|Excerpts > Spring 2002 > Nonfiction and Poetry Issue|
Two Motion Fast Happening God
Two Motion Fast Happening God
Calcutta. Evening. Sounding of the evening gong at the Kali temple next door to the hospice. Waves of sound rippled out through the roar of bus motors, taxi horns, people bartering for vegetables at street stands. I was about to head out for the bus stand. Two aids carried in a woman they'd found on the street. Her eyes were infected, swollen shut. She wouldn't or couldn't talk. Her sound was a moan.
The nuns were shorthanded that day, so I said I'd stay and get her settled. The doctor who visited each morning couldn't be reached. I offered her water, and she drank eagerly. I brought rice and vegetables and tried offering a spoonful. She refused it. I thought she might want to eat with her hands, so I tried to give her the plate. She pushed it away.
"Tylenol," the nun said. I gave the woman a tablet with water, and she swallowed it. Then led her to the bath, undressed her and bathed her, talking softly. She didn't know my language, but I hoped the sound of my voice would reassure her. Each time she moaned, I spoke to this moaning. I toweled her dry, dressed her in a gown, walked her to her cot. I didn't feel I could leave her. Her suffering had made me uneasy, and I wanted to find a way to comfort both of us. I sat on the cot and reached for her. She let out a great sigh and collapsed against me. I began to rock her. Together we found the fulcrum of that rocking, and there, in that two-person motion, we swayed.
Rocking became our language. We spoke and spoke. I had no sense of time passing. Instead time seemed to fill, a reservoir. We swung back and forth, and then something shifted: it felt as though she was rocking me. I lay down to this rocking. After a while I couldn't tell who was rocking whom.
Depending from what viewpoint you might have looked at us, we were either macrocosm, microcosm, or both. We rocked in a sea already rocking, while inside us smaller seas rocked in rhythm with the larger rhythm. In a poem by Rilke, God speaks to creation: embody me. In those moments we became the rocking itself. In those moments we embodied the god.
Two motion fast happening god. What god is this? In Kabbalah this back and forth motion is referred to as ayin, the "nothing" that creates the world. Briah yesh me-ayin: something continuously created from nothing. Though of course this is a very special kind of nothing, a nothing that is churning energy. The Yin Yang too is a symbol of these dyadic, churning forces. Buddhist texts describe phenomena as "rising up" and "passing away." In Pali this is called anicca: impermanence. Two motions continuously churning the world into impermanent being. Joshu Sasaki Roshi at the Mt. Baldy Zen Center in California calls these two forces life and death, or day and night, or mother god and father god. When he's in a mood to speak less metaphorically, more descriptively he calls them expansion, contraction.
The live world embodies this two motion god. I notice this fact when I'm not efficient, when I don't need to know things. When I'm, paying attention but not doing anything else. I notice, because made myself available. Being available feels like a friendly giving up of my desires and aversions. My fidgets and small concerns are not important now. I am present in humility and sweetness. I'm aware that in the great scheme of things, I'm minuscule and also crucial. Sri Nisargadatta articulates this paradox. "Love tells me I am everything. Wisdom tells me I am nothing. And between the two my life flows."
Of course we need moral principles, and whether or not we live up to those principles, it's important to take responsibility for our actions. But at any given moment I must acknowledge that things are how they are at this moment, that it would make no sense to want things at this moment to be different. I give up my fierce driven desire to control experience. I give up the illusion that I Can prescribe how I'd like experience to be. We can destroy things, but we can't control them. I try to accept this. And in this state of acceptance of the present as it is, I then pay attention to how it is.
I perceive that things are fluid and in motion. Beyond the window I hear leaves breathing, wind dinging the chime. That a shaft of light, in motion, reaches across the floor. All this moving everywhere, this exhaling, inhaling: we breathe, the world and I. And if I pay close attention to my body, I detect these two motions at different scales: as grant, slow waves, and as tiny vibrations that feel like bubbles continuously bursting. I feel vibrant, alive, present, connected to what surrounds me. And my surroundings, whatever they are--even a littered alley, the pavement gritty, seems especially beautiful.
