Closings (written 2004)
Closing of this distance retreat. Each of us in our homes trying to work with a prescribed schedule over the last few days. Fitting the agreed to periods of study and writing and sitting and walking in, as much as we can, around and within whatever is normal in our days, and checking in at the end of each day. The gift of cyber-connections. So today, our last, I'm thinking of “closings”.
Closing a book. Closing a chapter. Closing a door. Closing a letter. It means somehow to complete and finish yet mostly what is closed can be re-opened. A book may be revisited and upon return, we may find things we missed on the journey before. A chapter may be rewritten. A door re-opened. For another look. A peek backwards. Or even to re-enter. Letters may be mailed or not. Returned unopened. Sequels written. We speak of closing as if it is to end but the amazing thing about impermanence is that endings lead into new beginnings.
My attraction to Buddhism began in part because of my fear of ending, of my attempts to make sense of a world devoid of the old man God in heaven I was taught to believe in. A vague sense of something less humanoid in form and habit. My own explanations were pseudo-science. A belief in a recycling and harmony and connectedness that meant no part of me was truly separate. Every action of mine radiated out into the world. Every action of my ancestors carried forward to me. And in my “chosen” family, my spouse and children, students with on-going connections, life-long friendships, this netting grew and grew. This was simple sense to me. Observable. And when I died my body would feed the earth and so I could not help but feel that that energy and spirit which were also part of me would not be gone either.
I read a book, A Scientist's Search for Soul, and was left with a visual impression of a conscious universe...pulsing with life so that individual beings were only spots at the bottom of funnels from this source. Some of the funnels were wide, so a tree, a caterpillar, a blade of grass might not have a sense of a separate self at all. But as the funnels narrowed to the finest of openings we came to human kind who lives in an illusion of separateness and with the delusion of a self that stands alone, with a beginning and an ending. Because of this, we are the most lost. We suffer the most because we look back through an opening so tiny we are unaware of the vast source at the head of the funnel.
When I eventually discovered Buddhism's description of the cause of our suffering, the concept of anatta (no self) this matched my unarticulated felt understanding. So the closing of a chapter of painful seeking, led to an opening in understanding.
Closing this retreat I reflect on how yesterday did not go at all as I had planned. The power went out. My husband was called into work and was there until midnight. I was left alone with a full kennel, my own sons and a visiting child, and too many things to do to do this “right”. So I simply did what needed doing. This and then this. And now, today has been a gift. This morning's meditation opening doors. Not a closing at all.