Friday, October 21, 2011

Meeting Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche in Philadelphia, years ago

{December 25, 2007} originally posted in a Wordpress blog....

One of the most important events in my life was meeting Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche in Philadelphia when he came to visit the Shambhala Center, which his father Chogyam Trungpa had created. I did not know what to expect, and I knew only a little about Buddhism then, and I knew nothing about the lineages of Shambhala. I did not understand how important he was as the new leader of the lineage etc. I did have some experiences with meditation and had worked with meditation as part of my own writing though. And I had read some of Chogyam Trungpa’s writings a long time before, and The Myth of Freedom had been one of the most powerful books I’d ever read.

The session with Sakyong Mipham included a Question and Answer period followed by a period of sitting with him. He was more than serene; he radiated warmth and humble compassion. There was something fearless and almost innocent about his presence, but when he spoke, he was too apt and too intelligent to be really innocent. The questions that people asked were quite revealing, but always of themselves. The answers he gave were always direct, clear and simple. I asked a question, too. I wanted to know what the value was of a teacher. (This sounds like a stupid question, now, but it was somehow not obvious to me then.) He answered that it was a good question, and he said that it would help you learn more quickly and easily.

Why wasn’t that obvious to me before? Maybe the same reason it took me so long to get an MFA in poetry—I thought I could figure it all out by myself.

Then he sat and meditated with us in the large room across from the Shambhala Center, which actually was a dance studio.

This is hard to explain because I never felt anything like this before—he was just physically sitting there meditating, but it was as though the room filled with his light, warmth, and powerful, fearless compassion and love for all of us there. It was not merely that I could see how he felt; it was like the feelings inside him were flowing out of him and into us. Nothing in Western science, religion or culture could prepare anyone for this—it was extraordinary. It was a very beautiful and life-altering process. It lasted a long time, but I wanted it to keep going. I wanted to experience it more and understand it. How was this even possible?

I never understood it until I read a passage from Turning the Mind into an Ally, a book that he wrote:

What the Buddha discovered is that we all have bodhichitta,
ripe for nourishment. Within the bewildering maelstrom of
thoughts and emotions that keep our sense of self solid,
each of us already has the seeds of love and compassion.
Bodhichitta is the radiant heart that is constantly and
naturally, without self-consciousness, generating love and
compassion for the benefit of others. It’s a stream of love
and compassion that connects us all, without fixation or
attachment. It has a tender sadness to it, like a wound
that remains eternally exposed. It’s our true nature.

This passage reminded me of a few things. It reminded me that he was able to do this radiating of the heart of love and compassion, and that it did, in fact, have this tender and sad quality. It also reminded me of the one time in my life when I had an out-of-body experience. Then I remembered having a similar, powerful experience of this other way of being that was very much like the bodhichitta state of being that Sakyong Mipham describes. Trying to describe that accurately and well was one of the hardest things I ever tried to do in writing. The story was called “Out-of-body travel at thirteen.” I have read this story once in front of a real audience, and I have heard that the audience really “got it.” I also heard from a few readers that they really loved the story. That makes me think that maybe the message got through. It also reminded me of a phrase from William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” which was “the still sad music of humanity.”

Looking back over many years, I am grateful to Sakyong Mipham for the fearless way that he practices and writes.

Friday, June 3, 2011

thin blue thread of light, parts 4-6

4. dysphoria after labor for eighteen hours

when the doctor pushed for surgery
—a C-section intervening
regardless of us as human beings
or our hope, our plan
for a natural birth—

there was the shock of falling
into that deepest gravity,
and fear of all I could lose:
mother, infant,
and all the imagined future—

then there was anger at the doctor,
blackmailing us with a release form
(releasing him of blame for deaths if we waited too long),
paining her even more
at the eighteenth hour—

my anger grew acute in surgery,
seeing how he pulled the feet so hard
because the baby’s head was stuck
and our infant’s body stretched so far
it must have hurt beyond anything it ever felt before
—I wanted to pummel the surgeon,
but could only watch—

but then the newborn
was in the nurse’s hands
as he did void, pee and cry,
terrorized, it was clear,
in his first world-sized scare—
a folded football body,
sorrowful, slick, anguished
from the torture of being
yanked so hard by his feet
from the once-whole womb—

he cried in his first pain as big as all space,
but through his wrinkly skin,
he strangely linked
to my hands somehow calming
my small fretful son,
estranged from every
except my voice
heard so often before he was born,
as if it registered,
he was soothed,
like he knew his father.

and I wanted to live—against my will
because my son needed me to.

a thin blue thread of light through me
lifted my voice—I spoke to him

when I first held his infant self
crying in terror in the sterile OR

I wanted to live—against my will
because my son was born.

5. Baby Chen

Our son was only a few hours old.
The RN named Lisa was imprinting his feet
into little family photo albums,
and he was crying in fear and frustration
at having his feet moved against his will
over and over, again.
I explained to Lisa
these were gifts for his grandparents.
The baby cried even louder,
so I told him:
“If you think this is bad,
wait till you meet them in real life.”

6. the thin blue thread of light (the first night in the hospital)

the instant he cried in the dark
I got up from the deep vinyl chair
without sleep
hanging from a thin blue thread of light from the sky
without thought
holding up my head
walking to his tiny crib
over linoleum lit only by night-lights—
without effort
submitting to his cry that rose
like another thin blue thread of light
hanging from the sky

without knowing how I’d know
I lifted him, pacified,
changed and bundled him again,
then felt the indentation encircling his head
—realized he’d been stuck so hard
his skull now had a dent-band—

And she was still sleeping,
stitched up, unable to rise without aid---
I’d shown her the baby in the OR,
said, “He’s okay.”
I hated to watch the surgeon stitching
the line where the scar would be,
but she said, “It doesn’t hurt.”

cradling him on my arm
I paced so slowly
his breathing evened
in the near silence in the semi-dark,
and I set him down,
deep in sleep.

Sinking into the stiff, stuffed chair
I was so happy because of him
a smile lifted every depleted cell of me,
and I was happy because of this
thin blue thread of light
(Was it from the sky, or us?)
that interlinks us
and out of pain
brings joy—

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

poem for Jim Carroll on the winter solstice (iii.xxiii.mmxi)

“she plumbs to the purple earth
light rising into her features”
—Jim Carroll

it is the midnight of the year, and it is the day’s—
the boy falls in love with the woman he finds
naked and dying on the sidewalk, fallen
from a fifth floor walkup’s window
where dusk will rise—
he crouches into her last dark breath,
not knowing how this day’s faint gleaming
will return to him for years—
(he thinks of how it is—to be gone
in an instant)

he thinks she’s not a junkie whore,
her face still beautiful,
her mouth rasping, “I let them—”
he holds her unbroken hand until
(and after) he sees her eyes at the instant
of utter change—
(in an instant—as if she were
an ordinary nothing, now)

long after she is gone he is kneeling
in the year’s midnight and the day’s deep
heroin dream— it is snowing beside her,
and he’s rising as if—
as if he could lift her with his faltering high—
but he’s crushed by her smooth unbreathing skin
(an ordinary nothing, now—)

he wakes alone, screaming,
seeing the instant her eyes stop seeing,
(a nothing, now)
knowing he can’t save her, even in his dream
where she’s within him, a flower in ice
awaiting the thaw—
but it is the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s—
the stadium fills with snow.