Jean Marie Gunner

Jean Marie Gunner
We are all basically good.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Listening


“Everything and everyone is speaking to us.”

There was once a prince who had at his disposal every worldly desire one could imagine, yet, Siddhartha Gautama knew that something was missing.  It wasn’t so much an emptiness as it was something just not quite adding up, a nagging feeling of being trapped, trapped by one’s own confusion.  The confusion was resulting from a mind that was ignorant, ignorant as in not yet realizing something.  The world beyond his grand palace was not even a world that existed for him.  Like the view once that the world was flat, this prince went around thinking that his world ended at the palace’s door.  There was nothing beyond it, nothing that he could yet relate to anyway.  The prince’s world was completely filled up, or so it seemed.  Still, he had a nagging doubt and became inquisitive and started to explore the world beyond the castle walls.  Just at that moment, the prince made room for the world beyond his narrow view to begin speaking to him. 
 
I tell this story because it gives me insight into my heart and the experience of loving another.  When we meet someone, when there is mutual attraction, there is this sense of moving parts, of a dynamic experience rich with unknown actions and words and feelings and sensory experiences.  New love is fresh and has infinite potential; we are the artist upon which we will create the masterpiece of our love.  In love there is a second co-creator painting the mural, and it is our beloved.  The actions and feelings and thoughts and words to be spoken cannot be known because they have yet to occur in the new experience.  Vast is the potential of the love, of the mural.  With the painting of the mural, color begins to fill up the space on the canvas; the emptiness that existed prior to the love beginning is filled up with experiences.  Color emerges. Form takes shape.  Images  appear.  It is mysterious, but the mystery begins to become defined.  As space is taken up it, we may have the thought or feeling that that the experience taking place becomes less interesting, because it is no longer new.  Actually, this is precisely when opening our hearts further can lead us out of our own little confined palaces, like the prince, to discover that which we were fundamentally ignorant of before; we begin to let ourselves go deeper into our life's truly magical experiences.   

My sense is that when we overlay the raw, in-the-moment experiences with expectations, hopes or fears, is precisely when the love, the mural, loses its freshness, its oxygen.  Colors begin to fade or dull.  We begin to expect something different, like a particular result, and forget the wide open space that had heretofore existed on the canvas.  The freshness of the experience is somehow lost. We may experience disappointment, and be let down.  The unknown, which we before felt drawn to, now begins to frighten us.  Ironically and profoundly significant is that the nature of the experience that drew us in the first place was its fresh poignant impermanence, its momentariness, its presence.  We could never have known what would take place on the canvas, in our hearts, beyond the castle walls.  If we begin fixing a point, defining our love, suffering occurs.  We try to freeze love for fear of it dying or of our beloved leaving us.  How could we ever possibly go on without him or her?  Forgetting that we were going on before, we begin to crush the love, suffocate it, muss up the beauty and images, and the colors all run together and lose their natural elegance. In our ignorance and confusion, we suffer.

Here is something we have forgotten.  We are responsible for our happiness.  When things in love start feeling claustrophobic or even too distant, the whole thing begins to either implode or explode.  The love that was once there so vibrant and healthy, seems to have disappeared or even worse never existed in the first place.  Was it ever present?  Was it ever real?  Like the volcanic mountain of Mount Nevis by which I am sitting as it breathes its living force of both the fire of its teeming core or its cool refreshing water source of its deep natural spring, I sense magic, a very ordinary life giving sacred energy.  I cannot hold it.  I cannot define it.  I cannot capture it and contain it.  I can only let it run through me and feed me as I then in turn feed the rest of the world that I touch and encounter throughout my day. 

In this world, I comport myself with a code of conduct; it is with the sense that I am meeting the sacred world with a strong upright dignified posture and a soft and tender heart.  I, like the prince, knew there was something worth investigating beyond the four walls of the castle, the cocoon of my own mind's narrative and patterns, and it has taken me a good deal of living to get to some semblance of a code that fits with me, my being, as well as my interconnected being in the world.  The presence of gentleness, combined with fearlessness, gives nutrients to a life that is founded on basic goodness, and a wisdom derived from our human natural intelligence.  The life spark seems to have always been; I derive my confidence and well-being from being present in my moment-by-moment existence in our phenomenally beautiful world.  I then in turn can offer back to the world my experience of basic goodness in the form of deep listening, profound kindness and open hearted compassion, all synonymous for love.

As we sense our goodness, and risk being touched by the world and leaving our little palaces or cocoons, there are infinite moments when we can wake up throughout our day.  Each and every encounter, even if it feels contrived or placed with obstacles can awaken us.  As we go through our lives, and if we are blessed enough to wake up a bit through a mindful-awareness practice that we have been taught, we can more readily avoid the river of obstacles of our own making.  This does not mean that we will not be sad.  Impermanence is a fundamental truth.  We lose our loved ones; things are in constant flux and change.  Life would not exist without change, existence would not even be.  We would not be.  This does not mean there is less love, there is just less fixation and more awareness of our life and its fleeting nature.  There is the truth that there is a path to wake up, and waking up tenderly and bravely brings us to touch our own genuine heart of sadness.  It is genuine because it is always changing and transforming us.

I am spending a week of retreat from my everyday life, although this experience of being here by virtue of the fact that I am here is now my everyday life.  I am here with a friend from long ago.  I had no idea what to expect when we came together.  Expectations would have only built concepts and a narrative around an experience that had yet to be lived.  So, I remained open.  I knew that I wanted to have a week-long experience of being present to myself and my friend.  After years of touching my basic goodness, of mindfulness practice, I have come to the realization and profound awareness that friendship itself can become intensely intimate.  Either way, showing up as who we are to the other and deeply listening to them and the world around us as we move through space and time is an expression of generosity, of basic goodness, of our essence.  I have become aware that the simple act of listening, with an open mind and a willingness to be heartbroken, bridges the distance between two human hearts.  This is true love, truly loving another human being.  On this island as I see goats, pigs, cows, sheep and monkeys living symbiotically and at peace with human beings, I see that we can take a lesson on how to live with our earth in all its naturalness in a more sane and joyful way.

