Releasing a Teacup Talk of God

Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God.               Hafiz

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing…You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.
                                      Naomi Shihab Nye


The first noble truth: there is dukkha, suffering. The Buddha invites us to “get it” that there simply is dukkha. We try to hang on, but things fall apart. Things fall apart. Often it’s profoundly disagreeable; there’s a mess. Even things that appear to be good and wholesome: these, too, sooner or later, fall apart.  It sounds so understandable and right in theory, but can be ever so challenging when we encounter dukkha in our own daily lives. Sometimes this dukkha can be apparently external, when things in our world are collapsing in ways that appear to be catastrophic. Other times, the dukkha arises internally in the form of challenging and profoundly disturbing mind states: unwanted thoughts and emotions like deep grief, confusion, hatred, rage, shame and despair.

For each of us, this brings us to the first question of our practice: are we willing to show up, to be present – here? Are we deeply consenting to an inquiry that brings openness and patience and curiosity and kindness to this? Even if the answer to the question is, initially a resounding “no,” can we still be willing to inquire to see how we can be with the “no” in a way that doesn’t simply aggravate and continue ongoing internal/external suffering? Even if we express an initially willing “yes,” as we look closely, we can sometimes discover in the “yes” a subtle agenda that spiritual practice should be able to help us to make it go away, to sanitize it, to help us not have to feel, to experience, this particular pain.

The first noble truth, however, invites us – in an apparent paradox – to really know our suffering. Our spiritual practice invites us to be both humble and fearless, to cultivate a heart that is willing to be fully present and truly unshaken when in contact with the world – this external world, this internal world – this world. Only then will we find a response that is truly healing, a response not driven by pain or fear or reactivity, but one that arises from the deep ground of wisdom and discernment, love and compassion that, our practice teaches, envelops us all.

 “The thing about our pain and our suffering is that until it is met and seen for what it is, it doesn’t go anywhere… We cannot have a healed society, we cannot have change, we cannot have justice if we do not reclaim and repair the human spirit.”                                                                                 angel Kyodo williams  


Nevertheless, it is important that we be discerning about what being fully present really means. Otherwise, we can mistakenly think that the first Noble Truth is inviting us to collapse into our suffering and grief, to be crushed or overwhelmed or identified with it. This is the ego’s mistaken defense. It arises from a confused belief that I can or should be in control of the unfolding of the world. Or even that I can or should be in control of the unfolding of my own emotional responses to the world. Both of these – externally and internally – arise from such an infinite number of causes and conditions that “I” am not in charge of their arising. Sometimes it is not pretty. Sometimes moments in the present touch into my own old, deeply buried emotional wounds that come roaring forth like a dragon that has just been awoken from a long sleep. In these moments, our experience invites each of us to relinquish a self-image as someone who is right or who has it together or who is not that. In true spiritual practice, we relentlessly are called upon to lose our self -identities and often our composure as we come to deeply see that we, too, can be brought to our knees.

bali-dragon-croppedSo how DO we work with these dragons? How do we make friends with enough composure and spaciousness that we can begin to see how we can bring healing and wholeness to this? The first move might be to relinquish any conviction that this is a mistake. Whatever arises externally or internally…this… is what it is: not a mistake. Even if my present external circumstance or internal emotional response can be traced back to the behavior of myself or others or to early events in my own life or in the world, well, what were the causes and conditions that informed those? And what were the ongoing causes and conditions – the thoughts and speech and behavior – that further informed and reinforced myself and others to relentlessly inhabit and strengthen our own stories all the many times we have done that since then? Here we are; it just is. This.

“If you undertake spiritual practice you will be confronted by your dark side.  This is an axiom.  The spiritual quest is dangerous, just as the books say.  Seeking truth means experiencing pain and darkness, as well as the clear white light…When we practice meditation and contemplation the dark side within us is washed to the surface of consciousness by the purifying and energizing effect of these exercises. The ability to deal with these emerging dark impulses is a basic skill which must be mastered by every practitioner.  William Carl Eichman  

OK, so not a mistake. Now what?

