It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us.
As a fire needs wood, the soul needs care to burn strong and bright. And just as it doesn’t matter what kind of wood is given to the fire, the soul doesn’t value one form of care over another. Any act of care will make the soul come alive through us. And since all things are worthy of care and in need of care, any ground of experience we devote ourselves to will brighten our aliveness—in us and between us. Simply and profoundly, as a fire needs wood, the soul needs care to thrive.
A Question to Walk With: Describe a form of care that feeds your soul. What role does this have in your life?
I was bearing up under a weight I could no longer see, when the exhalation of something older than all my trouble unfurled my understanding, like a scarf blown out of the hands of someone clutching it. And my mind, floating between preoccupations, was now see-through and weightless. For the first time in months, the grief I’d been obeying went silent. I felt whole in a new way, as if the skin of all I’d been through had grown over all my conclusions. I can’t name this other than to say: I have moved through something difficult that has finally opened. All this bearing up and bearing down to be lifted like a scarf on the wind that a child might chase.
A Question to Walk With: Describe a time when you were fluttering like a bird in the center of your own storm. What did this feel like? How did the storm pass? If it hasn’t, what can you do to put the storm down?
I’ve sat in hundreds of cafés, watching lives pass by, each eager to meet someone, each desperate to get away. I’ve stared into hundreds of photographs, each a window to another patch of time and space, where beautiful souls were falling down and getting up. Still, I can’t quite grasp how many of us there are and how each of us is a world unto ourselves. Right now, in this café on Fourth Ave., an older woman in a sweater is wheeling a small, lonely suitcase toward the door. While across the street, a young Hispanic man is delivering cleaning supplies to a Vietnamese restaurant. He’s almost dancing. And there are twenty-five others around me, each wanting a pain to stop, each wanting some moment of love to linger. Now the jittery woman next to me tosses her hair and wobbles on her heels, heading back into the stream. Once outside, she passes an Asian man in argument, his arms folded. We are so easily hurt as we bounce along the pavement spilling our expectations. The young couple in the corner looks tired and tender as they lean into each other in silence. When this open, I can see into the hearts of others. Now a grandfather dotes over his granddaughter, running his fingers through her month-old hair. I hear everyone’s dreams and disappointments which, next to each other, reveal a depth I can’t live without. If it weren’t for gravity pulling on us, I’d swear this is Heaven.
A Question to Walk With: Describe a favorite café you have visited. Why is it your favorite? What have you learned from going there? What makes you want to return?
— dhikr in Islam, japam in Sanskrit, witness in English: the repetition of a name or face of God.
In the air that lets a leaf fall slowly.
In the mud that swallows every blade.
In the bridge that creaks but will not break.
In the fence that fails.
In the secret maps that lead us nowhere.
In the questions that sprout from our mistakes.
In the suffering that makes us give more.
In those slain for no reason.
In those spared for no reason who keep naming the slain.
In how the mind stops spinning its web in light.
In how truth like rain makes tender hearts swell.
In how arms spread like wings when dropping all they carry.
In how petting the dog keeps us from leaving.
In the smoothing of a stone by a thousand waves.
In the smoothing of our ego by the slap of time.
In the drops of blood covered by snow.
In the stories of kindness finally praised.
In how we keep dying without dying.
In how we keep losing without losing.
In how we live in spite of everything. Like
hungry fish parting the water of our days.
In my sixty-eighth year, I saw a dancer, middle-aged, outside a café. I was at a conference in California and she was hired to dance at lunch time in the open. I sipped my coffee and watched her for a while. Most of us were busy going to what was next. Something in how she leapt and landed softened me. For she was so thoroughly herself that there was nowhere to go. And I realized that all of us were there to find what she had found.
It’s been a week since I flew home. And I’m up early, having dreamt of the dancer being herself. And before the sun comes up, I realize Mom, now that you’re gone, that this was all you ever wanted—to find a spot in the sun where you could leap out from under the turmoil of your life and be thoroughly yourself.
Every life is a miracle and a tragedy, and these undeniable forces will, at times, overwhelm us. So, our first epic struggle is not to drown in the depths of tragedy and not to leave life through the transcendent pull of miracle. Our second noble struggle, which never ends, is to let the lightness of miracle and the groundedness of tragedy braid in our heart, so we can be thoroughly alive and live here now.
I thought after death had its way with us, you would have stopped trying to get somewhere. You would have stopped making up conclusions. But you still take what you go through and force it on others, making the world into a silhouette of your pain. Yet this never frees us. We just keep praying to what is missing. I know. For I painted the strangers I met while lost with the colors of my sadness, wondering if anything mattered. Then, just as I was about to give up, something gave way, including my want to make everything like me. Sure, it was frightening. But when the Mystery of Oneness washed over me, experience dropped me into the common well below our names, where what happens to one of us happens to all of us. And then, the way a boulder tired of holding on slips into the sea scattering the fish into a glimmering pool of light, I began to cascade anonymously. Now, I can only say that though what pains us may be different, where it hurts is always the same.
