A feeling of lead in the belly, as if the lower half of my stomach has been dipped in the dull, silvery substance. It hangs heavy and solid, pulling downward. This registers in the chest, the jaw. Its weight wants my eyes to close. A wave of fatigue rises, grey and silent. Looming. Not just fatigue. ‘What sea have you come from?’ I wonder. It feels familiar, like I have been swimming these waters all my life.
Commentary appears: when I last felt this way; what it was like; where it lead me. I want to write something that elicits sympathy, but from whom? This brings judgement and I stop. None of this is what I am curious about. I want to discover if I can write from here: this embodied moment.
My face warms. The heat starts just below my chin, washes up past the hairline. It is most intense about the eyes, extending just beyond the oval sockets. Warm, tingling, prickly. Am I going to cry? A fair question, but a step removed from where I am trying to be. Which is right now, in a chest that is suddenly sore, strangely hollow where the heart ought to be.
I wonder if I should edit this. In doing so, I am no longer present to that emptiness. I have evaded again. Working to return, I find ideas. What did the heart feel like at dathun? Is there a practice I can do right now? Maybe if I visualize a lotus blossom. Meditation, it occurs, is about opening to the immediate moment - except when it isn’t.
I have spent much of the last hour thrashing about. Check email. Make a phone call. Tidy the kitchen. Check email again. Something is exploding in the body and I have been running like hell to get away.
Someone sent me a line commenting upon a blog post. “Nicely written,” she offered. I felt like a fraud. Certainly I am able to string together one thousand or so thoughtful words, but when experience is not so thoughtful? Is shouldering its way forward, demanding more attention than reflection? My body has been aflame for the last ninety minutes. I could lay down, let my awareness open and inhabit this trembling flesh. But another possibility has presented itself. ‘Can I write,’ I ask myself, ‘about fire?’
My initial impression was this would involve confessing how bad I feel. Edgy. Agitated. Self-aggressive. Skirting the borders of depression, that grey landscape whose existence I would as soon deny. Then I wondered if I could reside in, write from the territory preceding this. From the frontier country that comes before ‘good’ and ‘bad’. The untamed wilderness that bucks all such labels, refusing the easy and numbing comfort of their civil veneer.
Something jagged in the body now. Like saw teeth running the length of the spine. The sharp points are directed outward as if poised to attack. If this movement had a vocal compliment, it would be a growl - low, threatening, dangerous. Something familiar balls up in the points of the jaw, the back molars. ‘Hatred’ is what I call it, but how does this feel? Barbed wire tangled tight and pulling against itself, ripping its own flesh with those hard metal jags.
In this exercise, there is a flash of arising. Something has revealed itself. What follows is a sense of separation, then a flurry of feeling. Quick on its heels, ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Curious these arrive even before feeling is designated - ‘anger’, ‘loneliness’, ‘heart ache’, and so on. But they do and they are sticky devils, like velcro.
Before I know it I am spinning tales around each, a spider enveloping its prey in suffocating silk. ‘Bad’ dredges tales of woe from the past; anything, it seems, I can harm myself with. ‘Good’, on the other hand, reveals a desire to shine this moment in the best possible light. ‘There is learning here,’ for instance. Neither of these extremes exists in the terrain I am hoping to explore.
Tension wraps my shoulders. This comes from behind as if someone is moving close, wanting to embrace. The sensation arcs through my upper back, reaches down my arms, into my fingers. My hands hurt. Taking attention toward them I hear a song. Hank Williams’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’. A memory of listening to this over and over as a child takes me away from the immediacy of what the hands are expressing. It is tempting. There is strange comfort in the familiar sorrow.
The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky.
And as I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome I could cry.
Back to my hands. ‘Why are you singing this?‘ Back to these hands, right now. The flesh is sore. Imagine they have been beaten, pounded. They want, yet have not been allowed to want. This is both their beating and their loneliness. An urge to find a solution, solve this problem. Can I be honest? An urge to get away from these feelings. Reel it in; back to the hands.
A draw outward. A deep longing, deep and fundamental. At the end of every line Williams allows his voice to drift: “The silence of a falling starrr...” It is as if he is staring into the darkness just beyond firelight’s reach, sending those last words there. This is the trajectory of the pull I feel: out into... I don’t know what. My eyes begin to ache. There is pressure from behind. Building. Building. Moisture wells up, wetting the lower eyelashes, trailing down a cheek. A cool sensation where a single tear has left its mark.
One of the main tasks of a meditation instructor is to help others recognize the distinction between thought and experience. “This is something,” I remember Reggie saying, “that goes on for years.” What in the above is thought? That passage about ‘darkness’, was this in-the-moment experience? Or was it something I added later? An embellishment? I am frustrated I cannot tell, discern. I don’t want to post this - which, of course, has nothing to do with the hands. Back to the hands.
They are silent.
An edge can be felt. There is a flatness in each. Within this something juts up. It is narrow but insistent: a wall of upturned fangs that extends across the landscape. My chest tightens and the next several breaths come shallow. I feel as if I am standing on one side of a fence. Beyond the country I hope to wander; here a world of concept and abstraction. I place attention again in the hands and it shoots back, like tensed elastic suddenly severed. Just thinking about it all now. ‘Yes, the hands. Something there.’ But I cannot find that ‘something’ in the body.
I have retreated to observer status in my own life. No longer, ‘I wonder if I can write from this place.’ Instead, ‘I wonder if I can write from that place.’ A significant difference. It leaves me here, fence posts beneath armpits, as I look at a country oddly removed. ‘It’s over,’ I think. ‘I’ve lost it.’
Readying to get up, memory catches me. From an earlier post: “It’s quite an ignorant conceit, actually, believing my living circumstance precludes a sense of, a relationship with the natural world.” Let’s alter this: It’s quite an ignorant conceit, actually, believing my sense of retreat precludes a sense of, a relationship with the present moment.
Can I write from this place? The opportunity is always waiting. This place is always here. It is simply a matter of attending without judgement or bias, without that all too common conclusion: ‘This can’t be it.' Here is always here. Always. Just look, feel.
Lead now encases from toe to head, heavy and complete. The heart can be found in this, a bruised night sky. Purple. Haiku appears, a falling star:
Body is always
A most reliable
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