transitions, light & faith

from the dark

from the dark

“…or I can forgive and forget…Oh, but my treasure, it is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things…we always have a choice.” Character in The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been shaken by a book. Stirred, certainly. Bored, frustrated, annoyed, informed, inspired – yes. But shaken? Not recently. And that’s saying a lot given the hellish six months of holding together body and soul. Or may be it’s just easier to be shaken when there’s no more resistance to what the universe decides to throw at you.

“Sometimes life turns out hard, Isabel. Sometimes it just bites right through you. And sometimes, just when you think it’s done its worst, it comes back and takes another chunk.” Tom, one of two principal characters in The Light Between Oceans.

The story takes place on Janus Rock playing on the trope of the Roman god Janus, who presides over transitions and can see both past and future. Janus Rock is home to the main character, Tom who is its lighthouse keeper and later to Isabel his wife. Their transitions, as with most beginnings and endings, are turbulent, riven with loss that leads to secrets, and decisions that can be argued from both sides of one’s moral face. It’s a slow read, evoking the meticulous cleaning of the lighthouse light, its record keeping, the passage of time on an island between the Indian Ocean and the Southern Sea half a day away from the coast of Australia. But that steady unwinding of the tale only makes the ending more breathtaking.

Many of our moral judgments are made sitting on Janus Rock, between here and there, what I want to say and what I say, what I believe and what I need to you believe. We craft our stories with threads we summon from past and future – often at will and if only to gather evidence to justify a decision already half-made. We tell stories and tell them so well that we often forget what is truth and what is needed to be heard by the inner and outer senses. Or more correctly, we forget there is no real truth and that what we hear (inner and outer) serves only as the chinking that holds together a rather wobbly lighthouse tower.

gold center

center light

And in our story-telling we are so convinced that our intention is noble, protective, caring. These are beacons we send out hoping that someone will be saved, alerted to our edges. Because for as much as we believe we are good, well-intentioned, loving and caring, we are also terrified that we can do harm by the structure of our very nature.

My dear friend, Carole, over at the dot (Zendotstudio) has written an eloquent post about stories. She does summon the devil in me though with a poke about Eckhart Tolle. What I think of Tolle is my well-worn story perpetrated on anyone I think needs to be saved from the shoals of Tolle’s teachings. In fact, there are a number of characters in the convoluted political states of mindfulness, psychology, and Buddhism who have sent me tearing up the lighthouse stairs to set the beacon afire.

Yet lately, I have begun to tire of that long climb up the lighthouse. I’ve learned that a lighthouse beam is set at night and turned off during the day. Once set, it needs no further tending; it functions with equanimity, sending out electromagnetic metta to anyone who wishes to attend to their state of being. It really only needs us to act our discipline by polishing the lens, oiling the nuts and bolts, and turning it on and off at its assigned time.

There’s an element of faith in this. All this to-ing and fro-ing trying to keep shipwrecks from happening simply stirs up resentment when we are disregarded and as the character quoted at the opening of this post, it can be burdensome to keep those fires burning. In the end, it is a choice to see the rose glistening as the rainfall pauses rather than the soaked, muddy ground. It is a choice to see the wonderful fruition of all our hard work rather than what didn’t flourish despite our care. And making those choices generates faith in our commitment. And faith is so much lighter to carry.

As for Tolle, I had the cheeky rejoinder though it is true of psychology and meditative practice: I have come to realize that if I hold true to the hope of my own transformation then that has to be rooted in the hope of all beings’ transformation. Ole Tolle included.

the great matter of the poppy & the peony

imageThe garden is flourishing in these endless cycles of wet and heat. It has exploded brilliant blooms of irises and poppies which were short lived in the relentless downpours of May. And now, in the muggy days of June, the peonies are surging out in giant fireworks of white and pink.

I’ve always hated peonies, and these in particular for having been planted in the most awkward of places on what passes for lawn. It took me a decade to uproot every last bulb only to find them skulking back into the interstices of my favoured flora.

Now, 20 years later, I’ve transformed my irritation into a marginal peace about them but, I claim, it’s only because they once belonged to Roger whose father built the farm in 1932. Roger is gone now, predeceased by his wife Blanche who had painted the living room the same shade of rose I did a generation later.

The poppies flank one side of a small garden (small being a relative term for something less than 8 by 30 feet) while the unrepentant peonies flank the other. This year they seem to be the punctuations of the Great Matter of Life and Death.

Perhaps my mother’s passing is resonating further with me as we divest ourselves of the material aspects of her life. Selling the house in Montreal, sorting through the final remnants of her collections, and falling over pictures and portraits of her journey in this realm, I find myself wondering what might have been different had on petal dropped this way or that, had one bud opened in June and not May, had one rose bush blossomed blue and not white.

Or perhaps I am feeling more and more the karma of aging as I trip and stumble over bumps and uneven ground in my path. Sitting on my zafu at the retreat Frank and I lead, I felt a piercing through my knee which the mind tackle to the ground and pummelled into an admission of stupidity for allowing it to happen. I marvelled at the logic that says, in retrospect, you should have known it would happen and prevented it. The talks at the retreat were on equanimity and compassion, the former being key to Dogen’s admonition that we examine the constructed selves and the latter to being illuminated by the myriad things as these masks drop to the ground. And through it all that mind-mask howled its misery and portended death of a broken kneecap – of independence, of living, of ever amounting to anything worthwhile.

The poppy stripped of petals and bloom is saying the same thing and the peony still in its naively held breath of birthing is saying the same thing. All things end, begin, end. But they don’t howl. Or clutch at the soreness. Or winch at the fire piercings. They seem animated by the truth of life and death, being and ongoing being. Voicelessly punctuating  here and now.

Perhaps it is time I allowed these myriad things of the Great Matter to pierce me truly, really.