There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
~ William Stafford ~
There is something beyond us waiting to be received by us. We have been seeking it all our lives, and it is right here, right now, hovering above us, surrounding us, in the depths of us. Buddha called it “presence”. Besides our own capacity for distraction we inherit an ability to touch and listen and see and yearn for what is beyond this self-enclosed world.
We can think of presence in a very down-to-earth way. It is the way we are when we walk in the woods, alert, open to our surroundings, responsive to what might arise. “Sati,” the Pali word for mindfulness literally means to remember. In a state of open, responsive attentiveness, we are re-membered or re-collected, heart and body and mind all present. Presence is also something very exalted, something that comes in great stillness. Presence is a great force of love, a light of awareness that reaches down to us….reminding us to know that we are remembered in a much vaster world than our brain-sized world, assuring us that as improbable as it sounds, we are meant to be part of a greater whole.
Presence also has a quality of forgiveness, an open, responsive, loving acceptance that delivers us from the cruelty of our own judgments, resentments, guilt, all that is unresolved in our lives….and we humans all carry such things.
A wonderful thing about presence is that it can be practiced right now in the down-to-earth form….and even (especially) if you don’t feel at all wonderful. We can practice giving open, responsive attention and heaven knows what we may receive.
Often, we as human beings tend to see ourselves as fixed, static, small, but deep down we know that we are not at all fixed but made of energy that is in movement, tethered to a greater truth, a much greater whole, drawing it down to us. We realize this in love and in loss….the invisible presence of a loved one painfully apparent in absence. We marvel at the size and quality of this energy field (it’s hard to know what to call it). An enormous hole looms open in the atmosphere, much larger and more indescribable than the physical person we knew.
Compassion can flower from grief. Sometimes this happens instantly and spontaneously….the Buddha described it as the quivering of the heart in response to suffering. Sometimes it takes a long time for the bitterness of loss to flower into compassion….My teacher always used to say, “It takes as long as it takes,”….always ending in some prolific quote by some notable scholar…..