It was a moonless, cloudless night, and the sky was filled with stars, each as bright as a child’s eyes. In fact, that was the sky in my mind. The actual night was windy and rainy. The windows in my room were shut tight, and I was unable to sleep. I had been reading Bonhoeffer’s account of his final days, and I was awakened to the starry sky that dwells in each of us. I felt a surge of joy, accompanied by the faith that I could endure even greater suffering than I had thought possible. Bonhoeffer was the drop that made my cup overflow, the last link in a long chain, the breeze that nudged the ripened fruit to fall. After experiencing such a night, I will never complain about life again. My heart was overflowing with love. Courage and strength swelled in me, and I saw my mind and heart as flowers. All feelings, passions, and sufferings revealed themselves as wonders, yet I remained grounded in my body. Some people might call such an experience “religious”, but what I felt was totally and utterly human. I knew in that moment that there was no enlightenment outside of my own mind and the cells of my body. Life is miraculous, even in its suffering. Without suffering, life would not be possible. There is nothing permanent, and there is no separate self. Neither is there impermanence or no-self. When we see life deeply, there is no death. Therefore, it isn’t necessary to say “everlasting life.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh, ”Fragrant Palm Leaves
Write as if you had already died and you want to reach back and give something to the world, even if it’s just a smile. That’s what I tell myself when I write. Write as if you are a memory of someone who lived, made a lot of mistakes, suffered even, but became more himself, more human.
We need our elders, our wise ones. I don’t want to pass through this vale of soulmaking without having filled out my humanness to completion.
I came into this world through eccentric parents creating an eccentric family. Every member was different from the others, all possessed of a different mission, with just the right talents and energies to accomplish it.
All of us were hindered and confused by the precepts and requirements of family and society like everyone is.
Character is fate, they say, but so are the assumptions of tribe and culture. Shedding the burdens of false ideas and painful experiences is our first task. Those are our blinders. The projects of youth are very different from the projects of old age. What emerges finally is forgiveness, tenderness, for others as well as for yourself. The preciousness of living becomes more and more apparent along with the realization that everything is alive.
We may spend a lifetime circling and looking for that essential thing, the heart and mission of why we live. Divesting ourselves of received ideas and learning to hear and value our natural energies is our task, though we may not know it. Even when we know it, it’s not easy. We cling to false teachings, maybe because we loved or respected the teachers, or maybe because we can’t face uncertainty.
Our real life waits in the wings sometimes, hoping we’ll give it the attention it deserves. From the perspective of my eighth decade I take note of all my stupid mistakes, without blame and with few regrets. I devoted myself to something I had a little talent for while putting my biggest talent on the back burner. I don’t regret it, truth be told.
I wrote every day just to record my thoughts and clear my head from an early age. Always a cryptic writer, I’m learning to write more clearly for readers other than myself. I have to admit that when I try to read something I wrote years ago, I don’t always know what I was trying to say. I’m learning that no-one can read my mind.
I fulfilled a promise I made to my dead brother to carry on his passion for art as I continued to write and learn a foreign language.
I always knew I loved language. I always wrote privately. Over time, as I lived and matured, my writing got better. It helped me grow up and understand things. And painting gave me the beauty of the world. I chose both in the end, it just took me a long time to get around to letting my writing out of my private corral.
At this point I can only appreciate the path I’ve traveled. However it happened, painting/writing has been and continues to be a beautiful path.