Hunger is the worst of diseases ~ the Buddha

Friday, April 6, 2012

I Want to Tell You About My Zen Green Apple Hang-Up

I always want to tell you everything--even though I'm medium-well to well aware that Writing Workshop 101 is show don't tell. A picture isn't "worth" a thousand words, by the way, it's a whole different currency.
So let's start there:

So, I was listening to The Beatles' I Want To Tell You this morning--such a thumping, cheerful birdsong thing, that!--and I was just sort of looking out from where I was sitting at the table. 
Just letting my eyes move in big circles around the kitchen after my morning meditation.
Let's face it, there's nothing like the gorgeous ulterior noun, Revolver, turning and turning, to bring a mind full-circle.
And my eyes looked up, resting suddenly and firmly on my magnetic knife bar:
"Resting suddenly and firmly" is a polite way of saying got hung up on, got hitched, was snagged by, got stuck.

I believe I've told you that I have a bowl thing; we received many of them for our wedding here last summer--evenespeciallyofcourse from people who didn't or couldn't know that. This is a really fantastic metal peace bowl our friends Rex & Carol gave us.

I loved everything about this gift right away. It's so darn aesthetically pleasing! Loved the color, loved the lightness, loved the thinness...and yeah, you guessed it, loved that it's made of words.
I especially loved that in India there are real people with real hands making real and beautiful things which help other people, wrought of old bicycles and metal (and did I mention it's made out of words?!).
I loved everything about this gift, except, um, it's a bowl, and it's mostly wide open, and what for/how would we use it exactly? I mean as an actual container for things. How would it hold, well...anything?

I know where you're going with this--the transparent Mettāphor of the thing! Which is that this bowl is really the vast, changeless container for all of the thoughts and changing contents of mind, so of course the bowl itself wouldn't have to be welded tight to "hold" any of it. But gentles, I wasn't there yet!

Actually, pretty much exactly (read: all) I was thinking about this morning, seeing this bowl hanging up there, was the Darth Mom & the Death Star Egg Dying post I was going to (and still am about to write, and phew! that one is kinda complicated, mostly by me) and just how hung up I can get when I'm writing these things. 
How hung up I get on my own thinking. 
Okay, my hang-ups, in general.

I want to tell you
I feel hung up
But I don't know why

How easily words and ideas will come to me when writing them down isn't an option! When I'm barely awake and there's maybe a mechanical pencil & a rumpled Post-it somewhere under my sheet-covered spleen, but it's just too much effort to break the drowse; when I'm in the shower with water not ink pouring down, or kneading bread with sticky-sticky hands. The thoughts are there in my mind--until I Mac down and try to articulate them, of course.
Well, no one can ever improve on the Beatles or the Buddha, but it is extremely comforting when George Harrison knows just how you feel:

I want to tell you
My head is filled with things to say
When you're here
All those words
They seem to slip away

I now bow my head to one of my most notorious hang-ups, Perfectionism, but also, to the recent understanding that when I'm somewhere out there in the ether, experiencing and actually feeling things, being in it, that's where "it's" actually happening.
And the minute I go to write "it" down? Well, I'm transformed into a person doing a description, not a being be-ing.
I'm growing more confident that there is plenty of stuff to write about (and it never runs out), and that we do not have to execute every single thing (thank goodness) we experience in our heads.
But...the force of that magnetic must-do tug is still there.

So let me tell you a little more about how this particular bowl actually got hung up there.
After the wedding, I spent a couple of months lovingly but helplessly moving this bowl from place to place. It was stunning filled with our kitchen's ever-present green apples (TRIVIA ALERT! Since he labored desperately over naming them, George Harrison always gave his songs limbo-working titles...and "Laxton's Superb"--a green apple variety--was a working title for I Want to Tell You), with a spray of cilantro or hank of rosemary, or some end-of-summer cuttings or tomatoes in it. 
Along the way, I realized that when I put things in it, I couldn't see the bowl for the trees--that really, it was just more beautiful empty.

But this is a tiny farmhouse kitchen and counterspace is scarce. Bowls need to hold things other than just Mettāphor.

