As part of last Sunday's Dharma talk, I read Sam Hamill's poem The Orchid Flower. I corresponded with him for years, though we never met. He is among the people who have died whom I cannot bring myself to delete from my email contacts. When he died in 2018, I wrote this poem:
Elegy for Sam Hamill
Two days ago you breathed out
and didn’t breathe in again. You
were in your bed at home in Cascadia.
I’m on my couch at home in Glasgow,
reading a book of your poems, one of
the books you put in a package, took
to a post office and mailed to me.
I find you in the words, and I look for you
in the spaces between.
Many people go through life with one identity, based on an aggregate of subordinate identities, often a hybrid of job and family role. When we don't hold on to identities, when we let go of old things as we move on to new things (without clinging to the new), we can be amazed as we realise all the different people we have been.
At today's sangha meeting, we discussed the dangers of judging our meditation, of thinking of it as something to fail at. How some people say, “I can't meditate,” when what they mean is that their meditation isn't what they think it should be.
It never is. And that's okay.
The only way you can do it wrong is by thinking you're doing it wrong. If you're meditating, then whatever your mind is doing — being focused, being distracted, happy, sad, angry, bored — is what it should be doing.
Today is publication day for the French translation of my book on Zen practice, Kill Your Self, published by Pocket as La Vie Apres L'Ego. A deep bow of thanks to Mikael Demets, Charlotte Lefevre, Elise Boulay and Ghizlaine Guevel.
I wonder if what those who make Zen our lifelong practice have in common is that when we're young we experience what John Tarrant Roshi describes in his book Bring Me the Rhinoceros: “None of the usual solutions to life that were on offer meant much to me.”
Even before I'd heard of Zen, the things that were supposed to be important seemed trivial, and based on a crazy assumption of permanence. I annoyed my first girlfriend by saying life was only varying degrees of suffering. So, when I heard about the First Noble Truth, it was a relief.
I suspect that's the difference between lifers and those who come to it for comfort or support during a period of crisis (not that the one is better than the other, just different).
An apology without amends is no apology at all. To acknowledge causing harm while offering no atonement or explanation is to deliver a taunt. “I'm sorry” is only an apology if it is followed by a comma, not a period.
Some people in the Buddhist world like to talk of “noble silence,” or, even, “Noble Silence.” Silence is neither noble nor ignoble; it's silence. If we try to make it more than it is, we make it less than it is, by imposing our small story on it, so that we experience not the silence, but our ideas about the silence.