how the light gets in

Mind of poverty, the post from a few days back, got some coverage and mileage.  I particularly liked the direction it took over at Dangerous Harvests which I would encourage you to read.  Of course, we can also depend on the scholarly NellaLou of Smiling Buddha Cabaret to catch the pass and keep the game in play. (Edit: 0906) And Barry at Ox Herding has added to the loop here.

This question of how we become tangled in feelings or beliefs of our own helplessness and hopelessness is something I grapple with regularly.  The first ten years of my life were privileged despite living in what is considered to be a Third World country.  The mind of magnanimity was cultivated through “good works” and as a child it felt good to visit the sick and dying in hospitals with my grandmother and to feed the homeless and poverty-stricken in the church halls.  It was just what I did; go out, come back, play with dolls imported from England and Germany.  The irony, or what someone years ago called hypocrisy, was not apparent to me as a child; and, later as an adult, I had a sense that helping was only authentic if I was actually or had already been there.

Fortunately the Goddess of Loss is blinder than she of Justice.  We became refugees ourselves and were recipients of the mind of generosity cultivated in others.  Now this is interesting: my parents rejected these offers because to accept was beneath them.  We were not, after all, like those needy people in hospitals or church halls.  I won’t infer in reverse any hypocrisy in their motives, attitudes or actions, here or there.   It is a complex mix of taking on the personna of their religious and cultural oppressors and after emigrating, in my favourite phrase, a “defensive facade of superiority.”   The mind of poverty, reinforced by having and losing, had found its rooting place.

When I think about all things had and lost,
and how the empty space left behind
becomes the ground for feeling

impoverished and broken,

I wonder if it’s possible to be filled
without first being broken,

to be enriched
without first being bereft of all belonging.

It’s not the same as wondering if I need to be homeless to help the homeless, or emotionally chaotic to be with the inner distress of those who suffer – although there is evidence that the ground of empathy is in feeling a mutual resonance.  I think, and I may be wrong, that it requires getting across the desert of my impoverished mind without carrying my privileged mind on my back for the whole journey.  It requires a willingness both to be cracked open by that process and to see that the light cannot enter any other way.

My role model for not fostering the mind of poverty is Leonard Cohen, touring at the age 75 years as a devoted student of impermanence:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Thank you for practicing,


8 thoughts on “how the light gets in

  1. Weird synchronicity in the blogosphere this week. Tomorrow’s Ox Herding is on “being broken” – in the way that a horse is broken. Thanks, Genju, for your thoughtfulness!

    • Barry: It is often the case between Ox & 108… you will have posted something that I have scheduled for the next day… Looking forward to it… btw, we now refer to “backing” the horse, not breaking it. Too many bad jokes from potential horse buyers…

      Client: Is the horse broke?
      Frank: Yup.
      Client: Can I get a discount then?

      Show mother: Is your horse broke?
      Frank: She ain’t broke but ah shore am…

      etc etc etc 😉

  2. Reading this, I was just reminded of a childhood story.
    At school, my best friend asked if he could give me a few bucks. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I replied, “It’s okay, I have lots of books!”
    I didn’t even realize that my family was considered poor by others, until he told me.
    I guess it comes back to fostering a mind of poverty or not.

  3. There’s so much wrapped up in this it’s hard to know where to start, but regarding poverty of mind, my Dharma teacher said,
    “As the Sixth Patriarch said, your inherent nature is intrinsically pure! Your mind is inherently endowed with everything! Because you exist, everything you need is completely provided! Because you exist, your mind perceives everything and responds accordingly! You have to experiment with and experience these truths to the point where you completely understand them and can freely and naturally apply them to whatever circumstances arise.”

  4. Joseph, fascinating, isn’t it? for me, belongingness was (obviously) so important and my mind of poverty was finely honed in the relationships I formed (or didn’t form) through school. When I began to work with the 16 Grave Precepts, I learned that to want a relationship from another which they were not ready or willing to give was a form of greed – or even taking something without consent. I could see that it arose from this mind of relational poverty – and wow! do I ever have to work with that!

    Chong Go Sunim: YES!!! We lack nothing. I am really feeling that these days while in a turmoil of having demands that would add things to me that I simply do not need. “No added ingredients necessary.”

  5. Pingback: 7 links – how to appreciate yourself « 108zenbooks

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