Words of Wonder

I swear
my way now will be
to continue without
plan or hope, to accept
the drift of things, to shift
from endless effort
to joy in, say,
that robin, plunging
into the mossy shallows
of my bird bath and
splashing madly till
the air shines with spray.
Joy it will be, say,
in Nancy, pretty in pink
and rumpled T-shirt,
rubbing sleep from her eyes, or
joy even in
just this breathing, free
of fright and clutch, knowing
how one’s ship comes in
with each such breath.

by Joe Paddock

 

I’ve just come home after my annual meditation retreat. It was a gorgeous week on Holy Isle with no responsibilities other than being present – which of course is the biggest responsibility of all, but that’s ok when there’s no list of other ones! And in my post-retreat glow this poem immediately resonated with me. Shifting from ‘endless effort’ to joy… yes!

People sometimes ask what’s the point in doing retreat (“you’re just sitting around, doing nothing, right?”) and why is it such an important recommendation in the good practice guidelines of being a mindfulness teacher. Well, I’d say it’s important to remind myself at least once a year what my mind is like when I take the spoon out of the cup as much as I am able to at this time, and when the mud starts to settle and see the water becoming clear. Sure, this happens to some extent during any meditation session, but when I’m not required to speak for several days, or to remember any of the myriad things-to-do that my family and working life consists of, and when I’m repeatedly reminded by a skilled facilitator and my every moment surroundings that I’m invited to be ‘free from freight and clutch’… then I tell you, my water looks a whole lot clearer than even in the most settled moments of my daily life.

And that’s where the challenge comes in: to afterwards ‘swear my way now will be to continue’ like this – for this is the new me, right?! – and then feel the mud getting stirred up and witness how in my daily practice I’m not able to allow it to settle again to the degree it had on Holy Isle. I’m pretty sure it’s an unrealistic expectation, but I’ve kinda fallen for it, again, and now have to muster oodles of kindness to meet that. Luckily I’ve been here before, luckily there are others who are going through the same thing right now, luckily there is the practice to reconnect with each day.

But whatever the weather in my day to day existence, I know again without a single doubt that even though there may be much seemingly endless effort and quite a bit less joy in random delights than two weeks ago, the sun shines bright above my clouds and there is a harbour for my ship to come in. And right now, that firsthand experience and knowing, even if not constant, is priceless in and of itself.

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