On Seeing, Wisdom, and the Value of Non-Detachment
“I knew at last that I must leave…get out of the press of affairs…the god does not speak to those who have no time to listen. The mind must seek out what it needs to feed on, and it came to me at last that what work I had to do, I must do among the quiet of my own hills.” – Merlin in The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
I picked up The Crystal Cave again a few weeks ago after someone mentioned it on an annual retreat I was conducting in Utah, just after my friend’s passing (in fact, he was scheduled to attend.) I read Stewart’s full Merlin trilogy almost twenty years ago, and I thought escaping into its pages was exactly what I needed this summer. But as often happens when we are drawn to certain books, these have ended up being much more than an escape. I am not the same person I was back then, so these are not the same books. Everything Merlin says regarding seeing, finding the flow of life, following power, and finding and owning his role in the larger scheme of things, is resonating very deeply.
So I have been “among the quiet of my own hills” – or as quiet as my hills get, with three young children out of preschool for the summer. Retreat is very relative these days! But I had years before children with plenty of solitude, silence, and formal retreats, and I find at this point that I can center myself with much less. Motherhood has taught me efficiency, even in this.
I did find going almost completely offline for a month – once daily email checks only – extremely helpful. I am a strong believer in ‘sabbaths’ and have always stayed offline for one full day each week, and limited my daily number of hours online as well. I know it’s not fashionable to say so, but from an energetic perspective, I don’t think social networking is all that different from the real-life version. Every encounter is an energy exchange. And while I love being online because it is so much easier to find like-minded individuals, and there are so many wonderful people to interact with and learn from, the outward-directed mental energy required to blog, comment, and interact can create a very turbulent mind. It’s easy to lose the ability to be alone with ourselves.
So I am very committed to internal stillness and solitude right now – regardless of external circumstances. Especially since I have been sensing a new direction brewing in my own life, and need to create the space for this to form fully. As Merlin says, seeings like this aren’t something that can be pushed – they have to take their own time surfacing. Interestingly, more unstructured time with the kids, and focusing on the details of some house remodeling we are doing, have proved to be the perfect counterpart to whatever is going on under the surface (who knew paint swatches and tile samples could be so soothing?) And now I do feel ready to emerge a bit, and get back online. I have missed you all!
As for my friend’s passing, I could write volumes on that, and on him, for he was a very special being. I know we always say that when someone dies, so those of you that didn’t know him will just have to take my word for it. I probably will write more on him at some point, but since I do observe certain Buddhist death rituals, I have been holding a traditional 40-day vigil for him that will end next week, and don’t want to say anything before that.
I did want to share a passage from yet another book that has resonated with me recently – Tsultrim Allione’s Women of Wisdom. I have mentioned this book before, and will probably post on it more next week. I was re-reading it in the days before my friend’s passing, and in fact just hours before I learned of his death was reading a passage that proved to be a guiding light in the subsequent days. Lama Tsultrim Allione was one of the first Western women to be ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun, and spent four years receiving teachings from some of the most revered Tibetan Lamas, including much time in solitary retreat in Tibet. She decided to give back her vows after four years in order to marry and have a family, and continue her Buddhist studies as a layperson. She is now, with her children grown, herself one of the most revered Lamas teaching in the West today.
After giving back her monastic vows, she had two daughters, and then a few years later, boy/girl twins. At 2 1/2 months, the little girl twin died of SIDS. Coming on the heals of a difficult pregnancy and marriage troubles, her little girl’s death sent her into a deep, dark night of the soul. And she was not helped when at her daughter’s funeral, another Buddhist practitioner came up to her as she was grieving, tears streaking down her face, and said “You should not be so attached to this baby; everything is impermanent.”
Lama Allione talks about the ‘superficial’ understanding of the dharma, or teachings, that drove such a comment. It is something I have seen a lot of in spiritual circles, of all denominations. Whether we say ‘everything is impermanent’, ‘God had a plan’, or ‘it was meant to be’, all too often we use philosophies and theologies to distance ourselves intellectually from the reality of life. This doesn’t mean these views of death aren’t true, but if they are used as a way to avoid the true human emotions of loss, to me they are useless. Wisdom is a union of heart and mind, not a cutting away of one in favor of the other. I am not interested in an enlightenment that says a mother should not cry for her lost baby, or one that prevents an acquaintance from simply holding her when she does.
So, in the aftermath of my friend’s passing, when conducting the retreat he was scheduled to attend, with many who were also mourning him present, I was glad to have read this passage, and glad to have had the reminder of what NOT to do. ‘Spiritual mentor’ is a dicey role, not one I embrace all that comfortably, and I know it is all too easy to fall into posturing – acting the way you think you should act, the way people expect, and parroting the teachings, rather than speaking from the heart. But wisdom can’t be faked, and it does not come just from the intellect.
So I thought for this first post back I would invite you to share your own views on wisdom, and what exactly it is. I look forward to reading your responses!