Sunday, 29 November 2015

Words out of and into silences - Swarthmoor 5

I liked the relative wordiness of the Quakers at Swarthmoor, the readings they pointed us to, the speech out of silence. I think my meditation was enriched by contemplations springing from those activities - though contemplation is a very different state of mind and being than meditation, of course. 

On a mindfulness retreat you are very likely to have poems read before or after meditation that may help you into a meditation-friendly state, or they may illuminate an intention for a meditation - such as compassion, "loving-kindness." But mindfulness gatherings are perhaps less wordy.

It's not that one is better than the other, it's rather that, for me, reading stuff about being in communion with profundity, with now, with... it's deeply rewarding, and complements the hours of silent sitting meditation, zazen. It gives the meditating a context, it fuels it -  perhaps not so much during meditation, it's rather when I'm not meditating that such reading  helps me to sustain and revisit what I find when I am meditating.

I think what I'm trying to say is that reading and contemplation enrich meditation, that mindfulness also uses words, but that the Quakers at Swarthmoor used words more, and that seems to have set a new balance for me.

So we need the silence Rumi advises, and we need to feed and mulch the silence with good words.

If you've struggled through this fumbling post, you deserve a poem or two. Here's a poem that would, I think, bear more than one visit for Quakers and Buddhists, since it's about the wordless transmission of an inner light, the shared self that bypasses social context. It's about what we might expect in a poem, and what we actually find in this poem, by Mary Oliver: 


In Singapore, in the airport,
A darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open.
A woman knelt there, washing something in the white bowl.

Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.

A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings.
Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that’s not possible, a fountain rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together,
and neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
Everybody needs a job.

Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor,
which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as hubcaps,
with a blue rag.
Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
She does not work slowly, nor quickly, like a river.
Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.

I don’t doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want her to rise up from the crust and the slop and
fly down to the river.

This probably won’t happen.
But maybe it will.

If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it?

Of course, it isn’t.

Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only
the light that can shine out of a life. I mean
the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,
The way her smile was only for my sake; I mean
the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.

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