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The Halo


Buddha, originally uploaded by elefanterosado.

We have a ritual now. He sits on my lap, his little head pressed tight against my shoulder. He pulls on the gold chain as I remind him to be gentle. His little legs are tucked up beneath him. And he asks the same question, although I’ve answered it many times before.

“Who is this man, mummy?”

“His name was Siddhartha. But people call him The Buddha.”

“Why do they?”

“Because he was enlightened.”

“What was he doing?”

“Sitting. And watching his breath.”

“What did he find?”

“The end of suffering.”

“Why did he?”

“Because he was very quiet and knew how to listen.”

“And what does it say on the other side?”

“I don’t know because it’s written in a language I can’t read.”

“But you can read Spanish.”

“Yes, I can read Spanish.”

I have worn the amulet for the past five years, ever since returning from my last trip to Thailand. My son, who has been consistently drawn to it since before he could talk, loves to ask me about it. Not yet four, he’s an old soul. It’s not that he forgets that we’ve had these conversations, nor does he forget my answers. It’s more that he likes to tease me. He likes to tease me, and he likes to hear the story. He’s a great lover of stories.

My hand unconsciously rubs the glass that encases The Buddha in the amulet many times throughout the day. It reminds me of the two sets of Southwestern fetishes my husband and I were given as wedding gifts: when I hold and rub them they evoke memory. Not memory, exactly, but rather the gift of the unmanifest. The pure wisdom of the eternal. And of the soul’s deep promise to return to itself.

When I was younger I was a wanderer. A voyager. I hated staying in one place; despised rote routine. I ran away, deep into the world and away from myself. Of course I found and experienced many wonderful things and people. I made friendships that were unique and powerful. But I had a dread of returning to the sameness and steadiness of a mundane life. In the last few years, especially since having a child, my life has become markedly different. I often find myself in the same physical environment for months, rather than weeks, at a time. At times I tell myself it’s boring to be so rooted, that sameness is stifling, that it will engulf me and drag me under its heavy tide. But I recognize it for what it is: the rebellion of a fearful ego. A creature of prey, the ego is nothing more than a flighty horse, desperate to avoid annihilation. Desperate not to die. It equates boredom with death.

Several days ago, a profound yet simple thought entered my head: “The best place is the place where you are now.”

A quiet life in the Vermont woods would not suit everyone. There is a certain static to every day existence here, with little to distract one from the business of knowing oneself. Few stores, museums, colorful traffic or dizzying speed to entice or excite. There is little to get lost within. My daily routine would bore some folks straight into their graves. The tedium of donning endless layers of clothes. The shoveling of manure, the filling of water buckets, and the measuring of grain. Yet even these tasks serve as a kind of valuable meditation. I’m reminded of the heavily prescribed lives of monks, in which each day is parceled out from dawn to dusk into a series of chores punctuated only by food, sleep and prayer. Yet if you asked them, most monks would profess amazement at anyone with the hubris to label their lives boring or tedious. That’s because they recognize that the chores themselves are a form of meditation. The sweeping of floors, the baking of bread, or the threading of looms are all opportunities to come more closely to the threshold of the soul’s promise. Like holding the fetish or feeling the smooth glass encasing the Buddha, ordinary chores can be a call to mindfulness, or a journey into the Gap. Solitude in the rural outback can, in fact, feel far less alienating than a tight crowd in a New York subway or suburban mall.

And thought, if harnessed properly, if funneled through a south-facing window of warm golden sun, can act as an impetus. One capable of catapulting us into the subway, the museum, or the heart-felt presence and living room of our closest friend. Our deeply honed awareness can, indeed, bring us to a moment in physical time we may never have personally experienced.

One of my favorite quotes is Einstein’s profound observation that: “I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details.” I can feel the mindfulness and present moment awareness that allowed him to have that thought. For me, that thought is a meditation.

Here’s another: And it’s not a thought, but rather a favorite memory. Except that it belongs to my mother. It is not an experience I had at all. (That is, if time is linear.) But it is a memory that brings such happy, warm feelings that I indulge it often. And it perfectly complements Einstein’s sentiments.

As a young child, my mother remembers going out for a walk. It was a beautiful, sun-filled spring day in Princeton, New Jersey. The park was full of fragrant green trees. The colors were vibrant. The park was largely empty, other than an elderly and eccentric-looking man dressed in academic attire. He wandered through the park in a seemingly aimless fashion. He was alone and deep in thought. His long, disheveled and wild iron-gray hair obscured much of his face. But suddenly he looked up and smiled. The sun was behind him. His face became animated and a glorious radiance shone through him. It came from behind his head and back lit it in such a way that the child in the stroller thought the man wore a halo.

In fact, it was Einstein. But to my mother, he looked like an angel.

In the end, all worlds reach for each other. In the end, all worlds collide.

© All rights reserved by Mary Alden-Allard. Content may not be reprinted except by express written permission of the author.

Comments

Comment from FjordWoman
Time January 30, 2009 at 10:44 am

You outdo yourself time and time again.
When I read your posts, I feel as if parts of my inner universe are reawakened and coaxed gently back into the sunlight, unafraid.
You are indeed a very old soul,and have an amazing awareness.
I feel very happy to know that there are those like you out there in the world, those who know what truly matters.

Comment from Elefanterosado
Time January 30, 2009 at 11:07 am

So kind. I really appreciate your comments. They are so valuable to receive, especially from a kindred spirit!

Comment from Elefanterosado
Time January 30, 2009 at 11:09 am

Fjordwoman: And now just check out my rant on the scoundrel from Illinois. I’m sounding really compassionate now, aren’t I? Nothing like a Buddhist on an off day. Ah, the dualities of the human spirit.