As in our case, we both have experienced marriage, the birth of children, divorce, uncertainty, heartaches and breaks, and still we are willing to take this journey to our centers, to our hearts, to our foundation.  My friend has opened his heart to me on this journey we are taking together for this short while.  Many things he has been generous and openhearted enough to share with me will remain with me for my life time.  One I wish to share is about listening.  As we sat together one tropical evening by the seafront in Nevis having a drink, he had a realization of when he knew his marriage had ended; it was when the listening between the two of them had stopped.  That was so simple and real.  It made sense and it was spoken with such genuine truth and sadness that I felt, as I looked into his eyes deeply listening without filter or self-consciousness, that I was looking into a mirror and seeing the ancient, ageless nature of what we are. 

As we drove through the beachside yesterday, the clouds began to form in the east and we traversed a rather rough and rock strewn road to come upon a raw strip of beach.  We passed bales of wool on the side and a dilapidated horserace course, to end up in front of a donkey that stood tethered to a wooden post.  The donkey had wound himself good and tight around the pole and both my friend and I immediately had the very human empathetic response to assist this animal in need.  With the help of our sense perceptions and even a force more primordial than our eyes or ears, we knew that this fellow sentient being was suffering.  We had a visceral response in our core to relieve the suffering.  Without really pausing he jumped out of the car and tried to get the stressed out animal to unwind itself.  With a heart of goodness and love, my friend responded and not really knowing how the animal would in turn react, this sad animal managed to further wind himself up.  From my spot, I could only feel my aching heart, helpless, completely and utterly helpless to do anything useful.  The only thing I could do is express my compassion and feel the immense sadness in my heart, to feel my good human heart so raw, so broken. 

Sensing that the donkey would not unwind and would only work itself up more and hurt itself, we drove off to a beach which by this time had become overtaken by wind and a grey storm cloud drawing closer from the east.  We decided to return and as we passed the donkey, he had managed to completely hook himself to the pole, with no room to move and with a hoof now caught in the little bit of rope that was slack.  It was one of the saddest sights I have ever witnessed.  Neither of us talked for a bit.  Words seemed hollow and superficial in the face of the realization that our happening upon that animal, and willingness to do good, may have caused more harm and suffering, however unintended. 

This morning as I sat in front of my island meditation shrine, spontaneously tears welled in my eyes and spilled out for that animal, for my friend Eric, for my son Kailen,  for old and new friends in my heart, for my own broken heart, for my beautiful world in all its true forms both of suffering and joy, love and fear, confusion and stability. 

I could not have been more in love with my world and everyone in my life, and everyone around my life than I was at that moment.  And I gave thanks for the teachings of truth and goodness that have been offered to me without our time’s transactional mindset.  The wisdom has been transmitted so that I, like so many others, might remember and awaken to all that is good in me and all that is good in everyone.

I ended my meditation sitting practice with a poem by David Whyte, “The Winter of Listening.”  I share with you now reader this poem which expressed in its unique medium that which I felt this morning, that which I have been feeling through this whole experience with myself and my friend, that which I am experiencing as I open my heart to touch love again, to touch my world again, to become vulnerable yet made whole by opening up to the forces of the world, its life force and its inevitable heartbreak.    Poetry is a doorway to that which we need to hear and the truth which we may ourselves be unable to speak.  It is the voice of our primordial goodness.

 

THE WINTER OF LISTENING

By David Whyte

 

No one but me by the fire,

my hands burning

red in the palms while

the night wind carries

everything away outside.

 

All this petty worry

while the great cloak

of the sky grows dark

and intense

round every living thing.

 

What is precious

inside us does not

care to be known

by the mind

in ways that diminish

its presence.

 

What we strive for

in perfection

is not what turns us

into the lit angel

we desire,

 

what disturbs

and then nourishes

has everything

we need.

 

What we hate

in ourselves

is what we cannot know

in ourselves but

what is true to the pattern

does not need

to be explained.

 

Inside everyone

is a great shout of joy

waiting to be born.

 

Even with summer

so far off

I feel it grown in me

now and ready

to arrive in the world.

 

All those years

listening to those

who had

nothing to say.

 

All those years

forgetting

how everything

has its own voice

to make

itself heard.

 

All those years

forgetting

how easily

you can belong

to everything

simply by listening.

 

And the slow

difficulty

of remembering

how everything

is born from

an opposite

and miraculous

otherness.

 

Silence and winter

has lead me to that

otherness.

 

So let this winter

of listening

be enough

for the new life

I must call my own.

 

Every sound

has a home

from which is has come

to us

and a door

through which it is going

again

out into the world

to make another home.

 

We speak

only with voices

of those

we can hear ourselves

and the body has a voice

only for that portion

of the body of the world

it has learned to perceive.

 

It becomes

a world itself

by listening

hard

for the way

it belongs.

 

There it can

learn

how it

must be

and what

it must do.

 

And

here

in the tumult

of the night

I hear the walnut

above the child’s swing

swaying

its dark limbs

in the wind

and the rain now

come to

beat against my window

and somewhere

in this cold night

of wind and stars

the first whispered

opening of

those hidden

and invisible springs

that uncoil

in the still summer air

each yet

to be imagined

rose.

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