Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cute Curls, Bodhicitta, Birches

Came downstairs, and rapidly cleaned the kitchen up to house-showing level – threw the few last dishes in the dishwasher and turned it on, wiped down the counters, polished the glass of the stove top. Then did my back exercises, but rebelled at the idea of taking a shower. Instead I just threw on a new shirt, all wrinkly from sitting in the clean clothes basket in the basement, and drove here to Tom's in the drizzly summer rain.

I got eight hours of sleep last night – much more than I've been getting lately – and I feel rumpled and unkempt, inside and out. In the bathroom mirror at Tom's I see tufts of white-and-gray hair poking this way and that, including a fetching little curl on my temple. Can't quite tolerate that. I moisten a finger and try to straighten it: when it won't straighten, I settle for poking it under another tuft. Looking like an old homeless alcoholic is one thing: I can deal with that. But a cute curl at my temple is too much. I often wonder what it would be like, to be truly free of caring about a face to meet the faces. It might be wonderful.

Or it might just be a door into another room of doors. People spend lifetimes at it, trying to get free, and the reports that seem most honest are not particularly encouraging. Those people posit further lives, I think, not because they want to live forever – that's the whole point, they emphatically don't – but because they recognize that a project of that scale is not one to be completed in a paltry three score and ten.

In any case, there's no draft of fresh air from that direction, not for me, not today. Today the outside air, smelling of rain and hilltops, comes from the simplest bodhicitta prayers: May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness. May all beings be without suffering and the causes of suffering. May all beings never be without the sacred joy that is without suffering. That's the direction in which freedom seems to lie today.



A deep breath. I push my spine against the booth-back, let it unscroll, let my sacrum unlock, let all my ribs lift towards the rain, towards the simplicity of love: and I have a sudden wish that I still had little children. Putting compassion in action is so easy, then. You just sit down on the floor and pay attention, and their cup of joy fills right up. With adults it gets so much trickier.



I want to plant a birch tree, at the new house, if ever we get so far as a new house. And if it fits, of course. I love birch trees. Are they native? I don't know. I think of the marvelous stand of birches in that park towards the Coast, on the slopes of – Saddle Mountain, was that it? And the yellow-green light and the white trunks, the spaciousness. They weren't large trees, but it had the feel of an old wood. There's a grand old birch behind the parking lot at Tom's, that's come in and out of my poetry a couple times. Posing as a willow, once, because I needed two syllables and liquid consonants. Sorry. I still feel bad about that.

14 comments:

Murr Brewster said...

Maybe a birch wants to be able to play make-believe sometimes, too.

Shanna Germain said...

This made me start singing,

"There was a little girl
with a curl, right in the middle of her forehead. And when she was good, she was very very good. And when she was bad she was horrid."

:)

marly youmans said...

I would like it if you would sit on the floor and pay attention. I would. I'm not a bit tricky.

Dale said...

Marly, that's basically what my massage practice is :-)

carolee said...

a face to meet the faces. reminds me: there's a prufrock project i've abandoned. i should return to it. soon.

rbarenblat said...

I have a sudden wish that I still had little children. Putting compassion in action is so easy, then. You just sit down on the floor and pay attention, and their cup of joy fills right up. With adults it gets so much trickier.

Oh, how I needed to read this today. Thank you. It got me to close the damn laptop and get down on the floor with my toddler...

Zhoen said...

We tidy up and care about how we look, because when we don't - people start worrying about us. As within, so without? It's easy to spot those not in their right minds, it shows so obviously, like any illness. But in the clothes and hair, nails and teeth, not just skin tone and color, gait, posture.

Birch understands. They are very understanding trees. Plus, that is what your poetic license is for, after all.

marlyat2 said...

But you're rather far away. Although I do have a pain in the neck...

Uma said...

"to be truly free of caring about a face to meet the faces" - such a beautiful line!

Anne said...

This caused me to look up bodhicitte (I know very little about Buddhism) and it made me think about the connection between caring about others and caring how one looks. I suppose if you stop caring how you look you stop thinking about the world outside yourself altogether, so there is no room for compassion.

Dale said...

There's a long tradition in Mahayana Buddhism of the "two wings" that keep you in flight -- training in emptiness and training in compassion. If you get too far in one without cultivating the other, they say, you're asking for trouble.

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

Lovely. And I had children all night (and yesterday, and today) for a sleepover!

Lucy said...

I imagine in your crumply but freshly laundered shirt you didn't smell like a homeless alcoholic anyway.

Being without children, I have always found being the universal aunt who will sit down on the floor and pay attention has not only gained me the liking of the child(ren) but also the gratitude of their parent(s) afforded a break. Further, it has often been a handy means to let me off the demands of adult interaction and I have the added advantage of being able to hand them back and walk away at the end of the session. Good all round really.

Of all the things we've planted, some large leafed white birch, amongst a hedge of red photinia, have been the most undemanding, satisfying things, and their bark peels off and shows lovely fresh white layers below.

You really are a lovely chap, you with the curl.

Dale said...

(Blush). Well shucks.