Monday, October 05, 2009


We lay in a rough circle, each doing our own practice, and the teacher walked among us. She saw that the woman lying beside me was crying, silently, huddled in a fetal position. She stooped to cradle her head, and stroke her side briefly; then she brought her a rolled-up towel -- to cuddle, or to catch her tears: I was not sure which. I was distressed that, involved in my own practice, I had not noticed that she was in tears. I felt I had been found wanting. Yet I hesitated too to do anything: bearing in mind how often such interference is only a pretext for inserting oneself into another's consciousness.

I sat up, and after a little hesitation, came near and laid a hand on her head, and just sat that way for a few minutes, loving her, washed over by tenderness. Then we began the road back, so I withdrew again, glad to have been able to connect without making any demand for recognition or recompense. The teacher was still making her rounds. I felt the tears come in my own eyes: I was thinking of how I could settle back into my own practice, knowing there was a watchful caretaker at hand. Thinking that it was not all up to me.

I've spent my life taking care of people. It's what I do: it's my calling. But it's always been informed by knowing that I'm not enough, not equal to the suffering and distress: knowing that attention paid here is neglect there. I imagined a world in which that was not so, in which a loving teacher was always making the rounds, in which love would be in the context of enough. That, I suppose, is what haunts me.

After the session, she came up to me and asked, "Did you put your hand on my head?"

"I hope that was all right," I said.

"Oh, it was wonderful! It let me stay there, it let me... thank you!"

She hugged me, long and intensely. "Thank you," she said again, and I turned aside a little, shaking my head and mumbling "thank you." We hugged again, and I picked up my stuff and left; delighted, embarrassed, perplexed.

In the context of plenitude, how different it would be! I could not have explained my own tears: I'm glad no one asked me to.

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