This is how we find each other.
It is impossible to know why some of us are broken open while some of us are just broken. If we knew how to invoke the difference, we could change the course of history. Even within one life, we can experience transformative moments of being broken open and, at other times, we just suffer being broken. More than staying in the unanswerable tangle of why some of us grow while some of us stay stuck, it is more important to move from one to the other. When broken open, we grow. When just broken, we endure. And the crucial calling of all relationship is to inhabit what we learn from being broken open to help us endure those times when we are just broken. Essential to the practice of compassion is that, when broken open, we find a way to help those who are broken, and to be humble enough when broken to ask for the help of those who are broken open. In this ongoing way, the light of kindness fills the hole of every pain. We must resist the trial of fairness and the comparison of suffering and devote ourselves to completing each other as we tumble through time.
A Question to Walk With: In conversation with a friend or loved one, discuss a time when seeing things other than how they are led to your feeling like a victim or wanting to be a hero.
This excerpt is from my new book in progress, Returning to Where I’ve Never Been.
The garden grew this way and
that as a circle of flowers gathered
to discuss the meaning of life. The
tulip leaned toward the peony and
asked, “Is there a purpose to any of
this?” The peony, drooping toward
the ground, replied, “Oh, can’t you
see? Our purpose is to open when
filled with light.” The rose shook
its pistil, pondering, “If this is a gift,
then who is the giver?” The shrubs
and trees fell silent till the iris gently
swayed, offering under the wind,
“The giver is that great force that
causes us to break ground.” A young
boy was listening and thought they
were talking about the fate of young
boys. He told his grandfather who
knew the boy had heard the
secret of all desire.
We each discover the Timeless Center through love and suffering. And just seeing the Center burn under everything changes the way we look at the stars, the way we hold the wood we gather. It changes what we see while making love. Once entering this moment, waves of feeling ache close to the bone. I used to think that ache was sadness, and spent many years trying to get rid of it. But now, it is deeper than not getting what I want or losing what I need. Now I feel this ache, the way the earth feels its core grind about that central fire that no one sees. It is the slight burn of being here. Thankfully, we are brought in accord with life by making a covenant with the sweet ache of being here, each of us hollowed, in time, to an instrument of care. It’s how the fire of life that no one sees keeps singing. This is our destiny: to awaken our soul by loving the Center under everything. This is the hard-earned peace, which no one can teach, that keeps the light of Spirit rising in the world.
A Question to Walk With: Describe what it means to you to wake close to the bone. How would you describe the difference between sadness and a feeling of depth?
A Question to Walk With: Describe a simple detail that carries the essence of a significant relationship in your life. What does this detail represent? Honor this detail by talking about it and its significance to the person it involves.
This excerpt is from my book of poems in progress, Elsewhere.
After being born physically, we unfold within a second womb, meant to incubate our better angel. The second womb is an experiential one that, through the labor of a lifetime, births the soul on Earth. This journey opens us to a process of transformation that is mysterious, difficult, and inevitable. This dynamic transformation is how we are revealed and shaped by experience. By living the one life we are given, we release the wisdom that waits in our heart, and that tender, human process leads us to the way under the way, the place of true meeting. When we commit to these holy engagements that join who we are with the world, we discover that the temple is the world.
Eventually, all the love, suffering, and humility we go through wear away our walls of resistance until Spirit shines from within us like an inner sun. This is how Spirit is revealed on Earth—as the coverings we carry are worn away by life, the light we carry can pour into the world.
The thread on the border of the fabric painting of Mount Fuji—stitched so many years ago, so many oceans away—has held the scene together longer than I’ve been alive. And on this uneventful morning, the soft rain makes the oak outside my window dip enough for the early light to stream across the braided mountain hanging on my wall. Now the thread on the border swells with the sun and seems for the moment the source of all strength. Then the sun steps higher in the sky, and the thread that holds all things together goes back to work.
We spend so much time anticipating what will happen next that we miss the whisper of Heaven that unfolds wherever we are. Though I have known and survived many forms of pain, fear is the troll in my mind that anticipates more. And just as a loud noise prevents us from finding the peace in the center of silence, fear prevents us from finding the inch of Heaven in the center of whatever moment we are in. Yet, no matter how much I’ve been through and how much I’ve learned, I can’t stop the wave of anticipation. No one can. It is part of being human.
But I can escape it from time to time. When fully engaged in learning, or caring for another, or in a moment of devotion to all that I believe about the Mystery of Life—in these openings, the anticipation loosens and I am completely present, at least for a while. The practice of authenticity is building on these moments until they open up our days.
Join Panache Desai every morning and for support in reconnecting to the wellspring of calm and peace that lives within you and that has the power to counterbalance all of the fear, panic, and uncertainty that currently engulfs the world.
Designed To Move You From Survival and Fear to Safety and Peace