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Esteemed Reader: April 2010 

I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted, and behold, service was joy.

—Rabindranath Tagore

Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:

At a meeting of parents for my five-year-old’s kindergarten class, I asked his teacher what she saw about the specific group of children.

“There are nine children and seven of them are boys,” she said. “In their play they are ever wielding swords and guns, and playing at piracy and battle. I am still trying to understand how to help them channel what is clearly something natural and real.”

The assembled parents looked at our children’s gentle teacher sympathetically. And I don’t think I was alone in feeling some relief that the warrior behavior shown by my son at home is not a dangerous aberration portending a terrible future. Perhaps, she had suggested, it was simply a quality, which could be characterized as masculine, and which begged to be expressed appropriately.

At home, in the evening, the boy started talking: “Dad, imagine what would happen if there was a missile with two nuclear bombs—one made out of love and the other made out of peace?”

“That would be a powerful weapon…” I answered.

Some years ago I was a performer in a dance concert. The dances were more a ritual practice than performance material, so the emphasis was on embodying presence and self-awareness, while carrying out a complex and precise series of movements in concert with about 30 other performers. We had been practicing together almost continuously for a week, and when we arrived in front of the audience, everything was the same, but also completely different. In that moment, I realized that I needed to not only be attentive to myself and fellow dancers, but also to the viewers.

I began to “listen” to the audience, and “speak” in response to what I heard. Externally the audience sat in their seats, still, receptive. And we were on our feet, dancing, active. Internally, the audience was actively attending to us, and we were passive, receiving their attention. In the dynamic stillness, it was clear that the two poles—performers and audience—were of a piece and inseparable, both essential and indispensable, and together participants in a real Event.

Of course there are innumerable mundane circumstances in which this balance of active and passive, masculine and feminine, is not struck. How often do I attempt to force my will in a situation where it is not welcome? With enough power I can force my way through, but otherwise I am pushed back, defeated. In those instances I am afraid to let go of the outcome I think is so important, in order to perceive and acknowledge what is really needed.

Chogyam Trungpa characterizes the obstacle and the possibility: “The ideal of warriorship is that the warrior should be sad and tender, and because of that, the warrior can be very brave as well. Without that heartfelt sadness, bravery is brittle, like a china cup. If you drop it, it will break or chip. But the bravery of the warrior is like a lacquer cup, which has a wooden base covered with layers of lacquer. If the cup drops, it will bounce rather than break. It is soft and hard at the same time.”

Similarly, the Philokalia exhorts us to have a “meekness of heart.” And continues that this meekness is the doorway to a state of inner silence, a goal of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. In pondering the meaning of “meekness” as it is used, I believe it is a disposition of intense listening, the kind of listening that’s there when I hear a noise I don’t recognize in the middle of the night in a dark house. Very alert, very quiet, but listening intensely. It is not just a listening with the mind, but with the entire body-mind. Everything is directed to penetrating and filling the silence with attention. In this position, I think, it is possible to receive something truly new and unexpected.

In a Sufi teaching story,  a stream that has found its way past every obstacle reaches a desert, and as much as it hurls itself at the sands, it is quickly absorbed and evaporated. A voice tells the stream that its only hope is to yield itself up to the wind to be carried across.

“And the stream raised his vapor into the welcoming arms of the wind, which gently and easily bore it upwards and along, letting it fall softly as soon as they reached the roof of a mountain, many, many miles away. And because he had his doubts, the stream was able to remember and record more strongly in his mind the details of the experience. He reflected, ‘Yes, now I have learned my true identity.’”

Now back to the little boy. “Is there such a thing as a gun that shoots bullets made out of love?” he asked after dinner.

As he ran up the stairs to bed I replied quietly, “That gun is your heart.”

click to enlarge esteemedreader--flowergun.jpg

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