Perhaps it's because I'm responsible for my actions that I imagine I do things. But that I imagine I act alone is an illusion. We are not separate agents so much as energies in a web of connection. When we think we're giving something away, something is also being given to us. When I put my hands in water, the water washes me. The ground walks me. In sleep I don't have to remember to breathe. The beauty of a crow's arc in the air enters me, sustenance for the soul, and moves a shadowy part of me into light.
When I rocked the woman, I was also rocked. This rocking opened my ordinary, cautious and rigid self. Reciprocity opens me, and in the midst of the world's generosity I feel generous. I perceive that there is great abundance, the result of this sea of offering and receiving. Rocking with the sick woman felt effortless and very full. I had the sense that the room and everything in the room including ourselves, had been inflated, and the world seemed infinitely appealing. For our rocking had brought me into awareness of two motion fast happening god.
To be aware at finer and finer levels of discrimination is to enter the paradox of ecstasy. Ramone Panniker has written that paradox is simply how non-duality looks at the mental level. Non-duality: neither speed nor slowness, but both at once. Non-duality: no self and other, just us. Neither wild nature nor civilized me, just this bittersweet autumn day, the streaming energy of the god.
In this collaboration with the universe I very quickly become filthy rich. This word filthy at first seems negative, but when I think about that word for awhile, I see that it's full of an overflowing sensuality. For when we're engaged in reciprocal perception, language too becomes paradoxical. Now the word filthy suggested rich muck, the kind that makes sumptuous gardens. Two motion fast happening god likes this word, a word, which, as I pay attention to it, begins to mean its intended opposite. So that in just a little while, this word filthy becomes more and more sweetly clean. It makes me feel the way I feel after a bath, when I stand up, towel off and rise a little into the air.
May I be filthy, may you be filthy. May all living beings be filthy.
Where there is non-duality, there is no economy. No money changes hands. Air is not deadened by efficiency, nor is light calculated as wattage. No one is counting, and you can step into this love at any moment. When you do, your locked heart opens. You become what in systems theory is called a "flow through." You yourself become a flowing, gathering sustenance and nurturance from the flowing itself. It's as though we're inside a great touching, and we feel hands--billions of hands--reaching toward us, offering tenderness.
We can be here, feel this, anytime. Try it, right now.
But of course we can't always be in ecstasy. Ecstatic states come and go, and when they go, I remember it's time to do the laundry or go buy groceries or clean the kitchen floor. Of course these things too are potentially ecstatic moments. But there are times when cleaning the floor feels like just cleaning the floor. And if I compare cleaning the floor to ecstasy, my present state may seem lacking. Since I'm down on my hands and knees anyway, I decide to pay attention to this feeling of lack. I let myself feel it--lack, in all its yawning being--and I keep paying attention. In a little while there I am in the midst of two motion fast happening god.
I work slowly, a wet rag in my hand, and keep paying attention. Briah yesh me-ayin, over and over.
After a while the floor is clean, and I'm abundantly full.
There are times when it feels like the great touching isn't here. This is my experience of the god's absence. I try to pay attention to that absence. As I pay attention, I notice that this absence is somehow substantial. It isn't just that absence reminds me how nice it was when the god was present, though absence does that. It's something in itself, this absence. Linda Gregg writes in her poem The Bounty After the Bounty, "Our failure was thinking Christ / was his presence. / We were blinded by the actual body / of Jesus." We imagine god is either here, or gone. We forget god is in both of these states. A paradox: we know god by god's absence.
And just as the word filthy can become sweetly clean, just as giving has its own built-in receiving, absence is also presence. This is not just an idea. If I look carefully at what seems to be god's absence, this absence becomes palpable. The more I pay attention, the more this absence begins to resemble abundance. Very soon those two things--absence, abundance--have become identical, and they're in motion. Briah yesh me-ayin. Two motion fast happening god.
The sick woman and I rocked until it got dark. She seemed to slow. Her pain seemed to calm. I lay her down. She wasn't making sounds of distress anymore. I got my bag, told one of the nuns, and went out. I felt tired but sweetened by our rocking. I imagined that when I arrived the next morning, I would feed the woman and bathe her again.
