March 25, 2019
It was spring break at Princeton and I had arranged to spend 10 days at Forest Refuge in Barre. Michael was back to teaching and conducting in the second semester. He had also been in sinus rhythm for several weeks after his third cardioversion, and was significantly happier than he had been all fall. He is still not back to full energy or physical mobility, and he still enjoys his afternoon naps. This may well be the new normal for him at almost 70 years old. He assured me he would be able to handle things at home with Louie while I was gone.
Central MA was cold and dry with a crusty coating of old snow and ice. Warm temperatures during the days produced rivulets of melting run off pouring down all the hills along the roads and trails. Cold temperatures at night caused freezing again, making most of the trails in the woods dangerously impassable. Even though I didn’t stomp in the woods much, I was so happy to be here, relaxing into the security of everything being taken care of for me. One very warm day, I sat by frozen Gaston pond and listened to the ice melt. Wonderful! I seemed to settle in to a concentrated state of open awareness pretty easily. My buckwheat cushion in the hall was very comfortable and sitting was a joy. Walking was lovely for the most part even though aches in my hips would come and go.
I had been reading suttas about arising and passing away and Guy Armstrong’s book about Emptiness. Alexis Santos, whom I have known since he came back from being a monk in Burma almost 10 years ago, gave wonderful teachings about the insubstantiality of the five skandas, mentioning some of the famous metaphors of the lump of foam and the magic show. One afternoon while I was walking, I dropped in the question “can this moment be enough?” The answer that came back was “it has to be enough because that’s all there is!” In my concentrated state I started to see the present moment slipping away, melting away, flowing away like the rivulets flowing down the hills. Everything started to dissolve like quick sand. It was all still there, but just arising and passing away so quickly that it was ungraspable. There seemed to be no now, now, no here, here, yikes this sounded like one of those Zen stories, totally bizarre, yet totally normal.
This kind of seeing phased in and out for the next few days. At one point I laughed out loud because as I was finding no place to stand and nothing to hold onto I had the thought “I can’t depend on this for anything!” I feel that way about Michael so often, but it is not his fault, it is just the first noble truth! Another day, while sitting in the hall, a ball of fear came bubbling up and I started to cry. “No wonder the self tries so hard to create itself –it wants someplace to stand, something to hold onto – oh, this is the second noble truth!” When I told Rebecca Bradshaw about this, I was still a bit shaky and teary. “I’ve wanted to see emptiness, but I don’t think I really want to see this.” She said reality was an acquired taste, and life could be wild. I guess I am farther along that continuum she talked about a few years ago. When I talked to Alexis about my discomfort with this kind of seeing, he said it was like going to a new city. The first time you are there it is unfamiliar, but when you go back the next time you know your way around a bit more.
In the middle of all this was the spring equinox. It was a perfectly clear evening and a lot of us stood outside to watch the glow of the sunset in the west and the hazy pink moon emerging in the east. The full moon was an extra-large super moon because of its proximity to the earth. It turned orange and then golden as it rose through the bare trees, finally brilliant silver in the dark sky. It was a magnificent show to see under any circumstances, but particularly awe inspiring in these conditions. I was aware of a giddy energy flowing through me. The next morning, I watched the sun rise before breakfast and cried with wonder and joy. Yes, these are grasping states that must be let go of, but I think I wanted to hold onto something a little bit for now, until I acclimate to the new reality.