"There were times when I simply sat on the floor in front of my altar and cried. I was afraid that I would not be able to bear the pain that was being excavated. I contemplated suicide. However, my teacher encouraged me to continue and to develop an intimacy with who I was in the pain. Living in the Buddha's teachings, there was no fixing the pain. At first, it felt like torture. I needed to understand the nature of my life as it was. The path of Dharma became a simple question, how was I going to live with myself?"(p. 40, Earthlyn Marselean Manuel. "Bearing Up in the Wild Winds." Dharma, Color, and Culture.)
Reading the essay and my notes on it over again, I immediately thought of a poem by Marie Howe that floored me when I first heard her reading it (on NPR). At the time I was going through a lot of pain and the poem gave me life in the way that only poetry can. Reading it again today, I felt a lot of love and compassion for my former self and for my pain.
What the Living Do
By Marie Howe
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through
the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high in here and I can't turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,
I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,
I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.
What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss — we want more and more and then more of it.
But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep
for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:
I am living. I remember you.