When I arrived the next day, she was gone. One of the nuns told me she'd drunk more water in the night, and again at dawn. Then the nuns got busy serving breakfast. When one came to the woman's cot with a plate, the woman was dead.
"We put her body in the room. Will you put on the shroud? I haven't had time."
I knew where the shrouds were. Between the men and the women, we needed three or four each week. I took one from the cupboard and went into the room with no windows where we lay the dead out. I switched on the overhead bulb, went to her body, touched her arm. It felt cool. I leaned and with both hands lifted her head. It felt like lifting a stone.
The poet Kabir writes this: "There's a moon in my body / but I can't see it: a moon, and a sun." He also calls this god of two motions a love swing. "All earth creatures, even the supernovas, sway between these two trees, and in never winds down." I went out and brought back a bowl of water and a cloth. I proceeded to wash her everywhere, staying focused, paying attention. When the washing was done, I worked the shroud around her. There were cloth ties along the side, and I tied them.
There is a finality in tying. It completes its own series of motions. I laid my hands on her: the last touching. Then I went to the door, opened it. Stepped through.
It swing kept swinging.
Pain is savage. It grabs us and throws us against the wall. We have to lay where it throws us down. It declares itself supreme autocrat. It is ruthless. It holds us so that we may not look away, and it does not respond to pleas that it subside. If it subsides, that is its prerogative. When it insists, it is without mercy.
It is the most undeniable form of the god.
And in it, as in everything, the swing swings.
And when pain goes, the swing keeps swinging.
Sometimes when I put up a love swing, things shift a quantum. The world turns liquid. I can't tell myself from the rest of things. My "self" doesn't seem to be there. I have become "that I that is we," and we are one continuous, vibrating rocking. And yet I stand up, drink a glass of water. If someone comes, I talk to them. Or I note to a passing ant, salute a blue jay. It's almost as though I'm not there--and yet I'm also an idiosyncratic personality like no other, going about enacting myself.
Sasaki Roshi explains the god this way. Love--real love--he calls "zero." Zero is the state of things when that special "nothing"--expansion and contraction--comes together, touches and for a while neutralizes each other's motion. In Buddhism this state is called samadi. Think of it as two lovers in harmony. When we are in that state, things happen effortlessly. We've forgotten linear time, its passing. It's almost as though we aren't here, and yet we're extremely, serenely present. In Nocturne in Black and Gold Mark Doty writes, "No one's here / or hardly anyone, and how strangely / free and fine it is / to be laved and extended, furthered. . . ."
Eventually, though, expansion and contraction part, and where they part two worlds are created: the worlds of space/time. Contraction is the past, and inside, expansion the future, and outside. And when these two worlds are created, there is also a third world: the present, and right here. It's when the present and here come into being that we imagine we have a self.
In fact the present and here are all the "self" we have.
I once helped prepare a meal for five hundred people. The cooks in charge gave me and an old man the task of peeling five hundred boiled eggs. We sat facing each other, the tub of eggs beside us, and between us another tub into which we laid the peeled eggs. Peeling was our language. We were two motions facing each other, become the act of peeling eggs.
Though someone watching us might have said each of us separately peeled one egg and then another, they would have been wrong. Briah yesh me-ayin. The old man and I were nothing, making something. We were ayn, giving birth to eggs.
At one point I looked at the man's hand, peeling shell from an egg, and in that moment the time we call "linear" stopped: the egg in his hand opened into that place in which time is eternal. Around us temporal time ran on, but I was inside eternal egg time. The atmosphere there was very rich. And there was no need to hurry because eternity--all of it--was right there. I felt abundance around me so sweetly that if I'd thought about it, I'd have wanted never to leave that moment. But I didn't think about it: I was busy paying attention in the midst of the great touching.
Eventually though, lunch had to be served. I came back into time and we got on with our work. Finally there was one egg left. I watched the old man pick it up and peel it, then lay it on the pile. The earth had turned enough by then that the tub of eggs stood in the sun.
The head cook came, and, with the help of another cook, lifted the tub and carried it to the counter.
I thought how if the eggs had stood there a while longer while the earth turned, it would have lain, again, in shadow.