Monday, August 9, 2010

This Mortal Coil

"If you're really paying attention, you have to learn to live each moment with a broken heart." ~Catherine Ingram

Well I’m still rolling with this theme of ‘arising and passing’. It’s been good to keep my attention on this and I’m glad for the boost that writing about it has brought to my everyday awareness. So here is the continuing saga of ‘all things must pass…’

This week, I’ve been blessed with what has been an annual event for the past 4 or 5 years… the blooming cycle of a kind of African lily that I have in a pot outdoors. I have managed to transport to and enjoy this in my last 3 homes. You can see in the picture… it’s a lovely 6 petaled orange flower, it’s not more than 2 inches across, it produces a liquid nectar that bees and wasps like, and it has freckles (like me!). This plant has become a wisdom teacher for me...because these flowers that I find so pleasing bloom for just one day. That’s it. One day.

Be Here Now
When this time of year comes, and the first one opens, I know I’m ‘in school’ for a couple of weeks of this profound daily lesson. I always think, "They’d make such a beautiful bouquet! I want to collect them! I want to bring some to my friend! I want to see a bunch of them blooming all at once!" Instead what happens is that, one at a time, a bud will swell early in the day (depending on how sunny it is), and fling itself open (I’ve never caught that moment), hang from the stem with it’s nectar glistening in the remaining sunlight, and then start to close up after dark. During the night the motion continues. They fold up in the most pleasing and ‘deliberate’ way… The petals shrink and spiral around each other to form a swirling coil. You can see this in the second picture. The first time this happened, I thought "Wow, are they just going to sleep for the night?" But they didn’t open again the next morning - all that elaborate beauty and function, for such a short time.
What’s funny to me is that even though I know about this plant behavior, every year I still want each bloom to stay open longer! I can’t help it…even though I know the cycle by now, I still catch myself feeling ‘sad’ if I ‘miss’ one (I even stopped just now to go outside and look at ‘today’s blossom’!) The knowing of it sets up a whole train of thinking in this mind that wonders how to get ‘more’ of the flower, and feels sad and a bit anxious, even, about missing one of them. It’s subtle, but I can feel it. It’s that place of ‘clinging’ that I keep examining. I’m clinging to something, craving something. Such a human feeling, this wanting, craving, yearning.
But look…the thing I am craving is right here in front of me! Something I already “have”. The flower is right here - right now! This habit of my mind cracked me up the first time I realized it. I was in the middle of an incredibly joyful experience of singing with a group of women, and I could feel the subtle quiver of anxiety, those little cracks in the heart that come from knowing something won’t last. I saw myself enjoying something so much that I began craving it and though "Huh?"

Constant Craving
Watch yourself sometime with this in mind. See if you can catch the moment when that utterly pleasant sensation of enjoyment slips over into clinging / craving. Can you notice your mind making little strategies to prolong, or remember every detail, or preserve the experience? (I think this is why the camera was invented!) Can you notice, like me, that in the middle of enjoyment, instead of just being completely IN the moment, we’re already starting to think of it ending? The comical, paradoxical result of this mental scrambling is that we are actually missing something- a person or an experience…while it’s here!

That is the essence of the mind that clings, isn’t it? The discomfort with the knowledge that something we love or like or enjoy is going to end. How to live with the knowledge of endings without letting that knowledge make us whiny or clingy or bitter? How to live in each moment, holding the broken heart and the full heart simultaneously? We get hundreds of opportunities to practice this every day. If we keep practicing, getting really good at this kind of presence, facing death has got to be easier. And that’s a great reason to keep practicing.
Okay, back to my flower….(which, yes, I did take pictures of for this article!) But Hey, wait! This flower really does only last for one day! It’s extra glamour is its ‘limited engagement’! Hah! Kind of like people! We’ve all got a ‘limited engagement’ here. What do we do with it? I could say we’re like this flower…we fling ourselves open, blaze our colors for one glorious ‘day’ and then curl into a spiral coil and send our energy back into the earth.

A coil! That word used to signify the troubles and stresses of daily life…its trials and suffering. Shakespeare's Hamlet spoke of death as ‘shuffling off this mortal coil’. And that’s what everyone does - everyone we love, everyone we don’t love, and yes, even us. Some day we just give our little shrug and off comes the ‘mortal coil’. So here I am again asking… is it okay to just know that (everyone - you, me, all of us) we’re all going to die? Can we feel the heart break of that and, at the same time, take comfort in the reliable rhythm of it?

Don't Forget to Laugh

Last time I said ‘It’s okay to Cry’… now I’m going to offer that it’s okay to laugh, too. They’re both good for letting go. My friend Gene Burnett is a singer/songwriter who also teaches Tai Chi in Ashland, OR. He says in his funny, witty, irreverent song “We’re All Gonna Die”…”we’re all headed for the soil, when we shrug this mortal coil”. If your heart could use a little irreverent push into laughter,
listen to his song here.**
** Adult language warning: The media link to Gene Burnett's song "We're All Gonna Die!" is hosted on his YouTube channel. Gene Burnett is a multi-faceted artist and writer. Some of the content available on his related videos list contain adult language and themes; watch at your own risk.

Til next time…

As ever, I enjoy hearing from you. What are you craving these days, while you've already got it? Share your cravings and your thoughts by using the comment link below.

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Kate said...

I'm craving the sensation of "flinging myself open." Like so many of us, I suppose, I want to know at the end of my life that I flung myself open.

This flower evokes such a clear sense of this urgency, particularly because its normal life cycle feels cut off. We know most other flowers linger for much longer.

As humans, we don't have that great a range of "normal" life cycle. When someone dies one day in or something proportional to that, a bad or unfortunate thing caused it.

I can crave so many things. Just turning off the warm shower water in the morning for want of just a little more can be quite a chore.

May my grip on cravings get ever lighter.

Beautiful writing and contemplation,

Marian said...

Thank you, Kate! Yes, that craving's everywhere once we start to look at it, isn't it! I'm glad you liked the article. ~Marian