So I was trying to figure out how to hang it (maybe wire from a beam?), trying it out at various places on the wall, and I was wafting it past the stove when shlunk! It was pulled right out of my hands and whammy stuck pinned to the knife bar.
Just like a hang-up.
A hang-up is this force that comes out of nowhere. Sucking whatever your intention was for that moment right out of your hands. 

When I get near you
The games begin to drag me down

For me, thinking I have to find the perfect chiffonade of adjectives and images with all these different knives, my writer's and cook's tools, somehow without (sorry) mincing words, is a real force, a real drag and a real be-ing sucker.
And, though I have a growing collection of shiny, one-pointed tools, I don't know that to do with them or how to use them just yet.
Who out there has tools that dice, slice, and cut--so many they hardly know that to do with them all? When my sister gave me that bread knife, by the way, I nearly cut my finger off because I was unused to handling it, and it was so dangerously sharp, I almost didn't even notice or feel it.

Now this morning when I looked up at the bowl, I saw my cutting hang-ups and my doing-ness, but I also thought, wow this is really cool. Look at this.
Peace nestled amongst, alongside, within, the doing of the tools.
A spacious bowl between knives.
Enter the mulligan stew blessing of insight meditation, the Do Over, whether it's on the field, on the chopping block, or in the mind:

It's alright
I'll make you make me next time around

--there's always a next time, and another deeper, kinder way of looking at anything.

I happened across this reading this morning, too: Aung San Suu Kyi, describing Engaged Buddhism, said that it requires active compassion or active metta (lovingkindness). Oh no! Do-ing?
But wait:
"we have got to do more to express our metta and to show our compassion. And there are so many ways of doing it. For example, when the Buddha tried to stop two sides from fighting each other, he went out and stood between them. They would have had to injure him first before they could hurt each other. So he was defending both sides. As well as protecting others..."[emphasis mine].

Turns out, a spacious, airy bowl hanging midair, making a space between my knives is about the perfect thing to represent the self-protecting space one's own buddha nature can provide between do-ing and be-ing.
There's space on the knife bar.
Space can be engaged and loving.
Mindful space is a dizzyingly powerful tool, because it gives us choices.
And safety from our mere me-ness.

It's only me
It's not my mind
That is confusing things

So, leaving this bowl hanging up takes giving up some real estate (though a good cook really only needs one very good knife--to chop, pare, finesse with--the rest are just like jewelry), but it's an important space, every day, in the visual field of my tools.

These tools are also really not at odds--the knives and the space. They are both within each of us.

It also reminds me that sometimes the things we think are our hang-ups, those moments, are not really hang-ups, but pauses in what we're doing, places to look at; potentially loving and kind spaces to consider.

Consider the fact that sometimes, you throw something up there and it just sticks--not at all where you think it will. Usually my brain sticks to the bad, stuck place, but there are good ones.
Usually, our brains are wired (sigh) to be velcro for negativity and teflon for good…well, in this case, it was backwards! A naturally, elementally good outcome! This is new for me. And I didn't even have to do anything but keep the two materials in proximity to each other.

So, on that first photo: I generally don't like photos of myself, but I do like this one. Even I could recognize there is a weird magnetic quality to my expression. All I can tell you is that I felt curiously compelled to get up from the table, take the bowl down--to "un-hangup it," to hold it, examine it, and look through it, and take that picture of myself, looking through it, to you.
If you look, you can see all the things my head was filled with at that moment, in a much clearer way than I could explain with words. Shrug, that's why they call it an expression. Curious about the ineffable, happy, plenty of time.

I don't mind
I could wait forever
I've got time

That's just the look on my face, isn't it?--not so much in my mind.

Pausing in my hang-up litany to take this photo actually helped create the space that got me writing about the space.
Maybe it's okay for there to be space--some peace--around and between the words, between the precise and sometimes shiny, shiny sharp tools of relentless self-examination and self-improvement. 

When I look at the bowl hanging up there now, I can see the space as room for the good and necessary ether to circulate, even if it never gets a direct translation.
And the good green apple I thought might be displaced is still there too. It's implied and so, in ethereal gesture is permanent, precisely in its impermanence, like the fabled missing rock in a Zen garden.

But much juicer.

PS: Kind of crazy coincidence, you might notice that the You Tube link for the song is a performance from...April 6th, 1992. Twenty years ago, today.

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