Know The Deal Here, Redux

Know the Deal Here, Redux:

Re-Examining Our Entitlement, Impermanence & Sense of Place

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The Dakini Speaks 

My friends, let’s grow up.

Let’s stop pretending we don’t know the deal here.

Or if we truly haven’t noticed, let’s wake up and notice.

Look: everything that can be lost, will be lost.

It’s simple–how could we have missed it for so long?

Let’s grieve our losses fully, like ripe human beings,

But please, let’s not be so shocked by them.

Let’s not act so betrayed,

As though life had broken her secret promise to us.

Impermanence is life’s only promise to us,

And she keeps it with ruthless impeccability.

To a child she seems cruel, but she is only wild,

And her compassion is exquisitely precise:

Brilliantly penetrating, luminous with truth,

She strips away the unreal to show us the real.

This is the true ride — let’s give ourselves to it!

Let’s stop making deals for a safe passage:

There isn’t one anyway, and the cost is too high.

We are not children any more.

The true human adult gives everything for what cannot be lost.

Let’s dance the wild dance of no hope!

-Jennifer Welwood

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There inevitably comes a time in our lives when we are confronted by life’s vicissitudes. Everything turns away from where it once was. What we gain, we lose. What once rose up, falls back down. What is new grows old. What is found becomes lost again. Disappointment, failure, injury, loss – these are all inevitable. The longer we live, the more we come to realize the harsh fate of reality. It is simply the fallout of incarnate existence. But somewhere along the way we forget, ignore or endlessly reject the deal.

There also comes a time where we must begin to realize our own childlike insistence that life as it is on earth should not be this way. We believe that it should not be filled with difficulty, disease, or destructiveness. We think that we should not have to struggle. Life should be better, easier and more enjoyable than it currently us; more satisfying than it actually is.

Life should serve me.

One unfortunate consequence of living in a Western culture is that it can breed in us a sense of entitlement. A privileged, modernized world has given us access to an ever-growing plethora of technological advances, designed to bring more comfort and more ease, more efficiency and endless entertainment to our fingertips. We are overloaded by informational minutiae, which helps to erode any authentic connection to the broader and wilder aspects of the natural world.

It seems that the more we fall prey to the entitlements and egocentricities of this privilege of modern life, the more we also suffer from it.

As a result, we are vulnerable to becoming reduced to what George Bernard Shaw named,“…a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making us happy”.

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Jennifer Welwood’s poem provides the inspirational focus for this essay. Her words come forth through the spirit and essence of the Dakini, a fierce and volatile feminine deity from Tibetan Buddhism. She is a wrathful guardian, a keeper of the great mysteries of the deeper self. Welwood offers us a clear and penetrating piece of writing on a matter of great concern: impermanence.

At once both sobering and liberating, her way of unveiling illusion cuts through the self-deceptive and self-ingratiating tendencies of our egoic, childish thinking. In a simple and straightforward manner, she splashes cold water on our faces, puts reality right up in front of us, says ‘look closely, look right here’. The first thing she asks us to look right into is the reality of loss.

My friends, let’s grow up.

Let’s stop pretending we don’t know the deal here.

Or if we truly haven’t noticed, let’s wake up and notice.

Look: everything that can be lost, will be lost.

It’s simple–how could we have missed it for so long?

 Welwood begins with an imperative right from the start – time to grow up, and wake up. Drop the sleepy, unconscious childlike demands that insist life should take care of you. This doesn’t work.

Start to see the way the world actually is from sober, adult eyes. Acknowledge the reality of ‘chronos’ – the factual consequences of the existence of time. This may appear dire and feel harsh to you. But this is just the way it is. Stop taking it so personally.

Of course, we will lose everything. I suppose we have missed this fact for so long due to our tendencies towards childish, wishful thinking. From the undeveloped perspective of an immature consciousness, losing what we seek to possess is devastating. From a fearful and fragile ego, we learn to cling and to grasp; then we lament what eludes our grasping.

