Sangha now meets on Sundays at a luxurious hour and we’re exploring the Heart Sutra for as long as it takes to comprehend one of the most incomprehensible texts in spiritual history. And yet, it is one of the most prescriptive texts if we take our time to hold each word gently in the palm of our hand. With time, the tangle it seems to be does unravel.
I’m learning that I have what David Whyte calls “an adulterous relationship with time.” It’s not enough, fulfilling, generous, kind, eternal or protective. It betrays promises that wounds will heal and dogs get their day. It is capricious in its affections giving to others what it swore would be mine exclusively. That, of course, gives me license to adulterate our marriage; and, like all bad marriages, I seize the right to lay blame at time’s feet for disappointing me.
The time demanded of me by the the tangle of the Heart Sutra requires that I step back into this awkward, narcissistic relationship I have with time itself, long before I can dive into the twists and turns of paradox and paradigm shifts. I have to be willing to sit with a word, to sift it, to let the silt and the muck stir and settle. That willingness is mediated by having a good marriage with time.
Instead, I find myself promiscuous with my attention. As I sit in zazen, my mind wanders into worry about the kitten whom I haven’t seen this morning. The evidence of a now-empty food bowl is insufficient. I turn on time and accuse it of not having me at the window to coincide with the kitten at his food. In the spaciousness of zazen which is synonymous with the spaciousness of time, I feel the tension in my legs and my back. They are priming to rise and check outside the window in the kitchen. Time says, zazen is marital therapy between you and me; if we’re ever going to better ourselves in the other’s presence, we must agree to hold this discourse of stillness. So I sit and we have this gentle probing conversation about how worry energizes me into action, how that action is not discerning of what is possible, and the ways in which it renders the power of time impotent.
I relapse during walking meditation as I reach that pivotal point in the room where I could continue forward into the kitchen (and the window) or I can turn to the right and go to my cushion. Just one quick minute. Give me just a moment to go and check. It doesn’t mean anything. I’ll come back! But we had that conversation already. I turn right and face the brilliant sunshine pouring down on my cushion and Midas-like turning the pine floor gold.
These gossamer threads of worry and flurry are a symptom of a failing marriage with time. They are probably the most seductive of the five hindrances because they create the illusion that we are actually accomplishing something. In fact, they are the thieves of our intimacy with time. Transforming that marriage, regenerating intimacy, requires an act of courage. It means saying no so we can say yes; saying yes so we can say no. It means reaching into the heart of who we are and honouring our practice of fearlessness.