There are many things, but first of all, can we be willing to simply know our own and others’ experience without judgment or comparison, without trying to fix it or change it, or even understand it. Are we willing to allow and deepen the capacity to be present – with this – and yet not have a clue what will happen next? This quality of presence is not a rumination or a retelling of the story, but a relentless release of thoughts and narratives to bring awareness directly to the embodied felt sense of the experience. “It’s like this” …in the belly, the chest, the throat, the shoulders, the back, the elbows, the knees, the toes. It’s like this. Of course – and this is crucial – in order to do this, we must meet experience with an open, kind, compassionate awareness that is larger than the difficult emotion. Otherwise, we’ll just fall back into the darkness and be lost in it.

Often our teachers refer to that larger awareness as one that is as large as the sky. We aresmall-sky-web

invited to discover a wise knowing of every difficulty in the spaciousness of that kind of large awareness and equilibrium. Can we do that?

OK, maybe not. Sometimes our difficulties can seem to fill every single little space of consciousness. For these moments, John Welwood speaks of giving the unwanted a permission that is as large as just a human hair. Sometimes, just a hair of presence and permission is all we can manage. It is enough. It is enough for there to be room for a tiny bit more of the light of kind awareness so that what is held and stuck may morph and change and reveal itself. It takes just this tiny bit of kind and accepting presence for grace and wisdom to open into more clarity about wholeness and healing and what action, if any, is truly needed, here, now.

So, can we offer to another just a hair of permission to be caught in something unwholesome and, at the same time, not make that experience or behavior become equal to Who. They. Are? Can we offer to our own mind states and emotions this same light of awareness even when – maybe especially when – we finding our minds and hearts stubbornly caught in what is difficult or destructive or otherwise apparently unwholesome? Here, too, no emotion or thought or speech or behavior equals Who. We. Are. Can we relentlessly come back to a willingness to see, to feel, to know direct experience from the larger perspective of kindness and curiosity? With such a quality of awareness, judgment and recrimination can be released in order to, first of all, simply be with the pain itself and, from there, to be open to seeing more broadly and more clearly and with more wisdom: “What’s next? What, that I had not yet seen, will, in this moment, enable healing to open?”

This is of course, not to suggest that any of this is necessarily all sweetness and light. A poem of Persian mystic poet Hafiz reminds us:

Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly
And wants to rip to shreds
All your erroneous notions of truth

That make you fight within yourself, dear one,
And with others,

Causing the world to weep
On too many fine days.

Often, what is needed to accomplish this challenging quality of presence is the awareness and listening and voice of another: someone who can be with us in kindness and compassion when we ourselves are falling apart and cannot find grace or composure in ourselves. I think that this may be one of the things that the Buddha was pointing to when he told Ananda that community was “the whole of the holy life.” As we humbly release our own ego’s sense of omnipotence in this way, we can open to relationship and continually unfold our learning to be with all that arises, to reject nothing either internally or externally and to allow it to open our minds and hearts: to change us and lead us ever onward to more wholeness. We take refuge – refuge – in wise, wholesome, loving, compassionate presence in whatever form it presents itself and from there we begin to see the size of the cloth and what is needed in this moment in order to carry on. We learn to allow life to “shake all the nonsense out.”


Tired of Speaking Sweetly

Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God.

If you had the courage and
Could give the Beloved His choice, some nights,
He would just drag you around the room
By your hair,
Ripping from your grip all those toys in the world
That bring you no joy.

Love sometimes gets tired of speaking sweetly
And wants to rip to shreds
All your erroneous notions of truth

That make you fight within yourself, dear one,
And with others,

Causing the world to weep
On too many fine days.

God wants to manhandle us,
Lock us inside of a tiny room with Himself
And practice His dropkick.

The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favor:

Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.

But when we hear
He is in such a “playful drunken mood”
Most everyone I know
Quickly packs their bags and hightails it
Out of town.




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