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Why do we have to suffer loss? We all hate to lose, and when we do, it hurts. No one really wants to feel pain. This is human nature. But we get stuck inside ourselves with our rejection of life. I don’t want to be the one who is hurting; why does it have to hurt so much?” Understandable questions, perhaps; but invariably, pain comes.

The inevitability of suffering gives our lives a certain contrast to joy; otherwise, our senses become dulled. “I don’t care, I refuse to accept the way I have been hurt.” Understood. But that refusal, unfortunately, is again one of the privileges of being human. We are free to deny what is inevitable – our fate, as well as our destiny.

Suffering is inevitable, it is said, but the misery we make is optional. And the big trouble, the ongoing and pervasive sense of misery in our lives, ultimately stems from this posture of refusal.

So back to the basic facts – everything that can be lost, will be lost. If we are truly on a journey towards awakening, we learn to say yes to that truth. We suffer losses all the time, simply by living. Sometimes the losses will be big ones; we hope to be given them in doses we can accept. We suffer little losses all the time, in ways that we may not even recognize as loss. Until we learn to pay closer attention to their arrivals.

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Let’s grieve our losses fully, like ripe human beings,

But please, let’s not be so shocked by them.

Let’s not act so betrayed,

As though life had broken her secret promise to us. 

The other day, I discover another little loss. I find a gaping tear in the stitching in a favorite pair of dress pants – suddenly they are un-wearable. Out they go. Yesterday, as I crouched down to look underneath my sink – I am struck with a sudden awareness of deep aching in my knees. The harsh fact of aging visits again.

Last week, going through a desk drawer, I come across a buried photo of my daughter at age 5 – short blond hair, bangs and an innocent gaze directly towards the camera. She is swallowed in a big, flowered sofa chair, clutching her beloved cat, Marshmallow. The sofa chair, like her, is no longer in the house. Nor is her pet for that matter, whose demise had come a half-dozen years ago. The house in which the sofa chair sat is no longer our house. Everyone, everything has moved on.

Melancholy drips in with no advance notice. Feelings of missing and longing come, with the sudden realization of accumulated loss. This is especially so with the ‘in-the-past-ness’ of my daughter’s early childhood years. Old photographs will always evoke this in me.

Maybe what makes the feeling of loss so difficult to bear is that sometimes, you just can’t see it coming. One minute you open a drawer looking for the postage stamps, the next minute you close it having found something else altogether.

In an instant, a sense of sadness happens right in front of me, as I gaze into a photograph that captured a time that no longer is. But I wake up and take notice, feeling the passage of time jarring me, out of the blue.

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Let’s grieve our losses fully. An emotional task that the modern age works against. This is very challenging thing to do in a busy life filled with tasks and distractions. Grief needs time, space, and patience. One has to be able to tolerate a strong sense of absence, in the midst of a presence going on as usual. The sorrow brought on by feeling the loss of someone or something that matters needs to be felt in the body, needs to be reflected upon and then expressed from the heart.

Yes, loss hurts. The empty space created by our losses can feel ominous and frightening. This in turn may be used by our judging minds as an indictment, some sketchy kind of evidence of having failed at living, and not simply the cost of living.

A healthy relationship to grief softens us, helps us to grow tenderness. Welwood’s Dakini also tells that it ripens us, makes us more palatable as human beings. We fear that we could drown, be pulled under by the waters of grief. Those unable to enter the waters of grief, who refuse to accept its inevitable arrival – become hardened, embittered by it.

I love David Whyte’s poem titled The Well of Grief.   It speaks to me like no other poem about loss, and it has a timeless truth that still rings out from the moment I first heard him speak it, some 20 some years ago.

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Those who will not step beneath

the still surface on the well of grief

 

turning downward through its black water

to the place we cannot breathe

 

Will never know the source

From which we drink,

The secret water, cold and clear.

 

Nor find in the darkness glimmering

The small round coins

Thrown by those who wished

For something else.

You might want to sit with this poem for a while. Can you have compassion for the place in you that has always wished for anything else, but the grief you need to feel and live with?

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Impermanence is life’s only promise to us,

And she keeps it with ruthless impeccability.

