Saturday, October 5, 2013
On The Spot
All of life, every single moment offers a choice to be fully present and on the spot. Each breath is a leap of faith. Every moment and every breath of our life have two things intimately in common; they are all beginnings and endings, births and deaths. Each moment we continue on, we are counting on a world to embrace us to hold us to support us to hold us, and the expression, “Place the fearful mind in the cradle of loving kindness,” may seem like an easy thing to say or something that makes no sense because the world may feel too aggressive and on fire and testy and speedy. How can we rely on this? Why do we so resist this? However, taking just a single moment. To pause. To stop. To take a breath. To feel the in breath as the ever present supply of oxygen nourishes all of our insides moving out to our limbs and feeding each and every last cell in our bodies.
Each summer my sons and I give ourselves a gift of eight days full of moments to simply be. We travel to northeastern Vermont to a retreat center, Karma Choling, and experience with 220 others adults and children what it feels to live in an enlightened way. Society or community begins with two people. And when each person is relatively aware of their own mind and heart and being, the relationship can be rich and supportive and open.
This is what the family camp experience is built upon. Some camp in tents, some stay in the lodge, some of the teens stay together each night in what they call the “Pav.” This was our third summer camp experience and the first year my eldest son did not stay in our family tent pitched in the upper meadow on the mountainside. I am not sure I ever even thought to miss him. I knew he was doing exactly his own thing. Being his own self and having his own camp experience.
And this gave me and my younger son, who is twelve and a half, open space to just be together. Just a sentence or two about the condition of my heart this past summer. I had just experienced an ending of a relationship. I felt like a bird with a broken wing. Beginning the camp experience crying my eyes out, I was clinging to an idea or wish that the other person would do what I thought he needed to do to make himself available to me. This was a view that was simply creating more internal suffering for me. So after about three days of intense suffering, I let my camp friends know that I was hurting, and I let the love in the meditation room, in the camp and in the teachings hold me like a newborn babe as I cried my heart whole again.
By day four, with eyes red and swollen, and a heart broken but still beating, I was ready to be at camp, to open my heart no matter how broken and battered it felt.
On this same day, five parents and more than ten teenage and tween age kids carpooled over to the notorious train bridge jumping spot. It was a quintessential snapshot moment of Americana, a placid lazy Vermont river, an old last century train bridge, and ten teens and tweens standing on the edge of the train trestle poised but not quite ready to jump.
Six girls and four boys stood on the precipice taking their time before their leap to the cool water below on an early August summer camp afternoon. The parents waited on the river’s shore gazing up at our children aware of their tentativeness as they considered their jump. And at some point, one of us, or perhaps collectively, we heard a train’s distinct whistle as it chugged its engine and cars down the track straight toward our children on the very bridge it would be traversing in less than a minute. We awoke to the sound and snapped to paying attention to the reality of the present moment. Our children stood, ostensibly oblivious, on the edge of the bridge’s train track in the path of this approaching train. The moms were the first to react shouting up in our higher pitch voices “Jump.” “Jump.” Jump!” Finally one of the dads, in his deep baritone voice, hollered the definitive “JUMP!” followed by a resounding chorus and urgent appeal of all the parental voices, “JUMP!!!”
There was no mistaking the on the spot urgency of the adults below, and, as if on cue, the children began to throw their young bodies from the bridge. It could not have been choreographed more elegantly. As if a scene from the 1980s coming of age film, “Stand by Me,” first one, then two, then all plummeting into the river below. Not one remained atop that bridge as the train chugged over that same bridge our children had just been standing only moments before. One by one they swam over to the shore. Reflecting back, not one of our youth froze and panicked. They were all ready to react as the situation called for, being “on the spot” so to speak. That “Stand by Me Moment” is indelibly inscribed I am certain on all the moms and dads standing on that river’s edge in the warmth and light of that sweet August afternoon. What can that moment offer us in the way of a life teaching, of being poised and ready in our day to day lives of taking an authentic, on the spot leap of faith?