Please call me by my true names


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“Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that are alive.

I am a mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river,
And I am the bird which, when Spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am a frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay his
‘debt of blood’ to my people
dying slowly in a forced labour camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so full it fills up the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace

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The boat in which we’re sailing

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“When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked, all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centred, it was enough. It showed the Way for everyone to survive.”

~ “What one person can do”, Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace

On the radio this morning I heard a man crying for his 16-year-old son, drowned in the refugee boat that capsized off Egypt. Today I commit to increasing the peace of the world, to not adding to the misery of the world. I commit to refraining from gossip and criticism of others, no matter how justified it appears, no matter how others are behaving around me.

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Image: From The Boat by Nam Le

The great venerated organ

Human beings take the mind and its effluvia (otherwise called thoughts) so seriously.

All those neuro-something-or-others, psychologists, psychiatrists, novelists, ordinary human beings, men who relish saying the word “rational” in order to make some woman wrong somewhere. And here’s the truth of the great, much-vaunted organ …

“Your mind is all stories.”

~ Dipa Ma

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No trouble

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“Sometimes, when someone would come to her with their troubles, she would laugh and laugh. Finally, she would say, ‘This problem you are facing is no problem at all. It is because you think, ‘This is mine.’ It is because you think, ‘There is something for me to solve.’ Don’t think in this way, and then there will be no trouble.”

~Amy Schmidt on Dipa Ma

The river

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Walking home, I suddenly experienced myself as a river. I am flowing, leaving every moment behind me. It arrives, it is gone. How stupid to try to hold on to things! The things are past the instant I think of them. A thought. Already Gone. A moment. Already Gone. A conversation. Already Gone. A person. Already Gone.

And there’s not sadness about this ever-passingness. Sadness would also be stupid, misplaced. There’s recognition and more flowing.

I think the river metaphor may be used in a few contexts in Buddhist literature. But the concept of it and the experience of it are worlds apart. Like the moment I was sitting in the Landmark Forum eight years ago and the leader up the front suddenly started quoting Heidegger and I realised, “My god, it’s about my life!” Three years of study, a quarter of a million of words in thesis drafts, hundreds of books read, and suddenly I realised I hadn’t understood a thing. I’d been thinking of a concept, and it was nothing to do with concept! And it wasn’t until that moment when I stepped out of the concept that I saw I’d been in a concept.

There’s an ancient Greek word used in philosophy, aporia. It means something that cannot be reconciled. Whenever someone used it in lectures, I’d think of a chasm. There’s a proposition on one side and another on the other side, and nothing can be made to cross the gap. They just can’t go together.

It’s a bit like an aporia, the relationship between a concept and the thing itself. There’s an unbridgeable chasm between the two. You cannot get to the thing itself through the concept. In fact, you’re never further from the thing itself than when you have the concept, the thought, of the thing.

The only passage to the thing itself is the abandonment of the concept, the giving up of the thought.

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Image: Paul Klee, Bird Garden, 1924

Can’t / Yet

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A friend was thinking about the power of language and she sent me this note about her three-year-old daughter.

“I have trained my 3-year-old to say ‘I haven’t figured it out yet’ instead of ‘I can’t.’

We’ve been working on it for 1-2 years, and now she says the desired phrase during an effort, without being reminded.

In times past, if she left out the ‘yet’, I reminded her of that as well. That word is everything.

I never disagreed with her. I simply asked her to say the desired phrase. And then I asked, ‘So what are you going to do next, then?’ And she’d work on it some more, whatever she was doing.

It’s amazing what becomes possible with that phrase. Now one of her frequent phrases is ‘I did it!’

She is a capable little person, more so every day, and whereas she used to give up easily (by pretending to be interested in something else all of a sudden … I spotted this trend from infancy), she now knows herself as a capable human being. I’m so proud of her.”

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Image: Cinerarias in the conservatory in Fitzroy Gardens, Melbs

Beloved is where we begin

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“If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.

Do not leave
without hearing
who you are:
Beloved,
named by the One
who has travelled this path
before you.

Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.

I cannot promise
this blessing will free you
from danger,
from fear,
from hunger
or thirst,
from the scorching
of sun
or the fall
of the night.

But I can tell you
that on this path
there will be help.

I can tell you
that on this way
there will be rest.

I can tell you
that you will know
the strange graces
that come to our aid
only on a road
such as this,
that fly to meet us
bearing comfort
and strength,
that come alongside us
for no other cause
than to lean themselves
toward our ear
and with their
curious insistence
whisper our name:

Beloved.
Beloved.
Beloved.”

— © Jan Richardson, www.janrichardson.com

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Images: The golden pom-poms of the wattle trees down by the river starting to emerge.

Blessing for getting the news

“I don’t know
how it will be
for you.

For me,
when the news came—
when it sat down
across from me in the
waiting room
at 4 a.m.,
wearing scrubs and
speaking words awful
and full of
strangeness—
it came with
a humming in
my head,
an endless, echoing buzzing
that would never
entirely leave.

I can hardly tell you
the words the news used—
others would piece that
together for me,
later—
but I can tell you that
in the humming,
a whole other conversation
was happening.

