While unloading the dishes I was struck by an accidental arrangement of my friend Stephanie’s pottery*. Three lovely teacups and saucers, a bowl and a mug smiling from the top rack. Art in the dishwasher.
There is so much beauty in the world, so much vibrant life, and yet, the quiet splendor of the world can so easily go unnoticed. We may marvel at a particularly glorious sunset, or be filled with awe at a geography not our own, but what about the little majesties? What about the small daily delights? Like pottery in the dishwasher.
My brother says “It is because God is so constant that we forget.**” When something is always there it is so easy not to notice, or take it for granted. Correction, when something good is always there we forget. It’s easy to take detailed notes on the persistently irritating things in life.
But what would happen if we were to turn all of that nit-picky energy and refocus it on the small, really small, beauties in life? We would become true disciples of the householder’s path, not to mention, much happier people. John Friend tells a story of watching his spiritual teacher wash dishes. “Have you ever seen a master wash a plate? The way she dips it and out of the water, it’s like an exquisite dance, because she knows that dish, the water, her hand, all of it is Shakti, all of it Divine.***”
While these tiny displays of beauty are individually fleeting, they are born from a Constant, like those lightening shows you see on field trips to the science museum. Out of the darkness bright bits of light burst here, there and everywhere. “Look at me, here I am!” The fingerlings of electricity are so enchanting it’s easy to miss the brilliant orb in the middle of the room creating the sparks.
Appreciating the small joys in life is actually the work of remembering the bigger picture. These dazzling little displays of Grace are complete in and of themselves but they also point to a greater wholeness. They point to the constant presence of God. Through seeing the small things we begin to awaken to the vision the Infinite that surrounds us and is in us. Seeing God’s continuous presence in the world is fairly easy. Connecting to such inner Constancy is decidedly harder. That’s what meditation is for. In meditation you get to internalize all those outer cues and follow them on the path to the heart.
Take a moment to look around you. Really look. What strikes you as beautiful, delightful, perhaps even humorous? Notice the smile that plays across your lips when you become aware of this little darling of a moment. Notice how for even just a second, you soften. Then in meditation, asana, prayer, or other centering practice come back to the memory of this tiny beauty. Feel the expansion as you appreciate the smallness of life. Breathe into the fullness that is already there and savor those little beauties as expressions of God’s grandeur; as reminders of the ever affirming presence of Grace “in you, as you and all around you.”****
Upon the recommendation of a friend I recently visited my local library to pick up a copy of Margaret Maron’s Shooting at Loons, volume three of the Deborah Knott mystery series. (Which was delightful.) Book in hand, I walked up to the check out desk and gave the librarian my card which she scanned along with the book. Then she handed them back.
Crestfallen I said, “Thank you, but no” and left.
There’s a sense of rightness to the world in a library, a feeling of abundance that comes from being surrounded by rows upon rows of books just itching to be read. You can have one dollar in your bank account and still return from the library with a large stack of books. A library is a place of respect. As a group we keep quiet so as not to disturb one another in our common bond of love for the written word. People generally seem nice in libraries.
So when the librarian told me they no longer date-stamp books, a little piece of my heart broke. It’s just one more sensory imprint being replaced by “the tech*.” I like “the tech” but as crisp and sexy as an iBook is, I prefer the sensuality of words printed on paper and bound between two covers. I cradle a book in my hand and my cells softly rearrange to make room for new worlds, new ideas, and new understanding.
As physical creatures our senses trigger memories, emotions, states of consciousness. The stamp rolling on the ink pad then landing on the labeled book, the crinkle-crackle of smooth plastic protecting the hardcovers, the scattered due dates that offer a brief glimpse into the lives of persons unknown, these things are part of the library. They awaken an ease and simplicity of living just as do the sounds of children playing outside, water running from the kitchen faucet, the feeling of a spring breeze floating through the window. It’s Life loving life in all its playful bounty.
I didn’t have this kind of reaction when card catalogues were replaced by computerized databases. Sure I was a little sad, I have fond memories of leafing through drawers of index cards in varying states of decay to find the call number of a book, but the change made good sense. It certainly made finding information a lot easier.
A week later I returned for the next installment in the series and asked why they stopped date-stamping. “Well, they’re convinced they’re going to save thousands of dollars a year by not buying all those labels. But I know what you mean, the stamps are just part of what a library is.” I suppose saving thousands of dollars a year is a good enough reason if it means they can buy more books, hire more folks, or just keep the lights on. But I will miss the faint smell of ink, the heavy fall of the date stamp on the cover, the thread of connection to those who read the very same book. And, without a librarian date-stamping, how is Indiana Jones going to find the Holy Grail?
To write, you must edit. And to edit, you must learn to detach. You must learn to detach from that beautiful, elegant, witty, sardonic, and just plain brilliant turn of phrase that unfortunately detracts from the whole of the piece. Oh but how it hurts to delete our best work! If only there were a way to save it?
A superb writing instructor from West Virginia (whose name unfortunately escapes me) offers the perfect solution to the difficult parting of writer with word. It’s called “the Orphanage.”
“The Orphanage” is the home for all of those genius word compositions that have nowhere else to go. When the flash of brilliance gets booted from its place on the page it’s not left to fend for itself on the mean streets of a cold, forgetful mind. Instead, it gets to live comfortably with all the other orphans, enjoying 3 squares a day, love, remembrance, and the hope that, it too, will one day find a permanent home. And if it doesn’t, it’s still in great company. Plus there’s always the chance that after you become a famous author and die, some mournful soul will scour through your journals, find the Orphanage, and you’ll be quoted for all eternity. The essays, poems, and novels will fade, but those poor orphans will live on on coffee mugs, publisher’s weekly compendiums, and dorm posters.
Painters aren’t as fortunate. The heartbreakingly beautiful stroke of alizarin crimson swimming across the buttercream sky doesn’t have anywhere else to go. In painting, it’s do or die.
So my fellow writer, despair not. Build yourself an orphanage with bright beautiful walls and clean comfy beds. Be it a computer file, a series of voice memos, a notebook or a stack of napkins, make it a place of love. Nurture your brilliance, take care of your orphaned children. Who knows what illustrious lives they may lead!
After graduating from college I was shocked to discover how quickly the mind atrophies without the structure of classwork. When there isn’t any guidance for reflection on a text or class material, even reading “serious non-fiction” just isn’t the same. So now it’s rather humorous that I approached the coming of my certification exam with such trepidation. All I could see were the words I had read over and over “30 hours,” “among the most comprehensive and rigorous in the industry.” It never occurred to me that it could be fun. I was convinced that I was going to be mentally and emotionally exhausted and prepared myself accordingly, i.e. I made brownies.
Yet for nearly ten days I reveled in introversion. Reconnecting with sacred texts, reviewing philosophical concepts, discovering I know more anatomy than I thought; it was invigorating. By Monday I’d settled into a nice little routine: wake, journal, practice, test, lunch, nap, test, dinner, rest, bed, repeat. My nervous system relaxed, my sleep regulated. Within the bounds of the questions on the exam my mind was able to expand rather than wander aimlessly in a vast matrix of information.
I have always wanted to be thought of as a free-spirit but my need for structure and routine put a damper on giving myself that venerable self description. Today I understand that freedom isn’t just another word for nothing left to lose, nor is it a state of unrestrained bouncing around in the clouds. Freedom is an essence, our essence, the essence of the Divine. Freedom is the stability of self-love and the offering of oneself to life and whatever it extends. Freedom is the yoke of knowledge and experience that leads to wisdom, which brings about authentic choice. Freedom is Breath. Freedom is Life. And we are all ultimately, absolutely, intrinsically, Free.