“The Miracle of Change” by Alison Shin’ei Brown

 There Once Was a Woman

Blessed is the person who has found wisdom. . . .
Her ways are good ways,
And all her paths are peaceful
She is the tree of life to all that lay hold upon her.
Proverbs: 3:18

THERE ONCE WAS A WOMAN 

There once was a woman 
Who lived by the sea, uttering 
Sounds alone in her hut. The dense 
Cold air echoed back
By the cold, grey, emerald sea.

There once was a woman 
Who lived in a mountain, quiet
Sleeping inside that mountain. For it was
She who made that mountain grow, dust
And dust, each particle of dust, building 
The strength of that mountain.

And there once was a woman
Who was the power of the seed,
 it was she who made flowers bloom
and grow, from the new green of that seed.

And there once was a woman
Who was a maker of languages, who rode 
On waves of sound, spewed out images,
Children waved as she flew by, over towns,
Throughout all countries, wrapped 
In gusts of wind. 

There once was a woman
Who was a wanderer.
Lonely and cold in desolate places,
Through rivers, fields
And forests, she wandered.

Into caves and icy palaces, she
Traveled, a stranger. . . .  And yet
She sang. Her voice 
Like a golden angel weeping,
Singing from we do not know, 
 the place before all songs began. 

 

Turning Moments and the Miracle of Change

 “Whatever happens all we have to do is sow good seeds. For whom? For when? For you, for all sentient beings, for this time or that time, for the life after the next life, for future generations, all we have to do is sow good seeds. That is our practice." – Dainin Katagiri, from Returning to Silence

I have found the more my practice integrates into daily life, the more subtle are my responses and the harder it has become to define my vows and take hold of exactly what I need to do. I focus today on the importance of turning moments, which I define as an intense center or core of difficulty, where disappointment or unexpected loss brings up old karmic patterns.  In a sense we are formed through the negative, where our losses press upon us and death or our fear of death shapes us.  I am reminded of the karmic prayer, all my past and harmful karma from beginning-less time, as a place of stories. Once upon a time, alludes to mythical time which in practice implies a return to the root of balance or alignment.  

Some of you know my story, but for those of you who are not familiar; growing up, my first memories form out of an intuition expressed through a child’s disappointment and pain, a home   both physically and psychologically destructive, a violent space. I spent most of my late childhood and adolescence institutionalized. I ran away at 17, entering into the world with little social verification, confidence and a lot of emotional problems. These experiences set the tone of my life which became a spiritual quest.   

I have always been apologizing for myself, that I didn’t live up to expectations, I have no children, I have never been married, no career to speak of, gifts and talents that have not been “properly” born into this world. This has been a winding and wounded path, inefficient in the modern sense of efficiency and productivity.  I myself had a dream of success but somehow in my instinctively feminine way never pursued it, or perhaps I never  understood it. For years struggling here,  what I truly had or was, I didn’t appreciate sufficiently and what I thought I wanted, I didn’t or couldn’t take that  path, as it would not have been the right path for me. 

In a sense no one can give a talk on fulfillment; this is not a general Buddhist issue but a deeply personal and intimate issue. Like many of the tribulations of practice a resolution found through trial and error, perhaps a lifelong question, burning us down into ash. 

I have an archetypal interest in the wounded healer, and would like to share my insight into this true path of healing which seems to come back again and again to acceptance, this double edged sword of karma. Acceptance is far from resignation, for I have found these turning moments full of surprise and unexpected resolve or joy. It is truly a miracle of freshness, brightness and choice. Recently I named a tendency in myself to take certain events or criticism as a final judgment. Ah ha! You see, you were never any good! No self or other criticism has the power to decide a life backward or forward, but is partial and suggestive, and must be sifted through time and circumstance.  We are an essential part of the decision, by not holding on, and letting go, we give room for new life to enter. This is the middle way.

Integration is not a unity, but a many sided conversation in which we navigate and intuit; listening to the many selves within and without.  Two aspects of my own practice, are sifting through negative thought patterns or emotions, our potential for reaction, not to be rid of this because it is disturbing, but cultivating an ability to wait, deepening trust in our own judgment. We need room to know what is important for us and to give circumstances time to speak. The second practice is a burning focus on difficult moments and the gift of dynamic receptivity which is the artist’s gift; the ability to imagine differently. Thomas Moore, in Care of the Soul, says “We are condemned to live out what we cannot imagine.”    This implies the tragedy for all of us, of a life that is unreflective. 

Lastly a word about failure and I hesitate to use this word, because in the deepest sense, the compost, the valley spirit, the dips, the gaps, the falling, are integral to creative process. To be shattered is to be opened, an opportunity to examine stuck places. I venture to say that the meaning and purpose of our lives is this struggle, and our pain. Like the markings of a butterfly’s wings; a key to the mystery that we are.  Difficulties give us our life; acquaint us with who we are, in a profound way deepen our reason to investigate and to choose wisely.   Our willingness to be vulnerable with the shameful parts of ourselves enlarges the field, increasing our capacity to engage authentically in the world.  

That the path of an individual life lived wholeheartedly is a treasure, and this is aside from accomplishment or approval and we should guard this well.  In the light of meaning, I am speaking of individuality in its deepest sense. One of the things that my journey has pointed out so clearly is that we cannot truly be ourselves without fully embracing the other.  To speak to our need, to feel our lives lived with purpose, if each speck of dust embraces the whole; a profound relationship to the truth of our lives is itself an irreplaceable gift. It is one that stands alone and needs no explanation or apology.

Another poem: 

Through The Silence of Her Network

Oh mother I am darkness, a rich and seeded darkness
A mystery, a rhythm, a vine, the night,
Like shadows between imprints of the leaves, piercing
Through the well worn paths, re- woven into dreams.

–Alison Shin’ei  Brown – May, 17th, 2010