Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Everyday Things


after you're blindsided by the avatar of a wound
after the exposed nerve
                                 gets bull's-eyed once again
after you recoil with knee-jerk
                                            shock and disbelief
after fear    rage    pain
                               ricochet through your bones

after you blunder on anyway   
                                             exiled from reality
after crashing finally   
                               unstrung with grief and loss
after you freeze solid under
                                         the glacier of despair
after blindly clawing a way out    death by death

don't try to come back just yet
                                             to the living world
or expect to stroll among others as if you belong
even sunlight glaring off a crust of ice
                                                      will agonize
the crow's caw-cawing
                               slices you like a rusty blade

water those plants first
                                    you know they're thirsty
then take care of all that laundry that's piled up
at the smell of fresh towels you'll begin to heal
sanity returns
                  in the sorting and matching of socks


Before enlightenment,
chopping wood and carrying water.
After enlightenment,
chopping wood and carrying water.

-- Buddhist Teaching --


     Sometimes only the simplest, most basic and routine experiences stand between us and going off the deep end. A new crisis can strike violently out of nowhere, or an old wound gets ripped wide open again. Nothing seems real anymore--especially not ourselves. Anything unknown, unfamiliar, feels fraught with danger, bristling with threat. At such hours, more than ever, we cling gratefully to the everyday--what has always been and always happened the same way; what we desperately long to believe always will.

     The plants need watering. You know how to do that, the same way you always have. The water pours from the spout as water has always done, and the thirsty soil soaks it up at the same reliable rate. The torn heart can find a brief refuge here; the shattered mind focuses on a practical task, the scraped-raw senses are soothed and calmed. It's not an answer. Maybe there isn't one. But for a little while at least you're granted a temporary respite, and it seems more than blessing enough.

     Yet is this merely a case of retreating miserably into the mundane, boring and predictable? Or has the soul unexpectedly been wounded so ruthlessly awake, been knocked so far off its customary somnolent traces, that now--maybe for the first time--you discover how precious, sacred and meaningful every single living moment truly is. To the busy and distracted, watering the plants is a bothersome chore. But those who cringe before one of the countless faces of death know otherwise--it's a privilege, a trust, a miracle.

     Whether we admit it or not, here we encounter one reason Carl Jung wrote: "There is no coming to consciousness without pain." The miracle of the everyday is always present, but gradually we allow our childlike wonder and openness to become blunted and dulled as the years pass by.

     We get so caught up brooding over the past or worrying about the future--trying to control life instead of living it--that we go blind to the sacred beauty hidden in plain sight. But when a great trauma overtakes us, we're forced back into the arena of Here, the crucible of Now.

     Then we must wrestle with the affliction which dragged us back, but we're also given the opportunity to soulfully reconnect with the supposedly unimportant, humdrum minutia of our daily existence--not only watering the plants, but feeding the cat, chopping up vegetables, washing the dishes, taking out the trash and, yes, doing the laundry.

     In a world where nightmare can morph into crushing fact in a heartbeat--and does so every day, somewhere, all over the planet, for millions--is there any salve more healing than the smell of fresh, warm towels, just pulled from the dryer? Can any grace exceed the humble sanity of sitting quietly in the bedroom, sorting and matching socks?

     These everyday things we need, if we treat them lovingly, love us back--by being familiar, useful, trustworthy and enduring. They help us to bear the relentless harrowing of time...


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