In that conversation,
I remember wanting
to appear calm
while the world
was beginning the rending
from which it
never would return.

In that conversation,
I remember wanting
to be the wife
who could withstand
what the news
was saying to me
even as I could
hardly hear it.

In that conversation,
I remember wanting to ask
if someone could please
get me a blanket already
because I was shaking so hard
I thought I would shatter.

I do not know
how it will be
for you.

But when
the news comes,
may it be attended
by every grace,
including the ones
you will not be able
to see now.

When the news comes,
may there be hands
to enfold and bless,
even when
you cannot receive
their blessing now.

When the news comes,
may the humming
in your head
give way to song,
even if it will be
long and long
before you can
hear it,

before you can
comprehend the love
that latched onto you
in the rending—
the love that bound itself to you
even as it began its leaving
and has never
let you go.”

— © Jan Richardson, www.janrichardson.com

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A promise

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“Until one day, without warning, the road stops testing the traveller and begins to treat him generously. The traveller’s troubled spirit takes pleasure in the beauties and the challenges of the new landscape.

And each step, which had until then been merely automatic, becomes instead a conscious step.

Rather than speaking to him of the solace of security, it teaches him the joy of facing new challenges.

The traveller continues his journey. He doesn’t complain of boredom now; he complains, rather, that he is tired. But at that point, he rests, enjoys the landscape and then carries on.

Instead of spending his whole life destroying the roads he was afraid of following, he begins to love the road he is on.”

~ Paulo Coelho, Manuscript found in Accra

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Image: Wikimedia

Disappearing upset

A friend reminded me how we distinguish “upset” in the training we received at Landmark. Underneath the experience of upset is one of three things:

  1. a thwarted intention
  2. an unfulfilled expectation
  3. an undelivered communication.

Next time you’re upset about something, look and see which it is. When you do that the upset will disappear.

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A Holy Truth

“The Buddha called suffering a Holy Truth, because our suffering has the capacity of showing us the path to liberation. Embrace your suffering, and let it reveal to you the way to peace.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

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On not coming home a martyr

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“I know of families where children, after breakfast, go into that room [the room for mindful breathing he advocates setting up in every home], sit down and breathe for 10 times … in, out, 1, in, out, 2, in, out … and then they go off to school. This is a very beautiful practice. Can you do that? Each morning? If you don’t wish to breathe 10 times, how about 3 times?

[audience laughs]

That’s a beautiful thing to do.  Because, before starting your school day, you invoke the buddha-to-be in yourself. Beginning the day with being a buddha is a very nice way of doing that … So if a parent would like the children to do it, then the parent should do it themselves. Start the day by being a buddha. In that way, we have the chance of not being a martyr at the end of the day.

[audience laughs]

After a day of hard work, we might become a martyr. Therefore, we should be careful to be a buddha in the morning and try to nourish the buddha throughout the day. And how wonderful if you go home with a smile, the buddha is still there. Mummy will be very glad if Daddy comes home as a buddha … “

~ From Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh

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Image: Detail from the “Good night” quilt made by Mary Jane Hannaford (1840-1930) featuring a couple with the caption, “Unhappy Honeymoon”. Mary Jane was born in England and arrived in Australia as a two-year old. Though unmarried, “Mary Jane had a daughter, Emily, in 1869 and went on to have nine grandchildren …” She made this quilt when she was 81 for one of her grandchildren, Dudley, when he was 11. She must have been an extraordinary woman to bear and raise a child without being married in the 1870s. Maybe she’s depicting her views of the risks of marriage in this little vignette. The quilt features in an exhibition at NGV Australia.

Possibility of movement

The following is a favourite line from the Landmark Education programs I’ve taken. It comes from the promise of the Introduction Leaders Program and today this is what I’m creating for myself and my life …

“Historically, things around you which have never moved are now moving.”

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The moments that require a higher level of rigour in our speaking

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There was a man speaking on the radio this morning, a poet and professor of literature, and he was discussing the poems he wrote before and after his wife’s death from ovarian cancer. He said something like the following [my paraphrase],

“I was being interviewed about the book one day and the interviewer said, ‘So the book is the story of your wife’s experience of cancer’ and at first I said ‘yes’ and then later in the interview I felt the need to tell him that what I’d said wasn’t strictly correct. I told him that the book is the story of my experience of my wife’s experience of cancer. It felt important that I correct myself … when it came to writing about my wife and our experience I felt it was absolutely essential that I was honest … of course, I think it’s essential to be honest whenever I’m writing a poem but here there was an extra necessity …”

I was reminded of something a commenter on this blog said several years ago. She was an artist, from Belgium, and she spoke about meeting the man many years ago who would become her husband. She said something like, “When I met him, I knew it was absolutely important I was as honest about myself as possible …”

I think we’ve all had this experience, of recognising that a moment requires – impels – a higher level of rigour in our speaking. It’s curious, don’t you think? The part that intrigues me most is that it cannot be ignored.

What about you? Have you had this experience? What do you see about it?

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Image: A Japanese Buddha I saw in NGV Melbourne; lacquer, gold, crystal and Cypress, from the 12th century