To a child she seems cruel, but she is only wild,

And her compassion is exquisitely precise:

Impermanence. The evidence of this truth is everywhere. How could any of us have missed it for long? I look outside the house – dead leaves are littered in the yards from a recent storm; there is a large tree branch down in the driveway across the street.   I see a new mailman walking towards the front door. When did the old one stop delivering our mail?

There are other signs of the passage of time all around the house. The newspaper clipping on the refrigerator is already yellowing; a downspout is discolored and peeling paint – when did that begin to happen? I notice a new crack in the walkway pavement.

If you keep noticing, the stakes get higher. The house next door, always exquisitely kept, now empty. My neighbor is now living in an assisted care facility half a mile away.  Over the past few years, both of my parents have taken their passage from this life; my mother’s death now approaches the one-year anniversary date. When I visit their gravesite at the cemetery, I see my own name on the tombstone, as it is the same as my father’s. How does the wearing away of life not seem cruel?

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I remember Sam Keen once saying that a person who cannot grieve is a person who then becomes prone to violence. Conversely, you can’t be too soured and hardened by a chronically angry posture if you have the capacity to spill hot tears from the core of your being.

With grief, we are laid open and vulnerable, made tender by allowing a necessary ‘letting go’ to happen. It is by gradually arriving at the soft pain underneath it all, that we allow our lives to take a new turn, and we are available for new and courageous actions.

I suppose this must be essence of compassion’s exquisite nature. If you ride the waters of grief all the way through to sorrow’s very end (especially if you believe there will never be an end), at some point the light begins to peek through yet again, as the sun does at the end of a heavy thunderstorm.

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Brilliantly penetrating, luminous with truth,

She strips away the unreal to show us the real.

This is the true ride — let’s give ourselves to it!

The true ride through life, discerning what is real from what is unreal. How to know the difference? What we experience as real at one point, seems unreal a little further along on the ride. When we suffer a loss and experience the absence of what once was, don’t we look back and ask ourselves “What was all that about? Did that really happen? Was it real? Does what I once lived mean something to my present reality, now?”

What we know to be real is what we experience as meaningful, substantive and enduring for our interior lives. It is what remains on the inside, after the experience of ‘now’ in the outside world moves and turns, and takes its place in the past.

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Let’s stop making deals for a safe passage:

There isn’t one anyway, and the cost is too high.

We are not children any more.

Making deals for a safe passage through this life. Don’t we all have our own particular way of doing this? Doing what we believe we can to insure ourselves against pain, disappointment and loss. We minimize our risks by opening to them less – yet when we restrict our range of actions, and cordon off vital aspects of living – over-protecting and under-venturing – we create a closed loop that that breeds stagnancy, insulating us from life as well as loss. This cost is high, but when we pay it little by little over time, we go to sleep, and hardly notice.

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The true human adult gives everything for what cannot be lost.

Let’s dance the wild dance of no hope!

When facing life, what is the primary difference between a child’s persepctive and an adult’s perspective? As children, we need to be provided for; we naturally look towards life to take care of us. When we are deprived of or denied this opportunity in our young life, we become stuck in this unconscious and unmet need as we move into adulthood.

One of the consequence for this developmetal arrest will be, as adults, a tendency to continue on with an increasingly unrealizable task – still looking for life to serve us. We become dominated by our unconscious and infantile child demands on life, which undermine our closest relationships, corrode our attitudes, and diminish our approach to life’s unfolding path.

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Here is where we end up confused and hurt – we act like we don’t know the deal – because we have lost sight of the real deal. In adult life, our task is to be of service to life, not to simply be served by it.

In fact, by being of service to life, by bringing forth our talents, our vitality and our love – this is how we are served in return. The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm states that it is in the giving of our lives, and in giving from what is alive in us, that exquisite joy becomes an end, in and of itself.

When we give wholeheartedly from this adult capacity within us, from what is most real and authentic, we have an accompanying feeling that there is really nothing to be lost, in the end, only exchanged. We realize that we have nothing to lose because we are wholeheartedly behind what matters most to us.

