I apologize for neglecting to write my Practice Letter last week! I got caught up in a gardening project and actually forgot! Maybe next week I will write about the intoxication of projects as a distraction strategy, and efforts to pretend I have some control over my life and my surroundings.
But this week, I want to tell you about one of these COVID-times projects of mine: refinishing furniture. I recently pointed my beloved electric sander at a garden bench. I bought this bench nearly 20 years ago and it’s had many years under the sun’s somewhat exhausting gaze, as well as the rain’s persistent erosion of character. I wasn’t quite sure if my memory was playing romantic when it told me that this bench was once glorious, golden-red, and regal, upholding a balance of the organic and the human-forged. Once the magic sander began to remove layers of thirsty, gray, splintery skin, I saw that a true beauty was right there, just underneath. It had the purity of a madrona trunk, bark peeled back, unwaveringly showing a coppery, smooth self. I almost cried. Something pure and real was here all along, just waiting for me to seek it out.
It reminded me of this poem by Kabir –
Don’t go outside your house to see the flowers.
My friend, don’t bother with that excursion.
Inside your body there are flowers.
One flower has a thousand petals.
That will do for a place to sit.
Sitting there you will have a glimpse of beauty,
Inside the body and out of it.
Before gardens and after gardens.
I love the last line, where he reminds me that life is going to keep going, on and on. The world will continue to rage and flame, to sometimes, briefly settle, and fold up its wings. It will not stop though, and may only slacken its pace briefly. Life isn’t about to lie in the garden and nap a while, until I can clear my head-smoke, until I can take a deep breath somewhere. The time is now to remember what is underneath, in each one of us, in me and in you. How can we see these thousand-petaled flowers that Kabir sees?
The yogis recommend the 8-limbed path, which includes pratyāhāra, usually translated as withdrawal of the senses. It is the 5th limb, and is the bridge between external and internal yoga. We move away from the surface and toward the center of ourselves. I like to see it as redirecting the senses. We get to remember what we really want from life, why we have chosen our path, and more. We could spend an entire lifetime looking for external fulfillment, or a place to sit (as in Kabir’s language), when it is all here already. We are often afraid to withdraw from life, FOMO is real. We may feel irresponsible if we’re not on the frontlines of a protest, or at least keeping up on 15 Netflix series. But the external world is always in motion and can only offer a place to sit on a moving train, where the stream of sights and sounds is non-stop. The mind never gets to rest, at least the untrained mind.
How do we train this mind? How do we redirect the senses inwardly?
I recommend closing your eyes. It might feel soothing to your eyes themselves, as the smoke is able to touch us so thoroughly, throat and nostrils and eyes. You might feel relief, not having to look at the confusing, betraying overcast-looking sky that usually means some cleansing refreshment is on its way. Maybe there can be a softening in your muscles, as you willingly turn away from screens and their messages of drama and worry. Our eyes are our primary senses and they take up a huge amount of brain capacity. What happens when you free up that mental space? Can you step away from relying on what you see as the basis for all your feelings, your sense of the whole world, your sense of yourself?
My meditation path says that nothing that we can see is real in the way we perceive and believe it to be. What is real? In relaxing your eyes, relax your mind away from all that you think you know, even for just for a moment. Notice the touch of your breath, where do you feel it? What if this relationship between your consciousness and your breath is what Kabir calls a flower? Paying attention, you may notice that every breath is slightly different. Feel for the nuances. Could these be the thousands of petals on this flower? What if there really are flowers inside your body? Do you feel these sensations? Is this real?
In order that you can practice without using your eyes, I am attaching a recorded meditation for you, a short journey through the chakras, which are often depicted as flowers of various colors and numbers of petals. It includes the 6th and 7th limbs of yoga, concentration and meditation. You may find that glimpse of beauty Kabir suggested. As you find a place to sit, inside yourself, you might then look out again, into the world. You could imagine you’re inside your home, looking through the windows, into the garden. You might then be able to see beauty outside as well, smoke or clear skies.
I do hope this is helpful. I know many of us are struggling with what we see right now.
Alright friends, take good care. This will not last forever and now you have some support to see you through to the clear skies.