I have a closet full of things I don’t really wear and I have a mind that is full of thoughts that only seem to wear on me and no longer fit as they once did. Yes, I admit my head is like a walk-in closet in which bits and pieces of disjointed thoughts, odds and ends of emotions unattached and memories and dreams collect and gather. Where beliefs find places to tuck and be stashed, old ideas and identities once worn like old clothes. Old stories. Familiar patters tossed like snapshots into a shoebox of the mind…for safe keeping I suppose or for the comfort of knowing they are there. A wise one once said: “We prefer the security of our misery to the misery of insecurity.”
I know a part of me wants to cling to life and its pleasures (though admittedly I am not at all clear on who the I is that knows – you know?); I want to hold on to cherished memories and re-visit them from time to time and I want to dream into the future of what could be and what I fear might happen and when this body contracts what I want most of all is to hold on to the story of me and in the next expansion I want to love and let go of “my” self and the story of me. How screwed up is that?
As I grow older my mind grows more spacious and more silent and I begin to see more clearly how much of what I take to be my life isn’t mine at all really. There is Life. Energies and Light/Shadow and dance; Shape and Form and emptiness and space – there is awareness – there is something prior to thought – something that moves / that acts / that perceives faster than thought……
Concentrate on each movement required to lift a foot and shifting of weight while maintaining balance and not falling over and still breathing and heart pumping and all systems going and then focus on moving one foot 12 inches and repeat…One quickly realizes who or what is making all those brain and body connections happen in the time it takes to take a breath is a hell of a lot better at it than who ever I think I am – that if were to consciously and deliberately make all those connections in the time it takes to move an inch, I’d fall over and die as I’d forget to tell my heart to pump.
I believe it was Rumi I first heard advise one to make friends with all the strangers that come to one’s door. Moffitt said it differently but I think the meaning is pretty clear that we are to learn to love all that we are, all who come to us and be gentle with them and love them holding with compassion as best we are able. I suspect that all of us find ways to hold on to things we’d be better off not holding onto… One of those old worn out items that I’ve held on to far too long is my old friend the Judge.
I first encountered him when I was 12. He would visit me at night when I tried to sleep and he would speak to me. He would tell me of all the things I had done wrong that day and in life in general. His voice was not kind or loving but stern and punishing and try as I might I could find no refuge, no shelter, no hiding place. Until………
I have noticed as I walk a Buddhist path that I can be mindful of the conditions that often underlie the likelihood of a visit and knowing how to know helps and I hardly ever know right away. A good indicator for me is noticing when the body contracts and tightens down. More often than not as that happens for me, my mind narrows down getting more bogged down in negative, self critical thoughts fueled by old stories like old cloth feeds moths. My heart contracts and I begin to believe that the world and all my friends are, for some inexplicable reason, pulling away from me. The explanations for all this running through the head are more fabrications created to keep the story of me alive. It works. I get angry I feel neglected. I get buttoned up by all these old hooks and sooner or later the Judge will come forth and pronounce penance.
When I notice that this is how the body is reacting and recognize it as an old worn out story, the drama begins to unravel, the Judge becomes a protective friend with good but mis-guided intentions and I see that there is space in my heart to include the Judge, black robes and all and in this doing to the least – our holding in love and kindness – the other within / the other without how is that different than what Jesus said loving our neighbor is all about? The Buddhist path seems to open me to choices I did not perceive before – and to open my heart to the Light within.
The child within is the light bearer – the pure and innocent heart that resides in all of us. When I go photographing he is the one most likely to notice the light and he is the one to catch the fleeting tap. There are lots of parts of this being called Robert and some of them have too long been left hanging unattended and unworn. Might be time to clean out my closet. Might be time to air out my mind?
At our most recent lunch date KGB asked me to ask a question of Dawa. She wanted to know what he would say if “thoughts arise in the mind or in the body,” I told her I would ask. I did. Dawa didn’t blink quickly replying: “in the mind. Thoughts are like clothes,” he said grinning and picking at his shirt.
The next day we were off for a lovely lunch the wife and I, when she asked how I was feeling about an upcoming music performance with the funk/rock/soul smash up band I play with I grunted, contracted and barked. I was not in a good space. My body was contracted and as usual the thoughts and story lines that run through my mind when such is the case, leaned towards the negative – towards those places my old friend the judge likes to hang out in and sure enough untrue and unkind words came frothing up and my wife looked at me with wise eyes and said: If you want me to buy you lunch its time for you to change your shirt.”
And you know what. I could. I could see the shirt I was wearing – a new version of the proverbial hair shirt and chain mail – and I realized that I could change it to something cotton, light weight, and bright like the sun shine in the morning. Something better suited for a ride in the country with the love of my life on a sunny day in July in the autumn of our lives.