In the United States, I have a close friend named Jim Forest. When I first met him eight years ago, he was working with the Catholic Peace Fellowship. Last winter, Jim came to visit. I usually wash the dishes after we’ve finished the evening meal, before sitting down an d drinking tea with everyone also. One night, Jim asked if he might do the dishes. I said, “Go ahead, but if you wash the dishes you must know the way to wash them.” Jim replied, “Come on, you think I don’t know how to wash the dishes?” I answered, “There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.” Jim was delighted and said, “I choose the second way — to wash the dishes to wash the dishes.” From then on, Jim knew how to wash the dishes. I transferred the “responsibility” to him for an entire week.
– Venerable Master Thich Nhat Hanh, from “The Miracle of Mindfulness”
Today, a shortened version of this tale came across my mind, a gift as my partner read to me from “Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens” by Diana Winston. This book was purchased because last weekend on retreat at the Brooklyn Zen Center, it was recommended to him by the teacher he had met with. We have been discussing Buddhism a fair amount, because he used to be a lay monk, but has been out of practice. We are building a space for him to sit in meditation, and him going to the silent retreat was a chance to re-immerse himself in a part of his spiritual practice that has profound meaning to him.
I have come to refer to Wide Awake as the Buddha Book. I have always fascinated by Buddhism, and especially through my friend JD, I have come to find profound appreciations for a number of the teachings. But much of Buddhist teachings have felt out of reach for me due to the denseness of the language, and the wide variety of approaches to what Buddhism looks like that seem sometimes at odds with each other. But he is reading the book to me, just as I am reading Phantom Tollbooth to him. We tried to do Palimpsest, but yeah, that’s a hard one to follow as a bedtime book read sporadically. And as he reads, we pause, we process, he thinks, I think, we talk about what came up for each of us. I am diving into his mind and his spirit, and in turn he asks me questions, I face demons of my own heart, and more.
Today, the comment of “wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes” came up, I was stunned. And then, before any true thoughts came to my mind, my mouth spoke.
“I want to write to write.”
We had been having a very heart-wrenching conversation about how my writing under deadlines, and just for the purpose of “will it sell” had been hurting. How I have doctors who want me to do some pretty intense care plans, which may affect my capacity to go out of town for more than a few days at a time. I have been in a panic state at times over fear of being unable to pay bills again – how can I commit to conferences for 2012 if I am unsure if I can fly cross-country before the con begins, and back afterwards?
He kept encouraging me to be here, now. To live in the moment. How can I live in the moment, I argued, in a career where I must plan my reality 4-8 months in advance, or have no work available to me? Being a keynote speaker, headline presenter, etc… we are the first booked most of the time for events so that producers can use our names to advertise. I respect and appreciate this, but when I’m not supposed to leave town for more than a few days at a time- I keep finding myself paralyzed. I have said yes to a few conferences for next year, and even in those, I have fear. I do not want to live from a place of fear, but so often as of late that is the word that comes out of my lips. Fear of loss. Fear of inability. Fear of pain. Fear.
My fear has kept me from writing. In my journal, on my writing projects. I have to pause from panic as I look at deadlines. The book I am co-authoring was due to the publishers in September. We are nowhere near done. December is our earliest hopeful date at this point. I feel blessed that the publishers have not dropped the project. But this thing, this fear. I have been writing to share stories I feel *should* be shared. I have been writing messages to communicate what *needs* to get out there. I have been writing for a paycheck. I have been writing for fear of feeling inaccessible to my friends or world at large.
I have over 1500 emails in my inbox. Those are not spam. Those are people who I want to respond to.
I have 4 books partially written.
I have 21 subject notes for blog posts I want to write.
I have 170 lines of overarching concepts of projects I want to do on my to do list.
If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes , the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While of other thing, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus, we are sucked away into the future — and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.
I pause. I breathe. If while writing, I think only of the outcome that comes from the writing, thus hurrying to get the project done as if it was a nuisance, then I am not “writing to write.” What’s more, I am not alive during the time I am writing.
I am not alive during the time I am writing.
I have spent so much of my life attempting to live up to the expectations, needs, wants and desires of others. I stare at myself and feel lost. If in the thing I proclaim to have such passion in, I am not even there- where am I within my own statements of truth. I espouse to the world that a life without passion and soul is not one I care to see. And yet, in this thing I claim to have such passion for, I am not even present in. I adore food, and yet, I cram another wedge of orange in my mouth without ever tasting it. I say I love you empty…
and then stop myself.
Over dinner I say I love you, and stop.
“What I meant to say was thank you for being vulnerable and open with me, it makes me feel safer to show you more of my heart, and I feel very special in it. That is what I meant in that moment by I love you.”
He stares at me for a moment, then smiles, and says thank you.
It is easy in our society to replace the depths of our heart with brevity. In a world where psychotherapy sessions are strapped down to 50 minutes, where classes are timed, where our work is set by hours on a clock rather than what needs done in a day- it is to be expected. I find myself in a world where we have more technology, and less time to do what we want. Where I know more people, and have less time for them.
We shorten down hello to “howsitgoing” at 30 miles an hour.
If I gave the eyes locked, deep breath, shoulders rise, fall, smile, hello I long to give- where is the time to say hello to everyone else on my facebook friends list? This is what my spirit longs for, to give fully and freely to every spirit on this planet. I want to let each person I meet know how much I see in them. That yes, you, you before me- you are AMAZING! You light up before me, and I delight in the fullness of you.
And yet, if I do so, what is left?
I stand empty, hungry of heart. Which I know, is a lie. I stand in the mirror with my eyes empty for myself. But with one other set of eyes, I see in them the love that I am.
I pause, breathe, look in the mirror. LOVE. This is why it is there. LOVE.
“God is love,” I said weakly, and the moon flickered through black branches. I believed then that it was so.
“When you say that, and I say that,” said Qaspiel, I do not think we mean the same thing. You mean it only as a metaphor.”
I brooded on that, and the angel walked beside me, the hematite in its hair like black tears.
-Catherynne M. Valente, from “The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John Volume 1″
If I am love, for I am, I know this as a core truth of my heart, soul and body, then I know the knowledge that is love in my pores. This is love, this breath, this moment. This is love, this moment.
And by loving myself, I know that you too, you, there YOU – you can go look in your own mirror, and know you too are AMAZING! My eyes are not the only mirror.
I breathe. Tears fall. Love. Smiles, beauty, truth.
I step away from the computer.
Learning again, full of love, having written to write.