perfect offerings

You know that eternally beautiful song Anthem by Leonard Cohen:

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

I don’t remember when the light began to get in.  It might have started when I realized there was no one who could save me.  Except me.  Over the years, my life became privileged: a loving spouse, a beautiful daughter, an amazing career, a home, friends (two-legged and four).  And still, the split endured keeping me from truly connecting with what was right there in front of me.  Until one day.

The horses we had were housed in a barn on the edge of a stream.  It was early Spring and the snow melt had begun.  Walking back from the barn, I felt my body stopped by an unfamiliar sound.  It took a moment before I realized it was the sound of the stream rushing through the culvert in the small ravine.  I’d walked that path every morning for ten Spring seasons and never heard it.  Slowly I looked around as if I’d come to this place for the first time in my life.  And, in effect, I had.  Everything seemed brilliant in the sunlight – the snow, the sky, the pine and spruce trees.  I slid down the slope to the stream which was wild with enthusiasm for the renewed life it had, released from the clutches of ice and cold.  Sinking into the snow and mud, I knew no one could hear this stream except me.  No one could see the sky or the trees except me.  No one could feel the chill soaking wet of the ground except me.  And I could not give this perfect moment to anyone – no matter how badly I believed it would  help them.

The crack through which the light entered was the sincere desire to prevent suffering.  Over the years, when life did not fit my belief that doing good had good outcomes (that’s the “Just World” hypothesis we tend to hold), I modified my experience so that the belief held.  Good didn’t happen for others because I wasn’t good (read: worthy) enough which only caused me to ramp up the intensity with which I tried to “do” good.  Community was also important so I fell into sangha-building as yet another means of “doing” good.  The disasters accumulated and the slope became more slippery than that Spring slide down to the stream as the perfect offerings became warped and unrecognizable.  As did I.

I had to “die” in those waking moments I mentioned yesterday, to die to these perfect offerings.  The reality of perfection is that it is never about beauty or love but rather about fear.  And only when I allowed myself to be consumed by the wolves of fear was it possible to fully experience my life.  Unfiltered.  Raw.  Broken open.

I wrote to my coach about a lovely experience this is currently unfolding in my life:  If we die in every moment, then I have died happy for several in this day.  That, in all its simplicity, is life.

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,