Someone who kept me awake was my grandmother. She, as I've mentioned, helped me understand the essence of the journey. The moment I'm thinking of is fifteen years ago, when my grandmother was ninety-four and dying. I believe she knew she was dying. I could tell because, time and again, when I'd visit her in Kingsbrook Medical Center in Brooklyn, she would sit on the edge of her bed and peer off into some distance she alone could see. Each time she did this, it taught me something else. This time, I had the feeling that she was imagining the other shore, the way she did when she was ten and crossing the Atlantic on a crowded steamship trudging through the waves.
- Life for her was one endless immigration, one constant arrival in a new land. Perhaps this is why I am a poet, because immigration is in my blood. Perhaps this is why I understand the world of experience as one vast ocean we never stop crossing, even at death.
- Being with her, especially near the end, led me to imagine the life of our spirit on earth as such an immigration, as one constant arrival in a new land. Given this, I've come to accept that, no matter the shore before us, the swell and toss of the sea never ends. When brought to the crest of a swell, we can see as far as eternity and the soul has its perspective, but when in the belly of those waves, we are, each of us, for the moment, lost. The life of the soul on earth has us bobbing on a raft of flesh in and out of our view of eternity, and the work of the inner pilgrim is to keep eternity in our heart and mind's eye when dropped in the belly of our days.
- Even when we can't see it, there is a Oneness of things, and our call is to be a bridge between the infinite parts that constitute that Oneness. There is always freedom and the sea, always the shuttered heart that can follow the wrong god home, and we, in our humanness, always stretching between the two.
- Some twenty years ago, I was traveling with a friend in northern England, through a small town called Oxenholme, near Windermere, when we came upon a bridge suspended in the fog. Suddenly I glimpsed the Whole. I felt safe, and the connections began to speak. I realized that we all take turns. We all have our chance to be a bridge between confusions, and we all have the chance to be brought out of our confusion by the bridge of another's love.
- It was this simple glimpse of the Whole that stirred me to write:
"There is a bridge, that oldest of concepts, barely visible through the fog. It lets the water flow. The mind should be as hollow: letting the water flow.
There is a bridge that needs repair. Hear it creak. I drop many things, for what I carry overflows. If I lie down at one with the water, will you think me a bridge or obstacle? I need repair where I can't see.
There is a bridge, that oldest music which curls the heart. It lets the water flow. I drop many things, but the light ones fall like flowers or compliments or acceptance of new ideas. Drop something light for me or you or for the earth. We need much human rain.
There is a bridge at Oxenholme, I saw it through the fog, made from the path of swooping gulls, the same air swept and swept and swept, between us all, the same dream dropped, picked up again."