When we are in an alignment with our true nature, when we live from our ‘wildness’ – we in fact do not need to rely on hope, for we are beyond the need for any reassurance or guarantees, and we are beyond any need to bargain or cling to a false sense of hope. Our willingness to dance with the vicarious rhythms of life, while in touch with our authentic inner life, is taking the true ride through life. Riding life as it is, and as we are, and not as we wish for things to be.

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I am thinking now about a website called The Poetry Chaikhana, a wonderful resource created by Ivan Granger. I took from there an offering from Shodo Harada Roshi, a reknowned Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher of traditional Rinzai practices. I can embrace his revered manner of teaching about ‘knowing the deal here’. Coming from Eastern culture, he speaks the same message with a diametrically opposed style from how Welwood’s Dakini speaks. He impeccably embodies and transmits the wild dance of no hope, in a most life-affirming way.

In this passing moment karma ripens 


and all things come to be. 


I vow to choose what is:


If there is cost, I choose to pay.


If there is need, I choose to give.


If there is pain, I choose to feel. 


If there is sorrow, I choose to grieve.


When burning — I choose heat.


When calm — I choose peace.


When starving — I choose hunger.


When happy — I choose joy.


Whom I encounter, I choose to meet.


What I shoulder, I choose to bear.


When it is my death, I choose to die.


Where this takes me, I choose to go.


Being with what is — I respond to what is.





This life is as real as a dream; 


the one who knows it can not be found; 


and, truth is not a thing –

Therefore I vow 
to choose

This dharma entrance gate!


May all Buddhas and Wise Ones


help me live this vow.

This takes me back to the very first line of Welwood’s poem. My friends, let’s grow up. Shodo Harada Roshi shows us what it takes to do just that. By saying ‘yes’ to life, just like this. One engaging encounter, one mindful act at a time, as it arises on the path unfolding before us. The willingness to move beyond our endless self concerns, time and again. Striving to be in right relationship to life, one moment at a time. How could we have missed it for so long?

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Last week, Donald Trump was inaugurated as our 45th president of the United States of America. As the days unfold, we seem anything but united. Divisions are apparent everywhere. Immigration is but one of many unavoidable and troubling global issues for our current times. This is a deeply disturbing and divisive matter, and it is very visible among us today.

Many of us have been animated by the unprecedented changes and sweeping executive actions taking place, others have been enervated by the overwhelming times we are now in. Many of us are in favor of the changes happening, and many of us are standing up against the changes taking place. Voices are speaking out and people are mobilizing, also in historically unprecedented ways, and as our constitutional rights continue to affirm.

How are each of us facing the changes we are experiencing in our political, cultural and environmental climates?   How are we denying them? How are we becoming more informed about what is happening? How are we willing to become more involved?  What actions are we willing to take?

Are we being clouded by confusion? Or are we being reduced to reactivity and ranting by our infantile postures?   Or are we able to reflect, stand firm in our convictions, and be responsive from the clarity of our adult capacities, informed by our democratic values? There seems to be so much as stake, for so many, right now.

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This is a vitally relevant time for me to practice Harada Roshi’s teaching. For now, I say ‘yes’ to these circumstances that are unfolding   I find Roshi’s position to be grounding and awakening; it allows me to be responsive in the ways I can be, and less reactive in ways that consume and waste my energy.

Today I am more alert to what is happening with the executive orders from our new president. I am paying attention to what I feel is important, and I am more ready to speak up and speak out.

Time to become more engaged with life as it is. To be mobilized, more ready, more in a position to respond to those with whom I differ, and to those with whom I disagree. To know the difference between vitriol and conviction. To know what I stand for, and what I stand against. And to know the deal here, that life is not here to serve me, but it can bring forth what matters most in me.   The time is now.

I will dance this dance of no hope. That is, not simply hoping against hope for things to change and go my way. Instead, I know the deal is to bring myself to an authentic engagement with the world as it currently is. In doing so, life might just become a bit more bearable and worthwhile.

– Michael Mervosh

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