There’s a crack in everything; That’s how the light gets in, continues Leonard Cohen’s impassioned lyrics from his song Anthem.
My last Journal post was July 2017. I’d just completed the first draft of my novel. Second draft re-writes were upon me, but I felt a malignancy shrouded the land and was immersed in an addictive distraction: news and news and more news. I saw too many disturbing events, heard over-the-top insolent and crude language, witnessed bigotry and racism dive to demonic depths. I had to stop watching and listening as I observed my own anger loom, stimulating judgments and intolerance of people and places and things. An inner peace I had come to know these past years finally cracked. Or, so I thought.
I did not insulate myself, nor become indifferent. How could I? How could I cast people and tragedy out of my heart? But, I couldn’t remain an angry soul either. I returned to serious meditation and yoga practices for the first time in too long a time. I listened to Dharma teachings and re-read my books on Buddhist philosophy, many of which contained teachings of the Dalai Lama: My religion is Kindness. Through these dedicated daily practices, I realized that Kindness is the only religion broad enough and deep enough, free from exclusion and judgment and bias, for my inner soul land.
Though a life-long process, these practices enable my equanimity to gradually blossom again: I judge less and less each day; my outrage, thankfully, has diminished; compassion has taken up residence in my heart once again not only toward others—but myself as well. Oh, I still struggle to see the whole chess board at times rather than my solely narrow, too often self-absorbed, life. I’m keenly aware we live in an aching world. But also, I believe in the impermanence of all things. Change is constant. It always was, is, and will be. Change, Love, Kindness, Compassion, among others, are four Great Laws of the Universe—they personify the unbearable beauty of this so very human life.
If we are not dedicated activists or caregivers or first-responders engaged in heroic or quiet efforts helping others, that does not mean we can’t ring bells and be a light in the world. A simple smile can make one person happy and then another and another. Laughter performs miracles. It’s contagious. It heals. Love and kindness and compassion: These qualities encompass what our souls are and what we seek for ourselves and others. And, the more we love, radiate kindness—permit me to be trite?—the better our world will be.
You’re probably ringing bells and creating light in the world in your own way. I choose to help by devoting time to create words and images that stir something positive within us, find celestial light through candles mirrored in a window on a dark, snowy morning before the daylight slips over the horizon, or transform the crowd of thoughts that tumble and muddy our minds into clear, calm water if only for a single moment.
Once the news addiction was cast off, I was liberated. I rang bells again when the landscape finally surrendered all color. A haiku written by Matsuo Basho haunted me ~
The monastery bell stops ~ but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.
I revivified an oil and wax painting I did years ago, reinterpreting its original intent. I reasoned that if sound can continue after the monastery bell stops ringing, and it does, so can color remain in our hearts and souls. Why not? This was my way of breathing color into a monochromatic world: bold, flowing, uninhibited.
A stone Jizo found its way to me (you’ve already seen one of his images above). Jizo appears throughout this Journal writing—all five inches of this joyful statue. There are many positive attributes associated with Jizo, so the fables tell. The most important to me of his many and varied stories is that he presides over a world that few like to think about, not unlike ours today, but especially as protector of children, including the souls of the aborted or stillborn or miscarried babies. Jizo protects them from harm and guides them onto their next journeys.
Photographing this sweet-faced, happy fellow was in itself a meditation: I was outside of time, unaware of anything but Jizo and my camera. There is truth in myths if we open ourselves to the ‘teaching’ in the story. Anything, anyone, who inspires the protection of children, and those never born, rings bells enabling light to filter through sorrowful fissures in the soul.
I’ve lived for more than four years just two short blocks from the Hudson River in the charming, historic Village of Athens. The Hudson River is my friend. I walk early mornings when weather permits and indulge in long musings, even chats, with the River’s flow. This is a place to stop, release what I perceive to be pressing matters inhabiting my mind and heart, but in fact are not reality, and just listen, not unlike Siddhartha did in his ancient years in Hesse’s book of the same name. I am blessed to have this at my doorstep. This wondrous vision—clouds the color of sweet-cream butter, gray and lavender mists weaving and rising in the distance, bare trees standing tall, unyielding, and the River itself ever present—is a serenity bell that rings for me; for all who want to see and to listen.
Continue to ring the bells that are your heart; your soul. Start ringing bells if you haven’t, and see what happens. Smile a lot. Laugh even more. Release all the love you have even to those whom you believe don’t deserve it. Find a quiet spot every day, and sit—on a cushion, a chair, a bench and then, then—b r e a t h e.
I am not a Pollyanna and do not suggest that any of these practices are easy, at least not for me. Meditation has helped me touch the ‘better angels’ of my mind and heart—at times. I hope that someday, maybe, just maybe, I realize I am truly kind and compassionate and a vessel filled with love.
I wish this too for each of you.
Ring the bells that still can ring;
There’s a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.
Thank you, Leonard Norman Cohen.
~ And, thank you, dear Readers ~